Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Can't Kill That Guy With My Chainsaw If I'm Hiding Behind This Rock...

Jenny, on the topic of menstruation: “Why does everyone say “On her period”? Like it’s a horse? ….. Well, maybe it’s a BIG RED HORSE that gallops all around and you have NO CONTROL over where it goes! It’s just galloping all over kicking people in the face and wrecking joints!”

By the time you read this, Gears of War 3 will be out. I probably haven’t purchased a copy yet. But the active ingredient in that sentence is the “YET”, so rest assured that the sound you hear amongst the grinding of chainsaw teeth against putrescent alien flesh is me weeping in frustration.
I really love Gears, but it’s a very schizophrenic experience for me. I’ve been fascinated by the game since I first saw the TV ad for the initial installment.

Fucking WOW, right? There’s a promise of a game there that’s not only action packed, but tense, involving, and angsty. (It’s the promise of a game experience that Bioshock actually lives up to, oddly enough.) But it’s never quite realized by Gears. The aesthetic is there, and some of the existential despair, but it’s also codified within the body of a shooter game, which means it’s also going to be a lurking hive of the inherently stupid.
Unlike most games of this type, which seem to basically be a delivery mode for online play and the savage derision of the prepubescent, Gears actually has a single player mode that engages me. I’m committed to the story, in a way that I could never muster with a Call of Duty game. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to gun down aliens, instead of Nazis. My internal brain circuitry is better configured to dealing with a problem of invading subterranean grotesques than it is with actual genocidal monsters of flesh and blood.  It’s also because the heroes of the story - despite being gigantic, monosyllabic, lurking bundles of testosterone and bullets - are oddly sort of likeable. There is no poetry in hacking a Locust to chunks with your Lancer, but there is a sort of gleefully maniacal joy that our heroes take from the act. As my grandmother used to say, “It’s hard to argue with anyone who looks that happy.”
My issue with Gears is basically internal. Regardless of the game I am playing, and its ostensible category, I treat all gaming experiences as RPG experiences. I don’t have heart palpitations while playing Dead Space because of their masterful use of darkness and claustrophobic spaces, I do so because I do not want to have my flesh flayed from my body by oozing space zombies. I don’t know how YOU play Pac-Man, but I know things about his backstory and motivations that would shock you.
I blame some of this on my cousin Kevin. During our formative video game years, as young Atari enthusiasts, he would sit next to me as we played Missile Command and identify which of our family members were in each bunker, adding a fantastic layer of real-life stress and survivor guilt to what should have been a simple fucking game about shooting your glowing dot at the other glowing dot.  
So now take my fragile psychic projections, and strap them onto Marcus Fenix. Gears of War mixes a robust cover system with a protagonist who is constantly yelling exhortations to grind his enemies into paste.  Try to parse that for a minute. You are given the tools to move gingerly from cover to cover, avoiding conflict until the last possible moment, and you are armed with a machinegun taped to a chainsaw. I can’t keep up. I’m hiding behind rocks and chunks of beautifully rendered wall, thinking, logically, that it is a smarter place to stand than in front of bullets. And while I am doing this, Mr. Fenix is telling the Locust hordes about how he’s going to murder their mothers and rape their fathers. I feel like he’s judging me. He’s never yelled “MOVE ME INTO MELEE RANGE, QUEERBAIT!” But I feel like it’s implied.
Penny Arcade, as always, sums it up better than I ever could.

My lovely wife, the insanely talented Jenny Langin, has her first published comic book story coming out very soon, in GrayHaven Comics’ Gathering Volume 5: Love Letters. Please check it out, and then tune back into the Gathering for Volume 6, where I have a scary story with art by Mr. Chris Page.
Hopefully some big comic book related news from me coming soon. Watch this space.
As always, Q’s for me to A are welcome. Hit me up in the comments here, on Twitter, or email me.

Hugs and kisses,

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Hate Rob Liefeld. But Probably Not For the Reasons You'd Expect

I once loved a girl who, it turned out, didn’t love me back. So I hate Rob Liefeld.

Let’s backtrack.
The year was 1996, and I had spent a thrilling summer in wild, crazy, head-over-heels love with a young woman whose name we shall not utter here. She was the first great love of my life. If you subscribe to Chaz Palminteri’s speech in A Bronx Tale, she was definitely one of the Three Great Ones for me.

Sonny: Let me tell you somethin' right now. You're only allowed three great women in your lifetime. They come along like the great fighters, every ten years. Rocky Marciano. Sugar Ray Robinson. Joe Louis. Sometimes you get 'em all at once. Me? I had my three when I was 16. That happens. What are you gonna do? That's the way it goes, you know? Tell you right now. See this girl? Maybe this girl, she put wind in your sails. Maybe she's your first great one.  

After the summer was over, we had a huge tearful departure, and the promises of visiting each other as often as possible. I was going back to school at UCONN. She was headed back to Buffalo, NY. Despite all of the warnings we had heard about long distance relationships, we had no doubt that we would be the exceptions to the rule. That we would make it work.
I actually thought I might marry her.
At the same time, the comic book world is being rocked (I may be a bit hyperbolic here) by the aftermath of Marvel Comics’ “Onslaught” crossover. In a nutshell, a big bad guy named Onslaught, a psychic entity ripped from the merged souls of Professor X and Magneto, ran roughshod over the Marvel Universe for most of the summer. He was only defeated when the combined forces of the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and the Hulk sacrificed their lives to banish him.
This epic was followed by “Heroes Reborn”, an alternate world relaunch of our heroes under the guidance of superstar artists Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. Wizard Magazine was going absolutely apeshit over the news. It was a very big deal.
Now we turn to our hero (I mean me. I’m the hero.) as he takes the train from Hartford to Buffalo (something like an 8 hour trip, by the way) to see his lady love. She met me at the train station and we had a wonderful evening getting caught up. The next day she showed me all over Buffalo, and introduced me to all her friends. We met one of her professors, who remarked on what a handsome couple we were. We had a delicious dinner, and a romantic walk. We came home to her room and crawled into bed. Twenty minutes later she rolled over and told me she was breaking up with me.
It was brutal. I cannot oversell how bad it really was. She couldn't have taken me more by surprise or hurt me more if she had shot me in the gut.
So having just had my heart yanked out of my chest, and having a non-refundable, non-exchangeable ticket back to Hartford on a train that didn’t leave for two days, I found myself trapped in a strange city with very little cash, and the company of my now ex-girlfriend. It was definitely in the top five worst weekends of my life.

In retrospect, I know I should have just grabbed my bag and left, but I didn’t have any place to go. Though, again, in hindsight anything would have been better. Sleeping on a bench at the train station would have been better.
So what do you do when you’re trapped in your ex-girlfriend’s apartment? If you’re me, you grab the stash of comics you brought with you to read on the train back. Among those comics? Rob Liefeld’s Captain America #1.
I only had maybe a half a dozen comics with me.  And I read them over and over and over again. I read that issue of Captain America about 30 times. It was either that or go play Uno with my now ex-girlfriend and her roommates. By the time I was actually able to get on a train and go home, I was wrapped in a depression so thorough and all-encompassing that it was practically Shakespearian in its depth of tragedy. Also, I wanted to kill Rob Liefeld with a fireplace poker.
Poor Rob. He didn’t do anything wrong. I was a really big fan of his up until that point. I had collected all of his New Mutants and X-Force issues when he was with Marvel. And when he co-founded Image Comics, I was right there at the ground floor. I thought that Youngblood was the latest in French cool.
But after what was essentially a long weekend of aversion therapy, I now associated Rob Liefeld’s art with one of the worst times in my life. And I never bought another one of his comics again. You could have achieved the same thing by giving me an electric shock every time I looked at a page of Brigade.
Cut to this Wednesday.
Jenny stops at the comic book store on the way home and grabs this week’s comics. Among our normal pull, she picks up a handful of DC Comics’ “New 52” so that we can check them out. One of the ones she brought home was Hawk and Dove #1.  
Drawn by… guess who?
I looked at the book and looked at Jenny. “Really?” I asked.
“Yes, really,” she said, indignant. “I wanted to check it out.”
She then went into the next room where I can hear her messing with her phone. It turns out she is online trying to figure out why I am being such a dick about her taste in comics.
Thirty seconds later, I heard her gasp.
“Oh SHIT! Liefeld drew that one? I am SO SORRY!”
It’s okay, Jenny. It’s not your fault. And it’s not Rob’s fault either. He didn’t mean to break my heart.

Hugs and kisses,

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Winter is Coming, Y'all...

“The maester had taught him all the banners: the mailed fist of the Glovers, silver on scarlet; Lady Mormont’s black bear; the hideous flayed man that went before Roose Bolton of the Dreadfort; a bull moose for the Hornwoods; a battle-axe for the Cerwyns; three sentinel trees for the Tallharts; and the fearsome sigil of House Umber, a roaring giant in shattered chains. Even the sigil of House Holyfield, two extended middle fingers flanking a pair of rolling eyes.”* **

I spent the past week’s free time reading A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin’s epic Song of Ice and Fire series. In keeping with what lately seems to have become the pattern of my life, I am a VERY late adopter on this. (I also discovered I like Mumford and Sons this week. Hooray for being behind the curve!) Friends have been poking at me to pick this up since 1996, and I had managed to handily blow them off up until now. Predictably, I loved it, as they all said I would. But I stand by my reticence, and have no intention of picking up the sequel, A Clash of Kings, until sometime in 2012.  I’m not just trying to be contrarian, I swear. I’ve got good reasons behind my stubborn foot dragging.
Mostly, I just don’t like fantasy books.                           
I’ll take a moment and let the thick, rich, sugary irony of that to sink in. Understand that as I write that sentence, I am sitting two feet away from a stack of D&D Dungeon Tiles. I spent an hour earlier crafting a ruined keep with the intentions of inflicting it on a brave group of stalwart adventurers at my regular Tuesday night D&D game. I’ve been neck deep in Dungeons and Dragons for around 25 years, so for me to eschew fantasy on general principle would strike most who know my predilections as counter-intuitive, at best.
Look, early in my nerd life, I DEVOURED fantasy novels. I spent more hours in Xanth, and Pern, and Krynn, and Toril, and Narnia then I ever did in my home town – mentally, if not physically. I’ve hung out in Nehwon a lot, and spent my fair share of time in the Hyborian Age. And I just burned right out. That’s the fact.
A lot of it is due to the world-building aspect involved in fantasy literature. The nature of the genre, especially in the shadow of Tolkien, is to craft gigantic, sprawling tapestries full of rich geographic detail, full-blooded characters, and millennia of history, all of it dreadfully important to the epic narrative at hand. And for the most part, I can’t handle it anymore. I already know more about Middle Earth’s geography than I do about the actual planet I live on. There are only so many brain cells left available to me.
Truthfully, I know plenty of fans of the genre who can handle all of this detail no problem, and can switch back and forth between their favorite author’s realms with a barely audible click of the rails being shifted.  I’m not wired that way. “Different kind of nerd”, as Brian Posehn says. I can tell you way more than you probably care to know about Latveria, though. And draw you a map of Metropolis practically from memory. So I’m not cutting on anyone. Just saying I’m not strong in that particular style of nerd-fu. Spent my building points elsewhere, you might say.
So why did I finally pull the trigger on GoT? Because I watched the TV show, that’s why. I’m not normally the guy who prefers the movie to the book, I promise you (except for Jaws). But I found the TV show a much more accessible entrance point into Westeros than trying to pick up the books would likely have been.
Jenny and I saw the preview for the HBO show, and she couldn’t understand why I wasn’t peeing myself in excitement.  Not being an enthusiast of the books already, I told her I would check it out, but that I had my doubts as to whether or not it would stick in my mental craw. I mean, HBO is good and all, but it’s also the network that produces True Blood, which manages to be simultaneously one of the best shows on television and seven or eight of the worst .
So we watched the Game of Thrones premiere. And I had three thoughts that I took away from that episode.
1. Nobody in this show was safe. It would be a mistake to get too attached to anyone.
2. Nobody in the show had ever heard of the missionary position.
3. I was hooked.
Game of Thrones was my must-see TV for that first season. I watched it on the edge of my seat, and walked away from every episode sweaty and tense, and frothing at the mouth to see what was next. My reaction to episode 9 was not dissimilar to that of the gentleman in this video, although I think I phrased it differently. (Spoilers!)

At the end of the season, I felt like weeping, because Game of Thrones was over, and stupid True Blood was coming back to suck (no pun intended) an hour of my life on a Sunday.
That’s when everyone else I know who had not previously read the books jumped into them and plowed through everything available. But not I. I have read the first book. Read it and loved it. And I eagerly anticipate the second part of the story. AFTER THE NEXT SEASON OF THE SHOW. I’m enjoying the show on such a visceral level that I don’t want to chance ANYTHING interfering with that. (This also means if you try to spoil things for me, I will make like Joffrey Lannister and have your head on a spike.)
Jenny and I had fun the other day deciding on our house sigils (hers would be a uterus with a shotgun in front of it), and the words of our people (mine would be “Fuck ‘Em If They Can’t Take a Joke”).
It’s not going to be easy waiting until 2012 to see the next season of the show and then devour the next book. I know that. But Winter is Coming. And so is more Game of Thrones. I can be patient until then.

Hugs and kisses,

*From A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin.
**Well, not the last bit.