Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Fine Cinema of Mad Max: Fury Road

The Australian Outback after a nuclear and biological disaster is dominated by three city-states, each of which controls one vital resource- food, fuel, or ammunition.  As part of a periodic exchange of goods one of these city-states, the Citadel, manages a heavily guarded merchant caravan that connects the three city-states.  Despite being the best source of water (via a well-pressured underground spring) and food, the Citadel struggles with radiation and birth defects among its population.  The leader of the Citadel manages the social tensions generated by these birth defects in three ways.  First, by enslaving healthy men and using them as living blood banks. Second, by enslaving healthy women to act as brood mothers in hopes of birthing a generation of fit children.  Finally, by creating a Norse-inspired cult that reveres death in combat before succumbing to radiation-linked diseases.

Enter the film’s main conflict- the Citadel’s best warrior and caravan leader is a woman kidnapped from a distant matriarchal city-state as a child, who wants to free the brood mother sex slaves and with them return to her homeland across the desert.  As an experienced caravan leader she is familiar with terrain, the unusual weather hazards, and has made deals with the scattered bandits and tribes along the way for protection.  When the caravan leader makes her break for her homeland we see start to see the importance of healthy potential mothers to the new society and the strong connections between the city-states as all three bring their warriors together to recapture and re-enslave the brood mothers.  This sets up the film’s ominous question: what is more important, the continuation of a stable society, or the personal freedom of individuals?  In the finest tradition of the Western films, a lone silent gunslinger enters the plot to challenge the assumptions of the main characters and drive them to greater levels of personal understanding and introspection.

That’s Mad Max: Fury Road in a nutshell.  Or, it’s a two hour car chase with almost no dialogue.

Honestly, it’s both.  There is a rich story going on in Mad Max: Fury Road, and it’s right there for any viewer to note.  But you can also completely ignore that story and go right for the constant rev of engines and beautifully choreographed mayhem (Cirque du Solei did some of the stunts in the big fights).  If director George Miller did a film of nothing but two hours of motorcyclists in the Namib desert I would pay to see that, but have them jumping over trucks on fire?  Awesome.

My favorite part of Mad Max: Fury Road came about 2/3 of the way through, in a brief pause in the action, as Max Rockatansky himself spoke his first full line of dialogue: “Hope is a mistake.  If you don’t fix what’s broke, you’ll go insane”.

This film is brilliant.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Sixth Gun Coming to Savage Worlds

The Sixth Gun is a weird western comic book that for some weird western reason I never seem to read, besides the few trades I picked up at a Borders going out of business sale.  It is still coming out monthly, and now is part of a Kickstarter campaign to create a Deadlands compatible game with the Savage Worlds rules.  Check it out,

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Manifest Destiny- Lewis & Clark & Monsters

Every friendship needs a Lewis and a Clark.  This was the conclusion of one of my closest friend, President Thomas Jefferson, as we gathered to ruminate on life one day.  One to be a starry-eyed dreamer, one to confront reality.  We conducted this conversation as His Excellency and I switched roles in our friendship, where my Meriwether Lewis years of being a student of history and philosophy were being overtaken by a life of Clark-style tearing up the corporate ladder, interspersed with adventures on mountains and in deserts.  In honor of this notion of our friendship His Excellency, who has settled into the role of Lewis to my Clark, gave me the graphic novel Manifest Destiny, the true story of why Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis & Clark to the West.

President Jefferson implores you to go West

Vampires.  Monsters.  Buffalo minotaurs.  Crazy plant creatures that turn you into walking moss.  Yes, the French conned us back is in 1802, because the Louisiana Purchase was just one vast Dungeons & Dragons adventure.

In the kind of story that works best in comic books, Manifest Destiny tells an alternate version of the Lewis & Clark expedition, including the secret, undocumented army of river rats and convicts brought up river as cannon fodder and Sacajawea’s warrior princess skills.  The keelboat is full of guns, wooden stakes, and Greek fire, and our heroes dutifully slay monsters with dreamy wistfulness or ruthless precision, as fits their particular styles. 

For all the wilderness adventure and original monsters, Manifest Destiny excels as a character driven story.  The relationship between the two men has been explored in Steven Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage and in M. R. Montgomery’s Jefferson & the Gun-Men.  But while Manifest Destiny is a fictional fantasy, I felt like I got to understand the nature of the two men, particularly the violent and taciturn Clark, in a way that I haven't before.

Manifest Destiny!  Still being published monthly by Image, with two trade volumes out and a third on the way.  Go buy a copy today!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Smart, Horny, Foolish, Outdoorsy

I started writing in this blog years ago as a way to define what I liked most about westerns.  While my enthusiasm to write regularly has waned, my enthusiasm for westerns has not.  My definition of a “western” is quite wide, meaning almost anything taking place between the late 17th century and the early 20th century on a North American frontier.  It was while reading The Dakota Cipher, third in William Dietrich’s series about Napoleonic era rapscallion Ethan Gage, that I stumbled upon the recipe for a perfect western.  A perfect western should take place in the time and place described above, and have a hero who is smart, horny, foolish, and outdoorsy.   

Allow me to explain.  A good yarn should allow the audience to identify with the characters and at the same time have elements of wish fulfillment. 

I have a fondness for main characters that are smart and horny, because, well, that’s me.  It sounds pompous to say that I’m smart, but it’s true (despite what a lack of solid proofreading in this blog might suggest).  As to horny, a quick tour through this blog (particularly anything tagged Randy Cowpoke) will show that is an apt description as well. 

Foolish?  Let’s instead call that prone to acting with without thinking, and the start of the wish fulfillment phase.  I typically think before acting, drink very little, never gamble, and rarely exceed the speed limit.  Frankly, it’s boring, and in fiction I love when otherwise smart characters leap into danger without forethought as I long to do, especially when their boldness is rewarded when danger slaps them upside the head.

Let’s turn outdoorsy into at home in the wilderness.  The older I get the more handy I become in the woods, the desert, the mountains, the river, and with a kayak, tent, fire, and axe.  I’m still no mountain man and would probably go under after a week alone in the woods (mostly because of my cardiac issues).  In my dreams, though, I read the wilderness like the back of my hand as I stride through the plains and can capably fell deer and owlhoots alike with a smokestick, tomahawk, or my bare fists.

So let’s take a look at some of my favorite characters and how they stack up.

George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman

Smart, stupidly horny, undoubtedly foolish, but although his adventures often take place in far flung frontiers he is much more at home in the parlor. 

Any hero in a Louis L’Amour story

Smart and outdoorsy to a man, but rarely horny and seldom foolish.

Robert E. Howard’s Breckenridge Elkins

Somewhat horny, very foolish, so outdoorsy he barely fits between four walls, but Breck can hardly be considered smart (I’ve mapped him out as a D&D character many times, never with an intelligence greater than 7).

William Dietrich’s Ethan Gage

Now this is the stuff.  Gage is smart.  He’s a savant, a scientist of the Ben Franklin persuasion, known as a master of electricity in a world still lit by candles.  After a spell at Harvard he spent time as a fur trapper in the Great Lakes, learning woodscraft, sharpshooting, and tomahawking.  Gage then made his way to Paris during the Revolution, and picked up the habit of leaping into danger, usually also involving first leaping between the legs of whatever woman happened to available at the time.

Gage is “lazy as an aristocrat, but without the manners,” and finds himself in various adventures across the globe, often as not tied to ancient mystical conspiracies.  In one spectacular tale (the aforementioned Dakota Cipher) Gage tumbles in and out of Louisa Bonaparte’s petticoats before hightailing it to the wilderness of North America, running from cultists and British spies while searching for, of all things...
Don't fuck with Thor's hammer
Sadly, I don’t believe that Dietrich managed to take Ethan Gage back to North America over the course of the series, which was cut short at eight books out of a planned fifteen.  Gage does set a high bar for the smart, horny, foolish, outdoorsy hero that I love to read about.