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Theater Review: Songs For A New World

Culture, Events, Reviews

March 25, 2017

Our world is an ever-changing complexity. The modern era is seeing a massive shift in paradigm as we gain access to information at a rate never seen before, and this shared information is allowing our species to evolve on a sociological level at a rate that would have been impossible even two decades prior. Capturing the consequences and feel of that shift in a two-hour musical is a damn ambitious goal and a nearly impossible task, but Songs for a New World tries and comes closer than you might think.

Playing from March 23rd through to April 1st, 2017 at the Pal Studio Theater located in Coal Harbour, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is a re-imagining of an off-broadway musical by the same name. The original was written and composed by Jason Robert Brown and was his first effort, and the Vancouver redux is the first foray done by Mary Littlejohn and Damon Jang of Fabulist Theater Productions.

The re-imagining is a series of single set-pieces that focus on disparate themes that tie together through two characters that appear only infrequently, and one is far easier to notice than the other. The entirety is minimalist, with simple costume changes, few props, and still images projected onto a floating background. The end result is individual pieces are intense but feed into a larger whole that is an emotional gut-punch, a condemnation of a dying world and a statement of hope for the one to follow.

All of the music was written twenty years ago, but the performances and terms modernize the whole and show the relevance of the stories being told. For those that worry about such things, spoilers lurk ahead. You have been warned.

The opening brings is to an airport where a soldier is looking to go to war. She is the first character we see, the one we attach ourselves to; the second is a small refugee girl, followed by a host of others. The whole cast comes and goes while singing The New World, a song about transitions and the sharp decline a life can take through unexpected events. Airports are a perfect setting for such a song, and planes have become an important symbol in our world: from the attacks on nine-eleven to the advent and invasiveness of the TSA, we are reminded that nothing is certain and nothing is stable, that the war is being fought (the soldier) but the consequences are often unintended and severe (the refugee girl).

It’s subtle, and here the story shifts from the original play dramatically. The off-Broadway show’s second song was On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492, and was about a captain praying for his crew and passengers. The ship setting remains, but the boat is now full of refugees families seeking solace from the utter destruction of their homes. The greed of a very few destabilized entire countries and ruined the lives of people by setting countries against them, and the countries that were so duped will not take responsibility. The result is destitute millions, homeless nationals that have no place to go begging for a homeland of their own. It’s a stark song and a stark set and it is insanely powerful.

The darkness of that song demands a counterbalance, and we get it in the form of Just One Step. Both original and redux feature a wealthy woman climbing onto the window ledge of a highrise in an attempt to get the attention of an absent and cheating husband. Here, this is played for laughs – the celebrity insanity and over-reaction one might expect from someone on a reality television show, where the attention is more important than the outcome. It’s sung by Charity Principe and it’s both uncomfortable and genuinely funny, a tightrope walk as perilous as stepping onto that window ledge, but handled with grace by the performer. It’s important to remember that we joke about the things we’re not comfortable discussing, and the illogical extreme emotional reactions we’re taught are real by reality television is warping and damaging entertainment.

Switching again to utter darkness, the screen above shows pictures of war-torn Somalia, a product of rampant colonialism where the result has been civil war and child soldiers. Actress Shina Lakasa comes out dressed as such a child, and her fragile voice belies a powerful presence that makes a beautiful mockery of I’m not Afraid, a song that speaks of the fears that rule other people and the chains they have wrapped around her, a realization that leads to her casting those people aside. It’s intense, stark, and mighty, a slap in the face to an audience still reeling from the emotional whiplash of prior scenes.

When the scene ends and the world fades to darkness there is a palpable sense of relief that is mangled by the appearance of homeless people. The audience was taken aback, not sure how these invisible people snuck into the theater until they are revealed to be part of the show. The song they sing, the River Won’t Flow, was originally a duet between two derelicts, but here it becomes an ensemble piece that speaks about a system that is stacked, vicious, and all-consuming. Of note is addition near the end, where a police siren sends the homeless people scattering – they know that the police are not there to serve and protect them, and the song only concludes when the police are gone.

The small refugee girl then returns to briefly steal our attention, a small moment that feels isolated and intimate. Played to vulnerable perfection by Arta Negahban, her brief but haunting memory ends and leads us into something that looks more lighthearted, at least at first.

Kate MacColl takes the stage to sing Stars and Moon. The song is about a woman set upon by three suitors and the song is improved here. The direction and performance make it clear that this is a woman torn by conflict: she is lost between what she wants and what society says she should want. She listens to society in her choice and… there’s a song called America by Simon & Garfunkel, about two lovers that train across America. It’s catchy and fun and, towards the end, there’s this aching moment of melancholy and there’s a moment here where Kate captures that exact feeling, a single moment where mirth turns to silencing heartbreak. It’s impossible to look away from, impossible to ignore.

Following this is another song that undergoes a similar journey. She Cries was initially a song a man sings about the power women have over him, but here it’s subverted. The man is a bartender giving advice to drunken fools, the idiots and pick-up artists that are as trapped by the horrid dating game as the bartender is himself. The tragedy here is a reminder that the first thing toxic masculinity asks young men is to mutilate their own emotional well-being, but the only thing ignoring emotions does is cause them to fester. It’s another powerful moment in a string of them, and singer Aerhyn Lau left the stage to thunderous applause.

The first act was not done yet, though. Viciously, brutally, a taste of the tragedy to come: Rema Kibayi rules the stage with Steamtrain. Both the original and the redux tell the story of a young man pursuing a future in basketball, taking spoken asides to tell of the hardships he’s overcome. The original played this straight, but Rema adds complexity to the song by making it clear that this is his only way out of a created hell, an impossible dream that he can achieve but will have a heavy price. He will pay it, and gladly, and his command of the song and his performance left the audience breathless and in need of the intermission that followed.

We were given fifteen minutes to catch our breath, to recover and settle.

Talk was excited, brittle, and when the lights faded the audience hushed and waited, needing whatever was to follow.

Originally, the World was Dancing was a song about a man whose father bought and lost a store, and how that made him leave his fiance. It was trite there, but here… the singer is presented as a drunken frat boy who learns that the market is not his friend, that nothing is permanent. He moves the arms of his first love to another girl and then to a man, pulled by the forces of society to marry his first love but yearning for the arms of his man he truly loves. His world falls apart and all he learns is not to trust, not in the world or the systems of that world, and the shame he feels leaves him desolate and his world broken.

After that the audience needed something light, so we’re treated to Cheryl Mullen performing Surabaya-Santa, the tale of Mrs. Clause getting ready to leave Santa. It’s cute and does what it has to do, lighten the mood of the audience, but once again there’s a subversion here: Cheryl takes the lyrics and turns them into something, a critique of codependency and the importance of being your own person in a relationship. It’s fun, but this isn’t the sort of musical that lets us have fun moments without being punished for it.

So, naturally, we get Christmas Lullaby, a song that was originally about a woman reacting to news of her pregnancy with wonder and comparing herself to the Virgin Mary. Arielle Tuliao’s performance comes from the perspective of someone utterly alone and very much pregnant, and the joy of the song turns to ash when she realizes how very much alone she is. Abandoned, homeless, her comparison to the Virgin Mary is born of pure desperation, a cry for help from a god she will never see.

The world fades to darkness. Images blaze to light: riots against police brutality, the DAPL protest, others. A single barred spotlight manifests and frames Frankie Cottrell as he sings King of the World. This is one of the play’s most powerful songs and Frankie delivers, turning the ravings of a deluded man to the warcry of an imprisoned American Dream, the very best a country has to offer locked away for fighting for the things a country was founded on and strived for. There’s a shock that runs through the crowd as they realize the full weight of what is being implied: that the American Dream itself has been locked away by the greed of the people that know ruin that nation and the people that live therein. The song offers a final note of hope, however, a slim chance for a better world to come.

I’d Give It All For You is a statement of that hope. The boy whose father bought and lost a shop searches for the man he fell in love with, the two of them both wandering the highways of their homeland in search of one another. They find one another, they love one another, and by the honesty of the search and the finding, it is implied that their lives can truly begin.

Their moment, lovely as it is, ends. The soldier from the opening scene saves a refugee and the two of them flee from unseen attackers, a brief moment that cuts and leads to another woman.

The Flagmaker was meant to be the song a woman who sits at home, weaving and holding her house together while her husband and son fight in the war. Here, the woman is fighting for herself: the song becomes a feminist anthem as images of suffragettes and feminist figures flicker on the screen behind, giving a glimpse at some of the struggles women have had to suffer to come as far as they have and reminding us all that the battle is not yet done, not for some, not until we are all equal.

For others, though… Flying Home was always a song about a dying soldier, the soldier from the beginning. She dies saving someone and her soul sings about flying home, about how her duty is over and she will know peace. The original play implied a sense of glory, but here there is none of that: war is stupid, her life was paid to sate the greed of men she will never meet, her life spent protecting the innocent lives that were ruined by those same men. It’s a powerful song and a powerful performance and it feels like this is where the play should end…

… but the refugee girl takes the stage once more. There’s a short transition at an airport, the soldier’s mother waiting for a child who will never come home and refugees seeking an echo of the home they have lost.

Hear My Song, the finale, is an echo of both the first and second songs. We return to the refugee camp where the song is a funeral dirge for everything lost and a prayer for a more compassionate future, one where they may have a home once more.

It ends. The audience stands, claps, the cast bowing to thunderous applause. There people walking out at the end look shocked, thoughtful, chattering amongst themselves. This play makes you work for answers, for meaning, and this iteration is incredibly dense. Ambitious? Yes, and all the more beautiful for it. Highest possible recommendation; if you have the chance to see this, do so.

You can learn more about Songs For A New World be clicking here, learn more about Fabulist Theater Productions by clicking here, learn more about PAL Studio Vancouver by clicking here, or purchase tickets by clicking here. Do get tickets online – the show I got to see was sold out, and the general quality of what was on stage should keep them packed for the whole of their run. Still, this is well worth seeing and those tickets are worth their weight in gold.

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Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:04

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

March 24, 2017

Click here to read the previous entry.  

There were moments, so many small moments, where Endrall missed Veskur.

He didn’t understand why the woman just couldn’t keep her mouth shut and accept whatever treatment he chose to give her. Didn’t she understand that her every moment with him was a gift that no one else anywhere in Midgard could give her? He stood outside her keep one night, scared of knocking on the door, terrified of being turned away. Finally, he screamed at the woman he had abandoned.

I don’t think you’re a rapist!” he cried, again and again. He saw Veskur appear on the battlements and so he pressed on. “I never thought you were a rapist and I already apologized but you’re never going to accept that apology, are you? You want me to crawl. You want to make me small. What do you want me to do? Beg to be in your life? Everything you have was given to you, I was given to you!”

The silhouette of her vanished and was gone. No matter what he said or how he called, she did not return. Her manservant came out eventually and told him to leave. He felt like stabbing the man, ending his life and entering the place that had felt like home for so long, but in the end, he shouldered his coat and walked away. The healers of House Suwilo had never tried to be fighters and he didn’t even have a levl, only a dryw. The other man would have torn him apart.

Dejected, Endrall went home. In his talks with everyone else, he took to referring to Veskur as the dryw, refusing to address her by any other name or title. His father merely looked at him and said nothing. His mocking smile and wise glances spoke volumes in and of themselves. Veskur had never had many friends or allies and Endrall was charming, the heir to House Sahr. It didn’t take much effort to poison the hearts of everyone else against her.

Soon, people that had never met or even seen the woman were speaking against her and Endrall found some comfort in that – but in the darkest hours of morning, when he was alone and he could not hear even the heartbeats of anyone else, he would hold the gaurn that she had made him and rock back and forth. Why had she rejected him? He couldn’t understand it. It was infuriating. How dare she? How dare she?

Sotaas had finally re-emerged from whichever hole he had gone to hide in. Endrall had sent him letters, not bothering to try and look for him or even enter the lands held by House Ygg. He had liked some of the people there and the things they did for him, sometimes comparing Sotaas to members of his House and telling the scout how he came up short.

There were things that Endrall had left with Sotaas and things that Sotaas had left with Endrall in turn. The wanderer of Ygg came to House Suwilo alone to collect what was his. Endrall tried to speak with him about Veskur and all that had happened, getting nothing more than half-hearted monosyllables in return to his witticisms and soothsaying. Sotaas said something about how he had done the bare politic minimum to contact him during his long absence and that he was well aware of this.

Don’t you know my efforts, no matter how slight, are equal to the greatest efforts of anyone else?”

Sotaas did not respond to this truth. It was probably too large a concept for his feeble and empty mind, Endrall thought. Glancing at the gaurn on his hand, however, Endrall said nothing more. For all that Sotaas was more feral than rational, the man still had access to the ethcinos and Endrall had never learned what it was, exactly, that Sotaas Ygg was capable of.

Veskur’s birthday came and Endrall knew better than most how often people forgot that day, knew how much the Good Lady tried to pretend that the lack of well-wishers didn’t bother her. He used Science to contact the woman, wishing her joy in the coming year. It didn’t surprise him when Veskur responded, her words not entirely hostile. They spoke a little longer but never in person – always through intermediaries or through the Sciences that the Lady had developed, refined, and perfected.

They spoke like that for some small time, Endrall taking the time to feel the Good Lady out and get a handle on her fractured psyche. She was still weak, still wounded, still nothing more than a pet. She mentioned how angry she was at how she had been treated but told Endrall again and again that she loved him and would do anything for him.

She was lying, of course.

His father was the only person that would ever love him.

Even knowing that, however, Endrall felt that there was still some use to be taken from the Lady Wyrd. He played along with her game, dismissing her complaints and ignoring the lies of her pain. He knew she wasn’t really real, wasn’t a real person. She was just a toy, a pet, something to be used – and when she remembered her place she made him feel better, sang his fears away and eased away his doubts. He would ride her and tease her again, he knew, and though he would be sated, he would never sate her and she would thank him for it. He was certain of it; certain he could make her see things the way he wanted her to.

When he proposed that they meet somewhere neutral she agreed to do so, the feel of her so very eager. He made the arrangements, picking a spot not too far afield from the seat of Suwilo influence. They had not seen one another in five full passings of the seasons.

Lady Veskur Wyrd was much as Endrall remembered her – unkempt hair and ruffled clothing, eyes maddened from far too little sleep and far too much energy. She stepped out of her carriage and ran a hand through her hair, walked into the inn that he had told her to go to, people that believed the lies he had told them looking at her with narrowed eyes. Veskur didn’t notice them, took a seat, ordered something to drink, sat and began to mull things over; Endrall watched over her for a time. He had arrived hours previously but he affected being late, going so far as to apologize for it before wrapping her in his arms.

He felt her stiffen and he smiled as he felt her resolve slowly vanish, the scent and presence of him overwhelming her pathetic need to stand apart. She told him she had brought him a gift once they had parted and showed her what had been wrought; an offering of power, a draught of the liquefied life-force of Midgard herself. Endrall eyed it and smiled, the two of them settling in to eat as she stumbled her way through a conversation. She was trying so very hard.

They talked at length about many things; why Figo had left her and what had happened to him since, about Endrall’s heated affair with Hekro. It secretly pleased him to know that Veskur had not been with anyone since he had left her to rot in the northern wastes, but that very leaving was an event that had stuck in her craw, a lack she felt the need to hold against him.

You left me,” Veskur said, holding one knee against her breast at the table, staring at him with eyes that held far too much to be real. “You were an absence in my life in every way. I couldn’t get a hold of you. You clearly didn’t want me anywhere near you. So why am I here now?”

This is why you can’t be trusted. I don’t owe you anything for this,” Endrall said, waving one hand in casual dismissal, taking the tone of an adult speaking with a difficult child. “I was angry with you. I hate you. I don’t trust you. It’s perfectly okay for me to not be in your life when I’m angry with you.”

You could have let me know.”

Endrall shrugged. They moved on to other topics.

Endrall told her about what he’d done with his time since escaping Jesam the First, how he had returned home to a hero’s welcome and how even his father had been there to greet him. Veskur listened with rapt affection, asking the occasional question as Endrall waxed about his accomplishments in the field of healing. Already he was beginning to eclipse the works of his father; his theories were bearing fruit in every field of medicine that House Suwilo practiced and many felt it was only a matter of time before his works dominated the studies of every noble in his House.

He asked Veskur what she thought of that but the woman was not gushing enough in her praise, so he interrupted her, speaking for her. He knew from long experience that anything that she had to say would just anger him – he told her this, looking into her eyes.

It’s not just what you have to say,” he told her. “It’s how you say it.”

She started whining about being spoken to in such a way, so he paid for his own food and left the inn, staring in the window as the woman sat there dumbly, staring at the gift that he had neglected to take and the emptiness that was where he had been. Eventually, she struggled to her feet, dropped some gold for her meal with the innkeeper and shuffled out after him.

You speak with too much flair,” Endrall told her. “What you say, what you feel, it isn’t that important and it certainly isn’t as deep as you make it sound.” She said nothing, merely following him as he walked away from the city and into the woods surrounding it.

She said nothing, merely following him as he walked away from the city and into the woods surrounding it.

See, here’s the thing with you, Veskur. You make it sound like you’re so much more than you are by speaking in terms of poetry and philosophy, but we both know you’re little more than an empty shell. You whine and moan about being so tired, so lonely. You talk about how Figo abandoned you but we both know you never cared about Figo; you just liked having him around to boost your own ego. If you had cared about him, well, you never would have done what you did.

But you did do what you did. And, no, I don’t have to apologize for what I said then. I don’t think you’re a rapist and I never said that but I do think that you’re a monster. You’re incapable of even the most basic kindness without expecting something in return, you like putting people in your debt. It’s why I don’t trust you, why we’re not friends, but it is simply who and what you are. You should be hated for it, but you know what? I love you anyway. I love you because I’m kind, because I’m great, because I’m the one of us that’s worthy.

I don’t trust you, Veskur. You talk about yourself too much, the things you feel and the things you think, and you talk about them as if either of them matter. Yes, you can hold me. Do so now. I’ll tell you everything important, share with you all my deepest secrets. I’ll rely on you, take comfort in you, be supported by you, but you must remember that you are not worthy of the trust that I have chosen to give you. We are not friends. You understand this? We are not friends.

I read your missives and they were all poetry, all asking which of us had it worse. It’s you that does, a thousand times you, and do you know why? Because, in the end, I have my father’s love. I have Figo and Hekro and I’ve had Sotaas in ways you never will. I touched their hearts in ways that you’re not capable of. And look at you, all alone, rotting away in the wastes that your parents gave you.

My father loves me, supports me, but he never gave me my own keep. He never really gave me very much beyond love and support. So, you see, I’m better than you. I’ve built everything I am while you just accept everything that comes your way. You suffer the abuses that you do because you think you deserve it and you are absolutely correct in that thought.

And you love me, right? You love me. Say it. Say it. Say it.”

I love you.”

Of course you do.”

He held her, drew her into his arms, and he knew in that moment that everything would be alright for the people that mattered.

 

More coming next week. If you like the artwork, why not go and thank Meghan Duffy at duffyartdesign.com? She’s cool people.

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130

Geek Chic Hoplite

Culture, Lifestyle

March 23, 2017

Our CEO recently posted a picture of his new table to his facebook feed and got a general response of “yup, that’s a table.”

But it’s not just a table. It’s a Geek Chic branded Hoplite, and he wants to talk to you about what makes that special.

Our CEO needs more caffeine, clearly. The actual URL is www.geekchichq.com. The play he’s going to on Friday is Songs for a New World, which is playing at the PAL Studio Theater in Coal Harbour, Vancouver, and you can find out more about it by clicking here. We’ll have a review of it up on Saturday morning.

Aaron’s got a book out, which you can find learn more about by clicking here or purchase by clicking here. If you’d like to read a sample of his work, here’s a link to the last Love is War chapter, the next part of which goes live tomorrow.

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God of Comics: X-O Manowar #1

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

March 22, 2017

X-O Manowar #1

We spent four years calling X-O Manowar the best of all comics. We then went into detail explaining why we said this, and you can read that explanation by clicking here. Everything we said still rings true and Valiant is about to take Aric of Dacia into a whole new storyline.

For those that don’t know, Aric of Dacia was a land-locked proto-Viking at war with Rome who mistook some aliens for Romans and attacked him. He got abducted, led a revolt, was chosen by their God, teleported back to earth more than a thousand years later, fought Italy until Italy surrendered, went back to free his people, and then brought his people home.

I’m brushing over the finer details for the sake of not repeating myself, but Aric saved the world, an alien civilization, and all sentient life in the cosmos. He learned and fought and began to desire only peace, and we learn that he found what he wanted at the beginning of this comic.

He’s given up the armor, settled on an alien world, and is tilling the land. All he wants is to tend his crops and live with his mate, an alien woman he’s met on this new and primitive world. He wants to be left alone, free from the war and violence that defined his every waking breath. Even the god-armor that gave him power lies dormant and Aric is finally at peace.

So, of course, some people are going to cross him and spoil everything.

Here’s the set-up: an alien army comes recruiting and decides to drag Aric to the front lines to be used as canon-fodder, but this is motherfucking Aric of Dacia, and he will win this battle so that he can go home, but the aliens leading this army won’t let him leave, won’t hold up their end, and are going to force him to fight. They have no idea who they’re dealing with or what they’ve awoken, because Aric of Dacia is not the sort of person you want to push around.

Matt Kindt is taking over writing duties from Robert Venditti, and if there’s anyone that can bear the weight of Venditti’s crown it’s got to be Kindt. He’s the force behind the utter brilliance that is divinity, also from Valiant, and if he brings the same sense of pathos and epic to this title that he brought to that one, then we’re in for one hell of a ride.

Tomas Giorello is handling the art, and you might know him from his work on various Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian comics, which might be the single greatest resume possible to work on X-O Manowar.

Seriously, get in now. If this run ends up being even a tenth as good as the original it will still be mind-blowingly excellent.

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God of Comics: WWE #3

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

March 22, 2017

WWE #3 (Boom Studios)

Normally, I talk about the writers when I discuss comics. I love writing, am drawn to it with a certain degree of madness, and I’ve got some ideas for a comic I’ve been batting around for a while but I need an artist and it’s the artist here that I want to talk about: Dan Mora.

Dan Mora did the art for a Lovecraftian horror comic called Hexed, a spinoff from the incredible Fall of Cthulhu comic that was written by Michael Alan Nelson and also published by Boom. He also does the art for Klaus, a series that basically casts Santa Clause as Conan the Barbarian. It’s freaking brilliant and you should go and read all the things and take the time to study the gorgeous art.

Here’s the thing: that is Dan Mora’s entire body of work. He has done nothing else and this means that he is criminally under-recognized. The work he does is amazing and more people need to be aware of how amazing it is, so, kudos to you, Mr. Mora. You rock.

Case in point: the covers for this comic.

This isn’t to take away anything from the inside, either: Serg Acuña and Doug Garbank do a stellar job of capturing the insanity that is the world of professional wrestling and translate it to an entirely different medium, one that it has quite a lot in common with.

A lot of people liken professional wrestling to soap operas, but that’s not quite it. Professional wrestling is a pre-determined (not fake!) artform in which performers who are part-actor and part stunt-people pretend that they are in a wrestling show. It’s a live action comic that features larger-than-life good guys and bad guys in costume who engage in battle for a variety of complex reasons, but no fight can ever end in death and the show must go on.

Want an example of the insanity that is unique to wrestling? Recently, a swamp-dwelling cult leader had his cult infiltrated by a snake-obsessed sociopath. The sociopath ruined the cult to get to the source of the cult leader’s power, literally burning his house down to rob him of the powers granted him by the sister of Satan himself, only for the cult leader to go and baptized himself in her ashes. The two of them are one of the headlining battles at Wrestlemania this year.

And speaking of Wrestlemania, one of the big stories going into the marquee event – wrestling’s version of the SuperBowl – features Seth Rollins taking on Hunter Hearst Helmsley. You can learn more about the latter by clicking here, but Seth Rollins is something else again and this comic is about him.

Seth came in with a trio called the Shield, and they spent a year and a half dominating the whole roster before Seth betrayed his companions, selling out to his enemy to eventually become the WWE Champion. He’s an uber-talented performer who, because of his prior relationship with HHH, was treated badly by him. It was interesting, because Seth was a bad guy who was treated like a good guy by the bad guys in charge, and had good guy reactions while still being hated but appreciated by the crowd.

Did you get all that?

A little more than the grunting you thought wrestling was?

This comic goes into even more detail, giving background and expanding upon the events that led to the betrayal of the Shield, Seth’s rise to power and feud with his two blood brothers from that group, his difficult relationship with HHH, and the tragedy of a real-life injury that put him out of action for more than a year and stripped him of the heavyweight title, forcing him to come back and fight to regain the championship he never lost.

Dennis Hopeless – the writer on this – totally gets the pathos, pomp, and circumstance that goes into wrestling, and it makes this comic a hell of a lot of fun to read. Boom is onto something with this comic, and with Wrestlemania just around the corner, you might want to give this a look.

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God of Comics: The Unworthy Thor #5

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

March 22, 2017

The Unworthy Thor #5 (Marvel Comics)

While Marvel continues to copy DC Comic’s plan of fail (controversy equals cash! Everything needs to be dark and gritty! Let’s reboot the universe! Captain America is a Nazi! Magento is a Nazi! Nick Spencer is a Nazi! Wait a minute…), some of their books have managed to avoid the terrible and quietly do incredible things. Few have managed to do the incredible as well or as long as Jason Aaron’s entire run on the mythic side of Marvel Comics.

Jason’s been working on a proper set of myths, building and expanding the visions set forth by luminaries like Walt Simonson and others. He’s turned a house into a mansion, and the one event Marvel let him plan (Original Sin) gave us Heven, a background for Angela, new Nick Fury, and the new Thor. It created new stories that made sense in the context of the world and added new facets to the heroes involved, as opposed to some other more recent events (Captain Marvel screwed over all her friends because she doesn’t like Phillip K. Dick!)

Part of the consequences of Original Sin led to Thor Odinson losing his hammer. Thor, now simply the Odinson, is no longer considered Worthy. We don’t know what caused this, but he went out and tried to fight without the hammer and lost his arm in the process. His arm has since been replaced, and after giving the new Thor his blessing, went off to look for a replacement Mjolnir.

So, funny story: remember the Ultimate Universe?  It was a mostly successful attempt to place the Marvel superheroes in a more realistic setting, modernizing and condensing some classic Marvel comics. The Ultimates, their Avengers analog, was basically the template for the Avengers movie. It was good times. The Ultimate line also has Jonathan Hickman at his very best, and as critical as I am of him, his Fantastic Four is amazing.

Anyway, their version of Thor was never considered unworthy, so that Mjolnir never had a curse put on it. Anyone with the strength to do so can pick that thing up and it looks super weird and awkward, but someone as strong as Odinson isn’t going to sweat those details. There is a hammer, he wants it, and he’s on the verge of getting it.

Jason Aaron simply gets the Odinson in a way no one else does. He’s been rocking at this for years, instilling all the mythic Marvel comics with pathos and humanity. They are some of the very best that Marvel has to offer on an epic scale, what with Doctor Strange and the Mighty Thor and the Unworthy Thor, and if you’re not reading this and want to see what sort of magic Marvel is capable of you should pick this up.

All those comics feature some of the best artists that Marvel can get their hands on, and the Unworthy Thor is no exception; Olivier Coipel is doing some amazing things with this book, so if you’re in this for the pretty you will not be disappointed. Check it out.

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God of Comics: Iron Fist #1

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

March 22, 2017

Iron Fist #1 (Marvel Comics)

uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh.

So, the Netflix series happened. I’m about halfway through it not, and it’s… there, I guess? The better side of okay, maybe? There’s just a lot of stuff that they touch on that doesn’t seem to pay off with the main story: everything they’re doing with the Hand is great, but the main story is just kind of there. Nothing happens. There’s chances to talk about corporate greed in more than just a superficial way.

Daredevil was about legal and political corruption. Jessica Jones was about rape culture and PTSD. Luke Cage was about institutionalized racism and crime. Iron Fist is about… what, exactly? American Exceptionalism?

It’s frustrating. The show introduces the concept of heaven and time-displaced cities, hints at talking about corporate greed and the burgeoning class war, touches on colonialism and stereotypes, and even brushes in some talk about PTSD in a different way than Jessica Jones does. There’s mention of reality and expectation and then none on it is followed up upon.

Danny is joyless, laughless, exhibiting a sort of douche-bro cool that comes from a cishet white rich high schooler who went backpacking for the summer and just has to tell you about it. He doesn’t struggle. There’s no danger of him starving or dying of cold or being harrassed when he’s poor. And he comes across as a rude jackass Harry Stu, what with his moralizing without humor, lack of self-awareness, and walking into someone else’s dojo and trying to take over.

The whole thing is irritating.

And yet, I still have high hopes for this series.

Writer Ed Brisson has a proven track record and digging into the guts of a character’s themes, especially characters like this. Look at the work he did on Sheltered or the Violent, or his other big Marvel comic, Bullseye. He gets it, the view from the trenches, the utter destruction that an entire generation is enduring, and what are superheroes if not a means of fighting back against the corruption that is killing us all?

The set-up sounds like Ed has that very concept in mind: to start, K’un Lun is in ruins. Heaven is ruined. Because of this, the flow of chi – the life force of everything on the planet, the pure life energy that gives Danny his powers – is flickering away into nothing. Danny Rand is pushing himself to the breaking point trying to find some means of fighting the decay of his immortal power but the implications are terrifying.

If the life-force of the planet is fading, then so is the life of the planet. Danny might be the only person with the training to recognize the damage being done, but as his strength entropies he might not be in a position to do anything about it – not physically, anyway. Not through brute force. He might need to turn to a battlezone he’s unfamiliar with, the war that is politics, to save us all.

No idea if that’s where this is going, but it feels like a very Ed Brisson thing to do and I kinda wanna see that story. Social martial arts? If someone doesn’t write that I’m going to. Mike Perkins is handling art, and you might remember him from the awesome Ed Brubaker run on Captain America that Marvel and Nick Spencer betrayed when they turned Captain America in a Nazi.

Anyways, this sounds like a lot of fun. Check it out.

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God of Comics: Bloodshot Reborn #1

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

March 22, 2017

Bloodshot: Reborn #0 (Valiant Entertainment)

Quietly, subtlely, Jeff Lemire has been writing an opus to the different flavors action stories come in. Taken as a whole, Bloodshot has been a masterwork – the sort of nuanced and detailed storytelling that you wouldn’t expect from something that started as a pure action story, but both the comic and the character the comic is about have evolved over the past four or five years through the application of consequence, a thing that Valiant Comics excels at.

The story began with a super soldier named Ray being deployed against enemies of the United States. Ray was an ordinary looking person who, when activated, turned into a snow white-skinned ghoul with solid red eyes and a red circle on his chest. He was super strong and fast, able to regenerate from all kinds of damage, and could hack into and take-over any machines in his range.

He was also part of a conspiracy, his family and memories a lie concocted to keep him loyal. The powers behind the politicians of the world – the bankers and corporations that profit off of human suffering – were worried about a man named Toyo Harada. Harada combines the best parts of Professor X and Magneto, only he started a corporation himself and was working against profit and capitalism, subverting the system from the inside. He was also, personally speaking, on par with gods so far as power: a telekinetic and telepath who can affect things on a microscopic level. Bloodshot was created to kill Harada, but in the process of his creation he ended up with a soul.

Since then he’s gained power, lost power, had allies and watched them die, been the subject of a manhunt, fought himself, discovered the full weight and history of the conspiracy that created him, and fought against the powers that be to free all humanity from the shackles of greed and avarice. He’s also made a massive mess in the process. This is not a comic for the faint of heart, but those of you that want some thought packed in with your ultraviolence really should be reading this title.

Also, Sony is planning a Bloodshot live-action film and Valiant did a web series where Bloodshot was played by Jason David Frank (the Green Power Ranger), so Bloodshot has that going for it. No idea if Frank will reprise the role for the movie, but Dave Wilson is directing. Wilson did promotional videos for some small projects like Halo and Titanfall 2 and that awesome mini-movie that announced a new Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game. He’s also the partner of Tim Miller, who you might remember having directed a little film called Deadpool.

With Sony having finally clued in that making good movies that happen to have comic book characters in them rather than making comic book movies is why Marvel is doing so well (as evidenced by Logan and Deadpool), we have high hopes for this eventual release. If you’re looking for the early scoop on something that can and should be awesome, get into the comics now.

It’s the perfect moment. Jeff is starting the next part of his epic saga here, so this? This is the moment that you’re going to want to jump on board. Renato Guedes, on art duties, will shock you with how pretty his art is. Do not miss this.

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Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:03

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

March 17, 2017

Click here to read the previous entry. 

Sotaas watched as it all unfolded. There was nothing that could be hidden from him, not a moment that passed that he was unaware of. Oh, the warlords of the Coeecians thought they were secretive when they met in their eyries or caves or tents, but there was always wildlife around them and anywhere life prevailed he could see. Even in those places where there was no life he could go, slipping between their moments of awareness.

No place was safe from him. There was no where to which he was unattached, no distance he could not cross with a thought. All space was a single space to him, though as he become more aware of that it was harder for him to focus on a single location. There were times he felt like letting himself unravel, sinking into every measurement of length and width and depth until there was nothing left of him. Some sense of things always held him back, however.

Some sense of things. He wondered if he was going mad.

His left hand ached, sometimes, but still he refused to take the gaurn off. He had left the civilized world to calm himself and sort through his feelings for treacherous Veskur and unfaithful Endrall, but his efforts in that area had been underwhelming at best. A terrible anger grew in his heart, a rage and a hatred that no one would be able to withstand should he ever let it free.

Sotaas’ reasons for remaining in the wilds were, he would have thought, obvious.

Members of his House sometimes came looking for him. They were the best trackers and scouts in all Midgard, a House that prided itself on such activities. He stood in the midst, sometimes, and listened to their words, cobbling together a picture of what was happening among the Vanir as they made war on the Coeecians.

It all seemed so trivial out here and in the wilds. The idea that thousands and thousands of people were dying in every battle over some imaginary border, over which way of living was right. Couldn’t the Coeecians see how wrong they were? Were their thought processes too flawed to understand the superiority they consistently threw themselves against? It baffled Sotaas, left him thinking that there was some part of their physiology that was wrong. No matter how many of them he dissected, however, he was unable to discover what that mistake was.

So he wandered along the borderlands, unseen by all – his nation, his House, his Njord and Freyr and Freya. No one could find him due to his mastery of the ethcinos and he vowed that he would never know a personal tie again, never be bound by thought and heart to anyone that he could love. There would be no more friends who betrayed him, Njords that asked him to do unsavory things, lovers who soothed with words while stabbing into his guts with a smile.

He moved east and further east, past the Darroken lands and into the Middle Kingdom of a people called the Hsien, then further east still to a nation of shattered islands. It was here that the sun was born every day and here where he set down to watch light vanquish darkness every last mourning. There was something soothing about the birth of light, a vision taken in absolute solitude as the days slithered past and bled together.

“Sotaas?”

The voice startled him. The question in it wasn’t one of presence; the speaker knew he was there but wasn’t certain of his exact location. Sotaas turned and stared from a place of hiding, wondering if this woman – the inventor of the Science that kept him hidden – could see through that very Science. He did not think so, but had learned long ago that it was never wise to believe that a Lady like Veskur Wyrd had any limitations at all.

“I know you’re here.”

Sotaas circled her, his consciousness wandering through the world around her. Veskur was sitting down in a natural break in the woods they were in, her bum resting on the grass, her eyes downcast. She was trembling, frightened, though of what exactly Sotaas was not certain. He drew a dryw as he circled, considered jabbing it through the skull of his old friend as he stalked around her prone form. The Lady had to know what was happening but she offered no defense, did not even raise arms or head.

“I came to a-apologize.”

Sotaas stopped. He was not certain if he had ever heard that note of quiet desperation in Veskur’s voice – he had kept tabs on Endrall and Veskur only enough to know that there had been some sort of falling out between them. Endrall, he knew, had half-heartedly tried to contact him for a while, but even the ghost of attention that Sotaas paid the darling of House Suwilo allowed him knowledge of his old lover’s thoughts; when Endrall spoke of Veskur it was in nothing but insults. He had even taken Veskur’s name away, referring to her as the dryw.

“There’s a peace offering. Will you drink with me?”

Slow, gentle, Veskur shrugged a pack off her shoulders and opened it, producing a bottle of fine wine and two glasses. She possessed none of her usual arrogance right now, Sotaas saw, held none of the manic confidence that had always been her air and armor.

“Please? I’m sorry, Sotaas, I’m sorry for everything. I don’t, I didn’t…”

Sotaas was not certain when he took Veskur in her arms. They held one another for a time, grasping at one another, holding one another steady in the face of their separation. They discussed everything, leaving no truth unlit no matter the ugliness of it. They spoke for days, the sun rising and sleeping over them as they banished all the things that stood between them.

“I can forgive you,” Sotaas said, finally. “I can forgive you because you understand that you were wrong and you came out here to find me. Do not expect me to forgive him.”

“I wouldn’t ask that.”

“Did you know he asked me not to take a lover after he left?” Sotaas felt bile rise in his throat. “He told me it would break him to see me with someone else. And then, not a moon after his absence, he was lying with an echo of his mother.”

“Hekro.”

“If that is her name.” Sotaas scowled, clenched and unclenched his hands. “What has been happening in Midgard?”

“Much. Where would you like me to begin?”

“Politics and succession. I would like to know what sort of jungle I’m getting into now that I am rejoining the rest of the Vanir.”

Veskur smiled and nodded, telling Sotaas everything she knew.

Click here to read the next chapter. If you like the artwork, why not go and thank Meghan Duffy at duffyartdesign.com? She’s cool people.

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Amy Jo Johnson Wants to Watch a Movie With You

Culture, film, Showcase, Videos

March 15, 2017

You remember Amy Jo Johnson, yes? With all the attention being paid to the new Power Rangers movie, we thought it might be interesting to take a look at what one of the originals is doing – and, in short, she is continuing her quest to be awesome.

Amy’s gone on to act in other projects (Felecity and Flashpoint), flirted with music (The Trans-American Treatment and Imperfect),  and done a number of short films (Bent, Lines, and others). She was kind enough to take a moment from her incredibly busy schedule to speak with us before, and you can read that interview by clicking here. She’s not the sort to rest on her laurels, though, and has just completed writing, directing, and producing her first-ever feature film, The Space Between Us.

Here’s the trailer:

That looks both cute and poignant, which is interesting given the potential seriousness of the subject material.

According to press materials, “The Space Between is a heartfelt comedy about Mitch, a 35-year-old new father, whose world is turned upside down when he finds out his adored baby isn’t his. Leaving his wife, he sets out on a mission to find the man who ruined his life. As his wife Jackie is desperate to win him back, she enlists the help of her best friend and family as they embark on a journey to find Mitch.” It’s was the 2014 IndieWire Project of the Year, part of the 2015 Tribeca All Access Program, the 2015 Telefilm Micro Budget program, and developed in the producers’ lab at the Canadian Film Center. It premiered at the Shanghai International Film Festival before moving on to the Whistler Film Festival, the Savannah Film Festival, and is about to be shown at Gina Davis’ Bettonville Film Festival.

It stars Michael Ironside (Top Gun), Kristian Bruun (Orphan Black), Jayne Eastwood (Chicago), Julia Sarah Stone (Wet Bum), and Amy herself.

All of that is kind of great, but it is not the coolest part of this whole endeavour: rather, Amy Jo Johnson has started The Space Between Super Host Theatrical Tour, wherein eight lucky winners of a contest will be chosen to host a special one-night screening of the film with Amy Jo Johnson herself in their hometown. The contest opens March 15th and goes through to April 1st, 2017, with the eight winners being announced at the end of April and the film going on tour in the summer of this year.

The Space Between team will handle all of the logistics of booking the theater and the eight winners will get to take home 5% of the Producer’s Box Office earnings for their screening, and get to spend the evening with Amy Jo Johnson as the host of the event.

Giveaways are also part of the contest, with Amy awarding prizes that include t-shirts, Skype dates, and a one-time grand prize private dinner with Amy Jo Johnson and her producer, Jessica Adams. You can, should, and must click here to learn more and fill out an application, or click here if you want to learn more.  In short, applicants will submit a pitch video describing why they want to host the film and Amy in their hometown and how they plan to bring their friends, family, and community out for the screening that night.

The Space Between team can be found on Twitter and FaceBook simply be clicking the place you’d like to communicate with them. Amy Jo Johnson is also on Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, and has her very own website, and you can find any of those spots by clicking on them. All of them are pretty great.

Good luck, peoples. The clock it is ticking.

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