WHO IS THIS MYSTERIOUS FIGURE?! Who is this fantastical warrior that lurks in the dark and takes orders from none other than President Lincoln himself? Why, it’s none other than THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD!
With his trusty butler Mister Groin and his faithful pet Mister Dog, they race to stop the evil Emperor Zombie from translating the Kalakistan Fragment and gaining supernatural powers only to end up fighting a greater evil!
Written as a one-shot by Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame, it’s much more light-hearted fare than what is traditionally presented in a Hellboy tale but the art remains as atmospheric as always. The story doesn’t take itself seriously and plays around with the tropes of earlier noir and pulp fiction such as The Shadow or The Spirit. It’s more akin to a whacky homage than anything and Mignola is quoted as having gotten the idea when he noticed that the majority of action figures tended to be the same character with a different paint job. So Mignola imagined a robot character that would screw his head into whatever body best suited the mission. The Amazing Screw-On Head is exactly that, and he fights the forces of evil at the bequest of Lincoln by literally screwing his head into one of various mechanical bodies (13 confirmed) with different gadgets such as a fist that rockets out towards the enemy before detonating.
A pilot was made and aired on the ScyFy website in 2006 with a survey to decide whether or not it would be picked up for syndication. Sadly, while it was not syndicated, it was released on DVD. The pilot follows the one-shot fairly well with added backstory for the characters and one or two minor tweaks to lengthen the story for the full 22 minutes. But all in all it’s a fun little story that the world should really know more about and a damnable shame it didn’t prove popular enough to bring to the little screen.
What would you choose if you could see the results of every one of the actions and decisions you ever made in your life? If you could watch time unfold before you if only you’d said something different to a certain someone or even as simple as opting for a cheaper pair of jeans instead of the pricier ones? What kind of life would you choose to live out? It is those greatest of pivotal moments in our lives that represents the proverbial crossroads of life that determine a great deal of our future. Whether it was to drop out of high school or whether you took the 10:30 bus or the 11:00 bus instead all of our decisions can impact our future.
Released in 2009 by Belgian director and writer Jaco Van Dormael, Mr. Nobody is a beautifully woven tale of a boy named Nemo (Jared Leto) who was missed by the Angels of Oblivion and therefore can see the results of his actions, can see the possible futures and must determine for himself the path his life will lead. While choosing who his parents will be upon birth was a major decision for Nemo, the most critical one is the one where he chooses to live with his father or his mother after their divorce. The train tracks at which he must make his decision serve as a strong visual metaphor and even colors are used symbolically throughout the film with many other recurring themes to help emphasize the results of his decisions. Having chosen a parent, this brings him to choose from amongst three-childhood friends as potential future wives: Anna dressed in passionate red, Elise dressed in melancholy blue, or Jeanne dressed in materialistic yellow. The colors do not represent the girls themselves, but their futures together. The story is narrated by an older Mr. Nemo Nobody, who is now 118 years-old in the year 2092 to an intrepid young journalist. He is the last mortal man on earth and as he tells his story, it weaves in and out through all the various potential timelines he might have lived through, including a universe where Nemo was never born. But knowledge does not always make things easier, as Nemo discovers “I don’t know the future, therefore I cannot make a decision. Now that I know the future I still cannot make one.”
The music to the film is rich and adds greatly to the experience; everything is purposefully and carefully placed in the film to help enhance the emotion conveyed or any other number of clues. Recurring themes and motifs such as the butterfly effect (often caused by maple leaves or literal butterflies), or the song Mr. Sandman that plays throughout the film sung by different groups each time helps to bring about the feeling that this is not all possible futures, but all futures that can only be lead by this one life. This is Nemo’s life we are seeing and no one else’s. The camera shots are equally as artistic and just as carefully done as everything else in the film and the actors chosen play their roles well. While the film is only 2 1/2 hours long, it does feel like a lifetime has passed. You view nearly every facet of Nemo’s life from since before he was conceived up to his death over a hundred years later. You watch him love and despair, be filled with hope and brought to his lowest.
It’s a very poignant film and really brings about a sense of almost dazzlement at the prospects of the future. If something so simple and tiny can affect us so greatly, where will our lives lead in 5, 10 years from now? If we could see all possible ends, and none of them satisfy us, what do we do then? Even if we believe that the only possible answers are yes or no, it is also possible that there is a third choice before us if only we can see what it is.
So a vampire, a ghost and a werewolf all rent an apartment together in Bristol where they go to work, drink tea and hang out together all while solving the ghost’s death and keeping the vampire from relapsing into a mass-murderer. Also, the werewolf is a fantastic cook. What sounds like the premise to a bad joke is in fact the premise of the most excellent series on BBC4 called Being Human. I stumbled across this entirely by accident while surfing the BBC website with my newfound proxy. The thing that I like most about this series is how well-balanced and paced it is. What would normally have taken an entire 26 episode series in america to resolve such as the ghost’s death, only take a few episodes to discover and already resolve before the end of the 8 episode season. Admittedly, each episode is a full 55 minutes and not the watered down 46 minutes that is padded out with commercials. The characters are compelling and my favorite part of the whole show is the way they interact with each other, their genuine friendship tends to shine through very well and it adds to the show. Also, the vampires actually run around killing people all the time, and even though they can stand the sunlight, they do not sparkle like faggoty vampires do. They’re the more traditional world-dominating type of vampire with an aversion to crosses.So series 1 tells the tale of George the werewolf and his best friend Mitchell the vampire and they move in together in a flat occupied by Annie the ghost. They try to find love and friends and a general purpose in life all while dealing with the cons of being supernatural beings. Vampires are notorious for their unscrupulous behavior and their general dislike of werewolves, often beating them to death when encountered if they don’t have other ideas in mind for them, causing Mitchell to be at odds with the general vampire populace (as well as his vow to abstain from blood drinking). They’re eventually joined by George’s girlfriend Nina (I’ll leave her status as supernatural or not spoilered) who gradually joins the cast as a main character. But things change and the cast evolves. Currently going up for series 5 is Hal as the new resident vampire (one of the Old Ones), Tom as the werewolf (he was introduced in series 3) and Alex as the new ghost in town. The cinematography and acting are top notch and the production team seem to really enjoy their work. When they encountered a zombie in series 3, the entire episode was shot as an homage to zombie films with a few cliche moments thrown in cleverly. Series one is naturally the best season, whereas the evil scientists in series 2 were somewhat weak. Series 3’s wolf-shaped bullet storyline, however, certainly brought the series back around again and I would have to say it rivals the first series in terms of craftmanship and suspense. I have mixed-feelings concerning series 4, but newcomer Hal is a welcome surprise and watching him adjust to being reintroduced to society brings a good number of laughs and chuckles as he takes advice from the socially uneducated Tom. Pacing and storylines aside, it’s interesting to note that the cast in this popular horror-comedy is willing to drop characters once their time has ended. It is only when they have run out of ideas to successfully incorporate the character do they rid of them. It’s this willingness to keep things fresh and changing that prevents the series from stagnating too far or very much.
An interesting little tidbit is that Peter Jackson was fond of this show and kidnapped Aidan Turner,the actor who plays Mitchell the vampire, for his production of The Hobbit (he plays Kili the dwarf and is the only dwarf without a beard). A quick note on the american remake that is airing on ScyFy: having watched approximately 2/3 of the first season (I couldn’t stomach more), it feels very much like a watered down version of the original and the pacing is atrocious. I will plainly say that I really dislike the actor they chose to portray the vampire (he’s such a jock and feels very out of place. He’s not the smooth-talker that Mitchell is and watching him try to be is terribly awkward). The girl who plays the ghost comes off as simpering and whiny rather than outgoing but insecure. The werewolf character is the only one that stays true in his portrayal of the character. He’s sympathetic and likable, a genuinely nice guy. Owing to it being made for american shores, there is a larger number of episodes and therefore that much more filler and plotlines are stretched out to accommodate the longer air time. If you had to watch only one, I strongly suggest you stick to the BBC production of the show. The mediocre american one did nothing but leave a bad taste in my mouth.
When people think of rabbits, they tend to think of soft, furry harmless things that hop about in meadows, eat grass and hand out chocolates on Easter. People who have pet rabbits can attest to their occasional bad attitudes and willingness to scratch you with their claws. People who have read or seen the film adaptation of Richard Adams’ Watership Down will tell you rabbits are so frickin’ badass it hurts. Watership Down is the story of a runt named Fiver and his older brother Hazel along with a handful of other rabbits and their journey across the lands of England to escape the destruction of their warren and begin life anew. But the story doesn’t just end there, especially not when a rival warren lead by the brutal and cruel dictator General Woundwort has anything to say to that. Richard Adams was inspired by a book The Private Life of the Rabbit by a British naturalist named Ronald Lockley, which details the various aspects of rabbit life and physiology and incorporated this into his own epic tale. While most of the characters in the book tend to not be too distinct, it is only because there are characters who are so memorable as to overshadow the others. Hazel soon becomes leader of the group and it is through him primarily that the story is told. He knows who to take the advice of others and is more than willing to try things that are new or unusual for rabbits in the hopes of using it to the greatest advantage for his warren. Fiver is more of a shamanic character with visions and ties to the spiritual word which is expressed mostly through premonition (it is his initial feelings of misgiving that cause him to warn Hazel about the imminent destruction of their home warren). Bigwig is more of a rough and burly sort of fellow, tough and serious on the outside but with the proverbial heart of gold and a strength and tenacity that is almost unparalleled among the fictional world. Blackberry is the most intelligent of the rabbits and it’s his grasp of physics and mechanics that enables the rabbits to pull off some of their major feats.The story begins with Fiver’s warning to Hazel and then fleeing the imminent destruction of their warren at the hands of men who bought the acre of land and want to develop it. Escaping only days before with a handful of other rabbits, they flee through some woods before coming upon a different warren. The rabbits here have a dark secret despite their well-fed and robust appearance. Despite this and a few other obstacles that they overcome throughout the journey, they’re able to find the land that Fiver had envisioned on the top of a hill in the downs known as Watership. They live peacefully and at ease until Hazel brings up the final hurdle they must overcome: in their haste to leave their old warren, they neglected to bring any does along with them. What follows is a stealth mission into the militaristic warren called Efrafra run by none other than General Woundwort. Rabbits here are overcrowded past capacity but none are allowed to leave their burrows except at designated feeding times. They’re scarred with marks that pertain to their unit (left-hind mark, or neck mark for example) and are as miserable a bunch of rabbits as anyone could lay eyes on. After a brilliant plan that almost didn’t succeed, the general mounts a full scale attack on their warren. I’ll not spoil the ending, but it’s every bit as clever a plan as their hero El-ahrairah would have devised. The film tends to diverge only in that it omits certain small events and added a scene where a random background rabbit is eaten by a kestrel. But the gorgeous watercolor backgrounds and fantastic music make up for it in droves. Each rabbit character is drawn distinctly yet fairly realistically which adds to the characters. The semi-sequel Tales from Watership Down adds to some of the mythos and gives short stories concerning some of the descendants of the warren and other events after the conclusion of the original book. Disregard the animated series if you have any love for this property.
What can I say about Patapon? It was certainly one of the few games I actively enjoyed for the PSP and it was trying to do something unique. At its most basic, it’s a rhythm-based strategy game with RPG elements. At it’s most complex, it’s all that what I just said. Basically you find yourself a little tribe of warriors called Patapons and you lead them into battle against the fierce warriors of the Zigaton empire who destroyed their lands and drove them away. The Patapons look upon you as a deity of sorts and the most interesting mechanic is the manner in which you lead them: each of the four face buttons controls the beat of a specific drum and you press these in patterns to direct their movements. For example, some commands are square, square, square, circle (Pata Pata Pata Pon) which commands them to march forward and circle, circle, square, circle (Pon Pon Pata Pon) causes them to attack. You can’t just flail at the commands like a spastic child though; the rhythm commands must be entered in time to the beat of the game’s music, a constant 1/4 beat that pulses both in music and on-screen. Failing to keep the rhythm will cause your Patapons to fall over themselves and glare at you until you pick up the beat again. Having to keep to a certain beat forces you to think ahead with your commands: attack too early and you could leave your Patapons vulnerable to danger, dodge too late and the Zigatons will rush up and rain spears and arrows down on you.But you’re not just limited to your basic starting warriors. Gather enough meat and material from hunting or battles and you’ll be able to synthesize a greater variety of warrior with which to bolster your ranks. Rarer material such as certain ores can even give you the same warrior class but with greater stats if you’re keen on a certain kind. There’s even a few mini games with this singing and dancing tree or a crying baby mountain who can provide you with bonus material for more patapon warriors (and a “cooking” game too!). But mechanics aside, the music is catchy and doesn’t grate on your nerves even after a good while and the art is superb. Simple silhouettes on backgrounds with filled with a rich gradient color. It’s simple but bold and effective (and cute as all hell).
If you happen to have a psp I highly suggest this game.
Decades ago, Alan Moore was nobody. He had written a few pieces for 2000 A.D. and a few comics here and there such as his work on Miracle Man (which I’ll be covering in a future piece). DC approached him in the mid-1980s and asked him to take on the writing duties for a relatively unknown character named Swamp Thing. Seeing as they were considering canceling the title due to low sales and small interest, they would win regardless of the outcome: if it failed, they would cancel it as planned; if it succeeded, then they would have revitalized a decayed character and it would simply be more money in the pocket for them. And so Moore took over and with his help and that of the artists assigned to his team Swamp Thing quickly revitalized the horror genre in a time when horror comics were no longer amongst the more popular genre of the comic newsstands.Amidst the many characters and stories that Moore would go on to tell, there was one personage that stood out. He was a simple character devoid of powers. All he had to rely on was his wit, vast knowledge of the arcane, and an increasing network of friends that owed him favors. John Constantine came about as a result of Moore wanting to write a different kind of warlock. He was tired of seeing the same cloak and potions types of spell casters that were to be found in printed page, the Zatannas and Dr. Stranges. When he pressed the artists for ideas on the type of things that they wanted to draw, one of them suggested the musician Sting and thus Constantine was born. Now Constantine is a different sort of character. As I’ve mentioned before, he ages and has no powers to speak of. Sure he might be able to dazzle people in a hypnotic sort of way or cast a few basic spells but only of the variety that anyone else would be capable of. He’s blonde, british, and doesn’t give a shit what others think of him. He outwits the highest levels of demons with nothing more than a shit-eating grin and a flick of his ever present cigarette. He was unlike many of the personalities throughout the DC universe. He cursed and drank, chain-smoked Silk Cuts cigarettes. He was a conman by trade and nature and was not above using his friends or family to further his own means or save his hide from dangerous situations that usually came about as a result of a previous scheme (and if it happens to also help humanity then even better). He was the laughing magician, always dancing one step ahead of danger and spitting in the face of his worst foes. And although this character began in the swamps of Louisiana, his adventures mainly take place in London. Alan Moore wasn’t the only one to take a crack at writing such a distinct personage, though, with Jamie Delano taking over writing duties starting with Hellblazer issue one and followed by a pedigree of writers to include Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, Brian Azarello, Paul Jenkins and (currently) Peter Milligan. These writers and more would have Constantine face demon after demon, curses and possessions but he was also their vehicle for social and political commentary of the England at the time. Margaret Thatcher had just been sworn in and John was the mouthpiece for these authors, many of whom were British themselves. Azarello used Constantine as a vehicle as well when he had him travel across the United States beginning with his Hard Times story arc. But of all the stories contained within this simple comic, the succubi, the blood-mage Mako, the sadistic billionaire Stan, even a demonic entity composed of all the evil bits of his own soul, the story that stands out above all others is Ennis’ Dangerous Habits story-line in which Constantine contracts terminal lung cancer. Now that I am aware of I don’t know of any other comic character that has contracted a terminal illness much less cancer. John starts off by talking to his doctor before visiting a cancer ward and befriending a patient there. He struggles to find any possible solution and even going so far as to visit his friend Brendan Finn in Ireland to see if he would possibly have a cure. What he doesn’t know is that his friend’s liver is shot and he was hoping John would have a cure for him. Faced with this terrible reality and his days running short, John and Brendan drink into the night until the Devil himself comes a’calling for Brendan’s soul. John tricks him into drinking holy water and thereby saves his friend’s soul from the pits of hell and torment. There’s repercussions to this of course, but I’ll not spoil the story for you (it’s only 6 issues and available in trade and I highly suggest it) but John does get his in the end and then some. It’s a damn clever bit of writing especially when Ennis is better known nowadays for his gratuity in Preacher and more-so in his current comic The Boys (which is a few issues away from ending).
But there’s always something for everyone in this title, there’s a humanity to these characters who are thrust into horrors both supernatural and of the human variety. There’s gore here and there and horror encroaching upon the pages, there’s drama and sadness and even a few happy moments as well (such as John’s 40th birthday complete with Swamp Thing growing a marijuana plant to 10 feet tall while John and his friends get stoned and smashed). This is a comic I cannot praise enough, even the bad bits. And I will continue to read it until John’s inevitable death.
(And if they don’t kill him eventually I’ll kill everyone in DC myself)
It’s an interesting quirk of american comics and cartoons that the characters rarely age despite the number of years that transpires since their first appearances on printed page. While Superman first appeared in 1932 which is 80 years ago, he still has the youthful look of a 30-year-old man (kryptonian physiology not withstanding). And that’s still not counting the various crises that seem to plague the dimensions of the DC universe. Captain America on the other hand, was born in 1920, was a soldier in WW2 and is currently in his twenties (granted he has the excuse of being frozen in time, but that’s another story). Regardless of the reason, characters in major comics tend to live in a perpetual youth and it’s not without reason: no one wants to read the adventures of 99-year-old Catwoman. It’s not relatable and it’s not exciting, intriguing or any other number of words.
It does bring up a problem when you want to reference real world events, however. If Captain America was in WWII and thawed out in 1994, he’s not going to be 21 forever. Just the fact that he witnessed the events of 9/11 grounds him to a timescale of some sort and that’s just it, that’s the problem right there. There’s only so many times I can read about Spider-Man punching out the Rhino or saving Mary Jane that I become bored with it. Status Quo is god in the world of comics and if nothing ever changes, if no one ever ages, then it’ll be decades upon decades of rehashing the same stories over and over. Yes, it’s true that new villains can appear or sidekicks and so forth, but the main characters themselves cease to change and therefore evolve. For a short while, Marvel published a comic titled The Amazing Spider-Girl which detailed the adventures of May “Mayday” Parker the daughter of Peter and Mary Jane. Not only did she carry the mantle and legacy of her father, other characters and progeny also carried on with the names of their predecessors. They were new takes on old favorites and some were entirely original characters of their own. New dramas unfolded and she faced different problems than what Peter had faced: although she was only somewhat bullied in school, she faced the challenges that having parents with knowledge of her superhero identity would bring.
While admittedly Spider-Girl could have been better written, it showed one possible roads that comics could take to address the increasing problem with the timescale of their characters. DC has solved this issue by resetting the universe every decade or so with a dimension-shattering event (sometimes by having a character literally shatter the dimensions by punching that damn hard. I’m looking at you Superboy-Prime). A move like that is a double-edged sword: on the one hand you can ‘fix’ or change characters around however you see fit to breathe new life into them or give them a second chance at capturing a now different generation. On the other hand, it can and oftentimes does alienate more seasoned readers who will throw loud hissy fits and cry “THAT’S NOT MY (insert character here)”. Characters can be changed for the bad and lose all semblance of their former selves.
Marvel has instead opted for the sliding time-scale which is arbitrary at best. 5 years of real world time equates to only 1 in the life of the character. While this works as a relatively short-term fix, as time progresses it becomes increasingly hard to maintain. Captain America is the most noticeable example because of his status as a WWII veteran. Marvel tends to tweak this by softly resetting small aspects here and there, e.g. Magneto originally being a young adult when he was sent to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and now having been a young boy to help ease with the passage of time.
All of this leads me to Hellblazer, a comic first published in January of 1988 whose roots began in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. It is the defining characteristic of this title that the characters age in real-time. John Constantine was born May 10, 1953 and in 1993 he celebrated his 40th birthday in comic. He has aged, grown older and so has his supporting cast. John’s not as young as he used to be and his attitude and views reflect that as well. That tiny but incredibly important attribute is what I wanted to see more than anything else in a comic. Someone who would grow and change in subtle ways before ultimately dying. His niece Gemma went from being 10 years old in her first appearance in issue #4 to now being approximately 34 years old. There is history and continuity that matters to the story (I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for continuity). All of this adds up to a comic of a different flavor, a different variety. Amidst the demons and other supernatural horrors that Constantine laughs at and spits on, he still deals with everyday challenges such as break ups and deaths. In one of his greatest story arcs he must battle lung cancer as a very real result of his smoking 30-40 Silk Cuts a day with a very unreal solution that is unique to his take on things. It’s different is what I”m trying to emphasize. Not many comics (or other media for that matter) take the time to age their protagonist, much less do so in conjunction to real-time. It’s not the only defining trait of this comic, but it is its most defining. Having said that, I’ll delve into the rest of what makes this single title so riveting to me in my next article.
Hi and welcome!
Thanks for taking the time to check this page out. Fer realz, thanks. This all came about after a night of drunken philosophical ravings, when my friend Alex convinced me to start my own blog to give me something to do and let other people hear my rantings and ravings. I’ve read hundreds of books since the earliest years of my life and I’ve always fancied the idea of taking a crack at this myself. So consider this your first foray into the labyrinth that is my squishy brain matter.
Because there’s so much that I want to talk and write about, and knowing my eclectic nature, this blog will start off with lofty goals and most likely devolve into a mix of well thought-out responses and reviews to plain blasphemous rantings with many a cussword thrown in (which will be an interesting mix of american, british and mexican curses). But the way I see it this is my blog and I’ll be damned if I write something that isn’t what I damn well want to write about. So piss on that.
Anyways, here’s hoping you enjoy the site and all the crap I’ll be posting about. For those of you curious about what topics I’ll be covering, I’m planning on doing some pieces on the comic Hellblazer, a surrealist Alice in Wonderland film from Jan Svankmeyer, Watership Down by Richard Adams, and possibly the game Patapon for PSP (depends on how much I can get out of it. But then I realize yet again that this is my blog and I can make the pieces as long or as short as I want so we’ll see). If I feel bold enough, I may even post a microstory I wrote a few months ago based for the most part on something that happened to me at a gas station on the way home from the psych center. Oh yeah, I work there. I’m not a patient even though that was clearly everyone’s first thought and boy, I’ve not heard that one before you clever so-and-so you. Ha. ha. and an extra bonus ha.