Thursday, January 29, 2015

2014 Comics In Review - Part 3

I always keep track of which artists drew the most pages, using 110 and 154 pages as arbitrary cutoffs. That made more sense when Marvel and DC did 22 page books instead of 20, but oh well. Nine artists hit the 110 page mark, with Mike Hawthorne (120), Scott Wegener (144), and David Lopez (152) coming up short of the 154 mark. So close for David Lopez, but nice to see him back on the list for the first time since 2010, when he was drawing Hawkeye and Mockingbird. Please keep in mind this is just counting pages they drew in books I actually bought. I know Mike Hawthorne drew a lot more than that overall. Of the other six, Chad Hardin, Steve Lieber, and Adrian Alphona made it to 160, Javier Pulido and Todd Nauck reached 180, and for the second time in three years, Chris Samnee leads the way, with 221 pages. Congratulations to Chris Samnee for winning this totally arbitrary award I just made up that confers no prize whatsoever!

Hawkeye #15-20: The book that's taking so long to come out, they're going to go ahead and start the next volume before this one even finishes. Unless the last two issues come out in February. Matt Fraction writing, David Aja drew a couple of issues, Annie Wu drew three others, normal letterer Chris Eliopoulos drew that issue where Clint dreams about a holiday special. Kate's big battle with Madame Masque didn't exactly end well for either of them. Hawkeye got deafened, but looked like he was finally going to stop moping and do something by the last time we saw him. Which would be a nice change of pace.

High point: Kate's solo adventure officially marks the most I've ever cared about Kate Bishop. Up to that point, I felt like she was the one who talks a lot of junk at Clint, but doesn't have the credentials to back it up. I wouldn't say her stint in L.A. provided those credentials, but at least she was trying to do something good for people.

Low point: In spite of everything, I still hope that when this thing concludes, Fraction and Aja will give Clint the badass moments I've been expecting this book to provide since it was announced. The way things are going, I'm not sure we'll ever see the conclusion, though. So, the delays are the low point. Also, I don't have much love for cheesy holiday specials, so that issue didn't do much for me.

Klarion #1-3: I bought it because Ann Nocenti was writing it. I recognize seemingly no one else is enjoying her current work, but screw it, I always find it interesting. Trevor McCarthy was the artist to start, and once once they figured out the book was going to die in five minutes, they started bringing in other people, so Sandu Florea is credited with finishes on issue 3 (and neither of them worked on issue 4, which came out this month.)

Ms. Marvel #1-10: Written by G. Willow Wilson, with most of the artwork done by Adrian Alphona (outside a 2 issue arc by Jacob Wyatt), and color art by Ian Herring. A young girl who idolizes Carol Danvers is exposed to Terrigen Mist and gets the opportunity to become a superhero for her town, and winds up fighting a clone of Edison crossed with a cockatiel who seems to be abducting kids. She's already teamed up with Wolverine and Lockjaw, while charming seemingly everyone she meets. Does that make her the superheroic version of Mary Tyler Moore?

High point: Jeez, everything. Kamala struggling to be a hero while being herself. The montage of Bruno helping her figure out her powers. The way Kamala's idea of being a hero centers on helping people, not beating people up. The way Wilson shows that the adults are clueless, in that her father and Sheikh Abdullah both understand the kind of person Kamala is and don't try to bar her from what she's trying to do (even if neither one totally understands what's going on). Alphona's art, which is just great. Every character is easily distinguishable, his form is loose enough to work well with the weird shape-changing stuff Kamala's powers allow. He draws great robots, though I think my favorite panel is still Kamala giving a very happy Lockjaw a big hug. That one always puts a smile on my face. Even the 2-issue guest appearance by Wolverine was fun. I didn't think Wolverine guest appearances could still be entertaining at this stage.

Low point: I'm still waiting for a conversation between Kamala and her mother that fleshes Ammi out more. So far, Mrs. Khan is kind of the rote, hysterical overprotective mom, and I figure there's got to be more to her. That hasn't hurt the book, it's just the one thing I'm slightly dissatisfied about. Nit picking, essentially.

Nightcrawler #1-9: Chris Claremont writing Kurt's return to the land of the living, which unfortunately made him of interest to his adoptive, power mad sorceress mother, Margali Szardos, and cost the life of Amanda Sefton. Then Kurt got mixed up with some intergalactic pirates/kidnappers, mourned the death of Wolverine, and because this is Claremont, now Kurt's got to deal with the Shadow King. Ugh. Todd Nauck's done some of the best work I've seen from him.

High point: I want to give some credit to Rachelle Rosenberg and her color work. She's made the book very bright and colorful, kind of fantastic, which is preferable for me when it comes to Kurt. More swashbuckling high adventure, less moping.And credit to Claremont, he's certainly trying to get Kurt into high adventure, while also dealing with the very real fact that is has to be kind of disorienting to leave the afterlife Paradise you always believed in, to return to the world of the living.

Low point: All that being said, the book has never quite clicked as much as I wanted it to. Bringing in the Shadow King certainly didn't help, and I'd say that's the official low point (either that or the Death of Wolverine tie-in), but there's just something off. There's some spark, or bit of whimsy or something, that I want to see that hasn't materialized. Maybe because Kurt is still trying to sort out why he's back and what he should be doing, it's still too serious.

OK, one more batch of titles to go. It's a high quality batch, though.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

2014 Comics In Review - Part 2

I bought 128 new comics this year, down three from last year (though if I'd stuck with Deadpool through Axis it'd be a slight uptick from 2013), and a new low. Marvel came in at 101 books, or almost 79%, which is their best showing since 2009 in total books, and 2007 in percentage. DC had 16 and 12.5% respectively, which are both the worst since 2007. It continued a downward slide that's been in effect since DC's peak in 2010 (47 books, about 35%). Everything else added up to 11 books and 8.59%. Overall, it's a throwback to 5 or 6 years ago, though the non Marvel/DC category would do a lot better if I factored in trades (most of those are from before 2014). Looking at the first 4 months of 2015, DC looks like it'll rebound to 2013 levels, and Marvel might backslide to 2013 as well. Of course, I don't know what effect Secret Wars is going to have on my purchases, though I doubt it'll increase them, depending on how long it goes and how much it fouls things up.

Daredevil #0.1, 1-11: Mark Waid and Chris Samnee collaborate on most of it, with Javier Rodriguez coloring it. Rodriguez also drew the 2 issue Original Sin tie-in, where Matt had to travel to Wakanda to save his mother, who had been illegally detained and shipped there as part of some scummy below the table arrangement between Wakanda and the U.S. military. The 0.1 issue was about Matt's trip to California, where he got dragged into chasing an Adaptoid being used by the Mad Thinker. Besides that, he's trying to settle in to running a practice with Kirsten McDuffie in San Francisco, to pay for Foggy's cancer treatments without anyone realizing Foggy's still alive. He's run into the Owl since then, as well as the Purple Man's creepy kids, and then the Stunt Master, seemingly down on his luck and watching someone else steal his name and glory.

High point: Rodriguez' coloring, Chris Samnee's art. So much of the books feel is because of their work. Dark when it needs to be, but bright a lot of the time. The nearly constant needling Kirsten and Foggy get in on Matt, which plays nicely off Matt's ego and tendency to self-aggrandize. To wit, the differences in Matt's version of his first meeting with Hawkeye, compared to Foggy's retelling. Also, those Purple Kids were damn creepy, but in a way that was also sad, so pretty effective.

Low point: I didn't find the 0.1 issue all that useful, and found Matt's argument that it was OK to kill the Adaptoid to save the Mad Thinker, because it wasn't really alive, pretty weak in a universe with so many artificial intelligences which have shown the capacity to think and feel. The thing was at least as alive as the Mad Thinker, and had less criminal history. The Original Sin tie-in didn't feel like it fit with the tone and arc of the rest of the series.

Deadpool #22-35: Wade hunted down Gorman, the SHIELD agent who stiffed him on his money for killing the undead Presidents (and was selling secrets to Ultimatum), surviving the bounty Gorman put on his head in the process. Wade got Agent Preston into an LMD body and out of his head. He got married to an Empress of the Monster Metropolis, and then saved his daughter from the inept forces of Ultimatum, though that meant leaving Shiklah and a Dazzler he brought from the '70s alone against a bunch of vampires. Oh, and he beat down an antique Spider-Slayer piloted by a crippled Dracula. Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn write it, Mike Hawthorne drew a lot of issues, and Scott Koblish drew some others, and John Lucas drew the Original Sin tie-in. Oh, and there were a bunch of 5 page stories in the marriage issue by different creative teams that have worked on Deadpool books in the past, but there is no way I'm listing all of those. Go find a copy of Deadpool #27 and see for yourself.

High point: It's grim, but the way Wade tears through the Ultimatum schmucks on their faux-Helicarrier in issue 23 was hilarious. It was also disturbing in how casually Wade slaughtered them over money, but Deadpool works well when there's that conflict between the comedic and the frightening. The scene in issue 25 where 'Pool is beating Crossbones to death as Sabretooth comes strolling around the corner, musing how Wade will be easy prey. He takes one look at what's happening and reverses course. Hawthorne did a good job laying that out over a couple of panels. The whole honeymoon in Japan issue, #28, was excellent. The chase that just keeps getting larger and more ridiculous, and the way Shiklah resolves things definitively, while also finally getting some food. I just realized I haven't even mentioned Deadpool fighting alongside Cable to protect 1950s Nick Fury from time-traveling Hitler in a future mech-suit. So yeah, that was also good.

Low point: The first two issues of the Original Sin tie-in were pretty underwhelming. It was a lot of set-up, but nothing that held much weight. Wow, Calvin hates books he likes tying in to stupid events, what a complete surprise. I didn't like Lucas' art on that tie-in at all. Then they went almost immediately from 3 months of Original Sin tie-ins, into 3 months of Axis tie-ins, so I decided to drop the book temporarily. Which I will probably regret, because that one sounds like it was a lot better, but goddamnit I am sick of events. Maybe I'll grab the trade.

Deadpool Annual #2: I got this when I wasn't supposed to, but kept it because it was by Christopher Hastings and Jacopo Camagni, who did that very nice Longshot mini-series the year before. In this case, Wade impersonates Spider-Man, who is exhausted because the Chameleon is hounding him relentlessly somehow (hint: it's Spider-Ock's fault). It's not anything special, but Wade has a fun moment where he fights a new villain and declares that Spider-Man is, 'A champion against dumb!'

Empowered Special - Internal Medicine: Adam Warren and Brandon Graham give us a story about Emp and Ninjette going inside a baby bio-ship to remove a parasite, so the bio-ship's huge mama doesn't lay waste to the city. It was OK, nothing great. I liked Nine Beers with Ninjette from the year before better.

Harley Quinn #2-13: Harley's tried settling into her new home, only to have people constantly trying to kill her because of a huge contract her own subconscious put out on her. She's worked a little as a psychiatrist, though she spent more time helping an old spy eliminate some old enemies of his, and she's done a little work in a roller derby/fight club thing. Oh, and she had one of her tenants build a poop catapult to deal with all the waste the animals she stole from the shelter produce. And she just wrapped up a stint teaming up with an amnesiac Power Girl. Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti write it, Chad Hardin drew most of it, plus one issue done by Stephane Roux, one by her and Hardin together, and one by John Timms.

High point: I think issue 4, when Harley hears a tale of woe from an elderly lady who feels neglected by her family, then kidnaps and torments that family until learning the old lady has Alzheimer's and they visit her three times a week. It was kind of what I expect from Harley: trying to do the right thing, but going about it in a screwed up, overreacting way. It's also why I'm enjoying this interlude with Power Girl, because Harley was actually trying to be crimefighting buddies with her. Well-meaning, but twisted. Also, I appreciate that Conner and Palmiotti are devoting some time to Harley's tenants, trying to at least give them some personalities. Always going to support building a supporting cast.

Low point: Overall, I don't think the book is great, but it isn't bad, either. The biggest problem I have is they introduce a lot of elements, but use them sporadically. The psychiatrist thing, the roller derby thing, they pop up when convenient, then vanish. It's almost like a sketch comedy show with a few recurring gags, but not much of a throughline. It's hard to describe, just that everything feels ephemeral, without substance, and that's holding it back.

Marvel not releasing mini-series any more really cuts down on the number of titles I cover each day. Everything is ongoings now, far cry from a few years ago when I was buying as many mini-series as regular series.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

2014 Comics In Review - Part 1

We'll get to proper reviews of the stuff I got in the mail - some of which is in here - next week. For now, you know how this goes. Go through roughly a quarter of the new stuff I bought in the last year each day, talk about who worked on the books, what the major plot arcs were, hit some some high and low points.

Atomic Robo Free Comic Book Day 2014: It's a quick little story by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener about a college kid who goes snooping around and finds some eggs belonging to the Yonkers Devil, necessitating Robo and his action scientists step in to save her. As far as their FCBD offerings go, not the strongest, maybe because the Yonkers Devil isn't interesting as an antagonist. It's a big dumb animal, no personality.

Atomic Robo - The Knights of the Golden Circle #1-5: OK, here's the good stuff. Robo is blown back into the 19th century by the conclusion to the mini-series we'll get to next, and teams up with a federal marshal and Doc Holliday to stop a plot by an old enemy of his to to conquer at least a portion of America with primitive cyborgs. Oh, and Robo's power source is about to run dry.

High point: This series had me the moment Robo started wearing a Man with No Name-style poncho (as seen at left), which was pretty much at the very beginning. But also the fact that gun-toting goons are no real threat to him, that it's the limits of his fuel supply. Also, I thought Jeff Powell's lettering did a good job showing those moments where he was getting run down in his dialogue bubbles. Doc constantly trying to find some way out, or to ditch the marshal, and the marshal constantly ruining his plans.

Low point: Umm, I wanted to see more of Robo's everyday life in the Old West?

Atomic Robo - The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur #5: Turns out Dr. Dinosaur did build a time bomb, though he didn't succeed in completely wiping out humanity. The magma worm appearing helped, as did Bernard helping free the magma people from Dr. D's. control. Pity he couldn't stay with his silicate organism wife. The whole, "I need food and water" thing ruins so many relationships.

Avengers Undercover #1-10: Follow up to Avengers Arena, as the survivors try to cope not only with what Arcade put them through, but the fact he posted it all online for the world to see and dissect. Then they get suckered into killing Arcade on video, then busted out of SHIELD custody by Zemo's crew. They tried to rehab their image by playing along, hoping to figure out Zemo's scheme and call in reinforcements, only to learn calling in reinforcements is what Zemo wanted all along, so he could steal a Helicarrier. But he was at least partially thwarted by Cammi, who was working with a not-dead Arcade. Hmm, considering Zemo still had the Helicarrier, maybe "thwarted" is too strong a word. Written by Dennis Hopeless, Kev Walker drew 5 of the first 7 issues, Tim Green II drew 3 issues, and Tigh Walker drew 2 of the last 3. Jean-Francois did some great work on the colors, especially when combined with Kev Walker's art.

High point: Cammi didn't die, and got to smackdown everybody. Arcade didn't die. Kev Walker's art. The idea of the series. The kids struggling to deal with what happened, and with everyone judging and analyzing them. Their attempt to try and salvage it with a con, which doesn't work because they don't have the experience at it, and they tried it on the fly, so the plan wasn't clear to everyone.

Low point: The rushed ending, for certain. Things had to move too fast the last 3 issues. Also Green didn't do his strongest work, which was disappointing as I've liked his work a lot in the past. There was also the ludicrousness of SHIELD arresting the kids for "killing" Arcade, considering all the heroes - like Wolverine - who kill with no repercussions. Necessary for the story, but it doesn't hold up in the larger framework of the Marvel Universe. Also, I still can't take Constrictor seriously as a major player among the villains.

Captain Marvel #1-10: Kelly Sue DeConnick tries again with Carol Danvers, this time taking her into space, where she helps a planet of refugees from Infinity, then deals with her cat not being a cat. Recently, she's helped interstellar rock star Lila Cheney get out of an arranged marriage, and received some news from home. David Lopez drew most of it, Marcio Takara the rest, except for a 9-page segment in issue 10 drawn by Laura Braga. Lee Loughridge's colors worked very well at creating a mood.

High point: Lopez' art. I still haven't seen him on a series I've really loved, but this is the best one so far, and he does some great work with body language and facial expressions. He draws maybe the best evil, shit-eating grin I've ever seen. That sort of totally arrogant look that makes you want to mash the person's face into unrecognizable pulp. Or maybe I just have anger issues. The last few issues have been good. The quick snapshots of different peoples and places across the universe, Carol's diplomacy involving a lot of punching.

Low point: I'd really like it if DeConnick stopped opening these books with six issue arcs. They're always too slow and too long, when they need to be short and punchy to grab attention.

Daredevil #35, 36: The last two issues of the prior volume of the book, as Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and Javier Rodriguez bring Matt's battle against the Sons of the Serpent to a head, as they try to make him get one of their members off, or risk being disbarred when its revealed he lied about not being Daredevil. So Matt went into court and copped to it, effectively unmaking their sword. And then he moved back to San Francisco, because he could still practice law there, and make money to pay for Foggy's cancer treatments. But we'll get to that tomorrow.

All right, that's day one, and look at that, we actually got past the As! I'm not sure I've managed that in years.

Monday, January 26, 2015

I Feel I Should Be Angrier About This

I called him on the 9th, to ask if he'd shipped the comics. He said he had that morning. By the 16th, they still hadn't arrived, so I called again. He said he didn't have the receipt with the tracking number with him, could I check in tomorrow. Sure.

The next day, he says he forgot it.

I try again on the 21st, because they still aren't here. I don't like bugging him so much, but hell, there's nothing I can do to fix the problem, and since he doesn't get paid until I get the books, you figure he'd want to know if there was a problem. That's what I tell myself, anyway. He says they were in St. Louis as of the 20th. Neither of us can explain why it took them over a week to travel only 100 miles, though he suggests maybe the box got damaged and set aside temporarily. He says call back on Friday (the 23rd) if they haven't arrived.

By the 23rd, they hadn't arrived, I call again. This time, he has the receipt in his car, and the tracking data says they'll be here the 26th. He says he can give me the tracking number if I'd like, though he seems reluctant.

I ask for the tracking number. When I try to enter it, it doesn't work, until I figure out the sequence of three consecutive 9s was actually 4. It does say the books will arrive on the 26th, but interestingly, it says the package was only received at the post office in Jackson (where he lives) that morning (the 23rd).

It's long been an internal debate of mine whether he's incompetent or lying. I suppose we still can't rule out incompetent, but lying was confirmed. The books did arrive today. Well, some of them. He missed more than a few from November, (plus Squirrel Girl's first issue) so that's going to make the remainder of this week a little awkward.

The thing is, I haven't sent him any of my orders for anything after January. I was waiting for the next shipment to send them back with the payment. I'm not on the hook for anything. Since he can't seem to remember to ship the books without me reminding him 5 times, I'm going to leave it in his hands. If he actually remembers to send them along in a month or so like we had agreed upon, swell. If not, OK then.  There are other places that sell comics.

It isn't as though Jack, the guy he bought the store from, had a great track record of shipping on schedule. But when I would call Jack to ask if the books were on the way, he'd cop to it, and ship them out as soon as possible. I don't see the percentage in bullshitting me for a solid two weeks while he tries to get his act together. How the fuck long does it take to get a box of comics to the damn post office? Now I feel bad because I was thinking disparaging thoughts about the Postal Service, when it wasn't their fault.

2014 Comics Year In Review starts tomorrow.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Invisible Man 2.21 - Enemy of My Enemy

Plot: So, Chrysalis is preparing to remove the Quicksilver gland from Arnaud's head, and they aren't particularly concerned whether Arnaud survives or not. But Arnaud isn't a complete idiot, and rigged all the medical personnel's fanny packs with explosives set to go off if his brain waves deviate too far from normal, or if he simply doesn't wake up soon enough. All of this amuses Stark, since he's not sticking around for the operation.

Back at the Agency, Hobbes is trying to build a voice control system into Golda, to turn her into a real battle van, complete with heavy weapons and armor plating. I wasn't aware that van had a strong enough engine to handle such added weight, but maybe Bobby's freakout last week convinced the Fat Man to open his checkbook. Anyway, this episode of Car Talk is interrupted by Eberts telling Fawkes there's a gift basket waiting for him, encouraging him to "Come See Me" at the Miracosa Vineyard. So off the boys go, and once again, despite knowing one of their greatest foes is an invisible man, Chrysalis has failed to outfit its goons with thermal glasses, so Fawkes sneaks right in, and finds Arnaud, and his gland. Except the gland isn't in Arnie's head any longer. It's out, and Chrysalis has cloned it - six times - and put those glands within cows, which they are milking for Quicksilver in a scheme Arnaud notes is 'surprisingly efficient, and strangely erotic.'

Let's all join Fawkes in side-eyeing Arnaud for that statement.

Arnaud wants out, because he's only being kept alive because the gland became dependent on his adrenaline, and thus, so are the cloned glands. So Chrysalis is basically milking him for adrenaline. Stiil, Darien repeatedly refuses to Quicksilver himself and Arnaud and escape, so they wind up captured, despite Darien Quicksilvering a machine gun to get the drop on a guard (he rounded the corner and found 5 more guards waiting with guns drawn). However, without Stark around, Chrysalis is sorely lacking in common sense, and they actually let Arnaud help the one guard they keep around sedate Darien so they can remove his gland. Instead Arnaud injects the guard with alcohol, and they actually escape. One problem once they're out: with his increased resistance to counteragent, Darien is now Quicksilver Mad, and he swiped the gun Arnaud had appropriated from that guard. All Arnaud can think to do, is promise that he can remove the counteragent dependency forever.

When Fawkes got caught, the goons went on high alert and spotted Hobbes, who was forced to flee, and needs to work on Golda's recognition of the word "stop", but he made it home safe, and the Official raised no objections to his demand for a fully armed assault team. Even Claire is coming along, in tactical gear and with a machine gun and everything. But before they can leave the hallway, Darien, still red-eyed, shows up with a wounded Arnaud. He exercised remarkable control and only shot him in the leg. In short order, Arnaud is locked up (after cluing everyone in to the fact that line Stark's wife fed them about Chrysalis was, in his words, 'bilge'), as Hobbes and the guys prepare to go back to the vineyard. But first, Darien needs to as Claire if what Arnaud said about a suicide gene in the gland sounds plausible. Claire agrees it does, and after some trepidation, brings Arnaud's laptop (last seen in "My Brother's Keeper") to him and orders him to get to work.

Eventually she removes a disk drive from the computer to see if he's really doing anything, and returns to her lab. Which is when Arnie decides it's time to escape, and we learn nobody took his computer apart and found the C-4 he hid in there. He makes a big show of refusing to work, sliding the laptop out of the cell, and it kills poor Mike the Guard. Claire hears the explosion and grabs her huge revolver, but ultimately leaves it in the hands of Eberts to try and save Mike's life (she doesn't). Eberts can't handle such firepower, and Arnaud immediately gets a taxi as he charges out of the building and heads for an airport.

Back at the vineyard, Stark still hasn't equipped anyone with thermals, even though he fully expects the Agency to return. But they've already shipped the Quicksilver by air, and are loading the cows onto a truck, which Hobbes stops with the .50 cal he had in the van. Everybody is feeling good, until the driver follows Stark's orders and blows up the truck. Fortunately, Bobby is unharmed, but they still need to find all that Quicksilver, which means it's back to the Agency to interrogate their prisoners. But first, Darien needs to check in with the Keeper. Now, as it turns out, Arnaud did enough before he left that Claire can remove his dependency on counteragent. Unfortunately, with Arnaud gone, and Mike dead, the Official wants to know why she gave Arnaud his laptop, and the Fat Man is not as excited at losing his leash on Darien as Claire is. He pins Mike's death on her, and basically promises he'll kill Darien before letting him off that counteragent leash, and says that will be Claire's fault as well. And so, when Darien asks, Claire says she wasn't able to get anything out of Arnaud. Darien tries to suck it up and go watch Hobbes interrogate. Claire, left alone in her lab, begins sobbing before something steels itself within her, to the point she cracks the syringe she's holding in her hand.

Quote of the Episode: Darien - 'See, I developed an itty-bitty immunity to your counteragent.' Arnaud - 'No, that's impossible.' Darien - 'You can't even screw up my brain right.'

The "oh crap" count: 3 (42 overall). Even one by Arnaud!

Who's getting quoted this week? Nobody!

Times Fawkes Goes Into Quicksilver Madness: 1 (9 overall).

Other: Despite failing to recapture Arnaud, Eberts did at least get to dope slap him on the way to the cell.

When Hobbes opened the side panel of the van to reveal that machine gun, he said "Chrysalis this." Oh Bobby, that's horrible.

I'm a little disappointed there was no appearance of the Chrysalis Goon who always beats up Darien. Maybe next week. On the plus side, I like that when Darien returned to the vineyard, he tricked that one guard into thinking he'd Quicksilvered another machine gun when he was actually unarmed. Nice trick.

When Darien first snuck into the vineyard, he removed his jacket first, and I thought he was going to pretend to be one of the workers picking grapes to sneak by. Then he just went invisible.

Given his rush to the airport, I'm guessing this is the last time I'll get to gush over Joel Bissonnette as Arnaud. I always enjoy the back and forth between he and Darien, p[lus all his little mannerisms. When he's complaining that Chrysalis wouldn't share their gene therapy-aided immortality with him, and called them sociopathic little snobs, Darien responded, 'Pot, meet kettle.' Arnaud had this lovely little smile and shrug, kind of a, "yeah, guilty." I kind of love that, how Arnaud has such a high opinion of himself, but he never really argues when people express their feelings on what a lousy person he is. I don't think it's that he ignores what they say, or that he feeds off their hate. Well, maybe that second one a little bit. Given his ego, people expressing hatred for him means he's impacting their lives. He does have a little of that "kid who acts out for attention", but I honestly think a big part of it is that he doesn't see the things people dislike in him as detrimental, but as positive character traits that help him be successful.

Which is why it's so much fun when things don't go his way. The way he was patting his pockets, trying to find the gun after Darien got him out. The shock and surprise when he found out his counteragent wasn't working any more. His partner in "Diseased" noted that Arnaud was half a scientist, because he never thought things the whole way through. He never bothered to consider the possibility his counteragent might not work forever. Either because he didn't have a chance, because he was unable to get a gland to study longterm, or more likely because he just didn't care. The idea probably never entered his mind. And now it was going to get him killed.

Except it didn't. This is one of the things that bothers me about Quicksilver Madness, how inconsistently it's portrayed. Sometimes Darien's a goof, sometimes a maniac, or a horndog, or just cruel. And when he is Quicksilver Mad, he usually doesn't want to stop being that way, like when he was in Stage 5 at the end of Season 1. When he's in that headspace, where he sees no limits, and cares nothing for anyone else, he doesn't see anything wrong with it. It's only after he's bothered. So it's hard to see why he chose, as Arnaud put it, freedom over revenge. From Crazy Darien's perspective, he's already free. Kill Arnaud, Hobbes isn't around, escape and do as you wish forever.

I guess I'm a little disappointed Darien will never get to finish Arnaud off, unless I'm pleasantly surprised next week. Also, I'm a little sad we didn't get more interaction between Claire and Arnaud. We haven't seen those two together since "Diseased", when Claire got quite angry with Arnaud. And since then, we learned she and Kevin Fawkes were a couple once years ago, which put it in a new light. I wanted to see an expansion of that. Claire shooting Arnie in the back as he fled for the exit would have sufficed.

No surprise the Official is opposed to losing the counteragent hold over Darien. Also no surprise he phrases it to Claire in such a way as to abdicate any responsibility for what happens. If Claire does the right thing, save Darien from any further chance of going mad, the Official will have no choice but to watch him more closely than ever. In case Darien decides to run off with government property, you see. And if all that scrutiny and lack of trust causes Darien to bail, then the Official will have to kill Darien to keep the gland in his hands. And it all be Claire's fault.

Which is nonsense, but it's nonsense that works. Because Claire does care about Darien. She doesn't want him to go crazy (at which point he's no good to anyone), but she doesn't want him to die, either. The Fat Man, for all his crabbing at her about getting Mike the Guard killed, is perfectly fine with killing Darien if that's what it takes. And Claire knows that, too. It's a horrible thing to pull, but he's kind of a horrible guy. Much more stick, not much carrot.

But Old Iron Jaw has forgotten that it's dangerous to back Claire into a corner. I'm a little sad this series will be over next week, but I'm looking forward to the finale.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Come On Down To South Park, And Beat Some Friends Of Mine

Finished the story on South Park: The Stick of Truth last night. Took about 4 sessions total, but some of those were 5 or 6 hours stretches. Of course, sometimes a lot of that 5 or 6 hours was me running around trying to find more money to buy stuff I didn't really need, except as progress towards some 100% of the gear achievement.

As the story goes, you're the (silent) new kid in town, and almost immediately meet Butters, who gets you involved in the big game all the boys are playing: a battle between humans - let by WizardKing Cartman and Princess Kenny - and the elves, led by Kyle, over the Stick of Truth, played by a stick. It's a bog-standard RPG in structure. You talk to people, and they ask you to do something for them, and that either progresses the story or gives you cool stuff. In this case, the "cool stuff", besides equipment, can include those people becoming your friend on social media. Gain enough friends, and you unlock perks which will help you in battle.

The game also is pretty good about giving you better equipment as you go along. You don't have to be constantly running to a store to buy new weapons or clothes. You'll get plenty of good stuff as loot from enemies, by checking treasure chests scattered around, or just as rewards for progressing through the game. When I was making the majority of my progress, I bought weapons and armors mostly because I thought they looked cool or would be fun to use.

There's a lot of battling, which is fine, the combat system is pretty simple, once you get the hang of things. Pretty much all attacks or spells require hitting a button when your weapon flashes or something to that effect. Press the button too soon or too late, the damage will be severely reduced. The nice thing is, whatever attack you choose - ranged, melee, magic, special technique, summon assistance - the game reminds you what you have to do. So if Butters is the other character in your party, and you want to use his lightning attack, the game will tell you before you select your target that you're supposed to hit "A" when the lightning strikes Butters' hammer. Which is nice.

One other nice thing about combat: Status effect attacks actually work on bosses. This is one of the most maddening things to me about RPGs: Attacks or spells that cause enemies to fall asleep, or get slowed down, or poison them so they take a little damage every turn, NEVER work on boss characters, no matter how high level or powerful your character is. It's maddening. It's why I never use those skills in fights, because I see no reason getting used to that strategy when I'll have to throw it out the window come the boss fight. Stick of Truth on the other hand, doesn't play favorites. Oh, an enemy may be resistant to certain types of bonus damage - there's Fire, Frost, Shock, Bleeding, and Gross Out that I know of - but not all. And at least some of them will work on bosses. Since you can't summon your assist characters for boss fights - all of them make a point of telling you they won't help with bosses, they're too tough - the extra types of damage can be crucial. For that reason alone, the game has my respect.

It's not all sunshine and rainbows, though. The game has an annoying amount of moments where to progress you have to pass a quick-time event, usually mashing one button a lot really fast. And if you botch it, you just have to keep trying over and over until you hit it fast enough. I'm apparently not very good at those, and considering I already broke the A button on one controller because of the stupid way you had to tap it to run faster in Red Dead Redemption, I'm not real keen on it in general.

The other issue had to do with farting. In Stick of Truth, magic is expressed through farting, because of course it is. That isn't the issue, it's perfectly in keeping with the tone of the series. The problem was that in battle, using magic requires this mess of pulling the right thumbstick down, then moving the left one to find some sweet spot, then pushing the right thumbstick up, all of which felt needlessly convoluted. Each time the game would want to teach me a new type of magic attack, my progress would screech to a halt. The character would demonstrate it, I'd try, fail, have to sit through the demonstration scene again, try, fail, etc. It felt like I was stuck on the "Squeaky Stinker" forever, especially when, after learning it, the game required me to use it to get past some soldiers and sneak into the Taco Bell/government lab investigating a crashed UFO.

The strange thing is, most of them time when you're in an area where you might have to fight, the game will give you options. Not to avoid the fight entirely, but ways to use the environment and skills you've learned to take out a couple of the enemies before you have to face them. Maybe you can use the Alien Probe to teleport up to a ledge and flip a switch, sending a current through a wire sitting in a pool of water the foes are standing in. Or aim your magic at a torch to blow up a barricade. You don't have to do that stuff, but it makes fights a little easier. But sometimes the game decides not to provide those options, and it's usually at the most irritating points.

On the whole, the game was what I wanted, in that it feels like being in the South Park world. The humor, the conflicts, some of the specific enemies, some of the ridiculous things you have to do. I highly doubt I will play another video game that asks me to complete a fake abortion mini-game, twice. There's even a segment of the game where you travel to Canada. Unlike the much-too-long stint in Mexico of Red Dead Redemption, this trip north of the border doesn't overstay its welcome and was perfectly charming. I read somewhere that Trey Parker and Matt Stone wanted this to be an actual good video game, as opposed to a cheap licensed piece of crap that gets 4 out of 10 on a review website. Well, they succeeded. It isn't a spectacular game, but it's good, very good if you're less bothered by the mechanics of the fart magic and the quick time events. I mean, I'd give it at least a 7 out of 10, probably an 8, for what that's worth.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Can You Feel The Indifference, The Apathy?

Soooooooooo, who's excited for Secret Wars?

Wait, where are you going? It's going to change everything!

Oh, you've heard that before? Lots of times? But they really mean it this time! For real!

Ech, I can't even continue this half-assed attempt to pretend to care. Which, frankly, is Marvel's fault.
Even beyond all the nonsense about "changing everything" they've broken out 2-3 times a year for the last decade, there's no reason to care. The creative teams do whatever they want, whether it matches up with prior continuity, or even what some other creative team is doing at the exact same time. Everything is constantly changing anyway, and I'm sure if some writer - Bendis, most likely - doesn't like something that gets put in place after all this, he'll just ignore it and do what he wants.

That's not entirely a bad thing. I've been glad there are books I can read which completely ignore whatever stupid bullcrap is going on in other books. I much prefer dismissing things I think are bad to raging about them here. Even if I still can't entirely shake my "that's out of character!" impulse at times. Thing is, once I'm conditioned to stop caring about the line as a whole, to stop expecting developments in one area of the shared universe to be reflected in relevant places elsewhere, and I've been convinced it's a good thing (because I think the guys with the most power are schmucks), surprise! I stop caring about your latest attempt to shatter your universe.

My only concern is whether this is going to mess up the books I like. Granted, several of those books seem to be ending, but for the few that remain, are they going to get sucked in? Or will they be allowed to just go on doing their thing (which hopefully won't involve tying in)? Or is it going to be like DC with Convergence, where the ongoings are on hiatus until this is over, and we get a bunch of mini-series about the different sections of Battleworld? That would certainly do my wallet some good (I'm just going to assume that the majority of the mini-series would fall under my previously mentioned "stupid bullcrap" category).