Monthly Archives: December 2011

Nostalgia Strikes Back

Have you seen the trailer for the G.I. Joe sequel? It looks pretty darned sick.

Why is that, though? I’ve found myself pondering that question somewhere between my 10th and 12th viewing of aforementioned sick-ness. By all appearances it’s just another stock Hollywood shoot-em-up, save that it has a popular intellectual property stamped on it. Why then, particularly given that my tastes generally run counter to this sort of thing, does this trailer give me fanboy tinglies every time I watch it? The answer, I eventually realized, is because someone in the marketing for this film went and earned their pay. This is a trailer that is tailor made to push all the right buttons in the 20-something male demographic, and in that it is somehow only more fascinating.

First up, the previously referenced intellectual property cattle-branded onto the celluloid. G.I. Joe is a pop-culture institution. Even knowing nothing about the story background involved (itself younger than the franchise, only dating back to the 1980’s while the brand name goes as far back as the 60’s), you know what G.I. Joe is. If you are a male, it is irrefutably statistically proven that you owned at least one G.I. Joe. Again, you may not have given two shits about the characters or the storyline, but you had one and the G.I. Joe name carried meaning for you at some level. There’s one button pushed.

Second, if you ‘did’ care about the story it was probably because you watched the 1980’s cartoon as a kid, either in its initial broadcast or in various re-runs throughout the 90’s. Everything we enjoyed when we were kids is once again irrefutably statistically proven to be totally cool and awesome, even now when we are ostensibly adults who do big people things like vote and pay taxes. What’s important about this is that the sugar-addled tots who waved their G.I. Joes in front of the  Saturday morning boob-tube two decades ago are today collecting proper paychecks but not yet spending them on kids of their own, giving them disposable income to burn at the cinema. That’s two buttons pushed.

Third, there’s the cast of characters. The costuming in this film seems to cleave closer to the classic character models than did its predecessor. This gives the sequel the advantage of more immediate recognition. Every time Roadblock picks up a big gun, Cobra Commander minces behind his mask, or SnakeEyes… does ninja things, there’s a whole synaptic bonfire across your brain as it tries to decode what it’s seeing and put it into context with its previous experiences. When in that millisecond span it connects the dots and has that “aha!” moment, there’s a small rush of endorphins rewarding your clever little brain for a job well done. In this way, seeing your favorite characters up on the screen in full costumed glory literally makes you a little high. There’s three buttons.

Fourth, there’s the people ‘playing’ those characters. In this case I refer specifically to the prominent showcasing of Duane “The Rock” Johnson (though I’m personally in it as much for Ray Stevenson and Ray Park, both of whom deserve to get more work than they do). Now, for a while it was topical to remark on how Johnson’s career has been more of a parody of action-stardom than the real thing, but if you take a look at the last couple of years the man has been back on the upswing. Why is that? Because the preteen boys who once upon a time made up a solid core of his fanbase back when he was a pro wrestler are now monied adults who will pay to watch him kick ass and let them re-experience those vicarious living room thrills. Still counting the buttons.

Fifth, that shot of the Cobra flags flying on the White House. In addition to being a nice short-hand for “the ante done got upped,” as it naturally always must in sequels, I feel the notion of a sinister cabal of supervillains co-opting our government is one that plays well to a generation that matured during the last decade. I won’t try to read any more subtext into it until I watch the film, but for now I’ll count that as a button pushed.

Finally, there is the music that plays over the latter part of the trailer. It’s surprisingly insidious. If you think it sounds familiar, that’s because it should. It’s the song Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes, remixed by the group Glitch Mob. This particular type of aftermarket digitized music has become quite popular in the last couple of years, especially in the 20-something demographic, and when you consider that the song is question is one that was initially popular when many of us were in high-school and just forming our musical tastes I would argue that the soundtrack to the trailer is very deliberate and calculated. Its working too, I can’t stop listening to it.

Button pushed.

Someone at MGM is steepling their fingers and chuckling to themselves with maleficent jolity. You know what though? They earned it. As advertising goes, this shit is pretty off the hook. (do people still say that?)

Now, to see about pre-ordering those tickets.

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Minutes On My Mind, Part Deux

I know I promised more substantive writing, but things are still kind of crazy right now, so to keep up with my promised posting schedule I’m padding things out with more lame poetry. Enjoy! (Or not, as your tastes dictate)

Lovestruck madman
Tough luck scat man
No words to tell
Tell no tales how I fell
Pull the arm, turn the clock
Chick chock, tick tock, close the lock
Wedding bells on my mind
Don’t know what I’m looking to find
Cherubim on the chimes
Feels like I’ve got no time
Time to tell, time to keep
What I’ve sown I’m gonna reap
Air raid siren calls the tune
Wilted flowers may yet bloom
Run in circles, from myself
Poster boy for mental health
Feet on pavement, got no payment
For my bills, society’s ills
Want to heal, don’t know how
To fight these demons, serenity now
That I’ve gone, to the place
Where I can let my dreams keep pace
With what I see when I’m awake
I pray the lord my soul to take


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Minutes On My Mind

Minutes On My Mind is something of a personal writing project. I take five to ten minutes at a go whenever I have a few to spare and just write whatever comes out. Kind of a forced stream of consciousness with only the barest of editing. I think if anything comes out of it that’s worth sharing I’ll post it here. My most recent entry:

Oscillate between extremes of anger
And asking God if he would answer
Why he made man’s tribulations
Sorrow, pain, and consternation
Why can’t we be as he made us
Before losing innocence betrayed us
Once when we were full of joy
Before with free will we destroyed
The paradise that we were given
Seeing that it was not heaven

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Terrific Technobabble

I know this isn’t the post I promised to do next, but I found the draft for it sitting alone and unloved and I decided that I would leave no writing behind. Fret not, my love letter to Scalped is coming soon, and after that probably a little more personal writing regarding the experiences surrounding the passing of my great grandmother. Until then, comics! @.#

I want to like the new Mr. Terrific series. I really do. I love the character, I’m thrilled to see him getting a proper spotlight of his own, and it was one of the few titles in DC’s New 52 lineup which jumped out at me as something worth reading. That said, its losing me. I’m giving it every credit and benefit of the doubt that I can, and yet there’s something about it that just isn’t doing anything for me. The first two issues were passable without being spectacular, but the third issue is getting close to putting me off the title entirely.

There was  an interesting cliffhanger at the end of the previous issue, with the mind-controlling villain Brainstorm manipulating the crowd around our intrepid hero into becoming a frenzied mob that attacked him, believing him to be a terrorist. That is more or less handwaved within the first page or so of this issue, though, preferring instead to have Mr. Terrific just jump straight into fisticuffs with Brainstorm. There’s some painfully forced expository monologing about Brainstorm’s origin and his evil plan and yada yada yada. Its just so bland and forgettable. The villain commences with executing said dastardly masterstroke, and the hero thwarts him with a predictable last minute twist that’s almost as painful as the former’s egomaniacal nattering. After the dust clears there’s an utterly pointless scene where Brainstorm reveals he was partly responsible for the death of Mr. Terrific’s wife, a major event in the character’s motivation, and Terrific nearly loses it and beats him to pulp before being stopped and reminded of his principles yada yada redux. Its supposed to create pathos but it really just ends up seeming contrived.

I know what you’re going to say. “But Walker, its a superhero comic, what more do you really expect?” Maybe I’m being too harsh on the book. Maybe I shouldn’t expect more from it. I do, though, and what bugs me is that I know it could be better.  Mr. Terrific is one of the few non-stereotyped African-American comic characters out there, he has an interesting philosophical underpinning which could be explored, and as a hero who’s foremost power is “Science!” the possibilities for story hooks are really endless. Reference to philosophy has been brief and begrudged. The plotting  is formulaic and peppered with meaningless gibberish strutting around like techno-babble. I think that is ironically one of the things that is bugging me the most; the watery half-assed techno-babble. Believe it or not there is an art to well-executed faux-scientific glossolalia. Admittedly though, I’ve been spoiled by Warren Ellis’ masterful work of science-bent-over-until-its-magic-and-then-bent-all-the-way-around-into-science-again (whew), Planetary.

What Warren Ellis does so well in Planetary, in addition to writing an extended send up of twentieth century pulp culture and deconstructing the very notion of science fiction and even science fiction ‘writing’ (I’m a fan of the book, can you tell?), is essentially the best goddamned technobabble anybody’s ever put to paper. The shit is almost always trippy in the extreme, but simultaneously it ‘feels’ essentially grounded in real world scientific fact. It takes and explores an established scientific concept, pokes about at its ragged fringes a bit, sprinkles a little fairy dust on it, then takes it on a drag race past its bleeding edge and into the most bizarre of potential possibilities one could extrapolate from it. It is in maintaining this tether to that grounded concept, however, that really sells it. It puts you in awe of Science! with a capital S and !  The current Mister Terrific series, by way of contrast, takes the route of lazy science fiction and just throws a bunch of four-dollar words around and snorts when a character professes their ignorance. We don’t need to be reminded that Mr. Terrific is one of the smartest men in the world. Just have him show us. Again, maybe its unfair to compare the two books. Mister Terrific isn’t Planetary and maybe I shouldn’t be looking for one in the other. Planetary has set the bar, though. I don’t so much care if Mister Terrific can’t reach as high, but I do wish it would at least make the leap.

Now, to do some Science! in my kitchen.

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Uncanny

I’ve always loved the X-Men. From the first time I saw the Jim Lee-inspired cartoon on Saturday morning I was hooked. It only helped matters that my mother was categorically opposed to the gritty rock and roll violence it outwardly portrayed and forbid me from viewing it. It just made me want to know more, so every chance I got I sucked up X-Men media. As I watched it though (when I got the chance to), I could tell even at that age that there was something else going on in the show. The way that the invented dirty word “mutie” got thrown around, an otherwise goofy sounding epithet that nonetheless dripped with a kind of malice I had never encountered in my young experience. Villains had certainly called people nasty names before, but this word I could tell was something far more sinister. It ‘sounded’ degrading, demeaning, dehumanizing. It made me uncomfortable, but it also drew me in. I cared about what was going on in the show, not just in the fights full of fireworks and laserbeams, but about that word and what it meant. In short, I came for the superheroes but stayed for the social commentary.

That said, I’ve only occasionally followed the X-Men comic books. I’ve read them in fits and bursts over the course of my life, floating in and out of their rather labyrinthine continuity. The last time I was a good and proper X-fan was about ten years ago when I was reading Grant Morrison’s New X-Men and Chris Claremont’s X-treme X-Men.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both of these series had an excellent authorial pedigree but are frequently met with mixed reactions from fans. You either love or hate New X-Men (unless you’re me, I prefer to compartmentalize my effusions of adoration or bile to specific arcs within the run), and while Claremont is a storied X-bard his run on X-treme is considered by most to be largely forgettable. I enjoyed both immensely however. Morrison recast the conflict in X-Men in a radical way, and spelunked in the mythology’s underlying foundations. He didn’t so much rock the boat as put it on a theme park water ride. The twists and rapids are thrilling, but sooner or later someone is going to wet. While Morrison’s grandiosity was on the micro level, Claremont’s was decidedly macro. Bringing his trademark bombast to the title, Claremont directed sweeping adventures and introduced colorful new players and personalities to the X-verse. It wasn’t so much brain-candy as grandma’s family recipe brain-sweets. The calories are just as empty, but they’re made with art, love, and special ingredients. Ironically, the biggest complaint I’ve heard about both titles is that Morrison did too much while Claremont did too little. Morrison the upstart played rough with toys that weren’t his and alienated some fans, while Claremont the veteran for all his style didn’t take ‘enough’ risks and left fans yawning. Personally, I found each title to be the perfect compliment to the other. When I needed a break from all the heady stuff about evolution, free will, and identity going on in New X-Men, I could flip open X-treme Xmen and watch my guys fistfight with some totally sweet aliens. Conversely, when I felt like I needed something a little more substantial to go with my spandex, New X-Men was there to rock my socks.

Recently I’ve decided to go once more unto the breach and start properly following the ole’ X-dudes again. To this end I am picking up the two main books in the current line, Keiron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men and Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men.

Jason Aaron was my foremost attraction to the latter title. I’m already a fan of his from his work on Scalped (which incidentally is the hottest shit since sliced bread and will likely be the subject of my next post), and I know I can expect good things. While not familiar with Gillen,what I hear is good, and if nothing else I feel like I should grab both to get the big picture (or at least as big as I can get without also investing in all the other sundry X-titles that I’ve not yet and probably won’t commit to). Both titles are spinning off of the recent big event in X continuity, entitled Schism. I haven’t sunk my teeth into that one yet, but I probably will once it comes out in trade book form and I have enough of the cliff notes to not be lost. The main thing that came of it was the splitting of the X-Men into two teams, their respective stories being chronicled in the two series I have mentioned previously. This setup is superficially similar to team split that occurred with New and X-treme Xmen, and honestly that makes it seem like a good entry point to reintroduce myself the the X-mythos.

From what I’ve read so far my feelings have proven correct. In fact, I feel like Uncanny and Wolverine share very much the same relationship as the old New and X-treme titles. Uncanny X-Men is all about the shaky future of the mutant species along with the uneasy alliances and difficult choices which have to be made to safeguard against its extinction. Wolverine by contrast has the team fighting off a siege of Frankensteins (plural, you read that right) and is generally colorful and unabashedly fun. Both do what they do well and I feel compliment the other better for it. Uncanny features a more eclectic roster than we’re used to, but its shakes up the dynamics in a way I’m excited to see more of. Wolverine features many of the older characters, particularly those who used to be in more of the “kid” roles such as Iceman and Kitty Pride, at last taking their place as adults and instructors in their own right to a new generation. If you’ve ever been an X-Man (or Woman) in your life, now is a great time to rejoin the team.

Now, Xcelsior!

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Bricks

When I was young, my great grandmother always said that she’d have to put a brick on my head to stop me growing so fast. Every time I’d see her she would say she was putting a brick on my head. Still I grew, and we’d laugh about how many bricks it would take to stop me. It was our joke.

I’ve outgrown all my bricks now. I was six feet tall on the day she died.

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