28 November, 2012

Skull bashingly good!

Hotline Miami is a videogame as much as it is an interpretation of what a fight between the spirit animals of Gaspar Noe and Nicholas Winding-Refn and it plays somewhere between the original Grand Theft Auto, Dead Souls, and maybe a little bit of Condemned thrown in to boot. It's an incredible game at what I'm saying. At ten dollars, it also might be one of the best games I've played in a long time-- at the least it is one of the best values I've had in a long time.

It's simple, it's brutal, it's quick and to the point and it's this boiled down intensity that makes it work and it is what makes it work despite being a game that is built entirely around trial and error. Having sweated my ass off trying to figure out algebra for much of my youth I realize just how terrible trial and error can be, so it's amazing that this game is as fun and as addicting as it is. It also manages to give you a feeling like you've actually got the game beat and not just that you played until the end.

The aesthetics remind me of being somewhere between this washed out faux-VHS look that we've been seeing lately (I'll blame Drive, it's also made its way into things as varied as Max Payne 3 and this interview with Emma Stone in Interview magazine) if it was filtered through the kinds of custom made playsets we all used to make with Legos. It's looks have been mentioned in every single little review I've seen of it, but it's something worth agreeing with, because it is the core to understanding this game. It's hard to say it without both sounding and feeling like a pretentious asshole, but the visuals of Hotline Miami are the game.

There is nothing superfluous to it and it's this strict aesthetic style that makes something as simple as a smoking cigarette or a pool or blood or a hot-wired door frame seem so cool. The look is as stripped down and no nonsense as the game play. If you want to rap about game play not jibbing with the rest of the world, Hotline Miami is not that game. The only thing that thing resembling gilding is the soundtrack and that is as integral to the tone of the game as the spurts of blood and globs of brain flying everywhere-- but that's what I mean by nothing being pointless.

Hotline Miami is a game that seems to achieve everything it set out to do. From the through back visuals to the wonderful soundtrack to the gameplay, it is a game that wastes very little effort, even though it must have taken quite a bit to make something as well formed as this is.I really, really like it.

Play it.

27 November, 2012


The following trades have been standing on my desk, safely nestled between a speaker and a row of paperbacks on the Vietnam War. In an effort to get them off said desk and onto my brand new/second-hand desk from good will--

Art and Words by Paul Pope

It's the kind of story I wouldn't bother to write. Considering that we already have Batman: Year 100, The One Trick Rip-Off, and Heavy Liquid, that means that Paul Pope doesn't need to write a cyberpunk action or crime story or whatever, because we already have that. What 100% is using that world and all of those concepts and basically waste them by telling a story not about a society or a dystopia, but the most simple human collection, which is a couple. It's something that could be told in the 18th century or with cavemen and that's what makes 100% so much fun, and it also makes me pine for a certain time and place in a way that I haven't felt in a long while.

I say "waste" in the best way possible, because the story isn't about the remnants of this massive war floating around or the hover cycles or the erotic x-ray shows

The science fiction of the world is incidental in that it doesn't get in the way of the plot. Keeping in mind my fondness for Blade Runner, that film has very much the same tone. It isn't about the off-world colonies or cloning technology, it is about people getting to work and about people dying. In that same way Blade Runner might very well be a film that belongs to any other genre in existence (whereas Prometheus would really have to struggle to be something else).

In a cynical way, it might just be a hook to get people to read a story about three intersecting couples coming together in various ways. Paul Pope is a very talented man, though, so the world is much more than just a hook. It shades their relationships and watching people fall in and out of love in this messy, cluttered world somehow makes anything seem possible or even magical. That might not be the purpose of all good science fiction, but that certainly seems to be the goal of a good romance story and 100% is certainly that.

The Activity
Art by Mich Gerads and Words by Nathan Edmondson

The Activity feels like a half-step between the madcap and high-concept excitement of Warren Ellis' Global Frequency and the kind of good old fashioned action comic that Greg Rucka or Chuck Dixon (and then again Garth Ennis, though that comparison would bring with it quite a lot of assumptions-- mostly positive in my case).

In short it doesn't feel like an action story, nor does it feel like any sort of heavy duty spy story. I want to like it and the next few issues have piqued my interest, it is just that, as this trade stands it is much too light to work as a serious military piece or as a romping war comic. If it's a smart piece about characters and outwitting the enemy, fine, we have plenty of books like that. If it's a dumb piece, then we have James Bond. In either case we have structures for what works (or if you're a thief, what can be ripped off, or, if you're a clever-type, what you can design an homage around).What we don't need is something that bridges a gap that doesn't exist-- which is I guess is very much a feature of the military industrial complex, so maybe the writer is smarter than I am giving him credit for. . .

Then again it has some solid torture sequences and more acronyms and military jargon than you can shake a stick at, so if you want something-- even something that doesn't quite work-- then The Activity will fill that very specific need and not a whole lot else.

(Hey, Black Ops 2 came out as I am writing this. Hmm. Hmmmmmmm.)

Manhattan Projects--
Art by Nick Pitarra and Words by Johnathan Hickman

I avoided this comic book for a bit because I don't know too much about Johnathan Hickman, other than he did a pretty solid run on the Fantastic Four and that the first issue of Red Wings left a bad taste in my mouth. Hearing about The Manhattan Projects and its high concept I felt that it could go either way.

On the one hand you're playing with ambitious historical figures in a Cryptonomicon-on-peyote-like manner  and on the other hand you have the kind lame-ass name dropping that gets us books where Nikola Tesla is fighting vampires or Shakespeare fights Cthulhu or some other bullshit idea. It's rocky ground, for sure.

Luckily, The Manhattan Projects executes the fuck out of its central concept. I don't just say that because it is about the secret super-science underbelly of World War II and has an alcoholic Einstein haunted by a mystery machine.

The Manhattan Projects is a great example of a book that sets up a massive idea and continually stacks more characters and more ideas onto the story (what little there is, this book is more about small episodes and well-designed plotting than it is about anything else) and it moves forward with a fantastic energy.It doesn't run out of steam and it doesn't get confusing, so at the end of the four or fives issues in the book we go from establishing that John Oppenheimer was some sort of dimension-spanning cannibal to the genocide of an entire alien empire. At no point does it stumble or ask to pause for breath.

Above all it is the kind of comic book that comic books were created for. It's a mad-cap confluence of high-minded sci-fi (and a lot of low-brow stuff for good measure) scrambled with real-world history stacked on top of a series of increasingly mysterious and psychotic events.It wouldn't work as a movie and it wouldn't be fun as a TV show. The Manhattan Projects perfect little encapsulation of what a comic book should be.

Or at least the kind of book that I want to read, but would never write.

(It also needs to be stated that the covers for this book are some of the best designed that I have ever seen in comic books.)

Art by Fiona Staples and Words by Brian K. Vaughan

There's not much to say that isn't obvious: Brian K. Vaughan is back and we should all be fairly pleased about the whole thing. Saga is a pretty wild book and it does what a space opera is supposed to do: Be big and weird and epic.

While it does have the DNA of a well defined genre, Staples and Vaughan have crafted a universe unlike any other I could name. It isn't Star Wars, it isn't Star Trek, and it isn't Robotech. It's fresh, it's new, it's different, and it has all of the fun and energy of something with a promise like that.

So there's that. You should probably go and check it out already.

My only real problem lies with some of the book's dialogue. It's just too cute for its own good.

Y: The Last Man cannot be described as a work of realism, but it is the perfect example of humor and tone coming from a character and rather from an author. In that book Vaughan balanced its sense of humor with the constant violence and horror of the world without men. Saga is similar in tone, it just does not work as well this time, because the jokes and the clever one-liners often seems to distract from the scene as opposed to existing naturally within that scene.

With the first scene of the book, the credulity of the characters is called into question by the amount of quips that come out of their mouths. The world itself is never in question, that is sort of a given (and the world is introduced at such momentum that you almost have to go along with it). So, it's an odd bit of world building, to throw out a big, fat sci-fi world and stumble on something like two people talking.

My main hitch in that scene-- and it might just be a hitch-- is that I have my doubts a woman who just gave birth in a garage, without medical assistance, and in flight of her own armed forces is going to be tossing out one-liners like she was James Bond and she just crushed a guy with a milk truck. Wiping the afterbirth off of your thighs with a wet nap is not the time to be dropping quips

Anyways, back to the topic on hand: You should probably buy it.

With art as beautiful as Staples' and with the amount of good stuff Vaughan has done in so little space, there is every reason to believe that, hiccups aside, Saga is going to be one of those books we're going to be talking about for a long while. . . It's just nice to get in on the ground floor with a book like this.

IN SHORT: Read comics.

23 November, 2012

A Movie I Am Thankful For

On this glorious Joe Toye Day I thought I'd talk about the movies-- or maybe just one movie-- that I am thankful for.

John Carter immediately comes to mind.

Key Largo was at the top of my queue, but because it had a "long wait" I ended up with John Carter and another movie I was looking forward to-- Young Adult.

Having watched the majority of John Carter (not of Mars, at all), I can safely say that Young Adult is the better movie. It must be the better movie.

Having survived Dune and Alien 3 and any number of other sci-fi failures, I felt that I was prepared for the depths that John Carter (still not from Mars, why would you even think that?) has decided to dwell in. It's garbage and it is garbage even by the standards of half-cocked sci-fi movies. I

It is literally nonsense. Front to back gobbledegook. Fuck this stupid movie.

I am watching this movie and thinking "This would work with a young Harrison Ford." Unfortunately we got Taylor Hitch, who I feel is most notable for being a Timothy Olyphant look-alike and having resulted in my friend's wife castigating me for daring to ask the question "Who the fuck is Taylor Hitch?" in front of her mother. I am American and I deserve to answers.

A young Harrison Ford-- or any actor with a range that could includes things such as "I am on Mars, this is a ridiculous thing" or "I am on Mars, I am glad for my experiences here"--  would have been awesome. Instead this movie wants to have a white-washed, half-assed Clint Eastwood act like he's Lawrence of Barsoom (or at least Dances with Wolves on Mars Minus the Humanizing Bits About American Indians). Clint Eastwood has never been on Mars and the gun-slinging, ass-kicking, whore-raping Eastwood that we all know and love has no place in a Disney movie built by committee and sold by invalids.

Thinking on it, John Carter makes Avatar look like Blade Runner.

It's Zardoz without the kitsch. It's gold plated garbage and I have never seen a more expensive movie look this cheap. Even the Star Wars prequel-- shit though they are-- had, wait. . . I'm comparing the prequels to something with a positive slant. Is this where we are? Is this what John Carter has brought me to?

Is this my life?

There's an old Dolly Parton line that goes "I takes money to look this cheap," well John Carter found a way to make a fool out of Miss Parton. Way to go, John. I hope you're happy.

I like attacking things. Invective are nice, but it's not why I love film criticism or talking about movies. Recently I have had a number of great conversations about why or why not Looper worked and why Skyfall is one of the greatest Bond movies of all time. I love movies. I love good movies. I love tearing apart bad movies, too, because sometimes this shit needs to be vented. Remember when Homer became obese and his drinking bird fell over and a meltdown happened? That's basically what happens when I watch a John Carter and don't get out there and bitch about it. Nobody wants to read about a clean-up.

The most legitimately human and funny moment in the film is when John and his army of native green people storm a city and find out that their princess is in another castle. At that moment there's this wonderful little pause and the green jefe slaps John in the back of the head. It's funny because it's a wonderfully set up joke, all of this thunder ending in no flash and that physical violence is inherently funny, but there is also this transcendent aspect buried in the moment. It's this moment where you realize that maybe even the film is aware enough to reach out into the world and slap somebody with a bad idea upside the head.

At the end of this grand holiday, I want it to be known that I am thankful for never having to watch John Carter ever again.

12 November, 2012

The Master and Margaritas

I got out of The Master and I really don't know what I think. Not yet. The one thing I am sure of is that it was a good idea not to bring a flask to that picture. That would have been. . . well, it would have been a different theatrical experience, I'll put it like that. Now 13 Assassins, there's a movie you can take a flask to.

Actually, I am sure about one more thing which is that it is good to have Joaquin Phoenix back.

It's hard for me to put a description to what it is he's doing in this movie (and I kind of don't want to right now). What is the most striking about it, though, is how he literally looks like a man that has been broken up. The way he carries himself and moves around and holds his arms akimbo like he's going to spill all over the place. One role that it reminds me of is Klaus Kinski in Aguirre: The Wrath of God. In both cases the men seem to have been picked up after a bad accident and lashed together just enough so that they can walk around.

Thinking about it now, I realize that the Lacon acolytes in the crowd would have a field day with this picture. Between the addiction and (possibly) Oedipal relationships and the preponderance of boobs I think this film has in it the very power to keep an entire classroom of graduate students going.I don't say that as a dig, it just seems obvious to me that there is some sort of psychological angle to this, especially when you consider that Scientology-- er, the Cause-- is rooted in a sort of anti-psychiatric stance. It's just too tempting of a target.

Part of me is also afraid that I'll reveal myself to be an idiot if I don't like it or if I don't get it. I know that I liked There Will Be Blood and even loved that film and it has much of the same DNA as The Master.

I'm just going to go lie down for a bit. That seems like the wisest course of action.

11 November, 2012

Talkin' Bouncer: Raising Cain

My first knowing exposure to Alejandro Jodorowsky was the psychedelic western El Topo. It’s a hard movie to describe and a harder movie to watch more than once, but if I would have to describe it, it is about Clint Eastwood taking on the quest of Gilgamesh mixed in with the story of Siddartha Guatama and, I don’t know, a weekend with Timothy Leary if you added. . . I don't know, it's just one hell of a movie. Yeah. That is the ticket.

It wasn’t until years after I saw that movie that I realized Jodorowksy had transformed himself into a comic book writer (because the word “transformed” is the entirely appropriate when it comes to men like him) and that I had read some of his work previously.

He has a fairly storied career, at least among European comic book fans. He created the Metabarons and went on to work with no less than Moebeus himself (RIP) with The Incal.

Whether that is a detriment or not we can all agree that Jodorowsky's oeuvre is a unique lineage in the comic book medium. Thankfully, perhaps.

Bouncer: Raising Cain is less like The Incal and more like one of the screenplays I half wrote nine times during my freshman year in college. For those that are not me, that means that this book is far less awesome than the sum of its parts and could have, at some point, used somebody of authority and taste saying “No, get rid of this, this is gross. Please stop. You weirdo. Ick."

And so forth.

But that never seems to go down. Instead we get a crazy person's vision of a western and that, at least on paper, is a cool thing to have in existence.On paper this is a full-blooded western, a proper Western, even, especially when you consider that most of El Topo was dedicated to murdering queer yogi messiahs in the middle of the desert as I understand it. Also: Rabbits.

Anyways, the basic subject of the comic is about a young man looking to avenge the death of his parents at the hand of an evil Confederate brigrand. In order to accomplish this he seeks out a gunslinger who he believes will aid him in this task. In short, it is your basic “regeneration through violence” myth that is prevalent in the Western genre (and, well, American history), but written by a Jewish Chilean/French jack-of-all trades-cum-madman. That’s where the wrinkles appear.

Nothing in this story seems to exist without some sort of corollary symbolism—or at least strangeness that creates a gap where symbolism might be imagined. Things do not happen on a grand scale so much as they appear on some sort of theatrical scale. It is as if Jodorowsky fears that we’ll miss the importance of something happening if it appears to be realistic or that we will miss that something happens when it happens. His default position—and it appears this way in all of his works, as I understand it—is to point a high key light on the action.

People do not catch snakes, they catch three snakes. They do not find guns, they find guns from the devil (off screen). They do not get shot, they get shot and raped and decapitated. Oh, also: Illuminati symbolism (another carry over from El Topo). It might be that he isn’t just gilding things, it might be that he is actually attempting to weave in some sort of philosophy into his works. But if so, what?

You can see this in how the young man trains to be a gunslinger. His attempts at becoming a gun fighter more closely resemble a person looking to become a kung fu master or a lama than it does a shootist. It's a fun twist on the trope, if slightly contradictory. Hard though, it is to over analyze something like that when our main man's spirit animal is a legendary Scottish gunfighter who changed his name to "Butterfly."

It's at this point I would say "Yeah, it's that kind of a book," but the universe really doesn't allow for more than one of these kind of things to run wild at one time.

Adding on the fact that this young man also takes mushrooms to reach some sort of martial enlightenment seems to make me think that Bouncer comes across as El Topo Lite. While reading it, I wondered if some segments of Jodorowsky's abandoned Los Topos story (or stories) are what Bouncer became. It certainly feels like it. There's enough sexual violence, augery, and disabled people to pass for a sequel, even though this book seems to be set in America as opposed to some sort of a acid-washed wonderland. It wasn't until later (while reasearching this article) that I found out that El Topo Dos: Topo Mas Fuerte is actually, finally, possibly in production as we speak. And what is the title: Abel Cain.


The real star of all of this is the artist, Francois Boucq. He draws in panoramic landscapes and amazingly drafted details that only really seem to exist in the European tradition of comics (or at least how I imagine that tradition to be). His line work is really just stellar. . . even if everyone in this book seems to be some sort of a caveman. That’s acceptable though, when you have the closest thing to John Ford panoramic that I’ve ever seen in comic book form. He’s a pretty swell drawer and I’m poorer for having just found out about him.

Though he does draw a revolver in the 1870's with a swing out cylinder, which is crazy, as that wouldn't have been invented for a good long while afterwards.I mean, who does he think he's fooling?

My real problems with this book is that it seems senselessly and bizarrely cruel. There seems to be a lot of rape and pederasty in this book. Considering the amount of psychosexual activity in El Topo (and just the trailer for the Holy Mountain), I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. That movie starts with a naked eight year old, so I guess I really should have known better.

And also I guess my problem is with how light of touch these horrors have. People murder each other because they're bad! I guess! And people rape the children of the murdered because the world is bad! You know! That's how things are. Anyways, this diamond.

I mean, what? What is going on? If you're going to drop some dark, dank shit in my lap, you had best give me a fucking reason. Cormac McCarthy is my favorite author. He understands how to lay down some well reasoned horror and by extension I think I might, as well. Alejandro Jodorowsky, on the other hand is no Cormac McCarthy (and he is no me, which is a shame, I would have a much better beard if this were the case).

Now do we avoid these sort of things because we don’t want to put anyone in danger or do we avoid them because they’re morally wrong? Or do we avoid them because it can easily become exploitative? I don’t know that Jodorowsky knows. What I know is that there are large chunks of this book that make me feel icky. Oogie, even.

Then again the violence is so hyperactive and the plot and characters so surreal, so maybe there’s an argument for the sexuality being as weird as it is. When it all comes down to it, regardless of the actual reason or intention, there is only so much pederasty I am willing to put up with in my art.

Then the big redemption at the end of the story is. . . incest? I guess? I mean, they’re cousins and it’s olde timey, but, really? We’re supposed to be down for this? Is that the point? Is Jodorowsky so European as to make that his central feel good point? Do I care? There’s a lot to unpack and that’s without the fact that the diamond that acts as the story’s MacGuffin is hidden exactly where you think it would be. . . which I guess makes me a sicker man that three depraved murderers.

This book creeps me out in a lot of ways. Then again I bought it for five bucks at Vroman’s, so I do have the standing to be too irked.

Bouncer is a fine spiritual successor to El Topo and, fortunately, it is free of the nonsensical mysticism of that John Lennon championed film and instead replaces it with the use of child rape as a major plot point. Beyond that (if you can get beyond that), it has a passable story and some amazing art work. Outside of Jonah Hex it’s hard to find a decent western comic book and Bouncer: Raising Cain is most certainly decent.

SIDE NOTE: If you haven’t read up on Jodorowsky’s Dune yet, then you definitely should. It’s. . . well, it’s, um, completely fucking nuts. It has a gold toilet. Shaped like a dolphin. And the Emperor of the Universe uses it as a throne. And that Emperor is Salvador Dali.
**And even Jonah Hex isn’t even in the West anymore. He’s in Gotham. The hell is that about?

05 November, 2012

I am Published

This weekend I attended the Long Beach Comic Con. It wasn't super exciting, but I bought a few pieces of artwork from Olga Ulanova, as well as a few 1970's Sgt. Rock comics. I also happened to be there as a professional or an "exhibitor" or whatever the hell the terminology was. I was selling a book (with 23 other people) and I had a badge and a chair and that felt good and while it didn't pay, at my real work I don't get a chair.

I did so along with the rest of my friends and co-comickers at Old College Comics and as weird and as Brechtian as the whole situation was, I feel like I could kind of walk away from the whole thing feeling a bit more inspired and a bit more proud. This, whatever it is, is real.

While it wasn't San Diego (which, I have a higher chance of appearing at as an actor than I as a comic person), it was at my college town and I did have a fairly nice conversation with Howard Chaykin, even if he kind of was a dick to my artist friend Andrew Wilson.

And that sucked.

If there was a highlight it was when a Simpsons illustrator complimented me on writing a scene where a guy kills another guy with the broken handle of a spear. Now that I think about it, that is basically the high that I've been chasing since I started writing.

And that was pretty swell.

(Andrew Wilson also drew said scene with said spear.)

I'll be making a post about what I learned as a "professional" at my first con here, so stay tuned for that, as well.

Oh and I also did a minor commission for what was either an autistic or a pervert or maybe an autistic pervert. It was pretty dope.