Friday, 28 September 2012

There Is No Paradox

Or a graphical time line of The Red Wing
By Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra, Image Comics

The Red Wing is a pretty challenging story that more or less leaves it to the reader to suss out exactly what's happening. In the process of convincing myself that my interpretation of the story is right, I drew a timeline of the comic. I thought it would be fun to do up a nice version and throw it up here and see if y'all agree with my take on the story.

(It's also kind of a tribute to Jonathan Hickman's use of charts and info graphics.)

For the full unobscured timeline with *SPOILERS* check after the cut.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

So I Read The Red Wing

A 250 word (or less) review of the red wing graphic novel by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra, Image Comics

The Red Wing is Jonathon Hickman's second time travel story. This time he creates a universe where, due to the non-linear nature of time, there can be no paradoxes. It is, in the Hickman tradition, a fearsomely smart comic. In The Red Wing, a future human civilization is fighting a desperate war through time against time-traveling marauders who are systematically strip mining the past for resources. Combat in this war is conducted in TAC fighters, time machine fighter planes, which engage in dogfights across centuries. (These battles are gorgeously and innovatively rendered by Nick Pitarra, and are pretty spectacular.) The comic focuses on Robert Dorne a TAC pilot who gets stranded in the past and is desperate to return home, and Dominic Dorne, his cadet TAC pilot son who wants to follow in his father’s footsteps. The Red Wing, despite having kind of a traditional take on a time travel narrative, is thematically rich and complex. The central theme of The Red Wing is history as an Ouroborus (a snake eating its own tail) in that it is cyclical and ultimately doomed to repeat itself.1 Hickman also uses time travel in some thematically interesting ways: as a device for nostalgia (to literally travel back to an idealized past) and as a device for avenging past wrongs. The Red Wing is a challenging book that requires the reader figure out the finer details of the narrative. If you invest some time and figuring it out, it’s a pretty rewarding story.

Word count: 249

1: Also time-travelling marauders who consume the past which in a linear model of time would destroy their origin point…

Monday, 24 September 2012

Fighter Jets and Bombshells

Or Top Gun's top tips for scoring with the ladies

Top Gun is a film about fighter jets and the brave,  rule-breaking men who fly them. Especially those named Maverick.

(I think you can also make a compelling case for Top Gun being a commentary on the AIDS Crisis and safe/unsafe sex practices.)

But Top Gun is also a romantic movie! When not flying their fighter jets, playing shirtless beach volleyball, or staring meaningfully into each others eyes Top Gun fighter pilots are all about romancing the ladies. An analysis of the film provides a foolproof 7 step guide to successful wooing any lady in the world.

Step 1: Pick out a woman at a bar. Make a bet with your best friend about whether you can have coitus with her on the premises.

Step 2: Embarrass the woman by singing "You've lost that lovin' feeling" poorly at her. If all goes well the rest of the bar will spontaneously join you. Women like nothing than having an entire room of people sing poorly at them. Also, all bars are moments away from singing "You've lost that lovin' feeling" spontaneously.

"... you guys are gonna join in any second right?"

Step 3: Sexually harass that woman in the ladies washroom. Chicks dig that.

"What, you mean suggesting we have sex on the counter isn't okay?"

Step 4: Belittle her at her place of work in front of her colleagues. She might be an astrophysicist who is an expert on communist airplanes for some reason, instead of, say, an aeronautical engineer, but you know better than she does and everyone needs to know this.

"I want everyone here to know that your ideas are stupid. Women, amIright?"

Step 5: On your first date, go to the woman's house immediately after playing shirtless beach volleyball with the guys. Demand a shower.

"Guys I gotta go see a lady about a shower."

Step 6: Have a secretive workplace affair. Set it to 80's music. Add back-lighting.

*80's music* (Please note the tongue tip springing forth)
Step 7: Kiss with a frightening amount of tongue. Kiss with the amount of tongue someone who has heard of french kissing but has never seen or attempted it before thinks is okay. Use more tongue than an affection and overheated dog. Tongues!

*80s music* (She just licked his face)
There you are future pilots and lady-killers. Follow these steps and soon you'll be knee deep in women with a face coated in saliva.

"Go get 'em, Tiger."

Friday, 21 September 2012

Remember When It Was Okay To Just Like Star Wars?

Or a Marxist interpretation of mainstream geek popularity.

Tea Diffuser
First of all, let me say that I think the mainstream popularity of being a nerd is great. It's awesome so many people are letting their inner fan-people out and that groups who once felt social pressure to not geek out, particularly women, now feel comfortable doing so. As the world's group of geeks gets larger and more diverse, the variety and amount of awesome geeky stuff to consume grows which, from a purely mercenary perspective, is great for all geeks. It gives us all a wider menu to choose from and helps keep all our favourite creators employed.

Also, just because there is a large group of vocal and visible cosplayers doesn't mean Batman is going to go away. Which is to say that I think there is enough room in the geek tent to live and let live with everyone (even Twilight fans). Which is to say, I think we should all love what we love and appreciate or tolerate everyone else and their tastes. Which is to say don't be a dick.

Ice Cube Tray
As great as the mainstreaming of geekiness is, I'm becoming concerned by how central consumerism is to the culture and, as a result, I wonder to what extent the emergence of the cool or acceptable nerd in mainstream media is a deliberate attempt by corporations to cultivate geeks to exploit our consumption habits.

More after the cut:

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

So I Read Phonogram: The Singles Club.

Or a 250 word (or less) review of the second Phonogram collection.

By Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, Icon Comics.

The Singles Club is Gillen and McKelvie’s second foray into their urban fantasy world where music is literally magic. The Singles Club focuses on several young Phonomancers1 as they attend a night club playing pop singles with exclusively female vocals. The book presents seven separate character studies that take place over the same evening and which weave together to create a larger story. It's an interesting choice from the perspective of Phonogram’s mission statement to illustrate why music is magical. Rue Britannia2 focused on the musical tastes and experience of a single Phonomancer and only defined how music was magical to him. The Singles Club, with its wider focus, manages to explain a variety of ways people might find music powerful: from dancing to nostalgia to escapism to... well, read the book. The Singles Club is constructed is a lot like a great second, critically adored album.3,4 The way the stories vary in tone and focus, while retaining a central concept/motif is much like how the best albums work. Even the order of the stories reflects how songs on an album are arranged: The Singles Club starts with a fun poppy story, then a sad soulful one, then a throwback story to Rue Britannia followed by a fun, kind-of-wanky pop bit before descending into a couple sad, complicated, and artistic stories before rising to a fast paced ecstatic conclusion. Thus the singles club manages to maintain the core sound of Rue Britannia while adding a level of diversity and complexity.

Word count: 250

1: Those adept at using Music as Magic.
2: The first Phonogram volume.
3: To further butcher a simile from my Rue Britannia review.
4: It also has a higher production value with excellent colours by colourest Matt Wilson, and being printed on nicer paper.

So I Read Phonogram: Rue Britainia

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Laundry Files Novels Are Good Books

Or why you should read the The Atrocity Archive, The Jennifer Morgue, The Fuller Memoranda, and The Apocalypse Codex, by Charles Stross.

It seems that a lot of geek culture is about taking nerdy things that people love and combining them with other nerdy things people love to make some new mashed up nerdy thing that people love. Think cats that are also batman. While many examples of this phenomenon are mostly fanservice and Internet memery, occasionally you get a really smart, really adroit combination that elevates the constitutive parts and becomes a wonderful new whole (termed the peanut butter cup phenomenon). The Laundry Files Novels are a great example of a well done geek cultural mashup that transcends its origins. 

The Laundry Files novels are essentially Lovecraftian Horror combined with espionage fiction with a pleasant veneer of Geekery and satire about the absurdity of government bureaucracy. The premise of the series is that certain types of noneuclidian geometric functions attract the attention of extradimensional horrors with tremendous power. If these occult maths are performed perfectly, say with the aid of modern computer technology, the result is magic. If things go poorly, then said summoned extradimensional horrors chow down on the minds of anyone unlucky enough to get caught in the way. Trouble is that through a combination of advancing technology and human population growth, the world is becoming a more appetizing place for mind-eating space horrors meaning that a full on apocalypse, CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, is imminent. 

Of course all of this is beyond Top Secret. 

In the United Kingdom the work of protecting the general population from extradimensional mind-eaters falls to The Laundry, a clandestine department of the British espionage world comprised of highly trained specialists and "volunteers" conscripted into the service for knowing too much. The hero of the books, Bob Howard, a geeky computer hacker who inadvertently nearly destroys an English town while programming a graphics engine, is one such conscripted volunteer. The series follow his rise through the ranks of The Laundry in a time when the entire outfit is preparing for CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. In the early novels he is an IT guy and small time operative scurrying in fear of lower and middle management while he does his part. In later novels we see him as a middle manager and full-fledged agent as he fights to stop Armagedan and navigate the vagaries of advancement in the British civil service. Bob is a very fun character: a geeky, styleless James Bond analogue who is in a committed relationship and who worries about filling out his reimbursement forms properly as he fights cults devoted to extradimensional horrors. 

And if that last sentence sounded at all entertaining to you, I'd recommend you check out these novels. They are smart, abstractly frightening, and just good dorky fun.

(Yes, I know the books have ghastly cover art...)

Friday, 14 September 2012

Triggers Is a Good Book

Or why you should read Triggers by Robert J Sawyer.

At first pass Triggers seems like a straight forward political/action/thriller with a Sci-fi magguffin thrown in to make the plot go. The book opens with the attempted assassination of US President Seth Jerrison on the steps of the Lincoln memorial shortly after a number of terrorist attacks in the United States. President Jerrison is rushed to a hospital to receive life saving surgery where he is exposed to the side effects of a lab accident. You see, elsewhere in the same hospital Canadian scientist Dr. Ranjip Singh performs an experiment to treat PTSD in a war veteran. This experimental treatment goes awry and inadvertently entangles the minds of various hospital staff, patients, and visitors such that every one of them experiences the memories of one of the other affected individuals. The president, of course, is one of the affected individuals, meaning that someone in the hospital has access to all of his memories. This is taken as a threat to national security. It falls to Secret Security agent Susan Dawson and Dr Singh to discover who has the presidents memories. So yeah, pretty thriller-esque.

(The book is called TRIGGERS for Pete's sake.)

The things is, despite the thrillery premise and actiony title (and cover art), Triggers is really a high concept Sci-fi novel about empathy. The novel's main theme is that human empathy is amazing but basically impossible. I, as a person, can certainly sympathise with say, the plight of a woman being harassed on the train, but since I can't experience it myself I can never truly empathize with her. Triggers asks what if we all could empathize with someone else. Since the characters can all access the memories of another person they can perfectly empathize with that person and exploring this idea is the real meat of Triggers. Sawyer also focuses his attention on all the different things people would do if they could basically read another person's mind: from being in two places at once, to using it for their professional advantage, to being kinky, to borrowing skills. So, despite the thrillery window dressing of Triggers, the main thrust of the book are the interpersonal relationships of the novel's characters and the way realizing true empathy changes them.

Triggers: its smart, engrossing, and uplifting. Read it.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

So I read Casanova: Avaritia

A 250 word (or less) review of the third Casanova volume.
By Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba, Icon Comics

This book is like a gut punch of creativity. In Avaritia, superspy Casanova Quinn is sent throughout the multiverse to murder the man who would become Newman Xeno, uber-criminal mastermind, over and over and over and over by any means necessary. This book is ANGRY, from its violent story by Matt Fraction to the angular figures by Gabriel Ba (back on art duties from brother Fabian Moon) to the fierce red colour palette of colorist Chris Peter.1 If the first two Casanova issues are vintage pop rock alternately celebrating (Luxuria) and subverting (Gula) comic book tropes then Avaritia is punk rock played by Kurt Vonnegut on the gradually imploding conventions of comics storytelling while announcing that the myopic uruburu of recycled superhero stories is fucking bullshit. Or something?2  It's potent stuff. There are also some considerably less angry, but no less declarative comments on creation/authorship in this book, which I honestly don't complete grok yet in their fullness. What I do understand is pretty profound though. Once again, all I can really say is that Casanova is a must read comic that is beautiful, experimental, profound, and fucking awesome. Also fuck the man, and fuck his uncreative comics.3

Word count: 198

1: I would be remiss to not mention the great hand lettering of Dustin Harbin. So classy.
2: I lost my train of thought while looking for someone to punch.
3: I try not to rock the expletives so much, but Avaritia is a book that fucking requires it. Man!

So I Read Casanova: Luxuria
So I Read Casanova: Gula

Monday, 10 September 2012


Or I just read Hawkeye #2 and felt compelled to gush about the artwork in it.

I've already written about how much I'm enjoying Hawkeye. Which is unsurpirising given that it's Matt fraction and David Aja: solid writing and ludicrously good artwork. Also Matt Hollingsworth on colours is equally amazing. But there is something in Hawkeye #2 I want to call attention to.

It's pretty obvious from any page in Hawkeye #2 that David Aja is a phenomenal artist. You could pick any page in the book and see some incredible piece of layout, design, or just plain good drawing. A couple standout bits are a 24 (!) panel page that's so well designed that I didn't even realize it on my first pass and sequence where a character mouths a sentence in slow motion as Clint Barton draws, aims, and unloads his bow. This book is just loaded with virtuoustic examples of David Aja being amazing.

But I want to highlight something that is kind of the opposite of these big grand moments of artistic skill. This quiet panel here kind of amazes me. Specifically the hole in Clint Barton's sock toe just rocks my world.

Words Fraction, Drawings Aja, Colours Hollingsworth

The concept of the current iteration of Hawkeye is that Clint Barton is the Avenger who is also a regular dude. And look at him: beat up, forlornly addressing his spilt coffee and WITH A HOLE IN HIS SOCK. It's such a small thing, but absolutely perfect characterization. A sock with a hole in it that is still worn is just such a little humanizing relatable problem. It's also totally a dude thing.

I mean, I'm pretty much a regular dude. I'm a good deal more neurotic than the Clint of this comic, but I'm still just a plain old straight white male from a blue collar home. And I gotta say, I have worn my share of socks with holes in the big toe. When I was younger, holey socks would persist until my mother removed them from the laundry. As a 20-something, socks with holes in the toe live-on until my significant other throws them out when she folds the laundry (to be fair, I do the laundry and hanging and she folds because I "suck at it"). I have seen many of my dude friends sport socks with holey toes, but seldom have I seen a holed sock sported by a female regardless of economic situation or general disdain for fashion. To me at least, socks with holes say DUDE PROBLEM.

And that is why I think this small choice in this quiet panel catches the blue collar guy-ness of Clint Barton perfectly. It is just such a little thing, but it's so well thought out, and tells us so much about the character of Barton. While we are all giving David Aja credit for all his big and bold and glorious artwork, I think we should give him credit for these great little decisions too. I really appreciate them.

(This is all assuming that David Aja made the sock call and that it wasn't Fraction or Aja/Fraction... but it's a great descision regardless). 

Friday, 7 September 2012

Green Lantern Barbie

Or how the sexist treatment of the character Carol Ferris was my least favourite part of the Green Lantern movie.

I don't think it's surprising that I didn't particularly enjoy the green lantern movie. I agree with most of the criticisms out there: the movie was quite silly, focused too much on Earth stuff and ignored all the great space adventures, and just didn't work well as a film.

I also find Ryan Reynolds about as charismatic as a block of wood and felt that the romantic subplot of the Green Lantern movie was, perhaps as a result of this, extremely wooden.

That said, there was one scene in Green Lantern that was particularly horrendous. Enough so that I still feel like writing about it all this time after. Specifically, I am still bothered by the scene where the movie threw Carol Ferris under the sexist bus.

When we first meet Carol Ferris she is introduced to us as this intelligent business woman who runs her fathers aviation company, who is also a super courageous fighter jet test pilot , and who just so happens to be a beautiful young woman. Which is fine. There is no reason why a woman can't be smart, brave, and pretty (which is obligated in both movie and comics lands). This was an interesting character.

We then get the opening fighter jet test piloting scene where Carol and Hal Jordon (Green Lantern) go head to head with a robotic fighter prototype. Hal does a dick move that gets Carol "killed" (electronically) but allows him to pull another dick move and defeat the robot planes at the expense of crashing his own plane. He barely bails out of his crashing aircraft (which as Top Gun has taught us is dangerous) and has to be rescued. All of this is okay too.

But this is where shit suddenly goes sideways for me.

The next scene, which has a freshly rescued Hal also has a primped and sexy business attired Carol WHICH MAKES NO SENSE. Her childhood friend/secret love crashes his plane and almost DIES while her company's new product has just failed an important test. Apparently in the face of these two pretty monumental catastrophes she decides to shower, do her makeup and hair, and put on the sexy skirt and blouse.

This is crazy-nuts! Think about it: the person Carol loves may be dead or at least seriously injured and her business may have just gone bankrupt but she takes the time to primp herself beautiful before she deals with either crisis. This is either unprofessional and a sign she can't prioritize things or it's a sign that she is a SOCIOPATH. Just for a second think about how insane it would be if a male character did that! This is as insane!!

It's also insanely sexist. The fact that the film makers decided to put Carol's appearance ahead of all her more interesting character traits really diminishes her as a person and objectifies the shit out of the chatacter. It's kind of disgusting.

It's also pretty unnescesary.

I get that thefilmmakers were trying to convey that she is a sexy lady and that she is vulnerable and what-not, but putting her in her best business-fancy isn't really needed to do this. (NOT that I feel making her sexy in this scene is at all nescesary or even appropriate, I'm just saying that IF you wanted to there are less sexist and easier ways). Now Blake Lively (the actor playing Carol), for all her acting faults is a pretty conventionally attractive woman. She remains attractive while wearing her flight suit. In fact, the film makers could have had her undo the top half of this thing, hang it off her waist, and be wearing an undershirt underneath. All the sex appeal they might want coupled with her taking charge of the situation in a manner that is consistent with her badass mogul-pilot character as well as basic human decency and common sense. Add some frazzled hair and you have vulnerability too: Carol is so worried about Hal that she doesn't worry about her appearance. So you could have easily emphasized how sexy and vulnerable Carol Ferris was  (had you wanted to) without character assassinating her.

So yeah, this is the scene where instead of having strong, smart and attractive Carol Ferris we got intorduced to green lantern Barbie instead.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

So I Read Phonogram: Rue Britannia

A 250 word (or less) review of the first Phonogram collection.
By Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, Image Comics

Phonogram explores the idea that music is magic. Literally. In the book, Phonomancers, musical magic adepts, harness the energy in music to affect their world and themselves. Rue Britannia focuses on David Kohl, a Phonomancer devoted to Britpop, as he struggles to discover who is interfering with the goddess of British guitar pop in an effort to retain his very identity. What follows is a deeply personal exploration of an individual's relationship with music and how, for certain people, music transcends entertainment and becomes something identity forming; something almost magical.1 For lack of a better way of putting it, Phonogram tries to explain why some people love music so bloody much.  And for trying to articulate something so intangible and personal, I think it does rather a good job. Creatively, Rue Britannia is a lot like a debut album: there is this dynamic new creative team (Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie) making this deeply personal and original content seemingly without regard to audience or marketability. In that sense, Rue Britannia is the Phonogram statement album: it tells us who they are and what their sound is. Of course, who they are is exemplary comic book makers and their sound, Phonogram, is one of those rare books worth checking out for the quality of the writing by itself and for the quality of the art alone. The combination of the two might just be magic. So yeah, go read Phonogram: Rue Britannia.

Word count: 241

1: It also tries to explain Britpop.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Halting State and Rule 34 are Good Books

Or why you should read Halting State and Rule 34 by Charles Stross.

Charles Stross is easily one of my favourite authors. He writes compelling stories populated with bright characters that with plots driven by very high concept Science Fiction. His books are always brimming with big ideas, both the huge plot moving ones as well as many momentarily glimpsed throw away ones. You get more thoughtful futurism (things that are possible or grounded in reasonable Science) than is common in modern Sci-fi. As a pleasent bonus, his high concept big idea novels are also generally liberally seasoned with humour, which is unfortunately rare in the genre. Charles Stross is always worth checking out.

Halting state and Rule 34 are at their core near-future, hard Sci-fi police procedural novels. They highlight how changes in technology have and will continue to change how law enforcement is conducted and how trends in technology may affect our daily lives. So they are pretty smart books.

Halting state: This novel is set in the newly independent nation of Scotland in the year 2012 (it's a little older) and follows Detective Sergeant Sue Smith, unemployed programmer Jack Reed, and forensic accountant Elaine Barnaby as they attempt to figure out who conducted a heist of the central bank in a popular MMORPG. The book itself explores ideas of contemporary/future police work, human intelligence espionage, LARP gaming, and the way in which information technology has become integral to life in general and law enforcement in particular. Halting state also explores the consequences of our reliance on said technology when this technology fails us. It's an interesting, suspenseful, and fun novel. 

Rule 34: This semi-sequel to Halting State takes place in Edinborough in 2023 and is focused on the hunt for a logic governed serial killer that is incapable of remorse. The book takes its name from the Rule 34 Squad: a group of Scottish detectives that monitor the internet for alarming and frequently pornographic viral memes. (Play on the idea that if it exists, there is porn of it on the internet. No exceptions.) Detective Inspector Liz  Kavanaugh, the head of the Rule 34 squad, becomes alerted to the murder of a small time porn hustler in a most compromising set of circumstances and is embroiled in the search for his killer. Also entangled in the manhunt are Anwar, a closetted bisexual muslim excon who becomes the consulate of a small Asian country, and The Toymaker, a psychopathic illegal pornography distributor looking to establish business in Edinborough. What follows is a book that examines the  ever evolving world of policing, the politics of gender and sexual orientation, commodfying international debt, organized crime, and MURDER.

I would recommend these books to any maturish audience. They are thought provoking and fun to read and just overall good books. If you aren't convinced to read both, at least give Rule 34 a try. It's stand alone and by far the more entertaining of the two.