Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Addendum to below

A Duck Comics Crie du Coeur

Monday, March 30, 2009

Duck Comics: "Donald Duck's Atom Bomb"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Games That Are Not As Good As You Think: Seiken Densetsu 3

When the English patch for Seiken Densetsu 3 first came out, I played it with my critical faculties pretty firmly in the off position. And who wouldn't? Here was the sequel, long denied us, to the universally-beloved Secret of Mana! With even more gorgeous graphics! The chance to mix and match six characters! Alternate plot paths! And branching class changes! WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE NOT TO LIKE?!?! So I tore through it in record time (with Hawk and, I believe, Carlie and Lisa), and it was kind of a euphoric experience, even if I didn't quite have the wherewithal to do it twice more to see the other last levels and bosses.

But that was nine years ago; I barely remembered the game, so I thought it might be edifying to give it another go. And it was. Sort of. I did enjoy it to an extent, but what I mainly enjoyed was basking in the glow of late-SNES Squaresoft graphics, which, in my doubtlessly nostalgia-addled opinion, are the most aesthetically pleasing graphics there are; and the whole Mana ambiance. And it's a good thing that there were these intangible elements that I could fall back on, because they're about the only things there are--in most respects, SD3, I came to realize, is a remarkably poorly-designed game. I can't help but think that graphics and nostalgia had the same effect on a lot of people as they did on me: the average review on gamefaqs is probably a 9+, which this game most assuredly does not deserve.

Where to even start? The story is an inconsequential trifle. Yes, the ways in which your choices of characters, as well as the characters you didn't choose, influence the plot in small ways is pretty impressively done. But the plot as a whole--a clumsy mess involving a whole bunch of evil empires and corresponding sets of svengalis influencing them--is difficult to keep straight and, more to the point, difficult to care about. At one point I had the idea that maybe all this nonsense was meant to be a parody of shallow yet incoherent RPG plots featuring characters with paper-thin motivations, but no--I'm pretty sure it's the thing itself. Secret of Mana may not have had the all-time greatest storyline, but it was pretty damned good: it felt universal and generally epic, with plenty of fairly well-defined characters to love and hate. Final Fantasy Adventure (SD1) also has a surprisingly excellent plot--at the time it came out, it ranked among the best RPG stories ever, which is not too shabby for a Gameboy game. Nothing like this in SD3. This may in part be the fault of the translation--I'm not sure whether or not it was like this in the original, but, while the hacking is immaculate, the writing feels pretty wooden. Still, even with a dubious translation, a game's spirit tends to shine through, so I'm thinking that isn't the main issue.

That wouldn't be such a problem if not for the other rather large design issues, however. Combat, for instance. In SoM, of course, you have to spend a lot of time charging up attacks, making battles fairly slow-paced. SD3 does away with mandatory charging. This might seem to be a positive, but it doesn't work out that way. The controls and hit detection are somewhat dubious, meaning that skirmishes generally boil down to you mashing the attack button and trying to get in generally the right position while a confused jumble of PCs and enemies all do their thing (accompanied by graphical glitches aplenty). There's very little precision, and you never get much of a feeling of control. It kind of sucks, frankly.

And you can expect to be involved in a LOT of pointless combat, due to the terrible level layout. Now, Mana games have never been known for containing too many sidepaths to explore, but in FFA, you could often find hidden weapons and things by poking about, and in SoM, you would sometimes find weapon orbs or at least necessary switches. Branching paths were rarely entirely superfluous--whereas in SD3, they're rarely anything but. Dungeons (and overworld areas, for that matter) quickly become maddening as you stumble for far too long around obtuse maps, fighting through multiple rooms only to come to a dead end with no rhyme or reason and having to then fight your way back. These situations are all over the damn place. And they, too, suck.

People lament the Mana series' downfall, but what I've realized is that what it's downfalling from is only the first two games, making me think that FFA and SoM are flukes more than anything else. Sure, it's disheartening that the games got so bad that the series ultimately self-immolated, but there wasn't ever that much there there.

Fuck You Zack Snyder, Part Umptyleven

I just saw a preview for Tales of the Black Freighter, and can I just say, Christ in HEAVEN, everyone involved in this project SUCKS to a greater degree than words can indicate. I know there's no need to spell this out for anyone who hasn't recently suffered a severe head trauma, but since that apparently doesn't cover Zack the Visionary, I'll do it anyway: the Black Freighter segments are not supposed to be awesome, totally-sweet anime violence and mayhem. Their purpose is to serve as a counterpoint to both the immediate action and to Veidt's scheme. Deprived of this, they have no meaning. Saying that they "complete the Watchmen experience" when you're just sort of stacking them on top of the movie without regard for any kind of thematic coherence is little more than gibberish and demonstrates--if more proof were needed--that Zack and co have no idea what the hell they're doing. It boggles my mind that anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex can take this insulting bullshit seriously.

And goddamnit, does the man have some sort of contract stipulating that he must always be referred to as "visionary?" Or are they doing it just to provoke me? Either way, it's a ghastly joke.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An' it ain't just Flintheart Glomgold essays, neither!

There is a funny yet appalling article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about essay mills. The paper version includes awesome Actual Quotes from students requesting papers, such as:

"I am a junior for for my BSN, last paper I got from you i only received B- I would like to get higher than a b+ on this report." [sic sic sic sic sic!]


"English is my second language, so please trying to not use the high quality of grammer."


"I have five parts for my dissertation. The first part I would like to have done is Chapter (1) that includes: Introduction- the topic to be studied, definitions, significance of the study, overview of the sections of the dissertation."

and my favorite:

"I am planning to order my whole thesis. It is the first step for it. This is proposal for undergraduate thesis. My thesis topic is International development assistance in Mongolia. Sub title is USA, Japan, Russia approaches to Mongolia."

All I'm saying is, if your flippin' subtitle is illiterate, I think you've shot yourself in the foot from the start.

The idea of paying someone to write your dissertation blows my mind, of course--who the hell are you? What in gods' name are you doing in academia? But on reflection, I find that, although lazy asshole students do annoy me, no doubt, on the whole I sort of approve of this, actually. Look at this bit, about a professional Nigerian paper writer:

"Mr. Arhewe started writing for Essay Writers after another essay mill cheated him out of several hundred dollars. That incident notwithstanding, he's generally happy with the work and doesn't complain about the pay. He makes between $100 and $350 a month writing essays — not exactly a fortune, but in a country like Nigeria, where more than half the population lives on less than a dollar a day, it's not too bad either."

So some lazy asshole gets out of having to write an essay. What're you gonna do? Let's face it: the kind of person who patronizes a service like this isn't gonna be an academic superstar anyway. Given her/his attitude, s/he is very unlikely to learn anything even if s/he does do the writing. But on the other side of the equation, a guy from an impoverished country is making a nice living for himself that doesn't involve pretending to be a deposed potentate. Seems like a reasonable deal to me.

Dietary Advisory

I wouldn't expect anyone to really care, and I'm only saying this on the blog because I feel like making it public will encourage me to stick with it, but here it is: from now on, for ethical/enironmental reasons, I'm gonna be a vegetarian. I've realized that I can't simultaneously eat meat and be the kind of person I want to be. I don't mean for this to sound judgmental or hectoring; it's just that, for me personally, it's the way it's gotta be.

The prospect of this makes me cringe a little--don't think I don't love the shit out of burgers and wings and subs--but it is my conviction that morally speaking, I shouldn't eat animals, and if you don't have the courage of your convictions, they aren't really "convictions," per se--just vaguely conviction-shaped objects of no real utility.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Where's a bloody revolution when you need it?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Duck Comics: "The Loony Lunar Gold Rush"

Duck Comics: "The Twenty-Four Carat Moon"

Friday, March 13, 2009

Duck Comics: "Ancient Persia" and "King Scrooge the First"

Huey is Omar Little.

Huey coming!


Thursday, March 12, 2009

A sad fact

I realized that you can actually plug ANY pair of words into the URL in the below post, eg:

Still, the Flintheart version DID come up on a google search. I don't know what that indicates, but it would almost be worth fifty dollars to call their bluff on that.

Important Flintheart Glomgold update!

Duck Comics: Flintheart Glomgold

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Duck comics in stress dreams

Not that I feel particularly stressed lately, but the fact remains, last night I had a pretty unpleasant dream where for reasons that aren't particularly clear, I wanted my students to spend a class period reading duck comics. Of course. Only I wasn't exactly prepared. I had a big stack of comics, and I was attempting to photocopy them to hand out while class was going on (specifically, I was trying to photocopy Rosa's "Return to Xanadu," although I think the idea was that I'd ultimately copy a variety of them) and running into all kinds of technical problems and feeling very self-conscious, especially since there was some kid--not the same as any acutal kids I'm teaching--who, perhaps embodying my inner doubts about the value of this exercise, was sitting at the table asleep and who, when woken up, loudly complained about how he was sleeping because this activity was so stupid. Screw you, dream kid! Duck comics are valuable! Even if I have no idea how I'd actually "teach" them!


Duck Comics: "Voodoo Hoodoo"

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Further Watchmen maunderings

Because I just can't get enough. More SPOILERS, obviously.

Tavis suggests in comments the possibility that Visionary Director Zack Snyder™ (if you think I'm ever going to stop doing that--well, you may be in for a pleasant surprise!) may well be a closet case--something which hadn't occurred to me, but which probably should have. Thinking of 300 and Watchmen in tandem--well, the evidence does seem pretty strong, and it's a theory with a lot of explanatory power.

There are a lot of people--on the AV Club, for instance--who claim to love both the book AND the movie. This kind of blows my mind. I don't like to cast aspersions on strangers' tastes (okay, I LIKE it, but I'm aware that it's kind of obnoxious, so I try to avoid it), but I don't know what possible explanation there could be for this other than that their reading of the book is very, very shallow. What exactly did you like about the book? It can't have been any of its weighty explorations of power, psychosis, and morality, since all of this is either distorted beyond recognition or actually reversed in the movie. Did you really just like the pretty pictures? Or is it just that you were so stunned that the movie looked so much like the book that you left all of your critical faculties at home?

The more I think about it, the more I dislike the movie's ending. People say it was "true to the book's spirit?" In what sense, People? Certainly not in the sense of the attack being literally inconceivable to people (in the sense that Borges' "Blue Tigers" are inconceivable), which is kinda the whole point. Nor in the sense of having any visceral impact whatsoever, which is extremely necessary. I suppose if the ONLY thing you took away from the book's climax was "a lot of people get killified," then the movie's version wouldn't seem so bad to you. That would certainly fit in with People liking the framework while being indifferent to thematic significance.

Was the script for the movie really co-written by David Hayter? Snake's voice actor in Metal Gear Solid? 'Cause that's just weird.

Not that it's a particular criticism of the movie, since it goes down in both versions, but I have to quibble: The World's Smartest Man is really unable to come up with a way to encrypt his computer such that a random dude can't guess his password and access all his files in two tries? REALLY, now.

Finally, while I think my feelings on the movie are pretty clear, I would nonetheless like to vigorously distance myself from Anthony Lane's painfully stupid review, which is one of the most smug, condescending, and witless things I've ever read. Seriously, that guy's an embarrassment to The New Yorker. Better movie critics, please.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Watchmen Babies in 'V for Vacation' actually might have been preferable.

(Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, this contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for both book and movie. I would think that would be obvious, but...)

Okay, let's just ignore the fact that Watchmen was meant to be read in installments, and that by mashing everything together, you're inevitably going to miss much of the effect. Let's ignore the fact that the accumulation of detail--as exemplified by the newsstand sections and by the interstitial segments--are part of what make the comic so great, and that they can't really be transferred to the screen, or not without going six or seven hours. Let's ignore these very important points, because there are many much more important points to be made here. Basically, I was bang on target with everything I said about the movie--although to be fair, there are a few vistas of suckage I hadn't even guessed at. Let me count the ways.

Life isn't like superhero comics. If you're just an ordinary dude dressing up to fight crime, your battles aren't going to be out of superhero comics. They're going to be clumsy, ugly, and somewhat sordid. That's something you might take from Watchmen the book. Whereas what you would take from the MOVIE is "extreme violence is totally fucking sweet, dude!" Seriously, Visionary Director Zack Snyder™ takes any hint of the possibility of violence and blows it up as far as it will go. So instead of opening with the Comedian having been thrown out of a tall building, we open with a protracted fight sequence between him and a masked figure, complete with tables smashed, knives thrown around, and slow motion. So instead of an alleged assassin just shooting Veidt's assistant, instead he shoots a whole bunch of dudes, until Veidt bashes the shit ouf of him--in slow motion, natch! So when they're rescuing Rorschach, we get to watch Dan and Laurie beating the shit out of a whole bunch of dudes to a rubbishy techno soundtrack. No shit: there is slow motion in the flashback sequence where the bullies are harassing young Rorschach. It's like a fucking psychosis for Visionary Director Zack Snyder™. None of this is in the book, of course.

"They had to do this," I hear you saying. "It's what puts asses in seats for a movie like this." Which may be the case, but it also completely throws out one of the book's main points, to wit: people who would dress up to fight crime are not "heroic." At their most benign, they have deep neuroses; at their worst, they're fascists and borderline psychopaths. It would be incredibly disingenuous to claim that these stupid bullshit fight scenes don't represent, instead, a full-throated endorsement of superheroes--a point which is emphasized by the fact that they do indeed perform all kinds of superhuman feats. Sure, the story's framework remains pretty much the same, but this is a movie, and the visual rhetoric is an important--THE important--factor.

This is made all the worse by the fact that Visionary Director Zack Snyder™ is a sadistic little creep. Look at the scene where Dan and Laurie beat up some random thugs that have them cornered in an alley. In the book, this is not a hyperkinetic fight scene--it's more of a scuffle than a fight, really. The two of them may be reasonably tough, but they aren't superhuman. There's an awkwardness to it. It's not at all clear whether they actually kill any of their attackers. Whereas in the movie--hoo boy!--it's all about limbs and heads being twisted in unnatural directions, with accompanying gruesome cracking sounds. Laurie shoves a knife through a guy's neck. Seriously, Visionary Director Zack Snyder™--what the fuck is wrong with you? Way to completely and utterly miss the point; to wit: these are ordinary people. They are not brutal killing machines. But that, apparently, would have been insufficiently awesome. Or, look at the scene where Rorschach is in jail being threatened by convicts and when the henchman reaches through the bars, he ties the guy's hands together, hindering the cell-opening procedure. In the book, the other convicts cut his throat to get him out of the way. There's a splash of blood, but you don't actually see the act. Whereas in the movie, they hack off his arms with a circular saw. On camera. I don't know what possible justification there can be for this other than the fact that, to restate the obvious, Visionary Director Zack Snyder™ is a sick fuck. If he wanted to make his own original movie filled with over-the-top violence, that would be one thing. But to inflict this cheap, unpleasant creepiness on a much-beloved book? NOT COOL. Yes, Watchmen the book has violence. Obviously. But none of it is nasty and gratuitous in the way that the movie is.

Did I mention that Visionary Director Zack Snyder™ is also a homophobic shithead? 'Cause he is. You could give him sort of a pass on the homophobia and misogyny in 300, given that I'm pretty sure Frank Miller is just as twisted as he is (the best thing Miller's ever done: the cover design for the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Gravity's Rainbow. That, I can tolerate. His other work? Not so much). But here, there is no such excuse. There's no notable misogyny, but homophobia...hoo boy. In the book, Ozymandias is, if anything, kind of vaguely omnisexual. He's also, to all appearances, a genuinely good guy, right up until the end. In the movie, he is GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY! Did I say "gay?" I also should say "pederastic"--when Dan breaks into his computer (an ancient Macintosh), there is a file folder entitled "Boys" on the desktop. And not just gay, but also generally petulant and unpleasant--the worst kind of stereotype. I somehow doubt that, if I came in cold, I would have had any trouble fingering him as the ultimate villain right from the beginning. He's actually one of the few characters who doesn't look eerily like his book counterpart, presumably because that guy didn't look like enough of a gay pretty-boy. Also gone is almost any indication that he is meant to be a widely-beloved public figure, naturally. See, this is just the living end. Because the added violence and over-the-top fight scenes kind of ruin the movie, but at least you can see where they would come from. On the other hand, this? It doesn't come ANYWHERE, except that apparently Visionary Director Zack Snyder™ was determined to direct two movies in a row with repulsve gay villains (Xerxes was actually the best thing about that shitpile 300, but I'm quite sure that wasn't intentional). He associates "gay" with "conniving and evil." Fuck you, VDZS™.

So they change the nature of the disaster. That in itself isn't as big a deal as some other things, but it does feel clumsy and kind of half-assed. Of course, without the Black Freighter segments there's no context for Max Shea meaning no non-awkward way to do the island bit. Of more concern is the fact that, somewhat surprisingly, the disaster is given almost no weight. The series of tableaux of death and devastation that make up a good part of the last chapter of the book are, well, devastating; in the movie there's nothing like that. Just some fairly bloodless explosions'n'shit. One gets the very real impression that VDZS™ wasn't particularly interested in the denouement. There's very little detail of the sociopolitical situation of the aftermath. I think this is because it's such an ethically murky scenario that he decided to just more or less ignore/depolicitize it. You know how towards the end of the book there's a newspaper with the headline "RR to Run in 88?" And then you learn that 'RR' refers to Robert Redford, and it's sort of cute, haha, but what it's showing is that the utopia resulting from the disaster is definitively a left-wing utopia. Whereas in the movie, there is no paper, and Seymour simply notes that Ronald Reagan is thinking of running for President in '88. Um...what? Within the context of the new world, that's just nonsensical. Either VDZS™ didn't want to offend anyone's sensibilities, or he's just too dim to have realized the import of that line. I'm guessing both.

But I'm saving the best for last. Remember when I predicted that non-heroic characters will become heroic? Dan is present when Manhattan kills Roschach, prompting him to let out a very "Do not want"-style "NOOOOOOOO!!!" Then, he goes back inside and--oh yes--starts BEATING THE SHIT out of Veidt, and then screaming at him for having done a bad, bad thing. I shit you not. Obviously this is especially displeasing in light of Veidt being so very gay. "Face not so pretty anymore, is it, you little faggot?" If you think there's not some of that going on--well, I think you underestimate the deeply unpleasant nature of VDZS™'s mind. But beyond that: as I noted earlier, the ease with which Dan and Laurie acquiesce to the necessity of going along with Veidt's scheme seriously morally compromises them. In the movie, there is none of that. VDZfuckingS™ could not stand this kind of lapse, apparently. You would think that, given that he was willing to have them behave in an egregiously sadistic manner that is nowhere in evidence in the book, this wouldn't bother him. What you would be forgetting, however, is that for him, gratuitous sadism is a good thing. Whereas not behaving as a superhero would behave is apparently unacceptable--in spite of the fact that the entire thrust of the book is that this kind of heroism is, at best, highly problematic. Awesome.

But hey, it looks like the book! Isn't that good enough?!?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Duck Comics: "A Christmas for Shacktown"

Unfortunate news on the duck comic front

How often to you hear THAT phrase? Yeah, it looked like the case from ths state of the webpage, and I got it confirmed via email: there will be no more duck comics in the US for the time being. The representative assured me that they "have every intention of resuming production as soon as possible," but when or if this will happen is anybody's guess. It's not surprising, I suppose: even comparatively popular superhero comics aren't THAT big in this day and age; fuckin' Disney comics? Fergedaboudit. Yeah, the recession's all fun and games until it takes away my Scrooge McDuck fix. But seriously, it really is a shame; Barks and Rosa stories are national treasures, and I feel like it's some sort of sin against aesthetics that they aren't freely available anymore--and with so many stories left not easily or cheaply attainable in any form. Sure, you can find a lot of them online, but it's really not the same.

So anyway, I think this would be a good time for this blog to feature an irregular series of posts highlighting various duck stories that are for whatever reason of especial interest. Stay tuned.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Never no never no more

There's an unbearably sad piece on David Foster Wallace in this week's New Yorker. Have you ever had that feeling, not just that you wish something hadn't happened, but that, all evidence to the contrary, there's just no way it can actually have taken place? That it simply is not compatible with our universe? And that if you wish really, really hard, you might be able to make it not have happened by sheer force of will? Yup, that's how his death makes me feel.

Obviously, this isn't rational; the only reason I think it "shouldn't" have happened is that I'm laboring semi-consciously under the delusion that we live in a world that operates along the lines of a Hollywood movie, where depressed artists get over their depression via a heroic effort of will and the help of a good woman, and go on to glorious artistic achievement. Yeah, good luck with that.

(Actually, that's not the only reason; the other reason is that I'm a selfish jerk who finds it so depressing in large part because now I'll never be able to read any more of his great long essays or the completed Pale King. Full disclosure, but I suppose it kind of went without saying.)

According to the article, he knew the dangers of going off his antidepressants, but staying on them was proving untenable for his physical health, he felt it was stunting his artistic growth, and he imagined that he would be able to push through the pain after the manner of DW Gately in Infinite Jest. That he was unable to do this tacks a sad coda onto IJ's ambiguous ending.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Whoa--I have a "follower!"

Hi there, BK! If I can only get a few more, maybe I'll see if I can't turn this blog into a cult. I think I'd make a good svengali, and it might be a good way to bring in a few extra bucks.