Sunday, June 30, 2013

Burn Notice 5.12 - Dead to Rights

Plot: Pearce has Mike in custody, and will doubtlessly be hauling him to some secret detention facility where she can torture him mercilessly. Fortunately, Sam and Jesse put their necks on the line to get everyone the news about Tavian Korzha. Pearce reluctantly wires Michael and lets him go talk to Tavian, who promptly confesses he killed Max. Michael then stupidly reveals he's wearing a wire, and Tavian hurls himself off a building rather than tell Mike anything else. Smooth work there, Westen.

After a lengthy debriefing, Michael is cleared and released, only to be ambushed at home by. . . Dead Larry! Seems Larry was extradited to an Albanian prison, but used up the last of his funds to buy his way out. So he's broke, and Michael's gonna help him make some cash by planting documents in the British consulate. They'll get in because Larry found himself a psychiatrist named Anson who works for the government, who can get access to the necessary security codes. Mike does manage to slip Anson a knife so he can escape and contact Sam. There's not a lot Sam and Fi can do, though, because they can't get in. The guards won't budge, and Larry has access to the security cameras. He's also more hostile to Michael than usual, and Anson fears he might really kill Mike. So Fiona plants some explosives on a window, lures Larry over with some seemingly pointless rifle fire, and blows him to hell.

Then the rest of the building explodes. Michael's OK, the guards are not. While Fiona grapples with how that could have happened, the Anson strolls in their front door. Turns out Anson is the last member of the people who burned Michael. And now that he can pin bombing a consulate on Fiona, Michael's going to do whatever Anson wants.

The Players: Tavian (The Man Who Killed Max), Larry (Unfriendly Ghost), Anson (Useful Kidnapee)

Quote of the Episode: Larry - 'Hey. Understand something, Michael. You know, I've let you skate a few times just because of old times' sake, and I always looked upon you like a son. That ended when you sent me to prison. Now you don't wanna get shot in the neck, you do what I say. And then you cross your fingers. . . because Daddy is in one of those moods.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Larry. But not the consulate, seriously, don't say stuff like that out loud! Who cares if Anson says he has other evidence? Make him prove it! Call the little bastard's bluff!

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (14 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (7 overall). Larry did call him a gasbag, though. Words hurt.

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (9 overall).

Other: Larry neglected to give Michael's "idiot helper" character a name.

Last week, I didn't understand why Sam told Tavian that Homeland Security had been alerted and he was trapped. This week, I don't understand why Michael told him about the wire. Why do these people think it's a good idea to back a professional killer into a corner? Maybe if Mike had strung him along a little further, he'd have known to watch out for Anson.

I shouldn't be impressed that Michael could sit there with a straight face and tell Pearce she "owed" it to him to let him approach Tavian, but I am. You have done nothing but lie to her for weeks, Michael. She ought to pistol whip you just on principle.

How is it that Pearce could hear about the suspicious warehouse fire in episode 5.10, within a few hours of its occurrence, no less, but she had no idea there was an alert out about a Romanian killer? Or was Jesse really vague in his tip to Homeland Security? Even so, I can't believe something like that wouldn't have gotten her attention.

Larry was a lot less cordial, and lot meaner this time. I mean, he's always contemptuous of Sam, but beyond that, he at least pretends to try and work together, put on his happy face. He was more like Brennan this time, not working with Michael out of any buddy-buddy feelings, just seeing Michael as a potentially useful asset. One he'd like to put the screws to, but an asset nonetheless. He's also showing his age a bit. I don't know if that was a deliberate makeup decision (since he had been in an Albanian prison for 9 months), of if it's just Tim Matheson getting older. I know Larry was gonna have to go eventually. He was too deadly to keep popping up without it getting lethal, so if he isn't going to retire or stay in prison, then he had to die. And I'm sure Fiona enjoyed blowing him up, and Larry was so smug to her right beforehand, I enjoyed it, too.

Personally, I thought last season was a good way to wrap things up, with Michael no longer trying to hamstring Larry's murderous schemes covertly, asserting the gap between them, and surviving because of his friends (which wouldn't happen for Larry because he doesn't have any). If they were gonna kill him, I'd rather Sam got to do it. Partially because Fiona got to kill Carla, and it's not fair Sam never gets to kill any of the Big Bads.

More because if Larry had died in Season 4, he couldn't have been brought back to help usher in Anson. Look, I really hate Anson. Mostly because I hate these sorts of villains. The ones who always know what you're going to do, no matter how inventive or imbecilic it is, because they are a master of the human psyche, so they will introduce variable X, and you will do Z (rather than Q or 47), and then this will happen, just as they planned. I just don't buy it, I don't care than Anson really is a psychiatrist, and that he's studied Michael, and talked to both his parents. I think people's brains are wired so that they're too unpredictable. Sometimes we do things you'd never expect us to, for no reason you could discern at the time.

Anyway, the net result of my hating the sort of character Anson represents, is that I start to hate everything about him. I considered using his blithe dismissal of the woman he claimed was his wife (who he then killed) as the quote of the episode, but I hadn't written it down. because I was too busy writing down how he was a little shit. I hate his eyebrows, I hate his stupid vest he wears to meet them on the beach, I hate his smugness, I want him off the show, five minutes ago.

The final six weeks of this season are not going to be a jolly time.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sharpe's Tiger - Bernard Cornwell

During Sharpe's Rifles, Sharpe had to describe his military to career to some members of the Church who needed convincing that he was the man to help Blas Vivar. he mentioned killing the Tippoo Sultan, and six of his bodyguards in the process. That sounded pretty damn impressive, and some time later Cornwell got around to writing that story. Which is Sharpe's Tiger.

This book's set in 1799, in India, as the British attempt to oust the Tippoo Sultan. Sharpe is just a private, hoping to marry the half-Indian widow of one of the 33rd's former regiment. Problem: his sergeant, the loathsome Obadiah Hakeswill has already promised to deliver her to a brothel owner who is amongst the caravan following the British army. And he has Captain Morris on his side, because the Captain would like a piece of that.Which means Sharpe gets set up, and sentenced to 2,000 lashes.

Fortunately, he's spared the last 1800 because a spy for the Brits has been captured, and they need to know what he knows about the Sultan's defenses. The spy has a cousin prepared to go, but he's a lieutenant, no hope of passing himself off as a deserting soldier. But he knows Sharpe, trusts his skill (and knows Sharpe is probably innocent of the crime), and gets him roped in to help. Sharpe agrees on the condition he makes sergeant if he lives, and off they go.

From there, it's a matter of doing whatever is necessary to convince the Tippoo Sultan they will be loyal to him, while trying to figure out what the British need to know, and how to get the information to them. Failing that, Sharpe and Lawford, will have to devise some way of putting the kibosh on the Tippoo Sultan's plans themselves.

The killing didn't quite go as I expected it would. Sharpe was more cleverly opportunistic, while I had been expecting him to simply hack and slash his way through the guards. Well, he never did describe how he killed them. My fault for assuming. Sharpe's speech is a tad coarser in this than in Sharpe's Rifles. He uses bastard a lot regardless, but this time there were a lot more "bloody"s, and "bugger"s and such. I don't know if Cornwell did that to show that Sharpe refined how he talked as he rose the ranks, or he just felt like adding more swears.

One thing I've been mulling over is Mary, the widow Sharpe was sweet on. She ends up meeting someone else in Sriringapatna (that's how it's spelled in the historical notes, but not in the story itself), but she remarks on how she didn't feel as though she fit anywhere else. The British looked askance at her for being half-Indian, and she was considered an outsider by the caste system, and so didn't have a place there. But she married into a Hindu family living in India, so wouldn't the caste issues remain? Or does she have a place once she's married into a family? Either way, her presence felt a little plot convenient, where she would sort of drop from the mind when she wasn't needed for some critical role. Which seems odd, considering she was the whole reason Sharpe wound up flogged and taking the mission in the first place.

Hakeswill is a truly impressive villain. Not because he's especially good at being evil, but because he's good at inspiring hatred. He has not one redeeming quality in him. He's sexist, racist, cruel, conniving, cowardly, murdering, ass-kissing, falsely pious piece of garbage. He reminds me of Cartman, in his capacity for self-preservation, and his unwillingness to ever pass up a chance to kick a man while he's down. That he survives is an immense disappointment, albeit one I knew to expect because I saw his name on the back cover of some of the later Peninsular Wars books. Sharpe could have saved everyone a lot of trouble had he just shot him, but noooo, he had to be a Fancy Dan about it.

Anyway, Sharpe's Tiger is a very fast-paced book. Even when there's no fighting, there's always something happening, Plotting, intrigue, characters worrying about their intriguing plots being discovered. Or I'm learning something about the Tippoo Sultan, who sounds like a pretty interesting guy. I have to feel bad for the Hindu residents of the land. Get out from under a Muslim ruler (albeit one who was smart enough not to mess with their religious practices) and his French buddies, wind up under the British. Trading one form of outside rule for another doesn't sound like much of an improvement.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Master Chief's Great At Making Enemies, It's Friends He Finds Difficult

Halo 4 is my second jaunt into the Halo series. I owned the original on the XBox, but a lack of opportunity for multiplayer with my friends led me to trade it in. Once I'd beaten the game, I didn't really feel like playing it again.

And that's where I'm at with Halo 4, good thing it was a Christmas gift. I was interested in trying the game because of what I'd read about Cortana's story arc, her problems with rampancy. Essentially, she's been in service too long, and her systems are falling apart, being overwhelmed by her accumulated experiences, something like that. Sounds a bit like she's butting up against planned obsolescence. Given that her rampancy seems to present itself as disorientation, distraction, and fits of temper, a part of me wondered if it was a crack on menopause. That would be pretty mean, but the video game industry doesn't have much better of a track record with female characters than the comic book industry.

In reality, it's probably meant to mirror Alzheimer's, or senile dementia. At any rate, the Master Chief is determined to get Cortana back to Earth, on the theory her designers can counteract the problem somehow, and Cortana is determined to get the Chief home. She might be in love with him, or it might simply be that each one is all the other has. Near as I can tell, everyone else they've known over the course of these games has died, or else been separated from them by years and light years. But Cortana's always been there for the Chief, pointing him in the right direction, and he's always been there for her, trusting that she'll help him do whatever needs be done. It was touching, made me care a little more about the Chief. In Halo, Cortana had plenty of personality (sass and exasperation, mostly, but lots of both). The Chief was just sort of there, the guy who follows orders and saves the day because it's his job. Kurt Russell in Soldier, basically. The difference was that movie surrounded Russell with people who regarded his ingrained habits as odd, whereas the Chief is surrounded by soldiers and officers who think nothing of it (there is some sense that most soldiers regard him with at least a little awe). Maybe that's the point, the military is a different world, what seems strange from the outside looks perfectly natural, maybe even necessary from the inside. Still, it didn't leave much opportunity to bounce different personalities off the Chief to play up what he's like.

There still isn't much of that here, but the story presents the Chief as struggling against the limits of what he can do and how he's been trained. He probably isn't supposed to care about Cortana as much as he does, but he probably also wasn't meant to survive as long as he has, either. He's seen who knows how many people die, killed an immense number of foes, to the point not much of it fazes him. But Cortana's been the constant, and he wants to save her. He can't do that himself, so he trusts that if he keeps doing what he can do - kill things - he'll get her to someone who can. Kill the right guy and everything will work out, and you can feel him recognizing the foolishness of that when Cortana presses him or loses hope. He doesn't know what to say, because he knows, "We'll stop the Didact", does not sound like much of a plan. So he turns to action. We all have things we fall back on in the hard moments.

OK, that's story considerations, what about gameplay? Well, it's a first-person shooter, so you spend a lot of time running around shooting things. Shocking, I know. There tends to be some sort of highlighted objective you need to reach and either blow up or switch off. Actually, there's usually more than one before you can move on to the next objective. At times it feels a little too obvious that I'm being led by the nose through hoops. This isn't helped by the fact that it seems to take a lot of bullets to kill anyone in this game, especially for the first few chapters. I'd stand there firing, reload, fire some more, oh good, his shield is down, empty another clip into and. . . dead. Oh great, the little floaty bastard reconstituted him, so now I gotta start all over. You factor in the enemies taking cover, teleporting away, distracting you with flanking attacks, and so on, and some of these fights stretch for awhile. I died several times by simply getting fed up and trying to rush through them to the exit. What was a few more Convenant, dead or living? That didn't work very well.

I like the various add-ons the Chief can carry. I didn't find all of them useful, but the auto-sentry and the hardlight shield were helpful. If nothing else, it adds some variety, gives the player some choice as to how they want to play. Not too much, though. The game is going to have you enter an area, throw enemies at you for awhile, then you advance and kill more enemies. I guess you could argue the Didact regards his forces as expendable, so he doesn't see any need for tactics beyond throwing numbers at you, but there's no sense while playing that you could attacked at any moment.

Perhaps the designers figure Cortana would prevent that, although they could have played up the rampancy for an uncertainty. There was one point near the end where she couldn't get herself together enough to place an objective marker, and I felt legitimately lost. I didn't want to wander in a useless direction, getting worn down by enemies I shouldn't even bother fighting, so there was confusion. Work with that. Maybe nothing happens during stretches where she's discombobulated, and other times, you get attacked by some elite cloaked guy. Make those moments of real dread where the player understands just how critical Cortana's been to the Chief's survival all these years.

I really hated the steering controls for all the craft you can drive. They set it up so one thumbstick moves you forward and back, but the other is for turning. Which I could buy for a tracked vehicle, like the Scorpion tank, but why would the fighter craft Banshee, or the hoverbike Ghost handle like that? It was very frustrating and I did not much enjoy the parts of the game where steering was required.

I can't speak to the multiplayer part of the game. Haven't tried it, not sure when I'd get around to it. As for the single player campaign, if I had to buy Halo 4 myself, I probably never would have. Obviously I was interested in some of the story (not the Didact, who was tedious with his arrogant blather from the start), and it does the shooting part of the gameplay well. But I never felt invested in the mess with the Forerunners, and after awhile, I'd just get bored, feel like I was playing out of some obligation to finish the chapter. I didn't feel compelled to find out "what happens next", which is not a great feeling.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Make The Non-Costumed People Count

I'm a little annoyed the Hawkeye creative team killed Grills. He struck me as a sort of loud, but essentially kind-hearted, doofus. Not unlike Clint, only not as loud, or as pushy. A decent enough guy, in other words. Which is why it was an effective moment.

Then I realized it couldn't have been anyone else. Having Kazi kill some random person would establish his evil bonafides, but if they're trying to hit Hawkeye (and us) where it hurts, they have to use someone close to him. And there is no one else. There isn't any other supporting cast in the book (I consider Kate more of a co-star by this point than a supporting character), not that's received enough page time for us to care. But Grills has been popping up regularly, got to be the focus of half of issue 7. He was the only choice.

Which annoys me all over again. Because it's been 10 issues and Fraction and Aja have managed to give one supporting cast member enough depth for the reader to care about them in something other than abstract. If the Legion of Russian Al Davises* are going to try and destroy Clint where he lives, then the other tenants are going to get caught in the crossfire. It might be nice for them to be more than cardboard cutouts there strictly to be knocked over to show that this time it's serious business because civilian casualties. The Russians are bad guys, I'm thoroughly down with Clint and Kate thrashing them just on principle, but if you flesh out the people around them so that we care about them like Clint does, that helps to emphasize that Clint is actually protecting people in danger. Otherwise, it starts to feel like a pissing contest between him and the Russkies.

Give us a sense of how this mess is affecting the other tenants, good, bad, or indifferent. Do they even know what's going on? Is there a teenager pissed off because Clint's overzealous approach to strange vehicles frightened away their significant other? Are they being hassled walking back from the market? Were they able to afford a vacation because Clint's not bleeding them dry with exorbitant rents? I don't know, something that makes them real characters.

* It drives me nuts I didn't think of comparing the track suit buffoons to the former Oakland Raiders' owner sooner.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Fate Of Dunwall Rests In Your Grabby, Stabby Hands

Of all the games I received for Christmas this year, Dishonored is easily my favorite. Which is impressive considering how much I liked Alice: Madness Returns. The story goes that the land/city of Dunwall is gripped by an awful plague, and Corvo (you) have returned from a fruitless journey to neighboring lands to see if they know of a solution. Shortly after you return, a super-powered assassin arrives, kills the Empress, and kidnaps her daughter Emily. Then the various honchos in power pin the whole thing on Corvo. He escapes with a little help from a band of people loyal to the late Empress, and sets out to rescue Emily, restore her to the throne, and deal with the traitors in the government as he sees fit.

The thing I enjoy most about Dishonored is the stealth elements. Perhaps not a surprise, given my love for Thief (and my disappointment with Velvet Assassin). I suppose you could play the game loudly. Corvo's weapons include firearms and explosives, but my preference is to sneak around. I stick to the sleep darts for the crossbow as much as possible, the sword failing that. I find that makes it easier to pick off enemies one at a time. I'd be more comfortable if it was 3rd-person, rather than 1st, but you can't have everything. I'd also like it if there was an easy way to tell if you were well hidden or not. Unless someone walks past and gets the "alert" symbol over their head (three tiers of little lightning bolts, with each tier lighting as they get more suspicious) you can't tell offhand. Generally, people in this game are a bit smarter than in some of the other stealth games I've played. They don't give up as readily if you find a hidey-hole. It's nice, if nerve-wracking, trying to decide whether to stay or bolt.

The other thing I enjoy about the game is the element of choice. If you sneak up behind an unsuspecting person, you could stab them, choke them into unconsciousness, rob them, or ignore them entirely. There are various security device. You could deactivate them, rewire them so you're the only person safe from them, or find a way around. Before or during most missions, someone will make a request of you. You can carry it out or not. It might make things easier, or it might simply keep your hands a little less bloody. Those decisions can have consequences down the line, good or bad.

I tried to go non-lethal, most of the time. The game convinced me to, because one of the load screens said killing more people made the plague worse, and led to a darker ending. I kept remembering I was supposed to be helping Emily reclaim the throne, and decided I really didn't want to hand her London during the Black Death. Also, sometimes it was easier to take the alternate choice, and sometimes, I just felt merciful. I'm still not sure why I spared the assassin. Maybe if bringing him to prison had been an option. . .

There was one guy I wanted very badly to kill, but because of the direction I'd taken, he was already dead by the time I reached him. So disappointing.

Along the lines of choices, Corvo gains powers shortly after his escape. He's approached by The Outsider, some sort of, I'd call him a trickster deity. There are charms and runes inscribed to him scattered throughout Dunwall, and gathering those lets you gain powers. He observes you through the story, pops in every once in awhile to critique, or discuss your options, but doesn't (so far as I know) interfere. He doesn't care what specifically you use his gift for, only that you use it. Does that make him the game designers?

Other than Blink (teleportation, very handy), you don't have to activate any powers, if you don't wish to. Some of them were a little flashy for me, or seemed likely to encourage more violence, so I tried to stick to things that would help with evasion or confusion. Possession, Dark Vision, Bend Time, Agility, things like that. Looking back, I think I'll try to upgrade Possession to Level 2 sooner the next time. Maybe don't activate Shadow Kill. I got a little loose with the covert stabbing after that.

I guess the graphics are good, I'm not knowledgeable enough to say, but everything looked good to me. Dunwall has a Victorian London (or what I picture that as) vibe in its nicer parts, though other areas remind me of bombed out, World War 2 London The designers do seem to have gone to the trouble of creating lots of levels to the city, which creates lots of different avenues to approach from. Try the sewers, try the rooftops, try the front door. Nose around in abandoned (or inhabited) apartments along the way. Attack City Watch or don't. Whatever suits you. There are times I felt I was butting up against the limits of an area. I'd feel certain I ought to be able to Blink up onto that building, but nope, can't make it. I guess they weren't prepared to do an entirely open-world, and I will admit if I could keep going out of Dunwall, one Blink at a time, I just might.

I'm sure I'll play the game through again in the future, probably more than once. The problem I'm facing is what approach to take. I'd like to see what results from a more high chaos approach. If nothing else, I might get a chance to kill that one character. However, it's going to require more killing across the board, and the other thing I wanted to do was try to be more stealthy. There were so many times where I ended up being spotted and having to fight my way out (or drug a bunch of people), only to realize later there was a way around. Also, I wasn't really happy with myself because even though I spared most of the real bad guys, I ended up killing a lot of their subordinates along the way. It hardly seems fair, although I would have let them live if they had stopped trying to kill me. Just move aside and let me deal with your boss, please.

I guess I'll see when I get around to playing it again. My track record for ruthlessness when given an option, is not great. Unless you value mercy, in which case I'm pretty good.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I Guess Playing For Fun Gets Stale

It's been a month since I received my copy of Avengers Arena #7, and I'm still trying to decide if I like the slant Dennis Hopeless put on Arcade.

It makes sense that Arcade would get frustrated by the constant defeats. Given that, it also makes sense he might either give in to despair or try to prove something.

Even so, part of Arcade's appeal to me (and he's my favorite comic book villain), is that winning really doesn't matter much to him. Sure, he'd like to win, kill Spider-Man or whoever. That's how he earns his bread (though I've always assumed he paid the bills off-panel with those boring, ordinary people assignments he complained of the first time he went after the X-Men). But at the end of the day, he's a showman, not a hired gun. He's not Tombstone, where it's business. He wants to enjoy himself, test the limits of his creativity (and sadism). The line of his that sticks with me is (from that first tussle with the X-Men), 'You see, ladies, any fool can kill. I wanted to do it with style.' If he was able to do that, it didn't matter so much if he lost.

In some ways, Arcade is the writer and artist placed inside the book. He's there to be an entertaining threat to the hero, create some nice visuals, some dramatic tension, and ultimately, lose. But so long as he accomplishes the first three things, the last one isn't such a big deal. As a reader, I don't mind that Arcade fails to kill Deadpool and Hercules in Deadpool Team-Up #899. I care that with an assist from Nightmare, he gave Deadpool's caption boxes physical form so they could try and kill him. That's creepy, but also cool.

This attitude put Arcade ahead of a lot of other villains. A dope like Constrictor thinks he's supposed to win, and so he keeps committing crimes, thinking this time it'll be different. When in reality he's a loser there to get swiftly pummeled and probably left for the cops hog-tied with his own coils. So he's always frustrated, while Arcade can enjoy the competition, even as he loses.

Of course lately, Arcade's been getting frustrated himself. Even before Avengers Arena, or his humiliating birthday party, there was Avengers Academy Giant Size, where he went after them and the Young Allies, trying to prove to prospective employers that he still had it. That Deadpool Team-Up issue had some of as well, since he was trying to eliminate a rival in the job market. I don't know what that shift is about. Some move towards greater realism, perhaps. Most people couldn't retain such an upbeat attitude in the face of constant defeat. I'd think that would apply even more so to someone who kills people with no qualms whatsoever, because they are, at best temporary sources of entertainment.

Or it could be the idea that for villains to be interesting, they have to be threatening, and for them to be threatening, they have to be killers. Which is how the Joker got whatever ridiculous body count he has by now. It isn't sufficient to be a taxing mental challenge, or simply a persistent nuisance, there has to be a possibility the villain will skip rope with your spinal cord, or otherwise destroy your life. Which, if you agree with Ms. Coriander's assessment of Arcade, would explain some of this. He's demonstrated he can snatch away heroes and drive them to kill each other, when he chooses. Which is certainly control, since he would dictate when that happens.

You can certainly see some of that in his past schemes. He delights in putting the heroes in situations where they have to risk their lives, or get them to jump through his hoops. He forced Captain Britain to sit in a small box and risk drowning, because otherwise his lady (Courtney Ross) would die, and the controls to save her were in said box. He tricked Colossus into believing he'd betrayed Mother Russia and turned him against the X-Men. He got Kitty and Colossus to protect him from Miss Locke on his birthday. It's why he likes using robot duplicates of the people he's killing, to mess with their heads about who they're fighting. It's part of the show, turn their strengths against him, see if they can overcome it and win. It's how he gets his kicks, and I guess that's still in effect. I'm still not sure I like the increased emphasis on winning, though.

Monday, June 24, 2013

I Don't Understand People's Thinking Sometimes

Yesterday someone on one of the other crews here baked cookies, then set them out on the table in the common area. They looked very tasty, but sadly, there was a sign next to them asking people to not eat them. Because they were for someone's birthday.

OK, I can appreciate the desire not to have your gift devoured by the horde. In that case, I might suggest putting them somewhere else. Like your room. Or leave them in the kitchen. I find people tend to have fewer expectations for food they see sitting in there. But the table in the common area is one people use specifically for when they want to share things they made. This happens all the time. So why leave something there that is specifically not to be shared?

If I get brownies from home, and I don't want to share, I leave them in my room. I don't bring them to the common room, set them out for all to see, then affix a sign telling everyone to keep their grubby paws off. Because that would be rude. Also, I wouldn't trust people not to go ahead and eat them anyway. As far as I know, no one touched the cookies, but I wouldn't count on that level of restraint to hold.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Burn Notice 5.11 - Better Halves

Plot: With the information Dixon was able to pull from Korzha's computer, the team's been tracking Tavian Korzha's money. Which leads to a man named Stigler. Sam and Jesse get the fun job of convincing him to hand over Korzha. Mentioning Korzha killed Lucien did the trick, but Tavian doesn't think much of their plan, and captures Sam instead. No worries, Korzha just wants to meet with Michael. he claims he has answers.

Unfortunately, Michael is busy trying to bring in a traitorous bioweapons designer who's at a fancy resort in Venezuela. Mr. Skylar is there with his wife, Nicki, so Fiona accompanies Michael on the job. Pearce was supposed to go, but she's busy trying to track Korzha (not that she knows that's who she's after). Fi is not totally enthusiastic at first, but does try and use it as an opportunity to be romantic with Michael. But you know Mike: work, work, work. There are things to be concerned about. Skylar had already started a deal with the Russians, and they have a couple of their own, watching him like a hawk. Also, there might be more than just the two Russians, and they might be heavily armed.

Still, things work out well for Mike, Fi, and Nicki, and they return to Miami. Before Michael can check in with Sam and learn about Korzha (who is currently hemmed in at his meeting place because Jesse called Homeland Security), he finds Pearce in his apartment. Turns out she found some useful video footage from a bank down the street from where Max was killed, and well, it's one of those times where the distinctiveness of the Charger is a problem. Good luck talking your way out of this one, Mike.

The Players: Stigler (ATM to Eastern Bloc), Kevin Skylar (Bioweapons Scientist), Serge & Karina (Bodyguards), Tavian Korzha (The Man Who Framed Michael)

Quote of the Episode: Michael - 'Can I lead?' Fiona - 'Fine. Just this once.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No. She tries to hold off a horde of Russkies with 3 bullets.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 3 (14 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (7 overall). People seem to get the drop on Sam a lot. I know he's retired, but his awareness can't have slipped that much.

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 4 (9 overall). Lotta fake laughing in this one. Makes sense, with the happy couples spending time together.

Other: Mike and Fiona travel as Brendan and Christina Jenson.

I question the intelligence of Jesse's plan. Setting aside what Homeland Security will do when they learn there is no radioactive material, is cornering a professional killer really a smart idea? Sure, maybe he's smart enough to recognize when he's beat and surrender. Or maybe he thinks he can make it out, or just doesn't care.

When I watched this episode for the first time last summer, I was watching with two female coworkers. They both really appreciated that fight between Mike and Serge in the steam room. They argued (quite accurately) that there are women in swimsuits in every episode, the female viewers deserve fanservice, too. I tried to make the point that they get Bruce Campbell, but they were unmoved. Oh well, it was a nice fight. I'm very impressed Serge was conscious after taking those rocks to the head. Maybe I underestimate how much it takes to knock someone out.

What the hell was Mike wearing when he and Fi first entered the hotel? Where those pants tangerine colored? I'm reminded of Bly's comment that Mike dresses like an Easter egg.

My recollection of watching this episode originally was that Nicki handled herself better than she did. To be fair, she did pretty well once they were actually being pursued, but she blew it when they tried for the stealthy escape. I thought Fi got a bit snippy with her, but Fi usually gets snippy with Mike's clients when they get whiny and terrified. I suppose I was fooled into thinking she and Nicki had actually connected a little earlier. Acting!

The whole dancing gunfight was pretty cool, although I question Michael's accuracy holding a machine gun in one fully outstretched arm. But the movement, the way they naturally cover each other, don't get in each other's way, and how they split apart so Nicki could shelter between them when they left, that was all nifty.

I don't think it solves one of the problems Fiona brought up, which is that Michael has a hard time connecting (we're coming back to that word later) with her outside of things that involve violence. It's great that they work so well together, that Michael understands her enough to know where she'd make a stand. It doesn't change the fact that Fiona has interests outside of that - snow globes, shoes, Japanese cuisine, off the top of my head - which Michael can hardly be bothered to concentrate on, because he's so wrapped up in work. And Fiona doesn't want to work for the CIA (and why would she, when they use her because it provides them with greater deniability). It cannot just be about her helping him with work, he needs to at least be able to get out of his own head long enough to tune into her. I'm not saying it's easy. I get lost in my own thoughts all the time, but sometimes you have to work with folks.

OK, back to "connecting". I bust out laughing when Fi complained about their lack of that, and Michael tried the 'I thought we were connecting pretty well last night" line. I don't know if he was trying for cute or sexy, but it flopped hilariously. Fiona did not buy it, and was clearly annoyed at his attempt to deflect her. Michael doesn't go that route often with his aliases, and now I can see why. He's not good at it.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sharpe's Rifles - Bernard Cornwell

I was originally going to hand the box of Cornwell books back to my father unread the next time I saw him. But I got bored, they were sitting right there, and the books he reads are usually at least a little interesting.

Sharpe's Rifles is set in the Napoleonic Wars, in Spain. At this point, the British are getting their butts evicted from Spain by France, and Richard Sharpe is a miserable. he's an enlisted man promoted to Lieutenant, which means his commanding officer looks down upon him for being a peasant, essentially (better to have bought your commission than earned it, I suppose). The enlisted men hate him, because they actually believe officers are supposed to be a better class, and if Sharpe was once an enlisted man like them, he certainly doesn't qualify. And Sharpe hates it because the made him a Quartermaster, and he wants to fight.

And he gets his chance, once his group is battered by French cavalry and separated from the main retreating body. Unfortunately, he winds up as the highest ranking officer left. Things are looking rather grim until he meets Major Blas Vivar. The Major is the head of Spanish Cazadores, transporting a mysterious and important strongbox. The French very badly want that box, or at least don't want it reaching its destination. Sharpe is in a country he doesn't know, with men who hate him, and no idea of where to go, so he reluctantly throws in with Blas. Besides, his men love Blas, since they see him as a true officer.

It's an adventure story. There's a bit of a romantic subplot thrown in, but I think it's mostly there to a) serve as something to break up fight scenes, and b) give an extra layer of tension between Blas and Sharpe.  There's quite a lot of that, since the two men are very different. They come from different cultures, opposite ends of the economic spectrum, have completely different perspectives on religion. Sharpe resents how easily Blas commands respect and loyalty, Blas gets frustrated with Sharpe's pessimism. But Sharpe is a soldier, fighting is what he's good at, and Blas is certainly giving him the chance for that.

Those are the only two characters that receive any significant fleshing out, but perhaps Cornwell plans to flesh out some of Sharpe's men in the subsequent books. Or he figured at least one of those two is in every scene in the book, so they were the relevant ones. He does a good job of conveying how Sharpe's doubts about himself hamstring him as a commanding officer, as they make him into precisely the kind of officer he always hated serving under.

Something Blas brings up a few times is how difficult the people of Spain are going to make it for the French. Even if the government has fallen and the army is commanded by fools, the people consider the French the enemy, and that's very bad for the French. What this reminded me of was two books I read on the Spanish Civil War two years ago. Both of them - The Spanish Labyrinth and The Spanish Cockpit - talked a lot about how important the peasants were to Spain. How one of the Republic's major failures during the Spanish Civil War was undertaking programs that would enthusiastically put those people on their side. Blas Vivar, however, is not going to make such a mistake. He understands how much the people hate the French, and his whole plan is a way to inspire them to arms. Make the French have a miserable time until they leave.

Friday, June 21, 2013

What Do You Think Gets Lost Going From Comics To Movies?

Something to discuss. I imagine most of you are (or were) fans of comics, probably superhero comics. You might go see films about those characters, and since you're familiar with them and their stories, you might have an idea in your head of what that character is like. So here's what I'm wondering: What movie about a comic book property has come closest to your idea of the character(s)?

This isn't necessarily whether the film was good, or if you liked it. More what you expected versus what you got. Done well, it's easily possible to make a movie you like without nailing the character exactly as you see them.

This came to mind earlier this week when I mentioned it sounded like Man of Steel had too much Jor-El in it for my tastes. Thinking it over some more the last few days, I decided that for me, a Superman movie wouldn't have weird, Silver Age type powers (like Zod's sudden ability to shoot ray beams from his hands in Superman II), and of course, Superman would not kill people. Which left me with the odd conclusion that Superman III might be the closest a film has come to my idea of Superman.

Well, Superman's never been my favorite character, so perhaps that's just a fluke. But none of the Spider-Man movie I've seen (which excludes Amazing) have ever totally clicked. That wasn't always Spidey/Tobey Maguire's fault - Kirsten Dunst's MJ lacked a certain vivacity or playfulness I associate with the character, and Venom's mere presence was always going to torpedo Spider-Man 3 to a certain extent - but the wisecracks weren't there (even if they're terrible, let 'em fly), and he never had the speed I associate with Spider-Man. There was never that sense I got from the comic panels where there'd be after images of him dodging around.

I tried to go down the list, and there are movies that were my introduction to the character (Rocketeer, Hellboy, maybe Blade, The Mask sort of). There are movies with characters where my idea of them was probably vague or amorphous enough that it wasn't going to be hard to match, like Hulk, for example. They could have done Joe Fixit Hulk, and as long as Banner felt hounded and/or his life was ruined, and Joe trounced some poor military guys, I'd have been cool with it. Ghost Rider's another.

The more fleshed out the picture I have in my head is, the less likely they are to land on it. Which makes sense, and there's no reason why they would tailor their films to one guy's tastes. And like I said, it hasn't stopped me from digging some of them. I loved Captain America: The First Avenger, even though I prefer a Cap who doesn't kill (likely a consequence of growing up on Gruenwald Cap). I'm not a complete hardliner about it, especially since the movie was going to take place during WWII (I do hope he shoots a lot less - preferably none - people in the next one).

I liked Iron Man, but movie Tony Stark isn't really like comic Tony Stark. He's too glib, too reckless. I can see comic Stark refusing to hand over his armor to the feds, but I can't see him turning it into a dog and pony show. Downey plays him like a much smarter version of Hawkeye, the guy who gets on everyone's nerves. Stark does it by being the condescending ass, rather than the loudmouth braggart (though he does a fair amount of that, too). I like comic book Hawkeye, though, it sort of figures I'd dig movie Stark, then.

With Batman, it's probably Mask of the Phantasm, but can I even count that (FYI, I haven't seen Dark Knight Rises)? It's like a 3-episode stretch of Batman: The Animated Series (which probably formed a lot of my opinions on how Bats should behave). Among the live action films, Schumaker's are too far into Adam West territory (and also terrible), and the Nolan films are trying too hard for realism, with all the exposition about how he gets his weapons, and the body armor and all. I'm quite content with a Batman wearing no armor and driving an impractically large sports car around town. Also, he'd have the yellow oval symbol. Which means the first Burton film, I guess. To the films' credits, they've largely avoided the Massive Jerk to His Friends Batman we've been saddled with in comics for the last 20 years.

I don't have any specific point I'm trying to make. This was something I started thinking about this week, and I thought I'd try polling the audience for their thoughts.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

September's Not Slowing Down My Pull List Shake-Ups

Having temporarily finished talking about books that came out two months ago, let's shift to books coming out three months from now. Maybe that should be the new blog motto, "Reporting on Marvels and Legends: Either the past or the future, but never the present".

Eh, maybe not.

I expected September's solicits would be less interesting, if for no other reason than I didn't anticipate losing two more ongoing series. Didn't really work out that way. Angel & Faith may be over, but Dark Horse is still getting my attention. First and foremost, they solicited a collected edition of Bandette. I've heard nothing but good things about Tobin and Coover's book, but I'm not a big fan of the digital reading experience. For one thing, I like my phone, but it's not up to the task. Now that doesn't matter, because here comes Bandette in print! Yes, it doesn't arrive until November, but it was in the solicits, so we're counting it.

There other Dark Horse book of note is the Nine Beers with Ninjette Empowered Special. I've tried Empowered two other times, a different one of the specials, and the first trade. It never quite clicks with me. I can appreciate the work Adam Warren puts into it, I can certainly understand why plenty of other people love it, and I would say I find it solidly good, but at the same time, it didn't become one of those titles where I had to have more, like Atomic Robo or GrimJack. I'm not sure if I'll take a chance on it, but I might. I certainly have the space on my pull list.

And given the stunt DC's pulling, I might have even more space. Here's the conundrum: Justice League Dark #23.1 is essentially Katana #8. Justice League #23.3 is basically Dial H #16. They have the same writers at any rate, and given how DC has shuffled around artists, it's hard to really associate one with those titles (Ponitcelli's been on Dial H for longer than anyone now, but I still think of it more as Santolouco's book). I would like more Dial H, and Nocenti's been through the "event tie-in" rodeo enough I can trust her to make it work with what she's got going. But there's that extra dollar cost, because of the stupid 3-D covers. Part of me wants the stories, but another part says I shouldn't reward such stupid gimmickry. Odds are I'll end up getting them, but maybe I'll resist (only to break down later, I'm sure).

I don't really understand how royalties work in the comic industry, besides the fact there are a lot of people who should have gotten plenty who got nothing. So I'll put it to the Internet to answer this question: If I order the Deadshot trade, does John Ostrander see any of that money? Because I already own the mini-series, and I could probably find the Batbooks it contains, but if some of that cash goes to him, I don't mind going for the collected edition.

I didn't see Rocketeer/Spirit: Pulp Friction #3 anywhere. Along the lines of books not shipping, what are the odds Hawkeye #15 will actually ship in September? Keep in mind #11 was solicited for May, and still hasn't come out as of this week (though Marvel's website insists it was released on the 5th). Even with a rotating cast of artists to compensate for Aja, they still can't keep the dang book on schedule. Ah hell, it looks good enough when it does show up I don't mind that much, but there is a part of me that says if you promise something will show up in a certain time period, that it should show up within the allotted time. I don't find that an unreasonable position.

I see Journey Into Mystery was canceled. I'll take the blame for that. I considered buying it, because I've liked Kathryn Immonen's work, and Sif is pretty cool, but I chose some other titles instead. In retrospect, I should have picked it instead of Fearless Defenders, or maybe Captain America. Deadpool could have replaced the other one. I do intend to get the trades, at some point.

I kind of think I should try this Mighty Avengers book that's going to be starting up, but I don't know Al Ewing's work, and then there's Greg Land. I would guess Land won't be on the book long. That's apparently the case with Copiel on X-Men, he was there to goose sales at the start, then steps aside for David Lopez. As Marvel is still convinced Land sells (I guess because there are people who like his work), I expect the same here.

Speaking of X-Men, nice that it got 4 whole issues before being roped into an event. Battle for the Atom, whoo-wee. X-Men from the future want X-Men from the past to leave the present. I explained to a coworker this would likely suck, and she wondered why I'd buy it then. Excellent question, and I had to explain that while I expect the event will be awful, pointless, and awfully pointless, the tie-in issues might still be good. Hopefully Wood and Lopez can avoid letting their story get derailed by the necessities of tie-ins. Peter David pulled it off with X-Factor's Civil War tie-in. So did Nicieza on Cable/Deadpool, and um, Abnett and Lanning on Nova, but they were tying-in to events they were also writing, which is kind of cheating.

Also, I would have been absolutely fine with David Lopez as artist right from the start. I don't love his work, but I remember thinking it was solid on Hawkeye and Mockingbird. I think he's a better action artist than Copiel, certainly.

There's not much in the back of the book that catches my eye. I was expecting a new volume of Yotsuba, but I haven't seen one. Maybe next month. The third issue of Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur is solicited, but like Hawkeye #15, I'll believe it when I see it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What I Bought 5/27/2013 - Part 9

Four weeks after I started, I reach the end. Of this round of reviews anyway. Hopefully I'll get more comics next week and we can start all over again! Won't that be ever so fun? Hey, where are you going? Come back, we're gonna talk about Daredevil! Everyone loves that book, right?

Daredevil #25, by Mark Waid (writer/storyteller), Chris Samnee (artist/storyteller), Javier Rodriguez (color artist), Joe Caramagna - Oh sure, get cute with the credits. Make it more complicated for me, why don't ya?

Matt hears this Larry's story, suits up, and swings them over to the warehouse Larry escapes from. At which point, Larry falls over dead because they installed a pacemaker in him and it just conked out/stopped his heart. Nothing for Matt to do but go inside. . . and meet Ikari, who is wearing the robe Matt's dad wore when he fought. Twisting the knife. Or ninja scythe thing (Matt calls it a Kusirgama, but David Brothers said it's really a kama, I think, so hell, "ninja scythe thing"). It's a long fight, and Matt's not exactly losing, but he's not winning, either. So he gets sneaky. Hides in a sporting goods' store, sets off the sprinklers, and reaches for a bat. Radar sense will be baffled, and hearing, taste, and smell, will be useless. Ikari will be helpless. Except. . .

'Try the red one.'

Ikari isn't blind, and he beats Matt to a pulp, then lets him limp away, promising death will come at any moment Ikari's master chooses.

I love that line. That whole sequence. Matt's in this odd place where he's exhausted, ready to drop, yell totally confident he's going to win, because he's gone through this elaborate route to make confuse Ikari, based on the fact it's almost too much for him. And then it all goes wrong, because Matt made one critical, false assumption, and so he's screwed himself.

I also like the fact Ikari did use the red bat. It's a nice, kind of nasty touch.

I've read back through the issue a few times, trying to see if there were hints that Ikari wasn't blind in there. Things like Ikari turning his head to follow Matt, when the radar sense wouldn't require it. I didn't see any. Most of the hints were in the writing. Matt's repeated confidence, in spite of the fact nothing goes like he expected. He though Ikari carried his weight badly, he got dropped. he thought he'd have an advantage outside, nope. Thought the staff would help. Nope. Thought the sprinklers would help. Sorry, Matt. If there's an art cue in there (and I'm not saying there is, I imagine the whole point is precisely that Ikari didn't make any slips), I didn't see it. I do like that Matt's first attack ends with him on the ground, looking up at Ikari through his radar sense (Page 8, panel 7), and that's how the fight ends (Page 20, panel 2), too.

Then again, it took me a couple of tries to recognize the moment when Matt noticed Larry had a pacemaker. I thought when Matt said 'They didn't want me to know you were lying, Larry!' he meant they had let Larry escape. Maybe dropped "accidentally" dropped hints that they sure wouldn't want Daredevil to learn about this, and casually mentioned that he was at the hospital. As usual, overthinking it. It's right there, the page before, Matt touching Larry on the chest.

One aspect of the art I did notice and appreciate was the last three panels of page 4. Matt standing on the skylight, looking down at his own reflection (the reflection looking back at us), then the skylight starts to break, the reflection splits down the middle, and in the third panel he falls through the looking glass, descending into darkness*.

Javier Rodriguez helps it along because the colors invert. In the first panel, Matt's costume is red, but his reflections is black, with the "DD" being red (also Samnee drew the skylight so the frame covers the reflection's eyes, nice touch). By the third panel, the costume is red, and the "DD" is back to being black. There's also probably something relevant about the red boot shattering the reversed reflection in the second panel, but I don't know what. "Don't gaze too long into the abyss, not only does it gaze back, but it might break you"?

In summation, this was a very good issue, and I want more. Right now. Or soon, at least.

* Although now I'm seeing him as almost an upside-down crucifix in that last panel (the arms aren't above the shoulders, though), but I might have that on the brain because of all the talk about Man of Steel this week. And because I read two of TenNapel's more religion-heavy graphic novels yesterday (Ratfist struck a chord with me, but not a good one. Closer to, "I may not want to read anything else by TenNapel now". We may discuss this at a later date, if I still feel that way after a second reading.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Last Outlaws - Thom Hatch

For all that I do love (some) Westerns, I haven't read much about them. The reality is often not so gripping and neatly resolved as the fiction. But my dad included The Last Outlaws: The Lives and Legends of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the last batch of books, so it seemed like a good place to start, especially since I don't know a lot about either of them (that's a Western I've never gotten around to seeing).

So I didn't know that both of them were strongly opposed to shooting anyone, or to robbing average folk. Well, robbing them in terms of rifling through their pockets. If they had money in a bank or on a train, they were out of luck. I didn't realize the two of them had been operating independently for years before they teamed up, and that it was largely Sundance joining Butch's preexisting group. Frankly, Sundance wasn't terribly successful as a bandit operating on his own. He doesn't seem to have possessed the patience and foresight Cassidy did.  I didn't know that both men would leave banditry behind for periods of time, working at mines or ranches, usually with horses or mules. Sometimes they left because they got the itch to go, and sometimes they had to leave because the law came sniffing around.

Not that the law necessarily had much success catching them. Butch was the more gregarious of the two, well-liked most everywhere he went, but both of them had a knack for making friends anywhere they stayed for long. Probably because they were generous with time and money to their neighbors, and had generally courteous manners. Sundance was more likely to get heavily drunk, but neither was the type to get soused and start trouble, which is the sort of thing people come to appreciate. Which is how you get outlaws with plenty of people willing to shelter them, guide them, even speak to the governor about amnesty for past crimes on their behalf. Think of The Fugitive, and how none of Kimble's friends were interested in help the marshals.

One frustrating aspect is the gaps in the story. Records from the 19th century aren't as extensive as I might like, so there are significant stretches where Hatch has to guess at what they were up to, whether or not they could have been involved with a particular heist. Etta Place (Sundance's longtime lady love) is the source of a lot of that, since there's no record of who she was before joining the group, and there's no concrete evidence of what happened to her. She simply drops out of the story after a theft she may have taken part in Villa Mercedes (it's interesting that on the maps included at the beginning, that theft is listed as "alleged", rather than the Rio Gallegos bank robbery, which Hatch argues in the book has less evidence for being Butch and Sundance). I understand Hatch's need to try and fill in the blanks, but the suppositions do run a bit long. There's a stage at which all the guessing becomes pointless. There are also segments of the book where he begins describing other relevant people and their backstories, and it feels too much like a list. Hatch tries for natural transitions, using one person's history to lead to the next, but it doesn't always hold, and as thin as some of the details are, it might have been better to skip a few to maintain narrative momentum.

I wasn't terribly interested in the last two chapters, which deal with the possibility Butch and Sundance lived longer than is suspected, and with their longevity in the public mind. I know both of those go to the "legends" aspect touted in the title, but it's not something I'm concerned with, as I barely knew the "lives" part prior to this. The Last Outlaws is a good starting point if you're as familiar with Butch and Sundance, their lives, and their cohorts, as I was. It should be easy to follow and not a difficult read, and you can peruse the bibliography to see if there are other sources to track down for a more scholarly approach.

Monday, June 17, 2013

What I Bought 5/27/2013 - Part 8

I feel like I should say something about Man of Steel, but I haven't seen it, and I'm not planning to. Dangers of the Internet. I'm not a big fan of Superman to start with, and very little of what I've seen and read about it makes me think I'd much enjoy it. I'd like them to downplay Jor-El more. He got Clark off Krypton and that's great, his jobs over. None of this "Holographic Space Dad hands out edicts" crap, Clark is Superman (as opposed to just another super-powered being) because of how the Kents raised him, full stop.

Katana #3 & 4, by Ann Nocenti (writer), Cliff Richards (penciler #3), Alex Sanchez (penciler #4), Rebecca Buchman, Juan Castro, Le Beau Underwood, Phyllis Novin (inkers, #3), Art Thibert (inker #4), Pete Pantazis (colorist, #3 & 4), Matt Yackey, Gary Major (colorists, #4), Taylor Esposito (letterer, #3 & 4) - Because nothing says a consistent vision for a title like two pencilers, 5 inkers, and 3 colorists in the span of two issues! Cripes. There have got to be more artists who can stick to a monthly schedule and produce quality work out there somewhere. But why would they want to work in comics?

Katana gets wind of some big deal involving the Dagger Clan down at the boat graveyard. Which just so happens to be where Killer Croc had a taxi drop him off earlier that day. Yeah, it's a trap, and Tatsu suspects as much, but she lets her confidence and obsession get the best of her. Which is how she ends up in a fight with Croc, and he ends up breaking her sword, releasing all the souls within, including the Creeper, and her husband. The spirits scatter. Croc follows the dragon he was after, the Creeper dashes off to find a body to ride, a young girl of the Dagger Clan visits Shun, the girl with the tattoos, and removes her foot. She couldn't have simply taken a picture? And Maseo wonders what the hell is up with his wife, that she sleeps with her sword.

That particular conversation seems to break Katana for a bit. She sleeps a lot, brushes off Junko's advice to find someone to reforge her sword, quits her job as a waitress. I'm not sure if it's the thought that anyone she's killed is condemned to a Purgatory within the sword, or if it's what Maseo said about her. Either way, the Creeper showed up for a rematch, which may have lit the spark in her again. Frankly, if he's so worried about being trapped once she reforges the sword, just point out it would draw Maseo back in as well. I have to think that would stop her in her tracks.

That fight at the end of issue 4 ended abruptly. The Creeper lunged at her, she sidestepped, he went over the roof, she remarked it's not going to be easy killing her. But there's no sign of him. Is he unconscious, landing safely and getting ready to strike back? Did he just leave because he lost the element of surprise? There's a sound effect as he goes off the roof, "KRAK" which makes no sense at all. It doesn't look like Tatsu hit him, he didn't hit her or anything else, it doesn't represent thunder, I don't know what it's about.

This is one of my issues with Sanchez. For a book that is presumably going to feature a lot of martial arts style fighting, he's not real good at fight scenes. The posing looks awkward, and it's not always evident how a character got from one position to another. I'm not sure about how things are emphasized, either. Most of page 6 is devoted to the Creeper releasing sickles and chains from his cloak, but I feel like the beginning of Tatsu's conversation with Maseo probably should have gotten more attention. But it's wedged in at the bottom fifth of the page.

I preferred Richards' artwork on issue 3, at least the first three quarters of it. Whoever took over inking on the last 5 pages used too heavy of a line. It weighed things down, and  cost the art some of it's fluid nature. A lot of the sense of movement was lost, and the faces didn't look as strong, either. Prior to that, though, it was looking pretty good. The exchange between Junko and Tatsu, I like how even when she's standing on the roof above him, seemingly in the position of authority, the focus is on him and his relaxed smile. She stole his jug of wine, but he still has her hat, and she hasn't really gotten anything from him. The fight with the Daggers a few pages later has a nice shot where she swings low, cutting people at the shins, and the next panel is angled so it follows along the underside of the swing. The fighters changing up in response to what just happened.

I'm surprised Junko is pushing Tatsu to go to Japan. She just got here, we've just started to get to know this supporting cast, and she might leave? But it could be she's not going to do it. She'll keep trucking on with her other weapons, and the foreseeable future will be her trying to track down these other spirits and decide whether to try and imprison them again. Or she could help them settle their business and move on. We'll see.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Burn Notice 5.10 - Army of One

Plot: Picking up where the last episode left of, Mike and Sam rush to the warehouse Lucien told them about. They make it past the first round of alarms, but sadly not the second, and the killer escapes after torching most of his stuff. At least we get to see his face. And at least Mike got a partially burned up computer. But with Pearce insisting Michael give her his files, he needs to get something off the computer fast. Sam knows a guy, but they aren't buddies. Tasing was involved, and with Fiona along, tasing is involved again. Also ankle bracelets, because Dixon's under house arrest.

As for Michael, he and Madeline have been roped into helping Jesse with a security gig. Michael is supposed to be a tech guy helping Holcomb perform some corporate espionage on a billionaire. Turns out his idea of espionage involves taking hostages and demanding bank codes at gunpoint. Michael needs their eyes off him so he can dismantle their group, and to that end, concocts a maintenance guy named James Marsden. Who just so happens to be an ex-Army Ranger. Fiona must have convinced Mike to watch Under Siege recently. With a lot of help from Maddy (and a little help from Jesse), Mike pulls it off, and gets his files to Pearce by her deadline. And as a bonus for that, he learns she has a name to place with the face we saw, Tavian Korzha.

The Players: Lucien (The Lead to Max' Killer), Tavian Korzha (The Man Who Killed Max and Framed Michael), Dixon (Sam's "Friend"), Holcomb (Project Manager)

Quote of the Episode: Maddy - 'Michael, what are you doing?' Mike - 'Putting blood on my shirt.' Maddy - 'That can't be sanitary.' Mike - 'I need to look like I'm fatally wounded. I'd prefer not to use a bullet.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (11 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (7 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (5 overall).

Other: Michael had an alias this week, Matt Graham! Not the most creative name ever, but what the hell.

That grenade seemed over-powered. I mean, that was a big explosion at the end. It would certainly keep Holcomb's promise to kill all the hostages if they caused trouble, but again, do grenades pack that much punch?

I liked how the security guard backs Michael up on his plan to get people out through the fence. He needed a vote of confidence from someone in the group. Too bad the guy lost his nerve part way. Actually, all the people doubting Michael and shouting seemed pretty realistic. He might have gotten more obedience if he'd gone the "bad guy" route and barked orders while waving a gun. Once the hostages thought they had some wiggle room, they started getting mouthy.

It didn't make a lot of sense to me that "Matt's" reason why he would kill all the hostages was that he wasn't going back to prison.  If you killed nearly two dozen people, I'm pretty sure you'd get the death penalty, and you think Holcomb would realize that. But maybe he didn't care. He felt the walls closing in, so screw it, let this guy stain his hands. Worst comes to worst, Holcomb can say he didn't kill anybody at the trial, pin it on "Matt".

Jesse doesn't ever do subtle with his performances. He's always over the top, always yelling or acting the fool. That's not a complaint, I love it. His 'Better yet, call the President of the United States,' line was just ridiculous, but by that point, the guy in the tower was probably ready to do anything to make Jesse go away. It does scare me to think it might be that easy to divert a plane. Wear a nice suit, flash some official looking identification, yell a lot, and voila!

I'm curious how Sam will fix the problem he and Fiona created for Dixon. Somehow I don't see Sam admitting to abduction, and I'm not sure what his other options are. Dixon was under house arrest, Dixon left the house, he's in trouble. Eh, maybe Sam can put on a nice suit and yell a lot about national security. That'll probably work.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Monty And Rommel: Parallel Lives - Peter Caddick-Adams

Peter Caddick-Adams wanted to compare and contrast two important World War 2 field marshals, and that's how you get Monty and Rommel. He starts from their earliest days, and the final two chapters deal with each man's legacy after the war. Somewhat different circumstances, since Montomgery was still alive and serving as a NATO commander, and writing books about the war, while Rommel was, obviously, dead. Which meant his legacy had to be determined by others, and in some ways, I think he fared better. Possibly because he wasn't around to annoy people with his abrasive attitude.

That's something that shines through in the book, the similarities between the two. Born within four years of each other almost to the day, neither to an aristocratic family (Rommel's father was teacher, Monty's a pastor/bishop), no strong military tradition in the family. Both served in World War 1, and both became known later for a style of command that emphasized contact with the rank and file. In Monty's case, this was in direct response to what he perceived as a distance between the higher ups and the people actually doing the fighting and dying. It may have been similar in Rommel's case - he certainly recognized that his presence could boost morale - but I think he liked to be on the front lines, taking an active hand. The brief time during WWI he spent in a staff office was a horrible time for him. Which is a pity, because there were probably some valuable lessons he could have learned*. Rommel strikes me as someone not comfortable delegating, he always wanted to be there, making certain things were done properly. Which is not really practical when you reach the higher levels of command he did later on.

Another thing the two had in common was their prickly nature with superiors and equals. Both of them tended to piss off their bosses, as well as anyone they were supposed to be coordinating with. They both tended to think they knew what was best, and they both tended to hog the credit (and shift the blame) after. About the only person in High Command Rommel had in his corner was Hitler (since Rommel didn't care much for the Nazi Party in general), which meant he was up the creek once der Fuehrer decided Erwin was in on the assassination plot**. Monty irritated Eisenhower (and Omar Bradley, Churchill, and a host of British Army and RAF officers), but none of them were likely to shoot him, and Ike was willing to calm down once Montgomery uttered appropriately groveling apologies.

Caddick-Adams lays things out quite thoroughly, and isn't afraid to digress into biographies or anecdotes about other people as they enter the story. At times, this can feel like meandering, or padding for areas where the subjects are not dominant, but it serves as a useful reminder that war isn't a one-man band. However skilled these two were, they both needed help to succeed. They needed superiors to recognize their skills and give them the chance to succeed (and also the protection to fail). They needed soldiers willing to listen and learn (both of them, but Monty, especially, were big on training for quick response), and cooperation from other branches of the service (Rommel certainly could have vouched for how much the RAF helped in the desert, even if Montgomery wouldn't).

It's interesting how accurate the title "Parallel Lives" is. They were never on the front lines in the same fight in WWI, especially with Rommel spending time on the Eastern Front and Italy. Rommel suffered some health issues around the time Montgomery was starting out in the desert, and left that theater entirely later on. Then he missed D-Day because he was home for his wife's birthday. Then within a month and a half, he got strafed by an Allied airplane, which took him off the lines for awhile, then there was the Hitler assassination attempt fallout. For the most part, the two went on about their business, only briefly intersecting

* There was a quote in Neptune's Inferno, to the effect: 'Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics.' I think Monty, maybe owing to his greater experience in handling such things, was much more aware of logistics than Rommel. Rommel seemed to regard supply lines as something for him to complain that others weren't maintaining sufficiently.

** Caddick-Adams does discuss all that, and notes that Rommel destroyed a lot of his personal papers from the Normandy campaign, so it's difficult to tell how much he might have known. I believe his impression is Rommel was aware there were people unhappy with Hitler, and ready to remove, even kill, him, but that Rommel was not on board. Which doesn't mean other people didn't think he was, or didn't think they could convince him to be a figurehead after.

Friday, June 14, 2013

What I Bought 5/27/2013 - Part 7

This opening bit is usually about me, but to heck with that. I know how I'm doing. How are you doing?

Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror #3 & 4, by Roger Langridge (writer), J Bone (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Tom B. Long (letterer) - Simonson gave Betty a lot more clothes there on the cover than she gets inside. It's a good cover. I like how the fingers of Rune's shadow start to resemble the brick squares in places.

Cliff lost the rocket, which is gonna make it tough to help Betty, who's not being quite careful enough snooping around Rune. The Charles' clue her in that Rune used to a hypnotist, and that the professor is a mechanical engineering genius gone missing. Which doesn't do Betty much good once she's in Rune's clutches. Cliff, meanwhile, is trying to use a rocket pack Peevy built to save the day, with mixed results. At least he got his wallet back, from Groucho Marx no less.

For a moment, that seems to have exhausted Cliff's run of good luck, because he fails utterly at a stealthy approach. Fortunately, Doc Savage's goons bring back the real rocket, allowing Cliff to use Peevy's a battering ram or blunt instrument, duties for which it is much better suited. Betty is rescued, at least partially by Cliff's moving speech about how much she means to him. Hey, it grossed out Rune and distracted him so the Professor could shoot him. Cliff comes to an arrangement with Savage about the rocket, and he and Betty enjoy a good five seconds of peace and harmony. After which they resume arguing about the things they usually do.

J Bone's pretty outstanding at drawing things. The look on Cliff's face when Rune meets his end, with the lines under the eyes, and the dismayed look. I thought Cliff might throw up in the next panel. Also, when Savage is making his proposal, you can just see the outline of Cliff's foot and fingers under the tarp in the background. Jordie Bellaire adds something to it all. Sho'Zzoth is given this incredibly dark black and green combo, giving an eerie, ominous presence compared to everything around it. Plus, there's a nice gag where all the happy couples are hugging and showing affection, so Bellaire goes with a pink background. But when Nick tries the same with Nora, she blows him off, and the background is plain white. Don't feel bad Nick, the gin still loves ya.

Langridge writes a lot of funny stuff into this. I laughed hardest at Rune's goons when the one said, 'What the hell?! Let's just shoot him!' 'You had a gun? Why didn't you say?' J Bone adds to it by having the other goon look as though he's about to smack the first fellow. I can't decide if I like the use of Groucho and the Charles' To be fair, I didn't know it was supposed to be Groucho until we were told, though I had been curious how this narrator knew all this stuff. Nick and Nora felt too ancillary to the story, given Langridge went to the trouble of using them. I guess the idea is that because this is a Rocketeer comic, we follow the regular cast, but while we do, Nick and Nora are out doing their own investigating and their story just happens to dovetail with Betty or Cliff every so often. On the whole, I still preferred Cargo of Doom, though I prefer how Langridge writes Cliff and Betty's relationship to how Waid handled it (still don't like how Betty got painted as the bad guy in that one).

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What I Bought 5/27/2013 - Part 6

We've reached that time of year where the temperature is reluctant to fall below 70 even at night. I don't much like working during this time of year. The gnats, however, love that I work during this time of year.

Hawkeye #9 & 10, by Matt Fraction (writer), David Aja (artist, #9), Francesco Francavilla (artist, #10), Matt Hollingsworth (colorist, #9), Chris Eliopoulos & Clayton Cowles (letterers, Cowles for #10 only) - So, Kate's shirt. Is that an ego thing, since she is Hawkeye, or an expression of affection for Barton? Or that she loves being a Hawkeye, that the very concept of it stirs deep feelings in her?

There's a lot of hopping around, temporally, in these issues. We start back at Cherry dropping in on Clint at the Mansion, so that did happen, though it still doesn't explain why everyone has playing cards on their foreheads. From there, we see how each of the other ladies in Clint's life handle this. Natasha, Bobbi, and Jessica, went to Kate, to try and find Clint. Because none of them know where he lives. Kate does tell, but at least tries to call Clint and warn him. But by the time she arrives (and pummels some bros), Jessica's there. That leads to an ugly and awkward conversation, though Clint is lucky Jess only slapped him. She does have spider-strength, after all. Jessica also advises Kate to get far away from Clint, and Clint basically tells her the same, so Kate heads to a party.

Meanwhile, Natasha is tracking down Cherry (I keep wanting to call her Ginger), but she doesn't completely lay out what Clint's up against, only drops vague hints he's pissed some people off. And Bobbi drops by to check on Clint, beats up those same two bros (I'd pity them if they weren't morons), and gets Clint to sign their divorce papers. Clint is too battered and exhausted to care much, but gets some decent advice from Grills that night. I don't think it'll make much difference (Clint burnt that particular bridge, but good), but what the hell. Then Grills gets shot.

Booooo.

Issue 10 is Kate at the party, meeting some cool older guy and trying to impress him with talk about New York City. Kazi, as he says he's known, isn't terribly impressed with it, but does seem impressed with her. Throughout their night, we see Kazi's life up to that point, which is terrible. War-torn, lost everything he cares about, killing for money with the same greasepaint design on his face as he was wearing when his brother(?) was killed by a bomb or artillery shell. Frankly, if Hawkeye were going to be menaced by a tragic opera type figure, I'd rather have seen the Commedia Dell'Morte from that Power Man and Iron Fist mini-series Fred van Lente wrote, but I doubt the Russians would have turned to them. Kazi leaves the party, reaches Clint's place, watches Clint snap at Kate, watches Kate give it right back with both barrels, then he shoots Grills. Again. For the first time. Whatever.

Boooooooo.

Killing Grills aside, how were they? I preferred issue 9, with all the ladies running about, taking care of business. Natasha is confident Clint is fine, so she investigates Cherry. Jessica is (understandably) hurt, so she heads straight for him. It leaves me curious what Bobbi was up to after leaving Kate's? There wasn't a long gap between Jessica arriving and Bobbi (Clint says he'd been asleep 45 minutes, so figure an hour), but I do wonder. Did she need that time to go get the paperwork, or did she recognize Jessica needed to see him first, and decided to wait? As for issue 10, eh, half of it is people exchanging small talk at a party. And as someone who could cheerfully go the rest of his life never hearing how special New York is, I didn't really appreciate Kate's spiel about how special New York is (the fact cities tend to be full of people makes me regard cities as necessary evils, at best).

Offhand, does anyone know if that was a specific play Kasi and Janek were performing in the flashback? Or was it just two kids making something up to entertain people? I'd suspect the latter, but the way Janek kept changing how he said "I love you" each time struck me as deliberate.

Enough about writing, let's talk art. I mean, this is David Aja and Francesco Francavilla here. I prefer how Francavilla draws Kazi with the greasepaint. Maybe that's Francavilla's coloring style. He uses all these strong, solid colors, a lot of orange when Kazi's in costume, so to speak, but also strong blacks, and it makes the white really leap out. It grabs the eye, forces you to regard the expressionless face. He also uses it well as a pivot, or way to move the eye around. The page where Kazi is in the middle, and all around are the people who are being shot, stationed within panels of fractured glass. He's the centerpiece, they're simply props in his personal hell. On the last page, it's Kazi's face that guides the eye directly to the smoking gun.

There's also page 10, right after "Kazi shoots everyone on a crowded street", with he and Kate are chatting. It's a 12-panel grid, starts us at a distance, watching them both, but quickly moves in so only one character can appear in panel at a time. And it keeps moving closer. On the second line, we can still see most of Kate or Kazi's face, but by the end of line 3, it's strictly their mouths in view. Kate's given a, magenta/very light purple hue, whereas Kazi's mostly blue, some yellow backlighting. It's interesting because the way the perspective is moving closer suggests they're getting closer, but their colors remain largely distinct. Even when his hands touch hers in the 11th panel (is it the 11th hour, last chance to make a move?), it's strictly blues, none of her purple/lavender. Then the perspective jumps away again for the last panel, only now they're backlit, so they're mostly shadows. I don't know what all that means, but it's cool.

I also like that the panels for their time together are these very orderly, neat ones, thin line marking the boundary, almost perfectly white gutters between them. While Kazi's flashbacks have these rougher boundaries, thick black lines, a sometimes dingy gray for the gutters. Different worlds. I'm also curious why, on page 13, when kazi kills a man for the Russians, Francavilla drew the panel of the blood splatter first, then the panel of the gun going off. The "BANG BANG" effect overlaps both, though mostly the first. and in fact obscures a lot of the first panel. Maybe because the victim is incidental, another prop in Kazi's world.

Hmm, that was a lot about Francavilla, but probably not nearly enough. Don't want Aja to feel left out - we all know my reviews are what he lives for, right? - so let's take a minute to appreciate the "PFT PFT" panel on the last page. Yes, it's Grills getting shot, and that sucks, but it's a striking image, the gun outlines in the first PFT, Grills in the second. Hollingsworth going with red for the effects helps too, since so much of the page besides that is either grey (bricks, the skies), or the brown of Grills' coat. Aw Grills, why'd you have to go and grill while listening to Clint's woes?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Neptune's Inferno - James D. Hornfischer

Neptune's Inferno is all about the U.S. Navy's work at Guadalcanal, and that's almost all it's about. The Marines on the island get mentioned occasionally (mostly as spectators to naval battles, or in regards to their frustration with the lack of support they were getting from the Navy), and the airplanes get a little more mention (since they could get directly involved in battles at sea). But this is largely the Navy's show, because Hornfischer focuses on the ship-to-ship battles that took place at night, when planes were not terribly useful.

Hornfischer provides some interesting quotes and observations, from Halsey's idea on how carrier power is a square (2 carriers are 4 times as powerful as 1), to how Admiral Yamamoto hated the idea of captain dying with their ships (since it wasted good officers). The most interesting might have been how all three branches were reliant on each other. You need the Marines to occupy the island, and to protect the airfield. You need the planes to protect themselves, the Marines' base, and the ships from enemy planes. You need the ships to keep the other two resupplied, and to keep the Imperial Navy from bombarding the planes into nothingness at night. The problem is that it takes some time before the Navy starts holding up its end of the bargain.

One thing that comes through clearly in Hornfischer's retelling is how quickly things go awry in a battle, especially at night, with the limited communication equipment of the time. It just about every sustained battle between the two navies, one U.S. ship will get confused and fire on another. The South Dakota suffered a complete electrical failure from the concussion of its own guns. Ships lose track of one another, are too afraid of breaking radio silence to confirm their locations (or report sightings of the enemy), or ignore the technological advantages they have. 'Cause the thing is, the Japanese Navy didn't have radar. They had to rely on seeing their enemy. At night, you would think that would give the navy with radar - and the guns to fire from the limits of its range - the advantage. The U.S. commanders consistently squander this advantage, because most of them are crusty old guys who don't trust this consarn, newfangled radar*. Which is how there end constantly being battles where both groups are within sight of each other, negating the radar advantage, and letting the Japanese utilize their considerable torpedo advantage to great effect. (U.S. torpedoes were a joke, which might be the answer to Hornfischer's question of why the U.S. didn't bring their submarines into the fight as the Japanese did.)

The writing is overdone at times, though that's hardly unusual when it comes to books about World War 2. There's a lot of talk of grand, heroic gestures, and also some chillingly sad moments (usually involving men who had to abandon ship). Hornfischer is surprisingly non-judgmental about some of the more brutal acts committed by servicemen. Machine gunning downed Japanese airmen as they float in the ocean, for example. He doesn't excuse it, doesn't condone, barely comments on it other than to mention it happened and move on. Maybe it's better he didn't get pious on us, and allowed the reader to sort their own feelings. Maybe he felt he couldn't let it pass, but didn't want it to foul up his narrative, so he moved past it as quickly as possible.

On the whole, it's engaging, as I found myself at times shouting at the officers in the book, calling them idiots for not opening fire, and the fact he has sometimes incomplete and contradictory reports can make his descriptions of the battle seem as chaotic as I imagine the thing was.

"Captains were fortunate to find help for their troubles. They were given command of a multitude and saddled with fault for their failings. The bargain they made for their privileged place was the right to be last off the ship if worst came to pass. Burdens grew heavier the higher one ascended in rank. Captains concerned themselves with ships and crews, commodores with squadrons, task force commanders with objectives, and theater commanders with campaigns. The burdens of sailors weighed mostly on the muscles. The weight of leadership was subtler and heavier. It could test the conscience."

* To be fair, Hornfischer points out that in one battle, Dan Callaghan may have chosen to ignore the radar reports because he felt the best chance his cruisers and destroyers had against the battleship Hiei was to get really close, where even its armor couldn't stop their guns. For myself, I'd prefer to keep my much smaller, much less heavily-armored ships out of sight of the battleship that's reliant on visual targeting, but that's me. Maybe that's too cautious. It's unlikely, following that strategy, that they'd have managed to damage the Hiei, but the U.S. might also have taken a lot fewer casualties.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

As a coworker's insistence, I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness last night. It was fine. There will probably be spoilers going forward.

I found all the sqwaking about the Prime Directive at the beginning a tad ridiculous. By the time that race gets to the point where they'd enter the federation, the story about the Shiny Bird that extinguished the Giant Fire Hole will be a legend, nothing more. In the immortal words of the bandit, who gives a turkey? I find the idea of sitting back callously and observing a civilization dying to be pretty lousy. If it were a starship stranded, with life support failing, the Enterprise would help, and no one would blink. But these folks aren't advanced enough, so they're S.O.L? Pfft.

The whole bit with Kirk and Bones fleeing through the woods felt like I was watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. That happened a couple of times, that feeling that a shot or sequence had been lifted from another movie. A couple of times, it was even the previous Star Trek. Kirk and Scotty dashing along catwalks through Engineering, this time not fleeing security. The Enterprise rising up out of the clouds. That last one was a nice shot, but didn't Abrams use essentially the same one when they came up out of Titan's atmosphere to get the drop on Eric Bana?

I was most impressed with Kirk when he decided to bring Khan in, rather than try to kill him with torpedoes (this was undercut by his futile attempt to pummel Khan into submission, but oh well). I don't know if that was supposed to be more meaningful than his offering up his life in exchange for his crew's safety, but it was to me. The bit with his crew was too obvious of a response to his argument with Pike about how none of his crew had died, despite all his questionable decisions. Choosing to capture Khan, in accordance with regulations, rather than simply assassinate him felt more significant, the moment when he stops and thinks about what he's doing and why, and decides to change.

I'm not sure it was the smart decision, necessarily, but it impressed me. We could argue it. Having Khan around helped thwart Marcus' plan to start a war, and also saved the Enterprise, considering Marcus was going to see it caught and blown to hell for one reason or another. On the other hand, killing him would have kept him from getting control of that ship and crashing it into San Francisco. Also, was sending down a landing party and getting into a firefight with Klingons less likely to start a war than a quick bombardment from space?

That 3 minutes Scotty said they had until Marcus' ship had active weapons went on for about 10 minutes. It was ridiculous. It also seemed to take forever for the Enterprise to actually fall to Earth.

In the original series and the first 6 movies, there was always the trio of Kirk/Spock/Bones that were the central figures. It seems like Abrams replaced Bones in that with Uhura. Which is fine, Zoe Saldana's a good Uhura. Passionate when she can be, professional pretty much always. I love the fact that she didn't hesitate for a second to start blasting Khan the second she beamed down there. I did find it ridiculous Khan took like 10 shots without falling over. I don't care how advanced his genetics are, that's just stupid. Also, I don't love Karl Urban as McCoy. He's a too much of a physical presence, looms over everyone (which Abrams could probably negate with some smart camera placement, but oh well), and he lacks the sort of rasp in his voice I associate with Bones. He tries for it, but it isn't there.

As for Cumberbatch, it's a different approach to Khan than I'm used to. More ferocity, less of that class and style Montalban brought to it. Of course, CumberKhan did say Marcus wanted him for his savagery, and his circumstances are different here. In the original series, wasn't the Enterprise the one who found him and thawed out Khan and his people? More friendly of an introduction than, "Make me weapons, or I'll shoot your friends into the sun". I don't know, he was all right, but he left me cold. Even when he was supposed to be truly angry, truly out for revenge, his performance felt detached. It worked when he was playing his games with Kirk, hinting at the things he knew, but once he was striking out in revenge, it still didn't have any heat behind it. He lacked something Montalban had (the willingness to go over the top?), and maybe that isn't fair, but Abrams is the one who decided to use Khan, who decided to draw all these parallels between his movie and Wrath of Khan, so it's his fault if I compare them and decide his comes up short.

To end on a positive, I did like the brief chase and battle in warp, and completely agree with my coworker that the sound the ships make in warp is pretty cool.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Trail Ends

Brown-headed Cowbirds are nest parasitizers. Meaning, the female lays one of her eggs in another (smaller) bird's nest. She'll probably knock one of that bird's eggs out when she does. The Cowbird hatches first, and it's bigger and louder than its nestmates, so it can dominate the food and attention of its unwitting foster parents. As survival strategies go, it's not a bad one, even if it does seem terribly lazy.

The other thing about Cowbirds is they keep an eye on those nests. If you remove their egg from it, they'll trash the nest. That forces the other bird to start over, and the Cowbirds then parasitize that nest. Which is why I should have had Maggie and her boys burn down at least one of the houses in the story. Also would have been a good chance to find some stray ammunition in the smoldering remains, and establish the gun-running angle a little sooner (I've been informed by one reader that it came on abruptly, and I can't really argue it).

Ink-Stained Trail had the same problem a lot of my attempts at writing had: I didn't plan things out well enough ahead of time. I did try to set things out ahead of time, but it always seemed as though a scene would solve one issue, but create three more. Either that, or it would feel awkwardly shoehorned in to provide necessary exposition. I guess a detective story is really not the sort of thing you can make up on the fly. Not if you're trying to be at least somewhat logical and fair to the audience. Or I can't anyway.

That was my goal with this, to try writing something that didn't rely on magic, or super-science, or remarkably out of left field plot contrivances. I do love writing all those things, but I thought I'd try changing it up. The idea came on a job, where Cowbirds were an issue, but so were raccoons, running about stealing bait as they often do. I figured between the thievery and near mob tactics of the Cowbirds, a detective/noir thing might work.

In reality, trying figure out how it would all fit together became a real chore. I had more doubts as to whether I could make it enjoyable than any other story I've put up here. I considered stopping it midway with, "Then a meteor fell and they all died. The End." Which is why it took 10 months to finish writing the last dozen or so parts (contrast that to the less than 6 weeks the second half of Tales From the Woods took me), and there are some things I should certainly have added.

I think I originally planned to make Maggie more ruthless, but changed my mind part way. I like writing these sorts of cordial, not completely ruthless villains. It keeps that voice in my head that argues "Why doesn't she just shoot him?" from getting to speak. One of these days I ought to write a villain who is just flat out evil. No banter, no kinder moments, just a real bastard. Well, maybe a little banter, but no mercy. Though the character I think I'd most want to write down the line is probably Charlie. I'd need to learn something about running a business first, or else it'll be a laughable mess.