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D&D for Dummies: I'm almost tempted to get it. What could be in it?

Via: The Forge

29 April 2005 by Steven | Permalink | 3 comments »

More Klarion, Actually

Actually, I’ll say one more thing about Klarion the Witch Boy.

Does it have the funniest Wiccan joke ever? It does. The whole Puritan pagan thing? Good stuff. The basic plot is nothing new (so far), as Jog points out, but, as Roger Ebert likes to say whenever he wants to justify his praise for an ‘immoral’ movie, a story is not about what it’s about but about how it’s about it. Which isn’t really true, but it’s sort of true. And how Morrison does Klarion is lovely. And how Frazer Irving does it, that’s lovely too. The art is also my favorite so far in Seven Soldiers, even with the monotonous coloring, which I actually like.

And while I’m here, I might as well announce that I’m probably not writing about comics for a few months. I’ve got my postmodern horror, a lot of science fiction (and maybe some fantasy). Look for H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, some cyberpunk and its literary and cinematic descendents. And that pomo horror. When? Whenever I stop being lazy, of course.

Seven Soldiers and Dorkiness

Rose and I were going to have one of those What We Bought This Week posts, except it would be a What We Bought This Month post since that’s how often we go to the comic-book store. Except the store didn’t have a few of the things we wanted, so we still ended up with about half what the typical comic-book blogger buys in a week. We’d only embarrass ourselves by attempting such a post.

(Just kidding about embarrassing ourselves: I take much pleasure in not being a typical comic-book blogger w/r/t buying piles of comic books every week.)

Anyway, one of our books was Klarion the Witch Boy #1. I liked it lots. Zatanna and Klarion are my favorites so far, mostly because I prefer their kind of fantastic fiction to superhero fantastic fiction. I’ll probably wait until the series are finished to comment on them, though, because (despite Grant Morrison’s claims, blah blah blah) these first issues are not at all self-contained and I suspect some of the seeming flaws (which other bloggers have commented on) will not seem so flawed in light of the complete works. But I don’t want to jump to these stories’ defense prematurely.

I do want to talk about something related, though. A while ago, Tim O’Neil said:

While we’re tangentially on the subject, man, the more I think about it the more Seven Soldiers seems like the sophisticated-superhero version of bear-bating. It’s been designed to divide the comics electorate between “cool kids” and not-cool kids, people who “care” about old continuity and the people who are too cool for that. I’ve seen a number of people commenting on the series with something to the effect that “nobody cares about these characters in the first place” - but the fact that some people do care pretty much kills that theory. The fact that some people do care means that whether or not you will enjoy the series depends on a “litmus test” of sorts […] I don’t necessarily agree that characters should be wed to continuity one way or the other, but man, any book that makes a political imperative of chosing [sic] one side or the other of the debate in order to enjoy it is just too aggressively cynical in conception for me to get concerned about.

And—sorry, what? Seven Soldiers forces you to choose between adherence to continuity and rejection of continuity? It does? Are these miniseries even “in continuity”? I haven’t seen Morrison or anybody else comment on this, but they don’t look like they are. They’re totally cut off from the rest of the DC Universe. I guess some characters mentioned the JLA in Zatanna, but other than that? They’re totally irrelevant to the rest of the DC Universe. They have no effect on anything outside themselves, and even if they are “official” (which I suspect they’re not), all of Morrison’s changes will be retconned in two weeks anyway.

Moreover: where’s the “litmus test”? Are there mobs of comic-book bloggers waiting in ambuscade for anybody unhip enough to claim a dislike of Morrison’s reinterpretations? Is Morrison sitting in his lair, cackling cynically in anticipation of all the poor unhip losers who will be saddened by his disrespectful portrayal of Klarion the Witch Boy?

I doubt it.

Seriously, “political imperative”? It’s a superhero comic book. Nobody cares if you don’t like it, I promise. (OK, I can’t promise that, but I can promise that anybody who does care is definitely an even bigger dork than you.)

Seriously—Grant Morrison has founded his Seven Soldiers project on the aggressively cynical goal of making people who don’t like it feel like dorks? Um?

But frankly, anybody who feels genuinely victimized by Seven Soldiers is a dork. Harsh but true, I think.

Edit: By the way, before you get offended because I made fun of you for being a dork, consider that I just used the word “ambuscade” in public. I don’t have the moral high ground, here.

Guess the name they were thinking of!

Yes, these are real baby names. Guess them right and win a prize!

  • Ahlyivia. Origin: “Latin.” Original meaning: “Olive tree.”
  • Aleena. Origin: “Greek.” Original meaning: “Rock.”
  • Milen. Origin: “Greek.” Original meaning: “Dark skinned.”
  • Qlowui. Origin: “Greek.” Original meaning: “Blooming, verdant.”
  • Tearanie. Origin: unknown!

Postmodern Horror

I’ve been trying to write a post about Shaun of the Dead, but it’s been tough going. I know vaguely what I want to say, but I seem to have no interest in turning my vague thoughts into words. Oh well. Instead, I’ve been thinking about postmodern horror of an entirely different kind.

But should I first discuss what kind of postmodern horror Shaun of the Dead is, since I’ve already contrasted it with the kind of postmodern horror I actually want to write about? Yes, I suppose I should. Shaun of the Dead, of course, is in the tradition of self-conscious/ironic horror movies, movies like Scream and even Scary Movie. The authors (I will use “authors” to refer collectively to the people who made a movie) of Scream take on the relatively easy and ultimately banal task of making a straight slasher flick, with one crucial violation of the rules: the characters know about slasher flicks, spend much of their time discussing slasher flicks, and recognize immediately that they are living inside a slasher flick. The result is a movie that balances precariously on the line between jokiness and sincerity and isn’t quite deft enough to avoid stumbling. It’s reasonably entertaining, although the authors’ mocking indulgence in the slasher genre’s violent and exploitative virgin/whore morality makes for some particularly queasy scenes. The second and third movies might have improved on the formula—I don’t remember clearly.

Before I saw Shaun of the Dead, I expected a goofier, indier Scream. But whereas Scream approaches the problem of self-conscious postmodern narrative by presenting characters who discuss horror-movie cliches at the same time that they act out those cliches, the trailer for Shaun of the Dead suggests that it takes the different approach of riffing facetiously on little details and problems that tend to get glossed over in other movies—viz. the talk-show guest who insists on staying married to her zombified husband. Sort of a converse Scream, a self-conscious joke-horror movie that shakes up the familiar narrative by making the characters less clever instead of more—not only do they not notice the zombie-movie plot mechanics clunking along around them, they mess with the mechanics by failing to fall properly into their roles.

That’s what I thought before I saw the movie. Mostly, anyway—I’m partly reconstructing my thoughts in light of having seen it. What do I think now that I’ve finally seen it? Well, it’s sort of like I expected it to be, but it also has other more interesting things going on. It starts with a strong romantic-comedy foundation. Shaun is a 29-year-old guy who suspects he ought to take things more seriously but seems to have trouble finding things that right taking seriously. His sidekick is Ed, who “doesn’t have too many friends,” which is an understatement. Shaun’s girlfriend is Liz, who has tired of Shaun’s inertial inability to discover nightly entertainment opportunities outside the local pub. Her sidekicks are David and Dianne, a pretentious twat and a flightly failed actress, respectively. Liz is one botched date from dumping Shaun for good. David is in love with Liz and doing a pathetic job of hiding it from his girlfriend Dianne. Dianne wants to know when Shaun’s going to hook them up with free cable. Ed’s single endearing quality is his ability to perform a remarkably poor impression of an orangutan. Shaun—well, he doesn’t exactly want to spend the rest of his life drinking himself to death at the Winchester (the aforementioned local pub), but all the better alternatives have the flaw of requiring him to do something other than sit around the local pub.

Hmm, it’s been several days since I looked at this post. I seem to have been writing some kind of plot summary of Shaun of the Dead. But what’s the point—I don’t have the movie anymore, so I can hardly do a close reading. It’s been weeks since I saw the movie! I will now speak vaguely and noncomittally.

So Shaun of the Dead starts as a romantic comedy, and it could easily have kept going without zombies for a whole movie. Throwing in zombies is dangerous, because it means people like me might say, “If they wanted to do a romantic comedy about the unresolvable opposition of needing to grow up and not wanting to become one’s parents, why are they wasting their (and, more importantly, my) time with zombies?” But I didn’t say this while watching this movie. Partly because the authors take the time to play connect-the-themes. The shots of a stumbly, zombie-sounding Shaun who turns out to be merely a sleepy, yawning Shaun, the zombified wage-slave drones who are literally zombified and then put to work as—zombie slaves, I guess—funny jokes, but also plugged right into Shaun’s real-life concerns. (And, yes, terribly obvious and presumably done in every other zombie movie ever. Well, it’s a zombie movie, you work with what you’ve got. Shaun of the Dead works with what it’s got stylishly and intelligently. [???????But if they wanted to do a movie about the unresolvable opposition &c., why did they waste their time with zombies?” I’m not going to get into a defense of using the fantastic in art here, sorry. Um, because sometimes mere naturalism isn’t enough for some others, and then they break out the zombies.]) Let’s continue that line of thought, but outside the parentheses. What the zombie stuff does is latch onto specifc real-life concerns in the narrative, complicate and modify them, cause them to resonate with greater intensity.

Damn, I’ve been sloppy in talking about the romantic-comed aspect of Shaun of the Dead. Because, when you think about it, romantic comedy as a genre functions like a lot of fantasy—i.e., it latches onto specific real-life concerns, complicates and modifies them, causes them to resonate with greater intensity. So Shaun of the Dead has the romantic comedy and the zombies messing with the narrative. But is that enough for Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg? Certainly not. They add that extra layer of self-consciousness, which allows them to slip back and forth between zombies and romantic comedy without getting bogged down in either. There are three big things going on in the movie—the romantic comedy, the zombie stuff, and the mucky “human drama”—and each is so emotionally intense (and gorily harrowing, in the case of the zombie stuff) that it could easily overwhelm the whole movie. But the extra layer of irony allows the movie to flip deftly with precision timing from the chilling revelation of Shaun’s mum’s impending zombification to jokes about David wanting to shoot Shaun’s mum to simple “human drama” as the relationships between characters build tension and explode in heady conflict. The section of the movie from the musical zombie fighting/dancing choreographed to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” to the moment when Shaun, Liz and Ed find themselves trapped behind the bar is the final buildup and climax of the movie. These scenes have everything going on at once, and it really shouldn’t work but it does anyway, and it’s lovely.

Er, I guess I ended up writing a lot about Shaun of the Dead after all. And not about the kind of postmodern horror film I claimed I’d write about at the beginning of this post. I suppose I could edit the beginning of the post to make things make more sense, but I think I’ll leave it as is. More to come on postmodern horror… some time. I won’t promise timeliness.

Rose’s Little Brother on Seaguy

Several months ago, Rose and I lent her brother Seaguy #1-3 after extracting a promise that he would tell us what he thought about them. The idea was to get a thirteen-year-old’s perspective on an esoteric Grant Morrison comic book and present it for the benefit of the comics blogosphere. Rose mentioned a few weeks ago that I never got around to posting about this, so here it is now, a thirteen-year-old’s thoughts on Seaguy:

Rose’s brother:

I liked them. They were kind of confusing, though. For example, what are the “Mickey Eye” people doing everywhere? What exactly is the Xoo? What is that giant beetle doing on the moon and why did it stop the revolution of the moon?

Do you have the fourth one?


Unfortunately, there isn’t a fourth one, yet. This is a complete story, but there may be another story later.

Do you have any theories about what Micky Eye and its people are doing, or what Xoo is? I have my own ideas, but I wonder what yours are.

Rose’s brother:

Mickey Eye is these things, since they’re in the comic-
-They’re against the Xoo people.
-They’re trying to wake up the beetle or something.
-They are very wide spread.
-They have plenty of money.

Xoo is these things-
-A substance made that can become conscious.
-Manufactured for use for anything.

So these are my ideas-
1= Mickey Eye is an evil organization that wants to wake up the beetle to take over the world, and Xoo is the only thing in its way.

2= Mickey Eye is an organization that wants to stop Xoo’s spread because Xoo is too powerful, or a threat to their power. The beetle is the only thing that can stop Xoo, and Mickey Eye is trying to wake it up.

3= Mickey Eye and the people who make Xoo are both evil and want to take over each other, and the people who make Xoo created Xoo to destroy Mickey Eye. Mickey Eye is planning to counter with the beetle.

4= Mickey Eye and Xoo are working together, for reasons unknown.

What do you think?


I think everything you say makes sense to me. I don’t know how Xoo fits into the big picture—it seems to be a wild card. Mickey Eye made (or discovered, it’s hard to tell) Xoo, but it can’t control Xoo. I think what Xoo is, basically, is the New. I mean, not any specific new thing that Mickey Eye has invented, but a strange physical manifestation of the abstract concept of novelty—that’s why it can be used for anything. Mickey Eye wants to control how people are exposed to new things, and they want to control how people think about new things, but Xoo (New) is too powerful, especially with meddling heroes like Seaguy getting involved.

And as for Mickey Eye, I think it’s supposed to remind us of Disney (hence the “Mickey” mascot and the amusement parks). Not that Disney is as powerful as Mickey Eye, obviously, but just imagine what things would be like if Mickey Mouse ruled the world: the whole world would be Disney World. Disney World is the happiest place on Earth, but it would surely get oppressive if you always had to live in manufactured bliss and weren’t allowed to stop being happy. That’s the world Seaguy lives in.

(By the way, does anybody remember which blogger first came up with the Xoo/New idea? I remember reading about it when Seaguy #1 came out, but I don’t remember where.)

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17 February 2005 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

Music Meme


Total amount of music files on your computer

949 songs, 4.72 GB. According to iTunes, it would take me 2.4 days to listen to all of them.

The last CD you bought was…

The I ♥ Huckabees soundtrack, I think. More recently, I purchased Franz Ferdinand’s entire first album on iTunes.

What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?

Before reading this message? I don’t remember. The last song iTunes played before I started writing this post was Green Day’s “No Pride.” Right now I’m listening to Weezer’s “Burndt Jamb.”

Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.

Five songs I often listen to or that mean a lot to me? That couldn’t possibly be more arbitrary. I chose these songs sort of at random, I guess.

  • “Muzzle” by The Smashing Pumpkins. It’s good for when you need to be reminded that it’s OK you never grew entirely out of your “fourteen-year-old romantic” phase—and why would you want to grow out of being amazed by the distance to the sun and lamenting and celebrating mortality, anyway? This song reminds me of many of my favorite works of art, but perhaps especially The Invisibles and Romeo and Juliet.
  • “Beatles Mash-up Medley” by Hank Handy and The Beatles (find download links at Boing Boing). A lovely mashup of forty Beatles songs.
  • “Scott Pilgrim” by Plumtree. I discovered this song through Bryan Lee O’Malley. It’s like a super-condensed rock version of Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life.
  • “No One Else” by Weezer, because I just imported the CD into iTunes and this song is playing right now.
  • “The Show Must Go On” by Queen, as well as the version from Moulin Rouge. Because I’m out of room and I have dozens more songs I could name, so whatever. Both versions are totally awesome, although I love the Moulin Rouge version even more.

Who are you going to pass this stick to? (3 persons) and why?

Nobody! I guess I can see the point of building an explicit self-replicating mechanism into a meme—self-replication is what memes do, after all—but this chain-letter stuff becomes an anti-self-replication mechanism when the meme comes into contact with people like me who don’t want to play along. Infect yourself with the meme if you want it (or, bum bum bum, if it wants you!). You don’t need me to pass the torch.



You say it’s your birthday!
It’s my birthday too—yeah!
They say it’s your birthday!
We’re gonna have a good time!
I’m glad it’s your birthday!
Happy birthday to you!

Yes we’re going to a party party!
Yes we’re going to a party party!
Yes we’re going to a party party!

I would like you to dance—birthday!
Take a cha-cha-cha-chance—birthday!
I would like you to dance—birthday!

You say it’s your birthday!
Well it’s my birthday too—yeah!
You say it’s your birthday!
We’re gonna have a good time!
I’m glad it’s your birthday!
Happy birthday to you!

“They experience time and motion differently.”

There’s been plenty of good blog-writing on Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s We3: Ian Brill, Ian Brill again, Jog. Johnny Bacardi, Johanna Draper Carlson, Marc Singer. And most of you have probably already read it anyway, so I’ll skip the overview and get right into a close look at the book’s many visual pleasures. All of the images in this post are links to larger images.

We3 #3, p. 23

The image to the left (We3 #3, p. 23) is one of the best examples of the most common layout technique used in We3: a large image with small panels overlaying it. The technique is used in other comics, but Morrison and Quitely use it better than most, as the overlay panels don’t act as part of the story’s sequential-art narrative, but instead act as meaning-modifiers on the large image. In the large image, Bandit and Weapon 4 are angrily staring each other down, but the two eye closeups complicate their staredown in two ways: their positioning emphasizes Weapon 4’s physical and emotional dominance of Bandit, and Bandit’s eye reveals his terror. Marc Singer points out the panel of “a minuscule dog that seems to represent how 1 views himself after a whiff of 4’s combat pheromones” (I thought it was a rat until Marc mentioned it!) whose presence seems to imply that the overlay panels aren’t necessarily part of the diegesis, not only because there is obviously no diegetic tiny dog, but also because the way it blends in with the larger image suggests that there is, impossibly, a tiny dog standing directly in front of Bandit. The moment of cognitive dissonance between the impossibility that there is a tiny dog and the visual implication that there is a tiny dog confronts the reader with the diegetic ambiguity of the overlay panels. That ambiguity makes the set of eye closeups even more interesting, because there’s no telling whether Bandit’s expression of terror is diegetic or non-diegetic—there’s no telling whether Bandit looks terrified or only feels so. And, as desperate as Bandit must be to hide his terror, he must not be sure he’s really hiding it—and haven’t most of us found ourselves desperately hoping our true emotions are invisible at one time or another? I know I have.

We3 #2, pp. 6-7

Some overlay panels seem to represent snapshot glimpses of what the combatants see in the midst of battle—the image to the left (We3 #2, pp. 6-7) is one of the most spectacular uses of snapshot overlay panels. I’ve never been in a fight, let alone a military battle, but I always imagine that the experience would be sort of the real-perception equivalent of that image of Bandit leaping through a jeep: a flood of visual information that doesn’t quite add up to a big picture. When the soldiers in the jeep realize a cyborg dog is about to jump through the windshield and maul them, I imagine they get quite an adrenaline rush and sensory overload, but there’s not enough time to make sense of anything. The overlay panels represent visually how the soldiers experience Bandit’s attack. The large image, on the other hand, represents Bandit’s ability, with his cyborg-enhanced animal sense and deadly combat training, to grasp the big picture.

But there’s even more going on in that image: notice the different apparent rates of time in the overlay panels and the big image. The big image uses the standard comic-book technique of duplicate images of one character tracing a path of movement through one panel to create a speed-up effect. The overlay uses a large number of panels showing incremental stages of a single action to create a slow-motion effect—look at the top tier, in which a bullet takes eight panels to travel through a soldier’s head, and the lowest tier, in which a soldier’s foot takes three panels to lift off the gas pedal. These actions take a fraction of a second, but the multiplication of panels dilates the diegetic time. Other overlay panels don’t appear to fit together narratively at all, and the breakdown of narrative cohesion fragments the diegetic time. When I try to read the overlay panels and the big image at the same time—an activity the layout actively encourages—I get three different temporal representations of the same narrative sequence, and the way the conflict between them disjoints my reading only enhances the other perceptual representations I’ve mentioned.

Now, here are two more pages from We3 (We3 #2, pp. 12-13 and #3, p. 6):

We3 #2, pp. 12-13We3 #3, p. 6

The first is another instance of Morrison and Quitely using a standard comics technique—this time it’s a character breaking out of the panel borders, typically used to suggest strength or power—to remarkable effect. In Animal Man, Morrison went meta and allowed characters to see the panel borders and move outside them. In We3, Tinker can move in and out of panels because she moves too quickly for the soldiers to react, and the soldiers are trapped within the panels by their limited perceptual abilities. The panel border comes to represent the limits of perception.

The second panel from the second page above is an allusion to Tinker’s panel-jumping attack—but, on this page, the animals aren’t around. In fact, the sequence of panels—the first with a point of view directly behind the homeless man, the second with the point of view seemingly directly in front of the homeless man, and the third a return to the first panel’s point of view—suggests that the second panel and the smaller overlaid panels represent the homeless man’s point of view. This is the one place in We3 where the panel layout is used to represent a human’s perception. This scene isn’t quite as action-packed as the cat’s attack in issue #2, but the large crowd of police officers and soldiers, flashing squad-car lights and blinding flashlights, would probably disorient most people. The small panels mirroring the panels from issue #2, particularly the penultimate right one that shows a closeup of the hand that grasps the homeless man from behind in the third panel—a hand the man shouldn’t be able to see—indicates the homeless man has superhuman perceptual abilities similar to the animals’. (Jog has the same idea, but he doesn’t seem convinced of it.) I think this strengthens Rose’s theory that the homeless man is a veteran—maybe the military did something to him that made him like We3, something that obviously doesn’t happen to everybody in the military. His ready acceptance of talking animals and confident determination to remove their “coats” seems to suggest he’s mentally unbalanced (he says he needs liquor, and the building where he lives is full of broken bottles—is he an alcoholic?), but maybe he knows more than he lets on.

No wonder Morrison called his recent Vertigo work “supercompressed.” Where a “decompressed” comic book enforces extended examination of a limited set of information through slow pacing and repetitive panels depicting incrementally changing scenes, We3 has an almost overwhelming amount of information packed into it, with even the spatial relationships between panels on the page modifying and extending the meaning of the pictures. I could go on and on, but this is enough for now.