Monday, April 30, 2012

Sexy Times in Game of Thrones

I'm back kids. I know...long time no post, right? At least it feels that way. It's been a busy two weeks for me recently. I'm still trying to gauge how much of my personal life I want to share on here since I also want the Freeze Ray to appear at least semi professional so I'm not really going to get into what I've been doing. Anyway it's not like it's amazing stuff. Nice stuff, maybe but nice doesn't always make for interesting posts...anyway I figure I owe you guys something.

Wrapped up disc five of Game of Thrones last night, finishing off season one. It was a birthday gift from my father. Great series and I'm eager to jump into the second season. But I'm not going to dig in and do a full on review this time around. When I got it in my head to do the Freeze Ray I knew I wanted to do something more issue focused than just straight up reviews, something to (hopefully) give my blog it's own stamp. Otherwise I just fade into the background noise of the internet.

So lets talk about an issue that jumped right out at me when I popped in the first disk...Sexual Content.I know Game of Thrones is HBO so nudity and sexy times are pretty much par for the course.That's kind of what I want to talk about. Most of you probably already know this but HBO is a private service. You have to pay to watch HBO shows on your television, unlike broadcast television which is paid for by advertisers but delivered to the public for free. Since it's not public, HBO shows aren't under the same content restrictions as most television and aren't as heavily censored. Recently HBO has done a great job of working this into it's brand identity. HBO is known for two things. Smart, well written television and blatant sexual content. I'm not saying that this is some terrible thing, that HBO is eroding American values or anything. Sex and intelligent television aren't mutually exclusive. But one does automatically lead to the other either, which is the connection I think HBOs marketing department and a whole lot of art majors want to make. I'm biased, I know, and I'm pretty prudish on a lot of subjects but don't worry this won't be long rant about how the show needs to change in order to appeal only to me.I just want to explore this issue and talk about how I feel on it.  At best I find myself tuning out most of the adult scenes and at worst I skip right through them. I just don't see what they contribute to the story. We live in an age of laptops and wireless internet. If I wanted porn I could watch porn. I didn't pay over twenty dollars for a full season of Game of Thrones because I wanted to watch twenty minutes of nude shots and fake boning. I bought Game of Thrones because I wanted a good story. The gratuitous scenes just take me out of the narrative and make me roll my eyes, no matter how hot Lena Headey or Emilia Clark are.
    I'm not saying sex can't contribute to a story. Romance is a major part of every story and even if  we choose to acknowledge it or not someone's sex life can have something to say about their character or personality. Let's contrast the sex scenes in Game of Thrones with those in another HBO series I'm watching at the moment called The Wire just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. I'm going just off the top of my head but most of the sex scenes in the Wire involve a certain Detective Jimmy McNaulty, a few of Lieutenant Daniels and his girlfriend who works as a prosecutor in the DA's office, one of Detective Kima Griggs and her lesbian lover and a few spread out all around, usually between gangsters and either a hooker or a stripper. The sense with Mcnaulty help give us a sense of his character. They show us that Jimmy may be a good detective but he's pretty much incapable of being responsible in any other aspect of his life. He's an alcholic, he cheats on his wife, he's borderline neglectful of his kids, and all he really wants to do is prove he's smarter than everyone else. Throughout the course of the series Mcnaulty goes through a character arc where we see him hit his lowest point and then slowly try to change and work his way back up. Any scene where he scores is usually just a one night stand where he humps away at some woman like a horny goat. The scene with Detective Daniels and the prosecutor is part of a fairly well developed relationship and the scene between Kima and her lover is part of a subplot where we see Kima having second thoughts about adopting a child with her current girlfriend. Eventually, due to Mcnaulty's bad influence, she cheats on her girlfriend with another woman and the relationship falls apart.
    In Game of Thrones the only really plot relevant relationships I can think of are between Daenerys Targeryan and Kal Droga and between Circe Lannister and her brother. Both are kind of weird because one involves Daenerys being, as I interpreted it, raped by her arranged husband and eventually "learning to enjoy it" and falling in love with him. The other is about incest. Still the scenes with Daenerys and Droga help establish her journey as she slowly realizes her own potential and becomes a more intelligent and proactive leader through her husbands position, eventually taking over for him after his death. Meanwhile Circe's Lannister's plot to kill her husband, King Robert, and put her bastard son on the throne provide the major conflict for most of the series. There are a few other examples of sex being integrated well into the storyline but for the most the series just inserts nameless naked prostitutes into the background of a scene while two main characters talk about the actual plot.
    I noticed that while the first two episodes delivered the sex and nude scenes hot and heavy, after that the series pulled back a bit and seemed to just be trying to hit it's adult content quota. Part of it is the whole marketing thing. Smart and edgy is HBO's brand label. It's how they differentiate themselves from their competitors and so every show they put out has to conform to that HBO brand. Otherwise, I guess people will get confused and think that since there are no boobs they're not actually watching HBO and start changing the channel.
    The other side, of course, is the book. I've never read any of the George R.R Martins books that this series was based on but I understand that the sexual content was a major selling point in that series as well. Some people love that kind of thing. Personally I'll be sticking with the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.

I have a little more to say but I'll leave it for another post. As always I'd love to hear what you guys thought of the article or of the series. Do you think the sex adds to your viewing pleasure or detracts from it?       

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Cyclops is Awesome and No One Else Realizes It: Part 2

Welcome back, readers. Sorry for the delay. This is the sequel to a post/fan rant I made last week about why I think the character Scott Summers(a.k.a Cyclops) is awesome and totally doesn't get the respect he deserves. I'm sure you've all been waiting with baited breath so I'll dive right in.
I feel like Cyclops has a lot of potential that writers don't bother to tap into. What follows is something my older brother pointed out to me once a few years ago time that I thought was very interesting. He said that every time Marvel releases an issue retelling the Cyclops' origin story it starts basically the same way.(Okay this doesn't actually happen in the issue below. I just wanted an excuse to use that cover.)
What happens is young Mr. Summers' powers manifest and one morning he starts shooting optic blasts every time he opens his eyes. Instantly Professor Xavier is right there with a pair of sunglasses conveniently designed to cancel out the negative effects of Scott's powers despite the fact that Scott only just developed powers. There's no way Mr. Baldy McWheelchair should be able to know exactly what Scott’s powers are, much less that they’ll be broken. But he just happens to have a pair of sunglasses made with the one substance on the planet that can cancel out optic blasts. Oh hey, problem solved!
            As I kid I always imagined there was some kind of gap between the two events. A period in which a young Scott Summers had to learn to live blind, trying to conceal the fact that he was a mutant. That story can’t be told though, because if writers did that then Scott might actually get a personality that’s deeper than “stiff necked asshole.”   
Let’s talk about another thing that annoys me. I would say that Scott's defining trait is loyalty: both to the X-Men and Charles Xavier. Maybe I’m a nerd but I also thought that loyalty was kind of an admirable trait. I feel like it gives a character purpose and direction. This might be why I like the X-Men so much, because they are one of the few superhero groups in comics who actually have a purpose beyond dressing up in spandex and smacking people around. They’re fighting for mutant/ human coexistence.
 I say this to explain why I'm always a little annoyed when Scott's portrayed as a nothing but a kiss-ass to Xavier. The movies are particularly bad with this. Wouldn't you be loyal to someone who basically gave you your eyesight back?
            Consider this too. Scott was an orphan. He watched his parents die in a plane crash at a very young age. He spent most of his life believing that his younger brother Alex had died thanks to a burning parachute. Now there may be some conflicting evidence for this but I always thought Scott grew up in an orphanage. Not a fun, friendly Annie kind of orphanage.
The kind of orphanage that's run by a guy named Mr. Sinister. Not a warm, pleasant childhood you know? Then Charles Xavier shows up and offers Scott a safe home at the Xavier Institute. Of course Scott would be devoted to the guy. Of course he would take the X-Men so seriously. The school is his home and the team is about the closest thing to family he's ever had. Writers rarely try to exploring anything like this and instead go running straight back to the same Cyclops/Jean/ Logan thing that's been chasing itself in circles for the last three decades. Scott gets dialed down to this bland milquetoast character so Logan gets to play the brooding bad-ass and seem so very much cooler by comparison.  
            Now some of you may point out that in the last few years Cyclops has really fought his way up to the top spot on the X-Men thanks to writers like Grant Morrison, Joss Whedon, and Matt Fraction. He's the leader of Utopia, he's got a new girlfriend in the villainess turned hero Emma Frost, and writers are constantly showing off his awesome tactical skills. And it's true that Scott has really turned around recently...just not in a direction I'm sure I like…more on that later though.   

X-Men Origins Cover 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic: War issue #2

    Just a quick one today. I finshed this review shortly after the issue came out but it's been tucked away on my laptop for almost a month now. I bought and read the second issue of Dark Horses' Star Wars series Knights of the Old Republic: War written by John Jackson Miller. I didn't pick up the first issue or any issues of the previous series. However that wasn't much of a problem because this issue does a good job of laying out the situation,who the characters are and what their motivations might be. This a major plus for the series because I've read countless first issues where I still had no idea what the hell was going on by the time I reached the back cover.
    The very first page opens up with a shot of Mandalorians wielding lightsabers... a sight that instantly turned me off to the comic. I know the urge to create Mandalorian Jedi lurks deep in the heart of every fan boy. Trust me, I get it. It's a combination of the two coolest things in the Star Wars universe...lightsabers and Mandalorian armor. But I'm a solid believer in the idea that what really, really makes the Mandalorians so cool is the fact that they're not Jedi. They have no Force powers, no lightsabers. They're just normal men and women armed with some cool armor, a warriors code,  and an iron will...and that's enough to make them a match for any Jedi. So when I saw the "Mandalorian Knights" jetpacking onto a battlefield swinging their lightsabers around I groaned.
    But, you know what? By the end of the issue Miller had sold me on the Mandalorian Knights. First off, they aren't really Mandalorians at all. Instead they are a small cadre of rogue Jedi who joined the War on the Mandalorians side. They adopted the code and armor of the Mandalorians, fighting beside them against the Republic...but they're not trusted or accepted within the army. They're tolarated by the common soldiers because the higher ups order them too and because they can see the tactical advantage of having their own Jedi but that's about as far as it goes.
    This makes sense to me and eases my fears that Miller is just some fanboy running wild...but the thing that really seals the deal is the leader of the Mandalorian Knights, a former Master named Dorjander Kace.
    What makes me love this guy is not as much his dialogue as it is the way he's drawn. He's got this look and presence to him that just perfectly encapsulates the Mandalorian Knights and their philosophy. He wears Neo Crusader armor, but his long blonde hippie hair hint at his past as a Jedi. He gives off this impression of charisma and menace, like you'd find in a cult leader or a radical political idealist.
     This series looks like it has the making of a really good villian in Kace, someone to serve as a foil for the  hero Zayne Carrick, an idealistic Jedi padawan who takes his vow of pacifism more seriously than most Jedi Master's do. Not every villain can be a Darth Vader ripoff and there's nothing that says you have to "Fall to the Dark Side" to become a bad guy in Star Wars. An intriguing villain challenges the hero, both physically and ethically. He offers a contrast to the heroes personality and ideals.
    The issue also features a gorgeous cover by Benjamin Carre'. As with all modern comics, though the better the cover art the worse the interior art. I actually like parts of Andrea Muti's pencils. He gives the armor, weapons, and background an interesting style. Bodies are a little awkward and action hard to follow in some places but overall it is clear and effective. Faces, however, are the artists biggest weakness.
    It says a lot when an issue would be vastly improved if every character was drawn wearing a helmet.
    Overall, a decent, interesting book. I don't have the funds to read ANY series regularly at the moment and even if I did I'm not sure I would pick this one up when so many supposedly great series are floating around out there...but if this review interested you go pick up the latest issue. #3 is probably out by now.

So what did you guys think? Anybody else read this issue and want to share their opinions?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why Cyclops is Amazing and No One Else Realizes It.

That’s right my favorite super hero is Cyclops, Marvel Comics original X-Man. See? My technique works. Right now I’m sure some of you are thinking,” Oh, Lord. This guy is some tasteless dick.” 
We’re not going to get into how true or not true that statement may be.
Instead I want to clarify that while I love the idea of the character, I love his powers and I love his personality…I hate how he is written. Compared to many of the X-Men’s more vibrant cast members a lot of people see Cyclops as kind of…bland. Some people loathe him, seeing him as the uptight, brown nosing hall monitor of the Xavier Institute. To me the problem is that this view is so pervasive that even the writers see the character this way. In their minds Scott is “the boring member” of the X-Men and so he is written to be boring (or uptight and douche).
            The version of Cyclops I like isn’t in the comic books, the movies or any of the tv adaptations. The cool, confident, ass kicking version of Cyclops seems to only exist in my head. He’s an image that I built from brief moments, inferences, at least one visit to the Cyclops character history page on Wikipedia and a whole lot of personal projection.
            That’s right, projection. I like the character because I see myself in him. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I force parts of myself onto him

Uhh… in a…nonsexual kind of way. Naturally.

This kind of projection isn’t unusual in escapist or entertainment fiction like comics, novels, or movies. It’s pretty much a staple in any long running series with children or young adults intended as part of the audience (example: Harry Potter ). It exists to some extent in every action or romance movie you've seen and every video game you’ve ever played.
I was introduced to the character of Cyclops via the Saturday morning cartoon show X-Men: The Animated Series when I was just a young lad growing up in that totally awesome time period we call the 1990’s. Not only did Cyclops have the coolest powers in the entire show (he’s got LASER! EYES!), his character had an extra hook that resonated with me for some reason. Like many of the X-Men Cyclops’ powers had an unfortunate side effect that he could angst about. He couldn’t turn them off and had to wear a protective visor in order to suppress his abilities. Without these he could not risk interacting with others for fear of injuring them.
            So let’s just acknowledge the obvious and slightly embarrassing part here. Yes, as you can probably guess by the fact that I’m writing a blog about comic books…I wasn’t the most popular kid in high school. I could use the term Loner but I don’t like it because it makes it sound like I was all intense and brooding instead of the awkward and tightly wound nerd child that I really was.
He was like me but his powers also gave him a free out. Cyclops was isolated but it was because he wanted to protect people around him and not because he had shitty interpersonal skills. Basically I felt like Cyclops was me…but cooler.
            Of course, I’m not saying projection is the only reason we like or relate to a character. Sometimes we read or watch a character and there’s just something about them that we respect.
 I don’t feel as if I have anything in common with Indiana Jones but I like the character anyway. It probably has something to do with his excellent taste in hats.
Yeah.It's the hat.
Now it could just be because his powers aren’t all that much of a hindrance-

(“Oh No! I am doomed to wear a pair or really cool sunglasses forever. My life is ruined!!”)

-but there’s something I like about the fact that you almost never catch Cyclops complaining about his abilities. He’s a busy guy with a lot of responsibilities and he realizes that things could be worse. He’d rather spend time fixing the Black Bird or making the world safe for Mutant/Human coexistence than complain about something he can’t change. I respect that. It’s kind of a refreshing contrast when you’ve got a team as steeped in angst as the X-Men.

Both of my brothers watched X-Men: TAS at around the same time I did. My little brother, over bearing, melodramatic loudmouth that he is, instantly loved Wolverine and ran about the house slashing people with his fingers. My older brother's favorite was Gambit the suave, good humored ex-thief.
 I've always thought the way we identify and relate to fictional characters is interesting because I think it says a little about who we are. It’s a two way mirror that shows the things we like or respect in a person or what we wish we could be, 

 There is still a lot more I have to say but according to the Journalism and Media Communications introductory course I took my Freshman year: blog posts should be short and sweet. I don't want to scare any one off too soon. But rest assured I'll have another article up soon, this one describing what exactly it is I see in the character. Something I didn't get to yet.
So come back soon! 

I got the images of Cyclops and Indiana Jones from: