In the third episode of Youth Culture Killed My Dog, Roy Rogers, Christian Brown, and Jeff Kusterbeck belatedly discuss yesterday’s news and reviews in American pop-culture – comics, movies, and television. Topics in this particularly rambly outing include the Super Bowl trailers for both Captain America and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Dan Snyder’s response to the racism of the name of Washington’s football club, Thor 2, Iron Man 2, Ms. Marvel #1 and Loki: Agent of Asgard #1, and the various storytelling problems of Stan Lee and Steven Moffat.
As we are just getting this podcast started we ask for patience as we work out technical and editing issues with our audio.
We must particularly apologize for this lateness and strange audio blips of this episode. We recorded at the beginning of February by the episode was held up by audio and post-production issues. We promise to be better, loyal listeners, in March.
Detailed show-notes are available below. We welcome comments, questions, and feedback there or by email or at email@example.com. You can also subscribe, review, or comment on this podcast on iTunes. Thank you for checking out Youth Culture Killed My Dog and keep listening!
In the second episode of Youth Culture Killed My Dog, Roy Rogers, Tyler Oyler, and Jeff Kusterbeck discuss the latest news and reviews in American pop-culture – comics, movies, and television. We discuss the covers of Empire magazine released for X-Men: Days of Future Past, the recently announced Crusader Kings 2 expansion, Black Widow #1 by Phil Noto and Nathan Edmondson, the Game of Thrones teaser special, the House of Cards season two trailer, and the first two episodes of Sherlock. We also somehow come around to Doogie Howser, M.D., Murphy Brown, and Frozen v. Wreck-it-Ralph.
As we are just getting this podcast started we ask for patience as we work out technical and editing issues with our audio.
Detailed show-notes are available below the fold. We welcome comments, questions, and feedback there or by email or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also subscribe, review, or comment on this podcast on iTunes. Thank you for checking out Youth Culture Killed My Dog and keep listening!
Welcome to the very first episode of Youth Culture Killed My Dog, the internet’s most necessary podcast. This time out Roy Rogers, Tyler Oyler, and Jeff Kusterbeck discuss what they are most looking forward to in pop-culture over the course of this year. For just under one hour and twenty minutes they debate the latest season of Parks & Rec, Downton Abbey, Captain America: Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, the Star Wars license moving to Marvel, the value (or lack there) of the new generation of video game consoles, D&D 5th edition, the latest from Marvel.NOW, and Roy employs a very tortured metaphor for what it is like to experience each season of Game of Thrones. General information about the podcast can be found here.
As this is our very first episode we ask for patience as we work out technical and editing issues with our audio.
Detailed show-notes are available below the fold. We welcome comments, questions, and feedback in the comment section below or by email or at yckmdpodcast[at]@[at]gmail.com. Thank you for checking out Youth Culture Killed My Dog and keep listening!
Folks. Be prepared to begin seeing new things on this space, starting tomorrow.
One of my “resolutions” for 2014 is to make better use of this blog and my personal (non-professional) web presence. We’ll see how it goes!
Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction & David Aja et al. (Marvel Comics, 2013)
Hawkeye: Little Hits by Matt Fraction & David Aja et al. (Marvel Comics, 2013)
Young Avengers: Style > Substance by Kieron Gillian & Jamie McKelvie et al. (Marvel Comics, 2013)
I never thought that Kate Bishop would be a great character. All I remember about her from my increasingly foggy memory of the original Young Avengers series was her strange code-name issues (Hawkeye? Mockingbird? Hawkingbird?) and that her origin employs the always classy rape-as-character-building trope. Bishop’s recent appearances, however, have proved me wrong.
Seldom do artifacts of popular culture live up to their recommendations but Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye does. The pitch is straightforward – these are the monthly adventures of Clinton Barton (the classic Hawkeye) and Bishop when they aren’t off saving the world as (Young) Avengers. This gives the book just the right tone; largely done-in-one action romps with enough character development to keep the reader turning the page. Most of the stories take place in-or-around Barton’s Bed-Stuy apartment. This move has the added benefit of detethering the book (largely) from current Marvel continuity.
Fraction makes more than a few creative decisions that really make Hawkeye sing. By casting Kate as the skilled-optimist superhero partner and foil to Clint’s dour-but-skilled Avenger instead of simply as Barton’s sidekick gives the book a fresh energy. You have a non-romantic man-female pair of superheroes operating as equals – something (not particularly) oddly rare in the superhero genre. While nominally this is Barton’s book with each passing issue it is clear that Fraction intends for Hawkeye to equally be Bishop’s book as well. Credit here must go, as well, to David Aja’s smart designs. He’s given all of the characters (but especially Kate) very streamlined and modern designs, but not so modern that they’ll be a pain to look at in three years.
I cannot recommend Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye enough. That book, however, isn’t the only comic book featuring Kate Bishop on a regular basis.
There’s Young Avengers. Read the rest of this entry »
Mass Effect 3 by Bioware (EA, 2012)
Nearly five years ago I was feeling lonely and decided to make a pretty big commitment. The girlfriend was gone, off visiting her family, and I was working an awful job that, while giving me the illusion of being “flush with cash,” was wearing me down. I decided, then, that I needed to buy an X-Box 360 so that I could play Mass Effect (which was coming out in a few short weeks). I’d played virtually every Bioware game to date (c. 2007) and loved them all. This made ME a deeply appealing game; it was the first Bioware game with new generation graphics; they’d guaranteed it would be a trilogy; the game was the beginning of a brand new and interesting looking franchise. The “problem” was that I didn’t have a computer that could run the eventual PC release. This made buying a 360 my only option to play the game.
And boy did I play it. Despite a few big flaws (awful inventory system, uneven plotting, the MAKO) and the fact that I am terrible at shooters, I loved the original Mass Effect. I was at the Charles Town, WV Gamespot at 10am the day the game was released and playing it devoured my life for over a week. The story was captivating (especially those final few hours racing to the Conduit and into the Citadel) and the characters captivating (Garrus! Wrex! Ashley! Liara!). For a derivative sci-fi universe, the world of Mass Effect was compelling – humanity was important but not dominant, political struggle between different alien races was treated in fresh ways, the alien groups were diverse. The dialogue wheel was a revolution; that ME had a fully-voiced protagonist while still maintaining player control over dialogue was simply amazing. That an edge that few games at the time had. So much of what Bioware did in ME has become the “common sense” of more recent Bioware games and Western RPGs that it makes it difficult to recapture the exhilaration of playing something so new and refreshing.
More important than any of that, though, was the promise that there would be two more games just like it.
To say, then, that I was excited for Mass Effect 2 would be an understatement. I bought a wireless adaptor for my 360 in order to take advantage of that’s games DLC, I was there for the midnight release at the Fairfax, VA Gamespot, and I took the release day off work and graduate school in order to devote an entire day to the game. That I was in a long distance relationship allowed my life, once again, to be devoured by playing the game. ME2 was an amazing experience and despite more than few flaws (throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it came to clunky RPG elements from ME1, for example) it was what everyone one expects from a sequel: a more refined and reified experience. Ditching the terrible MAKO game play was a revolution in and of itself. At the heart of this franchise, really, are the characters and Mass Effect 2 provided a bonanza in that department with twelve well-defined squad-mates, with their own interests and drives, plus Martin Sheen.
Above and beyond all that, what made ME2 so appealing, was the promise that there would be yet another game just like it.
It should come as no surprise, then, Mass Effect 3 has devoured nearly every available hour since its release last Tuesday (March, 6th 2012). I, no joke, put my personal and professional life on hold to play the finale of this franchise. I bought a headphone adapter for our television (as to not annoy the girlfriend with the noise of killing Reapers), wrote all of that week’s lectures well in advance, got all of grading done before hand – all to maximize my time with ME3. On Sunday (March, 7th 2012) I completed the game.
To say that I enjoyed this game is an understatement. The experience of ME3, as the girlfriend can readily attest, was exhilarating – was swept away in the finale to a franchise in which I’ve invested five years of my life. This game has very much earned a place in the rotation of games that Roy-plays-when-he-is-stressed-or-depressed, along with the rest of the ME franchise. My final feelings towards ME3, however, are mixed and muddled. When the after-credits sequence ended and they dumped me unceremoniously back on the Normandy (same as in ME1 & ME2, so I do not consider that a spoiler), I was left feeling bittersweet and more than a bit sad. These feelings were a product of the fact that the franchise is complete – Shepard’s story is done. My time with these characters, in which was I invested in as much as I am towards any of that figments which populate my pop-culture imagination, was over. My sadness, though, went further than that. While I’d gotten virtually everything I’d wanted out of the experience of this game, one element (at the very end, discussed in detail below) left me feeling more dejected than satisfied.
I can no longer talk about my experience with Mass Effect 3 without wadding into some pretty MAJOR SPOILERS. I am going try and keep the spoilers in much of what you find below relatively mild. I’m going to relegate the extreme SPOILERS to the footnotes and the very end of this post.
A few things need to be out of the way before this wall of text can begin in earnest. First, I have only beaten Mass Effect 3 once so far (obviously) and I’ve done so with “my” Commander Shepard. This is the character I first completed ME1 with, along with ME2. He’s been with me for five years. As per usual, I played a diplomatically minded character and, thus, almost always selected the paragon options. I romanced Ashley in ME1 and stayed faithful in ME2. Taking this character through ME3 will always been the definitive Mass Effect experience for me – despite the fact that I will likely be completing the game (at least) couple more times. Second, my thoughts on this game are over the place, so the rest of this post is going to be organized thematically around few key points I took away from the game.
With no further ado… Read the rest of this entry »
Final Fantasy 7 by Square (Sony, 1997)
Black Materia: Final Fantasy 7 by Random and Lost Perception (RandomBeats, 2011)
Over the last month I’ve become convinced that Final Fantasy 7 (FF7) is truly the video game for 2011.
In this classic from SquareEnix (nee Square) you have a group of young people (AVALANCHE) battling a massive corporation, which controls the government and military. This company (SHINRA) is relegating much the population to criminalized slums along with destroying the economy and, especially, the environment. SHINRA – sort of Johnson & Johnson meets Halliburton – has in many ways spelled out its own, and The Planet’s, coming the apocalypse through its own overreach and excess. Instead, dooming itself through over-leveraged mortgage derivatives – ala Lehman Brothers – SHINRA’s self-inflicted end comes at the hand of a biologically engineered monstrosity – Sephiroth.
What bought my ticket on this FF7 nostalgia-train was stumbling across (via Kotaku) a hip-hop tribute (!) to Final Fantasy 7 by Random. Random’s album, Black Materia, is quite good, if a bit top heavy (the second half of the album lacks the emotion or attachment to the source material of the first half). The most impressive track, perhaps, is “Tifa,” which manages to make the powerfully convoluted Cloud/Tifa story into a touching tale of childhood romance.
Black Materia reminded me just how great of a game FF7is and just how well it has aged over the last fourteen years.
Oh sure, the feeble, super-deformed first attempt at 3D graphics has aged horribly (especially, in context of Square’s other PS1 generation Final Fantasy games), but basic game systems (particularly if one carefully forgets about the snowboarding) are extremely sound. In its straightforward old-fashionedness the “materia systems” seems revolutionary in 2011. Think of the awfulness of the combat and customization of Final Fantasy 13, with its attempt to merge the game play of a real-time MMO with classic turned based JRPGs which ends up only having the frustrations (and none of the virtues) of both paradigms.
What stands out to me most thinking about this game, here at the end of 2011, is the well-characterized nature of Final Fantasy 7′s female protagonists. While Tifa’s out-of-proportion costume and character design seems to argue against this assertion (remember 1997 was the awful days of the original Tomb Raider), if we look a bit below the surface things become more complex and interesting. Both Tifa and (especially) Aeris are fully developed characters with their own story-lines developed beyond simply as foils for Cloud Strife.
No video game moment – much less character death – matches in video game history the scene of Aeris’s death at the hands of Sephiroth. That scene is a huge cultural touchstone for gamers of a certain age (i.e. can remember the 1990s) and remains the most mentioned aspect of this game in any retrospective look at FF7‘s impact. The very centrality of this moment, of Aeris’s brutal murder at the hands of a male villain, makes her an obvious example of the trope known as “Women in Refrigerators.”
There is a lot truth to an association of the Aeris’s famous death with this trope. As Gail Simone classicly puts it, the very femaleness of women characters in popular fiction “inevitably” leads to such characters “being killed, maimed or depowered.” Yet, what makes Aeris stand out from the pack of the countless super heroines and love interests thrown under the bus by innumerable male writer is that her death is not about making the storyline of a male character more interesting. Aeris’s death is not about Cloud’s story but an fitting end to her own story within Final Fantasy 7‘s plot.
While, of course Aeris’s death does complicate Cloud’s story and make it more interesting but, her death is not primarily about that. Rather, that scene is an out growth of Aeris’s character (her ancestry, her desire to protect the planet, etc.) and a culmination of her story, not his. I am not seeking to argue that the representations of gender in Final Fantasy 7 is perfect - for the game is a JRPG from 1997. But for being what it is (again, a JRPG from 1997) the representations of female characters within the game and its plot are remarkably progressive.
Final Fantasy 7 has a lot to offer us in our age of rising inequality, corporate greed, enviromental destruction, political unrest, and global weirding. The themes of the game, perhaps, have more to say to us in the lean year of 2011 than they did in the boom times of 1997. As we approach this seminal game’s fifteenth anniversary we should, perhaps, consider putting our dusty CDs of Final Fantasy 7 back in our PlayStations. Not just because of be the game’s classic status but because the story of Cloud, Aeris, Sephiroth, and Tifa has something to say to us today.