strange_aeons: (follow the leader)
[personal profile] strange_aeons
Have changed the (tongue-in-cheek) scathing pop culture commentary tag to belated reviews because that's the only kind of review you should expect to see here: It's not unheard-of for me to see movies opening weekend, but I have to think about them for a long time before I'm ready to review them, and I operate well behind the curve on nearly all other sorts of media.

Case in point, I'm playing Mass Effect. You may remember this game from the brouhaha surrounding the availability of a romantic subplot¹ involving, of all things, two chicks. Here's a line from an IGN interview with Casey Hudson, the project director:

IGN: You can choose to play as a female character. Does that make any difference in the game? Will men hit on you? Will you be treated differently for being a woman? And if so, can you give an in-game example? Does being female change any of your dialogue tree options during the game?


That's some sharp journalism there, IGN.

I'm about two hours in, because I have fuck-all time for video games. Especially not when I have a run of Ex Machina in my possession; more on that later. Meet Commander Xiang Shepard.



Yeah, I went there. She looks more east Asian² from other angles, but that's not really the point. (Also note her little friend in the background there, whose voice actor is a pleasure and whose lip animations delight me. All the voice acting thus far has been top shelf.) The point is my tiny, pathetic rebellion.

So, this being an industry in which even journalists named Hilary talk about playing a female character like it's the marked choice, I had some reservations about this female Shepard business (though in fairness to Bioware, Hudson answered that incredibly stupid question gracefully). Not being accustomed to RPGs with a customizable player character who has a voice actor and a discernable personality, I'm pleasantly surprised; Shepard sounds brusque -- this may have something to do with my dialogue choices -- and competent, and she doesn't wiggle her ass all over the damn place when she walks like virtually every other female PC ever. I believe her as a marine, which is more than I can say for the medium's poster girls, Lara Croft and Samus Aran.³

On the other hand, there's this.



Yeah, that's an exotic dancer with head tentacles. Yeah, that's Shepard in the foreground. And yeah, the shader on the dancer's head and face is different from the shader on the exposed skin on her body, and it's really distracting and strange.

Anyway, this Ex Machina thing. The protagonist is an ex-superhero -- the only superhero -- and mayor of NYC. I've been hearing a lot about this book and how good it is, and it's written by Brian K. Vaughan, who is responsible for the wonderful Runaways and for Y: the Last Man, easily one of my favorite comics of all time and doubly notable because it does such intelligent, engrossing things with what should by rights have been an especially egregious variation on the already tedious and juvenile last-man-on-Earth theme. I have been aware of this book and the praise it gets, in fact, since it debuted, but I never read it before yesterday.

I am a miserable, pathetic dolt.

I don't want to say 'favorite comic' because Ex Machina doesn't punch me in the gut and take my psychological lunch money the way Planetary does (which is not even necessarily related to quality, though Planetary is a damn fine comic), but dudes: this may be better than Y. The setting and stories are fascinating, the dialogue is so sharp and engaging I haven't once gotten that tiny frisson of dread I sometimes experience at the sight of a page that is 40% speech bubble, and the art -- oh, my god. I can't say enough good things about this art team. There aren't words. Look at this staircase.



I don't believe I've seen a more beautiful staircase in any medium. Gob-smackingly beautiful things happen at a rate of about once per one point five pages. You need to read this comic. I need to have been reading this comic for several years now. Don't make my mistake.

Having said that, it's really Midnighter that is providing all of my emotional needs right now, to wit:





Ahh.

¹ And sex scene, in the tamest possible sense -- you see a hand, and some buttock, but not in the same shot.

² And less like a duck. The nature of chargen is such that you cannot tell how ridiculously protrusive you are making your character's lips. Her profile is weird.

² The appropriate way to reveal to the audience that a character formerly in a body-obscuring armored suit is female is totally to show her in a bikini.
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