Armagideon Time

Song for Sunday #110

September 21st, 2014

Hüsker Dü – Friend, You’ve Got to Fall

Silver Age Science Saturdays #37

September 20th, 2014

(from “The Man Who Discovered the West Pole!” by Otto Binder, Gil Kane and Joe Giella in Strange Adventures #64, January 1956)

The worst things in life

September 19th, 2014

On the eve of the Scottish independence vote, NBC’s twitter account posted a link to an article titled “Why a Yes vote in Thursday’s Scottish #indyref could spell trouble for Scotch Whisky.”

It was typical a example of the “news you can use” school, in which wider events are rendered — no matter how implausibly — into “how it will affect YOU” pieces aimed at hooking and otherwise disinterested audience. “Here’s why you should worry about something that you really don’t need to worry about.”

The problem with this type of journalism is that nearly always skews toward a privileged status quo, especially when it comes down to matters of justice and equality. One of the most effective and devious tactics of post-Goldwater conservatism has been the ability for frame every social issue as a zero sum game, where the Other’s “gain” must necessarily mean the Average Joe’s loss.

Granted, a lot of social policy decisions can be measured in terms of trade-offs, but the rhetoric has been employed to areas — such as marriage equality — where there is no corresponding cost to persons not directly effected. Even when there is a serious cost/gain aspect to consider, the terms are inevitably couched in strictly financial terms. “You will pay MORE.”

Be it overseas sweatshops making consumer goods, reforming the utterly broken healthcare system, or figuring out how to stave of ecological suicide, any benefits that can’t be measured by dollar values are ignored. It doesn’t matter if the stakes (never mind the principles) are ultimately existential in terms of finding a workable solution — a couple of bucks in the pocket today are worth untold human misery later on down the line. “Slavery is certainly evil, but I don’t want to spend more on cotton goods!”

The framing also deludes people into thinking that they are stakeholders in matters of which they have no serious stake, skewing or outright muddling what’s actually involved. “The price of Scotch might go up? FUCK SOME FOREIGNERS’ DESIRE FOR SELF-DETERMINATION.”

Rarely — outside of sites that preach to the progressive choir — are these issues presented as necessary corrections, that one’s net savings are subsidized my the misery and privation of others. Instead, we get exercises in unexamined privilege which –surprise, surprise — coyly or bluntly advocate for the continued maintenance of said privilege.

It’s not a war of all against all, it’s a war of the scared semi-haves against the any perceived threat against their precarious position, egged on by the media mouthpieces for the vested interests seeking to maintain their revenue streams with minimal interference.

For the record

September 17th, 2014

''Groovy!  They're playing my favorite Napalm Death song!''

After Mark Hale made a joke about me writing a 33⅓ book about Chipmunk Punk, I got to thinking about what albums I would pitch if I ever had the motivation or interest.

Here’s the short list:

Wall of Voodoo – Dark Continent (1981)
Falco – Einzelhaft (1982)
UK Decay – For Madmen Only (1981)
Teenage Head – Teenage Head (1979)
Big Jim Sullivan – Lord Sitar (1969)
God and the State – Ruins (1985)
Pylon – Gyrate (1980)
bis – Social Dancing (1999)
The Epoxies – Stop the Future (2005)
Lazy Cowgirls – Lazy Cowgirls (1984)
Lush – Gala (1990)
The Pogues – Red Roses for Me (1984)
Modern English – After the Snow (1982)
Lene Lovich – Flex (1979)
Fischer-Z – Going Deaf for a Living (1980)
The Vapors – New Clear Days (1980)
Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian (1986)
Dick Hyman ‎– The Man From O.R.G.A.N. (1965)
Les Baxter – The Passions (1954)
Tony Kinsey / Nick Ingman – KPM 1206: Cause For Concern (1977)
The Au Pairs – Playing with a Different Sex (1981)
The Rezillos – Can’t Stand the Rezillos (1978)

Some of those might seem like jokes, but they are not.

In the current realm of comics crafting, computers have become a fairly ubiquitous tool. So much so, in fact, I’d be hard pressed to think of any of my artist pals who don’t resort to electronic assistance — be it a Cintiq tablet, Manga Studio, or Photoshop — at some point during the creative process.

These technologies, alongside the open platform of the internet, have spurred the greater democratization of the medium. They’ve placed the means of production and distribution within the reach of all sorts of talented folks (and even more less talented ones, but that’s Sturgeon’s Law for you).

This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when comics were a fully analog medium, and idea of “computer generated” material the stuff of experimental publicity stunts that leveraged novelty value against the inherent limitations of the existing technology.

Shatter was the first (and First) comic to make a deal with the digital devil, using the computerize angle to set itself apart from the crowded field of mediocre 1980s direct market offerings. (It also, as Pal Dave reminded me, featured a letter column where the creator admitted the project had gone off the rails.)

While I could (and still might) devote an installment of this feature to that chip-driven misadventure, today I want to look at the Big Two’s early forays into the realm of techo-novelty comics…

…1988′s Iron Man: Crash

…and 1990′s Batman: Digital Justice. Both were prestige projects, given the graphic novel treatment in the former case and a swank hardcover in the latter. Both were “elseworlds” stories set in dystopian cyberpunk futures. Both were fatally hamstrung by their shared gimmick, resulting in nigh incomprehensible messes.

Crash features an seventy-something Tony Stark, kept young and emotionally deadened by a youth-extending wonder drug.

When the “Information Wars” between American and Japanese corporations spill over into Stark’s bubble of hedonistic isolation, he once again dons the Iron Man armor and sets out — with the help of an AI-controlled doppelganger — to litter fifty-odd pages with scratchy low-res images and untextured 3D models.

Digital Justice, on the other hand, has the grandson of Jim Gordon using stored engrams on a supercomputer to become Batman and battle a Joker-created computer virus across a world constructed entire from Sega CD cutscenes.

Of the two efforts, Digital Justice has a slight edge due to the advances in rendering software between 1987 and 1989. Neither comic, however, can answer “would this be a good story without the pixel-gimmick hype” in the affirmative. In both cases, the “computer generated” descriptor outweighs the “comic” aspect, with all associated concerns made subordinate to that marketing angle.

As pioneering as Crash and Digital Justice may have been, the core conceit was hamstrung by its limitations in comparison to the analog works they were racked with upon release. Whether it was an excessive repetition of assets…

…or a “good-enough” approach to object modeling…

…neither made a convincing case for the technology at a time when guys like Kevin Maguire or Adam Hughes were knocking it out of the park using old school methods. Digital illustration methods for comics would only come into their own when creators like Scott McCloud were using the tools to facilitate their craft rather than treating the technology as an end unto itself, which is where these early forays into computer-rendered comics fell short.

Historically, works like Shatter and Crash and Digital Justice share the same niche as the steam-powered automobiles cobbled together during the late 1700s — forward thinking precursors of Things to Come, yet failed footnotes in terms of what they were intended to accomplish at the time.

A significant portion of my music collection — physical and digital — consists of compilation albums. From my K-Tel childhood to my Repo Man soundtrack adolescence to my Let’s Boogaloo adulthood, these thematic bundles of assorted tracks have served as guideposts by which my musical tastes have been directed and shaped.

It began as a matter of simple economics — eight bucks for the potentially unknown quantity of a “real” album or five bucks for a dozen gems vetted for maximum appeal? Even if a comp included a few clunkers, you’d still come out ahead in terms of bang for the buck and there was a chance of getting hepped to something cool and new-to-you. As you’ll see as this series goes on, it became a fairly effective formula for building my record collection — I’d buy a comp, discover some stuff I liked, then seek out additional material by those artists.

And it started (ur-template aside) with this oddity…

Rock at the Edge, released by Arista in 1986 and purchased second-hand by me in the summer of 1991.

I’d originally heard about from a high school crush, a funky-hatted alt-lass who gravitated from “punk” to artists like Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush. While she (wisely) shot down my awkwardly clueless advances, she did introduce me to acts such as the Throwing Muses, The Pogues, and other staples of the 1980s college rock canon.

She described the tracks on Rock at the Edge as “real punk rock.” He words may have smacked of the arrogance of teenage bohemia, but made enough of an impression that I was willing to drop two bucks for a dinged copy of the LP at Mystery Train a couple years later.

The theme of the compilation is easy to figure out, though difficult to articulate. It’s a short (ten track) grab bag of cuts by non-punk (by the pre-1993 tight-band definition of the scene) artists who either inspired or emerged parallel to the 1970s punk scene.

Blondie, Lou Reed, Graham Parker, Television, Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Ian Dury — in a broad sense, it’s the “Dad Rock” incarnation of punk, stuff that could conceivably get mass market airplay when more stridently punky acts were relegated to radio silence. The essay on the back of the record’s sleeve does its self-important best to sell potential purchasers about the relevance and nonconformity and authenticity of the included songs while struggling to ignore the mohawked-and-safety-pinned aggro gorilla in the room.

Between Rock at the Edge‘s release date and smallish assortment of tracks, it’s clear that it was intended as a sell-through advocacy on behalf of the roots of the growing “alt-rock” scene, featuring whatever could be licensed and sold on the cheap to curious bargain bin divers. It’s not for nothing that Lou Reed and Patti Smith were both Arista artists and both had two tracks on the compilation. It also explains the omission of the Talking Heads, who’d have been a natural choice for inclusion — if they hadn’t been riding the crest of mainstream success while fellow Warner acts Television and Richard Hell had fallen into obscurity.

Even though the package was hit-or-miss by my teen aggro-punk standards, Rock at the Edge did get a number of spins before I moved on and shelved it in my collection’s back forty. It did inspire a handful of future music purchases, one of which I’ll be discussing next week.

Fun Fact: I cannot listen to “Blank Generation” without thinking of the time when it was playing on the stereo on my 1990 Cutlass and Maura asked if we could go buy chips and salsa. I told her that the supermarket was on the other side of town and I didn’t feel like turning the car around, so she called me a selfish asshole.

I told her I would drive her there, but she said she wouldn’t give me the satisfaction. She stewed in the car while I went in and bought the best damn jar of salsa and bag of chips that Shaw’s had on the shelves.

She said she didn’t want them. I left her and the bag with the chips and salsa on her front porch and drove home.

Later, after we had kissed and made up, I asked her what happened to the chips and salsa.

“I ate them that night. They were very good. You bastard.”

Song for Sunday #109

September 14th, 2014

Slowdive – Shine

Silver Age Science Saturdays #36

September 13th, 2014

(from “The Sinister Shocker!” by Stan Lee and John Romita in Amazing Spider-Man #46, March 1967)

Though the science behind it may be terrible, I love the “amateur tinkerer” aspect of the Shocker. He’s a petty crook who (barely) actualized himself into the big leagues.

Punk as shit

September 12th, 2014

I never realized how punk I truly was.

Be sure to save those UPC symbols for a free compilation CD including such legendary punk standards as:

“Shitskreig Stop”
“Lust for Liquidity”
“I Just Can’t Be Crappy Today”
“Squatting on the Porcelain Bowl”
“Cramps Will Tear Me Apart”
“Lookin’ Out for No. 2″
“Rudie Can’t Poop”
“Squeeze My Cheeks Against the Seat”
“Bad Gut Reaction”
“Blocked Up and Painful”
“I Slept in a Half-Bath”

I’m still waiting

September 11th, 2014

Recommended listening: Play us out and into the abyss, lads.

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