Thursday, February 28, 2013

What I Bought 2/25/2013 - Part 2

I keep promising myself I'll stop reading comments sections on major websites, and I keep breaking that promise, and I always regret it.

Batman Beyond Unlimited #12, by J.T. Krul (writer), Howard Porter (pencils), Livesay (inks), Carrie Strachan (colors), Saida Temofonte (letterer) for "War Crimes"; Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen (writers), Fiona Staples (artist), Saida Temofonte (letterer) for "Beyond Origin: Micron"; Adam Beechen (writer), Norm Breyfogle (artist), Andrew Elder (colorist), Saida Temofonte (letterer) for "10,000 Clowns: No Future" - Is that supposed to be something wrapped around Lobo's arm? Or is it just a random scrap of fabric? I could see him wrapping part of a Green Lantern uniform around his arm, just to show off, but otherwise.

Superman visits J'onn in his current civilian identity, and the Martian helps him remember why the Trillians want him dead. Then Lobo attacks, and the two heroes team-up to fight. Seems to be going well until the Trillians catch J'onn by surprise and Superman folds his tent. Really, he basically just gives up. He's captured, and brought to the Trillians' homeworld to be tried for what he did. Maybe I'm to infer Supes surrendered to protect J'onn. As far as this thing with the Trillians goes, I want to hear from the Mangals, the ones Superman freed. Or at least see what they're up to, because while I'm inclined to believe Superman, given the way things go in comics these days, it's possible he really did screw up. I doubt it. More likely he'll face a kangaroo court situation, but it's possible.

Over in Gotham, Terry narrowly avoids strangulation, and escapes, pondering what the hell he's doing this for as he passes out. Which leaves Dick Grayson to do a Frank Miller Batman impression as he squares off with the Joker King. And Max learns the truth about Undercloud, which is disappointing, but not surprising. It's like Payback said, you go up high enough, there's always one guy. I like how Breyfogle managed to draw Grayson in silhouette as he swung in so that his jacket looked like a short cape, ala his Robin costume.

There's also an origin for Micron, which was pretty good. I'm impressed his mother could afford to keep moving on a paramedic's salary, especially if his size-changing kept wrecking the places they were living. Not getting the security deposit back from that. It's nice she's his inspiration, and that using his powers to help people is how he found himself, without a bunch of missteps along the way.

Dial H #9, by China Mieville (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (penciler), Dan Green (inker), Tanay & Richard Horie (colorists), Steve Wands (letterer) - I saw that cover and just assumed it was some play on the Human Centipede's name and nature. That he was a predatory, insect-like mind. Either that, or the dial picked up on it when he used it. Wrong on both counts. As with most things, the correct answer was focus group testing.

For some reason, the dial won't work for the Centipede. Which gives Roxie time to tase him and dial up a hero herself, allowing her and Nelson to escape. In the aftermath, we get a look at what the department Centipede works for looks like, what they know (a lot, and different stuff from Roxie), and the problems they're facing. Namely, their chosen dial user can't seem to retain control out in the field. Centipede has theories, but as we've seen, he has plans of his own and keeps mum. Making him wear that helmet didn't make him any more inclined to share, I imagine. Nelson dials up The Glimpse and sneaks into the headquarters in hopes of finding the Canadians' dial. He locates it, but Centipede suckers the user into dialing up to fight him, which is where it ends.

Is Ponticelli the new regular artist? That'd be fine, if he could make Roxie a little less weathered. I know she's supposed to be an older lady, and normally, no concerns. But there were a couple of panels where she started to resemble Aunt May at her most wrinkly, and I don't know if that's quite what Mieville's looking for. That may just be an aspect of Ponticelli's style I'll adjust to. It's not a big enough deal to detract from the rest. Somehow, he's able to draw a lady minotaur in such a way that it looks strange, but not absurd, but get across how ridiculous the Centipede looks with the bug head. Maybe that's the juxtaposition with his suit, but he looks as silly as I imagine he feels.

"Whiny Eagle" as the Canadian designation for the U.S. is great. It's interesting to me that Nelson and Roxie seem relatively able to function when they dial, but have a hard time getting a hero they feel will fit the task at hand. Personally, I think Cloud Herd would have worked fine, but they disagree. meanwhile, the Canadian soldier can't control himself in the field, but his dial brought up a hero perfectly suited for confronting The Glimpse on the first try. Is it just a sign of how imperfect all the dials are, that each is deficient in their own way?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What I Bought 2/25/2013 - Part 1

Two weeks ago, I decided to drive from the boonies to Marvels and Legends to pick up comics and drop off an updated pull list. I didn't bother to call Jack because I figured he wouldn't have shipped my books by then. Naturally, he shipped them the day before I arrived, to my non-boonies address. So it took them the better part of a week to get there, then the better part of another week for them to arrive here after being mailed again by helpful family. And here we are.

Avengers Arena #4, by Dennis Hopeless (writer), Alessandro Vitti (artist), Frank martin (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - That is a completely inaccurate cover. Shocking, I know.

As there are only two Runaways thrown into this mess (Nico and Chase) they're finding it a little hard to handle things alone. It's difficult to sleep when only one person can at a time, and one of them has an extremely twitchy trigger finger. Fortunately, Nico magicked up a special fruit tree, and offers it to the Avengers Academy kids as a show of good faith. Things are going well, Chase and Reptil are talking. Chase wanders off, someone nearly incinerates Reptil. Hmm, Chase's gauntlets can do that. OK, alliance over. No Hazmat, don't kill the magic fruit tree! Awww, what did the magic fruit tree ever do to you? Nico seems to seriously doubt Chase (not without reason given his past history of crap decisions), and then someone drops the Darkhawk amulet into Chase's hands. Swell, give the idiot more power.

I like that page of the Academy kids celebrating having the fruit tree while Nico and Chase sleep. It's so happy, and they're acting like such kids, it makes the disintegration of the team-up hurt even worse. Plus, Reptil toasting X-23 with fruit while wearing a pteranodon head on his human body is kind of funny. It's a silent page, so credit to Alessandro Vitti's artwork for selling it. It's an important reminder these are kids, super-powers or no, past experience battling the forces of evil or not. They're under a lot of stress, they handle it in different ways - attitude, determination, pushing people away, trying to bring them closer - and they aren't always going to make intelligent decisions. I mean, as readers, we can be reasonably sure Chase didn't roast Reptil, but the way things play out, it's easy to see why Hazmat, X-23, and even Nico could believe he would.

Vitti's artwork feels like a combination of Kev Walker and David LaFuente, leaning more towards LaFuente. It's sketchy when the view is a long shot, character faces aren't as distinct or defined, but up close, the detail is there. Frank Martin's colors help. During the talking scenes, the lighting is ambient, the moon, or whatever is passing itself off as the moon. It's blue lighting, there are shadows, but they aren't deep or terribly distinct from the lit areas. Everything is sort of tranquil and out on the surface. That way, when things go haywire and kids start throwing around blasty powers, it's a contrast. Bright purples, greens, oranges, makes things stark, harsh, sharply divided.

Fearless Defenders #1, by Cullen Bunn (writer), Will Sliney (artist), Veronica Gandini (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - About Brooks' cover. I want to think Valkyrie and Misty are up on the balls of their feet because that's a proper fighting thing. Not standing flat-footed. You think that's it, or is this like a Deodato thing, where he can't help drawing women like they're wearing invisible heels regardless of whether it's appropriate? Like I said, I'd prefer to assume the former, but who knows.

Misty Knight tries to shut down a smuggling operation. Then a helicopter full of goons working for a LeFay show up and destroy the ship. Misty escapes with a single artifact, which she brings to her client, a Dr. Riggs. Who activates some trigger in the artifact, causing the dead to rise. Which is when Valkyrie shows up and she and Misty shut them down, then opt to return to Asgard for answers about some "Doommaidens".

The Valkyrie/Riggs kiss felt forced. Maybe if we had more time to get to know Dr. Riggs, or see her interact with Val, it might have worked better. As it was, it didn't make much of an impression. That sums up this issue pretty well. It didn't make much of an impression. I found myself focusing on things like why Misty wasn't wearing any shoes during the fight on the boat. Is that going to give her better traction in the rain, or had she been wearing fins and ditched them after getting onboard? The writing is passable, but there wasn't anything that jumped out. No snappy bit of dialogue, for example. Sliney's art was largely OK, but again, nothing much jumps out. The full-page splash of Valkyrie on Aragorn behind Misty looked nice. Pretty dramatic. The fight scenes are solid, though the action looks a bit awkward at times. It's annoying, because there's nothing about the book that merits ripping, but also nothing I want to sing to the heavens about.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dark Sector

I mentioned Dark Sector briefly while discussing the limited weapon carrying of Singularity. Then I finished it over the weekend.

Dark Sector's a third-person shooter. The main character's named Hayden, working for The Agency to bring a scientist named Mezner's. Mezner's at a research facility in Russia trying to harness a technovirus, both to amplify himself, and take control of all the seemingly mindless people already infected. Hayden quickly runs afoul of a particularly powerful one of these infected, and winds up at the mercy of Mezner. Who promptly infects Hayden with the virus. One of his arms begins to change, appearing to have a metallic sheath, but more critically, he sprouts a glaive. Not the long two-handed blade, a three-pronged throwing weapon*. It comes back when you throw it! It can absorb certain elemental properties from the surroundings (fire, ice, electricity)!

The glaive and Hayden continue to power up across the game. I was especially grateful for the Shield, and especially the Shift (temporary invisibility) upgrades. Initially, Hayden's goal seems to be escape. Reach the chopper, get home, get something to stop the virus. After all, this was supposed to be Hayden's last job, and he wasn't really in the right frame of mind for it to begin with. Then he finds complications. First, a helpful old double agent who finds himself in a spot of trouble. Second, Nadia. Nadia was part of The Agency once, but now she's out, and working with Mezner. She hates the Agency for some reason, and Hayden in particular. Hayden feels quite guilty about it, for what that's worth.

Dark Sector is a gloomier game than Singularity, but not scarier. Singularity had all these odd light sources, the strange plants glowing orange to cast unnatural and eerie light. The closest Dark Sector gets is flickering lights, and they aren't applied to heighten the tension. You don't see scant glimpses of some enemy skittering in the shadows during the instant the light is on. The monsters themselves look kind of unimpressive. Some of them resemble emaciated humans, others walking tumors. There's a breed that can shift that remind me of those poisonous Amazonian frogs, the ones with the bright colors. Not exactly terrifying. There are a few sequences where the enemies keep attacking and I felt a surge of panic at the possibility of being overwhelmed, but that's not really the same thing.

Dark Sector only allows you to carry two weapons at a time, though there are Black Markets scattered about under manholes which will hold on to your other guns in the meantime. If you carry a pistol, you can wield it and the glaive simultaneously, but the shotguns and such require both hands. I had read a review that said the glaive was so powerful they didn't see the need to upgrade their weapons (you can find upgrades scattered about the levels). I actually didn't like using the glaive in combat. If you throw it, you have to wait until it comes back (or fire the pistol anyway while you wait). If you use it up close, that means you're up close with an enemy, which is something shooters have taught me to avoid. The glaive isn't hard to use in combat, other than a Power Throw is a specific move that requires precise timing. Not something I want to rely on while besieged by enemies (boss fights are another matter).

One thing Dark Sector did well was build up Hayden's opposite, the powerful infected I mentioned. After that encounter, he gets ambushed and thrown out of an attic by it once, and later tries to fight it, only to be beaten easily. At which point Hayden nearly gives up. Even with the glaive, he can't win. But the old man tells him where he can find his own Power Suit, like his opponent's. In RPGs there are fights you can't win, because the foe is meant to be a persistent problem through the game. This is a 3rd-person shooter version, only I didn't have to go through the frustration of actually conducting a battle I can't win. I watch it in cut scenes, feel Hayden's frustration rise and hope fall. Then, when the odds are actually even, I found myself with some real anticipation. It wasn't going to be a cakewalk, but I knew I could win, and I knew Hayden really badly wanted to win, if only because he was sick of getting kicked around. It's one of the better build-ups to a boss fight I can remember.

* I didn't know that was actually an accepted term for that sort of weapon, but Wikipedia suggests it was adopted as such during the 1980s.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Savages

I didn't end up enjoying Savages as much as I hoped. I think, based on the review I sort of listened to on the radio, I was expecting something slightly lighter in tone. That the abduction in response to the first abduction would be sort of funny? That wasn't an accurate projection of what it would be like at all.

I don't understand the fake out, everybody dies ending. Because they figured that was what people want/expect? If so, i guess they're right, because I preferred the fake out ending to the real ending. I was more invested in seeing Lado (Benicio del Toro) get his comeuppance than I was in seeing Ben, Chon, and O (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively) have a happy ending. Not that I didn't like those three, I just really wanted Lado to end up dead. He doesn't, because he's working with the DEA.

I'm sure the movie is trying to make a point about the pointlessness of the war on drugs. They prosecute, unless the person is useful to them, in which can he can be a sadistic butcher like Lado and it's fine. But I already knew the war on drugs was a monumental waste of time.

I don't understand the management structure between Ben and Chon. Chon wants to kill the middle management guys Elena sent with the offer of partnership. Ben says no way, and so they don't. But Chon doesn't agree with Ben's idea of making a counteroffer, or the real idea of leaving the country. Why can't he veto Ben's idea? Or maybe I should ask, why doesn't he? The ex-SEALS are his buddies, they'll shoot or not on his command. I guess he figured Ben needed to learn for himself who they were dealing with, though the videos of decapitations ought to have taken care of that.

One of the things that bugged me for a time was that the movie takes Ben, who has what O describes as a "Buddhist" view of things, live and let live, non-confrontational, and makes him do all this horrible stuff. Frame a man as a snitch. Light said man on fire. Kidnap drug kingpin's daughter, stash her in an industrial freezer. It starts to feel like a crappy '70s Western, where the guy who believes in law and order is treated as a chump in comparison to the ruthless badass who knows it's all about violence and brutality. Chon said they needed to respond with force to keep from being walked over, and oh look, Chon was right.

What mitigated this for me was the way the real ending played out. There's a strong suggestion that things like that don't have to change who you are forever. if you wanted to be the guy to make cheap solar panels, you still can. You just have to light a guy on fire first. I don't know if it's quite as simple as that - certainly Chon's difficulty in coming to grips with his experiences in the military suggest it isn't - but it's a more hopeful idea than simply suggesting that once you flip the switch to "kill", you can't ever flip it off again.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Burn Notice 4.13 - Eyes Open

Plot: So Michael's not dead, just recuperating in the hospital after being shot by Jesse and inducing a car crash. Also, Vaughn's people leaked info about John Barrett to other intelligence agencies, so now there's a big Senate investigation into the blinding incompetence of their intelligence agencies. Which would be great if Barrett weren't dead. In the meantime, Vaughn's decided to leave Miami, but not before apologizing to Michael about screwing everything up. As Michael recuperates, victims of an explosion outside a restaurant are rushed to the hospital. Not everyone was lucky enough to survive, and one of the deceased just happens to be Dale Lawson from last week. Hmm, wonder if sleazy attorney Adam Scott knows anything?

Well, if he does he ain't talking, but Sam comes through, tracking down an old client of Scott's, one Dennis Barfield. Barfield is some delusional, narcissistic asswipe who believes the world is polluted by filth, and wants to remove it. When Michael's attempt to snoop gets him caught, he plays the role of devotee, appealing to Dennis' ego in the hopes he'll learn about more targets. That accomplished, he leans on Scott a little more forcefully, but Dennis is past dissuading, and now he knows the names of the people after him, if not their faces. Which doesn't end any better for him than you'd expect. And Jesse gets the slow badass walk.

Yes, Jesse's working with them. Not on entirely friendly terms, but they are working together. Primarily to try and track the man who took off with Barrett's shiny briefcase. Which leads to one of his former bodyguards, a Mark Sweeney, who is trying to decode the NOC list that goes with the book code. He tried a kid at the college, who directed him to a man at SXG known as John Walsh. Who was able to decode the list enough to realize what he had. At which point he killed Sweeney and bailed with the list and the book. Thus ends the Ballad of Mark Sweeney.

The Players: Alicia (The Client), Adam Scott (Vengeful Former Client), Vaughn (Persona Non Grata), Dennis Wayne Barfield (Serial Killer)

Quote of the Episode: Michael - 'Go be with your daughter. Enjoy your time. Prison visits are hard on kids.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No. Doesn't even get to be the first one to bring explosives in her new place. Which is now destroyed, thanks to Jesse.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (31 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (8 overall).

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (2 overall).

Other: Michael goes by Gordon Lutz this week.

I was thinking about last week's episode, and when Jesse said he wasn't like Fi, he may have meant he doesn't forgive and forget so easily, as opposed to meaning he doesn't betray friends like they do.

Not sorry to see Adam Scott gone. He's the character he's supposed to be: an unscrupulous attorney who exploits every loophole he can, but all that means is I kind of wish we got to see him die. Don't really care for Barfield as a villain, either. His rambling about "rot" is so tedious. Really wanted him to barge into Fi's place and get his ass kicked, but nooooo, we still need to know where the bombs are. Fooey.

I did like the tension between Fiona and Jesse. He felt the most for her, so her betrayal cuts the deepest. And Fi does care for him, so it hurt her to do it. Also the whole bit about him being Artest and her being "Shannon Brown", oh nerds, you just don't know sports. Also, we once again see that Fi never takes part in foot chases. She either waits, or uses a car.

I thought it was interesting that on his second visit to see Scott, Michael disarmed and decked his guard, when in the scene immediately before, it hurt him just to put his phone back in his pocket.

I still don't understand why Michael tried to sneak into Barfield's place, instead of sending Sam - who hadn't been recently shot - and keeping watch himself. It did lead to the amusing bit where he tried to act like becoming Barfield's acolyte was his plan all along.

We'll see how long Vaughn stays out of the picture. So far, he's been a mixture of Carla and Management. Hanging back more than Carla, but still more visible than Management was. He's demanding, but he doesn't make threats like Carla did, presumably because he's seen how well that works. Also, because he's trying to act like he's Mike's buddy, but we all know that's a crock. I've always wondered how much of what Michael does they're aware of. It was easy to believe he took precautions with Carla, since she was such a constant presence, always cracking the whip. It was harder to say with Management in Season 3, since he was allegedly staying away, removing all protection until Michael came crawling back. Still, you had to figure he was keeping watch, just in case it looked like Michael might be killed.

With Vaughn, who knows. He always knows how to get in touch with Michael, or where to find him. But Michael doesn't seem overly concerned with hiding things, not like the way he hid the key card in Season 2. He simply lies to Vaughn, and that seems to be enough. He doesn't trust him, and I doubt Vaughn believes Mike's being completely upfront, but he also doesn't seem as concerned about hiding things.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

We'll Set The World Right, Eventually

I beat Singularity earlier this week. I was going to say it's the first first-person shooter I'd played in over 2 years. Then I remembered I beat Rage last fall. So Singularity is the first FPS I enjoyed playing in a long time. Over 5 years, probably.

The gist of the story is a man name Ranko is sent as part of a team to investigate some strange happenings on the island of Katorga-12. While wandering the ruins after a helicopter crash, he's hit by a wave of energy, and suddenly everything is burning. He saves a man about to fall, another wave hits, and everything's as it was before. Almost. Soon enough, Ranko and his partner are captured by Soviet - not Russian - soldiers, commanded by the very man you saved, a Dr. Demichev. He's quite surprised to see you here, not looking a day older than you did when you saved him, over 50 years ago.

Yes, you altered the past, and after being rescued by a group called MIR-12 (who I picture hiding out in a rapidly decaying space station), you're clued in that by saving Demichev, you brought about the death of another scientist named Barisov, and Demichev used an element known as E-99 to build a bomb which destroyed the East Coast of the U.S. Then the whole world basically capitulated, Demichev gained power, and was eventually able to overthrow Khrushchev. Stalin would never have let that happen.

MIR-12 knows Barisov was working on a time manipulation device (TMD), and they want you to find it, use it, and fix things. Which you try very hard to do. You save Barisov, meaning he's alive to guide you when you return to the present, but that still doesn't fix things. Throughout all this, you're fighting not just Soviet soldiers - be it ones from the '50s or the present - but also the mutated results of Demichev's experimentation on the people who populated the research facility on Katorga-12. He wanted to see what would happen if people ingested E-99 regularly with their food. The answer is not so good for you.

The good news is, you have the TMD, and it can do all sorts of things. You can catch projectiles hurled at you and redirect them (larger ones, like grenades, and explosive barrels. Not bullets). You can age things forward or backwards, to rebuild a collapsed staircase or bring back a box with potentially useful items inside. You can age people, too. You can create a ball of temporal energy which slows everything within it except you. There's even an Impulse function, which is basically a wide-beam repulsor ray. Not sure why it would have that. I think it would have been better if it caused the things it affected to return to the location they occupied a few seconds earlier, since that could serve the same purpose: to get you a little breathing space. Whatever, it's handy either way.

I think one of the reasons I grew disenchanted with FPS was the increased emphasis on tactical sense. Where you had to use cover and flanking, and all that stuff. I can see that being fun if you're playing with a friend you can coordinate with, but on my own, or relying on computer A.I. - which doesn't come up here, I'm speaking generally - not so much. Singularity doesn't overload on that. You have to exercise some common sense, especially against soldiers. Get behind cover, prioritize, stuff like that. But it doesn't cross that line where it starts to be too much work to be worth the trouble. Maybe having the TMD helps. All the tricks it gives you can greatly simplify things. If you remember to use it. I didn't a lot of times, though I got better near the end, when having enough energy for it wasn't such a concern.

I don't like that you can only carry two weapons. There are lockers scattered around where you can switch between weapons, buy ammo, upgrade the guns, but at the end of the day, you have to pick two. You can swap one out for something you find on the ground if you'd like, whatever you drop will still be in the locker the next time. It's one of those Goldeneye remnants. In that game, you could carry as many guns as you could find, and I loved the variety. This isn't a gripe exclusive to Singularity, though. Dark Sector and The Saboteur do the same thing. I assume it's some greater emphasis on realism, though I don't know what business that has in a game where I have to use a minigun to kill a bug large enough to destroy a train trestle.

The game has a decently creepy atmosphere. Not on par with Silent Hill 2, but moreso than Resident Evil 4. Katorga-12 is a rotting corpse of a facility, with broken windows, crumbling walls, corpses and wreckage strewn everywhere. A lot of the game takes place at night, with nothing but barely going lightbulbs, fires, or the moon for lighting. Occasionally the game employs the "indistinct whispers", where you hear someone talking, but you can't make it out, or determine where it's coming from. That always puts me on edge. Especially when I also see one of the mutations perched on a ledge, before it teleports away. Are they communicating with each other? Is it the wind? Is it ghosts, or some temporal echo?

There are old tape recorders you can de-age and listen to. They can be useful, or just depressing, either because the person is full of hope, or because they've grown resigned to their fate. There are also messages on the walls sometimes. You have to de-age those to see them, but what's bad is that as the game progresses, it becomes abundantly clear they're directed to Ranko, specifically.

The game offers three different endings. It's more like Echo Night Beyond, where which ending you get depends solely on a particular choice you make at the end, as opposed to Silent Hill 2, where the ending is the culmination of how you played the entire game. Unlike EHB, Singularity has an ending they definitely consider the "right" one. I'm not convinced, but I wasn't a fan of any of the endings. I mean, I like the decision I made the first time, but afterward, the game tells you what the fallout is, and they also hint at what Ranko gets up to. It didn't jibe with my picture of what he'd do at all. To be fair, I figured he would do pretty much what I would do. On the other hand, it isn't as though the game offered any insights into his personality that would suggest he wouldn't act like me.

Sometimes it's hard to stick the landing. That aside, I loved Singularity. If I didn't have so many other games I need to finish (or start), I'd definitely play through it again. I'd like to see if I could do better at incorporating the TMD into fights, rather than using it mostly in the quiet moments.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sometimes The System Works?

The same Slackers in Columbia that had The Singing Detective also had 12 Angry Men, so I decided to get my own copy. I'm pretty sure my dad's is an old VHS he taped off TV. I love 12 Angry Men. I think the first time I saw it, my dad was showing it for one of his Mock Trial teams, so it was probably junior high, maybe earlier than that. I wouldn't think a black and white film about 12 guys yelling at each other would catch my attention, but it did.

I've watched it a lot, so this time, I decided to focus on a couple of things. The camera for one. The special features section had Sidney Lumet discuss how he used longer lenses as the movie progressed so the walls and ceiling would seem to be closing in. I didn't notice that, but maybe I was too aware that he was going for that effect. I did notice characters will get up and circle the entire table while talking. I thought that was nifty, since it amplifies the sense of confinement, and also that feeling they're going around in circles. For all the yelling and tirades, they end up back where they started, the question of whether there's a reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt.

What I noticed is how well he moves the camera, so it isn't static. That'd be easy with all the action confined to one room. Instead, he'll have the camera start on one juror, or a pair of them. Someone in the shot starts moving, and the we follow them until our eye intersects with another discussion. Sometimes it zooms in of the face of the speaker, other times we observe them from over somebody else's shoulder. He varies it, so our perspective changes.

One bit I like is how the camera can be surprised like we are. After the second vote - the one that will determine whether #8 (Henry Fonda) continues to hold out - the rest want to know who else has decided to vote "not guilty". #11 raises the point they agreed to vote by secret ballot. From off-camera, #3 blurts out with "Secret?!", and it's a moment later the camera shifts to him, now in full tirade. We're not observing at some sterile distance, we're in amongst them, and as we focus on one juror the others are carrying on their own reactions.

Which brings me to the second thing I wanted to watch, the reactions of the characters in the background. Since they can quickly become the focus, it seemed like a good idea, and it's instructive to watch their reactions. #10 (Ed Begley) tends to have an open-mouthed nervousness to him, especially when 3 and 8 are butting heads. It plays up how much of his bigotry is fear of things outside his control, that he doesn't understand. #7 usually sits sideways, not facing the table directly because he really doesn't want to engage with all this. He just wants to see his ballgame.

Fonda was probably the most interesting. I wasn't sure what to make of him in the opening scene, as they listen to the judge's instructions in the courtroom. He sits there, his fingers resting on his lips. He's not bored, but it's almost the look of a man trying to look like he's paying attention. But he admits he doesn't know whether the boy is guilty or not, he only felt they shouldn't be so quick to sentence him to death. It makes me wonder if he had to convince himself as much as the others, or if that was a bluff. I know he was truly relieved when the secret ballot revealed someone else voting "not guilty". Was it because he didn't want to stand alone, or because, if his gambit failed, he'd promised to give up fighting the rest of them, and he felt guilty? I also like that during the interlude in the bathroom, he never looks at #7 during their whole conversation. Not once. Because he knows 7 isn't saying anything useful. It's just some bullshit spiel to try and change 8's mind. But when #6 comes in and starts talking, asking Fonda if he really thinks the boy is innocent, Fonda does engage with him. They make eye contact, chat about it, because 6 actually does care, he just happens to believe the boy is guilty. But that doesn't make him bad, like 7 with his indifference.

I think he grows into his belief in the boy's innocence. There was a germ of it, even during the trial; otherwise he wouldn't have gone out to purchase a switchblade. But he needed help to articulate those concerns, and that's where the other jurors come in. Their experiences, their observations, the things they recognize in the witnesses or the defendant, all those steadily tear down the case, and you can almost see Fonda grow stronger. He spends more of the movie standing up, and staying straight and tall in the face of whatever #3 throws at him. Since Lumet shifted the camera down over the course of the film, it makes Fonda grow in stature and power.

'Well I'm not used to supposin'. I'm just a working man. My boss does the supposin' - but I'll try one. Supposin' you talk us all out of this and, uh, the kid really did knife his own father?'

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Love In The Time Of Cholera

It's been a few years since I read any Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but I do recall this one receiving strong recommendations.

The book begins with the final day of one Dr. Juvenal Urbino, who dies falling off a ladder while making a grab for a parrot (In the odd way these things often work, his day began with the death of a dear friend). Later that night, as Fermina Daza, the new widow, tries to face the life ahead of her, Florentino Ariza approaches. And he reminds her that he loves as much as he did 51 years, 9 months, and 4 days ago, when she sent him away. Which is exactly what she does here, with a few invectives added for good measure.

From there, Marquez takes us through their lives, starting roughly with the day Florentino first saw her. Through their budding courtship, her father's attempts to halt it (which succeeds, though not in the manner he might have expected), and on from there. Fermina meets Dr. Urbino, eventually marries him, and gradually adapts to the challenges married life presents - the in-laws, the concessions to another's desires, the fact she came from a lower social class, which means dealing with a lot of snobbery - while the memory of Ariza gradually fades. Florentino, however, does not move on. Oh, it might appear that he does, as he moves his way up from a telegraph office to eventually, decades later, control of a riverboat company, all while engaging in hundreds of relationships. Some are brief, names and faces barely known. Others last for years, the fire starting whenever the opportunity arises.

Even so, Ariza considers these relations completely separate of his feelings for Fermina Daza. They are physical love, or even "love without love" on some occasions. It might be physical love, spiritual love, or even both, but as far as he's concerned, he's simply biding time, waiting for Dr. Urbino to die, so that he can profess his love to Fermina Daza once again.

Eventually the book catches back up to the present, and at that point, I had no idea how it might go. Any number of possibilities seemed viable, and I wasn't even sure which one I was hoping for. I'm fairly satisfied with the one Marquez opted for, with one minor exception. There's a supporting character who reacts very strongly to learning of Florentino's love for Fermina, and takes drastic action. It's briefly mentioned, and the dismissed as quickly as stating that Florentino put it out of his memory.

I thought maybe that was a point Marquez was making about Florentino, that he was so focused on Fermina that he ignored to wreckage of lives he left in the wake of his 600+ affairs.  That or the old saying about life being what happens while you make other plans. Ultimately, though, I think it's about love, and the idea that it comes in many forms, and one of those isn't necessarily better than another. Ariza experienced lots of kinds of love, some platonic, and there's no sense of judgment in the writing about that. There is some sense of it in how he goes about, that he's actively seeking women (Ariza's referred to as "hunting", or "his days of falconry", and the women as "little birds"), but the physical acts, not so much. Fermina is in no way hassled for rejecting Florentino, except by some part of her that pities him, and didn't like causing him pain. Her love for Urbino is something different from what Ariza feels for her, but it's legitimate. There are several of the side characters, women Ariza slept with, who regularly sleep with several men, and the book doesn't judge them for that, either. Oh, there's mention of certain people in the city who disapprove, but that feels perfunctory, an acknowledgement that there are going to be people like that, who feel others' personal business is also their business. Otherwise, the book is very open to the idea that people are going to love who they love, when they love them, and that's fine (It's perhaps a little too open for me, when Ariza in his 70s, begins sleeping with a teenager he's supposed to acting as guardian for).

When I discussed The Unpossessed City last week, I talked about how Fasman seemed invested in fleshing out his characters, often to the detriment of plot development. Before that, there was The Long Midnight, where Alan White kept the story moving at such a brisk pace, he had to stop periodically to try and force in some added character backstory. Maruqez demonstrated the gap between himself and both of them. There are numerous digressions from the main plot, usually to describe the life of some character we've just heard of. This is also usually someone Ariza is screwing, but not always. T

he skill Marquez has is that these are so well written, I never begrudge him the diversion. Normally, I'd get annoyed by such things taking place right up to the end of the book, but Marquez is descriptive without being overly long, and so effective at giving us a sufficient understanding of the character's importance, that I love reading them. Every character has a distinct history, something unique that they did, said, or experienced that makes them stand out. I actually look forward to them because I know there's going to be something good in there.

I can't recommend Love In The Time of Cholera highly enough.

'He was still too young to know the heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past. But when he stood at the railing of the ship and the saw the white promontory of the colonial district again, the motionless buzzards on the roof, the washing of the poor hung out to dry on the balconies, only then did he understand to what extent he had been an easy victim to the charitable deceptions of nostalgia.'

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Singing Detective

There are at least 2 versions of this film. One stars Michael Gambon, who I know from a detective series called Maigret my dad wanted us to watch. Unfortunately, the way he described certain organizational aspects of the French justice system led me to believe it would rife with corruption, so I spent the entire first episode suggesting Maigret was planting evidence and engaging in other unsavory behaviors. We switched to Foyle's War after that, which I liked much more.

This isn't that version of The Singing Detective, this is the one starring Robert Downey Jr. I am very curious to see Gambon's version, because I really doubt the first 10 minutes would include a hallucination where the hospital dances to some upbeat tune before starting an orgy.

Anyway, Downey plays Dan Dark, an author of trash that doesn't sell, as he puts it. He's in the hospital, afflicted with psioratic arthropathy so bad he can't move on his own. He's in an extremely bad mood, but I think that would be true whether he was in the hospital or not. He's writing a story in his head, or perhaps a screenplay, called the Singing Detective, even though he insists he wrote the screenplay years before. The movie shifts frequently. Sometimes we're in the hospital with Dan, as he interacts with his wife Nicola (Robin Wright), a Dr. Gibbon (Mel Gibson), and a caring nurse he's attracted to (Katie Holmes), which is unfortunate because attraction leads to embarrassment, which leads to profane outbursts.

There are also flashbacks to his childhood during his conversations with Gibbon, Dan's hallucinations about what his wife is up to (involving a likely nonexistent movie producer), and frequent jumps into the story Dan's writing. The lines between them blur as the movie progresses, most notably as Nicola appears as a cold-hearted temptress in the story, and the two murderous hoods from the story (Adrien Brody and Jon Polito) start showing up everywhere. First in his flashbacks, then in the hospital. What's more, they're as confused by that as Dan.

As the movie went on, I had a harder and harder time figuring out what was real. Mostly this meant I was more wary of Nicola than I probably should have been. I kept telling myself that she wasn't really planning to swindle Dan out of the rights to his screenplay, that was just his insecurity and hateful attitude towards women driving hallucinations. Which is probably why he was writing a noir story; they're full of deceitful women batting their eyes to dope some guy into doing their bidding.

The ending was a little curious. Not sure which part died there, and it's a little too pat of a solution. But he likes dramatics, so maybe the only way he can change is through some massively dramatic "death" sequence. I don't know if psioratic arthropathy works like the film says it does, but it's a nice metaphor for his situation. His fists are clenched, he can't move his arms much, so he tends to keep them crossed in front of his chest. Defensive posture, don't come near. And his skin's extremely sensitive, any contact hurts. He's an open nerve, the slightest touch sets him off.

Actually, the character I was most interested in was Gibbon, because it took me a second to recognize it was Mel Gibson. He's so different from all the roles I typically associate Gibson with. Take the silly parts of Martin Riggs, the childlike stuff, but remove all the self-destructive acts, and ramp up his compassion. That's Gibbon. He's goofy, but clever and caring. He works around Dark's defenses gradually, then comes up with the way to get Dan to open up. He could almost be one of those villains that pretends to be the kindly grandpa type, then turns out to be a ruthless, calculating bastard, except he mostly is the kindly grandpa.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Child of Eden

Child of Eden is a rail-shooter. Meaning you travel in a straight line, which you can't deviate from, and you shoot everything that moves. You can play it with Kinect if you're so inclined, though I don't. Because I don't have a Kinect, because I don't want one. If I wanted to exercise, I would go do that, by walking, or running, or playing basketball, which I did yesterday and it was a bad idea according to my hip and now I sound old. Move on.

The story such as it is: Lumi was the first human born in space, and she lived her entire life there. She'd think a lot about being on Earth, and the songs she made she shared with Earth. When she died, they recorded all her memories into a digital file. We're a couple of centuries in the future, and all the knowledge of the human race is stored in archives on the Internet, and only there, including Lumi's memories. For some reason, they've decided to recreate her persona from said memories, and establish a place in the Internet for that persona to live. Naturally, some unleashes a virus to try and destroy it. There's always a turd in the punchbowl. So you're trying to save the Lumi persona from the virus basically.

I could have saved you some time and just said, "Save the princess, Mario!"

The game really isn't concerned with the details. As I said, you don't know why they've created this Lumi persona, why someone wants to destroy it, why you're trying to protect it. Could be your job, could be a personal matter. It doesn't matter particularly. There's no dialogue, other than Lumi singing occasionally. I'm not sure if she's singing to you as encouragement, or if you stumbled into a memory. It's left to you to make up your own answers, if you care to. I've mostly been troubled by the idea my character is traipsing through Lumi's memories, which is creepy. I'm trying to save her, but still, feels wrong. Less wrong than letting the virus win.

The story isn't the selling point, how's the gameplay? It's not bad. It's easy enough to target and shoot with a controller. If you want high scores, you need to use the lock on multiple targets, which is something I'm not good at, but that isn't the game's fault. I'm too impatient to wait for 4 to 8 enemies to appear, lock onto them, then blast them all at once. I just fire constantly. It works, but it's not optimal. The levels look pretty, varying over the course of each one. Level three starts out on a placid river, then dives through a series of underwater passages. Level 4 is more mechanical, gears opening gates or releasing enemies. Most of the enemies are luminescent creatures, and they're rendered to be vivid, each type with its own weak spots and movement patterns. The bosses have multiple forms, though the strategy still boils down to shooting them whenever you aren't shooting the missiles they launch at you. Still, one boss starts as a humpback whale, launches into space, and turns into a phoenix. Another starts as two stars, one purple, one orange, that later turn into to humans sprinting and leaping around you.

There are moments of real tension, mostly involving whether I can blast all the missiles quickly enough to get some hits in before the next wave. The missiles are only vulnerable to the Tracer, which doesn't have lock on capability.

It's a visually interesting game, but the part that might be of most interest is the music. The game has music going constantly in the background, but your attacks - the primary laser, the Tracer, and Euphoria (a limited use super-attack that comes in handy if you feel overwhelmed by missiles) - create their own sounds that add to the soundtrack. The Tracer is a rapid fire drumbeat, for example. That can add something to the game, assuming you can concentrate on it to notice while you're playing. I like to fire the Tracer during the quiet moments, just for the heck of it.

You can replay levels as much as you like, aiming for higher scores, and to unlock extras. The levels are the same each time, so unlike me, you might grow confident enough to use the Octo-Lock regularly and get some actual good scores. I'm not sure I've broken 300,000 points more than once, and there are things unlocked for breaking 800,000, which should give you some idea of the gap between a top-notch player and myself.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Burn Notice 4.12 - Guilty As Charged

Plot: John Barrett's in town, and Jesse's pissed off at Michael and the gang. Michael attempts to make a point by sneaking into Barrett's rented private compound. The point: Michael can get at Barrett whenever he likes. It sort of works, though it butts up against Barrett's counterpoint: I have lots of men with guns at my disposal. They agree to arrange a meeting time for Michael to hand over the Bible in exchange for a job. Meanwhile, Vaughn is lurking, eager to swoop in and grab Barrett himself, and remove Jesse from the board if necessary. Mike has a somewhat different, secret plan: Capture Barrett, turn him over to CIA and get Jesse reinstated. Aww, isn't that sweet? But it'll have to wait because a sleazy lawyer's daughter was kidnapped by the brother of one of his clients.

Michael tries to mount a rescue with a mini-sub (from one of Scott's drug-running clients), it falls apart in the face of Scott telling his ex-wife about the plan. So there's no choice but to spring Rod Lawson from police custody, seeing as Scott isn't a good enough lawyer to get his free. At least, that's what Dale Lawson is supposed to think, just long enough for Michael to get Becky and run. That accomplished, Scott reverts to being an ass and dismisses Michael and his concerns about retribution from the Lawsons.

Now that we have that out of the way, back to the real show. Maddy and Fi tried approaching Jesse, which didn't exactly go well. Lots of people trying to play cards the others weren't buying. However, Fi does tell Jesse Mike would like to meet, and Jesse shows up, after a 10-minute debate over whether to blow Michael's head off. The conversation doesn't go well. Jesse's pissed, Michael's usual tactics for getting someone to go along fail, and it looks like he'll have to capture Barrett with only 2 other people. Except they'll be busy keeping the majority of Barrett's men away, leaving Mike to do the abducting over the likely objections of 2 other armed men.

It's all moot, because Vaughn breaks his promise to stay out of it, and Barrett's about to abduct Michael when Jesse shoots the goon putting the sleeper hold on Mike. And Mike. And then Barrett hauls him in the SUV anyway. So Michael grabs the wheel and flips the vehicle, which kills Barrett. So much for Jesse's way back in. If only he'd worked with them. Oh, and someone stole the briefcase the Bible was inside, along with the data it decrypted. Which just so happens to be a list of all the people who burned Michael. Vaughn's impatience makes a little more sense, if not his tactical incompetence.

The Players: John Barrett (International Power Player), Vaughn (Michael's "Partner"), Becky (The Client), Dale Lawson (Devoted Family Man)

Quote of the Episode: Michael - 'And when I say "work", I don't mean joining the black t-shirt-and-sunglasses squad. No offense.'

Does Fiona blow anything up?There was an explosion under a car during the hostage exchange.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 3 (31 overall)

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (8 overall)

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (2 overall)

Other: Mike's alias for the week is "Joseph". I'm guessing since the plan to abduct Barrett fell through, we won't be seeing the mini-sub again. Come on, there have to be plenty of canals and fjords around Miami for it to use!

Why did he try and rescue Becky during the day time? He's all decked out in black, the mini-sub is completely black, doesn't that suggest a night mission? He didn't try and sneak into Barrett's compound during lunch hour.

Speaking of Barrett, he's willing to show up in Miami in his private plane, with 15 heavily armed guys in black SUVs. He's willing to rent a private mansion as his temporary headquarters at $20,000 per day, and have no fewer than 11 guys patrolling at any given moment. But he's not willing to put on his seat belt while making a fast getaway. Here I thought it was only Michael with no common sense. At least Barrett wound up dead as a result, reminding kids to wear their seat belts - or else.

I mentioned all the cards being played during the Maddy/Fi/Jesse exchange. Fi lead off with the "we all lie to each other and forgive, so it's not a big deal" card. Jesse rebutted with the "moral superiority" card, aka "I'm Not Like You". Maddy tried the paternalistic shaming approach of "you're better than this". Jesse turned to the age old teenage response of "You don't know me!" So yeah, real productive conversation there.

Of all those cards, it was Jesse's first one that bothered me the most. He worked in counter-intelligence, he helped Khan (4.2 - Fast Friends) funnel his money safely into America. There's no way he didn't lie to people, didn't confuse or take advantage. It's what people in intelligence do. He might contend he didn't befriend those people, or not as closely as he though Fi, Mike, and Sam did with him, but that's splitting hairs at that point. His hands might be cleaner than Michael's, in much the same way Michael's are cleaner than Dead Larry's, but that doesn't make either of them clean.

It was still a pretty shitty thing to do, though I'm not sure when they could have come clean without it getting ugly. If he's left to his own devices, Vaughn probably kills him, or has him tortured in a secret prison. Without him, Mike never finds the trail leading from "Cobra", to Kendra, to the bank heist, to Barrett. Everybody loses.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I had a chance to see this is theaters a couple of years ago. As you may recall, I couldn't convince my coworkers to go with it, so we wound up watching The Other Guys instead. It beat going to see Eat, Pray, Love. I bought the film three weeks ago, and Alex and I watched it the same weekend as The Watch. Then I watched it again yesterday.

Looking over that Other Guys review, I notice I was curious to see if Scott Pilgrim committed to its world as completely as Speed Racer did. I don't remember being curious about that, but one of my first reactions after viewing it was that yes, it did. Well, mostly. It isn't odd for Scott to fight an 80-foot tall guy to date Kim, but it does get some odd looks when Matthew Patel stops mid-fight to sing and dance about how he's going to incinerate Scott with fireballs. I guess Canadians hate having their boss fights interrupted with cut scenes as much as I do.

My biggest problem with the movie was that for most of it - I mean 80 to 90% of the film - I liked every character except Scott. And Julie, who may 'has issues', but was just too unpleasant. Everyone else was in some way cool, funny, or otherwise entertaining enough that I enjoyed their presence in the movie. Especially Wallace (Kieran Culkin). He was clever, flirty, and told Scott things he needed to hear, the sort of things I wanted to yell into Pilgrim's stupid face.

Here's the problem. I know the story is about Scott getting it together. Getting past Natalie, getting over his hang-ups about himself, becoming an adult, shit like that. In order to get it together over the course of the story, he must not have it together at the beginning, which means he may behave in immature, unlikeable ways. For some reason, Scott' particular brand of that bugged me. I don't know if it's the character, or Michael Cera's portrayal. I know some of his interactions with Ramona felt like they were aiming for Hugh Grant style "awkward, but in a cute, dorky way", but flew past it to, "so awkward I wonder if you have any higher brain functions".

One nice thing about the fight scenes was he didn't have as much opportunity for that. The fights were very well done, except the Todd fight, which dragged on far too long. Once they said he had psionic powers from veganism, you knew the solution, it just took forever to get there. Brandon Routh's portrayal of Todd was wonderful smug, though. Lotsa fun to hate that guy.

I liked the movie's sense of style, I liked most of the songs (or at least the music, the lyrics were more hit and miss), the fights were entertaining, and different enough to keep from feeling repetitive, and with the exception of the main character I enjoyed everyone in the movie. Miles better than The Other Guys and The Watch, faint praise that may be.

'We are Sex Bob Omb, and we are here to sing about death and make you feel sad and stuff!'

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Unpossessed City - Jon Fasman

Discussing The Long Midnight, I mentioned how White kept things moving, so I wanted to keep reading. That's not really Fasman's style, judging by this book.

We have Jim Vilatzer, though his first name is Seamus. He's in his early thirties, a few years past a broken engagement, working in his parents' restaurant. He's also in the hole 24 grand to some local bookies. As a way to get away for awhile (and perhaps raise a little more cash to pay off his debt), Jim takes a job with the Memory Foundation. it's goal is to gather the stories of people imprisoned in Soviet Russia. Jim's grandparents left the USSR, but Jim knows enough Russian from them he's hired. Off to Moscow he goes, to find most people who were alive during that time don't want to talk about. Until he meets a lovely woman named Kaisa, who has a grandfather who might talk. And that grandfather knows another fellow, who knows another fellow.

Interspersed with all this are the activities of a senior official in the Russian government named Skrupshin, and a businessman he works with named Vorov. They have certain weapon designs they'd like to sell, but circumstances have shifted against them, and they need some way to coordinate without being caught.

I think the plots secondary to Fasman. He spends a lot of time on his characters. Not only Jim, but his friends, his coworkers at the Memory Foundation, his Tartar neighbors in Moscow. Even the bookies get some background. It isn't only the people, but how they relate to others, how they regard concepts like family and friend, how that varies depending on where you're from. Fasman also seems interested in the effect Russia and the United States have on each other, which varies at the level the two interact. He devotes time to describing apartments and restaurants in Moscow that were designed to evoke America, as Russians perceive it. Meanwhile, it appears the U.S. is adopting some of the Soviet police tactics. Jim apparently looks to be from Chechnya, so the police single him out from a little abuse, then basically steal his money. When the CIA inserts itself into Vorov and Skrupshin's scheme, they tag Jim's passport so that if he tries to leave, he'll show up as wanted in connection with a series of child rapes. Oh, and they'll have the IRS audit the hell out of his parents until their restaurant goes under.

That whole sequence was off-putting. Not because Fasman depicted U.S. officials doing such things; I'm not so naive as to think there aren't people who work for our government doing worse than that to people right now. But because Jim goes along so well with it. I understand why he agreed to help, but I would have liked to see a little more push back. More mouthing off, more demands on his part, for answers, for assurances. What are they gonna do? Pin more rapes on him? Especially since one of his childhood friends is involved in the shakedown. He went entirely too easy on her for that. I value friends, but I think if one of mine participated in something like that against me, it'd be a bridge-burner.

The single biggest problem the book has, is actually its slow pacing, I was asked by a coworker what it was about when I was 60% of the way through. My first response was , "uhhh" because at that point, Jim and Skrupshin's stories hadn't come together in any particularly coherent way. I thought the early scene with the prison as a site for testing a weapon designed to kill non-whites (somehow) was more significant, I kept expecting it to rear its head, especially as Fasman is so intent on describing the ethnicity of characters as we're introduced to them.

Anyway, the problem I was going to mention is that the things Fasman clearly feels, I don't. The book leads with a quote: 'Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.' This is something Fasman comes back to with Moscow for Jim. That Jim, while feeling alone, also finds things in this city he loves, things he never knew about, things that feel right to him in a way he didn't expect.

Maybe it's the lack of cities I've spent time in, but I've never felt that way about them. Not as a whole. I might feel something akin to that in a particular store, like a bookstore or something, but never in a city. When I'm in a city, my goal is to get wherever the hell it is I'm going and get out, so I can get away from all the traffic and people. it might be akin to what I feel in the woods sometimes, but I don't think so. Fasman seems to be suggesting some genetic memory, something he knows from stories of his family, that was in him and he didn't know it. For me the outdoors is more about a serenity that I don't think has anything to do with my family. What Fasman describes doesn't resonate with me.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Forget Waiting, Let's Talk About Those Wacky Heroes Now

So a "few days" became "tomorrow". Well, we'll see how it goes.

I said yesterday that the way the heroes are presented feels like commentary.  When the hero's personality is able to assert itself over Nelson or whomever, it seems more interested in fighting evil than protecting people. When Nelson first used the dial and became Boy Chimney, he was in danger, and Boy Chimney defeated his attackers. But he did so in a manner brutal enough Nelson came to himself and objected. As I said, we've never seen any actual civilians in the places these heroes inhabit, only villains and the heroes themselves. To the extent we've seen anything of their adventures in their homes, it's been grand battles. Boy Chimney and his cohorts saving an entire city. Bumper Carla trying to protect the Fair, and he failure leading to the death of many innocent people. Are there any bank robberies, muggings, smaller scale crime, or is it only the big stuff?

If it is only the big threats, that might explain Carla's response. When her powers vanished - because Laodice had unknowingly dialed them for herself - Carla didn't assume it was an accident, or a strange coincidence. She was convinced it was a deliberate, malicious act, and she set out to find the responsible party. And when she did, she killed Laodice without hesitation. She didn't ask any questions, didn't try to determine the method by which her powers were stolen, or why. She simply killed Laodice, because she believed anyone who would do that must have a dark ulterior motive.

It's interesting that Carla remembered enough of it to recognize Laodice as the one who took her powers, without remembering why. Namely, to save her people from death at the hands of a monstrous evil. Laodice used Carla's powers to save thousands of lives. That doesn't change the fact people died in Carla's world, but shouldn't a "hero" have a little more understanding? Further, consider that Carla spent years looking for a way to reach the DCU, then spent more time searching for Laodice. How many innocents died at The Fair because she was preoccupied? What about her friend, another hero who traveled to the DCU to warn them Carla was coming? He could have been saving other lives, but instead found himself busy trying to protect the innocent from his friend

What do we have, with these heroes? There's no sign they have secret identities, or personal lives. As far as we know, all they do is fight evil. The stakes are always high, many lives will be lost if they fail. That being said, we don't see these people, not even a face less crowd. While they should be focused on that, they seem more concerned about defending their turf, or their powers. Thus, there is no such thing as coincidence. Any odd happenings are part of a deliberate attack, and should be met with force. Even if the person behind them meant well, was trying to be heroic in their own way, they're to be killed. Moderate force doesn't seem to be a popular option.

It looks like commentary on the state of thing in superhero comics. The lack of any focus on supporting casts, how even heroes who seem silly in concept can be extremely violent, even murderous. How every battle must be for huge stakes, emphasized by a massive death toll. How the villains rarely have any larger goal than "revenge on the hero" so naturally anything that happens with their powers is an attack. Oh, and the fact it's hard to say whether the heroes take any enjoyment from their powers, outside of hurting bad guys with them (ala Boy Chimney).

It's like Mieville saw a lot of the things I dislike about current superhero books, and decide to highlight how weird they are. Which is why I think I'm projecting, rather than this being deliberate on his part. It fits too neatly. Even so, we have Roxie and Nelson as sort of the stand-ins for us. Outside of dial-related mayhem, their world looks strangely normal. Most of the crimes they've dealt with that aren't connected to the dial are the sorts of things we have: drug violence, guns, robberies. Those are the things we see Nelson putting a stop to whenever he gets to use the dial. Outside of Nihilo and the Human Centipede, he hasn't come across super-villains, and they were connected to the dials in one way or the other. And when he loses control of himself, he winds up scared of what the hero does. Roxie already knows this, which is why she maintains the Manteau identity to keep a hold of herself. I think they're meant to be us, how we think we'd use powers. For fun, and to do good, but we wouldn't go too far. Maybe that makes them Silver Age style.

Like I said, a lot of this is projection, or feels like anyway, but it's something I noticed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Any Ordinary Joes On The Other End Of That Line?

Something I've been wondering about while reading Dial H is whether there are any non-superhumans in the universe the heroes come from. We've never seen any. There are certainly cities, or populated places anyway, that exist in their world. Nelson had the lingering memory of Boy Chimney and his house-themed cohorts defending their city from the Snap Dragon. Bumper Carla's ally described her as the greatest hero of "The Fair", which could be a specific place. Like how the Tick lived in "The City".

Even so, we've never seen any of the inhabitants of these places except for the heroes.

When Bumper Carla made it to the DCU, seeking the one who took her power, she accused Laodice of killing many innocent people. Laodice didn't, not directly, but she did use a dial, and she did get Carla's powers, and so people died. We don't see these people, but Carla's willingness to accept punishment for killing Laodice suggests she wasn't lying, and her ally corroborated her story. Still, heroes could be considered innocent.

The reason I question the existence of non-supers in their universe is because you think one would have appeared at some point. Roxie and Nelson's dial isn't perfect. It works, but there's no method they can discern to control what they get, how long it stays, how quickly it leaves, and they can only maintain their sense of self through some difficulty (moreso Nelson than Roxie). The Canadian military's dialer seems to suffer from similar issues, especially maintaining a sense of self. Contrast that with the mysterious dialer who emerged from the Abyss. They controlled their dial effortlessly, switching between heroes in an instant, always getting the perfect hero for the task at hand, and never losing focus on their goal.

As Roxie noted, that's how it's supposed to work, but it isn't how their dial works. That being the case, why wouldn't they, at some point, dial up and get some random schmoe? Someone like Nelson, or whatever would pass for him in that universe. Yes, they specifically dial "H-E-R-O", but the dial isn't perfect. Still, even after Nelson's dial got shot up, and was only partially functional, the things he and Roxie dial are hardly what I'd call non-supers. Cock-a-Hoop, for example.

Which leads me to the possibility everyone in that universe is super. Maybe the world is nothing but constant battles between weird super heroes and villains. Each group of heroes has its own city and villains, and the innocents are shadows, pale shades to give them something to fight over, to protect or imperil. Like it's a game, and if the villains reaches Location X in a certain number of turns, then a certain number of civilians "died".

Think of the set-up Superman laid out for Bizarro in the animated series. An entire planet (empty) planet to protect. So Bizarro made a little city, and some fake people, and created some crisis whenever he was bored to "rescue" them from.

That may all be wrong, but the way the heroes are presented, both in Mieville's writing, and the various artists' depictions of them, makes something about them feel off. They're creepy, maybe even a little deranged in a way that makes it seem like commentary. Something I hope to expand on in the next few days.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

They'll Let Just Anyone Into Heaven These Days

This didn't occur to me until I was doing the Year In Review posts, but Original Recipe Mitch Shelly caught a break.

When the Mitch we'd been following through the series was told it was time to go, with either Suriel or the other fellow, he handed them the Evil Mitch, the one who ran the Lab instead. The reasoning being they needed the soul of Mitch Shelly to balance the books, and this guy was Mitch Shelly, too, and just so happened to have a soul. And Suriel took him. Not happily, but she did it. The Resurrection Man found the loophole and exploited it.

However, that means Evil Mitch wound up in Heaven. That's who Suriel works for, that's where she believed she sent Good Mitch in issue 5. So the original Mitch, who was such a scumbag even Deathstroke could barely tolerate working for him, went to Heaven.

I noted once that based on the Spectre's arbitrary and nonsensical decisions on who to take vengeance on (ignoring the Joker or Luthor in favor of his human host's son), God in the DCU must be an idiot. If this Shelly situation is any indication, things aren't any better in the new DCU.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Long Midnight - Alan White

Judging by the back cover, Alan White was fond of the word "long" when it came to titles. The Long Watch. The Long Night's Walk. The Long Drop. And here we have The Long Midnight.

It's set in World War 2, and involves two men - Lt. Colonel Gillespie, and his batman, Sgt. Milner* - making their way to Norway. They are to meet with a partisan group there, one which has had rather a string of bad luck on their missions. The suspected cause is a quisling, a traitor. Gillespie is to find the traitor and remove him, though he's the only one who knows this. As far as Milner knows, and later the partisans, they are there to eliminate some Gestapo higher-ups, and destroy an important titanium mine the Germans are running with Lithuanian slave labor. The British might be planning another invasion, the mine is near a prime location, and they'd prefer there not be many Nazis there.

Also, the workers were members of Lithuania's government before the war, so if they could be saved to help reestablish it after the war, that'd be swell.

It's a short book, not even 180 pages, so White keeps things moving. There are a few flashbacks for Gillespie, to flesh him out a bit, though they don't really work that way. Mostly they serve to bring up peculiar aspects of his personality that don't really manifest again. I can't quite peg his attitude towards women, based on how he speaks about his wife (who was, as he put it, the 'regimental bicycle**'), compared to his discussion in the first third of the book with Aud, a member of the partisans. I suppose White felt the need to explain Gillespie's bitterness at the thought of his wife collecting his pension, though it's not shown whether she had truly fallen for him, or merely seen him as an opportunity, as he apparently believes. The account's a little one-sided.

Those curious interludes aside, White throws one thing after another into the plot. There's always another step to be taken in the mission, another tense conversation, or moment when Gillespie seems to have made a mistake. It works. I know that whatever the immediate problem, there'll be some resolution soon, so I might as well keep reading. No need to set it aside for another day.

It's a quick, tense read, even with the somewhat unnecessary flashbacks (although the one about why he was selected for this mission was amusing). White was a commando himself in WWII, so I imagine there's a certain amount of accuracy in the story, in some of the practical aspects, the trial-and-error, the strain double agents were under (Klaus might have been my favorite character).

I'm guessing it was White's time as a commando that informs the incredible downer that is the final page of the story. Basically every significant positive one could take from the mission is sent down the crapper. it's really remarkable how efficiently he does it. White could be making a point about how frequently the work he and others did came to nothing, or he's disputing the notion one man can alter the course of the war by a single action. I'd be silly to think Gillespie made some outsize impact by what he did, basically. I don't know.

I do know I sat there dumbfounded, staring at the ending after I finished. A day later, I want to laugh at the sheer, audacity, curmudgeonly, approach to it.

* Which makes me think of Foyle's War, though the Milner there was a sergeant in the police force, not the military that I recall.

** If not for the comments section of one of Dave's Long Box's Suicide Squad posts, I wouldn't have any idea what that meant.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Burn Notice 4.11 - Blind Spot

Plot: We start with Michael handing Jesse all the information Vaughn gave him about John Barrett - the man Jesse's been after - presented as some old Pentagon file a buddy of Sam's had. Jesse is ecstatic and wants to go to Barrett immediately. Michael prefers to call Barrett, tell him they have Simon's Bible, and let Barrett come to them. They go with Michael's plan.

While all that's happening, Sam and Fiona are trying to help Emily get her money back. See, Emily's husband died not too long ago, and in her grieving, she met a seemingly wonderful man named Charles. Who got ahold of her personal information and stole all her money. The private investigators she's hired have been worthless, one concluding Charles is a swell guy. Because bros stick together, amirite? Oh, did I forget to mention, Charles fled the UK because some of his marks turned up dead if they pressed the issue?

Anyway, Sam approaches Charles as Chuck, a fellow swindler, and after a rocky start, manages to buddy up to him. Which gives him the chance to drug Charles' drinks so he blacks out. Then it's a matter of convincing him he went on wild spending sprees the night before, and hoping a panicky Charles leads them to the money. During all this Mike and Jesse have a trap set for what they assume will be Barrett's attempt to steal the Bible. They do catch someone, but it's a waiting game until someone calls to check in. So Michael agrees to wait while Jesse helps Fi trail Charles to his money manager, Martin. Which leads to an awkward moment where Martin's security gets suspicious and Fi makes out with Jesse to throw them off.

Charles having his money kept by a lawyer is a complication, but not an insurmountable one. Chuck claims to have been followed and had his accounts swindled, and Charles finds the bug he was supposed to in his car. Fortunately, Chuck knows a dirty cop (Mike), who can sort these things. For a lot of money, which Charles balks at. Then Martin gets wind of Emily's attempts to get her money, and Fi has to rush off to save her from gunmen. At this point, the stakes are raised, so it's time for Charles to have one more blackout. Only this time when he wakes up, it looks like he got a little cross with Emily. Now he's ready to pay the dirty cop, even if it means taking Martin's money to do it. Emily gets her money back, Charles is on the run from Martin, and Mike got a call from Barrett. He's in Miami. With a caravan of black SUVs. And 15 armed guys. Oh well, no big deal, the 4 of them can handle some schmucks with machine guns right? It's barely 4-to-1 odds, no prob -

Oh, never mind. See, Marv and Jesse had another chat. Marv found footage from a camera down the street from their building. It caught Michael fleeing the premises. And Jesse's explaining all this to Fi, as he points a gun at her.

The Players: John Barrett (Drake Technologies CEO?Merchant of Death), Emily (The Client), Charles Archer (Sleazy Womanizer), Martin (Charles' Lawyer/Dirty Money Manager)

Quote of the Episode: Fiona - 'His name is Charles. You need a new cover I.D.' Sam - 'Sorry Fi, I don't think so. Chuck Finley is forever.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Yes. She blows a door off its hinges, using it as a weapon to drop one of Martin's guys.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 11 (28 overall). OK, I couldn't keep perfect track. There were too many montages of he and Chaz drinking where I couldn't tell if Sam had a new drink or not. I guessed that if Charles was getting a new one, so was Sam.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (8 overall)

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (2 overall)

Other: Michael's alias this week was "Brooks". I think he would have had a fake laugh if he got to interact with Charles a little more. That 'Great idea! Fugitives escape all the time!' bit was sort of begging for it.

Sam and Mike both got to do exaggerated British accents this week. I liked Mike's better, since it was angry and mocking, and thus, hilarious.

This is a weird episode, tonally. There's all this tension throughout. Maddy is starting to crack from having to keep secrets from Jesse, even if she does tend to the melodrama. There's the looming threat of John Barrett (played by Robert Patrick). There's Fiona, who gets very heated about Charles, to the point she nearly tries to kill him during Sam's initial approach. And when Sam stops her, she takes a swing at him. There's also the fact that either Charles is a murderer, or Martin is on their behalf.

And yet, the plan is to make Charles think he got blackout drunk and did stupid stuff. It's silly. Chuck telling Charles, 'If you don't remember the French DJ, tell me you at least remember the Brazilian chicks from the afterparty?' It defangs Charles, because he looks like such a buffoon. I suppose it's critical that's he such a swine the rest of the time, so that you never feel bad for him. Any time he's coherent he's berating people, calling women "bitches", talking about how one of his "prospects" is a widow who just won a settlement in court against a chemical company that killed her son. He's thoroughly loathsome, but also pathetic.

Then, of course, you get the surprise reveal at the end that Jesse learned the truth. Probably a good thing Mike was too caught up in his Barrett stuff to talk Maddy out of her trip to Tampa. Not that I imagine he would have tried. I thought it was odd to see Fiona cry and plead. She didn't do that even when Thomas O'Neill - bloodthirsty hooligan of episode 3.9 - threatened to take a hammer to her teeth. I guess because she liked Jesse, felt bad about what they'd done to him. Maybe she didn't want her death on his conscience. Or she figured she had this coming, and there wasn't any getting out of it, and the realization of that hurt. Fi didn't get Jesse burned, no, and she's criticized Michael for how he's handled Jesse more than anyone. But she never actually broke ranks with Michael. All she had to do was tell Jesse the truth, tell him why Michael did it. Or hell, take up Vaughn's offer from two episodes ago. Give Vaughn the book code, Jesse gets reinstated. Assuming you believe Vaughn as a man who keeps his promises, which, yeah, that's iffy. Point is, she's had no end of opportunities to come clean to Jesse, and she ultimately sided with Michael, so that makes her - and Sam, and Maddy - complicit in the whole thing.

If Jesse decides to bring down the thunder, Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp style, it'll be hard to root against him.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Old Gringo - Carlos Fuentes

The Old Gringo traveled to Mexico to die in the Revolution. In that, he was ultimately successful. The details are largely irrelevant to him. He'd like to serve under Pancho Villa, but if he could be killed by Villa, that's fine, too. He doesn't meet Villa, but one of his deaths is at Villa's hands, so perhaps he would approve.

There are ideas in The Old Gringo that I find interesting. How people in the U.S. view Mexico, how little they understand about it, or care to understand. How easily people can subvert a revolution for their own goals. The zero sum game men adopt in how they see women. How the attitudes of our parents shape our goals and directions, and how we can find ourselves bucking against it for the rest of our lives.

I hate the way Fuentes goes about presenting it. The primary problem is Fuentes loves to use these rambling monologues. They may appear at first to be internal, but at some point, the character may begin addressing another character, and you realize no, this a story one person is telling another. These can go on for seven, eight pages, and they're supposed to be deeply important sequences that highlight something about two character's relationships, or a particular character's perspective.

At a certain point, I want a break from this one character talking. Let the other person ask a question to create a pause, or to advance the story. Instead, they continue talking. The point they're making - or the one I'm taking from it - gets lost in the sheer amount of words. It makes a book just under 200 pages seem terribly long at times.

The best I can summarize my feelings towards the book is I like the content, but not the style. If you've read Fuentes before, and you like his style (or don't mind it), you'll probably enjoy the book more than I did. It's probably still worth a try even if you aren't familiar with him, just to see how the prose grabs you.

Friday, February 08, 2013

2012 Year In Review - Part 5

It's that part of the show where I list things. Because we all love lists, right? Well, I do at any rate, and it is my blog.

Favorite Ongoing Series (minimum 6 issues):
1. Daredevil
2. Dial H
3. Angel & Faith
4. Hawkeye

That's easily the strongest class I've had since I started this. I did factor in the number of issues, because I think it's easier to have a great 6 issues than a great 12, or 15. I do wonder, if Dial H hadn't lost Santolouco, whether it could have taken the top spot. Lapham was a good artist, but it didn't seem like the sort of book his style was suited for.

Favorite Mini-Series:
1. Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom
2. Atomic Robo and the Flying She-Devils of the Pacific

Small crop of candidates this year. One possibility got shunted into a different category, and the only other mini-series that shipped at least half of its issues this year was Villains for Hire. No thanks.

Favorite Anthology:
1. Batman Beyond Unlimited
2. Atomic Robo Real Science Adventures
3. Rocketeer Adventures 2

It's a disparate set of books, but they all have multiple stories per issue, told by several different people. I considered ranking Batman Beyond Unlimited in the ongoings, but I wasn't sure how that should work. I like the Batman and JLU stories, but can't stand the Superman one. So where does the book rank as a whole, especially since it's the work of different sets of people?

Favorite Trade:
1. Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment
2. Excalibur Visionaries - Alan Davis, Volume 3
3. Finder Library Volume 2
4. Runaways, Volume 5 - Escape to New York
5. WildCATS Version 2.0, Volume 4 - Battery Park

As always, these are books I bought this year, not necessarily ones that were released this year. Obviously, since none of them were released this year. I bought more trades this year than I ever have, but I'm not sure it was necessarily a stronger year. All of those books were really strong, though.

Favorite Writer:
1. Ann Nocenti
2. Christos Gage
3. China Mieville
4. Kelly Sue DeConnick

I figure this has to go to Nocenti. I'm pretty sure she's the writer whose work I spent the most time trying to decipher. And not in a "Why is the character behaving like this, is the writer an idiot?" way I did Remender on Secret Avengers. Beyond that, major turnover from last year. DnA laid a couple of eggs, and I didn't think this year's Robo was Clevinger's strongest work, and I didn't buy anything by Brill.

Favorite Artist (minimum 110 pages):
1. Rebekah Isaacs
2. Norm Breyfogle
3. Chris Samnee
4. Dustin Nguyen

Honorable Mention (artists with less than 110 pages): David Aja, Gabriel Hardman, Paolo Rivera, Mateus Santolouco. I'm not necessarily ranking the honorable mentions, just listing them in alphabetical order. As for the favorites, Nguyen narrowly edged out Scott Wegener. Which is a testament to his skill considering Wegener drew those panels of Futuresaurus Rex coughing up and then catching two Mausers. In fact, perhaps I should reconsider. . .

Thursday, February 07, 2013

2012 Year In Review - Part 4

I don't have a comic related opening paragraph today. Unless you're interested in hearing no penciler has hit the 100 page line more than twice in the 4 years I've been keeping track? No? No one? OK, that's cool. I understand.

I could talk about Chris Carpenter's nerve issues coming back, and possibly ending his career. It's not Carpenter's first injury issue, or even his third, but it's probably the most final. They already removed one of his ribs last season to address the problem. Not sure what more you can do. That was part of what made it thrilling to watch Carpenter. When he was healthy, he was a great pitcher, but at any moment he could blow out something in his elbow, shoulder, whatever, and you wouldn't see him for a season and a half. Then he'd come back like nothing happened, until the next time something did.

Back to comics.

Legion of Monsters #4: Morbius finally figures out he's the carrier of the disease that's driving all the citizens of the Monster Metropolis mad, which means Elsa Bloodstone doesn't have to kill everyone after all! It was his writing on this that convinced me to give Dennis Hopeless a shot on Avengers Arena, though Juan Doe's work on the art for this book certainly helped it along.

Resurrection Man #0, 5-12: This is definitely not going down as one of my favorite Abnett/Lanning joints. Mitch was somehow killed so hard he materialized across the country (with a power that had nothing to do with that). In Gotham, which meant Arkham. He made it out of there, wandered in Metropolis for an issue, then had a rapidfire series of unfortunate run-ins with Kim Rebecki, a necromancer, and the Suicide Squad, who had hired Rebecki to find him. Mitch was able to go free eventually, but not before Waller took his hand for study. Then Mitch and Kim tried to track down the "Lab", and learned that the Mitch we've been following is a tekite infused regeneration from the arm of the asshole Mitch Shelly we saw in flashbacks. Who was dying slowly, until our Mitch served him up to Heaven as the soul they wanted. This book turned into an even bigger artistic clusterfuck than Defenders, as Fernado Blanco drew issue 5, then Fernando Dagnino returned for 3 issues. Then Jesus Saiz became the nominal penciler, except someone else was usually helping. Javier Pina for #11, Andres Guinaldo for #9, Ramon Bachs did all but the last page of #0.

High Point: Mitch in Arkham wasn't a bad idea, and Mitch on the Suicide Squad wouldn't have been awful, except. . .

Low Point: . . .the Suicide Squad in question was garbage. The lack of creativity in Mitch's powers was disappointing, and I'm not clear on how many of them related to his method of death. A shotgun blast to the head gives you pyrokinesis? Mostly though, the book was slow. Especially some of the last few issues, when you think they'd need to pick up the pace to cover everything. Instead it seemed to slow down so answers weren't presented until the very end.

Rocketeer Adventures 2 #1-4: A second round of the beloved anthology mini-series! And if you think I'm mentioning every writer and artist, you are out of your mind.

High Point: Peter David and Bill Sienkiewicz' "The Ducketeer" was probably my favorite story. It didn't take itself seriously at all, and it avoided the relationship stuff that many of the other stories felt compelled to use. Walt Simonson and John Paul Leon's "the Autograph" was touching, mostly because Cliff wasn't acting to compensate for prior stupidity as he was just trying to do the right thing.

Low Point: Issue 3 didn't have any stories I particularly cared for, the writing or the art. The Eric Canete story with kids in the future learning about the Rocketeer was probably my favorite, and even it did nothing for me.

Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1-4: Mark Waid and Chris Samnee pit Cliff against what I'm guessing is one of Doc Savage's old foes. One who is not content to merely unleash dinosaurs upon New York City. No, he wants to steal Cliff's rocket and outfit the dinosaurs with jet packs while the destroy New York City. Quite how the dinosaurs were going to properly control them, I don't know, but I can't say the man doesn't think big.

High Point: Do I need anything more than a guy with a jet pack and a ray gun fighting dinosaurs? I do? Fine. I liked Earl, the second inspector. He had a good reason not to like Cliff at the start, but he isn't set in his perceptions, and he uses his authority constructively. Also, Cliff's response to the public asking him to save them. 'From dinosaurs? With a jet pack? How? *silent panel of civilians glaring* I mean, how would you like me to save you. . .'

Low Point: I wasn't happy with Waid's take on Betty and Cliff's relationship. Everyone made her out to be the bad guy, because she has a life that doesn't involve constantly saving Cliff from himself, and because she doesn't appreciate someone flirting with her boyfriend, even if the someone is only a 15-year old with a crush. I understand it was Peevy's niece with the crush, but I was most put out by his attitude, because he ought to know well enough how far Betty's willing to go for Cliff.

Secret Avengers #22-35: Remender and Gabriel Hardman sent the team into a city full of artificial intelligences ready to claim a place in the world. The A.I.s seem pretty sure the Avengers will destroy them, and respond in kind. This plot was interrupted for Renato Guedes to draw three issues of Avengers vs. X-Men nonsense. Then Matteo Scalera took over as artist for the remainder of the year (except for #33, drawn by Andy Kuhn). For that stretch, the Avengers narrowly averted the Abyss spreading itself across the globe. Then everything went to hell because Hawkeye ignored the Black Widow's warning that Ant-Man had been an LMD since the first run-in with the Descendants.

High Point: Gabriel Hardman's a good artist, Bagalia as a concept is kind of interesting. A nation set-up so super-villains can kick it, make up schemes, and be free from extradition. The flaw in Max' plan, which may be relevant to Father's big plans for the Descendants. Flash deciding he'll save the world solely to spite Hawkeye. I don't even like Flash Thompson or Venom, but I can appreciate that as a motivation.

Low Point: The size Scalera draws the Black Widow's chest. Maybe if he had her zip up the top once in awhile I wouldn't notice so much, but it hasn't happened so far. Remender's Hawkeye is terrible. He gets parts of the character, but flubs just enough of him that it ruins the whole thing. Still, the lowest point was the AvX tie-in, hands down. Completely pointless to that story, and I did not need or want 3 issues about how Mar-Vell was the best hero ever. The hosannas the other characters sang to him were nauseating.

Villains for Hire #2-4: Also not one of Abnett and Lanning's stronger works. At least it kept a consistent artist - Renato Arlem - throughout. I liked the idea behind it, Misty Knight using a crew of villains to counter Purple Man's schemes. The backstabbing, deceit, cover-ups, it all made sense for a villain dominated story. Still, it felt rushed, to the point where the change-ups and double-crosses came too fast for any to have impact. Also, Arlem's art is kind of lifeless. It's too photo-referenced to have much energy to it. Characters look posed, frozen in the moment, rather than in motion.