Thursday, June 29, 2017

Before & After - Kingdom Death Aya Versions, and Analysis of the Kingdom Death Comic

 I really liked the little diorama of Beyond the Wall.

Unfortunately, I didn't really like how I painted it, so it sat around not getting any love for a while, until I got to painting Aya's earlier version, at which point the above saw some more attention and color saturation.

The model is a fair bit out of scale with regular Survivors, since, as Malifaux models so often are, since she wasn't standing, she's larger to compensate for height and to create a more substantial presence, and the character would be some sort of 8' giant if standing.

The older iteration if Aya is pretty neat, but had just... awful structure:

It's like she's trying to show how to break one's own back. Her spine bends in about two more places than it should, and her waist is just bizarrely thin. So, mine had some cutting done, and ended up with better posture, a better diet, and the tabard that her Before the Wall sculpt has.

(I don't actually have Before the Wall, I might get it somewhere down the line but, for the moment, I'm pretty burnt out on Kingdom Death's single model pricing, especially since the minimal game content has been rather poorly printed. I might some day get the model, since it's a gear set I like enough that it would regularly see use.)

I like the idea of doing various iterations of a single character. It's loosely narrative, and I basically like the character design and theme they chose, as simple as it is, with her as some sort of wandering lone warrior. But then there's the comic related to her in the back of the Kingdom Death rulebook, which I just find tasteless... This next bit was originally going to be an aside, but turned into a more in-depth analysis:

Comic Analysis/Review
Formally, "Bonus Comic: Aya's Origin" is light on substance. The art style is nice enough, but the entire structure shows a formal immaturity, with an overreliance on flashy panel design, and weird derivative references to manga: it uses various Japanese linguistic tropes in ways that don't appear in English translation, as texture, and for some reason, evil alien monster script is written with Japanese orientation and often suggests its character. Sound effects are awkwardly constructed, and include overly demonstrative language, like "chew' or "peel," and are often not really associated with any coherent action so form texture rather than meaning. It's all fairly competently illustrated if you like a dense style, which I generally do, but shows little control, subtlety, awareness. It mostly has good pacing, though occasionally the panel order gets muddled.

The second half of the comic, after Aya magically grows up, from a child being chased by a hand monster, to be some large-breasted, barely-clothed, literally mentally undeveloped womanchild (is that the female equivalent of manchild?), goes beyond a competently drawn but vacuously flashy story, to some sort of awkward, male-gaze-y (that's the technical term) horror. Beyond uncomprehending grunting responses to monsters, the protagonist runs around, showing off her assets until she gets to put new clothes on, and while doing so, the—I honestly don't know how else to describe it—rape monster shows up.

Here it's worth acknowledging that there's very often, in much of horror, some sort of sexual overlap with violence. There are all the classic teen slashers and thrillers, where there's the titillation replaced with violence, redirecting the audience attention while simultaneously creating the simple conservatively retributive association of transgression with punishment. There's the body horror of Cronenberg or Carpenter, dealing with relationship to society, intellect, psyche, through gross practical effects. There's the Xenomorph/ALIENS walking metaphor for various sexual organs and fears around sex (also: The bugs aren't the monsters, we are! ...again and again). And of course there's the long tradition of vampirism's metaphorical association with sexuality and society that has lost much of its subtlety in recent years. In short, whether or not I agree with their messages, some form of statement involved in the relationship between sex and violence.

And then there's "Aya's Origin."

Aya is hit around, grabbed, pinned, looks in fear as the monster attempts to insert a worm-shaped creature with a flared head into her navel, presumably with the intent of turning her into one of the victims around her with distended stomachs in an extremely literal riff on ALIEN's parasitical life cycle, with lots of close-ups of her looking scared and the worm thing entering a bodily opening. After the protagonist gets the upper hand, she spend the entire last page of the fight straddling the monster until, after the screaming climax, she settles down, panting heavily, still straddling its prone form.

I'd argue that, in its lack of real narrative or message, it's basically just barely-disguised sexual violence, and only fits the horror genre in its overlap of visceral themes. The word that comes to mind here is "caricature." Much of the relationship to the horror genre is one of exaggerated, superficial imitation, that I feel lacks a goal other than the sensory, resulting in something closer to violent softcore pornography than it is to a traditional horror narrative.

Aya's victory may have been intended to suggest horror's conclusion of female agency in the tradition I'd argue was at least was popularized by, ALIEN's Ellen Ripley, but I believe any such message, if intended, is lost in the comic's voyeuristic aesthetic such as in the above splash of her transformation to well-endowed adulthood, with its detailed, exaggerated physique as she lounges, rendering her as an object to be viewed, or the sheer volume of panels emphasizing her prone curves. I could try to compare it to archetypal arcs of success or growth, but these are equally muddied by the scattered narrative and problems of theme and style.

There are a number of victim-as-sexy voyeuristic elements in the company's pinup miniature line, which I also find problematic, but substantially less so, since they're mostly essentially promos, usually with no gameplay content so have no particular interaction with the game proper. However, "Aya's Origin" is right in the core rulebook, in what amounts to, in my opinion, a gratuitous but unavoidable 30-ish pages that exemplify to me my conflicted feelings on Kingdom Death, a game with extremely enjoyable mechanics but often disappointingly poor taste.

Excerpts reproduced for review purposes.