Friday, February 5, 2016

Book Review: Star Hunter

    Fans of science fiction simply must read Andre Norton (Alice Mary Norton). She was one of the architects of the genre, writing a daunting number of books that stand alone Asimov, Herbert, and the rest. She creates visions of believable futures, peopled with multi-faceted characters. And she does it in just a hundred or two pages.

    In Star Hunter, we’re introduced to Ras Hume, a safari guide and big game hunter who takes wealthy folk to specially selected game worlds. But he’s also running a con, getting the mob and a desperate orphan wrapped up with him. And when they stumble upon something unexpected, all kinds of trouble drops on their head.

    When I’m reading Norton’s work from the 50s and 60s, I can’t help but think she was crafting a larger universe without every getting too strict about it. I often get the feeling that if you flew far enough in one direction or another, you’d find the characters from one of her other novels going through their particular set of struggles. If I were a better man, I’d assemble some kind of guide to her worlds; try to figure out which stories belong together.

Star Hunter
Author: Andre Norton
Publisher: Bean
ISBN: (book two in the collection Secret of the Stars) 978-1-4767-3674-7

-Matthew J. Constantine

Monday, January 25, 2016

Contemporary Heroes VS Classic Heroes

(So, it's been a while. But here's a new post, where I'm trying to work out some ideas. I'd welcome feedback, as I'm not sure I've got a coherent point yet.)

After recently revisiting the Star Wars universe with The Force Awakens, then going back to the works of Robert E. Howard, and finally watching some of the so-called adaptations of that author’s work, as well as the Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation John Carter, I was struck again by something I’ve been pondering for some time. Contemporary heroes, those typically in fashion in the literature and film of today, are not like heroes of old. There seem to be two distinct and different types of heroes (I’m sure there are more), the self-driven, self-made, self-motivated hero on the one side, and the externally driven, pawn of fate/the gods hero. And, as I’ve been thinking about this, I’ve noticed that some popular fate-driven heroes of today got their start as self-driven heroes of the past. Batman and Superman are two very well known examples of heroes who were once masters of their own fate, but are now frequently portrayed as slaves to it. And then you have John Carter and Conan the Cimmerian. While Carter is transported to Mars (Barsoom) against his will, he then quickly becomes the master of his own fate, taking up arms and winning the hearts and swords of a kingdom. Conan sets out to experience the world for no other reason than his personal desire to learn and experience new and exciting things. But in film adaptations of both characters, fate seems to have picked each for their appointed task. They have destinies. In the Conan films, this is most egregious, featuring Conan’s family being slain and him being driven/stolen from his home and forced into slavery, then destined to rise up and become king. He does not choose to go, he does not choose to become king. These things are chosen for him by the whims of ...of the gods?

In the cases of Superman and Conan this seems to spit directly in the face of the meaning of the characters. Both are Nietzschean Ubermensch, self-made heroes who stand apart and stand as something for others to aspire to. But in later works, they become more Christ-like, meek servants, who are ultimately slaves to greater forces; pretty much the opposite of the Nietzschean ideal. And Batman now becomes a crime fighter not because he was a man of means who saw that he could do something to help people, but because he was tortured by a crime perpetrated upon him. This seems to say that without the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne would simply have been the care-free playboy he pretends to be. His morality, in this scenario does not come from a personal sense of right and wrong, but from a sense of guilt, shame, and revenge foisted upon him by fickle fate. Much like the argument that without the gods there is no morality. I’ve always been somewhat upset by the idea that some people believe that without religion, they would murder, steal, and rape at will. Without someone forcing their will upon you, you have no will of your own? That idea upsets me. But it seems to be at the root of many contemporary heroes, who are only heroic because fate, god, or someone else forces them to become so. Without an outside force acting upon him or her, he or she would either remain unexceptional. Or worse, would be amoral (ala Bruce Wayne’s persona).

And this brings me to contemporary hero avatar, Luke Skywalker. In a film with self-made heroes like Han Solo and Princess Leia, Luke is the ultimate tool of fate, and this becomes more and more pronounced as the series goes on and we learn more about him and his family. He has nearly no agency, no will of his own. In fact, one of the only things he seems to do on his own, by his own will is go to his room and sulk. Otherwise, he is constantly pushed, directed, prodded, and dragged from hick farm boy to galactic hero. Could there be anyone less like Conan? Could there be anyone more emblematic of the contemporary concept of hero? I recently skimmed (I honestly couldn’t bring myself to read it closely, as I got too annoyed) an article comparing and contrasting Star Trek with Star Wars, which essentially boiled down to Star Wars was about fighting the Man, and Star Trek was about being the Man. But was Star Trek about being the Man? Kirk was constantly standing on his own, his crew was constantly going outside the bounds of law and status quo. To me, Star Trek was less about being the Man, and more about bettering oneself, then giving those below a hand up. Star Wars seemed more about lashing out after allowing cruelty to win for too long; essentially fighting back only after there was literally nothing left to do but die. I mean, they didn’t even give the Empire a real bloody nose until AFTER millions and millions of people had been enslaved and murdered. Fate forced the hand of Luke and the rest of the Rebellion. Only when there was absolutely nothing left to do but something, did they do anything.

So when did the change happen? Why? Am I just off base on all of this? And as a fan of Robert E. Howard’s Conan (and other characters), Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter (and other characters), and other self-made heroes (The Shadow, Allan Quatermain, Beowulf, etc.), is there any hope of them being translated to film or TV without first being sifted through the more modern, meak, fate-driven fashion?

-Matthew J. Constantine

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The times, they are a changing

Brad and I started this blog as a way to get our dork love out there into the etherspace of the digital world, maybe connect with some other dorks, and generally have some fun.  It's been a blast, and we're not done. But, we've moved beyond what this space could do for us.  We're more than just a blog now.  We've got a podcast (here) and we've recently launched a website (here).  Come check it out and thanks for reading.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Fistful of Lone Wolves! (Matt’s Picks)

    After watching Late Phases, and thinking about how cool Nick Damici is in the film, I figured I’d put together a fistful of Lone Wolves; folks who strike out on their own to take care of business.  There are a lot of really good ones, to be sure.  But these are five of my favorites.

5. Foxy Brown (Foxy Brown):  Foxy is tired of drugs, tired of corruption.  Nobody is going to keep her down, or locked in a shed.  A nasty, nasty movie, it puts the titular character through the wringer, but she comes through it.  And most of that blood she’s covered in isn’t hers.

4. Zatoichi (the Zatoichi film series):  A blind masseuse, Zatoichi just wants to be left to his own devices, enjoying a nice drink and some gambling.  But someone’s always gotta start something, and Ichi is there to finish it with a flick of his sword cane.

3. Dan Evans (3:10 to Yuma):  He can’t stand by and watch injustice.  Pushed too far, he stands against the mob to bring a bad man to proper justice.  He’s scared and nervous, but he’s going to get the job done.

2. John Matrix (Commando):  There’s an island full of bad men, and Matrix is gonna kill the hell out of every last one of them until he finds his kidnapped daughter.  Commando revels in violence in a way few films ever have, while being pretty darned funny along the way.  Let off some steam, kill Sully last, and have a Green Beret for breakfast.

1. Walker (Point Blank):  We’ve talked about Walker at great length on this blog, and I won’t go into much more.  He just wants his money.  And NOTHING is going to stop him from getting it.

-Matthew J. Constantine

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Comic Review: Fatale Book One

    I reviewed this book some time ago, but I don’t feel that I gave it enough time/space.  So here I go again.  Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have created a hybrid Noir-Lovecraft tale that spans history and delves into some existential horror in a way often lacking, even from the devotees of H.P. Lovecraft writing today.  Mood is a primary factor, almost a character in itself, in classic Noir films (and their Hard Boiled literary counterparts) as well as in the Cosmic Horror that was shaped by Lovecraft and his circle.  Fatale is dripping in mood.  From the heavy, black shadows and muted colors of the art, to the grim trudge toward doom taken by each character.  The series isn’t about mood and atmosphere, but they sure play a big part.

    With plot and character nods to the inspirational source material, genre fans should be able to hop right in.  The corrupt cops, the corruptible journalist, the violent mobster, and the mysterious vamp.  The cult murders, growing sense of deep history, and hints at supernatural natures build up the Mythos elements.  I’m a sucker for stories that build a sense of deep time, of back story for characters and plot.  And while the main story of a woman in fear, manipulating two men in a chess game played against a demonic figure plays out, we start to see that events have been building for a long, long time.  I love the little connections to historic events that are dropped in, too.

    This was my second reading of the first volume, and I found myself even more invested, paying closer attention.  At the point that I’m writing this, I’ve read the first three volumes, and am setting off on a quest to read all five in the very near future.  And I know that some of the stuff introduced in this volume pays off, or plays into what comes next.  But I’m still not sure how it all comes together.  And I can’t wait to find out.  When I read this the first time, I was captivated.  And it got my creative juices flowing.  It made me want to run an epic, generation spanning Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game campaign.  Reading it again, I see why.  Besides being a good read for Hard Boiled/Noir fans, for Horror fans (particularly of the Lovecraftian bent), it’s a great read for tabletop gamers.  It’s also another reminder of the great stuff coming out of companies like Image, who aren’t weighted down with demands for status quo maintenance.

Fatale: Death Chases Me
Author: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 978-1-60706-563-0

-Matthew J. Constantine

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Comic Review: Transformers VS G.I. Joe

    Full disclosure, here.  As a wee lad, G.I. Joe, was my jam.  I had the toys, I watched the cartoon, I listened to the audio-stories, I had the bed sheets; you name it.  It was even the book that I delved into during my first, short-lived attempt at following comics.  My fandom did not continue into adulthood, but I have fond memories, none the less.  However, I never thought too much of Transformers.  I watched the cartoon, and I guess I enjoyed it (more than Voltron or He-Man and some of the others popular at the time).  But I wasn’t in to the toys, I never contemplated putting an Autobots sticker on my car, and I flippin’ hate the new movies (I kinda like the second live-action G.I. Joe film).  I won’t swear to it, but I think the only Transformers thing I ever read was a G.I. Joe VS Transformers comic set during World War II, from the early 2000s.  I liked it, but it didn’t make me seek out more.

    So, I had little interest in another crossover between these franchises.  But, I’m a big fan of Tom Scioli and his mad bastard Jack Kirby-like insanity.  When I heard he was working on the project, I knew I’d have to give it a look, even if it otherwise didn’t interest me.  Scioli’s that good.  Free Comic Book Day came along, and there was a preview issue.  I took it home and may have even read it that night.  Holy crap!  Reading it was like plucking childhood memories right out of my head.  It had the weird little kid logic I used to employ when playing.  The same vaguely sick sense of wonder and horror that produced things like building huge structures, peppered with action figures, then knocking them down to see how all the bodies end up.  The dialog, the plotline, the crazy ideas; Scioli and co-author John Barber are tapped into something.  This is everything my weird little brain would have wanted the cartoon to be, everything it was when I was alone.

    You can’t talk about a Scioli project and not talk about the art.  With hyper-weird images sifted through Golden Age comic mentality, his work explodes with energy.  And with his odd, slightly off, almost muted colors, reading the book sometimes feels like reading the backs of packages, or those full page ads you’d find in comic books from the 80s.  Scioli’s work calls out for color, and it gets a ton here.

    If you were a kid in the 80s, if you played with G.I. Joes or Transformers, if you’re in to weird comics, and if you like the idea of something way, way out there being dressed in a mainstream, commercial skin, read Transformers VS G.I. Joe.  It’s the kind of thing I love, the kind of book I sit back and wonder, ‘how the hell did this get greenlit?’

Transformers VS G.I. Joe
Authors: Tom Scioli & John Barber
Artist: Tom Scioli
Publisher: IDW
ISBN: 978-1-63140-190-9

-Matthew J. Constantine

Comic Review: Black Science Volume 2

    The first volume of this science fiction series (read my review here) thrust the reader into the mad dimension hopping world with little regard.  You had to pick your way through the various characters and their back stories with little help.  A mad scientist, his lover and partner, his kids, his estranged wife, his sleazy boss (?), his mysterious assistant, etc.  And the tech?  What is it?  What does it do and what does it mean?  I had a hard time following it at first, partially because so much was happening, and partly because some of the characters looked a bit too similar.

    The art in volume 2 seems to have improved a bit (it was already good), and the various characters have taken on a bit more distinctiveness.  The color pallet is beautiful, and I really like the hazy look of the Native guy’s Black Science flashback.

    Volume 2 feels a bit less feverish, a bit easier to read and follow.  The pace is still breakneck, with plenty of twists, action, danger, and high stakes.  And the overall theme, or plot of the book becomes more apparent.  There seems to be a building dimension war, with variations of characters from each reality trying to grab power, right wrongs, and what have you.

    My earlier sense that the Pulp/30s/50s vibe of the comic’s design belies its 70s bitterness has grown.  I have very vague recollections of a TV show called Otherworld, which kind of freaked me out as a lad.  This comic reminds me of those feelings.  As well as stuff like The Star Lost, UFO, The Quiet Earth, and other, more pessimistic and strange science fiction.  The characters are all complex, and most of them are kinda bad.  It’s even hinted at that in the multiverse, our protagonists might not be the ‘good’ versions.  In fact, they might be the villains for much more virtuous counterparts.  Or not.

    As happened at the end of volume 1, I found myself wishing I had the next volume at hand upon finishing 2.  I want to find out what happens next, and it sucks that I’ve got to wait for…I don’t know, six months or so, for the next volume to come out.  I guess in that sense, it’s kind of like waiting for entries in a film series, where you know it’s coming, but you’ve got to wait.  I’m sure, when it’s all out, I’ll have to give it a start to finish re-read.  So, while this isn’t my favorite science fiction comic on the market right now (East of West, maybe?), it’s very good, getting better, and I recommend checking it out.

Black Science Volume 2: Welcome, Nowhere
Author: Rick Remender
Artist: Matteo Scalera
Publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 978-1-63215-018-9

-Matthew J. Constantine