WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew learns about the seedy underbelly of LEGO knock-offs while Dan preps for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie by watching the 2009 animated film.
DOCTOR WHO KNEW?: Dan and Andrew discuss their skeptical praise for the current series of Doctor Who. Five episodes in and all episodes have been undeniably good so far. Should they be waiting with baited breath for the show to stumble as it has done for the last five series? Or should they let their freak flag fly once again?
WAKING LIFE: Remedy Entertainment’s 2010 sleeper hit, Alan Wake, was summarily pulled from all digital storefronts last weekend due to the lapsing of the licenses paid for music featured in the game. It’s a strange situation considering exactly how many games––even those released before Alan Wake––use licensed music and are still available for purchase.
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WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays super sentai producer in Chroma Squad while D. Bethel gets introspective while drawing old high school characters for his “Sketch Fridays” series at LongJohnComic.com.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END: The final Doctor Who series to feature current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, and current showrunner, Steven Moffat, began last weekend with “The Pilot,” which also introduced the new companion, Bill Potts. Dan and Andrew discuss their reactions to the episode.
NERD LAW – YOUTUBE EDITION: Andrew dusts off his non-advisory expertise to talk about a recent situation that occurred during Dan’s livestream of God of War III. They talk copyright, YouTube’s priorities, and Chinese variety shows.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew watched the live action remake of the Disney animated feature, Beauty and the Beast and D. Bethel discusses his experience at this year’s Sacramento Indie Arcade Expo.
REGRESSIVE RESURRXION: First, the comic book news cycle went nuts because the first post-Inhumans vs. X-Men book was released, X-Men Gold, which was then subsumed by the fact that people seemed to like it, which was then subsumed by the likelihood that X-Men Gold artist, Ardian Syaf, may have placed possibly intolerant symbology in not-so-hidden places throughout the book. Then it turned out that he definitely did that. It has been a roller coaster of news and insight into Indonesian politics (where Syaf resides) that has been mostly very sad and upsetting for X-Men fans.
*Extra Bit: Marius Thienenkamp of Comicsversewrote a thoughtful analysis and retrospective of this entire affair.
THE TWO MASTERS: On the threshold of the debut of Doctor Who‘s Series 10, it was revealed that actor John Simm would be returning to the show in his former role as The Master, the longtime foe of the show’s titular hero. Last seen at David Tennant’s departure from the lead role, he returns during the tenure of his successor, Michelle Gomez as Missy. What this means for the episode(s) in which they appear together (the last one or two of the season), we can’t yet say, but both Dan and Andrew are pretty excited about it.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew muses on cinematic magic of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them while Dan can’t shut up about the podcast, S-Town.
INAPPROPRIATE APPROPRIATION: Dan and Andrew can’t ignore the strange vortex created by the controversies surrounding the cultural tone-deafness of Netflix/Marvel’s Iron Fist, the backlash to the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, and the recent shifty comments of Marvel’s VP of Sales, David Gabriel, regarding sales and the recent surge of diversity in the Marvel Universe. What the hell is going on?
I have always had too many hobbies, especially when I was younger. Like a lot of people, some of these fell away for awhile, some of them I picked back up for nostalgic reasons or with a new appreciation. Some have been left behind. For me, one passion remained constant throughout (aside from writing). With comic books, I stopped reading them for over a decade. Sure, there was the occasional trade paperback here and graphic novel there, but there was a long time where I checked out of the culture and community for good (until I was drawn back in, pardon the pun). With regard to other nerdy passions, I started playing music rather late and I basically stopped drawing for a long time before starting up my first webcomic in 2007.
But my oldest nerdy pastime––one that never went away––has been playing video games. I’ve always kept in touch, I’ve always had an ear to the discourse, and I’ve always followed the developments. It’s strange, then, that I never really thought about video games critically until relatively recently. Until I started using the tools I was practicing as a college student and graduate student, I never really absorbed games as statements on (or of a) culture.
However, there were a few times when I played a game and recognized that there was something more here, even if I couldn’t put my finger on it. Metal Gear Solid was one (as was Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater after it). Another was Shadow of the Colossus. There was also Red Dead Redemption. When Red Dead was released, my excitement was tempered with shock because as a fan of its predecessor, the Playstation 2 game Red Dead Revolver, I had no idea that it garnered enough attention to warrant a sequel––not from the fans nor from the industry. But I greeted it with anticipation and my reaction to it was on par with most people who played it––I loved it.
It felt big and cinematic, the story felt important, but what it was trying to say eluded me if only because I wasn’t thinking about that with regard to games. More importantly, I wasn’t quite sure about how to analyze a text like this. My instinct when it comes to fiction is to be enveloped by its tone and characters. Though I had become more critically aware of movies and books (what with my English degrees), such skepticism never leapt the barrier into video games.
Now, as a neophyte pop culture critic, I would like to analyze this medium but worry if I could do so as objectively as I would like. It is one of those “special” games to me, a pane in a stained-glass assemblage that is my personality, nostalgia, and taste. Furthermore, so much time has passed since its release that I wonder––with all the developments in the technology and expectations––if I could go back to it without some immediate deconstruction of my love for what made this game great in 2010.
Furthermore, most of the conversation around the game has been cultural rather than critical. Most discussion I come across is done by those who love it like I do, so the talk is mostly about how it has become “the game of its generation” or how video games can have impactful, cinematic storytelling while also being good games. While I don’t disagree with those sentiments, I haven’t found any real conversation around the game that delves deeper than a nigh dilettantish affection for the game, so I let more time pass and the possibility of actually developing a thesis around it slip away.
And then I found the brilliant podcast, Bullet Points. In a way, linking to Jess Joho’s article is a slightly veiled excuse to gush about the Bullet Points podcast and its long-form criticism companion site, Bullet Points Monthly. The core of Bullet Points is the trio of critics Ed Smith, Reid McCarter, and Patrick Lindsey who all write freelance for a variety of different culture sites. Their monthly episodes bring in assorted guests (such as Joho) and, together, approach video games new and old with an intelligent, skeptical scalpel that makes for an engaging listen. Each episode focuses on one game (ostensibly their focus is games with shooting mechanics, hence the title) that they all play and come to the recording session with their individual critical takeaways from the experience. Bullet Points Monthly contains articles written by the hosts with one guest contributor to hone their experiences into deft and penetrative articles about the game to be discussed on the upcoming podcast episode.
Back to Red Dead Redemption, their talk about the game (Episode 24 of the podcast) immediately gave me what I was looking for, which also pointed to article Joho wrote for the discussion and is also a perfect example of what I hoped to see in the discussions about this game––an incisive dissection of what this game means:
Red Dead Redemption doesn’t just portray a revisionist western story. The game itself plays like it’s a revisionist western cowboy on a quest to erase the past misdeeds of its genre—only to perpetuate those same misdeeds under the guise of revisionism or redemption.
It gave me a place to start, critically, with which I can go back to the game without the worry of being dragged down by old controls or distracted by out-of-date graphics. A lot of times their discussions touch on cinematic criticism or literary criticism but never as a crutch. Instead, they are citing those critical fields as peers to the texts being discussed on the podcast, which is exactly a tenet Andrew and I yearn to do on this very website with a similar general theoretical approach. If Bullet Points continues to do more writing and discussion like this, then I am even more excited for not only what other games they turn their attention toward, but also what I will have to say about games in the future, because it’s one of the first times in a while where I’ve been inspired to go play a game with a critical eye. It’s as if hearing them do it––and do it so well––finally gave my brain the permission to hop the fence and give this thing called video game criticism more of a shot than before.
Canon has been an undercurrent of a lot of what Andrew and I talk about on the podcast lately, though not necessarily whether it’s good or bad, necessary or fanciful. There is no doubt that canonizing properties has been a long-standing tradition for a variety of reasons: first, a continuity helps keep future iterations and sequels in line so that the thematic or tonal essence of a property is preserved; second, that universal structure helps to also solidify, as Mike Chen notes, “the backbone of a community” as well. This has been put to the test in the last decade.
From the dissolution of the Star Wars Extended Universe by Disney to the increasingly interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe, canonicity has become an important talking point in the nerdy-geeky world in some form or another. Both Marvel and DC, in their comics divisions, are struggling with it; it’s hard to decide whether the best move is to honor the canon established by including the upwards of seventy years of existing stories (for some) or to start anew and revised in a clean cut with the hopes of attracting new readers to old characters made relevant once more. Either way, our tendency towards canon development fosters in readers a deep attachment to the characters and their stories. While the emotional importance of canon among fans is undeniable, and is something that Mike Chen paints with affection in his article, he touches on what I think is the more damaging––and therefore more pertinent––side of canonicity: gatekeeping.
I am on the verge of arguing that gatekeeping mentalities are at the heart of the problems that are tearing the nerd world––and, by proxy, popular culture––apart. As these properties and franchises expand outward from the once niche pocket of fandom to greater cultural acceptance (something we all wanted in the first place), it is admittedly hard for some fans to accept that people that have only watched the Marvel movies can call themselves fans of Marvel.
But here’s a fact: they are.
But so many of us try to keep people like them out. Post-2005 Doctor Who fans. Fans who discovered Star Wars with the prequels. Abrams’ Star Trek fans. Mario fans whose first game was Super Mario Sunshine. For some fans, any of these people should have their fandom challenged and tested by their own twisted metric, but it means nothing. As much as we would like to––and as much as we already assume to––have ownership over the properties we have built the core of our personalities around, we simply do not. Passion and fervor, while important for the survival of a fiction, are not authors of it nor the metric for deciding who gets to like it. We cannot decide who gets to love movies, games, cartoons, comics, and television shows. Besides, what good does keeping people out do? If anything, Chen argues that it could even damage our identity within a culture:
[G]eeks often discover their passions while searching for some form of acceptance. With geek culture exploding into the mainstream over the past decade, it often becomes less about ‘are you a fan?’ and more about ‘how much of a fan are you?’ But fandom—the enjoyment of creativity and art—shouldn’t be placed on some finite metric to be analyzed and judged, as long as it’s being expressed positively.
Being a fan of the Marvel comics is not the same as being a mason, nor should it be, with tests to administer and rituals to memorize. They are meant to be enjoyed; again, what good does it do to actively damage a person’s enjoyment of something you or I enjoy so much? Instead, we need to look at things like canon as what it is: fiction. And fiction is meant to be fun. I don’t know about you, but even if someone comes to a fiction later than me or for different reasons than me, if we’re all enjoying it then it’s elevating not only the culture as a whole but, if I were to be honest, also my enjoyment of it.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew messes with controller schematics for X-Com 2 while Dan freaks himself out as he delves into Syfy’s Channel Zero and the HBO documentary, Beware the Slenderman.
THE DOCTOR NO MORE: As Peter Capaldi announces his departure from the role of The Doctor in Doctor Who, speculation begins as to who will take his place in Series 11 which brings with it a new showrunner, Chris Chibnall.
EVEN STRANGER: With the only time we’ll mention the Super Bowl on the podcast, Netflix’s Stranger Things debuted its second season teaser trailer during the big game and Andrew and Dan dive into their expectations.
WEEK IN GEEK: In honor of the 53rd anniversary of the show, Andrew watched the 1970s Doctor Who serial, “Day of the Daleks,” and follows that up with the new timey-wimey show, Timeless. Dan gets nostalgic to re-read X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson and finds, to his estimation, that it holds up rather well.
WAR KIND OF CHANGES: Andrew picks up Fallout 4 on PS4 and talks about what he’s seeing with Dan, who still hasn’t beaten it.
THE CRAFT OF CRAFTING: Building off of Fallout 4‘s systems, Dan and Andrew talk about the rise of crafting mechanics in video games, from Minecraft to Diablo II to Skyrim.
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For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“It’s All Over But the Crying” by The Ink Spots
-“Building the Deathcoaster” by Joseph LoDuca (from Army of Darkness)
For the first time since the show returned in 2005, Doctor Who showrunner, Steven Moffat, has hired a writer whose resumé includes a story from the classic era, meaning its unbroken run from 1963 to 1989. The BBC announced in an upcoming issue of the official publication of the show, Doctor Who Magazine, that Rona Munro will be writing an episode for series/season 10 titled, “The Eaters of Light.” Though the show has brought back a director and actors from the classic run, this is the first time a classic Who writer has been commissioned to write for the revived show.
Munro has the distinction of writing the final serial for the classic run, the Seventh Doctor story, “Survival,” in 1989 which sent the show––with an addendum by script editor at the time, Andrew Cartmel––into what has been called “The Wilderness Years,” meaning the span of mostly Who-less time between 1989 to 2005. Despite the views of some who felt she may have been “slumming” by writing for the dying show, she has said it was her “dream job” despite being “a mournful time in the show’s history.”
Cartmel brought Munro to the show in 1989 because of her impressive history writing for the stage and film, which was an important decision for a series that was remarkably lacking in female representation in production. This is even more remarkable in the face of the fact that the show was basically created by a woman, Verity Lambert. The modern iteration of the show has drawn the same criticism from many fans and critics––even notable Who writer and fan, Neil Gaiman, has called it out. In the last few years, Moffat has made some steps to remedy the situation. However, as of 2015’s series 9, a total of only five women have written for the show out of the 90-plus hires made since 1963.
Of her series 10 episode, Munro is enthusiastic, noting that she tried to capture what made her a scared but rapt fan as a child:
When I was very small and watching the First Doctor, I had a special cushion known as “Rona’s Doctor Whocushion.” I would hide my face in it when the Daleks or other monsters appeared on screen! “The Eaters of Light” is my version of other stories that have haunted me for almost as long.
Series 10, it should be noted, has been slated to be Steven Moffat’s final as showrunner. He has been at the helm since series 5 in 2010 and has been very controversial among the fan base even as his tenure ushered the show into becoming a worldwide phenomenon (especially with Matt Smith in the role of the Doctor) as well as covering the well-regarded 50th anniversary story, “The Day of the Doctor,” which brought David Tennant back to his role of the 10th Doctor alongside Matt Smith.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew finally sat down and saw Marvel’s newest addition to its cinematic universe, Doctor Strange, while Dan sits down and replays the opening of Mass Effect 2.
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: After being pushed back in the movie schedule before getting removed completely, The Inhumans finally gets a release date…on television…kind of. While it’s premiere will be in IMAX theaters for a few weeks, Marvel announced that a The Inhumans tv show will air on ABC alongside Agents of SHIELD. Dan and Andrew talk about this newest plan and what it says about the static between Marvel’s movie house and television studios.
NEW WHO, IN COLOR: The Second Doctor’s premiere story, “The Power of the Daleks,” is getting a DVD release in fully animated form (due to the original episodes getting wiped by the BBC in the 1970s), but more interestingly the release will be getting an extra feature of the whole story in color. Andrew and Dan discuss this feature as well as the state of missing Doctor Who, based on the News Blast Andrew wrote about this announcement.
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For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“More Human Than Human” by White Zombie
-“I Am the Doctor” by Jon Pertwee
Fans of classic Doctor Who already know about tonight’s US premier of the newly re-constituted (or, more appropriately, regenerated) story, “The Power of the Daleks,” first aired in November and December of 1966. Lost in the infamous archive purge that the BBC went through in the early 1970s, the story was targeted for an animated form after several other stories received animated supplements (e.g., “The Invasion,” “The Reign of Terror“). The big difference with this story is that (a) the entire story had to be animated due to the loss of any complete episodes; and (b) this was Patrick Troughton’s first story as the Doctor, taking over after William Hartnell’s departure. In that regard, this is a pivotal story in the history of Doctor Who because it presents the audience with “regeneration” (or, as described in the story, “renewal”) for the first time.
More recently, the BBC announced that this story will also be done with a separate color-animated version, to be included as a separate digital download or as an added feature to the DVD release. One can assume that they based the animation’s colors on production stills from the episode. It can even be seen in the color choice for the Daleks, who sport the classic 1960s white/gray and blue exterior.
This is unexpected, as all of the previous black-and-white Doctor Who stories had been released without any color added. It probably more represents a feature of the animation process and less a desire to colorize old episodes. Previously, a number of Third Doctor stories have been re-colorized by the Doctor Who Restoration Team; only black-and-white versions of color episodes had been retained, so the team used relatively sophisticated methods to restore color to the footage. But there had been no discussion (until now, at least) of adding color to the historically black-and-white episodes.
The question remains to be seen as to whether or not this will be attempted for other episodes. The Restoration Team has done “special editions” and re-cuts of some of the later episodes, including a substantively re-worked rendition of “Enlightenment” and a re-cut “movie version” of “The Curse of Fenric.” It may be simply that “The Power of the Daleks” was a big enough episode to warrant special treatment. Maybe “The Unearthly Child” or “The War Games” will warrant a special colorized version as well. Only time will tell.