This time round, a third handsome face appears, as we are joined for night one only by special guest star Michael Eckett. Aptly enough, Michael is here to writing about Urðr, she who is three-in-one, kicking off a fans-and-creators special here at Tim + Alex Get TWATD. Spoilers up to the very last drop of The Wicked + The Divine #11 below. Read that, then come back and read this. Please come back. Please, it gets so lonely in here… Three Cheers for Sweet RemorseTime to sound entitled. There are elements of performing that can be profoundly awful. Moments that go beyond making you want to throw in the towel and become a data analyst; ones which fill you with the dread that either you or the world is broken and you’re not even sure how to distinguish. It’s not the moments you’re prepared for, like trying to do a show whilst a stag party loudly plans what buffet they’re going to, or performing to a room of four people, whilst a snow storm goes on outside, only to be interrupted by a fire alarm. (Always stay in character, even if that character is the personification of an abstract concept. Or a tree.) The times that really break you are the ones can be the times when people cheer. Issue #10 sees Cassandra, now one of the Norns, finally taking the stage with a willing audience ready to hear her message, that truth which she sees and has been dying to deliver. The moment is chilling and stark as their performance shatters the riot and their words cut through the silhouettes. Then there’s a beat. And then the crowd cheers. And we’re left with a broken person who cares too much. In the past I’ve written plays with my suicidal thoughts and depression as metaphor, and people have laughed and clapped. I wasn’t sure how to react. I’ve made shows philosophising about life and death with monologues of existential angst and ennui because I’ve been lost, confused and scared and the only way I knew how to process it all or get help was reach out and hope someone else felt the same way. And they fucking cheer. Writing can mean spending months contemplating how to craft the nebulous feelings into something simultaneously true and entertaining. It’s hard to go out and speak personally and vulnerably, hoping to connect to people because you have something important to say (whether that’s because it’s important to you or Important because you’re going to save the world). The pain that follows the cheers is a selfish one. It’s hard to be too angry with a crowd who have been conditioned to show praise in a certain way, or who are polite and interested enough to ask what you’re doing next. (Turns out you can’t say “I just did a thing. You saw it. I poured myself into it and it nearly killed me, isn’t that good enough for you?”) But you have adrenaline pumping through you and at the same time you’re berating yourself for not being good enough to get the message across. Caring hurts, trying is hard and your successes can feel as bad as your failures. You feel like a prick for wanting more from people. But sometimes you have something to say and you truly believe in it, and all you can do is hope that someone will hear it. The moment where Laura consoles Cassandra/Urðr works really well; there’s some excellent composition and framing and the message is sweet and true. Some people get it, sometimes a critic will treat your comedies seriously and will nail your themes and reference points, and sometimes your piece will inspire someone to write an essay because of how it made them feel. I guess I write so that people can understand me better or to show that I could understand them; for a while it was all I had and there was an urgency to it. A performance isn’t necessarily entertainment – and even when it’s didactic, it’s mostly an attempt to connect. The Crowd + The CongregationWhen I read Issue #10 and the moment that Michael describes, I was also struck with a desire to write about it, although from a very different angle. Everything Michael says is true. I’ve been on his side of the equation, although not in kind of public way that someone writing, directing and performing in a play has. I’ve known the feeling of laying yourself bare only to have people not ‘get’ it, or to be blandly appreciative in a way that makes it impossible for you to tell if they actually engaged with the emotions and ideas you were putting forward. It’s frustrating and saddening in a way that can make you question everything you’ve been doing. But I want to talk about the other side of the interaction – the audience. So far in The Wicked + The Divine, we’ve seen a variety of audiences, but they have all tended to act as a mass. From the initial waves of ecstatic adoration at the Amaterasu concert to the goth riot at The Morrigan’s underground gig. At Dionysus’ rave, we find a crowd literally made one, united by the spirit of the god and surrender to the beat. Even more recently, we’ve had the Glastonbury-style gathering at Ragnarock that so disappointed Urðr and the writhing mass of bodies that comprised Inanna’s residency. In each instance, the crowd is a single entity, with only Laura’s insights there to give us an occasional individual perspective. It’s both a telling element, and a truism. Anyone who’s been swept up in the euphoria of a great night on the dancefloor, chanted along with thousands of others or been carried on the waves of a mosh pit will concur – sometimes you cease being a person and become part of an audience. In […]
The past month or two, the blog’s been a little quiet because I’ve been busy writing things for other publications (apparently there are other sites out there on the internet – I know, I know, it came as a surprise to me too). Anyway, just in case you’re craving a fix of my wordy nonsense, I thought I’d do a quick run-down of the best bits. Which is this. The blog that you’re reading now. No, a bit further down the page… Daredevil’s Corridor Fight: A Breakdown of the Smackdown You’ve watched the Daredevil series on Netflix, right? Then you’ll no doubt have fond memories of the second episode’s corridor fight scene, for my money one of the greatest action sequences in TV history. For ComicsAlliance, I picked apart why the scene is so damn effective, and what it nicks from the comics: The increasingly weary movements of Cox and Chris Brewster, his stunt double, build on the foundations of the character the show has been establishing over the past two hours. Daredevil starts out moving like a superhero, quick and acrobatic, but the fight gets slower and slower as it grinds on. He leans on nearby walls for support, catches his breath while he waits for the next bad guy to rush him. It’s not a fighting style I’ve ever seen in an action movie. Cox fights with the moves of a backstreet brawler or, even more aptly, like he’s in the final round of a boxing match. Read all about it here. Every Superhero Needs Their Theme Music In May, bearded blog-comrade Robin Harman curated Cover Versions, an exhibition of music-themed comics art (which I covered for ComicsAlliance here). For the Cover Versions blog, I interviewed Kieron Gillen – a man whose works I’ve spent a lot of the last few weeks writing about (see below) – about the playlists he creates to accompany his comics, how they help the writing process, and the true meaning of Justice vs Simian’s We Are Your Friends: “It has this weird element of, ‘you’re never going to escape us’. It actually sounds like a curse. Originally when I conceived Dionysus, the only thing I said was he wasn’t sleeping. The twist that, ‘oh yeah, he’s in a hive mind, he can’t be alone in his head, he’s never going to be alone again’ – the awfulness buried in that Justice record made me realise that about him. It had been on the playlist for a while, so I must have subconsciously known what the song was really saying.” Read the full interview here. Sci-fi & Fantasy Football: The Cookie Cup The last few months, I’ve been part of a weird little game called the Cookie Cup, combining Facebook, spreadsheets and FIFA 2000 to create a fantasy football league which pits teams of fictional characters against one another. I wrote about it for Rock Paper Shotgun, and what it taught me about my relationship with sport: In the back room of a pub in Norwich, a small group of people are excitedly shouting things like: “Buffy Summers! 390 points!” “Virgil!” “The one from Devil May Cry?” “No, from Dante’s Inferno!” “210 points!” This is Draft Day at the Cookie Cup, a fantasy football league with an emphasis on the fantasy. Read the rest here. Why The Wicked + The Divine is Worth Losing Your Head Over Oh look, it’s that Gillen bloke again. His and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine is my favourite comic of the moment – or at least, the one I’m most wrapped up in – so with its lateststory arc just wrapping up, I reviewed the second volume for ComicsAlliance. I can’t take credit for that excellently cruel headline. That was the work of CA editor Andrew Wheeler, so please direct any hate-mail his way. It’s probably not a coincidence that the front cover for the upcoming trade collection of Fandemonium is illustrated with an all-access pass – that’s exactly what we get in these issues, with gods who are much too willing to open up to Laura, often revealing that they used to be fans too. Inanna is a sexy M.F. now, but before ascending to godhood, he was a quiet enthusiast lurking at the back of convention halls. Superstar DJ Dionysus was part of the crowd at an earlier Morrigan gig. We even see resident skeptic Cassandra jump the fence from critic to creator, with her transformation into Urðr. Read! Read! Read! There! Those were the things! Congrats, you found ’em! …A prize, you say? Oh, it’s one of those ‘success is its own reward’ deals I’m afraid. Sozzz.
90 days have passed. The first year of The Wicked + The Divine is very much over. But Tim + Alex Get TWATD is still going strong, and both authors still have their heads attached. This volume: Fate & Death. Circles & Cycles. Questions & Answers (or …& More Questions, to be honest).Spoilers for every inch of The Wicked + The Divine #1-11 below. Avoid if you haven’t read. Everything is going to be okay. (I promise) Burn Out or Fate AwayIssue #11 changes, or at least challenges, so many of our fundamental assumptions about The Wicked + The Divine that it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s start with Ananke, who has been fundamentally reframed from the series’ Basil Exposition to its Big Bad. Killing the current protagonist just after she achieves what she’s been chasing the whole time, and then murdering her parents for good measure, is not the sort of thing you can justify or seek redemption for, certainly not in the eyes of the readership. So if Ananke is the villain of the piece, what exactly do we know about her? The truth is, very little. We know she’s been alive for a long time (at least as far back as the 1920s) and doesn’t appear to age beyond her already elderly appearance. We know she’s powerful enough to kill other gods and turn their abilities aside with little effort. And we know she can cause the gods to manifest, in numbers beyond the established twelve. Beyond that, the origin that she details in issue #9 could well be a carefully constructed lie, as could much of the other information that she gives. We can fairly safely assume she arranged the attack on Luci in issue #1 and killed the judge, starting the sequence of events that led to her ‘justified’ execution of Luci. But the question of why has barely been touched upon. Perhaps the answer lies in Ananke’s role as an agent of fate. The Wicked + The Divine is a book about death, its awfulness and its inevitability. The gods are fated to die within two years. The rest of us are fated to die, full stop. Ananke tells Baphomet that a death god is capable of extending their life by killing others – and what greater representation of death is there than the idea of fate, the inexorable advance of time and the tightly woven network of nature, nurture and predestination? Another interpretation comes from Ananke’s mention that Graves’ The White Goddess is based upon her. In Graves’ essay, the eponymous goddess is the font of all poetry, religion and culture, until she is supplanted by the male Judeo-Christian god. If the gods of the Pantheon are artists, inspiring humans to new ideas, new inventions and new ways of thinking, perhaps Ananke is culture itself, monolithic and eternal, consuming art and artists to fuel herself. I’m sure there are answers coming at some point in the future, but for now it’s clear that the Ananke we have known so far, and the answers she has given us, are no more substantial than the lace masks she wears, covering up her true self and keeping her intentions cloaked in shadow. Like A Record, BabySaying that circles are a visual motif in The Wicked + The Divine is a bit like pointing out that there are a lot of skulls in the comic, or that the creative team seem to have some affinity for exploding heads. If you’ve got eyes, you’ve probably noticed it already. But seriously, there are a fuckload of circles in The Wicked + The Divine. Let’s do a quick recap, in rough chronological order: the twelve-god cycle of the title page, itself made up of smaller circles; the table the 1920s gods sit around; the eclipses in Amaterasu’s eyes; eyes, in general; the occasional break-out panel; the holes Luci burns in her cell; the halo effect when the aforementioned heads explode; Dionysus’ smiley face badge; speech bubbles, if you want to be like that; the layout of the Valhalla throne room; the magic circle of people in Ananke’s flashback; the speaker-stack monoliths at Ragnarock ’14; the stage and skylight at the church where Inanna performs; Baphomet’s cross-inverting Sith Lord hand gesture; the rings in Persephone’s ears and nose. The ‘every ninety years’ conceit. “Once again we return”. The whole bloody plot so far, if you’ve been paying any attention. To be incredibly simplistic about it, ‘Laura meets a god who becomes her guide to the world of the other gods, who she meets one by one, including a god only just manifested, before finally her guide dies at the hands of another god’ could describe either of the first two volumes of The Wicked + The Divine. As the comic goes on imagery, dialogue and plot-beats get recycled wholesale, to the extent that almost nothing we see in the last issue is entirely new. The appearance of Ananke in Laura’s back garden might be unexpected, but it echoes Luci’s origin in issue #2. This is actually the third time we revisit the visual, thanks to a scene in Laura’s garden at the start of the previous issue. Once again, Baphomet lurks over a performance, realises he can’t do what he was planning to, and summons the devil onto his shoulder. The dialogue with his anti-conscience is almost exactly identical to the previous issue (“Him or you/You or them?” “No choice at all.”) adding to the sense that it’s a rote catechism, that killing doesn’t come easy to Baph. Laura’s tumbling transformation into Persephone is another visual we’ve seen twice before (issues #2 and #9, number-fact fans!). Ananke repeats the familiar words – “You will be loved. You will be hated.” – and, with the same hug for the newly-reborn god, “I’ve missed you.” It’s a well-practised ritual, for both Ananke and the comic itself, and […]
The below is my initial thoughts on Avengers: Age of Ultron, pulled together into some vague order. Warning: It’s pretty damn’ spoilerific. Let’s start with the kind of brash prediction I have absolutely no business making: Age of Ultron will not break the same box office records as its predecessor. As I understand it, the only way a film makes as much money as The Avengers did is from people going more than once, more than twice, to get another hit of whatever emotional reaction seeing it elicited in the first place. Age of Ultron just isn’t that kind of film. In fact, much like Thor and Loki, the film is more or less the opposite of its older brother. Back in 2012, I wrote about my search for meaning in the original Avengers. My feeling then was that while the movie was a remarkable achievement of craftsmanship – bringing together at least four disparate universes and styles and transforming the rote last-half-hour punch-up of the Marvel formula into one my all-time favourite action scenes, the dopamine hit I reckon brought people back to the scene over and over gain – it wasn’t the piece of art I was hoping for. Age of Ultron, on the other hand, is full of meaning and metaphor and all that good stuff, but (at least on a first viewing – and let’s get two disclaimers out of the way here: 1, that the first Avengers only really came together for me on the second watch, though frankly that’s not something to commend it for, and 2, that the cinema screen we watched the film in had the house lights on throughout, and horribly muddled sound, so thanks for that Streatham Odeon) the plot is borderline incomprehensible. I often found myself adrift, lost among the mass of plots and characters. The origin of the Vision, whatever the hell Thor was up to for the majority of the film’s running time, Ultron’s evil plan – each of these seemed to require its own synopsis. Worse, there aren’t as many jokes. Much of Age of Ultron is leaden in this way, like the film hasn’t yet completed the alchemical process of editing, like it has been presented to us still halfway through transmuting into gold. But there are still plenty of nuggets which shine through. I often found myself with mouth open and eyes wide, drinking in the sheer childhood-fantasy-realised spectacle. The moments of superheroes leaping into action, the emotional arcs that the film manages to find for an impressive (though not total) number of its gigantic cast, Ultron’s philosophising soliloquies – each of these landed perfectly. There still aren’t enough jokes, though. These two halves can co-exist in a single scene. I remember a point during the climactic brawl, my internal monologue (rarely a welcome presence in the dark of the cinema) still trying to work out how exactly we’d gotten to this point, while in the other half of my cerebellum, something was shifting. The shape of the entire film fell into place. Not the plot, unfortunately, but the patterns of everything we’d been shown, how the stories of various characters cast shadow and light on one another – what I would call, if I wasn’t trying to convince you this was actually a fun read about a blockbuster superhero movie, the subtext. This is the stuff I really love about the film, and so with all the caveats already mentioned, I’d like to talk about the ways Age of Ultron tickled my brain, and the shape I saw in that moment. Which, to borrow the pithy tweet-sized thought that popped into my head then, is: Age of Ultron is the biggest-budget movie about how hard it is to make a big-budget movie I’ve ever seen. Let’s start with Hawkeye. After a difficult first film (mind-controlled, bed-bound) that had Jeremy Renner reportedly threatening to quit, this time round he gets a role that you could argue makes Hawkeye not only the primary protagonist of Age of Ultron, but an author surrogate for Joss Whedon himself. Let’s grab a quote from the recent Buzzfeed profile of Whedon, which I read a few days before sitting down in the cinema and, honestly, heavily influenced my thinking on the film: By March, as he sat down to dinner near Disney’s Burbank, California, studio lot, where he had been living as he worked with two editors to finish Age of Ultron, that guilt was weighing especially on his mind. “I didn’t feel it was right to spend that time away from family, even before I had kids,” Whedon said. “I felt like if it wasn’t the headline experience, that I was being self-indulgent in being there, and it was frustrating.” Around halfway through Age of Ultron, Hawkeye takes his teammates to a safe house, where it’s revealed that there is a Mrs Hawkeye, and two baby Hawkeyes, and a third on the way. A family that live, in secret, away from the kinds of cities where those big super-hero/villain battles tend to take place. A family that, Black Widow excepted, none of his work friends know anything about. A family that he rarely sees because he’s so busy Avenging. Those dots aren’t exactly hard to connect. But if Age of Ultron was entirely a autobiographical story about how hard it is to be a writer, it would have failed its audience dramatically. Luckily, I think the film stretches itself much wider than that, reaching for something we can pretty much all relate to. See, for Hawkeye at least – and this is something he explicitly references a few times in dialogue – being an Avenger is a job. (And this is part of the difference between the character’s solo films, where they combat problems that threaten them personally, and their appearances in the Avengers.) It’s an unusual job, for sure, but one with a familiar challenge: balancing it with the rest of your life. The revelation that Hawkeye […]
In retrospect, waiting nearly a full year between getting my copy of XCOM: Enemy Within and actually playing it feels rather silly. I do think I know why I held out so long, though. The challenges of vanilla XCOM are well mapped, its enemies not so unknown any more – but the game is still about as difficult as reading a Thomas Pynchon novel translated into Latin. So the idea of an expansion introducing more moving parts, parts that I don’t know how to deal with, was frankly intimidating. But I shouldn’t have waited, because XCOMwith all of Enemy Within‘s additions is pretty much a perfect game. Yeah. Stick that on the front of your game box, Firaxis-of-18-months-ago. As an expansion, Enemy Within does everything right. Every new addition pushes and pulls at what was already there in the base game, and at the other new features. So, the introduction of collectible Meld capsules scattered across most levels, each of which expires after a set number of turns, encourages you to push forward and explore. But on the flip side, the squid-like ‘Seekers’ – with their ability to sneak up to your soldiers unseen, then reappear and strangle them with their horrifying mecha-tentacles – punish you for letting a single member of your squad get too far from their teammates. The missions themselves are a little more varied than the standard bug hunts of the original – including one memorable effort to stop a zombie-spawning infection at a boatyard that ended with the last survivor calling down an air strike on his own head. The smaller details get a little extra colour too, right down to the tiny posters on the walls of mission location, which help sell the idea that these are real, lived-in places torn apart by XCOM‘s cast of ETs. There are new customisation options for your individual soldiers too, including stat-boosting medals you can award for valiant conduct, plus some cosmetic tweaks. The latter is just a cupboard’s worth of helmet designs, some paint jobs for their armour and a handful of foreign languages, but it’s more than enough to cement each character’s personality. The big back-of-the-box selling point, though, is augmentation, which comes in two affront-to-God flavours. Cybernetics lets you saw off the arms and legs of your infantry to create hulking MECs, while Gene Mods use alien technology to transform them into super soldiers. Like the the Meld canisters and Seekers, MECs help to re-shape movement around XCOM’s battlefield. You can push them out in front to draw fire, while your infantry stays in the rear, but they can’t be relied on to soak up bullets without exploding. They’re basically tanks in any given WWII game, but with tiny yelling faces. There’s a nice mirror to the MEC in the aliens’ ‘Mechtoid’ unit, almost identical but for the swollen head of a Sectoid popping out, the Area 51-style greys that traditionally filled the role of early cannon fodder. Even non-iron-clad Sectoids can now lend a psychic hand to a Mechtoid pal, transforming it from healthpoint-endowed nuisance to a wall of utter mechanical bastardry, in a relationship reminiscent of TF2‘s classic Heavy/Medic romance. None of your units fill such an explicit support role, but having to pick off the vulnerable Sectoids hiding in the distance before you can make any dent in the Mechtoid barrelling through your squad is likely to give you some tactical ideas of your own. It probably wouldn’t be a revelation to anyone who hadn’t avoided Total War-style strategy games their whole life, but manoeuvring MECs into position then withdrawing when it gets too hot, with the cover of less iron-clad infantry? That leaves me feeling like the General Patton of alien invasions, the Sun Tzu of plasma rifles. Genetic modification, meanwhile, offer yet another way to further tweak and personalise that infantry. The original XCOM featured a bonsai tech tree of special abilities afforded by a character’s class. As a sniper rises through the ranks, for example, she can take a perk to expand her view of the battlefield, or to target and disable enemies’ weapons. The Gene Mods allow you hang extra baubles from that tree. So that same sniper might have the muscles in her legs modified so she can leap entire buildings in search of a good vantage point, or get her eyes augmented to improve her aim once she’s up there. Along with the medals and the languages and the paint jobs, GMs are another way to encourage you to build an attachment to individual soldiers. While these Captain America-a-likes are capable of superhuman feats on the battlefield, they’re still as fragile as the rest of their fleshy comrades – and they’re more of an investment. So, fair warning: when your favourite modded-up-to-the-literal-eyeballs Assault unit ceases to be, it’s going to sting. Holding up a dark mirror to these GM soldiers is EXALT, the terrorist cell which introduces human enemies to XCOM for the first time. Made up of alien sympathisers, EXALT is toying with a more the same gene tech as you but, based on their scaly skin and sickly glow, on a considerably more DIY basis. It’s a reminder of the dangers of playing with alien genes, and of the humanity being sacrificed on both figurative and chopping-off-your-men’s-limbs levels. In all senses, EXALT embody the ‘enemy within’ of the title. Unfortunately, EXALT don’t slot into the game’s mechanics quite as neatly as they do thematically.There’s no real explanation of how to deal with the gene-altering bastards, or what the repercussions of their attacks are, until a new menu pops up to further obfuscate XCOM‘s base management game. When the time comes to deploy your squad against EXALT, though, it’s thrilling. The missions provide a chance to throw down with a mirror image of your own squad which evolves throughout the game, like a genetically-modified version of Gary/Red/Blue/That Nob-end From Primary School You Named Your Rival in Pokémon After. Enemy Within might have been gathering […]
…Belatedly, we return. Only one month after the first half of this edition (and without addressing anything that’s in issue #9 – rest easy, spoiler-heads), Tim and I are back with three essays on The Wicked + The Divine. We’ll be back in 90 days. Well, probably more like 60 now. Who ever said recurrences had to be nice and regular? Oh. Throwing Shapes in the Church of DanceEven before it was name-checked in Gillen’s writer’s notes on the issue, I’d been planning on writing about issue #8 and how it compared to the sixth episode of the first season of the UK sitcom Spaced. While there have been numerous films, TV shows, books and comics that have captured the magic of music in general, it’s the rare piece of pop culture that manages to get the joys of clubbing right, and so tracking the lines between two that do seems like a natural fit. While they are born from two distinct scenes, the ’90s acid rave/ecstasy boom and the modern day wave of EDM/Molly, the experience has barely changed since the late ’90s – and issue #8 even nods towards the former with Dionysus’ “acciiiieeed” smiley face badge. When Spaced first aired, the rave scene was in its dying days, having truly peaked in the early ’90s, but it had bent the world of clubbing into a shape that’s still recognisable today. “Terribly sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt, I just wondered if you two ‘friends’ would like to come join the collective?” Both now and then, one of the common things that clubbing meant, especially portrayals of clubbing in the media, was drugs (hell, I fell into this very trap above and you probably just nodded along). Trainspotting’s success in 1996 led to a wave of films centred around druggy, rave-filled weekends like Twin Town, Human Traffic and Go, most of which lacked the insight or pathos that Trainspotting was shot through with, while nowadays the likes of Skins, Glue, Misfits and a wealth of MTV shows will happily pump its teen cast full of substances and throw them onto the dancefloor to self-destruct and Learn Life Lessons. “Don’t pull your post-feminist art school bollocks with me, sunflower, if that’s your real friggin’ name, alright? I work for a living, what do you do?” “I write, actually.” “Oh really? In other words you’re on the dole.” Both Spaced and The Wicked + The Divine manage to elevate themselves by side-stepping the issue of drugs, instead focusing on the experience which, speaking as someone who doesn’t really dabble with these things, is perfectly potent without giving your brain chemistry a poke. They centre on the dancefloor as a unifying force, something that brings people together even when earlier in the day they’ve been at each other’s throats. “I’ve Got To Dance! LET’S WEAVE!” In both, we witness the transition from arrival to participation. In The Wicked + The Divine, it’s the appearance of the eight-panel grid and Laura’s shuddering entry as the beat starts to overlay and a take control, and that sudden moment of clarity at the end. In Spaced, we have two markers. Mike, the least familiar with clubbing, slowly gains more and more accessories as he becomes comfortable, to the point where he is able to lead the dancefloor. Meanwhile, when the characters embrace the music and, more importantly, leave their previous drama and worries behind, a caption flashes up with their new identity. They are rechristened on the dancefloor, transformed into a version of themselves freed from baggage and focused on joy and dance. “That’s a well-fitted body-warmer, Mike.” Both pieces also feature someone to guide the main characters into the new experience. In Spaced, it’s Tyres, a drug-fiend bike messenger so in tune with music that he finds beats in ticking clocks, boiling kettles and traffic lights, and who attempts to disappear at the end of the night into a bank of smoke with a “My work here is done.” In The Wicked + The Divine, we have our newest god, Dionysus, the Dancefloor that Walks like a Man, who binds the attendees together in an experience so pure that they don’t actually need music. And while Tyres may have a short attention span and occasionally get stuck at pedestrian crossings, Dionysus no longer sleeps; has a constant club’s worth of people inside his head; and, like the other gods, will be dead in less than two years. “Last night? Last night was an A1, tip-top clubbing jam fair; it was a sandwich of fun on ecstasy bread, all wrapped up in a big bag like disco fudge; it doesn’t get much better than that. I just wish sometimes I could control these FUCKING MOODSWINGS.” Sound + Vision I hadn’t fallen for any of The Wicked + The Divine‘s gods the way the story’s fans do – until the introduction of Inanna. Dressed like he’s stepped off the cover of a Prince album, the literal purple rain falling around him, just a touch of androgyny in the way he’s drawn, those big purple eyes full of a sympathy and humanity we haven’t seen in any of the gods yet – it was love at first page turn. His relationship with Laura is pretty much the fantasy of being BFFs with Prince, the kind of thing you imagine when you’re a teenager and way too deep into your pop idol of choice. (What do you think he’s like? Oh, I bet she’s always… Smash Hits says their favourite food is…) But skipping straight ahead to that all-access fantasy means we don’t get to see why Laura’s actually a fan. We know that she’s literally been there (“When Inanna did that whole week in Camden, I was in the front row crying every night”) and got the t-shirt (which, Team WicDiv, please make into a purchasable product ASAP so I can throw money at you). But with other […]
It’s 2015! The world is still awful! Tim and I are still writing three essays apiece on The Wicked + The Divine every 90 days. Here’s the first set, with the usual mix of puns, chin-stroking, and pushing the blog format to its limits. Nothing has changed. Everything is awesome. The Eyes Have It In Phonogram, Gillen and McKelvie’s first series together, the eyes of each Phonomancer transform when they work their magic, in a way that reflects their personality or what they’re summoning. When Penny manipulates others in issue #1 of The Singles Club, for example, her eyes are a sparkling black star-field; when she dances for herself, they light up purest white. In Gillen’s alternate history WWII comic Uber, the super-powered panzermensch shoot glowing orbs of disembowelling energy from their eyes (which, interestingly, are also their exhaust-port-on-the-Death-Star weak spot). Once again, this motif returns in The Wicked + The Divine. From our very first glimpse of the Pantheon, at Amaterasu’s gig in #1, the focus is on her solar-eclipse eyes, framed in a widescreen panel. It’s something we see again at the end of the arc, when the Pantheon briefly flip from modern pop stars into ancient warring gods. Luci’s sharp blue eyes flip to infernal red as she burns everything around her. When Baal lays the smackdown upon her, lightning leaks from his eyes in a way that is particularly reminiscent of Uber. Like one of those ridiculous Super-Saiyan hairdos, these effects only switch on when the gods are being godly – when they are performing or fighting or, possibly, just being iconic. Each chat’s particular eye effect is showcased on their cover, which presents them in a style halfway between a modern promo poster and a Renaissance religious painting. The eyes are the centre point of each cover’s design, placed in the negative space of the title, with a big old ‘+’ placed dead between the eyes. Most of the character designs similarly point to the eyes – Amaterasu’s colourful sunrise eye make-up, Tara’s block of blue facepaint – or, like Baphomet’s mirrored aviators and Minera’s Lennon shades, obscure them. (A quick pause here to note that Woden is the only member of the Pantheon whose eyes are fully hidden, and he’s also the only one without his own powers.) Like the Phonomancers, the designs of each god’s eyes and the surrounding area tell us a little about their personality – the Morrigan’s eyes remain a dilated pale green in each of her aspects, but her eye make-up switches from the neutral dash of Macha to the sharp angry wedges of Badb to the chaotic asymmetry of Annie. Or they refer back to their mythic origins – Amaterasu’s eyes reminding us that she is a sun goddess, or the flat dashes of Baal’s pupils recalling those of a goat, one of his common avatars. Or they tell us about the nature of their powers – the star tattooed over Inanna’s left eye, and the big white-on-black pupils of his eyes, reflect his constellation-divining abilities. Or, actually, they tend to do all three at once. Look at the star of the most recent issue, Dionysus. His pupils are a dilated until they fill his entire eyes, like someone who has licked a psychoactive toad (at least, based on what The Simpsons has taught me). All the dancers on his ‘floor have the same effect, showing how they’re linked together in a single grooving hive mind. When the comic slips into hallucinatory colours, all of the black ink seems to been absorbed into Dionysus’ eyes. It makes sense – he’s taking on everyone’s burdens so they can have one night’s happiness – and it sets up the kicker at the end of the issue, where the curtain pulls back and we see his nightmarishly bloodshot eyes. It’s a quick, powerful way of expressing how much of a burden being a god is. But most of all these eye effects just look incredibly cool. That may be the only explanation you need, but that wouldn’t be very us, so instead I’m going to ask: Isn’t it a bit strange that characters whose divinity is tied to music have that manifest through their eyes rather than, say, their mouths? More on that later. A Guest Post from the Tim of Another Universe Sound + Vision “Music creates a world from sounds,” said Jamie McKelvie in a recent Wondering Sound interview. “Comics create a world from everything but sound, from the absence of sound. We’ve spent our careers trying to do something incredibly difficult and perhaps impossible, trying to translate music into comics.” That’s undeniably true but, given its cast of deified pop stars, The Wicked + The Divinehas so far not shown much interest in directly capturing the feel of music on the comics page. There’s a reason for this: being at a Pantheon gig doesn’t seem to be the same as listening to music. During the Amaterasu performance which opens the book, Laura tells us “I don’t understand a word she’s saying. Nobody does.” By comparison, when we see The Morrigan doing karaoke in #7, the emphasis is very much on the sound: “like meat being peeled from bone”, as Laura puts it. Badb screams the lyrics of a My Chemical Romance song straight at us in bold, scratchy letters. Issue #8 is where this potentially all falls down. The entire comic moves to an explicit four-on-the-floor beat, and is the most accurate representation of an alive dancefloor I’ve encountered in any media since The Singles Club. But what the issue’s experimental presentation really takes from rave is the trappings – fluorescent colours, strobing lights, smiley faces, psychoactive drugs. The imagery, not the sound, which is underlined when non-believer Cass shouts at the packed dancefloor: “There’s no music! I repeat! No music! What are you […]
There’s something strangely utilitarian about the experience of playing a mobile game. Unable to compete with the experiences offered by a PC or games console, each has to fill a specific gap in your life. Maybe it’s bus journeys or toilet trips or hidden under the table on a really bad date, but I reckon the actual game’s quality is a secondary concern to how snugly it fits into the chosen scenario. And it’s here that Super Stickman Golf 2 runs into trouble. On one hand, SSG2 is a gleeful adaptation of the good-walk-spoiling sport that suggests how a Nintendo mobile game might feel, if the Big N were ever to change its mind on that issue. The game flattens golf into a simple 2D game of aiming and charging up your shot, then adds power-ups and fantastical courses. The result bear as much resemblance to Super Mario Bros 3 as it does Tiger Woods 11.Mixed in among the usual sand traps and water hazards are sticky goo surfaces, swinging platforms and hard-to-hit shortcuts. Navigating these holes is made easier by the addition of a bag of seven power-ups. These include a rewind power that lets you take the last shot again and a whole load of balls: water-freezing ice balls, pink goo balls that cling to walls and ceilings, magnetised balls that I still don’t really understand how they work. These additions enliven golf, the mildly diverting activity I’ve dabbled in a couple of times in real life, and turn it into something more colourful, satisfying and overtly game-y. It’s a fairground-mirror adaptation of golf that gives me a little more appreciation for the sport itself, just as Wii Sports and Wonderputt have in the past. So, in one way, SSG2 is a contender for the title of best mobile game I’ve ever played. But it has one fatal flaw: You have to hold the phone sideways.That might not sound like a big deal, but SSG2 fits a very particular niche. It’s not a toilet game, it’s not a coffee break game. It’s a black hole that consumes your time and attention – in other words, a perfect public transport commuter game. And if you have ever origami’d yourself onto the Northern Line at rush hour, you’ll know that the amount of space your elbows will need to control a game with both thumbs is just not going to happen. I realise it’s my very specific set of circumstances that are causing this problem. And I know the game has to be that way – golf isn’t a particularly horizontal game, as I understand it. It’s not even a crippling enough flaw to stop me playing SSG2 even in the face of dropping my phone, as has now happened on not one but two crowded tubes. But, for better or worse, this is the strange relationship we have with mobile games. They have to fit like Tetris pieces into our lives, or they’re just no good. I’m looking for a neat L block, and SSG2 is one of those long thin bastard red ones.
I’ve been troubled for years by the vision of a game where you control an evil Superman flying through the skies and terrorising civilians with his laser eye-beams. Such is the dreadful burden of creative genius. Earlier this month, I finally found an outlet for this weird little brain-loop by writing a piece for MyGeekBox on superhero comics that deserve their own videogame adaptations. You can read the piece, and the rest of the magazine, here – or by subscribing to MyGeekBox. (If the page-turner isn’t to your liking, there’s a download PDF option at the link.) For your trouble, you get four red-hot ideas, as well as a handful of throwaway gag ideas, including She-Hulk: Ace Attorney, which Tim allowed me to steal from his brain. My only regret is that I couldn’t find space for his equally excellent Dick Grayson dating simulator, which I would have entitled Getting Down with Dick, or possibly Cradle Robin.
In 2015, I’m trying to get into the habit of writing shorter, more frequent blogs, and save the ponderous word-monsters for the stuff that really needs it. Normally I’d give the whole thing a clever name and format, but instead I’m just going to write the damn things. Call it a New Year’s Resolution if you like. Super Smash Bros for Wii U To this day, the original Super Smash Bros on the N64 is the perfect example of what I want a fighting game to be. Super Smash Bros drew me in with the prospect of a punch-up between Mario, Link and Pikachu – the kind of thing that had my ten-year old salivating like Homer Simpson over sixty-four slices of American cheese – but the thing that stuck with me was its streamlined combat. The game eschewed the hard-to-memorise combos that will inevitably fill the arthritis clinics of ten years’ time with old Tekken and Street Fighter players. In their place was a neat two-button system which put all of its weight on timing, anticipating your opponents’ moves and and understanding the differences between characters. These are the same things a devotee of the genre will tell you about competitive Street Fighter 2 but to a novice like me, the barrier to entry is just too high. In Smash Bros, each character essentially has four unique moves to learn. Add a pile of items, each introducing a pinch of chaos to the match when it drops from the sky, some creative levels, and you have the complete Smash Bros formula. Unfortunately, each subsequent installment seems to have lost confidence in the simplicity of the game’s core loop, and leant instead on the latter half of the formula: the big pile of stuff. More characters, replacing distinction with duplication; more game modes; more items, cameos, trophies, unlockable macguffins… By the release of Super Smash Bros Brawl in 2008, it was less the lean fighting game I’d fallen in love with, more a virtual museum exhibit of videogames’ roaring nineties. This is the bit where, if you haven’t yet played the catchily-titled Super Smash Bros for Wii U (or SSBWU for short), you may be expecting me to say ‘…and it takes the series back to those gorgeous basics’. Nope. SSBWU stacks yet more on top of this swaying Jenga tower of features. For the first time, eight players can get their smash on simultaneously, crowding the screen with colourful fighters. You can customise each character to your exact specifications, making them faster but more vulnerable, or punchier but slower. The series’ ever-growing roster has, from an initial dozen on the N64, now broken the half-century mark. This is further bolstered with the ability to use personalised Mii characters, meaning you can punch your best friend in the face, without having to get dragged round his house by your mom to apologise. The game is bloated like Kirby after inhaling an opponent with his B attack, but somehow SSBWU adds such an insane amount of stuff that it manages to come out the other side of these problems and, like a zen master, find peace among the chaos. The finer points of combat can still get lost in a mess of particle effects, especially when there are eight players on screen at once, and the wider range of characters means less distinction between the silhouette. (Seriously, compare Marth, Ike and Robin – I think that’s who they are, but frankly who knows – in the screenshot above.) But I can still pick up a controller blind and immediately know how Fox McCloud’s down-B attack works, from the time I learned it 15 years ago, or appreciate the subtle changes in how SSBWU‘s iteration of Samus Aran handles. I can even try out a new character and get to grips with the weird new mechanics they add in the space of one three-minute game. Partly, I admit, that’s a case of personal bias – Smash Bros happens to be the game I invested hundreds of hours into when I was a kid – but it’s also the simplicity of that two-button, four-directional combat system. Underneath the clutter of SSBWU is the same wonderfully elegant game, refined and expanded and shining through more than it has in years. (Oh, and the other thing I love as much today as I did in 1999 is the freezeframe mode, which which now allows you to snap photos, save them to an SD card, transfer them to your PC and then upload them to a blogpost until you have far, far too many to actually justify as illustrations. I’ve dropped another dozen of my favourite shots below.)