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Monday, Mar 31, 2008

In a storyline that’s been retold almost as often as the Depression-era rough-and-tumble beginnings of the comics trade, the mid-to-late 1980s saw a rebirth for comics, spearheaded by a revitalization of Batman as the Dark Knight. With Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, as well as Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Batman (along with a few guys called The Watchmen) became the vengeful and schizoid resurrector of a genre that had been spinning its wheels creatively since some time in the 1970s. The revitalized character also gave birth, at decade’s end, to Tim Burton’s goony and wrong-headed film, but that’s another discussion entirely…


In 1988, right between Miller’s 1987 Batman: Year One origin story, and Morrison’s 1989 heart-of-darkness nightmare, Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland lent their considerable talents to The Killing Joke. A 46-page episode that seemed – as Heroes artist Tim Sale puts it in his introduction to DC’s lavish 20th anniversary edition – “crafted at such an astonishing level, and printed so much more cleanly and carefully, that it seemed to be a different beast altogether.”


Two decades on, Moore and Bolland’s creation is certainly intriguing, but it does show how far the genre has come since then. The story, in which Joker busts out of Arkham Asylum (again!) to exact a sick revenge on Commissioner Gordon, is uncommonly savage, but nothing that Moore couldn’t do in his sleep. For his part, Bolland’s art is sharp and evocatively colored, particularly in the washed-out flashback scenes detailing the Joker’s tragic origins; certainly top-notch but not the sort of thing that normally deserves the 20th anniversary treatment.


What remains most interesting about The Killing Joke today is how tired it seems to be of the whole catch and release, superhero-villain game, starting as it does with Batman trying to come to some sort of understanding with the Joker:


I’ve been thinking< lately. About you and me. About what’s going to happen to us. In the end. We’re going to kill each other, aren’t we? Perhaps you’ll kill me. Perhaps I’ll kill you. Perhaps sooner. Perhaps later. I just wanted to know that I’d made a genuine attempt to talk things over and avert that outcome. Just once. I don’t fully understand why ours should be such a fatal relationship…
It’s that sense of exhaustion, that admission of “I don’t fully understand” that takes the modern superhero’s much-vaunted new sensitivity to entirely new levels. One wishes at times that Moore and Bolland would have wanted to give this story some more space, create a novel entirely of their own, because at 46 pages, the unanswerable questions raised here, the revealing backstory about the Joker’s origin, the icy-black joke that ends it all, feels almost rushed. And you should never rush true art.

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Monday, Mar 31, 2008
Ella ella

Ella ella


I’m currently enamored with Mechanical Bride’s dim lit dirge take on “Umbrella” and Taken By Tree’s suicidal rendition of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.  But I detect something of a rote, calculated maneuver in this gesture of ironically arranging despair around a song that’s more known for it’s upbeat, pop appeal.  It reminds me of Bill Murray’s Nick the Lounge Singer routine, where popular songs are given a finger snapping, Wonderbread makeover in order to make them ready for hotel happy hour.  At some point, I think this kind of trend also produces diminishing interpretive returns.  I think it’s great when cover songs actually create new audible emphases, casting the original in wholly new emotional light.  But finding the deepest depressive streak in a Top 10 single seems about as one-dimensional as some of the pop gloss the songs are tweaking.  I also have to wonder aloud if the relationship of these covers to the original is derisive or complimentary.  So far I’m easily amused by the beauty and the contrast, but I can easily see the day where I’m completely bored by say, a melancholy Hot Chip take on Lil’ Wayne.


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Monday, Mar 31, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-03-31...

Wow.  When the DS only has two releases for the week, you know things are slowing down.


Somehow, March was a tremendous release month, with a whole pile of huge names and little sleepers to keep things lively throughout the month.  April, on the other hand, looks to be one long wait for Grand Theft Auto IV.


Still, that’s not to say (entirely) that there’s nothing of note coming out this week.  Anyone who still hasn’t tried Call of Duty 4 is officially out of excuses.  Look—I know it was a hugely popular game, but I also know that the WWII-Shooter subgenre is utterly uninteresting to a large segment of people.  Generally, I am one of those people.  As such, I don’t know if it’s the removal of the brand from WWII or whether the drama and execution of the game is just that good, but…I had two days with Call of Duty 4 before I sent it out for review, and I swear to you, I could not stop talking about it for a solid week, until I actually picked it up.  It’s an incredible game, even if the genre is not one that you care to dabble in on a regular basis.


Even so, a few new maps does not a Game of the Week make, and thus, I must bestow the honor on Overclocked: A History of Violence for the PC.  A few of us here in PopMatters Multimedia drool like idiots whenever a point-and-click adventure game comes along, and Overclocked is just such an adventure.  Not only that, but it’s an adventure that may actually appeal to the survival horror crowd as well.


Here’s an excerpt from the press release:


...step into the world of Overclocked as former army psychiatrist, David McNamara. You are called to the Staten Island Forensic Hospital in New York City to consult on a case that requires your expertise in forensic psychiatry. Tasked with exploring the minds of five young men and women who were found scared, screaming, and without memory, you make alarming discoveries as you begin to cautiously probe the psyches of your young patients…


Sounds interesting, right?  If the game can pull off the dread and moodiness that the description inspires, it’ll be fantastic.  Of course, that’s a big if. 


Are you looking forward to any of this week’s releases?  Check ‘em out after the jump.



The only Overclocked trailer we could find



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Monday, Mar 31, 2008
by Roman Kuebler
Photo: Meg Sheff-Atteberry

Photo: Meg Sheff-Atteberry


PopMatters has had plenty of nice things to say about Baltimore’s The Oranges Band (specifically here and here. When the band announced that they were headed into the studio to begin work on their new record, having soldiered through personnel changes and struggles at their label, Lookout Records, it seemed like an excellent time to catch up and to allow them to speak for themselves by cataloging the happenings. Over the next several weeks, Oranges Band frontman Roman Kuebler will write in with updates from the sessions for the band’s third full-length. Here’s part two…
Jon Langmead


caption

It’s a maze of equipment in the tracking room. Doug emerges from the “amp cavern”. I’ll admit to being slightly confused and just a little overwhelmed here.



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Monday, Mar 31, 2008

Last week I mentioned getting into audio books for the first time. I must admit, I am still working my way through the 20 disc set of Christopher Paolini’s Eldest (12 CDs down, eight to go!) but this weekend something exciting was brought to my attention at my local public library.


I volunteer there on alternate Saturdays, and this week a patron asked me how to access free downloadable audio books at Listen Up! Vermont, through the Green Mountain Library Consortium. Though I had been the one to ask, “Can I help you?” I had no idea what he was referring to and couldn’t provide help without some outside assistance.


As it turns out, my local library has just this week started subscribing to a service that allows patrons to use their library card number to download audio books, which can then be burned to a CD when allowed by the publisher or transferred to an mp3 device, as well as listened to on a personal computer. Two downloads are allowed at a time, and the files expire after a week, at which point the audio book is ‘returned’ to the shelf and another patron can ‘check it out.’ With many of the newest titles, just like a popular recent release at the physical library, there is a waiting list. Older titles are often available all the time, so multiple members can download them the same week rather than waiting their turn. The selection is currently a bit limited: new releases and older classics without much in between, but new material is being added all the time.


Last week a reader recommended I check out Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy on audio book and I was happy to find it in the collection at Listen Up! Vermont, though there is a waiting list, so I got on that right away. I also had mentioned that I wanted to track down a copy of Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, which is luckily available through the site as well. A mere five or six week delay while patrons in line in front of me download and listen to the files, and hopefully I’ll at least be listening to that work in time for the August Democratic National Convention here in the US, no matter who the candidates are at that point.


Libraries all over are doing their best to provide new services to patrons. Have you been to your local library lately to see what’s on offer?


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