Sunday, January 9, 2022

flowers of the machine, part 3: gamelon of the floating world (II)

In case you missed our last episode (and I don't see how a 6000-word blog post about the evolving phenomenology of the art-object shouldn't be at the top of everyone's reading list), we're scrutinizing the techno-sociological paradigm which the Zelda CDi Reanimated Collab instantiates. Excogitations upon the trivial can sometimes illuminate more of our world than an enquiry into a grand figure or theme, and while I can't promise that will be the outcome here, maybe we'll get lucky.

For the ReAnimated Collab version, see here.


A decade ago we all assumed, or at least hoped, that the net would bring so many benefits to so many people that those unfortunates who weren't being paid for what they used to do would end up doing even better by finding new ways to get paid. You still hear that argument being made, as if people lived forever and can afford to wait an eternity to have the new source of wealth revealed to them.
—Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget (2010)

Who makes art?

An unusual feature of the modern epoch is the new inequivalence between this question and the more generic "who makes things?". 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

flowers of the machine, part 3: gamelon of the floating world (I)

Every text builds on pretext.
     —Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy (1982)

About a year ago, YouTube's mysterious, incontrovertible algorithms served me a video titled "The Zelda CDi Reanimated Collab!" I don't suppose the recommendation changed my life, but good god—I watched it enough times to inadvertently memorize most of the dialogue, and I'm fairly sure this is something I ought to be ashamed of.

Probably most people who'd peer at this crusty old blog are old enough to remember the 1993 CD-i Legend of Zelda games—even though they've almost certainly never played them. During the early-to-mid 2000s, when the internet acquired its voracious appetite for the grotesque, Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon were a phenomenon on the message boards and pop culture excavation blogs. But for anyone who isn't familiar: in 1990, the Dutch electronics company Phillips released a home console that ran software and games formatted on proprietary compact discs. Due to some legal agreements made during the CD-i's development (it's complicated), Phillips found itself with a license to make games featuring copyrighted Nintendo characters. In its most well-known attempt to capitalize on this arrangement, Phillips outsourced the production of two legitimized bastard Legend of Zelda games to the Russian-American studio Animation Magic, providing scant resources and demanding an exacting turnaround time. And the rest is infamy.

To put it exceedingly gently, Faces of Evil and Wand of Gamelon weren't very good. But what stoked the internet's delirious fascination with them wasn't the third-party jankiness of their action-adventure molds, but their full-motion video cutscenes. The animations, produced by a Russian team flown over to the United States, beggar description. The words "flat," "uncanny," "maladroit," and "charmless" all come to mind, but none really approach how astonishingly ugly these FMVs are. Combined with their hammy voice acting, obtuse dialogue, and very fact of their inclusion in games that brazenly sold themselves as authentic Legend of Zelda sequels, CD-i Zelda's cutscenes transcend mere ineptitude. They are sublimely embarrassing—a thoroughgoing and wholly avoidable blunder on the order of the Borja Ecce Mono. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Forgotten Superheroes (vol.6): Ravage 2099 (pt 3)

(March 1995)

Please take a moment to compare the cover of Ravage 2099 #28 (above) with the cover of issue #1 (here).

This is amazing. In the world of mainstream American comic books, we see something like this about as often as a female superhero without an hourglass figure.

The writers, editors, publishers, and corporate overlords of superhero properties understand that carelessly altering a title character's image is bad business. During the mid-twentieth century, Comic books with Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, the Flash, et al. on their covers were greedily plucked from newsstands by kids who recognized the characters, had learned what to expect from books emblazoned with their names and images, and were seldom disappointed by their purchases. Mainline superhero comics are comfort food. They're Coca-Cola. You don't change the formula unless competitors are encroaching on your market share, or buyers begin to lose their appetite for the product altogether. Every time a reformed villain reverts his old ways, every time a mourned ally is found alive and well, every time Superman is system restored to his 1986 update, kid Cable gets shunted aside for the return of old Cable, and Stephanie Brown becomes Robin/Batgirl and then becomes Spoiler again, the United States comic book industry pantomimes the New Coke/Coca-Cola Classic imbroglio-turned-success story—except in these cases, the rebranding and de-rebranding aren't motivated by panic, but have been integrated into the business model of a longstanding (but lately metastable) sector of the culture industry.

However: if a successful firm debuts a completely new product—say, Pepsi Blue—and nobody buys it, the smart businessman may be better off retiring it than sinking more resources into redeveloping and reselling something nobody wanted in the first place.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Forgotten Superheroes (vol.6): Ravage 2099 (pt 2)

(Sept. 1993)

When we last left the fallen bureaucrat turned-ecological avenger Paul-Philip Ravage, he'd escaped from Hellrock with his humanity intact, recruited Tiana (former secretary and Strong Female Deuteragonist) and Dack (recently orphaned Pint Sized Plucky Black Kid Sidekick), and broke into Eco Central to steal a digital disc containing detailed evidence of Alchemax's wrongdoing. 

What's next for this ragtag band of outlaws, brought together by fate? Will they remain on the run, fending off Alchemax's armored goons and high-tech assassins as they wage a covert war of sabotage and propaganda against the odious megacorporation?

You'd think so. This was the spike for which Ravage 2099 co-creators Stan Lee and Paul Ryan set up the book's successors, Pat Mills and Tony Skinner—who were also writing Punisher 2099 at the time. (There's a slim chance you recognize Mills from his involvement in the long-running British science-fiction anthology comic 2000 AD, probably best known for its recurring character Judge Dredd.) All Mills and Skinner had to do was survey Ravage's trajectory over the course of eight tightly plotted issues and harness the book's momentum to everyone's mutual advantage.

Instead, they elected to start again from scratch.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Forgotten Superheroes (vol.6): Ravage 2099 (pt 1)

Some years back, I went on an intense but incomplete Marvel 2099 binge, revisiting X-Men 2099 and reading Doom 2099, X-Nation 2099, and 2099: Manifest Destiny for the first time. It was a mixed bag, and filled with more coal than diamonds, sure, but the experience only deepened my affection for Marvel Comics' brief-lived stint at coordinated cyberpunk worldbuilding. Later on, I checked out Peter David's excellent Spider-Man 2099 and Pat Mills and Tony Skinner's satirically over-the-top Punisher 2099.¹ Like every 2099 title, their endings left a lot to be desired—but that's to be expected when an entire line of serials is suddenly and simultaneously cancelled.

I've held my nose and read 2099: World of Tomorrow in its bleak entirety. I've skimmed the pages of Ghost Rider 2099, and briefly glanced at the adventures of John Eisenhart in 2099 Unlimited and Hulk 2099. But until recently, I hadn't the nerve to explore what I understood to be one of the Marvel 2099 world's most fraught territories.

(December 1992)

So I finally checked out Ravage 2099.² I think I'm glad I did, because it's got to be one of the damned strangest capeshit comics to come out of the 1990s. I am writing this overview of the series for two reasons. First: in case somebody ever punches "ravage 2099" into a search engine and isn't satisfied with the glancing treatment in Wikipedia/Fandom articles and potboiler summaries by CBR freelancers, they'll find a somewhat better resource if they scroll the results long enough.

Second: I'm seriously weirded out by this comic book, and maybe writing about it will help me get over it.

Friday, November 5, 2021

preface to a triviality

Paul Klee, The Beginnings of a Smile (1921)

"Authenticity," if the expression is to have any meaning at all, is experienced by love and sexual intoxication, in irony and laughter, creativity and responsibility, meditation and ecstasy.
     —Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason (1983)

I wanted to write something, something that would amuse me to read back to myself later on, something lightweight, something that wouldn't make me grind my teeth with exertion or require much abstract speculation. So I did another writeup about another comic book. I'll post it soon.

In the last post I said a few words about cultural schizophrenia: the discordant relationship between what we claim to value and what our habits show to be truly important to us. And here I am: pondering the perverse Skinner Box society of mass culture on one day, and writing uncritically about my favorite pieces of commercial ephemera the next.

Is this something I ought to be ashamed of? Am I a hypocrite?

Friday, October 29, 2021

art versus Art & the organicism of industry

A month or two back, a very smart friend asked me in an email if I believed comics can be art. 

Naturally, I showed him Punisher 2099.

(June 1994)

Beautiful. It's poetry, is what this is.

At some point I got sick of asking myself whether video games could be or always have been art, what qualifies Super Mario Bros. (1985) as art (if it is art) and what disqualifies Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude (1992) from being art (if it isn't art), if a basic but economical and ingeniously designed game like Ms. Pac-Man (1982) has more artistic value than a beautiful, evocative, poetic, and utterly muddled game like Chrono Cross (1999), et cetera, et cetera. The partial solution I arrived at was to refrain from asking the "art" question at all.