Thursday, November 27, 2008

New Comic Book Day 11/26/08

It’s a rare month when there are five comics I am genuinely looking forward to, so having five come out on the same day makes this the best New Comicbook Day EVER. All five titles where ones I was excited about some lived up to expectations some didn’t. Here’s a quick look.

Oh and Spoilers...

Batman #681

Huh. Or to use that much hated phrase. Meh. The thing is whether it was good or bad I had no doubt that Batman RIP would be the (temporary) game changer that Morrison kept saying it would be. The run of the series convinced me of this, what with Bruce Wayne shot up with heroin and crystal meth, his friendly Ghost Hobo spirit guide, Bat-Mite, Talking Gargoyles, The Joker Cutting His tongue down the middle, and Batman dressed in rags dispensing justice with a baseball bat. I figured something truly epic and bizarre was going down in the final issue.

SPOILERS: A quick summation of the finale.

Dr. Paine: I am thez Thomas Wayne!

Bruce Wayne: Nos you ares not!

Dr. Paine: You are right. But I might be your father anyway!

Everyone else: Ohs Nos Teh Helicopter Crash!

Dick Grayson: I’m probablies Batman Now!!

Now two points.

1) After watching Bruce Wayne Bench press his way out of a coffin, I can’t get two worried about him surviving a plane crash.

2) The whole Dr. Paine isn’t Thomas Wayne thing is just two annoying for words. Now let me be frank I think Thomas Wayne turning out to be a wife beating, orgy going junkie, who murdered his wife would have been a pretty pathetic way to go. It’d be cheap and mean Morrison corrupting mythology that doesn’t belong to him. It’d be like someone at Marvel deciding that Uncle Ben was a whoremonger who beat his wife and the Burglar that killed him was just a loan shark recollecting a debt. That said the way it’s handled here is even worse, it’s just pointless. Say what you will about the whole Thomas Wayne thing, but it would have been a real reason for Batman to reconsider being Batman. The fact that everything he’s done and accomplished would be built on a lie would give Batman a good reason to reconsider being Batman.

And that’s really the problem, there really isn’t one anymore. While there are some fun moments, the afore mentioned Batman digging himself out of the coffin, The Joker, and then Batman turning the tables on the way too smug Black Glove, Bruce and Dick’s “final” fight together and The Joker’s speech in praising Batman. At the end of the day I see no reason why Bruce isn’t back at the Batcave the next week.

And when your title’s name is Batman RIP that’s a considerable problem.


Buffy #19

Inspeaking of considerable problems, when you do a cliffhanger involving a major character being evil it’s problematic when you can’t tell who that character is. For the life of me, I thought Dawn was the “madwoman” and it wasn’t until two issues later that I realized it was Willow.

As always Buffy was interentsing, Whedon’s spinning a great web here, and I have a feeling when he finally pulls back and reveals his master plan it’ll be pretty astonishing. The reveal that another character we thought was on the side of angels isn’t had a real punch to it. Though, it does ruin my number one guess as to who Twilight was. (At least I think it’s the character).

Still Whedon’s mix of horror, humor, soap opera, and action is potent as ever. I’m on this train till it ends.


Daredevil #113

Ed Brubaker is so so awesome. Normally I wouldn’t have much more to say then that, but it’s worth mentioning, that occasionally there are detriments to not really reading any main stream superhero comicbook. There’s the death of an apparently major character at the end of this book. But it was tough to care about as I had no idea who she was, or what her relationship to any of the characters was. I knew I was supposed to care. I just didn’t know why.

Other then that great stuff.


Ultimate Spiderman #128

Comicbook death is one of the things that annoys me most about the medium. Not so much for what it is but as a symptom of the disease. In comics nothing is for keeps there’s nothing that can’t get retconned, revisioned, or flat out ignored. In the words of Will Rogers “Don’t like the weather? Wait a few minutes.”

That said, Bendis wrote such a good Gwen Stacy, and she added such a nice dynamic to the group that I can’t help but be glad she’s back. Not to mention the fact that Bendis finds away to make her come back without resulting to either A) Emotional Dildo syndrome (Ala The Dark Tower) or B) Denying what happened. It’s a good solution and plausible, (or at least comicbook plausible) and it that doesn’t float your boat there’s plenty of great action, great character work, and some truly freaky Cronenbergian visuals.

This book isn’t that well loved anymore, but there’s no other title I can buy month after month knowing that I’ll get my three bucks worth of entertainment.


Umbrella Academy: God Save The President #1

Of course I just say that since this book isn’t a monthly. If there was any question that the Umbrella Academy was just a fluke, that Gerard Way really just was a pretty boy playing the sandbox they should be laid to rest with this little number which is just as great as the preceding miniseries.

For those of you who are not familiar with The Umbrella Academy, Take one pinch Salinger, a heaping helping of Wes Anderson. Apply liberal dashes The X-men, Clockwork Orange, The Twilight Zone, and Mike Mignola add A semi insane ten year old with more killing power then Lee Marvin in his prime and that kind of scratches the surface. Despite all of this Umbrella Academy possesses it’s very own brand of nutso, provided by Way, and is brought to life by Ba’s art perfectly.

This issue begins with a group of Preteens taking down a surly Lincoln Monument with the help of John Wilkes Booth, and ends with a ten year old killing literally hundreds with his bare hands. And what sticks them together ain’t bad either. This book is seven different flavors of bad ass.


We'll now return to your regularly scheduled programming of navel gazing and caring way too much about an old anime series. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Revisit Evangelion 5 & 6

(Note: I should mention that if you haven’t seen Eva and want to, you maybe shouldn’t read this for there will be spoilers. In this and all the reconsiderations)

The Fifth Episode Of Eva begins with a timely reminder of just how fucking terrifying the Evangelions are. Flashing back to the past as Unit 00 has it’s first activation, and promptly flips right the fuck out. It’s a worse case scenario on a staggering degree. An Eva doing exactly what you tell it to is a bad enough proposition, one deciding to turn against you is a catastrophuck.

This brings up two key points about the series, one is as much as we like to bitch and moan about it Eva’s ambiguity often works in it’s favor as much as it’s determent. From the second episode on we know the Evas have their own personalites and through the series it becomes apparent that there are human souls inside them, specifically the souls of Shinji’s, Asuka, and Ritsuko’s mother. Having a character come right out and say this, would make the whole thing seem pretty stupid, as would taking us through the step by step process of shoving a dead person’s spirit into a giant war machine, although judging by Unit 00’s reaction upon awakening it’s a pretty horrific experience. Eva never does either, it just gives us hints and dark inferences, and let’s us come to our own conclusions, rather then being spoon fed we spring to the idea itself making it a lot more powerful.

The second point comes from what will be the centeral question of the episode and in many ways the series. Just what the hell is up with Rei? Rei has for better or for worse become the poster child of the series (hint it’s mostly been for the worse) but a lot of that has to do with the fact that she is a truly fascinating character.

As it eventually becomes clear Rei has been reverse engineered from Shinji’s dead Mom, (Why, aside from Gendo’s wacky sense of humor, is a pretty good question, as it’s revealed that Yui was the first Eva pilot, did they just think nobody else could do it? Once again ambiguity working in the show’s favor). But just how much of Yui is in Rei (Because she’s also in Unit 01 right? I mean did she just have a spare soul lying around?) and how much Rei knows about it, her reaction to Shinji and Unit 00 reaction to her suggest that there is something there, not to mention her rather blaise reaction to having to spend large amounts of time in a giant glass tube, suggests she’s not totally ignorant of her origins.

The episodes starts with a visit to the lab that’s been built around the corpse of the (pretty ripe smelling I'd wager) angel from two episodes ago. The revelation that it’s DNA is composed the same way as humanity's is another thing that’s interesting as it is infuriating. Later in the series it’s suggested that the Angel’s are basically other species who have undergone instrumentality. That’s a cool explanation but once again makes little sense, why then are they so pissed at humanity for trying to do the same thing? Is it some sort of hazing ritual where the angels have to test the new guys metal before allowing them to join their interdimensional higher conscience frat? If so then how come there are still so many of them floating around, wouldn’t they have all been killed off in there attempt to stop the last species from assimilating into the form of an effete gay teenager?

The episode continues with Kensuke, and Toji panting over their fanservice’d out classmates, the creepiness of the scene is compounded by the fact that their leering, red faced reaction to Rei is almost identical to a lot of fanboys who have enshrined the character as a sex symbol despite the fact that she is, A) Fourteen, B) Fictional C) Has a tank full of soulless often mutilated clones. Any one of these things has an aura of creepiness to it on it’s own, put them together and you have a perfect storm of icky.

More “Comic Relief” ensues and then Shinji has his first encounter with Rei. Once again their relationship is interesting because we’re not quite sure where she stands. The “sexual tension” between the two is a lot more palatable since it doesn’t seem to exist. Sure Shinji ends up around her naked a lot, but he doesn’t seem so much attracted to her as drawn by something he recognizes. Rei on the other hand over the course of the episode, scolds, awakens, feeds, and protects, Shinji in other words she mother’s him. Is it Yui? Or just the echoes?

Her somewhere beyond Spartan apartment and ultra laconic demeanor, contrast immediately and intriguingly with her attachment to Gendo’s glasses and her anger shown when Shinji gives him less then glowing praise. More then anything else Rei seems incomplete. Assuming that Gendo is the one who did the reverse engineering this raises some interesting ideas. To about half the characters on the show Yui represents the feminine ideal, but what did Gendo, a man so enraptured by her that he’d end humanity to see her again really know about her? It recalls Tarkovsky’s version of Solaris (Yes I’m painfully aware that that’s the third time in as many columns I’ve name checked a high falutin old foreign filmmaker. I am probably not going to stop.) He knows she loved him (apparently) but what else? Was she just a role to him? He’s unable to recreate her just the part of her that he knew, and as Rei’s interaction with the rest of the world, and her tormented inner dialogue shows, that’s not nearly enough.

Anyway before I dig myself any further into bullshit hole, an Angel shows up. Starting now the designs on the Angels become pretty extraordinary, (For the most part, there are a few duds in there). This isn’t to say that the first two weren’t cool, but they where pretty standard to Sci Fi and Anime convention. Despite the fact that we truly have no idea what life other then our own would be like, we do our utmost to portray it as humanoid, or scaly and with a lot of teeth. Eva is one of the exceptions creating beings that are truly alien, like this great big reflective diamond, how it works, or just what it is is unknown, but it’s implacable, smart, and creepy as hell and it has no trouble taking down Nerv’s first attack before it’s even begun nearly boiling our hero in LCL. Cue another great Eva cliffhanger.

The next Episode begins with a replay of Shinji’s defeat, this time with extra humiliation. Shinji’s body hasn’t stopped twitching when a big phallic drill drops from the Angel and begins the dirty business of penetrating the trembling circular Geo Front. Ok probably reading to much into that. College has ruined me.

The interesting thing is just how inefficient the Angel’s mode of attack is. It’s estimated to take 22 hours to penetrate the Geo Front’s open waiting void… OK I promise to stop. One of the cool things about the show is how the Angel’s gradually got a lot smarter as they approached different tactics to end humanity. It’s like the old Wile E. Coyote cartoons had a cast of Coyotes, and as they where busy scraping the latest of there brethren off the pavement, they came up with new and better ways to kill that cocky bird.

The slow pace also allows the battle to take on a slightly different pitch then the usual race against time. Rather then the usual two opponents bashing eachother to pieces, it’s really a game of chess (OK maybe an unusually good game of checkers). The players attack and counter attack, feint and maneuver, each really a series of distractions as each tries to ensnare the other in it’s masterplan. Or maybe GAINIX just didn’t feel like animating another huge battle so they just said “Oh fuck it have one use a drill then the other shoot it, I’m sure it’ll be fine. But god help you if the high school girls look anything less then glistening climbing out of the pool!”

Misato tries several plans they don’t work mainly because of The Angel’s high level of Badass Mother Fuckery, before coming up with one that does. Shinji wakes up, Rei demonstrates the worst bedside manner known to man.

Then after a minimum level of antipathy by Shinji (Once again what a pussy, what kind of fourteen year old kid wouldn’t leap at the chance to go face the thing that nearly killed him again, seconds after emerging from a coma. Am I RIGHT?!?) we’re at the mission briefing all composed in either extreme close up or silhouette it’s another good example of Eva using abstraction early on in the series. As is Shinji’s and Rei’s conversation of the ties that bind directly afterwards, introducing the idea of instrumentality, what would become the crux of the series (and also for the excellent Syndechone New York for anyone who has had the chance to see it).

The Climax of the episode is well choreographed and exciting, delivering a nice bit of tension through just how unable the characters are to react. Finally it all ends with a nice understated irony and a smile.

That smile would prove to cause a lot of shit. “Why is that Rei showed human emotion then and then went back to stoicism immediately after.” But this like Shinji’s cowardice strikes me as mature storytelling now. People don’t make progress in easy to follow, and story beat convenient plateaus. We backslide and fall back on old systems of behavior because they’re comfortable, and more or less go forward in loopy circles rather then a straight line.

Much like this column.

Sorry it took so long, I’d promise that I’d get to the next episodes sooner, but seeing as we’re coming on Thanksgiving and I work in a grocery store, well I just don’t know.

Episode 5: B+
Episode 6: B+

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Revisit Evangelion: Episodes 3 & 4

Well after the books written in the last two reconsiderations there’s not a whole lot to say about this pair of episodes. Episodes 3 and 4 are Eva at its most standard, the closest the show ever came to being a typical teenage Mech drama. In my opinion the closer to the standard Eva adheres the weaker it is. By design it more or less takes on all the weaknesses of the Giant Robot Show and none of the strengths

The episode begins with Shinji in a training program acting like a mannequin. When People say they hate Shinji this is what they’re talking about, the guy in suit rotely parroting his commands again and again acting like one of Skinner’s rats. It doesn’t help matters that Anno shoots him with a fish angle lens that makes it look like Shinji is piloting mechs for Diane Arbus.

Anyway Shinji ends up going to school where we meet two of the shows most uninteresting characters, Toji whose defining trait is he’s Mr. Brash N’ Angry, and Kensuke whose defining trait is that I want to kill him with a hammer, slowly.

Anyway drama ensues, The Hedgehog’s Dillema is discussed (isolation brings pain, the only way to relieve isolation is contact with others, contact with others brings pain, you’re fucked) and then mentioned about ten trillion times (It’s also the title of the episode incase you missed the fact that it’s supposed to be IMPORTANT) an Angel comes we get some cool ground level shots of Tokyo 3 sinking into the Geo Front, and a fight ensues that while well choreographed and possessing a nice sense of geography, doesn’t really have the intensity of Eva at its best.

By episodes end Shinji has had his first little mini breakdown and we’re ready to continue.

Things pick up in episode four. Now you might be confused as how I might find an episode which basically involves nothing but the protagonist wandering aimlessly to be more interesting then an episode were the he you know, saves the world, but such are the strange workings of my mind.

Anyway after his minor nervous breakdown Shinji decides to leave Nerv, and starts drifting around Tokyo. Meanwhile Misato worries, and Toji and Kensuke try to find him to apologize. Like I said the bulk of the episode is basically Shinji walking around Tokyo, so your mileage may vary. Personally I found the sequence to be a great piece of silent story telling, conveying it’s ideas a lot more effectively and subtly then when the characters monologue about basic philosophical and psychological constructs for five minutes, the way they did in The Hedgehogs Dilemma, as well as unfortunately the rest of the series.

Shinji’s Antonioniesque treck across the city and into the wilderness unfolds as basically a series of tableaus, with Shinji first witnessing the closeness of other human relationships before going into the wilderness, where the animation becomes strikingly abstract. It also introduces one of Eva’s best motif’s the image of one of it’s characters walking alone through a series of deserted Tokyo streets. Even as someone whose never been there, the city’s reputation as one of the busiest in the world precedes it, and seeing it almost completely deserted, immediately strikes you as wrong, it’s pretty fucking creepy in an understated and artful way.

The sequence continues as basically a series of pillow shots but they express Shinji’s isolation and confusion perfectly. This is also the kind of thing most people hate Shinji for it’s never really bothered me. As someone who’s had my own battles with depression, and whose ability to turn acquaintances into friends can be described as shitty, I can understand Shinji’s dilema. The desire to be close with people, part of something, yet having no idea how. It’s relatable to me. He doesn’t have the power of self validation, he seeks it from others finds hostility and withdraws, even further outside looking in. What can I say I get it.

The sequence comes to the end with a strikingly composed shot of a red sky with a foreground of beautifully etched wheat with a black form in between, of course that black form turns out to be Kensuke, and the whole thing kinda craps out there. NERV’s Gestapo division finds Shinji, takes him back to headquaters so Misato can yell at him, and then basically releases him so that he can go and do exactly the thing he was going to do before.

Shinji and Misato both reconsider, the oldest trick in the world is used at the train station and the “I’m home.” line that worked so well in episode two repeated to lesser effect. All in all these episodes aren’t what you would call bad, but you have to wonder why it took two episodes to get to where we already were.

Episode 3: C-
Episode 4: C+

Monday, November 10, 2008

Revisit Evangelion Episodes 1&2

(Note: I’m planning on writing about this series at about two episodes per entry. When it works to review them separately I will, when it works to write about them as one long rambling tangent, like today I’ll do that to.)

Let’s start with the theme song, in a lot of ways the series is summed up in that perfect ninety second mix of pretension, cheesecake, symbolism, violence, plot information, and striking imagery (some of which I’m still bitter never made it into the series). As bits of crucial information and terminology flit across the screen the delivery proves to be an object lesson, just enough to have you tantalized not enough to satisfy.

The series hits the ground running with a lot of what the series does right and wrong set from the beginning. There’s some striking stuff here, as well as some clumsy elements. An intriguing mix of elegance and amateurishness.

The series starts off with Shinji alone in a deserted city street mumbling about how no one wants him. Though many have complained about the main protaginist’s spinelessness looking back it only seems realistic. Take any fourteen year old boy with abandonment issues and have callous authority figures and peers literally put the weight of the world on his shoulders after shoving him in a giant monster to go fight another giant monster, it’s no surprise that he doesn’t take it well. Plus there’s a real vulnerability to Shinji that makes him work, little character moments like his sheepish pleasure at being told he’s home, make a truly rounded and to me at least, relatable character rather then a big bag of angst. Of course only time will tell if he’ll wear out his welcome before the series is up, but at the moment I can’t help but feel that the antipathy towards Shinji is due more towards Anime fan’s own insecurities then any flaws in the characterization.

The vision of Rei Shinji has in this opening scene, points out another frustrating technique of the show, the cool thing with many interpretations that is never mentioned let alone explained again. After the movie this vision could mean many things, is it a suggestion that the entire series is just Shinji’s remembrance of events during third impact? A projection by Rei in a time of distress? Or is it what’s left of Yui checking on her long missing son? Anyway you look at it it’s intriguing, and of course, it’s never gone into again. While thanks to a booming toy, fan fiction and art industry Rei gets a lot of crap these days, as symbolizing everything that’s wrong in anime fandom. A group of awkward males stuck in the cobra’s sway of a young, big boobed, teenage girl whose docile and gets beat up a lot. That said she’s one of the characters I’m most interested in getting a second look at. There’s a lot of stuff just below the surface in her character, the question of just what her nature is, and how much she knows about it are some of the most intriguing mysteries of the series.

Anyway back to the first sequence, the direction is top notch, shooting this and much of the first episode at ground level, when the battle between the UN Forces and the Angel cross paths with Shinji it’s truly a terrifying experience, shot entirely from his POV it only cuts away to wider shot to view the extent of the destruction. It gives the series an instant sense of scale, as the angel lays waste to everything in it’s path it’s clear that the stakes are high. Later shots, Shinji riding the escalator unaware of the giant hand he’s passing, the construction crews swarming over the giant broken Eva parts, Misato standing next to the bullet’s being loaded, Her and Shinji framed against the horizons of Tokyo 3 and The Geo Front, continue this neat trick of perception. Everything is shot just off center from where a normal series would focus.

As the episode continues, we are introduced to much of the supporting cast and the show does a pretty good job, of establishing who they are in the short time it has. I’ll have much more to say about them as this series goes on, but since I’ve already written way too much, I’ll cut it short for now. Suffice to say in my opinion a lot of what made Eva great was the way it took apart anime archetypes exposing the true character beneath the clichés, but to do that it had to establish the archetypes first, but from first glance on Misato, Ritsuko, Rei, and Gendo all fit their roles perfectly.

The series always get’s a lot of shit for going off the rails with it’s stream of conscience rants. But if anything what impressed me this time out was how arch the style was from the beginning. The reunion scene between Shinji and Gendo, where he receives his orders to pilot the Eva is pretty faux Bergman, from the blocking, to the angles, to the bizarrely on the nose dialogue, the scene has almost a dreamlike quality to it. It plays like Shinji’s worst nightmare of the encounter, with his beyond distant father treating at him like a spare part and speaking in clipped one word commands as though Shinji’s a naughty puppy, and even the kindly Misato turning on him.

Unfortunately, the scene introduces another frustrating stock in trade trick of Eva, the use of quickly shouted made up jargon as a substitute for drama. Even at this low level I cringed at what I know will soon become whole scenes involving nothing but high pitched voices frantically citing made up statistics.

The film also brought out two more frequently used tropes, that of a beat up Rei and utterly shameless melodrama. On the latter let us not be too hard. It is after all a show made for adolescents, and as a result a fair bit of melodrama is to be expected. And whose kidding who? A bit of soap opera is always enjoyable. The moment really does give some nice character development to Gendo as well. A man who makes Dr. Venture look like parent of the year. “Sure it’s your decision whether or not you want to climb inside the giant creature to fight an unknowable unkillable menace, just know if you don’t I’ll shove this dying girl in your place.” That’s cold.

The awakening of the Eva is done with a great deal of style, also done “from the ground” it doesn’t quite allow you to see what’s happened until it’s all over, and Gendo has had his badass “I don’t blink for shrapnel” moment. The reveal of Shinji and the Eva in the same position, and life coming slowly to the depowered Evangelion’s eye are a prime bit of buildup.

Shinji finally consents to piloting the Eva, he’s inserted into the machine, shot to the surface, and stumbles out to do battle with a creature that has just destroyed the countries entire defense system, all with a body that operates about as well as a drunk on a bender. Things do not go well.

But before we get any further it stops, the second episode begins with a bitch of a cliffhanger, just as things get to their worst, the battle is over. It’s a good choice for what is a pretty slow and expositional episode, no matter how banal the on goings appear the knowledge that something terrible must have happened hangs over the the entire show.

The episode hums along, establishing character, soon to be reaccuring motifs (Another Unfamiliar Ceiling) and engages half heartedly in some “Comic Relief”. Evangelion has never been accused of being a particularly funny show and frankly the less time that is spent making dick jokes the better. The show also has some redundancies to get rid of, the first two episodes are packed with crew and officials who are never seen again. It also introduces “The Council Of Snide Guys” Just who these people are, the human avatars of SEELE, the envoys between The UN and Nerv, is never explained. It doesn’t really matter as they just come off as odd and then disappear halfway through the show. Their MO is always the same, they show up with some weird character design, say snide things to Gendo for awhile and then leave with a cryptic warning. My heart will not grieve when I see the last of them.

By the end of the episode, when we finally get back to what happened against the Angel we’re primed for it. And the show doesn’t disappoint.

Let’s talk about the Eva’s for a moment and what a fantastic and underrated design they truly are. Eschewing the usual high-tech and sterilely clean look that most Mechs use, the Eva’s from the beginning are clearly of a different breed. Huge, ungainly, clumsy, and brutal, these aren’t high tech war machines, but giant creatures, barely contained fueled by bloodlust, savagery, and instinct, without the faintest hint of reason. The way they are, both completely primitive, and utterly otherworldly, the way their binding’s crack or limbs casually extend when they get into the heat of battle.

The way the Eva’s move and fight is positively primal. It’s first tottering steps, piloted by Shinji, a newborn monster. And when “she” awakens, it’s like nothing that had ever been seen before, a newborn God. The Eva doesn’t engage in duels, or showdowns, it sees its prey and bludgeons it to death before fashioning it’s victim’s rib into a crude knife to finish the job. Unlike most mech’s whose ancestor is the duelist, the Eva’s predecessor is the Neanderthal and Mr. Hyde, and in the stunning climax Anno proves it. The Eva may occasionally use a weapon, but when it’s base nature is tapped, it wants no intermediate between it and the kill.

This style strikes a true and primal chord in the viewer and there are at least half a dozen times in the series when the Eva’s cause the hardest reaction to get in an audience, that of genuine awe. At the end the faceplate comes down, and self generating eye stares back at us. If we had any doubts at this point that Evangelion is just a typical Mech series, they should be erased at this point. It’s something different and the fact of the matter is that no matter how stunning the climax of the episode, we haven’t even gotten a hint of what’s to come.

Episode 1: B+
Episode 2: B+

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Revisit Evangelion

It’s a very tricky thing revisiting stuff from your past. Sometimes it’s there for a reason. Works that seemed so deep at the age of 15 can come off as trite. Things that resonated so strongly with who you were no longer really mesh with who you are. Things that seemed bracingly original just seem stale.

Neon Genesis Evangelion hit me big at fifteen. It was a crystallizing moment. I knew anime, I knew avant garde, I knew Philip K. Dick style “sci fi of the soul”. But I never knew them like this. A huge melting pot of teen angst, Jungian and Freudian psychology, Religion, symbolism, soap opera, sci-fi, and giant freaking robots beating the shit out of monsters. It started smacking me around with chess while I was still thinking in checkers. For a lonely fifteen year old kid, who identified with the main character more then I’m probably going to be comfortable with now, and had to walk three miles to the only video store that rented anime, I might as well have been receiving transmissions from Mars.

But time has not been kind to Eva’s reputation. What was once considered an unmissable part of the geek canon is now considered to be a very misable part of the geek canon. To most people Eva is a child of the 90’s best left there. A muddled mess, of clichés, dated animation, dorm room philosophy, psych 101, soap opera, all held together by one of the most unlikable whiny protagonists ever to front their own series. Tied together by an insane director tanking the series in one of the most asinine, nonsensical, borderline retarded endings of all time. An ending so bad that he managed to screw it up twice, and is now trying to screw it up a third time. To quote Spinal Tap most find Eva to be “Floating in a sea of adolescent sexuality and bad poetry.” Or perhaps more appropriately given the series religious preoccupations, “On what day did the lord create Evangelion, and couldn’t he have rested on that day too.”

I’ve changed too, not to play the whole “I liked it before it was cool game.” But I got into anime probably about a year or too before it really hit the mainstream (figure ’98 ’99). At the time anime was still a bit subversive, totally alien, and that just as much as any of the actual shows and movies was part of the appeal. Liking anime before pokemon hit was like wearing a clothespin through your nose in 1978, it still messed with peoples heads a little. The fact is that I’m not that much of an anime fan anymore. I’m not saying there’s not good stuff there because there is, but it’s no longer my go to source for ya yas. I’ll occasionally pick an old favorite off the shelf to watch, Miyaziki is still in my top ten filmmakers of all time, and if there’s a series or movie that I’ve everyone is talking about I’ll usually give it a shot. Heck I’ll usually enjoy it. But if you’d ask me today if I consider myself an anime fan, I’d honestly have to answer no, just an appreciator. The combination of the racketeering business practices of the mainstream Anime Companies (“25 dollars for a two episode VHS? Sure where else are you gonna get this stuff?” The internet arrives “Oh Poo.”), my discovery that anime was stuck in it’s own set of cliché’s and ruts, just as surely as American film was (just different ruts is all), and a certain fatigue has driven me out of the former category. How will Eva look now that I have a mere affection for the artform rather then an affinity?

Maybe it’d be for the best if I cut my losses and left it in the warm forgiving recesses of memory.

But at the same time it’s important to know where you’ve been, the stuff that gets under your skin in your early adolescence never really leaves it. Call it nostalgia if you must, the fact is that we all have things that at formative periods in our life hit us like the proverbial ton of bricks. Shaping our taste rather then just fitting in it. Whetting our appetite by giving us that first scent of something that resonated so strongly in us that we had to pursue it. I can trace a clear line from my enjoyment of Neon Genesis Evangelion, to my love for Philip K. Dick, Lost, Antonioni (Watch Eclipse Sometime), David Lynch, Jodorowsky, Muramki, David Mitchell, and countless others. Maybe I would have come across these artists later in life, but maybe I wouldn’t have. And even if I did come across them maybe I wouldn’t have known what to do with them. Eva primed the pump, it taught me that stories didn’t have to be about three act structures and pat answers, it taught me to appriciate the unknown, to see narrative in a different light. And that is worth at least a second look. It’s probably been around seven or eight years since I’ve seen the series in it’s entirety. Perfect time for another look.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stuff I've Been Doing #2


Locke And Key

If you haven’t read Locke & Key yet you really really should. As anyone whose ever sat through a Chris Mitchum movie, or listened to The Wallflowers knows, talent usually isn’t genetic.

Joe Hill however, is proving to be the exception to this rule, and between his fantastic novel Heart Shaped Box, his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, and this frankly wonderful series, Hill is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.

Locke and Key is one of those titles that I almost don’t want to talk about too much, because of how perfectly constructed it really is, every issue is a superb mix of horror, suspense, and family drama. It’s as if The Royal Tenenbaums are starring in The Haunting via Lost.

Suffice to say it’s the story of a family that suffers a tragedy, and moves to the old ancestral home. The home has some strange properties, and an unknown tenant who lives in the well. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Simply put it’s a great story told by a great storyteller. Though he works in the supernatural, Hill’s work reminds me not so much of his father, Stephen King, but more of Neil Gaiman. The through line to his work so far has been stories within stories, like Gaiman his work almost functions as puzzle boxes, smaller stories locked within large ones that are themselves the gears to the big picture.

Reading Joe Hill I get the feeling every reader craves, the spark of excitement that I found with Dennis Lehane, David Mitchell, and precious few others. The knowledge that I had found an author that I would be following for a long long time, and whose every new development will be nothing short of a gift.

I Kill Giants

I Kill Giants is a tough comic to explain. It’s like Calvin and Hobbes if it was clear that Hobbes was Calvin’s way of dealing with some terrible trauma. It’s like Brazil and Pan’s Labyrinth a story about how imagination can simultaneously save and destroy a person. It’s not a children’s story, it’s a story about childhood, real childhood the first time you feel truly powerless and know that the world isn’t going to play by your rules. It’s like Tideland if it didn’t completely suck. All in all it’s pretty fucking great.


American Beauty

You know I’m not the world’s biggest Grateful Dead fan, but if the whole runtime of American Beauty was as good as it’s first three songs, it might have been the greatest album ever. "A Box Of Rain" is the pinnacle of hippie music.


A friend gave me Easy Star All Star’s Dub Side Of The Moon and I thought it was pretty amazing. For those who don’t know, Dub Side Of The Moon is a reggae version of Dark Side Of The Moon. Normally I don’t care for covers and tribute albums, but this one was fantastic, bringing new edges and perspectives to an album that I basically know rote. Some don’t work, but a lot do, songs like Us And Them are tough for me to think about outside of a Reggae context now.

That said I was a bit more skeptical when I heard about Radiodread, a Reggae version of OK Computer from the same collective. Despite all the psychedelics, pretension, and pomp, Pink Floyd at their core was always pretty much a blues band that liked Organs, and studio tricks. Drawing a line between them and Reggae isn’t really that hard. Radiohead on the other hand, are well know for writing two of the most sonically avant garde albums since Metal Machine Music and aren’t really known for their soul.

It basically boils down to the blackest of music genre’s covering the whitest band ever. How the hell is that supposed to sound?

Well really fucking good. Radiodread transforms OK Computer in a way that’s damn near alchemy. Songs like Let Down, one of Radiohead’s dreariest (which must put it in the running for the dreariest song of all time) becomes joyful. Lucky sounds like a fucking hymn now.

There are plenty of weird moments, “Jah loves his Children” is now a statement of fact rather then a bitter irony. And oddly it’s most minimal, Subteranean Home Sick Alien, No Suprises and Exit Music (For a Film) come off as simple covers, rather then the more tricked out ones.

But like Dub Side Of The Moon, the album is on the whole a success, an old favorite from a completely new angle.


Ralph Bakashi is a weird dude. Even I, an animation and cult movie freak, his target audience, have more or less stayed clear of his work. Part of the problem is that it’s tough to build a cult audience when you are equally famous for making terrible movies as you are for making debatably good ones. Bakashi’s oeuvre is littered with such gems as The Lord Of The Rings, and Cool World and even the movies of his that have good reputations pose there own difficulty. It’s tough to walk into your local video shoppe and say “Why yes I’d like to rent Coonskin please, and some Fritz The Cat to, if you don’t mind. Yep it’s a nice night of Racially charged images and animated Cat Sex for me.”

That said I was always curious to see some of Bakashi, so I picked up Wizards, his “family movie” and fuck, if this is PG Bakashi, I don’t know if I can handle full bore. Watching the special features after the movie is like an object lesson in Cognitive Dissonance, Bakashi talks warmly about the wonderful family movie he has made, after you have just watched ninety minutes of cute fantasy creatures being machine gunned to death, and a shitload of naked people. Yes even in a story set tens of thousands of years in a feudel future, Bakashi found away to incorporate whores into his story. If you think Frank Miller loves writing about whores, well sir you haven’t seen the amount of passion and energy Bakashi puts into finding new ways to write about ladies of the night.

Set thousands of years After the earth blew up (No that’s how the movie starts with that exact phrasing to) The world is set ruffly into two camps, those who follow the good wizard, the lecherous, drunken, Grouch Marx impersonator, Avatar and those who follow his brother Blackwolf, a man so evil that he has skeleton arms. Things are kind of a stalemate because though Black Wolf does have tens of thousands of bloodthirsty evil mutants he can’t properly motivate them to go cracking in some fairy skulls. That is until he discovers the power of Joseph Goebbles and gets them really pissed off. I’m not being metaphorical, he literally finds ten thousand year old Goebbles movies and uses them to piss off his orcs.

What follows is basically sixty straight minutes of fairy genocide, broken up by some of the most unlikable heroes I have ever seen in a motion picture.

The film basically ran out of money forcing Bakashi to “rotoscope” a whole lot of it. I put rotoscope in quotes because he didn’t so much do that as he did tint stock footage. By the films end he’s basically just repeating the same frames of ugly animation over and over again and intercutting them with old blitzkrieg footage that now looks purple.

If you can’t already tell I found Wizards is an aggressively unpleasant movie. But it’s a magnetic one. Try as I might I can’t quite get it out of my mind. Bakashi’s animation may be crude, but theres a method to his madness, and some of his design, collage, and composition is quite striking. While I probably would never recommend him, or Wizards to anyone, it has intrigued me somewhat, and I’ll probably end up exploring more of his films.

I just might end up using a trenchcoat and long brimmed hat to do it is all.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

America... Fuck Yeah

There are two endings that never fail to bring to tears.

They more or less sum up how I feel.

It's been along time since I've been this proud to be an American.

Also good for McCain, it's nice to see 2000 era Mc Cain take a last bow of classiness.




Gangs Of New York is my favorite movie. It’s a great American story. A story that encompasses almost everything I care about, History, Religion, the Irish American identity, and Politics all told in a sweeping operatic style. It’s the last true American Epic, told with tactile sets and huge crowds rather then CGI and greenscreen. And it most importantly it’s about America, being an American, what that means, what it’s meant and how our history is one written in blood by generations who have defined what that meant. Today is election day, and back from the polls I pace the length of my small apartment watching CNN and drinking an obscene amount of coffee as I try to tell myself that it’s only Ten AM damn it and the results won’t be in for a long long while. I think of Gangs, and what it represents to me, about how it shows where I came from, who my ancestors were and what they did so I can live my life now. I think about the last eight years of our countries history, and the level of outrage fatigue I’ve been suffering from for the last three or so. And I say a small prayer of thanks for the excitement I feel, an excitement that I worried was gone forever, drowned by cynicism. No matter what the outcome, this election has brought about a change in me for the better, and a line echoes through my mind bellowed by a character who would be disgusted by the election we’re having, “THIS IS A NIGHT FOR AMERICANS!!!” and for the first time in a long time, that line excites me. This is a night for Americans, a liminal moment in our history, and I feel privileged to be here and be a part of it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Oh the Aero I love you...

Still to tired to be any more then semi coherent but suffice to say, the annual Aero horrorthon was far beyond badass.

Night Of The Creeps was great, seeing TCM 2 on the big screen with a big crowd was fun, Dead Alive was a fucking revalation. I always loved it, but kind of gave Bad Taste the edge. But seeing it on the big screen... the crowd went crazy, there was barely a shot that didn't get a roar of laughter, a mortified groan, cheers, or actual fucking applause. Great show.

Then things slowed down a bit, Let's Scare Jessica To Death was kind of a dud despite it's reputation, as was Demons, it's tough to put my finger on any reason why. I just wasn't feeling it. But things ended strong with the moody, creepy as fuck Deathdream, a movie that really needs a reevaluation.

It's metaphor isn't exactly subtle, but it doesn't really need to be, when our shambling Veteran Corpse of a hero beats a man to death while hissing "You OWE me SOMETHING." It's both scary and terribly sad since neither victim nor attacker seem to know what that something is.