Many varied things today!

*Let’s start out with an exercise in evolution. Here’s a cover gallery for a very long-running manhua, really popular in Hong Kong from what I’ve heard. Note the, ah, continuing motifs that bind the earliest editions. But as the first hundred issues drag on, see the dialing down of the roughness, and the addition of movie-fueled photography. The look of the covers gradually becomes glossier, more ‘realistic’ in character build, less energetic. By the 700’s, we might as well be looking at movie posters, complete with dramatic lighting and scrupulous compositions, so fully has the wild early spirit been subsumed. And then - yet more years later, the crackle of popular fighting kinetics, with what looks to me as a certain Dragonball Z influence, though I‘m pretty ignorant as to pop comics history of this type. Here’s the most recent pics, and man, I can’t help but love those early comics most of all, for all of the visual maturity of the art. I mean, c’mon.

*Indy Gaming Dept: Here’s something neat I managed to pick up on my travels - an English-subtitled freeware 2D graphic adventure game titled Soviet Unterzögersdorf, created by a Vienna-based art collective called monochrom, which is also a book and magazine publisher, and famous for sending an entirely fictional artist to represent the Republic of Austria at the 2002 Sao Paulo Art Biennial.

The game is actually the latest development in an ongoing multimedia project of theirs, also encompassing performance art, faux-historical webpages, and assorted improvisatory hi-jinx, all of it centered around the titular (and fictional) republic, a hugely self-deluded 2 kilometer Austrian-based vestige of the USSR, still fighting the good fight in the present day, despite their lack of money or resources or good sense or anything like that. Apparently, the purpose of the whole thing is to satirically examine the postmodern theoretical problems of historiography, such as the impossibility of neutral contemplation as per the meta-narrative of what is ultimately dubbed ‘history,’ whilst humorously pondering the legacy of socialist utopianism in contemporary Europe.

This all sounds terribly impressive and artistically valid and all, but I should now emphasize that it’s at times a very funny game, peppered with wry dialogue and surprising sight gags. You take the role of a heroic local official who wakes up one day to discover that the Republic’s beloved grounds are covered with litter, doubtlessly dropped under the cover of night by subversive forces! It’s up to you to solve the mystery of who’s behind this atrocious crime, all without getting yourself killed or forcing your beloved Republic to sell out their bodies and souls to the West.

For its obviously low budget, it’s quite an attractive game, crafted in the style of some of Sierra’s later 2D offerings, with photographic backgrounds and digitized human actors in costumes walking around atop. There’s also individual icons for looking and talking and picking things up, though the game isn’t terribly complex; I can’t imagine a halfway experienced gamer not completing it in about an hour and a half, though you’ll still want to save often, as there’s some unexpected (if funny) hidden death scenes to trigger. And hey - points for you if you’ve already picked up on the aesthetic compatibility of utilizing the perpetually near-death graphic adventure gaming format to depict the desperate twilight state of the Soviet Empire!

A fairly big download (100+ megs), but a nice production, with some good laughs. It’s part one of an intended trilogy, and monochrom is asking for donations toward the production of future installments. I’d like to see them. Not much of a challenge, but good fun, and a fine example of utilizing an arguably archaic gaming format for expression and critique beyond the immediacies of basic gaming pleasure.

*Now that I really think of it, you know who really needs to make a 2D graphic adventure game? Paper Rad. I don’t know, though; my heart might simply shut down when confronted with the sheer brilliance of something like that.

*Tom Spurgeon runs a very useful site. Yet more proof: this lovely Andrew Farago-conducted interview with Roger Langridge, creator of the late, great Fred the Clown among other fine books, will doubtlessly go a long way toward solidifying fans’ decisions to purchase this Wednesday’s Langridge-scripted Marvel Monsters: Fin Fang Four one-shot. Especially if those fans had only known about the book from Marvel’s own ‘Telegraphs From Terror Island’ information page, found inside other Marvel Monsters books, which has consistently misprinted Langridge’s first name as ‘Richard’ since its inception. Don’t worry everyone, it’s the same guy!

Super F*ckers #271 (no, actually #1)

Ho ho, look at the comics I’ve just gotten around to reviewing. This thing, a full-color, 32-page square pamphlet from James Kochalka, caused kind of a minor stir when first released, being a foul-mouthed, gore and nakedness-filled superhero book drafted in Kochalka’s typically cute style with searing, candied colors duly applied. Really, the argument as I recall it was over whether it was funny or trying too hard or simply pointless, but I think I’m leaning toward the funny, with the pointlessness acting as an additional advantage. And since a second issue is coming out sometime in the next two weeks or so, I think it’ll be good to go over what I liked about the book in a bit more detail.

Basically, the ‘plot’ follows assorted members of a teenage superhero team, left mostly to their own devices after their leader has been lost in Dimension Zero, as they attempt to hold a membership tryout competition. But mostly they all just want to lay around, fight one another, have sex, play video games, and do drugs (for the record, this was the first of 2005’s two superhero comics thus far to explore the narcotic capabilities of alien bodily fluids, beating Gødland to the stands by months). All of it is conveyed through Kochalka’s deceptively simple cartooning, though he manages some nicely detailed mutations and beasties.

As you may have grasped from the title numbering, the book doesn’t aspire to tell much of a clean, self-contained tale, although little plots like the membership drive and a crack appearing in one team member’s world-in-a-bottle do resolve themselves. Mostly though, the reader is dropped into a presumably well-established superhero world, and is expected to accept characters as detailed only though the iconic verve that long-lived superhero characters sport when they’ve gotten used to having their own book. As a result, there’s little 'deep' characterization, but a lot of basic archetypes, all the better to mix with Kochalka’s basic character designs, everything fodder for vulgar play.

And to me, this sort of thing stretched nicely to 32 pages, though I expect not too many more issues can be successfully struck from the delight inherent to adorable comics superkids punching one another, thick streaks of ketchup blood spewing from their putty faces. And dialogue like “Ew! Son of a cunt! Damn! That reeks like rotten pussy!” certainly can’t snap forever. In addition, the book’s more overtly satiric impulses (superheroes are so commonplace in the book’s ‘world’ that new heroes have taken to performance-boosting drugs to stand out from the oversaturation) haven’t yet developed to a fully satisfying degree. But for now, Kochalka’s translation of the two-fisted antics of teenage superhero life to a more authentic (by my experience, at least) teenage chaotic milieu is pretty amusing, and (this being Kochalka) great-looking to boot.

The price, of course, presents its own problem. It’s seven bucks, and you’ll have to keep that in mind, and weigh the fun you’ll likely have against the damage this’ll do to your pocket. All I can say as to that struggle is that the fun is strong, and the book is an attractive object. The soon-to-arrive issue #2 will dial the price down to five bucks, while cutting the page count to 24. But you can get the first issue for five bucks too, as part of Top Shelf’s current sale, or you can at least download the free theme song. Free is always best of all.