Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza October 15, 2014 Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza Carrie Vaughn A Wild Cards story. The Girl in the High Tower October 14, 2014 The Girl in the High Tower Gennifer Albin A Crewel story. Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch October 8, 2014 Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch Kelly Barnhill An unconventional romance. Daughter of Necessity October 1, 2014 Daughter of Necessity Marie Brennan Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious heroine...
From The Blog
October 14, 2014
A Category Unto Himself: The Works of China Miéville
Jared Shurin
October 10, 2014
Don’t Touch That Dial: Fall 2014 TV
Alex Brown
October 10, 2014
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Reread: Part 1
Kate Nepveu
October 7, 2014
Shell Shock and Eldritch Horror: “Dagon”
Ruthanna Emrys and Anne M. Pillsworth
October 3, 2014
The Bloody Books of Halloween: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist
Will Errickson
Showing posts by: Jake Hinkson click to see Jake Hinkson's profile
Fri
Oct 3 2014 11:00am

Us and Them: The Thing From Another World

Thing From Another World

“I’ve tried to tell you before, scientists have always been pawns of the military.”

I can’t speak to the relationship between scientists and military personnel in Starfleet, but David’s warning to his mother, Dr. Marcus, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan neatly underlines the antagonism between the eggheads and the meatheads in so much of science fiction. The scientists see the military as a bunch of trigger-happy morons, while the soldiers see the scientists as a bunch of troublemaking nerds who do more harm than good.

You can probably trace the intensity of this mutual distrust back to the dawn of the atomic age, when the militarization of science produced the means to kill everyone on earth. The animosity is certainly on full display in one of the key science fiction films of that era, 1951’s The Thing From Another World. In the film, scientists and Air Force officers stationed at the North Pole discover a wrecked UFO. They uncover a body encased in ice near the wreckage and transport it back to their base just before a storm blows in and cuts them off from the outside world. Then, of course, the thing in the ice thaws out.

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Mon
Aug 18 2014 2:00pm

Something in Red: Scarlett Johansson’s SciFi Appeal

Black Widow Scarlett Johansson

While we’re waiting to see whether or not Marvel will finally give Black Widow her own stand alone film, we can take this moment to look at the place Scarlett Johansson plays in the current universe of cinematic science fiction.

It’s interesting to recall that just a few years ago, Johansson was known primarily as an indie darling. After cutting her teeth as a child star in the 90s (most notably in Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer), she transitioned into more adult roles in 2001 with the one-two punch of Ghost World and The Man Who Wasn’t There. Though those two films were miles apart in subject matter, they had some tonal similarities—focusing on the existential ennui of a harried protagonist—Ghost World’s caustic high schooler Enid (Thora Birch) and Man’s laconic barber Ed (Billy Bob Thornton). Playing a supporting role in both films, Johansson’s character is inaccessible—a vision that the protagonist can’t reach. In Ghost World, she’s the childhood friend who grows up and away, lost to young adulthood. In The Man Who Wasn’t There, she’s the underage object of an older man’s shy desire, a would-be Lolita for a near-mute Humbert Humbert.

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Fri
Aug 15 2014 2:00pm

Criminal: The Comic Book Crime Epic We Really Need

Criminal Ed Brubaker and Sean PhillipsWith Frank Miller and Robert Rodriquez set to deliver Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, the long-awaited follow up to 2005’s Sin City, now might be a good time contemplate other variations on the comic book crime story. I don’t mean that to sound dismissive of Miller’s Sin City universe, nor do I mean it to be dismissive of the work he and Rodriquez have done on the Sin City films. I liked the first film, and I’ll be in line to see the sequel. But Sin City shows the crime story done in an intentionally over-the-top fashion. It’s the crime story boiled down to archetypes and then injected with an ultra-violent, hyper-masculine comic book ethos. It’s noir as violent cartoon, with dialog so hardboiled James Cagney would have cracked up trying to say it.

If Hollywood gets around to taking on another comic book crime epic, I hope someone has the good sense to consider the Criminal books by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Here’s a series that’s about as gritty as any ever made—if made into a faithful film it would be a hard R—but it has an emotional resonance that’s lacking in the superhuman antiheroics of Sin City. In the Criminal universe, everyone is all too human.

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Wed
Jul 30 2014 4:00pm

“He Wanted Us To Catch Him!” Let’s Retire this Villain Cliché

Joker The Dark Knight

I was just settling into the whole Khan versus Enterprise plot of Star Trek Into Darkness when something started to seem overly familiar to me about the way the story was developing. And I don’t mean familiar in that “Hey, they’re ripping off the Wrath Of Khan” way that began the moment Cumberbatch revealed his true age and identity. No, I mean the familiarly that began when the crew started to speculate that perhaps Khan had wanted to be captured. After all, it had all been so easy…

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Mon
Jul 21 2014 9:00am

The Deluge Myth: Snowpiercer and Noah

Snowpiercer

It’s impossible to know who first told the story of a great flood that destroys most of the world, but the deluge myth appeared early and often in various cultures. The most famous account of the flood is, of course, the sketch of Noah’s Ark from Genesis, but the great deluge also figures prominently in the Mesopotamian epics of Gilgamesh and Atrahasis, in the Shatapatha Brahmana story of Manu, and in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Variations abound, but the germ of the story is the same: the last vestiges of humanity huddle aboard a massive vessel while the rest of the world drowns.

In our eschatology-obsessed times, we’ve seen renewed interest in the deluge myth. This summer alone has given us two prominent variations in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer. These two films present a natural and compelling contrast—while Noah portrays the deluge as religious retribution for wickedness, Snowpiercer presents it as a scientific calamity. In both cases, it would seem, humanity had it coming.

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Wed
Jul 9 2014 5:00pm

The Last Last Policeman: Ben H. Winters’ World Of Trouble

World of Trouble The Last Policeman Ben H Winters reviewOurs is not the first generation to dream that it is the last generation. In some ways, you could say that the world has been looking forward to the end since the beginning. The end of things—the end of everything—has been foretold in most major religions, and around the world, throughout history, cults have sprung up and flourished and died based solely around some vision of apocalypse. There is nothing new about the end of the world.

And yet, doesn’t it feel as if we’re living in an age obsessed with End Time visions? Is it the aftermath of 9/11—the lingering trauma of seeing skyscrapers plummet to the earth? Was it the panic that followed, all those dark warnings about mushroom clouds over cities? Is it the ongoing wars in the Middle East, the land that gave us so much of our apocalyptic literature? Or is it the simple scientific fact—often discussed but seldom confronted—that we are poisoning our planet as fast as we can? Whatever the causes, contemporary American culture has produced a glut of doomsday images—so many now that global destruction is essentially the subject of most blockbusters these days. It’s as if we’re all waiting for the worst to happen.

[Maybe that’s why we need Hank Palace.]

Wed
Apr 16 2014 2:00pm

Sex and the Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing Alan Moore DC ComicsAlan Moore likes sex. This makes him something of an anomaly in the world of comic book writers. I’m not saying that other scribes don’t enjoy the pleasures of the flesh in their off hours, but relatively few are interested enough in the erotic as a subject to make it a part of their writing.

Of course, there are all kinds of reasons for this prudishness—not the least of which is industry censorship—but the result is that comic books are largely a sex free zone. To the degree that sex does appear in comics, it mostly takes the form of suggestively drawn female characters. At best, that’s an adolescent way of dealing with sex, and at worst it’s something darker—with the sex drive either implicitly rejected or sublimated into violence.

[Alan Moore is the great exception.]

Thu
Feb 20 2014 10:00am

Captain America And The Saga of The Winter Soldier

Captain America is square. He’s always been square, and he always will be square. It’s built into the DNA of the character. When Joe Simon and Jack Kirby launched the adventures of the Sentinel Of Liberty back in 1941, he was pure propaganda—a star spangled hero punching out the Axis Powers. Maybe that’s why, after the war ended, the character simply disappeared. “Old soldiers never die,” General Douglas MacArthur famously told a joint session of congress, “they just fade away.” It’s probably for the best that Cap faded away before the onset of the jingoistic, paranoid fifties. (A brief, failed attempt to reintroduce the character in 1953 as “Captain America…Commie Smasher!” gives us a glimpse of what we avoided.) When he made his reappearance in the Silver Age, he became the thawed out super soldier that we all know and love today: still square, sure, but more of a ‘roided up crime fighter than a political cartoon.

Even more than most comic book creations, however, Captain America has retained an intrinsic symbolic function. (All but unavoidable when half your name is America.) Over the years, various writers—Roger Stern, J.M. DeMatteis and Mark Gruenwald—have tapped his symbolic quality and used the character as a springboard to deal with various social problems (racism, extremism, homophobia), shaping him into one of Marvel’s most fascinating creations.

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Fri
Dec 13 2013 11:00am

Serial Queens of the Silent Era: The First Female Action Heroes

Ruth Roland The Timber Queen

We’re in a new golden age of female ass-kicking. When Gal Gadot takes up the mantle of Wonder Woman in the next Man Of Steel film, she will join popular headbusters like Katniss Everdeen, Black Widow, and Hit-Girl. These cinematic heroines, however, belong to a lineage that stretches back a hundred years—past Buffy, past Sarah Connor, past Ripley, past Foxy Brown—to the earliest days of motion pictures. Today’s female action heroes owe a lot to the serial queens of silent cinema.

In the 1910s—years before the passage of the 19th Amendment granting universal suffrage—moviegoers flocked to see weekly action serials, and during this period, the biggest stars of action films were women. Week in and week out, these heroines found themselves in ever-escalating trouble.

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Tue
Nov 5 2013 6:05pm

Anarchy In The UK: V For Vendetta at 25

V for Vendetta

It was 1988. I was 12 years old, squeezing through the crowded and cluttered aisles at Little Rock’s only comic store, when I saw a poster of a cloaked, chalk-faced figure running across the top of a wall. The copy on the poster read:

FASCIST
BRITAIN 1997.
EVERYONE KNOWS YOU
CAN’T BEAT THE SYSTEM
…EVERYONE BUT V.
V FOR VENDETTA
A ten issue series by
ALAN MOORE & DAVID LLOYD

I’d never seen such a thing. My comic book buying in those days was exclusively of the Batman, Captain America, and Green Lantern variety. I didn’t know what “fascist” meant, had no idea who Moore and Lloyd were, and had no good reason to want to collect a ten issue series of English comic books.

But something in the stark imagery of the poster appealed to me. (It was around this same time that I discovered the 1950 Edmond O’Brien flick D.O.A, which kicked off my love of film noir, so maybe I was just ready to take a plunge into a certain kind of dark crime story. Or maybe it was something in the Arkansas water.) I went back a week later and bought issue one.

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Wed
Oct 9 2013 4:00pm

What to Do with the Future of Star Trek

When a recent Star Trek Creation convention voted J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek Into Darkness the worst film in the franchise, some industry people (including the film’s screenwriter) shook their heads. The movie made good money (though not the breakaway box office that some predicted) and notched generally favorable reviews. So what’s the problem? Is this just a case of some Trekkers and fanboys being overly critical? Or does it point to larger, long term problems? After all, while the new Trek films have been built to be general audience pleasers, they still rely on the fanboys to be their backbone. What happens to Star Trek if the Trekkers start to abandon it?

Maybe the best way to answer that is to look at ways the franchise could right itself. Here then are some suggestions...

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Thu
Sep 19 2013 9:00am

Bad Tomorrows: Two Varieties of Dystopian Sci-Fi

Metropolis Fritz Lang Dystopia

With high profile films like Oblivion, AfterEarth, and Elysium offering up new (or recycled) visions of humanity’s hopeless future, 2013 might go down as the Summer of Doom. It’s worth noting, however, that dystopian sci-fi not only isn’t new, it’s the bedrock of the genre. After all, Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis—which hypothesized a dehumanized future society not far removed from the those presented in today’s would-be blockbusters—is considered by some scholars to be the first fully-formed, feature-length science fiction film. For as long as filmmakers have dreamed of the future, they’ve presented nightmare scenarios of the world to come, and in the years since Lang’s masterpiece, filmmakers and audiences alike have never seemed to lose their enthusiasm for the end of the world—or, at least, the end of the world as we know it.

Dystopian science fiction comes in many shapes and sizes. Some are multi-million dollar behemoths, while others are quiet character studies. We can see the varieties of these films falling into two broad categories:

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Tue
Sep 3 2013 9:00am

Super Frenemies: The Tumultuous Relationship of Superman and Batman

Batman Superman Fight!

With the recent news that Ben Affleck will play Batman in the Man of Steel sequel arriving in 2015, now seems like a good time to look back on the often fraught relationship between the two most iconic characters in the superhero pantheon. If comic books comprise a large part of the canon of our new American mythology—and there is every reason to think that they do—then the relationship between Superman and Batman, with their opposing views of heroism and justice, reflect our conflicted culture in interesting ways.

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