The Antithesis of Artistic Elitism: Junk Treasures on Retro Bizarro

In 1972, Marvel released a comic series titled “Night Nurse.” You may not have heard of it. I hadn’t until about two weeks ago. It faded into obscurity after a few issues, never to be seen again until Brian Michael Bendis incorporated the night nurse into one of his tales. The hokey dialogue, cheesy scenarios, and grainy three-color ink is a throwback to everything that is bad about comic books, everything that stands in the way of graphic novels being accepted as literature . . . and I want those issues.

I collect junk. I don’t care much for the philosophical and literary works that are being infused with hypertext and made available online for scholars. There are plenty of people who have committed themselves to sharing this information with the next generation. I prefer the limited run of Madballs to the countless volumes of Shakespeare. I’d rather read Clive Barker’s aborted Marvel creations like Hokum & Hex than another work by Nathaniel Hawthorne. And I know I’m not the only one. Along with Brian Michael Bendis, Neil Gaiman has incorporated obscure characters in his mainstream work as well, like the DC character “Prez” in the Sandman series.

For me, the incorporation of these characters into the work of top-selling authors is validating. Junk collecting is prominent among authors whose works sit on the shelves of literary elitists. It is relevant. It is significant. And I’m proud to be among the ranks. Nevertheless, marketing strategies are already being employed to manipulate the junk collector. So being a junk collector entails treading a fine line between true acquirement of the obscure, and falling victim to the perpetuation of the illusion of obscurity which many retailers use to manipulate collectors.

Junk collecting is relevant because it ensures that information discarded by artistic elitists gets picked up by the catcher in the rye of one’s culture. The junk collector takes the refuse of capitalist endeavors and keeps it until it carries alternative values, nostalgic, monetary, and historical. This is an important role. More important than the college undergrad collecting every work of literature featuring the academic stamp of approval. Everyone already knows Socrates is important, so who the hell cares if you have his works on your shelf? You’re just a cog in the intellectual system regurgitating the values of your predecessors. But if you have a few of the old depression-era Whitman Big Little pulps, then you’ve got something that has fallen off pop culture’s radar. And that’s important.

Junk Collecting in Brendan Mitchell’s Night Owls

Junk collecting is a phenomenon that crops up in a lot of underground works today. Brendan Mitchell’s Night Owls recounts the tale of a young man on a quest for the rarest of films. On his search he runs into Troma producer Lloyd Kaufmann, ass-kicker Shawn C. Phillips, and Ron Jeremy. Part 5 of the series is below:

Unfortunately, Brendan’s journey is one that ends in disappointment. The ass rape he endures to acquire the video turns out to be in vain, for the video he seeks is obscure for a reason: it sucks.

Junk Collecting in Jordan Krall’s Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys

A similar type of disappointment occurs for the protagonist of Jordan Krall’s Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys. Our main character, a film reviewer, strives to find a rare film which he only had the opportunity to watch once. Upon finding it, he loses it to a VHS player with malicious intent, or so it would seem. His search leads him down some dark and seedy paths. He almost dies as he gets caught up in the downward spiral that begins with a search for a rare and obscure work.

These two works point out the danger inherent in junk collecting. In some cases, we have the potential to lose ourselves to something greater. In other cases, such as depicted in Night Owls, we get “raped,” whether literally or figuratively, and we end up with trash.

The most recent pit I’ve fallen into is the acquirement of rare video games. One of the games that had been on my list for years, which I finally gave up on, was a CD-i, live action Zelda game. It’s rare as hell. The reviewers warn you that it isn’t worth the money. For some reason, every damned red flag that popped up along the way told me this was something I wanted. But was it something I wanted to spend over $200 dollars for? Probably not. Since copies fly off Ebay incredibly fast, chances are this game isn’t as “rare” as I initially thought. People are taking painstaking efforts to make sure this work is preserved, so it will survive the generations without my endeavor to acquire it.

When it comes right down to it, Night Nurse and Prez will live on as well. For me, the important thing is to spread the word about these obscure gems. They’re not literary gems, mind you, but they are nostalgic gems. They are a part of our history. They, like pulp softcovers such as my 1881 copy of “The Blunders of a Bashful Man” or my moldy copy of “Pinocchio in Africa,” are valuable in ways that highly visible classics can never be. And when I can’t afford the obscure “gems” I seek, I have a wish list here on Retro Bizarro.

The Future of Junk Collecting

Junk collecting has changed over time. Back in the day there were fewer works being published. A lot of today’s junk treasures were books whose publishers had hopes and dreams. The authors aspired to create commercial successes when their works were created and printed, but they failed. A lot of companies hoped the world would forget.

Atari buried millions of copies of this piece of shit in a New Mexico desert landfill in hopes that people would forget it existed. Despite that, somewhere out there, some jackass is willing to pay top dollar for this game.

With the possibility for digital publication today, there’s less risk involved, so failure doesn’t matter as much. And there’s less quality material today, so that reduces significance of the once-rare below-par works that peppered the literary world. Back in the day, it was refreshing and/or amusing to see errors in commercial products. Today, seeing errors in kindle books is so ubiquitous that it is just annoying.

Do these changes make junk treasure a thing of the past? Will tomorrow’s world see junk treasure the same way my generation does? It’s likely that the trash-to-treasure phenomenon we encounter today will always manifest in some way or another, but it is changing fast.

What kind of junk from your childhood do you strive to re-acquire now that you’re older? What do you collect?

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Zombie Punching Bags: The Answer to Man’s Desire for the Best of Ranged and Melee Battle

In Gundam Wing, Treize Khushrenada refuses to succumb to the demand for military employment of mobile dolls, robots piloted with an automated command system rather than a living, breathing person inside. His argument is that using robots to wage war on others is an infringement on honor, chivalry, and glory. War brings out the best in humanity, he argues, and using robots to fight battles undercuts the benefits of war.

I don’t necessarily agree with the rationale underlying his sentiments. I do, however, think that technology, particularly the advancement of ranged weaponry, has stripped war of some of its essential attributes.

1. It has distanced us from elements of human nature that make us naturally predisposed to avoiding interpersonal conflict. We don’t have to acknowledge that we’re taking the life of another human being when using advanced ranged weapons. To some degree, this makes war easier for people to negotiate.

2. On the other end of the spectrum, these advancements have stripped war of its ability to validate us in the context of interpersonal conflict.

My argument in this flash analysis is that zombie apocalypse fantasies help us enjoy the benefits that advanced ranged weaponry have allowed us while simultaneously allowing us to acquire the validation we desire from melee battle.

The improvement of ranged weaponry over time has stripped us of our reluctance to kill another because we empathize with them as fellow human beings. Early duels with ranged weapons were depicted as occurring at ten paces. Guns were powerful, but they were not always accurate. Like duels that occurred with swords, early duels with ranged weapons required you to look your enemy in the eye when you shot them down, forcing you to acknowledge that you were taking another’s life. This made taking the life of another difficult, which of course sucked for military officials.

Before significant advancements in ranged weaponry, rendering the opponent as the “other,” through propaganda became the most effective means of dehumanizing the opponent. While ranged weapons were quite effective during the pinnacle of wartime propaganda, WWII, rhetoric of the “other” failed. There is a poignant moment in Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, where the protagonist finds himself face-to-face with the enemy. After killing him, he searches through the enemy’s possessions, sees photos of the enemy’s family. He suddenly realizes the xenophobic propaganda spoon fed to him by his military dehumanizes the opposition. Everyone on the field is a human being, just like he and his comrades.

When you can't strip the enemy of a face by bombing them from miles away, the next best thing is to liken their face to Satan.

But advances in technology have remedied the problem depicted by Remarque. Now we rarely have to look our enemies in the eye. Instead we plug their territory with smart bombs. We shoot them from miles away, sometimes blindly firing into wave after wave of incoming mortars. Today’s weapons are effective not only as devices of killing. The improved range of weaponry sustains the rhetoric of xenophobia necessary to make a war successful. Moreover, the more effective our weaponry, the less effective our propaganda need be. There is no face behind the enemy that challenges the notion of the “other.” And when the enemy comes close enough, or enemy fire harms us, it only fuels hatred.

Even though modern warfare has become naturalized in our society, I still think there’s a part of mankind that longs for that classic mode of battle, but without the inconvenience of looking into the eyes of another human being, or worrying that the opponent may be stronger than we are. This is a large reason the zombie apocalypse fantasy still predominates. In its earliest incarnations, the zombie apocalypse is a utopian society for those who long for a scenario that validates their strength and cunning (no matter how limited) with the guarantee of victory. The dreamer can imagine a world in which he or she can confront the enemy head on. The second-guessing inspired by the fear of an opponent’s strength is neutralized by the docile nature of the zombies. They are neither cunning, nor agile in the classic tales. Even the weakest of people can place themselves in the context of the ultimate warrior in a world filled with brain dead weaklings.

You no longer need to validate yourself by beating your emaciated wife/children/dog. Now you can fantasize about pounding on a brain-dead bag of living flesh stripped of its conscious mind. Pseudo meat heads need fantasies like that in a society where the value of masculinity has been replaced by that pesky, effeminate thing they call intelligence, and many zombie flicks are there to deliver.

It is the more recent incarnations of the zombie that rekindle the fear in man zombies were initially intended to incur. Those are the stories I like. They wrench the utopian zombie apocalypse from those who long for validation, and they infuse the zombie apocalypse plot with the fear-inducing qualities that give them the right to sit parallel to other horror classics. Recent depictions show the zombie who can think and is simultaneously fearless. Instead of the socially inept, or the physically strong who finds little validation in our current society, the zombie has become the Übermensch of the battlefield: our ultimate fear and our ultimate desire. That’s something we can all be scared shitless of in good conscience.

I totally need to write a story called Zombie Punching Bag that addresses these issues.

The Best Christmas Present of All Time

In 1985 the cockroach of gaming systems, The Nintendo Entertainment System, was released in North America, just in time for Christmas purchase. Since then, PTSD has become a commonplace phenomenon, even for those who never spent a single hour in combat. My eye still twitches with anticipation whenever someone mentions Metroid.

Psychological trauma aside, there are countless reasons why this is one of the greatest Christmas gifts of all time. Got friends? No? Fuck ’em! Who needs friends when an 8-bit sprite’s existence hinges upon your every whim? You’ve got a nintendo entertainment system!

Got emotional control? No? That’s ok, because the NES can take a beating . . . and shots from pump BB Guns, dips in vats of acid, whatever. The cartridges were virtually impervious to everything, except dust. I have seen them survive gun shots, get dashed against walls, get stomped, survive spearing with N64 paddles. But you take one of the CD’s from the newer systems, they won’t survive the abuse those old cartridges did. Just ask my old copy of Resident Evil II, or any of the games my friend had for his Sega Saturn, except the movie edition of Street Fighter. That game has nothing to tell, and deserved to be destroyed, regardless of difficulty.

Nintendo wasn’t just an entertainment system impervious to nearly all damage, it taught people the value of venting. I have watched so many friends lose a life, take a game out of the system, stomp/smash/bite the cartridge and then calmly stick the game back in their system and start it up like nothing ever happened. Alright, maybe that was just me.

The NES was also like Mr. Dressup’s tickle trunk.

"And this, children, is where I keep the bodies"

It let you be anything you wanted to be:

a half-naked zombie hunting hobo

A street fighter named "Bimmy" (Props to the Angry Nintendo Nerd for calling this one.)

A zombie head vomiting on New York City's skyscrapers

Noah (Who knew Noah was so ripped? It's no wonder he was among God's favored).

John Holmes in an elf costume. (I don't see it. Some believe Link's crouching stance reveals more than just a bulge shot).

Years later, talk of the Nintendo Entertainment System brings folks of different backgrounds together. How many of you reading this blew a cartridge clean, or blew inside the system? How many drew an alcohol-covered Q-tip across the innards of a game? How many of you wedged one of your paddles into the system to hold the cartridge down, or snapped the cartridge off the edge of the system and you pressed it down into the innards of the machine? There were hundreds of tricks used to make the NES function properly. And like the 100th monkey syndrome, those tips and tricks spread. Even the less conventional methods of getting the NES to properly function–leaving the system on and pulling the cartridge out, smashing the game into the top of the system, and throwing the paddle at the television–caught on, which is probably why my system will now only play Mighty Bomb Jack.

Speaking of tips and tricks, anybody else spend their allowance on calls to Nintendo Power? I sure as hell did. And who can forget the ultimate film homage to the NES, The Wizard:

If someone says wizard and your thought process bypasses Harry Potter and Selena Gomez and goes straight to Fred Savage and his mute younger brother's awesome gaming skills in this flick, then you're . . . my new best friend.

So this Christmas, as I play through the first Super Mario Brothers game yet again, I want to take a few moments out of my game time to thank Nintendo for their decision to stop making card games for Yakuza and start making video games. May you kick Microsoft and SONY in the ass for years to come.

More Head: Atari’s ‘The A-Team’ on Retro Bizarro

I always thought that Zombie Nation stood alone in the category of games where disembodied heads floated around the screen in an attempt to save the world. I was wrong. Apparently Zombie Nation isn’t even the first.

Years earlier, Atari released The A-Team, a game in which Mr. T’s head floats around the screen trying to avoid what looks like little robots from the movie Batteries Not Included. The men in black make a special guest appearance from time to time. There’s some other shit running around too, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s all going to die once Mr. T unleashes his foreboding tooth attack.

If you lose then a flashing rocket will shoot across the screen. It’s much bigger than the rockets featured in Tetris, so the game has a one up in that respect. Then you’ll be rewarded by knowing that the game is over, and you no longer have to play.

If you keep playing, then you’ll visit a few different areas. In the second area, you shoot lightning out of your mohawk at some thug who is running around the screen. But your goal is not to kill the thug. You must shoot the thug so your attack bounces off him and hits the square blocks slowly moving across the bottom of the screen. The logic is lost on me here. Why can’t Mr. T’s head just shoot the little bricks at the bottom of the screen? Why can’t Mr. T just ram the blocks with his forehead like you’ll want to do after playing this game for five minutes?

If you manage to succeed in this area, Mr. T’s head will grow to the size of a helicopter, which isn’t that far fetched considering the fact that his head has been a little larger than the men he’s been spitting his teeth at for the earlier portion of the game. Your goal is to destroy the helicopter. Because, even though you have “succeeded” in the other two areas by destroying thugs, robots and destroying the components of a nuclear warhead running down an assembly line, somehow that nuclear warhead is still going to be fired, and the helicopter has the controls in it.

According to AtariProtos.com, The A-Team is a rip off of the game Saboteur. You can get all the details at the following link: http://www.atariprotos.com/2600/software/ateam/ateam.htm

Dangling Your Beans in the Mouth of Lard: A Boy and his Blob (NES) on Retro Bizarro

“Boy,” the protagonist in “A Boy and his Blob” befriends a gelatinous mass of crisco named Blobert and feeds it jellybeans to make it turn into various objects. Because, you see, the boy has been commissioned to save Blobert’s planet, but his limitations as a human prevent him from dropping into pits, flying to other planets, and doing all the other shit the heaping pile of lard does with ease.

If you’ve ever been in a fiction writing workshop or a creative writing course, you’ve likely heard someone suggest cutting characters which serve no purpose in a story. So why is Boy even in the game? Is Blobert so fucking lazy that he can’t feed the jellybeans to himself? It’s pretty obvious from the start that Blobert could have saved his home planet on his own. He’s essentially impervious to every peril that our human protagonist has to deal with. Apparently Boy is just there to throw his beans in Blobert’s open mouth and whistle when the blob’s job is over.

Like many of the shitty games from the 80s, David Crane’s A Boy and his Blob: Trouble in Blobonia (1989) received high praise from many critics. But if you actually had the chance to play the game, you likely remember Blobert bouncing off screen like a blithering idiot and then taking hours to catch up to you while you beckoned him with your choppy 8-bit audio whistle.

But perhaps the strangest element of this game is the fact that half of the sub-objectives have absolutely nothing to do with mastering it. Playing the game all the way through, you quickly find that you meander through the levels looking for treasures, only one of which actually benefits you by giving you the lime jellybean.

Right after you defeat the campfire-scorched Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the Michelin Man will congratulate you on your efforts

When you get to the end of the game you’ll meet up with an older, more human-like tub of lard. You use Blobert as a key by giving him the lime jellybean, then you open the door and HOLY SHIT! Blobert has been imprisoned by the emperor! Don’t ask questions, bitch. You just sprinted through a popcorn-spewing maze, avoided a big pot of boiling excrement and dodged giant gnashing teeth. Your suspension of disbelief ought to be fully exercised at this point. So just turn Blobert into a car jack and kill the emperor with his personal supply of poison. The Michelin Man is pleased with your results.

Not surprisingly, you can rip through this glitch-riddled NES nightmare in just about ten minutes. The game is available for purchase on the Wii network. Over the years several sequels have been developed, with only one completed and released to the public, which is also available on the Wii.

The entire game is covered in the video below:

Beating Phallic Symbols with Flying Fish: Weird Dreams on Retro Bizarro

Remember those weird dreams where you were about to take a test in school, but you didn’t have a pencil, clothes, or dignity? Remember the ones where you stood apathetically inside a cotton candy machine while granulated sugar clung to your body so you could feed it to a giant wasp and beat rabid rosebushes?

I don’t. Chances are, unless you had a Commodore or DOS in the late 80s, you don’t either.

Originally released in 1988, Weird Dreams pits protagonist Steve against a limited array of enemies, with a limited array of weapons . . . and a limited array of music, and like most games of the time, an incredibly ludicrous difficulty level to compensate.

The game begins where a novella accompanying the game ends: with Steve resting on an operating table about to undergo brain surgery, because he’s been a little under the weather, and brain surgery is generally the first option for a man who has been feeling a little sick after a hot co-worker gets him to eat a few horse pills.

Once Steve enters his psychotropic drug-infested mind, he’s introduced to the whopping 10 or so enemies, including plants with teeth, a giant roast chicken with teeth, sports paraphernalia . . . with teeth. If this abundance of teeth seems like a testament to the creative shortsight of the staff, don’t be so quick to criticize them. There’s a brain with an eyeball too, just to switch things up. And there’s something to be said about the diverse environments like hall of doors, hall of tubes and hall of mirrors.

Why is it Bizarro?

1. Playing catch with a little girl who owns an oversized, sharp-toothed soccer ball until it devours her.

2. Beating giant totem poles that look like oversized penises with a dead fish.

3. Traipsing across piano keys like Tom Hanks in Big, except the keys are “lethal” and there’s an obese ballerina dancing in the background.

Below you’ll find the entire walkthrough in roughly seven minutes. Yep, that’s it:

Digital Boobies! The Splatterhouse Series on Retro Bizarro

Premise: A cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jason Vorhees runs around his house beating the hell out of anything he can get his hands on, including dishes, chairs, and stuffed animals . . . but that’s ok because his fucking talking hockey mask tells him to. No. we’re not talking about Uncle Jim after too much Wild Turkey 101 at the family christmas party. We’re talking about the Splatterhouse series.

While the premise itself isn’t all that bizarro, there are particular elements in this game that certainly qualify. The backgrounds are generally riddled with squirming corpses, blood, and appendages. But while excessive violence sometimes plays a part in bizarro literature, the excessive violence isn’t what makes Splatterhouse bizarro. Here are some of the things that do:

1. In stage three of the third game, you must beat the shit out of your son’s giant teddy bear, until you piss it off enough so that it sprouts demon arms and tries to take your head off. If you jump to about 7:40 on the video below you can watch the action take place:

2. In level two of the third game in the trilogy you fight against what appears to be a crudely packed sausage, or perhaps a penis with legs and razor sharp teeth, keen on spitting out what appears to be giant, toothed sperm cells. Did I mention this all takes place in a flesh-covered room complete with beating hearts? Witness the strange scenario around 4:45 on the video below:

3. The third boss in Splatterhouse II looks like it could have been the inspiration for the cover art for Cannibal Corpse’s “Butchered at Birth” album. As what appear to be skinned demon babies dangle from the ceiling, your character chainsaw-screws them, the end result of which is a blood-soaked screen inhibiting your view of what’s happening between the protagonist and the remains of these creatures . . . perhaps it’s better we don’t know. You can see it (the chainsaw action, not what’s happening behind the blood) around 2:12 in the video below:

Interesting/strange facts:

I don’t even know what to say about this other than the game, which features a giant “evil” pumpkin, is allegedly part of the Splatterhouse canon, believe it or not:

I don’t know what to say about the video below either, but I’ll try: if you like 128-bit knockers, then the latest Splatterhouse delivers:

I really don’t know what to say about this either:

. . . well, at least Splatterhouse is actually trying to be grotesque and sexy at the same time.