Drik Gently Season Two – The Shark Jump

This review is spoiler free, which if you’ve seen the show is a feat given that mentioning pretty much anything that happens in the show will spoil some surprises.

The first season of Dirk Gently felt like an early David Tennant Doctor Who replacement.  It had the same wide-open sense that anything could happen, anything might lie just around the corner, that quick wits were a suitable substitute for fast hands, and that discretion was often the best part of valor.  Dirk Gently had that same goofy sense of adventure punctuated by brief bouts of maudlin depression that imbued him with a sense of vulnerability despite his tendency to dance through the raindrops with dry hair.  It was a quirky, fun adventure that avoided a lot of the usual pitfalls for genre television.

And then along came Season Two.

It’s not entirely without merit.  Several of the characters show real arcs, some for the better and some for the worse.  In most cases the changes are slow and organic and feel natural.  The new cast members on Team Good include a local Sheriff who stands out as a good guy swept up in the bizarre tidings and managing the weirdness with aplomb.  The show stretches its budget to the limit and the story provides suitable explanations for all of the really weird and artificial looking props and settings.  The scope of Dirk’s world gets fleshed out, and we learn more about how and why the (kind of) superpowered folks exist and do what they do.

And then they had to dive headfirst into the usual mood-killing nonsense.  The big damn hero is gay?  Check.  Manic-pixie girl with world-crushing powers?  Check.  The effective male leads are all evil?  Check.  The frail housewife that physically overpowers her farmer husband in a test of strength?  Check, and that one was particularly egregious – it sucked all the tension and impact out of what could have been an effective scene if the housewife had simply surprised her husband instead of out-muscling him.  Kids are the wisest of us all?  Check.

Swap a few genders.  Ditch a couple of clichés.  Lose the needless Narrative tropes.  You get the same thrills and fun of Season One without the baggage.  Once again a viewer can only sigh for what might have been had the producers had the guts to cut against the grain and take a few risks instead of sticking with the same tired old digs at traditional culture.

Which leads to my theory that the poz is changing.  It’s…evolving.  They are becoming smart enough to feed you a bit of hope, to give you a solid first taste of the story they want to tell.  Once they think they have you hooked, they inject large does of cultural poison into the mix, knowing that most blind consumers won’t notice until their ten year old child is sexy dancing for money in front of a crowd of men in assless chaps.  It’s insidious, and based on Season Two, I’ve actually gone back and added an addendum to my previous post warning everyone to stay away.

 

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Gun Ghoul

Happy Ides of March, everybody.  Watch your backs!

Back in December I took the Arkhaven Comics then new online book store for a test drive.  Wil Caligan’s Gun Ghoul showed up in plenty of time, but personal events made reading a comic centered on death and justice too painful.

Still, Wil’s a good guy who deserves support, so I cinched my belt tighter, sniffed and thumbed my nose like a good Mayberry Sherriff’s Deputy and shouldered my wife through a story of loss, revenge, and redemption.

I just can’t get enough of the Caligan art style.  In a way it reminds me of Warhammer 40k miniatures.  The proportions are off, but in a good way.  The figure work exhibits a willingness to bend and stretch in ways that…I think it’s what the Diversity and Comics guy calls “rubbery”…that strive more to communicate action than reality.  The style hovers on the boundary between lifelike and cartoony in a way that heightens the enjoyment.

It’s just fun to look at, is what I’m saying here people.  It makes for a stark contrast with the deliberately ugly art used in so many drawn mediums today.

The story of Gun Ghoul is your basic ghost-gunfighter shooting all the bad guys tale.  It’s a comic apparently written for comic buffs as the opening vignette shows us the eponymous hero prior to his transformation as well as a number of his soon-to-be-nemeses.  It never actually spells out which is which, though.  If you aren’t comfortable with the standard comic book tropes you have to pay close attention to the art and the story both.  As a non-buff myself, I took the latter route, and can say that it’s nice not to be coddled to or treated like I was an idiot.  Comic books don’t need flashbacks, not when you can thumb back to th scene shown in the first two pages yourself.

The story also follows two cops, one with a super-powered clairvoyant ability, as they track down the mysterious ghost-gunfighter slaughtering the criminal underworld one family at a time.  This adds a down to earth element, and allows for some real-time exposition in a way that isn’t forced.  We get scenes of Gun Ghoul’s villains hamming up the place before the big fights, including a bizarre one called the Red Hood.  His powers don’t fit into a neat little box.  He has a hood that operates similar to movie-Doctor Strange’s cloak and a cannibal/vampire touch.  Add a devil-may-care attitude reminiscent of Deadpool and you get a character that’s like a lot of things, but the creative blend turns him into an enemy that is ruthless, fearsome, and not at all likable.  Even ironically.

The first four issues are a fun read, though they can feel a little disjointed if you’re not paying attention.  You don’t want to skim this one as you’re drifting off to sleep.  It’s a title that asks more of its readers than most comics of its type.  Don’t let the fun art style fool you – it’s a darker and bloodier and more mature title than it appears on first glance.

Get your own copy here.

 

 

Get it direct from Arkhaven Comics.

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Do We Need God To Be Good?

Top comment by Gangiblob Flankis:  “I confess it took me a while to remove the impression that a cocky and worldly space-mercenary was narrating.”

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

The Dirk Gently books never did anything for me.  Too twee.  Too “LOL so random”.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency represents one of those rare achievements where an American film company takes a foreign property, lets the executives demand changes to appease what they think the normies want, and actually improves on the original.

The plot of the first season revolves around two central lines.  The driving mystery centers on the murder of a tech billionaire days after his daughter went missing.  Obviously the kidnappers and killers are the same people, so finding one will allow Dirk and his new pal Frodo find the missing daughter.  The second plotline centers on Frodo trying to help his sister live with a debilitating psychological disease, while also coming to grips with the fact he has been a total ass to everyone his entire life.

In the opening murder scene we learn that the murder weapon was a shark.  In a ritzy hotel’s penthouse.  Frodo catches a glimpse of himself, a beat up version of himself wearing an odd shirt and big white fur coat.  The first on the scene he finds himself a person of interest and the cops show him video footage of himself sneaking around the hotel wearing a gorilla mask.  It’s pretty messed up, but I can assure you all of the mysteries have a reasonable explanation by the end of the season…for certain values of “reasonable”.

It’s really hard to talk about any of the events of the show, because it takes a refreshing ‘kitchen sink’ approach to genre fiction with everything from vampires (kind of) to magitech (kind of) to superheroes (kind of) to Men In Black (kind of) showing up at one time or another.  Each little revelation comes seemingly out of the blue, so going into any of them runs the risk of ruining a fun surprise for viewers.  Suffice it to say, if you’ve ever wanted a lighter-hearted X-Files with a bit more relationship drama thrown in, this is the show for you.  Imagine if Lost knew what it was doing and where it was going and took place in an idealized version of Seattle rather than a tropical island.

The woke quotient is surprisingly low for a BBC America production.  Yes, it has the obligatory badass black wahman who weighs in at 112 pounds soaking wet beating up teams of well trained soldiers twice her weight.  On the other hand, she is way out of her element and has, get this, a personality flaw in that her confidence is shot because she failed to protect either the billionaire or his daughter.  It also has a badass psycho-killer girl whose ability to blindly shoot armed men in the head without looking and over her shoulder comes off as considerably less woke given that she does so by dint of being one of those (kind of) superheroes mentioned earlier.

Dirk Gently himself does come off as a much more twee Doctor Who than any of the modern incarnations of that character.  The writers hammer home his “loose wristed, devil-may-care, everything will turn out okay because I’m magic” characterization HARD in the first two episodes, but if you can get through that, he settles down a bit.  You also learn that his attitude is a mask worn to hide the pain he feels at the loneliness that results from his (kind of) superpower.

At eight episodes, it’s a short season, and one genre fiction fans should enjoy as it twists and turns and coincidences pile up on top of each other until the whole sordid knot gets untangled by the MacGuffin character that appears seemingly out of nowhere, but that’s only because of reasons that make sense and I can’t tell you without ruining things.

Seriously, if you get a chance, give it a shot.  It’s worth it.

[Edit to add:  Stay the hell away from Season Two.  It’s got a great hook, but the presentation is checks all of the full-poz checkboxes.  The servile bowing and scraping to the Narrative sucks all the fun and life out of what could have been some great television.]

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A Sniper’s War

Up for some pro-Russian propaganda? I got a flick for you. Be warned, though. It’s half cool, half head-slapper.

A Sniper’s War presents the story of Deki, a Serbian who enlists in the Russian backed “Ukrainian Separatist” movement that sprung up in the district between Ukraine proper and Russia proper during the big NATO-Russia standoff. He wanted to show his gratitude to Russia by shooting the NATO types that ruined the best country on earth – his beloved Albania. It’s a message film with an odd mix of messages. Part pro-Russia, part pro-Communist, and part pro-Orthodox Church.

Military types would know better than me about this stuff, but it purports to be a glimpse into the ways that low-heat wars are fought these days. Deki carpools to the front line in the morning to take up his position as a forward element in support of the other Separatist troops.  It’s a war film that features the kind of camaraderie you’d expect and lacks all of the usual globohomo posturing and clumsy anti-Christian messaging.

The heart of the film is an interesting character study of a man who leaves his family and country to strike a blow against a larger foe. The faux-documentary style adds a level of intensity to the story that helps mitigate the production’s relatively low budget.  In an interesting note, we never actually see Deki’s nemesis – we only read words he posts on social media to taunt Deki.  Which meets my level of expectation for modern warfare and makes him even more ominous than if we knew that he’s only evil because his Dad abused him as a kid.

The downside of the faux-documentary style comes in the form of the technical gaffes.  I’m no soldier, but even I know snipers don’t stick the barrel of their rifle six inches outside of the window to look for a shot…in the middle of a sniper duel. Come on, guys, even Nolan’s Joker knew that. To compound the error, Deki returns to the blind where he barely survived a hit by a dum-dum bullet to continue the duel from the same spot where he was shot. And earlier in the film Deki calls out exactly that kind of thing as a rookie mistake. It breaks the tension considerably when the filmmakers break their own rules like that.

In the end, though, it isn’t the setting that matters, it’s the characters.  And even though Deki is a filthy commie, he makes for a fine protagonist.  It’s not a great film by any stretch, but it’s a damn sight more interesting than most of the fare Hollywood squats out these days.

It’s also free on Amazon Prime at the moment.  On a related note, I won’t be watching the end of the Dirk Gently show after all.  It left free viewing, and I’m not about to pay to directly anything from BBC America.  I’m paying for free shipping.  A free peek at Dirk Gently might be a nice bonus, but it’s not something I’d use money for that could be better spent buying literally anything.

Edit:  Never mind.  I’m an idiot.

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Corrosion: Just A Taste

The first 80 minutes are free, but they tell a complete story from start to finish.  Reading this audio book the first time was a real pleasure – I’d already bought and read it before the call came down – and I like to think that my reading adds a little something to the tale.  There are a number of subtle threads woven through the entire book that I was able to bring out a little bit more in the reading,  A few of them I only noticed in my second read through!  There are probably other subtle winks and nods that went over my head.

The drama of this book’s release made it seem like a gimmick book.  Regardless of whether it was a gimmick that inspired Kalsi to put this book to ink, the results are anything but.  A surprisingly sophisticated look at the slow devolution of complex systems, and man’s ability to survive and adapt in the face of civilizational collapse, there are lessons to be learned here that go well beyond a well-deserved poke in a blowhard author’s eye.  Don’t let the impetus fool you – this book is the real deal.

Give it a listen, and you’ll see.

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New Look Audio

The Audio Page here at the House Of Jon needed some attention.  Changes in the Castalia House sales process, and the publication of three new audiobooks in the Quantum Mortis Universe, made it necessary to do some quality control.  That’s a mighty fine looking shelf if I do say so myself.

 

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Ember War, Issue #3

The third installment of Richard Fox’s “Ember War Saga”, adapted for comics by Jon Del Arroz and Jethro Morales, dropped for backers earlier this week, and the fun factor continues to ramp up.

One minor complaint about this issue is the lack of a splash page with a couple of “the story so far” summary sentences to help reorient readers returning to the saga after several weeks hiatus.  The action picks up right where it left off, and within two pages the reader experiences enough, “oh right, that’s a thing,” moments, to detract from the experience.  Admittedly, the bulk of the issue is a pair of fetch quests running in parallel, so it isn’t that hard to figure out.

Once the noggin’ gets joggin’ though, this issue brings a high fast ball by featuring non-stop action with only a last page exposition dump wherein humanity’s savior (kind of) explains the backstory shown in the last issue, this time to the last dregs of humanity.  It’s a fast read, packed with action and some fun stunts for the characters, including just a touch of pathos.

It’s clear now that we’re dealing with a Battlestar Galactica situation in which an alien AI sought to feed Earth a few “cheat codes” so that we wouldn’t be caught entirely flat-footed by the approaching genocidal Xaros.  That only comes after our plucky heroes race through an empty world and get involved in a running battle with a host of drones left behind by the Xaros after they wiped humanity off the planet.  The action proceeds into space and we get a little taste of ship-to-ship combat in there for good measure.

Now that we’ve spent more time in this universe, the action makes more sense, the stakes have been raised higher than ever, and as a result we have a lot more incentive to root for Team Humanity.

The art continues to serve the story well with a nice, clutter-free style.  Clean lines and smooth transitions make it an easy read.  The mech that appears in a few panels shows some awkward positioning, but my limited eye for artwork can’t tell if that was intentional to help illustrate the massive scale or just awkward posing.  So that’s all I can say about that.

As mentioned last time, this comic title features a welcome break from the usual cape comics that dominate the store shelves.  If you’ve a love for mil-sf and want a good story without the heavy time-investment of another epic saga of ten novels, then you can’t do much better than Ember Wars.  You can grab your own copies at IGG.

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Long Overdue Thoughts on “Right Ho, Jeeves”

The comic omnibuses shown to the left represent the big splurge for my Christmas presents to myself.  A full review of Gun Ghoul will have to wait – the first issue in the collection piqued my interest but I’ve had a hard time picking it up since early January.  I just need a little more time.  Right Ho, Jeeves, on the other hand, came to me at the perfect time.

Adapted from the novels of Wodehouse, the story follows Bertie Wooster, an affable fellow who just wants to live his lower-upper class life in peace.  That prospect is complicated by the need to please the aunt who funds his lifestyle, and who summons him to her husband’s estate to enlist his aid in prying money out of her husband’s tight grasp.  The cast of goofballs creates a string of misunderstandings and botched plots that would rival any network sitcom.  The gags are delivered in a stately lower-upper class setting with enough dry wit among the slapstick gags to create a deceptively dignified read.

Reading Right Ho, Jeeves reminded me of my childhood.  Not because I was raised in an English manorial estate filled with colorful characters, mind you.  Rather, because it felt like reading a copy of Mad Magazine.

Stay with me here, Wodehouse as Mad Magazine makes more sense that you might think.

Me and my brothers thought we had to smuggle copies of Mad Magazine into the house because whenever the bright and obnoxious covers caught our eye on the supermarket shelf, Mom turned us down with a gentle, “That’s not appropriate for you.”  Our illicit readings proved her both right and wrong.  The kitchen-sink approach Mad takes to humor meant that the booger jokes and slapstick and puns rubbed elbows with references to adult themes such as Hollywood celebrity gossip, the last gasps of seventies culture, and the (then topical) Reaganomics.  While not damaging to a child’s psyche, most adult references whooshed over our heads like facts zipping past the notice of the crew at CNN.

What they did provide was a glimpse into a broader and more mature world waiting for us on the other side of puberty.  Reading Wodehouse presents the same sort of feeling, but looking backwards at once was and what might still be again, if America can get its act together and make some unpleasant changes in our immivasion and economic policies.

The art for Right Ho, Jeeves also evokes a strong sense of nostalgia for a time when comics were a medium of information exchange not entirely given over to children.  The smooth work and dignified cartoonish style used by Gary Kwapitz makes a perfect match for the same balance that Wodehouse brings to the line between dignified and adult humor laced with outright buffoonery.  The colors as well, warm and rich, never tilt too far into the realm of “sepia tinged nostaligia farming”, and instead provide a sense of immediacy that never lets the reader forget he is reading the tales of a bygone era.

Bringing this work to market is an incredible achievement.  Fantastically entertaining and enormously fun, we don’t yet live in a world where Right Ho, Jeeves can develop the popularity and accolades that it deserves.  Too fun for the snooty types that think books discussed on NPR are the height of culture and too mature for the eternal children that flock to Marvel movies, this book has a limited niche that would cause any mainstream editor to swoon at the risks.  It’s too much fish for one and too much fowl for the other.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t market for it.  Hell, Frazier ran for twelve seasons, and it had the same feeling as Right Ho, JeevesIt’s merely to say that mainstream entertainment refuses to acknowledge the hordes of adults who grew up reading bootleg copies of Mad Magazine by flashlight under the covers, and who learned to appreciate that sometimes sophisticated humor can be delivered by smacking a heavy cream pie right into a blowhard’s fat face.

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The Lego Movie: A Cynical Hot Take

The Lego Movie: The Retroactively Named The First Part is a fine movie. With the sequel, The Lego Movie2 : The Second Part out in theaters now, it seemed the opportune moment to raise an issue with the underlying message of the original film.  For those that haven’t seen it yet, the underlying message is that DAD GETS NOTHING!

You should probably stop reading right now because of spoilers and self-admitted man-babyisms.

The third act of The Lego Movie breaks the third-and-a-half wall.  It doesn’t break the fourth wall and admit it’s really a movie, instead it reveals that the Lego movie so far is actually the play time of a real-world kid who just wants to play with Dad’s basement full of toys.  By the end, Dad realizes that having his own interests and wanting a place to escape from the sometimes overwhelming demands of fatherhood makes him a selfish and horrible person.  Through the magic of Legos he learns that when it comes to the pressures of modern life, there is no escape.

If he builds a club where he can relax with like-minded men, they’ll be outlawed.  If he seeks retreat in new books, they’ll be forced to carry messages about the evils he and his kind hath wrought on the world*.  Not a single television show, not even sports, will be allowed to reflect his interests if they don’t also cater to interests directly opposed to his existence.  The one room in the house where he can shut down his racing thoughts and focus on the slow and careful construction and engineering, the detailed thought and planning that goes into the lavish spread that he built over decades, even that he will not be allowed.  He must sacrifice the time and planning and meticulous attention to detail to serve others.

 

Not so heart warming when you think about it like that, is it?

If you do see the sequel, note well the state of the once-glorious utopia built by Dad.  Note what happens when you don’t give him a little space and defer to his wisdom.  Consider also how the results of the DAD GETS NOTHING approach to a basement full of Legos translates to our society as a whole.

Did the writers of these films slip one past the Narrative Censors, or did they just deliver more right than they bargained for?

*Yes, we still have indy publishing and books written pre-1980, but you get the point.

 

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