Monday, March 31, 2014

The Generals - Thomas Ricks

One of the things I noted in Eisenhower's Lieutenants was how often and how quickly commanders at different levels were relieved by the bosses. Turns out that's gone away almost entirely over the decades since World War 2, and Ricks feels that isn't to the benefit of the Army.

One key thing Ricks points out is that as used by Marshall and Eisenhower, relief didn't necessarily mean an officer's career was over. In many cases, unless the officer seemed too old, inflexible, or otherwise incapable of adapting, he would be given another chance to command later. Nowadays, to be relieved is seen as being the end of the line. One colonel Ricks quotes says you might as well court-martial an officer.

What emerges in The Generals is the numerous changes that have taken place in how command is viewed. In World War 2, commanders were expected to be aggressive (within reason), to get results, but in many cases, how they achieved those results was up to them. They were allowed - encouraged, really - to adapt their approach, and show initiative. If they did and it worked, they'd likely be promoted, to see how they handled greater responsibility. If they tried and failed, they'd get another chance. If they failed to show aggression, adaptability, initiative, and cooperative spirit, they were likely done.

Since then, there's been a shift to where commanders are not meant to show initiative, and are supposed to carry out operations as ordered by their superiors. Being a team player means everyone does things the same way, and no one is supposed to stand out. Trying something risky and new had better work, because if you buck the accepted way of doing things and fail, you're probably done. Being mediocre in the approved manner will still be rewarded. What's more, the higher officers, the generals, aren't thinking on the proper level. Ricks argues generals need to be thinking about why they're waging this war, and what they're hoping to accomplish, leaving the manner of how to win battles to the subordinates on the ground. Instead, the generals have decided those sorts of concerns are the politicians' worry, and they focus on tactics, which turns them into micromanagers with no conception of the larger picture.

One thing I wasn't totally clear on was why the Army sort of closed ranks. It starts a bit in Korea, but accelerates in subsequent conflicts where the Army adopts an "us vs. them" approach, where "them" refers to American politicians, media, and the public. Which is perhaps one of the reasons relief goes out of fashion. If you remove a subordinate, it looks like an admission of failure, that you either aren't doing things right on the battlefield, or aren't doing things right in training your officers. The Army seems increasingly sensitive to outside criticism, so they takes steps to minimize it, which creates a culture where people aren't held accountable for their mistakes and unethical (or criminal) actions, which, once word of that leaks, produces more external criticism, which makes them close ranks all the more. My best guess is that Korea and especially Vietnam were not popular wars with the public, and the military took a lot of the brunt of the blame, and they felt that was unfair, they had been ordered to fight by the government, and that helped produce the more adversarial relationship (especially between military command and the government, which doesn't help).

One other thing. In Roosevelt's Centurions, Persico mentions Churchill consistently delaying the Allies invading France from across the Channel, citing among other things, the need for American troops to gain combat experience (and officers battlefield command experience) before they faced the Wehrmacht. Persico didn't buy it, pointing out that on D-Day, 60% of the American troops had still never seen combat, and that Churchill was really more concerned with securing the Mediterranean to help the British maintain their grip on their Empire (figuring FDR wasn't serious about wanting them to grant their imperial possessions self-determination after the war). Ricks, on the other hand, agrees with Churchill, both on the need for combat experience argument, but also the idea the operations in North Africa, Italy, and Sicily diverted German troops away from the Channel. Persico would no doubt counter it also diverted Allied troops away from the Normandy landing. I'm not sure who's right, I just found the disagreement interesting.

'By the time the war ended, in 1953, the Marshall approach to generalship had severely eroded. This was in part because removing senior officers in a small, unpopular war proved politically difficult. A wave of high-level reliefs early in the war provoked fear at the top of the Army that more such actions would lead Congress to ask uncomfortable questions. One must wonder about a system that seemingly was willing to accept the disastrous consequences of leaving unfit generals in command of American troops in order to avoid difficult inquiries from members of Congress.'

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Invisible Man 1.1 - Pilot

Plot: What we have is Darien Fawkes (Vincent Ventresca), who considers himself quite the accomplished thief. In the middle of robbing a high-rise apartment, he causes its tenant - an elderly gent - to have a heart attack, and stays to save the man's life. Which gets him arrested, and sentenced to life in a maximum security prison. Added bad news, that's how his girlfriend, Casey, learns he's actually a thief.

A failed breakout attempt lands him in a more secure holding cell, where his brother Kevin comes to visit. Kevin is a genius working for the government, and if Darien agrees to play guinea pig, he'll receive a pardon. With a general lack of options, Darien agrees, and is driven to the desert in a shitty package van, where he meets the rest of Kevin's staff, most off whom are bland and inoffensive, except Arnaud de Thiel (Joel Bissonnette), to whom Darien takes an immediate disliking. But there's not too much time for that, as the procedure must go on, and Darien wakes up to find his brother has implanted a ridiculously large gland in his brain. One which produces a light-bending substance called Quicksilver, which can make Darien invisible, along with a few other nifty tricks. Though initially resistant, Darien gradually grows to enjoy learning how to control it, though he doesn't always use it wisely. The problem is that it turns out the gland also secretes a narcotic substance which removes Darien's inhibitions, making him violent. Oh, and they can't remove the gland because his brain's already developed a dependency on it. Good thing Arnaud was able to devise a counteragent that blocks the effect - for a few days at a time.

It's about this point Arnaud is revealed to be planning to steal all the data on the gland, and has an armed assault team, led by his cowed brother Huiclov, ready to attack. Darien is able to escape, but not before Kevin takes a lot of bullets. With no source for the counteragent, Darien attempts to have it removed, first by an old mob doctor, then by Casey. neither path pans out, and he's eventually captured by the people Kevin was working for, a group called the Agency, led by the Official (Eddie Jones). They've determined Arnaud de Thiel is actually chemical weapons designer and dealer Arnaud de Fehrn (meaning "savage Alpine wind". or hair dryer), and he's holding an auction for the gland at his safe house somewhere in Mexico. The Official would like Fawkes to go there, retrieve the plans, and capture Arnaud. And hey, maybe Fawkes will get the counteragent formula. Fawkes grudgingly agrees.

What they don't know is that Arnaud can't make another gland. See, the micro-discs he downloaded all the files on had to be swallowed when Fawkes caught him in the act. One disc didn't pass, and despite Arnaud performing surgery on himself to remove it, the disc was too badly corroded. Good thing the only existing, working gland is on its way right to him. And good thing Fawkes doesn't bring his new partner, Bobby Hobbes (Paul Ben-Victor) along when he comes after Arnaud, who has posed as a fed to draw Casey down there. At any rate, Fawkes is able to maintain control long enough to fool Arnaud into being blown up by lots of grenades, and Casey has shown enough kindness to Huiclov in the face of Arnaud's sadistic indifference that Huiclov comes through with some counteragent. But there's still no one to remove the gland, and that was the last of the counteragent. Or not, because the Official's boys found some notes going through the remains of Arnaud's stuff, and if Fawkes comes and works for them, they'll keep him hooked up with counteragent. Which was the whole reason Arnaud devised that flaw in the gland, to keep his customers dependent on him. As the Official notes, it's a good scam.

Quote of the Episode: Arnaud - 'No man can do enough for his brother.'

The "oh crap" Count: 9 (9 overall)

Who's getting quoted this week? Nietzche, Mark Twain, though Arnaud didn't give credit for the latter.

Times Fawkes Goes Into Quicksilver Madness: 2 (2 overall). This is a little iffy, but I'm going to go based off his behavior, rather than simply the presence of red eyes.

What department is the Agency affiliated with this week? Department of Fish and Game!

Other: I know, that was a lot of plot summary, but it's the pilot, so it was longer than a typical episode, and there's a lot to introduce, though I'll mention right now we won't see Casey again.

I kind of gave Hobbes the short end of the stick there, but I thought the directors and Paul Ben-Victor did a good job giving us a lot about Hobbes very quickly. He's kind of a smart ass, but in a put-upon way, as he believes himself to be this great agent who is completely unappreciated and saddled with some rookie (Fawkes). He's kind of bitter, isn't going to admit to being impressed, but he is good at his work.

I love Arnaud. He might be one of my favorite TV villains. He looks like this unassuming geeky guy - the "Swiss Doogie Howser" as he puts it - but he is ice cold. He's so calmly casual about killing people, but there's this undercurrent where you can tell he enjoys it. I don't even think it's the killing he enjoys, it's that the way he does it emphasizes how much more clever he is than everyone else. Plus, he cut himself open to retrieve that disc. That's hardcore. As he told his brother, 'Question my bowels all you like, Huiclov. But never, ever, question my will.' I'd stopped doing that as soon as he cracked himself over the head with a fire extinguisher to make Fawkes look bad.

The interplay between he and Darien. That Darien, as a con artist himself, is the one who sees through Arnaud instantly. That Arnaud can't resist letting his cheerful act slip more and more around Darien, can't resist saying spiteful things. Of course, saying that stuff sets Darien off, which helps sell him as being delusional from the Quicksilver Madness. I especially like how, in the scene after Darien first loses it, we don't even know Arnaud is in the room with the Fawkes brothers, until the moment he mentions the Q.M. Through a lot of Darien and Kevin's conversations, Arnaud is there, lurking in the background of the shot, usually watching the whole thing over Kevin's shoulder. The scientist observing the proceedings for his own gain. And those interjections, which butt into their conversations, also are his attempts to lever the two apart, because Arnaud realizes Darien suspects him, and is trying to discredit him before Kevin grows suspicious.

The whole bit with the pair of brothers - Kevin and Darien, Arnaud and Huiclov - is well done. Kevin and Arnaud are the smart brothers, and both can be exasperated and disappointed in their brothers. But in Kevin's case, he believes in Darien, and is trying to save him, albeit in a way that also furthers his research. But at the end, he saves Darien, and urges him to run, to stay safe. He trusts him with the gland, even as Darien's the one pointing out how dangerous it is to give a thief a way to turn invisible. Arnaud doesn't trust Huiclov, doesn't even bother to hide his contempt of his brother. His brother's concerns for his well-being are rejected, his concern for others is scorned, all his attempts to do as Arnaud wishes are nit-picked for not being precisely right. When their assault begins, and Huiclov rides up in the dune buggy, the look on Arnaud's face as he stands there waiting scream, "I could just kill you." Because Huiclov is a few minutes late, if that. Arnaud already killed every guard on the base with his "hide explosives in the walkie-talkies" strategy.

There's a moment where Arnaud tries to convince Darien to throw in with him, telling him Kevin hasn't removed the gland because he's worried about hurting it, not Darien. Darien considers it for a moment, but understands his brother enough to know its bull. But it's exactly what Arnaud would do, view his brother as nothing but a suitcase for the all-important gland. I'm pretty sure Arnaud knows Kevin isn't like that, but there's a part of me wondering if he really believes that's why Kevin's taking the path he is.

I'll tell you right now, the strength of this show is going to be the interactions between the cast, the development of relationships, more so than the stories.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Roosevelt's Centurions - Joseph E. Persico

I guess this is the book my dad meant to have answer my question about whether FDR was a meddler on par with the other leaders. The answer would appear to be no. He didn't always go for the operations they favored - Marshall and the others wanted to invade Europe across the Channel right from the start, but FDR kept letting Churchill divert it - but once the direction of the war had been decided, he largely left it to them. He selected his commanders, and trusted them to not only conduct the war, but choose their subordinates.

Persico's picture of FDR is of a man deft at playing political games, the trick of keeping everyone happy, but he has his eyes on the greater goals at the end.He comes off as mostly pragmatic, where morals or idealism largely does not factor into his decisions. He knows Stalin is a mass murderer on par with the one they're trying to defeat, but he also figures they need the Soviet Union in the war fighting the Germans, so he looks the other way and offers massive amounts of material, while the Soviets do only about as much as they must to assist the Western democracies (one thing the book taught me about was shuttle bombing, American bombers attacking Germany, then flying on to the USSR to refuel and rearm, then bombing Germany again on the way home). I don't have a sense that FDR particularly cared about ending segregation, but whether he did or not, he wasn't going to risk losing the support of racist southern Democrats in Congress by pushing for it. It was only when manpower needs became dire that he went for it. In other words, practical, not idealist.

And of course, there are the internment camps. Persico notes that FDR was deeply concerned with subversion and sabotage, believing that was the only way Germany could have conquered all those countries so quickly. While The Collapse of the Third Republic certainly demonstrated to me that there were plenty of people in France ready to welcome Fascism with open arms, that hardly explains locking up Japanese-Americans, rather than German-Americans. It doesn't explain locking up over 100,000 people living on the West Coast, but not the more than 100,000 living in Hawaii, where there was an actual naval base that was actually attacked. Unless you figure that transporting all those Japanese-Americans to the mainland was the point where practical concerns won out over keeping the hysterical racists under control.

It's not a new question, the one about how far someone should be willing to bend their principles to win, but it was one I thought about a lot during this book. Of course, I'm looking at it from my perspective, as if my ideals are FDR's, when for all I know, he found none of it morally objectionable. He drew a line when Marshall pushed to use gas against the Japanese, but seemed entirely willing to use the A-bomb on the Germans, if we had one ready by then (we didn't). He had no problems with the use of incendiaries on Japanese cities, which caused firestorms that killed more people than the A-bomb, or in leveling entire cities. I don't know, what constitutes an acceptable use of force in a war? Does it matter the method by which someone dies, whether they're bombed or incinerated? How do you weigh the lives of civilians in the enemy country against the lives of your own soldiers? I tend to think that was a large part of the point behind them bombing campaigns (and it's the primary justification for the atomic bombs they used), and it's an understandable one, but isn't it still mostly killing non-combatants? Unless you figure there were no non-combatants.

That's one thing I'm not sure about, how much, if at all, these questions wore on FDR. He demanded unconditional surrender, even though plenty of his advisers, as well as Churchill argued against it, because it might encourage the Axis to fight to the last man, believing they were going to be exterminated anyway. So maybe once he set himself on that course, there was no stepping back from it? If he had doubts about it, they weren't readily apparent in here.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Not Much New Business In June

The solicitations for June's releases don't bring much change for me. None, actually. Still nothing on the non-Marvel front other than Harley Quinn and Atomic Robo (woo! Atomic Robo!) No new ongoings from Marvel. But there are a couple of things from Marvel to note.

First, it appears Avengers Undercover is going to follow its predecessor series, Avengers Arena, in shipping 3 issues every 2 months. It's shipping twice in April, which I had hoped was going to be a one-off thing, but it's doing so again in June, so nevermind. Normally more issues of a book you like is good, but this pace means issues not drawn by Kev Walker, and I've really grown to enjoy Walker's art over the span of the previous series and the first issue of this one. They're at least getting Tim Green II to draw issue 6, and I also like his artwork, but he is a bit different from Walker stylistically. Plus, the issue he's drawing is going to revolve around whether Deathlocket will actually try to kill Captain America or not, and I feel like his art does best when he gets to draw more non-human stuff (see the Rocket Raccoon and Groot mini-series he drew). So maybe something involving Cullen in his big monster form. Ah well.

The other thing is Deadpool continuing to tie-in to Original Sin. I feel as though I should trust Posehn and Duggan to do well with it, but even though I've read some very good tie-ins to big events over the span of this blog, it's more common they harm the book than help it. I'm also not sure what the heck Wade is doing getting mixed up in someone killing the Watcher, unless this is going to be like Garth Ennis' Hitman tie-in for DC One Million. Just taking the piss on the whole thing. I don't think that would really need more than one issue, and they're already up to at least two confirmed.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What I Bought 3/14/2014 - Part 6

Keepin' on with reviews, as we turn to the villain team that's just tryin' to make a buck in this harsh world. Too bad they're a bunch of incompetent, backstabbin' stumble bums. No, I don't know why I keep loppin' the "g" off all those words.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #8 & 9, by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber (storytellers), Rich Ellis (additional art?, also color art, #9), Rachelle Rosenberg (color art, with someone named Redmond on #9), Joe Caramagna (letterer, #8), Clayton Cowles (letterer, #9) - I swear, credits just keep gettin' more and more confusin'. But what an adorable cover, right?

There are two basic plot threads in these issues. One is Boomerang dealing with the fallout from him stealing a revealing portrait of Doom, and not the head of Silvermane. The other is the Shocker actually having stolen the head of Silvermane, and finding cranky senior citizens aren't any less of a pain in the ass just because they're disembodied.

Boomerang's is a little more complicated. First he gets the crap beat out of him by the Chameleon, angry because Fred didn't bring him the head of Silvermane. When he awakens, he sees Chameleon tossed his crummy apartment and found the Doom painting, and took that as payment. Then Fred gets surprised and beaten up by the girl he's trying to sleep with. He tells her he a super-villain, which she takes fairly well, even encouraging him to get the painting back, and then Bullseye shows up, and beats Fred down, but not before Fred tries to save his own neck by throwing her to the wolves instead. As Bullseye remarked, that is so embarrassing.

I know what you're saying, Bullseye? That's unpossible! He was crippled by Daredevil, then blinded with radioactive waste while Daredevil looked on and did nothing (still a terrible decision, Mark Waid)! And you'd be right. Bullseye is actually an LMD cooked up by the Tinkerer for the Owl, who is peeved about Boomerang robbing him. Boomerang actually talks his way out of this by taking advantage of the fact that everyone believes he's a loser. It doesn't make them wrong - he is a loser - but even a schlub can pull off a fast one once in awhile if he's willing to do whatever underhanded thing it takes, which is Fred all over. He won't get much time to enjoy it, because his team just found him, and they brough along a busload of kids with ninja weapons. Consider me intrigued.

Really, this could be very interesting. The Owl is gunning for the Chameleon now, convinced he impersonated Boomerang and stole the paining himself. Which might give Fred the chance to steal it back, if he can convince his team to go along with him. I have no idea what the fallout's gonna be for the Shocker when word gets around he has Silvermane's head, but I like how he explained himself to Hydro-Man. That he just wants to make some dough and get out, that's his thing. He isn't a revenge villain, a boss villain, or a take over the world villain. He's a cut the check guy, just trying to use some gadgets to make some bank the best he can. Fictional universes need guys like that, if only for contrast to the murderous nutcases. I also like the fact his couch has the same pattern and color scheme as his costume. It's just a small thing that amuses me.

Lieber does a lot of small little things I like. The extremely self-satisfied shrug he draws for Fred after telling his date he's a super-hero (he tells the truth on the next page) is just perfect. It's meant to look sort of self-effacing, kind of  'what can I say?', but the smirk completely blows it out of the water. Fred gets a lot of looks like that, the sort of grin I'd love to see someone wipe off his face. Smart move by Spencer and Lieber to have him spend most of these issues getting beaten up by various people, then.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cape-Con 2014 Recap

My only regret is not buying cupcakes.

I was only able to go on Saturday, because my work schedule overlapped the convention again. I mean, I could have taken the day off, I've missed one full day and half of another in the 4+ years I've been on this job, but I figure I should save that sort of thing for more serious stuff. I know, what's more serious than a comic convention? I have strange values, alright?

Since it isn't turkey season, I was able to get in the field early and be on my way to the convention before 10, so I could drive slightly more leisurely than I did during last year's pell mell race for fun. The weather was nice, traffic was light for the first 80% of the drive, and so I arrived only slightly irritated with humanity and considerably less drained of adrenaline than last year. No wandering around in a daze in 2014!

The convention itself was excellent. Ken announced that they'd set an attendance record for the convention before Saturday was even over. When I first got there and asked how things were going, he said it was 'packed, not at capacity, but packed.' so he was pretty amped about that. I saw him again before I left and he commented that it was so crazy it was almost unmanageable, but it was manageable, so it was just awesome. So that's good. I don't know what caused the jump in attendance. The shift to March, landing Shane Davis as a guest, shifting demographics in the area, luck. No clue, but it's nice to see. I don't know if it'll ever reach that 5,000 attendees level he said he'd love to hit years ago, but growth is good.

As for me, I spent practically the first hour just wandering, scouting the tables, trying to decide where to start. I didn't buy any back issues, though my friend from work who arrived shortly after I did grabbed a bunch of Season 9 Buffy comics. I did grab a couple of comics. Chris Ebert, who drew that very nice Firestar for me in 2012, had finished the comic he'd been working on for the last few years, so I grabbed a copy of Bullet Ridden. Brian Koschak had a comic of his, The Eavesdropper Cafe that I grabbed, as well as a larger print of that "Loneliest Astronaut" picture I bought a small print of 2 years ago. Unfortunately he hasn't found anyone to pick up Back Alley Hero yet. Considering it was about a Regular Joe type trying to be a hero, I figured there'd be some interest. That seems to be popular.

The other comic I bought was Douglas Paszkiewicz' Arsenic Lullaby - The Devil's Brigade. He made a good sales pitch for its dark humor, and I do love dark humor. Sometimes. I haven't read any of them yet. I've put most all other pastimes on hold to try and get through the books my dad loans me, except he won't stop sending more books. I keep thinking I can read fast enough to get done, but no, here come more books. And then I go and buy all three parts of D.L. Moore's Night of the Dragon at the convention, so even more books. What the hell am I doing?

. . .

So yeah, the cupcakes. There were these two nice girls - one dressed as Wonder Woman in basically her current outfit, the other Rogue in her '90s cartoon style - and they had a table piled high with baked goods they were selling. I kept telling myself I was going to buy a couple of cupcakes. Then I'd get distracted, or worried about how much money I'd already spent, or just put it off and it never happened. No cupcakes for Calvin. Ah well, a valuable lesson about not hesitating to strike when the oven is hot. Because that means the cupcakes are fresh.

On the artistic front, there was a fellow doing wood engravings among other things. He had one with the Decepticon symbol. Grabbed that for Alex, plus what I think of as the Rogue Squadron symbol. It's probably the Rebel Alliance, but I know it from Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, so I'll call it what I like. I spent the greatest amount of money at the Pixel Peddler's table, where he makes what are meant to look like 8 or 16-bit representations of, well, pretty much anything. My friend grabbed a Walter White head, plus complimentary pixelated bag of meth, and a Deadpool emblem. As for me, I grabbed a Krillin early on. When I came back later, the large Rocket Raccoon was missing, so after that, all bets were off. Anything I thought I wanted, I wasn't waiting. Which is how I wound up with Sonic the Hedgehog, Knives Chau (from Scott Pilgrim), and one of the ducks from Duck Hunt. You know, Krillin is far and away my favorite Dragonball character, and I still couldn't resist having Knives give him bunny ears. Sorry, Krillin. And yes, Sonic is most of the way out of the shot on purpose. Because he's fast and impatient, obviously. I'd say that fellow was doing good business even without me, since by the end of the day I think he had more display space than things to display.

I picked up a nice Zatanna print from Michelle Delecki, who was very friendly and energetic, which simultaneously makes me feel welcome, but also desperately wishing for Alex to be around. He's much better at being equally energetic around people he doesn't know, where as I shift to shy and reserved. This year's New Warriors sketch was Silhouette, as drawn by Nathan Rice. So I'm officially halfway through my "commission sketches of all the Nicieza/Bagley New Warriors" project! Only Night Thrasher, Rage, Marvel Boy, and Namorita still to go! Whoo! At this rate, I'll only need like 4 more years! On the positive side, that means I still have plenty of time to figure out what the next project would be.

I left before the costume contest, because a) I hadn't eaten that day, and b) I wanted to finish the drive back into the boonies before twilight, which is when all the idiot deer start running around. My friend informs me the winner was someone in a Man-Thing costume. I didn't get to see that guy before I left, but it was suggested they probably only wore it for as long as they had to. Understandable. I did see quite a few good costumes, including an entire family done up as the Fantastic Four, Nobody was dressed as the Thing, they just all had the classic blue with white gloves and boots outfits, but they were good. There was a Hawkman and Hawkgirl (Hawkwoman?) couple, more than a couple of the Doctor (including one boy wearing a fez and carrying a mop, which I assume is a story point).

I only took a few pictures, and then I almost wrecked them last night trying to get them to a reasonable size. I thought the whole image was being shrunk, but it was actually just cropping them to show only a portion equal to the dimensions I specified. Avoided wrecking any convention photos, but I did lose the three of the local friendly dog, and the two of that geodetic survey azimuth marker my dad found in the corner of a field. There was a excellent Indiana Jones, but I figured I'd share the Ash photo. Hail to the King and all that. I understand that it's polite and proper to ask to take photos, and it probably ensures the best view of the costume. I still kind of prefer taking more natural photos. My favorite convention picture might be the '07 Cape-Con one of the Stormtrooper just chilling, leaning against the railing. I think it's the disconnect between the normalcy of the action and the appearance of who is doing it.

That was my Saturday. A fine time had by all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Naval History of World War I - Paul G. Halpern

The good thing about Paul Halpern's A Naval History of World War I is how he touches on practically everything. He doesn't focus simply on Jutland, or the struggle between the U-boats and the Atlantic convoys, or the British Navy's role in the mess in the Dardanelles. He looks at the use of merchant ships as decoys for subs, minelayers, surface raiders, the early attempts to incorporate aircraft into the naval war, resistance to convoys, pressure amongst the brass to "do something", and does so in every body of water where the war took place, from the Baltic, to the Adriatic, the Indian Ocean, even the Danube River.

The bad thing is Halpern's not an engaging writer. He could be trying to simply maintain objectivity, but the book is almost monotone. I've read several books on military campaigns where the writer was able to make the battles come alive, make me care about the people involved, whether I liked them or hated them. If Halpern has that capability, he doesn't demonstrate it here. Which is why the time I was halfway through the book I was debating whether to finish it or not. I did, but it was a real slog at times. There's only so many times I can see the phrase 'that is outside the scope of this work', or 'there isn't space to go into details on. . .' I'd say I read those phrases at least a half-dozen times each in the book, maybe twice that. And it was usually in reference to things that sounded fun to read about. But this is allegedly a general history, though that doesn't stop him from spending entire pages reciting the essentially fruitless missions of large U-boats off the coast of the United States. Perhaps if he shortened that down to 'the tonnage sunk by the U-boats hardly justified their use in those waters,' he could have spent a little more time discussing interesting developments.

You might be better off flipping through the bibliography and picking out titles of more specific histories that sound appealing.

'The arguments involving absolute contraband, conditional contraband, free goods, and international law and precedents were frequently complex and legalistic. There is no space to go into them here, but in general one can say that whereas British and French actions involved property and could be contested in prize courts, the German measures in the submarine war frequently involved loss of life. Neutral and other shipowners might on occasion win awards for damages or restoration of their property in prize courts, but a life, once lost, could never be restored. The British and French therefore had a noted advantage in the propaganda war for the sympathy of the richest and most powerful neutral of them all, the United States. The Germans - at least the naval authorities - however well grounded and legalistic their arguments, seemed never to fully comprehend this.'

Monday, March 24, 2014

What I Bought 3/14/2014 - Part 5

I need a day or two to process Cape-Con 2014, so let's keep rolling with reviews for the time being.

Really I'm just being lazy about transferring the pictures I took off my camera.

She-Hulk #1 & 2, by Charles Soule (writer), Javier Pulido (artist), Muntsa Vicente (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Jennifer Walters: running behind for her own first cover. I like the touch of her trying to pull her shoe back on.

Jen was working at high-class law firm, but then she finds out they hired her not for her lawyering skills, but on the assumption she would send all her superhero friends that own companies or lots of patents their way. So Jen quits, and wrecks their stupid table made from what were probably protected endangered rainforest trees. The guys were assholes with more money than anything else, is what I'm driving at.

Drinking her irritation away, she's approached by the wife of Jonas Harrow, a name that sounded familiar, but I had to look up to confirm. Harrow felt he devised some repulsortech that was stolen by one of Stark's companies. Jen figures this could be handled by her simply talking to Tony, but his automated receptionist redirects her to his Legal. Not legal department, just legal. That guy and Agent Shadrach from the Ostrander/Mandrake Spectre run would have a ball, though I'm assuming "ball" would mean, "someone gets shot in the face". Jen does eventually run the gauntlet of automated robots to get some facetime with Tony, and he writes the widow Harrow a check, and she gives 150 grand to Jen, who opens her own law firm. In a nice building full of people with superpowers. Unfortunately, her old bosses talked a lot of shit about her, so she's not getting much work, though she does have an ominous but diligent receptionist. To while away some time - and avoid dealing with the Blue File - she goes drinking with Patsy, who is depressed and adrift, and so they go busting into a warehouse that's an AIM lab, and Jen scares the bejeezus out of the two guys working there. Then she hires Patsy as an investigator, just in time because the next morning brings her first case.

I'm not sure I like Patsy being a heavy drinker and seemingly really bummed out. I prefer Patsy as the person who refuses to let the difficulties off life affect her approach, at least in part because she's already survived so much crap. Keep in mind that some of that crap involves being in actual Hell.

That is the beginning and end of my problems with this book. Soule's presented a Jennifer Walters that seems to enjoy being a lawyer, is good at it, but doesn't allow it to consume her life. She has too many other things she enjoys doing: sleeping, partying, saving the world. Also, I like that she's completely willing to point out she's saved the world to ungrateful jackasses. Marvel heroes are occasionally too willing to let the ungrateful folks heap scorn and abuse on them, and it's nice to see one not play nice. Her receptionist, Angie, clearly has something going on (Ancient One reincarnated?), now Patsy's going to be around, and there's a whole building full of people with powers and problems for Jennifer to interact with.

I wasn't sure how I'd feel about Pulido's art on the book, but I wound up really liking it. At first I thought Jen's eyes were unusually large, but I got used to that quickly. I saw someone describe his art as "flat", not in an insulting way, and it sort of fits. His characters seem to like to move straight across the page from one side to the other, or failing that directly towards or away from us. The side-to-side panels tend to be shorter and stretched in that direction, and the ones towards or away from us are usually taller and thinner. It's sort of a tunnel effect, where you can't see the character going in any other direction. I think it works for Jen, too. While she is a lawyer, and a lot of that is fencing and research and loopholes, she's also a Hulk. And a lot of being a Hulk (or She-Hulk) is taking the direct path to a solution to one's problems. That's sort of how Jen deals with (some) of her problems. When Legal gives her the runaround, she goes right to Stark, through all his stupid robots. When the AIM guy threatens to kill Patsy, she threatens to do the same to him, and demonstrates the power to back it up. She knows what she can do, and she's willing to use it.

I gotta say, these new series from Marvel are doing well at getting my attention right off the bat. I still have two more first issues left, or I will once Daredevil #1 shows up, so we'll get to those sometime in the next week or so. Don't worry, I still have plenty of other books to review.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Burn Notice 7.13 - Reckoning

Plot: We pick up where we left off, Sonya and Fi playing Devil and Angel on Michael's shoulders. Sonya gets ready to shoot Fi, so Michael finally snaps out of it and shoots Sonya. James, in the helicopter above observes this, and furiously orders his men to kill them. His men fail, Mike, Fi, Sam, and Jesse escape. But so does James, which means Strong got nothing, and now he's put a 50 grand reward out on them. Which is how Sam and Jesse wind up prisoners of a shotgun-toting convenience store clerk. Michael demonstrates a continuing disregard for his life by driving a car into the store and hopping out to attack the clerk, getting shot in the arm in the process. But they all escape.

Mike concludes their only chance is to catch James, which he wants to do alone, but no dice. He does, however, convince Jesse to look after Maddy and Charlie, so it'll be the original three going after James. Or rather, all of his records. Jesse uses a friend to find the guy who set up James' communication relay. Which turns out to be in the abandoned remains of an old newspaper. Things are looking up, until James arrives. He recognized that they took some phones from that convenience store, and he tracked the numbers. Three of them are inside his communications relay, and two of them (Jesse and Maddy's) are in a house his guys are surrounding. Madeline makes a gutsy call, asking Jesse to protect Charlie, while she takes out as many of James' guys as she can with an explosive they had. Was not expecting a kamikaze play from Madeline, but there you go. At this point, Fi and Mike are in a shootout with James and his guys, while Sam flees with all those records they swiped. He escapes his pursuer, Fi caps everyone while they're busy shooting at Mike, but James reveals the explosives the building is wired with are not just to stop people from breaking in, and so it appears our heroes are dead.

In the aftermath, we learn Jesse and Sam spent some time in custody, but were eventually released. Mike and Fi are presumed dead, and there's a funeral, but we see they outran the explosion and jumped into the bay/river/ocean/large body of water the newspaper sat at the edge of. They're living in a nice looking home, someplace with snow, taking care of Charlie. As for Jesse and Sam, it appears they'll continue the work of helping people in need.

The Players: Look, nobody new shows up, and I don't feel like making up titles.

Quote of the Episode: Fiona - 'Michael, we don't have much time. What do you want to do?' Michael - 'I want to fight.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? A wall.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (6 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (5 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (3 overall).

Other: I'm curious how Michael and Fi got Charlie from Jesse before Jesse got arrested. I'd assume the explosion of Maddy's sacrifice would have attracted law enforcement attention, but maybe Jesse was able to elude them until Mike and Fi could find him. Otherwise, I feel like Charlie's absence would raise questions about Mike and Fi actually being dead. Unless Jesse told Strong Charlie got blown up along with Madeline, which I feel should raise some eyebrows.

That whole scene with Maddy as she talks to Michael, and as she asks Jesse to watch over Charlie, that was heartbreaking. I was choked up a little. The thing I thought of was the end of Season 3, when the feds were leaning on her to help them catch Mike (this was while he was running around Miami with Simon), and she refused, even under threat of arrest. The fed told her not to pay for Michael's mistakes, and she replied, 'He paid for mine.' 

I think this was that, on a grander scale. A lot of this has been people paying for Michael's mistakes. His impetuous decision to kill Tom Card, or maybe his decision not to kill Anson from the start, or arrest him him and turn him over to Pearce as soon as he showed his true colors. But I guess the biggest mistake was not accepting the truth of what he opens every episode with: that he used to be a spy. He kept trying to get back in, and that drove him to do questionable things, as well as giving people a lever to use against him. Dangle that carrot, and watch the incredible things Michael will do to get it. I'm not sure I buy how completely he seems to have given it up now, though. Even when the fact the CIA was willing to use Simon disillusioned him, he seemed willing to latch onto James' cause. He was still set on doing the work, simply without the bureaucratic oversight. But now he's done with it?

Maybe he realized that the closest he'd ever get to doing important work how he wanted, without having to leave certain people alone because of their connections was when he was helping those folks Carla derisively referred to as 'the little people'. The ones Sam and Jesse will apparently continue to help. Maybe Mike and Fi will do that stuff sometimes where they are. It's kind of like the send-off Peter Parker and Mary Jane got in the Clone Saga, where they went to the Pacific Northwest. You knew Peter was going to focus on being a husband and father, but every once in awhile, there'd be a mysterious masked guy who might save a life.

There were a lot of callbacks to the Pilot. Fi's 'shall we shoot them', Sam's 'you know spies, bunch of bitchy little girls'. Also, I think the fact that Maddy uses Charlie as a bit of a lever on Mike. Obviously Charlie didn't exist in the first episode, but Mike's client did have a young son he was trying to provide for, and the boy did look up to Mike. Which made Michael go further in helping than he otherwise might have. Which kind of set the tone for Mike being drawn into helping everyday people, when all he claimed to want to do was get back into the government spy business. This time around, it was the presence of his nephew that sort of helps pull Mike out of this grim death wish mode he was in. He was determined to fix things, and die trying, but once Madeline sacrificed herself, that wasn't an option. He had to survive, for Charlie's sake. And he had to trust Fiona to do it. Even though he does trust Fi, Mike usually likes to do things by himself, so it was nice to see him tell her outright that he wasn't planning to die because he knew she had him covered.

As far as an ending to the series, it's pretty good. Maybe a little too neat and happy for some, but I like happy endings when I can get them. I still think Season 3 is probably my favorite overall - the Gilroy subplot being a major part of that - and that 2-4 was the strongest stretch. I missed Brennan, and especially Dead Larry in later seasons. Anson was easily my least favorite villain, but I thought Vaughn got the worst deal, as he was portrayed as sort of incompetent, right up to the moment he was out to kill Michael.

Season 7 was a mixed bag. I didn't entirely understand the almost religious fervor James inspired in Burke, Sonya, and even Michael. I understood why his plan would appeal to them, it just seemed a little much. Carlos never felt well integrated into the story, but I thought the strain on Michael was laid out pretty well. I could understand why he might actually decide to hell with the Agency, and side with James. And I liked how all his friends stuck with him, even if they didn't want to at first. I'm a sucker for "power of friendship" narratives sometimes.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What I Bought 3/14/2014 - Part 4

I just found out I didn't have a 'Ms. Marvel' label. How the heck did that happen? I must have used 'Warbird' back when I was buying the Brian Reed written series.

Captain Marvel #1, by Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), David Lopez (art), Lee Loughridge (color art), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - It's a simple cover, but I like her grin as she pulls the glove on. Not sure if I like it better than that Power Girl cover Amanda Conner did where she's rolling up her sleeve, but it's close.

Carol's dating James Rhodes now. I can't say I saw that coming, but they're both pilots, military background, so at least they have some shared interests. Might be on hiatus, though, because they found an incoming space pod with an alien girl from a species whose homeworld was destroyed during Infinity. This has convinced Stark the Avengers ought to have someone out in space, and it's gonna be Carol. She's qualified, and she's missing something she can maybe find out there. So she's gonna head out to space, and six weeks later, she and the alien girl (named Tic) will be looking for something and trying to avoid Spartax secret police, whatever the hell those are. Star-Lord's half Spartoi, is that the same species?

It's kind of plot light, but DeConnick seems to have most of the pieces set up and ready to go, and she clued in new readers about Carol's status in terms of where she's living, her relationships and friendships, obliquely mentioned the loss of memories (Carol tells Kit she doesn't remember what she wanted to be growing up). Being honest, I love David Lopez' art and this book would have to be terribly written (which it is not, at all) for me not to enjoy it. One thing I notice is Lopez is inking himself. Typically, he (I think) father, Al, handles that. As it stands, and some of this is Loughridge's colors (the shade of orange/yellow he uses in the opening scene and for Carol's energy blasts in particular), but Lopez' work here resembles Francisco Francavilla's. Not heavily, but there's a bit of it in his greater use of shadows to delineate faces, and less sharp, fine lines. Which is not a complaint, just something it took me a minute to recognize and adjust to.

Ms. Marvel #1, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (art), Ian Herring (color art), Joe Caramanga (letterer) - Does the wristband/bracelet she's wearing mean something. It sort of looks like it forms letters, but I can't make it out.

Kamala Khan's a teenage girl living in Jersey City. She's Pakistani, and Muslim, which means she's different from most of the other people her age in town. This is something she's made all too aware of by her classmates, who regard her as some sort of curiosity. Kamala's not unhappy with her life, so much as I think she's curious about all the stuff everyone else can do she isn't allowed to. Which leads to her defying her father and sneaking out to a party, which doesn't go well at all. She got fed up with loud, stupid, drunk teenagers even faster than I do, which is impressive. She gets caught up in what I'm assuming is Terrigen Mist, has a strange dream where Carol Danvers, Captain America, and Iron Man ask her who she really wants to be, and when she wakes up, she has to break out of some odd sphere and she looks like Carol in her Ms. Marvel outfit. The black one she's worn for most of her career. Oh, and when I say looks like, I mean Kamala looks like Carol Danvers, which is certainly a surprise to her.

I really liked this. It's funny in place, not hysterical, but little things that make me smile. The fact the entire group of teenagers were exposed to the Terrigen provides a possible opportunity for Kamala to have some arch-foes all her own. And I like how Wilson portrays her family and Kiki's (that's Kamala's best friend). The fact Kiki, sorry Nakia, she doesn't like her nickname, wears a head scarf because she wants to, but her father believes it's a phase. Or how Kamala's dad is less concerned with how devout her older brother is, and more with the fact he doesn't have a job. His desire for Kamala not to go to a party feels like it comes less from some strict religious position, and more from a father being concerned about his teenage daughter. The religious aspect might be there, but it's just a part of the larger picture, and it manifests in ways that are probably engrained on a subconscious level. How many things do I do in my everyday life I regard as perfectly normal that are a result of my culture that would seem strange to other people? I thought that was presented very well.

This may qualify as heresy, but I was not always a fan of Alphona's work on Runaways. Facial expressions and body language were good, but action was a little dicey. I like the art her quite a bit more. The style seems a little more simplified, anatomy more exaggerated, not quite cartoony, but highly expressive. The first panel on page 3, the way Zoe is leaning in, with this air of intense interest in what Nakia's saying, but ti really just serves to place her more into their space (and the center of the panel). Meanwhile, Nakia's stiff as a board, and barely seems to even acknowledge Zoe. I could absolutely see her staring straight ahead speaking to this annoying girl off to her side without directly making eye contact. And Kamala's just barely peeking around Nakia's shoulder, and is sort of covering her face with her hand/scratching her eyebrow. I can't decide which it is actually. I could see the former, if she was sort of embarrassed by Zoe's 'Wow, cultures are so interesting.' line, but the latter would be a nice touch, because it's the sort of gesture people make while engaged in conversation. It's a natural moment, like people shifting their weight to one leg or whatever. We'll see what happens once fists start flying, but for now, I'm upbeat.

All right, two encouraging first issues! That's what I'm talking about. Er, what I talked about. Whatever. By the time you read this, I'll be at Capecon, so sniff you jerks later.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What I Bought 3/14/2014 - Part 3

So I'm figuring my comic guy didn't forget to send me Daredevil #1, which makes me a little embarrassed I ordered a copy of it along with all those back issues last week. The two things he did miss were Deadpool #24 (though he sent all the other Deadpool issues), and X-Men #9. The latter one barely counts, since that was going to be my last issue before I dropped it, anyway. So really, just one book out of almost 20. Nice.

Harley Quinn #2 & 3, by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Pamliotti (writers), Chad Hardin (artist), Stephane Roux (artist, issue 2), Alex Sinclair (colorist), John J. Hill (letterer) - Harley's bloody tear smile is actually more disturbing to me than all the animals with bloodstained paws and snouts.

Don't think it'll take long to recap the plots. First off, Harley asks Ivy to come visit, and to help her rescue a bunch of soon-to-be-euthanized animals from a shelter. With some difficulty, they manage this, and Ivy even turns Harley's main living area into a nice park for the animals. How sweet. In the second issue, Harley feels lonely on Valentine's Day, and decides to hit the town looking for love or fun. First though, she eats a berry off a plant Ivy left for her. This causes her to emit an odor than makes everyone fall madly in love with her, and she soon winds up fending off an entire bus full of convicts in a hardware store.

As a constant backdrop to all of that, there's an apparently constant flow of assassins out to collect the reward on her head.

So far, Conner and Palmiotti seem to be adopting a done-in-one strategy, focusing on zany little plots that enable Harley to demonstrate that odd mix of compassion and complete indifference she has to suffering. I'm starting to agree with the folks who said Harley's being turned into DC's version of Deadpool. The intellect Harley had, that combined with her warped perspective to make her dangerous and sympathetic, is not in evidence up to this point. Maybe once she starts working the psychiatry job, we'll see a little more of it, but right now, the book's veering a little too wacky.

This version of Poison Ivy was much more playful than I'm used to. Maybe that's how she is in the new 52, but I have a hard time picturing her taking such an active role in Harley's plan to rescue all the cuddly animals. It's not a bad shift, just something I noted as being different. I'm used to an Ivy eternally exasperated with Harley's periodic obsessions.

I can't tell who did what artistically in issue 2. The credits don't list Roux and Hardin as having illustrated different pages, so maybe Roux finished Hardin's breakdowns? Some of the facial expressions definitely seem like Roux' work, but not on a consistent enough basis for me to detect a pattern. The art itself is fine, the action scenes feel a little lifeless, lacking in a sense of impact, but some of the expression work is good. Harley and the dog's terrified reactions to the corpse suddenly rising and speaking was nice. Maybe I just liked the image of the little dog leaping in the air in fright.

I wouldn't say the book has won me over by any means, but I'm willing to give it a while longer.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What I Bought 3/14/2014 - Part 2

I was sure I'd seen the first issue of the Daredevil relaunch listed as being out next week, and so I thought it was one of the few books my comics guy missed sending in this package. But now Daredevil #1 was in this week's list of releases, so I guess not. Either way, today I'm concerning myself with the end of the previous volume.

Daredevil #35 & 36, by Chris Samnee & Mark Waid (storytellers), Javier Rodriguez (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Up to this point, Rodriguez has been listed as responsible for "color art", at least in the issues he doesn't also draw. Now they shift it to "colorist". No idea if that's significant. Also, I love that cover. The washed out reds, changing the tag line over the title to "There Goes" instead "Here Comes", the drops falling from the direction of the viewer, dragging us into the scene.

The Sons of the Serpent are fed up with Daredevil messing with their business. By apparently drugging Foggy, they've gotten all inds of details about Murdock/Daredevil, and they'll release them all. . . unless Matt defends one of the guys' sons, who is also a Serpent, and is about to go to jail for burning down an apartment building full of people. Except he didn't actually do it. After a conversation with Elektra, and a fight with a couple of members of the Serpent Society, Matt decides on a course of action. He names Kirsten as his co-counsel, has her call him to the stand, and immediately announces he's Daredevil. Which is his way of announcing he's not playing Oglivy's game, by unmaking the dagger they had poised at his throat. Oglivy, in a panic, or a fury, calls in a strike team on the courtroom, right as Matt realizes the judge presiding is the one who actually burned the place down, and hired the Serpent Society members. The goons are easily dispatched, the judge is arrested, Matt and Foggy (I think) are both disbarred, but Kirsten points out Matt might be able to practice law in a place he lived previously, like San Francisco.

The ending is pretty good, as far as it goes. The thing with the Serpents is vaguely unsatisfying, but I think that's because we know Matt only started the process of cleaning things up, and it's something that will have to be carried on by other people, because Daredevil can't punch institutionalized racism. Which is probably why there have so many non-vigilante folks factoring into things. The poor EMT Matt had to protect in the courthouse when all this started, Kirsten and her speech to the people of the New York, the panels of all those people in the courthouse standing up and having to be forced out of the way by the strike team. They (or we) are the ones who have to fix things.

I like how, as Matt laid out his plan to Foggy at the start of #36, there's a silent panel where we view the two of them through the outlines of all the machines Foggy's hooked up to. That quiet reminder of what's looming over them, the fact that Matt's plan is going to severely reduce the resources Foggy has to treat his cancer. Also, on the page where all the other heroes react to Matt's admission, the fact that Hawkeye is beat to hell. While I wonder what exactly he's been doing to get beat up - certainly not much in his own book - he does spend a lot of time wearing bandages these days. Also, Samnee did a good job with Elektra's outfit. Kept it as modest as you can, avoided making it look like it was just painted on her. I wasn't initially happy with Mamba and Constrictor's new looks. Some of that is a leftover mistrust of armored "new looks" from the '90s (see Captain America, Daredevil, Booster Gold), and I think some of it is the large gap between the "jaws" on Mamba's helmet. Just looks kind of odd. But they're not bad, there's at least still a little diversity among them to all for individual personality, and I love the deep blue and gold color scheme. Props to Javier Rodriguez on that one.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Beautiful Cigar Girl - Daniel Stashower

I'm not much of a Poe enthusiast. I read some of his work in the no doubt extremely simplified "children's illustrated classics" form, but that was a long time ago, and I've never felt any urge to revisit those works. But The Beautiful Cigar Girl is a book about Poe, and one Mary Rogers, a young woman who died in New York in the early 1840s under mysterious circumstances. Her connection to Poe is that he used the circumstances of her apparent murder as the basis for a mystery he wrote a year later, a sequel of sorts to "Murder at the Rue Morgue".

My feeling going into the book was that since Poe's story was going to have the main character solve the murder with his powers of "ratiocination" (deductive reasoning, essentially), and that Poe would actually help the authorities catch the killer with his story. This is not what happens at all.

The book essentially consists of two parallel stories. One is the life and death of Mary Rogers, and the city of New York's subsequent investigation into both. The other is the life of Poe, with the last few chapters devoted to his story, and how he had to hurriedly alter it at the last moment to account for new information. So it's rather a disappointment. There's a lot of pages devoted to recapping the plots of "Murder at the Rue Morgue" and sections of his story about "Marie Roeget", and even more spent on the various wild claims made by the newspapers of the day, and the clashing personalities of the many headstrong editors.

It feels like Stashower didn't have enough new information to justify a book solely on Rogers or Poe, so he put them together. They simply don't overlap much. There are chapters devoted to the investigation into Rogers' death, then chapters about Poe, which mostly consist of him being destitute. He gets work with journals, then feels he's underpaid and gets himself fired. Then he starts drinking, assuming the drinking wasn't the reason he got fired in the first place. The two parts are moderately interesting on their own, but they simply don't entwine in a way that lets the book flow well. Not one of my dad's better suggestions.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What I Bought 3/14/2014 - Part 1

It's the first review of actual comics released in 2014! And we're only halfway through the third month of the year! How timely, if judged by the standards of the 18th century, anyway. You say my jubilation should perhaps be mitigated because I'm starting with a book that was supposed to come out in 2013, but slid into the current year? No matter. Such fickle trade winds shall not daunt the steely will of this ship's captain, and what the hell am I talking about? I knew reading that book about Poe was going to be a mistake.

Atomic Robo: Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur #5, by Brian Clevinger (words), Scott Wegener (art), Nick Filardi (colors), Jeff Powell (letters) - Taking away Dr. Dinosaur's pupils makes him look less demented, more murderous. Then again, is there any character that doesn't look more dangerous sans pupils?

Dr. Dinosaur's Time Bomb is about to go off, rewriting history so that humanity never existed. Bernard and the others have succeeded in freeing the other Magma people from Dr. D's control, which is nice, but not terribly useful since it still doesn't give Robo a clear enough path to the bomb. Then the giant magma worm emerges, lifting them all up out of the crater/mountain. Robo is able to fling his people clear to a nearby chopper, and Dr. D escapes on a Hollow earth pterosaur, but Robo gets blown up by the Time Bomb. Or blown out. Backwards? Something. It appears he shouldn't have scoffed at Dr. Dinosaur's claims of tachyons and such because he's been thrown at least a few hundred years back, maybe a thousand or so. Judging by the last pages, he's in a desert, there appear to be some Native Americans, but they have horses. So that would mean it has to be after Europeans reach the continent, correct? Or was it just certain parts of North and South America didn't have horses?

Back at Tesladyne, the Majestic-12 guys are feeling pretty cocky. They've caught 97% of the staff, and more importantly, managed to subdue Jenkins. Which lasts for exactly as long as it takes Anath and George to hack into the powered suits being used to guard him and shut them down. Then Jenkins finds himself in a standoff with the Majestic-12 leader, and appears to blow himself and many of the bad guys up with a carefully placed shot. The explosion would have been a lot more impressive if Robo hadn't gotten a much larger panel for his explosion two pages earlier.

This is a bit new for a Robo mini-series in that it leaves things unresolved. Dr. Dinosaur escaped, though that's nothing new. We don't know what the situation at Tesladyne is after Jenkins' actions. Presumably Majestic-12 still has most of the compound under their control, unless they were so terrified of Jenkins they brought everyone to re-re-capture him. Which I can't rule out. And Robo is lost who knows where.

Going in, I had wondered if Dr. Dinosaur would hold up as a villain for an entire mini-series, since he'd been confined to single issues, or even part of an issue previously. His shtick of saying wildly idiotic things is hilarious, but one could reasonably worry about it being run into the ground. So Wegener and Clevinger made a smart move in not keeping it solely focused on him. They devoted close to half of this mini-series to the Majestic-12 plot, and even for the half set in Hollow Earth, they had a subplot about Bernard and the other scientists separated from Robo, getting caught up in the quest to free the Magma people. I can't decide if that good bye scene between Bernard and his "wife" is sad or hilarious. He's obviously very sad, but the fact his bride has no facial expressions (or face) that I can discern, plus the obvious point that Hollow Earth is a landscape inhospitable for humans makes it kind of silly. I settled on feeling bad for him, while being glad he had level-headed friends to look after him.

I like the sound effect lettering, though I don't know whether credit for that goes to Wegener or Powell. I especially like the shaky effect used for some of them, such as the "RRRRRRRRRUMBLE" on page 11, or the "VMMMM" on page 18. By shaky effect I mean there are two outlines for the each letter, so that it looks like it's moving back and forth rapidly. It's a nice representation of the sort of sound you'd feel as much or more than hear. And they did them in slightly different ways, since the first one is two slightly different colored outlines, and the second one there's the outline of the letters, and then the color that's supposed to fill it in is not lined up precisely. So it leaves part of the outline uncovered, and goes outside the lines elsewhere.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Circus Couronne - R. Wright Campbell

I do have comics. Quite a few comics, actually, and I will get to them in time. Probably Tuesday, unless I finish another book before then (it's Sunday as I type this).

Circus Couronne is set on the eve of World War I. As in, the story starts in Sarajevo the day Archduke Ferdinand and Sophie were killed. Inspector Fauron was there from Switzerland pursuing an entirely different killer, but realized that when a bomb was hurled at Ferdinand's car, there was also a gunshot most everyone else missed. A shot that would have to have been taken by an exceptional marksman, someone far more skilled than the clumsy fellows with bombs and pistols who eventually succeeded. Certain aspects point to someone of great skill and agility, and there just so happened to be a circus in town that evening, which is how Fauron ends up sniffing around it, as one member of the troop turns up dead, and everyone scrambling. The people in the circus to hold on their life as a little country of their own, the countries hoping to produce evidence of a conspiracy to invoke war, the countries hoping to invoke a war.

The book has a certain momentum that carries the reader forward, but I wouldn't say I was terribly impressed by the writing. Fauron didn't make much of an impression as a character, though perhaps that was the point. Since he interacts almost exclusively with members of the circus, maybe Campbell made him more plain to let the circus folk contrast more brightly. I'm not sure it worked, and there are certain character developments that come along abruptly, that don't feel as though they were built up sufficiently. The friendship that develops between Fauron and the head of the circus, for one.

The idea of the circus as a microcosm for the world was interesting, though. The people are from many different countries and nationalities, and they mostly get along very well. But as war grows nearer, they begin to split along the lines of the treaties their home countries have signed. People who work together towards the same goal, do so for very different reasons, and the allegiances shift as circumstances change. Campbell stated it more bluntly than he needed, but it's a nice idea

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Burn Notice 7.12 - Sea Change

Plot: We open on Michael in a cage, that knife wound Simon gave him still untreated. Sonya comes down the stairs, to bring Michael to James. She wants to know if his seduction of her was all a work. Mike explains that the part of him that agrees with what she and James do did care for her. When Mike turns the question back on her, Sonya says the work always comes first.

James is fairly sanguine about all the betrayal. Instead, he asks Michael to continue working with him. Go back to the CIA, tell them he failed to capture James, but that James still does not suspect. And Michael agrees. Strong gets a bit of static from the head of the CIA, but Mike earns them another 48 hours by pointing out he's the only one they have who can get close to James. In the meantime, Michael is freezing everyone else out, and Fi is growing worried. Worried enough to slip a tracer in his gun. She gets Jesse on her side, but Sam is unsure until he and Jesse trail Mike to Fort Lauderdale. Sam gives him a call, Mike claims he's chasing a few leads, won't be seeing James again for a few days. Less than a minute later, here comes James. Now Sam's worried.

Convinced that Mike's in too deep with these folks, their plan is to lure him to a lonely boathouse, where Sam has a seaplane (courtesy of his buddies). They'll drag Mike off and snap him out of it. But that's going to require a lure, and for that, Fiona convinces Maddy to bring Charlie, as they burn down Madeline's home, and blow up the car of James' guys while they were trying to get in through the front door.

This is kind of a critical time for Mike. At his meeting with James, he told hm the CIA won't rest until James is captured. So James consents to be captured. He'll go to jail, the Agency will consider the network wrecked, and Sonya will take over. . . along with Michael. While I'm impressed that James is so devoted to this cause he's willing to be thrown in some secret prison, he comes off as sort of a creepy father type, so happy to put these two crazy lovebirds together. Anyway, Michael is supposed to alert Strong that James is coming in on a helicopter for a meeting, Strong arrives, Mike captures James, he's a big hero, Sonya narrowly escapes, and the work continues, with the Agency's once-again golden boy as one of the leader's. So Mike's just about to make the call when Sonya gets word of what Fi did, and Sam calls Mike to let him know. Sonya advises Mike that Fi is an obstacle, and may need to be removed. Skating on thin ice there, Sonya. Mike roars off in the Charger.

Sam convinces Mike to ride out to the boathouse in Sam's car, but Mike grows suspicious, nearly wrecks the car on the bridge, and gets out. He and Sam start yelling as all cards are laid on the table, and Mike appears to being growing fond of the idea of being in charge of his own network, doing the work that needs to be done. Then Sam compares this group to the people who killed Nate, and it's fight time. Sam actually has the edge, once he topples Mike over the bridge, but Mike feigns unconsciousness and when Sam relaxes the hold, punches Sam in the face and escapes. He even tells Sam he'll let this slide because they're friends - this time.

This is concerning, but Fi insists they follow the tracer and try again. Which brings them to the meeting place, after Mike called Strong, but before the CIA or James have shown up. Sam and Jesse are somewhere downstairs, Sonya's goons all over the place, James in inbound, Strong is inbound. Michael is on the roof, with Fi on one side, and Sonya on the other, with a gun pointed at Fiona.

The Players: Sonya (Not Happy with Michael), James (The Guy Mike Betrayed)

Quote of the Episode: Fiona - 'Sam told you that some day someone would threaten this organization, and you would have to make a choice. Well that day has come, and that someone. . . is me.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Those dudes' car.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (6 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 4 (6 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (3 overall).

Other: I'm surprised Peter hasn't reappeared. I figured the guy James shoved into a mental hospital for 15 years would get more than 10 minutes in one episode. I guess if he was around, it might serve as a reminder that James isn't a good guy, that as Sam said, these guys are no different than the people who burned Mike. They do awful things to people who don't deserve it, and justify on the grounds that they're doing important work. It's that German idea of "military necessity", where all other considerations (such a diplomatic or economic, moral) are irrelevant. If Michael had a reminder of that in front of him all the time, maybe he wouldn't be acting this way.

Though I'm still not sure this isn't a work. That Michael hasn't been lying to James, playing the man who is so fed up with the Agency (which has demonstrated it isn't any different from James or Management/Vaughn/Anson in its willingness to justify doing awful things) he'll instead help the man he's supposed to capture. Maybe this is all a way to make it really easy. James walks right into Michael's hands, because he believes it's part of his plan, but it's really part of Michael's. I mostly think Mike really has bought in, that he's just that fed up with the Agency's bullcrap, but I can't dismiss the idea he's just really selling this.

The scene after Mike got away from him, where Sam started choking up as he admitted he thought they'd lost Mike, that was a bit much. I enjoyed the fight scene, though. Sam did better than that time in Season 2 he had to stop Mike from going to Carla for money.

I thought it was funny James told Sonya he had always admired her loyalty, when he was a second away from shooting her in the leg as a traitor last week. So he admires her loyalty, when he thinks she's loyal. Which suggests it's a load of crap.

I was still expecting (hoping?) for Management to make an appearance. The way Michael told James his job was to bring in the leader of the network, to bring in James, made me all the more certain that James isn't the leader. He's a cardboard cutout, like what they did with the Mandarin in Iron Man 3. But, I guess not.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

In This Big Country, All The Dreams Involved Killin'

When I was a young and foolish child, I watched Ren & Stimpy. Wasn't my favorite Nicktoon, or even close (Rocko's Modern Life forever!), but I watched it. So I was and still am familiar with the "Happy Happy Joy Joy" song, which including the strange line 'I'll teach you to be happy. I'll teach your grandmother to suck eggs!'

Imagine my surprise to learn that came from a bit of dialogue in The Big Country. Not that the saying originated there, but the actual spoken version used in the song is Burl Ives saying it in this 1950s Western. The actual movie, which I hadn't seen prior to last night, was about a New England shipping line owner - Jim McKay, played by Gregory Peck - coming to a vast cattle ranch out west. It's the home of his fiance Patsy Terrill (Carroll Baker), run by her father, the Major (Charles Bickford) and his constantly sullen foreman (Charlton Heston). The Terrills have a longstanding feud with a much smaller, less prosperous ranching family, the Hannasseys, primarily their patriarch Rufus (Ives), and his dirty, incompetent, thieving, bullying son Buck (Chuck Conners). Currently in the middle is local schoolteacher Julie (Jean Simmons), who owns a piece of land with a vital water source for cattle on it. She lets both families use it, but both constantly pressure her to sell to them, so they can exclude the other. And Buck is rather sweet on her (the feeling is not mutual).

Into this walks McKay, a man who simply doesn't understand it. The macho posturing, the constant attempts to affirm one's manliness by picking on others, the escalation of hostilities in response to the slightest perceived disrespect which everyone treats as normal. Or he understands it, but refuses to go along. He takes Buck's bullying calmly and with good humor, tries to keep problems from escalating, tries to be the peacemaker, all while quietly learning what it takes to be a rancher out west. But most of the people - including, sadly, Patsy - don't see it happening, and so they perceive him as a coward and a fool.

Jim's a very cool character, precisely because he sticks so solidly to his principles. He's a fairly quiet, but otherwise friendly man, who refuses to let others' opinions of him dictate how he acts. When Jim does appear to give in to the macho displays, it quickly becomes apparent that isn't the case. Eventually he challenges Heston to a fistfight, just the two of them, at night. He actually impresses Heston, but he's really trying to make a point, to try and get the other man to adopt a different approach, or at least to realize the flaws in the Major's way of doing things.

All the main actors give good performances, though Baker gets stuck with a pretty unlikeable character, the Unsupportive Spouse. Conners plays a serious villain, Ives and Bickford are a couple of vengeful old men more than willing to throw a bunch of men's lives away on a stupid argument, but Patsy is the character that allegedly loves Jim, is so happy to see him, and then turns against him practically the first time he doesn't behave precisely as she thinks he should. Which is to say, precisely as the Major would have. So she comes off very shallow and generally unpleasant, after first appearing to be a likely nice character. I mean my first thought was she would be feisty and ready to fight, but not so hostile to Jim's reluctance to do so.

I particularly liked Ives' character. He's very rough-and-tumble, has an excess of pride, but doesn't lack for bravery or honesty, and he's pretty quick on the uptake. Also, he has some strong beliefs about how gentlemen ought to behave, which he has not been able to instill in his son. I don't think he realizes that the way he goes around belittling Buck has a lot to do with why Buck behaves in a way his father finds so disappointing. Buck is constantly made to feel small by his father, so he tries to do the same to everyone else.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Purgatory Chasm - Steve Ulfelder

Purgatory Chasm is one of those stories about the well-meaning sort of guy who has a knack for winding up in ugly situations. In this case, Conway Sax is a former race car driver who threw his career away on booze, but found help in an AA group called the Barnburners. Conway learned some stuff, somewhere, and he uses that stuff to help any Barnburner who asks. The one asking is Tander Phigg, who would like his car back from a Mercedes mechanic along with $3500 he claims he's owed. Surprise! People start dying.

That being said, Ulfelder crams a lot into just under 300 pages. There are drugs, guys who were in the French Foreign Legion, guys described as looking like lounge lizards, crazy redneck survivalist types. Conway's girlfriend is also a Barnburner, his buddy lost a limb serving in the military.

Ulfelder is really into family drama. Conway's alcoholic father appears as a homeless bum, Conway and Charlene each have teenage kids who are deeply in love. There are characters with kids they didn't know they had, kids who left the country for years only to return with families. There's child molestation, unwitting incest, more alcoholism. The further into the book you get, the nastier it gets.

At a certain point, I thought it reminded me a bit of the T. Jefferson Parker books I read maybe a decade ago, where any plot twist you could conceive of - usually involving someone's parentage - could happen. But Purgatory Chasm isn't nearly that unpredictable. I was able to see pretty much every twist or surprise reveal, whereas books like Laguna Heat left me flabbergasted at the convolutions the author came up with. Which isn't a bad thing, by itself. I stopped reading T. Jefferson Parker because I got sick of the out of left field crap. The downside is that because they're fairly obvious ahead of time, the plot seems thin, and all that other crazy stuff starts to look like window dressing to hide that fact.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

An Update

I mentioned last week I had no idea where my comics were. I had called a week before, he told me he shipped them the day before. As of this Tuesday, they had not arrived. So I called again, he said he would go to the Post Office, check with them. He tells me yesterday they still had it, because they couldn't read the zip code he wrote down. They were just about to send it back to them. So he added the books from the last two weeks, and shipped them out today. He sent me a tracking number, so that helps.

I don't know, I can't decide if I'm being fooled. I know there wouldn't be any percentage in it for him, he presumably ordered some of those books specifically for me, and he doesn't get his money back until I get the comics. It just seems so odd, the Post Office had the box for over a week trying to decipher his handwriting, and were only just getting ready to send it back to him? Then again, it took the Post Office almost 2 weeks to forward a package to me roughly 300 miles, so I guess they're deliberate.

Anyway, that's been one of the odd little setbacks this week. Not the only one, but the only one relevant to this blog's interests.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Collapse of the Third Republic - William L. Shirer

Reading history is often depressing, since history is seemingly an endless string of people behaving horribly to each other. Reading about 1930s Europe, though, is more like watching a horror movie. I spend a lot of time shouting at the characters to stop doing stupid things. The difference is, instead of telling them not to go running into the woods alone, at night, I'm telling them to stop trying to appease Hitler.

Shirer's The Collapse of the Third Republic is more a recounting of how it all fell apart, rather than postulating why it did so. To that end, he has an impressive array of information: interviews, testimony, correspondence, diaries, official minutes from cabinet meetings, and so on.

One of the problems seems to be that nobody in France really cared for the Third Republic. The aristocracy, army, and Catholic Church hated it because they hated democracy in general, feeling it had displaced them from their rightful place at the top of the pecking order. Which is why they were all too happy to throw it away and establish a dictatorship for the Vichy Regime. The working class didn't care about the Republic because they felt it didn't care about them, that their will was not heard even when the voted in overwhelming numbers. The government (with the exception of some reforms brought about under Leon Blum's Popular Front government in the early 1930s) was working against them. As for the middle class, those theoretically represented in the Republic, they had no reason to love it because it never got anything done. All of which sounds disturbingly similar to the United States these days.

Governments are constantly falling in the Third Republic, but nothing really changes. Some people serve as Premier two or even three times. People are given cabinet positions, and they keep them over the course of multiple governments. When Paul Reynaud takes over for Daladier on the eve of the real action of World War 2, Daladier remains Minister of Defense. And Reynaud was part of Daladier's cabinet, as Minister of Finance. How one expects to accomplish anything with the same people who had demonstrated they'd accomplish nothing, I don't know, but that's what the Third Republic tried.

Reading Eisenhower's Lieutenants, I was struck by how impatient some of the higher ranking generals were with their subordinates, how quick they were to sack someone they felt wasn't properly aggressive, often without regard for the particular circumstances that subordinate might face. Patton and Hodges, especially the latter, were often guilty of this. But at least I could appreciate their desire for commanding officers who seized the initiative. The French Army seemed to have none of that. Once they actually began fighting Germany, there was no energy to it. Some of that was doctrine, the High Command's belief war in the 1940s would be no different from war in the 1910s. Some of it was an understandable desire to avoid massive casualties, such as France suffered in the First World War. But there was simply no sense of urgency, even as the Germans presented opportunities to be hit. There was no coherence to the battle. The French were constantly demanding more fighters from Britain, when they had literally hundreds of modern planes they weren't using. Shirer has a quote from an base commander, stating that he had over 70 planes just sitting on an airfield, and he would call to all the commanders asking if they had missions, and all the commanders said no. But they still needed more British airplanes. It was a mess.

It's still a thoroughly depressing book, if only for all the times when things go wrong because people withhold information, or miscommunicate, or fail to stand their ground. No one seems capable of sticking to their guns, except for sleazebags like Laval, and their only goal is the acquisition of power for themselves, preferably by destroying the Republic. I wasn't sorry to read he was executed after the war.

'In 1848, and even more in 1871 at the time of the Commune, the upper middle class turned against democracy and defended its privileges with the same pitiless brutality and egotism it had employed in wrenching them from the nobility. The rise of socialism and trade unionism toward the end of the nineteenth century further frightened the possessors, and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 and the founding of Communist parties in western Europe, above all in France, in 1920 aggravated their fears.

They had subscribed to democracy, within limits, for more than a century because it had enabled them to procure and then to protect their rich holdings. Now in the mid-1920s democracy as it functioned in the wobbly Third Republic appeared to threaten their entrenched position and, worse, their property and pocketbooks. That the threat was largely a fantasy did not make it seem less real to them. It was in this uneasy state of mind that they began to join together to save, not France or even the Republic, but their class and its wealth.'

Monday, March 10, 2014

I Know People Without Kids Shouldn't Talk About Parenting, But. . .

There's a radio ad that plays around here regularly, for some parenting thing called Total Transformation.It starts with a line about 'I'll never forget the day my son shouted he hated me and slammed the door in my face.' Then it goes on to talk about how their method can help you deal with problems with your kid. Those problems include disrespect, defiance, and back talk.

I really hate it. Everything about the ad suggests children aren't viewed as a person, who might have their own problems causing the offending outbursts. Instead, the kids are treated like some malfunctioning piece of property. No different from a clogged garbage disposal or bad transmission. Who cares why it's not working, just make it do what you want it to again. I'm surprised they don't say, "For when the back of your hand doesn't stop the sass!" There's a real undercurrent of it, in the fact they only list symptoms, not causes. Maybe they're depressed, maybe they're having trouble at school, or with a significant other. If this system cares about that, the radio ad fails completely to convey that impression.

I'm sure it's difficult to help your kids when they don't want to talk, and I'm sure a lot of times they don't want to talk. I know I pretty much shut down as far as verbal communication went in my teen years. But trying to force, or trick, or whatever the kid into behaving how you want doesn't help. Unless you can help deal with why they're being disrespectful, it's just going to find other outlets. Might be good, might be bad, but they'll be dealing with those outlets without their parents help, since their parents will have demonstrated they're more concerned with appearances.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Burn Notice 7.11 - Tipping Point

Plot: Michael and Sonya while away an afternoon making fake passports in preparation for another mission for James. All Michael can pry from Sonya is the job is in Latin America, but this does make her wistful for the things she's missed out on from being a spy. Which leads to her and Michael being frisky, which is an excuse to get her to sleep at Michael's so he can steal information off her phone and send it to Strong. Now they know the exact route and time James will be moving through Veracruz, and Strong has assembled a mercenary team with no ties to the CIA to capture James.

They completely blow it. Michael tries to salvage things by stealing a lady's cell phone when he steals her car, so Strong can track it, but a helicopter is a rather obvious vehicle to be tracking people with, and James makes them split up. When Michael and random goons are attacked in the marina by another strike team, Mike helps them win, only to learn they're being led by Simon. You remember Simon from Seasons 3 and 4? The guy who did most of the stuff Michael was blamed for in his burn notice? Turns out Strong's been using him for missions for 2 years. This is too much for Michael, especially after Simon executes the rest of James' guys, and he kills Simon. About 4 seasons too late Mike, but oh well.

Sonya and James have meanwhile managed to fend off Strong, Jesse, and Sam - in a helicopter - with 2 handguns. Which smells like bullshit to me, but there it is. Michael had already called them and said he was under attack before deciding to kill Simon, so they rush back to save him, with Strong, Jesse, and Sam on their heels. Except Mike warns James that Simon called in another team, and they should escape another way. So it's all for nothing.

At James' latest luxurious hideout, he's ready for some killin', because only he and Sonya knew their route, so she must have betrayed them. Which is when Mike confesses he's been working for the CIA all along. James notes that Mike still saved them from being captured at the marina, and wants to know why. Mike says he's tired of working for people like Strong, who would use people like Simon. Which still isn't enough for James, so Michael hasn't eaten a bullet. Yet.

There's also a whole subplot about Fi keeping an eye on Maddy. It gets kind of ridiculous because Fi keeps getting ready to kill the two guys James has watching Maddy, then being told not to because it might blow Mike's cover, then being told to, then being told not to, and now James knows, and the two idiot goons aren't dead. So maybe Simon had the right idea. When in doubt kill the goons.

The Players: James (Guy Mike's Supposed to Catch), Strong (CIA Guy On The Clock), Simon (Crazy Guy Mike Caught Previously)

Quote of the Episode: James - 'What's happening today has been years in the making. Let's just say our little organization is about to make a giant leap forward.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Well, she was gonna set off a small charge to take out Kitchen Goon, before Jesse called her off. Thanks, Jesse.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (6 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (2 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (3 overall).

Other: Ugh, Sonya went with the stereotypical outraged girl slap when she realized Mike had played her. Look, that shit might work with Maddy, but Sonya's supposed to be this incredibly badass Russian spy. Shouldn't she punch him in the throat, or pistol whip him? So disappointing.

Sonya suffers from that thing a lot of new characters - not just on Burn Notice, but in general in fiction - do: She starts out seeming super awesome or tough as nails, and the longer she's around, the more her edges are blunted. In some cases it's a necessary correction - remember how Jeph Loeb had the Red Hulk being better than every other character ever? No of course you don't. You suppressed all memory of that monumental stupidity for your own sake. But that's kind of how they played it here. Sonya was so dangerous she had to be kept drugged all the time just to keep her from escaping, but Mike played her like a harp.

I spent most of the episode expecting the swerve to be that James and Sonya knew all along Mike was a double agent. That the giant leap forward was going to be Mike leading Strong right into James' hands. Simon's appearance provoked a similar reaction. I figured at that point, all bets were off on surprise character reveals. When James was taking pictures of the dead strike teams' faces to have someone identify them, I figured it might be Dan Siebbels, Mike's handler who we saw only in the Pilot. I started to think/hope that the person they traveled to Mexico to meet was Management. Oh, I would have been so pumped to see Management again. Two episodes left, there's still time.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Wherein I Fill Time Discussing D&D

I saw this list of questions on Siskoid's blog. As I need blog content - I'm in the midst of a book that'll take probably another week to finish, and while my comic guy swears he put the books in the mail Thursday of last week, I have no idea where the hell they are now - so I'm utilizing it myself. Given I've only participated in 3 D&D campaigns, only one of which was actually finished, this could be a mistake, but blog necessity trumps all other concerns.

Day 1: First person who introduced you to D&D? Which edition? First character?
I think my cousin let me see a role playing guide for a DC Universe version when I was still in elementary school, but I had no idea what it was I was reading. I think I envisioned it as something like the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe or Who's Who. So the first time I understood what I was looking at would be college, from my roommate at the time, Papafred. I'm going to guess 2nd edition. 3rd may have been released recently, but he and his friends were not fans. First character is also only character, a human Ranger named William.

Day 2: First person YOU introduced to D&D? Which edition? Their first character?
It was one of my coworkers last year, maybe Kyle. Or Jo (in retrospect, making someone with no experience with D&D dungeon master was possibly a mistake). So, 3rd edition. Kyle was a drunk, lecherous bard, prone to badmouthing our half-orc barbarian's intelligence, and making comments about the elf wizard's mom.

Day 3: First dungeon you explored as a PC or ran as a DM.
It was some castle on a cliff at the highest point on an island. There were a lot of monsters, and a large stone that we stole, which cut our dimension/plane/universe off from all the others, with hilarious consequences. Did I say hilarious? I meant dire.

Day 4: First dragon you slew (or some other powerful monster):
The first real battle of that first campaign with Papfred and his friends was against a red dragon. We were 15th level characters, which was little encouragement to the 5 newbies including myself in the party (there were 4 veterans, not counting the DM). I hit it with at least one arrow, and we killed it, so that counts, right?

Day 5: First character to go from 1st to 20th level (or highest possible level in a given edition):
Never happened. The first campaign I was 15th when we started, and at the time we left off because the semester ended, I was almost about to reach 16th level. Second campaign I started at 4th, ended at 8th. Third campaign, started at 3rd, was up to 4th when the field season ended and everyone scattered.

Day 6: First character death. How did you handle it?
There's only been one. In the first campaign, we had a bunch of trolls come bursting through some wooden double doors at us. I saw the goblin in trouble, and because of some stupid rule about archery in at least that edition of D&D, I couldn't be certain I wouldn't hit the 4-foot goblin shaman if I aimed for the 8 foot tall troll. So I ran over with me sword. There was a column jutting out from a wall to the side, with an open entryway. No one had thought to check it before approaching the double doors. The were Beholders in there, and one Death-Beamed me and the goblin both. I was pissed, because if the archery weren't so screwed up, I wouldn't have been in the line of fire. I'm 15th level; if I'm not Clint Barton at that point, I ought to at least be Kate Bishop. But that was the only time I died in that campaign, which was better than every other character except Papafred's fighter-thief.

Day 7: First D&D product you bought. Do you still have it?
I bought a couple of resource guides a few years ago for Hellsing and Tenchi Muyo themed games, on a whim more than anything else. They're still in my bookshelves.

Day 8: First set of polyhedral dice you owned. Do you still use them?
I found one when I moved out of my first grad school apartment, probably left over from that first campaign. I've never actually used it in a game. We bought a big bag of them for last year's campaign, I technically own some of them, but I haven't collected as yet.

Day 9: First campaign setting (homebrew or published) you played in.
I assume the DM made it up, based off characters from 2nd edition. The settings were pretty standard, isolated castle full of monsters, ruined city, devastated countryside.

Day 10: First gaming magazine you bought.
None so far.

Day 11: First splatbook you begged your DM to approve.
I have no idea what a splatbook is. Based on Siskoid's response, I'd say not applicable to me, but the 1st campaign had a newbie who wanted to be a ninja, so maybe that counts. (Note: I'm starting to worry these questions are going far beyond my experience).

Day 12: First store where you bought gaming supplies.
Not applicable, I guess. All those dice were bought online, I have no idea from where.

Day 13: First miniature used for D&D.
Something the DM had. It was probably an elf, but he had a bow, and that was my preferred weapon, so there you go. The last two campaign, we used Star Wars Monopoly pieces. I grabbed Boba Fett.

Day 14: Did you meet your significant other while playing D&D?
No. Or not yet.

Day 15: What was the first edition you didn't enjoy. Why?
Limited options, 2nd or 3rd. Looking back, the issues with archery (where Papafred and Solomon had to ask the DM to relax the rules so I didn't feel completely useless in the frequent battles) sours me on 2nd edition. Otherwise, it's been so long since that campaign (it predates the start of this blog) I barely remember the specifics, other than that they're different.

Day 16: Do you remember your first edition war? Did you win?
I'm guessing I haven't had that yet, though I may be in for one of Papafred reads that previous answer.

Day 17: First time you heard D&D was "Evil".
I would guess that if I ever heard it, that I didn't know or understand what D&D was, so it didn't mean anything to me.

Day 18: First gaming convention you attended.
Strictly gaming? Never. Cape-Con usually has gaming stuff, Heroclix or Magic tournies.

Day 19: First gamer who just annoyed the hell out of you.
The ninja in the first campaign had a friend who played as a bard, but did almost nothing. Didn't cast useful spells, sing encouraging songs, fight, nothing. I also got frustrated with the DM promising we could each have two really awesome pieces of equipment, then nerfing the hell out of them once we made our selections. The exception being the sword his girlfriend at the time chose for her fighter/meat shield. That pissed Papafred off, because he'd asked for the same weapon in an earlier campaign, only to have the DM nerf it badly on him. Kyle's bard was a little annoying simply because Kyle insisted on playing him as a constant pain-in-the-ass. At a certain point I just wanted him shut up and play. Or for his character to die horribly. Whichever.

Day 20: First non D&D RPG you played.
None yet.

Day 21: First time you sold some of your D&D books - for whatever reason.
Hasn't happened yet. I'm more likely to give them away if it gets to that point. I don't have the interest or energy to haggle.

Day 22: First D&D based novel you ever read.
I'm not sure I have. I'm assuming since Tolkein predates D&D The Hobbit wouldn't count. I don't read a lot of fantasy, more sci-fi (which is why there's an Asimov label for posts, obviously).

Day 23: First song that comes to mind you associate with D&D. Why?
If we'd listened to music while we played, there'd probably be something, but the thing that popped into mind just now was The Legend of Zelda theme. I guess that sort of fits my conception of it, with the questing, monsters, dungeons, and such.

Day 24: First movie that comes to mind you associate with D&D. Why?
Um, the Dungeons and Dragons movie? I never saw it, but I know it exists. I don't know. Unless it's the Lord of the Rings films. I should have read all these questions through before starting.

Day 25: Longest running campaign/gaming group you've been in.
Well all three campaigns have had almost entirely different people. I'm the only common denominator for all three, plus one other person who's been in each of the last two. The second campaign was the only one to finish, but it took about 6, 7 weeks (which surprised the DM, who thought it was a 3-day campaign, tops. We were more deliberate (or slow on the uptake if you prefer) about things than she expected, I guess. The first campaign ran two-and half months, from the start of March through Finals Week. It was only halfway done. Dangers of only playing 2 or 3 hours once a week, and of having so many people dying. Seriously, the meat shield and one of the elf clerics each died at least 3, maybe 4 times. Everyone except myself and Papafred died at least twice. The other other cleric was reduced to ash by the red dragon, Wished back by the goblin, only to be turned to stone and shattered in that same fight I got Death-Beamed. Which meant he had to be Wished back again.

Day 26: Do you still game with people who introduced you to the hobby?
They might still be gaming, but we're not geographically close enough to play together.

Day 27: If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything different when you first started gaming?
I probably would have taken Papafred up on his offer to join a campaign sooner. Though if I did that, I might not have been in these last two campaigns, which were much sillier (drinking contests! search for royal birth certificates! hippie elf communes with a drug lake!), but also more fun in a lot of ways. They were both 3rd edition, so I might have been entrenched against it, if the 2nd edition believers indoctrinated me sufficiently.

Day 28: What is the single most important lesson you've learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons?
Don't trust that anything is as the DM presents it. It's human nature to want to hoodwink people, so expect surprise reveals and double-crosses constantly.