San Diego Comic-Con wreaked havoc on our calves and wallets exactly one month ago, and New York Comic Con promises a similar outcome in roughly a month and a half; fortunately, Small Press Expo will offer a refreshing indie oasis in-between and Cartoon Crossroads Columbus marks an intimate close to the year in mid-October. But did the swelling thermometers from the hottest summer in history match the heat generated from multimillion-dollar booth displays and publicists running on caffeine and calendar alerts? Here are our final thoughts from San Diego and the summer convention season on the best comics, games and shows we saw and what we can’t wait to see more of come cooler months.
At San Diego, Jim Lee admitted that Image Comics had planted an imposing flag in the creator-owned corner of the comics industry, a space once dominated by DC’s own mature readers label, Vertigo. If there’s any man who can alter that dynamic, it may be former DC intern and emo icon Gerard Way, whose previous scripts for Dark Horse comics The Umbrella Academy and The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys are possibly the only decent, let alone great, work to come from a mainstream musician who thought they could write superior sequential art. Way channels the surrealism of postmodern comics godfather Grant Morrison with a willful agenda to surprise. And he let everyone know as much.
In his pop-up imprint, Way will pen new issues of Morrison hallmark Doom Patrol with artist Nick Derington. The debut issue, out September 14, takes homage from Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground/Nico cover art, substituting a banana for a gyro. (The tin foil mechanism apparently peels back to reveal a surprise beyond low-grade lamb meat.) The rest of the line will reinterpret other late ‘80s/early ‘90s game changers. Paste chatted with Shade the Changing Girl author Cecil Castellucci, herself a multimedia darling who’s made some damn fine punk albums as well as written some sterling YA novels. She was reticent to relay specifics, but her update of Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo’s mind-melt epiphany will dance with themes of gender identification, music, adolescence and madness, illustrated by Marley Zarcone. The imprint will also release new titles Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye by Way, Jon Rivera and Michael Avon Oeming and Mother Panic by Way, Jody Houser and Tommy Lee Edwards.
Between Castellucci and Way’s accounts, the imprint promises relevance and experimentation in a way that comics have lacked since their original Vertigo incarnations were published. If DC can nail its upcoming reintroduction to the Wildstorm Universe, it could continue to hold off Marvel on a monthly basis.
Starz splatterfest Ash Vs. The Evil Dead is more like a visual family tree than a show. In 1980, Producer Robert Tapert and former Michigan State University roommate Sam Raimi camped out in the local woods to film a scrappy, DIY celebration of plasma, pandemonium and Kandarian demons called The Evil Dead. They went on to make two sequels and an ascendant horror institution. Tapert would later create and produce a swords-and-sandals cable gem called Xena: Warrior Princess in 1995; the show lasted six seasons, which Raimi also produced. Tapert would marry Xena’s star, Lucy Lawless, three years after casting her in the titular role. Last October, all of these creators united once on one show—including Evil Dead staple Bruce Campbell—to summon ancient evil from a skin-bound book and tour the major conventions. And it’s been an insidiously good time. Appropriately, the second season (debuting Oct. 2) introduces the character of Ash’s father, played by original Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors.
Ash Vs. The Evil Dead is proof that the Golden Age of television will continue to cultivate a genre foundation, flourishing past Game of Thrones’s benchmark to attract legacy actors, directors and producers with a full grasp of screens big and small. And superheroes be damned: Starz is also prepping Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, ran by narrative god Bryan Fuller (Hannibal), while HBO is spurring Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi, dystopian novel Westworld for an October 2 release. Even if the major studios are pulling out of San Diego and New York, cable and premium outlets are instilling just as much excitement from filmmakers with just as much talent.
Oculus Rift launched its assault on early adopters last spring, but we’re going to count on PlayStation VR, out this October, to be the great equalizer (or at least $200 cheaper). Many an industry icon has lamented the lack of innovation in today’s next-gen landscape. And they’ve been absolutely right—until now—because damn does donning a VR headset feel like opening a third eye.
San Diego and E3 offered a descent into the madness of the Resident Evil: Biohazard VR demo, an infinitely weirder and more impressive stroll through hell than the franchise’s last few entries, though I don’t know if “enjoyable” is the right word. Occupying the same dilapidated farmhouse as the Beginning Hour demo, this experience introduces 360 degrees of interior-decorator anathema. I couldn’t get over looking at a ceiling with this much detail in a videogame—this rendered clusterfuck of swiss-cheese drywall and exposed, splintered wooden studs. The immersion escalated to a physiological degree, small nooks and crannies neglected in first-person cameras that take the player one step further into pseudo-realism.
But the most unexpected facet of the demo? Its revulsion utilized more than blades and blood, with some bizarre erotic subtext. Wandering around urban ruins may warrant a Silent Hill comparison, but this demo also hints at a shared admiration of psycho-sexual trauma.
The narrative, clocking in at around seven minutes, plants a female ghoul around your chair-bound, submissive avatar, right after the monstress penetrates a buddy who attempts to free you. She slinks around your frame, whispering bizarre, hissing utterances into your ear. That’s the entire, brief and legitimately terrifying time, albeit with a slight end twist we won’t spoil.
On one hand, this is a functional decision by the developers as it requires less toil from the hardware. Instead of interacting with the environment—moving, playing, requiring the emerging tech to keep up with an onslaught of inputs—this scenario only requires the audience to observe. But this bent plays into new territory for the property, choreographing an intimacy gone hellishly wrong—in a small, wrecked kitchen, a creature violates your personal space while you’re helpless to respond. The tone is more subtle than obvious, but hard to ignore once realized. Does this hint at an emotion-prodding game that transcends giant spiders/snakes/guys-with-metal-trash-cans-on-their-backs? Should it? Is this a conscious subversion of the horror genre, reversing the trend of brutes stalking helpless women?
We don’t know, but Capcom may be taking as many risks with its themes as it is with the tech. I advised the publicists that they’re going to have pay for a lot of kids’ therapy. They laughed and seemed legitimately happy with the statement. Also very cool: this promo t-shirt (notice a lack of tacky logos) that resembles Converge’s Jane Doe cover art.
On a much less neurotic note, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is fun. Really, really fun. Make no mistake, your children, nieces and nephews will day-dream about this game during school, sprinting home at 2:45 to boot up Link’s latest Joseph Campbell journey against a giant pig sorcerer. I’m not Games Editor Garrett, so apologies if I fumble any deeper technical insight, but my general impression is that the world of Zelda has gained a finesse and attention previously unexplored.
If anything, the new focus reminded me of Dark Souls and Don’t Starve, expanded through a lens of sunshine and turn-of-the-20th-century Euro imagination. It’s an exercise in engagement: leaves blows in the wind, the grass (always the grass in Zelda games) swoons against your legs, fire grasps and flexes. Boulders can be rolled onto enemies, trees can be chopped for wood. The developers use the term open air (or en Plein air), and that aesthetic approach creates a world that can be climbed onto, swam in and paraglided through. Diffuse and mellow, the colors aren’t saturated into day-glo retina assaults, but resemble late 19th-century florals. Nintendo has instilled a deep, chill vibe, one that lends itself to exploring every inch of this world , which happens to be twelve times larger than Twilight Princess.
As for the Don’t Starve mention, Link has to forage for food to maintain an energy meter, which is also dictated by his clothing/warmth. Adventuring in a near-birthday suit won’t result in much action when the meter’s range is brief and easy to wear out. That same interactivity extends to weapons, which break often and are susceptible to the same intricate dynamic of this world. For example: in the hour I spent with the game, the gentleman next to me caught his bow on fire. (The Nintendo PR team had no clue that could even happen and everyone in the room laughed for a solid two minutes.) The player can use the elements in other ways: cook an apple or make a stew from pre-existing ingredients. It’s never daunting, but it’s a new take that makes the world not just eye candy, but its own glorious character. All hail the new Hyrule.
Sometimes, the huge panels and the private demos aren’t the most memorable events from a con.
Brittney Lee’s booth attracted me with a paper cut-out illustration of Daenerys from Game of Thrones, dragons swirling around her smiling frame, a backdrop of brushstroked magenta making the piece stand out like a neon bonfire. The portrait reminded me of the paper masterpieces of a former boss—Swiss designer Steff Geissbuhler, who did some astounding work with a pair of scissors and some construction paper. I expressed my wonder to Lee, riffing on how creating with one’s hands required more grace and skill than the CMD/Z, pixel-arranging game in Adobe software. She laughed and said that paper was pliable and forgiving.
Of course she did: she’s an Art Director at Walt Disney Animation Studios and a goddess of form, color and imagination. Whatever.
Her wares overflowed with striking aquas, pinks and yellows—an oasis designed to hold your eyeballs and wallet hostage. The featured characters ran from gamut from Ariel to Elsa (Lee worked on Frozen) to original characters. One set featured the female personifications of the alcohol “food groups,” showcasing the cultures of their drink’s founding nations. I bought Absinthe because just look at it. Walking away from Lee’s booth, I swear I could hear the pan flute that ended the intro animation of every ‘90s Disney movie. The encounter was a potent reminder to leave an hour or three open to wander the floor and artist alley; your favorite experience may be the one you didn’t plan for.
Lee’s next feature is 2018’s Gigantic.