Musings on Cyberpunk Girls

In the 1990s a trend of cyberpunk action girls swept through anime, riding the wave of science fiction shows. Of this trend two characters, Major Matoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell, and Alita/Gally from Battle Angel Alita/Gunnm, managed to make enough of an impression to justify Hollywood adaptions. Both characters exist in an interesting space in anime/manga as they are shown to be both physically and mentally competent as heroines, empowered by their statues as cyborgs. The connection between the cyborg body and escape from traditional dichotomies such as gender roles has been discussed before with Donna Harraway’s work The Cyborg Manifesto which states:

“Cyborg imagery can help express two crucial arguments in this essay: first, the production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality, probably always, but certainly now; and second, taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts. It is not just that science and technology are possible means of great human satisfaction, as well as a matrix of complex dominations. Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia. It is an imagination of a feminist speaking in tongues to strike fear into the circuits of the supersavers of the new right. It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, space stories.” (Harraway, 181)

Because of this, I think it is worthy to compare they two characters with both each other and the progenitor of their archetype Molly Millions from William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy to see why they left a noticeable impact on the popular consciousness.
Before I continue I wish to note two things, that I will be comparing Major Makoto Kusanagi as portrayed in the film Ghost in the Shell by Mamuro Oshii, as it made the largest impact on the western consciousness, and that I will be referring to Alita by her name in the American translation rather than her Japanese name of Gally.

1. Molly Millions
Molly Millions, cybernetically enhanced “razorgirl,” first appeared in William Gibson’s 1981 short story Johnny Mnemonic, and became a major recurring character throughout all his work set in the Sprawl. Like the many women who followed in her wake, she is a mysterious, dark haired, and skilled in combat. She is both a foil and romantic interest to the main character Case within the narrative, serving as the team’s muscle while Case contributes his skills as a hacker. Throughout the narrative most action scenes are told from the perspective of Case cybernetically looking through Molly’s eyes, with Case being portrayed as vastly inferior in combat to her. Similarly, while the narrative could fall into the trap of portraying Molly as uneducated about cyberspace she is also shown to be quite aware of Case’s line of work, keeping up with the various slang surrounding hacking. This role reversal extends to how they act, with Yap Chee Hui and Babaee in their article The Identity of Female Cyborg in William Gibson’s Neuromancer noting that “Case is always on the safe side while Molly aggressively moves around getting her things done. ” (Yap Chee Hui, Babaee 62) This serves to subvert the norms of the science fiction novel, which tend to feature women taking a background role as support, while the male characters perform the more important tasks.

Mollys physical competency as a razorgirl though is inherently tied to her statues as a cyborg and her relationship with technology. As with nearly all characters in Neuromancer Molly grew up in poverty and because of this she was only able to afford her implants through being a sex worker. While Molly initially is fine with this as software is implanted in your mind that makes you unconscious of the acts performed, after her boss discovers about her razor implants he switches her software out with another program which forced her to perform snuff acts. In doing so her body is exploited and violated without her consent to perform unethical acts, so the boss can turn a larger profit. This fits into a running theme in the novel where larger systems such as governments, patriarchal control, and capitalism serve to exploit normal people. Molly’s story is mirrored by another character, Corto who was abandoned by the US government in a botched mission to Russia, leaving him both mentally and physically destroyed, only to again be exploited by a rogue computer AI, Wintermute who builds a false personality called Armitage to inhabit the body. While Corto and Molly’s stories are both tragic and leave both physically scare, Molly does come out the other end empowered, having gained economic mobility, and physical empowerment through the experience. In addition, while Molly’s has implants such as reflective eyes which prevent her from crying that physically dehumanize her, this technology hardly dehumanizes her as a person. She does not become cold and inhuman like Armitage through this technology and exploitation rather “For Molly who craves for power, technology is a way to enhance and shape her identity to further protect herself from masculinity.” ( Yap Chee Hui, Babaee 64) While many other sci-fi stories see it fit to portray “strong female characters” as simply women who act wholly masculine, in Neuromancer Molly is able to express masculine traits while keeping feminine ones. Like Harraway’s cyborg she escapes the dichotomies of gender roles through technology. Molly is initially shown to be very tough and mysterious but over time is shown to be an emotionally open person, forming a romantic relationship with the protagonist Case and eventually sharing information about her past to him. At the same time Molly is by no means reliant or attached to him, eventually leaving Case after the mission is finished, the novel ending on the words “He never saw Molly again.” Molly’s character shows that while technology itself can be empowering, larger systems can end up using this technology to exploit normal people.

2. The Major
On the surface Major Matoko Kusanagi is a very similar character to Molly Millions, both characters are both physically similar, with both being dark haired, and hawkish, frequently shown to be clad in dark clothes, with a large amount of time spent on their inhuman cybernetic eyes. They both are portrayed as competent both physically and mentally at the jobs they perform, with the Major being a skilled combatant using her cybernetically enhanced body to perform assassinations and other military procedures. Though they both achieve this this empowerment through technology it also leads to their exploitation by larger systems, with the Major’s cybernetic body, (and possibly her memories) not actually being her own, but rather being created and in the case of her body, owned by the government. Unlike molly though she shows concern over this, fretting over where this exploitation leaves her statues as a human. She also is on the other side of the law, working for a shady government group called Section 9, an organization while still unethical is a far cry from the criminal nature of Molly’s work.
The largest difference between the Molly and the Major though is that Ghost in the Shell offers a solution to the exploitative use of technology that plagues both characters, with the films conclusion portraying a fusion between the Major and the films antagonist a rogue AI called the Puppet Master, that frees her from both her body and from governmental control. As put by Brian Ruh

“Kusanagi’s merger with the Puppet Master helps her free herself from the hierarchy of Section 9 and the confinement of her previous body. The presence of this hierarchy is shown as being essential to Kusanagi’s concept of self as well as its potential downfall through her cyborg body. Although Kusanagi “inhabits” her body, it belongs to the government, thereby ensuring her obedience. Her body serves as her own prison, ensnared by the constant potential for observation. Yet she does not fight directly against this force, but rather discovers a way around it, a way to subvert it. By merging with the Puppet Master, Kusanagi discards the need for her previous, government-owned body and is free to pursue whatever course of action or existential quest on which she may choose to embark.” (Ruh, 137)

Through this fusion Oshii shows that while technology can be both exploitative and empowering a perfect balance can be struck between the two, freeing humanity from the dichotomies and systems placed on us. It serves as more idealistic view of Harraway’s idea of a cyborg, as the Major is able to transcend these dichotomies in a way that frees her rather than having to live eith the trauma that Molly has. This fusion also makes the Major unique among the women mentioned her as it places her in a maternal role creating something completely new in the fusion that is said to be neither the Major nor the Puppet Master, and inhabits a body which is noticeably younger than the major. This fits in with the films message that what separates humans from machines is are ability to grow and create something new and unique, not simply copy and replicate ourselves. This maternal role does not weaken Kusanagi since “at the end of the film, we see Kusanagi contemplating the vastness of the Net, implying that she will be going out into society as she always has done rather than becoming focused on home and family,” (Ruh 134-135) but it does set her apart from the other characters discussed her, with Molly ultimately abandoning her relationship with Case and Alita, as we will soon discuss, takes on the role of a daughter rather than a mother.

3. Alita
Alita is noticeably different from her fellow cyborgs in numerous ways, the most apparent of which is that Alita, to put it simply, cuter. [be sure to add shit from BFG] Her eyes are large and expressive, her face is rounded and soft, and her hair is extremely poofy. While the Major sported similarly cute features in her original manga incarnation, these features were jettisoned for the Oshii’s film, which emphasized the inhumanness of her body. At the same time, certain elements of Alitas design, such as her hair, her coat, or the metallic implants under her eyes, can be framed in ways which make her appear intimidating. Compared with other “moe” character designs, Alita has a certain fluidity to it, allowing her to be both fearsome and cute. As an example, Nia from Tengen Toppen Gurren Lagann, is a character who for most of the show is always portrayed as cute, even when she is acting rebellious or intimidating. During the final arc when she is possessed, she is even redesigned to look more creepy and inhuman. To put it simply, Nia’s character design needs to be altered to look intimidating, while Alita’s does not. While there are certainly other character designs that have the same fluidity as Alita’s it is still a rarity among female characters.

Beyond just her character design, Alita is set apart by her naivete and innocence. While the other characters are hardened cynics, Alita is inexperienced and filled with a positive outlook on the brutal world she is in. This outlook affects how she deals with similar issues to the ones that plagued the others. Alitas rebellion against a large patriarchal system occurs when she disobeys her surrogate father Ido’s wishes and goes off to become a bounty hunter and fight the villain, after which she gains a new cybernetically enhanced body. Interestingly this is framed more as a story of a child gaining autonomy from an overprotective paternalistic father, rather than an escape from exploitation. It is worth noting that Alita gains physical empowerment after gaining emotional empowerment and autonomy. For Alita the new cybernetic body only empowers her, unlike the Major. Likewise, when she questions whether her body is truly human it is within the context over whether her first crush can love her when she is half cyborg.

This naivete places Alita in the category of what Saito Tamaki called “the beautiful fighting girl,” female characters who are portrayed as physically powerfully while “their pure and lovable girlishness remains intact.” (Tamaki, 7) When Tamaki maps out a lineage of the beautiful fighting girls he places Alita in the Pygmalion lineage, which is full of characters that Tamaki determines have a certain “empty subjectivity” (Tamaki, 106) to them, due to their statues as creations. Probably the most famous character he places in this lineage is Rei Ayanami, who also has the same emptiness. I feel this evaluation is a bit off for Alita and Rei, as both characters end up becoming more than their initial emptiness and naivete would imply. In particular, Rei’s character arc is about finding one’s own identity, rather than defining yourself based on other people’s notions and ideas.

At least on the surface, Tamaki’s Beautiful Fighting Girl and Harraway’s Cyborg are similar. Both concepts explore the muddled world between the binaries that society has set out for women, though both reach very different conclusions especially given Tamaki’s focus on Otaku sexuality. Still, it is interesting that Alita fits into both definitions and categories, as she is both naïve and sweet, yet empowered through technology. She stands apart from the other cyborgs though as she gains autonomy first through rebelling against Ido, then gains a cybernetic body which empowers her, rather than the others, who gain empowerment only after they gain cybernetically enhanced bodies. In some ways this is a healthier message than the others, as Alita does not need be exploited by a larger system to gain empowerment.

Overall it is not hard to see why these characters had the impact they did. They exemplify the ethos of cyberpunk fiction, exploring how the current systems of our world would interact with futuristic technology. Each character is autonomous and powerful, yet emotionally open, straying far away from the common view of empowered female characters as masculine “ice queens”. They are interesting because they exist outside of the traditional binaries set out for female characters within fiction.

Citations

  • Geraldine Yap Chee Hui and Ruzbeh Babaee. “The Identity of Female Cyborg in William Gibson’s Neuromancer.” International Journal of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies 3, no. 2 (2015): 62-65.
  • Saitō, Tamaki, Keith Vincent, Dawn Lawson, and Hiroki Azuma. Beautiful Fighting Girl. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
  • Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Theorizing Feminism: Parallel Trends in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Westview Press, 1994. 424-57.
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How coloring affects a story

This is basically an aborted script for a video i dont plan on making. Like all my writing its probably terrible.

When it comes to making comic books probably they most underrated member of the production team is the colorist. While coloring occasionally will be talked about its rare that anyone has a “favorite colorist” they can pick out, whereas even they most entry level reader can pick at least one writers or artist they like. This is a shame to me because coloring beyond being just visually appealing when done right, can also give us a deeper insight into what the comic book is trying to convey. It also is probably the biggest way that comic books, at least American comics is distinct from manga. In light of this I will attempt to demonstrate some clever ways comic books have used coloring throughout the years.
To start off let’s talk about my favorite series being published right now, Paper Girls a series which is currently colored by Matt Wilson, and its use of color is used to clearly define the era the characters are in. Paper Girls is a series which starts out in the 1980s, then moves towards the 2010s and as of late the prehistoric era. For each time period the color changes, with the 1980s coloring using soft pinks and purples, contrasted with bright yellows, evocative of the era. The modern era keeps the soft purples and pinks, but removes the bright yellows giving a sort of sobering atmosphere emphasizing the depressing outcomes of its characters in the future. The prehistoric times eschew all of this for a palette of greens, and blues, showing a disconnect from the other two eras, with a more natural color scheme. It’s a visual signifier of setting within the series and is great shorthand for someone to instantly tell what when the story is taking place. The colors define the era and thus also the setting of the book.
Another great use of color to define time is in the Batman story zero year, where the colors, done by Dave Mccreig, are meant to call back to the era of 4 color comics where batman first appeared in, emphasizing purples and bright yellows in environments where they really wouldn’t appear like caves. It’s not so much a way to define the era the comic is set, but rather pay homage to an era long gone.
To return to the use of coloring as setting, its time to talk about the big daddy of all comics, Watchmen, colored by John Higgens, which famously uses a color palette of secondary colors like brown, purple, and yellow, rather than the primary colors used in comics. It gives comic a gritty noir inspired vibe that presents a much darker world than you would see in normal superhero comics. Its been mentioned that primary colors like red have been used for shocking scenes in the past but this is far from all that watchmen does with color. For example in issue 2 while rorshach is intimidating molach it flashes back to when the Comedian is confessed to Moloch each panel of the grid is either purple or yellow reminiscent of a chessboard. This is broken up by the final panel of these two pages where the last two panels transition from the comedian grabbing moloch in a pov shot with orange coloring to that of Rorschach doing the same pose but with the dominant color being yellow. It provides a break from flashback to reality that is startling while at the same time somewhat smooth, the contrast being the actual line art and the coloring amplifying the discomfort one is supposed to feel. There are numerous other great examples throughout watchmen but fellating watchmen is a well covered field at this point, and one I will certainly return to so for now I rest my case and jump back into the world of modern comics with one of my favorites Shade the Changing Girl.
Shade which is colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick uses coloring to express mindset more than setting. In the series Loma Shade is an alien who travels to earth using the madness cloak which visualizes her emotions and feelings about the world around her. The use of a broad spectrum of bright poppy colors all across the comic express how Shade is being almost overloaded with new sensations and emotions on earth. It gives off the impression of being both beautiful and overwhelming, which ties in to how shade must keep the madness caused by the cloak in check. It allows us to see the world through shades eyes giving life to her visualizations of human interactions. It also sets the book apart from nearly every other dc book which is always a plus against the tide of homogeneity that threatens to overtake comic books every year.

Jumping back to another Alan Moore comic that takes a similar approach to exploring the psyche of its characters through coloring, the original 1988 coloring of the killing joke, once again colored by Higgens is a masterful in its use of color. The kaleidoscopic color scheme of the book gives it a absolutely disorienting feel to match the story of insanity. In contrast to watchmen the colors, are more at home with colorful superhero stories of the time but taken to an extreme degree. It matches well with the message of the comic which recontextualizes the classic narrative of batman vs. the joker as a tragic cycle of violence and obsession, slowly leading both deeper and deeper down a hole.

Notice how the color green is used to represent whenever someone is being psychologically taxed or in a state of madness. For example when gorden is being tortured by the circus freaks nearly every shot we have of him prominently features the bright green of the grass. This is used most effectively during the jokers origin story where the color green is completely absent until we see jack diving into a green pool of chemicals, which transform him into the joker. This culminates in the hall of mirrors scene which is awash in green light while joker is giving a speech on his philosophy until batman rebukes him by smashing through the mirrors, which breaks up the colors showing his rejection of the jokers worldview. Also of note is the Killing Jokes use of reds for high stress situations such as the attack on Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordons torturous ride through the amusement park, the moment when Joker pulls a gun on batman which turns out to be fake, and when Jack puts on the Red Hood helmet. In the moment when the character is put under the largest amount of duress he has been throughout the entire comic he is literally wearing a red helmet and cape which tin everything he sees with the color red.
This sadly is lost in the recoloring by Brian Bolland years later, which is sadly the version that is most widely distributed and available. It marks a trend in comics of unnecessary recolors which provide uninteresting changes to their original works. The Killing Joke recolor makes it look like an ugly grey mess, while the recolor of the Morrison and Quitely’s classic miniseries flex mentallo for the trade gives the art tones which look less colorful and more realistic, a strange choice for a book with such a surreal and whimsical tone. Most egregious of all is the series of Noir books that DC is now publishing which strip works of their coloring entirely leaving everything in black and white, which for a cash grab is one that’s pretty worthless and detracts from what there trying to sell. It only serves to illustrate how underrated the colorist is in the process of making comic books. So next time you sit down to read your favorite comic try and give the coloring some thought while your flipping through. For all you know it may completely change how you view the comic.

Blank Generation

A look at Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell’s Zenith

European comics tend to be focused on stories serialized in about 8-10 pages in magazines such as 2000 AD, Warrior, or Heavy Metal, mostly in black and white. It’s a similar set up to that featured in the manga industry without the insane demands that are placed upon mangaka. The format can be somewhat tough many authors to adapt too. At this point they would have clawed their way through tons of short comics (in the case of 2000 AD these short comics are its Future Shocks features which are short twist based Sci-Fi stories), and are suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar world of trying to make a long form series told in short pages. Despite the fact some of the formatting can lead to awkward storytelling, this is a seen as as a stepping stone in British comics almost every major British comic book author having worked on one series, and the format has given us some classics. For example the first 2/3 of both Alan Moores Miracleman and V for Vendetta were released in this format in Warrior magazine, and 2000 ADs most famous work Judge Dredd has reached an iconic status in the comic book industry.

One benefit that was granted to these authors despite the storytelling drawback was the lax attitude towards content. These stories were rife with violence and sexuality at a time when this content was boundary pushing and not played out. These comics were able to play with the tropes and context of many genres through a different light. It was punk debauchery mixed with heady science fiction equal parts titillating and thought provoking.

That brings us to the comic which we will talk about today Grant Morrison’s Zenith released in the late 1980s to the early 1990s at a time in which Morrison was just on the cusp of breaking out into the American comic book scene. In the passage of time it was published Morrison would begin working at DC and publish Animal Man and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth. Zenith’s concept is an interesting one, and the thought process behind it is most comparable to the idea behind something like Boogiepop phantom. It’s a comic which was meant as a deliberate fusion between high art and loose comedy with the two main sources cited by Morrison being Watchmen and Strange Days, a lesser known work by Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy before the former broke out into American comics with his vertigo series Shade the Changing Man. It combines the superhero revisionism and alternate history concepts of Watchmen with Strange Days focus on British popular culture and fuses them into a single story beginning with a nuclear bombing of Berlin in an alternate history World War II before cutting to the present of the 1980s introducing us to our protagonist and slowly filling in the history of the world in bits and pieces over the course of 4 different books titled phases.

Phase 1 for the most part serves to detail the history of the world which is a part where Zenith truly shines. Morrison sets up a world in which superheroes of every era reflected their generation, with the first two the British Maximan and the Nazi Masterman being WWII soldiers, while the 1960s had Cloud 9 a group of supersoldiers who quit in protest of Vietnam and became hippie countercultural icons. Finally, there is Zenith who represents the 80s era of british pop, where punk had passed and the mindset was as Chris Ott described it, was simply to have extravagant fun. The first generation died in the Nuclear Blast in Berlin, while the second is mostly out of the picture at the start with the exception of two characters, Ruby Fox who works for a magazine, and Peter St. John a former hippie turned conservative politician.

The main thrust of phase one involves a clone of Masterman being rediscovered and becoming a host, for a Lovecraftian old one here referred to as a “many angled one” and later as a “llogier”, he attacks Ruby Fox who recruits Zenith and a fight ensues. It’s a story that for the most part works as a fun character study of both Zenith and Peter St. John. Zenith comes off as completely self absorbed, and dickish. He is the ultimate idea of a self absorbed superhuman, someone who feels more duty his hedonistic lifestyle and pop career than to any idea to save people. He only joins with Ruby Fox because she promises information on Zeniths dead parents. He is a dick but like the characters in Panty and Stocking he is relatable in a way. Its hard for the audience to really despise Zenith because for all his egotism he never really does anything to bad, he is at the most uncaring about the fate of the world. He serves as a pretty great contrast to Peter St. John who by far is the standout of the series. St. John is a great anti-hero someone who is incredibly devious and unafraid to murder to achieve his goals but who also does seem to give a shit about the world and what’s best for people. If Zenith is inactive St. John is active in all senses of the world. He is someone who is always planning ahead and the fights involving him emphasis his focus on telekinetic strategy. These fights feel almost like out of a shonen battle manga were the focus is on using powers strategically rather than a classic superhero brawl. St. John for all intents and purposes drives the story much more than Zenith.

For the most part outside of some of the battles involving St. John, Phase I is somewhat of a slog to go through at times. Its hard to judge the comics quality at times because the format in which I was reading it was so different than how it was released. For me what came across as a quick introduction of the character Siadwel (an alcoholic imbued with fire powers) who then is killed off for cheap affect would not have come across as such if the chapters were spaced months not minutes apart. In the format I read (that of a trade paperback) it felt predictable as in the course of three chapters Zenith goes from being careless about Siadwels life, to then caring about him, and finally after his death becoming so fueled by rage that he starts to give a shit and fight Masterman (this is all supposed to occur over the course of like an afternoon so it makes just about as little sense in the diegesis of the work as it does outside of it.)

Phase 2 fairs slightly better up to scrutiny as it takes a backseat from the overarching plot involving the Many Angled Ones and instead focuses on backstory and worldbuilding. It introduces for the first time into the plot Thomas Peyne who created the second generation superhumans and is convinced of them as the next step in the evolution of humanity. The main thrust of the plot involves a Richard Branson-esque billionaire preparing to blow up the world and take control using Zeniths child which he bred through the usage of two cloned superhumans, with the help of Thomas Peyne. Zenith is once again cajoled into helping solve this threat by a shadowmen a government psychic designed to fight superhumans. This shadowmen (or rather shadowomen) is quickly killed off though leaving Zenith to quickly stop giving a shit about saving the world so he can fuck the clone superhumans, that is until his life is threatened. Zenith though at the behest of St. John does end up saving the world in by far one of the comics most memorable and probably funniest scenes. Rather than through a fight or quick force Zenith simply walks into the room of the billionaire and points out all the flaws in his plans. It’s a bit of deconstructionism that works of multiple levels. It points out the holes in the work of many supervillains but its portrayal of a billionaire madman intent on saving the world pokes fun at Ozymandias from Watchmen. It portrays the billionaire who wants to save the world with a crazy scheme as not an intelligent calculated figure but as a pathetic, and eccentric man who obviously did not think the plan through. Finally the faith that Peyne puts in superheroes being the next step in evolution is undercut by Zeniths existence as he proves that superhumans are just as petty as humans.

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It also serves as set up to the next two phases of Zenith by introducing the concept of a multiverse to Zenith and a plot by the Many Angled Ones to take over the universe during an even called the alignment.

Phase III is by far the part of the work where I think Zenith truly shines as it sets itself up as a rip roaring multiverse crossover adventure featuring loads of 60-70s British superheroes including the Steel Claw, Hotspur, a parallel universe version of Zenith called Vertex who unlike Zenith, a pastiche of a classic British superhero character called Robot Archie here styled as “Acid Archie” who comes off as a groovy C3-P0, and the anarchist superhero group Black Flag, dressed up like members of various underground music subcultures. They are brought together by an alternate universe version of Maximan to prevent the Many Angled Ones from achieving their goal of controlling the Multiverse.

Eventually it is revealed that Maximan is secretly working for the Many Angled Ones and the heroes have to defeat the villains while St. John and Black Flag psychic face off against Maximan. Of all the parts of Zenith this one feels like the one Morrison had the most fun writing. Seeing him play all these British superheroes against each other essentially fighting Lovecraftian Deities is insanely fun and several moments are incredibly memorable. Acid Archies arrival with a dinosaur to rescue the day is a great moment for such an endearing character, the sacrifice of Vertex in which people mistake him for Zenith is a great send off to his character and seals him as a noble equivalent to Zenith, and of course the classic moment in any superhero crossover when all seems to be lost only for the superheroes to show up in the last moment is as badass as always.

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Phase 4 takes itself in a very different direction, almost being a long form version of a Future Shocks story. Through the eyes of Thomas Peyne who is slowly becoming younger we are told the story of the end of the world. How it came to be under the control of the remaining cloud 9 members besides Peter St. John. It contains numerous reveals and twists some of which work and some that don’t. For example Ruby Fox who in the first phase was portrayed as content to be a magazine editor without using her powers is here portrayed as dead set on world domination and the elimination of the human race AND apparently held these views in the 1960s. That is such a weird turn for that character its absolutely fucking insane to think about. On the other hand the final twist is absolutely genius. Morrison picks up a loose plot thread about a being created by the cloud 9 experiments turned into a crystal and fashions it into a stunning reveal. See the whole time we are lead to believe that the world of Zenith has essentially ended and has been taken over by the Cloud 9 members who have ascended to become Many Angled Ones themselves. It is then revealed though this is all a fiction and Peter St. John has trapped them in the crystal with Thomas Peyne, essentially letting them live out their fantasy within their own little world.

screenshot-168The series ends with Peter St. John becoming Prime Minister through killing off the Labour party leader and Zenith ending the series having learned essentially nothing ready for the next party and for a switch in career. He didn’t grow as a person all that much but there is a certain beauty to seeing the character turn out all right in the end and it underlines the main theme of Zenith, that of looking at generational conflict and pointing out that it is all pretty much bullshit. Cloud 9 turned out to be just as corrupt and evil as they come despite all their hippie ideals and even their nicest member St. John sold out and became a conniving politician who murders people. Zenith is portrayed as no nicer the epitome of the soulless culture of the 80s all intent on enjoying life to its fullest without trying to help anyone. While that is the main message other ideas about generations our explored such as with Thomas Peyne who through the course of Phase 4 is shown to regret what, his metaphorical children Cloud 9 has done to the world, and how he becomes less and less concerned with what has happened as his body and mind becomes younger and younger. It’s even more interesting that the main villains of the plot the Many Angled Ones our portrayed as timeless essentially showing us that the many issues that face each generation inevitably face almost all generations.

My experience with Zenith left me feeling a lot like Zenith feeled at the end of my story, that I on some level went through some shit but wasn’t changed all that much. It felt fun and tense but never special. It’s a work that I feel is best enjoyed from the perspective of a Morrison fan looking at his history or as a fan of 2000 AD rather than as a pinnacle of Morrisons work.

Anyway its been a while since I posted so its nice to get back in the swing of things. Here’s to another year of shitty writings on media I enjoy.

Further Reading

Suggested for Mature Readers did a great series on Zenith here

Chriss Ott on the 1980s Pop music scene

Grant Morrisons book on superheroes/autobio

Griffith is the Hero of Berserk

A look at Berserk.

If there is one thing that I think annoys me about the anime/manga community it’s the belief that anime should simply be viewed in a bubble onto itself. Digibro, (someone who for the record I respect a lot and enjoy his content) has often stated that anime is a very incestuous medium. While that I think is very true it’s also overstated and ignores a lot of influences that anime take in from other sources. For example EVA in addition to referencing many anime also references tons of stories from the New Wave of Science Fiction with End of Evas iconic final image being a straight up reference to a cover of a Sci-Fi short story compilation book.

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This unfortunately leads to an environment where many people tend to view anime only within the context of its medium and not its wider genre. At best people view the influence on anime by other mediums as solely skin deep references. Which to me is a bit of a shame as there is so much anime that when viewed in a broader context say a lot about wider genres.

One of these in particular is Berserk which when viewed in the broader context of fantasy delivers some incredibly cogent statements on the genre and more specifically the concept of the hero. Berserk tears down the fantasy hero through the simplest and most effective way possible, by making the hero the villain.

Griffith is the true hero in Berserk. He is not the protagonist but he fits all the tropes of a classical fantasy hero straight up to going through the heroes journey. He gets a call to action from an old character with implied spiritual connections, a mystical boon in the form of the Behlit, and is tempted by women through his encounter with the Princess of Midland (though in Berserk the temptation is not one of sexual gratification specifically rather it is of Griffiths need to reclaim his feeling of control). The Eclipse is an example of what the greeks called the katabasis, the journey into the underworld. Usually the protagonist journeys into the underworld to gain some boon such as knowledge in the case of Odysseus, or a lost love on in the case of Orpheus. It also can be seen as a metaphorical rebirth of the character.

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In the case of Griffith its both metaphorical and literal as he gains mystical powers, knowledge about the true nature of the universe (though this was somewhat retconned out later), and transforms from a battered, shell of a man into a horrific godlike being. While the Band of the Hawk and by proxy we, the audience may view this as a waking nightmare through the lens of the heroes journey it clearly places Griffith as the “Hero”.

While this is a fun bit of trivia, many may ask “what does it all mean”. Well in my opinion Berserk tries to deconstruct and tear down the classic ideas of Heroism in the fantasy genre. It points out that things like government, religion, and heroes are all corrupt things that we put our faith in despite the fact they will always let us down. It’s a warning sign that tells us to not trust cults of personality like the one that surrounds Griffith. This stands in contrast to something like Lord of the Rings were monarchy is upheld and lauded, religion and mysticism is something that always has our back, and heroism and cults of personality about great men are justified.

This is also shown through how Berserk treats on of the most prominent aspects in many fantasy tales, Fate. For the Greeks fate was an inescapable thing, it was to them the driving force of their legends for good or ill. It was unchangeable and no matter how much Oedipus struggled he would always fall to it. In more modern fantasy fate is seen as a force that will put the righteous back in charge. Aragorn being the true king of Gondor will reclaim his throne and all will be right with the world. But in the world of Berserk it shows just how truly terrifying fate can be with Guts being accosted by Apostles constantly, all seeking to kill him as he is fated to die. But despite all that Guts still fights on at one point compared to a fish trying to swim upstream. It may be a losing battle but it’s one that Guts is determined to win.

Berserk is the story about how one should not put their faith in any outside forces but only in themselves. No matter the odds we are the arbiters of our own destiny and through sheer force of will can overcome what is ailing us. Berserk pulls no punches on how this is a very, very, tough struggle but it also shows how we can achieve these goals none the less. It shows that while our heroes may let us down but we can never let ourselves down, if we put the determination and effort into it.

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On all Hallows Eve

A look at Zombies ate my Neighbors

When I was a kid the first halloween I can remember involved me and my brother dressing up as Batman and Robin and taking to the streets to get some candy. We hopped out of bushes ready to fight crime and got toothbrushes from dentists (in fairness she did give us candy in addition to the toothbrush). The overwhelming sense of the night was fun. Not terror but pure unrestrained childhood joy. All the skeletons, jack-o-lanterns, and ghosts were cartoony and frightening. Sure there was a tiny part of are brain that recognized that these were once symbols of fear but they were for us harmless. We pretended to be afraid only so much as to go along with the fun of the night.

When I think of that sort of mindset one a childhood fun and scariness being superseded by just pure fun I think of the video game Zombie’s Ate my Neighbors for the SNES. Its a game I first picked out at random from the wii shop when I was still in grade school and it quickly became a favorite.

The overwhelming aesthetic and atmosphere of the game try to emulate a sort of kids horror movie like say “Monster Squad”. This contrasts it with my other favorite spoopy SNES game Super Castlevania 4 which actually tries to build an gothic atmosphere. While Castelavania has aspirations of being serious Zombies Ate my Neighbors is incredibly goofy. For one its 90s as fuck with the male player character in particular looking totally tubular and hip.

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It also maintains such a dorky “kidz rule” vibe to it I absolutely love. Everyone civilian you have to rescue is a cartoon cutout who are comically ineffectual against the zombie horde. All the adults are useless so its up to the kids to take on the zombies with there squirt guns and sodey pop.

The various enemy types are fun pastiches of movie monster villains and all work on their own rules leading to you having to devise different strategies of dealing with them. Zombies can easily be gunned down, while small Chucky-esque dolls move fast enough dropping soda behind you is the best option. The variety in design leads to some really creative moments of level design such as “Chainsaw Hedgemaze Mayhem” where one is placed in a maze with destructible walls but indestructible enemies you can also break down the walls. This leads to a careful balance of one using there most powerful weapon a Rocket Launcher as not an offensive weapon but as a method of enabling transportation.

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What really ties the game together for me though is the music. It is spooky in the cheesiest way possible pulling out every “scary” chord progression in the book but it has an incredibly fun an energetic bounce to it.

The overall feel of this game to me is one which draws upon the cheesiness of our younger Halloweens. When the holiday only represented fear to us in the most superficial sense and not in an genuinely horrific way. Its fun in video game form and every once in a while I will pop it out and place it in the SNES I have (Robin gives good birthday gifts) and have an absolute blast.

So to all who are reading I hope you all have a fun night whether you be out collecting candy like my younger sister, sitting inside shitposting like my younger brother, sitting in a basement doing homework like a rube, going to a party like my older sister, or sitting outside handing out candy like my parents.

Blog update

Im in a pretty good mood today. Im having a pretty lazy Saturday before heading off to work for a couple hours.

So I decided that just so I dont feel lazy procrastinating or writing anything else today ruining my good mood that I would write a bit on my future plans. Currently the nearest thing to release is a blog post on Berserk and how it specifically subverts the heroes journey. The next blog after that I will be working on a Halloween centric post about Zombies Ate my Neighbors. Finally the last blog post is a collaborative post I am writing with my older sister about Superman: American Alien by Max Landis.

Besides the blog I have a podcast I am working on. The name is currently a WIP but we will be covering the comic book Empowered by Adam Warren in out first episode.

Also since I got a sweet new mic for podcasting I figured I might just use it to make some lets plays so I can kill some time. First up I think will be a nuzlocke of Pokemon ruby.

I also made another playlist.

Anyway thats all for now folks so stay tuned.