Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Was Edgar Allen Poe Just Heckling Us?

Edgar Allan Poe is known as one of the most influential authors of his time in terms of detective fiction (as he practically invented it), science fiction (as it was just on the rise of popularity), and of course, horror, as many of us already know. When his name comes up, people immediately think of stories and poems, such as ‘The Tell Tale Heart,’ ‘The Raven,’ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.” There’s no doubt that Poe was a very disturbed man; psychotic even, most likely. Despite all of this, there was more to his writing than just doom and gloom. To anyone who has never really sat down and read all of his works before (and I wouldn’t blame you for this, as there are many), you may be surprised to know that horror actually consists of a very small portion of the tales that Poe crafted. So what then, did Poe write more than anything else, if not horror? Humor and satire get the prize.

This may surprise some, as you wouldn’t normally picture a dark and dreary individual writing about things that make people laugh or think about the society around them. Let it be known that these works were quite Gothic in nature, regardless of the genre that they would later be placed under. What makes all of this so interesting however, is that such a large amount of his storytelling (over 30 short stories) all consisted of the humor/satiric nature, give a much better representation of what Poe was trying to do than any of his more “serious” work. His first ever short story, ‘Metzengerstein,’ was considered to be horror by some; and satire by others. Even with his first story, people were already debating what Poe was trying to accomplish. Do you see where I’m going with this yet? I’d like to present that alternate theory that some people seem too afraid (or in denial) to touch on.

From his first entry into short stories, all the way up to the horror stories considered to be classics by millions, Poe followed certain themes that carried through to each and almost every publication. These included death (the obvious one), irony (usually very cruel), and (dark) romanticism. Once again, no one ever seems to ask the question of why this is; and simply just accepts it instead. Why would he use overly dark themes like this? Some may think it was just to be metaphoric of his own life’s difficulties, but I think it goes much deeper than that. Edgar Allan Poe wanted people to break away from the bonds of conformity in everyday life. This was made apparent after his extreme criticism of didacticism (the notion of something being overly instructive, or educational, sacrificing enjoyment in the process). How did he bring people to do this very act? He put out story after story with completely over-the-top exaggerations of the Gothic genre conventions that we came to know. By being so explicit in his telling, this enabled others to make their own interpretations and break out of their own levels of conformity. This is why it’s possible to debate whether all of his stories were meant to be satire, or if Poe intended to create serious works of horror out of the tales considered as such. It’s still in debate today if many of Poe’s works had actual underlying messages within them, or if he was just “doing it for the sake of doing it.”

One of the biggest hints about Poe’s methods of writing came from a piece he wrote in 1838, called ‘How to Write a Blackwood Article.’ In this, Poe wrote a parody “how to” essay, involving the methods of writing a successful horror story, while also making fun of those very methods at the same time. (Anyone interested can read it here - http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/eapoe/bl-eapoe-howto.htm) The oddity of the whole thing comes from the fact that Poe actually lists examples of the very conventions he himself uses in the works that were considered horror. Some examples include:

“The first thing requisite is to get yourself into such a scrape as no one ever got into before.”

“If you know any big words this is your chance for them. Talk of the Ionic and Eleatic schools- of Archytas, Gorgias, and Alcmaeon. Say something about objectivity and subjectivity.”

“Above all, study innuendo. Hint everything-assert nothing. If you feel inclined to say 'bread and butter,' do not by any means say it outright.”

Are you all ready for the real kicker here? Edgar Allan Poe wrote ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ the year after he wrote this very article. If you go back and read that story, and then compare it to the ‘Blackwood’ piece, I think you’ll find an odd amount of connections between the two in practice. What if Poe released ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ just to point out that these very stereotypes he mocked in his previous work, actually do work on people? What if everything he’s written up to this point (horror included) has all really been pieces of satire all along? While I am not saying this is definitely the case here, I do feel that it’s worth examining, and maybe giving a second look into.

I can almost guarantee that if you now attempt to re-read Poe’s works with this new mindset, you'll be surprised with what you may find. I’m not saying that this is the “be all end all” of answers involving the meaning of Poe’s writings, but I do feel that there are too many connections here for me not to be on to something, and I hope others reading this may find similar discoveries themselves. If you have attempted this, or simply have other thoughts of your own on the topic, I would love to hear them. Thanks for reading, and I hope we can create an excellent discussion out of all this.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Deadpool's Historically Inaccurate Movie Review of Lincoln (2012)

You all thought I’d review something else next. You thought it would be The Hobbit (probably coming soon), Django Unchained (also hopefully and probably coming soon), or maybe even Les Misérables (who’s title I had to work real hard in order to get that accent mark right!). But NO; I picked something completely out of left field, and you people had better like me for it! No, I don’t care that everyone in the theater was probably old enough to have actually met the man back then. I had heard the acting in this film was incredible and that it was pretty much a must see for history buffs. So, you’re probably asking why YOU should bother reading this review if you don’t care about any of that stuff. The answer is simple. I RULE you bitch! I’m Deadpool, and I know what’s up! Plus, it’s the kind of movie that just about anyone can appreciate, regardless of what genre of films you’re into… But mostly it’s just because I rule you…

This film focuses on the last four months of Lincoln’s life, mainly covering his insane attempts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment and kick slavery in its private areas. Daniel Day-Lewis is eerily good at playing Lincoln. Of all the descriptions I’ve ever read of the man, this was the first time I can honestly say I felt like I was watching “President Lincoln as… PRESIDENT LINCOLN!” He displays all of the traits you usually read about in books, but don’t actually see on-screen; one of the most notable being his ability to calm down and charm just about everybody during their most tense of moments, by telling funny old stories from his past. There’s a kind of warmth that you feel coming from his acting ability that makes me feel weird feels that I should probably talk to my doctor about. This man really is a living, breathing Abraham Lincoln, and it’s incredible.

When he’s not out hunting vampires, Lincoln can be seen speaking with all kinds of people, from all parties, races, etc. The movie also perfectly conveyed the fact that everyone around thought he had built one too many log cabins over the cuckoo’s nest, when he decided he wanted to get this amendment passed. The (ironically not) Civil War was nearing its end, and the Emancipation Proclamation was on its last two legs. The mission, should he choose to accept it, was to get that amendment passed BEFORE the Civil War reached its conclusion; that way, the slaves who were freed in order to fight the war wouldn’t be enslaved once again after the war’s end.

We also got to see a strong performance from Tommy Lee Jones, playing the Radical (and I totally mean that in the cheesy late-80’s kind of way) Republican Congressional leader, known as Thaddeus Stevens. While I truly felt like every other part in the film was dead on, to the point that I felt like I was there, it also felt like Tommy Lee Jones time traveled to be a part of this. Don’t get me wrong, his part was among one of the best in the film, but I guess… I don’t know; I’ve just seen him in too many other films to feel like he’s really part of this era. He came off more like a member of Time Squad; here to make sure that history flows through its natural course… which is awesome.

Another key player in this movie was Sally Field playing Mary Todd Lincoln. I forgot about how nuts this woman was, and it was nice to see someone who could play her properly. As you all know, I like me the crazy ones! I found it quite hilarious when she made a comment near the end of the film along the lines of “They’re only going to remember me for being that crazy lady that you put up with,” because that’s more or less what actually happened. Kudos to her for being such a good sport of it all! I’d have gladly jumped in with her to start screaming random obscenities at my badass lumberjack husband, for what seemed to be mostly insignificant reasons.

The bulk of enjoyment you’ll be getting out of this film will come from the amazing acting, the hardcore verbal political debates (which ended up being surprisingly edgy, but in a fun way), and the ways that everything comes together for the main characters this film focuses on. I would have liked to see more about Lincoln’s actual assassination, but I suppose they felt that adding John Wilkes Booth to the cast would have set up too many other plot threads that they didn’t have time for. The movie is already about two and a half hours, so it’s understandable… though it still sucks. I wanted to see him and his funny mustache attack the stage and give this movie an ending that NO one would forget! ... Yes, I’m getting help; stop asking.

For what it’s worth, this movie was pleasant, charming, and a bunch of other fancy words I’m not mature enough to think of. It’s a nice alternative to the continuous patterns we see with “Die Hard 11” and “I Know What You Did Last Paranormal Activity.” Even if you don’t find history to be your bag, I think you may surprise yourself with this one. I mean, I’m a deranged psychopath and I thought it was pretty swell. Get your intellectual on!

9 out of 10 Lincoln Logs

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be off to work on my super secret project… the next issue of my comic, which has no connection to this review whatsoever! … Or does it?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Manga Review: Skull Man Vol. 1

Shotaro Ishinomori is a legend among many fans of manga, anime, and tokusatsu. Not only did he create the Cyborg 009 manga, released in 1963, but he was also the creator of the original Kamen Rider series from 1971, and the original Super Sentai series from 1975 (called 'Himitsu Sentai Gorenger' for you historians out there). These titles and many others helped shape the foundation of what a Japanese superhero consisted of. Kamen Rider is especially worth noting at this point in time, because the Skull Man was Kamen Rider's very inspiration. While Ishinomori was developing the plot for the Kamen Rider TV series with his producer, he wrote this manga as his own personal envisioning of the character. Because the original story was considered too dark and violent for children, the producers had to change a lot of the content in order to make it more appropriate for television. The manga itself (Ishinomori only released one volume) ended up being a huge success. It featured one of the first known antiheroes in manga, as well as a story that was considered quite edgy and gruesome for 1970.

To this day, the one volume of Skull Man has never been released in print form in the US. I was able to read it however, thanks to the power of (legal) digital distribution. Comixology, a well known site/app for digital comics and graphic novels, recently released multiple series put out by Ishinomori. This includes Cyborg 009, Kamen Rider, Kikaider, Inazuman, and of course, Skull Man; all translated into English.

So is this volume of manga and toku history really worth all of the hype behind it? By today's standards, it may not be quite the controversial piece it was at the time, but I do still feel it made for an interesting action/drama/revenge story. It opens with some wonderfully drawn scenery, followed by some quick action to paint the scene, all without any dialogue for the first few pages. Unlike Kamen Rider and other Japanese heroes, the Skull Man only goes out to fulfill his own goals, and has no remorse for killing anyone who gets in his way. It's finding out what motivates him in such a way that makes this read so compelling, along with his always-confident and cocky attitude. Even if some of the plot points come off to be cliche in this day and age, it's still good enough writing on its own merit. It also has an ending that, while quick and unsettling, is definitely sensible, as well as a good topic of conversation.

The artwork is simple, but artistic at the same time. It's reminiscent of Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Nextworld, Princess Knight, and many others), and for good reason. Tezuka was Ishinomori's mentor, and had asked Ishinomori to be his assistant when working on the Astro Boy manga. Small world, isn't it?

One more important thing to mention about this single volume is it's length (or lack thereof). It's a total of about 94 pages, almost half of the length you'll get in manga books today. While the story itself did not suffer because of this, the abrupt nature of the ending will likely leave you feeling that things finished up a bit too quickly, and could have been drawn out more. Some would argue that this issue was rectified in the 90's when Ishinomori asked Kazuhiko Shimamoto to create a remake of his work, with a longer, more complex story. The remake spanned a total of 7 volumes, fleshing out many more plot details that were otherwise left out of the original. There was also a 13-episode anime series released by Studio Bones with a similar goal in mind. All of these projects are worth looking into if you find yourself enjoying the original volume.

As it stands now, I have a bit of a hard time recommending this volume to people who aren't normally interested in manga, or classic manga for that matter. The book is short, and may not seem very special to anyone that isn't already a huge fan of action anime/manga and tokusatsu (especially Kamen Rider). To those who are fans however, this is an essential read to what was a very historic moment in manga and toku history, and it's great that we're finally getting the chance to read these once iconic stories legally and with English translations.

7 Out Of 10