Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #3.1: Eyes, Mascara, A/V

It's 2015! The world is still awful! Tim and I are still writing three essays apiece on The Wicked + The Divine every 90 days. Here's the first set, with the usual mix of puns, chin-stroking, and pushing the blog format to its limits. Nothing has changed. Everything is awesome.

The Eyes Have It

In Phonogram, Gillen and McKelvie's first series together, the eyes of each Phonomancer transform when they work their magic, in a way that reflects their personality or what they're summoning. When Penny manipulates others in issue #1 of The Singles Club, for example, her eyes are a sparkling black star-field; when she dances for herself, they light up purest white.

In Gillen's alternate history WWII comic Uber, the super-powered panzermensch shoot glowing orbs of disembowelling energy from their eyes (which, interestingly, are also their exhaust-port-on-the-Death-Star weak spot).

Once again, this motif returns in The Wicked + The Divine. From our very first glimpse of the Pantheon, at Amaterasu's gig in #1, the focus is on her solar-eclipse eyes, framed in a widescreen panel. It's something we see again at the end of the arc, when the Pantheon briefly flip from modern pop stars into ancient warring gods. Luci's sharp blue eyes flip to infernal red as she burns everything around her. When Baal lays the smackdown upon her, lightning leaks from his eyes in a way that is particularly reminiscent of Uber.

Like one of those ridiculous Super-Saiyan hairdos, these effects only switch on when the gods are being godly – when they are performing or fighting or, possibly, just being iconic. Each chat's particular eye effect is showcased on their cover, which presents them in a style halfway between a modern promo poster and a Renaissance religious painting.
WicDiv eyes
The eyes are the centre point of each cover's design, placed in the negative space of the title, with a big old '+' placed dead between the eyes. Most of the character designs similarly point to the eyes – Amaterasu's colourful sunrise eye make-up, ​Tara's block of blue facepaint – or, like Baphomet's mirrored aviators and Minera's Lennon shades, obscure them.

(A quick pause here to note that Woden is the only member of the Pantheon whose eyes are fully hidden, and he's also the only one without his own powers.)

Like the Phonomancers, the designs of each god's eyes and the surrounding area tell us a little about their personality – the Morrigan's eyes remain a dilated pale green in each of her aspects, but her eye make-up switches from the neutral dash of Macha to the sharp angry wedges of Badb to the chaotic asymmetry of Annie. Or they refer back to their mythic origins – Amaterasu's eyes reminding us that she is a sun goddess, or the flat dashes of Baal's pupils recalling those of a goat, one of his common avatars. Or they tell us about the nature of their powers – the star tattooed over Inanna's left eye, and the big white-on-black pupils of his eyes, reflect his constellation-divining abilities.
Dionysus I Don't Get No Sleep

Or, actually, they tend to do all three at once. Look at the star of the most recent issue, Dionysus. His pupils are a dilated until they fill his entire eyes, like someone who has licked a psychoactive toad (at least, based on what The Simpsons has taught me ). All the dancers on his 'floor have the same effect, showing how they're linked together in a single grooving hive mind.

When the comic slips into hallucinatory colours, all of the black ink seems to been absorbed into Dionysus' eyes. It makes sense – he's taking on everyone's burdens so they can have one night's happiness – and it sets up the kicker at the end of the issue, where the curtain pulls back and we see his nightmarishly bloodshot eyes. It's a quick, powerful way of expressing how much of a burden being a god is.

But most of all these eye effects just look incredibly cool. That may be the only explanation you need, but that wouldn't be very us, so instead I'm going to ask: Isn't it a bit strange that characters whose divinity is tied to music have that manifest through their eyes rather than, say, their mouths?

More on that later.

A Guest Post from the Tim of Another Universe
Baphomet Gig Report

Sound + Vision

Music creates a world from sounds,” said Jamie McKelvie in a recent Wondering Sound interview. “Comics create a world from everything but sound, from the absence of sound. We’ve spent our careers trying to do something incredibly difficult and perhaps impossible, trying to translate music into comics.”

That's undeniably true but, given its cast of deified pop stars, The Wicked + The Divine has so far not shown much interest in directly capturing the feel of music on the comics page.

There's a reason for this: being at a Pantheon gig doesn't seem to be the same as listening to music. During the Amaterasu performance which opens the book, Laura tells us “I don't understand a word she's saying. Nobody does.”

By comparison, when we see The Morrigan doing karaoke in #7, the emphasis is very much on the sound: “like meat being peeled from bone”, as Laura puts it. Badb screams the lyrics of a My Chemical Romance song straight at us in bold, scratchy letters.

Issue #8 is where this potentially all falls down. The entire comic moves to an explicit four-on-the-floor beat, and is the most accurate representation of an alive dancefloor I've encountered in any media since The Singles Club.

But what the issue's experimental presentation really takes from rave is the trappings – fluorescent colours, strobing lights, smiley faces, psychoactive drugs. The imagery, not the sound, which is underlined when non-believer Cass shouts at the packed dancefloor: “There's no music! I repeat! No music! What are you all fucking dancing to?!”

Sound + Vision Flip

Or, as Gillen said in an interview with Multiversity Comics: “They’re not even songs. It looks like music to us. It’s an art form all our art evolved from so when they do it you can’t record it.”

There's almost no sound for Team WicDiv to try and capture, and so they play with the other stuff. When we compare Inanna to Prince or Baal to Kanye or whoever, we're not talking about their sound, but their style, on posters and album covers and in music videos. The way they communicate through, and are presented, in the media.

Similarly, Laura's experiences are probably familiar to members of any fandom. Bending the way you dress; finding friends who share your obsessions; idly fantasising about what your favourite would be like as a person; maybe even reshaping the way you think about yourself. These are just as valid and integral a part of being a music fan as the experience of actually listening to the songs but, while they're particularly applicable to pop music, they're certainly not unique to it.

I'm not arguing that this is an abandonment of Gillen & McKelvie's familiar theme, but a broadening.

As Gillen points out, what The Wicked + The Divine's gods do isn't necessarily music specifically but art. You could substitute any art form into The Wicked + The Divine – videogames, ballet, the work of Zinedine Zidane, comic books, whatever – and its portrayal of fandom would still ring true.


Next time on Tim + Alex Get TWATD: Partying like it's 1999, assorted japes.

You can find Tim's blog at, where his piece on the semiotics of 
TW+TD's finger snaps first gave us the idea for this whole thing, on Twitter @trivia_lad, and even, if you think you can handle the sexiness, on Tumblr.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Super Stickman Golf 2

Super Stickman (4) There's something strangely utilitarian about the experience of playing a mobile game. Unable to compete with the experiences offered by a PC or games console, each has to fill a specific gap in your life. Maybe it's bus journeys or toilet trips or hidden under the table on a really bad date, but I reckon the actual game's quality is a secondary concern to how snugly it fits into the chosen scenario.

And it's here that Super Stickman Golf 2 runs into trouble.

On one hand, SSG2 is a gleeful adaptation of the good-walk-spoiling sport that suggests how a Nintendo mobile game might feel, if the Big N were ever to change its mind on that issue. The game flattens golf into a simple 2D game of aiming and charging up your shot, then adds power-ups and fantastical courses. The result bear as much resemblance to Super Mario Bros 3 as it does Tiger Woods 11.
Super Stickman (2)
Mixed in among the usual sand traps and water hazards are sticky goo surfaces, swinging platforms and hard-to-hit shortcuts. Navigating these holes is made easier by the addition of a bag of seven power-ups. These include a rewind power that lets you take the last shot again and a whole load of balls: water-freezing ice balls, pink goo balls that cling to walls and ceilings, magnetised balls that I still don't really understand how they work.

These additions enliven golf, the mildly diverting activity I've dabbled in a couple of times in real life, and turn it into something more colourful, satisfying and overtly game-y. It's a fairground-mirror adaptation of golf that gives me a little more appreciation for the sport itself, just as Wii Sports and Wonderputt have in the past. So, in one way, SSG2 is a contender for the title of best mobile game I've ever played.

But it has one fatal flaw: You have to hold the phone sideways.Super Stickman (5)
That might not sound like a big deal, but SSG2 fits a very particular niche. It's not a toilet game, it's not a coffee break game. It's a black hole that consumes your time and attention – in other words, a perfect public transport commuter game. And if you have ever origami'd yourself onto the Northern Line at rush hour, you'll know that the amount of space your elbows will need to control a game with both thumbs is just not going to happen.

I realise it's my very specific set of circumstances that are causing this problem. And I know the game has to be that way – golf isn't a particularly horizontal game, as I understand it. It's not even a crippling enough flaw to stop me playing SSG2 even in the face of dropping my phone, as has now happened on not one but two crowded tubes.

But, for better or worse, this is the strange relationship we have with mobile games. They have to fit like Tetris pieces into our lives, or they're just no good. I'm looking for a neat L block, and SSG2 is one of those long thin bastard red ones.
Super Stickman (1)

Monday, 16 February 2015

Four Superhero Comics That Deserve Their Own Games

I've been troubled for years by the vision of a game where you control an evil Superman flying through the skies and terrorising civilians with his laser eye-beams. Such is the dreadful burden of creative genius.

Earlier this month, I finally found an outlet for this weird little brain-loop by writing a piece for MyGeekBox on superhero comics that deserve their own videogame adaptations.

You can read the piece, and the rest of the magazine, here – or by subscribing to MyGeekBox. (If the page-turner isn't to your liking, there's a download PDF option at the link.)

For your trouble, you get four red-hot ideas, as well as a handful of throwaway gag ideas, including She-Hulk: Ace Attorney, which Tim allowed me to steal from his brain. My only regret is that I couldn't find space for his equally excellent Dick Grayson dating simulator, which I would have entitled Getting Down with Dick, or possibly Cradle Robin.

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.