11 February, 2015

In Which I Finally Crack

Or “Well, that got out of hand quick”
A Review AvP #4
Part Fourteen of "James Versus Fire and Stone"

The nightmare is over. We have reached the end of the tunnel and there is light. Alien Versus Predator did not bury us, but sometimes I wish it had.

In many ways AvP #4 is worse than I could have imagined. The one-liners seem to have been written by a child. The art is lazy and muddy in new and stupid ways. The story. . . well, it actually makes sense, so there's that. Yet, despite all of this it's also the funniest released so far. AvP #4 is the issue in which is has passed through the vortex and emerged on the other side as “So Bad It's Good,” as opposed to “So Bad It Should Be Sealed Away in a Vault Forever and Ever.” Congrats, Sebela and Olivetti. You did it.

All that said, don't buy this run of Aliens Versus Predator. Don't read it. Don't even think about it. Speak not its name. Know not its horrors. With all of that said, I have this horrible feeling in the back of my head that tells me that my life is going to be ironically saved by this final issue somehow, and, honestly,, I don't know if death is better.

“Consumer” is an ugly word, isn't it? I'm no communist, but it is certainly revealing of what the people in charge of production think of us, doesn't it? What do you do? Do you enjoy? Do you ruminate? Do you meditate? Do you absorb? No. You consume. It's a reduction of a human being to a medium that moves money.

It's part of a trend, or at least a change in our perception of what art is. It's a devaluing of what it is. You see it all over and, unlike being a consumer, you actually see

I guess it's probably always been this way. I mean, how old is that "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" essay? Gotta be pushing a hundred, right? The modern twist is that we seem to have accepted just how crappy things can be. This is a crappiness not thrust upon us, but a crappiness we have taken into our hearts.

You see this with how we watch TV. We don't watch it any more, we "binge watch." It's depressing. Besides it taking its terminology from one of the more decadent mental dysfunctions we've drummed up as human beings-- is that it has helped eliminate the idea that we should pause and take any time to think about anything. Want to think about what this means for Walt and Skyler's relationship? Maybe? Fuck it, put the next one on. There's no breathing room. There is no time for (Japanese word for “breathing room”). There's just non-stop noise. A wall to wall assault on the senses

What'd you do with Breaking Bad? I consumed it. Great. I'm sure that's what Vince Gilligan and everybody wanted you to do with their art. Then again, maybe they did. I'm sure the paycheck doesn't look any different.

It is as though, at some point, we all watched They Live, smiled, nodded, and then put on another episode of Friends (now on Instant Watch!). Sometimes, some of us need a Trashcan of Reason to the head. I paw through AvP, desperately trying to make sense of it, and I think that Trashcan has finally arrived at my head.And if you're not a consumer, it's not like you get upgraded. Instead, what are you? You're a fan. Great!

“Fan” is an equally ugly little word. It comes from fanatic. I supposed being a fanatic of Transformers is a vertical move away from the type of cave dweller that flies planes into buildings, but the connotation is there. I mean, nobody likes fanatics, do they?

I look at Aliens Versus Predator, and the trend our media is stuck in in general and I think “God. Can't we do better than this?” We're science fiction nerds. We supported Star Trek and Richard Matheson and Harlan Ellison and Kurt Vonnegut. We watched Twilight Zone when it was more than just a marathon on Thanksgiving Day. We believe in ideas. We like weird shit. Now what do we foam at the mouth at? A Jurassic Park sequel? Another Disney movie based on a ride (based on a retro-future)? Is this the future we were building for ourselves? Do we somehow deserve this?

The depressing capper on all of this is a realization I had about Steven Spielberg. Twenty-some years ago he made Jurassic Park. If he was an up and coming film maker today, he would be relegated to a Jurassic Park reboot. Or a fucking monkey movie reboot sequel and you fucks think you're going to break me? And, yeah, most of those movies are fine, some better than fine, but, really, what would you rather have? Jurassic Park or another Jurassic Park sequel?

So Dark Horse pumps out bullshit like Aliens Versus Predator and it sells. And it has for decades. To quote a film executive in the early 90's, “I could piss on a wall for two hours and call it Alien 3 and it would make sixty million dollars.” Names sell. Divorced of even its source, we still lap it up and, why? Because we're consumers. We're fans. It's what they expect of us because it's the easy thing to do. And, fuck that. It's a marketing strategy that takes us for saps.

But there's hope. There are people doing right by us, people that aren't looking for another inch of flesh to fuck us in. In comics we have Jonathan Hickman, for one. Between East of West and Manhattan Projects, he's making some of the craziest, most interesting sci-fi out there (and that isn't to mention his work for Marvel, of which I have only read Agents of SHIELD, which was, well, a book of questionable quality and purpose). He's a man who is swings for the fences and connects most of the time. He's a writer who is worth spending some time with.

Then there's Matt Fraction, Fionna Staples, Grant Morrison, Ales Kot, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Brian K. Vaughn. John Arcudi, Guy Davis, and Mike Mignola are still doing their crazy apocalytic stuff with Hellboy and the BPRD with the same publisher that shoveled AvP out into the street. There's also Brandon Graham and his legion of artist and writer collaborators, who are playing DM with the Prophet license (proving that you can take a terrible license and make it into something wonderful). Hell, if we want to let Brian Wood back out of the cold, he's doing some solid work with The Massive. Then there's the legion of small publishers and indie artists doing their thing under the radar. It's not all gloom.

Now that I think about it, if you're into that sort of thing, even licensed comics seem to be pretty good nowadays. So, I don't know. There's hope. We just have to accept it. As consumers, as fans, as binge watchers, it's up to us to us to determine what the marketplace looks like. Or, god forbid, a gallery space. What's the Against Me lyric? "Be the bands you want to hear."

Overall, I look at the way we look at art and the way it's presented to us is done so in the most crass, disposable fashion. We aren't aficionados. We're consumers. Or we're fans. We don't appreciate thing. We binge on it. And we are expected to move on to the next thing. I don't think that's the way to look at good art and I don't think that it's the way we should be looking at art. Like I said, we're better than that.

Life is short and miserable enough without going out of your way to fill it with bad stuff. It's an exhausting way to live. That's the only lesson I think I can impart to you: Seek out the things you love and go love them. Try to make sure that the things you fill your life with and spend your money on aren't crass and disposable. You're better than that. Unless you just want to live in garbage, because the universe will always find a place for simple people with too much money in their hands.

What does AvP #4 get? ONE OUT OF FIVE CHESTBURSTERS. It's barely a book. It's barely a story. It's terrible. Read anything else, because the odds are good that even if it sucks, it'll be better than this piece of shit. The only pleasure I got from the book was when it was done. And even that was tinged with annoyance.

Ack. I need a musical break.

You can read the previous installments of "James Versus Fire and Stone" below:
Predator #3
Aliens #4
Prometheus #4
Alien Versus Predator #3
Aliens #3
Predator #2
Prometheus #3
Alien Versus Predator #2
Aliens #2
Predator #1
Alien #1 and Prometheus #1

James Kislingbury is a writer and a podcaster and a big game hunter. If you like what you read, you can support his podcasting endeavors by going to his Patreon. Or don't. Whatever. Be that way.