Friday, April 11, 2014

Overthinking Everything: Creepypasta Platter

Last time I was sick, I started cycling through my favorite YouTube channels. One of them, Tats Top Videos, had a Halloween video listing their 22 Top Gaming Creepypastas, and thus was I introduced to this corner of the internet. Creepypastas are amazingly creative, and the best of them do what the best horror movies & novels do, which is worm into your brain and refuse to leave.  Thus, let me share some of my favorites by general category.  (Be warned – I will be posting some SPOILERS.)

Overall Favorite: Candle Cove.  Brilliantly executed, this story by Kris Straub takes the form of a forum thread wherein a group of people reminisce about a half-remembered low budged local show, and where said thread comes to an abrupt end thanks to a bizarre, eerie revelation.  The conversational nature of the story being told and the slow reveal of this incredibly odd show (that I’d still watch) is very effective, while the open nature of the ending leaves one with questions.  Why did these people see “Candle Cove” where others saw only static?  Who was responsible for the show?  Has this experience changed them in any way?  It’s probably the most effective way any creepypasta has used a dim childhood memory as a starting point.

Most Terrifying: The Russian Sleep Experiment.  By being built on the notion that enough sleep deprivation will eventually negate not only your sanity but also your humanity, this story hit a nerve.  When I was in my 20s, I had bad insomnia that left me on the verge of a breakdown; even recently, during the hurricane-caused blackout, my lack of sleep affected my behavior that had people concerned for my health in ways I didn’t notice until they addressed it with me.  So I firmly believe that if you keep a person awake long enough, they’ll become an abomination.  Every time I hear it, part of me thinks that even if the tale itself isn’t true the end result certainly could be, and I am scared.  Sadly, guess what the side effect is.  Yep.

Favorite Video Game Creepypasta: Ben Drowned.  This takes a trope that appears in a lot of video game creepypastas – the haunted bootleg game – and makes it work simply because of its choice of game.  Majora’s Mask is a very eerie game on its own (a popular & plausible theory is built around the game being structured around the five stages of grief), and having our narrator be stuck playing through a glitchy copy that drives him to a breakdown thanks to it being haunted by a child’s spirit – or maybe what killed the child whose name it has now taken – makes it all the more horrifying.  Add to that the footage that doesn’t look even remotely faked with that Elegy statue, and you have a story that is justifiably hailed as one of the best game-centric stories.

Favorite Lost Episode: Squidward’s Suicide.  Most “lost episode” stories leave me cold for two reasons – they require the cast of the affected show to act out of character, and they try to explain it by having the creators act oddly as well.  What makes “Squidward’s Suicide” work is that it really doesn’t do any of that.  It builds on an existing character trait (Squidward being a perpetual failure & being frequently depressed) and takes it to a logical extreme.  What’s more, there’s no explanation for why it happens – the creators are horrified by it, the network & the narrator viewing it are all horrified, and there’s no clue as to who or what is responsible for (apparently) switching the tape.  The gore gets to be a bit much at parts, but the essence of it as the one lost episode that doesn’t require ridiculous hoop leaps makes it the best of its bunch.

Favorite Poke-Pasta: Pokemon Dead Channel.  Poke-pastas are a genre in & of themselves.  Lots of ROM hacks, lots of bootlegs, lots of bizarre instances, but this one is the best because of the theme in it.  The narrator is a socially isolated kid whose main social contact is through the game with a Pikachu she names BRVR, who is abandoned in turn once the narrator starts to make real friends.  When a falling-out with the narrator’s best friend occurs, she returns to the game for familiarity & comfort... and discovers that BRVR is still there & has not handled the separation well at all.  What makes it so eerie is that the narrator is maybe a step away from sharing the same broken psyche as BRVR, her isolation & solitude mirroring its in turn and leading to a story filled with uncomfortable parallels.  For having a deeper theme than “that thing you liked as a kid was really evil” and executing it so well, this is probably the finest Poke-pasta written.

Favorite Story about a FUBAR Kids Show: Happy Appy.  This tells of a show that aired on Nick Jr for a hot minute before it was yanked.  What makes it so good, though, isn’t so much the show itself but the meta story.  In the story, the narrator who is investing why the show was yanked finds himself tormented by the show’s insane creator; every person he turns to for information winds up mysteriously dead, and his house even more mysteriously burns to the ground.  That a creator would still make a show, hoping to sell his unnerving & horrifying vision to an unsuspecting world once again, while going to such insane lengths to torment a person trying to expose it is more compelling than “hey, this predicted 9/11”.

Favorite Brony Pasta: The Luna Game series.  It makes sense for a rather large, vocal fan community to have its own collection of creepypastas, most of which take the form of scare-fics like “Cupcakes”.  The Luna Game series, however, is a string of fan games filled with jump scares and, in the later entries, play elements that mess with your mind.  From speedily creeping shadows to seemingly endless pits that build tension to platforms that dissolve into MissingNo clusters, it really makes for an enjoyably terrifying play experience.  And if you’re a fan, you get the feeling that you’re watching the title character trapped in her own private Hell after falling back into villainy.  I recommend at least watching a playthrough.

Best Crazy Conspiracy: Abandoned by Disney.  Look, I like to think I know my abandoned building lore and my Disneyana.  So logic would say that there’s no way the tale of Mowgli’s Palace in Guana Key could possibly be real, especially once you get to what happens in the Character Prep Room (nope, not gonna spoil it – it’s so well-written I want you to read it for yourself).  But given the sheer detail in the story along with the fact that Google Maps absolutely refuses to un-blur Guana Key so you can see any structures, you can’t help but wonder if there’s actually some truth to it...

Most Believable: Robert the Doll.  I thought I dreamed this; years ago, I saw a show on Discovery Channel or one of those other formerly-educational channels that detailed the story of the haunted doll known as Robert down in Florida.  He terrified me then, and knowing that he’s still there, in a museum that keeps letters of apology from guests who learn the hard way not to cross him, makes be terrified all over again.  If you look him up, you will immediately see why.  I never, ever, EVER want to run across Robert in my travels (should they happen) for fear of what might happen.

Most Horrifying Despite All Logic: Smiledog.jpg.  This thing freaks me out every time I see it.  Just... go look at it.  It’s a pure, primal reaction of horror, and I can’t justify it.

Best Hook for a TV Series: The Holders series.  I’m not talking specific entries in the series itself – I’m talking about the concept in general.  A handful of items that promise power to those who seek them, they will almost inevitably twist these Seekers into monstrosities.  The desire to use them as a hook comes straight from Tats Top Videos, where the narrator of the segment said, “One can only hope that one with a just heart prevails over these threats”; being a fan of old-school hidden-ancient-artifact stories, the thought of having a group devoted to stopping Seekers before they can find any Holders and pose a threat to themselves & others is pretty appealing.  (In fact, I do have a series ripe for revival in mind, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

Most Overrated: Dead Bart.  Look, I get the appeal of “lost episodes”, of ferretting out something horrible about something you loved as a child.  There’s a weird thrill to it.  But when you have to jump through logic hoops like you’re a trained poodle to make them work, it’s hard for me to maintain enough willing suspension of disbelief to enjoy it.  I discussed this earlier – it has to work with the characters as they are & it has to not have an explanation at the creator end.  “Dead Bart” requires that the Simpsons be explicitly stated to be acting horribly out of character, with Homer being violently angry & Marge being oddly depressed among other things.  It has the creators being either overly reactive or weirdly cagey & going through a “troubled” period to explain why it exists, when the unknowable horror of the altered tape in “Squidward’s Suicide” is so much more unnerving.  Add to it a tech incident that’s more hilariously stupid than anything and a “prediction” ending that sounds like something from a History Channel show, and it’s hard for me to see why this is so beloved other than the warped nostalgia thing.

So that’s just some of the creepypasta universe.  There’s the tales of favorite figures like Jeff the Killer & Slender Man, there’s the “series” stories about the Holders & the SCP Foundation, and many, many alarmingly altered games.  There’s the short but sweet “Mother’s Call”, which I love to share just to see reactions.  For those interested, there’s...

The Creepypasta Wiki;
YouTube narrators like Creeps McPasta and Mr CreepyPasta;
And the channel that started me down this wormhole, Tats Top Videos (please note, they have some good non-scary gaming videos, too).

Enjoy, and try not to lose as much sleep as I have.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Overthinking Everything: Nostalgia Is Not a Contest

So I've discovered Tumblr...  Like most social venues online, it's equal parts awesome & awful.  One thing I've noticed, though, is that there is a definite age division, and being in my 30s, I'm practically a senior citizen on the site.  It's weird to see stuff from late high school & college being described as "part of our childhood", but it's also an interesting perspective.  One thing I have noticed, however, is a resentment towards non-90s nostalgia, and that bothers me.

I first saw this during a discussion about the novel Ready Player One, a really enjoyable sci-fi story that is built around crazy levels of 80s nostalgia.  Some people who read it appreciated it for what it is and posited what a 90s-centric version of the novel would include.  This quickly deteriorated into people hating on the book for not being about 90s nostalgia and wondering why anyone would be nostalgic for any other era.  I understand why that generation resents others' nostalgia - for the longest time, until we started becoming parents with disposable income to help turn a profit, GenX & GenY's nostalgia was largely written off as worthless.  The feelings kicked in at least a decade before it became seen as (in an apt yet crass term) a viable market.  So eventually we'll be getting NatGeo specials (that are the last watchable thing on that network) about how the 90s shaped us and novels where there are immersive VR games involving reenacting Jurassic Park.  It's really just a matter of time.

I understand the impulse to hate on others' nostalgia; for the longest time, like I said, we were force-fed Baby Boomers' 50s & 60s nostalgia and told that any we felt was inherently worthless.  But I think there's a difference.  The Baby Boomers' nostalgia is very disingenuous; where we feel that the 70s & 80s are worth remembering even though they weren't perfect, the Boomers' nostalgia is devoted to whitewashing away anything negative about the 50s & 60s (and that's quite a bit).  So for the longest time, we were told that our honest views of our past were worthless, while their super-super-dishonest views of theirs were the only way to view nostalgia.  It was quite annoying, and it's only started to ebb thanks to the earlier mentioned earning power our nostalgia now has.

I mention this because I understand the resentment you feel when you're told that all the stuff that made you happy as a child was worthless crap.  I appreciate the value Baby Boomers' nostalgia holds for them, even as I wish it was more honest about the world from which it originates.  As for the book that started all this, I do feel that Ready Player One brings a little too much of that "rose colored glasses" view to the 80s for my tastes, but it's still a fun read.  I don't want 90s kids to be as resentful to our nostalgia as our parents were.  Nostalgia is supposed to be a fun escape into a happier past, so it has no reason to be a contest.  Just enjoy your past, appreciate its good AND bad aspects, and be willing to see what holds value in others' pasts as well.  It's not like there's a "Best Nostalgia" trophy to be had.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

CASB: What Part of 'Visual Medium' Don't You Understand?

Hello. My name is Mela, and I write. I'm not a writer, per se - I've given up on that pipe dream of ever being published. But I write an essay or review or a (in all honesty) fanfic there, and it's a hobby I enjoy. One thing I most definitely am not, however, is an artist.

That is simething that makes me sad. Art legitimately amazes me, and since so much of the media I enjoy is visually oriented, I wish it was something I could create. Painted, digital, pixel, line work... I love it all. And even if I think it's bad, I still respect the time & effort that went into making it.

It is because of this that I am really bothered by this trend in comics press & fandom to ignore and downplay the artists. As much as I love & respect & enjoy many comic writers, it bothers me when they're exclusively mentioned in reviews. For example, let's take Saga; there's a legitimately great series with amazing talent behind it. But mark my words, if you read the reviews, they'll emphasize Brian K. Vaughn's writing over Fiona Staples's gorgeous art. And that's if she's mentioned at all. It's not an isolated example, either. Comicdom has entered a sort of "celebrity writer" period that, while it recognizes some truly great talent, it does so at the expense of that talent's equally skilled partners.

Now, the heart of the question is "why". I think it stems from an effort to make comics seem more "literary" - if we downplay the fact that the pictures exist, maybe people will magically start taking us seriously! Well, no. You'd think by now comicdom wouldn't need constant validation, but it's probably never going to stop. We'll always deny what makes comics... well, comics by trying to "be taken seriously".

A comic is a partnership between the narrative and the art, and that's how it's designed to function. Think about how many times you've been bitterly disappointed in a visually beautiful comic with bad writing. Or (in an experience I'll be discussing in future reviews) how a really solid story is turned to mush by ugly, incomprehensible art. Think of how many times, especially in the 90s, when we were excited to see a book written by a favorite artist, only to learn that they needed that writer back at their old company they'd been dissing. Or how a beloved writer's work suddenly became a perfect storm of their worst tendencies because the new artist couldn't smooth them out like the old one.

Art is important to comics. Art is important period. Art requires just as much hard work and thought, if not more, than writing (look at how many great artists die young or get ill from overwork - it's more taxing on a body than you'd think). If I could make lovely art, I would; hell, I'd probably be enjoying my ultimate pipe dream of making my own comic. I may not be an artist myself, but it bothers me greatly that half of the necessary ingredients for a comic are considered optional, and I really wish it would stop.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

One Less Reason to be Miserable

So this morning, after much thought to distract myself from Snowpocalypse II: The Snowening, I decided to delete my Livejournal.

All of the Archivals I felt like reposting have more or less been reposted - I re-read a lot of them & find them rather lacking.  All of my personal friends have stopped posting there.  All of the groups I was part of are either inactive or become mockeries of their former selves (PCLJ, I'm looking at you & your decision to mock a 4-year-old for her frankly superior taste in TV).  So it's not like I really had anything there worthwhile that I haven't saved or reposted already.

One of the most telling moments I always think of when I think of why I left Livejournal is the Great Blackout.  It said a lot about Six Apart's priorities when they were content to let the Putin administration in their home country shut down their entire site to silence political dissent until Time Magazine pointed this out to the rest of the world.  They truly didn't care about their users - they never refunded any subscribing users for the paid time lost during the Great Blackout; they dropped the user-participatory things like photo contests & the Writers Block to concentrate their home page on the insipid "ONTD" gossip circles; they started running obnoxious & frankly dangerous banner ads on the personal journals of people who couldn't subscribe; they'd start services like charity drives & games that would disappear in a blatant "take the money & run" action.  In short, Livejournal was bought out by a terrible, terrible company.

I'm sure that, so long as people who can't write words with more than three letters want to pseudo-snark about celebrities, Livejournal will be around; in fact, I predict that it will turn into ONTD outright & stop offering personal journals someday, viewing them as a drain much like Yahoo did with Geocities.  Which is fine - I seem to be behind the curve as far as ditching LJ.  But I was on there for over a decade, I had people I enjoyed reading & talking with, and I can't help but be a little nostalgic.

~Reasons to Be Miserable (Her Name is Mela) a.k.a. Lifetime Piling Up, 2002-2014.~
~There was a lot of ranting about cartoons. A LOT of ranting.~

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mela's 2013 Year in Review Part Two: The Good Stuff

Okay, Part 1 was Gripe-a-palooza.  Part 2 is the stuff I liked, and I’ll try really hard to make it more than just fannish gushing.  Also, as part of my Shift to Positive, I’ll be offering a Mea Culpa for some initial knee-jerk reactions in the past, since my revisits have changed my impressions.

As I said before, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS for stuff that’s mentioned.

BEST TV SHOW: Steven Universe:  “If every pork chop was perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs!”  Promoted largely because it’s from the first female original-show creator in Cartoon Network’s history (which surprised me, since they usually want to avoid acknowledging females in any way), it is a damn fine show.  Steven himself is a refreshingly sweet & dorky change of pace from the usual sassy & wiseass kid hero (which you do get a break from on Gumball & Adventure Time), the Gems all have great personalities & work well as his surrogate family, his supporting cast is growing realistically & distinctively (I love the family that runs the fry shop), and his world simultaneously feels super-grounded while in town but still full of amazing wonders everywhere else.  It’s funny and sincere & sweet at the same time, and the mysteries of Steven’s world (like what happened to his mother or why there are only a handful of Gems left or why they have to gather stray jewels from the monsters they fight) are being parsed out in an suitably intriguing manner.  It’s the closest thing to a proper magical girl series on TV right now, and it has Amethyst, one of the few characters on TV built like me & NOT played as a walking fat joke.  This show is truly a perfect pork chop.  Or an awesome hot dog.  Probably both.  (And for the record, Wander Over Yonder is a very close second. VERY close.)

BEST ANIME: Gatchaman Crowds:  This is actually the show that I started watching and that inspired me to be less negative.  I hadn’t been familiar with the original Gatchaman outside of reruns of the “G-Force” dub airing in the early days of Cartoon Network, but that was utterly unnecessary (in fact, in my experience, a lack of familiarity led to more enjoyment because this is so different).  An examination of the power of new technology to unify instead of isolate, whether all innovations are innately evil, what motivates people to become leaders or heroes, and whether humans are or aren’t naturally inclined to do good swaddled in superheroic trappings, it has given me one of my favorite unlikely badass characters in Hajime as well.  You don’t think a giddy girl who collects notebooks & loves papercraft would be such a strong-willed, insightful heroine, but she goes from being a goof in the first episode to being the only thing perpetually keeping the world safe from the ultimate trolling bastard.  Also, her weapons are giant neon scissors.  The only complaint I heard was from an old fan of the original series who was disappointed it was an “in name only” adaptation, and he was being too fanboyish to see all the good, so it’s really his loss.  Everywhere else, including Comics Alliance, had lots to say about why you need to watch Crowds.

BEST MOVIE: Rifftrax Live Presents Starship Troopers:  If we’re talking about “best movie seen in a movie theater”, then this is my winner.  I had never seen Starship Troopers, and while I had watched a lot of their DVDs & VODs, I had never been to a Rifftrax live show.  But I contributed to the Kickstarter to raise royalty fees for Twilight (the prospect of which being mocked made even my mother interested), and when this was announced instead, I was fine with it.  The movie itself isn’t as legendarily awful as my family has repeatedly made it out to me – if anything, its biggest sin is overreaching.  I still find it to be more lucid and have healthier gender roles than anything Michael Bay has regurgitated, even if it’s not perfect.  And the riffing, holy cats...  That was one of the funniest things I have seen in my life.  At one point, I was doing the Dom Deluise wheeze-laugh (where you laugh so hard you can’t breathe & just make this high-pitched wheezing noise), and I haven’t done that in years, let alone in public.  I’ve been to two more great Rifftrax Live seasonal events, and I can only hope what they come up with next summer (now that they’ve forged a good relationship with Sony after this) is just as funny.

BEST COMIC: (tie) Young Avengers and Bandette:  I decided to pick two comics, one print & one digital-only (and that was a close decision between what I chose & Kinski, a comic about a man jeopardizing his job for the sake of a puppy).  The first is an excellent superhero comic that plays with the conventions of the medium, with the histories of the characters, with audience expectations, and with generation gaps real & perceived.  Every character was winsome & interesting, even people that I had no interest in prior to this (looking at you, Kid Loki & No-Varr), and it gave some obscure characters like Prodigy some much-needed development.  The path that’s been set before Wiccan is also super interesting & surprisingly moving – how do you trust yourself & others around you when you can be unconsciously warping reality at any moment?  I’m sad that it’s ending, but I’m also glad that it’s ending because the creative team has told their story & not because of a fickle market.  As for Bandette, you need to read this book if you love old-school or European style comics.  The breezy yet surprisingly in-depth story of a lovable thief named Bandette, her efforts to thwart both the local mob & the local police, her circle of friends & admirers, and her friendly rivalry with an older gentleman thief named Monsieur, it is building to a suitably interesting contest that is either a massive set-up for our thieving heroes or an elaborate attempt to bring the mob down from within.  My only complaint with it is how sporadically it comes out – the last issue dropped in July, and the next isn’t out till late January.  I guess Monkeybrain respects that skill takes time.

MELA’S MEA CULPA: Re-evaluating Suite & Smile Precure:  This started because of two things.  First, Doki Doki’s overall low quality annoyed me so much that I decided to rewatch the two seasons before it to see if they were as bad as I remembered.  Second, I got a copy of instrumentals from Suite that made me want to revisit it as well.  So I rewatched them and... they’re good.  My complaints about Hibiki hogging enough solo spotlight time from Kanade to make the latter incapable of functioning as a stand-alone character as the former still stand, but I’ve realized that this doesn’t make Hibiki a bad character.  I’ve realized that Ellen’s shift to Cure Beat is good in its own right & not just a rehash of Setsuna’s story, especially whenever she is forced into conflicts with the Minor Trio – her concern for them is so genuine.  Ako is a great example of how to do a young precociously mature character who’s NOT annoying as hell.  And while the story does feel a bit padded at times, it ultimately feels like the stakes are real.  So yeah, Suite is actually pretty good.  And you know what?  So is Smile.  Someone on Tumblr said that if you view Smile as a slice-of-life show that happens to star a group of magical girls, then it makes the series come off as a lot better.  That’s true – each of the girls has a distinct personality, distinct motivations outside of how they relate to the team leader (which is one of the biggest flaws of Doki Doki), and distinct reactions to everything.  The villains are a weak spot, as is the pacing (we should have had the Bad End Generals’ backstories introduced earlier so that their reformation made more sense, as well as more against the evil Bad End Cures), but the characters were still shaped much better than I initially thought.  So apologies for anyone who goes back to read my earlier stuff where I bitch about how awful Suite & Smile are; I’ve grown, I’ve changed my mind, and while I’m not about to self-censor, keep in mind that was a knee-jerk first impression that has since evolved.

So next year is looming before us.  A Sailor Moon revival with no preview images but loads of nice new merch is looming for this winter, a new Ms. Marvel with art by the Runaways artist & an awesome design is coming, and goodness knows what else to enjoy in the future.  I hope that I can continue the Switch to Positivity as well; it’s hard to do after so many years in dorkdom, but the effort is worth it.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mela's 2013 Year in Review Part One: Getting the Griping Done

Ah, 2013.  It was another year of pointless stress but what do you expect for adulthood?  It was the year I got back into anime, the year I finally figured out how the hell Tumblr works, the year I belatedly got hooked on Pokemon.  Everything outside of pop culture was trying extra, extra hard to make this a bad year, but the balance was otherwise such that I managed to stay sane. Like last year, I have decided to break this down into two parts, and since this is the year I made the choice to try & be more positive, I’m going to get any negativity out of the way in this first entry.  So here’s my disappointments & one bafflement for 2013.

(Please note that video games are not on this list.  There weren’t a lot of new games that came out that interested me – so that will be the Disappointment for 2013 for gaming – and the ones that did interest me were on the 3DS, which I just got for Christmas (whoo-hoo!).  So games are benched for this year, and the ones I'll be playing are probably going to be a year old or so when I get around to them.  Oh, well.  Hopefully next year will bring me more to say.  Also, this should go without saying but SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS for stuff I’m reviewing.)

BIGGEST REACTION ROLLER COASTER: Korra Book 2:  Wow, this was a super inconsistent series, especially after the kudos I had for Book 1.  The early episodes were a trainwreck of characters shutting their brains off for the same of plot twists or, even worse, bad jokes.  Then came the origins of the First Avatar and everything started to get better again.  The Book ended in such a way that you can tell that the creators want to break from the shadow of the show’s illustrious predecessor & let it be its own thing, no matter how hard that will be.  So I went from actively being annoyed, to being intrigued, to being entertained & slightly impressed.  I still think they need to polish up the relationships (none of the romances work for me, and the “de facto” nature of Korra’s friendships as well as the distracting plotlines her designated friends – especially Bolin – get saddled with got particularly distracting), but the willingness to alter the universe of the Avatar series so much is such a ballsy move and the same approach to keeping Korra a deeply flawed but still relatable & compelling hero is enough to keep me sufficiently interested in her story.  Unlike Jesu Otaku, I don’t see her as “an unlikable cunt” for her & her series being flawed, and I’m in for the long haul.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, COMICS: DC’s overall tone & approach:  Like I said, this was the year I opted to try & be more positive.  Conversely, this was the year that DC Comics decided that they were going to double-down on the grimness that had infected the New 52 like creative herpes to the point that it seeped into the digital books & the movies.  The Legion deteriorated into a monthly game of “Who’s Gonna Die?” before being hastily cancelled; Harley Quinn went from being a tragic figure to an active psycho who explodes children because VILLAIN; we get an invasion of villainous duplicates & a Villains Month not because that was actually exciting but because it allowed the stories to get extra grimdark; we’re getting a new digital series to basically slash & burn the Batman Beyond continuity; we got a Superman who was taught that it might have been okay to let children drown & doesn’t care he levelled a third of Metropolis with implied high casualties so he could kill Zod.  It feels like the people in charge heard the jokes about 90s Grimdark trends, decided that they could make them work, and ramped up the repulsiveness to 11, then threw fits whenever people pointed out that they didn’t want a super-cynical Billy Batson or a Superman okay with killing.  It’s all very depressing to read, and since this was the year of Shifting to Positive, I didn’t need it anymore.  But even reading the newsfeeds about their next great new move is just frustrating.  Well, at least DC has Arrow & hasn’t fucked that up yet, and their Flash show looks to be not depressing as well.  Oh, speaking of comics-to-TV stuff...

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TV SHOWS: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:  I really wanted to like this; I like Clark Gregg as Coulson, I’ve always liked Ming Na & appreciate that she was cast as the “tank” of the team, and I want to see comics-to-TV stuff do well.  But this had too many flaws & was too consistently boring to be worthwhile.  The series almost seems to be embarrassed that it is at all related to superheroes, especially the super-popular movies; super-powered characters are sparse, usually cast as baddies, and executed badly.  But that’s the most common complaint.  My main complaint is in your two de facto leads, Skye & Ward.  Let’s start with him, since his problem is a lot easier to phrase – the man playing Ward cannot act to save his life.  Anything that requires him to do something beyond hold a gun with a steely stare is terrible.  And Skye?  She’s everything in a modern “spunky” character that drives me nuts – she’s self-centered, she’s a Soapbox Sadie, she has as-the-plot-demands talents, she has no real skills but is still on the team because... reasons.  Even my mother saw the recent ads and hoped it meant that they would kill her off because she is so badly written that even the woman who voluntarily kept watching Terra Nova hated her.  If it was the Coulson, May, & FitzSimmons show, I might like it, but they put too much of a spotlight on characters I find dull at best if not actively irritating.  No thanks.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, MOVIES: Rebellion Story not being shown anywhere near me:  Yes, my biggest disappointment is a movie I want to see but am not being given the option of seeing in a theater.  I skipped the first two Madoka movies when they came to Philadelphia, since they were just reworkings of the TV show, but I was super-psyched for Rebellion Story to get here.  And guess what?  No Philly-area airings.  The closest ones are either waaaay down south in DC or in the middle of NYC.  I have heard different, highly varied reactions to Rebellion Story, but it upsets me that I can’t go to the 16:9 & form my own opinion.  And Aniplex’s home availability is prohibitively expensive (the only way I got Madoka DVDs was to buy them used at half price & that was still $75 for three discs, so you can imagine how they’ll gauge for the movies), so I’m extra disappointed that I will probably never see this legally.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, ANIME: Doki Doki Precure:  Ladies & gentlemen, the worst Precure series ever.  I have been harsh to Suite & Smile in the past, but as part of Shifting to Positive, I revisited these two & have more to say with the next entry.  Needless to say, for all my initial griping, I came to appreciate these two because of their characters.  Doki Doki has decided to give viewers a more plot-heavy season after the slice-of-life tone of Smile got pushback, but there is a problem with that – the plot isn’t that interesting & seems to have been shaped on the fly.  About the only thing that felt planned was the fake-out with Regina.  Speaking of Regina, her friendship with the rather dull Mana felt so rushed & forced just for angst (and the fake-out), along with the de facto nature of Mana’s friendships with Rikka & Alice (who at least get their own moments), that the characters feel like outlines more than any other Precure series.  And then there’s Cure Ace/Aguri.  You know how Chris Sims has said that Lucy Lane is the worst character in all of fiction for being sold as a likable person despite all evidence to the contrary?  That is what Aguri is for me; no ten-year-old should be as much of a killjoy & nag as her, nor should everyone older than her just roll over & take her crap like they do (the Cures you can argue make sense, but there is NO excuse for Mana’s classmates taking her grief).  And when she does act like a ten-year-old kid, it feels like it’s out of left field.  And then there’s the villains – Regina & the Jikochu Trio are okay, but Levi & Gula were just wasted for no reason other than to kill time & be living power-ups.  Ugh.  At least Alice is basically Batman as a magical girl, though, so I’ll give them that much.  But between an uninteresting plot, squandered potential, and my own personal Lucy Lane in Cure Ace, Doki Doki is just awful.  I really hope Happiness Charge is a shift up on the quality ladder (the outfits already are), as you can’t get much lower than this.

Come back tomorrow for the good stuff from the past year that I want to recommend, as well as a pretty big mea culpa for some previous reviews.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Omnicommentary #8: The New(est) Secret Origin of Brainiac 5!

Legionnaires #8: In Heart and Conscience Free

Creative Team: Tom & Mary Bierbaum (writers); Colleen Doran (penciller); John Nyberg (inker); Pat Brosseau (letterer); Tom McCraw (colorist); November 1993

Legion Roll Call: Alchemist; Andromeda; Brainiac 5; Cosmic Boy; Saturn Girl; Chameleon; Computo; Dragonmage; Invisible Kid.

Miscellaneous Notes: I'd say about half of those listed in the roll call are just in the first two pages, which are a fan-servicey pool party.  Since there's beefcake along with the cheesecake, I don't mind (even with that last panel - Ayla should really wear more than one leaf on her lower regions if she's gonna belly-flop like that.)


Summary: Brainy & a few friends travel to Colu to watch him receive a special honor, only for him to disappear.  It turns out the Coluan chancellor had him spirited to the mountains and has asked him to choose between staying with the Legion or serving his homeworld.  When he chooses the latter, Andromeda is heartbroken and has an epic freakout, telling off Saturn Girl for a seeming lack of empathy.  This prompts her to use her powers to reach out to Brainy & convince him to listen to his heart's desire over any sense of rote obligation.  He prepares to leave with his friends, only for one of the higher-ups to drug him & force him to comply.  A rush of hormones upon seeing Andromeda again allows him to negate its effects, happily, and the Legionnaires return to New Earth.

Continuity Notes: Well, this is a humdinger.  We learn that Brainy was apparently genetically engineered from the best aspects of the Coluan gene pool.  This is literally the first, last, & only time this new origin is referenced; it is not in any other 5YL stories, nor is it in any other Legion continuity.  I rank it up there with the New Mutants' "Magma was a kidnapped & brainwashed British tourist who just thought she was from a lost Roman colony" for sheer unnecessary revisionism.  If it had stuck around, it would have been interesting, but as a throwaway, it feels like a waste.

We also get an explanation for this series' interpretation of Saturn Girl.  Basically, she just feels soooo much for everyone that she just has to shut out others' feelings and act like a total idiot.  As of the next review, I'm giving her a more fitting handle - Lifetime Lass.  Cuz that description fits zero versions of Saturn Girl I've read in any other version of the Legion, so I'm treating this one like the cosplaying twit she's felt like since issue #2.
Finally, can I point out some bad storytelling here?  We're told Andromeda's been having nightmares "before" about losing Brainy, which is why she's so upset when he resigns.  These have not been seen or even mentioned in past issues; even if there was one scene where she said, "Oh, I had a bad dream, so I didn't sleep that great", this would've felt less out of left field & more foreshadowed.

We Get Letters: There are two letters in here from places local to me.  Odd.  Anyway, Mary Pahl calls them out for Catspaw, saying "does comicdom really need ANOTHER 'semi-crazy' femme-feline?" but is otherwise digging the new Fatal Five as much as all the other writers.  In the last letter, KC Carlson tries to pimp Zero Hour while dodging whether Chris Coleman's theory is true (answer - sadly, no).  Finally, the next issue solicits for the mother book declare "Tenzilmania returns!"  Sorry, guys, in these parts, Tenzilmania never left.

I Love the 90s: Ooh, fighting games... The back cover has a Mortal Kombat ad full of reviews from the in-house magazines (Nintendo Power, Sega Visions, etc.).  In the book, there's an ad for World Heroes, a.k.a. the one Street Fighter clone crappy enough to piss off Capcom; even the art for the ad & the game box look like bad bootlegs of SFII characters.  And in non-gaming, there's an ETM (Entertainment This Month) ad cataloging Future Collectors Items... and Defiant Comics.  Anyone not related to Jim Shooter remember them?

DC Commercial Break: In what may be the most 90s thing ever, Knightfall Skycaps.  Relive all the drama & action of Knightfall in Pog form!  The subscription offer page has the Jim Balent version of Catwoman looking even more ridiculous than usual thanks to some "strategic" costume rips.  Also, there's another Zero Hour ad. Sigh.

In more serious ads, Superman asks readers to help victims of the Mississippi River floods from 20 years ago.  Closest the Sandy states got to this was Fraction's Hawkeye issue, sadly, so props to him but boos to everyone else who thought charity ads like this one are "passe" or some nonsense.

Commentary: Nope, can't stop thinking about Mr. Joyner's letter about flaws from last issue; I have a feeling it will for the rest of the series.  This didn't have the same level of disconnect as last issue did with its remorseless child death, but it helps me understand why this era isn't exactly beloved.

I mentioned how badly "foreshadowed" Andromeda's fears were earlier, and even now, I think opening with one of those instead of the pool party might have saved that.  After all, we just had an entire issue of beach bodies last month.  And the out-of-the-blue retcon about Brainy's origins is just too much.  Colu wanting to keep that legendary Dox intellect there since now there are technically two Brainies wasn't enough of a motivation?  Again, making that switch would not hurt the plot in any way.
One thing that keeps me from being totally bratty about this issue is Colleen Doran's clean, elegant artwork.  Her expressions & emotions are vivid and relatable, her landscapes are lovely, and I reiterate what I once said on Twitter - she draws some truly handsome gents.  Page 9's top panel (a.k.a. the Big Stupid Retcon panel) has a portrait of Brainy that reminds me why he's always been one of my shameful fictional crushes.  Add to it all some manga-esque emotion graphics (like excitable surprise lines & showers of hearts & such), and it's a visual delight.  Even if the story isn't serving it as well as it should, it's still damn good.  At least this issue didn't have any dead kids, after all.