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Rose and I have seen two Mamoru Oshii movies lately: Avalon (which I have sought for months and finally found through Netflix) and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.

Avalon is certainly the most convincing rendering of a virtual-reality video game I’ve seen. (The others I can think of are eXistenZ, sort of The Matrix, and the strange William Gibson-penned episode of The X-Files.) The question then is what makes a fictional game for a science-fiction VR platform “convincing,” but I think the answer is simply that it looks like a logical development from current real-life games. The squad-based multiplayer, class-based military action games are a popular genre in real-world games of the last several years. The half-baked tactical play also seems realistic—I’m thinking of the way the players alternate between acting sensibly, running around like mad, and just standing around stupidly while shooting.

Unfortunately, the English subtitles on the DVD seem to have only a tangential relationship to the dialogue. The basics of the plot seem to have survived the translation, but very little else. Actually, there’s a lot of what seems to be subtitles for voiceover narration laid over the otherwise silent parts of the movie, for no discernible reason (maybe somebody thought American audiences would need extra exposition to figure out what’s going on).

I was expecting a plot twist in which what appears to be the real world (the future one, not the secret level of Avalon) is revealed to be another layer of the VR, since both Avalon and the real world are filmed with the same sepia-toned, hazy visual effects. There seem to be unsettling connections between the real and VR worlds: Ash’s dog disappears in the real world and returns in Class Real as the poster ad for an orchestra concert. The real-world scenes have just enough repetitive looping to make them feel like a not-quite-realistic simulation — the exterior shot of the subway train that plays every time Ash goes home was especially reminiscent of a computer-game cut scene, I thought.

I expected that Ash would have to choose between reality and escapism, or that escape into the video game would become a means of transcending space and time or something (two of the major themes of the Matrix trilogy, it occurs to me), but the movie knocks both those concerns off balance with the introduction of Class Real. The secret level certainly looks real compared with the two sepia-toned worlds, but it still has the death animations and the weird little girl. Is Murphy a cataleptic in a hospital bed, or is he a guy living in modern-day Warsaw? The scene-selection menu calls the final chapter “Real Choices,” but what will Ash choose? What choice is she deciding, anyway?

Comments Moderation

The comments-moderation system has been disapproving seemingly innocuous comments in addition to spam. We’re looking into this mystery. If your comment doesn’t show up immediately, don’t worry, it will eventually.

Fanboy Rampage Rampage

Update: Although the posts have been deleted, the comments threads still exist. I’ve saved copies of them in case they disappear as well, though. I’ve added links to the comments threads.

Michael E, Fanboy Rampage guestblogger extraordinaire, has taken to deleting his own guestblogging posts—which, at the very least, leaves Chris Butcher’s followup post stranded in a context-free void. Alas, I was unable to rescue Michael’s second post from oblivion, but I captured his first before it disappeared. I reproduce it here:

Judd Winick doesn’t know what to do with that pesky Mia character in Green Arrow, so he’s going to have the former prostitute die of HIV, and get some MTV coverage too. It’s like a broken record. Jimmy Palmiotti did the same thing in The Monolith but got no MTV.

# posted by Michael @ 1:33 PM Comments (30)

Oh, I just noticed another deleted post I saved from oblivion:

Ande Parks, inker of Green Arrow, on the Oni Press boards:

“Aside from the obviously close-minded mentality that no doubt enables a lot of this “outrage”, what annoys me is the notion that authors ought to keep their personal agendas out of their work.

I have a word for those who keep their personal agendas out of their work… hacks. Even in a situation like Green Arrow, where the author is working with someone else’s property, what is the fucking point of it if the writer doesn’t come in with something to say? If they think Grell didn’t have an agenda, they weren’t paying attention. This is what Judd is passionate about, and passion is required to produce worthwhile art.”

# posted by Michael @ 5:53 AM Comments (14)

William Gibson returns to blogging

William Gibson returns to blogging: "Because the United States currently has, as Jack Womack so succintly puts it, a president who makes Richard Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln. And because, as the Spanish philospher Unamuno said, 'At times, to be silent is to lie.'"

Via: Boing Boing

14 October 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

The Ultimate Silence

The Ultimate Silence: "Six years ago today, Matthew Shepard was murdered for being homosexual."

12 October 2004 by Steven | Permalink | One comment »

Return of the Search Keyphrases

For some reason, about half of the search keyphrases by which people have stumbled upon Peiratikos lately are Kill Bill-related. About half of those are postmodernism in kill bill or similar, which makes me happy because I thought Kill Bill was one of the most aggressively postmodernist films I’ve ever seen (I think Quentin Tarantino probably disagrees, though).

Tragically, Anne Frank’s livejournal has been “suspended.”
tim o neil
I think you must be looking for The Hurting.
captain america mark gruenwald
I think you must be looking for Motime Like the Present.
what does the acronym marvel stand for
Machine Assisted Realization of the Virtual Electronic Library
why kids worship superheroes
Lack of prayer in the schools is my guess.
shrimp fins and scales
Remember, children, God Hates Shrimp.
bryan lee o malley
Try or Scott Pilgrim Dot Com. Then buy Scott Pilgrim and Lost at Sea. And read them.
pages are numbered
I wish.
what does the plank of a ship look like
Here’s a plank from the quarter deck of the USS Arizona.
does god care for animals?
Frankly, no.

It Zwibble is dead

Christopher Reeve, perhaps best known for his role in the classic Earthday Birthday, has died.

Christopher Reeve

Bright Young Things

Rose and I saw Bright Young Things a few weeks ago but haven’t written about it because we’ve both been awfully lazy w/r/t blogging. Oh well. I’ve also been reading the literary source, Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, except I haven’t actually read any of it in a couple weeks, so I suppose I’m not reading it anymore right not. Not because I didn’t enjoy what I read or anything.

Anyway, the most immediately obvious reading of Bright Young Things, and one which many reviewers have pointed out, is as a social critique of our modern society’s own Hiltons and Britneys. It certainly is, although not directly. The public obsession with celebrity qua celebrity is much the same, but the scandal is different. There’s a big difference between reading a pruriently coy report of the exploits of Agatha Runcible in a gossip column and watching a porn video of Paris Hilton. There’s a subplot in Bright Young Things in which Agatha and friends inadvertently destroy the political career of the Prime Minister after his daughter invites them to wrap up a night’s partying at her house. It’s a fictional counterpart of the Clinton sex scandals, but the vitally important difference is that Clinton got away with it. That ridiculous orgy of scandalized public entertainment forever changed the relationship in American culture between sex, morality hypocrisy.

Every aspect of the movie’s construction—the visuals, the editing, the narrative—feels like a freewheeling jazz band gone out of control. The central narrative thread, as much as there is one, is a romantic farce in which Adam Fenwick Symes continuously is unable to marry his fiancée Nina Blount on account of being broke. He’s supposed to publish a book and get rich from that, but the manuscript is confiscated at customs. He wins a thousand pounds in a bet, but he foolishly gives to an unreliable drunken major to bet on a worthless horse. He gets a check for a thousand pounds from Nina’s father Colonel Blount—but the colonel signs the check “Charlie Chaplin.” These misadventures weave through an unending series of vibrantly filmed parties at which everybody snorts cocaine and expresses profound boredom. The one early moment that threatens to put the brakes on the fun is the suicide of Simon, Earl of Balcairn and writer of the famed gossip column Mr. Chatterbox. The passing mention in the movie that he’s twenty-three when he kills himself is sobering—he’s twenty-three years old and he’s killing himself because he wasn’t invited to a party? or maybe simply because he’s bored? But the unstoppable fun/gossip machine grinds right over his corpse and churns out more scandalous gossip.

The party parade does finally begin to fall apart. I think the turning point is when Miles mentions he’s the new Mr. Chatterbox writer. It’s understandable when Adam takes the Mr. Chatterbox job earlier in the movie, since he’s at least pretending to want to make something of himself, but Miles is one of the true decadents, whom you can’t imagine has done a single useful thing in his life. That he would stoop to employment–albeit employment that involves doing what he always does anyway and then writing about it—he must be really desperate for cash. In fact, the only characters in the movie who aren’t broke seem to be the two nobody likes: Archie Schwert, an entirely uninteresting fellow who nevertheless throws the best parties, and Ginger, a creepy slug whom Nina ends up deciding to marry only for his money. The drunken major and Colonel Blount also seem to have money they want to give to Adam, but they’re also both mad as hatters and serve as mostly unwitting antagonists in his desire to get the money.

The best thing about Bright Young Things is the way it avoids moralistic critiques. In fact, it saves its sharpest satiric derision for those shouting the loudest moral denunciations. The disgraced Prime Minister and the evangelist Mrs. Melrose Ape both condemn the activities of the beautiful young people, but they both participate in and are complicit in those very activities. The movie suggests Mrs. Ape prostitutes her Christian choir of young girls to party goers. Their true enemies are the gossip columnists, who gleefully expose their hypocrisy. As for the beautiful young people themselves, the movie is content to subtly point out the pathetic truth about them: they’re all penniless and bored. They like to talk about how bored they always are, but it’s a long time before they realize they’re telling the truth when they say it.

The arrival of World War II near the end of the movie isn’t a comeuppance for the characters. Their world has already collapsed, and the war only marks the finality of the collapse. The only ones left by the end are Ginger, Nina and Adam. Their younger selves, from before the war, would probably say they’re much worse off in the end, but they’re really not. Ginger has lost his vast wealth (if he even had it in the first place) and is a fugitive from the law, but at least he’s got £34,000 and a means of escape to America (where he’s sure people appreciate outlaws like him). Adam and Nina, inevitably, are still broke, but they’re together and in love, and that was all they ever wanted anyway, even when they wouldn’t admit it to themselves.

Identity Crisis: The Locked-Room Mystery

Mystery stories may be classified along a spectrum of emphasis placed on puzzle-solving in the plot. In some stories—the Sherlock Holmes stories, e.g.—much of the narrative consists of an investigation in which clues to the solution of the mystery are presented to both the protagonist detective and the reader, and the reader is encouraged to try and solve the mystery before the detective does. In other stories, the puzzle-solving aspects of the investigation are downplayed. (As an extreme example, Raymond Chandler was so disinterested in puzzle-solving in his detective fiction that he was famously incapable of keeping straight the plots of his own books.) Puzzle mysteries are usually concerned with who committed the crime, and sometimes moreover with how the criminal pulled off a seemingly physically impossible crime. The latter are generally called “locked-room mysteries.” The basic puzzle is, how did a murderer get into and out of a room whose entrance was locked from the inside, without breaking in or unlocking the door? Although the puzzle doesn’t necessarily involve a locked room—the puzzle might be something like figuring out how somebody was shot to death even though nobody in hearing distance heard a gunshot.

With that brief explanation of locked-room mysteries behind us, we may now establish that Identity Crisis appears to be a locked-room mystery. Solving the mystery hasn’t been the sole focus, but the investigation—complete with clue-gathering and encouragement of the reader to solve the puzzle—has been prominent enough that I think we can say the logical procedure of solving the puzzle is an important part of the story. The heroes investigate, they gather clues, they narrow the list of suspects. Author Brad Meltzer seems to be putting some effort into making the mystery soluble. Or maybe only apparently soluble? Let’s see.

There are two major questions involved in the puzzle:

  1. Who is the killer—and why is the killer impersonating other villains?
  2. How does the killer bypass the JLA’s amazing security measures to get to his (or her, or [giving Hal Jordan the grammatical benefit of the doubt in issue #4] their) victims?

Now let’s see how the superheroes’ investigation is going so far…

From Identity Crisis #2 (unfortunately, this book’s pages are not numbered):

Dr. Mid-Nite
The bad news is that, two days ago, Sue Dibny supposedly died by carbon monoxide poisoning brought on by her third-degree burns.
Dr. Mid-Nite
And under that scenario—beyond what else the autopsy’s showing—she would’ve breathed so much soot into her lungs, he bronchi and trachea should be black.
They’re not?
Dr. Mid-Nite
I’m staring at them right now. They’re pink.
Wait—so Sue’s lungs…
Dr. Mid-Nite
…Didn’t have a black spot on them. I know it sounds insane—I ran other tests too—but by the time those flames hit her skin, Sue was already dead.
Oh, god—so you think the League…
Dr. Mid-Nite
I’m telling right now, they’re going after the wrong person. Sue Dibny wasn’t killed by Dr. Light.

Assuming Dr. Mid-Nite’s rejection of the previously assumed cause of Sue Dibny’s death based on his autopsy results is valid (but see Identity Crisis #2: A Medical Review on Polite Dissent for why it’s not), does his new information and the conclusions he draws from it discount Dr. Light as a suspect in the investigation? Only if we make the extremely arbitrary assumption that Dr. Light cannot kill people without using his powers.

From, issue #4, as Mr. Miracle, Green Arrow and Superman investigate the scene of Jean Loring’s attempted murder:

He used a bowline knot.
Green Arrow
A what?
A bowline knot—to tie the end of the noose to the door. They call it a bowline knot, though he added a Dutch marine twist.
Green Arrow
And you recognized that?
It’s a common boy scout knot.
Green Arrow (narrating)
I love him and hate him in the same breath.
Green Arrow
Boy scout. Right. Oracle, can you—?
Already on it. Bowline knot with a Dutch marine twist.

It’s not entirely clear, but Oracle apparently then finds the suspect, Sliptnot, in her Database o’ Villains by searching for former boy scouts known to use bowline knots with Dutch marine twists when he hangs people. I say “he” because the heroes are convinced the killer is male—Jean saw the killer’s boots, which were brown work boots. Women never wear brown work boots, right?

The investigation has proceeded so far as follows:

  1. Sue Dibny appears to have been murdered by Dr. Light. Dr. Light has a motive: he’s unconsciously seeking revenge because some superheroes magically lobotomized him after he raped Sue. The apparent method fits Dr. Light: Sue was burnt to a crisp. But Dr. Light cannot have been the murderer, because Sue’s longs carry no trace of carbon monoxide.
  2. Jean Loring appears to have been almost murdered by Slipknot. She was hanged, and Slipknot is known to have hanged his victims. He is also a former boy scout who invariably used a bowline with a Dutch marine twist to anchor his nooses—the very knot used to anchor Jean’s noose. but Slipknot cannot have been the murderer, because he was in prison at the time of the murder attempt.
  3. The killer was male, because he wore large brown work boots.
  4. Dr. Light and Slipknot are both associated with the Suicide Squad. Some JLA members want to investigate the Suicide Squad, but Batman knows this is a waste of time: the Suicide Squad has no motive.

With the exception of Slipknot’s innocence (his alibi is really airtight), this investigation is an absurd collection of arbitrary conclusions drawn from ridiculous data. All the characters involved, including the so-called World’s Greatest Detective, demonstrate the worst possible investigatory behavior. These superhero detectives don’t suspect anything—they know. As soon as they get a clue that contradicts what they know, they know something else.

It’s generally considered bad form for a locked-room mystery to have a supernatural solution—it’s a cheat, and it’s only fair to the reader trying to solve the puzzle that the puzzle follow clear rules. If the answer is that the killer used a magic spell to teleport into and out of the locked room, that’s a bad puzzle. Setting a mystery story in a superhero universe is like the apotheosis of bad form. Superhero universes (by which I mean the huge universes best represented by the properties of DC and Marvel) have no rules—anything can happen at any time, for whatever bullshit reason the author of a story can come up with. This causes basic rules systems like logic and causation to break down or explode messily when they come into contact with a superhero universe. Solving a mystery in the DC universe is impossible, because there is an effectively infinite number of possible explanations for anything. Green Arrow is right to dismiss the investigation as a waste of time, and Batman is right to focus on motive in his investigtation: in the absence of a riddling villain who deliberately leaves clues to lead the heroes’ investigation, motive is the only aspect of a mystery that might not have infinite possible solutions. But Batman is still guilty of the sin of expressing undeserved certainty.

Ian Brill, writing about audience expectations, reminded me of something I should say in this post. I expect that Identity Crisis is a spectacularly failed attempt to set a soluble puzzle mystery in the DC universe, but maybe something else is going on. Absurdity, arbitrariness and lack of elegance are violations of a puzzle-mystery aesthetic. But is Identity Crisis’s corruption of its apparently attempted aesthetic a failure—or is it a springboard for some tricky thing that has yet to be revealed? We’ll see.

Madrox #1

In Peter David’s new Madrox miniseries, the characters, including Jamie Madrox, talk like there’s a Jamie, and then there are a bunch of duplicate Jamies. Like at one point, Jamie says, “…last night I waffled on staying in or going out. So I sent a dupe out to have a good time for me,” as if the Jamie who stayed home last night had more claim to Madroxness than a mere “dupe.” How does this work? Are dupes mere copies who are somehow imperfect, so that it’s obvious which one is the real Jamie? Does the real Jamie have a special, intangible quality of Madroxness that the dupes lack? Or do they simply agree to arbitrarily select one of the Jamies to act as the “real” Jamie for convenience? I can see how it would get confusing if you had several separate physical bodies, with no psyhic connection between them, and every body thought of and talked about himself as “I,” and also talked about every other body as “I.” Or “we”? It’d certainly be confusing for people who had to talk to or about more than one of you at once, but it would also have to fuck with your own sense of self. Most superheroes have a dual identity, but Madrox the Multiple Man may embody the identity-based conflicts of superheroes more than any other character.

I also wonder where the X-Men get the cool t-shirts with their logos on them. Jean Grey-Summers wore a Phoenix shirt for a while in New X-Men, and now Jamie has one in Madrox. Do the X-Men have these shirts custom-made for them, or can you buy Phoenix and Multiple Man shirts at Hot Topic in the Marvel universe?

(Speaking of Hot Topic, they have a back-to-school sale on school supplies at their store right now. Hot Topic having a back-to-school sale on school supplies has got to win a Hilarity Prize.)