Thursday, April 29, 2010

Steampunk: Manimatron by...

...Chris Bachalo, Joe Kelly, and Richard Friend.
This first volume of collected comics comes to our world via Cliffhanger and DC Comics, and is truly a wonderful thing to behold.

One of the things I enjoy the most about this comic is that you have to realign your brain in order to understand everything that's going on in even one panel. It's an insanely detailed world they've woven, one in which it is quite easy to miss things. In interest of that I can't wait to read it again.

Another feature I enjoy greatly is the rather insane use of typography for the arch-villain, Dr. Mortimer Absinthe. Rather than the usual typographical emphasis one would find in a comic book - bold, italics, both at the same time, the occasional switch of color - his typeface is an appropriate patchwork of fonts, sizes, and colors which mirrors both his twisted mind and disturbing, altered frame quite nicely. It's difficult to describe without the use of crazy fonts and colors, so you're just going to have to trust me that when Absinthe scoffs at a French prisoner via referencing Frère Jacques and 'Frère Jacques' appears in a huge, bold font with colors to look like the French flag, it's awesome.

Overall the writing is fabulous, but Absinthe also happens to have some of the best lines. One of my favorite exchanges goes a little like this:
Absinthe: "God is the ultimate scientist. He's just not as good at design as I am."
Iron Monk: "Blasphemy and sarcasm are the tools of Satan."
Absinthe: "Satan and I were roommates at University. You have the information I seek?"
and the conversation continues nonchalantly.
Absinthe, for this reason, is one of my favorite characters: his writing is superb! So are all of the concepts put forth in this world, and the innovations only become wilder and more interesting in book two, Drama Obscura.

It's been a while since I've read Drama Obscura, but as I recall it only gets better. The visuals, in keeping with Manimatron, are stunning, my favorite visual effect being the ability to track one of the character's movements through the various panels by the continuous stream of union-jacks left behind by his scarf of the same pattern as he bounds in Gypsy-parkour style.

This is only a taste of the world of Steampunk!, but I'm afraid this is all we'll get for a while. Though I haven't confirmed it, I heard through the grapevine that book three is no longer in production: funding got yanked because of lack of readership. Rats. And on a cliffhanger true to the company's name.

On a side-note, I happened to read these in reverse order (Drama Obscura before Manimatron), and somehow I think it was even more fantastic than reading it in the correct order! Going back to book one was like being presented with a huge flashback episode, and as one of the plot twists is contained in book one, my mind was blown. I'm going to go back and read it in the right order this summer (when I have slightly less of a life and slightly more time on my hands), but something tells me I'd recommend reading the second book first.

Due to the aforementioned cancellation, I am sorry to say that these might begin going scarce: I don't know if they're still being printed or not, but I know that you can find both books on Amazon, though the prices aren't exactly the best: Manimatron, Drama Obscura

Happy Journeys, fellow adventures, and for you enthusiasts, steam on!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Game

Yes. Dr. Horrible has yet another wonderful incarnation: Doctor Octoroc's 8-Bit Game!

While it isn't an actual game, the video makes any watcher with a background in handheld, pre-DS gaming go back to their pokemon days. Not going to lie. I totally strolled down memory lane with this. The musical adaption is skillfully done and simply begs to be sung along with. Credit for this goes to Doctor Octoroc, who created these videos as a tribute, and who has also brought us 8-Bit Jesus (an album of Christmas carols done entirely in 8-bit sound).

What I love the most about this project are the care and detail in which the videos are handled. The cinema scenes are wonderfully converted from actual screenshots of the blog, and the sprites are brilliantly handled. I think my personal favorites are Bad Horse's cowboy trio, who appear at one point by dropping through the ceiling. What's better is that, after their number, they proceed to vanish by flying back up through the ceiling.

My next favorite part of this production is that Doctor Octoroc supplements the original sing-along blog both with gameplay - like the need to collect parts to build Dr. Horrible's various weapons - as well a hypothetical minigame and a couple of extra scenes which are implied in the blog but never directly seen.

To conclude, I only wish this was a real game. I would be all over it.

The home of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Game may be found here, where you can download the 8-bit version of the soundtrack and contribute to his project if you see fit. :)

Doctor Octoroc's Blog
Also, Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Game is available on the YouTubes!
Act I
Act II Part I, and Act II Part II
Act III Part I, and Act III Part II

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Riverrun Trilogy: Armorica by S.P. Somtow

In retrospect I have mixed feelings.

Having already conquered and come to love the world(s) that S.P. Somtow weaves in the first novel of his Riverrun Trilogy, (which is also entitled Riverrun,) I find myself wondering about where the river brought me in book two. Armorica kept the same kind of drinking-from-the-metaphysical-firehose feel as the first one but added some new elements that I am unsure of.

Vaugeness. Phooey. Let's begin again.

The Riverrun Trilogy is made up of what I have fondly described to my friends and family as "everything ever." They will be familiar with the line "if you thought of pretty much anything in science fiction or fantasy, it gets at least a passing mention in Riverrun." This is true. The list includes but is by no means limited to vampires, weredragons, soul-sucking scepters, lizardmen, cyborgs, avians, robots, flying citadels, sacred man-women, and King Lear. Oh, and of course multi-universe travel.

My only lingering question is: why does everything I read end up having some huge overarching sexual theme?

I think that's what confused me in the end. Armorica kindof beats you over the head with the symbolism, even analyzes itself, points out everything that you think "oh, maybe they mean this," and then tells you "yeah. yeah, we mean that." It got a little tiresome.

Then again maybe the tedium was part of the confusion of it all. (Confusion is the trademark of this series, I think: if you're not scratching your head and not caring when you don't understand, moving on because you just can't help but keep reading there's something wrong.) Or maybe my confusion and uncertainty are crafted through the narrative to put me in Theo's (the protagonist's) shoes. Or maybe the transition in the narrative is supposed to parallel the transition in Theo's mind as he grows up. Or maybe it was there all along. Who knows anymore? I certainly don't. All I do know is that I am anxious to move on to Yestern, the third and final installment, even if it's just to figure out what (for goodness' sakes!) just happened in Armorica.

That, and it's a whole lot better than Anthropology homework.

Farewell for now, I'm off to paddle up the River with the Fisher-King and his Fool, and may your journeys be less convoluted!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Live in concert and larger than life in the Key Arena, Seattle, Washington!

May I begin by saying that there is no way I could do the glory that is Muse justice in this space? Yes? Good, because it's true.

To be honest, before this concert Muse was not one of my favorite bands of all time. I knew then that they were wonderful and that Matthew Bellamy was a beast of a vocalist/guitarist/pianist. Over the course of the evening they have become one of my favorite bands of all time. I also learned that Dominic Howard plays a mean (and monstrous!) drumkit and that Christopher Wolstenholme slaps bass like none other (and is the roaring voice on the track Supermassive Black Hole). Some of their music has, I think, been criticized for its inconsistency as far as pace between tracks goes (not to say that variety is a bad thing, on the contrary, it shows skill, in my mind). I will own that there was a time that I would skip their slower pieces. Ladies and gentlemen, these days are over. Live, they were mind-shatteringly brilliant, and I can't believe it took me this long to realize that every single one of their songs is good because they all have something a little different to offer. It sounds so simple and obvious in text, but it was a quite profound moment.

Of course the insane volume of said concert could have had a hand in that profundity. Good gracious was that joint loud.

Aside from being a fabulous band, they also had a fabulous show visually. Their opening band, Silversun Pickups (who were also fantastic - coincidentally, they opened for Snow Patrol way back when as well) played to a backdrop of three ashen skyscrapers. Their coloring at first had my dad and I thinking they would be pyrotechnic props, aka shoot HUGE COLUMNS OF FLAME. I kindof hoped they would. (Shoutout to my dad for being fabulous and buying tickets, as well as braving the hours and hours of rainy stormy drive to Seattle!) Said purpose of said skyscrapers ended up different but ultimately way cooler.

They were projection screens, at first showing men walking perpetually up and down the stairs inside to the slow march of an interlude, and eventually falling and tumbling down like leaves: and then the fabric dropped. They weren't solid all the way through, and the middle sections vanished to reveal the three members of Muse, each on his own skyscraper. For some reason I didn't see it coming and it was very impressive indeed.

For many of their songs they had sort of movie footage - or simply footage - projected onto what remained of the skyscrapers at various times (they lowered and raised in order to allow the band members to actually take the stage, and the drummer was on a rotating plate, which was very cool). My favorite, I think, was white text that slowly worked its way up the skyscrapers. After a minute or so of that, live footage of the band members was laid into the text, resulting in a sort of white-matrix effect. Also, for some of the songs the lyrics appeared, usually in huge, stark letters. (Like for the apt lyric: "They will not force us, they will stop degrading us, they will not control us, we will be victorious," from their song Uprising.) My only visual criticism was that their first song with lowered platforms had a lazer light show which was epilepsy-inducing. That one was overkill. The rest took it down a notch, thankfully.

But possibly the most unique stage prop they employed were giant eyeballs that they let fall into the crowd. And I mean giant. Taller than a man by at least a foot. At first they just bounced around, and then Bellamy walked through one, popping it with his guitar, and emerging on the other side in a burst of red confetti. Totally unexpected, there. Bellamy then proceeded to pop a few more eyeballs amidst clouds of confetti and then threw his guitar into the platform for the drumkit, sending it spinning across the stage and back into the shadows behind the skyscrapers.

In short, it was an extravaganza. A fabulous, eyeball filled extravaganza.
Also, kudos to Bellamy for being the first rockstar I've ever seen to use a full grand piano in a concert. Perhaps this is not uncommon, but there was something fulfilling in seeing them make the effort (seamlessly, but it was there) to haul a Kawai grand onto Bellamy's skyscraper for a set of only a few songs.

In short, Muse rocks my world. Haven't heard much of their stuff? Go check them out at any of the following!
Official Website
The YouTubes
The United States of Eurasia