Marilyn Manson- 2007 to now

These movie poster fan-art pics are made by @ProviderModule on Twitter

(Originally posted in August, before the release of We Are Chaos)

As if writing text bricks about Anne Rice and Sopor Aeternus wasn’t enough, I’m about to fully confirm myself as goth trash by writing about Marilyn Manson.

The last thirteen years, ever since the release of Eat Me, Drink Me in 2007, have been interesting for Marilyn Manson fans. Most of us were hooked by one of three albums that Manson has named the Triptych: Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals or Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). In fact, I originally thought of this post as a review of Marilyn Manson’s post-Tryptich material, since a lot of us can’thelp but wonder when the next big, crazy-ambitious project was coming.

But when people talk about recent Marilyn Manson material, they typically mean the material generated between 2007 and now. One reason why the last thirteen years feel different is that he never seems to integrate the new material into new setlists equally with the nineties material. The vast majority of Marilyn Manson concerts will feature a generous amount of music from the most recent album and a lot from Antichrist Superstar through The Golden Age of Grotesque.

Stuff from 2007 through whatever the prior album is never seemed to make the cut. Almost as if each new album is meant to be the real follow-up to Golden Age and replace the others. I mean, what would a setlist consisting of nothing but new material look and sound like? Absolutely nothing from before 2007? Can the material from the last thirteen years stand on its own, independent of anything older? The insecurity visible in how he has treated his current “new” album as existing alongside the older material with nothing intervening does not inspire confidence. I don’t think it’s impossible, though. In anticipation of the upcoming album We Are Chaos, let’s go through the list!

Any current Marilyn Manson fan probably remembers what the release of Eat Me, Drink Me was like in 2007. The polarized response to it, though, caused some of the album’s more subtle virtues to be overlooked. For example, how well Tim Sköld incorporated the influence of British glam rock from the early seventies. Especially after the years he spent honing the unique industrial sound of KMFDM and the rhythmic, electronica-influenced instrumentation on The Golden Age of Grotesque. Perhaps the memory of Twiggy Remirez never would have allowed the fan base to give him a chance, but no other Marilyn Manson albums sound like the ones Tim Sköld worked on.

The song from this album I listen to the most these days is Are You The Rabbit? Honestly, I’m surprised it was never a single. Especially since it has such a distinct personality that would make it stand out compared to many of the more famous singles (The Dope Show, The Beautiful People, etc). If I Was Your Vampire is also undeniably memorable.

Sadly, Eat Me, Drink Me also has one of Manson’s most grating, mind-numbing mistakes ever (You and Me and the Devil Makes 3).

The High End of Low catches more hate than any other Marilyn Manson album since 2007. Both the lyrics and the vocal delivery are probably the most uninhibited and experimental since the Spooky Kids.

You know how I said You and Me and the Devil Makes 3 is “one of” Marilyn Manson’s biggest mistakes? Unkillable Monster is the biggest, with I Want to Kill You Like They Do In the Movies getting an honorable mention. I Want to Kill You… is saved by some decent instrumentation and creative mixing, but I can’t think of a single redeeming feature of Unkillable Monster.

With those weaknesses out of the way, The High End of Low has some truly different and powerful material. I know this is probably in no way related to what the lyrics are actually talking about, but I listened to WOW frequently around the time I started to come out to people as trans. Four Rusted Horses probably has the best lyrical use of imagery on the whole album. Manson’s use of Americana started with that song as well, which I think has turned out for the best.

Without a doubt, this is my least favorite Marilyn Manson album. There were songs on Eat Me, Drink Me and The High End of Low that were painful to listen to, but those records had enough originality and creative risk-taking to make them memorable. Born Villain was the very first Marilyn Manson record to be just “meh”. As in so many other situations, it is always better to experiment and stumble then to play it safe with blandness.

Still ain’t all bad, though. Overneath The Path of Misery is as good as his best material. No Reflection has a cool back-and-forth between imagery and the cadence of syllables and word placement.

You’re So Vain is also probably my favorite out of the songs from other artists that Manson has covered. (If anyone cares, my other favorite covers are Cat People, Five To One, Working Class Hero and Down In The Park)

The Pale Emperor is my current favorite from Manson’s post-2007 material. I hear these songs in my head probably more often than any other recent album of his. First pick is Slave Only Dreams to be King. It makes me think of the version of Oswald Cobblepot from the show Gotham. (Which is funny, because not long after it was released there was an FMV uploaded to YouTube using the song Killing Strangers and Cobblepot footage)

The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles balances emotional catharsis with camp in a way that really reminds me of the lyrics of Queen. Which meshes beautifully with the ass-kicking rockabilly syncopation of the drumming. Back when I was considering writing the script for a “fan-fic” Batman comic, I would hear this song in my head when thinking about either Batgirl or Red Hood. Having mentioned that comic twice in reference to The Pale Emperor, it’s clear that the album, for me, evokes the feeling of being in a dream-like, paranoid, fantasy city in the mid-twentieth century. Perhaps this stands to reason since Manson wrote and recorded this album with the film composer Tyler Bates.

I also cannot get enough of the cover of the Bowie song Cat People (Putting Out Fire) that Manson did with Shooter Jennings. That’s one of those songs where every version except the one from the Bowie album is great. I mean, the song appeared on Let’s Dance, but that was a version that was recorded specifically for the genre experiment that Let’s Dance explored.

My feelings are mixed on Heaven Upside Down. It takes occasional risks and Tyler Bates continued to be an asset. Familiar sounds were used creatively as well, though: the album swings between Tyler’s familiar blues-rock and some nuances that almost sound like very early Marilyn Manson. Revelation 12 and Je$u$ Cri$i$ both remind me of the Spooky Kids music. Saturnalia sounds like some of the best material from Antichrist Superstar. Tattooed In Reverse is catchy, beat-driven industrial metal, which is a familiar genre for Manson, but still sounds different.

The influence of seventies glam rock on Marilyn Manson is well-documented and Threats of Romance is the best expression of it in a while. It’s exactly what a modern, metal interpretation of Bowie, Roxy Music, etc. should sound like.

Imaginary set list with nothing but material from the last thirteen years:

Saturnalia

No Reflection

Killing Strangers

Are You The Rabbit?

Tattooed In Reverse

Blank And White

Revelation 12

Overneath The Path of Misery

Four Rusted Horses

The Devil Beneath My Feet

If I Was Your Vampire

The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles

WOW

Threats Of Romance

Cat People (Putting Out Fire)

Heart-Shaped Glasses (When The Heart Guides The Hand)

I Have to Look Up Just to See Hell

Slave Only Dreams to be King

SAY10

Deep Six

Heaven Upside Down

Cupid Carries A Gun

You’re So Vain

Vigil: The Longest Night first impressions- lil bit later (light spoilers)

While it has been a few weeks, I still suspect I am in the beginning. I did not resolve every thread of the disappearance of Bruna and the nature of the involvement of Gram and the Professor before those events get “missed” (little x’s appeared next to the quests I didn’t finish).

If I have missed some stuff, it’s because I went straight to the Catacombs after finding Bruna in her transformed state. I did make an effort to find other “dungeon-length” areas but could not find much outside of the cemetery. “Note” discoveries tell us that Daisy, the Professor and others were last seen near there, so it’s simply an obvious thing to check out at that point. Some networking with Maye village residents will connect enough dots for Leila to discover that the arches overhanging the Crimson Ocarina are probably what the Lantern Keeper is referring to when she says Porta Avernus.

The detective work of this part of the story was a welcome balance against the action-packed platforming and combat. I particularly like how Thurber Sungi was involved. He is an outsider and (I think…?) a member of a foreign and marginalized religious group. Unless the royal government that he works for is the same one that Maye and the Vigilant warriors are subjects under. In that case, when Thurber says the word “heretic”, he probably means the same thing that other Goddess-worshipping villagers mean when they say the word. In that case, the villagers Chris and Gram are the only characters so far who do not practice the common religion.

The Professor, meanwhile, discovered a phenomenon called Crimson that is almost always deadly to humans. Tissue-growth can be achieved with Crimson if an appendage from one being is attached to another of a separate species. Lastly, there is a method of introducing Crimson neurologically, which has the most gradual and most mysterious effects. This appeared to have been going on with both Gram and Bruna. Sure enough, I have an item in my inventory called a Crimson Ocarina and a likely location to play it.

A brief musical note and a red flash later

At first this reminded me of Blasphemous. Then I noticed the more whimsical qualities, like the kaleidoscope city in the background and floating coffin platforms. Blasphemous is surreal and psychological, but those qualities are designed to accommodate a sense of religious dread. Lots of penance, self-flagellation, glorification of martyrdom, etc.

Blasphemous is set in a world where a scary, inhumane, autocratic religion is made effectively “real” by magic. Death’s Destination in Vigil, though, does not look like the creation of a control-seeker. The cityscapes kaleidoscoping in a spiral on the horizon, floating coffins and piñata fetuses are more chaotic than the dour, medieval, orderly nightmare in Blasphemous. In terms of atmosphere, Blasphemous has a nightmare of order and Vigil has a nightmare of chaos. Really, Death’s Destination looks almost like Earthworm Jim if it decided to go for horror instead of comedy.

The boss fight in this area is not particularly challenging but it does require a modest amount of patience and, for a few levels, always seemed to be just within reach of being beaten. I actually spent a few days on this fight and did a lot of grinding for it without realizing the amount of time and effort I was putting into it. Maybe that’s good design or just a happy coincidence, but either way the Lantern Keeper soon shows up to tell us we have “ended the timeless nightmare”. Is Leila’s trial finished now? What does that mean, exactly?

“Soon to be complete”?

After some fun banter outdoors with two guards who don’t recognize you, you are taken back to Maye where a disease has taken hold and some time has gone by. Maybe? Leila soon finds her sister Daisy tending the afflicted in an asylum either built into a wrecked building or a wrecked ship.

Later discoveries reveal this to be a distinct possibility

Here, the game gives you the chance to pick up a smattering of quests, rather like our first glimpse of Maye. The loss of every owl statue checkpoint could also, arguably, support the possibility that a time jump has happened. There is no frank comment on how distant the era we came from really is.

We encounter various friendly faces, such as Daisy and the shopkeepers, who recognize us. Then there is August, at the library near the cemetery, who is clearly an adult (if not middle-aged) man who says he is a descendant of an ancient guard named Duran, whom we know from the start of the game. Both cannot be true and the plot must surely thicken. Maybe Leila could be an unreliable narrator after all?

Speaking of lost time, a new naming convention involving different times of the year has proliferated while we were gone. The waterfalls to the East of Maye also appear to have gone through some kind of seismic or oceanic event, as it is now a vast wasteland of bog and wrecked ships. Whether this is due to a time jump, Leila infiltrating another timeline, Leila’s own mind or something else is not yet clear.

The way this change was expressed in the structure of Maye was also welcome. How to even implement towns in a Metroidvania has suffered some confusion in the past. Hollow Knight makes it so you can add more bugs to Dirtmouth village and shortcuts without by finishing different quests. Salt and Sanctuary simply makes the checkpoints the only place to encounter specialized support NPCs. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia had places you could select on a menu-like world map that consist of static NPCs and non-horizontal doors and alleys you interact with by pressing ‘up’.

The original Castlevania: Simon’s Quest did a decent job by simply adding platforms and a nonstop day-night cycle to it. A town like Maye, with more platforming layers and accessible areas that are added over time, is a very welcome addition. What might be really neat later on is if the gradual downward progress of the town’s construction eventually leads to some important Norfair/Hallownest area.

Just an idea ^^

The creature design continues to be on point. I particularly appreciated the bear near the waterfall cavern where Hilda is found for the second time and the shadow beings found further into the ship’s graveyard. There were also beings at that place that looked a little bit like the shark people from Bloodborne’s Fishing Hamlet but other than some occasional unoriginality, more hits than misses so far.

Try jumping, huh?

SU Lucifer, volume 3 (spoilers)

The third volume of The Sandman Universe: Lucifer, subtitled The Wild Hunt, draws us closer to one of the more daring threads in the prior installment (The Divine Tragedy).

Within the second volume, there is a memorable scene involving Lucifer, Caliban and the ancient Egyptian pantheon. To gain an audience with the Egyptian dieties, Lucifer must weigh his heart against the feather of truth with Anubis. The scales balance and Lucifer says “My heart is never heavy. I do as I will, and never otherwise.” To which Anubis says “Would that all had it that easy.”

Later, Caliban attempts to follow his father and his own heart cannot balance against truth. Obviously, Caliban has more in common with a lot of us than Lucifer. The majority of us have had to do at least some things against our will, or have been forced to. To many, an entire existence with no involuntary compulsion sounds mythic.

The quality that the society of witches revered within Sycorax was her total refusal to live under the rules of another. Thessaly, who voices most of this, says that she herself would not have been brave enough to refuse both the overtures of the Moon and Lucifer. Thessaly expresses that most people are so desperate for power and safety that they would agree to anything for it. Essentially, it is the coin that is always accepted and Sycorax, in the eyes of Thessaly, has turned her freedom into something so precious that no coin can buy.

Between freedom as a naturally occurring absolute (Lucifer) and freedom as something to be gradually embodied over time (Sycorax), the latter is just easier to relate to. At the end of The Divine Tragedy, Lucifer has begged every pantheon to shelter Sycorax from the eventual wrath of Jehovah and very nearly fails- what eventually happens to her is something she consents to.

If someone spends a lot of time bending over backwards for another person while claiming they only pursue their own ends, it sews tension. One begins to wonder how honest with himself Lucifer is, when he claims he cannot be coerced. This tension is the main dynamic within The Wild Hunt.

It also involves some character details last glimpsed in the original Sandman. Such as Lucifer’s tendency to sew the seeds of violence and disaster within humans without even noticing he is doing it. The crimes of passion or deaths by accident that Lucifer passively engenders have never really been unpacked until now, and even this unpacking can go unnoticed. We see it a lot in these pages (with almost comedic repetition) but it is never commented on directly. The implication is enough, though: the members of the Wild Hunt claim that if the Hunt is not called regularly, that a build-up of bloodlust will accumulate within all sentient beings which then spills over.

The individual identities of the Wild Hunt support this as well: Thirst, the eldest, appeared when the first being to ever kill felt that desire. Thrill and Fear then manifested and, lastly, Honor, the youngest, whose lot it is to make violence permissible. The Wild Hunt is a ceremonial release of primal, destructive energy that once kept the world in balance. Odin was the original leader of the Wild Hunt and was later supplanted by Lucifer. Lucifer, being both famously goal-driven and wed to his own infallibility, whittled the soul of the Hunted God each time she manifested until she appeared to stop. This leaves the Wild Hunt hanging until Odin summons them in our third volume of the new Lucifer comics.

So you have antagonistic characters claiming that, if the ceremonial Hunt does not occur, a deadly reservoir of violence will grow in the universe. Our protagonist, meanwhile, seems to provoke death and destruction without even noticing or caring and they are also the one that effectively “stopped” the Hunt a long time ago. The one who stopped this release now seems to have a knack for randomly provoking release in others.

Lucifer’s long-protected fallibility is also highlighted in the opening pages. The opening narration says he was followed by Mazikeen (a daughter of Lilith, whose face has a living and a dead half) after abandoning Hell and eventually leaves him. Narrator says we wouldn’t quite dare to openly say that Lucifer was hesitating. And then, when words involving Mazikeen are uttered in the ancient Hellenist underworld of Hades, he is relieved. Odin says Lucifer is attempting to thwart the Hunt “for love.” The unspoken fallibility and dependence of Lucifer are a big deal in this story. To go light on the spoilers for once, whether he succeeds in this pursuit is left on the note of a genuine cliff hanger. This current story arc is not complete enough to be evaluated yet, but I really wanna know what happens next.

Vigil: The Longest Night dropped yesterday! (first impressions)

At long last, Vigil: The Longest Night is now available to the public!

I am still very much in the beginning- I have barely been able to surpass the territory covered in the open beta event from earlier this year. During the open beta, I commented on problems with the collision detection and button response time. While there are some imperfections with where on the ladder or ledge will grab, those issues are largely gone with one conspicuous exception. There is a vertical platforming area between Maye village and the entrance to the first dungeon. At the same time, there is a waterfall in the area which needs to be perpetually animated. The button-response and collision detection with the climbable ledges gets worse when the game needs to animate a large volume of smaller animations. Outside of this area, though, I did not struggle with the platforming.

Something I do not remember from the open beta is automatic zooming in and out depending on location. Other side-scrollers that have implemented it, like Salt and Sanctuary, usually streamline the process so as to not draw any attention to it. Which is perfectly understandable if the perspective-shift is just meant to make navigation easier and has no relationship with the overall style of the game. In Vigil, though, situational zooming is used in a way that makes the world feel bigger and makes the different art styles used for different effects feel much more like a unified whole. The situational zooming really pops when trees are rustling or something close to the foreground moves.

The opening cutscene feels somehow more detailed or longer than it was in the beta. Whether it is or not, though, the specific art style of the cutscene (above and below) also helps all of the different stylistic influences feel like a bigger whole. Consequently, Leila’s sword-swings and other quick movements look way more authentic and natural this time than they did in the beta.

The greater visual continuity really, really came together. And it’s beautiful. Perhaps more importantly, though, it gives Vigil a more distinct identity. Which matters a lot since 2D side-scrolling “Soulsborne/Metroidvania” has now caught on as a recognizable sub-genre, adding to the imperative for newer additions to distinguish themselves.

While I’m talking about “Soulsborne/Metroidvania” as a sub-genre, there is also an optional Salt and Sanctuary and Vigil crossover event. I don’t know how to communicate how exciting that is to me. In my opinion, Salt and Sanctuary was not just one of the first “2D Souls” side-scrollers, but it captured something basic about the format itself. If it was not for S&S, we probably would have saw more typical action-RPG mechanics in Hollow Knight and Blasphemous, like exp, leveling, etc. Aside from all that, though, S&S is simply one of my favorite games and I could not be more stoked to see what Vigil + S&S is like.

One thing that has become fairly common to both “Soulsborne” and games that blend the formula with side-scrolling is ambiguity. This is probably because Hidetaka Miyazaki, the main creative force behind Dark Souls and Bloodborne, often uses circumstantial and visual storytelling. Vigil inverts this trope by giving us Leila, a named protagonist, with a family and a hometown (apparently- at least in the very beginning). What’s more is that she is no-nonsense, perceptive and goal-driven. If there is any use of an unreliable narrator at all in this story, it does not look like it would be Leila.

The difficulty was also adjusted since the open beta. The boss of the first dungeon actually required some persistence, experimentation and grinding. Like a lot of “Soulsborne/Metroidvania” games, leveling in Vigil is based on an allocation point system. The threshold for leveling up, in the very beginning, is pretty low, so those first few easily-obtained levels are a satisfying and engaging way of introducing the player to the skill-tree. This is fortunate, since I suspect that throughout the game you will need to be proficient in different combat styles. The accessible introduction to the character-building makes experimentation with different builds more accessible as well.

Legend of Zelda Challenge: Outlands (spoilers)

The Legend of Zelda: Outlands is a rom hack of the original 1986 The Legend of Zelda by Challenge Games that dates back to May 15, 2001. Chronologically, this game is situated as a hypothetical “Zelda 3” that immediately follows Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It also uses details from the Ninetendo 64 Zelda games, such as multiple ocarina songs, Gorons, the Gerudo and the Kokiri. GameMakr24, the author of this hack, also carefully preserved familiar sights like the black rooms with white dialogue and familiar enemy AI, spawning and spatial design. These familiar touches combined with the late nineties ideas add up to a cool “what if” scenario, as if the world of Ocarina of Time existed a decade earlier.

Immediately after the events of Zelda II, the Thunderbird has apparently survived and has discovered the location of the Triforce of Power in the Outlands beyond Hyrule. The Thunderbird imprisoned the Tetrarch Fairies that stand guard over this third of the Triforce and now must be released by Link in order to get it back.

Upon release, rare physical cartridges of this rom hack were produced, packaged like the original with a printed world map. While I would love to have one of these maps simply for its raw coolness, I instead played it the way so many of us played the original years ago: completely dependent on trial and error.

I WISH I actually had this

This being a rom hack of the 1986 Zelda, it naturally has the same overhead design and nearly all of the same textures and sprites along with some from Zelda II. Sometimes, basic movements, hit boxes and attacks used by a monster from the prior games will be dressed up in a new sprite. The AI and hit boxes of peahats and keese are swapped with each other. In an early dungeon there is a mini boss that moves back and forth and breathes three fireballs at a time, like the dragon from the first game, but is now a giant skeleton.

A lot about this game feels quite familiar, though, in spite of these differences. Like the first game, you start completely naked: the opening text crawl tells you nothing about where to go and only the vaguest hint of what to do. You don’t even have a sword, but at least the first Zelda put an old man in a cave directly in front of you to meet that need. This time, you won’t have a sword until you get to the first dungeon, and guess who gives it to you:

Princess Zelda herself is a constant companion, helping out in almost every dungeon

A key difference between this rom hack and many official Zelda games is the necessity of going back and forth between dungeons before and after releasing the Tetrarch Fairies. In level 2, there is a moblin that refuses to let you pass to the next room unless you feed him some meat (Kinda like in the first Zelda, remember? “Grumble, grumble…”?). This meat, however, is in an underground side-scrolling area in level 3, perpetuating Dracula’s tradition of storing meat in secret stone compartments.

Requires meat
One meat later

Having given the moblin the meat, you will go on to discover a raft that will carry you to a water-isolated place on the map where, for enough rupees, you can buy a Kokiri sword, a Goron shield, a bow and some arrows. The bow and arrows turn out to be extremely useful in dungeon 3- nothing else can kill the tektites efficiently that early in the game.

The bow is also necessary to kill the one-eyed blobby thing in dungeon 4. After that, the door to the left unlocks and Zelda will give you the ocarina. This is necessary to get the step ladder from dungeon one, which is guarded by a monster that resembles digdogger from the first game and, with the ocarina, can be done away with in a similar way. The door at the bottom of the screen will open up and the step ladder is all yours.

The step ladder, meanwhile, allows you to cross gaps that are roughly the size of a sprite which you need for multiple dungeons and overworld navigation.

While you are taking advantage of the water-locked peninsula, go straight to your right as soon as you get off the raft. Eventually, you will arrive at an area with two little indentations in a rock wall. Place a bomb between them to blow open a cave where a friendly Gerudo waits for you.

Right here

Take the letter and go as far as you can toward the lower right hand side of the map where you will find a sprite from the enemy wizards from the first Zelda, facing straight ahead so they look like they’re just standing there with arms raised. Use the B button to give the wizard the letter and they will sell you blue and green potions along with more meat (I’ve been playing LoZ: Oracle of Seasons and the wizards in this game remind me of Subrosians…or maybe the potion vendor from A Link to The Past).

Around the time you have secured 4-5 Tetrarch Fairies, you will probably notice that the Gerudos usually do one of two things- steal your money and hoard heart containers. On the continent accessible with the raft, there is a cave with a Gerudo who will give you The Staff Of Byrna once you have twelve heart containers. As she stands guard she says that she can only give the staff to “the hero”.

The staff itself, which deals damage, doesn’t expend rupees like the bow and doesn’t depend on your health, is an all-purpose reliable range weapon. So long as all you want to do is attack- the boomerang and the bow can collect objects for you and you will definitely want to gather stuff from a distance in this game. The Staff of Byrna fires the slowest projectiles.

Since the staff doesn’t “cost” anything to fire, you may find yourself using it a lot against enemies that deal range damage and are too unapproachable for melee combat. And the enemies most likely to fit that description usually turn out to be the hostile Subrosians/wizards/whatever.

(after googling I learned that they are called Wizzrobes but I’ve been thinking of them as potion vendors from ALttP or Subrosians for too long already)

Little details like that can get you to speculate on the finer story details. Is there a reason why the Gerudos have the weapon that you are most likely to use against the wizards/Subrosians? You usually find the Subrosians/wizards close to the ninth dungeon that has the Spectacle Rock music from the original LoZ. What exactly is the nature of the relationship between the Gerudos and the Subrosian-thingie-people and how does it connect to what’s going on with the Thunderbird and the Tetrarch Fairies? What about the Gerudos gathering the objects (heart containers) that you need to collect for the staff? I like stuff like that, that’s organized enough to imply story threads.

Classic Zelda weirdness near the end

Rather like the original, the first play-through only gets you half of the content of the game and that’s where I’m at right now. This is basically a custom edit of the first Zelda game but it feels weirdly authentic. The final dungeon and final boss, in particular, really made me feel like I’m playing an actual “lost” Zelda game. In fact, more than once, it made me feel the same way I felt when I played Ocarina of Time as a preteen.

Civil disobedience and “social issues”

In my last post I wrote about the legal precedents being set in states like Tennessee and New York that punish non-lethal civil disobedience as severely as violent crime, entailing in some cases a felony conviction. This is particularly amoral since civil disobedience is one of the few tools that American political minorities have historically had at their disposal. Punishing civil means of resistance and discourse can radicalize people for lack of any other option and could contribute to civil war.

Remember, this was done ostensibly out of a fear of violent uprising. If vandalizing public property, blocking access to public places and other non-lethal crimes are punished with felonies, then political minorities are shunted squarely in front of militarism out of necessity.

This is clearly a double-bluff: with fear of rioting being the stated reason for these crack downs, Republican legislators have framed the notion of civil unrest in a way that takes attention away from the natural outcome of the policies they plan to enact. That outcome, civil unrest, will confirm what they’ve positioned as a worst case scenario (rioting). This reflects a calculated awareness of the purpose of civil disobedience and a wish to use the result for political gain.

To address some common sense concerns, yes it makes sense to punish minor crimes and the law is meant to be followed. However, that attitude must coexist with other social realities. Ever since the labor organizers of the early 20th century and the nineteen sixties civil rights movement, civil disobedience has been established as a means of civil discourse.

What is the thing that stops it from being insurrection? Non-violence. If no one is harmed, then no one is alienated against the inevitable implication: that this specific law can be broken or that a prospective or related law can be given social censure. More often than not, the implication is that the specific law should be broken or that a legal or political act should be censured. The subtle depth to what has happened in Tennessee and New York is that, when non-violent crime is punished identically to violent crime (a felony charge) it discourages non-violent activism and emboldens those who claim that civil discourse is fruitless. If civil activism is not seen as an effective choice then non-civil activism begins to look practical. If that course is followed, then those decrying BLM as violent will claim to have been right all along.

Such well-informed social engineering enacted from above makes me wonder about everyone else. Especially since the ability to define an idea by being the first voice in a conversation to articulate it is used so carefully (“BLM are violent” *does things that drive out non-violent protestors and leave the violent ones* “See?”). Social calculations and dynamics are mixed up in how we think about social issues.

The importance of the herd-instinct and our mammalian, prosocial hard-wiring cannot be overstated. Language is how most problems are solved between individuals and language (whether it’s speech, writing, typing or any other medium) is how we are taught to express ourselves. After the example of self-expression, it is no surprise that the language we use most frequently probably looks a lot how we think our private thoughts.

It follows that some of our private thoughts may resemble external social dynamics. If one believes that those in power will never negotiate with those without, then an actual refusal to negotiate will create the appearance that you are right. If this “you” is a BLM protester, others will remember claims about how violent your movement is and will think they are right while you are receiving the message that nothing short of violence will be heard.

This is nothing new: most of us have heard about stereotype threat (aka labeling theory) and confirmation bias. If you have not: both of those things refer to ways that social stereotyping can effect both behavior and private thoughts.

Recent events have made me wonder what the current state of things looks like, though, through the eyes of social engineers. In a recent speech, Trump mentioned that he was afraid of running against Bernie Sanders since Sanders had a movement following, like himself. With Joe Biden, he is less afraid, since the majority of those voting for Biden are doing so because he is not Trump.

Donald Trump realizes that the Democratic Party scattered their base when the DNC gave the nomination to Biden. He is now attempting to hit us where it hurts: by saying he was intimidated by Bernie’s movement, he is trying to touch a sore spot of progressives to stop the left from uniting.

The senators in Tennessee and New York are preparing to punish civil disobedience harshly enough to escalate violence. And Trump just attempted to use the emotional momentum of the scattered Democratic base against itself. One reflects a calculated effort to get people to think and act a certain way and the other reflects an informed knowledge of how people feel to begin with and how to exploit it.

This kind of manipulation only works with people who believe that their value system furnishes everything they need to know. If one believes they have an airtight grasp on an issue, it becomes easy to be disinterested in other consequences. What most people know more about, than anything else, are their personal experiences. The kind of political issues that can most directly effect our experiences are often social issues.

Speaking of recent political events, Kamala Harris used an interesting rhetorical device in her speech to the DNC: she began talking about an impersonal and voracious virus which turned out to be a metaphor for racism.

If you start talking about a virus right now, people are going to think of COVID-19. Did she say COVID-19? Nope. But I think it’s importance in general (to say nothing of it’s importance in American politics) is hard to ignore. I don’t know of anything else such a metaphor could be referring to. It strikes me as likely that she did intend to use COVID-19 as a metaphor for racism.

This rhetorical technique is familiar: start your talk with something everyone knows about in order to frame your point as comparable to it. Is a viral pandemic the same kind of problem as racism?

I’m not saying it’s not possible for overlap. Racism effects the function of government infrastructure, so systemic racism can impact how a response to a pandemic unfolds. And I have no doubt that it has. But when you equate a social issue like racism with a non-social issue like a pandemic, it’s clear which directions the emotional support is coming from and going toward within that analogy. With the intended metaphor and the metaphor’s meaning, the emotional momentum of anti-racism is related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of those two things we all probably know at least something about, and the other is a mystery that our best doctors and scientists are still laboring over. For most people, to relate those two things will allow one to borrow emotional “weight” from the other. It makes the mystery less scary.

But if the effect that racism has on the pandemic is the actual point, the comparison cannot be literal. It relies on the emotions that the viewers bring with them. To start with emotional momentum is not necessarily proof of bad faith but it makes it easy to suspect: either the emotional momentum is supposed to make the truth evident or the emotional momentum is the point itself.

In either case, the psychological button being pressed is more visible than what the person pressing it wants. Not knowing what someone wants could make one feel like they’re not being honest. If their end game is not stated, then they either feel no need to or think you already know. Neither inspires confidence.

Obviously not every statement that invokes ideas with strong social resonance with a vaguely defined or undefined goal is social engineering. Context, as usual, must complete the picture. What makes the legislation in Tennessee and New York so unique is that it reflects both a knowledge of the function served by civil disobedience and how to exploit it. Every day, though, I wonder when the psychological momentum summoned by those in power will clash against forces it cannot move.

American civil unrest and America’s social imagination

Plainclothes officers in Portland, under the Federal direction of Donald Trump, abducted BLM protesters this summer. In Tennessee, lawmakers are currently finding ways to charge those protesting at the Capitol with felony offenses. Tear gas and rubber bullets in addition to ordinary violence are being used by police and Federal agents with punitive abandon.

All this happened because George Floyd did something that I myself did on accident years ago: I had a counterfeit bill in my wallet while buying a sandwich during my lunch break at work. I think I must have gotten the fake bill in some change. Anyway, the old lady who rung me up took the bill and held it up to a fluorescent light. Her face lit up and she said “Hey, check this out!” I went back there with her and she showed me how she knew it was fake. We both kind of giggled over it, I paid with plastic instead and ate my lunch. George Floyd was asphyxiated by a cop for doing the same thing, though.

Obviously, I have nothing but love and support for #BlackLivesMatter. The authoritarian crack down and violence used against both protestors and bystanders has brought something out in this country that may be very difficult to ameliorate or pacify. This is something that could, potentially, involve every American soon. Like I said in my post about trans rights and the modern left though, this is also something I hope I am wrong about.

Tennessee lawmakers wish to charge protestors with felonies (entailing revoked voting rights and a six year prison sentence) if they do things such as block access to public places. In July, Nikki Stone was arrested in New York for spray painting the lenses of security cameras.

One of the main assets of marginalized political groups in America is civil disobedience: civil defiance of laws that we have a principled disagreement with. By imposing draconian consequences for non-violent law-breaking, Tennessee and New York state officials are taking specific aim at the means of civil discourse between law enforcement, lawmakers and the public.

The civil part of civil disobedience usually gets less attention than the disobedience. It is important, though, because if the legal disobedience is civil and hurts no one, it remains a statement. One can agree or disagree with a statement and the person making a statement can be engaged in discussion. If legal defiance stops being civil, it becomes either insurrection or terrorism.

Adding insult to injury, legislators in Tennessee are citing the possibility of violent revolt as a justification for this crack down. What these policies will do, though, is strongly discourage people from non-violent legal defiance. This could send the message that nonviolent activism will not be heard and push people toward violence. GOP lawmakers may engineer a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For many American millennials and zoomers, nothing like this has happened before in our lives. More Americans than usual lately have had to grapple with how to respond to something outside of our personal and/or moral frame of reference. For some, the first taste was the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville during the summer of 2017. The authoritarianism of the Trump administration could make a second term of his presidency feel like an existential threat. There are also just as many Trump supporters on the other end of the spectrum that see a potential Biden presidency as equally threatening for their own reasons.

The last time there was violent civil unrest escalating as a presidential election draws closer was before the time of millennials and zoomers, though. It was the American Civil War.

I’m not saying that I believe the upcoming election will be that catastrophic, but I think it’s a possibility that needs to be acknowledged. Without any prior experiences to draw from, violent activism is unexplored territory for a lot of people. While many people in America are heavily armed, the majority of those armed individuals have no idea what a military combat situation feels like.

If the authoritarianism ramps up, the armed civilians are set up for death and defeat. So then we will have people who are traumatized, humiliated and heavily armed. With situations that we have no basis for comparison for, it is difficult to know limits.

Some of those armed people belong to anti-racist groups like the Not Fucking Around Coalition. While the trauma, grief and anguish they are feeling are as alive now as they were at America’s birth, many of the individuals themselves are as new to the lived experience of combat as the right-wing militias.

If more states follow the recent examples of Tennessee and New York and non-violent activism becomes illegal, that’s only going to leave one more outlet. If any militia groups tried to wage war on the government now, they would be swiftly and painfully quelled. Wounds create resentment, everyone loves an underdog and martyrs provide moral validation. The military response to such an event could create emotional and psychological momentum that could rebound destructively.

If I sound like I’m catastrophising, it’s because the American government simply won’t quit lately. Trump has engineered a nationwide postal service emergency in order to thwart mail-in voting and criminal charges that prevent voting are being weaponized against protestors. Every day there is a new civil rights violation to read about. With so much pressure coming from above, it does not seem likely that those below will simply do nothing.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/08/13/tennessee-camping-felony-capitol/%3foutputType=amp

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8573305/amp/NYPD-release-clip-woman-throwing-paint-security-camera-pushed-unmarked-car.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/08/15/us/post-office-vote-by-mail.amp.html

The Sandman Universe: Lucifer (spoiler review)

Out of the new Sandman Universe comics, this is my favorite. The Sandman Universe: Lucifer is on a tier close to the original Sandman and Moore’s Promethea. This is a great comic in general rather than a great Sandman story.

One reason is that, while the SU Lucifer shares the same cosmology as the Dreaming, what is happening is remote enough from the Dreaming for its relationship to be overlooked. Lucifer’s previous exploits in The Sandman provide context, but someone who has never read The Sandman can pick up these books and understand everything (albeit with the help of a close reading).

The shared cosmology with The Sandman, though, may be a subtle factor in another strength of this story. It employs subjectivity in a way that’s different from how The Sandman did. The key to that difference could lie in how Lucifer uses expectation as a structural and thematic device.

The first book, The Infernal Comedy, features fragments of a conversation between Lucifer and his son, Caliban, scattered throughout the story. This tempts you to wonder if it took place before or after the rest of the story. Later on, a story about an otherworldly, bleak village inhabited by Lucifer and the ghost of William Blake alternates with another story set in the 20th century, involving a detective whose wife has a brain tumor. Until the last few chapters, it is in no way clear whether the village story is happening simultaneously with the twentieth century story or if one preceded the other.

In the purgatorial village where Lucifer is, he repeatedly tries to dig up large statues and attacks spirits attempting to perform William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. If you were wondering what the biggest connections to the original Sandman were, this usage of The Tempest is one of them. The Tempest is deconstructed in a way similar to how the new Dreaming comics deconstruct the biblical story of Cain and Abel.

Near the end of The Infernal Comedy, we find out that the world containing Lucifer, Blake, other spirits and a mysterious caretaker are in a pocket dimension within the ancient skull of Sycorax. Sycorax, the Blue-Eyed Hag that occupied the island in The Tempest with her son Caliban and captive familiar Ariel, before the arrival of Prospero.

The story can be understood and appreciated without the context of The Sandman comics, but that context adds depth if you have read them. The second play that Shakespeare owed to Morpheus for the gift of inspiration was The Tempest. Sycorax, late in The Divine Tragedy, says that Morpheus commissioned the play in honor of her.

This matters because of the story at the end of The Wake. It contains, in Morpheus’ own explanation of why he wanted The Tempest to be written, the last explicit word on the angst that drove him to suicide. He says he wanted the play to be written because he may never leave his “island”, like Prospero. Shakespeare assures him “that can change. All men can change.” Morpheus says “I am not a man. And I do not change. I asked you earlier if you saw yourself reflected in your tale…I do not. I MAY not. I am Prince of stories, Will; but I have no story of my own. Nor shall I ever.”

Morpheus eventually let go because he was haunted by dreams of freedom beyond his responsibilities. If those were the feelings that caused him to inspire The Tempest, then SU Lucifer is telling us that the events of that play were modeled after Lucifer’s family. Sycorax says that Morpheus commissioned a play “about” her that doesn’t have her in it. Rather like how, in the background information provided within The Tempest, the father is never mentioned.

What is the “story” that Morpheus wanted to tell by it’s absence? Thessaly says “The Moon would have made you Queen of The Tides, but you chose Lucifer instead. Lucifer would have made you Queen of Hell, and you chose to be yourself, instead. Your story has resonated down the ages, you know.”

If ever there was a mission statement for the opposite of Morpheus, it would be that. Lucifer has a similar legacy: in The Divine Tragedy, Lucifer attempts to bargain with various afterlives of different mythic pantheons in order to save Sycorax from the wrath of the angels.

(Some context for that: Within the pocket dimension inside of her skull, Lucifer uncovered a buried statue of Sycorax, causing the caretaker to remember that she is Sycorax. At that moment, she “wakes up” from the “dream” of the pocket dimension and rematerializes in the physical world. Angels from The Silver City state that this resurrection is a blasphemous aping of the return of Christ and must be answered. Lucifer negotiates with the angels and buys Sycorax three days before they kill her. He then tries to find a pantheon somewhere that will shelter her.)

When Lucifer approaches the entrance of the Egyptian afterlife, Anubis weighs his heart against the feather of truth and finds that they balance. Lucifer says he expected as much, because “My heart is never heavy. I do as I will, and never otherwise.” To which Anubis says “Would that all had it that easy.”

Lucifer clearly values his freedom as much as Sycorax values her own. But consider Thessaly’s wording: she says that Sycorax inspired generations of witches with this example. Thessaly also says that she, herself, would not have been brave enough to refuse the Moon or Lucifer and remain herself in preference over all else. What she is saying is that Sycorax embodied an ideal to aspire to. Perhaps not one that Thessaly or even most people could count on achieving, but an ideal worth striving for nonetheless.

When Anubis hears Lucifer claim that he never did a single thing against his will, he says “(w)ould that all had it that easy.” A life of absolute individualism is clearly not attainable for most of us. As if to emphasize this, Lucifer’s son, Caliban, attempts to follow him into the Egyptian afterlife. His heart fails the test and, when Lucifer finds him, he is wrestling with Apophis / Ammit.

In fact, Caliban may be the motivation for much of the plot in The Infernal Comedy and The Divine Tragedy. Early in The Infernal Comedy, Lucifer realizes that he abandoned his own son the same way that he himself was abandoned by God (as was as the universe, in his estimation). This similarity to the author or his misery is too much for Lucifer to bear, so he resolves to repair his relationship with his son. He begins by putting him back in touch with Sycorax.

By the end of the first two volumes, though, Caliban became my favorite interpretation of Shakespeare’s character. In literary criticism, Caliban is dogged by the need many feel to define him. Is he a racial caricature, a comment on colonialism, a psychoanalytic foil to Prospero, etc. The Tempest is one of my favorite plays from William Shakespeare but I don’t think I ever saw a version of it that didn’t give me at least a little bit of racist-cringe. Caliban is also unlucky enough to be…potentially…one of the only passive antagonists I ever encountered in fiction.

His mother, Sycorax, died two years before Prospero and Miranda show up. So his angst over losing her coincides with Prospero’s arrival. It’s like Shakespeare knew that he wanted Prospero to kill Sycorax but was afraid Prospero wouldn’t be as sympathetic if that happened. So he left enough information for a reader/audience member to make an associative connection without saying it openly. So his hatred of Prospero comes off as just pettiness.

Caliban, in the SU Lucifer comics, struggles with feelings of belonging, having lost both of his parents early. The angelic court tempts Caliban with an offer to embrace him as one of their own (being the half-angel spawn of Lucifer, after all). To be made an angel, if he sabotages his father. In the end, though, he decides that the unchanging nature of angels is too static and gossamer an existence for him. He even says, “I will die…as Caliban” and Lucifer says “You prove yourself, at last, your mother’s son.”

I sensed a connection between this exchange with Caliban and Thessaly’s last moments with Sycorax. Thessaly sees Sycorax as the mythic hero of all witches and all those who wish to be free from control. The difference between mythic, sublime freedom and the reality of human struggle is highlighted by Lucifer effortlessly passing the feather test and Caliban being forced to fight Ammit. But Caliban gets there in the end, in the eyes of his father. His words about dying as himself, Caliban, because angelic existence is too static for growth and discovery also seem to echo the sentiment repeated near the end of volume three of The Dreaming: the point is to feel. Process constitutes identity and belonging- it is not simply a means to get there.

Linearity versus open world in game design

First question is “When are words?” Are they the first thing you see or not?

Consider the first Zelda game. You’re just plopped somewhere with three directions and a cave after an opening cut scene telling you to find the triforce pieces but not telling you how. You are only spoken to if you enter caves, holes in the ground or certain rooms in dungeons. You don’t even get to read what’s written in the letter a hole-dweller asks you to deliver.

Words are only accessed by interacting, spatially, with your environment. They help to connect dots but the words themselves are not relied upon to convey a narrative. The opening text-crawl did as much of that as the game needed. In fact, if the narrative was “opened” by the text crawl, does it have any closure? There is more dialogue to read upon defeating Ganon and rescuing Zelda, but how much of your time spent playing was actually spent reading? If the text crawl opened the narrative, the rest of the narrative must necessarily be visual and procedural as you play.

Why must it? Because the gameplay will necessarily make up the majority of your experience with the narrative, and the only text that could possibly follow up on the opening text crawl (however loosely) can only be accessed through playing. Any Westerner who has played the first Zelda game, though, knows that the translations were famously obtuse. “Master using it and…” etc. So, for myself and many other Westerners in the early nineties, even the in-game text we would discover required a little bit of interpretation even after unlocking it through gameplay.

1986’s The Legend of Zelda, in my opinion, embodies the principle of an open world game. Nearly every detail of “how” you progress through the game needs to be deduced by the player, and the game only allows you to deduce by exploring and experimenting with different ways to interact with beings, objects and places. The only way to progress is to look for possibilities and test them.

What would explicit direction add to this? What does direction even look like? When you put in Sonic, it’s obvious just from the gameplay that you are expected to run to the right as fast as possible. Final Fantasy VII has dialogue. Lara Croft has a voice over explaining what specific buttons do.

If all this is still a little esoteric, ask yourself: should a game tell a story? If so, should it use the same narrative devices as a novel or a film? If not, what does the player’s experience consist of?

A video game might tell a story without requiring narrative structuring to make sense. Metroid II: Return of Samus and Bloodborne communicate the bulk of their stories through visual and circumstantial storytelling. The player sees things and is put in situations that reveal the story by implication. This means that the gameplay and the graphics do most of the work with storytelling.

If you know that the story will be told without words, that means you can use the words the player does hear and read with more freedom, since it is not their job to tell you the “important parts” of what’s going on. If the core story is relayed through gameplay experience, you can even have the diegetic text and speech contrast with the gameplay or supplement it. In Bloodborne, most non-player characters are completely incapable of understanding what’s going on around them for themselves, let alone helping you out.

Of course, the first Dark Souls game used similar storytelling years before Bloodborne, leading a YouTuber called RagnarRox to call the game “Zelda for grownups.” This was not meant to imply that Zelda was childlike- simply that Dark Souls built upon 1986’s LoZ implementation of open world and non-linear story-telling. No one tells you what to do in a Soulsborne game: it is up to you to experiment and figure it out, and most of the time if an NPC has something useful to say the meaning will not be literal or direct.

Another way to use words in a game that does not rely on them to do all of the work of storytelling, is to use their placement to determine their meaning. The majority of words in the first Zelda game is in the opening text-crawl. Words give you a naked premise and almost everything else that follows up on that premise is gameplay, meaning the interpretation of the player is needed for it to make narrative sense. It’s not that the words are “wrong”: it is that they are part of a bigger whole that involves things that are not words.

The Silent Hill games use this strategy often. The majority of Silent Hill characters do not know how the magic of the town works or what is going on: all they know are their own experiences. In Silent Hill 2, regarded by many as the most successful in the series, NPC’s are used in a way that’s even less useful to the player than the NPC’s in Bloodborne. James Sunderland, SH2’s main character, runs into a few different people, none of whom seem nearly as aware of the mysterious danger of the town as him. Each character has their own mutually exclusive set of concerns and separate reactions to the magic of the town.

The behavior that reveals that the other characters are not experiencing the same thing as James also usually put him at risk, such as getting locked in a room with a monster by both Laura and Angela. Neither one seem to know that James could die as a result of their actions and the monster that Angela leaves James with even has a name that speaks to its importance for her and it’s mystery to James: Abstract Daddy. To whom is the Daddy Abstract? To James, at least. Angela was yelling about “daddy” just before the fight. This tells us that every outsider who enters Silent Hill sees something with unique importance to them. The specific content of what the NPC’s say does not reveal as much as the patterns of their stories: each one is personal and traumatizing. Except for Mary which, along with Pyramid Head, reveals how the town is creating the personal, isolating hell of James like it does for everyone else.

So far, though, I’ve spent a lot of time taking about how the relationship between words and experience can inform storytelling. As a fiction writer, I can’t help but be biased in that direction. What I have not discussed, though, are video games where storytelling is either peripheral or nonexistent.

Some of my favorite memories of the PS1 involve a development studio called Artdink. In particular, two games that they created: Tail of the Sun and Aquanaut’s Holiday. Those were the very first open world games I ever played. In Aquanaut’s Holiday, the only thing there was to do was explore the ocean floor and attempt to communicate with sea creatures. Tail of the Sun was about a tribe of ancient cave people with a legend that the Tail of the Sun can only be caught from a tower of ivory. Hunting mammoths for their ivory constitutes a small portion of what the free-roaming world has to offer, though. Offbeat animals and oddities were found in the most remote and unexpected places. One of them was a pair of human legs with an ass. No upper body. Zero context. Then again, the only context offered by Tail of the Sun’s story is pretty minuscule, anyway.

Both games refuse to tell the player how to spend the majority of the time in their worlds. This makes them almost pure experience / gameplay with almost no reliance on words or any narrative. (The only modern successor to this pattern that I know of is an independent developer named Loren Schmidt, who has done some of the best non-narrative game design of the last few years. Link to her itch.io page below)

Perhaps the very first Donkey Kong and Mario games are the furthest possible extreme in this direction: no one who has ever enjoyed those games ever did so for the story.

It all depends on the nature of the piece you want to create- a story, a procedural/visual experience, both or neither. Like so many other artistic mediums, success depends on the nature of the germ (be it narrative, visual or something else) remaining consistent.

Consider Heavy Rain from Quantic Dream. It’s possible to finish the game in a few hours but a single play-through will not show you all the game has to offer. In fact, the majority of the game’s content can only be enjoyed with multiple play-throughs. The length of time of the story is relatively fixed (almost like the run time of a film) because the narrative is as close to cinematic as the technology of that day would allow. It is modeled after a film and time passes at the same rate as a conventional television crime drama. To say nothing of the fact that the plot is built on a race against time.

How would the dramatic momentum be effected if you could just go and do whatever you want as soon as you felt like it? If you take a break for weeks to mop up side quests off the beaten path would you be able to go back to the story and feel the same sense of urgency? I know I rip on FFXV way too often (in spite of the fact that there’s a lot I enjoyed about it) but that is precisely the weakness that the open world dimension brought to that game.

Games that are dominated and defined by their narrative typically rely on words more than any other kind. Although there are just as many narrative-dominant games that use sights, sounds and situations to do the same job that words do (Silent Hill, Bloodborne, etc).

https://lorenschmidt.itch.io

The Dreaming, volume 3: One Magical Movement (spoilers)

It came through. Not without loose ends and weaknesses, but…there’s still no getting around it. Some things that have a distinctive authorial fingerprint should not be continued by another person. My affection and reverence for the original Sandman by Neil Gaiman made me extremely skeptical of the idea that any other writer could pull it off. But here we are now.

How exactly this happened can be seen in a few of the key plot resolutions. In volume two, Empty Shells, Dora was our main character. The framing of the story doesn’t always position her as the clear protagonist in One Magical Movement, but Dora continues to be one of the driving forces of the plot. The mystery of her origin, which was set up in the first two books, is revealed to be centrally important to the whole story. As do mysteries in general.

The fate of Cain, keeper of the House of Mysteries, is also connected to the man responsible for Dora’s lost memories: Hyperion Keter. This is the same Mr. Keter whom we saw briefly, unconscious in a hospital bed, at the end of Empty Shells. Also at the end of Empty Shells, we learn that Fawney Rig was the setting of this confluence of events.

Dora, it turns out, is a Night Hag. A Night Hag is a regional variation of the Succubi/Incubi myth. One Magical Movement actually starts with a support group for ancient, supernatural creatures that are struggling to exist in the modern world. The forbidden pleasure they all share and revile (almost like recovering addicts) is to simply obey their nature without the consideration of a human brain. Nikki, a fey creature that got turned into a dragon by popular reinterpretation, barely stops herself from attacking an intoxicated night-swimmer she encounters in the ocean.

The support group decides to crash a Pride March, as it is constituted of mortals who wish simply to celebrate their existence and survival after a lifetime of secrecy. One of them, an ancient guardian spirit of sailors called The Gentle Goellan, wanders over to the radical Christian protesters. He begins to mutter an old sea shandy and instigates a brief riot. The Gentle Goellan felt a naked need to cause havoc within the protestors (apparently) and gravitated toward it like an oceanborn tempest, in which sailors would often invoke him. After the Pride Marchers come out unscathed, Nikki transforms into a literal draconic fairy.

The notion of following one’s nature in the face of adversity is central to both Dora’s arc and the story in general. Dora was doing exactly that when she first encountered Hyperion Keter: specifically, following her nature as a Night Hag. Hyperion- or Perry, as he is known to his intimates -simply chose to assert, in his loudest psychic voice, that she is not real.

This rid him of Dora but woke him up to an uncomfortable truth: humanity is dogged by too many unreal things to keep track of. Many of them, in their multitudes, are too dangerous to be borne. This realization moves Hyperion Keter to make it his life’s work to save humanity. He eventually learns that Dream, the embodiment of the intellect and imagination, had been magically trapped and held at Fawney Rig, in England.

This was done by Roderick Burgess in the very first Sandman comics and Hyperion decides to reverse-engineer Burgess’s spell. However, he does not use the magic in the same way: he does not want Dream trapped, merely exiled from the Dreaming. This creates a power vacuum that Hyperion fills with an alchemical AI. This AI has a consciousness whose subconscious hides an algorithm to systematically purge all irrationality from the Dreaming, which also removes it from the minds of all sentient beings.

This explains the appearance of Wan- the enigmatic moth deity -and the soggies from the first two volumes. The soggies were drones created by the AI to remove all superstition and irrationality and replace it with productive scientific and technological knowledge. Wan is the AI consciousness, unaware of its subconscious activities.

There is so much to unpack in these details, but I’ll start with a large commonality that might connect the finer ones. By this, I mean the nature of the Dreaming itself. In popular wisdom, we usually conceptualize dreams as taking place in our own heads, with no outside influence that did not originally come from waking experiences. Some people entertain the existence of a collective subconscious that all minds are equally connected to, but different individuals assert this with different degrees of literal or metaphorical meaning.

Those exceptions being accounted for, people commonly think of the space in which they dream as exclusive to themselves. In the world of The Sandman and The Dreaming, all dreams happen in the same place. Everyone has a mind of their own where their dreams are “born” into, but once you begin to dream, you take the contents of your mind into a universal space shared by all sentient beings. This model clearly has more in common with the collective subconscious than individual, mutually isolated minds.

This aspect of the world building is referred to and elaborated on throughout One Magical Movement. This is implicit in the beginning, with the struggling mythic creatures, and explicit at the end. It turns out ordinary modern skepticism is not the biggest threat to the fey, spirits and other magical beings.

Early in the book, Matthew the raven is picking up on a subtle but ever-present feeling that something is dying. He learns that he smells it everywhere because the world itself is dying. People everywhere are committing suicide because they are oppressed by a feeling of inescapable pointlessness, due to the soggies replacing all dreams with scientific knowledge. The motivation to go on living is missing without the irrational. One might say why was sacrificed for how.

While the story states that this is impacting mortals in particular, there are beings in the Dreaming who are similarly affected, such as Abel and Lucien. Abel, the keeper of the House of Secrets, is now struggling with life without his brother Cain, of the House of Mysteries (which might also be an imbalance between how and why). Lucien’s angst, meanwhile, stems from being cut off from his library of unwritten books, from which he frequently narrates. Irrationality is part of his why as well.

The three currently available Dreaming volumes all mention Lucien’s inability to narrate. They also conflate the omniscient third-person narrator with Lucien, Rose Walker and other characters. Meaning, a text box that initially appears to be a non-character narrator turns out to be Rose Walker, Lucien, etc.

This means that the reader’s point of view of the story is equated with reading a book that does not exist. In this fictional world, Lucien would only be narrating- and exchanging narration -if this comic came from his library of non-existent books. To say nothing of the fact that it is literally true that these stories are fictional, they are even set in a fictional dreaming world that contrasts with a fictional waking world in which these events were never “written.”

The story never gets any more meta than that, though, which is fortunate. If it did, it would risk upsetting the balance between the authority of the story’s fictional premise and the authority of the author/narrator.

The reason why I’m spending so much time on this is because it reflects on Simon Spurrier’s reading of the original Sandman comics. He clearly read those stories closely and lovingly, as that is where many of these ideas first appeared. The personal versus collective dialectic of the Dreaming are explored frankly in The Doll’s House, A Game Of You, Fables and Reflections and The Kindly Ones. The dialectic is present throughout the original comics, but those books in particular have plots that involve it directly.

The importance of the dialectic in One Magical Movement is where nothing or non-existence is located. This is also precedented in the original Sandman: the perpetrator and method of the death of Morpheus is one of the most fun uses of the McGuffin I’ve ever seen. This teasing Easter Egg hunt is contrasted against Morpheus’s clear desire to commit suicide. In One Magical Movement, nothingness is used similarly as a McGuffin.

The subconscious is usually imagined as a repository for all the backed up information that enters through your senses but is not immediately relevant. Frued famously described consciousness as housing the smallest portion of the mind. With Wan, though, the opposite is true: all of the personality is contained in his waking self and his subconscious (the Dark Moth) is an empty, sucking void of destruction.

Dora, who feels deeply and lives in the moment, is haunted by a forgotten past. Later, when she recovers it, it is clear that the only thing she ever lost was a name and a description of the nature she follows anyway (Night Hag). She could feel, was troubled by the fear that feeling was not enough, and eventually learned that the lost information pointed back to feeling. Her experience in the Fulcrum, the former home of Destruction, points her in the direction of hope back in Pathways and Emanations. Destruction, Lucien tells us, is a frozen moment between ending and beginning.

Hyperion, after scattering Dora’s identity with his declaration that she doesn’t exist, unknowingly wages war on the chaotic and irrational subconscious which saps the motivation and life from existence. On several plot and thematic layers, where nothingness is located and what it is doing shifts constantly. Even the narration, which is implicitly coming from a non-existent book, participates in the implementation of nothingness.

Likewise, the absence of Dream creates a void that needs to be filled and the AI that eventually gave birth to both Wan and the Dark Moth can only occupy a single physical location. Something from the Dreaming had to replace the AI so the AI could fully mature in the Dreaming. (This also gives Cain a brief but delicious opportunity to become a supervillain) This same phenomena is echoed when Wan volunteers to absorb the new dream vortex to spare the life of Daniel once he returns.

Like I said, there are loose ends but nothing that threatens the overall integrity of the story. Particularly, the fate of Ivy Walker, who is trapped in the world of the Mundane Egg that Daniel used to create a new universe during his exile from the Dreaming. It mirrors the saga of Daniel and his mother Hippolyta, but doesn’t do much more. That could be something future Dreaming comics may elaborate on.

Love the usage of the Bowie quote and it’s roots in the Sefirot ❤️