Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tour In The Vampire Bund

If I wanted something good, I never would’ve bought Dive Into The Vampire Bund volumes one and two. I’d completed reads of works by serious female authors and my brain needed a break. On my way back from buying comics, I entered Books A Million and saw their remaindered section carried a lot of manga.

Upon closer look, it was all stuff from Seven Seas, an American publisher known for a couple licenses and the thankless task of releasing manga from non-Japanese authors (manga-ka) to a market that dismisses non-Japanese manga out of hand. The most appealing of the remaindered lot was Dive In The Vampire Bund.

A spinoff of Nozomu Tamaki’s Dance In The Vampire Bund, a manga best known for vampire matriarchs unfortunately frozen in the bodies of pubescent girls, Dive didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but I had eight bucks to gamble with and figured it’d be a read I don’t have to think much about. “It’ll be a Japanese brand of White Wolf, it’s a complete story arc, and I’ll suffer through the genre requirement of uncomfortably sexualized middle school looking four hundred year old vampires,” I thought. It’d be trash, but I’ve blown eight bucks on worse.

I wasn’t ready for my eight bucks to pan out.

Dive’s story begins with a half-Brazilian half-Japanese man (Garcia Fujisaki) caught in his friend’s bug chasing vampire tourism.* Somehow, that goes bad, and Mr. Fujisaki is stuck in the Vampire Bund (a mostly vampire island of a coast of Japan) with 72 hours before he too is turned into a vampire.

The monsters of the week are intelligently applied, and while you won’t be mistaking Tamaki-san for Eiji Otsuka, I admit I wasn’t expecting to see Tamaki-san bring up the 442nd and the Bosnian/Serbian conflict as methods of fleshing out the world. I also wasn’t expecting to see a confession of by a male character to a female character be rejected and have that be the end of the matter. Dive has some progressive story beats that I would not have believed had I not read them myself. I don’t recall a manga with a mixed race lead character. They must exist, but I don’t know about them. Throw in zombies and vampires actively shouting nativist jeers at the main character and I found a manga willing to make the subtext obvious, or at least acknowledge a country’s xenophobia.

(America and Japan are not unique. Every country is xenophobic, if you look.)

I told my friends Dive is better than it has any right to be and I stick to that. Sadly, Mr. Fujisaki is drawn almost exclusively in tight t-shirts, but when he’s fleshed out, he talks about the immigrant experience and being “stuck” in Japan.

I bought more volumes of Dance on the strength of Dive and the ROI there wasn’t as high. There’s a great moment in Dance In The Vampire Bund II, volume one where we learn about a vampire’s choice to stay in the human community not because she wants a couple centuries worth of coercive power, but it’s the only place she’s ever wanted to live. Getting to that point (shown below) was more of a chore than I cared for.

Another spinoff, Dance In The Vampire Bund: The Memories Of Sledgehammer, features an American war hero (Hama Seiji) who protects an openly vampiric Bund candidate (Reiko Gotoh) running for Japanese office. Unsurprisingly, Ms. Goto is the woman Mr. Seiji loves,  While I wouldn’t recommend it except if you’re already interested in the main series, I’m two of three volumes in and Memories of Sledgehammer has not yet buckled under the weight of its many tropes.

I'll look for the third and final volume of Memories of Sledgehammer at cons and maybe give in and buy it on a Black Friday sale, but I don't think I'll go any further into the Vampire Bund proper. Never say never, but the odds are real, real low. I can recommend Dive... and even with reservations, I wasn't expecting that.

*Yeah, bug chasing vampire tourism is a hell of a phrase, but imagine how silly some of our genre fiction must seem to the rest of the world, if described quickly.

For the music? Back to My Chemical Romance and getting some of that sweet vampire money.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Come Off It Jason Pettigrew

The web never sleeps, which means the news/content cycle never does. "Jack White Has Dinner, Uses Napkin" isn't what a seasoned reporter would call a get.  -Alternative Press Editor In Chief Jason Pettigrew

I'm not enamored of Jason Pettigrew's half of the feature with Scott Heisel about web music journalism. I think he's disingenuous in the spots where it's not overly bitter. In his defense, there are legitimate things to be bitter about. Posting a tracklist and an album art counts as news, for someone, and "link-whoring duty" is an actual phrase used by Gawker. Reblogs of wacky internet videos poison the well, but keep a certain, ever declining number of readers engaged. Pitchfork reviews of punk and hardcore records leave me foaming at the mouth. Careless reviews of pop superstars make me question my sanity.

Pettigrew longs for the days of the noble gatekeeper, when a person had to be vetted by an authority before they could write about music for a magazine. And now, he says? Everyone's got an opinion. Well, sure. They always did. Now they can express it publicly and people might actually look at it. He aches for the days when access was limited (and this part is worth repeating) and he had it. But now, it's not and Good Lord, one does not have to first be approved of by Creem Magazine before writing or hearing the music. The horror.

"the days when gatekeepers (read: music press) were given the responsibility for having well-informed, articulate opinions regarding the material they were to wax wise about...All it takes is one sticky-fingered, disgruntled intern or one unscrupulous person to receive the wrong package...and the introduction of a band's new work belongs to the masses."

Mercy, sir, a person could be introduced to the record by listening to it themselves without the precious context of whatever the writer decides to copypasta from the press release, a quick Google search and a list of cliches too long to name? I am mortified. (For best results, read this paragraph again in Foghorn Leghorn's voice.)

Admittedly, that's a disingenuous summation of his argument. Those days of gatekeepers being paid a maybe decent amount of money to have opinions is gone, and we lose that, while we gain, and this is crucial, immediate access to the work itself, rather than sitting around for the intermediary of the music critic's judgment. I'd love to be a professional music critic, admittedly. But, everyone listening to it alongside each other means more people get the experience sooner. And our judgments were always a half measure towards other people giving an album their attention.

At bottom: I think this development sounds fantastic.  I don't think improving a person's filter on what they read is a bad thing. Shit, I think you should be doing it anyway in every aspect of your life. Democracy means there are more critics, yes. But those experts still exist. They haven't gone anywhere. You can still find them. And some of the critics today will be the experts of tomorrow, as they'll keep writing, going to concerts and turning over songs in their heads. Democracy also means you have to do the legwork to decide what opinions and beliefs are most valuable and useful to you. You can still get those opinions from somewhere else, if you as a consumer don't want to do the work.

Two other points: 1) Pettigrew's not required to read the ramblings of the imaginary, but almost certainly existent college freshman who is obsessed with Nirvana. 2) That imaginary college freshman Nirvana obsessive? That was us, once upon a time. Nirvana might not have been my or your focus, but those ramblings could easily be his, mine or ours.

There's a lot of resonant scenes in Almost Famous, but the one where Lester Bangs offers William Miller $35 for 1,000 words about Black Sabbath is instructive. Here's the catch, Pettigrew aches for the time when he could be Lester Bangs, dispensing sage advice and long assignments to reporters or freelancers. Those days of access and using that access as a megaphone to which the kids will flock are done. They're not finished, certainly. The Rihanna airplane debacle proved that. But, like a knife to the armpit, you're going to bleed out and die and Pettigrew sees that coming.

Here's to whatever comes next.

This is years and years old, but I kept coming back to it privately. I didn't post it because of cowardice, but now that time's passed, it can finally exist outside my own head. As for this choice of song, well, "fuck the glory days" feels pretty appropriate.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Four Years Too Late: Some Thoughts On Mass Effect 3

Hannah and I completed a run of Mass Effect 3. It’ll be on a podcast in the future, but I want to get my thoughts down before yelling into the microphone. We haven’t played 1 yet. I confess the vehicle sections of Mass Effect 1 frighten me off of the game. We'll probably do a full playthrough at some point in the future, but, due to the ending, not any time soon.

I originally put this on Facebook earlier this morning. I'm refining it here and adding a couple photos.

Major spoilers, obviously, but my guess is if you’re interested in my take on this, you’ve already played the series.

BioWare/EA was too aggressive with the release date of Mass Effect 3. Hell, the game got another six months, it appears, and it still came out this way. Mass Effect 3 is an example of what happens when you’ve got resources but not time. There’s about five different BioWare offices credited at the end of it.  Art is never finished, only abandoned.

According to Geoff Keighley’s book, the main exposition character Javik got cut because BioWare ran out of time, and so the plot had to be reworked around that absence. The Citadel invasion was supposed to happen after Thessia. On The Illusive Man’s orders, Kai Leng would kidnap Javik, and the subsequent Cereberus invasion would make sense. Because Javik was moved to DLC because of time constraints, the story took on water.

And yet.

Despite a botched ending, DLC that was planned for the main story but got cut because the game needed to ship, and a missed shot on an open net with Omega, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 are still two of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. Maybe top five, even. If EA commissioned a game of the year edition, I suspect critical consensus would be kinder to Mass Effect 3. As it stands, though, I found Mass Effect 3 only a tremendous experience. Admittedly, BioWare and EA may not be interested in reopening that can of worms.

In any story of this scale, you have to accept plot holes. I can forgive quite a bit. I can forgive the extended ending. I can forgive that because the story set up the Reapers as an actually apocalyptic level threat beating them back will require sacrifices on a frightening scale. But the instant the Star Child shows up, the game falls apart.

In short: It’s a brutal invocation of deus ex machina alongside contradictory cues about what effects your choice will have in universe. It’s a drastic shift in mechanics and tone at the worst possible time. It’s remarkable in that Star Child spends all of my goodwill built up over two games inside ten minutes.

(The post-credits scene was unforgivably corny. I was bewildered, confused and disappointed by the ending, but only the post-credits scene made me fucking livid. Buzz Aldrin was allegedly the main narrator, and given that context, I'm shocked they couldn't find something better for him to do than reheat sf/f cliches from 60 years ago.)

Maybe Mass Effect 3 was always going to crumble. Massive stories written by many people usually do. What’s energizing is that BioWare held off crumbling right until the end. Recalling only the anger  obscures that for 30 hours of my life, I was enraptured. By remembering only the bad, I forget I said that I wanted to savor as much time with those characters as I possibly could.

I'll go back for the Leviathan and Citadel DLC, but when those are done, I don't think I'll go much further. It's a great game on its own merits, but absent an investment by BioWare or EA to right the ship, great is furthest star it'll ever reach.

Keelah sa'lai.


Entropy Magazine published a long piece about choice in the Mass Effect series, and it's absolutely worth your time. There's a massive chart of the choices, too. Go look. Pictures are from the developer, Kotaku and Ars Technica, in descending order. I've been listening to The 1975 singles for the past eight odd days, and the song that's currently ruling my headphones is by them, and it's called Chocolate.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Final Wave Goodbye

Goodbye, Bane.

The Massachusetts hardcore band plays their last two shows Friday and Saturday. Their influence on my life is too big to calculate right now.

There are so many stories. Most of them are variations on a theme: I am scared or low and listening to Bane makes me more confident and more kind. This happened in Chicago, in Pittsburgh, in Washington D.C. and in Rome. I saw them in two Bottom Lounges at two very different parts of my life.

Obviously, this is only the end until a good friend of the band has horrible medical bills and Bane does a benefit show. Then maybe eight people on the internet will complain how dare a band reunite after they break up. As for Bane's legacy, like every band, it's in how they made the audiences feel and how they treated their fans.

What matters is that Bane's last two Chicago shows were the best I remember seeing them. They looked like a band rejuvenated and played with obvious joy. The crowd for both shows yelled at them for multiple encores. What matters is that I sobbed through my cries for one more song. What matters is that I'm crying as I type this.

What matters is that Bane wants me to know it's okay to cry. What matters is that when I wasn't equipped to handle my life and couldn't find a way out of it, Bane helped me navigate.

And now that I'm beginning to equip myself for my journey, Bane says goodbye.

After night two, Bedard and I talked about comics and counseling. We talked about facing our fears as adults. I'll regret running away from Dalbec to catch a bus for the rest of my life. I'm sorry about that, Aaron.

So, to Bedard, to Dalbec, and to everyone who's ever been in Bane: Goodbye, thank you, and I can't wait for what you're doing next.

I think I can type this part without crying. I think I can. Ciao y arrivederci.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Shelly Bond Was Always Going To Fail

The story is Vertigo Comics' Executive Editor Shelly Bond got reorganized out of her position yesterday. Rumor has it her head needed to roll because Vertigo's sales were bad. We don't know for sure. No one has yet spoken on the record.

What goes unremarked on is that Shelly Bond's job, the head of DC Comics' premiere indie imprint was in danger the instant she stepped into the role.

To understand what went wrong, we have to understand what changed, and who Ms. Bond followed. Ms. Bond followed Karen Berger, the long running editor in chief of Vertigo Comics. Ms. Berger stepped away and down in 2012 after a career that introduced Garth Ennis (Preacher), Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Peter Milligan (Enigma, Shade), Alan Moore (Oh, Come The Fuck On) and Grant Morrison (Invisibles) to the American mainstream. And that's only the 90s. In the 2000s, Vertigo published early major works from Jason Aaron (The Other Side, Scalped), Ed Brubaker (Scene Of The Crime, Deadenders), Brian Wood (DMZ, Northlanders), Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets), Cliff Chiang (Beware the Creeper), Jeff Lemire (Essex County), Becky Cloonan (American Virgin), Scott Snyder (American Vampire), G. WIllow Wilson (Air, Cairo) and Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man).

How did this happen? Contracts and trust.

The Vertigo contract was structured such that creators kept most of the rights associated with their comic, but Warner Brothers had a first look at any adaptation of the material.

Before Karen Berger stepped into Vertigo, she'd worked for DC for 10 years under the impresario Paul Levitz. Industry gossip tells us Levitz made a deal with Warner Brothers that went to the tune of "as long as we're profitable, you don't tell me how to run my company" and Warner allegedly accepted. Vertigo was given, fittingly, room to fall. Most of Vertigo's perennial sellers did badly in single issues, but made the money back on the collections.

Both changed. Levitz left or was pushed out and the contract was allegedly looked at by a Warner Brothers executive who said "why don't we have these rights" in the early 2010s.

There were two other things that happened which murdered Vertigo and they both start with an i.

The internet is the most obvious, and it decimated much of the physical book market, which is not coincidentally where most people went to spend money on Vertigo titles.

Image in the 2000s was a publishing house that was not terribly exciting. It had The Walking Dead and a roll of the dice. It was "creator owned," but in a world where Vertigo's deal was still the place to go if you wanted an editor and a marketing department talking about your comic, Image wasn't terribly attractive. The major creator owned success stories outside of Vertigo didn't often break 10,000 single issues sold a month.

Image's Eric Stephenson was slowly making deals with people to make Image a player, but it wouldn't pay off in 2000s. It would pay off around 2012, with Brian K. Vaughan's Saga.

And bolstered by the runaway success of Saga, Image turned out more and more and more and more comics, some incredible, some bad, but most okay or mediocre. This caused a second Image bubble.

Now what does this have to go with Shelly Bond?

Ms. Bond steps into the head of Vertigo in 2012, a time when
1) the internet makes pirating things you're kind of interested in easy
2) physical bookstores are sinking
3) Image will ascend to the premiere creator owned comics company
4) Vertigo's m.o., long runs allowed to fail in singles buoyed by strong trade sales will no longer be tolerated by the parent company
5) Bond's ability to manage her house is constrained even more by whim and fiat
6) her predecessor is arguably the most important American mainstream comic book editor in 30 years
7) perception of Vertigo is at an all time low

Ms. Bond's four years at Vertigo, like her tastes or not, were spent keeping a Wile E. Coyote sized anvil afloat.

Shelly Bond was always going to fail.

p.s. Birds in my ear tell me Ms. Bond was a shit boss and difficult to work with.
p.p.s. The sad epilogue is that DC's most widely known harasser, Eddie Berganza, still has a job. Mr. Berganza runs the Superman office.

This is looser than usual and without links, because, well, I'll be talking about this at length for a podcast and I could keep it all in my head for juuuuuuuuuuust long enough to type it out. I'd normally source this stuff, but a couple minutes on a browser and you'll find what I write corroborated. I want it out of my head and into the wild. Song is Murder By Death's I Came Around. I admittedly haven't cared for Ms. Bond's output at Vertigo, but the more I think about the circumstances she had to deal with, the more I had to acknowledge the trying times she faced. Get some sleep, 'mam, you're finally off the clock.
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