Annotations for “Untitled (Are We going to Fight?)” in Cinema Purgatorio #18
Writer: Kieron Gillen, Artist: Nahuel Lopez
Note: Some of this is obvious, but you never know who’s reading and what their exposure is. If there’s anything we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.
General: From Gillen’s 15 May, 2019, email newsletter:
Issue 18 of Cinema Purgatorio, which is the final one, and rounds off all the stories, including Modded. I have no idea when Avatar will be collecting Modded, but I think it’ll make a cute trade. It’s certainly not like anything else I’ve ever done. At least in a 1:1 way.
I suspect if there’s anyone who does a read of my career, they’ll look at Modded as a warm up run for DIE. Modded is me playing with videogame history in a light mode. I originally thought Modded would be a little more serious, but it almost instantly resisted my desires. The material I was mining was far more playful, but the experience made me realise what superstructure DIE would require to support the gothic melodrama. In the end, Modded basically was me doing Rock Paper Shotgun fanfic, and having far too much fun. I really can’t believe the amount of injokes I got away with. Or (if not got away with) at amount the level of injokes I wrote.
Thanks to Nahuel for the art on this. He’s been amazing to work with. He was great on Mercury Heat, but every issue he’s found ways to be weirder and more playful in this. I just imagine his face when he reads the script turning into a bemused frown. He wants me to draw… what? What?
- The cover consciously homages the comics page – panels, word balloons, caption boxes. (why? – suggest??) (Possibly to put the reader in a metafictional state of mind to prepare them for the appearance of the Rat King?)
- The comma as a decimal separator is not used in the USA or Britain. It is, however, used in Argentina, where artist Nahuel Lopez is from.
- First appearance of the Rat King, first mentioned in CP15 P8p5. He appears to be an older version of the story’s author Kieron Gillen, with a beard that perhaps alludes to Alan Moore. (See article at Bleeding Cool calling this Old Man Gillen.)
- His T-shirt reads “killbadriters” which is an actual shirt Gillen mentions in an article at Rock Paper Shotgun, only misspelled here for extra irony.
- The Rat King complaining about something breaking the illusion is deliberate irony on Gillen’s part, since self-inserting the author as a character breaks the illusion even more.
- During his tenure as a game reviewer, Gillen arguably was the best reviewer, at least at that time. He was also widely perceived as arrogant.
- In the background are a small turtle and a glaring mushroom, both classic Mario enemies.
- “this game” may refer to either (or both) videogame reviewing and comic book writing. Gillen acquired considerable fame in both fields. But both fields are so small and insular that being “king” of them doesn’t count for very much.
- “already obsolete when I ascended” sounds like Gillen’s assessment of himself when he left game reviewing.
- “Too much text” was a not-infrequent complaint among some game reviewers, though others loved such games. The phrase may have first gained currency around the release of Planescape: Torment, which had a lot of text, but nonetheless became a critical darling and cult classic.
- This literalizes the common game-criticism phrase against excessive wordiness: “wall of text“.
- To quote Wikipedia:
New Games Journalism (NGJ) is a video game journalism term, coined by journalist Kieron Gillen in 2004, in which personal anecdotes, references to other media, and creative analyses are used to explore game design, play, and culture. It is a model of New Journalism applied to video game journalism.
The NGJ movement was quite influential for several years.
- “Tom Wolfe” was a writer/journalist, who pioneered a literary style called New Journalism.
- “Tom of Finland” was a homoerotic artist.
- “Hunter S. Thompson” was a writer/journalist, who created a literary style called Gonzo Journalism. He also was a gun aficionado, hence “gun-wielding” (although that also might be taken as a reference to a Thompson submachine gun).
- “MMO” stands for massively multiplayer online (game.) Many MMO games feature a “Hunter” class, which typically has an animal “pet” that fights alongside the player.
- At left a pirate ship, an ever-popular videogame setting. There appear to be kraken tentacles beneath it.
- In front of the ship’s bowsprit, we see someone rocket-jumping. This is a method of fast vertical movement which involves firing an explosive weapon at your own feet and riding the momentum of the explosion. It was invented by Doom players who discovered that, in many circumstances, the damage taken from the explosion was worth it for the tactical advantage gained by being able to move so high so fast. In later games, this sort of tactic was embraced by game designers and deliberately made part of the mechanics.
- In front, wearing plaid and loading a rocket launcher, is one of the Old Men, first seen in CP5, P2, more recently in CP17, P1p7.
- At right are what appear to be Stormtroopers of some variety. Both the Nazi kind and the Star Wars kind are perennial game baddies.
- Here we see how, in a milieu just slightly more realistic than videogames, rocket-jumping can blow your leg off. Not that it seems to bother this fellow any.
- To repeat a note from last issue: Text adventure games (games expressed entirely through text, with no graphic elements) “died” as a commercial genre by the late 1980s. However, the genre lives on as a healthy amateur art form, now known as Interactive Fiction.
- “I didn’t get into this business to read shit!”, while rude, is a fair summation of the sort of critical opinion that lead to phrases like “wall of text”.
- More Gillen self-deprecation. Journalists, even in the current internet age, are expected to keep their submissions to a specified word count.
- This echoes a point made by noted comics scholar Scott McCloud: comics do not need to be restricted to superheroes, because they are only words and pictures, and words and pictures can be anything.
- This echoes the notion, widely seen in the mainstream of gaming, that only games with guns can achieve popularity.
- “Choose your lineage” refers to choosing what kind of character you want to play in a role-playing game.
- “Ready, player one?” is a common videogame prompt. It is also the title of a book (and later film) centered on nostalgia for 1980s videogames.
- Gillen has chosen to put this message — that gaming can be whatever you want it to be — in the mouth of a young black female. While it was not part of the text of Modded, Gillen is certainly aware of the degree of racism and sexism that infect the “Old Men” of videogaming in our world. He seems to be suggesting that being welcoming to new types of audiences is the only way to break the dominant paradigm which seems to view “Guns AND conversation!” as some sort of innovation.
- “Unlock achievement” is another common videogame prompt. Many achievements only become finalized at the conclusion of a game, so it is common to see several in a row pop up like this at the end of a game/story. Gillen is here congratulating us (in typically self-deprecating fashion) for our patience with all his in-jokes (many of which we annotators have no doubt missed).
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