Horizon: Zero Dawn Log 5

In which I wrap up a game that wasn’t bad, but ended up not being nearly as awesome as I had hoped (someday I will learn to ignore hype).

So here’s the thing about Horizon: Zero Dawn.  It’s a map game.  That means that the majority of the gameplay revolves around traversing this absurdly large overworld that’s just teeming with all kinds of hidden nooks and crannies and creatures of all sorts.  It’s incredibly beautiful and lush with everything awash in this palette that runs towards vibrant pinks and oranges and blues, all the colors you expect to find in those really magnificent sunset pictures that flood Instagram or whatever.  The designs of the machines are incredibly intricate and meant to evoke this sense of pseudo-biology while the humans dress in this intense array of outfits that are vaguely reminiscent of real-world cultures but which you just have to overlook because in this post-post-apocalypse nothing of present day human culture has survived (I’m not exaggerating; it’s a plot point).  The whole thing is a visual feast!

And that’s kind of all it is.

After some thirty or forty hours (it’s hard to keep count when there’s a two month break between picking up a game and finally finishing it), I found that I just wasn’t that enraptured with the combat; fights against the really big machines were a little fun, but as any gamer knows, the impulse to maximize efficiency leads to a really repetitive play style.  You find your thing that works generally well against everything, and you just do that over and over again (for me it was heavy reliance on tearblast arrows to remove machine components followed by aggressive use of the high damage sniping arrows; if it was a big crowd, I’d set up a bunch of blast wires, pull aggro, then run and hide before repeating the process).  The variety of weapon types and elemental weaknesses to exploit just didn’t draw me into the deeper intricacies of the combat system.  Every fight was more a task to accomplish so I could get on to the next bit of story (more on that later) than a bit of fun in and of itself.

Besides the combat, the other main component of the game is the exploration (remember: map game), and it honestly felt pretty lackluster to me.  I suspect part of this was being spoiled by the incredibly polished design of Breath of the Wild (that was a game that I went into feeling skeptical about having a giant map to explore and ended being really delighted by the idea of going to an area I hadn’t been to yet).  There’s so much variety in that game that the relative same-y-ness of Horizon‘s overworld (you have deserts! and canyons! and mountains! and snowy mountains!) just felt underwhelming by the end.  I made very aggressive use of fast travel because I had no patience for traversing the same territory over and over again.  The conceit that you’re this skilled hunter who can survive off the land fell by the wayside while my desire to finish the story took precedence.  I was not in the mood for another painterly sunset.

So the gameplay wore on me; what about the story itself?  When I first started playing there was all this hope and intrigue with the promise of a world that might explore some interesting themes surrounding faith and being an outsider and whatnot.  The Nora and their religion genuinely fascinated me at first, even if it was built out of some problematic tropes about mysticism and non-Westernized religion.  This was because it’s obvious to the player and Aloy that the Nora’s religion is based on worshiping a different kind of machine, but those early hours spent a lot of time building them up and providing the figure of Matriarch Teersa who always seemed to be a true believer who was also at least a little aware of the nature of her deity.  Once the game let you out of the starter area though, that all fell by the wayside; the Nora are considered backwards fundamentalists by the other nearby tribes, and Aloy generally agrees with that assessment even as she acts as the Nora’s representative in the wider world.  When you reach the penultimate main quest, Aloy finally discovers the nature of her origins by entering the bunker that doubles as the Nora’s holy of holies, and her return leads the Nora to try to worship her as a divinity herself.  Aloy is not pleased with this turn of events.  There’s no reconciliation between Aloy and the Nora faith because she knows that it’s just based on highly sophisticated technology that was created a thousand years before by people.  Perhaps this was the only direction the story could have gone based on where it started, but I had hoped there might be something more interesting in store.

The story we do get is about the end of life on Earth.  Like, all of it.  A rich jerk with more money than sense has his megacorporation develop self-replicating war machines that can run on any sort of biomass, and an error in the programming causes one of the swarms of these things to go rogue and start eating everything on the planet so they can make more of themselves.  It’s a total lost cause, but thanks to the ingenuity of Dr. Elizabet Sobeck (the woman whom Aloy is a clone of), humanity pools the resources of its best and brightest to create a self-directed AI that will rebuild the planet’s biosphere and repopulate it with humans and other animals created from the genetic material that’s stored away in the bunkers.  It’s a near success, but rich jerk has a total nihilist self-loathing moment and destroys the cultural archives meant to help humanity rediscover its origins in the vain hope that he’ll allow them to develop as innocents.  Following that mess (it culminates with him remotely murdering all the leaders of the project in the bunker where they’ve planned to finish fine-tuning the AI for the remainder of their natural lives), there’s some sort of glitch in the system that causes the chief AI, GAIA, to lose control of her subroutine in charge of resetting the biosphere if something goes wrong before humans are ready to be reintroduced, HADES.  HADES tries to purge the entire system and destroy the biosphere a second time using the deactivated swarm machines, and it’s up to Aloy to reboot the system since her genetic identity as Elizabet Sobeck gives her full access to GAIA.

It’s a bleak story, and there’s a lot of time spent meditating on the nature of existence and legacy.  All of the recordings that you pick up along the way carry this implicit dread that the entire Zero Dawn project will utterly fail and Earth will remain a lifeless rock after the swarms run out of biomass; the fact that Aloy is listening to all these deep thoughts is small comfort because the voices on the other end don’t know that they succeeded in having an audience.  The whole thing was enough to freak me out a little bit the day after I finished the game and saw a thread on Twitter meditating on the nature of capitalism as a system dependent on endlessly expanding to consume all available resources.  No joke, I spent about half an hour feeling anxious that we don’t need swarm robots that replicate by eating biomass because we’ve created an economic system that will do the same.

It’s probably good I finished Horizon: Zero Dawn when I did.

Ultimately, the best I can say about my experience with Horizon is that it had a very engaging story that I had to slog through a lot of other stuff to get to.  The game ends with a post-credits scene that teases the set up for a potential sequel, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about revisiting this particular world.  It felt like a story of that magnitude was enough.

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Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #8”

While there are certainly issues of The Wicked + The Divine that feel a little light on plot, issue eight isn’t one of them. Following on the dramatic introduction of a new god in the Pantheon via a flyer that Laura really didn’t want to accept, this issue flashes forward a month to a secret rave that Dionysus is putting on and has invited the entire Pantheon to attend. Laura and Cassandra, through their various connections, have also gotten invited to the party, and what follows is an issue of only slightly adulterated joy and sparkles (okay, there are no sparkles, but Matt Wilson’s colors go to especially delightful places inside Dionysus’s hivemind). There are a few twists and turns in the mystery that Laura uncovers while she’s busily partying away with all of her best short-lived friends. It is, overall, a very solid issue on the normal merits, and we haven’t even gotten into the visual design yet.

Dionysus is like Inanna, except he doesn’t give off this vibe of wanting everyone to be looking at him all the time. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson, cover design by Hannah Donovan; Image credit: Comic Vine)

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. I adore this issue, so it deserves to get its due.

Laura’s introduction to Dionysus begins at the door where the bouncer begins to question who she is before his eyes turn black and he jovially greets Laura with a neon black speech bubble and tells her that he’s downstairs. Right away it’s clear that Dionysus can do some pretty weird stuff (being able to blow up people’s heads is serious business and all, but literally possessing people is downright scary), but his demeanor never once makes you think that he might do something untoward with any of his party-goers. It’s a very different vibe from other members of the Pantheon; Dionysus just doesn’t come across as wrapped up in himself. Inanna is a lovely guy, but it’s undeniable that he knows that he draws attention to himself, and while I think Baphomet and the Morrigan are delightful goth kids whose act is way overwrought, you just can’t miss the fact that they want everything to be about them. I think the strongest indication of this unassuming quality is that Dionysus is upfront with Laura about his origin as a fan of the Morrigan who was approached by Ananke after the Underground incident (I’ve looked, and I’m pretty sure that you can’t spot him anywhere in issue three) and also the fact that unlike every other god, he really is not into the high fashion thing. That’s not to say that he doesn’t signify his status as part of raver subculture (he and Laura have an extended conversation about his smiley face button); he just doesn’t present with the same level of flair that you see from any of the more public facing gods.

Dionysus hits just the right notes of dressing like he really doesn’t care how he looks while projecting his raver identity. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Fraction, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Once Laura and Dionysus get introductions out of the way, he invites her to join his hivemind so she can enjoy the rave.

This is the issue where I really wish I had a better camera and better lighting for photographing panels because I just can’t convey here what a feast Wilson’s colors are. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

This is where the issue gets really trippy in a good way. After touching Dionysus, Laura slowly gets pulled into this altered state where everything is neon-colored and there’s a pervasive, pulsing four beat. One of the central experiences of a rave as I understand it (I was never cool enough to actually go to a party like this) is the immersion in the music; it’s supposed to be loud and constant so that you can lose yourself in a sensory overload. The perennial problem of comics is that because it’s a purely visual medium, writers and artists have to get creative in figuring out how to convey an auditory experience. The Wicked + The Divine often sidesteps the sound problem by not even attempting to convey sound through traditional effects (besides the ubiquitous ‘Kllk’); instead the gods’ performances are usually depicted in lush splash pages that focus on Laura’s emotional reaction to the music. Because Dionysus isn’t the same sort of performer as the other gods, the splash page isn’t an effective strategy (given the entire issue is set at a rave, it would be endless splash pages, which aren’t really conducive to conveying tons of plot). Still, the party has to be a constant presence while Laura is doing investigative things, so we get this unique format of the eight panel layout where every other panel is a beat of the music. On top of the layout stuff, you also have the intense colors that help indicate Laura’s altered state while she’s joined to the hivemind.

Cassandra wins best joke of the issue. Of course there’s no music; it’s a comic book. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

The developments of the issue are relatively major. Laura learns that the Morrigan lied about Baphomet’s alibi for the judge’s murder (from Baphomet himself no less), sees that things are still not copacetic between Baal and Inanna (this is one of Inanna’s less flattering moments because it becomes clear that while he’s not interested in being exclusive with anyone, Baal is absolutely a monogamy guy regardless of his current partner; the moral of the story is that relationships are best served by honest, open communication instead of just assuming that your partner is cool with you spreading the free love), and gets warned to watch her back by the Morrigan (who is partying as Gentle Annie but takes a beat to throw a threatening look as Badb). There are also a few small character moments, like Laura dancing with Sakhmet (it’s becoming increasingly clear that Laura is attracted to pretty much the entire Pantheon minus Woden) and having a quiet conversation with Amaterasu where the sun goddess explains unprompted that she prefers men (it seems to be an unspoken tenet of this book that you will know the sexual proclivities of every character). Meanwhile, Cassandra has a conversation with Woden that she’s really not into until he whispers something to her that suddenly has her pumping her fist despite not hearing any music.

The bloodshot eyes are a big reveal because the entire issue Dionysus has been manifesting his powers. He looks exhausted. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

When things finally become too overwhelming for Laura, she tells Dionysus to let her go (he’s very obliging like that; you only stay in the rave as long as you want to). Laura concludes her weekend (she partied for two days straight and didn’t realize it) with a short meditation on the contrast between Woden and Dionysus. The two do sort of similar miracles, but where Woden does nothing but complain that he can only make devices to help others do miraculous things, Dionysus is fully invested in the idea of godhood as a selfless, other-oriented existence. Laura’s very taken with this idea, but of course this is The Wicked + The Divine, so of course there’s a price to be paid for making so many people happy. Dionysus has been maintaining hivemind raves since his ascension; he’s been sharing his head space with others for two months. That’s not even the biggest trade off either; Dionysus has stopped sleeping. At the end of this issue it’s unclear whether the insomnia is a side effect of Dionysus’s divinity or if he’s just deliberately making himself stay awake because he knows the clock is ticking. It’s a downer moment that caps off an otherwise exuberant issue.

On Microaggressions

On Friday I relayed an incident that happened to me where one of my coworkers casually derided Southern accents in an attempt to make a joke about my own (apparently invisible) accent.  In the short term I laughed it off (it’s not the first time Oregonians have felt the need to comment on their inability to detect where I’m from based on the way I speak), but the episode stuck with me, and I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking on and off thinking about why I’m still irritated by it.  I’ve spun out thoughts about how these kinds of comments betray a stagger ignorance of the sheer variety of accents and dialects that you find across Georgia, let alone the entire South.  I wonder at just how little people consider that the South contains far more than rednecks and landed gentry, choosing to remain unaware of the vast variety of perspectives and types you get in the region.  There is a vast gulf between knowing that people outside the South think poorly of it and experiencing it.

Rachael described it to me most succinctly after the first time someone said to me, “You don’t sound like you’re from Jawja”: I experienced a microaggression.

For anyone who might not be familiar with the term, a microaggression can be thought of as any social interaction where one person makes a move that casually dehumanizes another person.  While they can be done deliberately, most microaggressions occur more because of ignorance and carelessness.  When a white person asks to touch a Black person’s hair, or a man tries to dump a social task on a woman because “she’s just better at that sort of thing,” microaggressions are happening.  Any time you hear someone ask a person of color, “Where are you from?  I mean, originally,” that’s a microaggression.  When a man says to a woman, “You know, you’re just like one of the guys,” that’s a microaggression.  They’re the actions that careless people make to contribute to the othering of marginalized people regardless of the overt hostility that we typically associate with bigotry of all kinds.  This is all easy enough stuff to understand on an intellectual level, but it can feel kind of abstract when you happen to belong to a lot of privileged groups.  I’m a white, cis, straight, Christian guy, so I rarely get placed in a marginal social position.  Back in Georgia, the most uncomfortable moments revolved around political differences and mistrust of the white evangelical subculture that pervades much of the South, and those never struck me as true microaggressions because the assumption invariably was about me being part of the dominant in-group because I superficially fit in.

Here in Oregon, when someone says that I don’t sound like I’m from the South, it does feel othering.  The example of the man calling a woman “one of the guys” or some variation thereof feels like the best parallel to what I’m experiencing.  Behind the comment is the unspoken assumption that there’s a true stereotype about a group of people, and because I don’t adhere to the characteristics of that stereotype, I must be better than that group.  The effect is feelings of personal dissonance as I have to reconcile my positive feelings towards an aspect of my identity (being a Southerner) with the negative associations that are clearly prominent in the minds of people from outside the group.  Even further complicating things are the legitimate critiques I have about certain parts of Southern identity and the South as a region; that I’m embarrassed by the overt racism that many white Southerners espouse and will happily make my own critiques of Southern culture probably appear to non-Southerners like invitations to also poke fun at my home.  What seems to get lost in translation is the understanding that I would like the place that is always going to be part of me to be better than it is; I’m not just slinging mud because I think it’s fun.

In winding down this post, it’s worth pointing out that the stuff I’m describing is old, worn ground for marginalized people.  Women and people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community have been dealing with casual dehumanization from members of the dominant social groups for years; they already know all this stuff, and they know it on a much deeper level than I ever will.  It’s one thing to be occasionally ribbed for not fitting a regional stereotype and something completely different to have the legitimacy of your existence called into question on a daily basis.  Still, I feel like I’ve now had an experience that helps me better understand the kind of social atmosphere that marginalized people live in.  The obvious next step is to incorporate that understanding into my actions so that I can become a less hostile person.

“You Don’t Talk Funny.”

I was doing a math lesson the other day with my students, a little thing where we talked about certain kinds of word problems where you have to figure out how many containers a certain number of units will fit in.  It was sort of a review of how to do manual long division, because so many of my students are weak on their basic math functions and usually rely on a calculator.  The premise that you’re finding how many containers hold a number of objects is useful for this because you can just throw out a couple numbers that don’t necessarily divide evenly and ask, in addition to finding how many containers are filled, how many units of the smaller item are left over.  Standard four operation calculators can’t interpret that part of the problem and will just spit out a number with a decimal attached, which most students will find meaningless and confusing.  Long division’s the best way to go about it!

Anyway, I was doing this lesson with one class, and because it’s always better to provide solid examples instead of leaving things abstract (especially in math), I asked students to volunteer brainstorm some items and containers.  Somehow we settled on cakes, which we established with an earlier problem were worth around eighty-seven dollars each.  The students insisted that these must be really fancy cakes, like for weddings, since they were so expensive.  I decided to go with it.

Before too long, the typical banter that I like to accompany a lesson about anything turned toward the subject of my wedding cake, and I realized that I honestly didn’t remember where I got it.  I told the class that we probably ordered it from Publix.   Because Publix is a regional supermarket chain in the Southeast, I had to explain to my students that it’s like a Fred Meyer, but nicer and it only sells food.  My Instructional Assistant tossed out the question of whether I was sure I got my cake from Publix or a Piggly Wiggly.  Being someone who grew up in the South, I wasn’t even fazed by the suggestion.

“No, we didn’t have a Piggly Wiggly near where I lived.”

It was about this time that the students realized we were talking about something serious, and the questions started coming about what the heck a Piggly Wiggly is.  Eventually someone asked if we could get back to math, and so we did, but not without the occasional suggestion that we see how many items could fit in a Piggly Wiggly.

Finally I just had to stop the lesson to offer an explanation of my home, since this one detail had struck the class as so incredibly weird and alien.

“The South is some sort of place, alright?”

I never said it was a good explanation.

Now, this was a case where the peculiarity of my birthplace ended up adding some fun flavor to an otherwise dry lesson about long division.  It was also an instance where I was explaining things to kids who have probably never been anywhere near that part of the country.  You can’t fault children for finding things that are novel to them a little baffling and silly.  It’s when adults do this kind of stuff that it gets annoying.

A few weeks ago I had a meeting with some coworkers, and while discussing schedules and graduation requirements, we got on the subject of Physics for some reason.  I explained that I struggled with Physics because it was scheduled at the end of my school day, and the teacher had a very monotone voice, and could you really blame me for falling asleep sometimes during notes?  The peculiar part of my story was that I took Physics when I was a senior; it’s a class that’s typically scheduled for freshmen in Oregon (we’ll just overlook the fact that there is a freshmen level physics class in Georgia, but we call it Physical Science to differentiate from the senior level course that not every student takes).  This odd detail led one of my coworkers to comment, “So you are from Georgia?”

Y’all, I don’t talk about Georgia too much at work because it’s not exactly a relevant topic at an Oregon high school most of the time, but considering that I was introduced to most of my coworkers as the new hire from “Jawja,” I just figured everyone knew that was my home.

Anyway, I replied that, yes, I spent my whole life in Georgia before the move.

“I never would have guessed because you don’t talk funny.”

You know those moments where a thing happens, and all you do is blink because you need some time to process the thing?  Yeah, that was me.

So after a long second of thinking about what this person just said to me, I replied, “No, I do not have the stereotypical Southern accent.”

“Yeah, that’s what I meant.”

Really?  Because it sounds like you just said you think Southern accents sound funny.

Now, this is not the first time I’ve had to manage this sort of unconscious bias that the locals have against Southerners.  Other coworkers have made similar comments in the past, and I’ve shrugged it off with the usual stoicism that is an essential part of my work persona.  Usually I follow up with some sort of mild insistence that I actually do have a Southern accent, but because I lived my whole life around Atlanta it’s not very pronounced (yes, I know there are plenty of folks who live in Atlanta with thick accents).  I’m not sure how much folks accept this explanation; preconceptions about what a Southerner should sound like are apparently pretty strong outside the South.  Still, it’s the most expedient explanation that doesn’t require going into detail about my background in English and my affinity for grammar and the concept of code switching (my accent becomes more prominent when I’m surrounded by other Southerners).

The first time any of this happened to me, I mentioned it to Rachael, and she said, “Congratulations on your first microaggression!”

That’s going to take some more parsing.

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #7”

This is the issue where you discover that all the hearsay about Woden being a jerk is absolutely true and his redeemable qualities exist in a quantum space that will always, always, disappear the moment you look for them.  Also, Baphomet and the Morrigan show up at the end, and I maintain that they are still the most delightful of the gods that we’ve met so far (given a choice between the underworld and the sky gods, I totally go with the underworld here; their incredibly performative artifice always strikes me as more genuine than even Inanna pulls off–and I think Inanna is great).

Woden is the worst. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson, cover design by Hannah Donovan; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The setup for this issue goes like this: another month or so after the last issue, Laura has leveraged her proximity to Lucifer’s decapitation to become a minor celebrity in Pantheon fandom, and she’s now booked as a VIP guest at Fantheon, a major convention for the faithful.  This pursuit of power and prestige among fandom isn’t just for self-glorification (though I doubt Laura doesn’t enjoy her brush with celebrity, at least until she gets sick of being hounded for autographs); becoming a second-tier figure in fandom grants Laura access to the Pantheon that she didn’t have after Ananke killed Lucifer.  The other bit of salient information in this issue is the rumor of the Prometheus Gambit, a potential motive for the men who attempted to assassinate Lucifer back in the first issue.  The Prometheus Gambit is the theory that if a mortal is able to successfully kill a god, then that person will take possession of the god’s power.

Cassandra explains the Prometheus Gambit, and Jamie McKelvie demonstrates his ability to draw the very specific facial expression “disgusted incredulity.” (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Following all of this setup, we get to the main event of the issue: Laura getting to observe Woden in action and deciding that she needs to find out what he knows.  The incident that precipitates Laura’s sudden interest in Woden occurs at a panel for people who touched the hems of the Pantheon’s garments, so to speak.  One of Woden’s Valkyries, a pop star collective made up of tall Asian women hand picked by Woden to make use of his creations, has been recently kicked out of the group, and she’s eager to spill tea about Woden now that she’s no longer legally obligated to represent him in a positive light to the public.  The woman, Kerry, runs through a laundry list of salacious details about Woden’s behavior in private which paint him as emotionally abusive, selfish, and strongly insinuate that he’s horribly disfigured beneath his mask.

Kerry’s gossipmongering doesn’t go on for too long before Woden shows up to the panel with an offer to let Kerry come back to the Valkyries if she’ll just publicly swear that she was lying about everything in order to get attention.  He even brings a brand new set of Valkyrie armor with him to present to her.  Kerry, whom Gillen and McKelvie portray as someone who simply craves the spotlight, has some misgivings about Woden’s promise, but agrees to disavow everything she’s said right there in the panel.

Yeah, this doesn’t end well. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Now, here’s the kicker about Woden: by the end of this issue, everything that Kerry says about him is proven true, and most of it is demonstrated in a thoroughly public manner.  As soon as Kerry declares that she made it all up in front of the audience at the panel, Woden destroys the armor and casts Kerry off, satisfied that her reputation is now thoroughly ruined.  It’s a an incredibly effective public humiliation, but Laura has enough sense to question Woden whether Kerry was actually lying about anything she said about him.  Woden obfuscates by saying that with less than two years to live he doesn’t have the luxury of caring about what’s true, but the manner in which he humiliates Kerry lends credence to her suggestion that he’s abusive and self involved.  The only thing that’s left a mystery is his disfigurement; he essentially admits to Laura that he really is disfigured, but this is done in private where no one except those closest to the Pantheon can overhear.

This dude is heartless. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

More surprising than Woden’s awfulness is the way that Gillen doubles down on it as a character trait.  All the gods have some hangups about their abbreviate lifespans, but Woden is portrayed as especially petty.  He resents the fact that his divine powers only allow him to create devices that other people can safely use (a backfire from something he made for himself early in his ascension is the reason he always wears a mask in public).  It explains why, in addition to unashamedly indulging a very specific fetish, Woden maintains his entourage of Valkyries; since he can’t personally benefit from his creations he’ll just manipulate and coerce others into serving him with the promise of access to his power.  At this point you might think that there has to be some core aspect of Woden’s character that is essentially tragic or misunderstood, but I just don’t buy it.  He is exactly as Gillen and McKelvie present him, and we’re not supposed to find him the least bit redeeming.  To put a bullet on that point, Laura’s interview with Woden ends with Kerry, angry over Woden’s betrayal and her public humiliation, attempting to kill him with an appeal to the Prometheus Gambit.  Minerva foils the assassination attempt, but is horrified when she realizes how seriously she injures Kerry.  Woden shrugs the incident off by assuring Laura that the Prometheus Gambit is just a myth; if it were true he would absolutely be trying to kill all the other gods so he could switch places with them.

It has to be really comforting for the rest of the Pantheon to know that one of their own would kill them in a heartbeat if he thought it would benefit him. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

The issue closes out with Laura having a drunken karaoke night in the company of Baphomet and the Morrigan, which is the kind of stupid fun you expect young people to have, particularly when they’re working through some complicated feelings (Laura is always working through complicated feelings).  This pastime in and of itself is unremarkable beyond establishing a growing friendship between Laura and the underworld gods, but it does provide the payoff to a running gag throughout the issue where Laura becomes increasingly fed up with people pestering her and refusing anything they ask or offer.  Someone wants to give her a flyer announcing the public debut of the eleventh god of the Pantheon: Dionysus, the Dancefloor That Walks Like a Man.

Horizon: Zero Dawn Log 4

After an extended holiday break from Horizon: Zero Dawn (look, Skyrim is a lot of fun, and then I got a Switch and Breath of the Wild for Christmas, and some things just have to take precedence, okay?), I’m finally back to the world of post-post-apocalyptia.  The break from the game was a good one, although there were a few technical challenges jumping back into a game that I haven’t played in a few months.  Wherever I last left off was very near an area that was marked off for a fight with a big machine called a Rockbreaker, which is essentially a giant mole, and purely by accident I wandered into this fight totally unprepared.  I had muscle memory left over from playing Zelda, and Horizon is already a game that’s designed to make you feel like a weak puny human fighting against giant carnivorous machines, so things got awkward pretty fast.  I kept jumping when I meant to dash, and I realized (as I predicted I would back when I started playing Breath of the Wild) that I had become spoiled by the ability to climb any vertical surface; I desperately wanted to be able to climb up on some rocks to get away from the evil mechanized rodent that was making my life miserable.

It was all very comical if you like to watch people floundering around in games they are bad at (I don’t; seeing a person play a game badly induces a certain amount of anxiety in me that I have to very carefully monitor so I don’t start bossing around a person who’s just trying to have fun).

Long story short, my re-entry to Horizon: Zero Dawn was less than smooth.

Once I got the hang of the controls again and beat the Rockbreaker with many, many arrows to the face, I jumped back into the main story.  I last left off in the middle of a subplot where Erend, a dude that Aloy meets briefly before the Proving and who acts as a point of contact when she reaches the Carja city Meridian, is trying to find out who killed his sister Ersa.  Erend is a perfectly cromulent fellow, though he reads as relatively flat to me.  His characteristics can be boiled down to drunk, affable dwarf (he belongs to the Oseram tribe, who are tinkerers who wear big leather aprons and billowy clothes that make their proportions look much more stout than you would expect for a human), heavy emphasis on the drunk.  Like pretty much all the plot points up to now, it’s a perfectly fine story, if a little cliche.  I could have done without yet another manfeels story (the first part of the quest involves you following Erend around the city as he drunkenly tries to figure out what happened while wallowing in self loathing over not being able to take care of his sister).  I had a brief glimmer of hope that this was going to be something more interesting when the investigation of the ambush site revealed that it had been staged and there was a possibility that Ersa was not, in fact, dead.

Moving on quickly through the investigation, you eventually get sent up into Oseram territory where you get to see that the Oseram not only look like dwarves, they build like them too.  I saw at least two primitive machines that had been built to do hard labor like sawing timber into planks and hammering out iron bars, but there was no one minding these devices.  It was a nice bit of world building that fell flat when you stopped to realize that there was no one actually operating these contraptions.

You see that giant iron bar on the anvil? Yeah, it just gets hammered over and over in the same spot. No one moves it or changes anything out, so I’m left asking, “What’s the point?”

Eventually the plot concludes with Aloy and Erend taking down a group of Oseram who faked Ersa’s death and kidnapped her on the orders of this dude named Dervahl who resents the peace that’s developed between the Oseram and the Carja since the new Carja king took power.  We get to meet Ersa, which is super cool because she’s obviously way better than her brother, but she’s only on screen long enough to die in Erend’s arms and give him more of the manfeels.

Me too. I’m sorry that your sister still hardly got any character development before she died to double down on your whole grief thing.

The thing is that I don’t dislike Erend; he’s a perfectly fine character, and in the process of tracking down his sister’s kidnappers he gets a bit more development to help the player feel attached to him.  Still, I don’t like him enough to sacrifice Ersa for his development.  This is the second time you’ve killed off characters that were way more interesting, Horizon, and I’m done expecting better things from you story-wise.  Let’s just keep this relationship professional and move on to the end.

At the same time the plot with the Oseram and the Carja are moving forward, there’s another branch of the main story that’s devoted to Aloy seeking out information about the woman who is totally her genetic sister might be her mother.  It has a much more heavily sci-fi flavor to it than the Carja stuff, which gives me the impression that the game’s writers really wanted to try to have a scenario where they could do sci-fi and gritty fantasy in the same world but weren’t sure how to make them interact in a way that wasn’t tonally dissonant.  I haven’t finished either quest line yet, so there may still be a moment where the two stories intertwine, but for now it feels like exploring the history of Horizon‘s world is a totally separate thing from dealing with its present day politics.

“Do You Think, If We Hadn’t Been Given Rooms Next To Each Other, That We’d Have Ended Up Being Friends?”

The first time the football fans descended on campus at the University of Georgia my freshman year, I had one clear thought that has remained with me nearly fifteen years later: I do not want to be one of these nostalgic alumni invading student space when I get older.  At UGA, it was simply understood that six Saturdays a year, if you lived on campus, your home was commandeered to serve the wants and needs of ninety-plus thousand football fans.  Living in one of the dorms located on one of the most central quads, I awoke to see a sea of red, white, and black outside my windows on these days.  I’ve never been a fan of large crowds, and the nature of game days only exacerbated that antipathy to the point that my negative feelings spilled over into a dislike of football in general.  I’ve mellowed a bit in the intervening decade; I have generally positive feelings toward my alma mater‘s team, even if I wasn’t directly caught up in the excitement of the last football season.  Still, I’ve never forgotten that I resented having my space invaded by people who weren’t students.  Nostalgia, I figured, was for people who couldn’t get over the fact that they were past that stage of their lives.

Even though this distrust of what I termed nostalgic alumni became deeply ingrained while I was a student, I wasn’t so good about follow through after I graduated.  Rachael and I spent a couple years away from Athens, but we jumped at the chance to move back when she decided to go back to school and I got a job at a school in the area.  I mostly stayed away from campus (living in a different part of town that’s not especially popular for student housing helped), but there was always the occasional sting of nostalgia.  College can be a really special time in your life, especially when you contrast it with all the responsibilities you have as an adult.  Living in your old college town, no matter how sensible you try to be, does carry with it some danger of trying to ingratiate yourself back into campus life.  What you inevitably find, though, is that you’re getting older, the students aren’t, and gradually you find yourself having less and less in common with them.

This is okay.

Each cover features one of the characters doing something perfectly mundane, like texting while you wait for a ride, or hanging out on power lines with birds, or channeling Joan of Arc. (Cover by Lissa Treiman; Image credit: Comic Vine)

For folks who don’t want to fall into the nostalgia trap, but do want to enjoy a bit of fond reverie, there’s a comic series that can scratch that itch.  Giant Days, written by John Allison with art primarily by Lissa Treiman, is the story of three girls who become friends in their first month at university (it’s set in England, so you call college university) and then have a variety of adventures that evoke all the things you remember fondly about your own time as a practice adult.  Our protagonists are Susan, a die hard cynic; Esther, a goth party girl who subsists on drama and whimsy; and Daisy, whose home school education has imparted her with remarkable book smarts and a naivety about the world that her friends find endlessly charming.  The chief unifying factor among these friends is their proximity to one another: they all live on the same hall in their dorm.  This fact of physical closeness breeding new and interesting relationships is one of the most delightful aspects of college life that Giant Days hits on, and then it just proceeds from there.

Did I mention there’s an issue just about dealing with being sick when you’re on your own for the first time? There is, and it’s glorious. (Artwork by Lissa Treiman, colors by Whitney Cogar, letters by Jim Campbell)

The plot lines that spin out from this simple set up are incredibly low stakes affairs; while the world is a little zany, and some strange fantasy elements can wander in from time to time, the guiding ethos of the series is that it’s a story about young folks just learning about themselves and about being an adult in an environment that’s designed to let them do that learning in a relatively safe way.  No one’s ever in mortal danger, although things do turn serious on occasion (the third issue revolves around Esther being targeted for sexual harassment after the purveyors of a campus website take photos of her at a party and place her on a “Hottest First-Years” list).  These are stories about growing up, so while the tone is generally silly and lighthearted, you can’t escape some moments of gravitas.  In the same issue where Daisy celebrates her eighteenth birthday (partly by accidentally getting high on ecstasy at a club and deciding the sound of the hand dryer in the bathroom is the best song she’s ever heard) she also realizes that she’s attracted to women and gets rejected by a friend whom she hopes wanted to be more than that.  Both facets of the story are played so well, and the goofy highs (even if you’re like me and never were a hard partier in college, you probably still have some memories of moments where things got out of hand in ways you didn’t expect) only magnify the depth of the serious lows.  This series feels like a distilled version of the college experience, which makes it a perfect fit for nostalgia trips because most folks are going to remember those same extreme moments of their own matriculation much better than the mundane stuff like the homework and the reading that we all did because even then it wasn’t all fun and melodrama.

This exact shop configuration exists in Athens, except they’re stacked on top of each other. There’s a reason I find this comic so charming. (Artwork by Lissa Treiman, colors by Whitney Cogar, letters by Jim Campbell)

If this all sounds like something you think you’d relate to, you should check Giant Days out.