OPERATION BACKLOG SLOG (BLOG): Episode 10

This is the first episode of OBS to reflect the broad, sweeping changes I have enacted.  Huzzah!
Today I’ve got some excellent independent downloadable games, a great piece of computer hardware, an album by a nonexistent band, an hilarious audio/video podcast, and one of the best X-Men story arcs ever to be written (among other things.)

COMICS

New X-Men by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and others (Marvel) –  While I may be a fan of the X-Men as a series concept, it’s hard for me to pin down particular X-Men stories that I can honestly say are favorites.  For the most part, each era of the series has had its  merits and flaws.  Lee & Kirby broke exciting new ground, but their storytelling doesn’t hold up so well with age.  Claremont & Cockrum/Byrne brought all kinds of high cosmic drama to the table, but lost a bit of the poignant metaphors.  Jim Lee’s art is pretty, but the storytelling in the Marvel-by-Image-artists days left a lot to be desired.  But then I read Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s 9/11-era run on New X-Men, and was completely and utterly blown away.  Here, for the first time in decades, is a real step forward in X-Men storytelling both in writing and in art.  Much in the same way that Ellis’s Authority and Casey’s Wildcats followed through on how superheroes could really try to save the world, Morrison’s New X-Men seriously tackles the notion that Homo Sapiens Superior is the next step in human evolution.  With mutants increasing exponentially in number and actually becoming a sizable minority instead of isolated “freaks,” are the ideals of Xavier and Magneto strong enough to change the world?  This question is at the core of Morrison’s run on the series, and every 3-issue “episode” deals with it in some fashion, beginning with a devastating attack on Genosha that nearly ignites a war between mutants and humans, and ending with a terrifying apocalypse that neither race survives intact.

New X-Men is the entirety of X-Men stories in condensed form,  and hits all of the most important character plots and over-arching themes.  Primary characters (Cyclops, Phoenix, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine) become richly developed, multi-faceted entities who show that being “super-human” sometimes means being even more flawed and confusing than normal people.  A whole slew of new secondary characters are introduced (Cassandra Nova, Xorn, the Stepford Cuckoos, Beak, Fantomex, the New Class), many of whom have become integral parts of the X-canon.  Old elements are touched upon in new ways (the Brotherhood, the sentinels, the Shi’Ar, the Phoenix saga, days of future past) and are equally accessible to old fans and new readers.  And the end of the run is so dramatic and epic that it serves as a great end for the X-Men as a series (which is why Marvel editorial immediately retconned most of it as soon as Morrison left the title.)  There are some elements that made X-fans cry foul, though, and I shall not ignore them.  Lots of people hated the black-and-yellow combat uniforms (though I think they make much more sense), Cyclops purists hated the fact that he was conflicted about his relationship with Jean (Lord forbid he actually become interesting as a character!), continuity enthusiasts whined and gnashed their teeth at every reimagined element (but they won’t be happy with anybody but Geoff Johns, who is arguably one of them) and then there’s the fallout resulting from the gigantic spoiler, which I won’t reveal because it’s just too good! Yes, there is a gigantic plot twist in the final third of New X-Men, and even though I knew all about it I still had a hard time seeing it coming.  Oh, and Frank Quitely’s art tends to have a rather polarizing effect on readers in that they love it or they hate it.  I happen to think his work is some of the most unique in the business and that his partnerships with Grant Morrison tend to result in some of the most narratively spectacular comics of our generation, but I can understand when fans gripe that his style makes characters look like they have fat bodies and pock-marked faces.  It’s all a matter of visual interpretation, after all.

In many ways, New X-Men is everything that Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men isn’t.  Instead of returning the characters to a more-or-less-perpetual status quo of brightly colored costumes and little relevance in the world at large, Morrison and co. broke new ground in bombastic and exciting ways.   It’s a shame Marvel couldn’t have kept going with it (in fact, they did everything in their power to reverse the progress Morrison made) but such is the way of heavily-licensed intellectual properties.

MUSIC

Stop, Drop and Roll by The Foxboro Hot Tubs – If you’re a fan of The Kinks, The Stooges, the Castaways, Iggy Pop, or any number of other garage-rock type bands, you’ll find a lot to like in Stop, Drop and Roll.  Indeed, you may find that it’s all a bit too familiar!  Well, the reason why it all sounds like a send-up of what’s come before is that, essentially, it is.  International superstar punk rockers Green Day decided that they really liked garage music and wanted to play some, but figured that it would ruin their band branding.  So what’s a band to do?  Why, adopt an alternate persona and release a stylistic tribute album, of course!  Thus the Foxboro Hot Tubs were “born,” and their full-length album was created.  As a long-time Green Day fan, I was very pleased with the album and I’m glad they found a way to record and release these songs.  Every one is overflowing with slightly-distorted DIY charm, and the breakout single, “Mother Mary,” is so damn catchy it should be illegal.  The video is below, so click it and see/hear for yourself!

MOVIES


Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Anchor Bay) –  I stumbled upon this movie while browsing through Netflix’s Instant Viewing horror movies at a friend’s house one night.  We thought it was going to be a straight-up budget slasher at first, but were pleasantly surprised to find that it is essentially the Spinal Tap or The Office of horror films!  Behind the Mask follows a documentary film crew, who in turn follows Leslie Vernon, a burgeoning supernatural serial killer attempting to follow in the footsteps of Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers.  The entire concept is hilariously absurd, as is the degree to which the film crew is complicit in Vernon’s criminal and unconscionable acts.  All of the major tropes are called out and made fun of, ranging from the “survivor girl” needing to be a virgin to the “yonic imagery” that is so thematically important to the killer.  The first three quarters of the movie are refreshingly humorous with dark undertones, but unfortunately the film attempts to take itself seriously during the final act and falls victim to all of the ridiculous stereotypes it had spent so much time lampooning. Indeed, if you turn off the movie when the crew shuts off their cameras, you’ll spare yourself all of the trope-tastic predictability of the end sequence and be left with a better impression of the film.

The individual performances were several steps above the typical direct-to-video slasher flick, which makes sense given the film’s emphasis on characterization and dialogue.  Nathan Baesel did an excellent job as Leslie Vernon, and could probably carve out an comfortable niche for himself as a Ryan Reynolds knock-off.  Despite not being a big-time star, he shoulders of the dramatic weight of the film and does an admirable job of it.  Some of his throw-away lines are the funniest parts of the film, and worth rewinding to hear again.

Unquestionably, the aspect of Behind the Mask that drags the film down the most is its cinematography.  It sadly falls into the “Blair Witch” mockumentary trap of relying on shaky-cam and poor blocking to remind the viewer that they’re watching a movie within a movie.  Considering the myriad alternatives available to any independent filmmaker to help a viewer remember that this isn’t a big-budget film, this is inexcusable.  Spinal Tap didn’t have to do it, after all.  Still, the shaky-cam never approaches dizzying levels a la Blair Witch or Cloverfield, and it’s not worth avoiding the film over.  If you’re bored of traditional slasher flicks, if you thought Scream was a great idea but taken too seriously (and Scary Movie was just a travesty), then Behind the Mask is worth your time.



TECH

NSFW Show

NSFW Show (TWiT Network) –  This TWiT network podcast is very different from the others that I listen to, both in style and in subject.  Magicians/comedians/entertainers Brian Brushwood and Justin Robert Young constantly come up with new and exciting tech-related fun (and slightly racy) activities to enjoy, whether it be with celebrity guests or just the NSFW audience.  In past episodes they’ve created a Youtube drinking game, set more world records during one podcast than any other (itself a record), played a trivia “blitz quiz” with hapless listeners, come up with 6-word memoirs dealing with hilarious failures, and put new tech twists on such college classics as “never have I ever.”  No two shows are exactly alike, and you never know what to expect when that new podcast downloads itself to your device.  It helps that Brian and Justin are incredibly funny people, and are able to play off each other like an old comedy duo despite being across the country from one another.  NSFW is, without question, the funniest podcast I listen to, and I wish terrestrial radio could be as entertaining.  Try them out for yourselves (it’s free, after all) and check out their new NSFW video podcast, because the jokes are even funnier when you get the visual component as well.

PogoPlug 2.0

Pogoplug –  Ever since the rise of the iPod and the fall of the CD player, I have struggled with ways to give music to my friends.  Now that mix CDs have gone the way of cassettes, and everyone’s iPod is locked to their particular computer and music library, what am I to do?  Thankfully,

the Pogoplug is the solution to my music-sharing problems (and my file backup ones, too!)  This nifty device acts as network-attached storage (don’t worry, I don’t really understand it either) allowing me to make data accessible from pretty much anywhere.  All I had to do was plug the PogoPlug into my cable modem, plug an external hard drive into the PogoPlug, and set up an account at pogoplug.com.  Now I can access that external hard drive from my computer as if it were part of my PC, and I can share folders from it with anyone, anywhere, anytime!  Even better, there are no charges or fees to pay!  It’s just $120 for the pogoplug itself, which is a lot cheaper than paying for a high-capacity Dropbox monthly subscription.   Now all of my friends can access all of my music (and there’s a lot of it) from their home computers or their mobile devices whenever they want!  Of course, it’s useful for more than just getting around copyright laws.  I also have backups of all my files synced to the Pogoplug, so if something happens to my computer I won’t lose anything crucially important.  This really is a fantastic piece of hardware, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to share a large number of files with a group of people on a regular basis.

VIDEO GAMES

The Maw by Twisted Pixel Games (Xbox Live Arcade) –  XBox Live Arcade games are already a great deal, frequently offering a fantastic gaming experience for a fraction of the price of retail games.  But you know what’s even better than paying $10 for a downloadable game?  Paying $5 for the same downloadable game when it’s on sale!  This is how I managed to pick up not one but two Live Arcade titles by Twisted Pixel Games recently, the first of which is The Maw. In The Maw, you play as Frank, a wrongfully-imprisoned alien whose transport ship crashes on a hostile alien planet.  Your traveling companion and primary means of defense is a lovable little monster named The Maw, who is sort of a combination of Kirby from the Kirby’s Adventure games  and Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors.  The Maw has an endless appetite and can take on the powers of some of the creatures he eats, so it’s up to Frank to guide the Maw through this harsh alien landscape and eventually exact revenge on your former prisoners.  The gameplay is innovative, but borrows noticeably from predecessors like A Boy and His Blob, Feeding Frenzy, and Katamari Damacy.  Come to think of it, though, it bears a very striking similarity to Wild 9 with regard to its main control element, a laser tether that can act as a leash, a grappling line, or various other interactive tools.  There are plenty of unique elements in each level as well, including a madcap chase where Frank hangs on for dear life as the Maw rampages through the mountains.  The entire game has a very unique and enjoyable style, reflected in character design and interaction as well as in level design.  The entire experience only takes about 4 hours to play through, though there are collectibles to search for and time trial modes to compete in.  All in all, I would say that The Maw is a worthwhile purchase even at full price, but doubly so when it’s on sale.

‘Splosion Man by Twisted Pixel Games (Xbox Live Arcade) – Twisted Pixel’s second Live Arcade title is completely ridiculous.  RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME!  ‘Splosion man is a 2-D action/puzzle/platformer (I love those!)  that bears the occasional similarity to N+ in concept.  In execution, however, this game is completely and utterly unlike anything else.  You play as ‘Splosion Man, a strange creature who seems to be literally made of explosive energy.  Your task is to ‘splode all over Big Science Labs, and generally cause chaos and mayhem and trouble for the scientists who created you.  The controls are comically simple (all buttons cause you to do the same thing: EXPLODE!) and the game is easy to pick up and play.  The sense of humor is definitely web2.0-influenced, with ‘Splosion Man randomly shouting memes (get to de choppa!)  and every level featuring a hidden cake that can be found for bonus points.  That’s right, the cake is no lie this time!  Most importantly of all, though, the puzzles are innovative and the controls are impeccably tight.  If you like 2-D platformers, or just off-the-wall silly fun games, ‘Splosion Man is definitely worth a trial.  caaaAAAAAAke!!!!!!!!!

LEGO Rock Band by Harmonix (Multi-Platform) –  I’ll admit, I was more excited for this game than for any of the other Rock Band installments before it.  Not just because it’s hilarious to play as lego rock stars (though it is), but because of the song list!  I had a blast playing through such cheesy hits as “The Final Countdown,” “Ghostbusters,” and “Kung Fu Fighting.”  And even though it had no particular value to me, I was glad to see that there are super-easy modes for the rhythm game-challenged out there (because nobody likes to feel excluded.)  I’d say that LRB’s only major failing is the fact that there’s no Deluxe Edition, which means we don’t get any badass LEGO-fied instruments with actual LEGO bricks on the outside.  Think of all the customization potential that would have!

Well, that’s it for this episode.  Now that I’ve re-worked the structure of OBS, I hope to be posting more episodes on a regular basis.  I’m certainly not in danger of running out of backlog anytime soon.  Until next time, dear readers!

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