Archive for October, 2013

Sandboxes and Universes

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

 Weirdly, I just rewatched Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man 3 this past weekend after spending the previous few days talking about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with people. Remember when the Marvel Phase 1 movies were coming out, how amazing it was to be playing in this sandbox? Hawkeye showing up in Thor, Howard Stark being a lovable scamp in Cap, and then the wonderful Marvel One Shot with Peggy Carter on the Iron Man 3 disc?

It was one of the things that Chris and I spent hours talking about after watching Iron Man 3 in the theaters (a movie on which my opinion is pretty well known,  that I was a bit disappointed). Aside from a small mention of Thor in passing conversation, there was no universe-building, no sandbox playing. You can call it fan service, and look… I can totally understand why writers/directors (Shane Black in particular) may actually want a movie like Iron Man 3 to stand on its own legs, not weighted down by the entire weight of a multiverse of characters and canonical history. But I don’t agree that it’s simply fan service. The Marvel Universe is a big, wonderful world. One that Marvel and Kevin Feige has forced us to live in (not that I’m complaining at all, mind you); and it’s to your benefit to build the world up around the characters, as it is to tell a compelling story about the characters themselves. That’s why Avengers worked so well. And look, if I have to sit through a couple of above average superhero movies to have another experience like The Avengers, I will gladly watch another The Incredible Hulk (which to be honest, I thought was pretty good) or whatever to get that feeling again.

marvel_shield_a_l_0

 

Which brings me to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you read this in any timely fashion, then the second episode is tonight. I liked the first episode well enough, even though I have to admit, I don’t really understand why everyone was so smiley at the end of the last episode. Did they feel like they really won that battle? After that dude had this grandiose speech about why S.H.I.E.L.D. is, or could be a bad thing, a dude shoots him in the forehead with a concussive whatever. “Yay, look. We took a blindside shot at a dude who maybe Agent Coulson was getting through to, but at least we didn’t MURDER HIM!” High fives for everyone.

But seriously, I liked the episode well enough, but I’ve read numerous accounts of Whedon saying that the show will not be an easter egg-filled romp through the Marvel universe. Why not?  Not that I want there to be something in every scene for me to find, but why not make it about the bigger Marvel universe? Why can’t S.H.I.E.L.D. be the binding glue that ties in things from the movies and this new TV universe, where smaller, lower-tier heroes can be developed and thrive? A sort of television development league. Why not debut a character in the TV show, that would go to the movies eventually, or why not talk about plotlines that can be taken down to a granular level, fill in the blanks that the broader strokes a two-hour movie couldn’t accomplish?

This isn’t to say that this show WON’T eventually be that, which is why tonight’s episode is really important to me. A pilot is usually already hamstrung with a lot of responsbility: introducing characters, setting the tone, developing the stakes and main storyline. But it’s also usually spent developing the world that these things happen in; and in this case, you literally have a world that millions of people are not only already familiar with, but have some emotional connection to.

But I guess that in a lot of ways, that’s what Iron Man 3 was, wasn’t it? We spent how many movies with Tony Stark, and already knew JARVIS, already knew the little hand robot thing that he always razzed. And ironically, I think watching it only the second time since I’d seen it in theaters, it was a LOT better than I remembered it to be. Maybe when you strip away the expectations of the bridges and the gaps in an already-developed universe, when you don’t need to worry about what you’re missing and who’s going to be who, or desperately listening for a clue for a reference to something, you can enjoy it for what it is. Maybe that’s what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should be allowed to be?

Rap game Hulkbuster armor out.

 

It’s the process…

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

 I recently got back into wrestling (in fact, I released a CM Punk song yesterday), mostly thanks to being best friends with someone (Chris) who is obsessed with wrestling. I probably haven’t watched wrestling in like, a decade. And it’s funny, what a difference a decade makes. Back then, there was still this quasi-argument going on about whether we, as fans, still in some way believe that wrestling was “real,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. I mean, we didn’t actually think that Sgt. Slaughter turned Iraqi, did we? Or that Ted Dibiase actually owned Nikolai Volkoff? I mean, DID YOU?!?!?

But weirdly, the cool thing about being a fan now is that argument is mostly gone. Fans now talk about how well a guy sells a character or bit; and we talk more about athleticism (and the matches today definitely have a lot more of that, not just big hulking slow dudes body slamming each other) than we do about whether that dude “IS TOTALLY PUNCHING THAT DUDE AND THROWING HIM IN INTO THE STAIRS.” Blogs and websites talk more about the politics and business behind the scenes, and that somehow makes it a more enriching experience. We follow wrestlers on twitter and see them being normal people, being friends with each other. We know that Paul Heyman and CM Punk don’t actually hate each other. We are all in on this theater together, and it’s kind of nice, being involved in this big production together.

In a lot of ways, everything’s more like that. We’re all better informed, nosier thanks to the Internet, it’s impossible for us to not know who’s friends with who, and how the business end gets handled. We follow Marvel editorial on twitter and know the inner politics of comic offices. We see the kickstarters of video games and every step of the process. We read the casting news and updates of who the showrunners are of our favorite shows, we hear the drama that happens on movies. Camera phones capture it all (Christian Bale?). And through that, even with the curtain being pulled back on the wizard, we are somehow MORE invested and involved.

It’s why webcomics are fun, right? Because we’re not just faceless, soulless comic machines; we’re people who happen to make comics, and sure you like them (hopefully). But I know for me, my favorite webcomic creators are people I just like seeing work, I like hanging out with online. I like seeing what they make. Often times, the coolest people I know make the best shit.

So if you’ve been out of reading comics, playing video games, watching pro wrestling for a while, you might find getting back into it now more rewarding than ever.

Now here’s a gif of Winston from The New Girl that makes me laugh a lot.

Rap game college Schmidt out.

Christmas & Two Video Games

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

 Remember when you were little? The only time you could get a new video game was your birthday or Christmas (or both, I guess). So high was the cost of those coveted $50 cartridges. So precious was each of those games. Unless you were rich beyond any of our wildest expectations, that’s all you got. One game. Choose wisely, or you might end up with that Wolverine NES game as the only game to play for the next 8 months of your life (noooooo!).

That annual ritual was so seared into my mind, that today, when I go to buy a video game, I still can’t actually wrap my head around the fact that I could honestly buy two games if I wanted to. Hell, I could buy three. No one is there to keep this arbitrary limitation on my gaming experience (except, y’know, my bank account), but for some reason I can’t understand it. Sometimes, I get a panic if I’m about to buy two video games. Like, oh god, I’m DOING SOMETHING WRONG.

The point of all this is that I bought a huge bundle of comics last week. I bought X-Men Vol. 2 #1-79 for basically nothing (the benefits of knowing your LCS and being there when people sell their old comics before they’re priced and in the system). So now I’m sitting here with 80 issues of X-Men comics that honestly, kind of makes my heart skip (both in the good and bad ways) when I look at them. I can’t even fully comprehend that I own this many comics in one fell swoop, and get to basically read SEVEN consecutive years of X-Men 90′s comics. I’m blogging about my experience re-reading all these issues over at my tumblr, and if you read X-Men in the 90s, you’ll probably enjoy this entry on issue #8.

But the point of all this is, sometimes, you should just buy yourself the second video game. In the eternal words of Donna from Parks and Rec, “Treat yo self.” Life’s too short for playing The Wolverine NES game for 8 months straight. And beating it. Yeah, I beat it. God, what have I done with my life?

Rap game Phalanx Covenant out.

LBFAMCRO

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

 Greetings from Fairfax, VA! I’m literally writing this at George Mason University’s student union. Oh the places you’ll go!

So I started my first watch of the FX series Sons of Anarchy as a way to unwind after some travel. Since then I’ve binge-watched 3 seasons, and will probably have finished the series by the end of this weekend. Suffice to say, I love it. I sent this email to Chris and some friends after watching about half the first season:

“So I’ve been watching Sons of Anarchy, and I think we should start a motorcycle gang. We’re going to need leather jackets. Also, some of us may die. But we will be so COOL.”

And Chris responded, saying that he was just waiting for the first person in our friend group to watch SOA, because he was sure this email was going to come.

Anyway, the show is brutal, in a lot of ways it is more consistently brutal than Breaking Bad, and a lot of other shows known for its utter bleak brutality. And I was talking to a friend who said that he couldn’t get with a show that was so cruel to its characters. I was talking about a certain death in the show, where I was like, “Yeah but that was AWESOME!” And he was kind of shocked, saying “You thought the brutal death of ____ was AWESOME?” To which I responded, oh, uhh… I mean, it was compelling television.

It’s hard to understand why we like shows like that. Society as a whole was enraptured with the last season of Breaking Bad, a season that was so brutal and horrible, that I kinda wanted to just crawl up into a ball after some of those episodes and cry. But it was an “AWESOME” show. Maybe it’s just a way to viscerally make us feel something so far beyond what we experience in our day-to-day life, which I wonder what that says about our lives as a whole.

Also, it’s funny to me that Charlie Hunnam basically is playing the same character he did in Pacific Rim. We’ve always made Hunnam jokes about PacRim (even though, we still love him and the movie), and Chris made the good point that obviously, it’s the same character. Jax Teller was in the Sons, then the Kaijupocalypse happened and all of the Sons died except him; and he immediately joined the Jaegar program, because that’s what Jax does. I mean sure, I guess he would’ve had to find his brother at some point? I don’t know. Who knows. Who cares. he’s just a smooth, shit-kicking dude.

So yeah obviously, tomorrow’s strip *SPOILER ALERT* will be SOA-based. Sorta.

A lot of talk by Chris on the blog posts about this podcast we recorded of us breaking this week’s strips. I’d like to bank a few and let some time pass before you hear us breaking the strips, and maybe we can somehow figure out if the totality of this experiment is worth your time. Also, because we’re lazy. And because we got a lot going on. So we’re lazy and too busy. Whatever. Do you have a problem with that?

sonswalk

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

The Crushing Weight of Expectations…

Monday, October 14th, 2013

 I did indeed see Gravity this weekend, after hearing nothing but glowing praise for it. And while I did love the experience of watching it (despite what Gravity says in yesterday’s strip, it is the farthest thing from being “boring”), I had some minor complaints about some of the plot and dialogue. After talking about it with some other people, I had to come to the conclusion that it had  just been too hyped up to me before seeing the movie. That’s kind of the problem living in this day and age, that even if you try to go dark on something, it’s thrust in your face. Previews at movies; headlines on blogs; twitter; facebook. Hell, even my podcast list was full of almost nothing but Gravity talk. And it’s rare to experience something without expecting it to be something that it’s not.

Disappointment is a hell of a thing. In a larger, “life” sense of the word, disappointment can be crushing. It can break your heart. It’s something I struggle with on a daily basis, trying to understand what it is I expect from life; and being faced with the reality of what life is at any current time. Especially for creative people like me and Chris, the expectation of what you want your art to be, and the reality of what others perceive and accept it as are often never align. When you make art your life, or at the very least your career, it’s tough to accept that it may not succeed like you thought it did. It’s tough to live with the idea that something you poured a lot of your time and energy into, something you believed in, didn’t amount to what you thought it deserved. And yet, it’s so easy for us to simultaneously judge the work of others because we simply thought it was something else. Or even worse, we thought it should have been something else. Because others may have misled us into thinking that, or maybe we fooled ourselves.

I was talking to my friend Brian (writer of the great comic Atomic Robo) about this kind of artistic self-immolation, and he said something I thought was pretty interesting. He was talking about how fandom is fickle, because well, everyone is fickle. He said that those who may not be engaged with your art, or are necessarily listening to the self-signal boost you’re pushing out there on a daily basis, they may have left it because they were in a bad mood one day when you said something off-color, or something struck them the wrong way. Maybe they were having a bad day. Maybe they were busy. And even though they may not be engaged at the moment, they’d be back. They’d come around when it mattered. That’s what fandom is nowadays. Nothing is sacrosanct, everything moves by at the speed of light, and one day you’re here, the next you’re somewhere else. Things move fast. And attention shifts in an instant. It was a weird way to think of fandom and retention, things that people like me and Chris, admittedly have to think about a lot.

Anyway, the point of all this is that Gravity was amazing. It’s as close to a can’t-miss movie that I’ve seen in a long time. And though I had some problems with it, though I might not have loved it to the degree that the majority of the world does, doesn’t really mean anything about what you should think. And the utter irony, is that me telling you any of this will inevitably mean something. What? That’s up to you, and sometimes, I think you just gotta go and figure it out for yourself.

Or you can just watch this gif: