Batman in the 1980s-Part 2: Hello, I’ve Come to Talk

A look at the Killing Joke

When it comes to the Killing Joke an entire girth of articles have been written about it and its place in pop culture. Its recent animated adaption was possibly the biggest train wreck of any of the DC animated movies, made all the more funny by how hard DC tried to promote it. The adaptation tried to “fix” some of the problems with the most controversial element of the story, the crippling of Barbara Gordon, in some of the most wrongheaded ways possible. One could write another complete post pointing out everything wrong with the film but I am more fascinated by the buzz surrounding the film and the debate that sprung up on whether or not it should be adapted given the ugliness and bleakness of the source material. While Moores work is generally respected this one tends to be the outlier, with a vocal group of people expressing dislike for the book, including Moore himself. He has being quoted as saying “I’ve never really liked my story in The Killing Joke. I think it put far too much melodramatic weight upon a character that was never designed to carry it. It was too nasty, it was too physically violent

By the standards of Moore it is an exceptionally bleak work. Moore’s work especially in the 80s had a darkness to it but in most works there was just as much humanity, humor, and levity as there was bleakness, and depravity. Watchmen, Miracleman, and V for Vendetta are all works that cover the broad spectrum of human emotion and none of them ends as bleakly as the Killing Joke does. It has been theorized by some people that this bleakness may have been a result of his relationship with DC at the time falling apart. Various reports abound over the process of creating the Killing Joke, including that it was done almost solely as a favor for the artist Brain Bolland, or that it started out as an anthology story before being moved to prestige format. Overall it’s hard to pin down what exactly was going on behind the scenes at the time with Moore but one does get a sense he was getting fed up with superheroes at this point. For example his work on Miracleman at the time began to take a turn from superhero deconstructionism to sci-fi utopianism seemingly stating that superheroes would do better working to create a utopia than simply fighting villains. The Killing Joke seemed to be everything Moore saw wrong with Superheroes and one can also feel he to create an end point for the Batman/Joker dynamic (a big obsession with Moore at the time regarding superheroes was creating endings for them as can be seen in his pitch for Twilight of the Gods).

If Dark Knight Returns was Batman filtered through Death Wish, and urban vigilante movies, the Killing Joke is Batman filtered through Greek tragedy, the Book of Job, and horror films. It reimagines the Batman/Joker dynamic as not one of larger than life characters fighting each other, but that of two sad broken men, one unable to help the other. It’s a work that brings the Joker to new levels of depravity but also sympathizes us with him.

For me that is really were the work shines best. True horror is always able to touch us on a level beyond just base shock values and implying that we are only “One bad day” away from becoming a monster like the Joker is incredibly scary. This is made all the more real when one realizes how many similarities there are between Jack (the Joker pre-chemical bath) and Alan Moore. Alan Moore when he was first starting out quit his job to pursue his dream of being a comic book artist. At the time he had a newborn child and a wife. This is incredibly similar to Jacks situation of quitting his job at the chemical plant to pursue his career of being a comedian, with his wife having a child on the way. Moore is able to construct with Jack possible one of the best origin stories of any supervillian ever and recontextualizes years of Joker stories into something completely different. It’s a far cry from Millers portrayal of the Joker, and for many people it is the one part of the book everyone agrees on is amazing.

The flashback sequences are weaved brilliantly into the book through some amazing transitions that are a part of any great Moore work. Doors close in the present only for the next panel to switch to another door in the past opening in another direction. Reflections in the present transition to reflections in the past and panels of laughter in the past lead into panels of laughter in the present. While Millers work was full of deliberately jarring transitions, impressionistic figures, and overstuffed panel layouts, in contrast Moore and Bolland’s work is realistic and precise with smooth transitions and well defined characters and locations.

Where Bollands work truly shines through is in his faces. Bolland has a very select talent in the industry of being able to truly express shock, horror, sadness, and pain with vivid detail. In the Killing Joke he is able to create some of his best work through his illustrations of the Joker. While he succeeds in making the horrific visage of the Joker look absolutely terrifying in some panels, I am most impressed by the ones which portray the Joker as a broken clown, putting on a fake smile meant to mask his inner turmoil.

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While we are on the subject of art one of the various debates that has sprung up on the internet is about the recolor of the work by Bolland in 2008. The recolor eschewed the bright rainbow of colors of the original for a more “realistic” color set.

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Many would argue that this fits the works dark subject matter better which I vehemently disagree with. The original coloring of the book is a sickly reflection of comic books of the time. The spectrum of jarring yellows, greens, reds, and purple serve to create a sense of surreal insanity. It’s the classic color pallet of comic books but oversaturated up to an uncomfortable degree emphasizing how this is a Batman/Joker story that’s amped up to a horrific level.

With the Killing Joke though one aspect of that horror is generally regarded as an Elephant in the Room. The crippling of Barbara Gordon is by far one of the most controversial moments in comic book history and it remains one of the most famous examples of “woman in refrigerators” to this day. It is a moment where Moore’s self-criticism of the book rings true. It is a moment that for many understandably represents a line that was crossed where Moore went too far. As much as I love the work, I do feel that the crippling is a moment that is unnecessary and does play into a lot of negative tropes about women in comic books.

Another aspect of the book that has caused much discussion in recent years is the ending and the question of whether or not batman kills the Joker a theory brought up by Grant Morrison in a an episode of Kevin Smith’s podcast “Fatman on Batman”. If one interprets the ending as the death of the Joker it serves as an effective capstone to the message of the work. Batman finally is broken at the end by the Joker and ends up killing him portraying the Batman/Joker relationship as one of two insane people forever fighting each other. The ending whether you believe he kills the Joker or not is supposed to tell the reader that in reality this eternal struggle is not one of epic fights and daring adventures, but a tragedy about two mentally ill that we should not find funny or entertaining.

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The Killing Joke is a work that on a pure storytelling level is fantastic, but it is also a work squarely of its time. The fan base that surrounds it and obsess over it, are the kind of people that I feel truly don’t understand its message. It’s a work that should make us look at the Batman/Joker relationship in a tragic light and not as “The ultimate Joker story”. It is the darkest one someone had taken Batman at that time, and for the 1980s the novelty of darkness was something new. Sadly the effect both DKR and the Killing Joke had on comic books was a negative one and for as groundbreaking as these works are they have caused the world of superheroes to become on not of childhood wonderment but of prurient violence and destruction. With that thought I leave you off with the two panels from issue 26 of Animal Man, the perfect criticism of the violence and grittiness that these works lead to.

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Batman in the 1980s-Part 1: The World Only Makes Sense when you Force it to

A look at the Dark Knight Returns.

There seems to be a weird reappraisal among comic book fans of some of the rather dark stories of the 1980s that redefined the genre. While you will be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t consider Watchmen to be a classic, other famous works of the era, notably Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s the Killing Joke, have had there reputation tarnished with time. Criticisms of both tend to stem from the same place, as both works bring to the characters to a new level of darkness, unexplored before in comic books at the time, and both have a really uncomfortable misogynistic treatment of woman within their pages. The Killing Joke suffers from this more than Dark Knight Returns and it’s a sad day when Frank Miller is able to say he has a more progressive portrayal of woman in his comic book (In fairness Miller himself only made the new Robin Carrie Kelly female by editorial mandate).

These works were also part of a trend in the 1980s to really redefine Batman’s comics into much darker and harsher titles. While Death in the Family could also be included among this list I think many people generally don’t have as much conflicted feeling about it as they do the other two titles I listed. It for most people is just regarded as kind of a mistake and as a story it really is cringy to read in the modern era, Joker being the ambassador of Iran and all.

I feel though that both of these titles deserve to be looked at through fresh eyes and see how they differ in various aspects. The portrayal of Batman, the portrayal of the Joker, etc. I also want to look at how both these books drastically affected the Batman mythos and really try and understand the point they were trying to get across.

To start I feel we should talk about the Dark Knight Returns and my complicated personal history with it. As a child I was very aware of its existence through various Wikipedia articles and from various histories on comic books I had read. But it was only when I got to be a sophomore that I first read the comic book. At the time I had just finished Watchmen for the first time and was incredibly eager to read more material like it. DKR seemed like the natural follow up given that when you talk about 80s superhero comic books it is generally regarded along with Watchmen as the defining comic of the decade. So I sat down read DKR and generally enjoyed it. Most of its politics I found went over my head a bit. I got the sense that Miller had some problems with women, and I felt it wasn’t as well written as Watchmenm but overall I liked it.

It remained in my mind for a long time though and as I grew more politically aware I constantly wondered what I would think about it when I reread it. That chance only came recently when I was on vacation in a place in central Ohio. I had shitty internet, and only a copy of Upton Sinclair’s “OIL!”, and Pokemon Crystal to entertain me. I did have however my copy of Dark Knight Returns which I had lent to my father to read. He however could not make it through as he felt the work was too dark for him.

So on one fateful night I sat down in the wee hours of the morning in a cabin in Central Ohio, and reread the Dark Knight Returns. When I came out the other end I had a billion thoughts and felt incredibly conflicted on it whether I liked it or not. I did feel though that with this reading I fully understood the work and what it was trying to say about Batman both as a person and as a myth.

As a person Miller explores Batman on a psychological level. He portrays Batman in the early chapters as a man who suffers from intense personal trauma and a repressed desire to be Batman and to fight crime. Bruce Wayne starts the work off as an alcoholic broken man constantly haunted by his past with a death wish, his desire to be Batman manifesting as a hallucination of a Bat. While we can surmise it is a part of Bruce’s internal psychosis it is framed in supernatural turns, a specter of his past that haunts him until he gives in returning to his cowl. When he returns he constantly seems to refer to any danger he is in as a “good death” emphasizing how he is at a point in his life where he desperately desires to die in some heroic way rather than wasting away in some alcoholic miasma of self-pity.

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This insanity is portrayed in a way that doesn’t lionize Batman at first. In fact the end of issue one draws a direct parallel between Two-Face and Batman. While both tried to give up their lives as both a superhero and a supervillian they both ended up succumbing to their insanity. As a self-contained story about two men who are unable to escape there tragic flaws it works brilliantly.

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From there Batmans psyche starts to be pushed to the back of the narrative. While the underlying death wish is still present throughout the story, Batmans becomes much surer of his actions and resolute in who he is. The only major exception to this is his fight with the Joker, one of the strongest moments of characterization throughout the work. Before the fight occurs Batman keeps swearing to himself that this is it, he will kill the Joker. When finally confronted with it he cannot bring himself to do it leaving the Joker to commit suicide in a way that frames Batman for his murder.

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As a myth Miller truly gets complicated in his portrayal. Batman is shown throughout the work as someone who morally stands apart from nearly everyone in Gotham. His resoluteness in his actions and incorruptible moral code are shown early to contrast with how many people in Gotham operate with many average people being portrayed as hypocrites, or people complicit in crimes by accepting them as “just the way it is”. One of the most apparent moments of this comes when Batman confronts a General about dealing arms to the Mutants gang to fund his wife’s cancer treatment. We only see the aftermath of this confrontation with the General shown to have killed himself, Batman holding his corpse draped in an American flag. The message it sends is that Batman’s moral standard is one that is too high for the modern world of corruption that so many people just accept.

Page upon page is spent on various commentators talking about Batmans effect on society whether it be positive or negative. Psychologists try and pin down his mental state while moms worry about his effect on children. All of this serves to parody the talk show filled climate of the 1980s characterizing them as devoid of substance and humanity. The only person who ever seems to express his/her feelings on the societal place of Batman in a way that is not subject to mockery is Jim Gordon who describes him as a akin historical figure, somebody whose actions is above all discussion of morality.

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Through all the debates in the comic and all the interpretations I feel this view from Gordon is the one that rings true to the spirit of the book. For Miller Batman just is, he is a great (great not as in good but as in larger than life) man whose politics cannot be judged in the same way we judge normal people.

Both his psychosis and his political statues are summed up in one single line “The world only makes sense when you force it to”. Said by Batman during the fight between Superman and Batman it is the thesis statement of the work. Its implications are very wide and do not seem to imply very nice things about both Batman and Frank Miller.

Behind that single line is a dark justification for fascist behavior that every person willing to excuse “strong leaders” for their brutal methods rely on. Behind that line is a statement that only through brutal force can the world be made sense of. Behind that line is the implication that might makes right, that at the end of the day only the strong deserve to rule.

It’s a line that is reflected throughout the book in the numerous fights that occur. In two fights in particular the fight with the Mutant Leader and the fight with Superman the implication of might makes right is made clear. In Miller’s world the brutal domination of your opponent is what gives you the right to lead. While Watchmen laid bare the unhealthy masculine ideas of power at the heart of many superhero stories, Dark Knight Returns revels in it. It suggests that this how real leadership is won, while portraying the actual leaders of the land as wimps, hiding behind veils of polite speech that covers up the uncomfortable horrors of what was happening in the world.

Both aspects of Batman, that of the tortured old man, and that of the myth are reborn at the end of the story. After faking his death Batman emerges underground with remnants of his army of ex-gang members ready to take on the American government and having finally gotten over his death wish commenting that “this will be a good life”

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While Batman’s arc is the center stage we are also treated to various stories about his side characters throughout the work. Jim Gordon is portrayed in the beginning as deuteragonist to Batman as the story follows his retirement from the GCPD force and his daily struggles with the Mutant gang. He manages to be one of the few people in the story who comes off as resolutely likeable. One part of his story though where he shoots a young mutant gang member comes off as very uncomfortable and awkward in the modern political climate.

Carrie Kelley the new Robin though is by far the most likeable character. A 13 year old girl with shitty hippie parents (we are treated to more Miller political satire through them) who runs away and becomes Robin is the perfect self-insert character for many teenagers reading the story. As it goes on though Miller does not shy away from the darker aspects of sidekicks. Batman at one point explicitly refers to her as a soldier and later panels show that she is almost irrevocably fucked up in the head by being Batman’s sidekick. What I find interesting is that when I first read the work I completely missed all of the commentary on sidekicks and thought she was just an uncomplicated fun self-insert character.

Catwoman shows up as the head of a Call Girl agency and for the most part has little to do with the story other than being uncomfortably brutalized by the Joker at one point. It’s by far one of the most egregious moments of misogyny in the book and further underlines Frank Millers problems with how he writes woman.

The Joker is portrayed as a figure of pure evil. In an interview once Frank Miller described how he and Alan Moore once got into an argument about the nature of the Joker. Frank favored a view he described as satanic, as an eternal figure of evil tormenting Batman while Moore favored a view that sympathized with the Joker as someone who was mentally ill. This difference in interpretation will become very apparent when we look at the Killing Joke. In the Dark Knight Returns, Joker awakens from a coma as a reaction to Batman’s return emphasizing how his purpose is as a figure of pure evil, forever dedicated to fucking with Batman. This is a Joker who is a silver tongued manipulator and not the cackling maniacal psychopath that he is commonly portrayed as. Its a more restrained Joker that im surprised did not catch on given how influential DKR is.

By far though the most radical interpretation of a character we have comes in the form of Superman. In the Dark Knight Returns he is shown to be the opposite of Batman, a man whose morals do not lead him to rebel against authority but to blindly follow it. He’s a patsy to a decrepit looking Ronald Reagan who is portrayed himself as a total idiot. Superman is a man who knows that he can do better but his dedication to authority leads him to follow terrible leaders. It’s a dark view of the character but not an ill-fitting one and it is shown rather unsubtly through his introduction where in the American flag leads into a close up of the superman symbol.

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In terms of structure and writing it’s hard to argue that Miller was not at the top of his game here. Panels lay crammed together overstuffing a page emphasizing how jarring the events in the comics are and how the media instantly turns events in passionless news stories, something that is shown in this video far better than I could express it.

Art wise Miller is also producing some great work. He draws the characters in his trademark short and stocky impressionistic style. While later his art would devolve into self-parody his drawings in DKR are able to portray brutality and make the impact of a punch work incredibly well. You really feel a lot of the violence in his scenes unlike in other comic books of the era

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For me Dark Knight Returns feels like the most interesting, well-written paper you have ever read that argues for a terrible position that you can’t stand. It’s a work that’s overall message it’s trying to push I find repugnant but the work itself is absolutely brilliant. I can see why it made as big of an impact as it did in the 1980s and it still holds up as one of the best Batman stories ever written.

In part 2 we will finish with a look at the Killing Joke.

After the End

Some quick thoughts on a single aspect of Steven Universe I enjoy.

One of the greatest feats a work can achieve in my opinion is feeling that its world is real. Not just that the world is internally consistent but the world outside of the current events seems like it exists and the characters we know are just one of many stories being told in it. Star Wars, at least episode IV is a perfect example of this. The galaxy has already been through a major war, the Empire is in control, and while a rebellion exists it is supposedly on its last legs until the plans for the Death Star arrive. It feels like the beleaguered epilogue to a long story with every prop, alien, and spaceship looking like they each have their own long history. This is even emphasized by the fact that it was released as episode IV both as a reference to the serials that inspired it but also using that reference to underscore that this was meant to be just one small chapter of a larger story.

Steven Universe I feel achieves this same sense of a much larger world outside of its main story. The show is almost itself an epilogue to the events of the war for planet Earth between Homeworld and the Crystal Gems. Nearly every major threat they have faced is some kind of fallout from the events of the Gem War in some way or another. Every major character is implied to have gone through their own unique story beforehand such as Pearl’s implied growth from a subservient Pearl to a rebel, or Rose’s various ethical struggles during the war.

It’s a show that is not about “how do we defeat X” but about “we defeated X so how do we deal with the results from defeating X and coping with are various personal issues that result from our fight to defeat X”. For me that is a much more mature and interesting way to build a show than a simple goal of defeating a villain.

This rather short post was made at the suggestion of a buddy of mine called Tesby who runs a blog here. In return I suggested he write about All Star Superman so look forward from that in the future from him.

 

Like a Trashcan fire in a Prison Cell

A look at one of the most underrated shows of the 2000s Morel Orel

Western animation for adults has recently regained its heart. Shows like Bojack Horseman and Rick and Morty have shown an effort not just to make people laugh but to inject real human pathos into their characters. This while not completely unknown in adult cartoons was for the most part rare. The 2000s saw the rise of shows like South Park and Family Guy which reveled in the bleak and the shocking. That mode of uncaring mean spirited comedy would become the norm for most of the adult animation on television especially on Adult Swim. For a long time there focus was largely on making shows that were strange and weird designed to give the audience a season or two of one off gags that shocked them.

One of these shows was called Morel Orel a parody of the classic Davey and Goliath Claymation shorts by Art Clokey. Morel Orels started off as a one-note parody of the Christian themes of these shorts with every episode focusing on Orel, a perpetually happy and faithful child, misinterpreting some lesson from Reverend Rod Putty leading to some wacky and fucked up situation. As time went on you got to know many characters most of whom were one note, such as the aforementioned Reverend Putty whose is defined by his failure in romance, Stephanie the local lesbian who owns a sex shop and the only sane person in the show, and the various members of Orels family such as his repressed mother Bloberta, his father Clay a man who fakes the stereotypical 50s father but is a basket case of emotional issues, and his perpetually angry brother Shaky.

If it was just this would have made this show a pretty generic footnote in Adult Swims history if it wasn’t for the first season’s final episode which centers around Orels parents falling apart and leaving each other. It ends with Orel looking up into the sky completely convinced God will fix the situation while shitty Christmas music plays. It could have been just a cruel sendoff but the marital drama is treated with a real sense of weight with some honest to god shots that make you feel for a goddamn claymation puppet.

From there the show become something much more than just a shallow parody as Orels parents decide to stay together to save face. Every one note character even the background ones started to become more developed, the episodes became much more willing to explore human emotions rather than just one note “Man Christianity is easy to misinterpret jokes”. The abusiveness of Clay to Orel also became less of a Homer strangling Bart type joke but an actual horrific thing. The second season culminates in a two part episode called “Nature” which ends with Clay shooting Orel in a drunken rage shattering Orels perpetually cheeriness. The episode closes with Orel asking his mother why he married his father to which she answers “why not”.

When we pick up with season three the show has fully morphed into something completely unrecognizable from what it was in season one. Almost every episode focuses on a background character fleshing them out from a one note, stock archetype to a fully realized character. The bully Joe and the school nurse Bendy, a dumb blonde stereotype both are given reasons for their actions in an episode called Dumb which revealed Joe is the long lost son of Bendy. It ends with both starting to live with each other and implies both will improve psychologically from the result. Another is the absolutely fantastic “Sundays” a look at the lives of Florence and Dottie both women who attend the church who leave there husbands and start to live together. “Sundays” references many past episodes of the show and underlines how far it has come from the sophomoric humor of the first season. “Closeface” is an episode which is a personal favorite of mine focusing on Stephanie and Reverend Putty who in season two were revealed to be daughter and father (lot a children don’t know their parents in Moralton apparently). It gives both characters a rather fitting ending one that is resolutely happy despite the dark tone the show had taken at this point.

By far where the third season shines through the most is in revealing the backstory of Morels parents which is all scored to the absolutely fantastic music of the Mountain Goats. See Orels father suffers from an abusive and tragic childhood that left him eager for any sort of attention whether it be positive or negative throughout his life. His parents’ marriage was one of convenience as his father as always wanted attention and his mother felt left out by all the marriages her friends where having. That leads to their current relationship issues and some truly amazing scenes especially for a show based around Claymation.

Two in particular I love are the first person walk of Clay Puppington to his room scored to the Mountain Goats “No children”

 

And the scene where his parents marry scored to “Old College Try”

Sadly the shows ending is abrupt and feels tacked on giving Morel a happy ending that seems fitting but leaving many plot threads dangling loose such as a plot by the sinister “Ms. Censordoll” to take over the town, a subplot about Orels friend Doughy grappling with how his desire for attention stemming from his uncaring parents, and a incredibly dark (and not to mention pretty detailed and complex) subplot concerning the sexual assault of Orels teacher Ms. Sculptham (having read the script for the episode that would have resolved this called “Raped” I personally think this plot in general should have been cut as most of it felt like being dark for the sake of it).

This is all caused because when Adult Swim saw what had been produced for the third season they decided that it was too much and cancelled it cutting the number of episodes from a planned 20 down to 13. This is ironic considering that when they requested a third season they wanted it to be as dark as possible. Shows you can’t please the network no matter what. It’s a tragedy that we never got to see a complete season 3 though some scripts and a very rough claymation reproduction of an episode with the original voice work exists. This leaves the show in a position of being a flawed gem. It is a truly great show with some beautiful moments but I can never bring myself to admit that it is amazing given its flaws. Still I love the show in spite of everything and it deserves a place in animation history as a precursor to the likes of “Bojack” and “Rick and Morty”. So give it a watch if you can track it down as it’s a show that I don’t think should be missed.

Flutterboard

A look at one of the greatest EPs of all time.

The extended play or EP is a format for music that has sort of lost its significance in the modern era of music. As things have gone to be more singles based the idea of just releasing say 4-6 songs seems pointless. Though it was the CD that started kill off the EP my favorite EP was released well into the era of CDs dominance. That EP is obviously Flutterboard by the Canadian band Plumtree.

You may recognize Plumtree as the people who wrote that one song that ended up naming that one popular Canadian comic book character. You know the one about the guy who had to battle his girlfriend’s 29 second cousins for some reason or another. But in addition to that song they also made some pretty good music. Out of all there releases I think Flutterboard stands out above all of them.

The songwriting of Flutterboard despite being about half the length of any of their other releases is incredibly varied. The songs have a sort of casual fucking around quality to them that I think adds a lot to the charm of them. It’s clear that this was not a concerted effort to make a polished release but rather a group of friends having fun and creating something together. Through this process though they were able to create some absolutely fantastic, catchy, and overall endearing music.

The first song on the album “In the Sink” is the biggest testament to this. It starts off with a great guitar line and some drum rolls as a bass and a very loose plucked electric guitar comes. The singer comes and in a very detached but still melodic tone sings about how “today was not my day”. Then a two singers come in harmonizing and start relating a story about having a collection of worms as a child, how other kids think the worms are dirty to which the speaker responds “my worms are perfectly clean I wash them twice a day in the sink”. As the song draws to a close and the second verse comes it is revealed that her brother used the worms as fish bait and the singer is going to go “get a Barbie instead”, effectively giving up her statues as the weird kid. It’s a song that manages to be both rather fun and poignant and perfectly captures being a child.

The next song “I Hope there’s a Heaven” kicks in with a rather awesome hard rock riff before breaking into a short bit of instrumental plucking. As the verse kicks comes the singer starts singing a very simple yet nearly perfect melody (seriously its not something I can describe in words but it is a fucking 10/10 melody). The pattern of hard rock riffs and instrumental plucking continues until feedback slowly kicks back in before the last chorus in a way that honestly more enjoyable than any Godspeed you Black emperor drone ever written. Its not as complex as other build ups but it is able to get the effect off with much simpler chords. It feels to me that this was the a result of the band sitting around and trying to write a big cock rock crowd pleaser but do it in their own weird indie way. The majority of bands trying to emulate 70s cock rock sound nowadays still can’t manage to capture it but with almost nothing to them Plumtree manages to make something that is equally as catchy and a billion times more charming as any anthem of the 70s.

This is continued by “Hey! Whiskers!” which is about talking to your cat because you are a loser with no social skills. That’s something I think we can all relate too. It has a really nice guitar line that sounds incredibly relaxed and casual. It adds to the songs humorous tone and it serves as a nice way to calm down from the hard rock of “I Hope there’s a Heaven”.

After “Hey! Whiskers!” a mysterious riff kicks in that develops into a rather jaunty sort of swinging tune that is the song “Depp”. It’s basically about wanting to go out with Johnny Depp which was still an appealing thought in the early 90s. It’s mostly driven by cool guitar lines though as the middle section is a rather interesting descending line. It’s rather simple but still adds this cool air of mystery to the song.

“Depp” is followed by “Festooned” which is where the band decides to get weird. It kicks in with guitar lines that similarly to Depp try and create and air of mystery. This time though it is slightly disconcerting but still fun. Then the voices kick which sound like they recorded in tubes. The faint sounds of feedback and distorted echoes litter the background. It breaks into a huge wailing section while guitars play in the background before all cutting out into feedback. It’s easy to see that this is where the band decided they just wanted to make something a bit fun and weird. Its creepy in the same way most Halloween decorations are. We recognize it is some level creepy but both you and the person on the other end are just fucking around.

Finally we get to “Good Time to Tell Me” which is a fun closer. It’s a song that’s driven by an incredibly casual riff that plays while the band sings about how they feel the same no matter what happens to them in life. It then breaks into a really sparse chorus and reverbed chorus about how she loves it when a significant other talks to them. It’s a rather simple song but the chorus is startlingly effective.

The main thread that runs through all these songs is that none of them sound professional. Everyone sounds like something that would just come up playing casually with your friends. It’s a record built more around fun than technicality, friendship rather that artisanship. It feels real and authentic, made without any aspirations outside of the joy of creating music with your companions.

Flutterboard can be downloaded legally for free at this link.

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Everybody wants Edgy

A look at why edginess appeals to people

For any critic on the internet edgy is an essential buzzword ready to be sprung like Bat Shark repellant from there Critic copter. Some have argued that it has become overused to a meaningless extend but for my money’s worth it still is a useful term. That being said I’m not here to ask whether it’s a good term but try and explain why I think edgy material appeals to many people.

To start I think its worthwhile to define what I consider edgy material. The best answer that I could come up with is material that uses controversial subject matter without fully understanding the ramifications of what using such subject matter entails. For example take a look at say The Boys by Garth Ennis’s use of violence vs the use of violence in Miracleman by Alan Moore. Both are used to produce a sort of gut reaction of shock from the reader but Miracleman underscores the violence with a real sense of weight. The first death we ever see in the series is of a woman named Stephanie. In here very short appearance she is humanized so we truly understand the absolute horror of what has occurred.

This idea of understanding the true pain and effects of violence lasts all the way until issue 15 of Miracleman which to this day stands as the most violent issue of a comic I have ever read. After some truly horrific panels detailing the true destruction that would be caused by a superhuman in reality it ends not on some brutal act of violence but on a sad reflection on those who have died and a reminder that one should not forgot horrific and tragic acts.

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On the other hand we have Garth Ennis whose sense of gore is based around pure shock value. It stems from a juvenile desire to see how fucked up one can go and we know little about the victims of said violence.

The point both are trying to get across is the same. A truly vile superhuman would be someone who would not care for people he perceived as weaker than them. But the difference is Garth while viewing these superhuman as despicable really doesn’t care about the people weaker than the heroes. Moore on the other hand does. It all comes down to not what is shown but how what is shown is contextualized in a larger work. That’s what makes something edgy.

Now that we determined what makes a work edgy we can start to look at what makes edginess appealing to a certain group of people. Freud theorized that human behavior is based of two drives Eros the sex drive, and Thanatos the death drive. Eros was in the broader sense was a desire to create and Thanatos was a desire to destroy (For the record this is an incredible oversimplification). While in modern psychology these like much of Freud’s work are largely considered bunk I do think on some level most humans have some fascination with both sex and death.

For teenager’s especially teenage boys this fascination is at its height. They’re at the perfect sweet spot where they are aware sex and violence, but do not truly understand them. With that mindset they can look at edgy art and appreciate it. They, like the works that I define as edgy lack context.

When I was a freshman in highschool I was a pretty big fan of a manga that was called Freezing. Its plot was basically EVA met Sekerei but dosed with more sex and a ton of gore. The characters frequently lost limbs in combat and the female characters were constantly shown in various modes of undress. It tried and failed pretty miserably to add sexual assault in the backstory of one of its characters and resolved that sexual assault in probably the worst way possible. It’s a work that I think I am more fascinated with because of what it said about me when I read it than the work itself. Out of all the terrible early anime and manga that I consumed I think it’s the one I think about the most looking back on it with a sense of nostalgia for ignorance I had. Its rather funny how much I thought that Freezing was some great mature work of art for all of its violence in sex when it was really my own immaturity that made me like it.

My point is twofold, that there is a reason why edginess appeals to a certain group of people and that for many people an interest in edgy material is just a phase.

Father of Steel

A look at Supermans reboot.

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I remember ages ago reading a quote about Superman concerning 1986 John Bryne penned reboot “Man of Steel” that stated one of the ideas was to move Superman away from being a father figure to more of an older brother.  At the time it must have been a fitting change given that Superman’s father figure persona was probably not the most appealing to the comic book audience of the 80s just getting a taste of the darkness that was seeping into comics. DKR’s portrayal of Superman as a pawn of the American government was easily seen as everything wrong and outdated with the character and by proxy the parents of comic book readers. He was the stereotypical American hero of the Greatest Generation. He fought for workers’ rights in the great depression as a heroic populist, joined the war effort in both the comic and in real life both fighting the Axis forces in the comics and advertising war bonds to American citizens. Then after the war he settled down into a sort of 50s values father figure but blown to epic proportions. He had his superdog Krypto, his niece Supergirl, a surrogate son with Jimmy Olsen, and his nagging girlfriend that he constantly feared commitment to Lois Lane.

Grant Morrison in his book Supergods theorized that the appeal of the 1950s Superman stories was that Superman was in a constant battle of personal stakes and issues. Every weird gimmick and trick would tie back into Superman’s and his extended group’s fragile psychosis. It was a reflection of the time given that without a common higher goal to fight (at least for white American males) there was no real threat but your inner self (or some nebulous communist menace). It was a 50s tv show filtered through the eyes of pre-psychedelic psychoanalysis and childhood imagination.

When the New 52 came around they strived with the Action Comics run to return superman to his 1930s social crusader statues as a hero of the people taking on corrupt businessman at first. And that too reflected the times with the movement of Occupy Wall Street gathering steam and protesting the economic inequality. At least for Morrison’s run this worked, as time went on the Superman comics kind of lost their way and culminated recently in the death of New 52 Superman. Replacing him is the 1986 post-crisis Superman surviving his worlds destruction, but with a twist. Now he’s a father raising a young son with Lois Lane.

It’s a return to Superman’s pre-80s statues as a father figure and it underlines DC Rebirths emphasis on returning the universe to its more classic roots. Rather than the conflicted New 52 Superman, Rebirths Superman is the perfect role model for his son. While at first this may seem like a step back to the 50s Superman it’s really not. 50s Superman was for all his power a rather uncertain and emotionally fucked up man reflecting his status as a surrogate for all the fears and desires of the stereotypical 50s father. This is Superman as not the flawed, insecure father of the 50s but as really the perfect parent standing for everything right in the world.

It’s a return to Superman as an ideal, though not in the usual way. He is no longer an untouchable godlike ideal that we strive for but rather an ideal father and family man. It’s a more human Superman but one that still manages to be conflicted. It touches him into reality without making him the tortured someone callous man he was in the New 52. It achieves making Superman more “human” (something that DC has been trying to achieve) without ruining what makes him special*. He’s the Man of Tomorrow, but he is still trying to raise a kid like everyone else to the best of his ability.

*For the record it has been achieved before, Max Landis Superman: American Alien is among the best comic books of the past few years and its entirely based around a more human Superman.