Comic Review: The Dregs (Black Mask Studios)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

I’ve been meaning to get round to reviewing The Dregs for a while, and with all four issues being collected soon (August 9th), it seemed like the perfect time to talk about it. The Dregs was created by Zac Thompson, Lonnie Nadler and Eric Zawadzki and published by Black Mask Studios, with Thompson and Madler on writing duties, pencils, inks, letters and covers by Zawadzki, and colours by Dee Cuniffe.

The Dregs is a grim detective story about gentrification, cannibalism and the human condition. Arnold is one of the many forgotten homeless on the streets of Vancouver, drug addicted and destitute and slowly being boxed into a five square block area known as The Dregs, as neighborhoods get homogenised and sterilised. But when his friend Manny disappears, it sends Arnold on a noir-esque trip through the streets, complete with mystery, death and even a femme fatale as he tries to get to the bottom of why the homeless denizens of The Dregs are disappearing, and why no one seems to care.

The Dregs relies heavy on detective stories, to the extent that the only possession Arnold owns is a battered copy of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, which he stuffs full of clues during his investigation. He even uses the pseudonym Philip Marlowe, the lead character of Chandler’s detective stories and one of the most recognisable gumshoes in fiction, when confronting people. There is a danger of creating an eye-roll inducing referential slant to a story by name checking like this, but the The Dregs takes these influences and weaves them in such a way that truly understands the detective story and the character of Philip Marlowe that were it not for the time displacement, I could believe that this was Marlowe decades after his adventures where his mistakes have driven him to the gutter.

The twisted nature of the plot in The Dregs is certainly very strong, but it is almost framing device for the more important things the book has to say. The first is that genuine Marlowe feeling, the drive to uncover the truth not only to his own detriment, but in spite of the fact that no one else cares. Not even the people he is ostensibly trying to help. The second is how this factors in to the core theme of gentrification, of the uncaring nature of supposed societal improvement wiping away a problem (in an inventive an horrible way here) rather than treating the causes and truly helping people. And everyone is complicit in it. There isn’t just one evil cackling villain, but scores of people either turning a blind eye because they are too disgusted to look, or actually benefiting from wiping problems like homelessness away like an eyesore rather than people who need help, and have been let down by society. In this, I think The Dregs manages to deftly hold a mirror up to the issues that are compounded by “solutions” like those proposed in the book (and the real life attempts at dealing with homelessness and drug abuse are often barely less ghastly that they are here).

The book doesn’t just rely on social commentary and noir dialogue though; the art from Eric Zawadzki is powerful in its own right. There is an ugliness to everything and almost everyone that sells the grim nature of the story, and for most of the four issue run the art is very strong, strongly evoking the work of Chris Burnham when he was working on Batman. So as a baseline, the art is good. But there are moments where it truly shines to be something truly great. Early on as Arnold’s investigation moves forward, the art takes on the form of a twisted puzzle, that goes hand in hand with the detective story setting. And in the last issue, as things start to both coalesce and fall apart, Arnold’s journey through the city takes on an Escher-style mind-bending trip, not out of place on storyboards for Inception or Doctor Strange. Cuniffe’s colours make these pieces look even stronger, and while the general street scenes are rendered all the more realistic by their drab palette, the unfamiliar areas of the city to Arnold are awash with a colour that seems blinding by comparison.

I wasn’t expecting it going in, but The Dregs is one of the most effective and affecting books I’ve read this year. The grim nature of the plot and the skilled handling of the subject matter, combined with a spot-on detective noir style and some gorgeous art, make this something well worth your time. Issues 1-4 of The Dregs are available online through Comixology (and physical copies may still be available in your local comic book shop), or you can wait and check out the collection when it comes out on August 9th.

Score: 9 hits of Listo out of 10

The Lost Lighthouse: The Weekly Rapture 91 – Freedom From the Space Boys

Welcome back to The Weekly Rapture, our fortnightly pop culture news and reviews podcast!

Download this episode (right click and save)

Big News

This week we chat about the Black Panther trailer, the tumultuous filming of Han Solo, and the reliance in entertainment on old IPs.

Screentime – E3 2017

This week we chat about our favourite announcements and trailers from this year’s E3 video game expo. The footage we talk about includes Super Maro Odyssey, Anthem, Star Wars Battlefront II, God of War, Spider-Man, Shadow of the Colossus remake, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and  Skull & Bones.

Now Playing – Reading/Watching/Playing

Adam The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler/Orange is the New Black Season 5 on Netflix/Marvel Heroes Omega on PS4
IanThe Hero of Ages (Mistborn Trilogy Book 3) by Brandon Sanderson/War on Everything and The Nice Guys/The Witcher 3 on PS4

Check out any of those through those Amazon links and we get a kick back! Or you can go through here.

You can as always get in touch through Facebook or on Twitter @lost_lighthouse, email us at thelostlighthouse@live.co.uk or sound off in the ‘leave a reply’ box at the bottom of the podcast page on the website.Fancy supporting our site? Head on over to our Paypal donation page! It’s completely optional, set your own price! Even £1 helps us with hosting costs and we’d really appreciate it! Cheers!

Adam’s Top 5 TV Shows of 2015

Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to be sharing our top 5s of 2015, from everyone who writes here at The Lost Lighthouse. Adam will kick off with his favourite 5 TV shows of the year.

I’m taking a quick break from the depths of writing my PhD thesis to write about some of the things I actually cared about this year, starting with TV. Yes I still find time for TV. You’ll notice that not only are all five of my picks American shows, all but one of them are comic book based TV shows. Big whup, wanna fight about it?

5. True Detective – Season 2

True Detective s2

My number 5 is the only pick that isn’t a comic book TV show, and is also potentially the most controversial choice. If you believe everything you read on the internet, the torrent of articles online about what a failure True Detective Season 2 was is pretty damning. Yet everyone I actually spoke to in person enjoyed it, maybe not as much as the first season but enjoyed it nonetheless. It seems that Season Two’s main crime was not being Season One. Sure, it was convoluted and confusing, the dialogue was overwrought and the characters hugely broken and brooding… but as for the first point, having a TV show demand your full attention and you still might not get it on the first viewing isn’t the worst problem a series can have. In fact, it can be more rewarding. And if you say that Season One wasn’t confusing and convoluted you’re a liar.

As for the second issue, as I see it overwrought dialogue and larger than life brooding characters was exactly what the show was aiming for. The writing wasn’t bad. It was specific. True Detective Season Two starred a new cast of characters in an entirely separate story from the previous season, setting the format of the show as an anthology series with an internal ethos but not a set style. The style of the second season was a brooding LA noir, and the dialogue bled that style all over.

Season Two starred Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch as Detectives Ray Velcoro, Ani Bezzerides and Officer Paul Woodrugh, brought in to investigate the murder of a man found with his eyes burned out and his body dumped out on a bench. Vince Vaughan played the man’s criminal partner Frank Semyon, now left in the lurch, and Kelly Reilly starred as his wife Jordan Semyon. As the plot developed, conspiracies reared their ugly heads, dirty cops were stabbed in the back by even dirtier cops, and criminals basically did what criminals tend to do. Also there was a guy in a raven mask.

As with the first season, the performances of the main players were really the strongest aspect of the show. I enjoyed Vince Vaughan (regardless of what everyone else seems to think, I thought he was decent) and Kitsch, but it was Farrell and McAdams as Velcoro and Bezzerides that really blew me away. While the latter generated a chaotic stress and snarkiness that constantly felt on the brink of breaking point, Velcoro was just a depressing mess of a man with a hair trigger. The tag line ‘We get the world we deserve’ drew me in, and the end of the first episode with the detectives surrounding the body, having all driven there independently drunk and blearily staring at each other for the first time, hooked me. Did I enjoy True Detective Season Two as much as the first season? Was it as good? Who gives a shit. It was it’s own beast and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Favourite part – The ridiculous shoot out and carnage with everyone at the end of ‘Down Will Come’, the other ridiculous shoot out with Woodrugh at the end of ‘Black Maps and Motel Rooms’, and the slow motion glass smash from Frank in the same episode… but my actual favourite part of every episode was the haunting intro  ‘Nevermind’ by Leonard Cohen.

4. The Flash

The flash

The CW’s Arrow show may have started off shaky, but a few episodes in it found it’s feet after the main character became less of a murdering Batman-clone with a bow and arrow. Despite how well the first season ended, I don’t think anyone predicted how good the sophomore season would be. Good job it was too, because the success of Arrow (which I enjoy a great deal) is the only reason we have the unbridled superhero fun fare that is The Flash. Arrow may be dark and gritty like most of the DC live action output these days (but nowhere near as gritty as the cinematic universe, which is mind bogglingly not connected to the TV universe), but one thing it isn’t afraid to do is embrace the extended DC universe. The Flash takes this and multiplies it by time travel and multiverses.

Grant Gustin was introduced in Arrow as Barry Allen, and I think the original idea was to have an episode of that show be the backdoor pilot for The Flash. Instead, they decided to have the accident that imbued Barry with the speed force powers of The Flash occur at the end of his appearance on Arrow, then repeated the scene in The Flash pilot. Over the first season and the half of the second we have had so far, the glee with which the showrunners have included the wackiest elements of The Flash’s rogues gallery without hesitation has been just brilliant to watch, from Weather Wizard and Mark Hamill reprising his role as The Trickster, to god damn Gorilla Grodd and briefly King Shark. But the willingness to go for broke on some of the more out-there stuff, while the show still maintains it’s audience, really impresses me. The concept of time travel is introduced incredibly early on, until eventually Barry manages to achieve it himself, and in the second season we have Earth-2 and parallel versions of villains and other characters. It’s pretty insane, but it works.

Also the cross-overs with Arrow just make it seem like everyone is having a great time making these shows, which always comes across on screen and sells both Flash and Arrow that much better. This year we had Vandal Savage, Hawkgirl and Hawkman. So happy.

Favourite part: There is a lot to choose from, but I’d probably go with Episode 15 ‘Out of Time’, when after seeing an image of himself running beside him, Barry later accidentally travels back in time, giving him the chance at a do over when things didn’t turn out so well, risking paradoxes at the same time.

Minor complaint: A bit picky of me, but there is a moment in season one where a character mentions a singularity, and Danielle Panabaker’s character Caitin Snow, a scientist, says words to the effect of “A singularity, what’s that?”. Bullshit she doesn’t know. I get that you felt the need to have someone ask the question for the exposition, but there was a  journalist and a cop in the room at the same time. Either of them would have been fine.

3. Agents of SHIELD

AoS3

I’ve gone on about how much I like SHIELD on the podcast. Everyone gave it a harder time than it deserved when it started. At worst, it was average. Then it got good. Then Winter Soldier happened and it got great. For me, it’s stayed at that level since and of all the weekly shows I watch this is the one I look forward to the most.

Season two brought in the concept of Inhumans, powered individuals that Marvel are essentially trying to use to replace the mutants (at least on screen, possibly in the comics) due to not having the rights to those characters. While still trying to deal with Hydra, Coulson has to deal with rebuilding SHIELD and these new Inhumans, whether they are threats or potential allies. The season introduced some great new characters, in particular Adrianne Palicki as Mockingbird, but also brings some huge changes to the original cast too, some through emotional depth and some through physical change. The added growth in all the characters that started in the first season was really fleshed out in the second (and more so so far in the third), in particular for Skye, who Coulson spent a lot of the time telling everyone how special she was and important early on in season one, while the show only really started to show us why later. That has led to a really strong father-daughter relationship from Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennet that has been really enjoyable to watch.

Season three so far has brought in Inhumans into a Secret Warriors plotline, as well as other worlds and Powers Boothe. All great stuff.

Favourite part: This scene in Season 2 Episode 19 ‘The Dirty Half Dozen’ where Skye straight up John Wick’s a bunch of Hydra goons in a brilliant single take tracking shot.

 

2. Daredevil

Daredevil

Daredevil marked the first of the announced Marvel and Netflix collaboration shows – 13 episode series dropped onto the streaming service in one go ready to be binge-watched. Putting aside the issues that many have with this model, some of which I agree with (in the rush to avoid spoilers, burning through the series in days compresses the enjoyment), after a shall we say ‘poorly received’ movie, I think there was a certain level of apprehension with how Daredevil would turn out, and what that would mean for the series to come. We really shouldn’t have worried.

Daredevil drastically shifted tone from the rest of the MCU, taking it to a dark, brutal and bloody place that it hasn’t gone to yet and set the stage for what is to come with the rest of the Netflix shows. Charlie Cox played the Man Without Fear brilliantly, with Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Woll as his friends Foggy Nelson and Karen Page effectively playing his drinking buddies and grounding him when he became too dark and driven, Vondie Curtis-Hall as the driven journalist Ben Urich, and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, a nurse who fixes up Matt Murdock when he is cut up and beaten within an inch of his life. But as good as they all were, Vincent D’Onofrio really stole the show as Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk, a tortured leviathan of a man who took the whole 13 episodes to realise that his methods for ‘saving’ Hell’s Kitchen actually made him a monster, all while providing a mirror for Cox’s Matt Murdock to ask if he was really any different.

The connecting threads between everything in the MCU are always icing on the cake, and its difficult to know whether it is better to go overt like the crossovers between movies, the show altering changes that SHIELD has in response to the films, or to take a more subtle approach. I think the Daredevil writers made the right call in keeping it subtle, instead using the ‘Battle of New York’ from the first Avengers film as a reason for a now affluent and gentrified Hell’s Kitchen being run down and struggling again, but not having any overt cameos or camera winks.

Due to the critical and fan response to Daredevil, a second season has already gone into production and we’ll be getting that in 2016 along with Luke Cage. This time they’re bringing in Élodie Yung as Electra and Jon Bernthal as The Punisher, one of my favourite Marvel characters. I really couldn’t be more excited about this.

Favourite part: Pretty much the same as everyone’s. Daredevil had some amazing action sequences, but I don’t think they ever topped the hallway fight at the end of episode 2 ‘Cut Man’. Brutal.

 

1. Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones

I’ll admit, Jessica Jones may only be number one because of how recently it came out, in that same whole-season-dump-at-once model as Daredevil, but I’m halfway through revisiting it already and think it is a superb piece of TV. After the first Marvel show from Netflix was such a success, I was very much looking forward to the next one. This second show just came out last month, proving that Daredevil wasn’t just a fluke and pushing the dark, more adult MCU even further than the violence and brutality of Daredevil. Instead of being a dark action show though, thematically and stylistically Jessica Jones is a brooding and intense noir, telling the tale of an alcoholic private investigator with super strength who, after an abortive attempt to become a superhero than ends very badly, is washed-up and struggling to make enough to pay for her cheap whiskey.

The show centers around Jessica, played by Krysten Ritter, clashing with the man who was responsible for her fall from grace. Kilgrave, played chillingly by David Tennant, has the ability to control anyone just by giving them a command. Anything from telling you to throw a drink in your own face to jumping off the top of a building, the victim is compelled to do whatever he says. This terrifying power provides the show with some incredibly dark and weighty subject matter, with consent and compulsion at the forefront. It’s all handled brilliantly, and Ritter and Tennant are just excellent to watch.

The supporting cast is largely great too (I found the upstairs neighbours a little dull), in particular Rachael Taylor as Trish Walker, Jessica’s best friend, Carrie-Ann Moss as Jeri Hogarth, a well respected lawyer who trades favours with Jessica, Eka Darville as Malcolm, the tragic junkie neighbour, and Mike Coulter as Luke Cage, a bartender who she’s been following for a case. Coulter is especially exciting, as Luke Cage is the star of the next Netflix series coming (after Daredevil Season 2) and I thought he was great here.

Favourite part: Jessica not giving a bag of dicks what her neighbour thinks. In fact basically all of Jessica’s dialogue.

What were your favourite TV shows of this year? Let us know!

Adam

Honourable mention goes to: Doctor Who, which I felt was a huge improvement over last year partially due to the inclusion of two parters that have been sorely missing over the last couple of series, but more to do with Peter Capaldi really settling in to the role and delivering some superb performances; Rick and Morty, a show I burned through in about 24 hours after being told about it. Incredibly funny, inventive and very, very bleak; Parks and Recreation, which I only started watching last year but has become one of my favourite shows, and its final season somehow delivered a satisfying ending for an entire cast of brilliant characters while maintaining the heart-warming and sincere yet funny edge the show always had without seeming cheesy or unearned; Archer, which continues to be hilarious even this far in, and I can’t wait for season 7 in the new year; and Agent Carter, which was basically a joy to watch, Hayley Atwell owned the screen (and I’m glad they keep bringing her in as Peggy at different ages in the MCU) in an excellent period piece where the world was even more embarrassingly unequal than it is now. Plus she beat the shit out of a lot of people. Bring on season 2.

EGX 2015 – Indie Games Part 3: VA-11 HALL-A, Knee Deep & Megaton Rainfall

Adam and Kii once again head to EGX to check out some upcoming video games!

On our second indie focused day at EGX 2015 Kii and I split up to cover as many games as possible. It became pretty pretty obvious that we weren’t going to get to everything, but we tried our best! This is my third indie round up article (find the first two here and here), and I’ll be talking about VA-11 HALL-A, Knee Drop and Megaton Rainfall.

 

VA -11 HALL-A (PC, Mac, Linux, iPad, PS Vita)

vallhalla logo

 

This game caught my eye as I was wandering around yesterday, mainly because my love of Ghost in the Shell leads me to gravitate towards anything using the word ‘cyberpunk’. VA -11 HALL-A from Sukeban Games is a ‘cyberpunk bartender action’ game, in which you play as Jill the bartender, as she has to talk to weird customers and mix and blend a variety of different drinks suited to the person’s tastes or mood.

vallhalla

After a quick tutorial on how to mix drinks, the demo threw me into dealing with Streaming-chan, a pastiche of a YouTube vlogger who has turned her life into a 24 hour livestream. The interactions are funny and lewd, and the drinks mixing sim mechanics are simple (I did still manage to misread a recipe and mess it up). After a bit of research (see the trailer above) it seems that this all takes place in a dark, oppressive dystopia seemingly revealed through the conversations with those who live in it, rather than through stark plot exposition. That should be a very interesting story telling choice that I think should work really well. You can check out the prologue over here and support the development of the main game too.

 

Knee Deep (PC, Mac)

knee deep logo

Over in the Indie Mega Booth I spent a little while watching some people play the Knee Deep demo. One of the developers from Prologue Games kindly filled me in on the details of their game, a demo build of ‘Act 2 – The Festival’, the second of a three episode adventure game series. Knee Deep is a ‘swamp noir’ story set in the small Florida town of Cypress Knee, following the events of the apparent suicide of a washed up Hollywood actor. The story unfolds through the eyes a few characters, with the player picking their responses to different conversations and situations.

KneeDeep_Act1-11-1024x640

The small section of episode two that was shown off was brief, just enough to intrigue without giving much away. Knee Deep’s story is presented in the form of a stage play, with an air of overly dramatic conspiracy and noir dialogue that manages to come off as compelling rather than cheesy. Besides an interesting story, the unique element of the game that sold it to me was the way the theatrical elements are incorporated into the structure of the game as if it were an actual play, with set pieces and props moving away as characters transitioned between scenes, and spotlights focused on the lead.

Knee Deep is an intriguing and different game that is well worth checking out. Act 1 is already available on Steam for PC and Mac, with Act 2 coming in November and Act 3 due next year.

 

Megaton Rainfall

MR

Finally we have Megaton Rainfall from Pentadimensional Games, a work in progress game that I played over in the Leftfield Collection. This is a superhero simulator, where the player controls an indestructible god-like superbeing attempting to defend the world from alien invaders. Featuring full sized cities, you can fly around at full speed to combat monolithic ships and weapons before they vaporise whole buildings.

For a game quite early in development this was very cool. The actual flying controls feel very natural, fast and “realistic” (I know people can’t actually fly…), giving the player the feeling that they are controlling Superman or Dr Manhattan. The enemies and combat are a little simplistic, but the atmosphere of the game was terrific, and presumably  even better when using virtual reality (there was a demo set up with an Oculus but it was taken when I wanted to play).  Keep an eye out for this one.

 

I’ll be back tomorrow with my final indie games round up article from this year’s EGX.

 

Comic Review – The Fade Out #1

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

Picking a favourite this week was more difficult than I was expecting! I came away from the shop with a nice haul of very different comics, and have ended up deciding to review something other than what I originally had in mind. That something was The Fade Out #1, written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Sean Phillips and colours from Elizabeth Breitweiser, published by Image Comics. I’m going to make this a quick one as it is pretty late right now and I’ve got more to do tomorrow than my lack of sleep gives credit to.

The Fade Out opens with Charlie, a screen writer and part-time reprobate (as the cast of characters on the opposite page tells us), waking up in a bathtub following ‘The Wild Party’ in Los Angeles, 1948. He starts flashing back to the events of the night before, picking up his friend Gil who was drunk (and tried to punch Bob Hope) before heading to the party. As he moves through the flat, he has intermittent flashbacks that reveal little by little what he got up to, but reveal nothing of the dead woman he has just found in the living room. Shocked, Charlie sees she has been strangled while he slept, and he realises he needs to not be there. To never have been there. So after clearing up after himself, he slinks away. It turns out that the woman he found was an actress in the film he is working on, Valeria Sommers, and Charlie is eventually brought in by the studio security chief. It turns out the studio has changed the story already, altering the scene so it looked like Val hung herself. Charlie can’t speak up though, unless he wants to give away that he was there. He feels complicit in this and falls back into the bottle, remembering more and more of the night, talking to Valeria. It may be that he was more involved in her death than he originally thought…

Difficult to sum up the plot without giving too much away, and I’m pretty sure I have. This is a really well crafted story. Brubaker creates an interesting, noir mystery and it is clear that plenty of research and care has gone into making sure the era feels right for both the setting, story and dialogue (in fact they actually credit their new research assistant, Amy Condit, in the back pages). The same can be said for Phillips’s art, with the style and characters feeling very 1940s, all really standing out. Breitweiser’s colours are washed out when they need to be, dank and threatening at other times when it suits the mood, but more often vibrant and very clear. Also, the dream sequence is a terrifying couple of panels.

Another great new series. This is a team that has been working together for several years, and it shows. As Image often do, this is an oversized first issue for the normal issue price to get new readers in, so the value for money is excellent. In addition, in the back pages Brubaker (I think) indicates a preference for physical print copies over digital, and for that reason they always try to include extras at the back of single print issues. In this case it is a short article written by Devin Faraci, about ‘The Lonesome Death of Peg Entwistle’, one of the many tragic tales of Hollywood and broken dreams. Another good read, and I always appreciate the inclusion of interesting extras. This is well worth picking up, and you can find it at your local comic book shop or online, or I’m sure the digital version is nearly as good!*

 

Score: 9 Commies out of 10

 

* I do happen to completely agree with Brubaker on that though. Things are better, tablets and e-readers aren’t really for me.