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by Matt Mazur

23 Jun 2009

Unlikely collaborators Moby and David Lynch put their heads together for a cool black and white animated video that actually catapults the bald electronica guru into relevancy again. In turn, Moby lent the director a hand with his new album Fox, Bat, Strategy: A Tribute to Dave Jaurequi, out June 30. Yes, David Lynch is about to drop an album!

by Rob Horning

22 Jun 2009

I’m currently reading George Gissing’s novel New Grub Street, a thoroughly depressing look at the business of manufacturing literature, of belles lettres for sale, and all the petty personality squabbles and scrambles for pre-eminence that go along with it. Gissing seems bent on persuading us that money is all that matters in the end—i.e., without money a person will lose all sense of propriety and poverty is sufficient to coarsen the morals of anyone—and that of course literary merit has nothing to do with commercial viability. He denounces the “hateful spirit of literary rancour…that made people eager to believe all evil,” noting that literary gossip and what we would now call snark “were enough to make all literature appear a morbid excrescence upon human life.” The book’s successful character has a robust social network and no illusions about the crap he cranks out; he regards the idea that literature is a calling as the same sort of sentimental claptrap as romantic love, an obstacle that one must circumvent, an illusion that must be abandoned to get along. Naturally, the failure character is just the opposite, thin-skinned, too proud to self-promote or make instrumental use of friends, and too conscious of the inferiority of his product crafted for the market rather than his muse.

Though resolutely humorless and padded out in places to itself meet the tyrannical demands of the Victorian triple-decker, New Grub Street is also chock full of cynical advice for getting along in the then-newfangled world of journalism. Milvain, the successful hack, tells his aspiring sister after reading one of her articles that “there’s rather too much thought in it, perhaps. Suppose you knock out one or two of the less obvious reflections, and substitute a wholesome commonplace?” Readers, he argues, “are irritated, simply irritated by anything that isn’t glaringly obvious. They hate an unusual thought.” To write for the public, one must “express vulgar thought and feeling in a way that flatters the vulgar thinkers and feelers.” In today’s context, you might put a slightly different spin on that: writing must be simple so it can be grasped quickly, because everyone is too much in a hurry to devote precious time to any one article. They are under too much pressure to move on to the next thing. But Gissing was prescient about this as well: he has a character lament the “huge library, growing into unwieldiness, threatening to become a trackless desert of print.”

Not much has changed in the publishing world as far as I can see—who you know and how timely you file can seem far more important than how good your writing is. And also, it doesn’t suit to be a prima donna about your prose until you’ve earned the right, then you are obliged to be one, whether or not you have any actual gripes with what editors are doing to your work. Professional journalism is often an elaborate reputation game that requires a facility with signaling and accruing social capital. Whether or not one accepts this reality and accommodates it does seem to determine how far one will get in the publishing world, and perhaps in adult life generally. (I’m often tempted to pout and wait for my precocious specialness to be noticed.)

by shathley Q

22 Jun 2009

In the closing pages of ‘Altered Egos’ Superman confronts Batman, demanding the latter reveal his identity to the remaining members of the Justice League. Batman makes his own position perfectly clear. If all the members of the Justice League had known that Batman was in truth Bruce Wayne, they would have had no way to counter the White Martian, the major enemy of this issue.

With this exchange, Mark Waid establishes the scope of his vision for his upcoming run as JLA writer; the League is about the very different views held by its top tier members, and conflict that arises there from. With Superman openness and frankness are a prime concern, with Batman, tactical maneuvering outweighs teammates’ feelings. Although both hold to ideals of justice, their views are diametrically opposed. Artist Mark Pajarillo’s use of a viewscreen and slight changes in viewing angle (with readers’ worms-eye view of Superman heroically emphasizing his rectitude in the first panel, but destabilizing it with a birds-eye view in the next) make a visual argument for the incompatibility of the characters’ views, and the impossibility of readers deciding which view is correct.

With ‘Altered Egos’, Waid showcases his understanding of Grant Morrison’s vision of the Justice League in JLA. Resurrecting the threat of the White Martians, the villains from the opening storyarc of Morrison’s run on JLA, Waid offers readers a reason to trust that he would continue Morrison’s vision. But along with an implied promise to continue Morrison’s work, Waid brings his own storytelling powers to bear on the JLA. The traumatic ‘birth’ of the White Martian mirrors the ‘birth’ of Professor Zoom in Waid’s acclaimed Flash story ‘The Return of Barry Allen’.

With the issue’s final caption reading ‘It’s not about trust, the League has plenty of that’, Waid harkens back to the title of the issue in which he brought Barry Allen back from the dead. Along with that, comes a promise for grand storyarcs yet to come.

by Bill Gibron

22 Jun 2009

When it hit the web last week, film geeks everywhere felt the hairs on the nape of their neck tingle just a tiny little bit. Sure, we were dealing with that cinematic inconsistency known as Roland Emmerich, a man who made a definitive alien invasion film with Independence Day, and one of the dopiest Earth vs. nature romps with The Day After Tomorrow. But with an exclusive look at the first trailer for his upcoming catastrophe epic 2012 waiting in the wings (a tantalizing teaser had arrived late last year), a few guilty pleasure palpitations could be expecting. Now, after witnessing the nearly three minutes of mindless Armageddon madness the new preview offered, the ‘Net is in almost universal agreement: Screw this Summer’s sloppy CG action fests. What we need right now is a major dose of Emmerich patented disaster porn, and FAST

Oddly enough, 2012 was bumped to November of 2009 when it was deemed that May through August was too jam-packed with greatness. Of course, after two months, it says something about said popcorn season that Star Trek remains the best stunt and spectacle flick of the lot. Indeed, J.J. Abrams able reboot has bested an anemic Wolverine, a toxic Land of the Lost, a sheepish Terminator, and a paltry Pelham 1 2 3. And with few potential challengers waiting in the wings - it’s hard to imagine Transformers, Public Enemies, Harry Potter, or GI Joe besting the sensational voyages of this particular Starship Enterprise - it may be up to Emmerich to save the blockbuster, albeit a whole three months too late. From the looks of the trailer, it has everything that’s missing from the current crop of movies - chutzpah, vision, and an undeniable desire to destroy any and all things in its path.

When 2012 was first announced, it seemed like another tawdry tie-in to a hot button outsider issue. Conspiracy theorists and similarly skittish people have been predicting the end of times ever since the Mayan Calendar got some critical analysis. Everything from worldwide plague to total planetary devastation has been predicted with little more than some ancient ruins and an equally rudimentary grasp on what these primitives actually believed and bothered to record as the basis. And the initial teaser for the film provided one of those patented movie money shots guaranteed to get viewers gaping while wondering just what the Hell it all means. Indeed, as a monk rings a bell indicating some manner of impending crisis, a wall of water comes streaming over the mountains, indicating one massive tidal wave is about to wipe out all manner of civilization in its wake - and several thousand feet below it.

Now comes the full blown trailer and it’s a masterpiece of mass destruction. It begins with the typical tabloid news montage, 24 hour channels cheering the various omens with the standard doom and gloom prostylitizing. Soon, things start going boom. The Vatican watches as St. Peters literally falls apart. Elsewhere, John Cusak and his family are attacked by what appears to be every meteorite and/or asteroid in the entire Milky Way. Random shots of Los Angeles in full blown earthquake mode are witnessed, while the entire state of California appears to disappear into the Pacific after said “big one” concludes. There are cities on fire, deep snowbanks outside a desolate Washington DC, and an argument between co-stars Oliver Platt and Chiwetel Ejiofor about who can evacuate the planet in one of America’s waiting space arks.

That’s right - space arks - huge starships that, in less than three years, will apparently be revealed as our last best hope of survival against a world quickly given over to cosmic climate shifts. As people gather to take refuge, as Air Force One (containing President Danny Glover, one imagines) is overwhelmed by massive swells of unholy aquifer, Cusak and his family make a mad dash to the spacecraft, hopefully to travel to a world less prone to prophetic pronouncement. Scattered in between are shots of the Washington monument toppling over, a small plane flying between two collapsing skyscrapers, and as the giddy pièce de résistance, the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy riding another tidal wave, this one aimed directly at the White House.

While it sounds like nothing but 180 seconds of unbridled mayhem, the kind of over-the-top spectacle that the Sci-Fi Channel has been riding on since the laptop gave birth to computer generated destruction, no one can deny Emmerich’s eye. This is a man who clearly enjoys dismantling the various landmarks and wonders of the ancient/modern world. While the sequences offered in the 2012 trailer probably represent the key “wow” moments in the movie, one imagines even more noted vistas getting vivisected by the jolly German. He’s made mincemeat out of so many of our recognizable metropolises that there will probably be a call for him to make another movie of this type, if only to sacrifice those cities he’s somehow missed.

But it’s more than just the concept of chaos. Emmerich is a champion at what could best be called the “believability factor”. Oh sure, his 10,000 BC antics were about as fake as falsies on a longshoreman, but it’s hard to deny the impact of New York’s “drowning” under Tomorrow‘s perfect flood. Similarly, when our angry ETs obliterate the Empire State Building (and much of Manhattan in the process), Emmerich gets the god-awfulness absolutely right. He understands both the awe and the horror of having reality spin wildly out of control, though his films frequently miss the boat in most other important filmmaking facets (character, narrative clarity, artistic bravado). Still, when you want someone to destroy the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio, you’ve got to get Emmerich.

So while we sit and wait, watching the trailer over and over again for clues and continuing clarification on just what might be happening to our favorite solar system member, it’s clear that 2012 will be a big fat hype heavy wait-and-see subject among many in Nerd Nation and its multiple messageboard suburbs. Sure, the buzz has more or less died down after a relatively fast start, but as the Summer lags and the big guns sputter and misfire, fans of larger than life obliteration will be looking to Emmerich to appease their need. 2012 could be an undeniable epic of Grand Canyon Guignol proportions. It could also be so cheesy and rank that sewer rats can’t cotton to its flavor. Whatever the case, the opening sales pitch salvo sure looks smashing. For anyone underwhelmed by what the year has had to offer so far, five months will be a Helluva long wait.

by shathley Q

21 Jun 2009

It was a strange year, 1836. It was the year that would invent the twentieth century.

Naturalist Charles Darwin stepped off the HMS Beagle on the morning of October 2nd, seeing his native England for the first time in five years. Novelist Charles Dickens would begin publishing his first novel The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club serialized for weekly publication. And Sam Colt would finally perfect his invention of the revolver.

For Darwin it would be the beginning of a long career, one that would enshrine him as one of the greatest scientific minds of his age, and one that would bring him into conflict with the established power of the Church of England and its dogma. Ten weeks into publication of The Pickwick Papers Dickens would spark a cultural revolution. His character Sam Weller would be so highly regarded that it would be openly stolen and reproduced in bootleg copies of his work, Sam Weller Joke Books and various other merchandizing. Dickens would helm a new kind of literature that would set the tone for such later innovators as Walt Disney, Osamu Tezuka and R. Crumb. And Sam Colt would, with a single stroke, reconstitute the way our species conceives of justice, law, injury and animosity. We would not need a writer the quality of Tom Fontana to remind us that with the advent of the revolver “the wound is personal”.

Each of these revolutions could be seen to engage with the writings of the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, whose dystopian view of the world arose from his famous slogan: “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”. Malthus would use this offer a savage critique of the welfare system of 19th century England. It is in this way that 1836 holds up a mirror to the global economic collapse of 2008. Economics as the crucible for three cultural revolutions; one of scientific and religious conflict, one of literary innovation, and one of civilian armament.

While the visionary work of manga writer Yasuhiro Nightow in his anime series Gungrave offers comment on the confluence of Colt’s legacy and Darwin’s (in Nightow’s series dead gangsters dressed as cowboys hunt down genetically engineered zombie supersoldiers), it is 1989’s Legion of Super-Heroes edited by Mark Waid and written by Keith Giffen and Tom & Mary Bierbaum that offers a perspective on the confluence of Darwin, Colt and Dickens.

Five years after the economic collapse of the United Planets, the idealistic Legion of Super-Heroes crawl from the wreckage, now jaded by the failure of their dream. Things were not supposed to be this bad. Now facing a galactic society on the brink crumbling into civilian militias, the Legion must confront the encroaching threat of an expansionist xenosociology. The story is told on the same 3x3 grid popularized by Dave Gibbons in Watchmen, but to a far more brutal effect.

This Wednesday’s Iconographies feature explores how 1989’s reboot of Legion of Super-Heroes offers comment on both 1836 and 2008.

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