Progress Report – Months Seven, Eight, and Nine

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June 29, 2013 by Daniel

Check out my previous post for notes on where my head is at right now. We’ve got a lot of stuff to discuss, so onto the stacks we go!

Books

Midnight’s Children
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub
Hangover Square – Done! It’s a pretty interesting novel. Lots of good dark humour, and some unique, despicable characters. I’m honestly not sure what else to say about it. It’s quite good! If I sat down and thought about it I could probably write more, but I finished it about a month ago and it’s so far out of my memory that any attempts to do so would probably be in vain.
Hip Hop America
Summerland – Reading now.
Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road
Revelations
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Canon
Moon
Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer
Freedom
Catching Fire
Mockingjay

Comic Wars – Done! This book tells the story of how Marvel almost became bankrupt in the mid-90s, mostly due to the vicious businesspeople who owned and mismanaged the company. As such, it’s a lot of talk about legal work and backroom dealings, and my, is it complicated. The deliberations went on for so long and have so many various twists and turns that it makes for a compelling read, despite the legal talk being hard-to-follow for my own brain. Don’t make the mistake of reading it hoping to get a lot of information about Marvel itself – there’s very little mention of what Joe Quesada or any Marvel artists and writers thought at the time, with the book choosing to focus almost primarily on the businessmen. Even Avi Arad, who had a large part in creatively saving the company by forming Marvel’s moviemaking division, is more of a side character, with the main business brain of the group, Ike Perlmutter, taking centre stage. Regardless, it’s a headspinning tale told reasonably well by author Dan Raviv, and the sheer insanity of how long these deliberations went on for is is revelatory.
In the Studio
Sex Tips from Rock Stars
The Psychopath Test
The Moment
The Man Who Couldn’t Eat
Catch-22

Music

Encoffination – O Hell, Shine in Thy Whited Sepulchres
Lemuria
Algernan Cadwaller
Kerosene 454 – Race
Field Music – Plumb
Shearwater – Animal Joy
Goodie Mob – Soul Food
Last Dinosaurs – In a Million Years
Jawbreaker – 24 Hour Revenge Therapy
The Antlers – Hospice
More or Les – Mastication
Racing Heart – To Walk Beside that Ghost
Holy Esque – S/T
Moonface – With Sinaii: Heartbreaking Bravery
Slugabed – Team Time
The Jazz June
Cursive – Domestica
Laurel Halo – Quarantine
Kid Koala
Crocodiles – Endless Flowers
Caribou – Swim
The National – Alligator
Nas – ILLmatic
Big Nic
Reel Big Fish – Candy Coated Fury
Sik Transit
Foals – Antidotes
Whitest Boy Alive – Dreams
Fight Like Apes
Citizen Cope
Nujabes
Pigeon John – Dragon Slayer
Patrick Watson – Adventures in Your Own Backyard
Dark Time Sunshine
Om – Advaitic Songs
The Motown Story
James Brown – Star Time
Klaatu – 3:47 EST
Joyce Manor – S/T
The Civil Wars
Herbie Hancock – Man-Child
Randy Newman – Little Things
Titus Andronicus – Local Business
Cardiacs – Done! Wrote about one of their albums for a New Music Wednesday; check it out here.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! 
Jim Noir – Zooper Dooper
Gomez
Explosions in the Sky – How Strange, Innocence and Suddenly I Miss Everyone
Wire – Pink Flag
The xx – Coexist

Video Games

Botanicula 
Skies of Arcadia
Rocksmith
Guitar Hero II (360 version)
Red Dead Redemption – Done! I’m a bit conflicted about this game. On the one hand, the writing is fantastic, as it usually is with Rockstar games. But I’ve been thinking about how well the narrative bits match up with the gameplay and whether I found it effective or not. A part of me feels like it’s impossible to have a really effective game narrative in an open-world setting, since a certain amount of the narrative control is out of the designers’ hands. I was certainly attached to the characters, but is that simply because they’re well-written, or because of the interactivity of the game experience itself? I lean towards the first honestly – I’m not sure that anything in Red Dead would be less effective in, say, a television format, other than a few moments near the end. This is probably a discussion that probably deserves more time, and maybe if I feel up to it I’ll give it such. For now….yeah, I enjoyed it, but I’m still unsure about it as a whole.
Syndicate
Odin Sphere
God Hand – Done! Finished this yesterday, and I love it. It’s one of those “mid-tier” games that is slowly being squeezed out of existence by modern gaming. It’s got a few technical issues, but it also has abizarre, often laugh-out-loud (if adolescent) sense of humour, and the gameplay is really unique, especially for an action game. Essentially, it’s a classic beat-em-up; pretty much all you do is punch various varieties of bad guys repeatedly. But it’s complicated by a brilliant system whereas you’re “leveling up” the main character, Gene, not by gaining experience, but by buying new moves and figuring out the best way to chain them together. As such, I bet you that the differences between “my” end-game Gene and other people’s are pretty drastic. There’s all kinds of things to take into consideration – damage output, certainly, but also how long the move takes to begin and end, what angle it hits at, and whether it has any other effects (breaking an enemy’s block, juggling them in the air, etc.). I definitely wish it had a better art style – it’s got this pretty low-budget, drab, psuedo-realistic look to it, whereas it would probably be better served with the cartoonish art style of Clover’s previous games – but I haven’t had as much sheer fun with a game in a long time. It’s silly and crazy, but also surprisingly deep. Definitely a forgotten gem of a game.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Killer 7
Jet Set Radio Future
Metroid Prime
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
Blood Will Tell
Dead Space 1 and 2
Shenmue 1 and 2
Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise
Skyrim
Star Wars Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader
Flashback
Wild Guns
Crackdown
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Asura’s Wrath
Shank
Pokemon Conquest
Hell Yeah!: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit
1000 Amps
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Analogue: A Hate Story
Braid
And Yet It Moves
Cave Story
To The Moon
Vessel
Half-Life
Hotline Miami 
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Capsized
Intrusion 2
Lone Survivor
The Longest Journey
Mark of the Ninja
McPixel
NightSky – Done! At first, I was disappointed that the game was a mere physics puzzler, but it’s pretty well-made. Its level design lacks consistency – every individual level is made up of three separate “screens”, but they’re so disconnected from each other that the way their lumped together feels haphazard. Similarly, the game doesn’t really have much of a difficulty curve; the end-of-game puzzles don’t really feel much harder than the early ones. It’s like the designer just jumbled together a bunch of puzzles and laid them out arbitrarily. Anyways, I ended up enjoying it almost in spite of itself, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it to anyone. Nice soundtrack though.
Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episodes 2 and 3 – Done both! Okay, so Episode 2 is basically the same as Episode 1, which means that it’s sort of a hybrid RPG and Adventure game, and it’s really funny, and the combat gets a bit mind-numbing towards the end. Episode 3 is a whole different bag, what with Zeboyd taking over and Mike Krahulik, the art side of the Penny Arcade equation, ducking out of the project entirely. Regardless, I found myself getting REALLY into it – the battle system is really interesting, with a lot of freedom in how you choose to spec your characters due to a robust “job” system that just gets more and more specialized as it goes on. By the end of the game, I felt like I understood the system intimately – so much so that it almost felt like I was breaking the game with my specific class combinations. The game could use a bit of variety – it’s pretty much 6-8 hours of battles, which, despite the excellent system, can still start to wear on you after a bit. I’ve got to give real props to Jerry Holkins though, for really pulling his shit together on the writing end – The Rain-Slick world has always been relatively interesting, but I haven’t been truly intrigued by the plot until this one. I find more of the jokes fall flat than before – partly due to the way the dialogue is paced in the previous games (i.e. with speech bubbles) vs. the big, long text boxes of this one. Anyways, he really fleshes out the world and its characters here, and it goes into some really dark and intriguing places, especially near the end. I did not think I would be emotionally affected by one of these games, but I find myself having to take a minute after the credits rolled to recover myself a bit. Really nice surprise there.
Pixeljunk Eden
Rayman Origins – Done! I wrote a thing about this, and how much of a bummer it is that a game as joyful as this still contains some not-so-latent sexism. But I should really restate how much I truly adore it regardless. Like, really. I’m just thinking about it now and Rayman Legends can’t come soon enough.
Rochard
Stacking
They Bleed Pixels
Thief Gold
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Zeno Clash

Comics 

Abe Sapien: The Drowning
Elektra: Assassin
Alec: The Years Have Pants
The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects – Done! It was good! Classic Mignola, with the same moody artwork, folkloric roots, and overall high bar of quality that he usually operates on. And it’s funny! Really, really funny. A great first foray into the Hellboy mastermind’s work, or another worthy book to have in the collection.
Young Liars
Someplace Strange
The Book of Genesis
Too Much Coffee Man Omnibus
THE ENTIRE ULTIMATE MARVEL UNIVERSE – Really been itching to get back into this, so hopefully you’ll get some updates pertaining to it soon. (<– I wrote this last update, and it still stands. Sorry.)
Last couple volumes of Ex Machina
Stray Bullets
Saga Vol. 1
King City
Automatic Kafka – I’ve started and stopped and re-started this a bunch of times. The major reason for this is that I’ve had to read it on my computer, because despite it being one of the most critically-acclaimed comics in recent memory, WildStorm (or I guess straight-up DC now) have stubbornly refused to put out a collected edition of it. See, Automatic Kafka it has really complicated art that requires some careful study to really “get” what’s going on – this is not a comic where you can get the basic gist of what’s happening by just reading the text. So…come on DC. Get on it. This is criminal.
The Destroyer
Solo
Hitman
Blammo
Enemy Ace: War in Heaven
I Am Legion
Dixon run of Robin/Nightwing
Echo
Strange Girl
Strange Cases
Persepolis
Blacksad
The Playwright
The Loneliest Astronauts
Gotham Central
The Incredibles
Three Shadows
David run of The Incredible Hulk
Shadoweyes
Like That
The Goon
Orc Stain
Fear Agent
Literally anything by Brian Wood – Done! I ended up settling on Demo as previously mentioned, and that is a truly fantastic little series. I love the way that each chapter is a completely different story, with characters that never intersect and a world that shares only the barest threads of consistency throughout, and yet there’s a thematic throughline – that of young people who are a bit “different” making their first strides into adulthood – that makes it all come together rather effortlessly. The “people with superpowers” angle of the first couple chapters feels a bit ham-handed, though it actually works really well with the series in a thematic sense, with the powers being a physical representation of their personalities not quite being able to gel with the real world. It definitely gets better once it moves focus away from the supernatural elements and into the strictly personal, but it’s very confident throughout, and the almost manga-inspired art by Becky Cloonan is really fantastic. Definitely a good introduction to a unique voice in comics.
Elmer
Secret Six
Scalped
Unknown Soldier
Tumor
Ichi the Killer
Oldboy
Ruroni Kenshin
Echo
Green Lantern: Will World
Invincible
The Heckler
Youngblood
World War Hulk
Incredible Hercules
Starman – Robinson and Harris run
Tag and Blink are Dead
Strange Haven
Atomic Robo
Ocean
Route 666
The Other Side
Kill All Parents
Ambush Bug
X-Factor
Bizarro World Halloween
Morrison run of Doom Patrol
Flex Mentallo
Alias
Cragmore
Anything by Linda Barry

Movies

Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus
Frozen
The Godfather
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Pan’s Labyrinth
High Noon
The Dirty Dozen
The Town
Social Network
There Will Be Blood
Seven Samurai
Election
Saving Private Ryan
Apocalypse Now!
Hearts of Darkness
Trainspotting
Dogville
Brazil
Adaptation
Lost in Translation
Oldboy
A Serious Man
World’s Greatest Dad
Let the Right One In
Special
Raising Arizona
Micmacs
Fireworks
River’s Edge
The Killer
A Better Tomorrow
There’s Nothing Out There
Princess Mononoke – Done! It’s rather neat and tidy that the two Miyazaki films on this list are this and Nausicaa, as I find that Mononoke is sorta of a “version 2.0” of that film. It deals with a lot of the same topics – environmental pollution, the pompousness of humans, and the notion of nature itself fighting back against such corruption – but in a way that is darker, gorier, and thus, at least for me, more harrowing. It helps that it’s also a better paced and more visually vibrant film (amazing what fifteen years will do for an animation studio, eh?), but I really love how “grown-up” it is. By all the counts, Nausicaa isn’t exactly a kids movie; it has its moments of violence, certainly, and it deals with its themes in a suitably unflinching manner, but it also has a fanciful world, a wide-eyed child protagonist and a hopeful ending. By contrast, Mononoke is more complex – it takes place in a specific time in Japanese history which carries its own insinuations (at least conceivably so – I don’t have a good grasp of Japanese history, so the subtleties are lost on me) and it tends to deal with its subject matter with more uncertainty and world-weariness. I found it much more engrossing than Nausicaa overall, though I would definitely recommend that people watch both, just to see how Miyazaki’s view on the same issue changes within fifteen years.
Jaws
When We Were Kings
Battle Royale
Mary and Max
Melancholia
Ex-Drummer
Ai Weiwei
Sukiyaki Western Django
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

TV

Big Windup
Neon Genesis Evangelion – original series and the “rebirth” movies
Star Trek: The Next Generation – seasons 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 – I’ve finally gotten back into watching this, and am now about midway through the second season. I’m unsure how to deal with discussing it; should I do it by season? Episode? Should I wait until I’m done the whole thing (which will be quite a while)? I really don’t know.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – all seasons
Veep – season 1
Archer – seasons 1, 2, 3 – Done! It’s Archer. It’s funny. Whatchu want me to say?

Stats!

Over the past three months, I read two books and two comics, played six video games, and watched one movie and one season of a TV show, which brings the totals to:

Books – 7/22 = 32%
Music -23/50 = 46%
Video Games – 22/59 = 37%
Comics – 9/70 = 13%
Movies – 3/42 = 7%
TV – 3/19 = 16%

If you saw my last post, you know that I’ve been slacking a bit. I certainly indulged in some media that is not on the stacks now – to wit, I’ve actually been on a bit of a reading binge over the past few days, but not towards anything on these lists. And I haven’t so much as given a thought to listening to anything on the music list. I’m actually thinking about cleaning up that one; I’m not really sure if I really care to check some of that stuff out anymore. Perhaps I’ll whittle it down a bit to what I ACTUALLY want to listen to.

This is one of the problems with having longstanding lists – there reaches a point where some of the things you wrote down, after giving it some thought, just seems a little pointless. Much of these lists I’m still very interested in, especially the things that serve a great amount of wider cultural relevancy – as my brother-in-law says to me relatively constantly, I should “really just watch the fucking Godfather already”. But do I really need to read a single issue of a Bizarro comic? Or an entire several hundred-issue run of Robin? I’m really not sure. REALLY not sure. So some of these things could be a tad liquid in the next little while.

In fact, I’m also thinking about taking away the TV section altogether. The entirety of TNG and Buffy, both shows that are 7 seasons long, with hour-long episodes? I’m not sure how feasible that is. Or if anything I can write about them will be interesting. Or if I even know how to structure those things – I’ve never really seen TV writing that I thought was really excellent. Though I fully welcome it! If you know any really good television critics, please send them my way! But yes, the serialized nature of those things, as well as their daunting length, makes them tough to discuss. I don’t even know if I’m interested in talking about them in the first place! Maybe I’m perfectly content to watch them and just talk to my friends about them. Maybe they’ll be gone on the next Progress Report. I really don’t know!

Anywho, there ya go. I find that the more I talk about doing a certain thing, the less likely I am to do it, so hopefully I’ll write something soon, but maybe I won’t. We’ll see!

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