Archive for the “meta” Category

Posting will be erratic through this week as a consequence of our recent move.

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Hey, I need to save some money…what’s droppable?

Gantz: Seven volumes of blood and tits before I realized that there’s nothing to this manga series except blood and tits. I’ll just go ahead and stick to MPD Psycho. At least there the blood and tits are in service to a story.

Batman: I forced myself to read “Battle for the Cowl.” After that, I think DC should pay me to read Tony Daniel Batman comics, not the other way around.

Red Robin: Let’s be honest here, the book only exists to keep the message-board crowd happy, because God forbid DC not put out a book about the Robin that no one really likes, but no one really hates either. When inoffensive mediocrity is a selling point for a super-hero, you know the standards have sunk. Plus, it just feels incredibly off to me that the central story-line in the book is explaining to the lazy readers that Bruce Wayne isn’t actually dead.

Doom Patrol: They keep trying to get people interested in it, only to discover that unless it’s by Arnold Drake or Grant Morrison, no one really cares.

The Brave and The Bold: Straczynski’s first issue ended with Batman allowing someone to keep their magic power-giving gimmick, even though they directly caused the death of another person because of their misuse of it. The second was a silly attempt to work up a justification for letting super-heroes kill people. The latest is boomer narcissism about how “kids these days don’t care about issues like we did, maaannnnn.” Buh-bye, TBATB.

Green Arrow & Black Canary: Cripes, we get it, the crazy chick is obsessed with Ollie. Enough already.

Magog: Hey, super-heroes who are complete pricks aren’t fun to read about at all. Who could have guessed?

Titans: Does…anything ever happen in this book?

The Shield: Generic-Man #2763.

The Web: Generic-Man #2764.

Warlord: Not even Mike Grell drawing half-naked dudes can get me to overlook this book just rehashing the 70s series.

The Authority: The Wildstorm line as a whole has been floundering for a while, and while minis like Number of the Beast gave it a brief jolt of liveliness, as a super-hero property it’s now just…broken. Super-heroes squabbling in a post-apocalyptic ruin sounds good on paper, but in practice it’s too genre breaking to sustain interest.

Guardians of the Galaxy: I was enjoying this. But inconsistent art and too frequent participation in cross-overs I care nothing about just became too wearying.

Wolverine: Weapon X: Jason Aaron writes very good Wolverine comics. But, at the end of the day, even the best Wolverine comic in the world is still just yet another Wolverine comic. If you’ve read one, you’ve pretty much read them all.

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I’ve never made my feelings about vampires a secret: they’re horrible and stupid and they suck. They’re only marginally better than zombies, who are the only monster giving them a run for their money in the “speaking to the anxieties of the age” stakes. Werewolves, for me, are far more interesting. But I’m in a definite minority for feeling that way. And why should that be? Put simply, vampires got better publicity at an important historical point.

If you go back to early legends, there’s not a lot of distinction between vampire and werewolf legends. They’re both horrible, ravening undead monsters that kill the innocent because they’re unholy abominations. Over time myths refined to the point that vampires leveled out as bloated, diseased corpses that spread death and contagion through villages and werewolves became more of a satanic figure, frequently a person in league with the Devil or cursed by him. And they were still more or less on equal footing, though it must be said that vampires never quite lost their distinctly Slavic roots while werewolves became a bit Frenchified.

The turning point seems to be around about the Victorian period. The Victorians, unsurprisingly, are to blame for a lot that is horrible in modern culture, and vampires as romantic anti-heroes are no exception. See, amongst the many morbid obsessions that the Victorians had, was death. Your local Hot Topic is filled with people who are, spiritually, Victorians; they think cemeteries are darkly romantic, they revel in melancholia, and they think occult doodads are really nifty. The only significant difference is that gothy emo kids of today don’t have a borderline fascist and overtly racist Empire covering a tenth of the globe. It’s not hard to see why vampires appealed to readers in that environment. You’ve got the death angle. You’ve got the sinister foreigner despoiling the women. And you’ve got a healthy dose of sexual repression, as what vampires do is essentially rape (or sexual deviancy, as with Camilla and all the other sapphic bloodsuckers that come alone), but thanks to Victorian prudery it gets soft-pedaled as seduction. With all that lovely symbolism, how could the Victorians fail to love vampires?

Werewolves, however…they get a bit trickier. It’s been argued that Strange Case of Jeckyl and Hyde is essentially a werewolf story, and it did gain a lot of traction with moralizers of the period who saw in it warnings about giving in to base desires, but I’m not sure I agree with that logic. Hyde as I see it is more a story of backwards evolution, and ties in more with the scientific racism and classism of the age. I think the actual symbolism of real werewolves was something that the Victorians just weren’t interested in. There is a strong suggestion with lycanthropy stories that Man is at heart savage. That there’s an unavoidable primitive core in humanity. Were creatures are just letting that hidden side come to the surface. Lycanthropes also bring up the uncomfortable to many reminder that Man is, when you get right down to it, just an animal.

There’s just not enough meat in those metaphors to appeal to the readers of the age, sadly. A couple of other symbolic elements kept werewolves from gaining popularity in later periods as well. For one, werewolves represent an internal threat. They’re something within us that comes out and threatens the community. Vampires are suitably foreign, an external threat, and for xenophobic and tribalistic modern cultures, that’s a lot easier a concept to deal with. Werewolves have also developed an interesting sideline as a metaphor for sexual awakening. A number of films and books use them as puberty metaphors. Heck, even Teen Wolf is a long, sophomoric joke about teen boys growing hair in weird places. And that animalistic nature invites a number of werewolf films to include raw, uninhibited sex. Westerners, it must be said, are a bit prudish about sex. Vampires, despite the creepy rape as seduction elements that filter through, are all about the foreplay. They’re soft-core. Which is why so many brooding, Byronic bad boy vampire romance figures are wispy, effeminate men. Non-threatening. Safe. A monster you can take home to mother, unlike the guy who’s shedding on the couch and humping her leg.

Of course, the big reason why vamps are more popular is that it’s easier to make an actor look like a half-convincing pale, fanged douche than a half-beast, fanged and clawed killing machine.

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As a reader and viewer, I’m a big fan of ambiguity. I like it when works have room for multiple meanings and interpretations. Which is why I always feel slightly chastised when I have to reluctantly admit that, yes, I do in fact think that there are some hard and fast rules for what does and does not constitute a work in the “horror” genre.

For me the rule is very simple, at least it sounds so: if it involves aliens, it’s science-fiction, not horror. When pressured, I’ll even go so far as to say that if a film or novel’s story involves any iteration of “science gone bad” it should probably be considered science-fiction and not horror. This still leaves plenty of room for science-fiction to be scary, and even opens up room for a bastardized hybrid genre, sci-horror, but does give us a good base on which to separate two genres from each other for ease of discussion.

There are, naturally, a whole bunch of problems with this approach. For one, it almost entirely ignores the intent of the creators. It’s obvious that Alien is meant to be a horror film, for example. It could be argued that a work exists within the horror genre if it’s supposed to be a work of horror. But then, I’ve never been one to put primacy on authorial intent. It’s too limiting, and tends to completely cut off the possibility of multiple meanings. The example I like to use is Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. People continue to read and value works because they have meaning to them, regardless of how far from the time of creation the reader is. In that play’s case, people have found it to be a commentary on British anxiety over colonial enterprises. Or the story of a father trying to shield his daughter from the outside world. Or a political propaganda piece directed at those questioning James I’s right to the throne. Or an examination of the dysfunction that exists in the British class system. Would we still be reading it if the only possible meaning is that old Will felt like writing about a wizard who lives with fairies?

Another flaw with this logic is that it excludes a lot of early, important works in the genre. If we consider tales of “science gone wrong” as science-fiction rather than horror, then that makes Frankenstein and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde works of science-fiction. This is a problematic position, as those two works, along with Dracula, are as close to ur-texts as modern horror has. We can perhaps overlook this if we suppose that prior to the twentieth century, fantastical works were not a distinct enough category of fiction to necessitate the kinds of genre distinctions we have now.

A parallel argument to this I’ve seen occur from time to time is whether the slasher sub-genre, which is generally considered to be horror, is more properly classified as a type of mystery or thriller story. The roots of the genre appear to trace back pretty strongly to the “whodunnit” style of mystery, and it could be argued that slasher stories are essentially murder mysteries that incorporate the cultural fascination with serial and spree killers into their plots and themes. This is where I risk making a hypocrite of myself, because while I see the logic, it doesn’t practically work for me. There’s no “mystery” to a film like Halloween of Friday the 13th, because the identity of the killer is incidental to the story. One of the problems that has arisen with the slasher as a genre, as I see it, is the rock star-ification of the killer. The best slasher films treat the killer as a Macguffin. The story is about the Last Girl. Treating the killer as the heroic, audience identification figure leads us to trash like Saw and Hostel, where the point isn’t to scare the audience but to see how much we can make them squirm by presenting them with unpleasant images.

So what, then, does constitute horror? I think there are two key components. The first is a clear intention to frighten the audience. The second is to create a world in which the natural order of things is suspended. While this would suggest that supernatural themes are paramount in horror works, it also leaves room for the more human and human-as-monster works, as being stalked by a masked killer is not part of your average person’s everyday experience.
But that’s just me. What about you? What makes something “horror” and what does and doesn’t belong in the genre?

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Expect content to resume regularly tomorrow.

In the meantime, enjoy these kissing prairie dogs:

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