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by shathley Q

19 Jun 2009

It is the kind of neo-noir that fans of writer Brian Azzarello have come to love. That ‘essential inner darkness’ that Frank Miller speaks of in his introduction to Criminal: Lawless. ‘Not many people really understand what makes a crime story tick. Like they did with the early Batman movies and with nearly every attempt at film noir since movies went color, they dress it up dark, even murky, but the essential inner darkness that a good crime yarn exposes, relishes in, releases never occurs to them’. But Azzarello has that inner darkness in spades, and with Scott Levy he doles it out by the bucketful in the seemingly throwaway tale, ‘The Last Shoot’.

Spider-Man’s Tangled Web, the series in which the Azzarello/ Levy scripted ‘The Last Shoot’ appears, was meant to tell the stories of ordinary New Yorkers, and how their lives were touched by the emergence the superhero. Spider-Man saves lives, but what of those lives he actually saves, the book sought to explore. An ensemble book in the truest sense, Tangled Web saw writers submitting short stories or storyarcs that ran only a few short issues. Each issue of Tangled Web would have at least one backup story. And Spider-Man himself would only be glimpsed at.

Azzarello’s creative genius for neo-noir fiction sets him up for apparently committing Tangled Web’s only cardinal sin; by page 20 of the 22-page lead story, Spider-Man has still failed to appear. But the tale of small-time crime and petty, workaday woes that is wrestler (or ‘shooter’, a wrestler who wrestles for real) Joey Hogan’s life proves so arresting that readers almost forgive Azzarello and Levy for the let-down. Does it really matter that Spidey doesn’t show? Wasn’t this a good story anyhow?

But of course, Spider-Man does show. This is the moment of his birth. When a young, brash, reckless kid endowed with incredible powers uses it to entertain and earn a paycheck. This is the darkest moment in Spider-Man’s history. A moment when he was at his most vulnerable. When he was perhaps most easily seduced by cheap applause. The impoverishment of Crusher Hogan’s world threatens to swallow him whole. How many lives may have gone unsaved? It would eventually take the death of his foster-father to show Spider-Man the path of responsibility he would walk later in life.

But staring across that essential, inner darkness of a whole world poised like a knife-edge to the throat of a hero who can save it, Crusher Hogan’s words speak to the indomitable in each reader. ‘The man that beat me…? Would be a hero’.

by Nick Dinicola

19 Jun 2009

Valkyria Chronicles is a unique game within the genre of turn-based strategy games. It’s a mix of that classic slow paced strategy with the fast action of a third-person shooter. But the most unique feature of the game is its surprisingly well defined supporting cast. Since these characters are not part of the main story, their development must be done outside the narrative of the game. Valkyria Chronicles manages this with a system of menus, descriptive traits, and the slow reveal of each character’s past.

In other turn-based strategy games, players build up their army by recruiting low-level soldiers with no special skills and then train them into something useful. Since these soldiers are not part of the main story they have no personality, no back story, and no individuality. Not so in Valkyria Chronicles.

From the very beginning we’re encouraged to view the supporting cast as real characters and not as cannon fodder needed to fill out our team. When selecting our squad for the first time in the Command Room, we pick from a list of 30 potential candidates. The first thing players will notice is that every character on the list looks different. From their facial features, hair color, hair style, skin color, or age, there’s no mistaking one for another. Each is visually unique and easily identifiable, and certain soldiers are guaranteed to stand out to certain players based solely on appearances.

Next to each picture is a small list of character traits. Some soldiers may be described as a “Hard Worker” or a “Challenge Lover” or “Meadow Bred.” These traits are not just descriptions but have tangible effects on the battlefield. A “Hard Worker” will occasionally get to take an extra action during a turn. A “Challenge Lover” gets a boost in attack power when charging into the fray and being “Meadow Bred” increases one’s defense while in grassy meadows. Since these advantages and disadvantages are worded as actual behaviors and not just statistics, they help solidify the personality of each character. The player quickly learns what soldier has what trait and how to best use those traits to gain an advantage on the front lines. For example, I’ll always send a “Challenge Lover” or “Hard Worker” to mount an attack because those traits make them well suited for direct combat, and I’ll never use someone who’s “Meadow Bred” while in a city. I’m encouraged to use the character in a way that reinforces their personality, and in doing so, those traits written in the Command Room menu become a self-fulfilling depiction of that personality.

Also next to each picture and below the list of traits are three names of people that this character likes. These aren’t random names; they’re other soldiers and potential squad mates. Trying to follow this web of relationships can be daunting if a player tries to map it out, but what’s important is that these characters all know each other. They all live in the same world and have their own set of friends and enemies. When following this web, there’s a sense that we’re stepping into the middle of a world that exists beyond the player, that the story of Valkyria Chronicles is just one story within a larger world. These characters had lives before the official story began and will continue on after the official story ends.

In addition to all the information given to us in the Command Room when selecting squad members, each character has a short biography, but in the beginning of the game, these bios are woefully short and don’t offer any personal information to flesh out the characters beyond what we already know from the Command Room. However, the more we use a character in battle, the longer their bio becomes. Like any relationship, the more time that we spend with someone the more that we learn about them. By requiring the player to use a character in battle before we can learn any of their back story, the game limits the number of potential characters we might come to care about. While this action seems counter-progressive, it’s inevitable that when dealing with a large group of people some of them will remain strangers, and by limiting the number of relationships we can build, those characters we do come to care about are made to stand out from the rest of the squad. These are the people that we have fought alongside over and over again. We grow attached to them just through this repeated use and that attachment is then bolstered by progressive character development. By the time a character’s bio is filled, we’ve fought enough battles with them and learned enough about them that we have developed a real relationship with them. And as we learn more about their history with each battle, they become less stereotypical and more multi-dimensional, becoming teammates who we genuinely mourn for when they die and all of this is accomplished without a single line of dialogue.

by Sarah Zupko

19 Jun 2009

The Defibulators are a New York group that manage to concoct convincing hillbilly music, or maybe it’s better labeled cowpunk. Anyway, the band is great fun and have a bunch of upcoming tour dates. Here’s a video of “DumDum” live at the Brooklyn Country Music Festival in 2008 as well as a player of four of their songs.

The Defibulators
“Ol’ Winchester” [MP3]
     

by PopMatters Staff

19 Jun 2009

Japandroids
Post-Nothing
(Polyvinyl)
Releasing: 4 August 2009 (US) / 9 June 2009 (digital) re-issue from this year’s earlier release

SONG LIST
01 The Boys Are Leaving Town  
02 Young Hearts Spark Fire 
03 Wet Hair  
04 Rockers East Vancouver  
05 Heart Sweats  
06 Crazy / Forever  
07 Sovereignty    
08 I Quit Girls

Japandroids
“Young Hearts Spark Fire” [MP3]
     

by Rob Horning

19 Jun 2009

I don’t know if it takes any special kind of refined irony to appreciate dumb movies, like the ones compiled on this “50 Films You Can Wait to See After You’re Dead” list from Kottke. I’ve seen many on the list with relish—Basic Instinct 2, From Justin to Kelly, Glitter, Catwoman to name a few—and Freddy Got Fingered is one of my favorite films ever, if only for the disturbing dinner-date sequence, which seems as though it was shot while the director was on PCP. In fact, I think this kind of film is far more dependably entertaining than middlebrow “quality” films along the lines of The Reader or biopic tripe like A Beautiful Mind or Ray. That could just be because I like “campy” movies—but it seems insufficient and maybe inaccurate to dismiss these as mere camp. The standard definition of camp is an earnestly made work that’s terrible; in laughing at such a work we are showing our appreciation for that quintessentially human ability to persevere without talent. Camp, theoretically, is for those who especially relish the frisson of being in that no man’s land between laughing at and laughing with someone. The Room fits that bill—director Tommy Wiseau is ambitious and incompetent in equal measures, and his film leaves you with a weird respect for his stubbornness, for his evident refusal to listen to anyone who knows better. Few of us have that strength of character.

But the films on Kottke’s list are different. These are not films made by incompetents, but schlock made with a measure of cynicism at least at some level—whether the producers, the director, the studios, or the cast (if not all of the above). There, the overt and inevitable failure tends to be humanizing for all parties involved, reminding us that the hegemony of the culture industry is not quite complete and that its ability to manipulate us in the ways it seeks to is not infallible, not even close. The workaday actors in such films secure our sympathy, palpably muddling through, working on something they must know is garbage but doing what they can to remain professional. And in the best of these dumb movies, the stars themselves are the only people who are entirely clueless, lost in a hubristic haze that makes them think the project is dignified and destined for greatness merely through their sheer presence. And despite everything, the delusion of these stars seems to remain undimmed throughout the otherwise incoherent finished product. All that holds such films together in the end is the stars’ unearned self-confidence—probably we get that quality in a much more concentrated form in dumb movies than in good ones. The earnestness of the marquee names in dumb movies, however, brings them down to our level; the audience can revel in their superiority, fully aware, for once, how dependent the stars are on them, how the fans’ indulgence in fact constitutes the stars’ talent. So in a sense, we celebrate and appreciate ourselves when we sit through an ego-fest movie like Striptease or Blade 2.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

In Defense of the Infinite Universe in 'No Man's Sky'

// Moving Pixels

"The common cries of disappointment that surround No Man’s Sky stem from the exciting idea of an infinite universe clashing with the harsh reality of an infinite universe.

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