Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mussolini - Denis Mack Smith

I've been meaning to read a biography of Mussolini for a few years now, since I finished Cry Havoc, actually. It had some brief mentions of Mussolini's life in there, and it wasn't what I expected. My dad said he had a copy of this, but couldn't find it. So he ordered another and had it shipped to me.

The primary thing I took from Mussolini: A Biography about the subject was his lack of any goals outside the acquisition of personal power. He didn't take over the country with a clear idea of what he wanted Italy to become, or how he was going to do it. Power wasn't the means to an end, it was simply the end.

To that end, he is almost constantly contradictory. At one point socialist, he later rails against them (and engineers changes to elections to make a socialist-led parliament more fractured and less effective). Strongly anti-clerical in his youth, he strongly promotes the importance of religion and the Church in the lives of Italians, so as to garner the blessings of the Pope. When World War I broke out, he had claimed nationalism was a false concept, that workers across the world should not fight each other, because they were all part of one nation, as so these arbitrary borders were irrelevant. It didn't take long for him to see what direction the wind was blowing and change his tune. Soon he was arguing that Italy needed to be involved for national prestige and to enlarge her natural frontiers, and besides, the war would be over quickly.

He's very good at making that work, though. He can tell his fellow fascists one thing, then turn around and court the nationalists or liberals in parliament by saying the opposite. Tell the British one thing, the Germans another. Give his ambassadors one directive, tell the foreign correspondents of his newspaper, Il Popolo d'Italia, information that runs at cross-purposes. Tell the public something different everyday. His belief was it - especially when it came to the public - that it didn't matter if he contradicted himself, so long as he made bold, declarative statements. People will only remember the things they agree with, he said, so it doesn't matter if he says something different tomorrow. They won't notice.

The downside to this is that it makes it difficult for anything to get done. Mussolini promoted the idea that he did everything, saw everything, knew everything, and he actually tried to run the government that way. He filled his cabinet with lackeys, incompetents, thugs, and yes men. Either they didn't know how to do their jobs properly, or they didn't, because they were too busy telling Il Duce that he was always right, and so they let him make all the decisions. But if he makes a decision on Tuesday that runs directly contrary to the one he made on Monday, then where are you?

But much as it didn't matter if he contradicted himself, so long as he didn't forcefully, it didn't matter if anything was accomplished, so long as it appeared as though Mussolini was getting things done. Style over substance. Concentrate on meaningless details, like the number of buttons on the new uniforms. Make big speeches about a 'war on bread', and vow to make Italy independent of grain imports. Never mind the fact it'll create a shortage of meat and other agricultural products by forcing so much farmland strictly into cereal production, or the fact Italy will still need imports of fertilizers. Fly to an international peace conference to sign a treaty he didn't read. It doesn't matter what it says (since he'll just ignore it if he doesn't like it), the important thing is everyone see how the great Mussolini is changing the world for the better with his brilliant fascism.

With all his flip-flopping and disingenuous personality, he's like Mitt Romney with charisma. But he had a lot of charisma, which is probably what carried him as far as it did. He was just successful enough at portraying himself as this massive public figure who never made mistakes, always was on top of things, needed no council or aid, that people couldn't work up the nerve to challenge him.

Either that, or they looked at his inability to make tough decisions until all options but one were removed, and believed they could easily manipulate him for their own benefit. That seems to be why the parliamentary heads didn't crush him when they had the chance in the early '20s. He had just enough sway over just enough people they wanted him on their side, and seemed indecisive enough they could control him. By the time they realized he whipped his followers into such a frenzy they'd kill anyone he wanted with the merest suggestion, it was too late to turn things around.

Smith seems to have researched this pretty exhaustively, if the number of citations is any indication. At times the book is a little dry, but Smith seems genuinely curious about his subject, which helps to carry it along. You can tell at times that Smith is struggling to figure out when Mussolini is being genuine. If he admits that fascism was really all about garnering power for himself, and it had no clear ideology, is that him being honest? Or is he playing a role, trying to put forth a more pleasant image? Is he ever not just telling people what they want to hear?

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Ink-Stained Trail - Chapter 9

When the curtains went up, it looked like I'd won a free trip into the room at the top of the stairs, with an aching head thrown in as a bonus. Not unusual for me. People give me sore skulls for gifts like everyday's my birthday. I was sitting in a plain wooden chair, with another man leaning back in a much nicer one a few feet in front of me. Older, grey taking residence in his sideburns and bushy mustache. Nice black suit, shiny boots. There was another fellow standing a few feet behind him. Much younger, nervous, wearing a sport coat, clutching his hat tightly in his hands. And the way his eyes kept flicking over my head, I was pretty sure there was one more person somewhere behind me.

The seated gent spoke first. "Well, Mr. Curtis, that's quite a fall you took. Good thing one of the customers saw you head downstairs, or you might have been there all night. Not good for a man's health, sleeping on a cold cellar floor."

His voice said he knew perfectly well that was a line of bull, but no point in calling him on it. "Yeah, my dear mother used to tell me the same thing. Guess I wasn't ready for the power of your drinks. No one's ever gonna accuse you of watering your booze." I tried for a grin, but couldn't feel my face well enough to tell ifit happened.

"Oh, I'm not the owner, but I'll be sure to pass your compliment along. Still, what were you doing in that cellar?"

At that question, he shifted position, leaning back a little more to drape his left arm over the back of the leather chair. His coat slid to the side, revealing part of a badge. Swell. I pretended I didn't notice. "I don't know. I don't remember going down there. If you aren't the owner, then - "

"Sheriff Thompson. The owner is a friend of mine." Meaning partner, which explains how the club operates so openly. Thompson's supply of coy ran out. "Let's be frank, Mr. Curtis. You were struck on the head. I'd ask if you had any enemies, but I imagine the line stretches clear back to town."

"Yeah, I'd hate to burden you with chasing down leads. I know how you cops hate doing your jobs." Thompson grinned coolly, but I noticed his right hand slide towards a long thing stick balanced across his legs. The young fellow tensed, and I got ready to roll with the hit that was coming, but his hand stopped. I don't know if he regained control of himself, or if he noticed I was expecting it and wanted the element of surprise, but either way, I was glad to miss out on it. My head was still swimming, and another belt wasn't going to help it come up for air.

"Thompson, let me speak with him." The man behind me speaks. Smooth, low, no hint of a rasp or twang like all the other voices I'd heard out here. I knew the voice, but didn't turn to confirm it. I wasn't giving Thompson an opening if I could avoid it.

Thompson regarded the man behind me, then me. He smiled a little, shrugged, and rose from the chair like he didn't want to leave it. "Suits me. Time I was gettin' home to the missus, anyway." he tipped his wide hat in my direction, and swaggered casually out the door, the younger fellow scurrying along behind him.

Now I turned to the other voice. "Charlie, how are you. Wouldn't have figured you for a country boy." Charlie used to be pretty high up in the Raccoon organization back home.

Charlie strolled around and settled into the chair Thompson had vacated. It suited him. He always had good taste in furnishings. "Well, I had to leave town after that thing with Alderman McShane got out." Vote fixing. I hadn't paid much attention, since someone was always getting a politician in their pocket. Why not Charlie Washington, I figured. I guess certain folks hadn't approved.

"Needed a change of scenery, huh? I know the impulse."

"You certainly do. I'm being a poor host. Would you care for a drink?" Charlie and me mostly got along. I didn't mess with his bunch any more than any other organized group. Which is to say, I did so just infrequently enough - and only when I was paid to - they didn't kill me in my sleep. Charlie and the other top dogs seemed to respect that. Why not? They operate on the notion a man's got to make a living somehow.

"As long as it has plenty of ice," I replied. "Are the rest of the guys here? Leon, Fast Willie, Bell?" Charlie froze a moment, ice cube held between two long fingers. Then he dropped it in the glass, and turned back to me, head shaking.

"No. When the story broke, I got tossed out for acting alone. Took all the blame, no one stuck by me. Don't know how you live like that." He handed me the drink. I immediately pressed it to my head.

"You either get used to not sleeping, or decide to sleep deep and take the chance you wake up again."

"Which do you favor?"

"Depends how well stocked my liquor cabinet is. These days, I'm not sleeping much."

"Oh, is that why your face always looks like that?" At least Charlie said it with a big, toothy grin.

"Naw, this is from passing out on your floor. You know what a clumsy lush I am. Normally the girls say I look like Valentino."

"That's the name of Ella Fitzgerald's dog, right?"

"Ha, ha."

"I'm not behind those food thefts, Milo. Anyone can put that insignia at a crime scene."

Charlie always did like to get serious suddenly. "Including you."

"Yes, but I'm not a part of the Raccoons any longer. I'm a legitimate, successful businessman now."

"How about 'law-abiding'?"

"As much as I can be. I said I was a successful businessman, not a destitute one."

"Fair enough. Your old gang hasn't expanded into the sticks? Less competition out here."

"Tell me about it. But no. If they have, nobody's approached me. I think you were on the right track looking into Maggie."

I didn't ask how Charlie knew what I'd been up to. Either Thompson kept him in the loop - since Charlie knew me and all - or he had other sources. Knowing Charlie, probably both. "And the Charlanes?"

Charlie looked thoughtful for a moment. "Not so sure about them. They're odd, but that doesn't mean they're crooks. Might be they like privacy. You ought to be used to people like that by now."

"Yeah, everyone gets that way around me."

"Maybe it's your coat. Looks like you're trying to sneak out with the family sliver.

I rose from my chair and set the glass aside. All the ice had melted, but my head felt a little better. "I'll keep it in mind."

Charlie followed me to the door. "Keep this next to it. If Maggie's involved, then it's probably not food she's after. Thompson made a few calls, at my suggestion. Back home, she's clean, but a lot her boys were mixed up in nasty business. Shootings, assassinations. I stick to bribery or blackmail. Murder's another matter entirely.

By now we'd moved downstairs to the main floor and towards the front entrance. The place was deserted, except for a few guys sweeping up. "No chance she's reformed them with her loving spirit then?"

Charlie snorted. "Those guys wouldn't follow her unless she's stronger than they are. You can't tell me you haven't noticed."

"I noticed," We'd reached my car. I turned to face him. "Thanks for the tip, Charlie. And the drink. Any reason you're being so helpful?"

Charlie grinned again. "I get you back on track, you don't wreck my place starting brawls to cover your snooping."

"It is a nice joint. 'Night, Charlie."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Burn Notice 5.3 - Mind Games

Plot: Nate's moved back to Miami with his wife and new baby, because he's worried about getting back into gambling, and thinks his family can help. One wonders how familiar Nate is with his own family. At any rate, he has an old friend, Jessica, who needs help. Her husband, now deceased, was a gambling acquaintance of Nate's, and died in debt to a loan shark named Wallace. The debt didn't die with the husband, and Wallace's enforcer, Carter, is on her to pay up with her dad's fishing boat. Mike gets roped into posing as someone who can produce totally clean, fresh paperwork for the boat to make it's sale smoother. The idea being the paperwork will make it appear the boat was actually involved in a police investigation, making Wallace back off. When it turns out Jessica's going to wind up dead anyway, the plan shifts to making Carter look like an undercover cop. One problem, he's actually an undercover fed. Whoops.

Through all this, Mike's dealing with severe paranoia. He can't let the investigation into the group that burned him go, and he's jumpy and unsettled. Sam tries to get him to relax. Fiona tries to get him to destroy his files on Management, Carla, and the rest as a way of letting go of the past. Nate completely torpedoes all of this by telling Mike that if he really thinks there's some remnant of the organization left, then go after it, or he'll never feel satisfied. The net effect of that is Mike's drifting into the distant, obsessed place he goes sometimes, where he ignores everyone else. Good work, Nate.

The Players: Jessica (The Client), Carter (Pit Bull/Undercover FBI Agent), Wallace (Carter's Boss)

Quote of the Episode: Fiona - 'You attacked a man who was about to pull a teddy bear on you.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 3 (5 overall). Pretty slow pace here to start the season.

Sam getting Hit Count: 0 (0 overall). I was sure when he had to stall Carter it was gonna happen, but no. Maybe the writers are afraid they use that too much. Or it was supposed to be Carter not wanting to draw attention to himself with assault.

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 1 (3 overall). He seems to be playing more upbeat characters this season.

Other: Mike's alias this week is "Trey", or "Vegas", as Wallace insists on calling him. Trey's some weird hybrid of Nate and Sam. Mostly Nate, with the shirt's, the gaudy (read: ugly) sunglasses, and the assurances about easy money. But Trey also has multiple "buddies" back in Vegas who can help with stuff so, you know, Sam. No idea who the persistent messing up of phrases ("juice from a stone", "look a gift horse in the teeth", "more than one way to skin a cat's hair from its body") is from.

I'm still not clear on whether Carter or the government are responsible for the damage he cause undercover. He trashed Jessica's yogurt place, and set a motorcycle on fire. There has to be compensation for that, right? Probably a labyrinth of paperwork, though.

I would swear that when Michael describes the "Trey System", I heard harp music when he said 'dollar bills rain from the sky'.

I know the episode is trying to show that Michael's so wrapped up in his paranoia that he's making mistakes. Thus, he tries to frame Carter only to accidentally blow Carter's cover and nearly get him killed. But hell, Mike and Co. pull this move all the time. They're constantly playing subordinates against their bosses. it's how they saved Jesse's life last season. And something always goes wrong somewhere along the way. The client does something stupid, the subordinate is better more clever than they thought, the boss is better connected that they thought. Nothing ever goes smoothly. Is that a sign something's wrong with Mike's thought process, or is he just now realizing that as someone whose career was ruined by having horrible acts he wasn't responsible for attributed to him, he shouldn't be so cavalier about doing the same to other people? Yeah, they're criminals, but depending on what side of the line you're on, so is a spy. I imagine the Russians, for example, would describe Westen as a criminal, among other things.

There's been a lot of focus on the past and trying to move forward so far. Understandable, considering Mike's supposed to be free now, but can't quite convince himself of it. It's why I'm not sure about Nate's advice. He knows about addiction, about not being able to recognize when it's time to walk away. Yet he encourages Michael to keep going until he's sure. But as Fiona noted, there's always going to be another thread, another mystery. He talks about flights to nowhere, money transfers that vanish. Is it that hard to believe someone in this massive, clandestine organization was siphoning funds or using resources for their own personal benefit, and was trying to keep it out of the records? Of course not! Victor freaking told Mike that Carla did as much, using agents for her own personal business. Still, Michael could use this as an excuse to keep chasing something amorphous forever. Maybe Nate figures Mike will hit a wall eventually, or he recognizes Michael hasn't hit rock bottom yet, and until that happens he won't change.

Except rock bottom for Mike could leave him completely alone again, and there might not be any way to dig himself back out.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Taking A Look At The July That's Coming

Time for our monthly trip through the solicits. I guess it's become a monthly thing.

- No Atomic Robo: Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur? That's a little annoying, but let's be honest; issue 1 probably wasn't going to show up in June, anyway. If they release #2 in August, and it actually ships, then things will be on track.

- I see X-Men is back. I did notice the first issue didn't ship this month. Did they decide to push it back to May so there wouldn't be a skip month once it had started? I guess that isn't a bad plan, though Marvel books miss month's and don't seem to get destroyed for it. Didn't Hawkeye just skip March?

- I see the Captain Marvel/Avengers Assemble crossover is wrapping up. I'll stick to buying the former title, but I wonder if this is a precursor to cancellation. They're doing this with X-Treme X-Men and Age of Apocalypse right now. I don't know if the crossover was already planned and they decided later it'd be the endpoint for both books, or if they thought it was a good way to wrap them up. I don't understand the latter, if that's the case. Captain Marvel isn't ending this month, but I imagine Marvel is at least looking to see if this gets people who are only reading one of the titles to read both, and buoy sales. I'm not a success in that regard, but I think we've established by now that I'm not entirely representative of the cape comic buying population.

- June's going to be the end for me and Batman Beyond Unlimited and Fearless Defenders. I've discussed my indifference to FD through 2 issues, though I suppose it has 3 issues left to change my mind. As for the other book, well, once DC announced the new creative, I had to accept that Dustin Nguyen and most critically, Norm Breyfogle, weren't coming back. That squelched my enthusiasm for the book considerably.

 - I'm going to try the Rocketeer/Spirit crossover. I don't have any experience with the latter, but Mark Waid's earned my trust at this stage. And I have fond memories of Paul Smith's art on Uncanny X-Men, though I have no idea how his style may have evolved over the last 30 years. I'm curious to see if Waid uses Ebony White. All I know about the character is that he was the Spirit's sidekick, and whatever Eisner's intentions, a racist caricature. I don't know whether Waid will use him, but try to write him in a way that isn't racist, or just avoid him altogether. I'd guess the former, but who knows?

Friday, April 26, 2013

There's Plenty Of Space In Russia To Bury The Past

Archangel revolves around a history professor, Dr. Kelso (Daniel Craig), who listens to the story of an old Soviet soldier who was present at the death of Stalin. The soldier, named Papu Rapava, tells of driving the chief of the secret police, Beria, to Stalin's office, where Beria removed papers, which he instructed the solider to bury in Beria's backyard. Kelso, who hasn't published a book in 6 years, sets off to find this possible secret diary, and winds up getting a lot more than he bargained. The Rapava quickly turns up dead, Kelso drags Rapava's daughter Zinaida (Yekaterina Rednikova) into, partially to protect her, partially because he needs her help. A nosy reporter gets himself involved. The FSB sends a man after Kelso, trying to get him to drop it, and pretty soon the military is involved and people are getting shot out in the woods.

For a historian, Kelso seems remarkably dense. He consistently does things that struck me as very bad ideas. Blathering on to colleagues he knows can't keep their mouths shut. Asking a Russian author (and former official of the Party) Vladimir Mamantov for help tracking down information. Reporting a murder to the police, then being surprised they treat him as a suspect. Not realizing how badly some people would want a return to Stalin. Incidentally, this seemed ludicrous to me at first. Then I remembered there are lots of people in the United States today who would love to turn back to the clock several decades, because they think it'd be better for them (or just worse for other people they don't like, women and minorities for example). Anyway, it seemed to me Kelso would have been better off keeping this to himself for as long as possible, then turning to others only once he had no other options. It could be argued he was on a limited visa, he had to move fast, so he took some ill-advised shortcuts.

I think his lack of comprehension is part of the point. He's a Westerner (IMDB says British, and that's certainly his accent, but he studied at Harvard and lives in the U.S., so I'm not sure he isn't supposed to be American), looking at Russia from the outside, passing judgment. His perspective is not necessarily their perspective. Not that all Russians have the same perspective. Given the limited cast, there's a definite generational gap. Zinaida and Felix (the FSB agent) don't pine for the old days, and Felix doesn't even really see what the big deal is about some old papers anyway. It's the older people who have fooled themselves into thinking things were better back then, or in the case of Felix' superior, are terrified of anything reviving Stalin's ghost. Either way, Kelso's a fool stumbling through all this, trying to make some cash. I don't think he's ever motivated by some desire to uncover truth, or that he even tries to fool himself into believing that's his motivation. He needs to write a new book, simple as that. I can sort of appreciate the simplicity of that motive, and that he gradually realizes it isn't worth it. It's not a new trope, the outsider who learns that he knows nothing and is sent home humbled, but it can be an effective one.

The movie's based on a novel written by Robert Harris, an Englishman. Watching it, I couldn't help wondering how different it would be if it was written by a Russian. I kept expecting a more quietly bleak ending. Something like, after a long struggle they track the files down, only to learn that it's a grocery list, or some inconsequential doodles Stalin made, maybe some electric bill statements. The joke being twofold: One, that Stalin isn't any better at throwing away useless junk than the rest of us, and two, that Beria (and by extension everyone else) was so terrified of Stalin, even after he was dead, that they would never dare to actually look at his papers. They would merely assume that because they were in a safe, they are vitally important and must be hidden. All the death, terror, running, betrayal, it would all be for nothing. Nobody would get anything of use.

I'm not saying that would have been a good ending, mind you. It might have been darkly humorous, but not necessarily good. It just feels more Russian than what actually happened. What did happen though was a fairly tense little thriller, with some decent character moments. I quite liked the man who played the young Rapava. His walk had the right mix of eager to obey, and terrified to obey, which seems appropriate. The bit with the old woman in Archangel, who is so proud of how she and her family served the party, because she refuses to see the truth of the matter. She was sweet, but very sad. Craig and Rednikova have pretty good chemistry, not in a sexual romantic sense, but they get along well. She's studying law, but working as a high-class (to my eyes, anyway) call girl to pay the bills. But he's a guy who chases history to sell books, so they're both in it for the money. So neither one bothers with much pretense, and that makes for some honest and occasionally funny conversations.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What I Bought 4/2/2013 - Part 9

I told you last week I'd get to the end of these reviews eventually. And here we are. Took the better part of a month, but that's how it goes.

Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror #1 & 2, by Roger Langridge (writer), J Bone (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Tom B. Long (letterer) - What we have here is a story narrated by some thus far unrevealed actor. All we know is Cliff ran into him on the street and dropped his wallet. Quite how this guy knows everything that's happened since then, I don't know. I guess he finds out when he's able to return Cliff's wallet.

Betty has a roomie, a Dahlia Danvers, hotshot reporter. Dahlia's investigating a missing scientist - who Peevy happens to know - and a mysterious, well I'd call him a charlatan, but I guess he's meant to be a prophesier, Otto Rune. He issues portents of doom, and uses hypnotic lights and music to bilk people out of their dough. Unfortunately, Dahlia gets in a bit of trouble and winds up in the desert, minus her memories. She did manage to place a call to Betty, which only convinced Betty to start snooping herself. That probably won't end well, but at least she has some back-up, in the form of Nick and Nora Charles.

I was not expecting a guest appearance by the Thin Man in this mini-series.

Cliff has problems of his own, besides a lack of funds. The man who designed the rocket (I always think of Howard Hughes, because of the movie, but I guess it's Doc Savage) wants it back for some tests, and sent his two boys to get it. Cliff managed to dodge them the first time. The second time, however, he was a little off his game, and they took the rocket. Well, he'd just been tossed into Hollywood Lake by the concussive force of a bomb designed to destroy a dam. Cut him some slack.

I really do like Nick and Nora showing up. It's kind of random, but Langridge captures them well. The constant banter, the seeming indifference in the face of threats. I do wonder how Nora's going to manage to get herself into trouble snooping on her own without Betty beating her to it. Perhaps we're at the point where Nick's realized the futility of trying to keep her out of things. I will be disappointed if I don't see Nick mixing himself some drinks soon.

I don't know the names of Savage's cronies, but the tall guy, with the cane, dressed like Batman: The Animated Series Clock King? He's got this odd thing going with his speech, where certain words are in a very different font than the rest. The letters are more blocky, and perfectly upright (all the other letters are leaning slightly forward). It only happens a couple of times, though, so I'm not sure what Long was going for. I sort of understand it for "CIRRUS X-3", since that's a significant phrase, but why "MANNERS"?

I like how J Bone draws the tall guy, fyi. He contrasts nicely with his buddy. He's very rigid, while the other guy is always sort of hunched over. He keeps a small smile on his face - just half the mouth crooked up, really - versus the other guy's big, toothy grin. Neither smile is friendly, but neither are they, so it works. Cliff's the square-jawed hero type, Betty's all curves and big eyes. He gets across the speed Cliff travels at well, too. I think it's that he blurs out Cliff's legs a lot of the time, but also the way his contrails trail all the way out of the panel . He just flew into view and he'll be gone again in an instant.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tower - Nigel Jones

Tower - An Epic History of the Tower of London wasn't quite what I expected. I thought it would primarily focus on the architectural history, when particular sections where added or removed, when different features were placed inside. There is some of that. The second chapter is about the history of the menagerie and the mint, and later there's some discussion of its becoming more of a tourist attraction.

However, mostly the book deals with people. People who are being thrown into the Tower, then probably tortured, and also probably executed. Some of these stories can be quite entertaining - the chapter on escapes was excellent - but it's mostly depressing. It's an endless parade of people being thrown in the Tower for stupid reasons. Monarchs fearful of rivals to the throne. Religious intolerance. Behind closed doors scheming and political maneuvering. People naming names - any names they can think of - under torture, and then those names getting tossed in the clink. The one thing I took away from the book above all else was that English nobility are a bunch of assholes.

The greatest disappointment was that Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (Anne Boleyn's uncle), didn't get executed. He was one of the ones leading the charge to get her marriage to Henry annulled to try and preserve his position, and he threw her brother under the carriage right along with her. Then he did it all again later. He's one of those annoying two-bit villains that somehow keeps escaping getting squashed.

I would have found the book a much easier read if nobility didn't keep using the same names and titles over and over again. But once you're on your 5th Edward, or your 6th Duke of Suffolk, it gets exhausting trying to keep them straight in relation to each other. Especially when people lose titles only to get them back later. Also, Jones opts to refer to people by their titles rather than their names. So he'd call Howard "Norfolk", even though he's listed in the index as Howard, Thomas. So why not just call him "Thomas" or "Howard"? Those are his names.

I think it would have helped the book to focus more on each ruler individually, and what they specifically did with regards to the Tower itself. There is some of that, Henry VIII fortifying the outer walls so he can place larger cannons there. Elizabeth choosing not to live there - likely because she already spent some time there as a prisoner. But again, most of it is about who is being tossed in. I guess I was expecting more of an outright discussion of how each ruler treated the Tower as a reflection of their policies. That's there to a certain extent, if you figure things like Elizabeth throwing Catholics in prison, or Mary doing the same to Protestants, Cromwell tossing royalists in there, or Charles locking up Roundheads. But all that really boils down to, "Imprison these people I fear," which isn't instructive.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

2013 Cape Con Recap!

I was going to put an "extravaganza" on the end of that title, but I don't want to be writing checks I can't cash.

Yes, I made it to Cape Con in spite of work and Turkey Season. Big thanks to my boss, who agreed to cover half my work on Saturday so I could finish early, on the condition I take money for her and purchase things off a list she provided. Which I did. And a "Fuck You" to Turkey Season for trying to screw me over. Just leave the damn turkeys to the coyotes, bears, and pumas.

I fairly flew around out there to finish work, though I made the mistake of trying to run up the hills. Better to stick to running down them, and walking steadily up. Less likely to end up sucking air in so violently you almost throw up. But hell, I was desperate. I needed every minute I could beg, borrow, or steal, which is why I drove like a damn maniac. Fortunately, the traffic on the drive to Cape Girardeau was light, except for one old man in a pickup who decided he need to drive 10 miles under the speed limit for about 10 minutes. I know corpses that could drive better. At least they'd keep their feet on the gas. Also, I hit just about every stop light in Jackson red, which was maddening.

On the plus side, I did see two things during the drive I found hilarious. First, there was a church with a big sign hanging on the outside saying "Welcome Sinners!" I can't decide if that's great advertising or terrible. Personally, I resent the implication they think I'm a sinner without even getting to know me. Second, there was a gas station that advertised itself as having 'amazing restrooms'. If I hadn't been in such a frenzy that I'd have run over a nun pushing a stroller with an orphaned baby, I might have had to stop to see what made them so amazing.

Ken moved the the convention this year to an arena building further in town. I didn't get the chance to talk much with him, so I can't say why. It's a smaller venue than the Osage Center, but still fairly spacious. There was a raised stage where the Magic sorts could play without being in the way, and there were bleachers above the floor were you could take a load off if you wanted. I didn't feel terribly squeezed, even though there was a decent crowd. Then again, by the time I made it to the convention, I was in a haze. I'd been amped up for 7+ hours at the point, and my adrenal glands were done. There could have been live dinosaurs rampaging down Artists' Alley and I wouldn't have noticed until one bowled me over.

I found out Jack sold the comic store. Well, the subscription list and all the comics and such he had. The new guy has his store right next door, but it isn't called Marvels and Legends any more. I briefly debated whether I should change the name of the blog, but hell, I haven't really been "reporting" on what goes on in the store in years, not since I stopped living in Cape. We'll have to wait and see how the new guy does.

Since I only had 4.5 hours to use, I didn't have much time to stand around. First order of business, I found Chris Ebert, who drew Firestar for me last year, and inquired about the cost of a sketch for my boss. He said $20, and that's how she got her sketch of Tommy Monaghan and Etrigan smoking cigars. Don't look at me, it was her idea. As for me, he had one print left of that Deadpool standing on a mountain of ninja corpses drawing I wanted last year, so I scooped that up.

I also tracked down a couple Buffy Season 8 trades for the boss, plus a Harry Dresden hardcover. She's not the first coworker I've had ask me to track those two things down before, but this is the first time I've been successful. Actually, it's the first time I can remember seeing these Dresden Files comics. I knew they existed, but they were always somewhere over the horizon, like the end of a rainbow.

One definite positive development was the much larger crowd for the costume contest. There were at least a dozen adults, and probably that many kids. There was a whole family with the dad as Galactus, and the kids as various Heralds (I think. One of them was definitely the Surfer, and another was possibly either Firelord or Nova). There was a Black Widow, Spidey in the black costume, a couple of girls going together as Thor & Loki, a Tony Stark with one Iron Man glove on, though you can't tell in that picture (I love it: two Norse deities, Father Christmas, a guy powered by various gods and such, and Obscenely Wealthy Businessman). Tony tried making a speech from Iron Man 2, one about Uncle Sam sitting back and sipping iced tea, that didn't get the big reaction I thought it would. He couldn't quite carry it as well as Robert Downey Jr., but he had the same sort of smooth-talking smart ass voice. Might have done better with an Avengers quote. There was a Poison Ivy, a Clark Kent (who would rip his short open to reveal his Superman shirt beneath it), and an outstanding Hawkgirl. Hawkwoman? Thanagarian badass, let's go with that. That's her down below.

I don't actually know who won, because I started to get really tired at that point and left in search of sugary beverages.

As for me, I picked up Volume 3 of Mike and the Ninja, the concluding chapter in Brian Rhodes' story. That's really for Alex, though I read through it. It was encouraging to read in the backmatter about the things he wished he did differently, threads he'd kept going or fleshed out more. Makes me feel better about my writing. He also told me he's thinking his next project will be a book. Not sure whether it'll be a kids' book or not, but he's considering it.

Jeremy Haun was at this year's convention. I think he was there in 2011, too, but that was the one I missed. I got him to do a Darkhawk sketch for me, which he seemed excited to get to do. I know, he's got to at least appear like the idea doesn't bore the hell out of him, but I thought he was legitimately eager to do Darkhawk. He said he liked him, so that's nice. Also, I got a chance to ask him about who does the sound effects in comics. He told me it's traditionally been letterers, but there's a growing trend of artists adding them in. he even cited Chris Samnee on Daredevil as one. It doesn't necessarily tell me who's responsible in a given situation on a particular book, but it was nice to have some confirmation my hunches were right.

Here's something interesting to me, maybe it's been happening for awhile. At conventions there are typically artists who aren't working for major comic publishers. Either they self-publish, or they just do artwork, prints that they can sell. Whichever. Apparently there are cases where several of these artists form a group, pool their money, and hire someone to go to conventions for them, and sell their artwork. I imagine it cuts down on travel expenses, plus the cost of a table can be split, and affords them the opportunity to sell at multiple conventions in the same weekend. I guess it means more different artists work to choose from for the customer, though you obviously can't get a commission from an artist that isn't there. There were two of those tables at Cape Con. At one of them, I recognized Terry Huddleston's work (he drew Nova for me back in 2010), and at the other, I saw some of Wil Woods' stuff (he did a picture for Alex of Deadpool working some turntables that same year). The person working one of the tables, I believe his name was Jon Hughes, may also have made that Hawkgirl outfit. I know I saw him helping her with the wings.

I picked up a couple of pieces (one of Ghost Rider, one of Aisha from Outlaw Star) at one table, and then three for me (Psylocke, a Trigun piece, and a really nice uncolored Batman Beyond picture) and one Doctor Who-themed picture for the boss at the other. One other nice thing about having the work of multiple artists sitting there is that you tend to get a wider variety of subjects, since each artist has their own favorites. Of course, there's no guarantee the piece with the character you like will be in a style you care for, but it's not a perfect world.

I really needed more time, or even better, the chance to come back Sunday. I didn't have a lot of time to scout back issues, not that I saw much I would have bought. One table had some ROM back issues, but I keep holding off because I figure as soon as I start buying them, the rights will get sorted out and we'll see a series of trades. There were a couple of prints at Jaeremy Haun's table I'd have bought if I had the time. One fellow was selling video games from an array of consoles, and I seriously considered throwing down the 10 bucks for Goldeneye. I've largely given up hope Alex and I will ever go scout through that storage facility for it and the other three of my N64 games he has. I would really have liked to get a sketch from Nathan Rice. I'd kept walking by his and the Helock Comics guys' table, and I finally stopped late in the afternoon. I perused the book of sketch cards, bought one of Power Girl, and decided he'd be a good person to get a sketch from. Except the convention was closing in an hour, and he was already busy. Someone had asked him to do a card for each of the Doctors, and he was only on 9 or 10.  There just wasn't enough time. Plus, I was worried about burning all the cash I had before I could stop for dinner.

Sure, I could have hit an ATM, but I didn't really want to that night. It's much easier for me to justify spending if I can say, "I didn't go wild, I only spent 50 bucks on Sunday," while ignoring the 70 I threw down on Saturday (which is what I spent, when you factor in food and the $5 admission). If I could have gone home, gotten up Sunday, and gone back? Hell yes I'd have stopped to get more cash and thrown it down. As it was, I settled for a much more leisurely drive back to the boonies.

The fact that I wish I had another day at the convention - or at least the entire 8 hours it was open Saturday - is the best recommendation I can give for it. I simply didn't have enough time to see, do, and buy everything I wanted to in the limited time I was able to steal.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Ink-Stained Trail - Chapter 8

I spent the first night watching the Charlanes' house. Turns out they have employees there at night too. Different bunch, and all house staff, but not any more inclined to let strangers in. One brushoff was enough to convince me to try something else. I decided I'd spend the daytime hours I wasn't sleeping watching the Charlanes, to see if I could catch one of them in the open for a friendly conversation. The rest of the nights that week I spent following Maggie and her boys. At least this way I felt I was accomplishing something, even if I was just sitting in my car in a different place. Each night they'd visit a different one of the homes in the new development. Only ones that were finished and occupied. Five cars would drive up, but only Maggie and the fellas in her car would go in the front door. Sometimes the other cars would sit until they came out, anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Once, one of the cars drove around to the rear of the house, stayed there for ten minutes, then came back around to the front. Maggie and her boys exited through the front door, and they all left together.

All through this, I tried to hang back. Follow at a distance, park on the furthest hill I could see anything from. Even so, they aren't dopes, and by the last night, I noticed only 4 cars in the procession at first. After I pulled out to follow, a set of headlights pulled in behind me. I went north at the first chance and headed for the next town over, made it look like I wanted to try a diner there. Had some coffee, some mincemeat pie, stopped at a general store to buy some Scotch, went back home. Anything to look like a city boy bored out in the country.

The Charlanes were continuing to keep a wall between me and them. Either a real one, or their servants. Either way, I wasn't getting near them, and they didn't answer their own phones. Now Maggie or her boys had their suspicions up about me again. I decided to take a day off from snooping. Slept in, stayed out of the heat. Night came eventually. The sun refuses to go down, that punchdrunk palooka without enough sense to fall. But it does, finally. Tonight, I head east. There's a club east of town I'd heard about. It sounded a little rowdy for my tastes, but something I'd read about it's owner made me want to visit. I might get something more than overpriced drinks out of this trip.

The Bird's Nest looked like a barn. Which made sense because it used to be one. The sign out front was a simple wooden one, not much of an attention-getter. Guess they rely on word of mouth. The inside was cleaner than you'd expect. I wasn't too surprised. The man running it was fastidious, and a big believer in looking classy, even for a hick barn. The bar was neat, orderly, and packed, with hooch and thirsty customers. The card tables were the same, and who should I see at one but Maggie herself. There were three other players besides her at the table. The one in the checkered shirt chewing on a piece of straw seemed to be doing all right, and so did the one in the slightly battered smoking jacket. Maggie's pile of chips was about even with theirs, but the third guy, still wearing his fedora and smoking a big cigar, he was winning big. About then, Maggie turned and looked me right in the eye.

"Taking a break from nighttime drives?"

I strolled closer to the table. "It's my one night a month to be sociable."

She hmmed, then responded, "And here I thought it was my presence that drew you here." There was a joshing tone to her voice that almost covered the steel I'd heard that night at the Gutierrez farm. Still, it was a friendly voice, inviting me to sit down, maybe spill my guts

"My horoscope only said it was a good night to meet old acquaintances. Maybe buy them a drink. Seems to me I owe you one for your help that night."

She shook her head slightly. "Hardly necessary, and I never drink while I play."

Mr. Fedora - who was the only one seated to her left - chose that moment to butt in loudly, "Well then let's get playin'. I ain't finished winnin' all your money yet, missy."

Maggie smiled at me and the other two for an instant before turning back to face him. Her voice took on a dumbfounded tone. "I'm sorry, mister. I didn't mean to hold everythin' up with my gabbing. I'll just go ahead and bet everything, all right?"

The other two fellas folded immediately, but the loudmouth didn't catch on. Better entertainment for the rest of us. He pushed all his chips in, even though he could have just matched her. Some guys just have to go down in flames, though for this one, I might like for gasoline to be involved. The look on his face when she threw down a straight flush, then swept all her chips in would have to do.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Magge said, with a sweet voice lacking in sincerity, "I know you needed my money so very badly, what with the big hurry you were in, but I seem to have cleaned you out. Such poor luck."

She turned back to the other two. "Gentlemen, shall we continue without him?" The two exchanged nervous glances, then look at her massive pile of chips. Maggie noticed, split the pile, and pushed the halves towards each. "Here, now things are on equal footing, and we should be able to play for some time." It was a gracious tone, and they took her up on it. I took the hint. She was busy. I moved on.

Off in one corner of the club I found a cockfighting ring. Not what I was expecting, certainly not what you'd find on the coast, but the hicks in the sticks have their own interests. The sports fans were really into it. Money was flying, spectators were cheering and jeering the birds. The winners were tossed popcorn, the losers were pelted with it. Lots of strutting and chest puffing. And then there were the birds. Still, it was all good-natured, nobody going for guns or knives. I kept walking.

Further back, there were two staircases next to each other. One went up, the other down, but I didn't like how there was a drunk leaning on the support beam nearby. I walked past looking left and right, like I'm just checking out what's available. Then I spun and walked back to the front, to the bar. Ordered a gin. I'm more a whiskey man, but I thought I'd stick to something with less kick. Good call. If the gin was any indication, the whiskey would have put me on the floor. I sipped slow and careful while I watched the room.

Maggie was still playing cards with the other two. Fedora was making some noise about getting cheated nearby, until he tripped. The fall must have knocked him cold, because some helpful customers carried him out. That's how it went. No obvious security, but there were a few guys, dressed like most everyone else, standing in a way that said security was their job. Wherever things were active, they were nearby, but never involved, always on the edge, watching. One of them noticed me watching. I raised my glass, a friendly gesture to a fellow reveler. He raised a glass too. His smile wasn't as friendly, but it was a nice try. Probably only water in the glass, which wouldn't make me feel much like smiling, either. The exception was that lush near the stairs. Maybe he was soused - with the kick the gin had, I could believe it - but he wasn't staggering, or slumped on the floor. He stayed on the post like he was glued to it.

With a distraction, I figured I could get to the stairs, but up or down? Wouldn't be able to pull the trick twice. The drunk had piqued my curiosity, and he was mostly blocking the basement. I started towards the cockfighting ring, and eased my way into the crowd. The next bout was in full swing. There was one guy standing very close, almost falling in, a full drink in his hand. I bumped his arm as I passed, and he soaked one of the birds. Whoever trained them knew their stuff. The wet bird got distracted, maybe blinded, and the other went on the attack instantly. I felt bad for the losing bird, even as I slipped back to the edge of the crowd. Fortunately, someone stopped the fight so they could bawl George out for ruining the match. He claimed innocence, that someone bumped him, but I guess I picked a good patsy. Everyone believed he was clumsy enough to spill, or crooked enough to do it to win a bet. George objected to be called clumsy, shouting turned to shoving, then punching.

The drunk didn't budge, even as the fight escalated. I chanced it he really was a rummy, and walked past him down the stairs. I reached the bottom shortly. Cleaning supplies along one wall. Extra tables and chairs. At the far end was a solid door that felt colder even than the air in this cellar. Probably storage for booze. Still, I started to pull it open, just to take a peek to make sure. And that's when the lights went out.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Burn Notice 5.2 - Bloodlines

Plot: Mike and Fi took a vacation! To a military training facility in Costa Rica. Not ideal, but it still counts. When they return to Miami, Mike has a new assignment. He's to babysit a British physicist and make sure he doesn't get compromised. Doesn't sound too hard, except Carson is a drunken lecher. Think Sam with none of the wit, charm, or self-control.

In the meantime, Jesse has brought the group a client. Ryoko believes her cousin and many other girls were abducted by a slavery ring, but they're somewhere in Miami, based on a brief call her cousin managed to make off a stolen phone. Jesse's company tracked the phone to a Yakuza named Takeda. They catch Takeda, but he's a tough nut to crack, a guy who cut off his own finger because he feel asleep on sentry duty once. Torture isn't gonna work, which means someone has to be his friend. Jesse, Fi, and Sam are out since they caught him, and Michael's playing the big bad boss, so that leaves Maddy to play the terrified nurse.

And Mike really lays into her, dredges up some ugly and uncomfortable history to make her seem like someone Takeda could trust. And it works. Maddy helps him escape, he tells her where to find his compatriots, the girls are saved. While all this was going on, Fiona has been keeping busy scaring Carson into being a faithful husband again. No telling how long that'll last, but if it sticks until the end of the conference, that's good enough.

The episode ends on Michael asking Fiona to move into the loft with him. Well that's a surprise.

The Players: Max (Michael's Agency Contact), Carson Huxley (Valuable Asset), Ryoko (The Client), Takeda (Yakuza Gangster). Is "Yakuza Gangster" redundant? Aren't the Yakuza the Japanese equivalent, like manga means comics so you don't say "manga comics"?

Quote of the Episode: Sam - 'Oh no - no, the blouse will sell.' Maddy - 'A punch will sell it better.' Mike - 'I'm not gonna hit you, Mom.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (2 overall). Really seems to be cutting back.

Sam getting Hit Count: 0 (0 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 2 (2 overall).

Other: Even though he played two different characters, I'm not sure we heard Mike's alias either time.

Jesse cleans up really well. I should have noticed that last year, since he worse suits occasionally, but he was usually dressed kind of like Sam, baggy shirts and shorts. Plus, i was probably distracted by his strange accents.

I was very surprised to Fiona chase Takeda on foot. Usually she left that to Mike or Jesse, while she used a car. This time Jesse was the wheelman.

I like that, since this episode is a reprise of "Comrades" (episode 2.4), they didn't ignore that. Maddy wants to know how Mike would get Takeda to lead him to the girls, and Sam explains how he staged an escape. He doesn't directly mention Ivan, but if you've been following the show, you know what they're referencing.

It was strange to see Takeda offering Maddy comfort and support. Obviously he's doing it because he needs her to pull it together and get him out of here, but it's still a strange contrast to Michael's verbal abuse. And physical, let's not forget the slap. I don't think Maddy turned her head. Either her reflexes weren't fast enough, or she really wanted to sell it.

I had never considered whether Frank hit Madeline. We know he hit Michael and Nate, because we heard the story of the Christmas family portrait, where Michael picked a fight with Frank to protect Nate. So I shouldn't be surprised abusive behavior would extend to Maddy as well. I simply hadn't thought about it, but it would explain a lot about her cavalier attitude towards Frank's death (her joke once that using his death to get insurance files was the first time he'd been helpful in 30 years).

The way everyone else was really uncomfortable during those scenes helped sell how awkward it was. Nobody wants to look at Mike or Maddy, nobody says anything. Considering Mike was apparently channeling his father, it makes sense it felt like an ugly family moment. One where nobody else knows what to say, so they all just wait and hope it blows over. I expected Fiona to intervene at one point, if only for Maddy to have to tell them to stop coddling her. They do that a lot for how often she helps them. She's chipped in more often than Nate, but they always feel it necessary to extra explain everything to her. Trust her, people. She's a tough old bird.

The Carson subplot was uninteresting, just sort of there. Mostly it made me wonder if Mike was happy he was on his way to getting his old job back, if this is what it entails. His personal cases are much more interesting.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Eternal Sonata Is Almost An Endless Loop Of Elevator Music

Most of the RPGs I've played had some sort of hook that made them stand out to me. Sky piracy (Skies of Arcadia), Wild West setting (Wild Arms 3), Social Links (Persona 3). With Eternal Sonata, it was the idea the whole game might be taking place inside the dream of Frederic Chopin as he lay dying. It sounded odd enough to be worth looking into it, and I found Chopin was the one who created "Raindrops". I love that, what would you call it, melody? Instrumental?

If you set aside the fact that one of the characters in your party is convinced this whole world is his dream, the story is pretty standard RPG fare. You gradually build an oddball cast of characters who each have their own particular concerns, but all those concerns are caused by the same guy, a Count Waltz*. There's a couple of orphan thieves, a goat herder who's a whiz with a bow, a trio of rebels, and couple of priestesses/guardian types, and a young girl who can use magic. Which means she's dying, as only the deathly ill can use magic.

As more and more characters are added, the game will occasionally split them up, which I appreciate. One thing that tends to bother me with RPGs is when the game gives you more characters than they'll let you use in a fight. I understand the desire to provide variety and emphasize different traits. However, it always bugs me when I'm fighting some monster out to destroy the world, and only three of my 6 (or 8, or 10) characters actually get involved. The fate of the world is at stake! What are you doing standing around?! That's not a complaint exclusive to Eternal Sonata, Persona 3 and Baten Kaitos were guilty as well, but the sheer number of potential character makes it more glaring.

Most of the game - that you can play, anyway - is combat, and the system's a pretty good one. Your characters start out on one side of the screen, the enemies on the other. When it's your turn, you can do whatever you'd like with your characters. Run them towards any of the bad guys, run them away from one that's kicking their butts. Run them towards a teammate who needs healing. Use a long range attack if they've got it. It's your call. Standard attacks are one button, special attacks another. When it's the computer's turn, you have the chance to defend against their attacks, assuming you time the button press right, and later in the game, there's even the chance of counterattacking. The list of items you have available to use is on the right, and you can cycle through that while one of your characters is doing a special attack, or the computer's moving, or whatever, as a way to advance prep your next move.

It all works smoothly (except the camera, which is fixed, so you can't tell where you are if you're behind a large enemy), and it's more dynamic and realistic than your standard RPG battle style. You know the type, where the characters always retreat to the place they started the turn from after their attack, and you can run right past one opponent to attack another with no hassles? Here, that carries a risk, because if an opponent attacks you from behind, you can't block it (this works in your favor as well). Combined with the sheer number of characters at your disposal, and their wide array of special attacks, it provides an entertainingly vast number of approaches. Load the party with characters who strike hard, fast to just batter the enemy. Team a bunch of healers and frustrate your opponent by constantly boosting each others health.

All of this is good because you're going to be fighting. A lot. I'm not sure if Eternal Sonata is more of a level grinder than other RPGs I've played, but it feels like it is. There were multiple occasions where I'd enter a dungeon and try to fight everything in it to gain levels**. Eventually, I'd get tired of fighting the same monsters over and over, and start skipping fights. Then I'd reach a boss and feel almost totally outclassed. So I'd try to fight everything in the next dungeon, except I'd get bored. . . You get the idea.

The problem is there isn't much gameplay to offer a break from the fighting. Persona 3 had the Social Links. Skies of Arcadia had discoveries to make, Moonfish to find, people on the Wanted List to bring in (which did involve fighting, but it was a least a break from the main story). The Baten Kaitos games had the quest to repair the Sky Map on the ceiling on the cathedral, or helping the old man track down his family tree. They're little things, but they help connect with the fictional world. Eternal Sonata has Score Pieces, where you play a piece of music as a duet with someone, and hopefully the two pieces mesh well. If so, you get a reward. It's not a bad idea, but the game doesn't allow much backtracking. If you find a Score Piece 20 hours in the game, you can't return to the town from the start to try it with that old man by the road. The game locks you onto that path and keeps pushing you forward.

Maybe that's why the game included the lengthy cut scenes, to provide a break from all the fighting. Thing is, they overdid it a bit. Sometimes, there'll be a cut scene, then the chapter ends, and before the next chapter starts, there'll be a brief discussion of Chopin's life around the time he created whatever piece of music they're highlighting for that chapter. Then another cut scene. In one case, it all added up to over 20 minutes of me sitting there watching the game, but doing nothing. You have the option to skip the cut scenes, but I always figured I'd miss some relevant plot point and then have no idea what to do when they handed control back to me. The end of the game was even worse about. Between a cut scene, some credits, more cut scenes, and then more credits, it was over half an hour before I was sure the game was over, and I hadn't done a thing. Not an ideal situation.

The story falls apart a bit at the end as well. I don't know why Waltz' chief adviser drinks the enhanced mineral powder, or why he tears a whole into what appears to be an afterlife once he has. Or why you'd chase after him in any event. You could argue it's a dream, and doesn't have to make sense, but things had progressed reasonably sensibly up to then. Even if I disagreed with a character's decision, I understood why they made their choice. It feels like the creators didn't think their final battle was big enough as it stood, and had to change things up to make it bigger, more monumental.

Eternal Sonata started off well, but between the level grinding, and the lack of any significant side quests to distract from it, I was thoroughly burned out by the time I finished. I can't say at this point whether I'd try a second playthrough or not.

* Every character in the game, save Frederic, is named for something musically related.

** One thing the game does I appreciate is it makes monsters visible, so you can try to avoid them if you don't want to fight. I vastly prefer that to the randomly generated fights in games like Dragon Quest 8.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What I Bought 4/2/2013 - Part 8

One of these days, I'll end these reviews. This isn't that day. In other news, it's raining again, which means the ceiling is dripping again. Hopefully it stops before I try to sleep.

Katana #1 & 2, by Ann Nocenti (writer), Alex Sanchez (artist), Claude St. Aubin (inker #2), Matt Vackey (colorist), Taylor Esposito (letterer) - I have nothing to say about either of the covers.

So Tatsu/Katana has this nifty sword, the Soultaker. Near I can tell, her husband used to wield it, but he died under somewhat vague circumstances, involving fire. And blood. As far as Tatsu's concerned, his soul is within the sword, which means they'll be taking vengeance on his killers together. That would seem to be the Sword Clan, and to that end, Tatsu's set up shop in the Japantown section of San Francisco. Her initial attempts aren't entirely successful. She managed to overcome Coil - narrowly - but the fact he knows more about her and the sword than she does seems to give him an upper hand. Her attempt to call out Sickle didn't quite work, either. She trounced all his followers, but he didn't actually fight her. Instead, he threatened to leak her identity if she didn't work with them. Tatsu figures you have to be close to someone to stab them, so she agrees.

You have to say this for Nocenti: She doesn't waste time. She's already introduced at least 5 characters I expect to be regular members of the supporting cast, from a potential boss (Nori, her landlady), to a mole (who names their son Thrust? Unless it's Gatotsu, and he just used the English translation), a couple of elder sorts, and Shun the Untouchable. Not sure if she and Tatsu will ever get any time to actually converse, but it ought to be interesting when they do.

As for Tatsu herself, she's on this interesting line between confidence and false bravado. I honestly can't tell which it is sometimes. When she attacks Thrust and harries him, insults him, that's fake. That's her trying out Batman's "scare people into talking" stuff. But when she leaps out of the crowd to challenge Sickle and his ladies, I think that's genuine. She's honestly that sure of herself, even when she knows how far she has to go. So she's overconfident, but I can't tell if that's because she doesn't realize the difficulty of the task ahead of her, or if she just doesn't care. She may figure this is something she has to do, whatever the risks to herself. So she ignores them.

As for Sanchez' art, I prefer it with St. Aubin inking. When Sanchez inks himself, he goes overboard, too many small lines, and things get muddled. The details can get buried under the shadows, especially on things at a distance, such as faces. St. Aubin smooths things out, the shadows there are go deeper, but they aren't as prevalent, so they don't threaten to overwhelm everything.

One other credit, for whomever is responsible, the sound effects. In issue 2, they seem to hang around the borders of the panels, either at the top or bottom. The laughter in the panel where Tatsu gets her second glimpse of Shun, the "swoosh" as Junko leg sweeps Tatsu, the applause when Tatsu first leaps onto the stage with Sickle, and again when the fight ends. There are very few effects in the center of panels. Maybe that's deliberate, or just chance. I like that the applause is set against a narrow line of curtains, as though they're rising on the show and the start, and descending at the end.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What I Bought 4/2/2013 - Part 7

It's been a few days, but I'm back to it. We're even covering multiple titles today.

Dial H #10, by China Mieville (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (pencils), Dan Green (inks), Richard & Tanya Horie (colors) - Amazing. Brian Bolland managed to make the Bristol Bloodhound look even creepier than he does inside the book. Something about those long, black fingernails, combined with the very pale pink skin, like the rest of the body was supposed to shift, but it didn't.

With the help of the Bristol Bloodhound, Nelson's able to escape the Centipede. Why did the Bloodhound help? Because he doesn't have a HERO dial, he has a sidekick dial. He needs a hero to tell him what to do, or he locks up, and Nelson (as the Glimpse) qualified. Well, it's perhaps not ideal, but two dials are still better than one, so Nelson takes the SIDE dial, and lets Manteau give the orders. Meanwhile, the Centipede is pursuing his own angle, believing that combining the technology his government has with the knowledge or faith of some of the cultists, he can get in touch with someone. O, maybe, or someone similar.

I can't decide why the Centipede's keeping the helmet on. He thought it was pretty undignified, but now he wears it even for an interrogation. I can't decide if he's playing dutiful soldier, if he's decided it has its uses, or if he's actually grown fond of it. Likes how disturbing, or unusual it makes him look. I'm also not sure if the name "Eddison", rather than "Edison" is deliberate, or just a spelling error. At any rate, Centipede's got something planned, but I can't figure out what his goal is. What's he hoping for the "dial emissaries" to accomplish? It has to be more than eliminating Roxie and Nelson, but I'm not sure he isn't getting too cocky. I don't understand everything, neither does Roxie, but I don't think the Centipede does either.

Ponticelli does a good job during the stretch where Nelson's the Glimpse, always just a small portion of him in the panel, nothing more. The little hairs all over the Centipede's helmet are a nice touch. Make it look that much more real, which makes it that much more unnerving.

Fearless Defenders #2, by Cullen Bunn (writer), Will Sliney (artist), Veronica Gandini (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - I don't know, that Dani Moonstar action figure doesn't look like it has many points of articulation. Can it even stand up on its own?

Dani herself gets captured by Le Fay's agents, because Le Fay wants to become a Valkyrie. Well that seems a sensible plan. Become a Valkyrie! You too can be summoned to Asgardia and told you're doing a shit job of carrying out your appointed duties, then have a Goddess of Death show up and claim she's doing your job for you! That's pretty much it. Val got a bad performance review for not creating this Valkyrior from Earth's heroes, and Hela's gone and selected one of her own. And the Deathmaidens were black ops Valkyries that went nutso after they saw something. Always with the black ops branches. The Green Lanterns had 'em, the Nova Corps apparently has one, the X-Men, the Avengers, sure why not the Valkyries?

Well, at least this issue got more of a reaction from me than the first one, but it's mostly irritation. Like, why does Misty Knight try to jump kick Hela, when she has a perfectly good repulsor ray in her bionic arm? Why would Le Fay say that if Dani's friends knew what her plan was, they'd be wetting themselves? They're superheroes. Whatever she's got planned, I'm sure they've seen worse. Just say, even if they knew, they couldn't stop it.

I want to say something about Sliney's art, but it's just kind of there. I don't dislike it, other than some of the postures during fight scenes are a little odd. Dani seemed tilted too far to one side when she was sliding down the railing, and when she landed and did the jump and flip, I'm not sure which direction she went. It looks like she jumped backwards, which is why her back's to the ground while she's in midair, but judging by where the stairs are when she lands, she jumped forward, which doesn't make sense to me.

Hawkeye #8, by Matt Fraction (writer), David Aja and Annie Wu (artists), Matt Hollingsworth (colorist), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer) - So Cherry's back. Fortunately not for her car, since that got washed away. Unfortunately, she's back to steal a little safe from the Tracksuit Brigade, and she wants Clint's help. Clint, being a dumbass, agrees to start a fight in the Russkies' strip club while she grabs the safe. Which gets him arrested, which gets him chewed out by Captain America and Stark. Let's pause here a moment to savor the absolute stupidity of Tony Stark chewing anyone else out for breaking a morals clause. Stark's practically a war criminal. If he's not talking to the Red Skull, he does not get to take the moral high ground. Ever.

And all this accomplishes nothing, because Cherry was using comic book covers as a way to remember the combination, and Clint read the comics and messed up the order. So she leaves him with the safe, and the Russians vowing to eliminate him.

OK. Several months ago, I took Clint's little liaison with Cherry as a sign he and Jessica Drew had broken up. Apparently not. So it took 8 issues, but Fraction finally wrote something stupid that pissed me off. Look, Clint Barton has many character flaws. He's hot-tempered, stubborn, arrogant, rebellious, doesn't think before he speaks or acts. One thing he has not been, is a philanderer. That's Oliver Queen's shtick. So yeah, I'm fairly annoyed by that.

Actually, I can't tell whether that opening sequence really happened, or if it was a nightmare Clint had. Or a metaphor for how Cherry reentered his life. She really showed up at Avengers Mansion looking for Clint (when she knows who he is well enough to mail him comics), and Natasha, Bobbi, and Jessica all happened to be there? With playing cards landing on their foreheads? Dressed like something out of the '60s? Seriously, I love Aja's artwork, but no way I believe anyone has worn a dress like Jessica's willingly since the Adam West Batman was premiering episodes. And it's especially silly for her to wear that, then question Cherry's dress. Ladies, ladies, both your outfits are hideous, let's just move on.

I like Hollingsworth's red lighting for Clint's scenes in the club. Conveys how this is an emotional thing for him, while the lighting in the room with Cherry and the safe is more standard white lighting. More cold and sterile. Also, I enjoyed Clint punching the old man. And I liked how, during the conversation where Cherry is convincing Clint to help, Aja uses a lot of tall, narrow panels, which jam the two characters closely together. If only one of them is in panel, it's a close-up, implying the lack of distance between them. At the end, when she's raging about the comics, he uses wider panels, and typically only puts one character in them, at a middle distance. If both characters are in panel, he makes certain there's space between them.

So, Aja, and Hollingsworth do their usual excellent work. I'm all for anything that makes the Russians more aggressive, because that means their inevitable end draws near. Which means no more "bro", and I am all for that. I just really hate that Fraction had Clint cheat on Jessica. Infidelity seems to be a particular flaw I don't like in characters that I want to root for.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Beggar King - Oliver Poetzsch

The Beggar King is the third book in Poetzsch's "Hangman's Daughter" series.  For this one Poetzsch moves the action away from Schongau to the city of Regensburg, home at that time to the Reichstag. Jakob Kuisl received a letter saying his sister's deathly ill, and when he reaches the bathhouse she and her husband run, he finds it's worse than he suspected. They've both contracted a fatal case of stab wounds, and the city watch just happen to show up seconds after Kuisl finds them. Kuisl's thrown in the keep, where he'll have to resist confessing under torture until he can figure out who set him up, and why.

Unaware of all this, Magdalena and Simon have also made their way to Regensburg. Magdalena's sick and tired of being called a witch or the devil's daughter, and when the master baker in town accuses her of poisoning his maid to obscure the fact he's the one who gave her too much ergot to abort the baby he produced, and the entire town goes along with him, she convinces Simon it's time to leave. Once they arrive, they learn of her father's predicament, and set to proving his innocence, which is tricky when you don't know anyone or anything about the city you're in.

It might have been a mistake to read this so soon after The Hangman's Daughter. It makes me notice patterns in Poetzsch's writing more readily. People from Kuisl's past with a grudge, who may also be unhinged? Check. The introduction of a new possible love interest to cause strife for the young couple? Check. The new love interest turns out to be other than what they appear? Check. At least Magdalena got the chance to make Simon jealous this time.

I liked the use of Teuber, the Regensburg hangman. Through the first two books, Poetzsch has told us how closely knit the hangman community is, since they can only associate openly with others like themselves. Everyone else treats them as unclean. We haven't seen it, though, outside of the frequent threats of Magdalena's parents to marry her to the Steingarden hangman. This was a chance to see that, and Poetzsch did a pretty good job. He captures Teuber's conflict between his desire to keep his job and care for his family, while gradually recognizing Kuisl is innocent and has someone out to get him. Someone who's using Teuber to carry out their revenge.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Ink-Stained Trail - Chapter 7

I sat in my dark room, the blinds down, the window open. I was still sweating, but the breeze helped. I was certain Maggie and her boys had something going on out in the housing. I was less certain if Hector or any of the other families were involved. Hector's fear could mean he was an innocent guy getting pushed around, but he could just be some low-level mook, worried about riling his boss. He wouldn't be the first crook with a family, if that's what they were. I remembered the Shrew brothers, Pac and Bly. They'd hire themselves out as kids for people who needed to pose as family men, or wanted muscle people would underestimate. I'd been socked in the jaw - and the garbanzos - more than enough to know they were up for it. Then they riled Victor de la Cruz and wound up sharing a steamer trunk at the bottom of the bay.

One other thing I felt sure of was the Charlanes' involvement. It couldn't be a coincidence they sold the land so cheap, after going to all the trouble to build expensive-looking homes on it. They gained something from all this, the question was what.

I tried looking them up in the archives for the local paper. Didn't find much. The family moved here over a century ago. Started with one small farm, but lucked out that it had a deep well that kept them going through the drought years. They grew, and eventually bought most of the surrounding land over a span of 20 years. Not bad. During the last war, they got some notice for shipping large quantities of food overseas on their own dime. Since they used their own ships, I had a hunch they got Uncle Sam to foot at least some of that bill, but none of the articles mentioned it. Now they were building homes. The paper didn't have any answers as to why, but one advantage to being the wealthiest folks in town is you can convince people not to ask questions.

Even so, the papers noted the Charlanes were notoriously reclusive. Didn't throw big parties or get active in local activities. No lions' Club or anything like that. Just kept to themselves. The family was currently Cyril and Josephine (Cyril was the one who knocked over the display in the general store that day), and their daughter Rosalind (pretty good student by on the awards she was pulling in). They had a son off at college, no specifics as to where. Just "overseas".

None of that told me much, so I decided on the direct approach. Their estate was to the west of their housing plan. Up on a hill. Big gate, high stone fence, gravel drive winding it's way up the hill to an even bigger house. Made me wonder if they bought it in England and had it shipped over. Didn't really fit here. I stopped in front of the gate, which was locked. There was no buzzer to ring to announce myself. The lock was heavy duty, a grey slab of pig iron serving as a padlock. It looked intimidating, but easy enough to pick if you know how. Few minutes work and I was pocketing the lock as I shoved the gate open, and followed the path to the house. My hat was off to the grounds crew. It was a big lawn, but they kept it cut short and neat. There were some trees near the house, but most of the lawn was wide open. The house was a three-story job, made out of granite. It looked well-kept, too, but it had a secretive air to it. Like when you step into a room and everyone gets quiet because they were talking about you. At least the door had a brass knocker to use. I lifted it and let it drop a few times.

After an couple eternities, the door opened. A pair of sea-green eyes peered out from behind the door, set in a young face. "What are you doing here?"

I took a guess. "Rosalind Charlane?"

The door opened a fraction wider. The face was flushed, too much sun, not a hard thing to accomplish around here. The face watched my suspiciously. "No, I'm Laurie Breston, the head maid, and I repeat, what are you doing here?"

I tried for cordial. "I'm sorry, you have such a young voice, I thought you were a teenager. I have an appointment with Mr. Charlane."

The eyes narrowed, that green sea getting pretty stormy. "I highly doubt that," she sniffed. "Mr. C never sees guests."

"I'm really more a prospective employee."

"Then he'd meet with you at his office." I noticed she didn't say that's where he was at the moment, so I kept pressing.

"It's about a private matter."

She'd had enough. "I'll not listen to any more of your stories! Be gone, or I'll set the grounds crew on you." The door slammed in my face.

I've had friendlier conversations hanging upside down in my bookie's basement. I turned and scanned the lawn as I started back to the road. I glanced back and saw Laurie was keeping an eye on me through a window next to the front door. I also noticed a curtain shift on the third floor, but didn't get a glimpse of who'd been there. Nice to see my curiosity had sparked someone else's.

Evidently I'd walked far enough Laurie didn't need to watch me. I turned and ambled around the side of the house, looking for another entrance, trying to be casual about it. Just a guy enjoying the view. I didn't make it far before a man stepped out of the shadows. He wore a straw hat big enough to use as a beach umbrella, with skin so burnt and weathered it looked tougher than his boots. He had a pair of gardening shears in his hands, pointed right at me.

"Mrs. Breston told ye to shove off," he rasped out. His voice was like sandpaper against the wood of his throat.

"Er, sorry. Which way is out again?" I really can't help myself.

"It's that way, ye daft snoop," he jeered, and jerked his head in the direction behind me. "And if ye still can't find it, I'm sure an ambulance can carry you out. Or a hearse." He jabbed the shears at me. I tried not to laugh. Maybe it was all the sun, but he looked old enough to be my grandfather's father. I was pretty sure I could take him, but assaulting the elderly isn't my style. Not when it won't accomplish anything.

I figured I'd pissed enough people off for the day. I turned and walked quickly back down the hill to my car, and drove back to town. I wanted to get a quick nap before I tonight. I had things to do.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Burn Notice 5.1 - Company Man

Plot: Michael's working with the CIA, but he's not exactly back in. The burn notice is still under review. You wouldn't think that'd be the case, seeing as he's spent six months since the end of Season 4 roaming the world, helping them hunt down all the people on that list. But that's government for you. The wheels grind slowly, but exceedingly dumb.

Michael and Max (his partner for the time being, who is in the CIA) tracked down Hector in Ontario, and Michael's able to play sympathetic enough to convince Hector to give up the name of the last guy they need. A John Kessler, hiding in Venezuela. Michael manages to get Sam and Fi involved, but they're chafe a bit at how the CIA does things. They fact they'll be relegated to the sidelines for the attempted abduction of Kessler doesn't help things, either.

The abduction doesn't go as planned. The attempt to bribe an official at a checkpoint by having Mike pose as a Russian agent almost goes sour, but even after they smooth that out, there's still the fact they underestimated Kessler's resources. He's able to pick up and jam their allegedly coded transmissions, and the team gets crushed while Kessler hightails it back to his fortress. Mike and Max can't get to him before he shoots himself, which leaves Mike extremely frustrated. He didn't get the answers he wanted. But Jesse did get him the Charger back (slightly mangled), that should count for something.

The Players: Max (CIA Officer), Michael (CIA Asset), Raines (The Boss), Kessler (Michael's Last Chance For Answers)

Quote of the Episode: Mike - 'A plan? No, I got some tactical goals and a rough approach.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? A telephone pole. Or a power pole. One or the other. It blocks a road with wood and a shower of sparks.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 2 (2 overall). They say Sam slimmed down. I don't really see it myself. Maybe it's the baggy shirts.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (0 overall)

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

Other: Michael's alias is "Vasily Andropov". Sam and Fi were stuck with "Greg and Tara Winter". yes, the CIA broke Sam's Chuck Finley mojo.  Because they are morons.

Jesse getting his job at CIFA back only to quit it strikes me as kind of silly. I assume the idea was they want to keep him as a cast regular - something I'm fine with - and thought working for a private security company would better facilitate that than if he worked for a different large government agency than Michael (probably one that is a rival of the CIA, knowing the pissing contests and jurisdictional battles agencies have). Even so, Jesse's argument that he wanted to be helping people more directly is a little naive. There's no guarantee the people he'll protect deserve protection, simply because they can afford to pay for it. If he'd started his own security operation, where he had final say on the clientele, sure.

Michael's relationships with Madeline and Fiona are both surprisingly positive, considering how much he's keeping them in the dark. He couldn't even tell Fiona he went to Canada, for pete's sake. But it's strong inferred that Mike's been returning to Miami regularly in between these missions, so they've been getting to see him at least, which is more than they probably expected when those CIA guys took him away at the end of last season.

I laughed when Hector told Mike he wouldn't get Kessler because he was too careful. He asked him how he though Kessler had avoided him so long, and all I could think was, "He stayed out of Miami?" If you just stay away from Florida in general, Michael's been largely powerless these last 4 seasons. Yet people keep showing up, all the way back to Phillip Cowan at the end of Season 1.

Cowan, incidentally, is the one who first told Michael he wouldn't be able to get any easy answers. That it was as simple as Cowan being the sole bad guy, so if Michael defeated him - somehow - everything would be fixed. Cowan was right, even if he died about 10 seconds later. Victor told him much the same thing in a men's room a season later. Here we are in Season 5, and I'm not sure Michael's ever let that sink in. Still running for answers about why him, specifically. And now it appears he lost the chance to find out. Maybe that's why things are going well with Maddy and Fi. His personal life is on a high note, so professionally things need to start deteriorating again. Like Peter Parker, things can't go well for Michael Westen in both halves of his life? When he thought Strickler was gonna get him back in, he almost lost Fiona, and getting her back led to him killing Strickler, which kind of tossed any chance he had of helping Michael.

Is there a psychological difference between people who search for reasons why something bad happens to them, and people who accept it as chance, fate, God's will, whatever? Michael's clearly in the former category.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

What I Bought 4/2/2013 - Part 6

Keep these reviews rollin' along.

Daredevil #22, 23, 24, by Mark Waid (writer), Chris Samnee (artist), Javier Rodriguez (color art), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - I like DD's posture on that cover. Makes him look slightly weary, not really enjoying his triumph over these goons. Plus how the line from his billy club is draped over and around the statue and the goons.

First off, Matt's almost out of money since he and Foggy split up. Then Octavius Spidey attacks him, but that's broken up by the appearance of Stilt-Man, who has upgraded his gear by stealing some of Ock's designs. You know, Stilt-Man was a woman in last year's Villains for Hire mini-series. Maybe people trade the name off between them. "Here, you try and be a decent villain named Stilt-Man, I can't do it." Octavius manages to do a passable enough Parker that Matt doesn't suspect anything. I gotta say, I find it hard to believe Octavius can copy Pete's posture that well that it fools Daredevil. Anyway, DD convinces Ock he's not a danger and they part ways so Matt can learn Foggy may have cancer.

Well, then.

Matt tries taking Foggy out for some fun to take his mind of it and for them to reconnect. The fun's interrupted by a horde of guys who have all been blinded by the same radioactive sludge that Matt was hit with. So they have super-senses too, they just don't know how to control and focus them like he does. Which comes in handy for corralling them, but it's pretty disturbing. When that doesn't get Matt moving fast enough to suit his mysterious, darkness loving adversary, he receives a crate full of blinded, hypersensitive attack dogs at the office. Just what every person needs. However, Matt may have just gotten a lead. Or it may be a trap. Knowing Matt's luck, I'd bet on trap.

I have absolutely no idea who is after Matt. He had his assistant make a big collage of relevant pictures into a bullseye, but I can't believe it's Bullseye. I'm fairly confident it isn't the Kingpin, though, which is enough for me. Oh crap, it isn't the old man he saved when he was boy, bitter because he wasn't gifted with super-senses to compensate for his preexisting blindness, is it? I was about to say I'm more curious about this mysterious client Matt hasn't told Foggy about, but now I'm not sure that's true.

Damn, I almost forgot Matt talked with Assistant D.A. Kirsten McDuffie, who admitted she doesn't want to be in a relationship with Matt because it leads to a point where everyone defines her in relation to him. "Daredevil's Girlfriend", rather than "Assistant District Attorney", that sort of thing. Naturally, her ability to walk away from him only makes Matt more attracted. Just leave her be, Matt. She hasn't died or gone insane yet, don't tempt fate.

Let's talk about sound effects. there are a few good ones, but as usual, I don't know whether to credit Samnee or Caramagna. There's the "POP" as Spidey's shoulder is separated in #22, with the letters done in the shape of bones. The "BLAM" in #23, with concentric circles inside the letters, emanating from right where the "wilder"'s ears are.

On the definite art side, I thought Samnee and Rodriguez did a good job with "Superior" Spidey. His costume has no blue, just black with the red, and his posture is much more aggressive. He's always leaning forward poised to attack, and he always seems to be in the upper part of the panels, above Daredevil, or trying to get above him. Plus he moves more forcefully. He goes right through a wall, rather than use the window he already chucked DD through. Also, he moves differently from Daredevil. It's hard to describe how, exactly, but it's a matter of training. Matt's trained, so his body works as one, while Spidey in general, but especially with a relatively inexperienced Ock driving it, moves on instinct, so his body is more all over the place. The panel where Matt mentions Ock as a tub of lard (page 11), DD's dodges an arm by seemingly twisting slightly and deflecting with the billy club. Spidey has to duck with his entire body. There's an unfamiliarity to it for him where he can't do subtle movements. Also, I like Matt's surprise when Spidey beats him to the punch - literally - on disabling Stilt-Man's armor.

My favorite panel from 22  is still Foggy's visualization of Matt as a magician. The cape, top hat, doves, puff of smoke, Typhoid Mary as the smiling assistant. It's a nice visual. There's the bit at the end of 23, as they wait for the diagnosis, and Matt is convinced it's Foggy who is terrified because he hears an incredibly rapid heatbeat. But we can see Foggy's face, his expression, which Matt can't, so we know he's totally calm before Matt does. It's excellently set-up.

I'm not sure about the Foggy has cancer thing (I'm also not sure about a bacon and limburger cheesecake. Anyone who makes that ought to be on trial for war crimes. Not sure how Matt carried it to the office without passing out), but I've trusted Waid this far, and I would say other than the "Omega Effect" crossover, he hasn't let me down. Either way, the die is cast.

Friday, April 12, 2013

What I Bought 4/2/2013 - Part 5

I forgot to mention yesterday, but we did get that rain they were calling for Wednesday night. Naturally, the hole in the ceiling started dripping, which makes trying to sleep fun. It's not the sort of repetitive sound that escorts on gently off to slumberland.

Captain Marvel #10, 11, by Kelly Sue DeConnick * Christopher Sebela (writers), Filipe Andrade (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - I like the visual of Carol leaping across rooftops with some small-time burglar (complete with domino mask and striped prison shirt). But the way the Carol on the poster is smiling creeps me out. It's her cheeks, they're too shiny, too cherubic, it's freaky. I know, that was the style at one time, and Quinones is trying to evoke that. And he does a good job of it, but it's still freaky looking. Also, I notice Quinones has Carol rocking her new hairstyle on the covers, but Andrade has gone back to the long, flowing locks. I don't care one way or the other - though the new haircut gives Carol a more distinctive look - I'd just like everyone to get on the same page.

Carol, having been told there's a lesion in her brain that moving deeper into her brain every time she flies, so she should not fly, does what most people do when they get news from the doctor they don't want to hear: She ignores it. She gets angry when Frank Gianelli tells her he's going to hire a different pilot until her situation is sorted. She charges out to do her Captain Marvel thing, and nearly passes out after lifting a subway train. Frankly, that doesn't seem like an unusual response to lifting and dragging a train, but I still like it because I've had that response. Where I know I'm sick, or might be getting sick, and every little ache, pain, or sneeze, is a sign of doom. Carol also tries to turn down Captain America's offer of his flying motorcycle, but her assistant Wendy paints it up in Carol's colors and hires Dakota North to teach Carol how to fly it, since it's the "motorcycle" part that's more relevant to driving it than the "flying" part, apparently.

It's not a bad thing to have because an old-school Deathbird has shown up (flowing the orders of some mysterious guy), and when Carol tried to fly under her own power in their first fight, she blacked out and pancaked into the pavement. I'm not sure jumping off the bike while having it ram Deathbird in mid-air was the best approach, seeing as she can't use it to fly if she isn't riding it, but she's new at this, she'll get the hang of it. Also, her asshole neighbor filed a lawsuit to have her evicted. No matter what, always remember average people in the Marvel Universe are terrible.

Tom Foss noted that issue 9 had a panel where they used "diffused", instead of "defused", which is not great work by someone in quality control. Issue 10 had "tunned" when it was supposed to be "tunnel", and come on people, do you not have spell check? I know those things aren't perfect, but even the Blogger's spell check recognizes "tunned" is not a word. Just putting that out there, moving on.

I think Andrade does better on maintaining panel-to-panel consistency with character faces over these two issues, though I feel like the shape of Carol's face does shift a lot. How prominent her jaw line is, how far her chin just out, things like that. Beyond that, Andrade overdoes it one the perspective sometimes. There's a panel of Dakota sitting in a chair and calling the cops, and the hand furthest away from us is just miniscule. I don't mind some exaggeration, but that's too much.

Complaints aside, Andrade does bring a lot of energy to the fight scenes, and uses overlapping panels well to carry the eye from one to the other. I thought page 16 in issue 10 was a good example. The panel of Deathbird landing on the roof, slightly overlaps the one above of Carol clocking her with the heavy bag, and heavily overlaps the next panel of Deathbird rising as Carol winds up again. The panel below that has the characters in the same places relative to each other, but uses the "SLIIIIIIICCEE" sound effect and the torn heavy bag to draw the eye down to the next panel, which is slightly overlapped by the one following it, with the knife-feathers rushing towards Carol. There's another good bit on the next page at the bottom, with the closeup of Carol's hand and Deathbird's face, leading into a larger panel of Carol blasting Deathbird, where it's like we've been thrown back by the force of it, just as the panel borders have been pushed outwards.

I also notice that through the first half of #10, Andrade sticks to mostly square or rectangular panels. The number and layout shifts, but otherwise they're pretty similar. Once Deathbird kicks Carol off the roof and the fight starts, Andrade starts using a lot of slanted panels with either 2 or zero parallel sides, trapezoids (or trapeziums, if you're in the UK, apparently, who knew?). I can't detect a pattern to it, where the narrow side is the one the action originates from, or it's the side Carol's on. It produces a see-saw effect down the page, moving you from side to side, so maybe it's supposed to represent shifts in momentum. It stops when Carol decides to fly after Deathbird, Andrade goes back to square and rectangles, because the fight is effectively over, I guess. Once Carol tried to fly, she was beat. So Andrade has some interesting compositional beats, but needs to improve drawing characters consistently.

I don't know if it's Andrade's inks of Bellaire's colors, but the frequent use of shadow, or outline for Deathbird's a nice touch. Plays up the "bird of prey" aspect to have her silhouetted or shadowed. Death from above, and all that.