Andy’s Current Favorites: May 2020

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Andy

Hey Gang! Andy Larson here, back with another set of quick hits on a variety of pop culture related bricabrac that I don’t have enough to write an entire article on, but I think is worth talking about among the GotS faithful.

In some sad news that came out of the COVID enforced isolation last month, in my quest to drink all the available beer I had in the house to stave of cabin fever madness, I finally finished off my last bottle of the Ommegang “Game of Thrones” special brew: Take the Black Stout.

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Originally released back in 2013 as part of a series of GoT inspired brews that this New York state based microbrewery put on, I picked up a case of this particular one and have been slowly wheeling it out a bottle at a time for special occasions.  A delicious stout with hints of licorice, unsweetened chocolate, and strangely enough tasty boot leather, Jon Snow would be certainly proud of this lighter bodied brew. Send the ravens proud.

It’s actually sad though that I didn’t know about this brewery a couple years ago when my brother, Ethan, and I were up visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame given that it’s also located close to Cooperstown, NY. We could have taken a brewery tour there in the afternoon and drank our faces off (although that wouldn’t have been that fun of a 6 hour drive home though).

Oh well, there’s always the possibility of a return trip to Cooperstown at some point, but seeing that we’d have our kids in tow, getting plastered still wouldn’t be in the cards. A definite depressing thought, as nothing better than going to a brewery tour and drinking a ton of free brewskis. I mean let’s face it one tour is the same as the others. Brew Kettles, blah blah, free beer, that’s the stuff!

Anyways, let’s move on with some other stuff that’s been on my mind recently…

 

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Current Book I’m Reading:

Dejah Thoris and the Green Men of Mars Vol. 1

 

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As anyone that listens to the podcast regularly might know, I’m a huge fan of Flash Gordon. There’s something about that unique mix of swords and sci-fi, barbarism and futurism, swashbuckling high adventure set in a world that’s more magical that high tech yet still manages to evoke a feeling of alien wonder.

As a result, I’m also somewhat of a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels that I feel are the precursor to Flash Gordon. Barsoom, Princess of Mars series, John Carter, call it what you want, but its the collected mythology of a former Confederate officer who took a strange trip to a mythical Mars and became their champion. Through his superhuman strength, he unites the red skinned men of Mars’ principle city state of Helium and the four armed green skinned Martians known as Tharks, and wins the heart of the beautiful Dejah Thoris.

Of course in addition to the novels and the ill fated Disney movie adaptation, there have been a slew of John Carter comics released over the years, including several different series put out by Dynamite Comics. Although I haven’t read all of them, I do find myself from time to time picking up a trade here or there if it happens to catch my eye.

Such was the case with Dejah Thoris and the Green Men of Mars, a book I happened to start reading recently when pursuing some of the books available through my ComiXology unlimited subscription. Written by Mark Rahner, the premise of the book was in fact pretty poignant I felt especially in this day and age. Set several years after John Carter allegedly united the races of Mars under a single banner, it’s a pretty vicious reminder that racism is not something that dies just because some leader says it does.

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Those roots run deep and on a planet as brutal as the barbaric Mars of John Carter, that means that some Tharks who don’t believe in the alliance between their people are kidnapping citizens of Helium to basically slaughter them  for their meat, which has long been considered a delicacy among their race.  One of those happens to be Dejah, who after being captured must escape from the Tharks charnel house, a harrowing ordeal which reawakens her own racial hatred of the Tharks thus threatening to undo the peace John Carter fought so hard to achieve.

Overall, I gotta say the book is a pretty well written piece of science fiction with strong allegorical undertones. In fact, I thought about writing an entire read pile on this book, that is until I had to start talking about the art.

Wow…that art.

Not that it’s bad from a technical standpoint, mind you. It’s just damn near pornographic at times, and not really in a sexy way, but more of a disturbing way. I mean, I fully know what I’m getting when I read a John Carter comic.  The original novels were dripping with sexuality, near naked men and women running around on nearly ever single page. So it’s not as if I’m a prude here expecting anything else than at least some T&A at times throughout the story. I’ll fully admit, its part of the appeal of reading these comics at times.

However, this is somewhere way over that line. The art in my opinion boarders on some sort of dungeon/rape porn, with women being specifically depicted  throughout at the least the first couple issues in often demeaning and overtly abusive scenes. I mean here’s an example from just the first couple pages of the first issue to illustrate what I mean.

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I mean, really? I know that it’s supposed to be vicious and visceral given the society they live in,  but in my opinion this was like two small steps away from being one of those tentacle forced sex scenes what with the slobbering inhuman Thark standing between a bound topless Dejah as she clenches her teeth in pain.

No, thank you, sir, no thank you. This just makes me feel icky…

And I think that’s why I wanted to take today’s blog to highlight this book. Again, from a story perspective, this was actually a pretty decent John Carter tale, and I think that’s important given the shellacking the character took again in the wake of that Disney movie. But wow,  the art of this book did not do the story any favors! It was a cruel and unnecessary to the point that it was difficult to look at times without feeling dirty.

And that’s sad because I was hoping for more. I guess the only silver lining is that it was John Carter book not Flash Gordon book, so at least this didn’t sully the reputation of my real hero.

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Current Favorite Video Game:

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium

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One of the best things to come out of recently getting the Sega Genesis game collection on the Switch is the fact that I got portable copies of 3 of the best JRPGs ever in the Genesis releases of the Phantasy Star series. I’ve been a long time fan of this series as it was probably the first video game RPG I was ever introduced to way back  when my older brother, Dave, received the original game for our Sega Master System back in 1989. This meant that it pre dated even the original Final Fantasy game on the NES, and as such, really made an deep impression on my young mind.

Of course, the original Phantasy Star game is insanely hard, requiring you to draw maps of the dungeons by hand in order to navigate them successfully, and so it was a welcome improvement that the Genesis games did away with that aspect. In fact, I can say that I feel like the Phantasy Star games just got better and better with each release, continuing to build on a pretty solid internal game mythology surrounding the alien planetary system of Algol and their millennium long war against a shadowy entity known as the Dark Force. It’s development too of the merger of futuristic technological aspects and arcane magic was also impressive and somewhat way before it’s time for video game RPGs, as most previously were just more traditional swords and sorcery affairs.

I consider the peak of this series to also be the final game in it, as The End of the Millennium really does have the most polished and sophisticated game play of the entire series. Complete with anime style cut-scenes, a robust story-line that attempts to incorporate the totality of the previous games and their individual narratives, it really is a perfect capstone for any fan that appreciated the groundbreaking style and gameplay that this series had to offer.

It’s also the only one from this series that has kept me up at night with thoughts that I never beat it originally. For a game of this much polish and solid RPG goodness, I feel like it definitely deserved a second look during some of my free time during the isolation. Plus, it’s sincerely so well made that at nearly 30 years old, it’s still better than a number of “retro” inspired newer RPGs you can pick up for 10 or 20 bucks nowadays. And, you get this game as a part of collection with other great Sega Genesis games like Golden Axe, Sonic, and Altered Beast, so it’s well worth the price.

If you haven’t given this game a chance, and you like those classic top down style RPGs, you owe to it yourself to pick up that Sega Collection today. Plus, you get it’s two predecessors in Phantasy Star II and III as a bonus!

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Current Favorite TV Show:

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

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One of the most unexpected wonderful things that came out of the COVID outbreak was the fact that my entire little family has reconnected with the Star Wars series in a way that makes an old fan like me super excited. As mentioned a week ago during my “May the 4th Be With You” post, we have been watching the series in chronological order starting with “The Phantom Menace” to give my kids a better appreciation for the entire story line, and all the players. Although it’s not my preferred method, it has been better for them as often times, kids’ minds can more easily digest things in a more linear manner.

As such, after watching “Attack of the Clones”, that mean that we started into watching the entire Clone Wars animated TV show, all 120+ episodes of the series that just wrapped up it’s final season and therefore final episode just last week.  I had previously watched many of the episodes especially among the fourth season where they reintroduced Darth Maul on-wards, but I have to admit I had not watched all of them, instead finding myself cherry picking the ones with which I had the most interest.

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But now that I’ve been watching the totality of the program, I can appreciate how much love and expert care this series had in taking utterly flawed prequel concepts, like the cringe worthy courtship of Anakin and Padme, the militaristic bent of the Jedi leading an army, and even Jar Jar Binks, and turning them into a half hour TV show that really does evoke the same strong satisfaction of a story well told that the original trilogy does.

Plus, now viewing through my kids eyes who haven’t seen Revenge of the Sith yet, they are really getting a much more in-depth set up to the events in that movie. Some of their favorite characters from the show right now include both Obi Wan Kenobi and General Grevious so when they finally fight in that weird lizard bareback riding duel in Episode III, that will actually be a fight that matters, given the decent build up that Grevious gets through out this series. That’s completely the opposite to my feelings when I first saw it in the theaters myself and said “Who the hell is this robot guy and why should I care?!?”.

More importantly, their absolute favorite character is Anakin at the moment, and rightfully so. He is the hero of the Clone Wars, with all his bravo and heroic derring-do. And unlike Episodes II & III, he actually just gets to be a nice guy in this show, as he gets to show genuine love for Padme and genuine camaraderie with both Obi Wan and his padawan, Ahsoka.

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I think that makes him a much more rounded character so that when he does fall to the Dark Side, I think I can have some real teaching moments with my kids about how easy it can be for good people to start doing bad things. And they will understand that so much more because they have seen that Anakin is a good person deep down, but he makes bad choices, especially with who he chooses as his friends in the end (aka the Emperor). Really good “Dad” stuff to talk about.

Anyways, if you were hoping I was going to provide a review of the final season of the Clone Wars, you are going to have to wait a bit. After tearing through the first couple episodes with “The Bad Batch”, now I have to wait to finish watching all the rest of the final season until we actually catch up to that point. Given we are currently in the midst of season 4, that will probably be some time in mid June…

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