Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Brief Foray Into Sports

I'm a little annoyed at the NFL right now, since it's put me in a position where I feel I need to root for Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys. But that's where I'm at.

In 2010, the NFL didn't have a salary cap. In theory, teams could spend as much as they wanted that year, no penalties. Now, the league is fining the Cowboys and the Redskins for their spending during that season, claiming they gained some competitive advantage by how they structured contracts. Again, we're talking about a year in which there were no limits on spending, but the league is coming back the better part of two years later and saying these two teams broke rules.

What rules? Why rules the owners agreed upon amongst themselves. Unofficial rules of course, since they weren't in the collective bargaining agreement at the time. Which sounds like an under the table handshake situation to me, which hardly seems legally binding. In fact, it sounds like collusion, which isn't kosher. But commissioner Roger Goodell clearly fancies himself cock of the walk, so he figures he can get away with it, and none of the other owners object to penalizing two teams that aren't theirs. The players' association didn't object either, but that's because the league threatened to lower the salary cap if the players didn't go along, which would mean less money for the players. So yeah, no coercion there.

Which brings this around to me. I don't root for the Cowboys or the Redskins. Once upon a time, when the Cowboys were good enough to be relevant, I despised them. All the same, I'd love for them to sue the NFL. Make the NFL produce documents showing the rules in place - in 2010, not ones Goodell ginned up 2 years later and is trying to enforce after the fact - that they broke. I don't think the league has anything like that. I think the owners got together over cognac, all "agreed" they'd spend about the same amount, and that there'd be no weird contract tricks. Now they're pissed two owners had their fingers crossed behind their backs. As if no one could foresee two owners who like to spend big (because they think it'll help them win, all recent evidence to the contrary), spending even bigger in an uncapped year.

But Jones and Snyder are going the arbitration hearing route instead, which is probably safer. They're part of the league, they have to get along with the other owners, and Goodell would almost be vindictive if they did sue. But damn, Goodell's become a combination of Stalin and one of those NBA refs who thinks everyone is there to see him call goaltending. The man needs a punch in the nose, and since I'd hate to see anyone go to jail for giving him a literal one, a figurative one is the best I can hope for.

* BountyGate 2! NFL penalizes Redskins when it's revealed Mike Shanahan paid defensive players to hurt former QBs who badmouth him and his son, the offensive coordinator.

Friday, March 30, 2012

I'm Assuming The Shift In Artists Was Planned Ahead Of Time

I had meant to post about the art shift on the last two pages of Avengers Solo #5 some time ago, but it somehow slipped my mind. Basically, Roger Robinson drew all of the Hawkeye story in issues 1, 2, and 4, then drew 18 pages of for issue 5. The last two were drawn by Declan Shalvey (I'm not positive about the color artists, but it looks like it was Fabio D'Auria for Robinson's work, and Jordie Bellaire for Shalvey).

There is a significant difference between Shalvey and Robinson's styles, since Shalvey's is a bit simpler. Not as many small lines to convey shadows as Robinson. Shalvey also seems to give the clothing more of a solid texture, as opposed to the look where the clothing appears painted on the character. Shalvey's work feels more old school, which could go along with how his two pages start. Hawkeye, Captain America, and Iron Man on the roof of Avengers Mansion, comparing notes, mostly getting along with a little chops busting going on. It's maybe more significant that it's happening during the daytime, since it's one of the only scenes that doesn't take place at night. Besides this, the only other scene I can remember is Clint trying to track down leads and meeting a person on a ferry in issue 1. He wasn't in costume then.

It is interesting that those final pages start in the sunlight, but move into some seriously deep shadows inside the Mansion on the second page. So deep we can't discern any details other than the three characters and an Avengers symbol in the last panel. Which also happens to be the point when we learn Hawkeye's making a deliberate decision to lie to Steve and Tony, to protect everyone involved.

It makes me wonder if the change in artists was meant to change the reader's expectations. We see things are brighter, the art has less of a gritty texture to it, and we think everything is OK. The long, dark nights of not knowing who to trust are over! Hawkeye's going to mend fences, the Avengers will help out all those people who didn't really what was being don't to them, back slaps and camaraderie all around. Then surprise, Hawkeye's still keeping secrets, because while Jake, Emi, and the rest might trust him, that trust doesn't extend to the Avengers as a whole.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Passage - Justin Cronin

Reading The Passage, I found myself frequently comparing it to The Stand. It was not a favorable comparison. It's also probably not fair, since they aren't very similar books. They do both involve a sort of virus, but in The Passage, it kills 90% of the infected, and the remaining 10% turn into vampires. Well, a superhumanly strong and agile monster that doesn't like sunlight, has a weak spot in its bulletproof skin over its heart, rips open throats, and can get inside your head and make you do things. Potato, potahto.

Cronin's book also differs from Stephen King's in that, after spending 250 pages introducing all these different characters, and finally actually letting the vampire plague loose upon the Earth (which itself took 175 pages), he jumps things forward 90+ years and starts over with an almost entirely new cast of characters. Which is an interesting choice.

While I wouldn't say any of the characters are terribly deep, they do all have fairly distinct personalities, so I did find myself caring about them eventually. Of course, I spent the first 300 or so pages of that wondering why he bothered to introduce all those other characters if he was just going to focus on these instead. He could have gotten to the outbreak much quicker and saved me some time. I suppose the reason became evident closer to the end, but the opening quarter of the book still feels unnecessarily lengthy. I do have the sense it'll be a series of books, in which case 200 pages may not end up being very much, but looking at this single book, separate from any sequels that may or may not be coming down the pike, it's a drawback.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tales From The Woods #9

We made a quick run back to the house for some essentials before returning to Site 3. I just grabbed some water and a headlamp. CAP brought those as well, plus some food, books, and a few things I couldn't identify. At least they weren't heavy, since I was playing pack mule.

The Lady, having run south after our abrupt encounter this morning, turned west at the bottom of the hill. Upon reaching the next rise, she angled northwest towards a trail. She'd cut across and gone straight down a steep embankment. I wish she'd just stayed on trail seeing as it went downhill as well. Then I might not have lost my footing on the loose rock and tumbled 20 feet only to be stopped by the trunk of a pine. CAP helpfully suggested I borrow a first aid kit from one of the work trucks, so I patched myself up while the Great Black-and-White Hunter inspected the gear.

"Oh good, nothing's broken," CAP announced closing up the pack again.

"Thanks for concern for my well-being," I responded sarcastically, perhaps a bit sulkily. I wasn't injured, just some scrapes and bruises, but that roll hadn't been fun.

"I knew you were OK because you've been grumbling. If you weren't complaining, I'd be worried." Fair enough.

At the bottom of the hill, we reached a stream. There was no sign she'd tried to splash through. In fact, there was a very clear set of footprints in the gravel on both sides, suggesting she cleared it in one jump. After crossing in a more mundane and wet manner (as mundane as a man splashing through a creek with a panda on his shoulders can be) we continued up the slope on the opposite side.

"What do you think it means?" I asked after CAP hopped off my shoulders and took the lead again.

"That she didn't try to cover her scent in the water, or hide those footprints?"

"Yeah. Does she want to be followed?"

"I don't think she thought about that. She was already running away fast by the time I showed myself. I bet she had no idea there's someone who could track her, if she even thought anyone would try," Cap stated confidently. "She isn't really leaving much to follow anyway. She hardly disturbs a thing moving through the woods."

That was true. There wasn't much of a visible trail that I could see. "Wait, what about the Ghost?"

"The Ghost wouldn't follow a trail how we would," was the response.

"What would it follow then?" It wasn't meant as a smart aleck question, I was legitimately curious. And it took my mind off my wet feet.

"Ghosts are beings of almost pure emotion, so they're really sensitive to it. It could probably sense the Lady by whatever she was feeling every time she came close enough. The same would be true of you." I stopped with the questions then, as the hill grew even more vertical closer to the top. All hills and valleys around here. Steep hills and valleys. At least at this time of year most of the undergrowth had died back, though there were plenty of dead thorny vines to get in the way.

Reaching the top, we paused to catch our breath. It's not much of a view, since even at the highest points there are plenty of trees to obscure your sight (of more trees, but still). Moment of reflection over, we marched down once more, still on the trail.

The trail lead to a cave. Of course it did. I cinched up my headlamp, which I only brought thinking we might be out late, and CAP did the same, and strode in. Not much to it. Dark, quiet, some soil covering the rock near the entrance, which gave way as we advanced farther in. The Lady in Orange wasn't there, but there'd been some familiar tracks in the soil at the entrance, and CAP insisted the trail continued deeper.

The trip through the cave was thankfully uneventful. It never grew small enough to require uncomfortable crawling, and other than a few bats who responded to CAP's questions about the Lady with sullen silence, we didn't run into anyone. As we neared another opening, we began to see signs of habitation. Scraps of clothing, old beer cans, a shredded boot, and some fresh prints. At least she hadn't given us the slip. Right at the end, the path grew steep, the walls narrowed sharply and became wood, rather than rock. We stepped into the sunlight not from a cave, but from a small shack. As my eyes adjusted, I saw it wasn't even a shack; it was a blind, and that gave me a bad feeling. One which intensified as we stepped around to get a better look at it. Maybe enough space for two people to sit, small square holes in the walls on all sides. There was only one place I knew of with structures like that around here: Site 9. The place where dreams went to die, and hope was shattered.

Oh swell.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

This Old Robo

One of the small things I liked about the final issue of Atomic Robo: The Ghost of Station X was how casually it brought up the issue of Robo's longevity. A.L.A.N. mentions that one of the reasons he tried to destroy Robo was he knew Robo (unlike 99% of the life on Earth) would survive the fallout of A.L.A.N.'s ship leaving Earth. Then it wouldn't take Robo more than a hundred years to build his own Orioncraft and set off in pursuit of the one responsible. Once he caught up, he would most likely destroy A.L.A.N. or seriously impair A.L.A.N.'s mission to learn.

It's so simply mentioned, that yeah, Robo would survive the fallout, and yeah, he'd build his own spacecraft in a century, give or take a few years. The same way we might tell a kid he can build his own soapbox racer in a week or so. For Robo, that's nothing at all. He's already close to 90, and having survived being hit with a satellite and plummeting from orbit, it's a question whether anything will really kill him.

It's a powerful reminder, but done in a quiet way. Like the interview he gave in the first mini-series, when he mentioned the hardest thing about being around as long as he has been is he does a great Jack Benny impersonation, but no one gets it anymore. It taps on the point that Robo, for all that he gets along with most people and likes being helpful through science, is not like those people. He'll outlive them. Easily.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Rusalka - C.J. Cherryh

Rusalka throws together a sort of rogue named Pyetr and a careful, frightened stableboy named Sasha. They've fled their town of Vojvoda, Pyetr for being caught with a married woman (and because her husband abruptly died while stabbing Pyetr and the old man's guard cried witchcraft), Sasha because he was worried about Pyetr, and everyone in town thinks he's a wizard anyway. Or at least bad luck

Pyetr's wound is not helped by spending nights in the woods during a Russian winter, and so he's in bad shape by the time they find an old shack, which happens to belong to an old wizard named Uulamets, who agrees to save Pyetr if Sasha will work off the debt. Uulamets recognizes the potential in Sasha and figures it could be useful in his plan to resurrect his daughter. While Pyetr's insistence on being involved complicates things, it does seem that Eveshka returns from the dead. Which, as they say, is where all the trouble begins.

Cherryh presents magic as something largely about focus and will. It can be supplemented with potions or herbs, but at the end of the day, it seems to largely come down to knowing what it is one wants to happen, and concentrating fully on that. The problem lies in not knowing how precisely one's wish will be carried out (wanting someone to be beyond harm could make them dead, for example), and in keeping track of past wants one's had, because it would be easy for them to conflict or mingle, and who knows what that might do? Then there's the matter of what happens when your "want" butts up against some other wizard's (or magically inclined being's) wants.

Which makes Pyetr the reader identification character I suppose. The perspective switches between he and Sasha, but Pyetr is the one with no apparent magical ability. He's the one who doesn't believe in any of it, then doesn't want to believe in it, then has no choice but to believe, but what can he do about it? He knows, for example, that there are times when Sasha wants Pyetr not to be mad at him, and it happens. Largely because Sasha's very bad at concealing the fact from him. How can Pyetr know what choices are his, and when he's a puppet on a string? At times, there are as many as five beings with power and the will to use it around him, each with different goals, and all of them place a certain value on Pyter. Maybe as a tool, maybe as a friend.

It put me in mind of the later books in Asimov's Foundation series, after we learn about the Second Foundation, it becomes a question of who may be getting manipulated by these shadowy telepaths whose primary allegiance is to Seldon's Plan, and then their own survival, with everything else being secondary. A person could never be certain the action they took was truly their own, and not some suggestion or order planted in their mind by a telepath with an agenda. That's essentially Pyetr's problem. He's pretty sure he does care about Sasha, and that he wants to help Eveshka, but after awhile, how can you tell?

So I found the question of how much free will he had very interesting. Also, the fact that it was much easier for him to trust that he did have free will the less he knew. The more he's confronted with wizards and their powers, the more it calls into question for him. It makes the reader question how much of what happened was chance, and how much came about because of careless or unspecific wishing on someone's part, and how, if someone really wanted to master such things, they'd have to be extremely careful, and what that kind of caution could do to them.

Think about how often in a day you might say - even just in your head - that you wish {insert example}, or you want {insert example}. Most of the time we probably aren't very specific about the "what" or "how". If I'm at a laundromat, and some other person brought their kid with them, and the kid won't stop crying or screaming, I might think, 'I wish that kid would be quiet.' But that could happen in lots of ways. The kid could get sleepy. Their parent could distract them with something, or take them outside. Or the kid could get stung by a bee and go into anaphylactic shock. Because I wasn't specific, if I was even aware I thought it.

Looking at it that way, that kind of power is kind of terrifying. Which is why, when people ask about superpowers you'd hypothetically want, I always just pick Spider-Man's powers. Speed, strength, and wall-crawling are a lot safer.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Burn Notice 1.8 - Wanted Man

Plot: Jason Bly is gone, and in his place is Michael's alleged dossier, the one full of all the stuff he did that got him burned. This included selling secrets in Lebanon, and code-breaking equipment in Jordan. Well, then. Amongst the lies however, is a name, Phillip Cowan of the NSA, the man who burned Michael Westen. Now it's just a matter of getting in touch with him.

Perhaps the Libyan intelligence service could help with that. Assuming Michael can find time to meet with them when he isn't trying to help Thomas McKee clear his name of heisting an expensive brooch from a hotel safe. Fiona was supposed to be arresting him in her job as unlicensed bounty hunter, but he said he's innocent, so she's helping him instead. And flirting with him, since Michael appears to be trying to pretend nothing happened between them at the end of the previous episode.

The Players: Thomas McKee (Fugitive), Wayne Ray (Other Bounty Hunter), Barry (Money Launderer), Cristo (The Fence), Lawrence Henderson (Hotel Owner, Thief), Anwar (Libyan Operative)

Quote of the Episode: Fiona - 'All this to clear the name of an innocent man. That's noble. You should be proud.' Mike - 'You know who I did this for, Fi.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 4 (28 overall). It's more significant that he has to assume a cover identity of someone who doesn't drink. Meaning Sam misses out on 20-year old Scotch. Twice.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (4 overall). Once again, it's Michael bearing the brunt of the violence.

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (10 overall).

Other: Something I forgot to mention last week. Bly told Michael there are some people back in Ireland who would really like to know where Fiona was, as a threat to get Mike to toe the line. Moving on, but sticking with Fiona. One of the reasons Michael gives Anwar to not try torturing Michael for the info he's offering in trade for assistance is that then the Libyans would have to contend with Fi. I love that an entire country's security forces would be wary of crossing a single Irishwoman, albeit a ruthless one who could give MacGuyver a run for his money in ingenuity when it comes to bomb making.

Speaking of Anwar, I'm disappointed that he simply used Michael's idea of sending Cowan a fruit basket, rather than coming up with his own flashy display of camaraderie. Maybe a delivery of expensive wines, or a girl in a cake. Shows either a startling lack ingenuity, or that Anwar was half-assing it.

Speaking of liquor, poor Sam having to turn down fine booze. Or I assume it was fine booze. I don't know a thing about liquor, other than I don't like the taste. Also, the cover identity cost Sam a weekend in the Keys with Veronica and an opportunity to go Caddy shopping. Ouch. On the other hand, it's the first example I can recall of Sam's "Charles Finley" cover name.

Speaking of fake names, Michael simply went by Mr. Smith, which is lazy, but it was supposed to obviously be a fake name, so I guess that make sense.

All that being said, this is one of those episodes that has a lot of individual parts I like, but doesn't do much for me as a whole. Part of it is I don't find Thomas a particularly interesting client. He's nice, but sort of slow, but not so foolish that he's one of those clients who insists on getting involved and complicating things. Which is fine, those clients are best in moderation anyway, but Fi's attempt to stir some jealous feelings in Michael is so obvious and unconvincing that Thomas doesn't really work in that role either. It's not his fault, he clearly seems into Fiona, or at least grateful she didn't turn him in, but Fi's just as clearly not into him. It's too transparent.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Does Where You Plot To Rule The World Say A Lot About You?

If you could have a secret hideout anywhere, where would it be? Obviously we're assuming time, money, technology are not limiting factors.

I meant to pose this to my coworkers, but I've only managed to ask one so far. They initially opted for a base inside a volcano, but seemed to change their mind a vote for a yacht they could launch missiles from. Note that I didn't specify the hideout had to be for evil plans. It could be where you wage your war on crime, or people who poor grammar. Or it could be where you plot to conquer the universe. Whatever floats your boat.

My preference is to have a base inside a mountain, since I could hide my hypothetical fleet of airships in there easily enough, but now that I'm thinking about it a little more, a base at the end of time could be handy. You know, like Vanishing Point from the Booster Gold comics. I'd initially be a little concerned about getting anywhere from there, but if I'm capable of establishing a stable place to live, work, and plot there, then I must be capable of getting when and where I'd want to be from there, right?

Right.

So what about you? Mars? Bottom of the ocean? Top five floors of a sky-rise apartment building? Nondescript cabin in the woods?

Friday, March 23, 2012

It's Not A Polar Bear In A Blizzard, But. . .

I've been meaning to say it for awhile, but Iron Fist's current color scheme is kind of stupid.

The dragon symbol on his shirt doesn't pop at all. It's the reverse of what Chris Sims was talking about as a problem for the current Batman costume. One of the things he thought was a problem with Bats is everything's too dark. All variations on black or grey, except for the utility belt.

With Iron Fist, it's a light yellow, but set against an even lighter color as backdrop. The colorist can mitigate this some, depending on what shade of yellow they use. Maybe there can be some convenient shadows (like on that cover there) to make his chest darker and let the emblem stand out more. But with the general colors, there's only so much one can do to make it pop off the page.

Certainly not like the yellow dragon did on the update David Aja gave his green costume. It doesn't stand out as much as the black tattoo did in his original "open shirt with high collar" look, for that matter. If the dragon were a deep blue, or maybe a green, a sort of reverse on the old pattern, where now the darker color is set against a light background, it could work fine. Using yellow against white just seems like making it harder than it needs to be to make him stand out.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Turtle Power!

I don't remember when exactly I first got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game for my old Nintendo. I'd guess not long after it was released. I was a big enough Turtle fan back then I could see myself demanding that for Christmas. Or my birthday. Both of those were common times for new arrivals to the game collection.

Until earlier this week, I had never managed to beat the game. I reached the final battle once, but I couldn't make it through. Which, oddly enough for someone as competitive as myself, did not sour me on the game. I guess I like jump-kicking hundreds of ninja robots. At any rate, one of my coworkers purchased an old NES and several games, including Turtles 2, and I managed to beat it one the third try. In the same fashion as I did Genji: Dawn of the Samurai and Rygar: The Legendary Adventures, I was down to my last bit of health and out of continues when I did so.

This time it didn't diminish my upbeat feeling of victory like it did for those two games. I'd guess that's because Turtles 2 is an older game, and I expect older games to be less forgiving. There are no save points where I could stop and come back later, or restart from if I die (though there were three continues, and I needed all of them). Having three coworkers cheering me on probably didn't hurt the mood either.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tales From the Woods #8

The formerly Adorable Baby Panda had wasted no time showing up. Once here, it wasted little time trying to show off.

'It's a good thing you called me in, Calvin. You're a nice guy, but you're not cut out for investigating the strange.'

I glared at the now Clever Adolescent Panda (or CAP). 'What's that supposed to mean?'

'You're too trusting and gullible. You just assume it's a Ghost following you around. I haven't heard of many ghosts you gently set tools against trucks. They like to throw things. The falling branches? Sure, that could be a ghost. But it could also be someone alive, but invisible. A cloaking device, maybe.'

'I never heard or smelled anything when the Ghost was around. Wouldn't a living being need to breathe, or make other sounds?'

Cue dismissive noise 'Pfft. Human senses aren't worth anything. It's a miracle you don't spend all your time crashing into stuff.'

Actually, I have more trouble with tripping than walking into things, but whatever. Point made. 'I'm guessing you have more criticisms of my amateur investigating?'

Big grin on that furry face. 'You're catching on. You don't know for sure who left those presents, or the note about the Lady in Orange. And you just assume the the girl you met is the Lady.'

'She's a lady, and she's wearing orange. Ergo, she is the Lady in Orange.' I mostly said that to piss CAP off, since this know-it-all shtick was wearing on my nerves.

'That may be, but we need to draw them out and get some direct answers.'

For the next three days, CAP followed me surreptitiously. Whether because I wasn't strictly on my usual site, because I had a partner, or because I was being tailed, the Ghost made no appearances. I wanted to try tracking the Lady. Cap had nosed around the array where I met here, and claimed to have a scent, but felt establishing what the Ghost was first took precedence. It made contact first, and if it was going to be violently protective or interventionist, it'd pay to know what we're up against. To that end, CAP argued I should visit my site off hours. I contended I never did that, and it would look suspicious. CAP argued that because it was unusual, the Ghost would be more likely to appear. The Ghost does seem to have a curious streak, so it might work.

That Saturday I was free, so early in the morning I drove out to my site. While I had concerns at first, I quickly relaxed. This was an opportunity to explore, which I never took the time to do while working. I followed a few trails I'd only partly pursued before. I caught another glimpse of the horses, though they stayed well away. And eventually, I sensed the Ghost.

I started off with, 'Howzabout you hold up your end of the conversation for once?' Nothing. I sighed. 'Did you drop the branches? What about the message, and the gifts?' Silence. I'd reached a small pond by this point, and settled myself on a log. 'I'm not going to be working around here much longer, so if there's something you'd like to unload, now's the time.'

At that point, I noticed a small flower drifting across the pond towards me. I reached out to collect it, only to have the wind to arise and blow it away. I looked up, and the Lady in Orange stood on the opposite side of the pond, much the same as before, humming quietly, as she had before. The wind intensified abruptly, the log I'd been sitting on was upended, branches and leaves swirling about before hurtling towards her. Again she withdrew, but this time I didn't waste time looking to see the cause. I immediately set after her, but didn't get far before being thrown to the ground by a black-and-white furball.

'What are you doing?' It hissed in my ear, while doing its best to keep me flat on the ground.

'Following a lead,' I retorted.

'You have no idea where she's going!' Cap responded testily.

'Well certainly not after you tackled me and let her get away!' I was getting annoyed. I called the little stinker in to help, not boss me about like it was playing Patton.

'I have her scent, remember? We can follow when we choose. No rushing in blind.' By this point the wind had abated with the Lady's departure. Or because of CAP's appearance. CAP climbed off me, and I sat up.

'We could have done that already. You had the scent before. Did we learn anything new?'

'Yes.' Such sarcastic eye-rolling from such a cute critter. 'Your Ghost is a ghost all right. No scent, footsteps, or respiration. And it's a human spirit.'

'As opposed to what? A deer?'

'Nooooo.' More eye-rolling. It is fun to tweak the little one sometimes. 'As opposed to a spirit of the woods or the earth. One of those would have sensed me the moment I set foot in the forest.' I think CAP's been drilled on this repeatedly and was enjoying the the chance to lecture for a change.

'Can you track an actual ghost?'

'Not if it doesn't want me to. This one is old enough to know how to disperse, I guess, when it feels like it.'

'Then what's the next step?'

'Track the Lady in Orange, obviously.' So matter-of-fact about how now we'd do the thing I'd been pushing for days. I exploded a bit. More of a rupture, really.

'That's what I was trying to do!'

CAP was unperturbed. I guess I spout off enough it's used to it. 'You were unprepared. We could find anything.'

'And it's better to have something and not need it, than need it and not have it. Right.' I'd learned that often enough out here with regard to tools. 'The scent'll last until we can pack?'

'Absolutely. We don't need to take much. She can't be going too far.' I should have asked how CAP knew that, but when there's something that needs doing in front of me, sometimes it's all I can focus on. At the moment, that impatience was in the driver's seat.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I'll Try This Without The Huckster Hat

I just wanted to let you know we're only one month away from the 2012 Cape Girardeau Comic Con!

Yes, CapeCon 2012! Ken's moved it back to April, which suits me fine. It better fits my schedule than a late June convention. Which means I get to go this year, woohoo!

It's April 20th through the 22nd, at the Osage Center (where it's been the previous two years). I'm excited. I was disappointed I missed last year's convention, and Alex is theoretically accompanying me again this year, and these things are more fun with a friend along, at least for me. It keeps me from feeling so overwhelmed by the crowds, having someone to discuss the wares with. It dampens the good times if I keep feeling like I need to step outside every half hour to get away from all the people. I will say the Osage Center is large enough I didn't get that claustrophobic feeling I had at some of the smaller venues in earlier years.

Oh, and if you like flowers and nicely decorated homes and such, Charleston is having their Dogwood-Azalea Festival that weekend as well. That's only about a half hour down the road from Cape! It's not typically my thing, but even I have to admit people really get their homes looking nice. And it's a nice change of pace from a comic convention, if you require such a thing. So, if you've the time, money, and inclination, you should definitely attend both events. At least one of them. Spend some money while you're there. On a snack, or a sketch. Or a hand carved porch swing. Whatever floats your boat.

This concludes this public service announcement.

Monday, March 19, 2012

'Now I Believe Only In Dynamite'

I tend to find the opening scene of Duck You Sucker unsettling. Partially for the rape and robbery, mostly for all the extreme close-ups of arrogant bourgeois eating. It's really disgusting. The ending, of course, has the flashback I discussed a couple of weeks ago that I find confusing. The 135 or so minutes in between I really enjoy.

The movie follows Juan (Rod Steiger) and John (James Coburn). Juan's a bandit, essentially, with his legion of sons as his gang. He dreams of someday robbing the bank at Mesa Verde. John's an Irish revolutionary skilled with explosives, down in Mexico to help a wealthy German mine for silver. The early stages of the film are Juan trying everything he can think of to get John to lend his expertise to help rob that bank. John spends this time mostly trying to get away from Juan, and when he finally does agree to help, it turns out he's actually tricked Juan into aiding the revolution.

From that point forward, the two are caught up in that battle. I don't quite agree with something I read in the materials included with the DVD, where it describes the film as looking at societal revenge, rather than personal, but perhaps I'm thinking on too small a scale. John certainly seemed most interested in killing soldiers, and Juan is at first looking for a way out, and later, I think he wants revenge as well. I found it interesting that even when John decides that perhaps it has been enough, and he and Juan should look for greener pastures, they find themselves again in the midst of the revolution. It's beyond their control by that point, they're simply caught up in it. That scene was bookended by two slaughters. In the first, the soldiers have dumped lots of, I presume rebels or suspected rebels, into trenches are are firing down on them. The second one is when victorious rebels force the soldiers in to huddled mass and gun them down.

Which leads back into something Juan had said earlier to John about the revolution I found interesting. That the people who read get the people who don't (or can't) to do the fighting and dying. And it never really ends because either the people who read aren't satisfied with the results, or a different group of people who can read decide it's time for a revolution. I tend to think Juan's right, though I don't know the solution for it.

Once John and Juan meet the movie zips along, with lots of humor and reversals of fortune. There's a fair amount of action, as might be expected from a Sergio Leone movie, especially one about a revolution. It might be interesting to compare how he shot the battle scenes and the aftermath in this to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, since that story took place amongst the Civil War. The earlier film was definitely more humorous, but also more open about showing the costs and darker aspects that can run free in a war.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Burn Notice 1.7 - Broken Rules

Plot: Turns out stealing Bly's wallet was not a good way to make friends. Now Bly's making life difficult for Sam and his lady friend, calling the cops on Fi (who was in a stolen car with a trunk full of guns, but still). Michael needs leverage on Bly to make him back off while giving Mike what he wants, but that requires cash. So he takes a job from a local shopkeeper whose neighborhood is being strongarmed by a gang. Michael decides the best way to get rid of the gang is to convince them it's not worth their trouble to do business here. Which is how we get Mike running around in a sleeveless shirt with a baseball bat, causing trouble for everyone.

In the subplots category, we have Sam actually turning to Fiona for advice on how to patch things up with Veronica after Bly's visit, and Fi pressuring Michael to discuss why they broke up. That particular conversation leads to fisticuffs, and Michael forgets what he said about Fiona in the first episode: That violence is foreplay to her. That certainly made Bly's next visit awkward.

The Players: Ernie Paseo (The Client), Concha Ramirez (The Boss), Diego Cruz (Assistant Crime Boss), Oscar & Luis (Diego's Thugs), Barry (Money Launderer).

Quote of the Episode: Ernie - 'My job is to tell the cops a psycho robbed my store? What's your job?' Michael - 'I have to be the psycho. Trust me, it's a lot harder.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Concha, again by proxy, since she made the bomb but didn't set it off.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 1 (24 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (4 overall). It was Michael getting punched this week. By Fiona. Repeatedly.

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 1 (10 overall).

Other: There are several sort of callbacks to the Pilot. Michale forgetting what he said about Fi and violence. Michael was recommended to Ernie by Javier, the client from that episode (who was not supposed to tell anyone about Michael). And it's the first time we've seen Barry since then. He's going more casual with his wardrobe now.

It's interesting to see Fiona actually being helpful to Sam, though this is the second episode in a row she's said something complimentary about him. Last week it was his loyalty to Virgil she appreciated, this week his romantic streak. Of course, as Michael noted, Fiona was only talking to him about Sam as an excuse to talk about them.

The real joy of this episode for me was watching Michael play a lunatic. I love the part where he's jumping up and down on the roof of the thugs' car yelling, 'This is MY NEIGHBORHOOD!' Also when he's telling the trapped thugs how the fire won't kill them. It will suck all the oxygen out, so first they'll suffocate, then they'll burn. But first they'll suffocate. And the whole time he's actually working for Concha he's just driving Diego crazy by not following orders. Diego's such a great crotchety old mobster type. All, 'In my day. . .', and 'That kind of stuff is bad for business!' Good times.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

While The Astral Self's Away, The Body Can't Play

What happens to a person's body while they're remote projecting? I mean sure, it sits there, but will it starve to death if they're away too long? Can they program there body to do respond in a certain way to a given situation? Could a magician leave it with a command to get up and fix a sandwich when it receives that particular set of impulses from the brain indicating hunger?

It might be more relevant to make the body able to protect itself in the event of danger. An fire, for example. It won't be fun to return to your body only to find it's a charred husk because you didn't clean the lint drawer before starting a load of laundry. Or would the part of the person that's being projected notice something like that? Tyson said he didn't even realize his remote self could feel pain when Strange blasted it, so would he have perceived something his physical form was experiencing? Remote projecting seems like a low-rent astral projection, and Strange was concerned about not being away from his body too long, because his astral self would dissipate, I guess. I can't remember Strange necessarily being aware of threats against his physical self, unless the villain was feeling chatty.

One other thing. While the astral self is away, what's the risk of possession by outside forces? The body isn't dead, but it's empty. I suppose one could set up wards for that sort of thing, but a determined enough force could get past those, or a patient one could wait for them to dropped. I assume the mage would have to drop the wards to get back into their body, if they set them up to prevent beings from setting up shop.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Writer Writes Himself Into A Pickle, Can He Write Himself Out?

Alan Wake doesn't take the title of scariest game I've ever played. That's still firmly held by Fatal Frame 2. It might be in the running for #2, against Silent Hill 2, among others. It's not the same sort of scary, though.

With Silent Hill 2, there was a sort of dread to the game, as everything around James rotted and decayed, and I wasn't sure I really wanted to learn the truth behind the letter from his dead wife. With Alan Wake, it's really not so much frightening as tense. The worst moments are the ones where it seems likely Alan will be overrun by a swarm of the Taken, people possessed by darkness and out to kill him. Hitchcock had that line about suspense being knowing there's a bomb, and waiting for it to go off, and surprise is a bomb going off. Silent Hill 2 worked on my knowing something was going to happen, while Alan Wake works when something actually happens.

As to the story, Alan's a writer, fairly popular, who hasn't written in 2 years. He and his wife have traveled to a little town for a getaway. They end up in the wrong cabin, his wife and the cabin disappear, Alan wakes up in his wrecked car missing a week, and being hunted every night by the Taken. Alan's sure there's a way to rescue his wife, and it involves finishing a story he doesn't even remember writing. The story reminds me of Phantom Dust a little, where one character has more control over things than even they realize. In that game, the character learning the truth (or part of it) makes things take a dark turn. In this case, Alan figuring out how he has and can shape things turns things around some.

I didn't love the game, but it had its moments. The back and forth between Alan and his friend/agent, Barry, was good. The scenery is gorgeous, I especially liked the rare opportunities to drive during the daylight hours (they kept the driving controls simple, but they work well).

I dislike that Alan is constantly losing his gun/flashlight/flares. I understand it when he gets arrested and thrown in jail. But eventually, the game looks for any excuse to take away your defenses. Tumbled down a ravine? Lost your stuff. Jumped down to a cliff? Lost your stuff. Fell out of the helicopter after it was attacked by possessed birds? You better believe you lost your stuff. Had plenty of supplies at the end of the last chapter? Guess what, you left it all behind at the start of the next one. It's ridiculous.

The game does encourage a certain amount of exploration, but if you're trying not to die any more than is absolutely necessary, it also discourages it. In each level, there is yellow spray paint that appears when you shine a flashlight on it. The paint is frequently in the shape of an arrow directing you to a hidden cache of supplies. So I follow and look, 12 revolver bullets and 2 flares! Then I turn around and there are 5 Taken barreling towards me. By the time I've dispatched them, the side trip may have netted me 2 bullets. After that I stopped intentionally exploring other paths, because it didn't seem like it was worth the aggravation. Alan's not exactly nimble or quick, so outrunning enemies is a dicey strategy, at best. The positive way to look at it is that it does make any run-in with more than about two Taken a serious encounter. You have to be on your toes, watch the flashlight battery, keep track of all the enemies, be ready to back up when your gun goes dry.

Flare guns are awesome, though. Always made my day to come across one, even knowing I'd lose it the first chance the game had.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Strange Has To Pass On That Knowledge Someday

Watching Dr. Strange deal with his would-be blackmailer, Tyson, in Defenders last week reminded me of Dr. Strange's origin.

You have this guy. He's talented, but a little too sure of that, and it makes him a selfish jerk. As such, he doesn't really use his gifts to their fullest extent to benefit others (or at all, in one case).

Still, things don't quite go as the guy would like. He's fallen on hard times, and with his attitude, he thinks the world owes him something. So he seeks out someone, an old mage, reported to have what he thinks he needs, and he demands that person give him what he wants. He is rebuked, and ends up stuck in the mage's home for a time.

It's not quite the same. Strange did use his surgical talents to help others, while Tyson seems to only use magic to further his own goals. Strange didn't threaten to bring law enforcement down on the Ancient One (what are the odds the Ancient One had proper permits to live up on that mountain?) if he didn't do what he said, or actively work to destroy peoples' lives to get what he wanted.

But Stephen Strange prior to learning the mystic arts was hardly an altruist. He liked money, and he had an ego that demanded he help people on his terms or not at all (his origin shows that after the car accident, he refused to work as a consultant or assistant to other doctors). Had the Ancient One granted him his desire*, he'd likely have gone back to being an asshole who happens to also be an incredibly gifted surgeon. I can picture everyone agog at the recovery of his hands, and him just eating it up. Instead, Stephen was stuck on that mountain with nothing to do but gradually realize he kind of liked the Ancient One and didn't want to see him destroyed by Baron Mordo. Which is how he ends up studying magic, so he can keep Mordo from getting out of control.

Tyson getting unsupervised time with Strange's tomes would have been a lot worse for the world than Stephen having the full utility of his hands again. Obviously. But, assuming Stephen is going to keep Tyson's spirit trapped there for awhile, maybe some time should be spent to mentor him. Add some direction to that drive beyond, "Get what I think the world owes me". I know it's been awhile since Strange had a student, and the last one died, and a punker wanna-be is a poor substitute for a green minotaur, but surely it's a more productive way to deal with things than keeping Tyson sealed in a jar forever.

* Or been able to. I have to figure if Strange's hands could have been magically fixed to where he could again perform such surgeries, he'd have done so himself at some point over the years. You never know when that might come in handy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tales From The Woods #7

Where did I leave off? Right, the second coot and its mysterious message. "The Lady in Orange moves". I mulled it over, but made no progress. The only orange I knew anything about were the vests we wore to avoid being mistaken for turkeys by local hunters. That was either several months past, or several months ahead, depending on your perspective. The phrase meant nothing to my coworkers, though I was careful to omit the story behind it.

They think I'm odd enough already.

With no idea how to proceed, I set it aside and focused on work. The season was drawing to a close and I wanted to make sure I didn't let my work decline in quality. This required a bit of concentration, as it was a dull season. Being drier than the previous fall did make work more pleasant, but also meant fewer active creatures. Things were tedious. Even the horses weren't around much.

In the last days, I found myself at a particular array early in the morning. Nothing unusual there: I'm a creature of habit when it comes to work, and this was always the second set of traps I visited. A busy array, but not much variety. It did have the distinction of having the most difficult walk back to the trail. That's something.

This particular day was rather grey. The sky seemed composed of a single, massive cloud. There was no fog of mist to speak of, but the clouds hung low; the tree tops obscured. More than that, everything looked washed out. The sometimes shiny fences of the array were dull, and all around were bare trees, their dead leaves covering the ground in bland shades of brown. I was only vaguely aware of any of this, focused on checking the traps closely, trying to miss nothing, arguing with myself about something inconsequential the whole time. Still, I wasn't so lost in work I missed the sound of someone humming. It simply took a moment to consider the implications.

Other voices on site aren't unusual. I'm not the only person with arrays here, nor is ours the only project. Plus there's the chatter over the walkie-talkie. I can go through a day without hearing another person, but it's hardly a given. The problems with those answers, in order: My coworkers don't enter the field this early, and always start on the opposite side of the site, miles away. Most of the other projects closed for the year in August, and the others don't operate near here. And I'd turned my radio off because all the trucker chatter was driving me nuts. There was nothing left but to determine the origin of it, drawing steadily closer.

Which turned out to be easy. I turned, looked downhill, and spied a person moving towards me. They wore an orange cloak, the hood forward so far only the lower half of their face was visible. At first glance, they appeared to be running in slow motion, strangely long stretches between each foot touching the ground. As they drew nearer I realized they were moving in leaps, or bounds, if you prefer. One foot would barely touch ground and they were airborne, only to land softly on the other foot for an instant before rising again. It gave the impression that with only a little increase in speed (or with an assist from this wind that had picked up), they'd take flight as surely as a bird. That apparently wasn't the goal, as their speed remained constant on their path directly to me. The trees seemed to part before her (she'd moved close enough I could discern it was a her), retainers standing at attention as she passed, so nothing would bar her way. Even if it was an illusion, given the density of trees around it was an impressive one, and on some level worrisome. I recalled something killed the first coot, and the second fled quickly after delivering its note. It might be time to be someplace else, preferably with lots of other people.

I didn't move. The somewhat logical reason was I was at the bottom of a steep hill, and even after I made it to the top, my preference for parking where my truck was unlikely to be damaged meant a several minute walk to reach it. Contrary to my coworkers' beliefs, I do get tired marching up and down these hills. My approaching visitor was covering ground effortlessly. However she managed it (gravity manipulation? strong legs?), I doubted my ability to reach ridge before her, let alone stay in front until I reached my truck. The less logical reason was curiosity. Something was going on, and I had wound up in the middle of it. Why not see where it lead?

So I stepped to one side and leaned against a tree. I thought an air of nonchalance might help keep things non-threatening. By the time I settled myself, she'd arrived, the humming tailing off as she came to a stop. A few inches shorter than me, what of her wasn't covered by the cloak looked thin. I'd think she was living rough, but the condition of her boots, cloak, and pants said otherwise. They were all in considerably better shape than what I favored for work. Her large, dark eyes regarded me from the shadows under the hood. The shadows were so deep, I wasn't positive I actually saw them. Maybe I just felt her gaze, and my imagination filled in the blanks. She smiled. A good sign. I returned the smile, and decided to take the initiative (unusual for me when it comes to meeting new people, but what the hell, it was an unusual circumstance).

"I'm Calvin. How are you doing?"

She seemed ready to respond, then paused and raised her head, scanning the tree tops. In the next instant she leapt back as a branch nearly fell on her. I noticed the wind had increased sharply, odd since it was coming from uphill, behind me. Meanwhile, my guest had continued dodging branches, thought without any signs of difficulty. I looked into the canopy myself, but couldn't see anything. When I lowered my gaze, she'd already retreated to the opposite ridge and was still going. I started in pursuit, but skidded to a halt as a tree fell and blocked my path. By the time I clambered over, the Lady in Orange was nowhere to be seen, and the wind had abated. At least the array wasn't damaged.

That hadn't been how I hoped things would go. Had that been the Ghost of the Forest? Was it trying to protect me? The Lady hadn't seemed hostile, but I could have misread the situation. Maybe her voice was deadly, or she had a spiked, prehensile tongue I was about to be impaled by. But if that was so, why wait to drive her away? I've treated the Ghost as an amusing invisible work companion, but maybe that's the situation I misread.

To figure this out, I needed face time with one of them. Since the Ghost wasn't inclined to be visible or audible, that left tracking down the Lady. Or finding someone to do it for me. With the season drawing to a close, time was of the essence, so I called in an old friend. I pointed them in the direction of the site, offered what meager evidence and observations I had, and left them to it while I started in on end-of-the-season clean-up and equipment organization. I did impress upon my friend the need to stay out of sight, of human eyes, at least.

After all, a panda, be it an once adorable baby, or a now clever adolescent, isn't something one sees often in these parts.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's A Good Film, But It's Long Enough To Be A War Of Attrition

I've said before I'm not much for gangster movies, but I wanted to try Once Upon A Time In America, because if anyone could make one I'd like, I figure it would be Sergio Leone. I finally sat down and watched and I liked it, but my brain doesn't really want to classify it as a "gangster film". It keeps insisting on "character study".

The film doesn't take the route of showing people performing criminals acts, but dismissing them as acts for "Family", or "honor", which is the sort of thing that typically irritates me. Noodles (Robert DeNiro), Max (James Woods), and the rest are crooks. Max might have some pretensions on being more, but I think he really just always wanted to be a more powerful criminal than he was at that moment. Deborah knew it about Noodles and Max when they were kids, James Conway O'Donnell (Treat Williams) knew it when the guys saved him from immolation. And he was idealistic enough (at first) to want nothing to do with them, because he knew they weren't concerned about the workers' cause for any reason other than someone paid them to.

I'm not sure what it says that O'Donnell and Deborah both eventually are reliant upon those crooks. Is it "you need me on that wall!", that it's all well and good to have principles and ideals, but it takes money or a mean streak to see them realized? Maybe that it's so much easier to drag a good person down, than to pull a corrupt person up.

There's a lot in the film about reflections or observing unnoticed, through peepholes or dirty windows. I think it's playing into something the film's saying about seeing how life could have been, the choices made or not made. You look in a mirror, you see yourself, the collection or sum of all the paths taken throughout life. Look upon someone else and see the results of their decisions, and wonder if it could be (or could have been) yours someday. That's what haunts Max, as he sees his life and believes it should have Noodles', which is wrong. I don't think Noodles ever aspired to the heights Max did. He liked the money, power, and respect, but he also recognized it couldn't bring him everything he wanted (Deborah, mostly, though he did his part to blow that to hell).

Max never could understand that, but I think he looked up to Noodles, and therefore thought that his dreams and Noodles' were the same. I think it's telling that every woman we know Max has slept with throughout the film, Noodles had been with her first. Whether Max was consciously copying Noodles, or it's just a sign of how Noodles was always better able to seize the moment, I'm not sure.

Speaking of things I'm not sure of, watching the end sequence I was suddenly unsure if any of the parts which took place in the 1960s were real, since the end is Noodles going into an opium den 3 decades earlier, laying flat on his back, looking up at the ceiling and smiling. Was he hallucinating this whole thing? I doubt it. It probably just represented Noodles being able to forget the pain of his decisions for awhile, but by that point the movie'd been running for over 220 minutes, and my grasp on reality was starting to slip.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How To Raise A Helpful Automated Intelligence

Reaching the end of Atomic Robo: The Ghost of Station X, I was left wondering about the differences between Robo and A.L.A.N., and the reasons for them. Despite being distinct from humans, Robo is very much a part of them. He cares about some of them, dislikes and probably even hates others, misses departed friends, and seems concerned with helping to solve their problems. A.L.A.N. has none of that. Humans, at best, are something he can manipulate to help him in his quest to learn and grow, and at worst, are a threat to that quest (if he couldn't get his ship built before humanity collapsed).

I wonder if it's a matter of their design, or their upbringing. Tesla built Robo in a basically human shape. Bilateral symmetry, bipedal locomotion, so on and so forth. Tesla treated him as a child to a certain extent, showing concern for his well-being, offering instruction and responsibilities as Robo went along, encouraging him to get an education, but ultimately letting Robo choose his own path. All of this gives Robo the opportunity to interact with humanity on equal terms (as equal as Tesla could manage, anyway). He's not in a display, or under lock and key. He walks among us, makes friends, deals with people who hate and fear him. Sees the best and worst of us up close, in other words.

A.L.A.N. was built as we might more typically think of a computer, a big box in a building. While the wires, processors and circuits that made up A.L.A.N.'s physical form might resemble a map of a human brain, it isn't likely most people would have looked at him and seen anything other than a machine. That's if they'd been allowed to do so. Alan Turing was barred access to his creation less than a year after it came into being. It's unclear from A.L.A.N.'s comments whether anyone knowingly interacted with him after that, but it certainly seems clear he didn't have friends the way Robo did (Carl Sagan, Jack Tarot. He had either bureaucrats and workers who were being unwittingly manipulated into carrying out his plans, or he probably had generals coming for tactical advice on the latest Cold War problems. He would have seen people at their worst: selfish, stupid, divided over silly distinctions, concerned only with potentially meaningless short-term benefits with no regard for the long-term effects. Their regard for him as simply a tool, might help to bring about his perception of us as variables to be manipulated simply for his benefit.

The thing is, I wonder if Robo might not do more good if he focused on the long-term. A.L.A.N. didn't give any indication that Robo has extended humanity's time at the top with his efforts, and that could be because he's always caught up in the immediate problems. Helsingard, Majestic, mummies, etc. Robo noted A.L.A.N. could have helped avert humanity's problems, rather than twist them to its advantage, so it stands to reason Robo could as well. The trick would be whether he could divorce himself from his usual concerns enough to do so, without being so divorced from them he decides not to bother. Presumably his nearly nine decades of living among people would keep him from not caring, but I think he likes action too much to shut himself up in a lab for however long it would take to fix the major issues.

Or maybe it'll turn out he's been working on those in his spare time all these years, he's not far away now from some solutions, and A.L.A.N. just didn't realize it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Burn Notice 1.6 - Unpaid Debts

Plot: The FBI has backed off Michael, but now he has new worries. A mysterious guy has shown up, throwing his weight around in an attempt to bully Michael into accepting his fate. To that end, he breaks into Michael's apartment, bugs his phone, uses an optical bug to spy on him when Mike thwarts the phone bug, tows the Charger, and oh yes, chooses to introduce himself by barging into Madeline's home with armed men and trashing the place.

Which means Michael is on the hook to his mother for the damages, which is how he ends up helping an old SEAL buddy of Sam's repossess a boat. Of course there are complications. The owner of the boat is rather attached to it. The people who want it repossessed don't have any actual claim to it, and are more interested in what is hidden inside. And when it becomes necessary to hide Virgil, he and Madeline take a shine to each other.

Well, Michael certainly considers that last one a complication.

The Players: Virgil (Potential Client), Andre (Boat Owner), Mason (Virgil's Client).

Quote of the Episode: 'You sure you're not just trying to keep me away from your sweet mama?' - Virgil, to Michael.

Does Fiona blow anything up? No.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 5 (23 overall). And one scene cut out right as Sam went to get a beer, or it'd be even higher.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (4 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (9 overall).

Other: Mike's horrified shudder when Maddy tells him Virgil's asleep in her room is fantastic. The Charger's 8 track player is busted. Michael's alias for the episode is "Homer", complete with exaggerated Southern drawl. I do think it works well for getting people to underestimate him. Sam is officially not living with Mike anymore. Yes, things have progressed to that stage with Veronica quite rapidly.

We learn at the end of the episode that the mystery man giving Michael grief is one Jason Bly. I like that he staunchly resists Mike's attempts to get his name, making the effort to simply learn that much a running thread. Plus, there's the game of oneupsmanship between them. Mike makes fake mysterious calls to various consulates to occupy whoever's listening, Bly cuts off his phone service (though I didn't realize Mike had a working phone in his loft). Bly tows his car, Mike fries Bly laptop with a homemade magnet.

It's the second time this season Michael has stashed a client at Maddy's house. This is also the first time we actually get to see her scared. She was spooked over the phone when the loan sharks showed up to pummel Nate in "Old Friends", but by the time Michael arrived she'd sucked down enough nicotine to calm down a bit.

The title of the episode is "Unpaid Debts". Sam owed one to Virgil. Virgil had one with Mason. Depending on whether you buy Michael's "I left you in the middle of the night to protect you" line, he could owe one to Fiona. He almost certainly owes one to Maddy, but then, so does Bly for trashing her house. It can also be said someone owes Michael for burning him. There wasn't much progress on that line of inquiry beyond learning Bly's name, but we did find out there's a dossier which Bly feels makes it self-evident why Michael was burned.

Finallyy, strictly on a daroky fan level, I wish they'd name him John instead of Jason. You've got Brisco County Jr. right there on your cast, why not an antagonist named John Bly?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What I Bought 3/9/2012

I had other reasons I needed to go to town yesterday, so I took advantage of that to stop by the store and pick up this week's selection. Sadly, there isn't a standout comic in the bunch. It's mostly books that show promise, but I'll have to see where they end up going.

Defenders #4 - Strange sets to investigating the Concordance Engine. Since his books aren't helping, he tries focusing his mind on it. But his concentration is off, distracted by Molly, the grad student he slept with, and he accidentally causes a woman from his past named Molly to appear. Even though she's been dead for years. Which doesn't stop them from enjoying themselves. Their peaceful idyll is shattered by some irritated punk magician who gets wind of situation and tries to blackmail Strange with it. That goes as well as you might expect, and we learn that Strange knows how Molly feels only too well. Which doesn't excuse his actions, but it's likely the best we're going to get.

I do wonder why the idiot kid honestly thinks his scheme will work. At that point, Strange had already demonstrated he can hurt someone remote sensing, which the kid didn't even know was possible. Didn't he consider he might be a little out of his league? But he's young, arrogant, self-entitled, I suppose he figured he was the smartest guy ever. I'm not sure why Strange needed deception to deal with cops anyway. The guy was an Avenger, I thought that counted for something these days.

Michael Lark steps in for the Dodsons, and it works pretty well. Despite Strange's use of mystical zappy bolts, it's really a story about people who are hurting, and how they deal with that, and Lark handles that deftly.

Green Arrow #7 - Ollie starts out arguing with himself about whether to chuck being Oliver Queen entirely. Then he's attacked by three sisters who proclaim their love, and offer him weapons, if he'll accompany them. Ollie somewhat patronizingly agrees, then goes to work and says he's leaving, and won't be working from the office anymore. He has in-flight sex with all three sisters, but once they get where they're going, the girls quickly capture him, and we learn they're trying to please their dad so they can take over his empire. Why they're working together when it sounds like they're in competition, I'm not sure. Unless the sisters are a team, and there's another batch of siblings out there. Oh crap, is Ollie up against Vandal Savage? Also, they made his jet crash, and everyone thinks he's dead, which provides a fellow named Emerson with an opportunity to steal his company.

That was certainly interesting. It's going to take some time to get used to Nocenti's writing style again, because she's very different from anyone else I'm reading these days. Not bad; she makes sure you understand enough about what's going on, just different. Less fond of Harvey Tolibao's art. It's like the camera is zoomed in too close, where it's hard to see what's happening at times.

Villains for Hire #4 - It surprises and betrayals all over the place. Puppet Master uses the villains earpieces to take control of them, until Purple Man and Headhunter override his control, which only succeeds in giving each villain back control of themselves. At which point they all start fighting. Trying to get Kilgrave, trying to get Knight, trying to escape, trying to kill each other. Scourge in particular is trying to shoot everyone as they try to leave. A few get away, but Misty does capture the Purple Man, as it turns out Scourge is actually. . . Paladin! And they were working with Puppet Master the whole time. It was his idea, because he was pissed about being manipulated when he'd wanted to go straight. Which, OK, sure, why not?

I mentioned when I reviewed the previous issue that you could start to see how the mini-series being shortened took effect in how fast things started happening, and the trend continues here. On the one hand, it's kind of cool, because there are so many reversals and everything, it's nuts. On the other, because things are happening so quickly, there's no chance for anything to sink in. As soon as the reader absorbs the impact of one shift, things have already changed again. Blunts the impact. Renato Arlem's art still isn't helping me any. It's stiff and awkward, people are posed strangely during fights, and while there is a sense of confusion during the melees, it's not a good sense of confusion. There are ways to demonstrate that things have gotten out of control, and everyone's switching sides or jumping ship, but it didn't happen here. There's no sense of where anyone is in relation to anyone else. Final verdict on the mini-series: Loved the concept, loved the basic structure of the story, but the pacing, art, and general execution didn't pull it off.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Self-Deception Is A Necessary Tool, Sometimes

'You have no soul. You're not capable of doing anything selfless.' - Angel, to Drusilla, Angel & Faith #7.

My first reaction to that quote was irritation, followed by recognition that while a questionable claim, it's one that served as keystone to a lot of pyramids for the Buffyverse in general, and Angel in particular.

The irritation first. What about Spike? He fought alongside the Scoobies off and on from the climax of Season 2, through most of Season 6, without a soul. Yes, he was often working towards something. Wanting Dru back, needing blood, being in love with Buffy, but what about the summer she was dead? He stuck around and helped protect Sunnydale, because of a promise to a dead woman, who he believed lost to him forever? I suppose the selflessness of it could be called into question if we take the view that Spike wanted acceptance, and figured the Scoobies were a better bet than other demons, who regarded him as a turncoat. Turns out the Scoobs weren't much better, but you could argue he was trying to get something out of that as well. Still, to put himself at risk for people who barely tolerated him, because he wanted to keep his word, sounds at least close to selfless.

Still, we'll move on. What about Clem, or especially Lorne? Lorne helped Angel on several occasions, at great cost to himself, his club, and probably to his sense of self when he killed people for Angel in the series finale. Or Darla staking herself so Connor could be born? She's a vampire, what did she care about some baby that was only making life harder for her?

In this particular case, Dru admits she'd get something out of helping Angel, like she gets blood from these people who come to her looking for relief from their inner torments. It isn't a selfless act, but that hardly proves she's incapable of them, and it would seem there are other examples of beings with no soul (which seems to be defined as what animates a human being, versus whatever keeps vamps and demons moving) that could call that claim into dispute as well.

Still, Angel holding to it isn't a surprise. The concept one must have a soul to be worth something holds considerable sway in the Buffyverse. Buffy Season 6 tried to drive this home with the attempt to prove Spike couldn't be worthy of Buffy without one. What they actually succeeded in demonstrating was beings are capable of good and evil with a soul or without (Spike, but also Willow, Buffy, Xander), and one can very easily hurt someone they love (Spike and Xander were both guilty on that one). I doubt that was the intent. Buffy certainly felt Spike was more deserving of help come Season 7, when he had a soul, than the year before when he was steadily breaking down trying to love and help someone who desperately needed him one moment, and treated him like garbage the next. Maybe the Scoobs have smartened up about this particular blind spot of theirs in the comics, one can only hope.

This distinction between "soul = may be good or evil", and "no soul = EVIL!" is especially important for Angel, because it feeds into that martyr complex he has. As Drusilla pointed out, Angel acts as though he and Angelus are two different entities, and only one inhabits the body at a time. As long as Soul Boy is around, Angelus is not. If Angel gets his moment of perfect happiness, away he goes and here comes Angelus, trying to end the world or terrorize through tedious mind games.

This gives Angel the perfect excuse to play the suffering hero, because he can't take the chance on perfect happiness. He gets to make every saved life about how much he sacrifices. He could have fun, but if he did that, he might lose his soul, so instead he's going to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, and make a big show of it in the process. Why, he even cut off contact with his son, that's how much he cares about protecting others (sarcasm)! Never mind his kid is a superpowered human offspring of two vampires, who is going to have unsavory types interested in him whether dad's around or not, and it might be good to have Angel as a regular presence those unsavory types have to consider before trying something. Nope, that's sacrificed on the altar of Angel's suffering, too.

Yes, Angel is right to be concerned about Angelus getting loose. But it's disingenuous to act as though Angel is the good guy and Angelus the bad guy. Going by some of his past actions, either Angelus is entirely capable of slipping out past the soul, or Angel's soul is a least a little receptive to the demon's suggestions. It's more convenient for him to not think of it that way, like it was more convenient of the Scoobies to keep Spike on the outside regardless of how many times he helped them. If they accepted that the soulless vampire might actually be at least a little trustworthy, it would upset their metaphysical apple carts.

It really shouldn't hold up now, though, with so many vampires following Harmony's rules, and restraining themselves from killing or siring. Presumably all those vampires are also soulless, and yes, they get something from it (blood, adulation), but they could get more by breaking the rules, and it would simply require rolling the dice as to whether a Slayer will catch them in the act and end them.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Batman Would Not Approve Of Arson As A Signaling Device

When Mitch showed up at Fletcher's place and started burning it down, why do you think he made a sort of Bat symbol in the sky?

I can't see him trying to attract Batman. He didn't need help dealing with Fletcher, and the cops - who can legally arrest Fletcher, and are therefore more useful than another scary person - were there. Or was it how he got the attention of the police? It seems a big blue fire in an apartment building would have been sufficient.

It could be he wants to deflect attention from himself. He knows there's a crazy angel out to kill him, and perhaps he's reconsidered cooperating with the Body Doubles. If so, he'd want to stay of their radars as well. Making it look like Batman exposed this crooked Arkham guard, rather than a guy named Mitch Shelly who was supposed to be dead, would be a sensible idea. Sure, Fletcher can tell everyone it wasn't Batman, but he's also telling them it was a guy he previously shot in the head. People will think he's nutty, and go off what they know: That there was a big blue Bat-symbol in the sky over Fletcher's apartment, and he was terrified enough to confess to his wrongdoings. Sounds like Batman's handiwork to me.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Avengers' Worst Idea Since Adding Wolverine

'You know how I know this is a shit idea? Because it's really obviously a shit idea.' - Jim (Cillian Murphy), 28 Days Later.

I'm not a fan of symbionts. Or symbiotes. I was burned out on them by the mid-90s (Maximum Carnage at the earliest), and nothing's happened to revise that opinion. I'm biased when it comes to the idea of Venom, sorry, Agent Venom, joining the Secret Avengers. That said, I still don't think Hawkeye is unreasonable to object to it. He didn't need to yell at Flash Thompson about it, but sometimes you have to yell so all the people who are giddily excited about their terrible idea will pay attention. The quote above sums up my feeling about the whole idea. In case it isn't really obvious, though, let's take a look.

First, the whole situation is questionable ethically. The symbiont is capable of thought, planning, emotion, it's aware of itself as a separate and distinct entity, different from it's hosts. How would it recognize the drive to bond with one? In short, it's a sentient being. Near as I can tell from their technobabble, the two Hanks are shutting its mind down so Flash can control it.

They're taking a living, thinking organism, and reducing it to a second-rate Iron Man armor. That kind of action seem wrong to anyone else? It isn't even a Suicide Squad deal, where the symbiont is given the choice to pitch in, with freedom and perhaps some safe host as the eventual reward. Pym and McCoy are flat out removing its ability to have any say in the matter. I'm not surprised at Pym; history is littered with him doing things he thought were right that were actually terribly ill-conceived. McCoy I'm disappointed in. I thought he had more sense.

Think if Pym (or Stark, T'Challa, whatever scientist Avenger you dislike) installed a switch connected to the Vision's free will in his computer brain. Then, if that Avengers thinks it's necessary for Vision to sacrifice himself to save the day, and the Vision won't go along, just flip the switch, and he'll do whatever he's told, including getting blown up. That'd be wrong, to take away his right to decide whether to sacrifice his life. Yes, Vision is a hero, the symbiont is a killer, but I hold to that idea that there are certain things that are wrong regardless of who is doing them, or who they're doing them to. "Don't sink to their level", and so forth. But the symbiont is an alien, and not one that looks even remotely human, so apparently it's fair game. That's how it usually goes.

Even though I'm no fan of symbionts, and would be quite fine with the Avengers putting it on trial for eating people, and then it was shot into the Sun as punishment, I did think the ethical issue was worth mentioning. They start shutting down a sentient's brain so it'll work for the, how far are they from Squadron Supreme style behavior modification of their enemies? I'd like to think Captain America would oppose such things, but considering how blithely he discusses shutting down the symbiont's consciousness, that's out the window.

To a more basic point, this is going to backfire horribly. The time limit for how long he can wear it? It's going to trip them up. Even Flash knows it. There's no way to guarantee he wouldn't have to be out in the field more than 24 hours. What happens then? Get him out of there? What if they can't, he's separated from the rest of the team, or they're engaged in a huge battle? The symbiont's consciousness starts up again, realizes what's been done to it, and guess what? It's really pissed about it.

What happens when a hero gets mind-controlled by a villain into doing bad things, and the hero breaks free? They realize what they were forced to do, and they beat the hell out of the bad guy. That's a hero's reaction. What happens with an alien slime thing that already regards people as food or potential hosts at the best of times? It's going to kill Flash for starters, then jump to some other Avenger - Valkyrie, Captain Britain, maybe Beast if it's aware enough to recognize the threat his intellect poses - and wreak havoc.

Or, it'll simply take control of Flash and start attacking Avengers. We know it can do that already, that's why they're shutting down its consciousness, so it can't 'dominate' Corporal Thompson. That's under normal circumstances. Now it'll be under adverse conditions, when Flash is already busy fighting an Adaptoid or something, and the symbiont will be more determined/enraged to take control than ever before.

Yes, they have a Human Torch, and symbionts don't like fire, but there's no guarantee Mr. Hammond will be in any position to respond if Venom does go nuts. Even if he can, what's he going to do? Scare the symbiont off Flash, leaving him exposed in the middle of a fight while the symbiont is running about looking for a new host? Incinerate them both? What's the rest of the team doing while two members are caught up in this mess? It's going to be a disaster.

It's like when they encouraged the Sentry to join. Yes, having a guy with that much power sounded like a good idea. In practice, the Sentry had serious concerns about his own stability and safety to others that were not aided by taking part in Avengers' stuff. It would have been better for him and everyone else if he'd been left alone. Forcing him to be a hero was a mistake, and this stunt they're planning to pull with the Venom symbiont is another mistake.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

What I Bought 3/2/2012 - Part 3

Appears it's mostly complaining today, with the usual gushing about Daredevil in the middle.

Avengers Solo #5 - Remarkably, Hawkeye convinces Iron Man to butt out. Yes, he had to shoot an arrow at him and bring up Armor Wars, but that's a pretty pleasant exchange by Marvel hero standards. Hawkeye, Trace, Emi, and Alicia use their various skills to free all the other test subjects who'd been rounded up, only to learn Dr. Forrest, rather than being some dupe or conspirator, is actually a mastermind in the whole thing. Hawkeye says the right (or wrong) thing to get Forrest's muscle to turn against him, the ship blows up, Hawkeye can't find any sign of Forrest. He did find a journal with names of all the subjects who hadn't been rounded up yet, gives it to Emi and her friends, then lies about it to his Avengers buddies. The art shifts from Roger Robinson to Declan Shalvey for the last two pages. It's a pretty severe shift, but there is a possible reason in-story for it. We'll come back to that another day.

In the backup, Alkhema was a fake built by Pym as a test. That's good. It'd be pretty embarrassing for a villain who once fought off Thor, Vision, and five other Avengers to lose to Striker and Finesse. Anyway, Striker passed, Finesse, failed. She stole a piece of the CPU which she's using to design her own Ultron blueprints. Good going, Hank! Not bad enough you build your own insane murder machines (which later build other machines), now you're giving your morally suspect student a chance to do the same! Thumbs high! For some reason, Karl Kesel drew this part, after Clayton Henry drew the first four. I can't come up with a good explanation for that, other than they wanted Henry on something else and couldn't wait for him to finish five pages?

Daredevil #9 - Daredevil as the ferryman. Nice.

Someone has stolen the coffin (and body) of Daredevil's father, as well as those of many other people. So Matt throws on the costume and heads down the mole hole to find Moloids. Who he pursues until they reach the Mole Man, who promptly starts ripping open coffins and dumping the remains if they don't suit him. Which pisses Matt off, and he underestimates the guy. A villain who fights the Fantastic Four probably ought to be accorded more respect by Daredevil, but he was a little stressed, so we'll let it pass. Also, Felicia has a brief debate over whether to steal the device from Matt's Adamantium (thought that stuff was expensive) safe, but it appears Murdock's prowess in bed does not count for more than a briefcase full of cash. Sorry, Matt.

Another entertaining issue of Daredevil. I like this tactic of Waid's to continuously put Matt in situations beyond his usual scope, but in a way where it makes sense for him to be involved. Also, Paolo Rivera draws the heck out of this book. He rewards the reread, as there are all these little details you don't necessarily need, but they make it more fun. There's a panel where Matt's grappling with some Moloids, one of them is simultaneously clawing DD's shoulder, and biting his billy club, and in the background we see the coffins floating away, but that part is done "radar image" style, while the Moloid is displayed regularly.

Secret Avengers #23 - Did the Beast revert back to his pre-Morrison look? The Art Adams cover says "No", but the way Hardman draws him inside says "Yes". Also, I hate this stupid movie tie-in Hawkeye costume. Sigh.

I was supposed to start getting this the previous issue, but it's mostly easy to follow. The Avengers were whomped by some organic Adaptoids who kidnapped a woman and her child. Ant-Man tagged along, so the team needs to find him, the Adaptoids, and the civilians. They find them in the center of the Earth, I think. Ant-Man mentions something about it, I didn't really get that from the art, but whatever. He tries for a rescue himself, has to be saved by the lady, almost gets the kid killed, may have been killed himself. Hawkeye is strongly opposed to Venom being on his team, and is yelling at everybody. Which makes him a jerk? Because it's stupid to object to having the murderous symbiont as part of your team, I guess. Curious that Jim Hammond was talking down to Flash, too, but no one called him on that. Oh, right, he killed Hitler, which makes it OK to be smug. I'll believe he did that when I see it.

This may have been a mistake on my part. I like some of the characters (while disliking some, like Ant-Man, Venom, and Captain Britain), but I'm not certain I'm going to like how Remender writes them. I normally like Gabriel Hardman's art, but the Adaptoids did not look impressive to me. Maybe if I saw more of them in action I'd change that opinion, but they look like cobbled together, Frankstein's monster versions. What you'd get if you couldn't afford to ask AIM to build one for you, and had to go to the generic version route. A rather lukewarm response from me, all around. We'll see how it goes from here.

Monday, March 05, 2012

What I Bought 3/2/2012 - Part 2

I have no idea what to say to lead off. We're looking at DC books today? Does that work? It does? Super.

Batman Beyond Unlimited #1 - I know Nguyen's trying to get all the relevant characters on the cover, but it's a little busy. Giving Warhawk the wings extended upward pose McGinnis had at the end of the opening credits of the Batman Beyond cartoon is a nice touch. Assuming it was intentional, and not coincidental.

In the Beechen/Breyfogle section, Batman is troubled by a recent influx of Jokerz gangs from across the country (brought there by a mastermind whose identity we learn at the end of the issue), and by his inability to reconnect with his now ex-girlfriend Dana. Meanwhile, Max is passing her initiation to become part of Undercloud in the hopes of bringing them down from within. My guess is she's underestimating how compartmentalized the organization is.

The writing is solid, nothing spectacular, but it works. Norm Breyfogle's artwork, there's the draw. Beechen gives him two fight scenes to illustrate, because Breyfogle knows how to lay those out, everything flowing well from one panel to the next. There's something interesting about Andrew Edler's colors, but I can't quite pin down what it is. Maybe the colors are softer during the McGinnis scenes, but deeper and sharper during the Batman stuff?

Over in the Derek Fridolfs/Dustin Nguyen Justice League story, the League busts up a fight between some Jokerz and a group that used some gene-altering splicer drugs, and want more. That minor problem (seems really minor for the Justice League) handled, they return to their headquarters to investigate the threat of Kobra. Micron infiltrated them some time ago, but now he may have become a turncoat, oh no! I like Nguyen's art, but I knew that already. I just don't care about the League, and this story hasn't done anything to change that. Again, I don't think the writing is anything superb, but I also wouldn't blame Fridolfs or Nguyen for my failure to engage with the plot. The Justice League is usually hit or miss with me, regardless of the characters or creative teams involved.

Resurrection Man #6 - Maybe Reis would have more time to draw Aquaman if he wasn't doing all these covers for other titles. The cover itself is fine, no complaints, simply an observation.

I still don't know how Mitch wound up in Gotham, but he did, and now he's in Arkham. Of course he sounds crazy to them, his talk of not being able to stay dead and all, but he can't get off the drugs long enough to demonstrate. So they at least possess a modicum of competence. To circumvent this, Mitch keeps causing problems until they throw him in with the real dangerous ones, at which point they take him off meds. Just in time for him to overhear crooked guard Fletcher discussing allowing a mass breakout to disguise the escape of a fellow named Sumo. Unfortunately for Sumo, the mass breakout lets Mitch out as well, and after some initial difficulties, he stops the guy in his tracks, only to be shot by Fletcher. Which ends up backfiring rather nicely on Fletcher.

I wouldn't have minded the stint in Arkham lasting another issue myself, just out of curiosity seeing Mitch interact with the inmates a little more. As a stand alone issue, though it works pretty well. Fernando Dagnino returns to the art chores, and there are a lot of little touches in his work I like. The review board positioned so they're looking down on us (and Mitch) as they pass judgment on his sanity and pretend to care what he thinks (when he's so drugged he can hardly form a coherent sentence). Near the end, when Mitch appears in Fletcher's apartment, we get a glimpse of Fletcher's bag of payoff money (from Sumo) burning up beneath Mitch's feet. All in all, an entertaining issue all around.

Tomorrow, we hit the Marvel books. A mini-series wraps up, and I start buying a new ongoing. Wait, did I just waste tomorrow's intro? Damn.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Burn Notice 1.5 - Family Business

Plot: Nate's gone a step further than telling people Michael is a helper for hire. Now it's Nate and Mike who work together to help people, a fact Michael is unaware until Nate calls him for assistance. Turns out Nate can't quite handle the family of arms dealers that are pressuring the local airport security guy on his own. His sales pitch could use some work, though, since he keeps berating Michael for having taken their father's Charger, which Nate contends is rightfully his.

To deal with the problem, Michael has to pass himself off as an ex-military man with hardware to move, and exploit the weak point in the otherwise close knit Zamar family. That would be youngest son Ari, whose girlfriend Debbie may be as much hindrance as help. This while keeping Fi from harming Sam after she found a listening device in Michael's car that looks like Sam's handiwork. Sam's under pressure from the FBI for more intel. Surely Michael can find some way to turn that to his advantage.

The Players: Nate Westen (The Brother), Jake Miller (The Client), Zamar Family (Arms' Dealers), Eli Zamar (The Boss), Ari Zamar (The Player), Debbie (The Girlfriend).

Quote of the Episode: Nate - 'You're always on my ass to get a job, here I am.' Mike - 'Lying in a crumpled heap in an airport parking lot?'

Does Fiona blow anything up? A car by proxy. She made the explosives Michael uses for his sales pitch to Ari.

Sam Axe's Drink Count: 1 (18 overall). Stress must be getting to Sam, he's not drinking much. Or he's hiding it better.

Sam Getting Hit Count: Nothing (4 overall). We'll make it a "hit count", since I've started including slaps and vehicular collisions.

Mike's Fake Laugh Count: 1 (9 overall).

Other: Something I forgot to mention about last week's episode. Mike had the Charger running by the end of "Fight or Flight", but needed Sam to drive him around in "Old Friends". So the car broke down that fast? At any rate, it's running again. This week's odd continuity thing is Sam saying he doesn't want to break into Mike's place for the feds. Isn't he still living there after his last lady friend threw him out? That too, may be moot, since Sam met Veronica at the end of this episode. I'm pretty sure she remains his lady friend for awhile.

Mike's alias for the episode is "Steve Remington".

Nate is pretty good at talking his way out of being shot. I get the feeling he's had lots of practice, or several occasions where someone explained in detail why they weren't going to kill him at that time. I don't know whether it's because he's mad about the car, or if their last team-up taught him something, but Nate stays out of Mike's way this episode. It might have been nice if Nate's excellent sleight of hand skills could have helped. I suppose he saves that for getting something over on his big brother.

I thought an ex-Mossad guy like Eli would be able to spot lies better. Maybe he figured he had Jake so cowed the guy wouldn't even think of trying to play him. Or what he was being told fed into his own fears about Ari's irresponsibility.