Categories
Comics

Maw #1 – Review

“What does your anger look like”- Maw #1

The world isn’t fair. Justice is more like a fairy tale than anything resembling reality, and with an unfair world comes rage, a lot of it. We tend to see rage as this horrible feeling, which, to be honest, isn’t the case. Which doesn’t mean it’s a beautiful thing or something like that. It just means that anger and rage are a lot more complex and more transformative than we might think. These are some of the things we can see in Maw.

Maw is a new horror mini-series written by Jude Ellison S. Doyle, art by A. L. Keplan, Colors by Fabian Mascolo and Federica Mascolo, and letters by Cardinal Rae. It tells the story of Marion, who is dragged into a female retreat by her sister Mandy, trying to give her a new perspective and some empowerment, things she seemingly can only get from a drink. But after Marion is the victim of a horrible assault, things take a turn and awakening something in Marion that starts a violent transformation.

Maw #1 (Written by Jude Ellison S. Doyle, illustrated by A.L. Kaplan, colored by Fabiana Mascolo with coloring assistance by Federica Mascolo, and lettered by Cardinal Rae) / Source: Boom! Studios

The first thing that caught my eye in this comic was the way it’s colored. Fabian Mascolo (with the assistance of Federica Mascolo) uses colors in a way that really enhances the story. One example of this is how Mandy’s redshirt really contrasts with the rest of the color palette, while Marion’s black outfit makes her less noticeable, even with a bright background. This is such a great way to make the reader familiar with the characters without tons of boring exposition. There are a lot more moments where colors are used to strengthen the atmosphere and tone of a scene. I will always appreciate this in a comic.

The art itself is also pretty amazing. Kaplan’s use of shadows, facial expressions, and body language does a really great job of telling the story, making the readers feel the emotions permeating the scene. There is a flashback that is extremely charged with emotion. But due to the nature of the scene, feeling them without being there could be a challenge if it wasn’t for Kaplan’s fantastic job.

Maw #1 (Written by Jude Ellison S. Doyle, illustrated by A.L. Kaplan, colored by Fabiana Mascolo with coloring assistance by Federica Mascolo, and lettered by Cardinal Rae) / Source: Boom! Studios

All that being said, if I had to choose a favorite thing about this comic, it would be the way it explores the themes of injustice, violence, and rage. This comic doesn’t hold any punches, it’s pretty raw and will make you feel extremely mad at the world, and I think that’s good. We should be mad at the world when looking at the right reasons. Thinking that there isn’t any more violence against women anymore is either naivety or voluntary denial of the facts. The way the system continues to run over the many women that have been victims of violence is just terrifying. Maw takes these problems and puts them right in your face, making you really think about it. There are some moments where Doyle’s dialogue will make your blood boil. I’m thankful for that.

Maw #1 is an outstanding introduction to what looks to be a shocking and important story. The creative team uses everything the medium of comics can give you and uses it to create a comic that will make you see through the effects of rage and the ways of power. I truly believe this is the start of one of the most important series in comics right now.

Categories
Comics

Is Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Lands #1 New Reader Friendly? 

To the outside viewer, like myself, Ka-Zar might look like he’s just Marvel’s version of Tarzan, and to be fair, he has been used that way throughout his publication history. That being said, if Zac Thompson and Germán García’s new limited series proves anything, it is that under the right hands Ka-Zar and the Savage Lands can be a lot more than just another savage hero and a mysterious jungle. 

I think the last time I read a comic with Ka-Zar on it was five or six years ago, in one of those Mini-Marvels comic strips they used to do back in the day, which means I was super thankful that this new series starts with a flashback in the form of a nightmare that serves to remind everyone of Kevin’s backstory. This scene is also amazing because it not only introduces the basics of who Ka-Zar is, but who he is at the moment. 

Art from Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Lands #1 by Zac Thompsom and Germán Garcia

Starting a series with a character that just recently has come back from the dead can be tricky especially when trying to appeal to new readers, luckily for you and me the creative team of this series handles this the best way possible. We are given the important details of the past and concentrate on the now. The book is saying “Yes, Ka-Zar died and came back from the dead and has new abilities, but this book isn’t about that, it’s about what happens next, about what happens NOW”.

There is also this fight scene that does a great job of introducing each member of the Plunder family with actions and dialogue, and not boring exposition. We also get to see some of their family dynamics, which get expanded upon in the diner scene. These were the two scenes that got me hooked. They showed that the Plunders are a lot more complex and interesting than what I gave them credit for. 

There is also a lot of credit that goes to Germán García and Matheus Lopes for pulling the reader into the comic. The art and colors in this comic are beyond amazing, going from the beautiful to the disgusting in the span of panels. The contrast between the colors had a special effect on me, making me want to explore each panel with a careful gaze. 

Art from Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Lands #1 by Zac Thompsom and Germán Garcia

Within this character and their environment, there are some really interesting themes to be explored and Thompson knows this, touching upon things like bio-tech, imperialism, change, our connection with nature and the world, and even veganism. This series manages to take an antiquated concept and give it a contemporary take that doesn’t feel forced or dishonest. 

While I was pushed to read this comic because of my love for the writer’s previous work, I came out of the experience pleasantly surprised. In just one issue, the creative team made me interested in a character I barely knew existed prior to this. If you are looking for a different experience inside the Marvel universe, here is your chance. I’m pretty sure I will check this series in its entirety as it comes out. 

Categories
Film

Martyrs Lane Review: The Horrors of Tragedy from a Child’s POV

Have you ever watched a horror movie and ended up feeling more sad than scared? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me after watching Ruth Platt’s new movie, Martyrs Lane  (and I mean this in the best way possible). 

Martrys Lane tells the story of Leah, the daughter of a pastor who lives in a vicarage where people are always going when looking for help. One night, after losing something important to her mother, Leah is visited by a girl, just around her age, that might help her find that which she lost. As Leah and her new friend start to get to know each other, things start to go wrong in Leah’s household, and she starts learning some very dangerous information. 

Kiera Thompson as Leah – Martyr’s Lane, Photo Credit: Shudder

At first glance, Martyrs Lane might seem like just another movie about creepy children, but it’s more than that. At its core, this is the story of Leah, and the movie does a fantastic job of showing this. Every scene is told through Leah’s point of view which makes the viewer see the story through the eyes of childhood curiosity, fear and (maybe most importantly) intelligence. Unlike most horror movies, this film doesn’t reduce Leah to the dumb kid archetype, instead we see in Leah a smart and curious kid who is somewhat aware of what is happening around her. This decision works really well because it makes the flow of the narrative a lot more believable, and therefore enjoyable.

One thing that sure makes Leah a great character is Kiera Thompson’s acting which is pleasantly surprising. Throughout the movie, she gives a performance that makes Leah a relatable character, especially through her reactions to each of the different events that transpire through the movie . Her interactions with Sienna Sayer (who plays the mysterious visitor) are some of the best things in the movie. 

Denise Gough as Sarah, Kiera Thompson as Leah – Martyr’s Lane, Photo Credit: Shudder

What I liked most about the movie was the fact that the movie completely understood what type of movie it is. Most horror movies that have a tragedy in the center of them shy away from the sadness and the emotional beats, but Martrys Lane doesn’t. It keeps its emotions at the center of it, giving the characters space to grow and develop. The ending (of which I will try to say the least amount possible) really hits you with the sadness of it all, instead of a few jumpscares and some shocking scenes, making the experience feel unique. 

I really liked this movie, but unfortunately it still falls into some of the cliches of the modern horror movie, especially with Sienna Sayer’s character. At times, this mysterious kid feels like a good and interesting character, but other times it feels like your generic yellow eye creepy child, especially in scenes the movie is trying to be “shocking” scary, and not “slow burn” scary, which works better for the tone and the story. Also, this might be a personal pet peeve, but I’m so tired of children having unspecific health problems just to raise the tension and the stakes (to be fair this movie justifies it a bit, but still). It just feels lazy and unoriginal. 

Denise Gough as Sarah – Martyr’s Lane: Photo Credit: Shudder


All and all, I enjoyed Martyrs Lane a lot more than what I expected. Instead of the creepy kid jump scare fest I thought I was going to get, I got a slow burn horror movie with a creepy atmosphere and a story of grief at its core, which made me feel a lot more feelings than a ghost story has any right to. I heartily recommend this movie, especially for those who want a more emotional and tragic horror story this fall.

Categories
Comics

The Department of Truth #12 Review

Honestly I seriously thought of just writing “Shit just got real” and ending the review right there, but I feel I owe this issue a little bit more, because (and I don’t say this lightly) this issue is fucking amazing! 

The issue begins with a flashback to Cole’s childhood (amazingly drawn similar to a 50s cartoon) where we see his mother talking to a mysterious figure about everything that Cole has gone through with the satanic cults and Star face demons. We quickly discover this mysterious figure is Hawk and young Cole makes a realization that will change the series from that point forward, Hawk is a liar. 

The rest of the basically consists in of two big scenes, one in which Ruby and Lee discus the way Black Hat has been issuing the internet, algorithms and social media to manipulate the narrative and And manifest conspiracy theories, and another where Hawk tells Cole about how he tried to weaponize conspiracies and the ways in which he fail all ending in Cole realizing the only truth that seems to matter, that Cole is Black Hat and he is bringing Cole Home. 

This issue is so charged with heavy exposition and tons of information, but the creative team manages to make it all flow at just the right speed. Simmonds’ art and layouts in particular do a great job in dividing the information and maintaining the reader’s attention. His surreal style really mixes very well with tales about the manipulation of truth and the powers of narrative. The pages with the black helicopters in particular are award worthy.

It really feels like things have built up to this issue and not just plot wise. I think that themes and discussions that have been developed all throughout the series reached their highest point in this issue. Previous chapters talked about the way truth developed, how it behaves, how it affects people and how it can be changed. This issue brings all those ideas and leads them to their logical conclusion, the weaponization of the truth. 

Truth can be weaponized and not just in worlds were the beliefs of people manifest into reality. For example, conspiracy theories are just one way to do this. Playing mix match with facts and stories to create the perfect narrative that will bring fear to the hearts of those who listen. Sometimes the news weaponizes the truth, sometimes the government does as well. The thing about truth is that with enough influence and power it can be malleable, and it can transform reality in more ways than one. Like this issue highlights, the age of the internet and social media have made truth a lot more unstable. A viral tweet can change the perspective of whole countries, and a series of YouTube videos can make a man president. 

What makes The Department of Truth so good is that it combines narrative and art with relevant discussion and themes in a way that creates a unique journey and makes the reader question some of the most fundamental concepts about knowledge. Stories like this are important not just because they are really interesting reads, but because they make us ask questions, and asking questions is one of the most important things there is.

Don’t take me wrong, I don’t want everyone to become a conspiracy nut — I actually think that the questions raised in this series do the exact opposite. Asking questions makes you learn more and learning more makes the truth stronger, and less people can weaponize it if it’s strong. So what are you waiting for? Go read The Department of Truth, and I will see you next time to talk a little more about truth.

Categories
Music

Screen Violence: Anger, Fear, and Despair in Turbulent Times

I think we all have a band or an artist that sticks with us through the good times and (specially) the bad times. For me it’s Chvrches. I still remember the day my friend’s brother recommended it to me. I will never forget the first time I listened to them. For me Chvrches is the ultimate form of catharsis. I listen to it in some of my worst depressive episodes, in a rough break up, and when it just feels like the world is against me. Chvrches is the way I let my worst emotions get a hold on me so I can let them go. 

So let me get something clear, this is not a review, or at least not a normal one. I’m not a professional music critic, I don’t know anything about music theory. For me a good song is the one that connects to me and makes me feel all sorts of emotions. Read this more like a journey through my emotions as I listen to Screen Violence, more than a judgment of the quality of the album. 

The name of this album, some of the titles of the songs, the fact they partnered with John Carpenter for a remix of Good Girls, and the marketing for the whole project left perfectly clear that this album was inspired by horror, especially horror movies. So it’s no surprise that some of the feelings present throughout the album are fear, despair, escapism, and anger… a lot of anger. Lyrics like “And these violent delights/ keep bleeding into the light/ And I’ll never be right” and “Can I forgive if I forget/ All my mistakes and my regrets” really make you feel the state of guit that can push people to the edge. 

Screen Violence is a reference to one of the names the band thought about during their beginning, but it also makes reference that part of the album were made through screens (because the band was in different parts of the world), and the need of escapism (which, in a way can also be seen in the art of the album cover). After the shit show that was 2020 it’s hard not to feel the need to escape, and like I said I feel Chvrches is the perfect music to have some sweet sweet catharsis. But this album is as much violence as screen, meaning that no matter how much you try running away reality will catch up to you, and sometimes reality ain’t pretty.

I think the part I relate the most to this album is the way we deal with violence, both external and internal. Aggression is something we all deal with in one way or another, always standing on the edge of the line between existence and non existence. Songs like Violent Delights, How Not to Drown, and Nightmares hit extremely close to home, dealing with things like self hate, violence against yourself, and feeling possessed by anger and despair. It feels like Chvrches have created songs that really capture the feeling of being so angry that you simply disconnect from reality and all you can see is red. 

In contrast, songs like He Said She Said, Final Girl and Good Girls really bring the feeling of aggressive oppression. Lauren Mayberry has said in an interview that an important theme of this album is violence against women and this is clearly perceived one you listen to the album. I live in one of the countries with the most violence against women so this feels extremely real and necessary. I don’t dare to talk like I know what women experience in my country, but I believe what I can say is that we have created a narrative that helps exponentiate this violence, and Chvrches bring this into the light in a really strong way.

There are songs like Asking For a Friend, California, Lullabies and Better if You Don’t that invite you to the darkest corner of your mind to truly feel afraid. I recently saw a tweet that said we are so desensitized to actual horror (blood, monsters and killers) that the new kind of horror is emotional horror, because honestly, who isn’t afraid of their own emotions. I don’t know if this is true, but these songs capture that sentiment so well. The feeling of the isolation, the terrifying effects of sadness, the horrible despair of the impotence anger brings, the torture you make yourself go through in your mind.

This album feels a lot like past Chvrches’ albums, but this time it felt like they didn’t hold anything back, for me it was like raw emotions contained in a bottle of red viscous liquid. I tried to search for flaws in this album, I really did, but at the end of the day this album came at just the right time. I really needed an album like this, I needed to feel anger, fear and despair. I needed songs that made me just let go and blasted through the roof. Maybe Screen Violence won’t be for everybody, or maybe this is going to be celebrated as one of the best albums of the year… Honestly, I don’t give a shit, I’m just happy I got an album that pulled me into its deepest reaches and for 43 minutes transformed me into one of those monsters you see in movies.

So to finish this “review” and for you to experience this journey yourself, let me leave you with one of my favorite lyrics of the album:

“Swallowing the seeds of sin we sewed into the ground/ Keeping secrets until everything becomes to loud/ I could wash it down/ I could drown it down/ By filling up the silence with an organ sound/ And by writing sentences I used to think were kind profound”

Final Girl, Chvrches 

Categories
Comics

Doom Patrol: Love Letter to the Brinke

Dear Casey,

I have been thinking a lot about you recently. I met you when both of us were still young. You were still a paramedic back then, and you had no idea who you were, but then again, neither did I. Things didn’t take too long to change; in just a couple of days, you would become a superhero and change your world.

I still remember the day I found out the truth. The day you enter the ambulance and read that comic, that damn comic. Existential crises are never fun, and finding out you are a comic book character created by a sentient world must be a hard pill to swallow, but after some adjusting, you raised to the occasion and did what you always do, the right thing. Because at the end of the day, that is who you are, the girl who always is trying to do good and live a good life, that’s why I started to love you.

But things are never easy. Sometimes your cat escapes, sometimes that cat turns into a man-cat, and some other times your own existence is put into question. Still, you put on a brave face. Don’t get me wrong, you still get angry, sad, and disappointed, but what makes you special is that you never stop trying.

Casey Brinke on Doom Patrol #6 (Written by Gerard Way, illustrated by Nick Derington, and colored by Tamra Bonvillain) / Source: DC’s Young Animal

To be honest, you have taught me a lot more than some other people in my life. You have taught me that friends are the ones who help you write the fiction you want to be. You have taught me that there is more than one way to exist. Thanks to you, I have learned that we are made of the things that happen to us. That, in a cruel and hard world, the thing that defines you is what you choose to do with the bad things. Without you, I would have never known all that the word speed can mean. And how to forget that it was you who taught me that I can get down with whoever wants to get down.

I love you, Casey, you have made me grow so much as a person, and every day I try to be better because of all that I have learned from you. I know we have lost contact in the past few years and that there are tons of your adventures I’m not familiar with yet, but I wanted you to remember how important you are to me and always will be.

Love you always,

Cass

PS: Say hi to Danny for me, and tell Lotion he still owes me like twenty dollars.

Categories
Comics Interviews Uncategorized

Darker Further Down Interview: The Funny Thing About Darkness

I have had insomnia since I was 17 years old. Every night I wake up around 2:00 am and I’m not able to go back to sleep until around 4:00 am. During that time I do all sorts of things but almost always, I end up browsing Instagram. It was on a night like this that I found my way into Blackwater and stumbled into the night crew. 

Darker Further Down (DFD) is a comic series by Sarah Navin (@coinswallow on instagram) that explores the creepy things that happen in the peculiar town of Blackwater (but don’t worry, creepy stuff happens anywhere). The main characters are a couple of cousins (or at least they think they’re cousins) named Libby and Elaine that happen to live in a duplex that has a family living inside the walls, a news anchor that speaks to them through the tv, and a man with a mysterious face renting out the attic. The town also has some interesting people in its midst like Elaine’s crush, the girl that lives at the deep end of the public pool, and the regulars at the diner that wear cat masks. 

So there I was 3:14 am, walking into Libby and Elaine’s stuplex (stupid dublex), and when faced with the decision of staying or escaping, I undoubtedly decided to stay. As a fan of all things horror and creepy, finding a comic like DFD was like finding a strange victorian portrait in your basement, it’s pretty fascinating but a bit unsettling. What makes DFD a particularly great Victorian portrait is that it knows it’s really creepy and it has fun with that.

Sarah combines the horrifying and the absurd to create incredibly funny and creepy stories. The scenarios that each comic presents are genuinely creepy, but it is the reaction of the character that makes them really enjoyable. And that’s where the strength of this comic resides, its characters. Libby and Elaine are just like those weird friends you had in high school (maybe you were that weird friend) that are cool and chill, but always have something going on and have a threatening aura to them. For me they are the perfect mix of relatable and totally alienating. The rest of the cast is also fascinating and some of the best twists in horror tropes, a personal favorite of mine is pool girl, but I also have a soft spot for Thompson, the pigeon man. 

If you love horror and everything creepy, this comic is for you. If you like compelling and fun characters, this comic is for you. If you like different and interesting art styles, this comic is for you. If when you were little there was a crack in your wall that looked like a smiley face and you always hated it because of its overwhelming positivity, this comic is for you. If you have ever wanted to invite that creepy person at the corner of your mirror to a match of ping pong, this comic is for you. And finally if you have ever been lost in the forest for a whole year, or have an evil doppelganger that talks to you about your insecurities, then this comic is DEFINITELY for you (actually this comic is ABOUT you). 

So here are some recommendations that I think will get you into Darker Further Down: Mask Up (17/03/2020), Know Your Rights (13/05/2021), A Nice Pair of Shoes to Die In (12/03/2021), Until the Rabbit Dies (25/04/2021), Games I Play at Night (18/07/2021), and Gloria (06/06/2020).

Interview with Darker Further Down’s Creator Sarah Navin

Okay, first of all, a very important question: What’s your favorite sandwich?

Does my cat count? His full legal name is Ham Sandwich. “Hammy” to his friends, “Hamityville Horror” if he’s being nasty.

What are some inspirations for Darker Further Down that might let new readers know what to expect? 

The Twilight Zone has got to be my big one, with the range from wholesomeness to abject horror. Rod Serling owns half my personality. And Courage the Cowardly Dog is always in the back of my head. But I pull a lot of ideas from real-life unexplained events, too! I’ve stolen all kinds of details from the Missing 411 cases.

I was not going to ask this, but I’m extremely curious. While writing this piece I did the “Which citizen of Blackwater Township are you” quiz (I’m a member of the family in the walls btw). Have you taken your own test? What character did you get? Does it feel accurate?

(Hey, welcome to the walls!) It’s always a toss-up when I take the quiz; I get something different almost every time. I don’t think there’s a single character in the comic who’s not infused with some aspect of myself. I’ve got Elaine’s appetite and the Big Man’s neurosis. But sometimes you just feel like a corpse in a chlorinated public pool, you know?

Okay, technically those were three questions, but I feel they were easy ones, so I’m counting them as one. Anyway, talking about characters, what do you think is essential when creating a character? 

Ooh, good question. My goal is for each character I create to be the protagonist of their own personal story, even if that story never sees the light of day. Every single player should be deserving of a spin-off. I don’t want Libby and Elaine to seem like beacons in a fog of less interesting bystanders; I want them all to feel like complete, compelling people who reveal a little more about each other through each interaction.

One thing I love about DFD is the art style, has that always been your style? If the answer is yes, how did you end up in that style? If the answer is no, what were you looking for when creating the style for the series? (I felt like one of those write your own adventure books, that was fun) 

Hey, thanks! This is my first foray into visual storytelling, so I guess it’s also my first time sticking to a consistent style. I’ve never really had one before. I wanted something a little messy-looking and forgiving of my limited drawing skills, hence the lines for noses and total abuse of the fill tool. And personal details are dear to my heart – backgrounds scare me and I know nothing about color theory, but things like moles and tattoos and body hair are where I get to put the extra love in.

Even though some pretty weird things happen at Blackwater, your comics somehow feel kind of… relatable. What do you think makes the creepy and the mundane mix so well?

I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit for how much weirdness we endure on a day to day basis. Humans will adjust to the most absolutely buck wild stuff, especially in familiar spaces. If you had a closet door that opened by itself at the same time every night, would you call a priest and move houses? Or would you buy a plastic latch for it? We’re all just out here acclimating to things that we used to think would kill us.

When you first thought of making comics online, were you always set on doing horror? Why horror? 

Everything I make has at least a little thread of creepiness to it. It’s the one genre that can consistently keep my attention, even when it’s being executed poorly. I’m always waiting for the part of the story where things get uncanny or uncomfortable. I also think it’s a terrific vehicle for other subjects: grief, humor, tenderness. If I drank wine, I might use a wine metaphor. Horror has a way of complimenting non-horror.

What would you say are the overarching themes of DFD? Have they changed with time? 

It’s always been about the resourcefulness of struggling people, you know, the ancient art of totally winging it. But I’ve also ended up with this cast of characters who are basically their own worst enemies. They’ve all got habits or principles or coping mechanisms that keep leaving them vulnerable to the things that go bump in the night. I was surprised at how tertiary the actual “monsters” ended up being – the central conflict is really more about the temptation to let them inside.

I think one of the best things about DFD is the relationship between Libby and Elaine. Is that relationship based on a relationship in your life? 

Libby definitely takes after my best friend Rose, who’s been tolerating me for like twelve years now, and our dynamic is pretty similar to the cousins’. But there are bits and pieces of all my other loved ones in there too, I think. There’s an unconditional, unassuming kind of love between them that I know I must have modeled after my relationship with my mom.

Your first post on instagram is of March 2020, what is the biggest lesson you have learned in a year of making comics?

This is a lesson I have to learn over and over again: I’m never going to be able to predict what content people are going to enjoy the most, and it’s counterproductive to try. I was caught off guard by how well-received my longer comics were! I figured they’d feel arduous and self-indulgent to anyone besides me, but they turned out to be the more popular format. I keep having to remind myself that the ultimate goal is to write something I want to read, even if half the comments end up being “can someone PLEASE explain what the hell is going on?”

If you had to make a meme to persuade people into reading DFD, what would it be like? (extra points if you make the actual meme, I mean, I’m not grading you… but it would be fun)

Categories
Anime Film

The Forest Spirit and Me, or Why my First Tattoo is Mononoke Inspired

Cass Arellano

Trigger Warning: This article contains a discussion about depression, suicide, and self-harm. 

Spoilers for Princess Mononoke 

“Life is suffering. It is hard. The world is cursed. But still, reasons to keep living”- Princess Mononoke, written by Hayao Miyazaki 

Right around the time, I found out that Gate Crashers was doing Anime August, I had just decided on the design for my first tattoo, which was funny since the design is inspired by my favorite Studio Ghibli’s film (and one of my favorite movies of all time): Princess Mononoke. Now this wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m a terrible decision-maker, so choosing a tattoo design was an almost impossible task, but while I was having that crisis I decided to give Princess Mononoke a rewatch. After the movie ended I had finally decided, my first tattoo was going to be San’s mask. 

Moro and San from Princess Mononoke

But why? Why Princess Mononoke? Why not… well… anything else? Well, I’m of the idea that tattoos don’t have to have a meaning, but for my first one, I wanted something that represented the journey I’ve been going through for five years. 

But before we get into that let’s talk about the movie itself. The film is about Ashitaka, the prince of a hidden village that is cursed by a hatred demon, he sets on a journey to find a cure for the curse and meets San (the titular Princess Mononoke), a girl that has been raised by wolves and I fighting a human town that is threatening the livelihood of the forest and its inhabitants. 

Now, there are a thousand reasons for loving this movie. The animation is extremely beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful. The story and its characters are interesting and complex, never falling into cliches or absolutes like good and evil. The score by Joe Hisaishi is also amazing, melting into the film while still being memorable. The script is one of my favorites and delivers some of the most thought-provoking lines ever put into a film. And honestly… have I mentioned how beautiful the animation is?

The reason I love this film the most is the themes and outlook of life the movie displays. Not only because they are extremely well integrated into the plot, and because it never feels like the movie is trying to give you a lesson, but because this movie gave me the right message at the right time. 

The leads, Ashitaka and San, from Princess Mononoke

I don’t exactly remember when was the first time I watched Princess Mononoke, but it must have been around March 2020, because that was the time Netflix released it in Latinoamerica. I can’t say this move saved my life because by that moment my mental health was somewhat stable (the pandemic hadn’t hit just yet), but I was still recovering from the past two years. 

By the end of 2017 I was diagnosed with severe depression (or at least that was what the psychiatrist called it), by that point I was already in a pretty bad spot, but things just got worse from there. In February of the next year I was already cutting myself, and a month after that I almost took my own life. When my parents and my psychiatrist found out there was a discussion about if I should be admitted into a psychiatric hospital. In the end, it was decided that I would stay at home but with a ton of restrictions. I couldn’t be alone, I couldn’t possess any sharp objects, I had limited showering time, etc. To say I was feeling like life was hell is an understatement. 

Once you unsuccessfully try to kill yourself the worst part is that you have to live with the fact you even try. To be honest you have to learn to live with a lot of things. Things like the fact that you are unable to love yourself, unable to feel any emotion, even the fact that you are alive is a burden. After all that happened, life became a responsibility that I didn’t want, a complex and hard road that I didn’t understand. A giant mess built on hate and emptiness. In a few words, it was suffering, like a curse. 

I got better. All of 2019 was a year of recovery. With the help of medication, my psychiatrist, my family, and my friends I began to understand I wasn’t alone, that there were people who loved me, that I could love myself. So by March 2020, I was in a better place, but still struggling with my past and with life itself, and then I watched Princess Mononoke. 

This movie discusses a lot of themes, the importance of a healthy relationship with nature, the destructive nature of humans, the pros and cons of industrialization, and most important for this article, it talks about the power of hate and the importance of life. Like I said before, this is a complex film, none of its characters are either good or evil, everyone is just trying to keep going forward and protect what they love.  It’s not only until hate starts to poison their hearts that things start going sideways. Like Ashitaka says, hate is something that eats you alive, something that can kill you, and in my experience, there is no more poisonous hate than self-hate. 

San, like Ashitaka, is also cursed with hate, even if not literally. Even though she was raised by wolves, she is still human, and she hates that about her, because she hates humans and what they have done to the forest. By the end of the film, she still hasn’t forgiven humans, but she is at peace with herself, even the aspects she doesn’t like. She has ridden herself of hate, just in time to live her life. 

The Forest Spirit From Princess Mononoke

This all happens after the Forest Spirit, a powerful creature and a central figure in the movie’s conflict, loses his physical form. San worries that the forest will never be the same now that the spirit is dead, but Ashitaka comforts her, telling her that “He isn’t dead, San. He is here with us now, telling us, it’s time for both of us to live”. It’s after the Spirit gives up his physical body that Ashitaka and San’s curse is lifted as if life itself has finally taken part of their lives as more than just a burden. And just as their curse was removed, so was mine. 

This movie gave me a completely new outlook of life just when I needed it, it made me excited to feel alive. It made me realize that even if life is hard and complicated, even if sometimes it seems to be full of hate and suffering, life is worth living. We will always find reasons to keep going, we will always find ways to get over the hate. 

So yeah, that’s why I chose San’s mask as my first tattoo, which in retrospect might seem like a weird choice, seeing how the mask gets destroyed halfway through the movie and seems to symbolize San’s unwillingness to accept herself. But what is a mask if not a new pair of eyes with which you can see the world in new ways? 

As much as I’m bad at making decisions I’m happy with this first tattoo because I know every time I see it I will remember that it’s always time for me to live, and honestly that’s the only reminder I need. 

Categories
Comics

PRIMORDIAL #1 Spoiler-Free Review

Seeing the name of writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino together in a cover has become a kind of guarantee. Known for collaborations like Green Arrow, Gideon Falls, and Joker: Killer Smile, this comic book duo have published some of the most successful recent comics, winning multiple Eisners for Gideon Falls. 

In their new project, Primordial, Lemire and Sorrentino bring us a sci-fi thriller set in the midst of the Cold War where a scientist from MIT is asked to help dismantle the American space program. But why is the space program being dismantled? What has stopped humans from looking to the stars? But most important of all: What ever happened to the animals we sent to space during the space race? Did they die in orbit? And if they didn’t… where did they go?

In their first issue, Lemire and Sorrentino use this somewhat simple premise to set up an intriguing mystery that captures the essence of the Cold War, starting by utilizing the setting of the story the best way they can. The creative team combines the drama and tension of the Cold War, and the wonder and weirdness of the Space Race to create the perfect atmosphere for a mystery of cosmic proportions. 

This is not the only time the creative team uses contrast to their advantage. Through different moments in the issue small panels are contrasted with full page spreads highlighting important details while still letting us see the full picture, this layouts lead to some heart racing scenes and helps to deepen the mystery. In addition, colorist David Stewart uses colors in brilliant ways, using pale colors for the earth scenes and vibrant colors for the space scenes. It makes the cosmic scenes stand out, and helps drive the reader’s interest in the mystery at hand. 

Like in some of his past work, Sorrentino plays with the line of realism and surrealism with his art, drawing a pretty good parallel between what is known and the unknown. One of the best things in the issue is seeing Sorrentino’s art change until it reaches a point at the end where the contrast between the beginning and the end is huge, creating a perfect set up through the art itself. 

Lemire uses characters and dialogue in a similar way, contrasting entirely different people in a way that makes the reader know what kind of person they’re dealing with, not just by what they are saying, but the way they are saying it. These archetypes fit perfectly into the setting, making mind-bending sci-fi feel more real, as well as the tension.  

If the Cold War was a time of parallels and division, Lemire and Sorrentino capture this essence and transform them into the beginning of a new and fascinating mystery. It’s in this way and many others, Lemire, Sorrentino and the rest of the team create a first issue that captures the reader and pulls them into a mystery that will make them wonder: Why did we stop traveling to the stars? 

Categories
Film

The Tragedy of Darth Vader’s Helmet

One of the earliest memories I can recall is that of a nightmare. I must have been 4 or 5 years old, but I remember like it was yesterday.  I was standing in a room surrounded by darkness when suddenly a pair of red flaming eyes appeared. As I approached these bloody lights a form started to appear around them, a skull-like shape, but it wasn’t a face, it was a helmet, it was his helmet. I remember waking up screaming and running to my parents’ room, when my mother asked me what was wrong I just said: “He was in my dreams, Darth Vader was in my dreams”.

Since that day, and until recently, the helmet of Darth Vader represented for me evil itself. But after seeing all of Clone Wars and Rebels, and reading tons of books and comics, my point of view changed, what once was a symbol of horror and cruelty, soon became the embodiment of tragedy, loss, and guilt. I believe that Darth Vader’s helmet is the perfect visual representation of Anakin’s journey into the dark side… and back.

Throughout the saga, Vader’s helmet fulfilled three main roles (other than helping him breathe), show Anakin’s transformation into the dark side, show Anakin’s guilt and regret, and show Anakin’s vulnerability (granted this is in situations when the mask is removed or damaged). Let’s see some examples. 

The first time the mask appears in the movies chronologically is near the end of Revenge of the Sith in the scene where Darth Vader’s armor is assembled. The last piece of the suit to be adjusted is the helmet, and just when the machines are putting it on Anakin we see a glimpse of his point of view: the eyes of the mask open up, almost like it’s come to life, and show red lenses that will forever change Vader’s point of view. One can even say this is the point the dark side completely clouds Anakin’s vision. 

Just after this moment, we see the mask settle into Anakin’s face and the headpiece being placed, this is the true birth of Vader, the final moment in his transformation. One of the reasons the coronation of the Lord of the Sith is so important is that this is the moment when Anakin lost his humanity. For many the face is the “most human” part of the body, it’s the part we concentrate the most on, it’s where the eyes are, the so-called windows to the soul. So the moment the mask is put on Anakin’s face, it’s hidden in a skull-like prison. What once was a symbol of humanity is now a symbol of death and tyranny. 

The animated series also has some key moments that show Vader’s helmet as the symbol of Anakin’s tragedy. At the end of The Clone Wars, when we see Darth Vader going through the wreckage Ahsoka left behind, there is a moment in which Vader looks into the sky, and if you watch very close, through the red lenses of the helmet, you can catch a glimpse of Anakin’s eye, filled with regret and guilt about the fall of Anakin and Ahsoka relationship. Later on, in Rebels, we see the reunion of these two, culminating in a duel. Vader’s helmet is damaged and once again we can see Anakin’s eye, this time showing both vulnerability and guilt. This is the last time they will ever be together and Vader/Anakin knows this, Vader took away any chance for Anakin and Ahsoka to be friends, brother and sister. Anakin sees this, and he sees it through the helmet, through the veil of the dark side, and for a moment he realizes everything he has lost. 

And this brings us to the original trilogy where we see some of the best uses of the helmet, or in most of these cases the absence of it. In The Empire Strikes Back we see the helmet being put on Anakin’s scarred head, this is the first moment we see Vader as a human, as someone who is not pure evil, it gives us a chance for redemption. 

Later in the movie, we see Luke having a vision where he sees his own face in Vader’s helmet. This is his worst nightmare, to become Vader, and this is represented through the helmet. Luke is afraid to be trapped in the same skull-shaped prison that his father is trapped in. 

And finally, there is the most iconic moment in which the helmet is involved. The redemption/death scene. In his last moments, Anakin asks Luke to remove his mask just so he can see Luke’s face with his own eyes. In a scene that makes a perfect parallel to Vader’s coronation, the helmet is removed and Darth Vader is no more. The prison is broken, the veil disappears, Anakin is finally free. 

And that is what everything is about. Ever since he was a little boy in Tatooine Anakin has been a slave, a prisoner, and the helmet brings that to life, it’s the symbol of his lack of freedom, the embodiment of Anakin’s tragedy. 

Anakin’s journey is one of my favorite stories ever, it’s the story of a little boy consumed by his fears and the way he is able to overcome them. The fact that we can see that journey represented by a weird piece of plastic encapsulates why I love Star Wars, because it brings so many ideas and themes to light in the strangest and most amazing ways.