Balance of Terror (S1E14) Original air date: December 15, 1966 Written by Paul Schneider Directed by Vincent McEveety
Balance of Terror marks the first appearance of the Romulans and surprised me in many ways. This is not one of my favorites, but it is a solid standard Star Trek episode with exciting twists. The first is that no Federation member has ever seen a Romulan. I’m not big on detailed Star Trek lore, so this was my first time learning about the brutal nuclear conflict between these powers, which happened without either side ever seeing someone from the other. This is even more surprising because the Romulans look nearly identical to the Vulcans. I had been under the impression the Vulcan-Romulan connection was something known for centuries, but it’s within the context of Star Trek that it is even discovered.
The Department of Truth: The Complete Conspiracy Book 1 (2023) Reprints The Department of Truth #1-17 Written by James Tynion IV Art by Martin Simmonds, Elsa Charretier, Tyler Boss, and John J. Pearson
Truth is difficult to come by these days, especially in the United States. I speak from experience. I was homeschooled throughout my childhood, the eldest of four children who were also entirely homeschooled. My parents’ basis for this decision was fueled by the Satanic Panic of the 1980s; I was born in 1981. They were Born Again Christians coming out of the Jesus Freak era of the 1970s, where the Christian Right fully secured its power base, preying on young people disillusioned by the previous decade of collapse. Growing up, our house had the expected paraphernalia of such beliefs. There were, of course, narrow-minded curricula from the usual suspects: Bob Jones University Press and Abeka. It was common during the afternoon to hear the hate-filled spewing of Rush Limbaugh coming from a radio in the kitchen. He was often joined by prestigious reactionaries and fascists like G. Gordon Liddy.
Aquaman: Andromeda (2023) Reprints Aquaman: Andromeda #1-3 Written by Ram V Art by Christian Ward
DC Comics’s Black Label imprint has produced some of the best work from the company in recent years, and that trend continues with this three-part mini-series, Aquaman: Andromeda. I won’t say this is my favorite Black Label book so far, that belongs to Catwoman: Lonely City, but it is a fantastic science fiction/horror story. My one wrinkle is that it didn’t feel like this was an Aquaman story but rather a story in which Aquaman appears. Instead, this is a clear homage to the work of writers like Michael Crichton, particularly his novel Sphere, but also elements of cosmic horror straight out of H.P. Lovecraft and the psychic manifestations of Solaris. The writing is handled by the insanely prolific Ram V, and the art is handled expertly by Christian Ward.
Infinity Pool (2023) Written & Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Is a fine a proper punishment for people with near-endless disposable cash? There are growing arguments against the death penalty, which are good, but there’s not enough conversation about the fundamental nature of carceral punishment. The presence of a fine allows the wealthy to act above the law, as these fines are often not substantial enough to harm their finances. On the other hand, a working-class or poor person can be left on the verge of destitution if a heavy fine is levied against them. Should there be a more intense punishment system for the wealthy than for the working class & poor? I am not opposed to that idea. Brandon Cronenberg has been thinking about this and his new film Infinity Pool. If it does this well… that’s a different thing altogether.
The Wretched (Chris Bissette) Writing, Design, & Layout – Chris Bissette Design Consultant – Matt Sanders Wretched Logo – Liz Gist
Most solo tabletop RPGs are centered around journaling which has been a sticky point for me in the first two reviews. I don’t really journal, my posts here on PopCult Reviews are about as regular as I sit down and write about my thoughts. But I understood that for these games to have their full impact, I needed to be able to document the experience in some way. The solution I thought about goes back to being a kid (again). I filled up reams of spiral-bound notebooks starting at seven and going into college. I eventually trashed these notebooks during a move around 13 years ago (yes, a lot was lost, but I have moved a lot and just was exhausted from lugging so many things around). Within were lots of things: sketches & ideas for video games, I went through a period of drawing comic book covers after discovering books about the Silver Age, and I loved creating a tv show and writing episode descriptions. I was a weird kid; many might argue I am a weird adult. So, I thought that for the games where it worked, I’d like to frame each journal entry as an episode in a tv program. That just happened to work perfectly with The Wretched.
Notorious (Always Checkers Publishing) Written & Designed by Jason Price Artwork by Torben Bökemeyer You can purchase Notorious here
When I was a little kid playing, pretending was a big part of my life. We did not have a lot of money, so action figures & elaborately manufactured play accessories were just not something I ever had. When I wanted to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I got a spare piece of purple fabric, cut eye holes, and wore it on my face. I put my backpack on for my shell & used a cardboard wrapping paper tube as my bo staff. I was a Donatello type of kid. When I wanted to play Ghostbusters, I took that same backpack, tied one end of yarn around a strap, punched a hole in a paper towel tube, and tied the other end to make my proton pack. I even took a shoebox and some yarn to make my ghost trap. Superman was easy: safety pin and some fabric for a cape. Star Wars was another wrapping paper tube to serve as my lightsaber. Big confession I used to be embarrassed about: I never had many action figures, so I would make paper cutouts of every comic book hero & villain I could think of, keep them organized in a series of envelopes, and bring them out to play when I was bored. Being the oldest of four siblings and homeschooled, I didn’t have many friends, so imaginary play was a solitary time. In playing Notorious, I felt taken back to that sort of joyous solo imaginary play, which is about the biggest compliment I could give a tabletop rpg.
While we are in the midst of watching Better Call Saul, I decided to hold out on including it on a list until we finish in 2023. It would be on here if I didn’t. That said, there are some incredible shows I got to see in 2022. In a media landscape that is exploding like the universe after the Big Bang so many things get lost in the shuffle. Have you ever just browsed Netflix and found dozens of shows multiple seasons in that you have never heard of before. Warner Discovery started what could be a horrific trend this year, by shelving completed and close to finished projects for the sake of tax write-offs. I am guessing it is scary time to want to develop your own series, afraid to pursue you passion project as it might become someone’s tax loophole and your potential audience never sees it. In these instances, piracy is an ethical act, a form of curation & preservation that the major media conglomerates are blind to. There were animated series made by queer & BIPOC creators that got trash canned by Warner this year, even physical DVDs pulled off the shelves. Fuck that corporation and fuck the new owners. My hope is we can see creative people using the self-distribution models and smaller streaming platforms to get their passion projects out there. Let the big boys starve to death. They deserve it. On to my favorites.
Don’t Worry Darling (2022) Written by Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke, and Katie Silberman Directed by Olivia Wilde
On May 16, 2021, it was reported that AT&T had been offered to divest interest in WarnerMedia and merge it with Discovery Inc to form a new publicly traded company. The following month it was revealed that the new name of this company would be Warner Bros. Discovery. On March 11, 2022, the merger was approved by Discovery’s shareholders, and the processor of compliance with regulators from around the world began. By the summer of 2022, the deal was done. David Zaslav was named CEO of this newly merged company, and throughout August and September 2022, he oversaw the reorganization of HBOMax. This garnered significant media attention as dozens of programs and films were shelved. Some had been complete for a while, while others were in the midst of production or post-production. The reasoning behind pulling this content was cited as to balance the significant debt handed over to Discovery from their acquisition. The removal of these pieces of entertainment would allow Warner Bros. Discovery to write the losses off on taxes. In September, the company announced they only had the finances to release two films for the remainder of 2022: Black Adam and Don’t Worry Darling.
Village of the Damned (1960) Written by Wolf Rilla Directed by Stirling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla, and Ronald Kinnoch
Uncertainty is a regular part of life, but the systems we live under often create ways to blunt it. This is done by providing the citizens with a host of needed resources and using propaganda to shape their worldview. However, these systems can’t hold back the tide of reality forever and cracks inevitably appear. COVID-19 has been one of those uncertainty moments, something so significant that it pierces the veil and creates chaos. We are also conditioned to go into immediate denial (the effects of the propaganda) even if we see it happen right before us. “But I was assured,” we say, “That the people in charge have everything under control.” If you haven’t been convinced yet, just wait; things will get worse as denialism grows in the face of multiple global catastrophes.
Captain EO (1986) Written by George Lucas, Rusty Lemorande, and Francis Coppola Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
It would be effortless to write up a mocking review of Captain EO. It is a piece of 1980s cheese, battered in cheese and fried in it. It’s a short 3-D movie made for a ride at Disney World starring Michael Jackson and a bunch of Lucasfilm design puppet aliens. Oh yes, and Anjelica Huston is in there too. However, I don’t feel interested in mocking it because that’s lazy. Instead, I would rather talk about Francis Ford Coppola’s creative drive and how, when you are a genuine artist, you make compromises to enable future work that means something to you. That’s the actual story of Captain EO, the story of how to be creative in this rotten capitalist system; you have to sell parts of yourself and learn how to keep moving on in the wake of that.