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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.

Categories
Television

Loki Asks the Question: Was Kafka Wrong?

Last time we talked about Loki I was screaming about this Czech guy who really didn’t like to do paperwork (you can read it all about it here). Today me and He Who Remains will ask you a question: What if Kafka was wrong? 

But first, a recap: After fighting their way through the TVA, “killing” the Time Keepers, being “pruned”, enchanting Alioth, and finding the master behind the sacred timeline, Loki and Sylvie walk into an office. They walk into a somewhat normal office complete with a bookshelf, a big desk, back windows. Yes, it’s in the middle of all of time and space but an office is just an office regardless of where it is. In that office is a man who controls all of that time and space and he has something to ask of our two heroes. What does the man in the office ask of Loki and Sylve? Well he asks them to take over the paperwork. 

Why? Why does He Who Remains ask the Lokis to take over his job? Why does he ask them to become the ultimate bureaucrat? Because the world, the universe, it needs order, it needs people that set limits and rules, it needs someone to organize it, in short, it needs the TVA and the TVA needs what any good bureaucracy needs: someone in charge. 

He Who Remains explains that if it wasn’t for the sacred timeline different versions of himself would wage war with one another and destroy everything, he says that even if he is evil, his variants are worse. So once again I ask you a question: what is worse than the bureaucrat? Well, the answer is pretty obvious: the conqueror.

He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) in Marvel Studios’ Loki / Photo by Chuck Zlotnick, Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

By the end of the final episode, with he who remains dead, and the conqueror taking control of the TVA I asked myself “What would Kafka think about this?” “Did he hate order, or just the dehumanizing nature of bureaucracy?” “Was Kafka wrong?” Let me tell you, I love the guy, he’s one of my favorite writers of all time. His influence has led me to make big decisions (he’s even one of the reasons I study philosophy), so for me to ask these questions well, let’s just say that Jonathan Majors gave one hell of a performance.

But let’s concentrate on the matter at hand, is Kafka wrong? Is bureaucracy justified by the need for order and the prevention of violence? I don’t think that Kafka was a fan of order, but I don’t think he was against it per se; I think the thing he really hated was the way bureaucracy alienates us and entraps us. In the works he confronts the problem of bureaucracy most directly (The Process, The Castle, The Penal Colony) all those long trials, legal loopholes, and (you guessed it) paperwork limit the freedom of the character, it transforms their life into a meaningless list of steps, it makes them small, makes them like bugs (pun intended). 

But even in the stories that bureaucracy isn’t that present Characters are still trapped in a meaningless existence, doomed to live a life of suffering, to be pathetic human beings. George Samsa from The Metamorphosis was always a bug, even before his transformation. The artist from The Hunger Artist was always destined to fast because he didn’t like food. The man of Before the Law was always destined to stay in the first door. Kafka’s characters are always meant to live life in a prison… maybe he thought the same of himself. 

Sylvie (Sophia DiMartino) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in Marvel Studios’ Loki / Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Sadly, the same is shown in Loki. Sylvie believes Loki will always look for the throne, and she does what a Loki always does, she betrays him. In a twist of events, even with the beginning of the multiverse, the TVA exists because it will always exist. Even without the bureaucracy things are going to happen as they should; the only thing that changes is that things get more violent and more sad. 

So maybe, Kafka was wrong, bureaucracy sucks, but it is necessary, because without it order prevails, but instead of it being buried in a mountain of forms and rules, it buries you, or in other words, it conquers you. 

But there is hope, or at least I believe there is. I say this because, well, let me confess something: I like Kafka, I like him a lot, but to be honest with you… to be really honest with you I think he’s a bit of a bummer and well, I think he’s full of shit. 

Don’t get me wrong, I really hate bureaucracy, I hate the trials and tribulations we make ourselves go through and I’m also not the biggest fan of order but in my mind you are only a bug if you let yourself be a bug, and your story is only written if you let someone else read it. 

There is a point in the episode where even the big almighty He who remains doesn’t know what’s gonna happen. The plan of the guy in the big chair only will always have a final step, and after that who knows things might change or they might not, but you won’t know until you get there. 

Sylvie (Sophia DiMartino), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) in Marvel Studios’ Loki / Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The thing about Kafka’s characters is they give up too easily, they always stop fighting and even with his amazing writing skills my Czech friend can’t explain why. You may say this argument comes out of nowhere, you may think I’m just trying to be positive for the sake of it and that might be true, but let me ask you something; Wasn’t the Loki series renewed?

The story continues.

So let me leave you with this: you might have noticed that I’ve been asking a lot of questions, and that’s because I love questions; questions are doors (orange translucent doors), and as long as you keep opening doors, as long as the text ends with a question mark your story will continue. So now the question is, do you believe me?  

Categories
Comics

The Department of Truth #10 Review

Truth is a funny thing, it has many forms, and people relate to it in vastly different ways. Truth can change a person… it can destroy them. So what happens when someone lets the truth consume them? and what happens when fiction starts walking around like wild beasts? 

This issue of James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds’ The Department of Truth the team goes hunting for Bigfoot and discusses the existence of cryptids (or lack thereof). In between the main story the issue also has the diary of a Bigfoot hunter, telling the story of his father’s relation to the Bigfoot hunt.

While this issue continues the fantastic world building the creative team has pushed forward with past issues, this time going into what are the creatures they call wild fictions and how they work, the real strength of the issue is on the diary pages and the story they tell. 

In the past Tynion and Simmonds have explored the themes of truth and beliefs through the lens of conspiracy theories, so far this exploration has occupied itself with the epistemological side of the dilemma, asking questions like: Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? How do beliefs spread? How do organizations can make people’s perceptions of the truth change? This issue (the diary entries in particular) goes over the personal side of things. 

In the story of the bigfoot hunter and his father, we see what the truth can make to a person, how it changes and consumes them. Like I said before, truth is a funny thing, while from a far the truth seems to be this cold scientific instrument that is frozen in time and space, but the way I see it the truth is more complicated, more wild, like a living creature. The father of the writer of the diary stumbles onto a truth that changes him, the existence of Bigfoot. In this truth he sees something bigger than himself, something that gives his own existence purpose. Once that truth was presented to him, his world changed, because that’s what truths do, they become the center of our lives and change and evolve as we do the same. 

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the diary entries where included in the same issue the members of the department discuss the creatures known as wild fiction, creatures that are not quite alive, creatures that make you feel sick when you are around them, creatures that can not be captured with any device on Earth. I think this issue takes a leap previous issues couldn’t take, in this issue the truth and beliefs are no longer talked about like they are information, they are talked about like they are living creatures that wrap the reality around those who surround them. 

This has been my favorite issue of the series because it changes the discussion. Tynion and Simmonds are no longer talking about mere stories and theories, they are now talking about the changing pillars on which we build our lives. I think this series has been so popular not only because its art is spectacular and the dialogue is amazing, but because it understands that we have finally realized that the relation we have with truth is a lot more complicated that what we once thought. 

I really liked this issue and I’ve been loving the series so far, and I’m really excited to see where the hunt for Bigfoot (and the truth) takes us next. 

Categories
Television

Loki and the Kafkaesque

“Evil knows of the good, but good does not know of evil. Knowledge of oneself is something only evil has”- Franz Kafka. 

You are probably wondering, “why would someone start their review of Loki with a vague and pretentious quote from some Czech writer?” and in all fairness that it is a bit weird of me, but give me some time, I promise you it will all make sense as soon as you finish reading this. 

In the interest of complete honesty, I’m not the biggest Loki fan. It’s not that I hate him or even mildly dislike him; it’s more that I haven’t had that much exposure to the God of Mischief. I have read one or two of his appearances in the comics, and I have watched him in the Thor and Avengers movies. Other than that, the most I had ever read on Loki was the few chapters Neil Gaiman dedicates to him in his book Norse Mythology, which is notably not set in the Marvel Universe. So imagine my surprise when I found myself loving the first two episodes of his new series.

Source: Marvel Studios

I spent an unnecessary amount of time figuring out why I had loved the first few episodes of Loki so much. I couldn’t figure it out until one night while talking with my brother about the series. I realized what Loki’s journey reminded me of; the constant jabs at mindless bureaucracy, the hopelessness of some of the characters, the absurdist and surreal atmosphere of the series, all of it reminded me of the works of the Czech writer Franz Kafka, a favorite of mine.

For those who don’t know, Franz Kafka was an early 20th-century author who wrote about the absurdity of bureaucracy, loneliness, alienation, guilt, and good old existential anxiety. Kafka’s most famous work is his novel The Metamorphosis (also know as The Transformation), a story about a young salesman who one day wakes up to discover that he has been transformed into a giant bug-like person (not in the fun Spider-Man way). But my personal favorite of his works is a short story called The Hunger Artist, about an entertainer whose performance is him fasting himself for a prolonged amount of days (I promise this is all relevant). 

Am I saying that the Loki series has been amazing so far just because it’s somewhat similar to the writings of a random dude? Yes and no. I don’t think these similarities make the episodes inherently good, but I do believe that the Kafkaesque aspects of the series work in a wonderful way to develop the characters of the series and to set up a unique conflict. We can see this in the first episode through the way the series develops its titular character.  

The Loki we see in this series is not the same Loki we have watched grow through 5 movies, this is not the Loki that went through the deaths of his adoptive parents or the one that mended his relationship with his brother, and he isn’t the Loki that died at the hands of Thanos. So, how do you take a character who is missing five movies’ worth of character development and get him up to speed with the audience?

Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Owen Wilson as Mobius M. Mobius / Source: Marvel Studios

Apparently, the answer was destroying Loki’s will through the means of mindless bureaucracy, making him question all of his motivations, showing him some clips of his past and future, and finally, making him realise that his attitude and all of his actions are just an illusion of power he builds so that he can feel in control. All the steps he goes through in the TVA have a Kafkaesque quality to them and help bring Loki down from “arrogant god with a glorious purpose” wannabe to a sad broken person who feels that his destiny is to hurt others, so he doesn’t seem so weak. 

In his first moments in the TVA, Loki questions his nature (not knowing if he is a robot or not). Not soon after, he is put on trial for something he didn’t even know was a crime, made to watch the death of his mother, father, and himself. All of this forces Loki to realise that the system he has been trapped in is infinitely more powerful than him. For the first time, this version of Loki is forced to experience guilt, alienation and existential guilt. This way, he is fully prepared for the journey that is about to unfold across this six-episode first season. 

The conversation that Mobius and Loki have at the end of the first episode, where Loki admits that he doesn’t enjoy hurting people, that he only acts that way because he “has” to, reminds me of the ending of The Hunger Artist. At the end of this story, the artist confesses that the only reason he is good at fasting is that he never found a food that he actually liked, so he spent his days trying to transform his suffering, his weakness, into something for which people would admire him, would love him. Loki is (at the end of this episode) pretty much in the same spot, trying to use pain to transform his weakness into power, into respect. 

Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) / Source: Marvel Studios

To be completely honest, the second episode reduces the Kafkaesque aspects to give more space to action scenes and detective work, but there are still things worth talking about; a small detail that advances the themes presented in the first episode is the small loophole that Loki finds while exploring some of the few available files available to him (another small example of mindless bureaucracy). According to the series, people can do anything they want near an apocalyptic event without upsetting the sacred timeline because no matter what happens, everything will be destroyed. The fact that one can be truly free only when their surroundings and the people around them will cease to exist it’s just the absurdist situation Kafka would have loved.

But perhaps the bit that truly continues the themes of guilt, loneliness and alienation is the last thing Lady Loki says to Loki before starting bombing the timeline: “This isn’t about you.” This line seemingly breaks Loki and makes him abandon everything he had been working for, after “the variant” makes Loki realize once again that he is not the all-powerful 

god he builds himself up to be; he is just another person on the sidelines, a “cosmic error,” as Hunter B-15 would put it. Both Loki and Lady Loki are just variants of the original Loki, flukes in the sacred timeline. They are of no importance, but Lady Loki is trying to make something of the situation by the looks of it. In contrast, after hearing his counterpart highlight his unimportance, Loki decides the only logical option is to follow Lady Loki. 

Sophia Di Martino as Lady Loki / Source: Marvel Studios

At this point of the series, Loki seems to be in a spot of absolute alienation, separated from any context that would give him importance or power. He is as close to a salesman who has turned into a giant bug as he can be without literally being a salesman who has been turned into a giant bug and has been abandoned by everyone, and I love it.  

I find this use of the Kafkaesque journey in service of Loki’s character arc to be well utilized and exceptionally well executed. I feel the team behind the series managed to build an absurd and surreal atmosphere to place a story about guilt and alienation that puts the main character in the perfect spot so that we are excited about where he goes next. 

So that’s why I decided to start this review with a quote from Franz Kafka, and that quote in particular, because I think that through a Kafkaesque lens, we can see what makes these first two episodes of Loki so great, as well as what can we expect from this journey and how it looks at Loki’s very nature.