Monthly Archives: August 2016

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Episode 69: Smash Squad (RIP)

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Too good for this world.
Too good for this world.

We nabbed ace game designer Brandon Bozzi for a great, funny interview about the design process and the economy of free-to-play games. We’re sad to report that Smash Squad, the game he was working on and discussing, has been axed since we recorded this, but we felt that the conversation was worth hearing anyway. We hope to have Brandon back on in the near future to talk about his next project, which for now must remain a mystery.

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On the Origin of Tee-Hees

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“I have a theory about the Joker,” said the most pretentious nerd ever.

Okay, now that I’ve acknowledged my extreme worthlessness, let’s get on with it. I think it’s impossible for the Joker to have a satisfying origin story. I don’t mean that there’s no writer good enough or idea captivating enough to work. I mean that any satisfying origin story cannot work for the Joker by definition.

It's not funny!
It’s not funny!

There are many, many explanations for The Joker peppering the literature. Some of the most interesting takes on his background (like The Killing Joke, which does contain some remarkable writing despite its vile and demeaning treatment of Barbara Gordon) acknowledge that they are on shaky ground at best, or even outright lies spun by the least reliable narrator. Some of the best interpretations of the character (The Dark Knight, duh) don’t bother explaining him at all, and this gets at the heart of my argument.

While he was occasionally little more than a clown- or playing-card-themed villain (see the Silver Age Batman comics for examples), he has largely been an agent of pure chaos*. When he lapses into logic, it’s invariably to show Batman how puny and unreliable reason is when confronted with reality–using logic to refute itself. The best Joker stories revolve around his provoking Batman to question or abandon his ideals, and he invariably wins by losing. He personifies the second law of thermodynamics, and that’s why he’s so compelling and terrifying: he reminds us that death is inevitable and the universe is uncaring.

He’s not a person so much as he’s an abstraction. That’s true for many comic book characters (e.g. The Hulk is rage), but in his case it limits his personhood much more sharply. Rage and other heroic/villainous qualities are human, but chaos transcends humanity–heck, it transcends what we think of as reality. If you are chaos, then you aren’t a person with a history, much less an origin story.

The Joker can either be a terrific iconic villain, or he can have an interesting backstory. But maybe what we need is more contradiction. I’m all in favor of adding more and more canonical origin stories to the mix until eventually we realize that they’re all wrong and misguided and unimportant. Tell us all the lies and one day we’ll see the truth.

And so it goes. Gotham has been nodding and winking about The Joker’s origin even as it’s been ducking and weaving in an effort to avoid the inevitable. If we’re all lucky (especially the showrunners), it’ll be cancelled before the big, unsatisfying reveal. Or maybe they know what they’re doing and can find a way to just call down the Joker without explanation. I’d watch the hell out of that.

* When I use the word “chaos,” I don’t mean random or ever-changing. I mean a state that reflects complexities our minds aren’t complex enough to understand. It’s the natural order of the universe that can’t be compressed into the artificial order we create with our minds. I swear to god I am not high.

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Episode 68 – Stranger Things

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What happens when people stop being nostalgic and start getting real.
What happens when people stop being nostalgic and start getting real.

We’re all over Stranger Things, Netflix’s homage to all of the 1980s. They may have poached Mary’s memoir title, but we can’t hold that against them because the show is just that perfect. When we recorded, Mary had binged the hell out of it while Rob had just dabbed a pinky toe in, but our enthusiasm is loud and clear (and correct).

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We need to talk about Preacher

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AMC's new fantasy softball team
AMC’s new fantasy softball team

You guys. I just watched the finale of AMC’s Preacher adaptation–the one we talked about a few weeks back–and I’ve got some thoughts. If you’ve never read the comics and don’t intend to, skip down to the heading “OK, THEN, LET’S GET ON WITH IT.”

First, I need to revise what I said about the comics. I’ve reread the series since that episode, and the icky stuff is ickier than I had remembered. The comics’ attitudes toward women, people of color, and especially LGBTQ people are conflicted at best. Writer Garth Ennis consistently calls out and makes fun of bigotry–yay! At the same time, he uses gay male sexuality as a punch line so often that it feels like self-parody. As for the theme of modern American men coming to terms with women’s equality, yeah, it’s in there–but I don’t think Ennis went deep enough to pull it off. He could have taken one more step and created a fascinating take on women’s deaths as plot devices (“fridging”), but he never quite gets there, sticking instead with a fairly standard romance. Sigh.

But it’s silly to talk about what someone else’s work could or should have been. It is what it is, and what it is is problematic. The best of the series is still fantastic, but the worst of it is puerile.

What about the AMC series? It diverges so massively, in so many ways, from the comics that it’s like hearing that Avatar was based on The Smurfs. If you’re a fan of the comics, expect major differences in plot, characters, and relationships. Many of these changes were necessary to adapt the format to multiseason drama, but some are just inexplicable:

  • Jesse and Tulip knew each other as children instead of meeting by chance in a lurv-at-first-sight moment.
  • Arseface’s father is a tough, confused, but loving dad instead of a monstrously hateful bigot.
  • The pathetic second-string angels Fiore and Deblanc are elevated to big-bad status, sort of.
  • Jesse’s congregation survives his first taste of Genesis.

If Ennis and artist Steve Dillon weren’t involved in the production, I’d blame show creators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for letting their self-indulgence run wild. But it could be they’ve just decided to tell a very different story, and it seems as if they’ve shed much of the most problematic material from the books.

OK, THEN, LET’S GET ON WITH IT
The show is lovely. It alternates densely-packed action with long, dawdling moments of conversation against a backdrop of Texas wasteland. The basic narrative of the show takes its time to develop, but here’s the elevator pitch: A troubled preacher with a past accidentally becomes the host for a power that rivals God’s.

The acting is terrific across the board. Dominic Cooper works surprisingly well as the lead, despite shifting the character away from the strong silent type toward someone more comfortable using his mind-control power. Ruth Negga is brilliant as Tulip, stepping up her game from Agents of SHIELD while baiting the racists and delivering one of the best character introductions in modern memory. Joseph Gilgun (Misfits) is perfect as Cassidy the vampire, full stop. And oh god Jackie Earle Haley kills it as bad guy Odin Quincannon.

The dialogue is good fun, and the exposition is never insulting, even though there is quite a lot of it. The show looks and feels unsettling and hyperreal, as if something terrible is just about to happen. (It usually is.) My one faint critique is that the first season felt like it was all just a setup for the next. It was a fun ride, but we didn’t get very far.

So! It’s definitely worth watching, unless your tolerance for violence is low-to-middling. It’s somewhere between Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, so it’s not for everyone. If you can handle blood spatters, lovingly rendered shotgun blasts, and cries of “He shot my dick off,” you’re all set.

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Episode 67 – Pokemon Go

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Pokemon Go Home! (Photo credit: José María Mateos)
Pokemon Go Home! (Photo credit: José María Mateos)

Pokemon WHAAAA? Mary tells us all we need to know about this quick-burning craze that is swallowing people’s data plans whole even as it enforces unprecedented exercise goals on unsuspecting nerds. Rob explains shutting it down after discovering that his closet is infested with Zubats, while Paul wryly observes his son’s dealings with this reality we call augmented.

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