Thursday, April 29, 2010

Duck Comics: "The Doom Diamond"

Lack of posting

Gah--the stress I am feeling right now is not pleasant. Hence, sparse posting. Please enjoy this little chart that was apparently on my old geocities. Sure, it's an obvious idea that other people have almost certainly done much better--whaddaya want? I cobbled it together something like a decade ago. Blargh.

...and yes, apples do contain SOME Vitamin C, so they WOULD prevent scurvy, albeit less efficaciously than oranges. LEAVE ME ALONE.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What?!? But that's the worst KIND of fight!

My awesome maturity level on full display.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Duck Comics: "The Great Paint Robbery"

Monday, April 19, 2010

Half-Hour Gaming: Tengen, 720˚

The thing that is often noted about emulation is that it devalues the shit out of individual games: you can spend five minutes downloading eighty-five old NES games, but let's face it: ninety-five percent of them you aren't gonna actually PLAY for more than five minutes. These old games don't tend to be super-accessible, and since you didn't PAY for them, there's little incentive even to make an effort. It's an uncomfortably accurate reflection of our postmodern mindset. But I decided it might be interesting to FORCE myself to take old games I would ordinarily have little or no interest in and play them for a half hour to see what happens, and whether one actually CAN make oneself like these oldsters. First up: 720˚. This is a Tengen game, meaning it is NOT licensed by Nintendo. Is that a bad sign?

Above: This is how I spent most of my time.

So you're some random skateboard dude. You start in a big, empty hub with various ramps and things around. You can try to do tricks using these props, and occasionally earn small point totals, but I found that I would almost invariably fall on my ass when I tried it, so I quickly learned not to bother. There are maps you can step on to see where you are in the grand scheme of things. There are also various "enemies," I guess you would call them--joggers, flexing muscles dudes, women hurling frisbees, swarms of bees, occasional cars. I would recommend not getting hit by them, although your energy slowly decreases regardless.

This hub area is LARGE. That's actually a big problem I have with the game--you have to navigate a LOT of boring, empty space to get anywhere. There are shops--for helmets, pads, other random skateboard things--that seem to sell you shit you already have. I have no idea why. BUT NEVER MIND THAT. There are also courses you can access from the hub, which are the heart of the game, or ought to be. You have to do four of these--"ramp," "slalom," "downhill," and "jump." I started with "slalom," in which, as expected, you have to navigate between flags on a brief course. I failed, and was awarded "no medal." I wanted to try again, certain I could do better, but now the course was CLOSED. Alas! Failure earns you a big, Rolling-Stones-type mouth and tongue on your score sheet. Next: "ramp." You go to a skateboard rampy thing, and...well, I can't really say much more about it than that. It's totally inscrutable to me. I would get to the top of the ramp, and if I pushed a button--which you clearly need to do in order to get SOMETHING to happen--I would fall, kersplat. Occasionally I managed to get to the top and start going back down standing on my head, and THEN I'd fall, kersplat. This went on for a minute or so before I was declared a worthless failure. My little skateboard man looked very dejected. Third: downhill. This one turned out to be my favorite; it vaguely reminds me of Marble Madness--you have to navigate a short downhill obstacle course. And whaddaya know! I did it well enough to be awarded a silver medal! Whoo!

Now, I'd gotten a few game overs up to this point, but the game lets you continue right where you died, so I hadn't really paid it much mind. Unfortunately, this was about where I realized that you do NOT have unlimited continues, so that was that. Grr. BUT! That wasn't a half hour, so I boldly started over! This time I was prudent enough not to try anything funny on the hub area, so I lost a LOT less energy. Nor did I waste time or money buying shit for no obvious reason. Instead, I went straight back to the slalom, went slower this time, and BAM! GOLD MEDAL! I rule! I failed the ramp again, grabbed another silver on the downhill, and then it was time for the "jump:" you're supposed to go down a hill and then, well, JUMP! I screwed this up pretty badly and got NO MEDAL. Predictably. But I got to move on to level two regardless! Whoo!

The second hub area is just a palette-swap of the first. I'm not sure how it works, but apparently here you need to do the events in a certain order, as some of the attendants snippily informed me that, lacking a "ticket," I should "get lost." Dammit. But I was able to successfully fail at the ramp again, as well as the jump. And over before I could do anything else. I think that about covers it.

ASSESSMENT: Actually, what little of the downhill section I got to play was pretty darned fun, and the slalom wasn't bad either. I think the jump bit could be a good time too, if I could figure it out. Pretty sure there's no set of circumstances under which the ramp is not gonna suck, though. The main problem, though, is that the ratio of time spent actually DOING these events to time spent in the big, bland overworld is vexingly low. There's potential here, but I think the designers REALLY should have rethought the game to emphasize the fun parts and deëmphasize the annoying, pointless ones. Also, I never actually got to do a 720˚. To be honest, I'm not even totally sure what a 720˚ IS. Maybe that means I'm not in the target audience for a skateboarding game, but I think that only strengthens my point.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Samuel R. Delany, Neveryóna; or, The Tale of Signs and Cities (1983)

This is the second book of a four-book sequence. The others consist of a hodgepodge of short stories, novellas, and short novels; this is the only full-length novel in the bunch. The general idea is to take what is probably accurately seen as the least literary fictional genre there is--high fantasy--and make something more of it by approaching it in an extremely theoretical way.

I read the first volume, Tales of Nevèrÿon, when I was...twenty, if my extremely short, vapid Amazon review is to be believed. I enjoyed it well enough. Even if just about all the thematic significance went over my head, there was enough incident in the book to please me--though apparently not enough so to induce me to pursue subsequent volumes. I read Tales again more recently for a qualifying exam, and I appreciated it on a much less superficial level--it's really interesting on the development of civilization and the attendant development of signs. Plus, gay sex. I'm not going to claim that my understanding on this second run-through was perfectly lucid, but it was a big improvement, to be sure. I should check out the rest of the series! thought I. But I didn't. UNTIL NOW.

It has to be said, it's an extremely good thing that I did not attempt to tackle Neveryóna as a gormless twenty-year-old. It would not have been a pretty sight. Because, as noted, Tales can sorta kinda be read as regular ol' fantasy, even if you have no theoretical grounding or interest therein. Neveryóna... really can't. Trying to read it at that age, with that knowledge set, I would have been as a bug before a steamroller. It would not have been a pretty sight.

I think this novel--also the first volume, really, but it's more apparent than ever here--can be described as a hybrid between fiction and theory. You may be tricked by the back cover into imagining this is to some extent a conventional fantasy novel, but then you would face a rude awakening. Not a whole lot happens here. The whole series allegedly revolves around Gorgik's slave rebellion, but Gorgik and rebellion only play minor roles in Nevéryona. The story, such as it is, involves a provincial teenage girl named Prynn who leaves her village out of a vaguely-defined sense of wanderlust and travels here, there, and some other places, having long, mostly fairly one-sided conversations with people. The general theme is civilization and how it works. The entire series (so far) is very fascinated with the idea of pinpointing the coming-into-being of civilization's tools (money, eg) and concepts (mathematics, eg) (granted, the difference between "tool" and "concept" may not always be entirely clear). Specifically, as the subtitle indicates, we are here concerned with signs and cities. I found that having previously read Delany's non-fiction book Times Square Red, Times Square Blue for a class helped me to get a better handle on some of what he is doing here in terms of conceptualizing the lives of cities.

The novel (let's just call it that) is intermittently fascinating and frequently--let's not deny it--grindingly tedious. There are parts that you'd be only too happy to see go on forever (as in a monologue that Gorgik delivers narrating his and Prynn's progress through the city), and there are parts when you wish the characters would just SHUT THE HELL UP, as in a fucking endless dialogue between a noblewoman and one of her servants with whom she's romantically involved--although I DO have to give the novel credit for treating of female sexuality, straight and queer, which the first book didn't so much.

I will be the first to admit that there are undoubtedly elements of Neveryóna that went WOOSH! right over my head. However...I dunno. There were also parts that I DID get--I think--that just didn't seem all that groundbreaking or original to me. A lot of the discussion of power structures seemed to me to be pretty much straight Foucault, and there's a long, foreboding passage towards the end about the impossibility of pinpointing what aspect of language is the "true" beginning that seemed like completely unadorned Derrida. It's like I say about DeLillo: it's just not enough to transfer theoretical ideas directly into a fictional setting. You have to actually do something with them; otherwise, they're simply not very interesting. I'm certainly not saying that Delany even begins to plumb the depths of leaden mediocrity that DeLillo swims through with such assurance (that's right--he's so mediocre that he SWIMS THROUGH LEAD--JUST ACCEPT IT), but he could do better, I think. Let me reiterate, however, that I'm pretty sure there's a lot I'm missing.

The ending did leave me in a good mood, however, as Prynn wanders through a vividly-rendered Summer festival and sets off with some traveling performers. It just has a good sense of fullness and possibility to it. Even more than that, though, my favorite part of the book is probably the postscript. The series is posited as a translation of ancient texts of indeterminate origin, and Delany outlines the purported anthropology and academic discourse there surrounding really convincingly. This novel's appendix features a series of letters back and forth from purported academics arguing about the historical and linguistic details of the ancillary material from the first volume. I'm pretty sure it's full of opaque in-jokes, but even missing out on such things, it remains great, playfully erudite stuff.

In spite of my reservations, I certainly intend to see the series out at some point. I think I prefer it over Dhalgren, honestly; it's certainly as self-conscious or moreso, but it lacks Dhalgren's sometimes-painful hipper-than-thou tone and overbearing sexuality. Recommended, maybe, sort of.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A one, and then three zeroes.

Yup--amazingly enough, or not, this is this blog's one thousandth post. It's been 1,950 days since I first posted--December 14, 2004--so that's just slightly over one post every other day. Odd, given that there have been longish stretches when I haven't posted anything.

I am generally content with the blog's direction--it's interesting (though probably only to me) to look back through the archive and see how my blogging interests have changed. At the beginning, it mainly consisted of eruptions of rage at one political outrage or another--often without actually referring to said outrage in any explicit way besides providing a link. And since many of those links are dead now, the source of my anger has become an abiding mystery! Whee! These days, I'll still engage in ranting occasionally, but generally, like Elvis Costello, I used to be disgusted, but now I just try to be amused. Otherwise, the constant stream of right-wing mendacity would just drive me out of my mind.

Also, I went through a somewhat obsessive Mallard Fillmore phase. These days, I get my USDA of MF hate at Duck and Cover.

Of course, there are a lot of older posts that are kind of embarrassing to me in retrospect (nope--not gonna say which ones), but what the hell--it's a chronicle of my cognitive development, I suppose. Much like my amazon reviews. But these days, as you may or may not have noticed, I'm trying to make most of my posting a bit more substantial. Also, I'm quite happy with my duck blog. I have confirmed that Don Rosa is a reader, I'll have you know. Does Don Rosa read YOUR blog? Huh? Huh? Huh?

Also, about that cult I'm planning--I now have a total of eight followers, five for inchoatia and three for the duck comics, with no overlap. You people were wise to get in on the ground floor. So much so, in fact, that as soon as this thing gets off the ground, I'm going to promote you all to the rank of Boramander. No objections--we need strong, loyal followers like you in positions of authority. But for the time being, carry on.

More letters-section zaniness

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Does Kelly know something I don't?

Hmm. I knew that there had been vague talk about Marvel potentially buying the Disney license, but is it any more than that? Well, it's Kelly--you probably shouldn't expect much in the way of accurate reporting. Gotta say, it's really weird to see my marginal hobby featured in The Onion. I love how all the superheroes have incredibly spindly legs and knobby knees.

I suppose hope should probably have stopped springing eternal by now, but I find myself vaguely wondering if being released by a high-profile company might be beneficial for the line. It's quite probable that it's just a matter of the market not being there, alas, but I guess it would be worth a shot.

(crossposted at DCR)

UPDATE: Okay, I see now that this is just an incredibly dated reference to Disney's acquisition of Marvel. No comic-related content at all. Darn! I stand by what I said about the potential value of Marvel taking over publishing duties, however.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An actual letter from Uncle Scrooge #272

Dear Sir,

It is with sadness that I write this letter to you. I have for years loved and respected the work of The Walt Disney Company. I am returning this Uncle Scrooge comic book (#267) because I am extremely disappointed with the story "The Money Ocean," part two. It had blatant references to evil, spells witches, and evil power. There are enough good, uplifting adventures stories to write about rather than indoctrinating children into Satanism.

Please discontinue publishing stories of this nature. They are more harmful to children than you could ever realize.

Thank you for your attention and action in this matter.

Marlys Kjerlland
Park River, ND

PS. As a registered nurse and a mother, I am deeply concerned for the emotional health of our next generation. This is a significant and serious matter.

My favorite part is that first clause in the P.S. "As a licensed ornithologist, I am deeply concerned about plate tectonics."

Anyway, I'll just note that the story in question, by Marco Rota, is actually pretty fantastic (I'll write about it one of these days); alas, I don't recall it being any more "satanic" than any other Magica story. Hard to see how Ms. Kjerlland could actually have been a fan "for years" without encountering the character. "Oh," you say, "but she didn't claim to have been a fan of Disney comics for years; just 'the work of The Walt Disney Company.'" Fair enough, I guess, but given that the company's first ever film featured all of these objectionable elements--as did many subsequent (REALLY, how many little kids read Disney comics compared to the number who watch Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or The Little Mermaid over and over and over?)--we're still dealing with one serious case of myopia here.

(cross-posted at DCR)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Duck Comics: "Lost Beneath the Sea"

Monday, April 05, 2010

Cinderella (1950)

Regarding the mice in Cinderella, let me just make the following observation: it would be one thing if they just wore clothes as a matter of course. Nobody would think anything of it. But here's the thing: they don't. Gus is a newcomer, and when he's introduced, having been caught in a trap (yes, the evil stepwomen use non-kill mousetraps. JUST ACCEPT IT), he's bare-ass naked, the way God intended. He only gets dressed when Cinderella orders him to. All I'm saying is, the fact that she seems to feel a compulsive need to dress the local vermin in miniature people-clothes does not speak well for her mental stability. Seriously, the first words out of her mouth upon hearing that there's a new mouse around is "well then, he'll need a suit and jacket, won't he?" or words to that effect. You can't tell me that's normal.

Boy oh BOY the talking mice are awful. Saccharinely cutesy in the worst way possible, best manifested in their vomitous habit of referring to our heroine as "Cinderelly." Their horrible, squeaky voices would be bad enough if they were not given two horrible songs to sing (one is just a reprise of "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes," which is just mediocre under other circumstances, but the mice really give it that extra push). Gus, especially, is such an ideal candidate for natural selection in action. I can't tell you how much I hate that idiot. I suppose the only good thing about him being allowed to continue to pollute the gene pool is that it should only take a few generations (and mice breed like mice, I am given to understand) for the entire population to get so utterly stupid and useless that Lucifer can slay them all with one mighty swipe of his paw.

GAH! I'm done with the mice now. DONE, I say! Lucifer the cat is, at any rate, a great character, full of leering, over-the-top EEEE-vil. And he doesn't talk! Why couldn't the mice manage that? The evil stepmother, Lady Tremaine, is also a good villain--a pure, stone-cold bitch. Quite majestic in her awfulness.

On the other hand...I dunno; maybe I'm oversensitive here, but I find the evil stepsisters Troubling. By which I mean: They're ugly! They're stupid! They're spoiled! They're talentless! They're simpering! They fairly radiate with the filmmakers' contempt. I know a fairytale--let alone a Disney version of a fairytale--cannot help but draw in rather broad strokes, but *I* cannot help but detect some not-all-that-veiled misogyny here, which I do not find very pleasant to watch. Under the circumstances, it's probably a good thing that, this being a Disney film, the whole foot-mutilation thing had to be excised. Disney really didn't need another, more gruesome, opportunity to heap yet more abuse on their whipping girls.

Also, Goll E. Jeepers--of course, you've got to expect the romances in Disney princess movies to be pretty simplistic, and for the princes to be little more than cardboard cutouts, (even if this is to some degree ameliorated in the more recent examples of the genre), but for some reason it struck me a whole lot harder here than it ever did in Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. I think it's because, in addition to the prince being a big, fat nothing, the fact is ground in our faces by the fact that he sees Cinderella, instantly falls in love, and is confidently expected by the king to propose to her that very night. I dunno, man...even by fairytale standards, this strikes me as a bit much.

So no, I didn't particularly care for this movie. Yeah, I dug Evil Cat and Evil Stepmother, but that's about it. Okay okay, I guess the Fairy Godmother's song is kind of all right too. But that's all! What has to be fully half the movie is taken up with the mice's allegedly comic dicking around, and most of the rest is concerned with the awful romance. What exactly is there to like?

One possibly-interesting observation I'll make, though: this is only Disney's second princess movie, but there is a huge design gulf between Cinderella here and Snow White in the first. As far as I've been able to tell, these Disney Princess direct-to-DVD things don't seem to include the latter, and it's very easy to see why: I like Snow White a lot, but the character has this sort of zaftig, fuzzy look that is just a completely different aesthetic than any of the other princesses have (the fairy in Pinnochio is similar). You can pretty easily picture all of the others belonging in the same world, but Snow White you really can't. It would be tremendously jarring to see her in the same movie as her sistren(?).

Anyway, now I've seen every Disney Princess movie, so here are my fairly-predictable rankings:

1. Beauty and the Beast
2. The Little Mermaid
3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
4. Aladdin
5. The Princess and the Frog
6. Sleeping Beauty
7. Cinderella
8. Pocahontas

As for Mulan, it's a fantastic movie, but the title character is not in any sense a "princess," or any kind of nobility for that matter, by birth or by marriage, in spite of what Disney apparently wants you to believe.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Posts from the past

So I was going through the archives, either publishing or deleting the various unpublished "drafts" cluttering things up. And I came upon this incredibly long list of very brief judgments passed on all manner of RPGs, from the beginning of 2007. WHY did it go unpublished at the time? I haven't the slightest idea. Anyway, now it's available for the whole world to enjoy.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Duck Comics: "Ten-Star Generals"

Friday, April 02, 2010

Watching The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

Apologies for the obviousness of that title.

I don't necessarily have much to say about this movie--it's a light, fun adventure; not in the top tier of Disney movies, but certainly one of the better efforts made during the confused period between Walt's death and the creative renaissance heralded by The Little Mermaid. It has a few fun musical numbers, and Ratigan--voiced by Vincent Price is a pretty great, hyper-theatrical villain. He hates to be called a "rat," you see, so the film's climax, where he suddenly becomes less anthropomorphized and more frightfully ratlike is even more effective (possibly also vaguely crypto-racist, but what the hey).

Here's what I'm left thinking about, though: if this story--in which Ratigan has an evil plan to overthrow the mouse-queen of mouse-England and have his own reign of terror--has been written a hundred years previously, it would have been seen, accurately, as a transparent manifestation of imperial anxiety of the sort seen in innumerable pulp/adventure novels of the time and satirized by Joseph Conrad in The Secret Agent. A sinister, foreign-sounding criminal mastermind who isn't even the same species as the rest of us usurping the throne from the rightful ruler? Come on.

But the thing is, it wasn't released in 1886. It was released a hundred years later, when questions of Britain's imperial status are entirely a moot point. So the question becomes: are these undercurrents of the story entirely anachronistic and vestigial, or should we read them as relating to the current, American threat du jour of the time (communism, presumably)? I don't have a definitive answer, and it's pretty late, so I am going to leave it at that for the time being.