Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mortals And Gods And The Games They Play

I know in some stories it's been established that gods only have power as long as mortals belive in them. The DC Universe works that way, at least according to Wonder Woman, I think. The more followers they have (and probably the more devout they are) the more powerful the gods can be. If they have no followers, they fade away.

So here's what I was wondering, and I think it's a bit of an inversion of that. Have you seen a story where a god attempts to aid, harm, or interfere with a mortal, only to be unable to do so because the mortal doesn't believe in the god in question? It isn't a case of the god being completely impotent, they would work on a believer, just not on someone who doesn't believe. Granted, there's a chance of the god coming off as useless, but I think you could show the god using a believer to accomplish their wishes. You know, the god appears to them in their morning coffee and tell them they're needed, or gives them a power boost so they can do what needs to be done.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Group Mind

I have a collection of Asimov short stories, I hadn't read in a few years, so Idecided to take a flip through it and see if I wanted to keep it, or do the "donate to the library" thing. Well, I think it's sticking around, but that's not really what I wanted to discuss.

There are certain things that keep popping up as parts of the stories. Some of them make sense, given the time period the stories were written in, such as a idea that the Atomic Age is the start of a new era for humanity (there are more than a couple of stories where the years have been renumbered to start from the a-bombs being dropped). There are others I'm less certain as to their frequent use, and one of those is the collective mind race. In various stories, humans come face-to-face with a species of intelligent life that have collective intelligence. In most cases, it's similar to the Phalanx-Select we saw in Annihilation: Conquest, where individuals retain their own traits, but they're connected to a larger consciousness, which affords a certain ease of communication, and a greater sense of connectedness to those they care for. In one story, Green Patches, it seems as though an entire world is covered by a giant collective entity, one which can send various smaller parts of itself out autonomously, and disguise themselves as all manners of things, and is able to infect anything, if it chooses, be it bacteria or various multi-celled organisms.

What I find interesting is the reactions of the non-Earthlings to the situation, compared to how Earthlings react. The Earthers tend to recognize certain advantages to the collective mind approach, but aren't really interested in it because they value their individuality*. Meanwhile, the aliens, if they aren't trying to actively add humanity to their group, are horrified at the idea of each person being a separate indivudal, not connected to others. I've been trying to decide why that might be, since I don't think it's Asimov going for some "Humans are better and open-minded" approach. The best I can decide is that if a being is raised in a world where they are always in contact with everyone else, or can be so anytime they wish, they would grow accustomed to that, and the idea of being totally alone, without that immediate comfort of mental connection, would be terrifying.

Asimov deals with that sort of thing in his other works, in other ways periodically. One of the bits from his Robots series was that Detective Bailey was from Earth, where everyone lived in crowded cities underground, but he keeps being called to solve cases on Spacer worlds, where all the citizens live above ground, on sparsely populated worlds**. This confronts both parties with difficulties, as Bailey has to adjust to being in the outside world, where there are often no walss anywhere in sight, just a vast openness. Meanwhile, the Spacers, who are used to maintaining distance between themselves, have to contend with this Earthman who is used to be crammed into spaces with other people, and thinks nothing of trying to shake their hands. Everyone has to confront unfamiliar situations. The reasons humans might not be so bothered by the idea of collective intelligence*** is because humans group together frequently anyway. So it's not as completely alien of a concept, as it is in reverse to the aliens. The idea of collective minds comes up in the Foundation and Robots series as well. In the Foundation series, it's fairly overt, but in the Robots series, I felt Asimov was suggesting that when there are a large number of people together, they can have a sort of collective mind (a nicer form of mob mentality I suppose), and this was perhaps some of the groundwork for psychohistory. If humans have a vague network of collected consciousness when together, then it might be possible to predict their actions based on that, etc., etc.

I'm not certain why the idea holds such appeal for Asimov. He did write many of these stories in the post-World War 2/Cold War era, so it's possible he saw people seemingly very close to wiping themselves out, and felt a collective mind society would prevent such things. You couldn't drop bombs on those people over there, because they are part of you, it would be like dropping bombs on yourself. That could certainly hold some appeal, but I'm just speculating.

*Interestingly, Asimov will show humans developing a form of collective thought in stories that don't involve other intelligent species. It's one of those possible endpoints for us, along with moving beyond the need for physical forms, or at least being able to move without them, as mental energy.

** If I recall, there were more people on Earth than on the 50 Spacer worlds combined. One Spacer world had something along the lines of 200 people, so each person had an estate encompassing thousands of square miles.

*** Though in Green Patches the crew was less than pleased when they learned that not only had the lifeform somehow, involving spores, I imagine, impregnated all their female test animals, but all the female crew members as well.

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's A Very Special Day After Thanksgiving

[D-Pool is here! Hey, where's your family? I thought we were having Thanksgiving together.] {We are. I had a quiet family Thanksgiving yesterday. Today is the sure to be disastrous blog family Thanksgiving.} [Embarassed to introduce me to your folks, huh? That hurts me in my soft places.] {You're focusing on the "family" part, when you ought to be concentrating on the "quiet" part, though perhaps you're unfamiliar with the term.} [I can be quiet!] {Right. Didn't you once say 'stealth ninja tactics can kiss my scabby heinie'?} [That was Fabian! I'm working with Daniel now! I left all my grenades at home just for this occasion!] {Yes, but you brought the chair made of explosives.} [I like my Boom chair! It's surprisingly comfy for my scabby heinie.] Hey guys, I'm here! Where's the food? {On the counter, dig in. There's two kinds of stuffing.}

Why two kinds? {One batch has sage in it.} [Poor Sage, from Claremont's New Exiles, to a side dish. Come to think of it, that may be a step up.] {That's mean Wade. You should be giving thanks. . . that you aren't being written by Claremont these days.} Yeah, but if Claremont had written him 20 years ago, then Wade would probably get to be in X-books a lot more often. {Deadpool didn't exist back yet.} [Not for lack o' trying. I was outside Claremont's house every night, throwing rocks at his window, begging for a chance. I coulda been a Marauder. But nooo, he went with that tramp Scalphunter.] {Easy Deadpool, have some mashed potatoes.} [Thanks, hey I almost forgot! I brought corn dogs!] For Thanksgiving? {Never look a corn dog bearing gift merc in the mouth. Gimme some of those. They aren't stuffed with anything are they?} [Like cheese?] {I was thinking plastic explosives. Or laxatives.} [I used all that up for my Boom chair.]

Can I give Darkhawk a Hug while we eat? I felt bad that he didn't get any Nova Force. [Poor kid. I'll put in a good word for him with my fellow Nova Corpsmen.] {You're not part of the Nova Corps.} [Then why do I have a smelly yellow bucket with a red star on it?] {Because you just came back from Bizarro China? You think anybody got that joke?} No. [That was a joke? Bob makes funnier jokes in his sleep.] How would you know that? [I'd sneak in his room to booby-trap his toothbrush.] {What happened to Bob?} [He wanted to go spend some quality time with his wifey. I'm sure they should be sick of each other anytime now. He'll come crawling back.] I think I could give the Serpent Society some Hugs. They were just scared. [Scared of what? The Skrulls are a buncha losers. I beat them up, and it only took 3 issues.] Then why is Norman Osborn getting all the credit? {Yeah. You know he stole that transmission you tried to send Fury, right?} [He did? Man, Nicky-baby didn't pay me 'cause of that! Hey, what's this stuff?] {Apple salad.} It's really good! [Then stop hogging it! How does a little panda eat so much?] {Wade, I think you've downed about three pounds of turkey since you got here.} [Look who's talking, Before Subway Jared. What happened to all those corn dogs I brought?] {*Burp*}

I think Starlord needs a Hug, too, since he's in the Negative Zone and all. [We should rescue him!] {What?} [This apple salad is good stuff.] {Did you say we should rescue Starlord from Blastaar?} [Hmm? Yeah, probably. I mighta been thinking of when Weas needed me to go back and save him from that HYDRA base.] I thought you were saving him from Wolverine. [Him too. But you know, if we save Starlord, we could free Blastaar's ladies too. You just know they've never been with an Earth guy before.] Do you have any whipped topping for the pie? {In the fridge. If you do this Wade, you ought to concentrate on how you're going to beat Blastaar first.} [Bet those alien ladies have never seen whipped topping before. Or pie. Possibilities.] What? They don't know about pie?! We have to help them! {Fine, we'll send them some pamphlets about the how wonderful pie is. Two requests ABP, give Warlock a bonk, and Quasar some applause.} Sure, but why? {Well, Adam's going to try and take over this Universal Church, and that certainly won't end well, and Quasar is trying to keep Drax from destroying things, which is a difficult, but worthwhile profession.} OK, Bonk for Adam Warlock, Applause for Quasar. [You're out of pie! And stuffing!] {What?! Jeez, Wade, next year, you make Thanksgiving dinner.} Are you sure about that? {Good point. OK, next year, you pay for the fixings, we'll do the making. Or we'll go out. You'll have struck it rich with your merc work by then. Killing Norman Osborn ought to bring in millions alone.} [Kill him? I was going to send threatening letters written in crayon.] {That makes me cry, Wade. Won't anyone kill Norman Osborn?} Didn't you invite UnCalvin? {Yeah. Thought it might be a good opportunity to put our differences aside. Guess UnCalvin was feeling too impolite to let me know one way or the other.}

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Zzzzz Wha? Posting?

Well, don't expect anything long-winded or brilliant, not that you're likely in the frame of mind to deal with such things, anymore than I'm in the frame of mind to type them. Therefore, please consider the following when you can:

Layla Miller - First appears in House of M, where Marvel-Earth is not as we're accustomed to seeing it (Mutants running the show). Nowadays, the House of M universe is an alternate reality at best (I'm sure it's taking place out there somewhere in the multiverse/Omniverse/Whateververse). Says she knows stuff. Frequently cryptic, frequently irritating to people she works with. Currently trapped in the future, having gone there to investigate great upheaval caused by mutant baby.

Starhawk - First appears in Defenders, with 616-Earth also not as we're accustomed to seeing it (Conquered by Badoon). Eventually, activites are relegated to alternate universe (Reality-691), since in the 616, Vance Astro never became an astronaut, and can't get lost in space for a 1000 years. Calls itself "The One Who Knows". Can be cryptic, vague, and unhelpful, leading to consternation on the part of teammates. Currently running around in the present (the past to Starhawk), as a result of some great upheaval it wants to stop.

I have nothing to say beyond that, it just popped up when I read Starhawk calling herself The One Who Knows. Probably don't mean a thing, probably best if it doesn't mean a thing, as I don't think we need Layla being an avatar of the Hawk God Arcturus*, just figured I'd mention it.

* That legacy thing is DC's shtick, after all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What I Bought 11/26/08

In the store today, it somehow got around to the Darkhawk tie-in to War of Kings that's being solicited for February, with Customer Jack trying to sell Customer Larry on it. Jack pointed out the solicitation mentioning this is planning to do for Darkhawk what Annihilation did for Nova, which was good enough for me, but not for Larry who dismissed Darkhawk as a knockoff of Batman. No, that's not a misprint. I was torn between laughing in his face or calling him a fucking idiot, so I did neither. What, because he has "Dark" in his name, he's related to Batman? Must have missed the part where Bruce Wayne was some average untrained teenager who finds a weird amulet that swaps his mind into a super-powered cyborg thing (that's how it works, right? Chris' body goes into storage somewhere). Wouldn't Captain Marvel be more accurate? Or Green Lantern? I just don't see the comparison myself.

Guardians of the Galaxy #7 - Something happening in the present is destroying the future, and that's why Starhawk keeps showing up trying to fix things. Except I'm not certain Starhawk knows precisely what needs to be fixed. Either way, the Badoon are getting feisty, and it's up to the new roster, with Rocket Raccoon as leader, to stop them. If they can. We also check in on the departed members of the previous roster, some of whom are having better days than others.

I'm a bit concerned this time stuff is going to make my head hurt when it's all over. On the plus side, nice to see somone using the Badoon as dangerous aliens. Other than the other Guardians of the Galaxy, the only time I've seen them was an issue of Silver Surfer where they were working for the Kree against the Skrulls, which kind of makes them look like cheap thugs. Now, they have an air of menace, in that "We've got big plans" way. Especially considering the current Guardians are a bit light on power, compared to the previous group. Which is half the fun really, watched the overmatched heroes prevail through judicious application of powers, combined with their wits.

Couple of other points. During the fight scenes, I'd like Pelletier to consider pulling back a little bit, give us a more expansive view of the battle. He gives us panels of all the characters doing their thing, but after the intial two-page spread to start the battle (the one for the current group, not the future group), we don't get a good sense of where characters are in relation to one another. Might be a way of demonstrating they don't operate as a team, rather as a group of individuals, except he did the same thing with the other Guardians in this issue, who presumably worked together more smoothly. Also, I think Abnett and Lanning might be going too Hulk with Groot's dialogue. It's a bit lacking in regal majesty or disdain for his teammates or opponents. For all that griping, I still liked the issue, and some of the concepts they seem to be throwing into this title.

Nova #19 - The Worldmind keeps building up the Corps without letting Rich know, even after Rich asks him to stop. Personally, I question the wisdom of selecting so many recruits from one species. In theory, it reduces the conflicts that might arise from having Shi'ar working with Kree, except Earthlings don't do too well getting along other Earthlings, even when they don't have superpowers to settle their disputes. Presumably the Worldmind would screen for this, but as gung-ho as it's getting, I think it lost some vital programming when it nearly burned out during the Galactus encounter. Or, it's related to the reemergence of Wendell Vaughn. Assuming that is Wendell. Worldmind's interest in the Quantum energy flask fills me with foreboding.

Meanwhile, Rich is having ego troubles, as all the new Novas make him feel less special I guess. Plus, he'd grown accustomed to having Worldmind in his head. I get that. I've had roommates move out, move on, and it always feels a little empty afterwards, but you adjust. As many changes as Rich has gone through in his life, I'm sure he can absorb this. I'm curious what Lanning and Abnett (might as well let Mr. Lanning get first mention sometimes) are planning with this arc. Is it to explore how Rich might handle no longer having a massive amount of power, which made him a one-man army? Is it to see if he can handle being reduced in power, but elevated in authority, as the other Novas will follow his lead? Is it to give Rich an Amazing Spider-Man #50 moment, of "Nova No More!", where he hangs it up? And what would that accomplish, since one of the solicits says he does hang it up? Maybe to demonstrate Rich was addicted to the power, the onset of becoming another Super-Nova? I assume there's some larger point, I just haven't sussed it out yet.

I was going to complain that Alves doesn't get to draw any really weird stuff like cute kitty people that turn into Super-Skrulls, but he did draw Taboo, The Thing from the Murky Swamp, which is kind of cool, I guess. He got to draw cooler stuff when Nova was still in space though. Stupid, lame Marvel-Earth.
I was originally expecting Immortal Iron Fist, but that got pushed back to next week, for some reason. Just as well I suppose. I didn't have much on the docket for next week.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Foundation Revisitation Is Meeting WIth Complication

Only In America! *removes Don King wig* Enough of that! In June I did a post relating how I reread Foundation for the first time in several years. Well, at the same bookstore I found The Bridge Over The River Kwai, I also found a copy of Second Foundation*, and I polished that off last night. Second Foundation actually comes after Foundation and Empire, but I know what I need to from that book to be able to read this one, so it wasn't an issue**. {Beyond this point is both possible spoilers for the book, and considerable ranting}

At this point the Foundation has been conquered by a powerful mutant who calls himself the Mule. He's an empath, but also able to manipulate people's minds, make them loyal to them, in such a way they don't really question it. At the start of the book, he's ceased his conquering for the last five years as he searches for a Second Foundation, which Hari Seldon (who established both Foundations) only alluded to once. No one knows who these Second Foundationers are, or if they exist, except that the Mule can perceive that some of his advisors have been subtly (not subtly enough, though) altered, to make them less inspiried, lacking of something. So he is understandably concerned. The first half of the book deals with his attempts to find the Second Foundation, and his eventual defeat, though it doesn't lead to the complete collapse of him or his empire, interestingly enough.

The second half of the book comes 50 years later, as certain members of the First Foundation begin a dedicated hunt for the Second. They don't like the idea that there's a shadowy organization out there which can manipulate their actions, and thus they resolve to find the Second Foundation and do something about it. Into this falls one of the conspirators' daughter, Arcadia Darell, who decides it would be a great adventure for her to tag along and try and help. So she does, and ultimately she discovers the location of the Second Foundation! Or not.

I mentioned it in my discussion of Foundation, how some of the main characters are not the most moral people, and that their actions are borne of less than noble desires, like greed. Well, the motives are somewhat different, but no less noble. The Mule and the First Foundationers are both driven by fear of this mysterious group of mind manipulators. I get that. I like having a sense that my choices are my own, and if I learned there were people out there manipulating me without my consent, I would probably want to find some way to stop them.

The Second Foundation is driven by survival instinct, which comes from a self-importance they have. Really, Second Foundationers are religious fanatics, except they pray to math. They have their precious Seldon Plan, which they intend to see through to the end, and they are the only ones who can, so by Space, they must survive! And if that means there have to be sacrifices, then there will be sacrifices. When its members of the Second Foundation allowing themselves to be captured, so the First Foundation thinks they've succeeded in their hunt, well that's not so bad, though I note the high up muckety-mucks are not the ones on the chopping block. When the Second Foundation also deems it acceptable, as part of a trap for the Mule, to convince him a planet called Tazenda is their base, and the Mule goes Scorched Earth on it with his military, and they're prepared to let him destroy another world, and wage a battle against the sections of his forces he left at home, which they will have freed from his control, all of which would add up to a lot of deaths***, I'm less enthused. Sure, they see the Mule as having caused a divergence from the Plan (When really he's just being less subtle about his using his pwoers to consolidate territory under one banner than they were), and the Plan must be preserved, but it's rather presumptiuous of them to decide, "Eh, it's OK if everyone on these planets die, because it'll get the PLAN back on track!". Oh the Plan! Perhaps I should genuflect when I say that.

Then we learn near the end that they've had one character as a sleeper agent of sorts, since their birth. Namely, they modified this character's brain when they were still an infant, so they would be more likely**** to react in ways beneficial to the Second Foundation's strategies. And it's hunky-dory because a) it helps maintain the Plan, and b) well, it gave them a precious and intelligent personality (the First Speaker's own words). Well I guess it's just the swellest thing ever then. Rereading that admission last night, the first thing I was reminded of was the Geldoff character from Ultimate Spider-Man, who had been the subject of genetic manipulation while still in the womb. It was done because it suited some person's purposes to do so, and if it just so happened to help Geldoff be popular with people, well, whatever, the manipulator doesn't give a damn. As Xavier explains it to Spider-Man, it's presented as a troubling thing, not a good thing, and here we've got these guys, who are ostensibly protectors of civilization or something, doing the same damn thing. Makes it hard for me to think the Foundation is any sort of a positive force, all these actions that are excused under the auspices of being for the greater good*****.

It also occured to me, while trying to arrange my thoughts on the book, that to the individual, it probably doesn't matter one way or the other whether the Seldon Plan succeeds or fails. There will be people living in opulence, and others in squalor, either way, so what the hell does it matter. Yes, they avoid 30,000 years of anarchy, cutting it to only a thousand, but that's on a galactic scale, since the end of that time is marked by the rise of the Second Galactic Empire. On a planetary or citywide scale, does that really matter. The underpinnings of one's life might change, if there's a shift from one energy source or standard of currency to another, but life is going to continue. How much does being part of an Empire that spans a galaxy really matter to most people? And who says the Second Galactic Empire will be a good one? All we ever know is the Foundation is designed to bring about its rise in a shorter time frame, but nobody ever discusses what sort of Empire it will be, or what will happen in the time after its ascent.

You know, I didn't have all these cynical thoughts when I read the book the first time. I'm not sure whether that's better or worse.

*Total cost for the two paperbacks: $6 dollars. Love those used bookstores.

** Also, Asimov is nice enough to give you the gist of the relevant things that happened before the book started through the course of the story.

*** The latter two don't come to pass, but they were factored in as possibilities, and deemed acceptable.

**** Because it's all about probabilities with the Plan, trying to manipulate events so the outcome you desire has the highest possible porbability, then ensuring it comes to pass.

***** I'm reminded of an issue of GrimJack from the Trade Wars story arc, where Mayfair justifies his actions with that phrase and Gaunt replies that everytime someone says 'Greater good', he hears 'Personal gain', which is certainly true of Mayfair, and probably true of these Second Foundationers, who have learned to manipulate others mentally, and hoard the skill for themselves, keeping themselves above the rest of the galaxy, which is just a mass of people to be manipulated as they see fit.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Bridge Over The Last Two Days

Sorry about the lack of posts. Internet difficulty that was beyond my control, perhaps you know how that goes. Anyway, back into the swing of things. While I was out of town that last week, I picked up a few books from my father's collection*, and I bought a couple from a bookstore I visited back during the summer as well. Haven't gotten to my dad's books yet, but I got through The Bridge Over The River Kwai, by one Pierre Boulle last week, and so I'd kind of like to discuss that.

I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know how closely the film hews to the book, in case the movie is your source of familairity with the material. The gist of the story is a unit, commanded by a Colonel Nicholson, is captured by the Japanese, and put to work building a bridge, while a sort of British demolitions squad plots to destroy said bridge upon its completion. Hilarity ensues. I thought I had a pretty good idea where the story was going right from the start, but it threw me a bit of a curve at the end.

I'm not certain quite what point Boulle is trying to make at times. Throughout the book he emphasizes the properness, civility, and devotion of the British soldiers. The enlisted men are devoted to their colonel, and have no issues with the officers insisting that they merely supervise the enlisted mens' work, rather than actually help move earth or cut down trees. Nicholson demands the bridge be constructed properly, in a proper location, even though it will aid the movement of supplies through Southeast Asia for the Japanese. Additionally, the Japanese are frequently referred to as barbarians, who only manage to mimic aspects of Western culture, and don't even know how to build a proper train-bearing bridge**. There's some suggestion this could be due to the best engineers being kept near the capital, and the ones on these frontiers being substandard in their skill, but the book seems full of derisive remarks about the commanding Japanese officer, and how out of his depth he is compared to the brilliant and poised Colonel Nicholson. Yet, it seems that British pride in a job well done, that civility, is what fouls everything up.

Wikipedia says Boulle commented that Nicholson is based on memories of different French collaborating officers. So is Boulle examining the mindset that makes an officer aid the enemy, even if it appears to be unwittingly***? Is he trying to lampoon all these characteristics that supposedly mark the superiority of the Western civilization, the ones the Japanese in the story apparently haven't mastered? Sure it's great to have the loyalty of your men, their trust that keeps their spirits from flagging even as they push themselves to death, but when they're doing so on a project that aids their enemy, it's somewhat less of a positive, I should think.

Another thing to discuss is the British demolition crew, especially their rookie member, a chap named Joyce. Throughout the book Joyce is very happy to be on the mission, full of energy and constantly pushing himself harder than is strictly necessary, so great is his excitement. He goes to reconnoiter the bridge cosntruction, which requires three days trek with time set aside for sleep, but makes the return without stopping, because he is so eager to report back and begin planning the destruction. He even gets to be the one who will detonate the charges when the time is right. Yet when the day comes, he is faced with the possibility he may need to kill to protect the charges, and he is uncertain he can do that. That starts a segment of introspection, as Joyce tries to come up with some inner justification that will enable him to kill if the need arises. What he settles on is somewhat curious and a tad disturbing, but perhaps more honest than if he had settled upon duty or love of country as his guiding principle, as least to my cynical perspective. Joyce seems to serve a twofold purpose here. First a commentary on the energy and desires of youth at the start of the war, their dissastisfaction with a peaceful and stable life, which Joyce had in spades**** prior to the war. Second, as a further deconstruction of that supposed superiority of the Western civilization that the characters in the book believe they have.

There's one character that seems to serve as reader identification, and this is Nocholson's medic, Major Clipton. He's described as alternating between admiring, hating, and being perplexed by the colonel. He's the figure who most frequently questions the Colonel's decisions, and tries his best to keep the men from working on the bridge (for their health), only to be approached by Nicholson and told to clear all the men who can walk, because they are needed. Nicholson tries to couch it in pragmatic terms, that if their work falls behind, the Japanese commander will order all workers out there, regardless of physical condition, and Clipton sadly, can't argue with that logic (though I think Nicholson has Saito suitably bamboozeld he could circumvent that), but there always seems to be something more to it, especially when you see the soldiers apparently quite willing to march back out there and get to work. Does Clipton represent civilians, or people without any pretensions of superiority? He's described as someone who can readily examine both sides of an issue logically, and give credit where due, regardless of who receives it, so maybe he represents good officers Boulle knew?

I admit I had a hard time swallowing the resolution of the assault on the bridge on the initial read through, but as I've compared it to other situations I'm more likely to encounter in life, it seems more plausible. Even prior to that, I found it to be an interesting read, and it's a short book, so if you were to read it and not be drawn into it, well you still wouldn't have to invest a terribly large amount of time on it*****.

* Though not the book he kept suggesting. He really wants me to read Greg Iles' books for some reason, but the back didn't make it sound like something I'm interested in.

** I wonder about that. Could the Japanese really not know how to build a proper bridge by the 1940s? It seems reminiscent of the type of thinking prevalent in the U.S. military prior to World War 2, where reports of the remarkable performance of Japanese planes where dismissed as being incorrect or misreported because they exceeded what American planes were capable of. Except, whoops, the figures and reports weren't wrong. Granted, building a plane isn't the same a building a bridge, but it still strikes me as strange to indicate the Japanese aren't capable of the latter.

*** Nicholson never gives any thought to what this bridge he has so dedicated himself to building will be used for, namely transporting munitions and supplies to help kill other soldiers of England and her allies. All he cares about is making sure the bridge is built properly, as befitting an officer of her Royal Army or some such nonsense.

**** Why "in spades"? Why not "in clubs"? It doesn't roll off the tongue as nicely, but that could simply owe to me not being as used to it as a saying, couldn't it?

***** Though with the attention spans I see alluded to on the Internet, maybe it would be too long. I saw a list once, of books people wished had never been written, and once person listed The Old Man and the Sea, and complained it was too long. It's 120 pages! What are you, a goldfish? Complain about the bleakness of the ending, all that struggle and no material gain, but complaining it's too long just makes you look like a twit. Save that for Victorian Era literature.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Guaranteed 100% Adorable

{Sure of ourselves, are we?} I'm completely adorable! {Except when you pick your nose.} I wasn't picking, I was scratching! And everyone said it looked adorable! {OK, OK, fine. I stand corrected. Now then, I think there's someone you have to give a hug to, because you forgot them last month.} Who? {Well, last month you hugged Frenchie, but what about Rob? He's the one who got put in the hospital.} You're right, I forgot about him. Two Hugs for Rob then. He's still at the hospital, right? {Far as I know.}

I think Marc gets some Applause, because he tried to make up with his friends. He wasn't very nice to them, and so it's good he figured that out. {I can't help feeling it's temporary, and he snap back to being a jerk again soon.} Believe in positive changes! I think the SHIELD agent needs a Bonk. {Uh, why?} Well, he was so busy yelling at the Thunderbolts, he let Moon Knight get away. {I was under the impression that was a good thing.} It is for Marc, but it was that agent's job to catch Marc, and he let himself get distracted from that. {So you're using negative reinforcement as a teaching tool? I thought we established as far back as Annihilus that we didn't approve of that method?} I'm not killing him, just hitting him. {Oh, of course. That's so much better.}

I'm giving Nightwing a Bonk, since he's gonna attack Batgirl for no good reason. {Well, I imagine he has a reason, assuming he hasn't gone crazy, which doesn't seem to have happened. For one, he doesn't trust her after all the drugging and killing.} So you think he just doesn't trust her motives? {That's my guess. He figures she's assembling these other heroes for something other than trying to pick up the slack for Batman. Something sinister.} But why would those heroes go along with that? {I don't know. I can't see most of them agreeing to it, personally.} Then he's completely wrong. {Yeah, probably.}

I think that covers everything. {I agree.} [Hey, what about my book?] {What about your book?} Yeah, you were stupid enough to drink a bottle of poison, one that said "poison" on it, after you got shot and thrown in jail. I'd say you deserve a Bonk for being stupid, but you already got poisoned so there probably isn't any point. {Don't forget getting rescued from jail by generic mercs, then killing said generic mercs.} [Hey now, those mercs killed cops, and the poisoning is obviously part of some ingenuous plan I've hatched.] {An ingenuous plan you aren't aware of yet?} [I said it last month, I make it up as I go along!] Then how do you know you have a plan? [Because I always have a plan! Eventually.] Right. [Could you at least give Zeke a bonk for selling me up the river? I'd do it myself, but I'm busy implementing my brilliant plan in Eastern Europe.] I think I can handle that. Bonk for Zeke! [Great, now howzabout letting me come to Thanksgiving dinner?] {No.}

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More Movies, Why?

Because Bob Haney, that's why. I fervently believe that phrase will be even more effective, and true to it's namesake, if it's injected into conversations that have nothing to do with Bob Haney, or even comics in general. It's more random that way, right? Not necessarily reviews, as just general comments.

Grease - I should mention I don't really find musicals interesting. Not so much due to poor experiences watching them, though, since the only musical I've watched the whole way through was South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. It's more that I'm generally not a fan of spontaneous outbursts of singing and dancing, where everyone else joins in as if it's the most natural thing in the world. Now if the instigator was looked at as being disturbed, and ostracized from society for it, maybe it would interest me, but as I understand their typically style, not so much.

So you might be unsurprised to learn this wasn't my choice. Alex was having a party, it became too noisy and smoke-filled for me, so I stepped out for a midnight stroll, and when I returned, one of his friends was watching Grease, and I was too tired to go someplace else. So I watched, and, well, it wasn't terrible. I still can't get into all the singing and dancing (I tried to fall asleep whenever it started up), but besides that it was OK. The part that sticks with me is when the girl that left high school to attend beauty school gets seranaded by some guy about how she needs to go back to school, I guess because she bombed out at beauty school. I didn't see what she could have done that was so awful she couldn't cut it, but then it occured to me that between all the X-Men comics I've read, and anime I've watched, someone having pink hair (due to an unfortunate coloring accident I suppose) wouldn't strike me as terribly unusual.

Hellboy 2 - I really needed the opportunity to watch this again, but I didn't get a chance. I had to make sure we got it returned before I left, since it was rented on my account. There were too many distractions, between Alex' phone constantly ringing, and one of his other friends bringing their 2 year old over, who proceeded to act like a 2 year old, throwing a hissy fit for no apparent reason, including overturning ashtrays and throwing his sippy cup at people (including me). This is why I do not like small children. Plus, Alex' dog was contantly around, getting into things it shouldn't, such as chocolates Alex had brought out for us. Why he would bring sweets out for a small child, I don't know, but his dog kept getting after them.

So things were missed I'm sure. Still, I enjoyed it, especially the drunken singing duo of Hellboy and Abe. It was amusing and touching at the same time. I didn't feel as though, prior to his meeting the princess, that Abe's sense of loneliness had been that well-established. Maybe it was something to take for granted, that Abe appears to be the only one of his kind, and all he ahs is his books and music, while Hellboy, who looks about as weird, found someone. Or maybe the point was that he met the princess and it just happened suddenly, revealed to him he was missing something he hadn't been aware of previously. It was sweet, watching the two of them feel somewhat awkward around each other. I thought the animosity between Hellboy and Kraus was a bit overdone, but Hellboy could have been unduly stressed with his relationship issues. I did think he and Maning had put aside their differences at the end of the last movie, after Manning explained the proper way of smoking cigars. Perhaps not.

The story itself was fine, but it was the character interactions that made it work for me. I wonder if it means something that in the aftermath of the fight with the Forest God, with all these flowers sprouting from its body, that all the assembled crowds can do is point guns at Hellboy and generally act like transplants from the Marvel Universe. I know, it's meant to make it more difficult for Hellboy to sympathize and protect humans, but I mean beyond that.

The Bank Job - This movie went an awful long time before Jason Statham busted out the whoopin' (whooping? whuppin'?) stick on anybody. Very surprising, but it's OK. It's a fairly standard story, involving a bank robbery, that is being pulled off for reasons beyond just the gathering of material wealth, except that many of the participants are unaware of this, some of them never becoming aware of it. It's fun to watch, as the robbers are doing their thing, while the cops search, and other organizations watch them, and criminals get nervous and desperate, and this small group don't realize how deep in they are until it's too late.

Things move briskly, as it's quickly established why Martine would approach Terry (Mr. Statham) with this job, and why he'd take it, and what the true purpose is, and how they'll accomplish the task, and so on. One thing that surprised me was that, as they find themselves expanding their group to fill roles as they crop up, this didn't really come back to haunt them. I expected that they'd bring in someone untrustworthy, or someone who would completely screw up, but by and large, that doesn't occur. Truthfully, they're in trouble almost from the start, due to one of the crew meeting a past employer outside the bank.

I'm surprised the ending wasn't gloomier than it was. I figured it would be a case of small group of moderately dishonest people being crushed by a vastly powerful, and much more dishonest government and/or criminal organization. Didn't quite go that way, which is quite fine with me, but I expected it would.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What I Bought 11/19/08

Have returned home. Home not destroyed. This is good. Very tired of driving, though. Too many other people on the road. How dare these other people decide they need motor vehicles to get to places when I'm driving? And that's roughly as much false outrage as I can spare. So, reviews then?

Batman & the Outsiders #13 - And Batman RIP continues! I'll be glad when it's all over and done with, and we can see the results. Well, I may not be glad when it's over, but I'll be annoyed for a different reason, at least. Currently, annoyance stems from the disruption to the story the title was telling prior to all this. After, the annoyance would relate to the changes imposed on the book as a result of the status quo post-RIP, which I would be disagreeing with for some reason or the other. {Note: I'm not saying I absolutely will disagree, just that is likely to be the source of annoyance, if I feel any. I'm not in the mood to get accused of preemptively bashing the result.}

Batgirl is the only actual Outsider who appears in this issue. She's trying to get people together to replace Batman, piecemeal-style. Not a bad idea, though a bit impractical. What are these people supposed to do when they aren't needed, sit and wait by the phone? If they don't, they might be otherwise occupied when she calls on them. Also, Nightwing is planning to have a talk next month with Batgirl about her plan. By talk, I mean fight, naturally. Which, given Cassandra's history, probably isn't a bad idea. More effective than words, I'd imagine.

Tieri, as he is wont to do, includes in the issue things I'm reasonably certain relate to the Gotham Underground mini-series he wrote earlier this year. I'm not terribly interested in that, but at least he provided enough information I was able to follow what's going on, more or less. We have a new artist, a Fernando Dagnino. His work is more reminiscent to me of Lopez and Rodriguez' than it is of Benjamin's, larger because the linework is smoother. Which isn't to say I'm hugely enamored of it. There are some poses that seem unnecessary. I can't even really describe them, it simply looks painful, overly exaggerated facial expressions (I can't figure why Langstrom looks so scared in the very first panel, given he's choosing to go where he is), and some other inconsistencies (Man-Bat's wings change length from panel to panel, I guess substituting for not having Batman and his cape around).

This title really feels like it's lost its way, at least partially because of all the tiptoeing around the conclusion to RIP they have to do until it actually, you know, ends. Color me dissatisfied.

Deadpool #4 - Well, Wade builds himself a chair out of C-4, so that's something. And he takes a job to recover an old, um ally's? Coworker's? Associate's? wife from a plastic surgeon that turns his patients into zombies. Naturally, things appear to have gone awry for Wade, but I have a hunch he's outsmarted his foe again. Or been underestimated. Could go either way.

Random bit I like: When rescued by other mercs, Wade points out he could have escaped himself, and not killed anyone who wasn't a zombie (the other mercs killed cops). This is good. He's retained some concern for other's lives. Of course, he proceeds to kill those same mercs so, not all flowers and fluffy bunnies. There's two artists on this issue, and I completely got them mixed up. Without looking at the credits, I thought Paco Medina did the first chunk of the story, and Carlos Barberi did the last few pages. Other way around. I credit the colorist, because Deadpool looks pretty similar with Bariberi drawing him as he does with Medina, when the mask is on, anyway. Though, Barberi's faces are a bit more, abstracted, than Medina's, and his "Pool-O-Vision" moment lacks a little pop. I have to remember to read interior credits more closely. Still cautiously optimistic for this book.

Moon Knight #24 - Given the direction the fist is coming from, shouldn't those teeth be fliying in a different direction? I've never punched someone hard enough to dislodge their teeth, so I can't say myself. Meanwhile, Moon Knight survives another confrontation with the Tunderbolts, this one owing to the intervention of SHIELD, who still want to capture Marc, rather than exterminate him. This is starting to remind me of the old Spider-Man vs. Venom fights, where Spidey would survive/prevail due to outside intervention (cops, Styx and Stone - hey, what happened to those guys?) The whole messup makes SHIELD look bad, which I imagine is tying into this whole Dark Reign thing I keep hearing mentioned. I don't have any idea what it is (Haven't cared enough to look it up), I just keep hearing people mention it. Norman Osborn needs to be stopped. Maybe one of those Novas that showed up last month could execute him, for the benefit of the universe.

I think Benson is being a bit too liberal with the potty mouth. Iron Man and Songbird cursing seemed unnecessary to me. Songbird being catty towards Moonstone, completely expected, but the language? Not so much. Is it me or does Mark Texeira make everyone look tall? I think he makes them look slim (especially their skulls), and that makes them seem taller. Or it's his preference for panels where we're looking up at the character. He used one of those with Norman Osborn that made him seem quite tall to my eyes. I'm conflicted as to his fight scenes. Some parts of it (the shot in outline of Moonie's knee connecting with Swordsman's face) are golden. Some parts don't really match up (early Venom is charging at Moon Knight. Next panel Venom appears to be past him in a narrow alley, as Moonie uses a whip to tangle Venom's legs from behind). I suppose he could be trusting us to bridge the gap, but given the location of the fight, it's a bit of a reach for me. So some good, some bad.

It is interesting to see all of Marc's allies drifting back to him now, and Marc even trying to patch things up with them. Is this temporary, or did Khonshu's blowing him off last issue tip some balance inside him?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I'm Away From Home, So You Know What That Means

No, not that my home is being destroyed by another protracted battle. It could be, but I don't know that it is. What I meant was, it's time for movie discussion. Won't that be ever so delightful?

Casino Royale - I confess to not being much of a Bond fan. Goldeneye the movie lead to Goldeneye the N64 game, and earns points with me for that. Beyond that, I don't believe I've watched a single Bond movie all the way through, just parts as I stumble across them. I wonder whether that helps or hinders with Casino Royale. There was a part of me that had a bit of difficulty thinking of this fellow as Bond, with the lack of cool gadgets. Not a large part, though, and I think his use of salt to try and purge his stomach of a poison alleviated some of that. I suppose it's his quick thinking shining through, regardless of whether he has a watch with a laser in it, that helps. That chase scene that ends in the embassy early in the film was another such scene.

I was a bit surprised at two things: One, how quickly he seems to go from "capture" to "eliminate". It seemed that every time he gets thwarted even a little, he decides "Screw it, time to stab someone". Bit more rash than I'm accustomed to. Probably related to relative inexperience. Two, the ego he displays, for someone so recently added to the ranks of 00Agents. Then again, he figured out M's home address, which I gather is no easy task, so I suppose his ego is partially justified. I'm not such about the relationship between James and Vesper. I enjoy the parts where they're moderately anatagonistic towards each other, demonstrating their ability to read another person on each other, with each one getting a bit uncomfortable at how well the other does. When they get more attached, it's somewhat less interesting to me, but at least each one seems to fall for the other equally.

One thing that disappointed me was the revelation of why Bond misjudged Le Chiffre early in the poker tournament. I had hoped that the reason Bond misread him was because Le Chiffre was under so much pressure that he was constantly bluffing himself. Trying to convince himself that it was OK that he would get through it, while part of him knows that even if he gets the money he needs, he'll probably still be killed. I thought that would have been a valuable lesson for James about the limits of his abilities. Was not to be, though. For the movie as a whole, I thought it was OK, nothing spectacular or producing any strong feelings in me one way or the other.

Paths of Glory - This was showing on Turner Classic Movies just a little while ago. I hadn't seen it previously, so my dad decided we should watch it. Kubrick directed it, Kirk Douglas stars as French colonel Dax in World War I, who must defend three of his men railroaded on charges of cowardice by General Mireau (George Macready) who is embarassed the regiment couldn't take a hill from the Germans, after he assured higher-ranking General Broulard (played by Adolphe Menjou) that his men could do it, for him naturally.

I get the impresion that in the 1957, when the movie premiered, a movie that was so very anti-war, and portrays commanding officers as more concerned with their pride than with the lives of the men they command, was relatively new. By now though, it's a fairly common trope, which mutes some of the impact it has on me as the audience. It still rankles me, how Mireau demands his own artillery open up on a company which hadn't left the trenches, and when the captain in charge of artillery says he can't do that without a written order from the general, Macready orders him to report to headquarters and prepare for disciplinary action. Except when the captain does arrive, Boulard is present, so Mireau acts as though the captain was an incompetent who dropped shells on their own men. That riled me. All through the movie, I kept hoping a stray shell would blow him straight to hell.

It's a downbeat movie for the majority of its length, with the scapegoats getting a farce of a trial, despite Dax' best efforts and oratory. There's cowardice, the loss of many lives for one man's pride, sacrificing still more lives under some imbecilic belief that it will inspire the men*, holding off on the punishment of the one responsible until after it could help the scapegoats, and on and on. It depicts a world where good and honest men are curshed because the bastards are the ones who have the power and influence, and they get what they want. There is one scene at the very end, that is somewhat hopeful. I wish we had captions equipped, because the singing was in German, and I couldn't quite follow what they were singing. It appears most other reviewers interpret the final scene more cynically than me, but I felt it evoke a sense of connection between this frightened German girl, here against her will, and these French soldiers being sent to fight and die for stupid reasons that are also beyond their control. I see what the other reviewers were saying (or think I do), that these men are scaring this poor lady, and even if they find a moment's peace now, they'll be back at the line soon, and probably die shortly after that.

I was curious at the different reactions of the soliders put on the firing squad, as well as why Private Ferol was selected for being "socially undesirable", or whatever the description was. It could have simply a b.s reason. I thought he looked Greek**, and so the French commander singled him out for that. Though, they make a point early in the film of letting us know his isn't married, so were they suggesting he likes guys?

The scenery is very well done, the closeness of the trenches, versus the expansive headquarters the generals have (I'm guessing it was some villa the army appropriated), the way Mireau walks and acts, his look of boredom during the court martial, as it's obviously a formality, the way he thinks his chit-chat with the scared, dirty soldiers before a battle actually inspires them***. It's a perfet picture of self-importance and delusion. A bit like a child, actually. It's a fine film though. I very much enjoyed it, despite it being largely depressing. Menjou portrays a Broulard that I can't quite gauge. He acts a bit like the kindly uncle, friendly and outwardly concerned with the plights of Mireau and Dax, but he's wily, as he seems able to manipulate Mireau with hardly any effort. This skill colors how he views the world, and leads to a loud confrontation between he and Dax, as Broulard interprets Dax' actions through the movie from his perspective, as a man used to tricking others into getting him what he desires.

* Well, that's what Broulard said. It's really just a hope that fear of their own officers will outweigh fear of the enemy on the other side of no-man's-land.

** I don't know why, his beard, I think.

*** And he has a suck up major who assures him of that, as well as being the prosecutor for the the court martial. The interesting thing is that actor, Richard Anderson, was in Escape from Fort Bravo, which was on earlier in the day, and he took an arrow in the gut in that movie. Had I know he was going to play such a contemptible jackass in Paths of Glory, I'd have enjoyed his other character's suffering more.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What I Bought 11/12/08

Small week. Not infinitesimal, but not large. I'm actually rather pleased with this month. Every week will bring either 2 or 3 new books. That's how I like it. No empty weeks, no weeks where I'm washed away on a sea of titles. Well, given that a large week for me is like five books, perhaps it would be more accurate to say my shoes are soaked by a gentle creek of titles. Whatever.

Amazing Spider-Girl #26 - Arana spends the issue getting used to running around in Spider-Girl's body, and having entirely too much fun beating people up. Mayday travels through a metaphorical mall to discover herself, and several of her old friends decide to team-up to rescue Peter from Norman Osborn's lackeys. And the other Mayday is uncertain whether she's ready to do the Spider-Girl thing.

Well, it's nice to see Mayday finally come to grips with the life she had chosen. Given that I can't see her ever giving up using her powers to help people, it's best she accepts that, lest she grow to despise her powers. I don't understand why it happened, but I amused that her self-realization did not resolve the "Arana usurping her body" situation as I figured it would. Little artistic touch I liked: Ron Frenz seemed to draw Arana as Spider-Girl moving differently from how Mayday normally does. Her attacks were more direct, her movements somewhat less refined, and she was a bit more sneaky (initially) than May usually is. It was a nice touch. I think I enjoyed this issue more than I had several of the previous ones. Not sure what the difference was, exactly. A sense of forward momentum, or May's determination and acceptance of herself?

Booster Gold #14 - Booster teams up with Lady Chronos to fix the mess with the Starros. To get her aid, Booster has to agree to let her escape, and owe her a favor, which he may have repaid in this issue (not entirely clear on that). They also steal Mr. Freeze's cold gun in the middle of a battle, leading Batman to say 'Thanks, magic hand'. Oh, Booster Gold, your book has the best lines in DC (I think either Deadpool or Guardians of the Galaxy probably holds the title at Marvel, but I'm biased towards those titles, obviously). The day is saved, somehow, but Chronos knows where Rip hangs up his shingle now, which probably means he'll be popping in to read Rip's chalkboard periodically. Rip is not happy about what Booster did.

I can't say much else. I've only read through it once, I was going kind of fast, so I didn't pick everything up. I think Remender struck a decent balance with Booster between competent hero and goofball. Sometimes he's pretty brilliant, other times a bit of a dunderhead, often within a few pages of each other. he might not always make the best decision, but I think he makes the decision he can live with, and honors it (he didn't try and double cross Lady Chronos, and he couldn't abandon Rip, even if it might have made things easier). I liked the wisecrack about how Grundy should keep the Starro on, because it helps his features (by obscuring them). It's mean but it's not as if Grundy knows any better. Unless this was a smart Grundy.

Just so you know, leaving town tomorrow, no posting until weekend at earliest, no resumption of regular posting until next Wednesday. Yes, we are back to the erratic posting schedules of the spring months. Joyous days, those.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Oh Hellsing, How Nice To See You Again

Yes, it's Hellsing, Volume 9! And it's here with me a scant 15 months after Volume 8! You think I'm being sarcastic, but seeing as there was a 21 month gap between Volumes 7 and 8 reaching my hands, this is a welcome occurence indeed. Whoo!

So what to say? Last volume left Alucard in seemingly dire straits against his rival, Father Alexander Anderson, who had become some sort of holy beast by imapling himself with a piece of the true cross. Well, that conflict resolves rather more quickly than I had expected, and Alucard spouts off some line about how only humans can kill monsters, which is supposed to be Anderson's mistake I suppose, turning himself into a monster. That raises the question of Alucard would be able to dispatch Anderson, seeing as they are both monsters and all. Perhaps best not to think about it.

Of course, things aren't done there, as a rather ugly betrayal rears its head. And this, apparently, is all part of a bigger plan by the evil Major. Assuming he's right, it's nice to know there is actually some way to kill Alucard. Between all the shooting, being stabbing with blessed silver and holy thorns, being hacked to pieces, and everything else, I was starting to wonder if there was a way to accomplish that. I think that's why I'm not annoyed that the Major is teetering on the brink of becoming an Omniscient Foe, which, as I've mentioned in various horror movie reviews, is a character I generally dislike. In this case though, it's a result of the Major realizing the difficulty of the victory he desires, and thus he's been setting everything up for the last fifty to sixty years, so it bothers me less.

I'm curious as to what the Major is. He says he's not a vampire, that he's human, but he doesn't look old enough to have been a Major during World War 2. It's interesting though, that he has outright rejected the opportunity to become an immortal monster of the night. He's surrounded by these creatures, who have become that way for one reason or another (fear of death, sense of duty, desire for power), but there he is, just a frail human. Which is why it's fitting he may be the one to finish Alucard, and that he'll probably be finished by Integra in return. I'll have to wait for Volume 10 to know for certain.

I'm conflicted with regards to the art. Hirano does some beautiful wide angle scenes of cityscapes, both as they're being destroyed and in the aftermath. He can draw some truly gruesome scenes, and some of his facial expressions are wonderfully expressive. Still, this is a book drenched in dark inks, and Hirano also seems to love having frenetic lines of motion jumping all around the panels. As a result, I often find myself at a loss to figure out what exactly just happened. Sometimes a character's movement is represented solely by a solid white or black line, but there are no features indicating which character it is in that specific panel. So too much movement for me at times. Still, it's all building up to something pretty wild for the next (final?) volume. I do enjoy those stories where there are three simultaneous battles happening in different places. Adds to the sense of the battle being large, bigger than a simple grudge match.

Not likely to be any posting tomorrow or Tuesday. So see you Wednesday, I guess.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Unrelated To Anything Else

I really dislike Ginkgo trees. The female ones, anyway. If you aren't familiar with them, their seeds have the appearance of being a fleshy fruit, but pretty much smell like dog crap. So you can be walking along, smell something unpleasant, step on one of these without realizing its the source, and then you can't figure out why the smell keeps following you. Plus, they're kind of sticky, so not terribly easy to get off your shoes.

There's one down the street from whre I'm currently located, and I've already had the misfortune to step on its seeds once, but even now that I'm avoiding them, the smell tends to hang over the area, and spread from there. Makes the evening constitutional a bit less leisurely when I'm in that general location, that's for sure. Guess I'll hope for a good rain to wash them away. Or I could sneak over there and cut the tree down. Except the ginkgos are the last species of their family in existence, so as a biologist, I probably shouldn't be working against their continued survival. Nature doesn't make it easy.

Friday, November 07, 2008

I Get To Talk About New Comics? Really?

{Yes, really.} Really, really? {Stop that. There are a lot of books to cover, and no time for tomfoolery.} But playing around is part of the fun! {Well, we can have fun as we go, right?} Yes. {Then go, already!}

OK, sheesh. Well, Iron Fist needs a Hug, since his heart is about to get punched out. His secretary needs a Bonk though. {I'm guessing Danny stiffed her on Secretary's Day. I mean, a coffee mug? Weak.} That's not why it's happening! {Having fun, remember?} Oh, right, right. I want to give Worldmind a Hug, since it's back up and running again. I'm not sure how to do that, though. {Hug something with the Nova Force in it. That should work by proxy.} I think Rayne has to get a Bonk. {What, why?} She got too cocky when she was winning the fight, and nearly ruined everything. {OK, good point. Just don't expect her to take that calmly. Might wait until she isn't carrying her blades.} Well, she did help save the day, so I could Applaud, too.

I still like how Bane is trying to look out for Scandal, so I'm giving him some Applause, but Scandal and Deadshot get Bonks for being rude to Tarantula. Threatening her sister is not nice. {True, but I doubt Scandal and Deadshot worry about that much.} Well they should, because it means they don't get a Hug like Catman does, because he asked Tarantula nicely what the card was. {It is nice to see a villain with some manners.} Catman isn't a villain! {Fine, anti-hero. Still nice to see manners.} Do we know who the guy with electricity powers was? {I don't. I figure we could call him either Electricity Guy, or Purple Electro.} Purple Electro! {OK, Purple Electro it is. Now what about him?} Purple Electro gets two Bonks. One for using a nasty word towards Cheetah, and the other for just being stupid. Why would he trust the people he's been chasing? {Because he's dumb as a post?} I guess so. {Well, if he survived attacking Cheetah, you may make him wish he hadn't, you crazy little panda, you.}

Thursday, November 06, 2008

And Then Bane Said, "My Enthusiasm? Baseball"

I noticed that of the three comics I had from last week, two of them incorporated quotes (somewhat modified) from The Untouchables*.

Bloodrayne: Tokyo Rogue #3 had Rayne 'Never bring a knife to a gun fight.' They wisely excluded the racial slur Connery uttered. Besides, she wasn't fighting someone Italian, so even if she'd said it, it wouldn't have fit. Of course, her opponents were using swords, and her attempts to shoot them were met with the bullets being cut in half, so maybe you can bring a bladed weapon to a gun fight after all. If your reflexes are fast enough. I did like that it didn't work as she expected, inverted the circumstances of that abbreviated fight between Indiana Jones and the sword guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Then Immortal Iron Fist #19 had Luke ansaying 'I get it. He pulls a 12 year old, you pull a Fat Cobra', and Danny responding 'That's the New York way'. Which I think teaches us that more people should resort to using children in their fights**, because then their opponents will use Fat Cobra, and we need more Fat Cobra, don't we?

I don't think it means anything, but I figured I might as well mention it.

* Also known as one of only 3 Kevin Costner movies I actually will watch. No, Field of Dreams is not one of the other two. Can't believe Sports Illustrated put that piece of touchy feely crap at the top of their Greatest Sports Movies list, but The Natural couldn't even make the Top 50. Stupid Frank Deford and his claims it's overly mystical. May Tasmanian Devils establish nesting burrows in his lungs.

** Note: I do not actually endorse using children as weapons. Unless they attacked you first, and you're using one of them as a blunt instrument to beat the others, because in that case, the little bastards started it, so they have it coming.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What I Bought 11/05/08

That's right, folks! I'm back to getting my comics the same time as the rest of you! Tremble before me!

In other news, learned last week that Ken sold the store. It's still there, just under new management, one of his old customers to be exact. No, it's not me. I know zero about business. So now Ken is the customer. Might see him this weekend. Be a nice opportunity to discuss sports. The store feels the same, it's just a bit odd not to see Ken behind the counter, you know? Aw, enough of the maudlin stuff. Starting with last week's stuff.

Bloodrayne: Tokyo Rogue #3 - So it's the big fight against the formerly good vampire turned evil by the powerful demon soul imprisoned inside the sword he wields. It's not bad. Bilbao does a decent job of depicting all the action, though it's sometimes hard to get a sense of the size of the battle. You don't often see more than a few enemies at once, so it feels more like a series of skirmishes. Perhaps a nice wide angle shot of the entire compund swarming with warriors battling would have helped.

The mini's purpose was twofold I think: One, to introduce us to this group that Rayne is counting on to help in the struggle against the Old Gods that got control of the Brimstone Society. Two, I think it was supposed to introduce to Ayano, the Japanese vampire that fights for good (not to be confused with Noburu, the aforementioned good vamp turned evil), since she's getting ehr own mini-series at some point in the future. On the second count, they were fairly successful, especially this issue when Ayano demonstrated a bit of a deadpan sense of humor near the end. She's not a banterer like Rayne, but she can make the occasional wry comment, which I appreciate. As to the first, well at the very end they brought up something that would demonstrate how the group can be useful to Rayne, but by and alrge, they seem to need her help more than vice versa. I guess they can play it as them repaying a favor by utilizing skills they have she lacks. On the whole, a good mini-series, though it felt slight. Maybe the battle could have been longer, started in the second issue, with the big showdown in this month.

Immortal Iron Fist #19 - You know, when I figured Danny's advantage would be his friends, I wasn't even thinking of those people as his friends, so that was nice. Though it raises the question in me as to whether the other Immortal Weapons have beings that seek to kill them, and if not, why. Also, it appears I was wrong as to the purpose of the Iron Fist Slayer. I figured it was part of a cycle of death and rebirth of the Iron Fists, but it seems more that the Dragon is the ultimate prey of Ch'i Lin. Curious, how has it survived this long then?

OK, I have to gripe about the art, or perhaps just the coloring. One, Travel Foreman draws hands as looking very tiny for some reason. I'm not certain why. Two, lighten the damn colors up. I can't hardly see what's going on in some of these panels. I know it's night time when much of the story occurs, but there are such things as artificial light sources. It feels like they're trying to establish mood, especially since Danny actually says he's working blind at one point, but it's obscuring too much for my preferences. So it's a case of the story interesting me (what can I say, I want to see how Danny gets out of it), but the art fighting me on it.

Nova #18 - OK, so the Worldmind isn't running around in Quasar's body. I was wrong. Again. Instead Quasar seems similar to that Agent Zero or whatever in Avengers: The Initiative, back from the dead, and with only a limited period of use at any given time. But the Worldmind is back in play, and doesn't seem as angry at Rich as he was back before he went offline. Maybe he's just grateful not to be destroyed. Even with all that, things look pretty grim until we get the return of the Lost Lanterns. Wait, wrong book about a universal police force. Still, that's what I'm predicting these folks as: decomissioned Novas brought back into the fold.

Well, at least the Secret Invasion tie-ins are done now. I can't really say anything else about the arc, as I was not entirely enamored of it. I'd prefer Nova stay in space, and leave stupid Marvel Earth to its stupidity. I think they overdid their attempts to make Darkhawk look inexperienced compared to Nova. I get that he is, but if he weren't at least somewhat qualified, I can't see the Intiative sticking him as the sole superhuman protector of something as vital as Project PEGASUS. As impetuous and hot-tempered as he came off, I find it hard to believe he could have held off the Skrulls as long as he did. So yeah, least favorite story arc on Nova thus far.

Secret Six #3 - Confession: I have no idea who the idiot in the purple with the sniper rifle is. Maybe I'm not supposed to. Doesn't really matter, I suppose. Of course, I also don't know who that person Scandal contacted, and that might be mildly more important. That card does seem relatively important, so I guess that explains all the pursuit. Bane's, um, concern for Scandal is getting a little creepy, but I do like that he objects to Deadshot's treatment of their prisoner, having been one himself and all. I'm surprised Deadshot backed down, though maybe that's over now that Bane has again stated he won't use Venom. I doubt Deadshot will have the issue of pulling his shots around Bane he has with Batman. I enjoy Scott's art very much. Nice depiction of the action, and those two panels after Electricity Guy barges in wanting to know who has the card had some great comedic timing to them. Also, the panel where he told Cheetah and Purple Guy he'd kill them if they double-crossed him was nice, if only for Cheetah's hair. So good issue all around. I don't know everybody involved, but it kept my interest.

Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion #1 - As a first issue of a random mini-series set in WW2 goes, it's not bad, though too exposition heavy. Presumably that's to get it out of the way for more combat later, but for right now, it gets a little dry, and I had some trouble keeping track of which battalion, squad, company, etc. was being discussed at a given moment. Perhaps I should construct a chart. Don't think I won't. I do all sorts of ridiculous little projects when I get bored. Where was I? Right, as a random mini, not so bad. Problem is, the main character doesn't feel like Sgt. Rock to me. I think that in an effort to present a realistic, respectful picture of the soliders, Tucci may have eliminated some of the more, um, fantastic elements from Rock's character. This guy is a bit too wordy.

I'm curious to see how Tucci's art does when there's more fighting. I generally though he handled the scenes at Omaha Beach well (though there was a panel where Rock demands cover fire, and the next panel looks more like the German soldiers shooting at him, rather than perhaps showing the Germans ducking behind their sandbags to avoid bullets). As for this issue, all the exposition means lots of close-ups of people talking, often with no one else in the panel. Maybe it's supposed to be like they're talking to us, but it makes it feel even more like an info dump, rather than plot being laid down through casual conversation. I want to end the review with something positive, so let me say I like how Tucci raised my hopes for an Unknown Solider team-up, then twisted it. That was cute, but in an amusing way, rather than infuriating.

I do wish we could have a Sgt. Rock/Unknown Soldier team-up. Why not? He used to team up with jeb Stuart and the Haunted Tank all the time. I know these things, it's in the comics from my father's collection.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Trying To Describe My Dissatisfaction With The Punisher

I feel reasonably certain that when I go to the comic store tomorrow* I'm going to request the Punisher be removed from my pull list. But I figured it might be worth trying to examine what about Hurwitz' Frank Castle that rings so false for me. Chris Sims has been doing a pretty solid job of summing it up as he's been reviewing the issues, but I figured I might spend a little time examining my personal feelings on it. I think it's because Hurwitz writes him as Frank Castle, not the Punisher.

The feeling I got from Ennis' work was that the Frank Castle calling himself the Punisher has actively attempted to bury the Frank Castle that had a wife and two children, and that other Frank leaks through mostly in dreams, provided nothing upsets the balance. It's a conscious decision, done to help him maintain a certain distance from what he does. Without that distance, what he does goes from a mission to kill those who harm the innocent, to a revenge based killing spree. The end result is possibly the same, but with emotion in the picture, the means will be different, his thinking will be less clear, innocents are more likely to get caught in the crossfire, and he is more likely to die himself. While Ennis' Punisher is realistic about his mission, that he will never kill all the criminals, and that he will die someday, that doesn't mean he's in any hurry for his time to end. He plans to keep doing what he does for absolutely as long as he can.

Going for revenge jepardizes that**, so he tries very hard to push any emotion down, and it's a constant struggle. Nearly every arc Ennis wrote seemed to involve Frank being faced with some situation that dragged his human emotions to the surface. It was Micro reentering his life, his family's remains being desecrated, girls being used by the slavers, the generals sending American soldiers to stop him, or his having another daughter. Those produce reactions in him that hampoer his effectiveness. He holds back, or loses control entirely and makes poor decisions. For the continuation of his mission, it's a bad thing.

With Hurwitz, the memory of Frank Castle's family is much closer to the surface. There was the monologue about all the things that are still happening while 'they are dead'. Seeing them in TV screens, mirrors, or in drinks. I'm fairly certain the scene at the end of #62, where he grasps the wrist of the girl he believes he's just killed to be a callback to him holding his daughter after she'd been shot in that park. The one that truly stuck in my craw was when he's reached the town, and the townspeople offer him the services of a girl. He turns them down initially, but she follows him to his room, and he doesn't send her away. But as she starts in, he looks over and sees his family bleeding out on the ground reflected in the mirror. That was a bit much. Really, if it bothers him that much, why didn't he send her away again? He typically trusts his instincts, and if they're telling him this is wrong, then why would he continue?

I think that's what goes wrong with it. Hurwitz wants us to feel a deeper connection with Castle, so he wants to make sure we know he still misses his family. But having him not refuse the girl kind of udnercuts that. Ennis certainly wasn't adverse to having Frank get some action (O'Brien in two separate arcs, Jenny in The Widowmakers), but there was never any indication that Frank felt he was being unfaithful to Maria. I think that's because he did his best to deny any emotional connection to these women***. He questions in Long, Dark Night arc whether he merely pretended to like O'Brien because that's what he felt the situation demanded, or if he genuinely cared about her, despite his best efforts to avoid connections. It wasn't love, but affection? Possibly. Still, I think it works because the specter of his deceased wife doesn't loom over it. It doesn't feel he's being unfaithful to her memory, because he doesn't seem to dwell on how it might be. The man that married Maria, loved her, is hardly there. he's been buried out of necessity, to undertake this mission. Hurwitz has brought that man out to be a more consistent part of the picture, but he's trying too hard, and it's overwhelming some of the professionalism, for lack of a better word, that I think defines the Punisher's approach.

* That's right, I've returned to the place I was before the previous two months. So I'll actually be able to provide my crappy reviews in a timely fashion! For the next 2 months or so, anyway.

** See the arc Up is Down, Black is White.

*** Beyond perhaps sympathy for them.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Um, Watch Out For The Large, Never Mind

Came across Terminator 2 last night on TV. The scene that always amuses me is during Sarah Conner's escape attempt. She's spotted what she thinks is the Terminator that tried to kill her, and fled right back into the arms of the asylum's security personnel. What gets me about that scene is how the security guards/orderlies are so focused on Sarah they seem oblivious to the fellow in black leather with the shotgun striding towards them, at least until he grabs the first one and tries to throw him through that window.

Sure, Sarah's a handful, and even if they'd noticed it wouldn't have helped them any, but I'd have thought one of them would be aware enough to say something like "Sir, I'll have to ask you to leave". Then get thrown through a window.

That's all.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Trying For Some Logic In DragonBall Z

Yes, I'm certain that's a futile gesture, but we are all about the futile gestures here.

I've been playing a lot of DBZ Budokai 3 lately, going through story mode, reliving the big fights, and some fights that they made up, which is cool (I'd have liked it if Krillin could have gotten a bit longer Dragon Universe mode, but oh well). There's the Cell saga, about the 'ultimate lifeform' planning to destroy the Earth, but wanting a challenge first. So he sets up a little tournament, and gives everyone 10 days to get ready. If no one can beat him, he'll blow up the world.

Anyway, Goku and Gohan have been training in the Time Chamber and don't know anything about this initially. They eventually emerge and find out about it, but everyone notices they're quite different. They're in their Super Saiyan state, but it seems natural to them, whereas previously it required considerable effort to achieve that transformation, and the increased power that comes with it. Goku is not terribly concerned about Cell's announcement (for reasons he keeps to himself), and flies home wth Gohan. This is after demonstrating that his power has increased by a considerable amount. This is a source of great consternation to Vegeta, who is always trying to surpass Goku, and had actually pulled that off. . . for about a day. But now he's fallen behind again.

Anyway, everyone is discussing Goku and Gohan being in their Super Saiyan state, and Vegeta is the one who correctly identifies why they've done it (so that all the power they have to burn normally to reach that level can instead be used for fighting, since they're already at that level*). Like I said, Vegeta wants to surpass Goku (he's royalty, Goku was tagged as a low level fighter at birth, but is always ahead of him, it's an ego thing), and eventually he gets a chance to go back in the Time Chamber and put in another year of training**. Now here's what caught my attention. He had a whole year in there, and knowing Vegeta, he would use every second of it. He knows Goku's leapt ahead of him again. He knows that the route he went to reach his current level can't proceed any further***, and he recognizes what Goku's done to achieve the power he has. Yet, when he emerges, he hasn't made any sort of a leap.

How is it, I wonder, that he couldn't reach the same stage Goku had? The only explanation I could come up with (besides literary license), is that when Goku went that route, he eased back on his training for several days. Since it stresses the body being a Super Saiyan, he focused on just doing day to day things, rather than flying all over the placet, sparring with his kid and unleashing mountain destroying energy blasts, until his body got used to it. Vegeta's one of those characters that's always in 5th gear, always intense****. The best I can figure is, he simply couldn't make himself calm down enough to make the same leap his rival made.

Quick note: No post tomorrow, 'cause I'm on the road. Probably a post Monday. Until then, buckaroos.

* In a real world comparison, your body occasionally combines two proteins to form one protein that is needed for some function. This requires an expenditure of energy. However, your body has enzymes which are designed tocatch the proteins and help them bond together more readily, so that it doesn't require more energy. Your body burns a little early on to create the enzyme, but over the long run, it simplifies enough combinations that it makes up for that. So Goku being Super Saiyan constantly, without it being a strain on his system, is a bit like having a enzyme to make the combination of him and the factors that are necessary for the transformation, so as to simplify the whole process. It's not a perfect analogy, since I think it may be more like your body somehow evoling so the two proteins are simply assembled together, rather than separately, but it makes some sense in my head. Your mileage may vary.

** For those who haven't watched the series or read the comics, the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, as presented in that Saga, is in a sepearate dimension, one of seemingly limitless empty space, where time moves much faster. A person could train for a year in the chamber, and when they emerged, only one day would have passed for everyone else.

*** The way vegeta was gaining power, he was also gaining considerable muscle mass. We are talking Hulk level muscles, on someone who can't be six feet tall. The more he increases his power that way, the bigger the muscles get, to the point he loses speed because those muscles get in the way of his movements.

**** Except when he's fighting and perceives he has a big advantage, at which point he just becomes a smug jackass.