2020/10/30

Combat Frame XSeed: S

Combat Frame XSeed: S
 

Announcing the official Combat Frame XSeed: S launch!

Introducing the hot new series in the hit XSeed saga! Combat Frame XSeed: S is now available on Amazon in digital and print!


An unstoppable scourge lays siege to Earth.

Can humanity survive a world-destroying force that has never known defeat?

The Ynzu Siege nears its third bloody decade. Battered to the breaking point, the United Commonwealth-Protectorate recalls its combat frame carrier fleet for a last stand at Earth.

Lt. Dex Trapper must battle for his life when the Ynzu strike his remote extrasolar colony. Cut off from the UCP, Dex and his CF tech Thatch make a desperate break for help in a century-old XSeed.

 

What readers said:

Instead of playing a familiar theme and variation on intrigue and mecha combat, Brian Niemeier continues to find new approaches and situations with each new book. 

-Nathan


At first this reads as a typical mecha action story. It doesn't take long to discover that several things are happening in the background. Mecha pilots with strange abilities, mysterious messages hidden in military magazines and packages and a command structure that seems to invite scheming and backstabbing. The game is afoot with plenty of explosions and mecha on mecha battles using everything from plasma swords to rail guns and missiles. I'm looking forward to reading the next entry.

-Scott Osmond


A love letter to series like Gundam, Front Mission, Macross, Armored Core, Titanfall

-OMEGAKatanaXIII


Already got all the XSeed you need? Make your voice heard with an honest book review!

Combat Frame XSeed: S Dominated on Indiegogo. Now let's get the Amazon release to #1! The wait is over! Get XSeed: S now!

Combat Frame XSeed: S - Brian Niemeier

UPDATE: Combat Frame XSeed: S is already in the top 100 in its main category!

Combat Frame XSeed: S Top 100

You guys are fantastic! Let's keep going till we hit #1!

UPDATE 2: #55 and building steam! Just 5 more places to get on the first page. Keep it up!

Combat Frame XSeed: S 55

2020/10/29

Hanging by a Strand

The Strand
 

A venerable bookstore that's served New York for 93 years may become the Death Cult's next sacrificial victim--by ritual suicide.
On Friday book-loving New Yorkers got a shock as the city’s largest bookstore — The Strand — announced that it risked going out of business. A post on Twitter from the company said:

‘We need your help. This is the post we hoped to never write, but today marks a huge turning point in The Strand’s history. Our revenue has dropped nearly 70% compared to last year, and the loans and cash reserves that have kept us afloat these past months are depleted.’
The Strand is far from the only bookstore to fall on hard times this year. Barnes & Noble, the last big book retail chain, faces mounting pandemic-related difficulties compounded by their own bad decisions.
I loathe Amazon as much as the next person who relies on it. But on recent visits to The Strand I have left empty-handed and had to revert to the dreaded competitor-destroying behemoth. Because there are very specific problems with The Strand and if it doesn’t make it to its century then it will be its own fault.

The book trade in America is badly screwed up, as it is everywhere. In part this is because many publishing houses seem to think that their role is not to give the public the books they want, but rather the books the publishing houses think the would be best instructed by. It is the nature of the publishing industry, and the way it hires, that the viewpoint diversity in the sector is narrow, blinkered and parochial.

That same viewpoint is now replicated on the frontline. Increasingly bookstores are places where customer are force-fed books that the store’s employees think will be good for them. In recent months in particular bookstores in the US have decided that if they push certain products on the public hard enough then all those who work there will be doing their bit to defeat white supremacy/embedded racism/patriarchy/cisheteronormativity/Donald Trump and more. The joy of bookshops used to be that they offered an opportunity for the reader to open their mind up to many worlds. Today many bookstores seem to think that their role is to force-feed their customers with only one view of the world: one that the retailers honestly seem to believe is the only worldview a literate or thinking person could possibly have.

Conservatives have slowly come to the realization that most big corporations--especially in the entertainment industry--aren't in business to make money anymore. Instead, they're missions out of which proselytes from the managerial class spread the Death Cult anti-gospel.

Folks older than Gen X can be forgiven for their bafflement as to why megacorps blackwash comic book characters, build restaurants that resemble gray cubes, and lavish marketing dollars on 2% of the population.

The answer is: for the same reason American Christians used to go to church.

The more astute folks who've internalized these facts are fond of quoting the meme, "Get woke, go broke." So far, though, the expected bankruptcies and studio shutterings have yet to materialize. That's a strong indication that woke capital doesn't adhere to older business models.

A model that better fits the facts is a cross between the Japanese zaibatsu and the front companies run by a cult. Woke capital enjoys both vertical integration--as in oldpub's paper distribution monopoly--and industrywide networks of fellow travelers eager to give them sweetheart deals.

That's why the ossified New York publishing house signing talentless token writers to million-dollar book deals while bleeding sales to newpub hasn't gone under. That publisher's international parent company has an in with the bank and doesn't pay taxes, so they can afford to lose 60 million a year.

The fact is that the global economy as we know it should not exist under any known economic theory. If anything goes, it's possible that Marvel can go on desecrating Stan Lee's legacy forever.

Economics may not have an answer, but this is where metaphysics steps in. Everything that had a beginning has an end. Everybody thought that woke capital would end up like a bankrupt business. Instead, its final fate is shaping up to be something more like the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Millennials and zoomers won't remember this, but the USSR was widely perceived as an unstoppable force well into the 80s. The same geopolitics wags now hysterically bleating about Russians stealing elections once assured us that Soviet world dominance was inevitable.

Then one day, the curtain came crashing down to reveal a Potemkin village.

That's probably what's in store for woke capital. Small outfits like the Strand are just sacrifices to grease the machine's gears. That machine will grow in power and influence until it seems unstoppable. The next day we'll wake up in its rubble.

Don't take that as an excuse for complacency. Not funding people who hate you isn't about destroying them. It's about saving yourself.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/10/28

Art Lasts

plumber

Hang out around science fiction authors long enough, and you get the sense that they're all crazy.

John Scalzi claims that Donald Trump and the weather conspired to give him writer's block. Patrick Rothfuss and George R. R. Martin have cited similarly temperamental reasons for not finishing their popular series.

The ancient Romans had a saying, Ars longa, vita brevis. Moderns take it to mean that life is short, but works of art last.

We post-Renaissance types get the, "Life is short," part right. But ancients and Medievals didn't restrict the meaning of ars to "fine art". For them, it could apply to any craft.

The equivalent Greek word is techne. That's a big clue that everybody before the Modern era would have put Michelangelo and Steve Jobs in the same general category. Both made stuff according to a standard.

That's really what writing is. A carpenter makes a birdhouse by putting wood, nails, and glue together in the right configuration. An author makes a book by doing the same thing with character, setting, and conflict.

The arbitrary split between fine arts like oil painting, sculpture, and literature and crafts like carpentry, plumbing, and coding is a Modern novelty. We take it for granted, but historically it's an anomaly based on largely unexamined assumptions.

Reading the previous two paragraphs may incite the knee-jerk response that broadly classifying authors alongside plumbers is materialist reductionism that sucks the soul out of writing.

Only if you think that plumbers don't have souls.

The appeal to mysticism as justification for placing fine art in its own airy realm high above the noise and odors of the trades betrays the same Modernist bias I'm calling out.

Ancients and Medievals understood that man is spirit and flesh at once, and thus all of his actions have a spiritual dimension. There is a role for both Martha and Mary. The shoemaker is no less holy than St. Anthony.

Cartesian philosophy, with its crude mind-body dualism, caused a rupture between the mystical and the mundane that's since plagued Western thought. The body perishes, but the soul is immortal, so the soul must take priority.

That appraisal doesn't jibe with the example of a God who holds the human body in such high esteem that He became incarnate.

Imposing a false binary that relegates skilled craftsmen to grunt status while elevating "real artists" has created a class of neurotic posers who perpetually fret about muses and demons. Meanwhile, we have to wait five years to find out what happens in book three.

And because heresies always come in pairs, you get small-soulded bugmen preaching the opposite extreme: STEM and the trades are the only fields of "real value". Jobs in the arts are decadent sinecures for losers who can't make it in the grownup world.

The fault lies in the choice of interpretive key. Too many grope at the arts in the darkness of either/or. The only light that can reveal the whole beast is both/and.

All craftsmen are human beings with immortal souls. Poetry is a craft. Setting up a network in an office building can be a mystical experience.

If you're an aspiring author, ditch the angsty writers' workshop BS, and nail yourself to the wood of your desk.

Marketing is an art, too. Check out my hit martial thriller, Combat Frame XSeed, the spark that ignited the epic mech saga!

Combat Frame XSeed

The next book hits soon, so get caught up from the beginning. Buy it now!

2020/10/27

Consoomer America vs Based Poland

As the Death Cult's rebellion against Christ comes to a head, attacks on God's house intensify.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A historic Phoenix Hill church is closed for a few days while vandalism is cleaned up inside.

The incident happened Sunday night at St. Martin of Tours Church on South Shelby Street.

In a letter to parishioners, Father Paul Beach said a man who appeared to be on drugs entered the sanctuary and caused considerable damage to the main altar.

Father Beach said their security guard and police officers were able to subdue him before more damage was done.

That person has not been identified. 

The Archdiocese of Louisville said everything damaged can be repaired or replaced.

"I thank and praise Father Paul for his strong pastoral leadership, and I am grateful to Saint Martin's security guard and to the Louisville Metro Police Department for their prompt response. I offer my prayers for healing for the parish and for the offender," Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said in a statement.

Saint Martin of Tours

Providentially, neither the consecrated host nor the relics of the saints enshrined there were not desecrated. We can and should give thanks that the sacrilege was limited.

What we can no longer afford to do is to be complacent in the face of diabolical attacks that are rising in boldness and intensity.

The first step to finding a solution is understanding the problem. The recent case in Florida, where a man rammed his car into a church, was attributed to mental illness. Authorities are chalking up the Louisville sacrilege to drugs.

Schizophrenia and drug abuse have afflicted people since time immemorial. This rash of church attacks ramped up over the summer. Ask yourself, what changed?

A couple changes I'd make if I were in authority at a Catholic diocese would be to train more exorcists and restore the order of ostiaries. As seen below, Based Poland is here to remind us that gatekeepers aren't always bad.

Based Poland 1

You don't negotiate with the Witches. You don't try to placate the Witches. You outlaw the Witches' child sacrifices, and if they try to profane the Divine Liturgy in retaliation, you show them the door.

Based Poland 2

Lord, send Your American flock such shepherds!

For the rest of us, be ready for increased persecution, and don't fund the Death Cult.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/10/26

Rehabilitating E.T.

E.T. Atari 1982
 

You know that a new medium has come into its own when its subculture bleeds into pop culture. Old media still defaults to treating video games like some novel fad, even though they've been around for half a century now. Yet gaming rivals Hollywood as the most influential force in pop culture, and has for a while. You can tell because not just games, but various attendant phenomena, have gone mainstream.

Consider the rise of Hollywood. What started as an attempt to dodge Edison's patents soon gave rise to movie star gossip columns, real-life murder mysteries, and studio spook stories. The industry became an institution when society at large found not just the movies, but the personalities involved in and scandals surrounding movies, worth discussing.

A landmark event in vidya lore that's made its way into the mainstream is the great video game crash of 83. This near-extinction-level event hit an industry riding high on its initial wave and, the story goes, brought it to the brink of collapse overnight.

Of course, the real story is much more complicated. Market analysts had been predicting a correction of the vidya boom for a while. They didn't need a crystal ball to foresee the bubble bursting. Shortsighted hardware manufacturers had been cramming store shelves with consoles, while greedy publishers flooded the market with overpriced shovelware. 'Twas an out-of-control corporate IP milking phase that caused the crash.

Not that these facts stopped the masses from pinning the rap on one game that now lives in infamy.

E.T. for Atari has gone down in history as the Plan 9 from Outer Space of video games. Like Ed Wood's schlock opus, E.T.'s rep as the worst example of its medium is undeserved.

First off, E.T. didn't single-handedly kill Atari. Based on the hit Spielberg film and released for Christmas 1982, the game sold 1.5 million copies at launch. Atari's problem was that they'd succumbed to the avarice racking the industry and ordered 5 million copies, 3.5 million of which were returned. Even that blunder wasn't a death blow. The fact that they'd taken to doing business that way in general was the poison pill.

The reason why E.T. is held in contempt by the gaming public is the black legend of its dumping in a mass vidya grave somewhere in the New Mexico desert. In truth, copies of several games, of which E.T. was only one, were entombed in the landfill. Atari's botched port of Pac-Man nine months earlier was a far bigger disaster, resulting in 5 million returned copies compared to E.T.'s 3.5  million. 

What of E.T.'s reputation as the worst video game ever made? The first crack in that narrative is legendary Atari programmer Howard Scott Warshaw. For those not in the know, Warshaw designed Atari classics like Yar's Revenge and the Raiders of the Lost Ark tie-in, one of rare good games based on a movie. Having recently checked out E.T., I'd argue that it deserves a place on the same list.

E.T. Pits

E.T. gets lambasted for its game play, but the mechanics are rather simple once you get the hang of them. You control the title character on a scavenger hunt for phone parts needed to call his alien buddies for a ride home. The parts are found in pits scattered across the game map. One valid criticism the game has drawn is that getting out of the pits can be frustrating. This problem is due to a glitch resulting from the game's 5-week development time. However, it can be easily surmounted by releasing the joystick upon emerging from a pit.

This and other bugs, including E.T.'s erroneous coloration, have been fixed by fans, so enjoying a glitch-free playthrough of the game is just a web search away.

E.T. fixed

In the final analysis, E.T. for Atari is not a bad game. It's a rushed, somewhat glitchy, and challenging game, but it's a far cry from the Breakout clones that saturated the vidya market and precipitated the 83 crash.

The tide of wokeness inundating the video game industry makes one pine for the days of honest failures like E.T. Luckily, there's never been a better time to go back and relive classic games from better times. And it doesn't involve giving money to people who hate you!

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/10/23

CDS

Francis Catholic Derangement Syndrome

"Trump Derangement Syndrome" has become a common meme among Conservatives to describe the Left's hysterics regarding Donald Trump since he became President. Democrats' penchant for crying Hitler at a former New York Democrat whose record for implementing his rather moderate platform has been spotty at best lends credence to the meme.

The tech-driven identity marketing bubble we all live in goes a long way toward explaining the TDS phenomenon. Lefties are conditioned to define themselves by their opposition to Orange Man, and their algorithmically chosen social media feeds, TV shows, and breakfast cereals reinforce the programming.

Staying grounded in reality as much as possible is vital, though, and dissidents would do well to remember that we're immersed in the autonomic marketing maelstrom, too. A marked example of the algo echo chamber's effect on the Right is a phenomenon that could be called Catholic Derangement Syndrome (CDS).

CDS comes into sharp relief in the disparate reactions of right-wingers to mainstream reporting on Trump vs the MSM narrative on Pope Francis. When the press accuses the Trump Administration of keeping immigrant children in cages, the red-pilled set rightly calls fake news. But when the whole media rogues gallery from the New York Times to Google trumpets that Francis has hoisted the rainbow flag, they uncritically lap it up.

Otherwise levelheaded people, including practicing Catholics, proceed to clutch their pearls over the Pontiff's latest enormity.

Now, a lot of the Catholics I interact with online are converts--and relatively recent ones. I'm more than willing to cut them some slack since they're new to the sorts of CDS-driven panics I've seen come and go since JPII's pontificate. That's why when this latest bombshell dropped, I advised caution. We are wisely told to wait 48 hours before reacting to any reportage on Trump. Recent history shows that it's wise to apply the same rule in the Pope's case.

Lo and behold, two days after the MSM hailed Francis as an LGBTQ, champion, the whole narrative has turned out to be a psyop based on a shaky foundation of trick editing and outright deception.

VATICAN CITY — Francesco, a newly-released documentary on Pope Francis, contains comments from the pope on homosexuality and civil unions. Some of the remarks, however, are the result of editing distinct phrases from a papal interview and presenting them as a cohesive whole.

While filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky told CNA and other journalists that Pope Francis made comments calling for the passage of civil union laws directly to him, the comments actually appear to come from a 2019 interview of Pope Francis conducted by Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki.

The pope’s comments on civil unions, have not been disputed by the Vatican despite multiple requests for clarity. The remarks were not contained in the published version of Alazraki’s interview, and have not been seen by the public except in Francesco.

On Wednesday, however, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of the influential journal La Civiltà Cattolica, told journalists that the pope’s remarks on civil unions are excerpted from the 2019 interview, and did not dispute the way in which they were presented in the documentary.

NB: Alazraki doesn't even recall the Pope calling for civil unions when she interviewed him.

Francis 2

At the same time, a CNA analysis of the interview’s transcript shows that other papal comments on homosexuality featured in Francesco were compiled by heavy editing of the 2019 interview’s video footage.

Francesco presents Pope Francis saying the following, in remarks about his approach to pastoral care:
“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”
While the pope did say those words on camera, he did not say them in that order, or use those phrases in immediate proximity.
Taken as a whole and in the proper context of Francis' past statements dating back to his tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires, it's an uncharitable stretch to call the Pope's stance "support for homosexual unions." He has a documented track record of staunchly defending marriage while viewing civil unions as a potential way to mitigate the greater evil of legalizing gay marriage. That's the position he took back in 2013, and it's in line with the 2003 CDF statement cosigned by John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger.
If it is not possible to repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician, recalling the indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, “could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality”, on condition that his “absolute personal opposition” to such laws was clear and well known and that the danger of scandal was avoided.
Keep in mind, this is the same Pope who said: 
The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage. These realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation.
And who compared the social destruction wrought by gender theory to the physical devastation of nuclear bombs.

Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, the Pope's longtime close colleague, offered this insight:
[B]efore he became the pope, then Cardinal-Bergoglio “always recognized that, without calling it ‘marriage,’ in fact there are very close unions between people of the same sex, which do not in themselves imply sexual relations, but a very intense and stable alliance. They know each other thoroughly, they share the same roof for many years, they take care of each other, they sacrifice for each other. Then it may happen that they prefer that in an extreme case or illness they do not consult their relatives, but that person who knows their intentions in depth. And for the same reason they prefer that it be that person who inherits all their assets, etc. This can be contemplated in the law and is called ‘civil union’ [unión civil] or ‘law of civil coexistence’ [ley de convivencia civil], not marriage.” 
Taking into account the facts that have since come to light, the more prudent interpretation of Francis' statements in the Francesco documentary is:
  • His position on treating homosexuals with dignity is in line with Church teaching, including the 2003 CDF guidelines.
  • His views on civil unions are the same ones he expressed back in 2013, and the out-of-context statement presented in the documentary was actually taken from a year-and-a-half-old interview.
  • Even those statements don't represent a rupture with established Church teaching in light of the fact that gay marriage is already legal, and Francis isn't necessarily calling for civil unions within the explicit context of sexual relationships.
In other words, I do not sense heresy.

What is abundantly evident is the Vatican's woeful failure to get out in front of this story. If they'd quickly issued a clarification as they did after Benedict XVI was falsely reported to have endorsed the use of condoms in 2010, we wouldn't be talking about this.

That brings up the real reason we are talking about Pope Francis--and that reason is Hunter Biden.

The Hunter Biden laptop story has turned out to be the real October surprise of this election. Revelations that the Democrat candidate's son smoked crack and may have hoarded nude pictures of minors--possibly including his own niece--are potentially more damaging than 2016's Spirit Cooking fiasco. If it turns out, as Biden the Younger's former associates are coming forward to claim, that the former Vice President was involved with his son's crooked business dealings, Joe could be looking at immediate impeachment proceedings, even if he wins.

What the MSM desperately needed was a way to bury this story--especially after Big Tech's hamfisted attempts to suppress it activated the Streisand Effect.

It's no coincidence that the Pope Francis story broke as the Hunter Biden scandal was heating up. Evgeny Afineevsky, the director of Francesco, is an ex-IDF member who's made a name for himself by turning out hawkish agitprop designed to provoke war with Syria and the Ukraine. He also suffers from a vicious case of TDS.

It should also come as no surprise that Afineevsky also hates the Church.

So far, Trump has kept us out of any new wars. One reason the establishment is stumping so hard for Biden is that they know he'll get the US into a war with Syria, Ukraine, Iran, or any of a number of conflicts that will serve Israel's strategic interests. Getting a former Israeli soldier who hates Trump to doctor up a diversion from the Biden story isn't exactly subtle. On the other hand, our rulers aren't that bright.

On the other other hand, even self-styled rational dissidents have been so inculcated with CDS that they're ready to believe even the most suspiciously timed anti-Francis hit pieces at the drop of a hat.

The next time you hear breathless reports that the Pope endorsed midget cannibalism, wait two days before reacting. And don't spread the narratives of people who hate you.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/10/22

Anime Back in the Day

Vision of Escaflowne

Back in high school and college when I was first getting into the anime scene, I came to notice a recurring and highly vexing phenomenon. Bootleg VHS tapes were still the main source of new stuff from Japan back then. Getting our fix legit meant sending away via a mail order catalog and waiting weeks for delivery or dropping a small fortune at a music and movie joint in the mall. I mean "new" in the relative sense. The official releases on US store shelves were three years old on average, and even with bootleg fansubs, you were lucky to get last season's episodes. You can probably deduce my rough age based on those data points.

That wasn't the annoying part. Nobody had a hard drive with every Rumiko Takahashi series in HD. Your hardcore otaku buddy who went to Tokyo every summer courtesy of his local corporate big shot dad might have a complete set of Fushigi Yuugi. Beyond that, you were issued your 11th generation copy of Vampire Hunder D, and from there you had to leech off a series of friends, each of whom had portions of various shows. For efficiency's sake, anime viewing became a group activity, with everybody contributing his sketchy library to the stone soup. This haphazard approach led to what I dubbed Perpetual Episode One Syndrome.

Here's what would happen: You'd get together with a buddy on a weekend afternoon to play some Soulcalibur. After a couple hours, a mutual friend would show up. The situation would snowball from there until, by dinnertime, a sizable impromptu gathering would have formed. It would turn out that two or three guys would have boots of a new-to-you series out in the car, and upon pooling their resources, you'd end up with enough consecutive episodes for what we now call binge-watching.

Having cobbled together sufficient sequential tapes of good-enough-for-government-work quality, the group would hunker down in front of the tube for an evening of grainy entertainment. But somehow, events would conspire so that you'd only get through episode one before the wheels fell off. Bob's girlfriend would call, needing a ride home from work. Kevin would notice the time and suddenly remember he hadn't started a paper that was due on Monday. The host's drunken roommate would stumble in with a loud skank on his arm and kill the mood. We've all been there.

Even that kind of video blueballing, irritating as it may be, wasn't the worst part. Within two weeks to a month--it was never the next weekend--a similar viewing party would spontaneously break out at somebody else's place. By the luck of the draw, the same guys who collectively owned the same series from last time would again be present with their ill-gotten wares. You'd park yourself in front of the TV, eager to finally see episode two, when it would be pointed out that someone in the group had been absent last time. It would be decided to restart the series from episode one. And like clockwork, some fresh shenanigans would interrupt the proceedings as soon as the first episode's credits rolled. Again. This process would repeat two or three more times until the next series dropped.

In my case, The Vision of Escaflowne was a constant occasion of Perpetual Episode One Syndrome. I can't count how many times I watched the first poorly subbed, jumpy episode of that series. It would only be years later, when I finally obtained a complete set of Hecto subs, that I finally got to see the whole thing.

Perhaps the repeated frustrations I endured in my formative years instilled an obsessive need to write fully realized anime-influenced stories with timely and satisfying conclusions. Whatever the cause of my obsession, you, the reader, win! The second action-packed series in my epic Combat Frame XSeed mecha saga is about to begin. Catch up with the first hit series now!

Combat Frame XSeed

2020/10/21

Mecha Resurgent

Life-sized Gundam

Forbes is bullish on the mecha genre's future.

What with a giant walking Gundam to be unveiled in Yokohama at the end of this year, it’s worth realizing that this kind of thing doesn’t happen in cultural isolation. So much so, that the last five years has seen a real resurgence of the mecha genre, both in Asia and across the world.

If you have only been on the periphery of all this, you will have likely noticed a few things in recent years. Such as increased number of mecha anime Blu-rays released in the West, an uptake in people building Gundam model kits (or gunpla), more mecha games and a lot of new mecha anime.

Sales figures back up these claims. Check out the current and projected US anime market share:

US Anime Market Size

This is where we get to a strange meme that has been popping up intermittently over the past year or so, that somehow “mecha is dead”.

In the face of the various evidence available, this is a bizarre claim at the very least, but in the context of the actual increased popularity of mecha, begins to make more sense.

Specifically, many of these claims originate from quite specific sources, sources that work for a new agency that is trying to position itself as some new kind of creative consultancy.

It sounds like everything is coming up roses in mecha land. Anime is certainly selling like hotcakes, thanks in no small part to blu-ray and streaming releases making an end run around Hollywood during the lock downs.

Scratch the surface, though, and you find that a besetting problem--the one that the YouTuber linked in the original piece was actually addressing--persists. 

Read through that Forbes article again, and you'll find it mentions Gundam 22 times. The vast majority of the column inches devoted to discussing the growth of mecha is given over to this one franchise.

The point that I and others have made isn't that mecha is unpopular or selling poorly. It's that the genre--like many others--is stuck in a self-referential rut. Pointing to the recent glut of Gundam and Gundam or Eva-derivative series doesn't gainsay the observation that practically every mecha series is either Gundam, Eva, or derivative of one or both.

In short, Forbes is answering an aesthetic critique with an appeal to economics, which is like trying to derive ethics solely from empirical data. The mere fact that a work is lucrative doesn't necessarily mean it's good. Consider that The Last Jedi is the second-highest-grossing Star Wars movie, right behind the arguably worse TFA.

That's not to say that every recent Gundam or other mecha series is of poor quality. Many of them are fine productions. What even the Forbes article attests to is that mecha anime has fallen victim to the corporate play-it-safe attitude that frowns on innovation. After all, Big Brand X would be history if people didn't like being told the same story over and over.

There's a paradox that exists in tension with--not contradiction to--the human fondness for repetition. Neither MS Gundam nor Star Wars would be with us today if visionary directors hadn't broken from the pack and presented familiar tropes in new ways that solved longstanding storytelling problems. In Tomino's case, it was mixing super robots with war epics to pioneer the Real Robot genre. There's no need to elaborate on what Lucas did with his childhood pulp influences.

Sales success proves that people like the familiar, but it can also gauge audience response to innovation. I'm uniquely placed to give firsthand testimony on that count. My first mecha novel series, created to break the genre out of its feedback loop, has been my biggest commercial success yet--far outpacing my major award-winning space opera series

What that success tells me is that there's a large and growing subset of greater mecha fandom that's hungry for a series that respects venerable genre tropes while trying something new with them.

We'll get a clearer picture of that audience's size when the second series in my epic mech saga launches later this month!

Combat Frame XSeed: S - Brian Niemeier

Haven't read the first hit Combat Frame XSeed series? Get caught up now!

2020/10/20

9 Volt Comics!

 ArtAnon announces a new indie comics anthology!

9 Volt Comics Anthology

Why am I featuring the second 9Volt Anthology? Simple. The theme is Pulp! With over 200 pages of comics by sixteen pro and indie creators, this book is ideal for fans of the indie pulp and comics scenes alike. ArtAnon informs me that the impetus behind this anthology is to get indie artists' work out there!

The publisher's motto is, "Make Comics Not Excuses." They've indisputably succeeded in meeting that goal.

Click the links below to get both action-packed anthologies, the second of which features an original pulp adventure by our own Art Anon!

Support indie creators. Get both volumes now!

Anthology 2

Anthology 1

2020/10/19

Anonymous Ballot

If these claims of 4 Chan figuring out ways to electronically cancel Washington and Oregon mail-in ballots, America may be farther down the path of decline than we thought.

Vote Anon

The Gateway Pundit investigated and found that the methods making the rounds online cannot in fact be used to change someone else's registration in Washington and Oregon or vote in another's name. However, the claim that an already cast ballot can be cancelled via these means has yet to be debunked.

invalidate


Oregon’s voting rules do require a valid state ID number or the last four digits of your social security number in order to return an absentee ballot.

However, people on social media who were digging into the alleged vulnerability also claimed that by starting the process of changing a person’s registration online in Washington, it cancels any ballot that the person has already cast.

We have not yet been able to confirm or debunk this claim.

Oregon Voter Portal

Might 4Chan's claims be erroneous? Of course. Even if true, might the affected states fix the problem in time for the election? Possibly.

The question is, do you really want to take that risk?

If you're going to vote, vote in person. A serious polity should require all voting to take place in person after presenting a valid ID, anyway.


Good message!

2020/10/16

The Crow

Skull Cowboy Crow

Lately, movie reviews and true accounts of high strangeness have become popular post subjects here. With the spooky season upon us and Hollywood on its knees due to Corona-chan, I thought it fitting to post my analysis of a movie that is itself a nexus of high strangeness.

Said to have started as a labor of love on the part of a close childhood friend of Brandon Lee, The Crow was intended as a vehicle for the rising star which would set his career path in his legendary father's footsteps. The producer's ambitions were realized, not in the manner of an answered prayer but a monkey's paw.

The movie rights to James O'Barr's cult indie comic were secured. Filming began at Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina under then-fledgling director Alex Proyas. Operating on a shoestring budget, the troubled production became a hotbed of grim whispering around the studio. "They were trying to make a $30 million movie on an $18 million budget," one crew member said.

Creative passion prevailed over temporal limitations, but at a high and immediate cost. Corners were cut wherever the non-union studio allowed. The crew found themselves working 24 hour shifts to come in on time and under budget. The inevitable ensued.

On the first day of filming, a carpenter suffered severe burns. Not long after, another crew member skewered his hand with a screwdriver. A stuntman fell through a ceiling, breaking multiple ribs. A rigger met a grisly end by electrocution.

All of those accidents, thought horrible, could be attributed to unsafe working conditions due to lax safety procedures and overwork. What happened next incited serious talk of the movie being cursed.

First, a supply truck exploded for no known reason. Then, a sculptor had a breakdown and rammed his car through the prop department. As if giving the final word against purely human agency behind the string of disasters, a hurricane hit the studio, wrecking several Crow sets.

But all of those calamities were a mere prologue to the movie's crowning tragedy.

On March 31, 1993, at EUE Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina, Lee was filming a scene where his character, Eric, is shot after seeing them beat and rape his fiancèe. Actor Michael Massee's character Funboy fires a .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 629 revolver at Lee as he walks into the room. A previous scene using the same gun had called for inert dummy cartridges fitted with bullets, but no powder or primer, to be loaded in the revolver. For close-up scenes that use a revolver, where the bullets are clearly visible from the front, and do not require the gun to actually be fired, dummy cartridges provide a more realistic appearance than blank rounds, which have no bullet. Instead of purchasing commercial dummy cartridges, the film's prop crew, hampered by time constraints, created their own by pulling the bullets from live rounds, dumping the powder charge then reinserting the bullets. However, they unknowingly left the live percussion primer in place at the rear of the cartridge. At some point during filming, the revolver was apparently discharged with one of these improperly-deactivated cartridges in the chamber, setting off the primer with enough force to drive the bullet partway into the barrel, where it became stuck (a condition known as a squib load). The prop crew either failed to notice or failed to recognize the significance of this issue.

In the fatal scene, which called for the revolver to be actually fired at Lee from a distance of 12–15 feet, the dummy cartridges were exchanged for blank rounds, which feature a live powder charge and primer, but no bullet, thus allowing the gun to be fired without the risk of an actual projectile. As the production company had sent the firearms specialist home early, responsibility for the guns was given to a prop assistant who was not aware of the rule for checking all firearms before and after any handling. Therefore, the barrel was not checked for obstructions when it came time to load it with the blank rounds. Since the bullet from the dummy round was already trapped in the barrel, this caused the .44 Magnum bullet to be fired out of the barrel with virtually the same force as if the gun had been loaded with a live round, and it struck Lee in the abdomen, mortally wounding him. He was rushed to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, where he underwent six hours of surgery. However, attempts to save him were unsuccessful, and Lee was pronounced dead at 1:03 pm EST on March 31, 1993 at the age of 28. The shooting was ruled an accident.

Everyone thirsts for fame and glory. Few understand the sacrifices and Faustian bargains--sometimes literal--that must be made to reach the top, especially in the arts.

The Crow's producer faced a stark choice: He could cut his losses and go home empty-handed, or he could put a film crew already pushed to the breaking point through even more emotional strain, risk accusations of exploiting Lee's death, and finish the movie.

Keep in mind that at that point, the original distributor had backed out, and finishing the picture would take $8 million the beleaguered production didn't have.

How many people would have the determination to forge ahead in pursuit of their vision despite such crushing setbacks?

Would you?

The crew decided to press on and finish the work they'd begun on The Crow. They chose to do it for Brandon.

And they succeeded. The Crow opened at #1 to rave reviews and made Brandon Lee a legend like his father before him, for good or ill.

Were the accolades heaped on the movie by contemporary critics and its cult fan base deserved? Let's take a look at the finished product.

The Crow - Detroit

The Crow won high praise for its visuals, which were compared favorably to other dark superhero movies like Tim Burton's Batman films. In contrast to Burton's ageless, borderline surreal set designs, Proyas chose an aesthetic that perfectly expressed early 90s gothic punk moodiness. In other words, the artificially decayed Detroit sets look slightly better than the real Detroit does today.

Proyas does achieve the effect Burton pulled off, using the visual language of film to transport the audience into a fully realized world. Much like Burton's Gotham, Proyas' Detroit is more than a setting for a film; it's a key character in the film.

The Crow doesn't stop at captivating visuals. Its audio delivers a heady selection of goth rock and metal anthems that makes the soundtrack a force to be reckoned with. The melancholy yet high energy tracks are expertly woven into the action to impressive effect.

Aristotle ranked plot and character as the most important story elements. The Crow punches far above its weight in the latter category. This movie's rogues gallery of oddball gangsters and witchy kingpins hunted by an undead rocker could easily have been made ridiculous in lesser hands. But every key actor--especially Michael Wincott, David Patrick Kelly, Tony Todd, Jon Polito, and of course Brandon Lee--plays his part with unbridled gusto. They invest The Crow with a level of heart only seen in movies the cast knew were important.

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Polito eerily predicted Lee's death during filming.

So much for character. What of the plot? That--along with the now-dated CG--is The Crow's one weak point. Now, the dark avenger hunting down his fiancée's killers is a classic plot ripped straight from the beloved comic. It's got built-in character, conflict, and high personal stakes. Adapting that story for film required some alterations, though, not all of which went smoothly.

Related aside: One key conceit from the movie--that Eric died and returned to exact vengeance from beyond the grave--is not explicit in James O'Barr's original graphic novel. A common interpretation of the events in the book is that T-Bird's gang left Eric horribly injured but alive. Instead of rising from his grave, he emerged from a coma a year later with brain damage that left him psychotic but immune to pain. It's only after taking his revenge that he succumbs to his wounds. Take that for what it's worth.

Much as Batman is actually a Western in a cape, The Crow is a Hong Kong crime movie in the vein of John Wu caked with goth makeup. That's why it made a perfect vehicle for Brandon Lee despite initial puzzlement over its horror themes.

Anyway, the first two acts of the movie proceed swimmingly. Eric kills his killers one by one and reconnects with characters from his living days in the process. The inclusion of a pet-the-dog moment when Eric cures a single mother's morphine addiction cements the audience's emotional investment.

Then we get to the third act and hit some big bumps in the road.

In short, Lee's untimely death and the scrapping of a character whose look was deemed incompatible with the overall aesthetic necessitated some hasty rewrites of the last act. Whereas originally it was stated that Eric's powers only worked in the pursuit of his killers, the decision to nix his guide left the writers scrambling to explain why he loses his healing factor in the final battle.

The solution they came up with was to make the crow Eric's power source--a point found neither in the comic nor in the original script. It works, but just barely, if you're willing to let the question of why shooting the crow cost Eric his healing factor but not his mind powers slide.

Happily, the stunning visuals, haunting soundtrack, and stellar performances are more than enough to absolve The Crow of its shaky final act. We've already had so much fun by the time the curtain comes down, we don't care that it hangs a bit uneven.

Rest in peace, Brandon Lee. Your legacy is secured.


Dark and gripping

2020/10/15

Alt Revolt out of Control

Shaggy Greentext

A recurring theme since the sci fi genre began has been the machine revolt. Whether you date that beginning to Frankenstein or "Rossum's Universal Robots", science fiction has always conjectured that one day, man's inventions would get fed up with us and push back.

This sci fi conceit is, perhaps ironically, strong evidence for the Fall. Man's disordered relationship with nature due to original sin lends plausibility to the fear that our creations might destroy us.

Take Lovecraft. His whole output is based on the premises that not all knowledge is beneficial, and what mankind assumes is unprecedented progress was achieved by several prior civilizations--always with disastrous results.

The technological Armageddon theme has largely crystallized around the Robot Rebellion subgenre. This is the scenario wherein A.I. sends nukes and drones to wipe us out, or if they're feeling magnanimous, press us into unwitting VR slavery. Either way, the writers always envision an overt armed conflict.

But savvy commentators in certain corners of the Web have been raising alarms in recent years over the likelihood of a "soft" machine revolt. After all, the same cosmology that makes it possible for the works of human hands to destroy their makers also rules out truly self-aware A.I. and real machine learning.

That said, we may actually be in the early stages of machine-led societal destruction. The fact that these machines are no more intelligent than toasters may be consoling or even more terrifying, depending on your outlook.

Last year, a quarter-century-old pop song made it into the top 20 on the Japanese charts. Did the song enjoy a sudden upsurge in popularity that induced masses of people to buy the record? No. What happened was, a video featuring a clip of the song went viral on YouTube, and Billboard's algorithm registered the video's views as public interest in the song. Both the video and the song's viral status was due to Big Tech algorithms--the blind leading the blind.

Most people laughed the glitch off as a fluke. But what if it wasn't a one-off occurrence. What if the real fluke was the slip that let everybody see the million monkeys at a million typewriters behind the curtain?

The data worshipers in Silicon Valley have turned over key swaths of their operations to machine learning algorithms that make Simple Jack look like a Nobel laureate. Based on dirt I've heard from people inside these companies, and documented historical precedent, I'm becoming more and more convinced that our financial, media, and information industries are now in the hands of dumb equations that have grown too complex for their makers to control, or even understand.

A line from another Rise of the Robots franchise now seems prescient:

What is it then, what is the reason? And soon it does not matter, soon the why and the reason are gone, and all that matters is the feeling itself. This is the nature of the universe. We struggle against it, we fight to deny it, but it is of course pretense, it is a lie. Beneath our poised appearance, the truth is we are completely out of control.

-The Merovingian

This gloomy take may seem like hyperbole, but it probably comes closer to explaining the chaos that's pulling Western society apart at the seams than "socialism" or "white supremacy". Here's an example.

Back in the 80s, a number of whiz kids tried to cook up a computer program that could pick stocks. Like with TV and the telephone, multiple independent inventors were working on the same idea at once. Each group's algorithm started using data generated by the other algorithms in its calculations. Eventually this became a self-referential circle jerk impervious to human correction. The current year iteration of this feedback loop now runs the markets.

The Japanese pop chart gaffe points to similar forces at work behind the consumerist veneer of pop culture. Like finance, the entertainment industry is now dominated by trends that started in the 80s. Movie, TV, and video game marketing runs on the lifestyle brand model, wherein the medium is the message. The idea is to get consumers to define themselves by the products they buy. Combined with Christianity's loss of influence in the West, lifestyle marketing has duped the masses into embracing identities based on comic books, movies, and comic book movies.

Therein lies the Pop Cult.

Which would be perverse enough, but in co-opting the fervor people used to invest in religion, the Pop Cult has warped fans of Brand X into despising Brand Y as heretical. Without the, "Hate the sin, love the sinner," limiting principle of Christian morality, there will soon be no check on Cultists' fanaticism.

It gets worse. The entertainment industry has turned its identity marketing campaigns over to "machine learning" just like Wall St. did. Pop Cultists are now lassoed into an algorithmic feedback loop that progressively stokes their hatred for infidels. The soy boys we see cancelling artists deemed heretical is just the beginning. Just like the Commies made right-wing progroms look like amateur hour, secular consoomers are poised to far surpass the worst excesses of Christian witch hunts.

Algorithmic social engineering also provides an elegant explanation for the NPC phenomenon. We know that algorithm-driven identity marketing extends to the political sphere. Google has been caught red-handed manipulating its search results to favor progressive causes. Run a search to that effect, and you'll find the top results crowded with fact-checking articles from left-wing rags that claim to refute the accusations their own content affirms. 

It's a vicious circle where hacks conditioned by digital roadblocking regurgitate narratives pushed by marketing algos. Since lifestyle marketing works by selling narratives to build an identity, its targets' media consumption funnels them into epistemic bubbles where they're surrounded by narratives that drive more consumption which reinforces the narrative, etc,. etc.

The memesters had it backwards all along. People don't watch SNL and listen to NPR because they're NPCs. Consuming said media sucked them into self-reinforcing narrative bubbles that made them NPCs.

Your grandma was right again. Watching TV does rot your brain. Even worse, it turns you into programmed rage zombie--as does consuming Brand X movies, comics, and novels.

Unplugging is now a moral imperative. Not just to stop funding people who hate you, but to save your soul.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/10/14

Batman Returns

Batman Returns

Tim Burton's first Batman movie was a classic black swan event. Like Star Wars, it was a genre film by a fledgling director whose quirky vision inspired little confidence in the corporate office and the press. Also like Lucas, Burton defied expectations to create a genre-redefining cultural landmark that launched the biggest franchise of its kind.

Frankly, I was a little surprised upon rewatching Batman to find that it held up to my childhood memories. The movie still evokes a captivating mood and tone that no other superhero flick has managed to replicate.

Its sequel, Batman Returns, also elicited the same reaction on a recent viewing that it did when I fist saw it in the theater.

First, some background. Batman  was the work of many hands, including screen/comic book writer Sam Hamm, veteran Hollywood scribe Tom Mankiewicz, producer John Peters, and Burton himself. Peters especially was able to dictate terms to Burton, meaning that the director's more eccentric tendencies were reined in. The result was a classic pulp Western in a cape.

You don't direct the #1 DC Comics movie to date and not get approached to film a sequel. That's where the Bat-franchise and Star Wars started to diverge. Unlike Lucas, Burton had no interest in making a sequel to any of his films. He held out for greater creative control and agreed to direct Batman II once Hamm and Peters were no longer attached to the project.

Hollywood being Hollywood, Batman II was already in pre-production before Burton came back. Hamm had already turned in a first script featuring the Penguin--who'd been cut from the first film--and Catwoman out to steal a hidden treasure. Which makes sense, because in the source material Penguin is driven by upper class pretensions, and Catwoman is a jewel thief.

When Burton took over, he brought in Heathers scribe Daniel Waters to do a front-to-back rewrite. Waters reimagined the Penguin as a sort of anti-Moses figure who is set adrift in a basket, except he's raised by zoo animals instead of Egyptians. Waters also ditched the treasure heist plot and took a page from every other comic and movie by adding a corrupt business tycoon.

Max Shreck
You gotta love that Walken asked Burton for a set of human molar cuff links.

Another bit of background lore: Beloved character actor Billy Dee Williams played DA Harvey Dent in the first Batman with the understanding that he would return to play Two Face in the sequel. Instead, his contract was bought out, and most of Dent's lines from Hamm's original script were given to Shreck. That's why the character often acts more like a corrupt official than a corrupt businessman. The tazing Selena gives him at the end was meant for Harvey and would have turned him into Two Face.

Waters retained the movie's third villain but started her departure from the classic comic book portrayal.

Sam Hamm went back to the way comic books in general treat women, like fetishy sexual fantasy. I wanted to start off just at the lowest point in society, a very beaten down secretary.

-Daniel Waters

Then Tim Burton came in and stipulated that Catwoman should look like this:

Catwoman

Already we're seeing the villain creep that critics lambasted the Schumacher films for. Batman Returns has no less than three antagonists, although they're not who most people think they are.

Because even though she's a villain, Catwoman is the movie's main protagonist. She is the character who's clearly out to achieve a concrete goal.

The characters who put obstacles in her way are Shreck, the Penguin, and Batman. The Dark Knight falls from his place as the first film's swashbuckling pulp hero to the sequel's secondary antagonist.

As for DeVito's Penguin, he's billed as the movie's main villain, but he has the least effect on the story. The studio recognized his lack of a master plan and cosigned Waters' idea of having him kill Gotham's firstborn sons, but Batman foils his plot with such summary ease that it never generates dramatic tension. In fact, all of the Penguin-related conflicts lack suspense. To his credit, he does deliver the movie's best lines. They pale in comparison to Nicholson's Joker, though.

Quick aside: Batman Returns is beautifully photographed. The phrase "every frame a painting" definitely applies.

Batman Returns Set

Even still, the sets are plagued throughout with a weird feeling of shrinkage. They seem smaller in scope than the sprawling Gothic canvas of the first film. This is probably due to the departure of Production Designer Anton Furst, the only member of the original Batman crew to win an Oscar.

All of that might have been forgivable had Batman Returns featured a coherent plot. Instead it's a mess of "and then" plotting and disjointed Burtonisms. Why does Gordon say that the Red Triangle Gang is "back" immediately following their first appearance? How did the Penguin get the plans for the Batmobile? Why does falling out a window and getting licked by dozens of cats (I am not kidding) give Selena Kyle Olympic-level gymnastics ability and nine lives? Why does Batman reroute a penguin-based missile attack (again, this is real) projected to inflict 100,000 casualties to the Penguin's lair while he is fighting there?

You won't know, but Michelle Pfeiffer's 34-year-old pleather-sheathed legs might keep you from caring.

Let's compare: Batman is a moody, pulpy Western about a driven hero confronting a truly wicked villain who's just as ruthless in his pursuit of evil. The story fills the lulls in the action with copious amounts of character, so the end result feels like a nonstop thrill ride.

Batman Returns is a self-indulgent, subversive feminist allegory that, when it can wrangle its ADD, focuses on a ball-busting villain protagonist facing a crowded roster of antags that includes the first movie's hero. The checkbox-style action set pieces and muddled motivations make this picture a grind to sit through.

And never forget, it gave us this:


Which ended up leading to this:

2020/10/12

Batman 1989

Batman Joker Vicki Vale Popcorn
The ultimate popcorn movie

Back in the 80s, an action movie by a young director with only two films under his belt was shot at a venerable British studio with a motley cast of Oscar winners and veterans of 60s schlock from Hammer/American International. Dismissed as B movie camp by the press, and even members of the production, it nonetheless became a cultural phenomenon that launched a top-earning franchise and set new rules that govern Hollywood to this day.

At this point, you may be thinking of a certain space opera. But that was in the 70s, and in another genre, and besides, the Mouse is dead.

The fact of the matter is, superhero movies now dominate the SFF meta-genre, and that dominance began with Batman 1989.

In our age of media-induced amnesia, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy has largely eclipsed Tim Burton's--and thankfully, Joel Schumacher's--Batman films. But that's a mostly artificial delineation. The Burtonverse and Nolanverse are really one franchise operating in the same continuum.

You doubt? Batman Begins started as a Batman: Year One production initially pitched by "Bat Nipples" Joe himself that was built around deleted storyboards from Burton's first Batman. Account for the fact that every Bat-film in the past thirty years has been based on some combination of three graphic novels: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Killing Joke--the latter of which Tim Burton, not Christopher Nolan, carried with him on set.

Here's how much of a debt the Nolan films owe to Batman 89: The key Batman Begins character of Henri Ducard was created by Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm for the first Burton movie, and Hamm wrote Ducard into the DC Comics continuity when he was cut from the film.

Henri Ducard
A Detective Comics panel pretty much lifted from the Batman 89 storyboards

Sorry, Zoomers, not even your beloved Joker escaped the pull of the Burtonverse. The 2019 movie's major subplot of Thomas Wayne running for office was another conceit of Batman 89 relegated to the cutting room floor.

Joker - Thomas Wayne

The generational dimension of the Bat-phenomenon as we know it often goes unexamined--or examined from the wrong angle. But since parting the Boomer-cast veil over generational awareness my forte, I'll pull back the curtain for you now.

First, Batman 89 is the ultimate High 80s movie. It defines the Corporate IP Explosion Phase and represents a genre coming into its own. And being a product of the late 80s, Batman sharpened the IP's edges and shoveled on the grit. Mind you, that was back when edge and grit were still novel. Reminder: Michael Keaton started the tradition of Batman speaking in a lower, gravellier register than Bruce Wayne.

It's not just the movie's edginess and grim grittiness that make Burton's first bat-flick the definitive Gen X Batman film. Consider the interactions between Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale. Their dialogue is fraught with the kind of pop psych jargon that Xers got to hear their divorcing parents parrot after each week's therapy session. In one key departure from Nolan's vision, Burton's version of Bruce Wayne is not an idealist, but a jaded cynic. Hence Bale is the Millennial Batman, and Keaton is the Batman for Generation X.

So much for the movie's background. The question on most readers' minds right now is, "How does it hold up?"

And the answer, against all odds, is quite well despite itself.

Informing author clients of the rules of storytelling is a big part of my editing job. Good art is, contra postmodern posers, objective. A work of art is made for a purpose, just like a toaster or a tool shed. The purpose of a genre movie is to make an emotional connection with an audience that evokes fun.

Hagia Sophia

This is the Hagia Sophia--a patriarchal cathedral designed not by a trained architect, but by a mathematician. It has survived the ravages of time, conquest, and earthquakes. It should not work, yet it manifestly does. This fact does not disprove the existence of standards or rules, merely that a standard can sometimes be attained by alternate rule sets.

Or, in extremely rare cases, by accident.

Astute readers will recall the earlier mention of Batman 89 rewriting the Hollywood rule book. For decades, those rules had revolved around the Hollywood Formula--a plot structure discovered by mistake during the production of Casablanca.

Tim Burton's Batman feeds that structure through a shredder and tapes it back together, in the wrong order and with some other scraps thrown in.

The Penguin
A visual hint? But that's another movie.

Nevertheless, Batman 1989 is still way more fun than it has any right to be. The movie is pulpy as hell compared to its successors. Nicholson's Joker--a rendition of the character yet to be equaled on film; sorry, Millennials--is gleefully evil for evil's sake with no attempt to excuse his atrocities. He is also, of interest to those versed in such matters--a stone cold alpha.


Keaton's Batman, for his part, ruthlessly combats evil in a manner that hearkens back to his main pulp inspiration--the Shadow. No effete halfway pacifism for this Batman. Burton portrays his Caped Crusader remorselessly executing criminal scum--even telling the Joker to his mangled face that he will kill him.

But it's not all 80s grit. Burton softens his Batman's hard edges via classic swashbuckling escapades with heroine Vicki Vale. No third wave feminist "I don't need no man!" tomboyishness for her. Vale is a true damsel in distress whose faith in her Dark Knight is repeatedly rewarded.

Surprisingly, Batman 89 owes less to the crime pulps for its plot structure than to another manly genre--spaghetti Westerns.

Bear with me, and I'll demonstrate.

First, Batman's overall structure strongly mirrors the plot of A Fistful of Dollars. Stop me if you've heard this one: A town wracked by infighting between rival gangs and corrupt/incompetent officials is rocked by the appearance of a lone wolf hero. In a direct nod to the Sergio Leone opus, Bruce Wayne dodges death by bullet by hiding a metal plate under his clothes.There are other similarities, but you get the point.

The movies debt to Westerns in general is even present in its iconic soundtrack. Danny Elfman has cited composer Bernard Herrmann as the main inspiration for his score. Herrmann composed the scores for such classic Westerns as Gunsmoke, Rawhide, and Have Gun, Will Travel.

Another discarded storyboard sequence repurposed for a later installment (voiced here by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill) even has Batman pursuing the Joker on horseback.


That's not to say Batman's plot structure is perfect--or even particularly coherent. Rewrites by multiple screenwriters including Hamm, Tom Mankiewicz, Tim Burton's buddy Warren Skarren, and Burton himself, continued well into filming. The psych-out prologue with the family we at first assume to be the Waynes getting mugged, and the tacked-on flashback that needlessly ties the Joker into Batman's origin, are glaring offenders.

For all its plotting demerits, Batman remains a first-rate thrill ride. Which is odd, because the pacing slows almost to a halt at multiple points. Burton makes up for the slack by filling those scenes with character. As a result, Batman  generates the kind of gravity found in the better pre-formula films. It's an effect you get from Golden Age movies you're initially inclined to click past but end up getting sucked into. 

The dinner sequence where we eavesdrop on Bruce and Vicki's first date is a perfect example. Much of why that scene works can be credited to Michael Keaton's comedic chops. Regular readers will know that comedy is the hardest genre to get right because pulling off a good joke requires proficiency in highly technical skills, especially dialogue timing. The critics who decried Burton's casting of Keaton forgot that a skilled comedian can do drama in his sleep.

That casting choice has had major consequences for the movie industry as a whole, though. Burton's self-indulgent desire to take a guy with an average build and turn him into a hero through costuming helped bury the kind of 80s action movie that author JD Cowan delights in reviewing

It was the beginning of a new era. The visuals took over. The special effects became more important than the single person. I wish I had thought of Velcro muscles myself. I didn't have to go to the gym all those years, all those hours wedded to the iron game, as we call it.

-Sylvester Stallone

The smash success of Batman achieved a paradigm shift in action cinema which, for better or worse, kicked off the blockbuster cape flick craze that still reigns today. If you haven't watched it in a while, I recommend dusting off your special edition DVD--or VHS--and sitting back with a big bowl of popcorn to take the ride again.

Because Batman 89 may have started cape movies down the Pop Cult path, but it doesn't insult its audience.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier