DC Metal’s Dark Knights Ranked

As promised, I am ranking the Dark Knights from DC’s Metal event.

First, I’d like to note a few things about the other cross-over/tie-in titles:

Gotham Resistance was the real gem of the event. It picks up with Damian right after Batman’s disappearance, and brings in the Teen Titans, Suicide Squad, Green Arrow, and Nightwing for an all-out-assault on a Gotham City that has been transformed into a series of Malebolges by the Batman Who Laughs and a number of Gotham Rogues he’s empowered with Nth Metal Joker cards. The story flowed well across all four titles and, despite the fact that they’re titles I’m not interested in, made me consider giving them a shot because they were ALL GOOD!

Bats Out of Hell was a disappointment. While the B-team heroes brought an A-game story, the A-team heroes’ writers brought their B-game. Despite a shot to have some really great fights between the Dark Knights and the Justice League, or some good character development to build on some of the stuff established in the one-shot tie-ins, Bats Out of Hell was largely wasted. The first two issues felt like a muddle mess of clips, failing to establish much of story in its own right. Part 3 had a decent idea of primarily featuring a Knight interacting with his counterpart, but gets an F for execution. Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 32 literally uses Dawnbreaker’s power as an excuse to not draw half the comic. “Oh, he has power over light AND darkness? Let’s make ever other panel solid black and not draw backgrounds!” This meeting was nothing but wasted potential, and I much rather would’ve seen a Wonder-Woman tie-in devoted entirely to her and Merciless.

Batman Lost was really good. It may not have been a work of genius, but it’s easy to mistake a competently done Batman story in this vein as being genius because they’re so easy to mess up. It reminds me a bit of those navel gazey and introspective Bat stories that Grant Morrison is prone to writing; you know, the ones that that are tie-ins to his Bat Saga but are so off the wall that they don’t get collected in context of the works that would allow them to make the remotest amount of sense? It was like that, only you could follow it and it was enjoyable enough. It didn’t feel like a complete waste of time as a Bat story, even if it was kind of filler.

Now, onto the rankings of the Knights!

7. The Drowned – The Drowned is by far my least favorite of the Dark Knights. The gulf between the 6 and 7 slots are tremendous. The art wasn’t bad, but other than the whole “Batman is a woman in this world—also she is Aquaman,” it didn’t really do much to look at the character in any sort of unique, insightful, or exciting way. It had a nice aesthetic, but it failed to do anything with it and just was not an interesting book.Batman-The-Drowned.jpg

6. Red Death – Okay, Red Death is down here in number 6, but not because it was bad, just the others were better! Batman fuses with the Flash to gain access to the Speed Force. It’s kind of Cronenbergesque. The reason why it’s ranked so low is Red Death book really just portrays one brief scene between the two. I liked the concept, but wanted something meatier.Batman-The-Red-Death.jpg

5. Dawnbreaker – Dawnbreaker gets a lot of hate because Dawnbreaker is dumb. The premise, that is. The Green Lantern ring went to Bruce Wayne, who used it for revenge against criminals and went insane with power (like that one time Green Lantern went insane, except worse, because he’s Batman and has Maximum Willpower + 200%). He ends up killing everyone and everything, plunging his world into total darkness. It’s dumb, yeah, but his book tells a complete story with beginning, middle, and end, and it features some really great artwork of Lantern-Ring horrors; which is what makes HJ&tGLC 32 that much more disappointing.Batman-The-Dawnbreaker.jpg

4. Batman Who Laughs – Batman Who Laughs falls in the middle because it met expectations. And meeting expectations was not easy to do, and this could’ve been a big let-down. As it is, though, we got a pretty gruesome Bat story that gives us a decent canonical reason for why, at the end of the day, Batman CAN’T kill the Joker. Imagine Return of the Joker, only with the real Batman being possessed and not schlubby middle-aged Tim Drake. Had a real “Oh, man… Oh, shit…” vibe to it; not for the faint of heart.

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3. Murder Machine – Murder Machine was kind of bizarre and surreal, but oh my gosh it had some amazing art! In MM’s universe, Bane killed Alfred instead of breaking Batman’s back, and an AI Alfred program goes crazy, Batman along with it. This is one I need to reread so it’ll make more sense in context of the rest of the Event, but it was good enough that I decided to pick up all of Metal even though the Outsiders were a bait-and-switch in The Casting.Batman_The_Murder_Machine_Vol_1_1.jpg

2. Devastator – This one was a real surprise; I expected Devastator to be in the middle, but whoa. Here we have a Batman who had to deal with a Superman who went crazy, so he injected himself with the Doomsday virus. I was not expecting that what sent this Batman off the deep end was seeing Superman kill Lois. Devastator’s interactions with Lois were some of the most powerful in the whole event (the “I’m doing this for you, Lois…”), in part because, unlike with some of the Knights, we don’t really have an “evil” Batman so much as a Batman who is broken by his worst fear—Superman going full murdergod and no force on earth able to stop him—coming true.batman devastator.jpg

1. Merciless –Another big surprise and the best of the bunch. I’m a DCAU Wonder Woman x Batman OTP guy, so this one really tugged at the heart strings. Bats and Wonder have been leading the force of good in an extensive war with Ares. Wondy dies, and it breaks the Bat. Bats takes up Ares’ Helm of War, and goes all death knight crusader. And it’s awesome. Merciless is one of the only ones of the bunch who I could see having worked as a standalone villain. In fact, a Batman corrupted by Ares would make a pretty good recurring Wonder Woman villain, especially given the weakness of her own rogue gallery. The biggest letdown of Metal so far has been that Merciless and WW haven’t gotten much page time together, and the couple panels they got Bats Out of Hell were bland and even kinda spoiled some of Merciless’ depth. But still! Of the whole bunch, this is the one I want to see more of after Metal is over.

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Addenda: Mom-Jeans Lois is smokin’ hot.

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Swords of Steel Vol 1.

Some of you may have seen advertisements in Cirsova for an anthology series called Swords of Steel. Well, if you enjoy Cirsova, I strongly recommend checking them out, and I’m not just saying that because they’ve advertised with us (but disclaimer, they have advertised with us; I was sent digital review copies of volumes 1 & 2, but also bought a physical copy of 1 and now intend to buy a physical copy of volume 2. Also, Howie K. Bentley is a Cirsova contributor with a short story, …Where There is No Sanctuary, in Cirsova #4.)

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The anthology specifically invokes Andrew J. Offutt’s Swords Against Darkness anthologies, as well as other Appendix N authors, in the introduction. Does it stack up? Well, to be honest, I haven’t gotten around to reading SAD yet, but I would say that this anthology is well worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of Cirsova’s Sword & Sorcery pieces.

I realized that I said SoS was “the real deal” in no less than 4 separate tweets. Sounds kinda canned, but no, this is really good. If you’re wary of promises of sword & sorcery goodness that have let you down in the past, fear not, because this anthology delivers.

Some of it is a bit darker and more grisly than what you’d typically find in Cirsova, but most of the stories are of the caliber and quality I’d be more than happy to have in my anthologies. Dave Ritzlin has done a fantastic job with this. It’s an annual anthology, so you should have no trouble keeping up.

The concept behind the anthology series is short fiction by extreme metal musicians, so I have tried to accompany each piece with a sample track from the associated band when I could find it.

Note that I’m excluding the poetry selections not because they aren’t good poems but because I don’t feel qualified to comment on them beyond saying “Yeah, that was pretty metal”, and poetry is such a subjective thing that folks who don’t like it will not be swayed and those who do like it may for certain particulars I would not be able to convey in brief.

Into the Dawn of Storms – Byron A. Roberts

The first piece is actually the first chapter of novel/novella. I have mixed feelings about chapters and excerpts either presented as a standalone story or as a serial, and this piece does not really stand on its own – it’s setting and atmosphere framing a prose poem which points in the direction that the story will eventually go. That said, I enjoyed it well enough that I would like to eventually read the book in its entirety, either serialized in Swords of Steel or as a standalone volume.

The Riddle Master – E.C. Hellwell

The Riddle Master was kind of the odd story out in this collection, as more of a gothic horror than a Sword and Sorcery story. It tells a time-worn tale of the devil’s promise to grant earthly desires to cocky and overconfident artist, but it does so in such a wonderfully atmospheric manner that it’s fun to see it hit each beat as you see them coming. This was probably one of my favorite stories in the anthology.

Also, prog rock doom metal? How freaking awesome is that! Of the bands, this guy’s is probably my favorite as well.

The Mirror Beguiling – James Ashbey

Sometimes if you can add enough flourish and weird, even a story about a simple fetch-quest going awry with some twists and turns can be a lot of fun. I’d happily read more adventures of Ruga Hawkshand if there are any more of them.

All Will Be Righted on Samhain – Howie K. Bentley and David C. Smith

One of the longer pieces in Swords of Steel, this tells the story of Boadicea’s daughter seeking revenge on the Romans and summoning the Rune incarnate Thorn to punish those who raped her and defeated her mother. Incorporating a lot of pagan mysticism and the Wild Hunt, this was a very colorful story but also marked heavily by Bentley’s penchant for carnage and gore. If you can stomach it, it’s fascinating, but a bit extreme for my taste. Pretty sure it gave me nightmares.

Headbanging Warriors – M Harold Page

Interesting little non-fiction/essay/prose poem piece about the rhythm of battle.

Journey in Somnamblia – Jean-Pierre Abboud

Rogue magicians near a city powered by magic try to do something magical. This one showed some promise, but I feel like it did not really have a payoff.

Eve’s Grave – Scott Waldrop

There’s some beautiful and haunting imagery in this, but I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind to really enjoy it. I ended up skimming and skipping a bit in this lengthy prose poem which was vaguely reminiscent of Nick Cave and The Dirty Three’s Time Jesum Transeuntum et Non Riverentum.

Blue Mistress – Jeffrey Black

A guy on a ship fishes out a mermaid; the ship is attacked by a giant squid monster. While by most accounts, this was just an “okay” story, Black really captured the “weird” aspect of the mermaid queen in a way that you don’t see often.

Vengeance of the Insane God – Jason Tarpey

A wandering warrior arrives at a city founded by his ancestors to learn the art of smithing only to find that the king has gone mad and sold out the inhabitants to deep ones. While imperfect, this is one of the stories that I hope is part of an ongoing series or uses a recurring character. Plus, if next time I run a D&D game, I’m totally using the idea of forging swords using the ashes of ones ancestors; not only was it your father’s and your grandfather’s blade, but the carbon in the steel is their ashes, so the blade IS your father and grandfather!

This story is an expansion of this track. This is probably my favorite of the bands after Hellwell.

Vein vs. Vein: Anatomy of a boris Remixssue

So, after some careful listening, I’m beginning to figure out what the new Vein IS. IS, as in what it’s composition, based on the original vein, IS.

Disc 1, the reimagined hardcore version, principally takes the one-two minute punk/grindcore tracks, isolates them, and removes most of the droning/jamming (contrary to the name, the hardcore version is comprised of about 50-60% drone). Instead of the extended instrumental intro, it cuts the intro down to just over a minute, adds in an additional instrumental piece that I can’t identify (based on the mix, which is significantly different). The instrumental outro of Side A is instrumental outro of disc 1.

Disc 2, the reimagined drone version, seems to be an extended jam of the the second part of the original hardcore version’s instrumental intro (fuzz/feedback/doomy bassline). Some of this made it into side A of the drone version, but again, the mix is substantially different, with the driving bassline brought front and center. It has more in common, soundwise, with the instrumental intro (around the 5 minute mark) of Hardcore’s side A. The second half of Disc 2 seems like a more straighforward remix of drone side b, although somewhat condensed.

Vein CD is a very different experience than either of the Vein LPs. The hardcore disc is decidedly more hardcore, by simple elimination of the moodsetting instrumentals. The drone disc, while still instrumental and droning, has more of a doom element by pushing the noise to the back and the rhythm to the front of the mixes during its first phases. You have a fairly consistent track, in some ways reminiscent more of Cloud Chamber than Vein’s drone disc, which feels cohesive and thematically similar to the original, while it avoids the ubiquitous squealing of feedback, except in its climax (as mentioned before, taken from the latter portion of Side b), which largely defined its LP counterpart.

While an interesting experiment in reduction and remixing, I feel that a large part from the Hardcore disc is missing. Lacking the extensive and sweeping metal instrumentals that punctuated those brief and incredibly chaotic songs, the CD makes for less pleasurable listening than the LP version. It feels like less of a holistic experience than a collection of short and thrashing punk songs by a band that is more well known for their lengthy and melodious stoner metal suites. The Drone CD, in some ways is an improvement, offering some variation that wasn’t necessarily present on the original, and showcases some of boris’ best hard-driving instrumental metal since the Thing Which Solomon Overlooked series.

 

I have been trolled by Boris again.

I just got the new 2CD Edition of Vein the other day. My first thoughts were “Yay, now I don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to hunt down the Drone version!” and “Yay, now I don’t have to setup my stereo speakers to where the cat will destroy them when i want to listen to my copy of the Hardcore version!” Because Vein, which was one of Boris’s best albums, was released as two clear, unlabeled LPs, the first disc of which was limited to 1100 copies and only released in western hemisphere while the second was limited to 400 copies only released in the eastern hemisphere. Needless to say, getting a full copy of vein was a difficult and expensive prospect, and succeeding would land you in an extremely exclusive group of individuals.

Well, they put out a 2cd set which, instead of being a cd reissue of the original album(s) was a remixed/reimagined cd version on 2 5″cds with 3″ bands (to reflect the strange pressing of the original which had a screened image on the outer two inches of a 12 inch LP.) So, instead of two 30 minute cds or one 60ish minute cd that included the entirety of Vein, they put out two 18 minute cds which together come out to barely over half the time of the original albums. I’m still interested, because it IS effectively a different album, but man! I’m still kinda cheesed that I have to turn to youtube for my digital versions of Vein.

Anyway, I also got their new album, Noise. The Japanese edition, of course, since it came with a second disc that extends things a little over 20 minutes. And I’m glad I did, because those songs on the bonus disc rock pretty hard. I think that Noise may grow on me. While I’m not completely blown away by it like the first time I heard Pink, I have to remember that it took awhile before I fully appreciated Smile and saw it for the masterpiece it was. Whether it grows on me or not, Noise is another step back in the right direction, away from the mess that was New Album, Heavy Rocks 2 and Attention Please.

New Album was such a jarring stylistic transition that it almost felt like a joke (i’m still not sure that it wasn’t, it just wasn’t a funny one, except for how confused western music review sites were when comparing albums in incorrect order because of the discrepancies between the Japanese and US release dates). I could never get past the feeling that “this just isn’t boris, why am I listening to J-Pop?”. Attention Please was interesting, but as much as I adore Wata as a guitarist who could wipe the floor with Eric Clapton any day of the week, she’s boring as a lead vocalist on this boring album that doesn’t really showcase what she’s best at. Heavy Rocks 2 was the best of that sad trio, but ultimately felt like a very uneven collection of B-sides for a better album that never materialized.

Praparat was a huge, shining ray of hope, and Noise is almost what I want from a new boris album. In fact it’s so close and so much better than their 2011 releases, that I’ll take it and be happy about it. It’s almost enough for me to forgive them the Vein CD. At least if I can ever scrape together enough cash for the Thing Which Solomon Overlooked Chronicles, I know it’ll be the original LPs and the bonus disc.

So, after I’m done soaking in the sickly stevia sweet Jetty Rae, I’ll be switching gears and taking in a little chaos from the Japanese lords of metal.

V – Varg Vikernes

Fantasy has always had big impact on metal, and metal has had a big impact on fantasy. But so rarely have the two been joined so integrally as by Varg Vikernes. Sure Summoning, which is a great band, may put out album after album of (often obscurely) Tolkien themed black metal, but at the early forefront of the movement was Varg. While many of the other black metal bands had ‘cool’ ‘evil-sounding’ names in English, Burzum stood out. Meaning ‘Darkness’ in the Black Tongue of Mordor, Burzum was the brainchild of its sole member, ‘Count Grishnakh’, whose name was also an obscure lord of the rings reference. The project sprung out of an earlier effort, Uruk-hai, but beyond and apart from singing songs about elves and hobbits, as most metal bands are wont to do, Burzum explored the black and white morality presented in Tolkien’s world as it could be applied to the real world, viewing it through the lens of his own unique brand of Norse pagan nationalism.

Tolkien’s Middle Earth is a setting heavily influenced by old English and Scandinavian culture and mythology. However because he was a Christian writer essentially writing morality tales for a Christian audience, his cultures tended to be rather flat morally, which could be seen as a bowdlerization of the peoples from whom they were derived. His Orcs were uniformly evil, and his Men of the East were all barbarous, vile and amoral; a traditional view of less civilized pre-Christianized warrior societies and cultures.

For Varg, darkness represented the adventure to be had in the world, and when the light had purged that darkness, society would become decadent for that lack of adventure. Recall for a moment, how little of any import or interest happens in the 4th age; though it may be Middle Earth’s ‘happily ever after’, there is something sad about Sam all alone in his final days, looking to the west. In a more real-world sense, Varg explores the ideas of an ancient world that has been purged and homogenized by Christianity. The old ways and ancient culture is inevitably lost. It’s a recurring theme in fantasy, the departure of magic from the world. From the exodus of Dunsany’s Magician in the Charwoman’s Shadow to the last desperate attempt to stop the march of man’s progress by the Woodsy Lord in Thief, fantasy is filled with stories of a world diminished by the absence of these things. Man creates light to push back the darkness, because man fears the dark. But that is where the magic is.

Over his long career, he has recorded several albums that run quite the range of genre and style, never easy to peg down. His stuff gets lumped in with Black Metal because of the time in which Burzum was recording and individuals associated with him, though he has distanced himself from the movement and scene which he was never actively a part of.

This track from the album Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (If the Light Takes Us) is quintessential black metal, provided you like keyboards in your black metal:

This track from Filosofem is more along the lines of (oldschool) industrial metal:

This track from Daudi Baldrs (The Death of Baldr), which was recorded while in prison (for the slaying of Øystein Aarseth, who had concocted an elaborate plan to murder Vikernes, in self-defense), is something else entirely.

If I ever get around to playing Daggerfall again, I fully intend to go through with my plan to swap out the original sound files for the Daudi Baldrs album.  As a fellow fan of the Elder Scrolls, I think he might be able to appreciate that.

After being released from prison, he put out a pair of excellent metally albums, but has been on a much more experimental bent the last few years with Umskiptar (neo-folk with some heavier elements) and Sol Austan, Mani Vestan, which admittedly reminds me a lot of the stuff I was doing with Medicide before I had my mid-life crisis.

There are plenty of reasons you can find to not like Varg or to discount his body of work, but I won’t go into them here. You can do your homework and come to your own conclusions. As for me, I’ve found that despite any disagreement, qualms or whatnot, I’ve found his output incredibly enjoyable and excellent inspirational material for fantasy settings. Oh, yeah, and have I mentioned he’s working on an RPG? MYFAROG.org. You can find a lot of his thoughts on music, gaming and other things at Burzum.org.   He regularly blogs about religion and survivalism over at Thulean Perspective over on the blog-list there.

 

Nautical Metal for Nautical Misadventures

For anyone who’s been following Cirsova and paying attention to the music posts, you’ve probably noticed I’m really big into doom & sludge metal. I remember as far back as Vampire: The Masquerade 1st ed, a sourcebook suggesting the using music to enhance the mood of certain scenes for roleplaying. I wanna say that the example they used was something like “A guy crashes a party and switches out the cd; throw on something like Butthole Surfers”.

Recently, ST:Wild on Roleplaying posted about creating soundtrack cds. Rather than soundtracks, I’ve always preferred soundscapes, largely because they enhance the mood without the jarring created by either track breaks or players’ familiarity with songs. Droning doom metal, however, might be a different story,  as the length of tracks and ambient nature create a fairly consistent atmosphere with less of a roller-coaster feel than a playlist with a few dozen shorter songs.

One of the sub-genres within doom that I’ve found oddly appealing is nautical themed doom metal. All of the music is played so as to recreate the feel of rolling waves of the ocean and being lost out at sea. One of these bands, Ahab, plays whaling-themed funeral doom, their first album being a retelling of Moby Dick. I’ll admit that what I’ve heard of the new album is not that great, but their first, The Call of the Wretched Sea, is pretty amazing.

Another band I’ve recently become enamoured with is Monarch!, from Bayonne, France. Lyrically, their songs are ballads of the forelorn wives of sailors, oceans of tears, etc., and they are heavier than a planet with epic 20 minute tracks that evoke the despair and isolation of high seas. Their album Dead Men Tell No Tales is a great introduction, as it’s a pretty cheap two disc cd giving you two albums, 5 tracks and nearly two hours of the heaviest metal you’ve heard.

If you plan on having any sort of nautical adventures, or even astral-nautical adventures (who HASN’T wanted to play a Gith pirate campaign?), I strongly recommend checking out both of these bands and trying out a little in the background of your next session.