Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Scott Pilgrim Volume 4
Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together
by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Oni Press, 205 pages, b&w (a few color pages at the front), $11.95 and worth every penny

The most anticipated comic of 2007 arrived in stores last week. I went to the comic shop straight after work and it was already sold out. There was a big empty spot on the shelf where it had been. Ah, but my copy was waiting for me in my pullbox! I'm not a boyscout, but occasionally i am prepared.

If you haven't read Scott Pilgrim before, here's the deal. Scott is a lovable slacker who just might be starting to get his act together. He dates the mysterious, oft-hairstyle-changing Ramona. He plays bass guitar in a sorta-good band called Sex Bob-omb. He rooms with (and sponges off of) Wallace. He lives in Toronto, Canada.* His world is full of band practice, not finding a job, hanging with friends, dating Ramona, and fighting Romona's seven evil ex-boyfriends.

Yeah, Scott has to defeat each of Romona's evil exes in video-gamish battles. Luckily, Scott is the best fighter in the province. When i say video-gamish, this is what i mean: there are power-ups, exp. points, and weapon proficiencies.

Scott and Wallace do that "laughing hysterically" gag from Peanuts

Also, Ramona delivers packages through subspace. And sometimes her path takes her through Scott's dreams. This is what, if you're being literary, you'd call the "magical realism" part of the series. Sometimes music is magical. One of my favorite parts from Volume 1 is a band who can render their audience unconscious with a particular song.

As with all great comics, the supporting cast is as interesting/likable as the hero. Here's a run-down of the folks in Scott's world, copied almost verbatim from the inside front cover of Vol.4.

Wallace Wells: (26 years old) the gay roommate; owns everything in the apartment
The apartment has no AC. Scott is too lazy to get up and get water.

Kim Pine: (23 years old) the smart one; has freckles; plays the drums in Sex Bob-omb; dated Scott in high school; dislikes lots of people, possibly everyone [Kim Pine is awesome.]

Knives Chau: (17 years old) the teenager; Chinese-Canadian; breifly dated scott [see Volume 1]; Sex Bob-omb's #1 fangirl
Knives Chau shouldn't be so chipper asking that question

Of course there are more, like Stephen Stills, who's the creative force of Sex Bob-omb, dates Julie, and rooms with Young Neil. I'd love to read stories about any and all of these characters. Once in a blue moon Mr. O'Malley will post a short strip on his webpage that focues on them.

This is why Kim moved from her old apartment.

Volume four opens a few months after the last one. It's summer. Scott and Ramona have been dating for about four months. Everybody keeps asking Scott if he's said the "L word" yet. Sex Bob-omb is not practicing or doing shows because they're recording (mostly Stephen Stills is recording). Scott is actually seriously looking for a job. Kim Pine moves into a different apartment. A mysterious guy with a samurai sword is trying to kill Scott. A girl from Scott's past comes to town to tempt him (she wears lots of short skirts and has flirty lashes). Of course one of Ramona's evil exes (number four, natch) shows up, but maybe to tempt Ramona, as well as fight Scott? Hmm? Maybe? Events are converging that will force Scott to get his shit together and -gasp- grow up a little.

Kim and Hollie chat while Stephen Stills carries a box on moving day.

There are some Zelda-themed dream sequences, too. But honestly i don't know a lot about Zelda, so i think those were lost on me.

Lisa, the girl from Scott's past.

I love this series. When i went to pick up my comics last week, i was in a really bad mood. Reading SPV4 completely changed it. It's that kind of book. It's really funny, it's quirky (in the good way), it's full of characters you automatically like, it has elements you'll recognize from your own life, and fantastic moments that are simply fun.

Bring on Volume Five!

*What province is Toronto in? Confession to Canadians: contrary to what some might have you believe, we Americans do love you, but we have no idea what your provinces are called. But don't feel too bad; we don't know where Delaware is, either. Is there still a Delaware?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Sword #2

I wonder how this series would read if the art were more expressive. The characters display emotion, but everything seems restrained. Maybe that adds to a feeling of the bizarre. Or, maybe it limits the emotional impact of the events.

If you're not familiar with the Luna Brothers' style of art, it's been described as pastel painting. To me, it looks like cells from an animated movie. I haven't read about what effect they're trying to achieve. The coloring ads a lot of lighting to the art, but the line work is kind of minimal. The lines are equally weighted, like in the "clear line" style, but there isn't as much detail. I find myself wanting more detail in faces.

The story (spoilers ahead): It picks up right where #1 ended. Three strangers had burst into Dara's house, insisting that her father was somebody named Demetrios, and demanding that he give them "the sword." Her father plead ignorance of all that, so the three strangers, displaying superpowers, killed the family and set the house on fire. The floor gave way under Dara and she fell into an unfinished basement or crawlspace. Since Dara was in a wheelchair, the killers assumed she'd be killed in the fire, and left. However, Dara spotted a shortsword (roman legionaire style) protruding from the dirt. She grabbed it, and her paralysis was instantly cured.

Dara climbs out of the basement. She places the sword in each of her family memebers' hands, hoping that it will restore them to life the way it restored her ability to walk. Though quick thinking, this doesn't work. Dara's shirt catches on fire and she runs to the pond behind the house to put it out.

When the fire department and police show up, Dara decides not to tell them about the sword, or the superpowers of the killers. She had tossed the sword into the pond just as they were arriving. I think her legs are still healed, but she pretends to be paralyzed. The police wonder how she got to and from the pond without her wheelchair, but they don't pursue it much. Dara stays with her friend Julie.

Cut to the three killers. They've seen the reports on TV and know that Dara survived. They figure out that she has the sword. They argue a bit about whether they should go after her themselves, but ultimately decided that the situation is too hot and the sword too dangerous. Apparently the sword is very powerful, but maybe only when wielded by someone of this bloodline? It's too early to tell. They decided to send mercenaries to kidnap Dara and force her to tell them where the sword is. This scene felt a bit long, as it was all dialog, but it showed that these villains are smart and actually think ahead, which is nice. Smart characters are good.

The guy they hire to kidnap Dara is a real sleazeball. He sells drugs for one of the three, and is also involved in prostitution. The second panel he appears in shows him snorting cocaine off a hooker's breast. I'm not sure what the authors were trying to establish with this sequence. Maybe they wanted to show us that this guy is very bad, and therefore scary? But he comes across as merely a sleazy loser, and while he clearly has no regard for other people, he doesn't seem at all competent.

At her family's funeral, Dara learns some interesting stuff about her dad. He was an English professor. Some of his students are at the funeral, and they mention how they loved the stories he told about some ancient warrior called Demetrios, who was four thousand years old. Maybe Dara's father really was the Demetrios that the three killers were looking for, but he had partially lost his memories? So, he didn't know who he really was (thinking he was just a normal person), but the memories of his immortal life were leaking out through fiction? Or, maybe he was just pretending not to know what the killers were talking about, and isn't really dead? That would make him a very despicable villain, since he let his family be murdered rather than give up the sword.

The issue closes with the mercenaries, armed with uzis and such, about to jump out of a van and kidnap Dara.

I'm less sold on this series after this issue than i was after the first. The visuals just don't convey the drama that the script implies. The sleazy villain is a big turn off, too. He's not even an entertaining villain, he's the kind you hope gets killed at the earliest opportunity just to get him out of the story. I'll pick up issue three, and decide whether to continue with the series based on how that one goes.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Final Crisis

This post was prompted by this thread on my LCS's message board.

At this point (and it's still early) i'm not interested in Final Crisis. It's a "boy who cried wolf" thing. Infinite Crisis was going to change things in a big way, and for the better, yet it didn't. OYL was going to set a new, better status quo, but it didn't. 52 was mostly good, but again, didn't set the new tone, or truly refresh/rejuvinate the DCU. I've been waiting for the new DCU for years now, and all i've gotten is this intentionally mishmashed thing that feels very temporary. So, even though Morrison is involved, i have to assume that Final Crisis will continue the well-established trend. I'll buy whatever individual series appeal to me, but convincing me to follow the "big story" at DC will be a hard sell.

Maybe it's a phase i'm going through, maybe it's more, idk, but i'm less and less concerned with long-term continuity. It's fine by me that Batman and Spiderman exist in timeless worlds where they never age and where elements of their histories just fade away after a while. As long as the core of their characters are consistent (i.e., personality, motivation, etc.) and short-term continuity is consistent, it doesn't bother me that, say, this month's fight between Batman and Ras Al Ghul doesn't jive with the fight they had in 1974.

Since Continuity (and other metatextual issues) is what all the "big stories" have been about lately, that makes them an even tougher sell.

What's more, i think that any comics that will have a wide appeal to a non-specialty market will not be concerned with long-term continuity.

Long-term continuity in comics is kind of like the alignment rules in D&D. It's useful in certain special situations, but most of the time can be ignored, and contributes more to arguments between hardcore afficianadoes than to enjoyable stories.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Today on the way home from work i was listening to the Alan Handleman Show. Unless you live in central NC, you can't hear the show, AFAIK. He does have a syndicated shown on Sunday nights, but that's more music-oriented than his daily show on 101.1. His topic was a new move by record companies to make radio stations pay a significant fee for every song they play on the air. This could easily put a lot of smaller stations--or stations of any size with a narrow profit margin--out of the music business.

There's one very obvious problem here. Record companies have, for decades, greatly benefited from their product being played on the radio. How else would a mass audience hear it? The first tape (yes, tape) i ever bought with my own allowance/yard-mowin' money was "King of Rock" by Run DMC. I bought it because i'd heard a couple of the songs on the radio. Without 97 Jams wafting westward from Memphis, i never would have heard how the sucka MCs call them sire. Ditto with the Prince and Whodini cassettes that came later. (The Greatest American Hero and Hill Street Blues theme song single records were a different story, of course.) So why would record companies want to essentially run many of their advertisers out of business?

It's because they're scared. Being scared is not a bad thing if you respond to it well. Without fear we'd all get hurt a lot more often. But a poor reaction to fear can cause many more problems.

The way the music companies are responding to their decreased profits is anti-entrepreneurial, maybe anti-capitalist. What does a normal business do when sales are down? They have a sale. They repackage products. They add give-aways. They stay open extra hours. They do something to make their product more appealing or more valuable, so that people will choose to buy it. The record companies are not doing this. They aren't lowering prices on CDs. They aren't adding value to them--like, with more songs, or multimedia features. Instead, they're simply demanding more money from anybody and everybody they do business with. If a store in your town took that approach, how would you respond? That's how we're all going to continue to respond to the record industry.

I assume that they are lobbying Congress to pass laws that will force radio stations to pay these fees. That's even more disgusting. When they can't get people to willing pay prices higher than the market will bear, they lobby (i.e., pay off) the government to use its coercive power to force people to pay them. That's not entrepreneurship. That's not capitalism. That's mercantilism of the colonial and medieval eras, when kings would give the right of trade to whichever party paid the most for it.

There's a weird contrast here. Our current technology enables a vast variety of music to be produced and distributed on a large scale more cheaply than ever before. Yet the traditional channel by which people have heard music for the better part of the last hundred years, radio, has become less diverse than at any point in its history. While the technology brings more possiblities, the radio industry actively shuns them in favor of the narrowest, supposedly safest approach.

But, onto a positive possibility. Let's say this plan becomes reality. Lots of radio stations can no longer afford to play music from the record companies. Here's an awesome idea that a few different callers to Handleman's show suggested: the stations could play local and independent music instead. I would LOVE that. One of my longtime daydream-enterprizes is a radio station that plays just that kind of music, including live performances from local venues and festivals. There is a ton of great music out there that most peole never hear. IMO it would be hugely positive in all kinds of ways if this world of more diverse, more genuine music replaced the tiny, repetitious playlist of revolting garbage that oozes out with banal malevolence from most radio stations.

Here's a musical recommendation. I just listened to a CD by a group called Scythian, whom i heard at the Grassroots Festival at Shakori Hills a few weeks ago. Their music is a mixture of various traditions, from Celtic to Klezmer, with modern elements as well. All of them, i believe, are trained in either classical or jazz, as well. The drummer has definitely studied jazz drumming. They were my favorite band out of many that i heard at Grassroots Fest.

There are other Grassroots Festivals in other parts of the country. I don't know if it's some kind of touring enterprise, or if it's just a common name adopted by similar but independent fests. Anyway, if the others are anything like the one held at Shakori Hills, they are well worth attending. Go out and enjoy some live music!

One more music recommendation: American Aquarium, whom i heard at The Garage in Winston-Salem (a very cool venue, btw). They remind me a bit of the Wallflowers, but i like them more; they feel more focused and less miasmic. Here is their myspace page, which has a few songs.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Election, NaNoWriMo, Annihilation

Election, NaNoWriMo, Annihilation

We had a local election this past Tuesday. It was a small one for mayor and city council seats. The ballot didn't even fill a whole page. Everybody i voted for lost. Even in the race for the "At Large" council seat, where the top three vote-getters get a seat, i picked all three losers. I think it's kinda funny.

NaNoWriMo is going very slowly right now. The idea i had suddenly got very boring when i started putting it to paper. So now i either retool it extensively or start over with something else.

This week i started reading Annihilation V1, and so far i'm liking it. The first section is the Drax mini. The small-town Alaska setting is cool, but maybe that's b/c i have that sense of Romance for small towns, though i've never chosen to live in one. I don't think i would have liked this story as a monthly comic. It would have felt sparse, plot-wise. But collected, it's a satisfying little prelude/setup to Drax's involvement in the bigger story.

I knew nothing of Drax before reading this. There are a couple of flashbacks that show his old costume, which i recognized from comics i've seen but never read, so i vaguely know he was involved in some of the "cosmic" Avengers stories from the 70s. That's all fine though, b/c this story doesn't depend on any of that. What background you need to know is told here, and the rest is new.

Now i'm at the part where the Annihilation Wave enters the scene, and the action rachets way up. It will be interesting to see how the various minis collected here flow as a unit. Will the pacing be choppy, or balanced? How much will the tone vary? What effect will different creative teams have?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Funny (Sick) Game

This game reminds me of those days back at G-HellCo when Matt would call my cube and say "Paul, you're skipping a meeting again." And i would say "What? There's a meeting? Since when?" And he'd say "We sent you three reminders." And i'd be all like "Are you sure? I don't think my Messenger program is working right. It's been acting weird all week. Besides, i' to have my kidney removed this i can't come to the meeting. The doctors said so. They said specifically 'no meetings.'" And then he'd remind me how many jobs had been outsourced to Argentina that week (usually at least 30, in a normal week), and i'd go to the meeting.

Play sick funny game

Thursday, November 01, 2007


I've taken the plunge and signed up for nanowrimo, aka National Novel Writing Month. That might mean a) i don't blog at all, b) i post novel segments here, or c) the nanowrimo writing inspires stuff for me to blog about.

It almost certainly means that i won't be planning any rpg sessions in November. There's not enough time for both, and i think they are different-similar enough that i can't do both effectively. For a while (and this helped me decide to do nanowrimo) i've felt that the kinds of worlds i want to create and the stories i want to tell are suited more for fiction than games. My interest in designing rpg elements has waned while my interest in fiction has increased.

Anyway, i'll at least post updates on my progress during the month here, and encouragement will be appreciated.

Big thanks to the hosts of Secret Identity, without whom i probably would've forgotten all about nanowrimo until February. (On the CGS forums i'm known as blockhead.)