Cheap Thrills of a Cheap Age

So you kick out 3 million.

Does the factory reopen? Do the shops come back to the decimated main street you walked as a kid? Do the Cadillacs roll by blasting something by Brenda Lee? Is everyone smiling and happy? Are things the way they ought to be?

Maybe you hear less Spanish at the grocery store, and maybe that makes you happy. Puts you less on edge. Lets you unclench for a moment as a wave passes over – we got ’em. We are boss here.

Cheap thrills of a cheap age, fake gold everywhere.

Interwar Berlin was a pinnacle of human endeavors- art, science, music, fashion. Folks there didn’t roll out of bed one day and decide to hate Socialists and exterminate the Jews. It came from the fringes, seeped in like an inkblot, and boiled underneath the surface. But when things got tough the brownshirts’ hate-talk found its opening and erupted through volcanos of angry workers until something very dangerous happened- it all began to feel good.

“Fuck ’em all” is the rallying cry of a broken and dispirited people. It’s a fuse that once sparked cannot be unlit. Deport 3 million, then 5, then 7, then- fuck it- all 11. The factory remains closed, the Cadillacs do not return, the smiles are still phantoms and, damn it all to hell, you still hear Spanish and Cambodian at the grocery store. How are they still here? They’re laughing, aren’t they? They’re laughing at us. Let’s take a look at them. Papers, please.

Legal, illegal, documented, undocumented- when the blood starts pumping none of that matters. We are past reason. What this is about is the cheap thrill of a boot to the face. Like junkies, once the taste is acquired there is no remedy but for more, more, more. It begins with immigrants, but it certainly won’t end there.

“Tear down this wall!” was the ultimate expression of American excellence, delivered with perfect timing and moral authority by one of our finest actors, who also did a stint as president. Now the inheritors of his legacy don red hats and fill stadiums demanding the opposite. From wall destroyers to wall erectors in a generation.

Walls might keep out the brown people blamed for society’s ills but cannot withstand the judgment of history. Each brick stacked robs us of something that will never be returned.

But it’s too late for any of that now. Morality, sentimentality – out the window. A new situation is underway. Cheap thrills rule the day, and the only hope is the future. Meet you there.

Posted in History, In the News, Writing

Crypt Zero – Postmortem ramblings about making an indie comic

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This is the afterword for Crypt Zero, produced by the writer version of Erik Radvon, and axed from publication by the budget-minded publisher version of Erik Radvon. It is presented here as a companion piece to the comic book.

Welcome to the Land of the Living, Crypt Zero

All living things share the same plodding movement. It’s unmistakable. From a spider wobbling out from under the floorboards to a lion chasing down a gazelle. We’re no different. Energy in motion, yes, but also matter robotically propelled through 4D timesoup motion pictures that our brain puts together as “reality.” In this sandbox, whatever it may be, we play out the same old schoolyard dramas. Babes in the dirt. Fussing, fighting, and generally making a mess of everything.

As we gracelessly tumble through existence, certain acts have replayed themselves, over and over, maybe for even longer than we know. All our science, all our religion, and there’s still a gnawing sense that the real secrets of our Whateververse are locked away in some dusty old attic. Somewhere out there waiting for us to find it. And so we go. We move. Energy in motion, matter plodding, grace be damned.

From a machete in the jungle to a robot probe around an icy moon, humans tend to engage in activity rather unlike any other mammal. Squirrels don’t write operas, and they sure as shit don’t calculate insertion orbits. It’s not just intelligence though. This has nothing to do with evolution. This has to do with heart (the concept, not the organ). This is about soul. This is about the unifying homesickness that seems to permeate all human endeavors. Where the hell are we trying to go? Why have we always felt so out of place in our own home?

We keep ourselves busy with philosophy and technology and sport and war, but when we stare down reality it all seems like noise, a falseness so obvious that its persistence almost entirely proves that other forces at work. The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote “Almost immediately, reality yielded on more than one account. The truth is that it longed to yield.” Like the cat that ate the canary, we can’t seem to quite fully suppress the urge to spring the trap, to let the formulas and scriptures fall aside for a bit and realize, with wonder, that we will only ever understand what we see, and what we see is undoubtedly an illusion.

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Pages from Crypt Zero being proofed for the printer.

Is this all too much for a comic book? Probably. Maybe. I dunno. I have stones in my kidneys keeping me up way too late and, you know, the witching hour and all that. Maybe I’m loopy on grinding, ever-present pain. Maybe I just want to reflect the strangeness that I feel when I close my eyes onto you, knowing that you have felt it too, dear reader, of my time or thereafter.

Which brings me to the space ghost. Ghosts are real, of course, because we say they are, just like mountains and tables and overly complex tax forms. None of it is anything without a set of eyes to define it as being something. None of it vibrates without with a hand on the quantum guitar, plucking the strings by an eternal campfire. Why write a story about a space ghost? Because true power hardly ever really dies, because the worst ideas of humanity have somehow stuck around, even as we build better televisions and create tastier permutations of chicken. And because some poor sucker always ends up springing the trap (sorry, Commander Dal). I used a ghost because nothing quite shows the illusion more than the illusions we create ourselves.

Shakespeare was fond of ghosts. Hamlet’s ghost dad told him this:

“But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres.”

Like stars.

Ok. Crypt Zero. This is my second independently published comic. I think of myself primarily as a writer, but my wife reminds me that putting together a project like this is above and beyond pounding out a script, so I guess I’m a publisher too. Joining me on this adventure once again are artist Rob Croonenborghs and letter Micah Myers, the creative force that brought you my first comic, Voodoo Bird.

When I reached out to Rob about doing another story together, he mentioned a fondness for drawing human faces and staying away from mech and tech. So I sent him a script featuring a (then) faceless person in a spacesuit doing all sorts of stuff that could be construed as “sci-fi.” Rob gave the script a read though, and thankfully he saw through the surface trappings and found something. Rob’s contributions to the story are enormous- giving the somewhat sternly scripted Dal a personality, a face, and piercing eyes. He took a story set on a barren and dead environment and filled it with energy and life. I’m so grateful for Rob’s work in bringing this to you.

Freshly minted print editions of Crypt Zero.

Freshly minted print editions of Crypt Zero.

The script also called for a somewhat funky distributions of text, interlacing spacesuit translation voiceover with untranslated alien-speak. Micah Myers gave these words the necessary treatment, and the book would not have worked at all without this.

I’m going to do a pretentious shoutout to my comic book heroes, people whose work has somehow brought me to the point of wanting to make comics and given me the inspirational wherewithal to make it happen. In no particular order- Wally Wood, Jack Kirby, Steve Gerber, Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, Rob Liefeld, Jeff Smith, Shelly Bond, Phil Hester, J.M. DeMatteis, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Karen Berger, and the late, great Dwayne McDuffie.

Thank you for leading the way, and for sending the elevator back down.

I don’t have enough words to thank my wife Jessika. Whenever I doubted, whenever I questioned, whenever I balked at the costs or time or effort, her response was steadfast- “Do it.” I couldn’t have with you.

Final thanks to you, dear readers. Your support is everything.

The dusty attic beckons.

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

All Good Things…

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It was the 50th anniversary of Star Trek this past week. I didn’t have much time to revisit it, but all the headlines struck me as I went about my busy adult-life tasks.

Star Trek is a live wire topic. Dropping the name alone is like lighting a bonfire, signaling to all that there is some deep geek shit going on. It’s hard to sound cool talking about Star Trek. Star Trek is not cool.

It is incredibly earnest though. It speaks truth to power. Beneath all the techno-babble and alien makeup, Star Trek is a series of stories, stories designed to explore some facet of being alive. At its best, it does it truthfully, emotionally, and without restraint. And really there’s nothing much cooler than that.

Next Generation was the jam for me, maybe for my entire age group, the forgotten future. We were that next generation, the Class of 2000, vanguards of the 21-st century. It’s strange how things tumble over and over again, a clumsy cycle. The Star Trek of the present is a muscular reimagining of the past, the Technicolor ‘60s Kirk and Spock stuff brought back again, with sleek styling and overcharged energy . It’s seen as “getting back to basics”, something that’s happening all across the culture. The comics, games, music, movies, TV shows, novels of the 80s / 90s are seen as having gone astray, of being somehow inferior mishaps compared to the purity of the things from the generations before and after. The once imagined future from the era of Reagan through Clinton is now a kind of shoddy near-past, and the ideas from that time- they’re missteps, flat tonics, not what people really want. Or so we’re told. In any case, a lot of people in Hollywood are making loads of money pitching it as such. Maybe in 20 years or so a new breed will take another look at the situation.

The present state says, in deeds rather than words, forget The Next Generation and forget Jar-Jar Binks and forget Nirvana (now a popular t-shirt), because that was all so, like, wrong or something. The smart kids from the 70s are in charge now and they are figuring it all out, giving the people what they really want. That 80s stuff was all too cheesy or something.

My favorite Star Trek thing, hands down, is the last episode of The Next Generation, “All Good Things…”. It’s a melancholic standard-definition 4:3 television epic, which with each passing year feels more and more like something from another epoch. But I remember the day it aired like it was yesterday. We taped it. My grandfather, a winemaker, particularly liked it, with scenes of Picard tending his vineyard.

That night, I felt a rush of exhilaration when the overlong episode ended. I couldn’t wait for what was to come. There would be movies, a bigger platform, and surely bigger stories to come. Now I look back and realize that it never really got any better.

“All Good Things…” is the quintessential Star Trek story because it’s not so much science fiction as it is about the human mind and the human heart, and the relentless beatdown time puts on both of them.

I feel a bit like Picard leaping through time as I write this. I was, what, a 13-year-old boy when it aired? I sit here now a 35-year-old man, and I can go back there, to the big old square TVs and the VCRs and my grandparents and the whole thing. It’s just like that, snap, and it’s there. The past is always with us, as much as the present, as much as the future.

That’s the central brilliance of “All Good Things…” It’s not about scientific time travel. It’s not about spaceships or funky uniforms. It’s about how we all travel through time, on little treks, simply by existing. It’s about life and how it passes, slowly, quickly, in spurts and all at once. The faces, the friends, the family, the regrets, the mistakes, the things that matter. You can taste the future right behind the fabric of the now, hanging there just waiting to happen, and traveling to the past is just a flutter of the eyelids away. Always.

And all that is out of fashion these days, all that saccharine stuff about life, the universe, and everything is sort of seen as too serious or too obvious or too boring or not enough about our “troubled times” or problematic or whatever the hell. I don’t know. I have come to realize that I am rapidly being left behind. Someday it will be hard to explain it all. 50 years from now, who will understand? It feels tough to translate 1994 as it stands now.

I suspect I’ll do what my grandfather did. I’ll seek out some land to grow grapes on, and spend my days tying up vines in the sun, until time has its way with me.

To boldly go where no one has gone before. It’s what we’re all doing, in our own way. How many stories have we forgotten? How many stories get left behind?

It’s ok though. It’s all one story, really. It’s all the same human story, from Shakespeare to starships.

“All Good Things…” makes me feel sad and happy and engaged (no pun intended) all at once. It still plays for me, dammit. It plays for me just like it did when I was 13 with a cassette tape in my hand. It will play for me when I’m old, some kids or grandkids around me laughing at the old man with his old shows. Maybe they’ll see something in it.

What I enjoy most about “All Good Things…” is that it does a good job of illuminating one of the rare truths we know about existing- in one way or another, despite being vulnerable to the forces of nature and the malignant aspects of humanity, we somehow have the subtle power to carve out our own realities. We plant and tend and harvest our own existence through a curious blend of past, present, and future. It’s all given form, this strange structure called life. Nothing is wild, sky’s the limit.

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Posted in History, TV Tagged with: , , , , ,

The Next Great Retrogaming Machine: Sony’s PlayStation 3

sony-playstation-3The retrogaming market has grown remarkably in the last decade or so, evolving from a ragtag hobby of sorts among yard sale and flea market scavengers to something approaching mainstream. Retail giant GameStop added “retro classics” to its online offerings last year, and smaller independent shops have also increased their stock of old video games. My local comic book store, which did a small trade in used consoles for years, now has entire display cases of vintage video games. As demand has grown, so have prices, with many games selling for the same price they once retailed for 20 years ago, and even more games fetching collectible-style prices of $100 and up. Same for the old hardware, which commands solid prices if in decent working condition. The days of snagging an old Nintendo and a shoebox full of games at a pawn shop for $20 are all but gone.

With that in mind, the next great retrogaming console might be lurking right in front of our faces- Sony’s PlayStation 3. Replaced by the PlayStation 4 three years ago, the PS3 has lingered on, supported by legacy players and a constant stream on new releases late into its lifecycle. But as the next-gen PS4 gathers steam (it has sold a whopping ~40 million units to date) and Sony prepares to introduce two new models (a streamlined PS4 Slim and a more powerful PS4 Neo) the retail appetite for new PlayStation 3 consoles is rapidly waning.

The signs are already showing. Last month, Target cleared out its remaining PlayStation 3 inventory with a 50% coupon via its Cartwheel app. As we head into fall, I anticipate seeing deep discounts on remaining PS3 stock from other major retailers as they make room for new PS4 SKUs. The next few months likely represent the last window of opportunity to pick up a new PS3 at the traditional retail level.

What makes the PS3 a good candidate as a retrogaming machine? Several things.

It’s a stealth PlayStation 1

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It’s hardly ever mentioned, but the PlayStation 3 plays original PlayStation 1 games. This in and of itself makes it a fantastic retrogaming option. With HDMI the defacto A/V standard on TV sets, the PS3 delivers an easy and clean way to access the enormous PS1 library on modern TV sets, without any extra wires or cables. Using the PS3’s wireless DualShock 3 controller is another nice bonus.

Certain launch models of the PS3 offered backwards compatibility with PS1 and PS2 games. There was a lot of ballyhoo about PS2 compatibility being dropped, but the PS1 capabilities quietly remained on all models. It even has built-in PS1 memory card emulation, making saving and restoring games and managing saved data extremely easy.

PS1 games have had a lasting legacy, and in many ways represent the birthplace of today’s gaming environment. In fact, you can still purchase cheap brand new copies of several PS1 titles through Amazon, such as:

GameStop and independent shops carry large inventories of used PS1 games. It’s a huge library with many hidden gems available.

PS2 HD Collections

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While most PS3 models don’t offer direct PS2 backwards compatibility, Sony and third-party developers released a slew of remastered collections of classic PS2-era games for the PS3. Some are better executed than others, but on the whole these collections offer a convenient option and deliver a lot of retrogaming value on one or two discs. Notable examples:

Here’s a complete list on Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-definition_remasters_for_PlayStation_consoles

PSN/The PlayStation Store

I’m hesitant to include online services, as there’s no telling how long they will be supported for, but as of today Sony’s PlayStation Store offers digital download versions of hundreds of PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 games for the PS3. Again, not as solid or reliable as physical backwards compatibility in the long run, but if you want to play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City via PS3, it’s there today. Once a title is downloaded it’s pretty much there for good, and as best as I can tell there is no network dependency, so as long as you have the hard drive space this is a decent enough option. Also worth noting, PSN routinely offers massive markdowns on older downloadable titles, with PS1 and PS2 classics often available for as low as under $2. I picked up the PS1 Persona games last summer for something like $1.82 each, and I think the PS2 games were in the ballpark of $4.

Oh yeah, it’s also a PS3

Let’s not forget the core of the console itself- the PS3. It’s a phenomenal blu ray player (and plays 3D blu rays, if you’re into that kind of thing) and boasts a substantial game library all its own. While Microsoft’s Xbox 360 provided a better experience for the majority of third party games, the PS3 has a number of incredible first party titles and third-party exclusives. As it rides off into the sunset, the PS3 is receiving a glut of exclusive Japanese roleplaying games. It’s almost certain a handful of these low-run, late cycle games will become coveted by collectors in the years to come.

Deals this fall

If you’re looking to get a head start on the next generation of retrogaming, keep your eyes peeled for deals on the PlayStation 3 as we roll into the holiday season. I’ll be doing the same, as my PS3 Slim is nearing a decade. Follow me on twitter @radvon where I’ll share any deals as I find them.

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

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

localize-mother-3-wwe-smackdown-sign

 

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: , , , , , ,