Thursday, June 13, 2013

Entry#13: Playgore!



I remember those gore-soaked afternoons summer. It was a time of vampires, monsters, mad scientists, and Chef Boyardee ravioli! I will never forget the eldritch nightmares that were spawned on the kitchen table. Nor, will I forget the very messy cleanup that followed. 

How many of you had the Count Creepyhead and Friends Playset? If you said, “No,” then you were missing out. Call your parents, or therapist, and complain that you had a deprived childhood. This was, and still is, the ultimate Playdough set, bar none! Alright, so the Star Wars and D.C. Comics Super Friends playsets are nothing to sneeze at. But the Count Creepyhead and Friends set allowed you to do something those other sets didn’t. It allowed you to play with the very forces of life itself! The Count Creepyhead and Friends set was a monster factory in a box! 

The set-up was simple enough. You have a skull-faced Dracula doll dressed in a fetching cloak with scalloped sleeves (think Batman, but MORE gothic!) The doll had arms that when lowered would push a plunger into the hollow skull! Sounds sufficiently ghoulish enough, right? But here’s the cool part: the hollow skull had openings for the eyes, nose, mouth, and fractures at the back of the skull. It was from these orifices that play dough would stream out! The protrusions were long and snake-like! 

But wait, that’s not even the coolest part! The coolest part was this…the skull-face had interchangeable molds, each one depicted a different classic film monster! The set included Dracula, Lady Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolfman. It was a who’s who of Universal Monsters (albeit in their public domain formats). Sadly, there was no Frankenstein’s monster to be found.  

The kids these days will never know the simple pleasures of filling a Dracula face mold with crimson Playdough. Or, the intensity of a Mummy made of ethereal green Playdough. Best of all, once you got tired of their visage, you could…dare I say it…EXPLODE THEIR FACES! Yes, you could make their faces explode, fall off, or melt! You simply remove the mold, and the plastic toupee/cover. You then gently push down on those arms, and presto; you have a series of vile snakes or viscera pouring forth from the facial orifices!  

The kit also came with three kinds of Playdough; bloody red, zombie green, cadaver purple, and bone white. Personally, I preferred to use the red. However, one could create significantly fun gore with a mix of red and purple. The kit also included a small purple axe. It was a medieval looking thing; long handled, blunt-edged, and with a spike on the end. This could be used to clean out the skull, or trim excess off the molds. It was a wondrously morbid time to be a kid. And one could have all sorts of fun with this Playdough set. I wish I still had it.

I have my memories at least. But I also have an Amazon account! To the online store I shall fly through the night, and reclaim Dracula’s exploding head!  

Text copyright Johnny Zombie 2013


The original commercial from Kenner! 


Monday, May 6, 2013

Entry #12: Providence, or Bust!



Eldritch History in the Making! 

Good evening, fiends! 

A most momentous even will occur this August 20th. The unveiling of the H.P. Lovecraft bronze bust will occur in Providence, Rhode Island.

The project was initiated by artist and filmmaker Bryan Moore. Moore has previously sculpted and cast bronzes of Abdul Al-Hazred, Brown Jenkin, and Lovecraft himself. He’s also adapted The Cool Air into a short film. He sells his wares through the Arkham Bazaar website (The Bizarre Bazaar). The same site is operated by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Moore’s bronze pieces are among the most detailed and life-like I’ve ever seen. His incredible depictions of the Cthulhu mythos are worthy of even the most jaded art collector, or experienced horror fan. 

Moore reached his anticipated goal of 30,000 dollars in only three days! The kickstarter-based campaign was so successful that Moore extended the monetary goal to 35,000. It took no time at all before that goal was reached as well. This would have seemed a pipedream only ten years ago. Now, artists, filmmakers, writers, and the like can independently fund projects with ease. All it takes is a click of the mouse.

The project also received sponsorship from Fangoria Magazine, Lionsgate Films, and Scream Factory DVDs. 

Rewards for donations were very generous, and far ranging. They included limited edition t-shirts, a Mike Mignola sketch of Hellboy, and dinner with filmmaker Stuart Gordon (of Reanimater, and Dreams in the Witch House fame).  

The bronze bust of Lovecraft will be installed on the grounds of the Athenaeum Library in Providence. Lovecraft himself was a patron of that library, and often relied on it for research material. In addition to the realistic depiction of Lovecraft, the statue will bare his famous epitaph, “I am Providence!”

So far, 2013 has been a good year for both Lovecraftians, and horror fans of all stripes. The unveiling of the statue is a massive step for all horror-kind! The installation of a Lovecraft statue is long overdue. His influence is so vast and diverse, that Lovecraft is rightly considered, “The Father of Modern Horror.” 

How, he is immortalized for eternity. 

Or, until Cthulhu comes! 




CLICK HERE to donate!
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/66144730/the-hp-lovecraft-bronze-bust-project

Friday, April 12, 2013

Entry#9: One Smutty Saga




One Smutty Saga! 

ITunes recently took some heat for a decision they didn’t make. Comixology, the web-based death dealer to comics--I mean, virtual comic book store--committed a random act of censorship. They pulled issue #12 of Brian K.Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga. The popular book is now a mainstay of Image Comics best selling titles (such as Spawn, and The Walking Dead). It tells the story of forbidden love, set against an interplanetary war. It’s a sci-fi and fantasy mash-up of Romeo and Juliet. And while the comic features some violence, a bit of nudity, and occasional sexual content, it was banned for only a postage stamp’s worth of porn. Two panels depicting fellatio were all it took. But this wasn’t the usual male-on-female content most readers shrug off. Instead, it depicted a same-sex encounter (of the third kind). Despite previous issues that have contained more in-your-face content, this was considered too taboo. Comixology pulled issue #12 from their site as a precautionary measure. 

Where does iTunes fit in with this? They got the blame because subscribers on iPad and similar devices were unable to download the issue. Comixology felt that it would not pass muster with iTunes’ standards of conduct. Oddly enough, splatter fests like The Walking Dead are regularly available through Comixology. I guess the sight of scribbled wang was too much for them. Comixology wasn’t told by iTunes to take down the comic. They just assumed iTunes would put the kabosh on it. You know what they say about assuming things, don’t you? 

 The end result is that fellow comics creators and fans went ballistic. Vaughan himself felt it was unfair. He then urged fans to buy actual print copies from their local comic shop. That’s a boon for comics fans (and shops), and a bane for Comixology (destroyer of all worlds). An already popular series just might have its first ultra-collectable controversial issue…for the time being. But don’t you buy none of that EBay b.s.! Save your money for the second printing! And make sure to save up for a magnifying glass too. The penile porn is that small. That’s what she said! The offending image is only seen for two panels on the first two pages. 

This brings us to the question of censorship in media. That’s another topic for another post. There has been a lot of thought, time, and effort granted to this subject. I just don’t have the time for it here. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m against censorship of this kind. I believe that grown adults should have the right to see, read, or listen to what they want, as long as it harms none. But I think in this case the real issue goes beyond censorship. I think it speaks more about maturity, as it does sexuality. Would the book have been pulled if it depicted heterosexual sex? The answer to that is, “Probably not.” It’s safe to say that Saga got slagged because of simulated same-sex activity (try saying that three times fast!) I don’t think Image’s new title Sex (with explicit guy-on-girl shagging) would suffer a similar fate. 

One could also suggest that this was an attention-seeking gimmick on Vaughan and Staples’ part. One wouldn’t be far off the mark. While Vaughan admits that it wasn’t solely to titillate or shock, he knew it would raise eyebrows. 

"Unfortunately, because of two postage stamp-sized images of gay sex, Apple is banning tomorrow’s SAGA #12 from being sold through any iOS apps. This is a drag, especially because our book has featured what I would consider much more graphic imagery in the past, but there you go. Fiona and I could always edit the images in question, but everything we put into the book is there to advance our story, not (just) to shock or titillate, so we’re not changing s**t."
--Brian Vaughan, via Twitter. 

This also brings me to another point. While I understand age appropriateness in media (example: I’d NEVER let a child look at a Playboy). I don’t understand why adults would be shocked by illustrated nudity. It seems to be a real problem for some people. 

I used to read Heavy Metal in my twenties. Though it’s been a while since I’ve read it, I kept all my back issues. The sexual content in that magazine is diverse. It ranges anywhere from the sexy, to the surreal. Simon Bisley will pencil large, melon-like breasts on his women. In contrast to Bisley, Luis Royo will paint realistic depictions of the feminine form. Bisley goes for the comedic, almost burlesque effect. Royo seeks out a stark, Gothic fantasy. Whether you like it or not is all a matter of taste according to the reader. I like both artists, but prefer Royo’s artwork. I’ve always been a fan of realistic art, even in fantasy settings. But at the same time, I don’t mind cartoonist-style work either. Again, it depends on the work, and what kind of art is best suited for it. If Heavy Metal isn’t your sort of thing, that’s ok. Nobody will require you to look at illustrated mammary. But the option should be there for those who don’t mind a little skin.




Heavy Metal is marketed to an adult audience. Its subtitle reads, “The Adult-Illustrated Fantasy Magazine.” It is sold in clear plastic wrap, so that potentially offensive images aren’t seen by immature eyes. This is a sensible truce between the publisher, and the bookseller. In the shop where I work we take a similar precaution with related material. It helps to save us grief. But it also helps to save the publisher. The last thing anybody wants is a book burning crusade over penciled knockers…or, for that matter, penciled trouser snake. Comic book readers are a diverse crowd; there’s something for everyone on those racks. I believe that it should be that way in every bookstore. But I also believe in being mindful of what is age-appropriate. 

This brings us again to the question of appropriate images and words. That’s for the customer to decide for themselves. In the case of youngsters, it’s up to the parents to decide. Once the kid comes of age, it becomes their turn to decide for themselves what they want. 

In that case, I’ll close with this…”To each their own. Let us see what we choose to see. Let us read what we choose to read.” 

And now…

The “offending” images from Saga #12. Judge for yourself. 





Text copyright Johnny X. 2013. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Entry#8: Deja Vu Burnout!



Déjà vu burnout


I had a very interesting conversation at work the other day. Major Tom, Captain Steve, and I were talking about spoilers. We weren’t talking about the usual spoilers, like when someone gives away the ending of a film. Instead we were talking about cultural spoilers. Sometimes you can be so familiar with something that it becomes clichéd; even if you haven’t read it, heard it, or seen it. Some movies, books, and music become so heavily referenced that we become overly familiar with them. This familiarity causes the work to become predictable, even if you haven’t experienced it. 

A prime example of this for me is Frankenstein. I love Frankenstein. I had the Remco action figure when I was a kid. I watched the Boris Karloff movies I lot. And I feel that Karloff’s performance in the original Universal films is superb.  I really dig Peter Cushing as the titular doctor in the Hammer films. However, I can’t sit through reading the book.

Major Tom had asked if it was the writing style, or the language? 

No, it’s not that. I’m used to that style of writing. What gets me is that I’m so familiar with the story that I lose interest in it. Even though I haven’t read the book, I still know what happens. 

Captain Steve suggested that I really don’t know what happens. But I really do know what happens. I know it from commentaries about the novel, and various documentaries. I’ve been mostly spoiled for it. 

Frankenstein is so ingrained in not just our culture, but also world culture. Even if you haven’t read Mary Shelley’s novel, you are already spoiled for it. It is one of the most popular novels of all time, and rightly so. The portion of it that I have read is stunningly beautiful. It was way ahead of its time. It also signifies the birth of the horror and sci-fi genres respectively. If it wasn’t for Frankenstein, we’d have no horror. We’d have no sci-fi. And on top of that, Mary Shelley was only eighteen when she wrote it! She is the mother of all monsters. 




As for the adaptations of Frankenstein, they are a mixed bag. They run the gamut of glorious (the James Whale directed originals) to the gory (Kenneth Branagh’s version from 1995). Hammer Films made a whole series of Frankenstein movies; in which Peter Cushing, as Baron Frankenstein, was the lead. These films took a drastic departure from the original novel; especially since they were about the mad scientist himself, and not the creature. They are fun pastiches in their own right. And while Whale’s adaptation isn’t faithful to the source material, it is the standard by which all other adaptations are judged. Karloff’s performance is one of the best every committed to film. And Colin Clive was both frightening, and magnetic, as Baron Frankenstein. There was also the underappreciated, but wonderful, The Bride; starring Sting as Baron Frankenstein, Jennifer Beals as the titular Bride, and Clancy Brown as the Monster.




All of these films have one thing in common: The Monster is sympathetic. Frankenstein is the villain. This same thread runs through Mary Shelley’s original novel. Though unlike Whale’s film, the monster isn’t as childlike in her novel. He’s well-spoken, worldly, and somewhat dangerous. Still, you can’t blame him for wanting his revenge. His own father rejected him out of disgust. This is an echo of Shelley’s own relation ship with her father. She was somewhat of a wild child. So much so, that she eloped at age eighteen with Percy Shelley. And for her mother (also named Mary) she died after giving birth to Mary. Yes, she wrote horror, and lived it. Part of me feels as much empathy for Mrs. Shelley herself, as I do her most famous creation. I feel that I need to both honor her, and satisfy my curiosity, by reading her most famous work.      

However it has gotten to a point where I may never have the patience to read it. I’m so familiar with the story that it has become been-there-done-that territory. This is a real shame, because I’d love to read it through someday. I didn’t encounter the same problem with Dracula by Bram Stoker. I also didn’t encounter the same problem with Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde. But I have this stumbling block with Frankenstein. Similarly, I had a mild stumbling block with Dante’s Divine Comedy, but that was eventually overcome. 

What if I were to read something more contemporary? Let’s say Stephen King’s The Shining? Granted, Kubrick’s film is different in tone from the novel. But would I find myself just reading over a book that I’m overly familiar with culturally? One wonders how I’d react if I’d read Shelley’s novel first, before seeing the James Whale version. Though that’d be a neat trick if I could read a Victorian novel before age five!  

Familiarity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, over-familiarity can be a very bad thing. For example, I can’t listen to a Beatles’ album without being bored. I know the lyrics, the album titles, the track listings, there’s nothing new there. It’s gotten to a point where if I hear a Beatles song I think, “Not this again.” I can probably handle a song or two, but not an entire album. My mind feels numb, and I feel bored. 

I’ve talked with people who couldn’t watch The Godfather the whole way through, because of all the parodies over the years. Though they haven’t seen the movie before, the parodies of Marlon Brando as Don Vito have made it redundant for some people. And we all know the story of Romeo and Juliet. This can make it very difficult for even experienced Shakespeare watchers to sit through. 

There’s also the over-used movie quotes. I could easily live the rest of my life without hearing, “Say hello to my little friend,” ever again. That’s one movie quote that can, and should, be retired. I hate to say it, but, “Luke, I am your father,” is headed there as well. 

In other words: You can have too much of a good thing. 




I sometimes feel that something similar has happened with Star Wars. It’s part of the culture, which is a good thing. But when shows like How I Met Your Mother (and everything else) over-reference it, it becomes a bit stale. Granted, that’s not a fault of Star Wars itself, more the perception of it.

And that brings me back to Frankenstein. Perhaps this has more to do with perception, than the actual novel? Of course it does deal in perception. There’s nothing wrong with the novel. I’ve just been born in a century when the mass media allowed for various adaptations of Frankenstein. On top of that, it is a public domain work; anyone can make a Frankenstein movie (even Andy Warhol). This allowed for the cultural saturation of the novel. This is a good thing, as it has kept the story alive for over one-hundred years. In four years, we’ll have the two-hundredth anniversary of its publication. There’s no sign of the love for this novel diminishing. All writers everywhere wish they could have such longevity and popularity. Mary Shelley wrote other novels, which will be rediscovered in time. But her most popular work is so rich in texture, that scholars are still examining new layers of this work. 

And that brings me to a final thought…

Maybe I have unconsciously cheated myself by not allowing the novel to wash over me?  Just as some people will avoid the most popular books ever written, just because they are popular, I could have denied myself of a great read. In that case, this may have more to do with perception, rather than over familiarity? 

Sometime, before the year is out, I will read Frankenstein in its entirety. And you will all read what I thought of it. 

I promise. 


Text Copyright Johnny X. 2013. 

Some Propellerheads, anyone? Is History Repeating?


 



Monday, March 11, 2013

Entry#7: Do You Know Where Your Towel Is Today?

 




Do You Know Where Your Towel Is Today?
There are certain people who become fixtures in our lives. We couldn’t imagine a world without them. Douglas Adams was one of those people for me.


I first encountered the writing of Douglas Adams when I was twelve…


Wait; let me back up a bit.

I first heard of his writing when I was eleven. This all came to me by an indirect source; The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In the now classic gaming book The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Guide to the Universe, there is a very interesting disclaimer. 

It read like this, “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Guide to the Universe is not related to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and is in no way meant to infringe on that property.”



Being overly observant as I am, I read the copyright page. I’m forever grateful that I did. Reading that disclaimer lead me to think, “What is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?” And what connection did it have to TMNT? I returned to my local bookstore a few weeks later. I was to see these large, leather-bound books with gold letters on the spines. They read, “The More than Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide--Douglas Adams.”

That answered my question, sort of. Now, I had to read this impressive tome. It was so impressive, that it had a gold-colored creature on the cover, a parody of the “smiley face.” And that silly creature was sticking his tongue out, and laughing. I had to read this book. I needed to know, “What was the secret of the Hitchhiker’s Guide?”



I had placed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on my Christmas list that year. I asked, and I had received. This proves that Santa Claus not only exists, but that he must indeed be of alien origin. I read that first novel as if it were an actual guide book. Granted, I knew it was fiction, but I wanted it to be real. I wanted to carry a messenger bag like Ford Prefect (which I do). I wanted to know where my towel was at all times. And I wanted to see these odd places first hand. And, I wanted to sample a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, no matter what the cost!



Needless to say, I was in love with this book. It was, and still is, my first love. You never forget your first. I wanted more of this strange universe as recounted by Douglas Adams. And for my thirteenth birthday (in the early 90’s) I was given that same large, leather-bound volume I had seen at age eleven. I still have it on my bookshelf. It sits next to a large collection of Douglas Adams books; both fiction and non-fiction. I also received another great gift that year: an audio book of Douglas Adams himself reading The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I could then hear his voice reading his work in his own words!


I listened to that audio book throughout that summer. I then read that large, leather-bound book. It was then comprised of the first four novels in the series; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, The Universe, and Everything; and So Long, and Thanks for All The Fish. Since that summer I have read, and re-read, and re-read those books consistently. And once more, I didn’t have to wait long for another book in the series. Adams published Mostly Harmless about a year later! It was from that point on that I have made it my mission in life to track down EVERYTHING Adams wrote. Some guys get turned on by cars. Some get into baseball. I wanted to be a writer, and nothing else.

Why did Douglas Adams work connect with me so completely? The answer to that is a long one.

First, he wasn’t boring.

One of the great sins of our culture is that we purposefully bore children to death with really overbearing books. We drill it into their heads that “real” writing must be slow, overly long, and dull as watching paint dry; but without the heady aroma and side effects. Granted, I had the joys of Encyclopedia Brown, and Choose Your Own Adventure at that age. I also discovered Sherlock Holmes around the same time. But none of it could compare to the humor I found in Adams’ work. Though that time that Sherlock and Watson dressed in drag to infiltrate that Hong Kong brothel; you have to admit that was funny. Oh, you didn’t read that book? Well, I’m sure Sir Arthur would have written it, had he been given the chance.

Second, the works of Douglas Adams are philosophical.

All of his novels are detailed analyses of the society around us. Whether it was conscious or not, Adams became a great social critic. The absurd civilizations he wrote about mirror our own world. The outrageous choices that are made by seemingly “enlightened” societies are just as illogical as our own. An example is the survivors of the Ark in Space and their tree-killing ways. Or, be it the Krikkit Men, hell bent on annihilating the universe using sports equipment. Or, the senile Man Who Rules the Universe. These are all clear metaphors for the world around us.

Third, they were the first novels I could quote.

The dialogue and scenarios are memorable episodes; both on the page, the airwaves, and the idiot box. And in recent years, it has been adapted for the silver screen. One can vividly see Ford, Arthur, Zaphod, and Trillian in their mind’s eye. And one can see themselves in these characters.

That brings me to point number four.

These books are not about heroes. They are not about extraordinary people. They are about the everyman on an adventure. Arthur Dent is that everyman. This tradition goes back to the medieval mystery play, simply titled, Everyman. We also see echoes of it in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Though, if the truth be told, Douglas Adams was much funnier than Dante.




Everyman always had a guide. In this case, Ford Prefect is that guide. Dante had his Virgil, Arthur had his Ford. And along the way, the two go from one odd situation to another. In the end, both learn about the universe around them; in all its greatness, and foibles. We are all everymen on an adventure. We are all drifting through the galaxy on one great starship. And we are all trying to figure out why we are here. And much like The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question, the question is more complex than the answer.


I was shocked in 2001, when I learned of Douglas Adams’ death. He was only forty-nine years old. He’d left behind a wife, a daughter, and a legacy of humor. He also left behind tireless efforts to save the world from itself. His conservationist efforts are often overlooked. But his quest to help preserve endangered species, and humanity, are among his finest works. It is these works, both on, and off the page, that have ensured his memory will endure. Writers never really die. As long as their work is available, people will hear their voices. Future generations will discover their work, and then pass it onto the next generation.

Douglas Adams inspired me to become a writer. And when I find myself in difficult times, I remind myself of his struggles. He once went from having a seven-thousand pound overdraft, to having over eight million books in print. He once hitchhiked from England to Greece, got food poisoning, and lived to tell about it. And Douglas Adams got to jam with Pink Floyd on his forty-second birthday. What started out as an idle thought, “I wish someone would write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” evolved into a cross-cultural phenomenon.




Here’s ten things you didn’t know about Douglas Adams.

1. He has an asteroid named for him. DNA-42-2001

2. He was six-foot tall at age twelve. He would eventually grow to be six-foot- two.

3. He was a left-handed.

4. Adams was also a skilled guitarist. He not only jammed with Pink Floyd, he also jammed with Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.

5. He introduced Lalla Ward (former Dr. Who companion) to her
husband, biologist Richard Dawkins.

6. He was a patron of the Dian Fossy Gorilla Fund.

7. Adams was script editor for Dr. Who. He wrote four episodes, “City of Death,” Pirate Planet,” and “Shada.” The Christmas Special of 2012 was based on an unproduced script Adams had left behind…nearly thirty-three years ago.

8. Another asteroid was named in honor of Arthur Dent. It is simply named, “ArthurDent.”

9. He was close friends with Graham Chapman of Monty Python fame. The two collaborated on a rarely-seen TV pilot, “Down From the Trees.” 

10. Adams had predicted the invention of the E-book. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is electronically updated via the Sub-ether net as well. Perhaps he predicted downloads to iPads, and other electronic devices?


Stay cool and froody, kids.



 
Copyright Johnny X. 2013
Video From the Vaults
Douglas Adams made a guest appearance on Letterman in 1985. This was during the promotion for So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish.

 
 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Entry#6: Going Berserk! (Is That a Joystick in Your Pocket Part 2)


 
Going Berserk!

 
(Is That a Joystick in Your Pocket Part 2)

This is part of a series I’m writing about classic video games from the Atari era.

Berserk: an ancient Norse term. It refers to certain Vikings that would become animalistic in combat. Today we call it, “Going Postal.” Since they didn’t have mail carriers back then, the Vikings improvised. They wore bear skins instead of blue uniforms. And they had long boats instead of little white trucks. What does this have to do with Atari’s Berserk? The answer to that is, “Absolutely nothing!”

Berserk pits a human champion against robotic gladiators in a series of mazes. You are the last survivor of a group of astronauts exploring the planet Mazeon. Your ship crashes, people croak, and you have to pick up the pieces. Robots are gunning for your pixilated hide! And you have to fight your way out to survive! It has action, 80’s tropes, and neon graphics. Needless to say, I love this game. It’s one that I didn’t play as a kid, but took to as an adult. And since downloading the emulator (hey, we have to get the fix anyway we can) it has become a minor obsession. I’ve practiced for many hours to try and boost my score. And while dodging laser blasts fired by peeved mechanoids, I’ve discovered two things. One, this game is highly addictive. Two, it holds up to repeated play. I’ve also developed some serious questions as well. Such as, “Can I mainline this with A/V cables inserted into my wrist?”

The game play is simple enough. You are The Dude. Not Lebowski, just The Dude. Your little man, woman, non-gender specified video counterpart is fighting for their life. You have unlimited ammo, which is good. You will fire off hundreds of rounds of, to quote Rocksteady, “Laser electric death!” But on the downside the robots that stalk you also have hundreds of rounds. They also have different personalities.

First up, you have the Green Meanies. They are the most aggressive of the bunch. They will actively pursue you like the paperboy did John Cusack. Then, you have the Pink Prissies. They aren’t as aggressive as the Green Meanies. But if you get too close, they will scratch your eyes out, bitch! There’s also the Banana Barbarians; so named for their color, aggressiveness, and high potassium content.

Those are the basic robots in most of the modes of this game. But there’s also the Smiling Jag-Off, I mean--Otto, who shows up to taunt you in some of the higher modes. He’s the sort of dweeb that crashes the party after everyone has left. Truly, we shows up after you’ve cleaned a maze full of droids. And he doesn’t offer to pick up empty bottles. He’s the worst kind of party guest ever!

Contrary to the game’s title, actually going berserk is a sure fire way to lose the game. One must use cunning, patience, and a gallon jug of ice tea to survive this one. A good defense is the best offence. Use the walls to your advantage. But don’t hug those walls like an inflatable love partner. They are painted electric blue for a reason! They are shocking, simply shocking, even in this day and age.



For those of you who are fans of HALO, you’ll recognize the game play. The 2600 version of Master Chief’s exploits were patterned after Berserk; minus the bug-zapper walls.

It has been a fun challenge playing this game; one that I have met with great determination, stamina, and much swearing. It’s a fun evening’s playtime that doesn’t involve expensive utensils. It’s a satisfying injection for retro gaming fever. As Kerouac would say, “I’m an old tea head of nostalgia.” I have both feet in the future, while I cast my gaze to the past. Playing a game like this is the closest I’ll get to time travel.

If you want to take a retro step in the right direction, here’s how to find Berserk online. Direct your browsers to:
http://www.atariage.com to download The Stella Emulator (the one that screams like Brando) and then download a copy of Berserk.

And no, I wasn’t paid to say any of this (slides an A/V cable into wrist).

I give Berserk: Five out of Five Spacemen.

Berserk was programmed by Dan Hitchens
Year of release: 1982.

End of Line.


Atari's original commercial for Berserk in 1982. That's one hip grandma!

 

 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Entry#5: Is That a Joystick in Your Pocket?




Is That a Joystick in Your Pocket?
(Part One)

Despite the 3-D Whizz-bang of today’s video games, they lack something the old 2-D games of yesteryear had; they lack heart. I’d gladly trade the first-person run-and-gun games of today, for a blocky robot smasher like Atari’s Berserk. Granted, there’s a certain redundancy to a lot of these games. Many of them were knockoffs of Space Invaders and Pac-Man. And many of mid and late 80’s games were knockoffs of Super Mario Brothers (a subject for another post). But there’s a certain charm that comes with these games. And part of that charm was the cover artwork.

I feel like an old rocker, complaining about the loss of album sleeve art. And in a way, the two arguments are one and the same. This is much like the loss of movie poster art in the 90’s. It’s rare that we see anything comparable to a Drew Struzan or Frank Frazetta painting gracing a movie theater lobby. Come to think of it, we don’t even see quality artwork on the DVD or Blu-Ray boxes either. We don’t even get mail order offers for posters. Nor, do we get them in stores, unless given away as a promo.

There’s a certain frenetic pace to today’s video games. And that same pace seems to have found its way onto the box art. Though Atari’s Baseball couldn’t match the graphic quality of the box art, it didn’t matter. You were in the zone when that cartridge went in the consol. The same applies to Missile Command, Frogger, Enduro, and any number of classic titles. These were our first glimpses into the video world. They deserved the fantastic artwork on their boxes. Should we honor their legacy with anything less?

Below is a gallery with some fine examples.

End of Line.




  


 
For more Box Art, please see the following links...
http://gaming.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Atari_2600_box_art
http://www.atariage.com



 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Entry#4: 85 Years of Cthulhu!





85 Years of Cthulhu

It was 85 years ago today.

Lovecraft taught us how to pray.

May I introduce to you

The God you remember after all these years.

Cthulhu’s soul eating band!

It was eighty-five years ago this month that a different kind of messiah was born. Yes, there’s been a lot of talk about “alternative” religions these days; from the likes of Scientology, Wicca, and the Cult of Celebrity. But the God I speak of is far more ancient and enduring than either of these faiths. I speak of the one true God who will unite us all in the presence of his body. I speak of he who can destroy worlds. I speak of he who shall rise again. I speak of he who makes an awesome chocolate mousse with lemon swirls. Alright, maybe I exaggerated that last part.

I speak of none other than…

The Great…

The Ancient…

The Almighty!

Do I have enough modifiers?

CTHULHU!

His fictional exploits were first chronicled in Weird Tales February 1928. The publication of The Call of Cthulhu marks the debut of one of horror's biggest monsters...literally. The great prophet H.P. Lovecraft was the first scribe to spread his vile gospel. Yes, Abdul Al Hazred, author of the Necronomicon came first. But it was the dark dreams of Lovecraft that raised our God to the public consciousness, up from the seas of nightmares!

In the words of that most anti-divine prophet, “He is combination of a dragon, and octopus, and a human caricature…A pulpy head, with a mass of feelers at his mouth.”

And it was this nightmarish image that has haunted the dreams of men since then. Our mighty Lord from the depths has permeated all levels of culture. Books, games, toys, t-shirts, tattoos, and even slash fiction. He is more popular than Zarquon!

My first introduction to this awesome octopod god came via The Real Ghostbusters. In their aptly titled episode, The Collect Call of Cthulhu, the boys in ectoplasm do battle with his most unholiness. They vanquish him, but only for a time. For when the stars are right, he shall rise again!

Cthulhu Fh’tagan!

[Editor’s note: It was at this point that the blogger began laughing hysterically. He tore all his clothes off, and then proceeded to dance wildly. He then gave offerings of spiced rum to a statue of Cthulhu, which was situated on a makeshift altar. He then proceeded to invite many young ladies at the office to become Brides of Cthulhu. They all refused, except for that smashing blonde with the big bazoomnies. Anyway, we had to call an exorcist. The less said about that, the better. Also, we can’t get the smell of that cherry incense out of the carpet. Mind you, it is quite nice, but it is distracting. And just you try getting goat’s blood out of a suit. I mean, really, nothing takes that out of a suit; not even club soda. Seriously, he ruined a Brooks Brothers suit in one afternoon. That’s the last time we allow “Casual Fridays,” I’m telling you.]

Since then, visions of his hideousness have remained with me. I have not forgotten the name Cthulhu. And it would appear that no one ever will.

For as the great prophet once wrote, “That which is not dead can eternal lie. And in strange eons, even death may die.”

I’m off to bake a soul-flavored cake with virgin frosting!

Copyright 2013 Johnny X. 


 Lovecraft's concept sketch for Cthulhu.


The Adventures of Little Cthulhu. Awwwww! Or, AHHHHHHH!

 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Entry#3: Un-Deadpool Presidents



This entry reviews DeadPool NOW issues 1-4.

Publisher: Marvel
Writers: Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan
Artist: Tony Moore

The Merc with a mouth is back. He’s bad, he’s badass, and he’s got bullets, blades, and attitude to spare. DeadPool is re-launched in new Marvel NOW series, Dead Pool.

So far, the series is four issues into its run. From the very beginning my first reaction was, “I’m laughing so hard I have to put the comic down.” This has happened many times while reading this series. I haven’t read something this funny in…well, longer than I can remember. The humor is fresh, and holds up to a repeating reading. It comes to us courtesy of stand-up comic Brian Posehn. A self-confessed comic nerd, Mr. Posehn is a frequent guest on Chris Hardwicke’s Nerdist show, as well as AMC’s The Talking Dead. Most readers will be familiar with Posehn through his work on the stages of various nightclubs; as a stand-up comic, not a stripper.

This series sees Mr. D-Pool on a mission to search and destroy. Specifically, he’s been recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. to do some dirty deeds, done dirt cheap. Canada’s least-favorite son is out to snuff all the dead presidents. It seems that Mike, a warlock with a severe Braveheart fetish, has resurrected all the deceased commanders-in-chief. The likes of Nixon, Reagan, Ford, and both Roosevelts are out wreaking havoc on our great nation, again! Overcome with an inflated sense of “purifying America,” these suit and tie psychos are jacking things up. Only Wade Wilson…well, actually, every other character in the Marvel universe could have stopped them. But, well, it would be bad P.R. if Captain America was seen putting the hurt on George Washington. It would be just as bad if Iron Man did it (Tony Stark has government contracts). And it would be equally bad if Spider-Man (Peter Parker, the boy next door) were to wail on Tricky Dick. Imagine what Mary Jane would say if she caught him doing that!

As Mr. D-to-the-pool is told, “You’re not the hero we want, Wade. You’re the scumbag we need.”

The comic itself is, at times, a smart take-off on the Tea Party mentality. It confronts the concept that America is somehow irrevocably flawed, and needs to be remade. The comic spoofs, to an extent, the drastic polarization that our country has experienced over the past twenty years. And while it doesn’t go too deep into finding answers--hell, it doesn’t answer anything, except, “How badass is DeadPool?” The comic generates genuine laughs with a smart dose of satire and social commentary. And the writing feels like a screen play, with its fluid motion. Both Posehn and Duggan are superb together. They are writing a comic that is both funny, and action packed. Bringing those action sequences to life are pencils by Tony Moore. His humorous zombie caricatures of dead presidents are sure to both repulse and delight readers! Mr. DeadPool himself moves like lightning on the page. The action sequences practically come to life! They are among the most outrageous and highly magnetic action sequences I’ve ever seen.

Some highlights on these awesome sequences include DeadPool’s duel with Richard Nixon inside The Watergate Hotel! His hunting of Teddy Roosevelt (in issue #2, aptly titled We Fought a Zoo) must be read and seen to be believed. And I won’t spoil the sultry way he takes down J.F.K. Let’s just say, “You won’t look at The Seven Year Itch in quite the same way again.”

There’s also been guest stars from Captain America, Thor, Dr. Strange, and Benjamin Franklin! Yep, Old Ben is going Ben Kenobi, and acting as guiding spirit to Mr. Pool. Some of the funniest moments are delivered in dialog by this most intelligent, and amorous founding father.

I would go on, but I’d run the risk of spoiling the intense humor in this very funny, very entertaining comic series. I should point out that despite the history lesson this is not a comic for kids. Mid-to-late teens and adults are recommended for this one. Also, the trademark fourth wall breaking is there. This is a comic that doesn’t take itself too seriously. DeadPool even recommends listening to Pantera’s classic thrasher Five Minutes Alone while he takes care of business. And if you don’t have that, you can just listen to “whatever crap you want.” In the spirit of fair play, I put on some Pantera during that particular sequence; a battle on the Golden Gate Bridge. Let me tell you, Moore must have been listening to Cowboys From Hell when he drew this. The action is so frenetic, the sequence needs a soundtrack.

I’m giving DeadPool NOW…five dead presidents out of five!

That’s a lot of Benjamins! Um, yeah, he wasn’t a president, I know. But he is on the hundred-dollar bill. Or, as Wade puts it, “That money I can’t afford.”

Review Copyright 2013 Johnny X.

 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Entry #2: The Alright Arachnid Dude



The Alright Arachnid Dude

Hello, true believers!

Peter Parker’s not dead. He’s just hanging with Elvis, Jim Morrison, and Bigfoot. That would make a better storyline than the one Marvel did use to wrap-up The Amazing Spider-Man. Technically, the series isn’t over; it has simply morphed into The Superior Spider-Man. This current spin-off picks up where The Amazing Spider-Man issue #700 left off.

To explain a bit of back story first…

*Spoiler Alert*

Spidey did a Freaky Friday with Dr. Octopus. I don’t mean the original with Jodie Foster. I mean the remake with Lindsay Lohan. Just picture Peter Parker with red hair, freckles, and legal battles. And picture Doc Ock as Jamie Lee Curtis. On second thought, the good doctor was never that sexy.

Anyway, Peter Parker swapped bodies with Dr. Octopus. Otto Octavius body had “lost the will to live,” much like Padme in Revenge of the Sith. It would seem as if Peter Parker had gone to the four-color heaven in the sky. One wonders if he’d have entrance to Thor’s Valhalla. Perhaps maybe the blonde barbarian badass could give him a rainbow bridge ride back to Earth? It would appear that won’t be necessary, as Peter Parker is now a ghost. His soul is lingering around like Obi Won, and intervening when needed. He even stopped Dr. Octopus from pummeling a perp into the pavement (try saying that three times fast!)

There’s also the issue of Mary Jane, and how she’ll react to Peter/Otto’s eccentric behavior. One wonders if the famous pottery wheel scene from Ghost will be reenacted in the next issue. Though I joke about it here, I’m not putting anything past Dan Slott.

That being said, I did enjoy this comic. I used to read Spider-Man when I was a kid. And I did enjoy the new movie, starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (future mother of my children). Spidey was a childhood favorite of mine in any medium; animated, illustrated, action figure, and live-action. With all the spin-offs out there, it was time that Marvel started to streamline things a bit. It was also time they rebooted the series. New readers would be intimidated by the 700 issue girth of a forty-odd year series. And old readers would want something new, in the wake of Marvel’s “NOW” series. You can’t blame an old dog for trying a new trick.

The series begins with an action sequence. There’s no weeping and moaning in this book. In addition to high octane action, this book has liberal doses of humor. And it is the humor that helps to carry this story. It provides a much needed release from an awkward situation. They’ve avoided many obvious clichés, like the kind we’ve seen in body swap movies (see 80’s classics Vice Versa, Summer Switch, 18 Again, and Father/Son) However, I don’t see this as a long-running series. My prediction is that it will probably run for about a year or so. Once the next Amazing Spider-Man movie is released, Marvel will reboot the original series.

Many of my cohorts at the comic shop agree. The general consensus is that Marvel ended The Amazing Spider-Man on a weak note; like an out-of tune Daily Bugle. I would have to agree. I also feel that The Superior Spider-Man isn’t really superior. It is a good read, but not a great read. It is also a continuation of a story arc started in issue #699. One wonders if this story arc should have been included in The Amazing Spider-Man proper, instead of in a separate series.

All being said, I did like reading this premiere issue. And I will continue to read the series. I’m a curious sort, and have a desire to see what happens next. While old school purists may be put off by the radical story arc, I recommend they give it a chance. A comic like this is an acquired taste. It’s fun to see a famous villain in the Marvel Universe wear the tights of a hero. The concept of an anti-hero fascinates me, and we may have found one in The Superior Spider-Man, albeit for a limited time. Dr. Octopus is still the same smug s.o.b. he always was. When he takes down a fellow villain, he’s doing it for selfish reasons. Though he’s trying to redeem himself in some fashion, his arrogance shows through. Despite the oddity of the story, Dr. Octopus’ personality is still consistent.

In conclusion, I’d say, “Give it a chance, and see what you think. You’re under no obligation to buy. Act now, operators are standing by.”

My rating: Two-and-a-half webs out of five.

Excelsior, Web-heads!

Review Copyright 2013 Johnny X.



 

 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Entry #1: The Return of the Return of the Jedi (Times Two)


 
Some FORCEful Thoughts From Johnny X.

 
It’s been a while since we’ve heard about something good from a galaxy far, far away. While I’m optimistic about the Disney buyout of Lucasfilm, I’m also hoping we avoid another Jar-Jar Menace. It seems that all too often we get massive amounts of Expanded Universe Star Wars, but not enough classic Luke, Han, and Leia action. Well, my rebel friends, fear not! Dark Horse has just launched into hyperspace a new series of Star Wars comics! And to help wash the midiclorian taste out, they’ve gone old school!

The new series, simply titled, Star Wars takes place two months after the Death Star did the big firework. The Rebel Alliance is scrambling to find a new home, after Alderaan was nuked by Peter Cushing (in-between his gigs as a mad scientist, and vampire slayer, respectively).

Our heroes in orange jumpsuits aren’t the only ones looking for new digs. In a scene reminiscent of Robot Chicken’s Star Wars spoof, Palpatine gives Vader a dressing down for, “Not protecting a two meter exhaust vent from a bunch of f*cking teenagers!” Needless to say, The Emperor has some serious anger management issues. May I recommend Zen, and the Art of the Force? Balance those chakras, dude. You’ll live longer (at least till Return of the Jedi.) Darth gets mauled verbally for his failure to prevent the loss of the Death Star. As a form of punishment, his sweet Sith ride gets revoked! This sets The Dark Lord of the Sith on a path of “redemption” that will lead to the legendary events depicted in The Empire Strikes Back. All the while, Princess Leia, Luke, and Wedge are on a mission to route out a spy. And Han goes crusin’ with Chewie in the Falcon!

This comic is BEAUTIFULLY illustrated. I’m very impressed with Carlos D’Anda’s artwork. His style is fluid and realistic. The images seem to come alive with each panel. He captures the likenesses of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamil, and Dennis Lawson perfectly. A Star Wars comic should have great art, and this is that book. Also, kudos needs to be given to the amazing colors, courtesy of Gabe Eltaeb. He must have used NASA photos taken by the Hubble for color reference. The colors are so vibrant, and yet real. Tying together this worthy combo of words and images is Brian Wood’s wonderful script. The best-selling author brings fresh and exciting ideas to a beloved franchise. He gives the characters emotional weight, while penning snappy dialogue. There’s a real sense of the dire straits that both Alliance and Empire are in. If the new Disney-produced movies are anything like this series, then we’re in for a real treat in 2015.

Anyone who knows me personally will know my connection to Star Wars. Fandom for The Force runs in my family. My late Uncle Boba was a massive fan and collector of this franchise. He would have been most pleased with this new series. I feel that fans old and new will love this comic. And I also feel that among a massive backlog of E.U. books, this is a much needed return to the three classic films that inspired it all. If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you owe it to yourself to read this issue. Buy, you must, this book. Read it, you will. It is the Star Wars you’ve been looking for!

Rating: I’m giving Dark Horse Comics Star Wars Issue #1

Five Spacemen out of Five!

And once more…BOBA FETT is on the cover of Issue Two!

Review Copyright Johnny X. 2013

Video of the Week
And now, enjoy the title sequence to a show that never was. Ironically, Tom Selleck was the original choice to play Indy.