In Dini’s “Dark Knight”, You must be your own Hero

Had to write this for a class at AU. Not in my traditional review style, so let me know what you think. Grouping it in the Opinion category for the moment.

Paul Dini has written video games, created popular Joker love interest Dr. Harleen Quinzel and even put his personal touch on Star Wars and He-Man. Behind all that contribution to pop-culture, it’s hard to believe stands a man who used to cut himself with an Emmy.

This grim scene is but a brief moment in the autobiographical Dark Knight: A True Batman Story. Drawn by Eduardo Risso of 100 BULLETS fame, the graphic novel from D.C. Comic’s Vertigo imprint takes us on a journey through tough times for Dini. Showing how the Caped Crusader and his villains stood in for the pain he endured after a brutal mugging in 1990’s Los Angeles that left him within an inch of death and ultimately motivated him to recover.

The tale begins with the one-time Batman: The Animated Series writer speaking to an unseen audience about his story. After subtly breaking the fourth wall, we’re treated to panels depicting his early life in 60’s New York. Amidst sepia colored bullies, a black and white colored Paul drifts through the scenery. Dodging fists and eventually finding solace in a Batman comic discovered after a trip to the local barber shop, subsequently kicking off a love of animation.

Using images of Adam West’s Batman, Superman and James Bond, Dini and Risso take more time than was needed in showing the passion emerging during the childhood of the artist. Where it should have transitioned to the era of Los Angeles that would come to be defined by a racial riot and an alleged murderer nicknamed “Juice” after the panels in the barber shop, there is unnecessary filler afterwards. Scenes of imagined characters entertaining the child at church, dinners with family and declining grades are all drawn to pad out the opening act. Eventually, Paul is sent to a therapist who gives him various models to make in counseling sessions. After rebuking his theory that the young and promising artist might not know the difference between cartoons and the real world, we flash forward a quarter of a century to the run down and ramshackle animation lot at Warner Bros nicknamed “Termite Tower” by those that worked there. Though, according to Dini, the name never caught on.

Dini then transitions to his early career successes. Writing Tiny Toons, working with Steven Spielberg on a quirky little show called Animaniacs and writing Batman: Mask of the Phantasm all take center stage here. At one point, during a trip to England, Paul decides to buy series branded shampoo to bring home as proof of the show’s success. “I can’t believe people shower with this shit,” exclaims one writer. Everything is going great, but beneath the surface, the artist has several issues that he wishes the heroes he writes each day could come solve.

Problems with intimate relationships, family passing away and exploitation all gnaw away at Dini and his outlook on life. As things get worse for him and his loneliness increases, the fictional characters he loves begin to manifest in his psyche. Taunting his choices and mocking him relentlessly. For a time, the one place where Dini found solace poisons him, eroding his confidence in the process.

The art in these moments is beautifully drawn by Risso. Whether it’s the puke green of the room where grandpa Louie is slowly slipping away to cancer and demands an autograph from his up and coming grandson, the Looney Tunes style art documenting how Dini often went after women who were uninterested in him in his younger years or the dark colors of Bruce Wayne and the Joker reaching out to taunt Paul after a no-name starlet friend-zones him, there isn’t a single bad panel in the bunch. But, out of all of it, the best design is when, after being rejected by his date and walking home in West L.A., the mugging occurs.

Out of the purple darkness of the page panels, two hooded males emerge like demons in the night. They punch, kick, and even attempt to cripple Dini’s knee. Thanks to good luck, he manages to survive and elude them when they try to run him down with their car. As they go off into the night with their ill-gotten gains, their insults float across the page like lyrics in the liner of a crudely written album.

After getting home and collapsing, we’re treated to the recovery process. Compounded by his already existing issues, Dini wallows for a time in his own misery. How, he wonders, can he seriously do his work anymore when, in reality, heroes don’t come from the night to save those who need them? Manifestations of the Joker encourage him to retreat into the warm comfort of his home and for a time he does, even buying a gun to feel some sense of power.

I won’t spoil what happens, but in the end, our subject tells us that “when we get beaten down, we can choose to accept being a victim or choose to be the hero of our own stories.” Though the piece starts slow, Dini eventually succeeds in doing the latter of the two. Readers looking for help in their own lives could get inspired to do the same by his book.

Parenting is a Privilege

Ah, topics related to various areas of life that I will never have any personal experience in. Don’t you just love it when I sit down to write about those with that style of writing that one of my more hippy-dippy teachers calls an “acerbic wit”? Me too. It really is something amazing at times.

This week, my cornucopia of thoughts originated in a conversation I had with a friend after I posted about zebra steak eating nutcase and noted piece of shit conspiracy theorist Alex Jones losing custody of his children in a court case. Due to my dislike of him being extremely personal for reasons you can ask me about any time (In short, I’ve eaten at Comet Ping Pong and loosely know Lenny Pozner), I thought that this was a wonderful punishment that hopefully hurt him.

She disagreed.

According to my friend, though Mr. Jones may be a sentient pile of garbage, he’s still the father to his children and thus has a right to see them. This, with all due respect, is fucking nonsense.

History is filled with people who have had kids and have been wildly awful human beings.

Ever hear of Dennis Rader? No. Well allow me to educate your uninformed self dear reader. From 1974 until the early 1990’s, Mr. Rader killed nearly a dozen people in the state of Kansas. He was dubbed the BTK Killer after sending letters stating that his process was to Bind, Torture and Kill his victims. He was active in the local church scene in his town of residence…

And he also had two children.

Go up to Stinkachusetts (New Jersey) and you’ll find one Isidore Heath Campbell. For those who don’t remember headlines that were all the rage when former President Barack Obama was first elected, this dad named his child “Adolf Hitler Campbell”. Seriously, I’m not lying to you.

Now, to be fair to Mr. Nazi, a documentary in which he was featured called “Meet the Hitler’s” did claim that when child protective services visited his home, no evidence of physical or emotional abuse was found, but there’s just one massive fucking problem with this case.

And I’ll type it out in all caps to make my point.

GIVING SOMEONE A SHITTY NAME IS CHILD ABUSE!!

But in America, we weirdly allow people to name their children anything that they want. Is someone who really names their kid Adolf Hitler a person who should still be allowed to see their kids simply because they are theirs?

Bottom lines, the answer is absolutely NO! Just because you have a child doesn’t mean you have a right to be around said child. If you’re a piece of shit who questions whether the Sandy Hook Shooting was a hoax or someone dense enough to name your child after one of the worst genocidal monsters in all of human history, the state gets to limit your god-dammed access.

And no, saying “I’m still their Mom/Dad,” doesn’t count for shit.

Vietnamese Dissident Don Le believes bright times are ahead

Washington, 19, April, 2017 – Just two years ago, U.S. based human rights organization Freedom House noted in one of its annual reports that global freedom had declined for the 10th straight year in a row. Since then, things have not gotten better.

In Turkey, longtime ruler Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently won a controversial referendum that will enable him to remain in power until the late 2020’s and back home, President Trump has made overtures towards Vladimir Putin. Elsewhere in Asia, Trump recently sent a cordial letter to Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang pledging renewed and warmer ties.

Sure, American leaders routinely do deals with bad actors. We all remember Reagan meeting with the Afghan militants who eventually became the Taliban and no one can forget Nixon’s overtures to Mao. But lately, it seems like even the “Leader of the Free World” cares less than normal about people being mistreated around the globe.

Wanting to know just how dissidents felt about today’s challenges facing the concept of democracy, I sat down with Don Le of the Viet Tan Reform Party. Founded by Vietnamese refugees in the 1980s, the U.S. based group went public in 2005 and was recently declared to be a terrorist organization by Vietnam in 2016.

Pretzer: You’re a member of the Viet Tan, how did you come to be a part of that organization?

Don Le: I worked on a lot of community work. I’m supposed to be based in the U.K. at the moment but I’m originally from Sydney, Australia. I used to do a lot of volunteer work within the Vietnamese community there and through that, I decided I wanted to focus more on this movement that was happening within Vietnam. So that’s how I found the Viet Tan.

Given that your organization was founded by people with connections to the former government of South Vietnam, which wasn’t exactly incorruptible, how do you and your colleagues appeal to members of the older generation in Vietnam?

So, just to clarify, the person [Hoàng Cơ Minh] who was elected at the first chairman of Viet Tan was a navy colonel. So, he wasn’t directly involved in the government per se, a lot of the folks who started up Viet Tan shortly after the war were students studying abroad in Japan or France during the time of the war. So, most weren’t part of the government at that time at all.

 

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Hoàng Cơ Minh served as the first Viet Tan Chairman before being killed while trying to enter Vietnam in the 1980’s. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

You guys are a non-violent organization and you believe in change in that form as a means to transform Vietnam. Given what we’ve seen in the last few years [The rise of IS, erosion of democracy in Russia, etc.], is non-violent action really an effective way of getting things done in 2017?

We are all about non-violent struggle and we’ve worked with the folks who brought down Slobodan Milošević in the former Yugoslavia in the 90’s. I was also present during the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong. So, in terms of current day, non-violent struggle is very effective in my view. We’ve seen how mass mobilization can bring change. It is definitely hard work, the follow-up after that as well.

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Viet Tan protesters gather in New Orleans – January, 2008. Image courtesy Viet Tan.

What would you say the “ideal future” Vietnam looks like for your group? Is it one where, like we’ve seen in a lot of former communist countries in Eastern Europe and, to an extent in Russia today, the Communist Party of Vietnam still has a role to play in politics?

We haven’t gotten up to that stage yet. At the moment, we know that we need to build that independent civil society. We need to be able to get that independent media occurring as well. Whether the Communist Party plays a part within Vietnamese politics in the future, that’s really up to the Vietnamese people. What we do want is for the Vietnamese people to have a choice and to have a free election.

Going back to what I mentioned earlier. We see increasingly that violent political movements seem to capture all the world’s attention. Is there anything groups like yours can learn from IS with respect to connecting to people on a global scale? Obviously, you don’t want to hurt people, but can anything be learned from their media wing?

With Viet Tan, we promote ourselves and we get exposure through the work that we do and by highlighting the various human rights violations that occur within Vietnam. So, if there’s anything to learn from IS it’s that if you commit a lot of human rights violations you’ll gain a lot of exposure. So, I don’t think they’re good communicators so much as they do things for shock value.

Given that President Trump has indicated some authoritarian impulses, how does the Viet Tan plan to forge a meaningful connection with his administration? Critics would say that he and his team aren’t as focused on human rights as many of his predecessors were.

I think it’s still very early to say in terms of working with and seeing what the Trump administration will do with respect to human rights. I can’t really say how we’ll work with them because we’re still yet to see the way that they work.

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How will Better Call Saul End?

If you know me (And let’s be real, you’re probably not better for having done so.), you’d know that I’ve always identified and felt a certain kinship with dark and troubled characters in media. Give me a depressed and alcoholic sentient horse or a bald nerdy man with glasses who has to take increasingly dark steps to accomplish the American Dream and I’m fully engaged, etc.

It’s in the world of that last referenced characters show that I’ve found my latest avatar.

Better Call Saul, the story of one James McGill. A lawyer and unethical shyster increasingly tired of having to take the right track only to get screwed over in the process who also constantly lives in the shadow of his more successful peers who look down on him to a certain extent. Oh man, where does that sound familiar? Minus the law part, a whole hell of a lot synchs up.

Now, if you’ve seen Breaking Bad or any of this show, you know what happens. If you haven’t seen anything at all, please direct your attention to the line below before reading any further.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

Ok, now that that’s out of the way and I just finished a quick run to the shoe store for a cheeseburger. I can get into the crux of this piece, my theory about the shows ending. Assuming ratings don’t dip dramatically or the show adopts the narrative quality of a Michael Bay film, one can assume that the AMC ran and Sony Pictures owned series will come to an end after two more seasons on the air. The average show runs between five and seven before losing steam.

That begs the question, what will the resolution be for Jimmy/Saul? Will things lead directly into Breaking Bad and leave it at that Rouge One style? Or will a familiar message be played out in a dark way? In my own view, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould will take the grim path forward.

What’s one of the central themes that was present in Breaking Bad and is in Better Call Saul?

ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES

Whether it was Hank choosing to not inform his peers at the DEA aside from Gomez about his investigation into Walter and subsequently getting killed when they went in alone to arrest him or Jesse dating Andrea in spite of his dangerous life of crime, no bad decision went unpunished.

Saul hasn’t really paid for his mistakes yet.

Sure. He’s living in Nebraska under an assumed name, working a dead-end job and cut off from his old life. But if anything, it’s a step up from what he had. Gone are the days of constant death threats, tussles with cartel connected goons and junkie lowlifes streaming into his office for help with their latest law enforcement related fuckup. No, he hasn’t suffered. He gets to be “Gene” in an off the grid rehab where no one knows his name. He can go out, see a movie, even date a bit.

This, is not going to last. How do I know? Let me direct your attention to this quote.

“I hate the idea of Idi Amin living in Saudi Arabia for the last 25 years of his life. That galls me to no end.”

Vince Gilligan said that during an interview with the New York Times in the run-up to the final season of the mother show for this spin-off. Given his tendency and that of the creative team he has assembled to stick to this theme. There are only two ways Saul will end.

One, Jesse shows up on his front door. Kills him and then himself. Sirens blare in the distance and the show slowly fades to black.

Two, given Saul’s outburst in the opening “In-Hiding” scene of season 3. In time, he’ll slip up and expose himself to someone where he is living. He’ll get arrested and extradited to New Mexico. There, former girlfriend Kim Wexler, now working as a federal prosecutor, leads the trial to put Jimmy McGill in prison. Bringing a fitting end to the series on a legalese note.

Now of course, knowing the brilliant minds behind this show, they probably have something awesome I and everyone else who watches/pirates the thing on the internet doesn’t see coming. But, it’s always fun to speculate. Because every now and then, people are right on the mark.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is Fine (Update)

Note: This article is in progress…. Check back in time for a final version.

I can’t really craft this as a “The Good, The Bad and The Verdict” yet. But I felt like sharing my thoughts about the latest release in the youthful and acclaimed RPG franchise from Bioware. I have fond memories of playing the originals and originally wasn’t going to pick this up, but after doing a favor for my roommate (Thanks Selds!), she got me a gift card as a thank you. So, digital currency in hand, I fired up my Xbox and purchased the hard work of Bioware Montreal.

For those not in the know, Mass Effect: Andromeda tells the story of an inter-species private exploratory initiative launched during the time period where your character was otherwise occupied in Mass Effect 2. Gathering all the known races from the Milky Way Galaxy, those behind the organization aimed to go on a 600-year voyage to the nearby Andromeda Galaxy. To find new worlds, establish a new home for mankind and narratively cop-out of explaining what happened to our friends, enemies and other characters we loved after the end of Mass Effect 3.

The reviews have…not been great. Currently, the franchise continuer sits at around 77% on Metacritic. That’s a score two points below fellow game made purely for commercial reasons in order to keep a beloved franchise going titled Gears of War: Judgement. In addition to similar stories of production background, there are other things that these two games have in common.

For one, I like them and don’t really get where the hate is coming from.

Sure, the game has some glitches and downright silly looking animations for characters, but you know what? That’s part of what playing video games is all about. Fact of the matter is, none of these things ever really ship in a perfect condition. What would a Bethesda entry be without bugs? Or, for that matter, could you imagine how Destiny would have been without its share?

I could go on, but I can’t do that until I’ve finished the game and can report back with a more detailed perspective. So, I’ll close with this. Stop bashing this thing. It may be buggy, made for purely commercial reasons and filled with some narrative choices that are lazy. But I’m having fun playing it. Andromeda is like the greasy hamburger to the fine Kobe beef that was the original trilogy. It isn’t as good or filling, but dam it is tasty in the present moment.

Current Progress in Game: Created character, finished the intro level and first main story world. Presently on the Nexus (New Citadel Building) and dicking around with side quests.

 

UPDATE ONE

Hey guys, I’m back.

When I left you last, I was in the post-release window of the latest offering from the Bastardized R.P.G Makers now under the thumb of the worst game manufacturing and development company in America. I wrote about how the piece wasn’t that bad and that it was a perfect Gears of War: Judgement style addition to the far better developed original trilogy. Since I last wrote to you, I’ve established outposts for the Andromeda Initiative on a couple of optimum worlds, met and recruited all of the games squad members and breathed a sigh of relief and exasperation after a patch was announced that would tinker substantially with some in-game dialogue and facial animations.

First, I’m glad they made the patch. I was getting a little creeped out at some of the rubbery facial textures of human beings in the game. What they’ve done and are going to do is a welcome improvement. But there’s just one problem with the whole dammed thing.

If the game had problems, WHY DIDN’T YOU DELAY IT?!

Seriously, I get that these days most bits of software are in early access whether consumers like it or not and that I previously noted the bugs didn’t bother me at first. But when you say that your studio is going to tinker with the game over the next two months to make it better, that’s insulting. You’ve basically admitted that the suits overruled the artists and shipped a product that wasn’t ready. Giving a “Fuck Off” to fans in the process.

Outside of that, the game has really stuck with the familiar species that you know and love from previous games. The Krogan, Turian, Salarian and Asari are all present. Of the two new races (The Kett and Angara), only one character from the phallic looking species joins your party. Named Jaal, he is clearly the best written of all your new digital friends.

For real, the guy reminds me of Javik from Mass Effect 3. I dig the whole “stoic and fish out of water warrior” archetype and it is played brilliantly here by the voice actor. If this new series is to continue (And I am doubtful of that.), I want writing as good as his.

That’s it everybody. Another update on where I am at with this “Massive” game (Punny, I know.). As time goes on I’ll be sure to keep you posted on what I think and if its worth it.

Current Progress in Game: On the Angaran home-world and planning a movie night with my squad. It wouldn’t be a Bioware game without those signature quiet and cool moments.