23 October, 2014

Fire and Stone and Piss

Or a Legacy of Acid Blood:
A review of Aliens Versus Predator: Fire and Stone #1.
By James Kislingbury

Exhibit 1: Pay attention. This will
 come up later.

Alien Versus Predator wasn't ever good, was it?

If making me ask the tough questions indicates sharp writing and fine storytelling, then Alien Versus Predator: Fire and Stone #1 is an excellent standard. If you judge it by any sort of actual standard, you will discover that this is one of the crappiest things you could throw $3.50 at. I suppose you could just flush it down the toilet, but that doesn't seem very environmentally sound.

If anything AvP #1 should be applauded for its consistency. The comic begins as it ends: An incoherent jumble of characters, plot points, and unknown motives, then filled in with lazy art and a dumb concept. 

From the very first pages, you know that you're in trouble, because it begins less en media res than it does directly after another comic book, one that, notably has not been released yet (The editorial staff at Dark Horse are happy to point out in synopsis that this takes place between the Prometheus story and the Predator story, which, again, if Predator is going to be in the future then why even. . . Ah, never mind).

The story Christopher Sebela has scrawled into the dirt with his numb hands, rendered as dactyl as flippers from years of neuro-syphillis (or so I imagine) is shockingly incoherent, even for a book that contains the word “Versus.”

I could go on and on about the problems this issue has, from minor to major, but to burn any more calories on this than I need to would make me look like an even bigger asshole than I already am. The problematic crux of this book is the villain. . . Or rather, who I understand the villain to be. And he must be the villain, he doesn't have any skin. Or, well, a little bit of skin, which is arguably worse than no skin at all.

Hey! Look! Stuff!
I don't know who this bad guy is. Not in the sense of “Who is good? Who is bad? In this crazy, mixed up world of ours, is there any other shade than grey?” No. I mean it in the sense of “I do not know who this is supposed to be.” I know now that he is from the Prometheus comic book, but really, how is anybody supposed to piece that together? Or much less care? I'm reading these books and I have no idea what this is supposed to be.

The villain looks like he's dressed up as an edgy re-imagining of Skeletor that you found on Deviant Art and. . . Poison Ivy? And he can control aliens? For some reason? As best as I can tell, the bad guy, whoever the fuck he is, is some kind of a GWAR. I mean, I like GWAR and it's good to see them get work, but I don't know if this is the right project for them. Also, I wish for death.

As far as the art goes, I was actually looking forward to Ariel Olivetti's return to this weird sub-series. In 2007 he worked on the book Superman and Batman Versus Alien Versus Predator which, even as a devout nerd is a bridge too far. That said, I like him as an artist. He's done fine work in the past and it's always good to see a book like this, which can sell on its name alone, featuring a skilled, respectable artist.

I can see now this thinking was delusional.

As fine as Olivetti might have been in the past, this comic book (on all levels, to be fair), on every level, is a lazy, misguided book. So, again, at least the art matches the script.

His panels, in many cases look unfinished. And, fair enough, maybe that's his style. Cary Nord's art never looks finished and he's great. As you read on, though, a pattern begins to emerge. You being to see an unfortunate amount of recycled backgrounds in the book, as well as one of the silliest, most obvious cut and paste jobs that I've ever seen. If he doesn't particularly care about the book and its art, why should I?

So, there is a laser gun in this book. And it is a plot point. Because, of course, in all the universe, in all of the things and ideas you could stumble upon, from the dawn of the species to its near extinction, the only thing you can come up with to intrigue the audience is a gun that shoots slightly better than the other guns we've already seen. What wonders await us in issue #2? Maybe a car that goes slightly faster than other cars! Maybe it uses five wheels!

But you will see this gun over and over again. I do mean the same gun. Olivetti only seemed to have drawn it two or three times, the other times, it is poorly photoshopped into a character's hand. Oh wait, sometimes it's mirrored. And sometimes it's tilted slightly.

Also, the space ship from the Prometheus comic book still looks dumb as hell. It looks like a dumpster with a cyst problem.

Admittedly, the color palette in this
version is better than the print version.

AvP also carries on Prometheus' tradition of featuring a great artist kind of phoning in a cover. The cover features another AvP legacy artist: Mike Mignola. Who originally worked on AvP #0 way back in the late 80's, the inaugural issue of this entire debacle. In a way he's to blame for all of this. Anyways, it's not a god cover. It's not good A, v, or P art and it certainly doesn't belong alongside other Mignola art. Oh well. At least he didn't lose too much time making this one and he could probably buy a high end juicer with this pay check. And everybody deserves a good juice.

I don't hate this comic. I hate that I have to read three more issues of it. None of that feels good to say. I like this universe on the whole and, as I get older, I don't like to trash things simply because they're bad. Now I try to only trash things because they are morally objectionable or because of some terrible political point they're trying to push. But this? It's just lazy. And that's not enough of a character flaw to justify my anger.

This poor excuse for kindling gets one chestburster out of five. I pray for the silly chestburster from Space Balls. Give me anything else but what this is. It is only spared a zero for Olivetti's competent, if fairly unenthusiastic art. Even when he doesn't care, he can still pump out something worth looking at. Almost.

See you next month, you blight, I hope you. . . Oh. Oh, we're going to get a fucking pred-alien, aren't we? Goddamnit what am I even doing here?

Speaking of logos, the AVP logo puts a sour taste in your mouth, doesn't it? I prefer the original logo, if only because it isn't tainted by those terrible, terrible movies. Goddamn Requiem is a piece of garbage.

You can read part one of Me versus Aliens Versus Predator here.

James Kislingbury writes, podcasts, and needs you and is sick and tired of your bullshit.

17 October, 2014

Why I Quit Destiny and You Should Too

Or Why I Wanted to Get the Bungie Off My Back

After hitting level 20 for the second time, I realized something about Destiny: This game can go suck a lemon.

Despite all of the minds and the money behind it, Destiny is a mindless slog with no point and seemingly no end. It is somehow the apex and the nadir of all of gaming history. And, most importantly, it's a game that basically asks its players to act like junkies to make it work. There's a reason Jeff Gerstmann is already nominating this as  2014's Most Disappointing Game of the Year.

Meet your new dealer.
My basic problem is how Destiny handles it's loot system. "Loot," for those of you who do not know, is what the game gives you for completing certain tasks. Kill a guy? Maybe you'll get some loot. Finish a dungeon? Maybe you'll get some more loot. And so on. The game revolves around it. A lot of games do. World of Warcraft is a billion dollar industry built around it. The Borderlands series has entire algorithms built in support of loot. More recently, the critical hit Diablo III was based around the game dropping loot at your feet. Loot hunts can work. My problem is not that Destiny has loot, it is how it treats its loot system and, in turn, how it treats its players.

I've heard terms like hitting the “pleasure center” of the brain and “serotonin bump.” It's a conversation that doesn't sit very far from other terms like “loot lust” and another favorite neologism “binge watching.” Whether these people meant it or not, they've described the mechanisms of chemical addiction. That was the exact moment that I realized that I need to quit Destiny. I needed to get clean.

The biology of addiction is a funny thing. There's a lot of holier-than-thou pontificating that say that addiction isn't a disease and that it's "a choice." These people, you understand, are assholes. While we all have choices in our lives and sometimes we really wiff them (like buying a hundred dollar version of a Bungie game, for example), the fact is that addiction has real chemical effects on the brain. On a certain level, you aren't making choices, you're responding to evolutionary triggers. 

While I won't bore you with the details (nor do I remember most of them), the long and short of it is, if you have the right genetics and the right behaviors, after a certain point your brain will be unable to distinguish between healthy behaviors that it should reward and detrimental behaviors.

And, like I said, it's a funny thing. This isn't a bad thing. Your brain is engineered to work this way for a reason. Your lizard brain, when you, say, eat something or have sex or run away from a predator, the pleasure center of your brain gives you a bump. It's biology's little way of saying “Hey, good work, buddy. We didn't get eaten by a leopard today Here's a little something special.”

Pictured: Destiny players collecting
precious "Light."
What I've just described is the exact mechanic that Destiny needs to make the game work. It doesn't reward you emotionally or intellectually. It doesn't tell a stimulating story, it doesn't pluck at your heart strings. It depends entirely upon you cranking away at the same levels over and over again in the vain hope of scoring a proper high-- or in this case, some sweet Legendaries. Except that the Legendaries never come. Ever, meaning that Destiny is a drug, it's a bad drug.

When Destiny came out, I heard a quote, I'm pretty sure it was from Leigh Alexander (but I can't for the life of me find it on twitter), which was that the game doesn't have a heart*. She's right. Destiny has not heart. Most theaters of operation do not have hearts. It's a movie set. A false backdrop. The only thing that grips you is this fake reward loop that they've half-baked into the game. Once you see how hollow and sad that is, the only thing you're left with is hulking, anodyne work of art. Destiny has all of the life shooting gallery in an empty burn ward.

I'm also reminded of a scene in The Simpsons episode "Homer's Enemy." In the scene Martin shows off his fancy model of a nuclear power plant. Mr. Burns is not impressed.
Behold, the power plant of the future, today!

Yuck. Too cold and sterile. Where's the heart?

But it really generates power. It, it's lighting this room right now.

He turns a knob, dimming the auditorium lights.

You lose. Get off my property.

Destiny could have used some racing stripes.
But I think about other games? Aren't they all inherently empty? Are not all games just “games?” No they aren't. What are you, dense?

When I quit Destiny, I shifted my focus back to the first game I picked up for my PS4: The Last of Us. Without going into a review in a review, I'll say that it's awesome and leave it at that (but also it has just about the best stealth system of this generation). It's a very different game than Destiny and it is going after different goals, but, just as a game, The Last of Us is so much more rewarding.

What makes The Last of Us different? Well, first off, it just is, damnit**.

More substantially, it's a real experience, one punctuated by great characters, a fully realized world, and great game play. While Destiny shares the same kind of tight character control and wonderful art direction, it game falls short because none of it fits together. Instead it relies on the most base, thoughtless nature of its player. A coma patient could have as much energy invested in Destiny as I do. The same can't be said about The Last of Us because, well, that sequence where you're Ellie in the town is really hard and I'd like to see a coma patient pull that one off on Hard!

Goddamn that game is good.

But, anyways. . .

If you enjoy chasing the dragon on your next gen console of choice, I'm glad for you. I'm glad somebody is having fun around around. As for me, I have things to do. Important things to do. Things like reading, writing, socializing, and maybe, just maybe, abusing actual, real life drugs, ones that actually fucking work. I want more than what Destiny provides. Or maybe I'm just looking for something that doesn't think of me as a mark. Whatever the case may be, I am reminded of a quote from The Wire, that other great epic on the drug war, that sums up my feelings:
“You cannot lose if you do not play.”

*She cites Fallout: New Vegas as a game that, if messy, had heart out the whazoo, and goddamnit I want to play that game right now.

**Come this year's crop of Game of the Year awards I doubt Destiny will collect anywhere near the amount of accolades that The Last of Us did. If it does then there is no God and we deserve all of the calamities we having coming to us.

James Kislingbury writes, podcasts, and is 20 days clean from Destiny.

12 October, 2014

Fire and Stone and Everything Nice

A review of Prometheus #1 and Aliens #1
Part One of James Versus Fire and Stone

Ever since my sister Amy bought me a Ripley action figure for my sixth birthday, I've had acid in my blood.
I'm not saying this triptych makes any sense, but I do want it tattooed across my back.
 2014 marks the 35th Anniversary of the film Alien and, as such this October has seen a well planned flurry of secondary and tertiary market material: A newvideo game, a 35th anniversary blu-ray (which will mark the 4th time I will have bought this movie and I still don't own it on VHS or laser disc), aninstallment in the BFI's Film Classics series, and a return of Dark Horse's comic book series.

Also, there's a distinct chance that I just wanted to feel pain.
Never mind the water mark. . .

The first book I picked up up is Aliens: Fire and Stone #1 by Chris Roberson and Patric Reynolds.

Aliens does quite a few thigns right, but what sticks out is something that has been driving me crazy when it comes to horror books (especially Alien books). It gets the art right. Patric Reynolds was the exact right choice for this project. It's a kind of sketchy art that belongs on a horror book and, while you can't hide behind lighting like you can in a movie, Reynolds' art manages to evoke the kind of vague sketchiness that matches the subject matter and the tone of the writing.

As for Roberson, he wisely eschews colonial marines in favor of what built Alien in the first place (what William Gibson called its "kitchen sink funk"): Working Joes. Bread and butter, salt of the earth folks. People with jobs, people incapable of dealing with something like the Alien. That is to say, Robertson understands what makes Aliens tick and he understands what makes a horror book tick.

I give it four chestbursters out of five. Not perfect, but I'm not going to begrudgingly pick up issue #2. A promising start, yet, as with any licensed material, this thing might tip over at any given moment and list right into the fucking rocks. Let's hope it doesnt!

Then there's Prometheus: Fire and Stone #1. Written by Paul Tobin and with art by Juan Ferreyra, Fire and Stone #1 is, as I understand it, the first Prometheus story that isn't the film.

My problems with it begins in the opening fold of the book. To the left of the first page is a quick summary of the facts: Who Elizabeth Shaw is, what the Engineers are, and who Mr. Weyland is. Then, right at the end, as a little foot note, it adds one more fact: It says that it takes place after the events of Aliens: Fire and Blood #1

Hold up. After? How can it take place? If I'm not mistaken, the entire premise of Prometheus is that it is a prequel. It is fundamentally a story about origins. That's the reason it exists.

To be sure: This is the best page in the book.
It's other main draw is that it is in the Alien universe, but not exactly of the Alien universe. It is less a Phantom Menace than it is an  Old Testament to Alien's New Testament (except that it was written after the first movie and, as I understand it, originally not connected to Alien at all, which, I guess would make this Prometheus closer to the Book of Mormon than anything else). 

But, the premise of the Fire and Blood event (or whatever Dark Horse is calling it) is that everything connected. That's odd. The entire premise of this book is to make the entire premise of the movie moot. With that said, you're faced with a story about scientists that stumble into a bunch of aliens and, correct me if I'm wrong, that isn't any different than an Aliens story.

Another thing: Considering the amount of weird grotesqueries that inhabit Prometheus (the hammerpede, the deacon, that zombie, the Engineers, etc etc etc), why would you go back to the well and show us the xenomorph, a monster we've seen a million times before? The comic does feature a weird monkey monster and a hive of black goo infected ants (a silly idea, but one that I can't fault them for, because it is literally the exact same idea I wrote into an Alien screenplay I wrote about seven or eight years back), so maybe it is holding back. Again: Let us hope.

Of course all of this would be fine if it was a truly gripping story. It isn't. The Aliens comic is not without its problems, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do: It delivers a bunch of working class schmoes getting killed by aliens. Done and done. I guess Prometheus #1 does offer up a mystery and no little amount of foreboding doom, it's just, I need more than that, especially when you're going to screw around with the core premise of the book. When I see the premise getting futzed with, I tend not to believe that this is a brave writer making some bold choices, but a guy who doesn't get what he's writing. That's what this feels like.
It's not fair. They put Paul Pope on it, so I had to buy it.

The other problem is the art. Unlike Aliens: Fire and Blood #1, the art isn't great. Juan Ferreya does a fine job. The problem is that, unlike Patric Reynolds, he doesn't fit on this book. It's too glamorous, it's too realistic, it looks too nice. I guess Prometheus is a cleaner universe than Alien's, but that's like saying that Dr. Moreau has a nicer house than Dracula. This story lacks the gothic horror that the universe requires.

Also, the font used on the comic's cover kind of has that weird, lined gradation that Predator has. That's weird.

Two out of five chestbursters. Could go somewhere fun. So far I am unimpressed. Buying it next month will be a slightly unpleasant experience. With all of that said, I do want to see what a Predator looks like when they get hit with some of that black goo. . .

What this will turn into, who knows? So far, with only two issues (four as of today), the Fire and Stone cross-over event is a real mixed bag. One solid book, another with a lot of ground to gain. But I'll be buying them all and I'll keep you update, because, man, I sure do love Aliens, Predator, and Prometheus and if I was going to stop buying things based on quality I would have started doing so a long time ago.