21st Century Sound and Fury – Kanye West’s Saint Pablo Tour in Boston

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Alternate Title: Reflections from an old dude at Saint Pablo’s

Kanye came to Boston last night. It was the most 21st century thing I’ve ever seen.

The TD Garden was bursting at the seams with humanity, it’s old 20th century confines ill-equipped for this new century’s offerings- its throngs of people, their passion, their unyielding focus. The infrastructure hasn’t kept up, couldn’t keep up. Old ladies from Medford working Garden shows on the weekend to get their Keno money, overwhelmed, disbelieving, watching old ways give way to a flood of the new.

And the kids, man, the kids. This is their Elvis, their Beatles, their Rolling Stones all wrapped up into one, plus their Ralph Lauren, plus their Steve Jobs, plus their Steven Spielberg. These kids, they’re something else. They have more in common with our disco-going parents, less grunge more gloss, dressed to the nines to greet the end of the world. They’re post everything- post-pop, post-punk, post-9/11, post-Bush, post-Obama, post-icecaps, all in for the now, right here and right now. Lines around the block to get a t-shirt, they’ll do that. They do it for iPhones and airport security and whenever they go out, because this is what we’ve setup for them as the normal, and they adapt, persevere, turn it on its head and thrive. They dare to thrive in a world designed to strip them of everything.

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And when the Garden’s garish house lights went down and the otherworldly lights of Saint Pablo’s house came up, illuminating a post-stage stage that literally flew its way around the arena, all the logistics went out the window. The lines, the doors, the heat, the mess- gone. Yeezus brought the now, inescapably. The throngs exploded.

Hero worship and demigod posturing, to be literally standing above those shouting your name, but also something else. Hints of loneliness at the top, alienation before the alien nation, tethered and trapped by the roar of the multitude, put on display for the people that pay you, art in a box, but transcendent of all that too. Seats and sections, deconstructed. No linear stage, no VIPs, no backup dancers, just the man and his plan executed for all to see.

Kanye gave the kids Vangelis tones and Ridley Scott Blade Runner skylines. He gave them the monolith from 2001, the first contact of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the soaring emotion and dreamy mists of E.T. He gave them their now, their hotness, their fire, but wrapped it in a kind of nerdiness straight from the ‘80s. He gave them something they can talk about 20 years from now. He gave them a line to carry forever. “Kanye,” they’ll say, “Kanye rode a spaceship. “

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Posted in Inspiration, Meta, Music Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

No Man’s Sky – A Grand Failure

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No Man’s Sky always sounded like something of a dream. Hop in a spaceship, explore a real-fake universe, traverse the stars using the next-gen power of Sony’s PlayStation 4. Like most dreams it only partially made its way into this reality, arriving like a faint echo.

Instead of ushering in a new era of video gaming, No Man’s Sky brought me back to its beginnings. After spending hours plodding along in its algorithmically produced cosmos, I was left thinking of Atari games. The No Man’s Sky box sitting on my coffee table sported a sleek, stylish design with an art deco sci-fi flourish.  As I stumbled from one pastel-hued planet to the next, scanning flowers and strange cattle-like creatures, I found myself imagining so much more to all of it.

It was the same kind of experience playing Atari games. I remembered being sold on the high-concept, fully-painted cover art of those old games. The Swordquest games come to mind as a prime example, with lush, epic artwork and companion booklets (the collector’s edition of No Man’s Sky even includes a comic book, like Swordquest did 30-odd years before). The Atari itself produced a series of colors and sounds on the television set, of course nothing close to what was promised, and the miscellaneous materials and concepts delivered by the designers was leveraged to provide the greater context. The player’s imagination was a necessary accessory, a translucent layer between the screen and eyes that gave each pixelated square and high-pitched beep a greater meaning. No Man’s Sky follows a similar path. After the initial jump into it, I found that old imagination layer a very necessary element.

Swordquest

No Man’s Sky brought back memories of old Atari games like Swordquest, which counted on a plethora of external materials and the player’s imagination to fill in the blanks.

There’s a lot to like about the philosophy of No Man’s Sky, about the way it unfolds a strange alien universe in a way that feels genuinely strange and alien. The surface-level concepts promised are all present- you do indeed have your own personal spaceship, which you take from planet to planet, star system to star system. Weird relics are sprinkled about, from monoliths to abandoned outposts. Mostly though, there is a lot of empty space. Planets to hike around, caves to descend into, massive distances of space and time to traverse. All of it without another soul in sight.

At its core, No Man’s Sky feels like an abandoned MMO. Its landscapes look like they were once populated, but you get the sense that the party ended long ago. It’s massive but empty. It’s no surprise that the universe of the game is created by an elaborate set of mathematics. It reeks of being devoid of a human touch.

Again, philosophically all of that makes for an interesting experience. There is something to be said for diving into a surreal digital ocean and going for an extended, mind-numbing swim. The problem is after spending hours collecting minerals, scanning fauna, and flying around, it becomes clear that the game’s mechanics offer little else for you to do. Sure, there are “story” lines to follow, but none of it entails doing anything much more than scanning, surviving, and traveling. Like those old Atari games, if you’re looking for something more then it’s up to you to take that imaginary leap of faith.

In the end, No Man’s Sky is a grand idea grafted onto a rather mundane set of gameplay activities. There’s something noble about its efforts, but in this era of unparalleled connectivity, it’s a startlingly lonely experience. I guess in that regard it lives up to its name.

Posted in Games Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Every Second Counts – DC Universe Rebirth and the Rebellion of Hope

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I’ve left my house at midnight for some ridiculous things before- movies, video games, unwise culinary selections- but Tuesday marked the first time I did it for a comic. The book in question is DC Universe Rebirth #1, the much-hyped reset of the DC Comics universe under the hand of writer Geoff Johns and a stable of DC’s top artists.

DC has a long and byzantine publishing history, and where some might see that as a hindrance, time and again the most powerful and impactful DC storylines have leveraged that history for a unique and distinct advantage. Classics like The Flash of Two-Worlds and Crisis on Infinite Earths used DC’s twisty history to produce engaging comics that were both accessible to new readers and rewarding for longtime fans. Every comic is somebody’s first, and the best DC comics throughout the years have recognized this while simultaneously having the confidence to intrigue new readers with snippets of the DCU’s rich history.

When I think of DC, I think of family. More so than with Marvel’s dynamic band of loners and misfits, DC’s heroes form a pantheon, with mantles passed down from generation to generation. Superman, Supergirl, Superboy, hell, even Krypto the Superdog. Batman, Robin, Huntress, Nightwing, Batgirl. Reading a DC comic feels like being drawn into an extended, multi-generation family drama. The DCU is like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude with continuing echoes of themes and legacies, just with more capes and fights.

I was a Marvel kid throughout my childhood, with my comic-mania eventually spilling over into DC in the early ‘90s. As I was going through those middle school wasteland years of loneliness and doubt, the warmth of the DCU was a welcomed and comforting portal of escape. Here was a world where time had its own pulse, where the Flash from my grandfather’s era ran side-by-side with his successor’s successor, and even some new kid from the future named Impulse. It was a place where Clark Kent’s inner voice could make sense of even the most cosmic malady, even his own death. It was a place where new heroes like James Robinson and Tony Harris’ Starman could stare googly-eyed at Batman and the Justice League, marveling at these living legends just like we were through the pages.

Which brings me to Wally West. In the 1990s, writer Mark Waid and artist Mike Weiringo’s run on the Flash grabbed me and didn’t let go. The book centered on Wally West, the Fastest Man Alive. Wally was perhaps the best single representation of DC’s tradition of legacy. He was originally Kid Flash, the sidekick of Barry Allen, who was the Flash from the dawn of the Silver Age right up to 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Barry Allen died saving the multiverse, and Kid Flash stepped up to take his mentor’s mantle. Wally West was the only Flash I knew. Sure, the character had some history behind him, but it was nothing that barred me from enjoying his adventures. Mark Waid utilized Wally’s past to its fullest, taking the Flash from a somewhat one-dimension hero to a unique, fully-realized character with a rich supporting cast that included other speedsters from the past, present, and future. For a kid steeped in X-Men comics and Spider-Man, there was nothing prohibitive about the Flash and his history. In fact, it made for an even more rewarding reading experience. The Flash wasn’t really a superhero book, it was a tale about time, loss, and finding your place in the universe. It was a story about family.

When DC decided to wipe the slate entirely clean in 2012, I lauded the move. After all, having the imagination to take risks and try new things is what the comic book medium is all about. The initiative, called The New 52, jettisoned DC’s decades of history and legacy for something new. While The New 52 produced some interesting highlights, the chief of which being Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s historic run on Batman, on the whole it was severely lacking. Instead of building a new history, The New 52 produced far too many vapid, seemingly meaningless stories with ill-defined characters operating under muddy motivations. Rather than a fresh start, with each passing month it began to feel like an empty promise, an unfulfilled opportunity. No clean break is without causalities. Wally West was one of them.

The only Flash I knew was simply tossed aside. In many ways, Wally was marked. His history was so tightly intertwined with the continuity that DC was overtly dumping that it made it pretty impossible to introduce him in the sterilized New 52 format. The Flash was now Barry Allen, and that was that.

Comics are weird. They’re junk entertainment on the surface, but through the years upon years of publishing, funny things have and continue to happen. When the comic-bug latches onto you, you enter the stories and they enter you. The characters become familiar. You recognize their voices. You know their lives. Something is shared between creator and reader, something unlike anything else in the world of pop culture. Comics grow with us, mirror our own lives, serve as time capsules for our memories. Sitting down to a read a comic is an act of meditation. Flipping open the cover of something as brazenly optimistic as a superhero comic book is an act of hopefully rebellion in a world that openly stomps on such notions like a discarded cigarette butt. It hurt to lose Wally. It hurt to lose the DCU. It felt like the loss of a family. It felt like all those moments were lost.

So Tuesday. Midnight. The lonely days of middle school far behind, part of my own personal convoluted continuity just like the chapters of your life make up your own. I venture to my local comic shop to once again embark on this bizarre act of hopeful rebellion. To once again flip open the cover and look for something to believe in. And there it was, a voice. A familiar, lost voice, suddenly back in a flash. Geoff Johns writes DC Universe Rebirth as a Wally West story, and it instantly made all the difference in the world. For me, the cold veneer of The New 52 instantly shattered with the simple words “My name is Wally West. I’m the Fastest Man Alive.”

Through narrative both poignant and engaging, Johns brings back the voice of Wally and the voice of an entire lost generation of comics. Johns and the art team present Wally as barely there, a phantom of the speed force not understanding what is happening, but knowing that he has to try. And try he does, attempting to make contact with the New 52 version of the DC roster- his old friends, teammates, family. It doesn’t work. Wally is on the brink of oblivion, and facing certain death he shows the most stellar aspect of his character- gratitude. His final words are “Thank you for an amazing life.”

But then, a spark. A moment. Barry Allen reaches forward and grabs Wally. He pulls him from the edge of disintegration, and brings him back. “Wally,” he says, “How could I ever forget you?”

It’s one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever read in a superhero comic. Johns is clearly making a statement. What were we thinking, leaving this behind? How could we throw this away? How is there not room on the boat for all of this?

Reading comics is an act of hopeful rebellion. It’s a war. It’s a war against a world seemingly purpose-built to extinguish hope. In a war, you leave no one behind.

“Every second counts” is a refrain in the issue, and it rings true on this side of the page as well. All those seconds, those moments spent engaging in this inexplicably surviving (and thriving!) form of storytelling, they count. They matter. It’s the most hopeful of statements, and a central theme of this work. DC Universe Rebirth is as much a manifesto of belief as it is a comic story. Stories can save lives. Stories can save the world. Stories matter. Every story counts.

How this issue will play with new readers, I have no idea. I’m obviously as intertwined with the DCU’s history as much as its most convoluted characters. I wrote letters to Aquaman, for Christ’s sake. That’s a connection impossible to sever. I hope (that word again) there’s enough in Rebirth to intrigue, to make a new reader wonder “What’s this all about?” the same way Crisis and Mark Waid’s Flash did for me all those years ago. I have to think that there’s a whole new generation of readers out there looking for something to believe in that might find it here. And I hope DC, when faced with moments of doubt or indecision, looks to this issue for direction. Geoff Johns has provided the template. He’s written the articles of federation for the heart and soul of the DCU.

How could we ever forget you, DC?

Welcome back.

Posted in Comics, Writing Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Darwyn Cooke Forever

Art’s a two way street, or maybe more accurately, a double-edged sword. When you like the work of someone, like profoundly like it, you’re opening creaking doors within yourself and letting it in, right down to the cellar. Often there’s not even a conscious choice to it. All the intellectual discourse, all the snarky punditry, all the reviews and deconstruction and conjecture ultimately doesn’t really matter—the heart wants what the heart wants. Art is like that. The people that make art are like that. Sometimes you fall in love at first sight and it’s done. There’s no outthinking it. No rationalizing it. You fall into it, it falls into you.

Darwyn Cooke is one of those artists for me. His artwork and graphic novel storytelling, all swoony pulp retro and Silver Age futuristic, hits me deep down in the gooey center of my schmaltzy soul. It’s the type of work that almost always made me shake my head, a kind of instinctual “Jesus, can you believe how good this is?” reaction. Again, unconscious. Primordial. Sometimes the all-time greats (or our own personal all-time favorites, the ones we don’t just like but we LOVE, k-i-s-s-i-n-g LOVE) they bypass all our defenses, circumvent all layers of irony, and score a direct hit right in the amygdala. It makes you go all jelly and turns your brain to scrambled eggs.

It’s hard not to lionize your favorite artists. When the work is so on point, you figure that excellence must bleed into their entire lives, and you kind of build them up into immortal demigods, living the dream life of a Fellini movie. So when news regarding their very real mortality breaks, it’s even that much harder to digest. I’m honestly kind of in shock. I don’t really want to get into it, so I’ll let you Google the news for yourself. It’s sad. It sucks. I hope for the best.

So let’s forget all that and focus on the art. Darwyn Cooke forever.

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Posted in Comics, Inspiration Tagged with: , ,

Sign of the Times – Localize Mother 3, WWE, and the Unbearable Lightness of Being an Internet Meme

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Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign? 

-Ancient Proverb

Let it be known that I did it for the lolz. It was one of those things I thought maybe would make a handful of friends laugh.

Some background: I’ve been nursing a growing addiction to going to WWE shows. It’s the strangest form of entertainment, with energy unlike any show or sporting event I’ve ever witnessed live. Going to a WWE show is like watching a gladiator match in Rome or Shakespeare in the Round, where everyone is a groundling amped up on beer, Red Bull, and the purely kinetic drama played out in the squared circle with flying jump kicks. It’s a fun time, and when seated at a wrestling show I feel oddly at home.

So I headed to a taping of Smackdown up in Manchester, New Hampshire and this time I decided to take my role as WWE audience member one step further and embark on the time-honored tradition of bringing some goofy signs. WWE signs run the gamut, ranging from shoutouts to favorite performers, references to WWE legends of the past, or just random junk. I went the random junk route.

I vetted some sign ideas with friends, and for whatever reason LOCALIZE MOTHER 3 was one of the first things that popped into my head. It was concise enough to easily fit on a sign, and dumb enough to be something I would do. I floated the concept and seemed to click. Thanks to Anthony Kimmel and Anthony Chanza for the bolstering feedback. Both Tonys said “Oh, definitely that one.”

Some more background: Mother 3 is a video game RPG that to date has only been officially released in Japan. It’s the sequel to Mother and Mother 2, which have come to North America on Nintendo gaming systems as Earthbound Beginnings and Earthbound respectively. Localize is a somewhat jargon-y term used in video games to mean translating a game for different regions, in this case the West. Localize Mother 3 means translate the game Mother 3 and release it in North America. No Mom, it’s not “a drug thing.”

Mother 3 had just recently marked ten years since its release in Japan, and I think that’s why it was in my head. Yearning for its release here in the US was one of those long simmering items on the docket of Nintendo nerds. Seemed like as good a time as any to raise the battle flag for localization. One magic marker and poster board later, I had my totem for Smackdown. I also made one that read JOHN CENA IS REY’S DAD, because Star Wars.

Loaded with my signs, my brother-in-law and I ventured north to New Hampshire to take in Smackdown. It was a really good show, packed with great matches. Our seats were dope, located right behind the announcer table. I was just feet away from Jerry “The King” Lawler, wrestling legend and infamous foil of Andy Kaufman! The cameras weren’t really focused on our section though, so I thought my chances of getting the sign on TV were slim.

Then midway through the show, the trio of New Day took over the announcing booth, followed by a swarm of camera operators. If there was any chance, this was it. I flew my signs, loud and proud.

And that was it. The show went on, we ate our nachos and and took it in with the rest of the crowd. Everyone around was drunk and rowdy, constantly yelling ridiculous things at the performers. It was pure WWE.

The next day, I headed off to Vermont for a short getaway with my wife, a couple days at a spa retreat for some R&R away from technology and whatever. I thought maybe I’d tune into Smackdown on Thursday, catch a shot of the sign, send it to my friends, have some laughs. I was surprised when the notifications started rolling in early Thursday.

Unbeknown to me, Smackdown was already airing in the UK. A British wrestling fan saw the sign, took a picture of it from the broadcast, and circulated it on Twitter. It gained nearly a thousand retweets.

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Holy shit!

The “story”, if if can even be called that, then made its way onto gaming forums like NeoGAF and Gamefaqs. Reaction ranged from “This guy is a hero” to “what an idiot.” I appreciated both points of view.

Things went full-on surreal bonkers when Kotaku, one of the biggest video game websites online (maybe the biggest?) published an article on the Localize Mother 3 sign. Someone got paid to write an article about my silly video game inspired WWE sign. The article gained 24.5K views and garnered reaction around the globe. UK, Spain, Italy, France, Germany- the Localize Mother 3 sign was a worldwide phenomenon.

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While the viral spreading was interesting to see, it was the tweets from the masses are what really made the Localize Mother 3 sign worthwhile. “Not all heroes wear capes” read more than one. “Greatest thing I have ever seen” read others. Throughout it all, I remained pretty much anonymous. It wasn’t Erik Radvon the world needed, it was the Localize Mother 3 sign. I was simply its vessel, the meat puppet to bring it to life and hold it forth for the world entire. I finally understood the end of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The hero gaming deserves, but not the one they need right now. The silent guardian. The Localize Mother 3 sign guy.

Links

Kotaku – WWE Fan Holds Localize Mother 3 Sign at Recent Show

Earthbound Central – MOTHER 3 Sign on WWE Smackdown

Journal du Gamer (France) – http://www.journaldugamer.com/2016/04/29/fans-catch-localisation-mother-3/

NeoGAF thread – http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1212849

GameFAQs thread – http://www.gamefaqs.com/boards/997614-nintendo-3ds/73662238

Know Your Meme – http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/1112651-earthbound-mother

 

Posted in Games, In the News, Meta Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Comic Review: BLACK WIDOW #1

black-widow-1-2016Black Widow #1
Review by: Erik Radvon
Story by Chris Samnee and Mark Waid
Art by Chris Samnee
Color Art by Matthew Wilson
Lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover by Chris Samnee & Matthew Wilson
Publisher – Marvel Comics
Cover Price – $3.99(USD)
Release Date: Mar 2, 2016
Rating: 4/5 stars

There’s a pendulum in comics, one that swings between artist-driven stories and more descriptive, writer-driven tales. Black Widow #1 from writer/artist Chris Samnee most definitely falls on the art-driven side of the spectrum, yet it in its brisk, dialogue-sparse pages it excellently conveys a large sense of story without beating readers over the head with it. The end result is both captivating and somewhat refreshing.

Samnee produces a beautiful, exciting issue reminiscent of the Marvel style of yore, before superheroes spent time chatting around coffee pots. The methodology harkens back to the days when Stan Lee typed out “Galactus attacks the Earth” and Jack Kirby took it from there. It doesn’t hurt that Samnee is joined by co-writer Mark Waid on script duties and color artist Matthew Wilson, hot off their recently concluded and highly-acclaimed run on Daredevil. Together again on Black Widow, the team achieves a real sense of harmony, letting Samnee shoulder the bulk of the storytelling responsibilities while accentuating and enhancing along the way. Waid’s dialogue is sparse but effective, adding just the right amount of audio without drawing away from the propulsive visuals. Matthew Wilson’s colors are a huge addition to the book, imbibing Samnee’s work with an element of richness and contributing a great deal to the overall tone of the story.

The issue is one extended chase scene, with the premise (perhaps of the entire series?) summed up succinctly on page one. From there, Samnee’s retro-bold artwork accelerates full throttle and doesn’t let up. The rapid, potent art-driven storytelling might not be for everyone. There are several pages without a spoken word or even a sound effect. Don’t let the surface appearance fool you- this latest take on Black Widow delivers and pulses with story throughout.

The proceedings are fast, but not insubstantial. With each panel, Samnee conveys mood and emotion. Natasha Romanoff doesn’t say much verbally, but the steely look of determination in her eyes speaks volumes. We see her thoughts, and with remarkably subtle facial expressions Samnee makes sure her voice is heard.

That said, there are no overly deep insights into Natasha’s history here, no supporting cast roll call or move to a new city that so often accompanies these kind of relaunches. We don’t see her apartment or meet her wacky neighbors or listen to panel after panel of her tortured inner dialogue.

Instead, we’re privy to witnessing Black Widow being the best at what she does, and doing so furiously, deftly, and with a single-minded purpose that is nothing short of compelling. And while the issue grabs hold and the Wolverine-like approach works well, there is the slightest sense that it would be cool to get a peek at more of what’s going on in Romanoff’s head. Hopefully that’s to come in future issues.

Black Widow #1 offers about as fresh of a start as a series debut can, delivering a Natasha that is mysterious yet instantly identifiable. With stellar artwork from Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson, along with storytelling support from Mark Waid, this first issue successfully lands its hook and kicks off an exciting new chapter for Marvel’s famous superhero spy.

Posted in Comics, Writing Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Kill the Silver Age

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I will never get tired of seeing Barry Allen die.

Blame my age. My comic-reading vice (it’s an absurd habit, really) latched onto my central nervous system sometime in the mid ’80s. From the vantage of 2016, it was an extraordinarily strange time to come into the medium. The X-Men were dead rebels on the run. Batman got old and returned from retirement in a dark future landscape. The DC multiverse was destroyed only to be reborn as a single universe. Spider-Man was infected by an alien symbiote that would eventually turn into his most brutal enemy.

In the world of comic books, we’ve backpedaled on the future. Progress has given way to erosion, and nostalgia is dragging the pulp universes of Marvel and DC into a mummified state.

Hal Jordan. Gwen Stacy. Barry Allen. Ghosts of the past, old fragments of pop culture from the era of our parents and grandparents. They should be entires in the comic book history books. So why are these names known today, let alone featured in monthly titles? Why are we so desperately trying to relive the past?

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, creators took great risks taking comics to new places. Storytelling changed, matured, and took on more complexity. Artwork became more dynamic and exciting. As the art and craft of comics evolved, the characters evolved along with it.

Kyle Rayner. Mary Jane Watson. Wally West. We had new heroes, heroes for the next generation. Strangely, we turned our back on them. They’ve been erased, mutated, and mitigated, all but tossed down the memory hole. We’ve turned our backs on modernity in favor of endlessly returning to and regurgitating the dramas of the past.

Not to be all “9/11 changed everything”, but it kind of did, and I think in the case of our pop culture output it was a seismic and defining moment. It took a couple years for the shockwaves to fully reverberate, but the years afterward marked a strong wave of Silver Age revitalization. It’s a lot less scary to ride a rollercoaster you’ve ridden before as opposed to jumping on something completely new, where the twists and direction are a mystery. When you’re scared, shaken, and battered, you turn to comfort. Few things are more comforting than nostalgia. By affecting the styles and struggles of the past, by revisiting territory we’re already familiar with, we deftly sidestep the most frightening thing of all– the unknown.

So that’s why we see Bart Allen’s Impulse morph into Kid Flash (a name that was stale even in the Silver Age). We see DC’s singular post-Crisis universe discarded for a return of the old Multiverse via a punch from the long forgotten Silver Age Superboy. Spider-Man suddenly must be a bachelor again (because the last 30 years of stories just weren’t working?) and the history with his wife and life partner, Mary-Jane Watson Parker, is blinked out of existence via a deal with the Devil. I wish this was an exaggeration. Even the sacred ghost of the Golden Age, Bucky, returned.

The future is a massive ocean of the unknown, and where we once celebrated those intrepid enough to embark on journeys into the uncharted, we’re now doing little more than hunkering down on the island and gathering around the fire to stay warm and cozy.

Practitioners and fans of this Silver Age fetishism claim many things. They say these characters are returning to their classic roots, going back to basics, distilling what made them compelling and popular into potent new beginnings.

Maybe so. Green Lantern: Rebirth is about as good as superhero comics get, and creators Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver do wonders bringing Hal Jordan back from the most comic book-y, convoluted of deaths and purgatories. It’s a masterclass in rebooting, so much so that the formula was then applied to The Flash, bringing Barry Allen back from the void 30 years after the character’s demise in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Now, DC stands on the brink of applying the Johns’ Rebirth formula to their entire universe.

But the optimism and shine of rehashing the past is at best a temporary reprieve from reality. You can’t outrun the future, or the murky, complexity of the present day. The fact of the matter is Geoff Johns had a hell of a run on Green Lantern following Rebirth, but now what? We’re left very much back where the Silver Age ended. Hal Jordan’s flagship title is barely cracking the top 100, with “big” issues maybe topping the 50 spot. In the end, the character a former test pilot turned intergalactic police officer. How many test pilots do you read about in the 21st century? This is exactly where Green Lantern found itself in the ‘90s, when creators introduced a new hero to take up the mantle. Hal Jordan has had 50+ years in the spotlight. Kyle Rayner got about a decade before the ghosts of the Silver Age overtook him. How many new avenues were left abandoned as a result?

The Flash TV show has brought Barry Allen into the living rooms of millions of people around the world. But is it really Barry Allen? Actor Grant Gustin isn’t the blonde, square-jawed cop Barry Allen of the comics. In fact, Gustin’s youthfulness, vulnerability, and humor are all trademark qualities of Wally West, the character that replaced Barry Allen as the modern Flash over 30 years ago. Here’s what’s been forgotten in this rush to reboot everything to its Silver Age state of being: Barry Allen was boring. The Flash was CANCELLED prior to Crisis. The most exciting thing Barry Allen ever did was die. So yeah, Barry Allen is back in name, but the spirit of Wally is alive and well in the character’s TV iteration. Again, you can’t outrun the future.

Mary-Jane was tossed aside by Marvel comics and Hollywood alike. Nobody born after the Reagan Administration should really care about Gwen Stacy. Yet, here we are, and the current state of things would have you believe she is the most important figure in Peter Parker’s life. Gwen Stacy was Pete’s high school girlfriend. Mary-Jane was his wife. This retrudging of Spider-Man’s high school “glory days” is nothing more than a sad middle-aged male fantasy given enormously disproportionate space to thrive.

When I say kill the Silver Age, I don’t mean forget the rich history of comics or toss it aside. The aesthetics and trappings of the past don’t need to be avoided. Creators like Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely channeled volumes of Silver Age imagery and symbolism, but did so in the name of telling a completely new set of stories in their All-Star Superman. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini took Batman to a world that looked like the past in Batman: The Animated Series, but delivered an entirely unique and new take on the character. James Robinson and Tony Harris performed a sort of prequel to the Geoff Johns Rebirth format with their run on Starman in the ‘90s, folding in nearly every facet of the character’s publication history but doing so with a new hero that represented the time in which we live. The classics are great, but they need to be made relevant to today.

You can laugh at ‘90s comic characters like Darkhawk and Sleepwalker, but an honest look shows their creation sprang from the same energies that birthed Spider-Man and Captain America. At their best, comics are a cauldron of new ideas, put down onto paper with pencil and ink and set into action across the minds of readers. Those ideas should be crazy. They should push the limits of imagination. The worst thing thing a comic book can ever be is safe.

The latest trailer for Captain America: Civil War featured the debut of the new on-screen version of Spider-Man, and sure enough, the Silver Age was on full display. The look and feel of Marvel’s 21st century movie Spidey is far more Ditko and Romina than McFarlane and Bagley, and that’s a shame. By once again turning to the past, we’re robbing ourselves and the next generation of the chance to move forward. In 2016, the truly exciting choice for a movie version of Spider-Man is Miles Morales. Marvel has instead played it safe, extremely safe, by doubling down on the past instead of pressing ahead toward the future. Peter Parker isn’t Peter Pan. He can grow up, and we can grow up along with him.

The most exciting thing Barry Allen did was die and leave the mantle of the Flash in better hands with Wally West. Hal Jordan was more compelling as a twisted, power-mad villain than he had been in decades as a graying, middle-aged member of the Green Lantern Corps. And Mary Jane served as the most important character in Spider-Man history, the lynchpin for which the character’s history pivots from the then to the now.

The past glimmers and beckons with the false promise of known quantities. It makes us feel good to see where the train is going, to know how things ultimately play out. Returning to these comforts make us feel safe. But recycling the Silver Age of yore is really the ultimate sign of cynicism. It represents a lack of confidence in what the future might hold and a fear of going somewhere new and unknown. It codifies a “no future” mentality, but hides the true lessons one could take from that by wrapping it in nostalgia and a sense that the good old days were actually better or more simple than the present. The good old days weren’t any better or worse than today, and they certainly weren’t any less complex than the insane world we currently face. The heroes of the Silver Age were new interpretations of the rapidly changing world at that time. Instead of recycling, resuscitating, and regurgitating those ghosts of the past, we need comics to return to the path of modernity.

Posted in Comics Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

The Twilight Zone Election

I’ve followed American politics since before I could vote, finding it exciting and captivating, sometimes even fun. I naively and mistakenly thought I was accustomed to all the various tricks the murderous bloodsport had to offer, its unpredictable lurching, its penchant for absurd twists and turns. I should be used to it. The first election I participated in was the 2000 presidential contest, a pageantry of farce that ended in a protracted limbo and the Supreme Court selecting a winner. Looking back, it was a fitting baptism for the era in which we now live. Yet somehow the insanity of the present moment still manages to shock and surprise me.

After the soul-scorching experience of the Bush Jr. years and the icy Cold Civil War of the Obama years, the passion I had for politics evaporated. I think it was a reaction beyond my control, a revolt of cells and DNA, forcing me to turn away in some primal act of self-preservation. It just got too crazy. We were so beyond any sense of normalcy, the tetherball string had snapped and the ball flew over the fence. Game over.

I had no idea how much crazier it could get. Here we are in what feels like a mirror-universe, a comic book alternate universe of

Last night I heard Ted Cruz, arch conservative senator from Texas / possible Zodiac suspect, rally his supporters by quoting liberal demigods FDR and JFK. Complete madness. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

It’s not just limited to one candidate or party, the entire field is deep into Twilight Zone territory this year. Marco Rubio, son of immigrants, routinely bashes foreign workers (like his parents). Say what you will about Trump’s insanity, which is very real and present, but the insidious absurdity of Rubio’s entire existence makes my brain feel like it’s been put through an industrial grade food processor. Only in America could sons of immigrants like Cruz and Rubio grow up to someday run for president on a platform of denying other immigrants the same experiences afforded to them.

Trump, this beautiful American monster, is the physical incorporation of every skeleton still hanging in the closet of United States cultural history. He’s our Candyman, given form by perverse and arcane mirror-chanting arising nationwide. The mass ritual began shortly after 9/11, an almost understandable reaction to fear, and it went into hyper-growth mode after Obama was elected. Now the portal has ripped open, and the beast is here, lumbering wildly and screeching with the sound of a thousand terrible trumpets. Woe be upon those who stand beneath his many cloven hooves.

The thing is, you can’t overstate how much Americans love being told they’re winners, or are at least in the running to be winners. We like to rack up them wins. Trump’s keen channeling of this, his fist-pumping bravado, is a deep and lasting thread in our culture. It’s not even political, it’s a channeling of the mystical energy of the nation that created Robosaurus. Tickets are cheap, everyone can get in and witness this big show. He might win it all, the first monster truck rally president.

Photo: Michael Troutman/www.dmtimaging.com

Photo: Michael Troutman/www.dmtimaging.com

New England remains a strange little pocket of relative calmness amidst the US hurricane, a perch it tends to cling to somehow. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Central and Western Massachusetts are cultural cousins, cut from the same cloth of town meetings and a sort of dichotomy of concern and benevolent detachment from our neighbors. The people here have a deeply held desire for their communities to do well, mostly so we don’t have to hear about other people’s bullshit problems. Please, for the love of God, let us have peace. Pay the guy at Dunkin Donuts a good wage so I don’t have to deal with him not having car insurance when he rear-ends me. I think that’s the core of the central New England spirit.

On the homefront here in Central Mass, this is Bernie country (and Trump country, but I’ll ignore that). It stands out from Hillary country in a number of ways. On the map below, you’ll notice that Bernie won towns with trees, squirrels, rolling vistas that spurn an existential belief in the supernatural. Hilary won towns with lack of parking, overpriced Indian food, and an overriding smell of urine. For some reason every affluent town in Massachusetts smells like pee. It’s the strangest thing that there’s this reputation of high culture spinning out of places like Wellesley and Harvard Square. Those places are cesspools of Master’s Degrees and bodily waste.

Out here in Bernie country, the Good Lord truly smiles upon us. Our cars have places to rest called “parking.” We have indoor plumbing, and it is used frequently. Our Indian food is plentiful and super affordable. To borrow from the other side, perhaps a wall is in order. Proposed diagram below:

central-ma

I watched Hillary’s remarks last night, her crowd chanting USA! USA! USA!, something which always fills the air with a kind of menace. I love the US. I’ve never felt the need to shout it like that, and I’ve never really found a situation where it made sense. Maybe a moon landing? I guess I could get behind it during a moon landing.

I don’t have strong thoughts or feelings about Hillary. She doesn’t spurn disgust in me, like she seems to do in so many. I’m not quite there in terms of cheerleading for her, either. I’m sure she could do the job. My grandpa likes her, and I trust his judgement. The big Hillary takeaway for me is that, if elected, it would mark 24 years of my life under the rule of a Bush or a Clinton. 31 if you count H.W. Bush’s VP years. That seems pretty weird. But at this point, what doesn’t?

Posted in In the News, Meta, Writing

Roach Dude Election Special ’16 – aka Fun with Manga Studio

Hello internet. I just got Manga Studio 5 and a cheap Wacom tablet so I can make cheap comics for cheap laughs. Note: I’m a writer, and my artistic output illustrates that wonderfully. Don’t hate.

Here are breakdowns of my first output, a patriotic mini-comic called ROACH DUDE ELECTION SPECIAL ’16.

roach-dude-1roach-dude-2roach-dude-3
roach-dude-4roach-dude-5

Posted in Comics, Writing Tagged with: , , , ,

Trainspotting and the Ghost of ‘Sally’

Trainspotting_ver2I’ll call her ‘Sally’ out of respect for the dead. We worked together at McDonald’s, the last refuge of scoundrels and lower-middle class ambitions.

Fitchburg, Mass. long had strong undercurrents of vice coursing through it. Heroin was no different. In the mid-90s, it roared to the top of the menu. It was often easier to find than weed.

The heroin was ferried about by a network of Dominicans in ugly, old minivans. Sally would get deliveries at work. The Dominicans came and Sally’s sanity went. She would return from the bathroom an Opiate Zombie, her wit and charm inverted into a sleepwalker-like shuffle and incoherent mumbling.

I wish I had done something. I wish I had stopped it. I was a teenager. I knew nothing.

Sally was cool as hell. She had come from the east, a wealthy town by the sea. Rumor had it (it may have been herself who propagated it) that she fled some sort of familial abuse. Whatever the case, she had the air of old blood, a strange Victorian gait about her. Alabaster face, jet black hair, a clipped and lilting accent with unmistakably posh elements sprinkled within her speech.

She completely stuck out in Fitchburg, against its grittiness and provincial roughness. She adapted to her new home with black trench coats, nylons, big boots- the full Goth kit. But her face told it differently, her eyes showing her displacement and betraying her lofty otherness.

She was smart and really funny and had great, great taste in music. The Cure (obviously). Iggy Pop. Weird industrial bands none of us had ever heard of. She was a fount of pop culture knowledge from somewhere bigger and seemingly better than Fitchburg.

It was in this time, in this place where Trainspotting landed 20 years ago. It was a seminal event. In the grime of Scotland, we saw our own ‘burg. In the misfit band of junkies, we saw ourselves, or at least idealized movie star avatars of ourselves. In the soundtrack, we heard the same music as our own bleak landscape. The dangers of a random glass to the face or a shoplifting run gone bad- we knew this scene and recognized it as our own.

Trainspotting marked a turning point for my little slice of damaged, impoverished humanity. ‘Burg kids flipping burgers to make money because we didn’t know what else to do. For me, I took Trainspotting as a fable. Heroin – smack – I wanted no part of it. Dead babies on the ceiling? You can keep that. Choose life? I think I shall, thank you very much.

Others in the group, the majority in fact, took it in another direction. They began to live it out. My friends, my beautiful, broken friends, sitting glass-eyed around filthy mattresses, gone to whatever it was. I was there somehow, maybe just to see it, to record it. A monitor. They always welcomed me. I don’t know why.

In contrast, Trainspotting showed me that writing can indeed set you free, no matter how shitty your hometown or how fucked up your social group. As a result of the movie, I sought out Irvine Welsh’s novels (lifted off unwatched shelves, likely. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned, etc. etc.) and dove in completely. Writing became my drug, temporarily at least. I was a late bloomer, not touching weed until I was older. I quickly made up for lost time, but always along the path of what can only be called ‘90s neohippie bullshit. Enlightenment through Ecstasy and acid (all lies of course). But there were no dead babies along that path. No complete fall from grace. Maybe I was lucky. Actually, I know I was.

Sally, on the other hand, had no such luck. Her trajectory was one-way, with a propulsive energy that I could only process as being fate/destiny/whatever. Of course, that’s just hippie bullshit lies too, isn’t it? A way to make bad things seem okay.

What happened to Sally was very bad. She discovered that she could make more money on the streets than in the drive-thru. In a testament to her bizarre wit, she made a joke out of it at first. Look what she could get! Forget shoplifting and stealing, she had credit on file!

This is the true horror of drugs. They make the unthinkable laughable. And that’s when things go bad.

The last time I remember seeing Sally, I was still working the drive-thru. She was with a John, a disgusting, toothless trade worker in a 20-year-old pickup truck. She said hi. I said hi. They drove off. I think it was about 6 months later when they found Sally in the woods. Her killer was never brought to justice. Whoever did it, however it happened- heroin was the accomplice.

Today, heroin is bigger than ever, except now it’s called “medicine.” It’s served up by doctors to a massive legion of suburban Opiate Zombies. Bad backs, bad knees, toothaches- whatever ails, there is but one answer and that answer is the almighty opiate, forever and ever amen. Pure and scientific, the perfect salvation for the masses. That’s progress for you.

Every time I see Trainspotting or hear a song from its outsized soundtrack, the ghost of Sally visits. Every time I see an Opiate Zombie at the mall or the grocery store or the office –they’re everywhere now- Sally’s ghost is there too. Where was her prescription, her slice of relief nonchalantly doled out by staff in white lab coats? Why was she pushed to the street for her fix while the SUV drivers next to me on the highway are afforded such comfort? The hypocrisy nags. It never stops nagging.

Trainspotting is an incredible film because it challenges us not to forget, not to sugar-coat, not to glorify. In its own way, it nags too. At its core, it is about remembering. Danny Boyle makes us remember with humor, darkness, and pure humanity throughout, elements that continue to shine in his work today. A good fable teaches real lessons and Trainspotting does so knowingly and truthfully, and that’s why it sticks 20 years later. It’s a requiem for those we’ve lost, a paean to those who have survived. It’s not so much about choosing life as it is about life choosing you, and dealing with whatever comes next.

Posted in Meta, Movies, Writing Tagged with: , , , ,