Six Damn Fine Degrees #25: Mystique

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

It’s only in the last couple of years that Marvel comics have finally acknowledged the truth about one of their oldest coded gay relationships in its superhero universe. In 2019, the characters finally got to share an on-panel kiss and at the beginning of 2020 the first ever direct reference to their exact status made it to a published comic.  Nearly forty years after the supervillains Mystique and Destiny had first appeared in a comic together (and thirty years after the latter’s demise), that they had been a homosexual couple was made unambiguously clear.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #2: Garfield

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

We started our free-fall association into culture with Julie’s sublime entry on John Garfield. We continue with a sudden, nauseating lurch towards something rather more ridiculous. Have you ever had a close look at the things you liked as a child… and shuddered?

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #30: Watchmen (HBO)

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3The End is Nigh – but nothing ever really ends: in our first podcast episode of 2020 we’re donning our masks to talk about the costumed vigilantes, white supremacists and glowing blue men of Damon Lindelof and HBO’s Watchmen. Is it a worthy successor of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons classic? Does it deserve the name of Watchmen? And have we really seen the last of Lube Man? Your trusty cultural baristas also briefly talk about Helen Garner’s non-fiction This House of Grief, Luz’ Charlie Hébdo memoir Indélébiles and Melina Matsoukas’ drama Queen & Slim.

Sadly, this is also Mege’s final episode as the podcast’s co-host – and due to him joining us from Jupiter’s moon Europa, his audio track is somewhat squid-addled (some say that it was really technical issues, but what do they know?). Accordingly, the Damn Fine Cup of Culture podcast will enter a short hiatus during which we will determine where to go and what to do next, but we will be back with some steaming, flavourful, damn fine cups of culture in podcast format in April. Till then! Continue reading

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3The End is Nigh – but nothing ever really ends: in our first podcast episode of 2020 we’re donning our masks to talk about the costumed vigilantes, white supremacists and glowing blue men of Damon Lindelof and HBO’s Watchmen. Is it a worthy successor of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons classic? Does it deserve the name of Watchmen? And have we really seen the last of Lube Man? Your trusty cultural baristas also briefly talk about Helen Garner’s non-fiction This House of Grief, Luz’ Charlie Hébdo memoir Indélébiles and Melina Matsoukas’ drama Queen & Slim.

Sadly, this is also Mege’s final episode as the podcast’s co-host – and due to him joining us from Jupiter’s moon Europa, his audio track is somewhat squid-addled (some say that it was really technical issues, but what do they know?). Accordingly, the Damn Fine Cup of Culture podcast will enter a short hiatus during which we will determine where to go and what to do next, but we will be back with some steaming, flavourful, damn fine cups of culture in podcast format in April. Till then! Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Asterix (1961)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

I didn’t come to Asterix on my own – someone at my school must have introduced me to the series when it was already 15 years old and several volumes long. Of course, I got hooked on it immediately: a period of history that wasn’t too hard to learn, and now it was even fun, with battles, quests, betrayals, and a great many fistfights and chases that almost always ended well for the little Gaul with the large moustache and his friends.

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All hail the God of Silliness

If you had told me a year ago that a Thor film would be one of my favourite Marvel movies in recent years, I would have looked at you like you were touched in the head, possibly by a mythical hammer. For me, the two first Thor films were firmly at the bottom of the MCU, kept company only by Iron Man 2. In fact, I would have said that the character Thor was my least favourite of all the main characters in Marvel’s cinematic universe (though I am not including the TV series in this reckoning, because, well, Danny Rand). Yes, thanks to The Avengers I could see that the big, blond lug had some potential, but mainly as a supporting character and as the butt of a bunch of jokes.

Thor: Ragnarok

After Thor: Ragnarok, though? Well, let’s put it like this: if you’re looking for story or theme in an MCU film, the latest adventure of the God of Thunder won’t make you a convert. If you’re expecting a plot that is significantly different from, oh, pretty much every single Marvel movie since Iron Man, you’re out of luck. If you want a movie that fully embraces the silliness inherent in this ever-growing comic book universe translated onto the screen, though? Then hell, yeah – Thor: Ragnarok is an embarrassment of riches.

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One more last stand

logan14Old man Logan is weary and drunk and asleep in his car. He runs a one-car limousine service in New Mexico near the border, and some thugs are trying to steal his tyres. He gets out and shields his car with his body, using his precious faculties of self-healing for something as trivial as a limo. His suit is rumpled and dirty. He is one of the last mutants, and he lives in an abandoned factory in the desert and cares for a demented Professor Xavier who hides in a collapsed water tower nearby. Professor X is on heavy medication that makes him go woozy, but if he doesn’t take his pills, his brain, a weapon of mass destruction, will hurtle out of control eventually, and everyone around him gets paralyzed and can’t breathe. The professor is 90 years old. Logan is something like 220 years old. His wounds don’t heal as fast as they used to, and his scars don’t heal at all anymore. One of his blades doesn’t come out all the way, and he actually has to pull it out to the hilt with his other hand so that he can’t help but to cut himself in the process. Can you believe that? He suspects that the adamantium is slowly poisoning his body. Time is not on their side. Continue reading

Biff, bang, pow! Or: An age of small-screen Marvels?

I’ll be honest: while I’d say that I enjoyed the majority of Marvel movies to date, the thing I’m least interested in is the fights. There are some fun, well-shot and -choreographed kerfuffles in the films, but on the whole I like them heroes less when they speak with their fists, repulsor beams and mythical hammers. What’s worse than a Marvel movie fight scene, though? A Marvel TV series fight scene.

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Making for a Happy Medium

While it should be self-evident that different media allow for different kinds of storytelling and different forms of expression, it’s good to be reminded of this in enjoyable ways in this Age of Adaptation, where so many films, TV series, games are adaptations of material in other media. Last week I saw the London production of Gypsy, which was brilliant, startling – and a great example of a story that works best on stage. We’d previously seen the ’60s film version of Gypsy, which works well in its own right, but it’s on the stage that the story came truly alive.

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________ will remember that.

The recent Telltale Games series – The Walking Dead, which is currently in its second season, and The Wolf Among Us, based on Bill Willingham’s Fables – make great use of that phrase. They provide the player with relatively limited choice, but they put you in control of how you behave towards others, how you treat them. You may just have tried to cement a shaky alliance by siding with a frightened father over the rest of the group: Kenny will remember that. Or you have just had your character, Sheriff Bigby Wolf – yes, that’s the Big Bad Wolf of fairytale fame in human shape -, beat up a murder suspect in the hope of scaring a confession out of him: The Woodsman will remember that.

The Telltale games, especially the recent ones, have mostly received good to great reviews, but there’s been criticism of what they do since the beginning. Choice and consequence: these are one of the Holy Grails of many gamers, and a fair number of them see the choices in the two aforementioned series as shallow at best, false at worst: the plot largely remains the same, regardless of what you do and what the other characters remember. If someone is fated – or, more accurately, written – to die, they will die. Sometimes the plot may branch in small ways, but these branches are usually closed quickly in favour of a tightly constructed story arc.

What changes, though, is your relationship to the characters you interact with. Kenny will remember that you sided with him at a time when he felt most alone – and, perhaps more important, you will remember. You’ll feel like a good guy, or conflicted over siding with a decent but choleric man who acts before he thinks. The interaction may be shallow in one sense, but in another it is far more nuanced than the binary, “Choose your own adventure”-style story choices in some games lauded for giving the player agency. I don’t dislike those games, but I find Telltale’s, let’s say, relationship-based interactivity more engaging. Their games give you the sort of choices that at least I can relate to: in real life, I rarely am faced with deciding between remaining loyal to a corrupt lord that nevertheless provides stability or joining a rebel army whose dedication to the cause borders on fanaticism. The choices I have are usually about my attitude towards others and how I express this: do I snap at someone because I’m tired and they pushed the wrong buttons, or do I let it go? These are the decisions that in aggregate shape who I feel I am.

The Wolf Among Us

Obviously games are often escapist fare, and many enjoy making decisions that they are unlikely ever to face in real life. I won’t deny that the escapist side of games appeals to me too – yet I like some reality in my escapism. I like to feel with characters in unreal worlds that nevertheless resonate and feel real to me. In that respect, I usually stand with good old Marianne Moore, not just with respect to poetry: I want “imaginary gardens with real toads in them”, and not just toads but Kennys, woodsmen and Big Bad Wolves that, for their red eyes and sharp claws, are relatable, are people. Telltale’s choices aren’t epic, they’re human-scale, and they are a large part of what makes their tales of the zombie apocalypse and of exiled fairytale characters trying to make a life in ’80s New York interesting to me: the premises come to life most in how they juxtapose the fantastic and the real, the supernatural and the essentially human. Being an asshole or a nice guy, taking the easy way or sticking to your beliefs, even if you can’t change where things end up, perhaps especially when these choices end up not making a dent in reality – they nevertheless define who you are. Games, perhaps more than other media or art forms, offer interesting ways of expressing yourself.

Clementine will remember that. As will I, because that decision was mine in a meaningful way. When I choose to side with one faction over another in The Witcher II, I do so because I want to see all the material the developers created, to get my money’s worth. I know I will go back to choose the other faction later on. When I make choices as an ex-con trying to do right by his surrogate daughter in a dangerous world, or as a sheriff with deep-rooted anger issues trying to solve a murder, most likely I won’t go back to listen to the other branches on the dialogue tree. I’ve made my choice, and I, too, will remember that.

P.S.: There’s one instance where The Wolf Among Us uses, and subverts, the “_______ will remember that.” trope to great comedic effect. The game’s almost worth playing just for that.