Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Kaio-What? (DBDC: The Entity Saga)

Commissioned by Angie Frey and Alfie Taylor 

Like a Kit-Kat bar!
It’s worth noting that fan productions often have their limits. Be they audio discrepancies, amateur acting, images incongruous with what’s being depicted, or an over reliance on an assumed familiarity with the source material (be it how much of a shit one gives for Johns’ Rainbow of Lanterns or significant disagreements over the nature of the New Gods and their relationship to the wider DC Universe that would derail this article). It’s worth putting these things in context when discussing a fan production. Normally, I wouldn’t tackle such a subject because of these issues. Rarely are fan productions the best work of anyone involved. However, Alfie Taylor, one of the writers on the series, has asked me to do an article on the series, noting that I could, and I quote, “tear into it if you want.” So… you asked.


Dragon Ball DC (DBDC for short), as the name suggests, is a podcast series wherein the Dragon Ball and DC universes are merged together. The Entity Saga acts as the second arc for that series, riffing on a “collect the Dragon Balls” style arc with said balls being replaced by the entities that represent the various lantern corps from the Green Lantern mythos. In many regards, this highlights one of the fundamental failings of the series. As with many a crossover, there must be a balancing act between the two stories being explored. It is tempting to have one universe overwhelm the other. And, rather unfortunately, DBDC opts to ultimately align itself with the sensibilities of the DC Universe.


Sure, species like the Tuffles or the Saiyans appear within the narrative, but they ultimately function like any other alien race within the DC Universe. You wouldn’t expect, say, the Prime Minister of England to be a humanoid dog person. Or for there to be a communist movement led by a talking pig. Or for the moon to be secretly controlled by a Bunny Gangster. And sure, these are elements from the original Dragon Ball series and DBDC ultimately draws more from Dragon Ball Z than anything else. But it nevertheless highlights a degree of unwillingness to radically alter the DC Universe through to its merge with Dragon Ball.


But perhaps the core issue of the series is with regards to pacing. The Entity Saga runs at slightly under two hours and utilizes the narration format to deliver its story telling. However, the narrative being presented rarely, if ever, allows for things to slow down. Indeed, moments where the narrative could, in theory, slow down are glossed over in favor of getting to the next fight scene. I mean, they literally present us with the golden opportunity to have Wonder Woman debate Lex Luthor about the nature of humanity and where we should end up, and the writers regulate it to just two sentences.


The focus of the series, from this single arc, is largely on the fight scenes. A pity, then, that the prose utilized in the narration doesn’t fully express the sheer impact of the fights. More often than not, it feels like a Wiki article describing the moments (with occasional samplings of dialogue) than a depiction of the fights themselves in prose. One notable example comes from the confrontation with the Butcher, an entity that symbolizes rage. Over the course of two minutes, we have one of our lead characters possessed by the entity, fight the various people in the area, and be calmed down so as to no longer want to kill everyone in the room, friend and foe alike. In terms of prose, that’s roughly a single paragraph for what should be at least four or five (a failing that the satirical A Trekkie’s Tale ruthlessly mocked).


In the arc’s defense, it does get better by the climactic fight. The prose actually feels like that of a short story rather than a Wiki article. However, even there the emphasis on fighting ultimately consumes anything else, leaving the viewer more exhausted listening to the events unfold than anything else. It slowly becomes more and more tedious as the details focus upon the various punches, kicks, and ki blasts used against the baddie. What little character work done is lost to the sheer magnitude of this 30 minute fight scene with only one brief pause.


I’d be lying if I said I watched this in a single sitting. The story felt rather boring, even though it should be a rip roaring adventure story. The choices made feel like the most obvious ones possible. Of course the rage spirit is on the same world as Broly. Of course Batman gets possessed by Parallax, the fear bug that is STRONGER THAN GOD BUT NOT HAL JORDAN. Of course someone dies to inspire Super Saiyan (though the choice of who that is could lead to some interesting stories down the road). It feels like I’ve heard this story before, which is a major failing with a crossover narrative.


In the best of crossovers, the texts being crossed over highlight aspects of the other that wouldn’t be apparent on their own. They bring about the best within each other or work to contrast and critique the other. But most of all, they are stories that could not be told without the other. For all that it builds itself as a merging between these two worlds, not much needs to be done to make this a simple expy of the Saiyans within the DC Universe. There’s nothing inherently about this story that makes it need to be one with Saiyans other than the glee of getting to play with these toys. Though, such pleasures are often permissible within fan productions.


But as with many fan productions, it’s very much an amateur work. You can see the craft growing as the podcast progresses. Some of the actors get slightly better over time while others remain at a passable or mediocre. Fine tune the pacing (maybe restructure it a bit so we can get some character work interspersed with the more action heavy aspects of the plot), work on the descriptions, and for God’s sake, keep the visual component of the series consistent, and you could have something worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Git Good (The King of Fighters: A New Beginning vol. 1)

 A Commission for David Shevlin


The King of Fighters anime
was so much better.
This article was commissioned as part of a Kickstarter campaign for my upcoming book The Tower Through The Trees. This specific article was asking for a 2,000 word look at the manga The King of Fighters: A New Beginning vol. 1 from the perspective of an outsider. However, the problem with such an article is that, to put it bluntly, the manga doesn’t have enough in it to make it possible to write more than 500 words without filler paragraphs such as this.

The main issue with the manga is that it is very much one that is based on the assumption that the reader has already familiarized themselves with The King of Fighters franchise. As such, it doesn’t feel the need to introduce any of its cavalcade of characters beyond broad strokes and archetypes. The rival, the hero, the amoral assholes, Mr. Satan. There’s no sense of progression to the point where everything fits into place. There’s no build up to the fighting the way you would see in most sports manga (of which this could arguably be placed in, if you ignore all the Ka-Me-Ha-Me-Has and Sure-You-Cans). It’s just twenty pages of character names and archetypes, then fight scene. The volume doesn’t even end with the fight resolving, simply putting a “To Be Continued” at the exact moment when the “main event” is supposed to take place.

The art style utilized for the manga is reminiscent of the art style of the video game’s cover art. And while that is admirable in regard to sticking to an aesthetic vision, that vision is a bit… uninteresting. It’s the sort of art style you would expect from someone who had only read 90s shonen manga and nothing else. In terms of American comics, think not of Todd McFarlane or Rob Liefeld, but of their knock offs. A sort of generic version of an aesthetically arresting (if, at times, simplistic) art style that lacks the flare and attitude to get away with the worst excesses.

And therein lies the core issue with this manga: it lacks ambition. It doesn’t see itself as anything more than a mere throwaway comic tie-in to a fighting series that has a very paper thin plot as it is. It’s very much of the sort that thinks what makes a good story is the fight scenes. The sort of mentality that goes “I’m just here for Godzilla, can we fast forward through the human bits.” Now, there is an appeal to wrestling fiction where the plots are often paper thin and the fights are more important than anything else. But with wrestling, there’s at least some measure of set up. It’s a multi-decade story about a group of weirdos, bastards, and heroes fighting not only their opponents, but their image. Imagine watching The Reunion of The Golden Lovers or Childe Cena to the Firefly Fun House Came without the years of buildup, context, and so much more.

The King of Fighters: A New Beginning vol 1, ultimately, expects me to either already care about these characters or roll with the punches and enjoy the fighting. However, the fights are too uninteresting to fully invest in without those years’ worth of character development. I think I’ll watch Dirty Pair instead.

Monday, March 29, 2021

And Once Again, We Return to This (Grendel: Devil Child)

Commissioned by a Kickstarter Backer

Nothing ever ends.
I should begin by noting that I am unfamiliar with Grendel. This is the first Grendel comic I ever read. As such, there may be things I am missing out because of this. For example, throughout the story, there’s reference to a character named Argent who is depicted as a big bad wolf. Now, it’s quite possible that this is a metaphorical representation of the character (someone who should not be trusted, even if they seem friendly), a fabrication on the part of our unreliable narrator, Stacy Palumbo, or a literal, actual Big Bad Wolf. I do not know.

What I do know is that this is a hell of a comic. It’s certainly not for the feint of heart. It deals in various touchy subjects matter including rape, mental illness, suicide, and child murderers. It tells of the life of Stacy Palumbo in the years following her murder of the first Grendel. In these years, she’s confined to a mental hospital where she does not get the help she needs. Her first therapist, a man named Erik, physically and mentally abuses her up until the point where she murders him shortly after he rapes her. It’s not a pleasant sight, to say the least.

Grendel: Devil Child is the story of what happens to people who are treated as mere objects of use. Not in the sense of, say, the horde. But rather as a thing to be flaunted to other people. Not someone to be cared for, raised, treated as a person. Stacy was raised by men who couldn’t tell her basic things like what periods are or what it means to grow up. They just left her alone with other people, never giving her the attention she needed. They didn’t notice she was coming undone until it was far too late.


In many regards, it’s fitting that Stacy is, time and time again, referred to as the Devil’s child. There’s an air of cyclicality to the stories of the Antichrist. The same players of God, the Devil, and those in-between is played out on a different landscape. The most interesting of Antichrist stories tend to be the ones where the child of the Devil attempts to prevent the apocalypse. But here, the apocalypse has already happened. The wolf and the devil are dead, the antichrist locked in a cell, never to be freed.

And when Stacy talks to her daughter, Christine, for the second and final time in her life, she understands that the cycle has come again. There will be another Grendel in the form of Christine. Another war between the Devil and the Wolf (who is shown to be alive and well, witnessing Stacy’s funeral). Another child to be left aside in the name of cruel intentions that care little for them. The circle closes and once more we begin again. There is no escape.

The art by Tim Sale is some of his best work. While not to the degree of his work on Spider-Man Blue or The Long Halloween, each page is nevertheless filled with the melancholy flatness one expects from his work, especially with the help of Teddy Kristiansen’s colors. But it’s Diana Schutz’s script that really takes center stage. She paints for us a picture of isolation, depression, and inevitability that few writers can. It’s an absolutely miserable story to read and one that isn’t going to be for everyone. I’m sure I’d get more out of it if and when I actually read more Grendel than this.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Lessons in Capitalism #41: Storia Americana

“Archaeologists here have to destroy what they collect, because history belongs to whoever tells the story.” 

-Scout Tafoya

Perhaps the most famous Jack Kirby New Gods tale is The Pact. For many people, the story amounts to just the final page or so, wherein it’s revealed that Highfather and Darkseid swapped kids in order to end the war between them. A war that threatened to consume the entire universe and them along with it. But the story is about so much more than just that: It’s about the changing nature of history. Specifically, it’s a parable for what World War II was: the sea change from one understanding of how the world worked to another.

This is perhaps most telling in the role Darkseid plays within the majority of the story. Contrary to how many people play the evil God of Apokolips, Darkseid was not the actual main antagonist of the story. Or, at least, not in the traditional “I AM A BIG DEAL WHO IS GOING TO STOMP ON YOUR FACE.” He’s not even the master of Apokolips. Rather, he acts as a malevolent force acting behind the scenes, working to rise to a position of power greater than that he already held. He is a shadow manipulating players on both sides of a war, be it his uncle Steppenwolf or even Highfather himself, to rise to where we know him to be. In other words, Darkseid is Starscream and this is the story of how he beat Megatron.


Instead, that role belongs to Steppenwolf and Darkseid’s mother, Heggra. In many regards, Steppenwolf and Heggra represent the old way of being. The way that existed before your Darkseids, Orions, and Scott Frees. The monarchs who treated the land as another colony to conquer. They are the brutes who will murder for kicks, because they have a divine right to rule. “I hunt where and what I wish,” says Steppenwolf.


But their time is not long. For as with the world wars, we saw the end of seeing history through the lens of their dynasty. Sure, some of us still fantasize about how great it would be for a new king to rise, while others fetishize the monarchy. But ultimately, such stories are mere pageantry, mere aesthetics rather than reality. By its very definition, the divine right of kings cannot be bestowed by the people. It must be given to those who deserve it. But the question lies in who bestows such a power? This is, in many ways, the question at the heart of this final season of Fargo: If something is defined by what is not, what is absent, who then defines what it is?


Fargo has a rather straightforward answer to this question: the willingness to kill those who are deemed unclean in the eyes of the American God. In East/West, there’s an offhanded nod to the HUAC trials occurring around the same time as the season of Fargo was set. The targets of HUAC where what you’d expect from an extremely conservative organization: Queers, People of Color, Non-Conformists. Whoever its gaze looked upon was deemed Unamerican lest they were willing to give up their fellows and swear loyalty to the United States of America. One nation under God.


You’re American as long as America deems you American.

“Be afraid of stories, be afraid of storytellers. They are only trying to lie to you.”

-Kieron Gillen

The sea change at the heart of The Pact is much like the cruel joke at the end of 1066 and All That: this is the end of History. There have been many scholars to argue such a point within the world. Francis Fukuyama being the most famous of which. At the heart of his claim was the notion that History is best understood through the lens of the rise of Capitalism, a fitting claim to understand the implications of given the show we’re talking about. That, no matter what happens in the future (be it the rise of Hitler 2: Electric Boogaloo, Climate Change, or what have you), the world will remain as it has always been: Neoliberal capitalism all the way down. That you can somehow win the war of ideas as if that’s how the story works.

Many utopian figures have argued that the way to beat an idea is with a better idea. The most recent of which is in Rian Hughes’ XX, where the phrase is stated verbatim. In a story where we must choose between capitalism and monarchism/fascism, capitalism is certainly the better idea. A little bit of freedom is always better than no freedom at all. But what that sentiment misses, crucially, is that a) just because capitalism is the better idea, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea and b) just because capitalism was the idea that ultimately won, doesn’t mean it was the only option.

Often when looking at history, the storyteller will focus on specific elements, structure it in such a way as to make the present seem inevitable. Be they the textbooks that argue that Capitalism was always going to beat communism or John Lewis and Nate Powel’s March, which concludes its tale of Civil Rights with Obama being President. The temptation of the neoliberal view of history as the rise and fall of stock markets, where it was guaranteed to be the winner no matter what, often ends poorly.


For us, we need look no further than the rise of Fascism. Contrary to the implications of Fukuyama, fascism is not antithetical to capitalism. In many regards, fascism has risen to power in societies that declare themselves to be democratic. Berlin before the Nazis was considered the cultural capital of the world, where Socialists, Queers, and Non-Conformists lived side by side. The thugs of Hitler were given power, they didn’t take it from anyone.


In many regards, Darkseid being the child of monarchs is apt for his story. Throughout the New Gods under Kirby, Darkseid is presented as a fascist working within systems to corrupt them from within. This has always been the MO of fascists. Not to simply conquer the world, but to use the systems against us. Fascism was born in this period of time, when the family business of monarchism was deemed to be too chaotic: the iron will of a fascist. When capitalism, and specifically American Capitalism, began to take root.


Of course, it’s just a story. One look at the brain trust that fascism always gravitates towards, and you see a bunch of incompetents who think themselves smarter than they actually are. That isn’t to say that intelligence precludes fascism. Rather, they tend to see nothing wrong with a system that hinges upon always winning, even as it repeatedly fails utterly time and time again, only being kept together by men with guns slaughtering the opposition. When it does fail beyond the scope of strong men, they blame individuals within the system rather than fascism itself. Some will even argue the problem was that they put a jock in charge where a nerd would have done so much better.

But then, there are other ghosts haunting in the halls of History, waiting for the right moment to strike the future. In Fargo’s climactic moment, it shows its understanding of this through the return of Zelmare Roulette. As we have discussed previously in Lessons in Capitalism #35, Zelmare and her lover, the late Swanee Capps, are anarchists. Rejecting the system as it is in favor of a better life where they are free to live and love as they please. Like many alternatives to capitalism, agents within the system actively worked to destroy it before it could be anything more than a pipe dream. The lovers are dead, and the world shines on.


Except, they didn’t quite get them all. Zelmare survived the war, the betrayal, the pale white gaze of the Black Racer, and she got one of the bastards. She’ll go back into the margins, the places where History rarely looks. As an individual, Zelmare can’t take down the system. The story she gets isn’t promised a happy ending. One where we are freed from the chains of capitalism, even as it strangles them as well. They like the chains because everyone else is strangled faster. That’s why Josto Fadda’s pathetic pleas for something better are met with deaf ears: he didn’t care until the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party wanted to eat his face.

“I used to draw comics, before all of this, the ring. Before everything. Y’know comics, right? Panels, pictures, adventure. I don’t—you probably don’t know, but to separate the panels you draw these lines, gutters they’re called. You can kind of make a grid out of them. It’s weird. I’d stare at them , the grids, they looked like something… familiar. Took me a while to see it, I mean. All those hanging crosses. It’s a cage, right? They’re just bars on a cage. The story, the adventure, is locked behind them—separated from us. As if it’s something savage. As if we’re something civilized.”

-Tom King

Fargo closes out its fourth, and potentially final, season with a question: just who is writing the history, this true story, we are being told. 

Is it the Jewish World War II veteran, returning home to find a world broken by cruelty and hatred? Where fascism is always on the prowl waiting for just the right moment to turn humanity into math, into an equation that can it can use to control the populace, exterminate those that it hates. Whose utopian dreams ultimately failed, as the children he sought to enlighten towards a better way of being instead voted for Thatcher and Regan.


Is it the child of another veteran of the War? One whose experiences were not against the Nazis, but the fascism of his own men trying to rape India into submission. Who raised his child with the horrors of the nuclear bomb and failed to get rid of the bases housing such bombs in his back yard. A child who tried to change things from within, but found out far too late that the system is not kind, it doesn’t care for individuals living within it. It only cares about the bottom line. A revelation that came far too late for them to stop them from hurting people.


Is it the Jewish ex-CIA agent who left the agency with a profound sense of guilt for, at the very least, what he was complicit in? Who coped by writing stories about sad, broken men unable to change a machine built only to kill. That doesn’t care what tin pot dictator is in charge of the black sheep of the world as long as they keep things orderly and without interaction with the rest of the world. Stories of an undestroyable system that most would rather exist because it gives them power than create one that could cost them everything. Who skirts on the edge of a leftist breakthrough, but always ends up holding on to a liberal vantage point.


Is it Martin fucking Freeman?


Fargo season 4 doesn’t have the answer. Sure, it frames itself as a history told by a young black girl, but her story, as with all other stories, leaves out details. Details she could never know or guess. History is ultimately a story that is based on what we know. And what we know is changing as time moves on and on. Information is found and lost and found again. Perhaps, as our narrator muses, History is like memory. Things that are forgotten can be remembered. The alternatives tend to have a way of haunting the future.

“We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words. I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.”

-Ursula K Le Guin

Friday, February 19, 2021

Lessons in Capitalism #40: Happy

“There’s a word for people like you.” 

“No. That’s your word. You invented it to make yourself feel bigger. But that’s not what I am.”

There are many crimes that America is guilty of. Slavery, Imperialism, The Nuclear Bomb, Concentration Camps, Genocide, the list just goes on and on, even if you don’t include the comedy examples. But perhaps the quintessential American crime, as Fargo notes, are the con and the serial killer. While important to the events of the season, the serial killer has gone the way of the dodo in terms of the modern crime scene, in favor of the mass murderer. The school shooter who kills indiscriminately without any rhyme or reason. For all that they prosper in the pre internet age, they aren’t as prolific as they once were. Or, at the very least, their story has been deemed too convoluted to survive into the future outside of the realm of fiction.


A con, by contrast, is a rather straightforward crime all things considered and thus more prosperous in the modern day. There’s not as much scheming as a bank heist or a presidential term. It requires a story to be told. Throughout these seasons of Fargo and the subsequent 41 lessons in capitalism, we have seen a great number of cons performed. From Niki Swango’s fake grenade to the botched con of the police to end the war with an L for Kansas City.


But in terms of this season, we must put our gaze towards that of the various factions in this crime war. The obvious con, in terms of this episode, would be that of the titular Happy. As with many con artists, Happy attempts to play both sides of a conflict, acting as if he’ll help one side while secretly helping the other. Now, if you were to ask Happy, he’d probably tell you this wasn’t so much a con as karma. Loy Cannon struck his son and whipped him, and that man needs to pay, regardless of the reason why. The point of the con is to accrue power and stick it to Loy.


Alternatively, we could look at the con that pushed the war to go even further than it needed to. Josto Fadda, in an attempt to kill his brother, tries to con Loy into doing it for him. He spins a yarn about Loy’s son, Satchel, being murdered on Gaetano Fadda’s orders. The con ultimately fails due to Loy realizing he’s being conned. Because men like him have always been conned by the American Dream the way men like Josto never were. Both Josto and Loy’s ancestors may have come from a boat, but only one of them came in chains.

Which brings us to the core con at the heart of this season of Fargo: You too can become an American. The nature of what it means to become something when the definition of the thing is as mutable as can be has been talked about before in Fargo. Actualization, as Season 2 termed it. But the nature of it here is far different. Not merely becoming the person who was always within you, but actually being considered a person by the world around you. That if you just behave the right way, succeed in the right way, then the Americans will accept you as one of them.

But it’s a con. It’s a story being told to keep people from imagining the world as something different than it currently is. A belief that all these things that have happened have happened before and will happen again. The cycles keep on trucking, looping on and on and on, sons killing brothers killing fathers and so on and so forth. Rabbi becomes Josto becomes Satchel becomes Scott Free. The small details may change, but the rudder of the world never does.


What a nice story.


But there’s a bigger con going on, a con that goes back before all these stories have been told, before even the first lesson in capitalism. All the way back in the original motion picture Fargo. The movie is a rather simple story, lacking the television shows leaps in chronology, mysticism, and identity, opting instead to approach the subject of a rather absurd crime straightforwardly.  Not to say it’s a bad movie, there’s a reason it and not Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or Scam got a television series out of it. But it does remain among the top 10 Coen Brothers movies rather than among Miller’s Crossing, O Brother Where Art Thou, Raising Arizona, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Burn After Reading.


But at the heart of the story is a rather absurd crime where all the characters seem to get the fates they deserve. Jerry Lundergaard ends up in jail, Carl Showalter dies, and Marge Gunderson lies in bed with her husband feeling good about her lot in life. And yet… what of the rest of the Lundergaard family. Sure, Wade was a rather shitty man, but that doesn’t mean Jean Lundergaard deserved to have her head shoved into an oven or Scotty deserve to be orphaned. The more you look at the story, the more holes you see in the belief that life is fair.


That is, after all, at the heart of the con: Life is fair. Everyone in Fargo believes that there is some force out there— be it God, Aliens, or the System itself—that makes sure that all the goodies get their reward and all the badies get their punishment. But what determines some criminals more in need of punishment than others. Sure, Odis Weff killed one of the breakout characters of the season (and, also, Dick Wickware), but Wickware was a man unbound by traditional law, willing to threaten a minor if it meant getting his man.


Hell, if we remain bound to traditional law, we must consider Swanee Capps deserving of her fate. After all, it was illegal to be a lesbian for close to 150 years at the time this season of Fargo takes place. Not to mention her various murders, theft, crossdressing, and other such crimes. And yet, her death doesn’t feel just the way other deaths might in Fargo. It feels cruel and awful and completely arbitrary.

And then there’s men like VM Varga. Outside of the scope of the season, but then we do not know who gets away at the end. This is not the final episode. But for Varga, his story is done. He got away with it. To be clear, there is a degree of ambiguity to his fate. A coin toss as to whether or not he goes to prison or fades into the either. But it is in ambiguity that men like Varga, for all their talk of certainty, thrive within.


Consider another American con: Hope. Hope, as a concept, is a rather solid concept. It’s the desire for something to occur. But often within the political landscape (and, indeed, the fictional landscape), that word is used without qualification. Characters will spout lines like “I have hope” or “You just need to hope more” without ever truly saying what, exactly, they hope for. It can be easily turned into a conservative idea rather than a liberal one.


To use comics as an example, noted Ethan Van Sciver collaborator Geoff Johns framed Superman as a figure of hope in his twelve part Maxi-Series, Doomsday Clock. In particular, the end of the narrative reveals that hope fuels reality and Superman is the purest avatar of the hope that reality has. Superman will hopefully defend the values of truth, justice, and the American Way as he punches an army of angry foreigners from killing President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, including one who is explicitly a child refugee. All the while sympathetic characters bemoan that we have all this fighting when there are good people on both sides. Without meaning, without content, hope is just another commodity to be used to pacify the masses, another con.


But like any story, cons don’t last forever. For good and for ill, the con artist can eventually be caught by those they tried to con. Be it a serial killer poisoning the old and ill because she hates them all, the brother out to kill his fellow brother, or the business man trying to expand his empire by any means necessary. All these cons are consumed in the end. No story can ever defeat coming into being without some damage, and the same story told over and over again will be worn out quickly.


And yet, the con can also save a life. Consider the end of the penultimate episode. Here, Ethelrida Smutny proposes a con of her own to Loy Cannon. While the full details aren’t there, the base facts to be used for the con have been given: 1) A woman by the name of Oraetta Mayflower has been murdering sick people and stealing their shit as trophies. 2) Among the dead is a man named Donatello Fadda, leader of the Fadda Family. 3) From Fadda, Oraetta stole a ring, which Ethelrida has given to Loy.


It’s not a story, not quite yet. But the pieces are in place, the players are set. The show is about to end.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Lessons in Capitalism #39: East/West

Note: One of the references in this video would not be made were I to do this now due to the reason this was moved to the main blog.

Image by Ritesh Babu

Texts Sampled:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce

Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher

Minnesota Biblical by Jack Graham

Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads

The Black Archive #43: Arachnids in the UK by Sam Maleski

The Book of the War ed. by Lawrence Miles

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

So What Does It Mean to Be a ‘Friend of Dorothy’ by Terra Necessary

The New Tarot Handbook by Rachel Pollack
Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss

The End of Policing by Alex S Vitale

Mr. Burns by Anne Washburn

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Lessons in Capitalism #38: The Nadir

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

“I know. But it is.”

It is tempting to argue that there is an inevitability to history. That there was no other way these events could have turned out. Not that it was necessarily planed out from the start. As a famous con artist once put it, the plans and schemes of the world all bungle into one another. The world is rudderless. Rather, who we are, as people, forces these events to occur. These were the only choices we could have made with the knowledge we had.


To justify this series existence on a Doctor Who blog, Doctor Who is massively guilty of this. The most notable example is that of fixed points in history. That there are moments where the world must go one way, no matter how hard you try to cheat them. Changing them will break the world, and destroy everything forever. Sure, the moments could be cheated, but they still must happen. Equally, there’s the episode The Doctor Falls, wherein the 12th Incarnation of the Doctor notes that the Cybermen “always get started. They happen everywhere there's people. Mondas, Telos, Earth, Planet 14, Marinus. Like sewage and smartphones and Donald Trump, some things are just inevitable.” Even the Classic period of the show is guilty of this with the character of The Monk, whose evil scheme is to upend history by preventing the Normans from winning the Battle of Hastings and pushing England towards a future of technological prosperity.


These views of history as a frozen document are not solitary in nature. From Star Trek to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Bill and Ted, the act of changing history is frequently seen as being wrong. (The invocation of Bill and Ted is fitting considering The Sofa of Reasonable Comfort gag from The Curse of the Fatal Death is a blatant rip off of the ending of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.) History has been written, published, and finished. That story’s over, best tell a new one.


And yet, Noah Hawley does not take this view of History. It is worth returning to Legion here. It would be prudent to start with the third season, wherein time travel is on the menu. But it’s equally apt to talk about a second season episode. We talked about it before back in Lessons in Masculinity #14, but it’s worth revisiting it through the lens of history. In that episode, David visits alternate versions of his own life where he made different choices. From attempting to live a normal life unmedicated to embracing the Devil on his shoulder to becoming a homeless Akira who murders Alex DeLarge and his Droogs. He considers each of these possible worlds before accepting the one he’s got. He can’t imagine a world where he’s not miserable. Even the happiest of all possible worlds ends with him dying on the streets, alone in the world.


But to truly get to the heart of it we must discuss one of the most striking moments from its third season: David’s conversation with his mother. David’s focus throughout the season has been to force the universe into giving him a happy ending. One where Amahl Farouk never entered his brain, his father never abandoned him, and he was loved. He pleads with his fatalistic mother to change things. To never let her husband leave her to go overseas, never let the Devil in, never leave him. She retorts, sitting in a cell in a camp called Auschwitz, that if he has Time Travel, why not change this. He stutters at the very notion before rejecting it. Not because such actions would break time (though the Time Demons are making that argument very clearly [for more on them, see Lessons in Masculinity]). Rather, it’s because David is an egotistical little shit who doesn’t care how many people he has to destroy, torture, or kill in order to get what he wants.


To say David is alone in this egocentric approach to history would be an understatement. The largest historical event of my lifetime, that of the election of Donald Trump, was predicated upon a bunch of egotistical, narcissistic bastards deciding that nothing was more important than their egomania. Who cares how many people die of a plague, as long as we have the power to strangle democracy to death. Because if we do not do this, then some Other group will have the power. And they will do to us what we do to them.


This is the motivation that Odis Weff gives to Dick Wickware in order to be allowed to join the raid on the Kansas City Train Station to capture (“or” kill) fan favorite characters Zelmare Roulette and Swanee Capps: He wanted power to prevent the fear he has. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant to the point of the con: Dick buys it. It’s a reasonable enough motivation to become a cop to want power over people. Why else would someone take a job that’s about keeping things the way they are.


Except, Odis ultimately kills Dick and Swanee, breaking the status quo of two down on their luck criminals running across America as the cop chases after them, always missing them at the last moment. A large portion of the police force was slaughtered in that raid, along with a number of citizens. The thing about history is that it’s a true story. That is to say it’s a story. And like all stories, it will prioritize some events over others. Some characters over others. Even a history set within the margins is still going to leave people out. The full scope of life can never truly be captured.


The point of history, then, is to tell a sliver of life. The story of how certain events came to be. Sometimes, like the Assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, there are odd thematic coincidences that make the telling more compelling. Others, things just happen, what the hell. But most importantly, history is a story. All stories seem like there was nothing the characters could do to prevent what was to occur. There was nothing Ethelrida could have done to prevent Oraetta from finding her journal in her closet. Nothing Loy could have done to save Doctor Senator. Nothing Josto could have done to prevent the unspeakable from happening to him as a child.


These events are over, pulped and published into a book. Fitting then that the last episode of Doctor Who that mentions fixed moments is The Angels Take Manhattan. On the surface, the characters are trapped in a city by an alien race called The Weeping Angels. In reality, they are trapped in a book called The Angel’s Kiss. Their actions preordained by the story to lead to a tragic end. This awareness leads to cruelty, because if it’s just a story, why bother to be kind? Other people relevant to Fargo’s interests have far lesser motivations for cruelty.


And yet, we can subvert the narratives we are trapped in. Consider the opening confrontation between the Fadda brothers. When Loy Cannon released Gaetano from capture, he assumed the younger brother would kill the elder. What else would he do? Instead, being a bit of a fascist, Gaetano respects the guile and strength Josto showed and (after roughing him up a bit) pledges his loyalty to his brother. We are not characters trapped in a story. We can change who we are at a moment’s notice. We don’t have to live the same cyclical stories again and again. 


History is just the story we are told about what life is. But life is not a story. There is no ending save for the point where we leave off. We don’t have to be trapped in someone else’s idea of who we are, who we were, who we can be. We can be better than we were yesterday.

“The optimist believes we live in the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist fears this is true. This is your best possible world, Will. Not getting a better one.”