Monthly Archives: July 2012

Author! Author!

When discussing the grimoire of award winning acclaimed acknowledged horrorist Anton Kerzouav it is difficult to elucidate on his many masterworks without acknowledging the elephant in the room (or the “hellephant” as it were).

I could go on at some indeterminate length regarding Comebackers (or Those Who From Going Come Back in the European edition), but I think it might be best to let the reviews speak for themselves.

 

“Could have been worse…”  – The Trapsburg Hamiltonian

“Moderately perturbing. Like when you smell a fart but you’re alone in the room and it definitely wasn’t you this time…”  – The Aventine Register

“Not a porno…”  – ChadBroChill87, forum poster

 

Powerful words. Powerful words about powerful prose. Which is really another way of saying words. So on the large we’re really just talking about a lot of powerful words all around ultimately, finally. Comebackers broke the mold from which it had been cast, leaving only the imprint of Kerzouav’s opus on the Jungian zeitgeist. Chronicling the trials of a middle-American small town beset by the spirits of the damned, forcing them to confront their own inner demons through the lens of a proletarian dialectic. Like the book itself though, its strokes of verse cannot be properly engaged with in the absence of another proverbial “hellephant,” rather like an infernal nesting doll hand carved by cursed Romani on the road to purgatory during the Holocaust (incidentally the subject of another Kerzouav spine-curdler Gypsy Halloween).The book’s true transcendence lies in its daring and innovative “double-blind twist.” The feint of heart and probably also the pregnant should read no farther (also if you don’t want spoilers I guess).

Those damned spirits which so bedevil and derange the small town inhabitants of Comebackers are in actuality the fraudulent agents of a nefarious corporate entity, seeking to scare the townsfolk from their land in order to exploit the rich uranium deposits beneath. Not content to bend our mortal minds but once though, Kerzouav performs origami with the delicate folds of our psyche. In the true climax of the tale it is revealed that the townspeople themselves are in fact lingering spirits of the dead, unaware of their unmortality until their unconsciousness is undermined by the underhanded undertakings of the underworld underlings under guise as unfathomable unlivers. ‘They’ are the comebackers, those who from going have come back. This bone-thrilling spiral of revelation takes the reader on a tantric rollercoaster of necromantic soul-expansion past the very ragged edge of our own reassuring complacency and into a terrifying parallel universe of terror.

To say that Anton Kerzouav is a practitioner of “horrorism” is often taken as a term of art for describing his unique process of crafting brain-melters (and also face-melters, and other-melters, and really melting just kind of happens a lot you learn to roll with it). In truth though the truthful facts are that horrorism is not merely pretension, but rather premonitionary. In the words of Anton Kerzouav himself the practice of horrorism “[…]is a deeply spirituoso act of metaphysicality which we as a society must embrace in order that we might shed our loose bindings of flesh and ascend to the plane of the Sublime Skull, where all marrow is bleached clean of sin.”

In this it should become obvious that Anton Kerzouav is not simply the foremost auteur of our human epoch, but also the prophet of mankind’s new twenty first century collective mindspirit. To say that the story of man has been immeasurably enriched by his voice, which I am told is a resonant baritone and which in this case is also telling literal stories of its own to add to the metaphorical one I just referenced, his tending to be about things like vampire babysitters and volcanic sea monsters wearing elaborate people-suits while the latter is more of a broad analogy for the cultural heritage of the homo sapiens species, would be an understatement. The greatest crime of Anton Kerzouav’s significantly greater career has been his obscurity. Not one, not twice, but fourteen times Kerzouav has been snubbed for nomination by the Aurealis Award, the Reaper Award, the Goldberg Award, the Scream Award, the Hugo Award, the Time’s Bestseller List, and the Shingleburg Catholic Diocese Book of the Month Club. All artists must suffer for their craft though. Such is the burden of brilliance. We the few, the devoted, shall keep alight the guttering flame of civilization’s last great poet, even if only in waiting for it to be snuffed by the crushing pall of oblivion in the final refrain of the worldsong.

Now, to do something productive with my Saturday…

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A Look Back: Tim Burton’s ‘Batman Lives!’

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last epoch of man, The Dark Knight Rises is hitting theaters in just a few days. The film concludes the trilogy of director Christopher Nolan’s unique take on the mythology of Batman. There are inevitably questions that come with this sort of undertaking. Will it be as good as the last one? Will it bring a satisfactory conclusion to the series? What sort of themes can we expect this one to bring us home with? I don’t have the answers to these questions yet, but what I can do is take us back about fifteen years to the last time we were in this situation. The year was 1996 and a visionary director was concluding his epic trilogy of gothic superhero films. These movies had reshaped the cinema landscape in perhaps even more profound ways than their successors in the present day, and everyone was holding their breath to see what would happen next. I’m talking obviously about Tim Burton’s Batman Lives!

To call the production troubled would be doing it a kindness. Burton’s previous effort Batman Returns had been a monster box office smash, but the director’s controversial auteur style had created concerns about public reception and its impact on what was then possibly Warner Brothers’ most valuable IP. It’s known that the studio actively considered giving Burton the boot from the third installment entirely, but at the eleventh hour someone ultimately balked. As much of a gamble as keeping Burton on was, it was determined changing horses mid-stream might create an even greater risk to the cash cow brand. That said, Warner Brothers wasn’t going to go into this without some assurances. Executive producers Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan were tasked with keeping Burton on a tighter creative leash, a decision which almost derailed the film from the outset. Tim Burton was already ambivalent about returning to the franchise again, and bristled at the proposed constraints. Warner Brothers’ finally agreed to green-light one of Burton’s pet projects, a remake of the 1960 horror film Fall of the House of Usher based on the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name, as a means of easing Burton’s cooperation.

Two-Face was written as the film’s central antagonist, with Billy Dee Williams reprising his role of Harvey Dent from the original film. Burton’s second villain choice, The Scarecrow, was vetoed by the studio heads as being too frightening (an irony which I can only hope wasn’t lost on at least ‘somebody’). After much wrangling and a couple of quick screenplay revisions the character of Harley Quinn was agreed upon to fill in, having achieved popularity in the successful animated series and only recently introduced into the comics. Initially there was talk of replacing Williams as Dent with a more contemporary (and likely caucasian) actor, but director and actor dug in their heels until the discussion fizzled. All to the good, frankly. Casting only got more complicated from there on out. Micheal Keaton, after some deliberation, ultimately opted not to conclude the series as Bruce Wayne. Many potential replacements were discussed, including Val Kilmer and Burton’s friend Johnny Depp, but the leading part was finally cast for Daniel Day Lewis, another rising character actor known for intense performances and an eccentric off-screen persona. The role of Harley Quinn, here reimagined somewhat as the daughter of Jack Nicholson’s Joker from the first film, was a potential minefield for the studio, considering the very public controversy preceding the casting of Catwoman four years prior. As such, the audition process effectively became a shell game of blind readings and obfuscated parts. Finally the role was cast for Sharon Stone, still coming off of her success in Basic Instinct and Casino.

 

 

 

 

The film itself… is what it is. It’s been said that you either love it or you hate it, but I feel like I might actually fall in the middle somewhere. On the one hand, I don’t know that the movie completely has its act together. All three leads seem to be performing different scripts from one another, in turn distinct from whatever script Tim Burton was shooting off of. Each performance has its own quirks which either add to or take away from the film depending on your perspective. Williams as Two-Face is playing an unusually straight and cerebral villain, as compared to the over the top psychopaths of the first two installments, preferring to leave most of the mania to Stone as Quinn. Stone in turn can’t quite seem to figure out whether her character is supposed to be channeling Nicholson’s Joker or Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, oscillating between the two abruptly and with no real warning (as if it even needed to be said, the sexual tension in this movie is uncomfortable and awkward even by Burton’s standards). Day Lewis it’s said found a peculiar new expression of his penchant for extreme method acting. Lewis reportedly spent most of his time in character as Bruce Wayne for the first half of the production and then as Batman for the second half, necessitating that they shoot the scenes with those characters in that order with very little room for reshoots. The result though is definite grasp on the role’s bipolar dichotomy and ultimately creates a kind of Jekyll and Hyde feel, hammering home what seems to be the film’s central theme of duality.

As nuanced as these performances are, they don’t all really mesh with each other entirely. We’re supposed to gather that Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent are close friends, really a central conceit of the story, but the actors just don’t sell it. This makes Quinn’s attempt to create a love triangle between them diminished in impact and some of the subsequent character turns particularly disjointed. That said, Burton still manages to spin these disparate players into a succession of interesting and visceral scenes. The scarring and transformation of Harvey Dent into Two-Face remains horrifying to watch, and the four-way conversation between Two-Face and Batman in the climax still stands out as a watershed moment for the characters. Burton’s trademark visual sensibility, an integral part of the series’ aesthetic, is possibly at its most acute here, with lighting and cinematography almost reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, another reference to the film’s preoccupation with duality. Coherent storytelling has never really been Burton’s selling point, but he strings together enough short form set pieces that it crosses the finish line. The finished product overall isn’t quite as “dark” per se that its two antecedents, likely the mark of Melniker and Uslan’s respective influences, but its brooding sensibility just about reaches critical mass for the franchise, and one ultimately gets the impression that audiences had started getting a little bored with it.

Batman Lives! opened to an impressive box office take, but didn’t quite break the records set by its blockbuster predecessors. Merchandising fared somewhat better that it had with Batman Returns but still didn’t quite measure up to Warner Brother’s expectations. Sensing diminishing returns from the license, the decision was made to mothball the Batman portfolio for nearly a decade, until another oddball director came along to see if he could make lightning strike twice.

So many trilogies seem to be lessons in either how ‘to’ do a movie series or lessons in how ‘not’ to do them. Batman Lives! somehow manages to exist in both worlds. It had a clarity of vision, if not necessarily of purpose. It had all the swing, if not necessarily the follow-through. An ill-starred endeavor whose constellations still somehow managed to align for a fleeting moment of brilliance before losing itself somewhere in its own mind. Batman Lives! wasn’t quite groundbreaking and it wasn’t quite boilerplate. Christopher Nolan’s own trilogy ambitions pan out this friday, and he is ultimately faced with a similar set of conundrums. Will his own results be similar? Or will he overcome history? Regardless, he has some tough acts to follow, but not ones that can’t be beaten…

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Earth Two #3

It’s that time again…

Previamente en la Tierra Dos!!!!!

The cliffhanger of the last issue concluded with an explosion aboard the train carrying Alan Scott just as he was proposing marriage to his significant other. This is where the story picks up and deals with Scott’s transformation into the Green Lantern of the Earth Two. The scene is pretty grisly. The train is wreckage and Scott is more the worse for wear. While searching for his lover Sam he confronted by vast green flame which speaks to him and heals his grievous wounds. The precise nature of this energy being is unclear, referring to itself vaguely as a “spirit of the earth.” While a more concrete exposition on its nature and purpose might have been preferable Alan Scott’s abilities have always required a fairly long-winded explanation, being a distinct animal from the other Green Lanterns of continuity and often prone to retcons. As such, the green flame cuts right to the chase. A great evil lurks on the horizon and Alan must take up the mantle of Earth’s defender to thwart its ambiguously nefarious ends. Also Sam is dead.

Yep, barely a whole issue in and Alan Scott’s brand new groundbreaking gay romance has already been put in the fridge. To say it seems like a cop out would be an understatement. There was so much more potential in that relationship than just cashing in one half of it for artificial pathos points. That being the case, I’ve always said that this kind of thing can avoid being gratuitous if it at least manages to carry meaning later on when its full arc is resolved. This remains to be seen, but I have confidence in the creative team on this one. The cover image above, morbid though it is on close examination, conveys a great deal of emotion that we haven’t yet seen out of Alan Scott but that at the right moment in the story could be leveraged to great narrative effect.

Meanwhile, Jay Garrick the Flash is still getting a handle on his new abilities when he runs into a familiar face. Or not so familiar in this case. First time superhero meeting antics ensue: they talk, they quarrel, they have a dust up, and they shake hands. They also name drop another potential member of the new Earth Two Justice Society, bringing the total roster of characters to appear or to be referenced to seven (I’m honestly still waiting for my personal favorite to show up). Finally, the plot at last moves forward as we are introduced to a terrifying new vision of classic villain Solomon Grundy.

No, he didn’t get any pants.

Writing wise, this issue has… problems. I love James Robinson, but he badly needed an editor on this one. There’s a glaring number of dialogue exchanges that just don’t… work. Mostly it’s just clunky and in need of a coherent voice, but in at least one panel I am certain there is a line missing somewhere because as written what is said literally does not make sense. I understand that writers are under a lot of time constraints on these scripts, but if Robinson has as much love for this project as he says I wish he’s take a little more time to check his work.

Nikola Scott’s artwork remains stellar and a big draw. The conceptual redesigns of Grundy and Hawkgirl are amazing in my opinion. Easily recognizable while still being unique creations.  I’m less enthused with the new look of Flash and Green Lantern. The task of updating Jay Garrick’s intentionally anachronistic helmet is difficult, but the space age look they’ve gone with makes it difficult for me to take him seriously. Green Lantern by contrast feels a little too similar to the look of the mainstream Lanterns. One of the things that always drew me to Alan Scott was the way he stood out from the lineup, and I was hoping an update to his costume would look similar to either his Kingdom Come or Sentinel portrayals. That said, Nikola Scott may not have had much say in the characters’ new looks. As such, I’m willing to give her credit for the ones I like and brush off the ones I don’t.

I think it is actually this very reimagining, which I was rather wary of at the outset, that is keeping me continually engaged in this exercise. I’m beginning to think of the series as something similar to the Ultimate comics, the new Star Trek continuity, or even the new take on the Star Wars universe that this kid is very excited for. The process of adaptation has always been of great interest to me, and I feel it is this same preoccupation with distilled myth-making that pulls me through page after page of Earth Two.

Now, to devise a cocktail called the “Parallel Universe…”

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Glory Days

He is awoken at last by the kaleidoscope of light flitting through the eyes of his robot…

The noonday sun pierces his mind almost as sharply as his hangover. With a final groan he rolls out of his makeshift bunk in the metal colossus he calls home. Upon fully regaining cognizance his head instinctively whips around, an action for which his splitting headache would later repay him with interest, to look at the ruby-glass klaxon prominently displayed on a nearby console. Still dark. Nothing came in the night that he might have missed, quiet as usual these days. In all truth he was starting to feel like the way people talked about him; superfluous, obsolescent, among the more kind things. He blew a raspberry at the dull crystal display, not really certain why. Perhaps it was meant to be at the people who called him names, perhaps it was at the klaxon for not lighting like he half-hoped, half-dreaded that it would; the klaxon that was in all likelihood broken like the rest of this heap of a machine, or perhaps it was just because he was going a little crazy; he’d been given to ever more eccentric quirks these last few years. Like drinking. He’d never drank in the old days, the rough-and-tumble days. All about keeping himself sharp, clean-living as an example to all the kids that looked up to him. Now? The hangover still gnawing its way out of his skull attested to how much he indulged.

Turning away from the console with a sigh, he pulled open the creaky hatch in the floor of the cockpit and descended into the belly of the beast. He’d heat up the engines and idle them for a while so he could cook some breakfast on the drive-plate. His own belly grumbled hungrily at the thought, complaining at the meager fare of the past few months. It couldn’t be helped though. Things were tight. Really tight. He’d had to make the choice between buying food and keeping the behemoth running more than a few times recently, and he was running out of the means to do either. Nothing to be done though, he still had an obligation, whether anyone liked it or not. Whether anyone payed him or not. Who’d have thought being a hero would be so expensive? He hadn’t realized at first, not for a while at least. He’d chuckle sometimes at the memory; all those jet-setting trips, the caviar and beautiful women, the vacations with the who’s-who, the poster-child for the independently wealthy playboy. It had started almost as a game, another thrill to explore, something at last to challenge him in his malaise. Then somewhere along the line it changed. Maybe it was Kaijudaiku or Peking Kong, maybe it was the one of the giant-squid attacks, maybe it was that other robot the communists built, but somewhere he realized that picking up this duty meant that he couldn’t put it down. Not in good conscience, no matter how much he had to sacrifice. If he didn’t do it, who would? Not that there was much ‘to’ do anymore, all the monsters and aliens and grandiose terrorists must have started getting bored. Still, when it happened he had to be there; and it ‘did’ happen. Just… not as often. Not near as often. Even when it did though, it wasn’t the same anymore. Again, something had changed. Maybe it was the fact that his mechanical giant was starting to show its age, maybe it was because people didn’t cheer like they used to when he appeared, or maybe it was because anymore it was an even chance whether he was piloting sober.

He hits the buttons and cranks the levers necessary to get the titan’s motor running, giving the turbines a couple swift kicks to remind them they weren’t dead yet. Toggling open one of the auxiliary exhaust vents, he uses it to light a cigarette fetched from his sagging pockets. He never used to smoke either, something else that had changed. He’d honestly be surprised if he didn’t have cancer, not that he really had the spare change to find out. His last doctor visit had been a charity case from someone he’d apparently saved as a kid. At least ‘he’ had made something of himself, compared to the depths his one-time savior had sunk to. Waiting for the drive-plate to get good and hot he dug into the breaker box that served for a pantry, to see what there was to see. Not a lot. He fetched out some rice and his last, lone egg, pausing for a moment to wipe some engine-grime off on his pants. He needed a bath soon, and to do laundry. The nearby stream did pretty well, so long as he didn’t mind the chill. The farmer who owned the land occasionally came by to give him hell about trespassing, so he’d have to watch his time. He never did more than get huffy and yell though, being a little too anxious of gargantuan bipedal arsenal parked on the ridge to really want to press the matter. The same with the police and the military. They could try to bring him in for vagrancy or for any of the multitude of property damages he’d incurred over the years, but they didn’t. He had few friends left in the government these days, but those few with longer memories kept him out of trouble. That was really what he was reduced to. Once he possessed wealth almost beyond avarice, and now he relied almost totally on the charity of strangers.

A loud pinging sound as the monster’s insides heated signaled the buckling of some rivet in its metal innards, its high pitched report echoing through the engine chamber and through his hung over skull. Rubbing his temples in both pain and frustration, he returned to his makeshift pantry and retrieved a bottle of beer. There was more booze in his pantry than real food these days, a fact he tried not to dwell on at great length. Removing its cap on a piece of jagged metal jutting from one of the supports of the robot’s super-structure, a makeshift bottle opener for his makeshift house, he took a long pull on the beer. It was warm, and cheap, and would probably make him even more dehydrated, but he didn’t care. There honestly wasn’t much he ‘did’ care about anymore. He had few real friends, and most of them considered him an embarrassment, even among those few who were left from the old days.The drive-plate was good and hot now, so he got to work fixing some breakfast. He’d gotten pretty good at cooking with atypical accoutrements. They, along with the metallic gargantua he called home, were at this point his only worldly possessions beyond some ragged clothes and personal knick-knacks. He’d gotten over feeling sorry for himself though, or at least that was what he told himself. He once more pointedly avoided the mental subject of how much he drank anymore. It didn’t matter. The only things that mattered were getting what he needed to get by and maintaining vigilance, vigilance against the threats that normal folks just couldn’t handle, that only folks like him ‘could’ handle.

As the thought of vigilance passed through his mind his head was split once more by another clamorous ringing. It wasn’t anything mechanical this time, and his heart instinctively began to race at its sound. It was the klaxon; Tokyo was in trouble. Big trouble. Wasting no time, he scarfed down his half-cooked and scalding hot food. He would burn his mouth, but he needed to move quickly. Giant monsters waited for no one. He ascended the ladder to his robot’s cockpit with practiced celerity, plopping into the threadbare pilot seat before he’d even finished chewing. Swallowing the last of his pitiful breakfast in one large gulp, he called out the voice commands that would bring his titan to life. Once upon a time they’d been booming and impressive, but their dramatic flare had suffered somewhat along with his voice, now scarred from years of increasingly hard smoking. Nevertheless, they got the job done and his giant machine responded accordingly, powering up its systems with only a minimum of complaining groans and creaks. He grasped the well-worn controls and with expert manipulation his robot lurched forward, running with colossal, loping strides towards the city limits and whatever dangers assailed it. They probably wouldn’t thank him. After all, he was just a hobo with a giant robot. That didn’t bother him, though.

Because if he didn’t do it, who would?

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