masculinity

Major Issues: Head Lopper #1 and What We Talk About When We Talk About Lopping Heads

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In Major Issues, we look at one newly released comic book each week. Updated Fridays.

Gardner Mounce

Head Lopper: Issue 1
Written and Illustrated by Andrew Maclean
Colors by Mike Spicer
Self-Published
Release: 7/9/14

Comic books are stuffed with “Badasses.” These are characters so “Awesome” they encroach upon the “Mythic.” These are the characters who, in the first scene, catch a flying fist to the astonishment of a gathered crowd. These are the characters who lie sleepless on motel mattresses, hardly aware of the lusty nude figures curled against them. These are the characters who barely keep cigarettes tucked into mouth corners. Whose silhouettes can be seen in a screen of smoke. Who don’t have pasts until issue four (The Past Issue), when it’s revealed that everyone they’ve ever met died in a car accident. These are the characters who have clipped, masculine conversations with clipped, masculine men of any race. Who command presence. Who walk unafraid down the middle of dark echoey streets. Who splash water on their faces. Who reveal weapons just long enough for their assailants to say, “Oh, shit.” Who stand in a circle of assailants, allowing the tension to build with the knuckle-cracking and the jeering. Who then attack every assailant with every limb all at once, and somehow even use the assailants’ limbs against them. Who then stand in the epicenter of all that violence and hurt and look off somewhere else, to some new fight, to some new arena in which they can prove themselves again.

The badass myth speaks to a desire that (some/most/all) men have to be validated for physical strength and cool detachment. Something that most comic book readers are not known for, if you can even believe that. The desire runs deep. That means that the badass myth, however played out it is, will be here as long as men reading comic books are. The flip side is that so will parodies (thank god).

Head Lopper is one such parody. This self-described tongue-in-cheek “sword and monsters” comic is the story of a nomadic warrior, Norgal, and his unlikely companion, the severed head of Agatha the Blue Witch, who arrive on the Isle of Barra to slay a sea serpent. The promise of this series is lots of cartoon violence that toys with (and hopefully subverts) badass tropes and Nordic mythology.

Most of the tongue-in-cheekiness is carried by the art and dialogue and not the narration. There is hardly any narration, which is a good thing, since narration would have slowed down all the fun to be had lopping heads. A steady narrator would have also invited unnecessary backstory to a two-dimensional archetypal character who needs none. The Head Lopper is the Head Lopper is the Head Lopper. Who is the Head Lopper? The One Who Lops Heads. Anything more would run counter-purpose to the comic’s hack-and-slash readability. The story translates well visually, and the only major flaw in the writing in this issue is the dialogue. It never establishes a steady tone and see-saws between unpracticed “medieval speak” (people tend to say “indeed”) and the tongue-in-cheek modern dialogue that better suits it.

The art is simple, clean, and colorful. Maclean delivers wonderfully cinematic aspect-to-aspect panels that either establish setting and mood or cleverly show the passage of time and the silence between one head lopping and the next. Spicer’s colors really make this thing stand apart. He establishes a cool blue-green-gray-purple world and then tactfully splashes hot oranges and torrents of red to ratchet up the action. Characters are drawn in a simplified way, suggesting their archetypal, mythical roots–these are the symbols of masculinity.

Hopefully, in future issues, Maclean will make more use of his source material and give us something even more fun and subversive. Though there’s no guarantee, because as Maclean says, this is a sword and monsters comic–nothing more. True, it’s badass mythology, and played out, but what sets Head Lopper apart from the literally thousands of other comics of the brawn genre is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are a thousand writers of badass stories out there, but very few who allow themselves to have a little fun with it.

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Should you get it?

I wouldn’t recommend this comic to someone new to the art form. This is more for seasoned comic book fans who want a nice break from all the up-their-own-asses badassery. Plus, it never hurts to support a talented self-published writer/artist. Get Issue 1 at the publisher’s site or from digital comic stores like Comixology for $1.99.

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com 

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Worst Best Picture: Is Wings Better or Worse Than Crash?

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Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1927 and 1928 winner Wings. Is it better than Crash?

The story of movie history isn’t the story of how we got to 12 Years a Slave any more than it is how we started with Wings, the first Best Picture winner. Different movies achieve immortality for different reasons. Wings was the first Oscar winner, back before they even called them that, but is it anything more than that?

It’s surreal to watch Wings in 2014. I try to keep the time period a movie is from in my mind when I watch it, but that’s not the challenge here. Rain Man is a fantastic movie that someone spilled 80s all over; Wings is pure 1927. It’s the only true silent movie to win (The Artist doesn’t count and should be ignored), for starters. A two-and-a-half hour silent movie seems like it would be a tough sell in 2014, but it’s worth exploring the first Best Picture.

Wings is the story of two boys who love the same gal, Sylvia. They both want to date her, but she only likes one back. The other guy’s cute friend is into him, but he’s only got eyes for Sylvia. I had to look up Sylvia’s name because she’s in about sixteen seconds of this movie. The boys go off to World War I, plucky female friend goes off to drive an ambulance in the war, and Sylvia presumably dies of Spanish flu, or something. Everyone kinda forgets her. It’s weird. The movie is unbelievably long, but that’s the end of that plotline, let’s go to war.

If Wings has a claim to fame beyond the first Best Picture Oscar, it’s two million dollars worth of plane combat effects. They’re impressive (to a degree, don’t expect much) considering what they had to work with in 1927. The conventions of silent film mean that you’re going to watch a lot of flying time, so at least it’s well done.

The main characters — Jack and David — are completely nondescript. They both love America, flying, this possibly dead woman, and just about nothing else. Wings is a patriotic movie before it is anything else, and it too often is willing to forego any interesting characterization to sell that patriotism. Of particular interest is a German-American character played to be incompetent and useless. He consistently mucks up simple tasks and has to demonstrate that he belongs in the war because he has an American flag tattoo. The creators of Wings knew that people wouldn’t buy him any other way.  The third or fourth time that happens, though, you start to wonder if this might have even been too long for people in 1927.

Clara Bow got top billing on Wings. She was a movie star of the highest order, and her portrayal of the rough-and-tumble “best friend/love interest” for Jack is as close as the movie gets to “interesting characterization.” It never quite gets all the way there, but she at least gets to drive an ambulance around and tell Jack that he’s brave and strong. Hoo-boy, that sentence really tells you where 1927 was at, doesn’t it?

The Best Part: Wings is not especially worth your time in 2014, but if you decide to watch it you’ll end up with a compelling movie. It’s way, way too long (largely because it feels totally unedited) but it eventually turns out an interesting climax that is somewhat surprising.

The Worst Part: Jack and David get some leave from the military and go to Paris to get drunk on champagne. They’re called back to provide needed air support, but Jack is too drunk to remember what the military is. Internet tells me that Charles “Buddy” Rogers, the guy that plays Jack, had never been drunk before the scene. To create a realistic portrayal, they just got him drunk in real life. It comes through like that, and it’s as hard to watch as any real-life drunk. Clara Bow eventually shows up to try to get him to go back to war, which helps, but the scene ends with Jack seeing “bubbles” everywhere. The mixture of a real drunk person on screen and some terrible bubble special effects creates a really, really bad scene.

Is It Better or Worse than CrashThe discussion of race in Wings is one of “real” Americans. The German-American is hated because he is not “authentic.” The women are hated because they are not men. Men are hated because they are not “real soldiers.” The world of Wings has no room for diversity, and it’s roughly as interested in a positive message about diversity as Crash is. But there’s 78 years between Crash and Wings, and honestly, I felt like Wings was a little more progressive. The only message of Wings is “be a man, fly a plane!” Crash would be improved by being just about that.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.