Written by Josh Breidbart

Truth: Red, White, and Black – A Recommendation

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/05/02/05022017-night-terrors/

There’s an odd irony to the 2003 mini-series “Truth: Red, White, and Black” by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker. It tells the lost history of African-American soldier Isaiah Bradley, the original Captain America, created in Tuskegee-like Super Soldier experiments before the kinks were worked out for Steve Rogers, who was also in the dark in regards to this story. It reveals a tale of a less progressive or enlightened time in America, where certain citizens struggled to even be seen as human, let alone as heroes. And as important as that history is in Marvel continuity, Isaiah’s name is never even uttered by its star players once, nor by Marvel’s most active fanbase. In fact, the book itself is as difficult to find as any mention of Isaiah in the Marvel lore.

I was introduced to “Truth” through a friend. After stumbling across the surprisingly bold series in a library, he went on a quest lasting over a year to secure a copy of his own. Now out of print, the books typically sell for upwards of $120. Perhaps it’s the less traditional art, or the less than positive history and themes that run counter to Marvel’s current stranglehold on entertainment as a force of fun and good. Either way, not since Magneto: Testament – a miniseries about the young master of magnet(ism) and his experiences in the Holocaust – have I been floored with the bravery of Marvel to cut the bravado and just “be real”.

It’s made extremely clear that Isaiah and company were never meant to be regarded as heroes, by either their world, or our own. They were experiments, kept out of the limelight, regarded as monstrous tools of destruction more than as men. The book even goes to great lengths to explain why you will never see Isaiah in the the next big superhero crossover. I wonder if, when Dr. Doom rewrote reality, he saw this as a blight on their history that should be erased, or one that must be preserved to learn from it. And yet, I had never heard of Isaiah before, nor do I think I’ve heard anyone mention him since. I was never given a chance to worship him as the hero he was. And while I believe that’s the point, not shying away from an ugly truth and exposing it for what it is, it fills me with regret. A man chewed up and spit out by history that didn’t get his heroic moment. He lead a life, a good one, some may argue. But this is a tale of tragedy, even when Steve Rogers finally gets involved to make things right again.

I’m being very light on plot details, mostly because I would encourage you to look into this book yourself. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a good one. An “honest” one, which I appreciate. It doesn’t justify tragedy behind heroics, or follow any traditional narrative arc. Instead, it uses the superhero genre to uniquely tell a story of how we treated black people in the military during World War 2. And that’s something special. There’s this one quote that stuck with me. Someone trying to justify the awful treatment of these men to their superiors and the politics surrounding it. He says “Politics doesn’t often make for good science… or at least the most sensible application of science. Politics is about keeping your boss happy.” It’s sad how true that was both then and now…

I would highly recommend “Truth: Red, White, and Black”. It’s bold, truthful, and different – less about heroics or people doing what’s right, and more focused on explaining why right wasn’t done. It’s a history we should all be familiar with, so we can strive towards a better one in our future.

Unlife: Chapter 7 Interlude – A Change of Focus

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/04/27/04272017-into-the-wasteland/

Unlife’s interludes are great in that they allow Zack and me the chance to change focus a bit. They give us room for both reflection and experimentation, allowing us to see the rest of the forest beyond James’ tree. It also buys us time to work out any kinks in the next chapter before it starts. Chapter 7 alone had multiple rewrites through its one year run. And chapter 8, though finally finished, took almost 25 revisions to get “right”, with no guarantees it will be free from the same rewriting curse. So while we sit in between chapters, one has to think to themselves “where am I”, “how did I get here”, and “where am I going next”.

Unlife is about trying to find a way to live when you feel like you’re already dead. This encompasses a multitude of metaphors: letting someone else decide the course of your life, using bad habits as a form of escapism, being tempted by what’s easy because so much feels predetermined and inescapable. But, to get “meta” for a sec, why continue on this willfully dark course down a rabbit hole of depression, dependency, and death? Every chapter, I tell Zack and Jena, “This is the darkest point, but it’s all uphill from here”, only to realize once it’s done that I have danced closer to the edge of the abyss. I can take the easy way out and claim that it’s just what the story dictates. That when wading into the nature of life and death and their ultimate meaning, I choose to confront it, warts and all.

A major theme, both in this upcoming chapter and in the last, is the idea of negative coping mechanisms. When things are tough, and you’ve found a way to deal with it, but it’s unhealthy… what then? Do you resign yourself to the idea that this is all you are or can be? Or do you try to resist the urgings of your inner (and outer) demons? And if the latter, how? How do you resist the only thing that makes existence bearable? How can someone not want to escape, even just for a moment, when that impending doom feels inevitable?

I can only speak for myself personally here, but for me, where I am and how I got there is out of a desire for acknowledgment that these dark sides are not “me”. They are challenges I face, and they are part of me, but they are not all that I am. They are part of a connected and living internal ecosystem that goes beyond good and bad. They are pieces of a whole tapestry that’s given form in a comic that updates twice a week at a Dragon Ball Z-like pace. Because that’s the best way I know to make sense of it. Giving the maelstrom form somehow depowers it, maybe because when you’re face-to-face with it, it no longer feels unbeatable. You realize that it’s only as strong as you let it be. That it can be overcome, or at the very least, subdued.

I’m glad James had a moment to face that monster down, both metaphorically and literally, in the last chapter. It may have been damaging, and it didn’t eradicate the issue from existence. But being able to face it even for a moment helps you fight back later. It allows you to spit in that monster’s face and refuse to let it drag you into that good night. Personally, I like to give anything I do everything I’ve got, whether it’s my work, my love, or all my indulgences. It’s not just a little bit; It’s an everything. It’s an end all be all. And sometimes the monster can feel that way too. But when you take a long look at who you are, in total…

Do you want to be the guy who ate brains, or do you want to be the guy who rose above it?

That’s Fuckin’ Teamwork!

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/04/25/04252017-better-off-out-there/

Overwatch is a weirdly historic game for me. It’s the first time I’ve actually been able to get into a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) or, really, a multiplayer game of any kind. And it’s also the first time that I’ve spent so much time arguing about a game. It’s ironic that a game so focused on the idea of team building seems to cause more heads to butt than anything else.

I often say that Overwatch is the game of social anxiety. More specifically, confronting it and finding a way to work with others anyway. Freed from the requirement of looking like a human being and being in the same room with others, represented by an avatar, it’s a lot less scary to join up with a bunch of strangers (or even friends) and attempt to complete a 10-30 minute goal. But once you’re playing, it’s actually a lot more intense of a social situation. There are so many decisions that involve and impact all of those other people: choosing between playing as the character you love versus the character the team needs. Choosing to drop down and engage with players you don’t know, or hang in your own solitude. Even the internal feelings of dealing with loss, wondering if your own poor choices were what lead to the team’s downfall. Although on that last one, I have noticed that if you think it’s your fault, it probably wasn’t. It’s the one who’s blaming everyone else for the lack of victory.

I would say the number one sign a fight is about to break out is when one player tells another how to play. Who to pick, how they should be focusing their efforts, encouraging them to stop fucking dying you fucking newb. And it’s not suggestion or conversation. It’s orders. It’s assuming a command where you should be an equal part of the unit, and I swear, I have never seen it work. A player trying to exert control dooms the group, rocking its foundation of camaraderie and unity and pushing it onto the shoulders of the one person who definitely isn’t up to the task. It’s usually a good reason to start looking for another group to join. There are always more players, more people wanting to participate. You just have to know where to look. Because for every good “rando” that knows how to help their team, there’s a kid who left his mic on while his little sister practices saxophone (a real thing that happened to me in a competitive game).

I’ll admit, my reactions have become passive aggressive now. If I’m playing as Mercy, “Need Healing” abusers are usually just left to die. Even my personal team has seen one or two grumps at a time, egos needing to be checked, a request that we all “put them away, since measuring them isn’t getting us anywhere”. And it’s all so weird because, here I sit, my headphones on, interacting with my group of friends, like we’re spending an evening playing poker or out bowling. I never had something like that before. Even sports, as a kid, felt more like homework my parents forced me to do. My preferred activities were always single-player experiences. I was rarely attracted by multiplayer activities, and the ones that managed to catch my attention never kept it… except sex, I suppose. So having a collective that engages in such a way is new for me.

And I like it. It gives me… zen.

And yet, sometimes the conflict comes from outside the arena. When there are other people in your life, you know, actual people in the room, like a wife, not unplugging for hours can be a problem. It’s hard to admit, but I have grown almost too accustomed to the ease of slipping into the rush that is an Overwatch fix.

And for all its social intensity, it’s still much less scary, much simpler, than facing real people in real life. Not the avatar with pros and cons and moves that I’ve memorized, but a flesh and blood human with an unending amount of attributes and opinions that I need to react to and respect. It’s not enough to just heal them or be their shield in battle. I need to keep them well with my presence and protect them where it counts. We all do, really.

But I’d be foolish to think there aren’t overlaps. Just like in Overwatch, you shouldn’t leave your teammate hanging in the real world. And just like in the real world, issuing commands and judgements doesn’t make you a great leader. It makes you a loud asshole. Both the inside and outside world exist beyond you. And when you fail to see your team as equals or judge them as unworthy, all you’re really doing is railing at your own insecurities.

And that’s no way to create a powerful team capable of accomplishing any goal. It’s a way to create loss.

Between Worlds

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/04/20/04202017-an-honest-education/

If you’ve been reading, it wouldn’t surprise you to learn that Jena and I often feel between worlds. Our bodies may have left LA, but after spending 3 years there, a piece of us remains. My sister from another mister, who lived for about as long in Scotland, told me that her transatlantic life made her feel as though her soul was split, with each successive new place taking another cut.

Life in New York is different. It’s more… immediate. I have priorities and obligations, where in LA I had a to-do list and goals. I miss what LA had to offer between the sights, the tastes, and the people I had the pleasure of meeting. I don’t miss the industry much, though I still wouldn’t mind being called and asked to have something of mine turned into a movie or video game or… hell, I’ll take a gif. Seriously. Call me.

I like where I am, and I suppose working requires a certain turning your brain to this “mode”. And I like what I’m doing in this mode. I like who I’m engaging with and I feel better about myself more than when I sat in the dark on a beautiful day and recoiled at the thought that my art wasn’t good enough. But I still feel split, except that the dissonance now is between my two selves: the professional and the artist.

In fact, lately it feels like the professional is winning. I’ve felt incredibly burnt out on writing, more so than I have in a while. I’m writing these blogs to try and combat the atrophy, but clearing the pipes has proven to require more than Draino. This blog is the third one I’ve attempted to write tonight, and I feel like I’m stumbling over myself. In LA, of course I went through phases, but this is more fatigue than I’ve ever had to wrestle with. In LA, I told myself I did it because I wanted to, knowing that I had to continue the hustle, the cultivation of this muscle if I wanted to succeed. But it isn’t about the industry anymore. It’s about the art, which I’m still head over heels for. I’ve just never had this much trouble getting back into the fray.

I really wrote a lot, between these blogs and my job and Unlife. I was firing on all cylinders. And it feels like something broke. Something isn’t clicking, still. I’m able to write this, but I feel cut off from that spirit, that wave, that allowed me to access my emotions and give them form. I feel split from my writer self, like it separated itself from me because it was just so damn tired. And even just the idea of pursuing that thing I love the most is too hard to give words. It’s a nightmare, feeling like a piece of yourself has been split off, separated. That piece that pursued what I love most. So what keeps me from giving up?

I don’t know. But I finished this blog. Maybe it wasn’t a clean break after all.

Horizon: Zero Dawn – An Empowerment

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/04/18/04182017-have-a-nice-day/

There was something relatable about finishing the script for chapter 8 and then playing Horizon: Zero Dawn. Guerrilla Game’s post-post-apocalyptic PS4 exclusive about feminism vs. robot dinosaurs (which turned out to be more apt of a description than I thought) was my “vacation”. In the end, I clocked in at 63 ½ hours of video game escapism at its best. Gaming is one of the few mediums that hasn’t yet succumbed to the perilous tone the world has taken on lately, that doesn’t force you to think about the work still needing to be done. We don’t even need to get political; the most recent Unlife script took about 25 mind-numbing revisions to complete, trying to build life on a foundation of death. And I think that’s why Horizon was so soothing to play. Because it’s a world where the worst HAD happened. It had already passed. And now, on the brink of survival, you fight to create that peace again. And there is one super appropriate word to describe how that makes you feel:

Empowered.

I found myself compelled by the subtlety woven into certain relationships of Horizon. The themes of sexism and elitism weren’t spelled out, but were impossible to miss. The bad guys never yell “This is a man thing!”, but most did spend a lot of time praising the sun/son, and they were easy to spot: any man who didn’t have a woman in their party, or expressed a mistrust of women, was either evil or dumb (a commentary notably absent the other way around). But I enjoyed that fairytale level of nuance. It wasn’t perfect; the delivery of a lot of this material was hindered by locked off exposition shots with NPCs that behaved like animatronics at Chuck-E-Cheese. Many dialog trees felt more like homework than lore to be uncovered. But when the game nailed it, it went beyond the words and into the metaphorical emotion the game was setting up.

And that’s where my 63 ½ hours with Horizon were truly dedicated: the world. Though I had issues with the delivery of the story, as a place, it is amazing. I loved its illustration of how the world had grown without humanity, that struggle to survive in the face of awe-inspiring robot dinosaurs (also giant chickens). I felt so weak when first hunting them, only to slowly master the wild, becoming nigh untouchable by the end. And I felt powerful, like I could tame and control this wild world, if not just simply overcome it. I felt empowered, again a very appropriate word for this game and its themes.

If I had one note, I would have enjoyed seeing a demonstration of love succeeding in this world. And I specifically mean Aloy, the main character, finding love. Coming from a matriarchal society, surrounded by this brave new world after decades of isolation, I wanted to see how Aloy responded to something she couldn’t just shoot an arrow at. And given how interesting I found the game’s handling of themes of sex, it’s hard to not wish for a similar treatment towards love. And though sex is not the most important thing, I’d like it if she fell for a man, seeing how that conflicted with the world they have set up, and maybe even giving Aloy a chance to create life herself (though her and Petra would be adorbs. Just a thought…).

I could get into the semantics of the game itself and its imperfections – like, someone please fix the inventory system; changing outfits and weapons in mid fight shouldn’t break the pace like it does – but I loved this game because of what it allowed me to make of it, rather than because of the story I was told. Two moments stand out in my mind as being incredibly powerful. The first was the training montage, the simultaneous display of Aloy’s development into a warrior and, finally, of the gameplay that you’ve been waiting for since booting up the PS4. The other was a moment of reaction. You can choose some reactions in the game, with choices based on using your mind, your heart, or your aggression. These choices don’t change your outcome in terms of items or endings unlocked. But I spent the whole game picking mind and heart… until, just once, when it came to my ultimate triumph over the game’s villain, I chose aggression. And the savage satisfaction of unleashing my rage for that one fleeting second was unbelievable. It was more emotionally effective than anything after it.

I loved the thrill of the hunt. I loved surviving. I loved the feel of the wild and taking pictures (I took so many pictures, more than I do in real life, it’s awful). I loved savoring this world, breathing it in, and discovering its secrets. Knowing the best tools to tackle it and the beasts that roam within its borders. Even when I was lost, I was never afraid of the dangers that I knew might lie ahead. I was only exhilarated for more.

Horizon is a game that makes you feel empowered because it gives you the tools you need, then turns you loose. It presents the worst possible scenario and asks what you’ll do now. And it trusts you to succeed, not through force, but through wisdom – not to conquer the world, but to save it.

Logan – A Requiem

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/04/13/04132017-the-eventual-apocalypse/

Do people still care what I thought of Logan? Another casualty of not blogging is that I missed the sweet spot where my review would be both topical and removed from hype. Still, I saw it, and I had feelings, so… here we go.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t originally going to see Logan in theaters. Though I’m a die-hard X-Men lover, going as far as seeing the dreadful X3 not once, but twice in theaters, the whole movie affair has felt… messy, the last few years. Struggling with direction, trying to find a balance between the subtext and the overall goofiness inherent to the X-Men properties (will we ever see an X-Men flick where they go to space), the movies have been extremely hit and miss. I do thoroughly enjoy a good portion of these stories, but they never really felt like “movies”. They felt like two hours of Saturday morning fan-service, except with big name actors and large production budgets. But when I heard that Logan bucked those trends, shedding the cartoonish elements and dealing instead with themes of disappointment, I said “Be still my beating heart” and bought myself a ticket.

Though I think comparing it to the Dark Knight is a bit much, the hype was for real. I would give the film a solid B+, a huge step above most Superhero films. It’s definitely the best X-Men film, especially since it’s their first actual X-Men “film”. This was a real movie, with subtext and drama that went beyond getting a costume or cracking one-liners. This wasn’t hours of “Look who it is! It’s THAT character. Don’t you love that we put THAT character in there and now you’re happy?” This was a film that didn’t need to spell everything out for me. It did try sometimes, and those were easily the weakest moments of the film (I didn’t need to hear the villain monologuing about how he… killed mutants with corn syrup? Am I remembering this right?). But mostly, it let me figure things out on my own. It tickled my imagination, it presented doors to a deeper world, and it never let me step through – but I could get a peek because they left it open a crack. 

There’s also an interesting microcosm of film history and story here. We have two actors, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, who have been portraying these characters for seventeen years, probably experiencing their own level of fatigue and burnout after the series’ ups and downs. They embody the old comic book films, flights of fantasy that may or may not have played out the way we hoped or remembered. Those movies, and all the excitement and fun and loss and missed opportunities they represented, are now left behind. Maybe they were great, but they’re too distant now to really be sure. But as heroes will, the characters came back for one last ride, proving that they really were those heroes that inspired us way back when.

I wish more comic book movies took chances like this. And by chances, I mean tell a story that goes beyond delivering our favorite characters, villains, and story beats on a platter. Not that a film has to be dark and violent to deserve reverence. I just like occasional thematic depth beyond “Never give up” or “With Great Power Comes Great responsibility, so sometimes you have to fight a giant vulture or something even when you don’t wanna”. The larger subtextual themes are why I like superheroes: they can solve their social dilemmas and save the world from Thanos. And I think people responded so strongly to Logan because it did take the franchise more seriously than a 2D cartoon is able to. This movie wasn’t trying to unlock the secret of entertaining a blockbuster audience or stimulating our nostalgia and desire to see our favorite childhood moments come to life. It was just a story about a man who used to be called a hero, “but that was a long time ago…”.

I’d say, if you ever liked the X-Men film franchise, this one is worth your time, if not just as an adult looking back on what was and the promise of what could be. James Mangold and his team deliver a powerful production, and Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart really bring their A-game. Logan is not just a great movie, but an appropriately named one: it’s a damn good movie that just happens to star a bunch of X-Men. It sheds the costume, revealing the hero beneath.

Because you don’t need tights or a legacy to be a hero. You just have to act like one.

Dokkan Dokkan Paradise

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/04/11/04112017-chapter-7-interlude/

So, I’m still playing Dokkan Battle, that free-to-play Dragon Ball Z iPhone game. It is worth noting that when you Google “Unlife Dokkan”, the third result is a song called “Kill Yourself”. That information felt apt.

Already, your complaints have been drowned out by the creaking machinery of writing that are finally warming up again. Look, I’ve been out of the game a while and this is what I’ve got right now. Welcome back from what feels like an eternity of sleep to talk Dragon Ball Z again. Laugh now, but one day I’ll release a book of essays on this shit, and then who’ll be laughing. Not me, because I’ll be in jail for copyright infringement.

It’s been 599 days since I first started playing this damn time suck. 599!! That exact number. I know it because every time I log in, it taunts me with a new reward and more on the horizon if I just stick with it a little bit longer. This arbitrary number has somehow become one of the most reliable measures of time since I got back to New York. I remember it distinctly: I was setting up my desk, preparing for my first crack at writing since returning to the East Coast, when Zack informed me that there was an iOS Dragon Ball Z game that he was playing. I told him to stop fucking describing it and tell me how to get the thing. I haven’t turned it off since. My undying love, maybe even lust, for Dragon Ball Z is a constant fuel that pushes me to never give up. The feeling having that in my pocket, always at my fingertips, was somehow comforting.

Every six months or so, they add a new system that takes the characters to the “next level”. First it was adding a dokkan awakening system, unlocking stronger stats for special characters that could then compete in tougher events. But when even that system became too common, they brought in LR characters, and made the dokkan awakenings more difficult for greater reward. And now, they have started a new “hidden potential” system, allowing you to boost specific skills and stats for your character of choice. I understand this is utter gibberish to most people that read this (like my mom). But my ultimate point is this:

It’s hard to think of a game that has captured the essential spirit of Dragon Ball Z as well as this one.

The idea of constantly training and ascending, finding a higher form, chasing that new definition of perfection in order to dominate your foes, at least until the next strongest enemy appears, is the very essence of Dragon Ball Z. The other games, specifically the fighting games, though flashy, never captured the real spirit of what was going on beyond the fights themselves. The drama was in the tension of ascension. The fighting is just a sick payoff, but the thing that really stays with me, and I think most Dragon Ball Z fans, is that chase for a greater power level, and never backing down in the face of a threat that seems too big, because it’s only too big right now. Hell, I even get my own Hyperbolic Time Chamber moment when I play in the bathroom, a minute of training spanning for what feels like an hour.

Because, in both the game and in Dragon Ball Z and, hell, even life, there’s always more. More challenges. More foes to fell. Always, always more.  And I love this game because it fools me into thinking I can win.

Because you still haven’t seen my final form…

The Last Guardian – A Reaction

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/03/16/03162017-the-writing-on-the-wall/

I honestly thought this review would have come a lot faster, considering how many years I’ve been waiting to play it.

For those not in the know, the PS4 exclusive The Last Guardian has suffered a very long and complicated production cycle. Originally planned for the Playstation 3, Fumito Ueda and his team spent years on their follow-up to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. It’s a simple story about a boy and his giant cat-bird-dog-thing, Trico, trying to escape from a cursed valley. Exquisitely rendered, incredibly heartfelt, and set to an amazing score by Takeshi Furukawa, the game is an enormous accomplishment.

That said, I’m not sure I liked the “game” part of it.

The hardest part of playing was finding the right mood for it. Overwatch or Dark Souls this is not. What I mean by that is that the general pace of this game proved to be one of the toughest aspects to overcome. Dark Souls is all about conquering the world. The Last Guardian is more about slowly working your way through it with your friend that doesn’t always communicate so well.

One of the main factors of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus’ appeal comes from working with and protecting a character that is completely AI. In Ico, you were responsible for a vulnerable girl named Yorda, literally grabbing her by the hand to lead her around. In Shadow of the Colossus, your companion was an obedient, indestructible horse named Agro. Their AI minds may not have been the most sophisticated, but Yorda and Agro convinced me that these were lives I was working with. It created an affectionate bond between you and them, both of you needing each other to survive.

In The Last Guardian, that ethos is taken to the next level with a fully realized giant pet. And just like a real pet, Trico simply will not listen sometimes, instead just staring back blankly. And in those moments we both seemed to be wondering, “What the hell do you want me to do here?” As in the Uncharted games, I felt like I was spending a lot of my time wondering if I’d done something wrong, or if the game wasn’t working correctly. I sometimes couldn’t tell if I had misunderstood a puzzle, or if my friend Trico was just being stubborn. And to the game’s credit, that added difficulty does help to further the illusion that Trico is a real living creature, all the way down to the fact that he sometimes poops.

The thing is, a great deal of the gameplay comes from how you experience the story and these moments with Trico. It felt like the game was instructing me to play a certain way, but user error frequently prevented me. Moments of terror were rendered meaningless when I got caught on the game’s geometry. I also noticed that when I was angry, or in a rush, the game was simply less fun. Like a real animal, Trico requires patience, and when I could allow myself to surrender to that notion, the game was a rollercoaster of genuine emotion.

And that’s the biggest accomplishment of the game. Because whenever Trico and I finally got on the same page and solved a puzzle, or he saved me, I’d pet him. I didn’t have to. You get no points or extra credit for doing it. But the feature existed, and you know what? I WANTED to pet him. I wanted to show him affection. And that, to me, is no small feat in a game. In a game like Dark Souls, you take risks and explore new areas and enemies for new gear or lore. But in The Last Guardian, unlocking new stuff wasn’t my motivation. I just wanted to pet my cat-thing. And that’s what makes this game special.

That, and the ending. I won’t go into details, but I will say that it turned my wife and I into blubbering messes. Video games don’t often elicit that kind of emotion. It was the most I’d felt this way since my grandma passed, and in a way it was cathartic: someone you can’t understand, someone frustrating who won’t listen to you about what’s best, but someone with whom you form a bond, the possible severing of which is a constant threat. I spent most of the game just hoping, praying that Trico and I would make it through because I genuinely loved him.

If you’ve ever loved an animal, play this game. If you like gorgeous music and visuals, play this game. And if you’re still questioning whether video games are art – I dare you to play through this game and try to defend that position.

Krav Magone

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/03/14/03142017-friends/

I mentioned previously that I’d signed up for krav maga, having taken a liking to getting beaten up once a week. I even roped in my wife and some friends. By all accounts, the classes are good, focused, and with enough time, can build muscle memory that will help me out in a physical confrontation. You know, something that has literally never happened to me.

But after just two lessons, I got sick. I seethed over missing out on almost half of my monthly (and prepaid) membership. Yesterday, I showed up to class, only to realize I’d left all my gear locked in my office and had to cancel my class. I fumed to Jena over the phone as I stomped out. And after my anger subsided, I realized something.

I didn’t want to be there.

Yes, krav was fun every time I went, but… it wasn’t really me. The whole reason I took these classes was for a sense of betterment, but in the end, I enjoyed the 45 minute walk to get there more than I enjoyed the class itself. The walk felt familiar. Comforting. It was closer to the activity I actually miss, running, which I keep finding reasons to ignore. New York winters will do that.

This isn’t my first abortive attempt at self-improvement. I’ve tried drawing classes, writing classes, scriptwriting groups, board game groups, DnD groups, so on and so forth. It’s actually a miracle my Overwatch group has gone as long as it has (though this last console patch has made this difficult). I do these things from a desire to constantly be improving or bettering myself, even if it’s just at a game. Metaphorically and literally, I try to order things on the menu I’ve never had before, but sometimes, I order something I don’t end up liking and send back a nearly full plate. It’s disappointing, and a waste of money at times, but the hope is that the lesson was worth the price.

The thing is, I did prefer that walk over the conflict of Krav. And I realized I’d been making myself sick trying to finish something that didn’t fulfill me in the way I was looking for. I was looking for an outlet. What I got, unfortunately, was a chore. And I have a lot of those already: these blog posts, especially when I’m not feeling it, can feel more like a commitment than something I am looking forward to. It’s writing warm ups, something I should start my day with, but the requirement of it sometimes takes the fun out of it. And that can go double for Unlife when the next chapter is…

Omigod, this chapter ends NEXT WEEK?!?! AHHHHHH!!!!!

I guess the point is that I can’t make time for things that are making me crazy. I don’t have the time. None of us do. “Making time” should be reserved for things that fulfill you. That you want to do. So next time you start ordering something else on the menu, maybe just get the thing you love. And get through the meal before ordering 8 more courses.

I have since quit Krav, and gotten back into cardio, which feels much more like home. I don’t feel myself getting sick or feeling the queasy pressure of attending a class. Instead I just am, and this blog flowed out of me like I just had White Castle and a coffee (speaking of which, I should wrap up this blog, because I just had White Castle and a coffee). My colon commitment notwithstanding, I can’t say that I won’t repeat this process down the road, ordering some new mystery meat off the menu… but for the moment, it’s a relief to feel a little less like I just got my ass kicked.

V for Vendetta – An Endorsement

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/03/09/03092017-deserved-that/

So, I recently had an urge to watch V for Vendetta for, oh, NO CONCEIVABLE REASON.

I used to really like V for Vendetta. Not love it, mind you. I knew enough even then to recognize a lack of substance behind the flashy Matrix-style posturing that the Watchowskis continue to deploy to this day, trying to capture lightning in a bottle one more time (for the record, The Matrix is to this day one of my favorite movies). But rewatching it now, even with the added seasoning of recent events (or maybe because of them), it was simply too shallow to scratch any itch I was having. Fortunately, movies aren’t the only way to get at a story.

I first came across the original V for Vendetta graphic novel after the movie’s initial release. That was over a decade ago, my entertainment tastes having yet to mature. So when I picked it up, with its less than flashy art, much more subtle story, and bizarre structure, it didn’t grab me. Each chapter can be read as a short story, as self contained as the Unlife interludes used to be and roughly the same length. But put it all together, and you get a dense and layered read, with larger themes that construct a complicated web of subtext and character development impossible to recreate in a 2 hour movie format – though a BBC or Netflix series could work.

Which has been proven elsewhere. Watchmen, another Alan Moore original adapted for film, had the same problems. So many plot points had to be covered to keep some semblance of a structured story that there was never a moment to let the story itself sink in. As a result, much less time is spent soaking in the characters and living in their world, arguably Alan Moore’s greatest strength as a writer. Moore’s material is better when you have time to absorb, pause and reflect. The movie format just doesn’t work for his stories.

So, when 2017 me felt unsatisfied by the movie adaptation, I took another crack at the book. I made a point to read slowly, soaking in Alan Moore’s words and intent, always taking time to put the book down and think about each chapter before moving on to the next.

I wasn’t looking for closure or reflection in regards to our current political climate. The occasional “Make England Great Again” line was jarring, as was reading about the progressive erasure of those who are black, gay, dissident, or just different than the white men in power, but overall… the book and the characters are their own people. As much as they may echo reality, they feel very removed because, again, the story isn’t about the plot.

It’s about the characters and the world – specifically, theirs. And for the most part there are only 2 characters, Evey and V (3, if you count England as a character, which I do). The others, the antagonists, the ones in power, are in their own bubble, most never even meeting V directly, though they feel his presence as he unravels them all. The bad guys are more poetic cautionary tales, while V himself is an archetype, and Evey is a scared girl that grows up and becomes more than she ever thought she could be – that very archetype.

I could go on endlessly about this book, but if I haven’t convinced you to read it by now, more enthusiasm from me probably won’t help. Instead, I want to end on three quotes that I felt truly captured what I was looking for and what this book offers.

1.    “Artists use lies to tell the truth while politicians use them to cover the truth up.”
2.    “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”
3.    “There’s no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill. There’s only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof.”

Just… read it. It’s amazing.