23 December, 2014

The Invisible Enemy

A Review Aliens Versus Predator #3
Part Ten of "James Versus Fire and Stone"

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. So let us reach shoulder deep into the barrel of medical waste that is AvP and see what we find. I brought this upon myself.

Another awesome cover form EM Gist

AvP #3 is a return to form of the inaugural issue. While #2 saw a slight uptick with its drunken arabesque of a story, #3 makes me ask the age old questions of “Huh?” and “Why, God, why?” and “What the fuck are they doing over there?” Questions, like all of the great questions, that we'll never have an answer to.

Alien Versus Predator #3 from Christopher Sebela and Ariel Olivetti is bilge. It should only be read by the very strong of will so that it does not taint your moral, ethical, or psychological constitution. If you must read it, keep a sitter near by to watch over you, as you might break down and end up doing something like swollowing your own tongue.

Let's get the happening of the issue out of the way:

Well, bullshit happens. Structurally, this entire comic reads like the third act of an action movie. There is no set up, there is no rising action, there is only climax. Having a story consist only of climax is no easy feat. Even James Cameron, in all of his indulgent glory, is an artist that understands the importance of narrative structure.

With that said, there is no real plot progression. The characters backslide from developments in previous issues, characteristics and plot points are dropped and picked up at the drop of the hat, and it generally makes about as much sense as fecal scrawlings on a Turkish asylum's walls. The most grevious of all of these developments is that the doctor decides that getting blood from Elden the Android and shooting it up is still a viable option. Because, you know, something has to happen in this comic.

Now that I think about it, did the doctor intentionally mutate Elden? Was this just a slight side effect to his main plan? Is he an actual mad scientist? Do I care?

So, in a poorly choreographed sequence of panels, he manages to incapacitate Elden with an Elmer Fudd-level contraption and manages to take a sample of his blood (which, apparently isn't covering the entire stupid space ship at this point) and then, like some refugee from the best Brett Easton Ellis novel ever, takes a shelter in a broom closet and shoots himself full of mutated android blood.

All the while, Elden is stuck outside like a fat kid at a party, begging the doctor not to do it for some reason? He's spent the past three issues (not including three issues of Prometheus) trying to kill the good doctor and now he wants to "save" his creator. Then the sole surviving predator (who doesn't even have a cool scar or anything so I can give him a funny nickname) attacks Elden. . . Because he can. Despite the issue's dialogue actively arguing against this development. I don't know. I'm at a loss.
 The issue then ends on the line "What's happening!?" My thoughts exactly.

Next on "James Versus Fire and Stone. . . "
This story is so sloppy, so undercooked, it's incredible. It fails to address the most basic needs of its characters and their desires. If their motivations are present, they change on a dime. Or they just do stuff simply because the plot requires them to. It fails to establish anything. When there is action or a moment where the plot twists, it becomes meaningless because Christopher Sebela has failed to establish FUCK ALL ANYTHING. Some of that might have been tempered if Ariel Olivetti had bothered to show up, but I've been hammering that point home for two reviews now.

It feels like an issue of Axecop that got shelved for lack of ambition.

I'm so annoyed I can't even be bothered to pull the peel back on this onion. It's a stupid book. But beneath the stupidity there's nothing else. Alien is marked by themes about what makes up a human and what they are afraid of. Predator is dumb, but it has a cool invisible guy in it and there's some mildly interesting allegory going on. Prometheus is ostensibly about discovery the origins of humantiy and, indeed, the origins of our purpose and wraps that in a lost island adventure story. AvP is about raking in piles of stinking, sweat soaked nerd dollar and making a kind of come-hardened igloo of incompetence and rancor.

And I want to believe that there's a way to make this all work. Somehow. It wasn't always this terrible. At least I don't think it was. I love dumb stuff, too. There's a place for pulp. It just has to be done well and I don't know what that means for a comic as undercooked as this one. Maybe Joshua Williamson has got a few ideas.

At least I'm not reading Robocop Versus Terminator.

I just like these toys, that's all.
MUTANT OF THE WEEK: It's still the Frankenpredator. He's still hulking and stupid. But he's a Frankenpredator and he has two crabs wearing surgical gloves taped to his mouth. His hands have also sprouted extra fingers, making the prospect of giving the middle finger that much more frightening and complicated, as well as an Elden-esque shoulder arm that I assume he uses to hold very small cans of coke.

Also the doctor becomes a hulk. I'm going to name him “Dr. Hulk.”

But motherfuck Dr. Hulk right in his eyes. This entire story is his fault. The blind damn fool. I hate him so. I hate them all and I want this flaming honey wagon full of dog shit to finally crash and burn like the abomination that it is.

ONE OF OUT FIVE CHESTBURSTERS for this piss-poor issues and a BURKE YUPPIE VEST OF SHAME. Wear it well, AvP, because the only thing you've done well so far is take money from me. Like your yuppie forefather, Paul Reiser, you have fleeced me. You took money from my pocket knowing full well that your product was utterly without value.

Or, God, I hope you were fleecing me. What if somebody at the Dark Horse Aliens office actually thinks this shit is good?

You can read the previous installments of "James Versus Fire and Stone" below:
Aliens #3
Predator #2
Prometheus #3
Alien Versus Predator #2
Aliens #2
Predator #1
Alien #1 and Prometheus #1

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcaster, and is looking for a solid lead on an MIP King Alien. Send him a line if you got one.

17 December, 2014

Staring into the Abyss

A review of Aliens #3
Part Nine of "James Versus Fire and Stone."

Here we are. Another week another issue of the Fire and Stone mini-series event. Last time it was Predator #2. We're approaching the end here and I still don't know how or why Fire and Stone is happening or why I'm keeping up with it, but here we are. The sun is out, birds are singing, and I hve a new comic book to whinge about. Come along.

Reading all of these comics has sent my brain into a lot of weird directions. Usually reminiscing over pop culture will do that anyways, but there's something about Fire and Stone that has put my brain into a mild disassociate state. This weekend, as I was cranking this out, I began to think about Mass Effect. Specifically, I began to think about it's expanded universe and how I, in no way, shape, or form want to read anything associated with it.

That's strange because I love Mass Effect. The second installment in the series is easily one of the best games of the last generation and is destined to become one of the best games of all time (alongside Skyrim and the first Modern Warfare).It's a galaxy where anything is possible, from asexual gunslinger priestesses to floating jellyfish gunmen. But I don't want any of it. Send it back. No thank you. But why?

Because it doesn't "matter." Because it didn't effect the source material and was only tangentially reflective of it, I don't want to read it.

I guess the first sense of this was sometime in high school, when the Star Wars prequels were coming out. Specifically, I remember hearing about how Boba Fett's origins were going to be explained (see Exhibit A as to why that is a bad idea in the first place), and I remember talking to one of my teachers, another Star Wars nerd about the movies. To me I didn't need to know Fett's origins, I already knew them. His name was Jaster Mereel. He was a disgraced police officer. He made a point of not raping Leia. He can sleep with his eyes open. Don't you people know this? Doesn't it matter?

No, it doesn't matter! Of course it doesn't matter! And it doesn't matter way more than most other fiction "doesn't matter." The Prequel Trilogy is probably a bad example for this kind of a thing as it was lousy with its own legion of problems (link Red Letter Media here), but my point stays. If you stand around and invest energy into a property, there's a very real chance that that property (and its owners) will turn around and nullify the very ideas that you've become attached to. That your love of these things is somehow irrelevant. Or maybe it's just your awareness of how little your purchasing power matters to an economic engine. The worst of it, though, is you suddenly know that most of these stories are pointless, little more than fan fiction.

This must have been how the Gnostics felt.

In the wider world of comics, it's one of the big reasons I don't mess with main stream super hero comics. At some point an editor or a zealous writer or a marketing department is going to come by, wave a magic wand and all of the sudden Hawkman is an alien. Or an Egyptian god. Or both. And then you realize that you've been reading Hawkman this whole time and the joke was on you.

Despite all of this, I give Aliens a pass. Not all of it. Not the bad stuff. Not the stuff in that reads like a car crash of a bus full of fan fic writers and a Toys R' Us truck full of Kenner toys.  None of it will ever get back to the main series. We'll never see the Alien Queen Mother in an Aliens movie. Ridley Scott is even actively hostile towards the AvP "movies." The only screenwriter who pays enough attention to the wider world of Aliens is me and I count only on a technicality.

(God. I would kill for a Prometheus series. Or a Blade Runner series. Hell, I'd watch a Legend series. Just do something with TV, would you, Sir Scott?)

"Here's our Story Bible. Study up, kid."
It's funny, though, as Dark Horse already had revise its fiction when Alien 3 came out. They actively scrambled to make up for the fact that their fiction is, and always will, be completely disposable. In 1989 Dark Horse released several comic books detailing the further adventures of Newt and Hicks. Obviously, come 1992 this was a problem. The release of Alien 3 came with the fact that these characters were dead. In future printings (and SD Perry adaptations), the characters were renamed so that it didn't contradict the movie's timeline. How ridiculous is that? The stories are further obscured by the release of Alien: Resurrection and Prometheus.

These thoughts always come hand in hand with a solution I've been hearing for years: "Make your own continuity." I first heard the idea from iFanboy, and it's brilliant. On a functional level, it allows you to reconcile the things that "matter" with the things that "don't," as well as with the things that do matter, but are just dumb (I think this is how Bryan Singer approached Days of Future Past). On a deeper level, though, that hits on a kind of Campbellian mythological idea. Even now, two thousand years on there isn't a singular vision of Jesus Christ. What chance does Batman stand?
So. There's that.

Aliens: Fire and Stone is a good comic. I think it's solid beyond my fanboy blinders. It might not be as substantial as I remember Rogue or Berserker being, but the story that remains is still really pretty cool. It has space truckers. They die. It has some other weird shit that we have only begun to get into (including possible time travel, of all things). And then, in the end, we're left with a cliffhanger. Everyone is dead but one character, which finally completes out desert island narrative, moving it from Lost to Robinson Crusoe (but with Aliens and no racism).

Plus, besides the story itself being interesting, I honestly want to see if Patric Reynolds and Patric Roberson can pull this thing off. So far it's been a fairly solid book, but considering how Prometheus ended (I'm cheating, I know), I have some serious doubts about the direction of this book-- and of all of the books, really. But, I'm hopeful. And if there's a string that holds all of this rambling together, it's a hope for a better comic books.

MUTANT OF THE WEEK: It's the Alien/Man Blob. We ended last issue with the cliffhanger of the Alien/Man Blob arriving on the scene, emerging from the water like a cat that just wouldn't drown, as if stating to the reader "Look at me, I just wouldn't drown." And I was excited. So excited. This thing was weird and gross and it finally showed the consequences of Prometheus leaking into the Alien universe. And, so in my excitement, I named him. I named him Robert. Because he looks like a Robert, you know?

Anyways, in this issue, Robert finally shows up to fuck everybody's shit up and that lasts for. . . Like a minute and a half and then he gets taken out by some drunk trucker with a spear. And he dies like a buster. Why even show up if you're going to do that? Why tease us? Why titillate me and you know that's exactly what you were doing with this comic book, you bastards. Poor Robert, we hardly knew ye.

We also get another Prometheus Fiefield zombie, which at this point is pretty boring. That shit is done.

I give thee FOUR OUT OF FIVE CHESTBURSTERS! While I cannot gather the same kind of glee that I get out of Predator, Aliens is a fine book. Solid. It's built a world that fits within its four issues. I applaud it and its effort to write a compelling story that has every reason in the world to suck. Thank you for giving me a story that matters. Whatever the hell that means.
You can read the previous installments of "James Versus Fire and Stone" below:
Predator #2
Prometheus #3
Alien Versus Predator #2
Aliens #2
Predator #1
Alien #1 and Prometheus #1

James Kislingbury is a boxed wine connoisseur, a writer, and a podcaster. You can support his show A Quality Interruption here.

11 December, 2014

"My World is Acid and Blood"

A review of Predator #2
Part Eight in "James Versus Fire and Stone"

Am I behind on this? Yeah, I'm behind on this. Sorry. Things have come up. Like this Farcry 4 review. And the podcast's new home. But all that's behind me and you have my full attention. Come on. Sit down right here and let Papa K-berry tell you a thing or two about Fox Media franchises.

I looooooove Predator #2. It's a hulking amalgamation of high adventure and scummy sci-fi exploitation. It's everything I ever dreamed a Predator comic could be.
It's basically an amalgamation of 1980's action movies cliches packed into a fairly straight-forward comic. It is exactly as dumb as it is smart, and that is exactly what a sci-fi action movie needs to be. As a testament to its quality, that assemblage of ideas and tropes are not the kind of thing I flock towards. That's my friend AJ's thing. Maybe that's even Cruz's thing. It is not mine. But here, it's simple, it's fun and I don't have to think about what this says about the human condition or whatever other French junk that's bouncing through my head.

Props to Lucas Graciano for a great cover.
Williamson and Mooneyham decided that this comic wasn't packed with enough classic action movie tropes, he has made Galgo the Merc and the Scarred Predator into a kind of odd couple pairing. But instead of them being a good cop/bad cop team, they're a bad cop/intergalactic trophy hunter cop. Unlike a lot of concepts on paper, this one is as good as it sounds.

It then gilds this concept by chaining the predator and Galgo together, because why the hell not?

Oh man. The predator is also missing an eye, because he's a crusty old predator and he's seen some things in his day.

Oh man.

A lot of licensed comics feel like somebody is checking off a list. Predator? Check. Jungle? Check. Gore? Check. I won't accuse any of the other books on the Fire and Stone line up of doing that, but, the worst of them seem so rote. Or they seem like somebody got real excited that their fanfic was elevated. There's no life to the book. Predator #1 and #2 don't read like that. They read with a healthy mix of enthusiasm and daring.

What makes Predator work is that the premise is clear. The direction and motives are clear. While there are some mild surprises here and there, they aren't in the actual substance of the story. At no point was I forced to ask the questions “What?” or “Really” or “The fuck is this shit?” It works on its own steam and good for everyone involved for pulling that one out of the hat.

MUTANT OF THE WEEK: I am sorry to say that no proper mutants have appeared in the comic book-- YET. Presumably they're saving that for an issue #3 reveal. In the mean time what we get instead is a giant alien bull-thing (patent pending). It hardly counts as a mutant of interest, but Merc Cop and Pred Cop do manage to decapitate it with their laser handcuffs.

Go home, GIS, you're drunk.
TRIPLE LASER POINT OF EXCELLENCE. Williamson and Mooneyham have put together a nice little sci-fi/action story that is exactly what it needs to be. It's big. It's crazy. It's fun. Remember fun? It makes sense that the rest of the items in Fire and Stone aren't “fun” (even Aliens, which has the distinction of being simply “good” is rather dour). Fun is what this cluster-eff of an event needed.

I give Predator #2 a FIVE OUT OF FIVE CHESTBURSTERS. This comic almost makes this entire Stone and Fire series worth it. I mean, I don't think I would have picked this book up and enjoyed it in the way that I am if it wasn't for this entire, dumb series and this even dumber dare that I gave myself. For that, I suppose, I am thankful. Still doesn't make AvP any more literate, but I'm still grateful.

Put that blurb on your cover, Dark Horse.

Apropos of nothing, if you want pulp fiction, check out Bitch Planet #1, which came out this week. It's got. . . Lord Jesus, so many nipples.

You can read the previous installments of "James Versus Fire and Stone" below:
Prometheus #3
Alien Versus Predator #2
Aliens #2
Predator #1
Alien #1 and Prometheus #1

James Kislingbury is a boxed wine connoisseur, a writer, and a podcaster. You can support his show A Quality Interruption here.

BAMF: The Motion Picture

A Review of Nightcrawler (2014)

There's a term I heard on the TV show Hannibal, which is “the stitching of that person suit you wear.” That's Jake Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom. He is a monster barely contained by the suit of skin he wars. It is an incredible performance that bleeds out onto is a film that lives and breathes with its titular character.

Lou Bloom cut from the same cloth as the kind of characters that shambled and limped through Raymond Chandler's vision of LA. He's a low rent hustler, with no virtues save ambition. That's what makes him so frightening, so terrifyingly realistic. He's a man born of disappointment and an indifferent world, and of a society that feeds off of pettiness and fear. He seems like a man capable of anything.That is what Nightcrawler is about. This tension is why the whole thing works.

Nightcrawler is the kind of movie I will see just based on its concept alone. It's about a scumbag, it focuses on a bizarre and dicey vocation, and it takes place almost entirely in Los Angeles at night. That is my kind of movie

So much of Nightcrawler reminds me of the diner scenes out of Taxi Driver. While it is a crime movie, it is more about the characters than it is about what they do (in the back of my mind The Friends of Eddie Coyle, another classic 70's crime film, also jumps to mind). There's a certain loneliness built into both pictures. They are about the men on the periphery. Not only in the periphery of the criminal world, but of the entire world. You can see it in Lou's bed, which seems like an object that is barely willing to accommodate his presence. It also helps that Gyllenhaal plays Lou like the Bickle brother who went out west.

Nightcrawler is more than just an homage or a throwback. Like all good movies, it is smarter than the genre that contains it. While 1970's grit looms in the background and the chain smoke of pre-Code crime films wafts into every frame, it exists as an original, modern film. It's a smart film that doesn't need to show you how clever it is. It's a movie that comes out of a long line of other films (including movies as disparate as Network and Broadcast News, or even Ace in the Hole), yet it has something to say about the seediness of modern news and the depravity of modern society. But, like its heritage, it doesn't wear its themes on its sleeves. It's a thriller first and foremost and like Lou Bloom, there's something hiding beneath the surface.

With all of that said, the score is one of the more lacking scores things I have heard in a good, long while (as I write this, the soundtrack of The Proposition kicked off and does not make me feel any kinder towards Nightcrawler's score).

It feels like a graduate of a Explosions in the Sky School For Ambient What-Have-You Nonsense (and even then it only graduated because its dad donated a new kinesiology center). Besides being sonically underwhelming, it doesn't feel right for the film. Maybe I'm saying this because Drive, the last interesting LA-at-night movie to come out is looming in the background, but I feel like I'm also saying this because the score simply doesn't work. When you're trying to strike a mood, playing the most generic music that you can is not a great start. Say what you will about Drive, it is a movie that strikes a mood. Nightcrawler would have benefited from a much slimier score than what it ended up with.

Another thing the film reminds me of a Neil Gaiman quote. When Constantine came out in 2005, he said that the movie would have been better had Constantine been British and had his signature tan trenchcoat. Why? Because it just would have been. Because Neil Gaiman said so.

I feel the way about the year in which this movie is set. It's supposed to take place in the modern era, but there's just something that doesn't quite connect with me. I don't buy it, which makes me think that it was written as a period piece and brought up to the present to make it more commercial. That's purely speculation, but I do know in my bones that this movie would have somehow been better had it been set in the 1980's or early to mid 90's. Why? Because.I mean, do you believe that there are crews of freelance newsmen roaming the Southland in this year of our Lord Two-Thousand-Fourteen? Of course you don't.

It would have also allowed for the period appropriate synth soundtrack that I want to bad.

Another quibble is that they very clearly shot the same three streets over and over again. That Del Taco must have been on screen at least half a dozen times. Same with the faux-Tudor bank and the Chase building. You don't think I see you, Chase building? I do!

But that's a consequence of what the film is, it's hardly an artistic choice, it's just a result of the film's very meager budget. But part of that is endearing. It kind of shows that the film is closer in its bloodline to film noir in more than its subject matter.

It's fun, it's scrappy, and it tells a kind of story with a kind of character that I don't know if I've ever seen before. It's also an engaging movie that still manages to say a lot about people, the news, and just how messed up this country is. Nightcrawler is something well worth hunting down and checking out, even if you're as late to the scene as I am.

James Kislingbury is Los Angeles deritus. He writes, podcasts, and generally schemes. Support his endeavors.

09 December, 2014

I don't know what this is. . .

But I know I want it.

White God comes to America on the 27th of March, 2015.

02 December, 2014

"I'm a sweater, a sweat"

This demands sharing.

Is it awesome? Yes. Is it a bit too much to spend on a joke? Hell yes. Would I wear it in public? Maybe not, but boy would I love to be the kind of guy who does. Maybe some day. Get a cool dog with a mohawk, break up fights on the streets of New York, and wear a really dumb cardigan. . . Yeah. Some day.

Thinking on all that, I recently I read Driven.

James Sallis' sequel is the barest bones of a book. It's almost like reading stage directions. Yet, there's something compelling about that level of minimalism and there's something daring about being willing to write so few words. If it was me-- If I could be asked to finish a novel-- It'd be coming apart at the seems, it would be so swollen with words. Not James Sallis, though. He adverbs, adjectives, all that extra stuff can go get fucked. All he needs is a man, a car, and a direction.

I don't know. It's something to read in your brand new sweater.