The Return

Clearly I left this blog much longer than I meant to. My last post was on the 31st of May and here I am two months later, despite having made clear plans of what I’d be doing once back from holiday. So apologies for that if you’re one of the less-than-ten people who seem to visit this blog irregularly, and apologies in advance for the entries I won’t be writing up as intended, such as a catch-up of the 2000AD issues I missed over my holiday in June.

The funny thing about that is that I actually did start and had very nearly finished it, at over 5000 words, a week after I’d got back before getting distracted by life matters, and it’s a bit of a shame because, now that I’ll probably not bother completing it (that would mean going beyond Prog 1887 that the post was meant to have finished with for another five issues), you’ll miss all the words I had to say about how fucking amazing Indigo Prime was. Did anyone not enjoy that? I hadn’t had the chance to read the two trade paperback collections of the series so far during my time in Greece yet I enjoyed it anyway, no idea what was going on in the background or not.

It also has what is possibly the best meta moment that I’ve ever seen. Weirdly, in the reviews I read for the particular episode that this happens, not one mentioned this, it apparently having gone over people’s heads. Let me state that I don’t really like when anything – books, films or games – tries to be meta because, nine times out of ten, it’s done for laughter’s sake, and not very well, often at the most inappropriate moment. Two examples of doing it right that immediately pop into my head are the TV show, Castle, and video game, Bioshock Infinite.

The former revels in being meta, the titular novelist played by Nathan Fillion – who dons his Firefly costume during a Halloween-set episode and makes several other references to that show – working with the NYPD to solve murders, his help usually coming in the form of ridiculous explanations that he borrows from other’s fiction or his own. It starts off innocently enough, I suppose, but gets progressively stranger to the point that they use their hundredth episode as a homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and have one episode in the same season use clips from previous seasons for half its duration in which the characters talk about all the fun they’ve had. Fun is the very simple point here, and in a show about a crime novelist working with cops, why not embrace the silliness to such an extent that Star Trek references simply work by the time you get to them in an episode set in a science fiction convention? Why the hell not, it asks?

On the other hand, you could make a more critical point, which is what Bioshock Infinite sets out to do. Well, its time travelling and parallel worlds is also Irrational’s way of tying their two Bioshock games together, but mostly it’s making a point of video games, namely how your individual choice in matters, where possible, don’t actually matter at all, you and many other players ultimately arriving at the same destination, which is the same end of game. What’s infinite, it argues, is your journey there, which will be somewhat unique to you. So there’s that, which works too.

In the case of Indigo Prime, however, neither of these things happen. Its meta moment is not played for laughs nor does it make a point. In fact, one could argue that it’s not a meta moment at all, so hard is it to tell what it could mean for the future of the strip. It arrives suddenly and doesn’t draw attention to itself, perhaps the reason why some people missed it. But it’s genius, so I simply must talk about it briefly. This is it:

In my review of Perfect Day’s first episode I briefly mentioned how I loved that the mysterious villain, here seen literally pulling Mariah’s strings, is called The Nihilist in a strip about an organisation that watches over the multiverse, a world filled with infinite possibilities and life. You simply can’t get a more perfectly named bad guy than that. But here’s the genius of this scene: not only is The Nihilist shown to be the real agent of control as he warns Danny through Mariah for his own purposes (and I might add that this itself is sudden – there were glimpses of him behind the scenes in previous episodes but no outright appearance showing what he’s up to) but we also see that the puppet master of The Nihilist himself is none other than John Smith, the writer of the series, seen here -and note how he’s not transparent like Mariah or The Nihilist but completely whole, the only real being of the scene – looking over his shoulder at the reader, his scripts and the computer he works from in front of him.

It’s so perfect that I’m astonished to have seen no one talk about it, so there you go. Once I get round to reading all the previous stories in the series I’ll probably talk about it once again, but I had to get that off my chest for now. As it’s never mentioned once in either this same episode or the remaining few after, I’m praying that John is hard at work on the next story because there are so many things going on by the finale that you’re left demanding answers, and quickly at that.

Alas, this is all I’ll be repeating here from that never-to-be-published blog entry. The only other strip I really talked about at great length in that partway complete post was Slaine but you can essentially read what I wrote in fewer and better words courtesy of this member of the official forums, who explains what the story was really about and why that ending, though abrupt, was perfection on Mills’ part. Where I’ll pick up on my 2000AD reviews without this entry, if at all, I do not know. That can be worked out another day, although I’m thinking of abandoning the format of reviewing each Prog as a whole and only talking about what interested me about the weekly episodes, even if that’s only one thing. Prog 1893 released today, for example, sees the return of both Walter The Wobot and Mrs Gunderson, neither of whom I’ve seen in Dredd for a long time; and, to respect her passing, sees the old Dredd logo of Jan Shephard used for the first episode of this story, which is nice; but nothing else really grabbed my attention.

So, with the possibility of me abandoning my weekly reviews of 2000AD altogether, that leaves the question of what will become of the blog since that’s been its sole purpose for quite some time now. And well, to be perfectly honest, it’s probably going to become far less review-focused in the strict sense that I talk about the writing and art of this or that as two separate things that must be mentioned, and instead become more of an all-purpose blog which I hope to keep more up to date, even if an entry only details some thoughts I had on this book I was reading or something that happened to me that day. Like more of a diary then, you might say.

That doesn’t mean comics will cease to be a big focus of the blog though. In fact, if anything, they’re going to become a bigger focus now that I’ve began to expand my interests further beyond 2000AD, having built a small collection of American comics that I’m really getting into. Those that I’ll especially have words to say about are several Image series’ that I’ve started collecting. That right there is an incredible publisher. Rarely an ad to be seen (unlike DC / Vertigo who frequently interrupt the story with their fucking adverts); no censorship at all that I can see; and complete creative freedom. Brilliant.

My book interests have also expanded and I’ll maybe have a few things to say about the rarer books I get my grubby mitts on. Indeed, I’ve now a small but good collection of hard-to-get graphic novels – mostly limited printings, but several are signed too, and I’ve a keen eye on for those sort of things on eBay.

In a moment of insanity I also bought my first Artist’s Edition, a signed copy of Hellboy In Hell’s version of that book. It’s not the SDCC Variant Edition that was limited to 100 copies but, for the same price, I’m having the standard book delivered to me signed by Mignola like that one, a shot glass that is limited (to 150, and I presume that’s also how many copies of the book were signed seeing as only this one seller has been selling them and with these glasses each time) and a mixed assortment of goodies, which will include some of the comics themselves. Oddly, the book itself is being published by IDW, who created the Artist’s Edition line, yet Dark Horse have just released the first of their versions of these books, Gallery Editions that are about half the price. This is something I’ll also probably be picking up – it’s Robocop V.S. Terminator by Frank Miller and Walter Simonson – and there a few more coming out this year and next that I simply must get my hands on. Who the fuck wants to miss out on The Dark Knight Returns in its original format before having being put together for release?

So by no means will I have a shortage of things to say about comics – just less frequently as I use the blog for other things (and yes, I mean it this time). Maybe you’ll see one such of these entries tomorrow depending on how my interview with the Job Centre goes. If it goes as I expect – being talked to in a patronising manner and practically ordered to search for jobs that I’d rather die than do – then believe me, I’ll have much moaning to do.

And that is the status of this here blog. Until next time.

Where Be Dem Posts?!?

The blog’s been a bit inactive for the past two weeks so I thought I’d at least post this short update. The Grant Morrison Batman run has not been abandoned. In fact, following my last post, I read R.I.P.’s very short prologue and was beginning the first part of my review when suddenly I was no longer reading the book or writing the review. Fret not for I shall return to it soon. But what have I been doing in the meantime? Well, besides unsuccessfully applying for jobs, I have been buying more books (obviously), but mostly playing video games. Quite a number of them actually. This should come as no surprise since I’ve suggested that I’d be talking about them at some point already seeing as they’re my other favourite hobby. Well, I’m not too far from doing so.

Possibly as a way to lead us back to Morrison’s run, but more likely running in tangent with it, expect to see reviews of the games I’ve been playing lately. Being two very different mediums, of course, these reviews will be a bit different than my comic reviews making up the bulk of this blog but, to be honest, I probably have more interesting things to say about video games than I do comics. Don’t get me wrong, I think I’ve done a fairly good job at noticing some of the finer points in many of the comics I’ve reviewed but games, for some reason, just click with me – I can differentiate between what makes a good and bad game, and can look at them from the perspective of the developers who made them.

That latter point will no doubt be a topic I’ll talk about at some point in the future. No, I’m not trying to sound like a smartass when I say that. There’s many posts I send to a group of friends over Facebook about games and it was they who first pointed out to me that I was noticing things about this game or that they didn’t when they played them, and I’ll maybe go through our posts to put some of them up here as examples. My father noticed this too and it was for these reasons that I studied Computer Games Development for two years at University. Alas, the course was utter shite for reasons I’ll get in to another time, but I can’t ignore the fact that my lower grades were for programming because fuck programming, yet I got straight A’s when it came to design.

My most fond memory was actually seeing that my design blog for a game two of my friends and I were designing was called something like the “perfect example” of what our lecturer was expecting. This would seem to be because my approach to the blog was very self critical, discussing what was good and bad about our game; the mistakes my team and I made; how my part of the work, which was the writing and art exclusively, with the actual game design being shared, was going; then finally ending the blog with an honest retrospective of how shite our team was. Indeed, we all got B’s for our presentation of the game and our design document, and both my team members either finished with that mark or a C. How I got an A was through my blog but, funnily enough, they would have pushed their marks to an A as well in the presentation and design document if they had actually listened to me about the things that both of those were missing.

Perhaps I’m entering into smartass territory now, but I honestly believe that I saved our project when I forced them to see that our original storyline made no sense, and knew what I was doing all along when it came to that and our agreed design approach, whereas they seemed to want our game to appeal to the masses in a really unoriginal way. For example, we agreed early on that there would be moral choices, but I suggested we make them very subtle, which meant that we would never communicate to the player that they’d made a good or evil choice because that shit is really, really dumb. Yet, I kid you not, when it came to putting our design document together, one of my team members thought, “Fuck it!”, and threw in a karma system as part of the HUD, which for some reason acted as a health bar as well as your character’s alignment. Game design fail right there. That kind of thing is why I’ve been so hesitant to start building a game of my own. Both team members, you see, are actually close friends of mine and I’d have thought we’d design a great game together, yet what I really took away from the experience was that it isn’t friends you need to work with you on something like that, but people who understand what makes good game design or can at least share the designer’s vision without doing anything illogical. That’s perhaps yet another thing to talk about more in depth another day.

What I’m really trying to say is that you  shouldn’t only expect to see straightforward reviews for the games I play but a lot of analytical posts for many of them too, some of which I hope will make for good reading. Trust me. Not because I studied any of this stuff – but simply because I just know what I’m talking about. A lot of subjects have never sat well with me, such as maths and programming, but the more creative ones – English, art and design, video games – are things I just seem to be attuned to. Hell, I might as well say right now that you might even expect to see some analysis of songs here and there because that’s a thing that’s on my mind quite often too.

Anyway, to draw this longer than expected post to an end, I thought I’d list what games I’ve finished lately and my general thoughts on them, as a sort of preview until such a time that I can get down to reviewing them. Note that I’m not sure of the exact order I played Dishonored and Max Payne 3 in. See you next time.

  • Dishonored – On Facebook I harped on at my friends about this one. An excellent game with only some minor flaws. Haven’t yet completed the DLC but that has actually remedied a few problems I had with the base game, most noticeably with its far more interesting protagonist who’s much easier to role play as. The best thing about this game, as I’ll talk about more when I come to writing about it proper, is its world. The city of Dunwall is probably the most original game world I’ve stepped in to for quite a while. Besides a review, I’ll be doing a post about part of this game’s excellent design which I should hope will provide some insight. Might even make a post about how women are portrayed in the game as that’s actually quite interesting and I don’t think, as I’ve noticed a few others suggest, misogynist at all.
  • Max Payne 3 – To be honest, I wasn’t very confident that I’d enjoy this one. When screenshots and trailers were first released my voice joined the chorus of people complaining that the noir look of the first two games was gone and Rockstar were about to screw things up (the developer of the first two games was Remedy Entertainment who have recently saw success with the Alan Wake games). Whether the latter is true is your own opinion but I’ve seen people insist that the former flew the coop. This isn’t the case at all. Don’t let the sunny streets of San Paulo in the screenshots fool you – this was as dark a game as any in the series, perhaps the most until the redemptive ending. Might make an extra post or two about this as well as it’s quite an interesting game.
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl – Simply one of the best games ever. Fuck knows how many times I’ve played it overall. Oh, yes, there shall be plenty of posts about this one, and the subsequent games in the series as I finish them too, all right. Incidentally, I finished this with the Complete mod installed, so I may actually review that in a separate post of its own. It’s a great mod for the most part, especially when it comes to the gorgeous visuals, but it certainly has its flaws and I’ll probably be playing the game with a different mod or two installed in the future.
  • Metro 2033 – This is a game I’d also played before and, when I first did, I loved it. It’s a very immersive game for a number of reasons with some really cool features, and I remember actually freaking the fuck out when mutants attacked me, something the game shares with the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series (it’s no coincidence that some of the developers of that game worked on this too). However, on my recent playthrough, I realised something a little sad: it’s actually kind of boring. You probably won’t be seeing any additional posts for the game with that being the case, particularly as I ended up speeding my way through it because of said boredom, but I will treat it fairly as I do believe it’s a game worth playing at least once. So far, however, the sequel which I’m currently playing is a great improvement, albeit with its own flaws too.