The Webcomics Ouevre of Mary Cagle

Since the launch of Kiwi Blitz in 2009, Mary Cagle (alias CubeWatermelon, which is an adorable moniker) has been hitting the internet with comic pages. She followed up Kiwi Blitz, a still-running comic about teenagers fighting crime with a giant avian robot, with Let’s Speak English, an autobiographical gag comic about her time teaching English in Japan, and most recently Sleepless Domain, a unique and delightful comic about Magical Girls who protect their city from monsters in the wee hours of the night. Her comics are notable for their gorgeous colors (LSE, which is uncolored, excepted), distinctive characters, and round cartoon style. Although none of these have exploded in popularity like some of the classic webcomics of old (although, really, what has? Has any webcomic really blown up since Homestuck took off like a rocket?), I discovered all three within about a year of each other, and I’ve enjoyed them greatly, which inspired me to do one big post reviewing all three.

I struggled to decide what order to discuss them in, because the order I read them in is completely different from the order of publication, and each one has colored my view of the one that I read next. In the end, I decided to review them in the order I found them in: Let’s Speak English, then Sleepless Domain, and then finally Kiwi Blitz.

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Why I’m Not Convinced By ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’s Historical Context

There’s snow on the ground, the sound of bells in the air, a turkey in the oven. Trees are inside of houses, instead of outside where they belong. Yes, it’s that time of year again: time for the annual controversy over a seasonal tune from 1944. Yep, it’s Baby It’s Cold Outside thinkpiece season once again. Is the song a romantic call-and-response ballad? Or is it a harrowing tale of date rape? Everybody vote on their phones!

Look, here’s the truth: I hate Baby It’s Cold Outside. But I don’t hate it for being about date rape (although I definitely do fall in the ‘this sounds pretty rapey’ camp). I hate it for the same reason I hate most Alanis Morrisette songs: for being tuneless and meandering. It baffles me that a song this terrible has become a widespread part of the seasonal playlist. As such, I’m not going to waste my time engaging with it by breaking down the exact terms of the debate around it, especially when so many other people have already done the legwork for me; if you don’t already know why people feel the way they do about it, read these annotated lyrics on Vox which break down fairly well how the two sides tend to read its controversial lyrics.

But I do feel compelled to engage in one area, because it touches on a broader point. Those who feel compelled to defend the song always fall back on one thing: historical context.

See, this woman is staying late, unchaperoned, at a dude’s house. In the 1940’s, that’s the kind of thing Good Girls aren’t supposed to do — and she wants people to think she’s a good girl.

And even more specifically:

Historical context matters a lot here. “What’s in this drink?” used to be a stock joke to which the punchline was basically, “Nothing, not even much alcohol.”

And honestly, it’s kind of impossible to defend the song’s lyrics while also paying attention to them without falling back on historical context because…I mean, it’s a song about a man pressuring a woman into sex. Without attaching historical context to it, there’s not a lot of wiggle room out from under that. And the historical context argument is a fairly strong one…or it would be, if I cared about the historical context. In this case, I really don’t.

If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Historical Context’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.

That might sound like heresy coming from someone with a graduate degree in literature. Surely we always care about historical context, right? Well, if we were treating the song like a piece of history to be closely examined, of course would. But if that’s all Baby It’s Cold Outside was, we wouldn’t have annual bumper crops of outrage over it. Academics would no doubt continue to argue over it, as is our wont, but the debate wouldn’t make the editorial page of every major newspaper (as it does at least once every year without fail) because there would be no mainstream audience for it. Nobody would care.

Here in the real world, though, people do care. A lot. And here’s why: because Baby It’s Cold Outside‘s permanent place in the holiday playlist makes it perpetually current. Every year, it is piped into radio stations and shopping malls as-is. Every year, famous singers like Michael Bublé record and publish new versions of it, generally without changing a syllable of the lyrics. When people complain that Baby It’s Cold Outside‘s lyrics, they aren’t complaining about Baby It’s Cold Outside, the song from the mid-1940s. They’re complaining about Baby It’s Cold Outside, the ongoing cultural phenomenon.

And of course we all know why we keep regurgitating it every year.

In the 1940s, maybe the song was, as people have suggested, actually a sexually liberating piece for women. But the song hasn’t just sat in the archive since that time, it’s been continually revisited. Every year in December we return to the song and mindlessly reproduce it once again, renewing its pop-culture relevance for another year. The result is that the song has been unmoored from its place in history. If you took a random sample of 100 people who know the song well enough to sing along with it, I would be amazed if even ten of them could tell you it was written by Frank Loesser. Or that it was written in 1944. Hell, I’d be astonished if ten people in that sample could even correctly identify the decade it comes from! The historical context behind the lyrics doesn’t matter because what the song meant in 1944 isn’t really relevant to what it means now. Historical context is only a defense if the piece is historical. For most of the work academics of English and other cultural critics do, that’s just assumed, but it doesn’t apply to cases like these.

The song’s lyrics may have remained the same over the past 72 years, but the world around it hasn’t. When Frank Loesser put pen to page and wrote Baby It’s Cold Outside his lyrics may not have signified rape to his listeners, but for a lot of people they sure do now. And historical context only explains why Loesser created it as he did; not why we continue to recreate it every holiday season.

Hitman Review

Hitman: Enter a World of Assassination

I’m not going to beat around the bush: I love the new Hitman game. It is an absolutely fantastic return to form for the series after the deeply flawed Absolution. It combined the things Absolution did right with an infusion of the series’ core gameplay flow, and some of the best level design in the series thus far. If you’re a fan of the series, or are looking for a jumping-on point, you should definitely buy it.

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Hitman: Absolution Review

Hitman: Absolution

Important Note: the contents of this post were written in 2014 for a series of tumblr posts analyzing Hitman: Absolution and why it failed so hard. I intend to refer to it heavily in my upcoming review of 2016’s Hitman: Season One, and am not particularly happy with how tumblr handles long text posts, so I’m republishing it here and reformatting it into a single post.

01. Introduction

The latest title in IO Interactive’s long-running and much-acclaimed Hitman series, Hitman: Absolution, was fairly controversial on release. Although it reviewed about as well as previous entries into the series (it brought in high-seventies to low-eighties on Metacritic, depending on the platform, whereas Hitman: Blood Money rated low-eighties; Hitman 2: Silent Assassin came in in the high-eighties range but was also released all the way back in 2002, so the numbers may not be perfect comparable), many devotees of the series were profoundly disappointed, even angry, about changes made to the series’ formula, to the point that IO Interactive started the development of the next Hitman title with an open letter promising a return to form. But in the meantime, it’s worth looking back at Absolution, a few years after its release, and asking: was it really as bad as all that? Was it really as broken as its detractors claimed it to be?

Spoiler alert: Yeah, it kind of was. What’s more interesting is why. Closer examination reveals that although some of the game’s problems were unique to it, many others were not. Rather, these flaws were minimized by the level design in previous games, whereas in Absolution the levels emphasized these faults and made them stand out. In this post, I will be looking at the game in three areas (Narrative, Game Systems, and Level Design) to try and clearly express what sets Absolution apart from its predecessors and why it comes up short in the process. Click on the read more for an introduction to my perspective and the context in which I will be writing.

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Power Rangers Retrospective Part Five: Oh Jesus Christ

So, first things first: I’ve put a bunch of thought into what I’m going to do with this series, in light of the revelation that there are sixty episodes in the first season of this show. I really don’t feel like dedicating upwards to a year to doing Power Rangers recaps just to cover the first season. This has been fun, but I don’t care about Power Rangers that much, and it’s already starting to feel a bit samey.

So what I’m going to do is that this will be the end of me covering every episode in the series. That’s a good ten-episode retrospective, that’s not bad at all. I am, however, going to keep watching it, and I’ll come back and do recaps for episodes which strike me as particularly interesting/bad/important.

But first, we have to get through two more episodes. And oh boy. The first one is…it’s definitely a thing.

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Gaming Hot Takes: Round 1

Everyone who spends any amount of money on Steam is liable to wind up with a bunch of games they never play. I’m certainly no exception to that. And I’ve decided to turn it into a feature! Using the Wheelhaus, I’ve rolled up five games in my Steam library which I’ve never so much as touched, and given each of them half an hour of my time. I’ll play exactly half an hour of each, and write up my thoughts. The only condition on which I’ll stop early is if for whatever reason, I just can’t get the damn thing to work and 5-10 minutes of troubleshooting doesn’t solve it, in which case I’ll skip it and roll a new one.

Although I normally don’t like scored reviews, I am going to give each of these games a score on a scale from 0-5. This score reflects one thing and one thing only: how likely I am to play the game again. 0 means the game didn’t work at all, 1 means it’s shit and I’ll never touch it again, 2 means I probably won’t play it again, 3 means I might, but don’t feel strongly about it, 4 means I likely will come back to it, and 5 means it’s awesome and I plan to complete it.

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Scorpion: Ethernet Cables on a Plane

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Power Rangers to bring you something truly special. My friend forced me to watch this, and now I feel obligated to share it with you as well, so that you too can comprehend my suffering. For your consideration, I present the dumbest thing I’ve watched this year: the first episode of Scorpion.

No, uh.

scorpion_logo_backplate1

Right, that one. Although actually, that first one feels thematically appropriate.

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In Defense of Tomb Raider’s Quick Time Events

The Tomb Raider reboot from 2013 was fairly controversial for a couple of different reasons, many of which will be familiar to anyone who’s ever read internet commentary about any reboot of a classic games franchise, no matter how well-made. There were two major points of criticism that rang fairly true, though: the game has massive ludonarrative dissonance (I’ll explain what that means in a moment), and the game has too many damn quick time events.

I’m not interested in defending the game from the first charge, because it is a real problem. But I do take exception with the second one, because not only are there fewer QTEs than most people think, the game actually uses them in an interesting way to reinforce Lara’s growth throughout the game.

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Power Rangers Retrospective Part Four: Putties in White Vans

Whew, we’re finally back. Illness and back problems kept this post back for a week but we’re back in the Mighty Morphin’ swing of things! This week, we have no one but TWO monsters specializing in kidnapping children. That kind week, I guess.

Also, Jesus Christ, I didn’t realize how many episodes this fucking show had. Season one apparently has sixty fucking episodes. Holy shit! I had been planning to do the first season at least but wow I might have to reconsider that. That is way too many episodes.

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How I Would Fix Man of Steel

Many people have many different feelings about Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman film, Man of Steel, but this is my blog so we’re mostly here to discuss my feelings so let me tell you what I think of the movie:

I spent the whole movie alternating between boredom and offense. And not because I don’t like Superman! I love Superman. But Zack Snyder’s vision for Superman is colorless, drab, and almost entirely devoid to the inspirational values that define Superman. And all of that is before you get into my nitpicks with how the film was made, like how even totally static scenes are shot with more shaky-cam than all of the Bourne movies put together.

None of this is news, though. A lot of ink’s been spilled over the past three years about how the movie has problems, and while it does have its defenders, the general consensus seems to be the it’s not a very good Superman film. I’m interested in doing something a little different, though: I want to talk about how I would fix it, without radically changing the plot and without going back to technical nitpicks. There are two points where the story is severely broken, and fixing these would go a long way towards fixing the movie as a whole.

These points are Jonathan Kent and The Death of Zod.

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