Friday, May 26, 2017

What I Bought 5/23/2017

Yesterday was one of those days where I was constantly stuck behind large, slow vehicles. Construction equipment, campers, truck carrying some giant cylinder. At least the weather was excellent.

Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #2, by Peter David (writer), Mark Bagley (penciler), John Dell (inker), Jason Keith (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - OK, the point at which the mask is taking on the texture of some creepy, membranous substance is the point when you need to stop making his mouth visible beneath the mask. That's some horror movie stuff there.

Ben avoids being shot, first by being fast, then by making a bullshit promise he can cure Cassandra Mercury's daughter of her Crooks' disease, even though he's lying through his teeth. He gets them to set up his "Aunt June" with an unlimited account and a room at the hotel, not that she knows what's going on. Kaine is closing in on Ben, although he ran into some armed goons. Are they leftover security, or other people after Ben Reilly? Don't know.

The dueling phantoms of Ben-as-Scarlet Spider and Ben-as-Jackal didn't appear this month. Probably good not to overuse that, assuming it wasn't a one-off thing. It's interesting to see what aspects of Peter Parker show up, and how they're expressed differently. He's glib, he's fairly clever, but it's less about wisecracks and more about lies, or salesmanship. His lies aren't very good - he claimed he was able to awaken Cassandra's daughter because he has a telepathic ability to reach into the minds of children - but Peter told some weak stories over the years. Ben at least can manage it with a straight face. Peter's been to the afterlife a couple of times, though he doesn't usually remember it. Ben apparently remembers every death the clones experienced, and he remembers it as nothingness. Which no doubt informs his approach. No point in worrying about what comes after, because there is nothing.

I'm not sure what the end game of this whole thing with "Aunt June" is, or if he'll continue to try and collect a faux-Parker crew around him. Is he going to expect some sort of affection or gratitude from her, or is this just a joke to him? Enable some cranky, gambling addict for the hell of it? Is it the only way he thinks he can keep people around, giving them stuff, or making them feel indebted?

Bagley keeps the shades on Ben throughout almost the entire issue. Which keeps people from being able to read the eyes, which might say something about Ben's confidence in his ability to lie to their faces. The only time they're gone is when he and Mr. Slate get into it. Even then, only when Ben underestimates the guy and gets slugged, then kicked around a little. The moment when he loses any sense of control of the situation. He can't bluff his way out of it, and he seemingly can't fight his way out, either. That shocked look as he first gets punched,and then he's getting slammed into the floor.

Also, I like the way the "PUNT" sound effect is drawn. The font seems more appropriate for Calvin & Hobbes, one of the strips where Calvin's getting pummeled by Moe. Given that Ben's in the mess at least partially because he ran his mouth against someone not impressed or dazzled by his wit, that fits.

Anyway, I'm sticking with the book for the time being.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Let's Talk About Samurai Jack After The Big Finale

Such clever titles I come up.

I'm going to SPOIL things like a crappy fridge. Don't say you weren't warned. I'll still give you a minute to leave if you want.

You know, I gave blood on a whim last month, because they were doing a drive at the office, and now the damn Red Cross won't stop calling, trying to get me to make appointments to do it again. What they don't realize, so I guess I should explain it the next time they call, the harder they try and push, the less likely I am to do it ever again. Because I don't need this hassle. I did it, let's not make it a whole thing. I'm really only doing it to confront my discomfort with needles.



So, Samurai Jack finale was last Saturday. How did we like it?

I was pretty satisfied. Until she actually created the portal, I hadn't realized that if Ashi had Aku's powers, then she could send Jack through time. Jack spent so much time trying to find external ways to get back home, I kind of forgot whose power flung him into the future in the first place. Or, it just didn't seem relevant, because I couldn't see Aku ever doing that. Although at some point during this recent run of episodes, I toyed with the idea of Aku growing so despondent at the persistent existence of the Samurai that he tries sending him back to an earlier time. Let a younger, more invigorated Aku take a crack at him. Jack was his problem originally anyway. Past Aku just foisted him off on Future Aku like dick.

Either that or Aku would fling him even further into the future. I read some illustrated version of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine when I was a kid, and the part where he travels millions of years into the future, long after that time with the Morlocks, and the pretty, empty-headed surface dwelling people, and the artist drew it like the surface of the Moon. A bleak rock, set against a jet-black sky. I pictured Jack popping up there. That would have been a bummer of an ending.

Right about the time Jack was going to deliver the coup de grace, a thought flashed through my head about one of the consequences of Jack succeeding in killing Aku in his original time period. And then it appeared the show feinted in that direction, only to opt against it. I figured, chalk it up to the uncertainties of magical time travel. And then they went through with it, and Ashi faded away.

The way all the various people Jack's helped over the years showed up to try and rescue him, even though there was no possibility of it working, went over really well. I've kind of become immune to those "All hands on deck" moments in superhero comics because they come so frequently with the endless barrage of events these days. 500 superheroes show up when they're supposedly going to try and talk Bruce Banner into peacefully giving himself up, it doesn't mean a damn thing any longer.

But Samurai Jack has avoided that, thanks to a relatively few number of episodes and a small number of creative visions being involved. Jack's fought alongside people, or for them, but there's not really been a moment of a mass gathering for some ultimate battle. These episode made a big point about all the people Jack has helped and saved over the years, and now all those people stood up to fight for him. Even knowing it's futile, it's still pretty cool.

And the fact Jack and the Scotsman get together for 30 seconds, and Jack manages to offend him, cracked me up. It's just a good clash of personalities, Jack's calm nature irks the Scotsman, and he's never shy about sharing that, and Jack has just enough of a temper the Scotsman can get a rise from him if he keeps at him, which he will, just because.

So glad that the moment Ashi and Jack arrive in Jack's old time, he wastes no time and goes right after Aku. No speeches, no fucking around, just chops that guy to bits. Extremely satisfying.

The very end was sad but not depressing. Jack is hurting, but he isn't entirely lost. This is the beard-wearing, emotionally distant guy we saw at the start of the run. He's trying to deal with losing some he loved, but he's reminded of what they accomplished, that they saved the damn world from however many years of Aku running it into the ground, and that helps, a little.

And I like the repeated use of the ladybugs, or I guess these would have been the Japanese beetles. It's a small, innocuous creature, but still visually distinct. Tiny, but beautiful. It can be a peaceful creature that will rest on you if you remain calm, but it can also scuttle along walls or fly about in a way that attracts a child's attention, or makes for a nice visual. It's not a bad stand-in for everything Jack's been fighting Aku to protect, as well as all the things on Earth that so interested Ashi and ultimately caused her to switch allegiances.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What I Bought 5/20/2017 - Part 2

The other book from the weekend. This one gets its own post since the story was wrapping up this month. Seemed fair.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #20, by Ryan North (writer), Erica Henderson (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Qbert reference. There was a Dairy Queen my grandmother and I always went to when she came to visit, they had one of those. I usually didn't have the quarters, so I just watched it demonstrate how the game worked while we waited for our food. Which seemed like an eternity, but was probably 5 minutes.

Melissa overthought this. Having already pinned the mosquito attack on Dr. Doom, she now dresses one of her bears in a mockup of his outfit, then tries to pin the whole thing on Squirrel Girl as having created this false threat to make herself look good. Which allows Melissa to "thwart" Squirrel Girl, appearing to be the hero. And since people are stupid, that could almost work, and she would still be able to control the animals at her leisure. I guess she figured it was a good way to take Squirrel Girl off the board, but it feels comically overdone. Which is the point, making fun of the ludicrous lengths people will go to claim mass conspiracy.

Melissa is ultimately defeated by Mary's love for EMPs, but is approached in prison by the evil Asgardian trickster Ratatoskr. That's one titanic team-up you weren't expecting. Erica Henderson doesn't off get the chance to draw disturbing things in this book, between the images of a shaved Tippy-Toe, and the panel of a woman peeling her face apart to reveal a beady-eyed squirrel with a horn beneath, she handled it pretty well. And the big fight full-page splash, even if I have to question Koi Boi who appears to be kicking that lion in the junk as he flips him. Not cool, dude. But clotheslining an ostrich is good strategy, assuming trying to break one of their legs is out, and I doubt Doreen wants to cripple mind-controlled animals.

I do want Doom to team-up with Squirrel Girl whenever Melissa and Ratatoskr show up. Melissa stole his equipment, and dressed a bear up in one of his costumes (the bear does wear the costume well). That's a slap in the face, and I expect him not to stand for it. I think Ryan North writes a good Dr. Doom.

And Chef Bear and Alfredo the Chicken got married, which is sweet, but will there be problems when Chef Bear goes into hibernation? That's going to be an unresponsive spouse for several months.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Don't Believe I've Seen That Weapon Against Ghosts Before

The Dead Room puts three paranormal researchers in a house to try and determine if there's a ghost there. Scott claims (repeatedly) to be intensely scientific and interested only in facts, to an annoying degree (which is why I figured he would be the one killed). Holly has a sensitivity to the presence of spirits, though little experience using it (which is why I figured she'd be the one killed). Liam is fairly scientific, but not the condescending tool Scott is, and he has a family back home, including two kids (which is why I figured he'd be the one to die).

My mistake was in assuming only one of them wouldn't make it.

It's quickly established something shows up at 3 a.m., pushes the front door open, and clomps down the hall. The more they try to detect or communicate with it, the more aggressive it gets. Holly claims she sees a large man, and pretty soon he's punching holes in walls. But there's one room he will not enter, so they use retreat to that when furniture starts flying, although the ghosts aim seems pretty bad. Eventually they try to get rid of the ghost. Holly wants to try a cleansing, which Scott dismisses as 'witchcraft'. He's a man of science, you see. And since ghosts must be made of matter, he's certain he can disperse the spirit's particles with a sufficiently ultra-low frequency sound.

That's right, he's going to defeat the ghost by pumping up the bass. Exorcism via dubstep. I wish I'd thought of that to use in a story. Maybe I'll just steal it (or Pollock will).

Scott's a character that takes himself so seriously it makes him funny. When he initially describes his theory, Liam jibes that Scott wants to be a Ghostbuster. Scott scoffs that movie was nonsense, because they were trying to catch ghosts. 'Might as well try to trap helium in a bird cage,' he replies. Oh, but trying to scatter it to the winds with the Brown Noise from some equipment you probably took from the back of my friend's car, entirely logical.

The movie makes some choices that I found a little novel. It wastes no time on the family that inhabited the house. They've already fled and called these folks in by the time the movie starts. None of the team bothered to do any research ahead of time on the house, figure out if maybe something horrible happened here. There isn't even any time spent trying to figure out why the ghost won't enter that one room. There's one room we never see inside, Holly opens the door once, flinches at the smell, we hear flies buzzing inside, and that's it. No payoff to that.

In the last 10 minutes, we finally learn what's up with the safe room, it turns into a bit of twist ending. Somewhat effective, in that it at least explains why the ghost seemed so ineffectual at actually harming these people. But everything happens so quickly it's kind of a blur. Things seem OK, a surprise is revealed, everything goes to shit, movie over.

The movie also ends on one of those shots where the view is at ground level and something scuttles forward from the shadows at it right before the credits roll. Like the first Paranormal Activity. Except this wasn't a film where someone is carrying a camera at all times and we're seeing things through it. The film is shot more like our perspective is that of a floating presence. We might hover just behind a character's shoulder, but then pause while they continue on down the hall. So I don't know what the thing was rushing towards in the final shot, from its perspective. There was nothing there.

Monday, May 22, 2017

What I Bought 5/20/2017 - Part 1

I did end up in Columbia, but at least it didn't storm. And I found three of the books from this month. Better than none. Start with the two that are still mid-storyarc.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #8, by Jon Rivera (writer/story), Gerard Way (story), Michael Avon Oeming (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), Clem Robins (letterer) - Those look like fingerprints on the rocks. Enormous fingerprints. I have no idea if that's what's intended, or what's signified by it.

The Whisperer and his followers are moving across universes, converting people to their cause (represented by the skin at eye level being torn away and glowing blue bone and eyes revealed below). Cave and the others are trying to keep up, but are outnumbered and hole up in a universe where they find Cave's old mentor alive (albeit giving lectures to dead students). After a lot of discussion about what the Whisperer is up to, they are attacked by it and its followers, though it doesn't seem interested in finishing them off, so Cave will have the chance to deal with it.

It seems likely, given that Cave's wife is not buried in this alternate universe where she was in Cave's, that she's still alive. That Cave so adamantly denies Chloe's suggestion that maybe she is alive here only cinches it in my mind. But the refusal to consider the possibility makes sense. Cave has seized on this adventure as a way of, at best, pulling himself out of the depression he'd sunk into by way of action. It's a distraction, and encountering a living reminder of what he's trying to ignore, would make that difficult. Especially since she wouldn't be his wife, similar looking and acting and thinking perhaps, maybe even married to the cave Carson that existed in that universe, but not the same woman. And Cave couldn't stay, so what would be the point?

Granting that I don't know much about Cave's original comic adventures, it almost feels as though Rivera and Way are moving him backwards for this battle. More assertive, butting heads with this Johnny fellow from his old crew, no cybernetic eye. Chloe and Wild Dog both seem to be receding into the background a bit (Wild Dog more than Chloe, but she was closer to being a part of all this than he was). Is this Cave's chance to conclude old business that he should have finished long ago? Dealing with the Borsteins and the damage they've caused? Was it all brought about by his original explorations, and then it's reached this point because he washed his hands of it and stopped paying attention? I'm just spitballing.

Page 19 is a pretty one. Cave almost seems to have lost it, trying to yell at the Whisperer and Borstein to come out and face him as the followers swarm towards them. The lower two-thirds are set with a couple of large blue panels mirroring the eye sockets of those followers. The bottom of the page, bathed it a reddish-orange that matches what's rising from a smoking crater in the upper left corner of the page show hordes of the zombified followers, and some of them are climbing up the space between the two blue panels, to the panel above, where Cave is trying to stave them off with a flamethrower while the disembodied voice of the Whisperer/Borstein taunts him, by telling him he wouldn't want to leave cave all alone. So as you read that, your eye follows the fire of the explosion down the page between the blue panels, to the army below. And the blue panels show Cave looking downward towards the army, refusing to leave, while Chloe tries to get him and a wounded Wild Dog the hell out of there.

The specific way 'We. Are. Leaving!' is written there makes me think it's a reference to 'Marines! We Are Leaving!' from Aliens, but maybe not. Not that uncommon of a thing to say. It would fit, in the sense Cave staying to try and get revenge or strike back somehow is futile and getting their wounded to safety and regrouping is the best option.

Still enjoying Filardi's colors and what they add to Oeming's art. The Whisperer being this mess of bright orange and maroon tentacles and shapes, the neon green of the Mole's cockpit. And in general, I think his use of color helps to guide the eye through some of the more unusual panel layouts. I'm sure that's a collaborative effort from all parties, but it wouldn't work if Filardi's colors didn't grab the eye and draw it where it needs to go.

Copperhead #13, by Jay Faerber (writer), Drew Moss (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), Thomas Mauer (letterer) - I bet that guy got those horns stuck on a lot of stuff when he was a kid. Unless they don't develop until his species hits maturity.

The sheriff didn't actually quit, because she's still investigating. The Mayor was sleeping in the guest room in his house, because he was carrying on an affair. By the time Clara tracks down the other woman, she's dead the same way as the former Mayor. Current Mayor Boo is trying to keep Mr. Hickory calmed down, as it's hard to tell which of them is successfully manipulating the other. The dangerous criminal guy is still trying to make it to Copperhead. I'm guessing he'll show up sometimes at the very end of next issue.

I kind of wish this felt like more of genuine mystery I could be trying to solve. Maybe it's supposed to be, but it seems more likely (and the cover for the next issue being on the back cover of this issue doesn't help) like Ishmael is going to show up with a name of a killer for the Sheriff, she's going to go find the killer, there'll be a fight, it'll end somehow, that's about it.

Also, having Clara do the big "I Quit!" at the end of last issue, then immediately opening this one with her still investigating and having very much not quit, feels cheap. I didn't expect she'd stop investigating, but why try for that as your cliffhanger, and then blow it to hell on page 2 of the next issue? It feels like Faerber wasn't even really trying to for any suspense himself, so what's the point?

That complaint aside, there are pieces moving here I find interesting. This interplay between Boo and Hickory (and how Clara's going to fit into it). The Sheriff now owing a favor to Madame Vega. It feels like this thread with the escaped con has been going on forever, but I am curious to see exactly what his backstory is with the Sheriff, since it doesn't feel as simple as her having arrested him, or him being her son's father. And this murder mystery could play out in a cool way, it just hasn't been great so far. No particular reason to care about the now former Mayor, since he hadn't appeared at all prior to his death.

The complaint I've had about Moss not giving Boo the proper size, well I'm still not sure about Boo, but he drew the head of the Mayor's security large enough. Properly conveying size, making Clara's complete indifference to his attempts at intimidation more effective. Sometimes Moss nails the body language; some of the panels of Clara glaring. The one where she mutters to herself about everyone making things difficult while she talks to Madame Vega. There was a certain tiredness to that one, maybe because vega and Clara's panels are drawn so the two are in opposition, and Vega is drawn standing ramrod straight, while Clara seems somewhat hunched over, actually probably leaning against the fish tank behind her). It's a less aggressive approach than with the security guard, but she was hoping things were going to go smoother here.

Moss does seem to struggle with lips. The Sheriff's lips sit really oddly on her face in a lot of panels, usually when Moss is going for some more quizzical or disgusted expression. He gives her fuller lips than Godlewski did, and the coloring of them is darker, makes them stand out more. There's just certain panels where it looks like some attached lips the way you do on a Mr. Potato Head which is not ideal.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Earthworm Jim 1.9 - Trout!

Plot: Peter and Jim decided to have their heads put on each others' bodies, but Peter was having some difficulty mastering the suit, which gave Psycrow a chance to run them over with a train. But they were able to get Jim inside the suit and he redirected the train - straight up, before gravity kicked in and Psycrow wound up under the locomotive.

On to the main plot, which involves Peter getting a postcard with a picture of a fur-bearin' trout on it, and Jim insisting they go on a road trip to see it. As luck would have it, Professor Monkey-for-a-Head has constructed the most powerful weapon in the universe, and it runs on fish hair. And he too, has seen the postcard, so Queen Sweaty, Bloated, Festering, etc., etc., also hits the open road. As does Princess What's-her-Name, once she learns what her sister is after. Jim and Peter see many wonders, but are no closer to finding the trout when they learn the Queen has captured her sister, and demands Jim bring the trout to her - or else.

But Jim had a vision the night before of the trout, and is able to see the signs pointing the way, thanks to looking within. Which may be a euphemism for being launched high enough in the atmosphere the thin air causes hallucinations. Either way, once he's found the fish, he has to keep him free of the Queen's clutches, which is pretty difficult with her wielding a scepter of pure Dimantium, or however you spell that. Especially once the Trout's Screwdriver of Elysium proved a dud.

In the mid-episode interlude, we see a propaganda film about how hard Evil the Cat works at creating evil in the universe. Sure, when he's not on the golf course, or at one of his exclusive clubs enjoying an 11 a.m. martini.

Quote of the Episode: Peter - 'Oh goody. The day has hardly begun and already your brain has snapped like a dry, brittle twig.'

Times Peter turns into a monster: 0 (8 overall).

Cow? Yep.

Other: Jim said some variation of "Eat Dirt!" four times in this episode, a record so far.

If Diamantium (I keep typing Diamondium, but that's one of Futurama's nonsense materials) is the hardest, sorry, second hardest substance in the universe, having some of it blow up in your face must hurt like hell.

We never did find out wha the Professor's weapon does. Frankly it looked like a cell phone done up like a banana. But this show was made in the mid-90s, so a cell phone that size might be pretty powerful. I could probably conquer 1994 with my flip phone if I went back in time. At least until those backwards people of the past realized that even with all my advanced technology, I was still vulnerable to bacteria. Wait, no, I meant bullets. I'm still vulnerable to bullets.

Anyway, where I meant to go with that thread is, did the Professor just stand around waiting for the Queen to get back with the fish hair? Why did he present it to her half-finished? Go get the hair, get the thing working, then show it off? I guess this way he was spared a whuppin' from Jim, so he really is a smart guy.

Peter was not a fan of the Giant Snail Petting Zoo. Which is fair, I would find that pretty horrifying, too. But he and Jim were a little too into the World's Biggest Scab. I still laughed at the Gabby Scabby Doll. 'Pick me, pick me!'

The Princess was being menaced by a flesh-eating mob of lawyers, which, hmm, I thought lawyer minions were Evil's bag. But I guess there are enough people with law degrees to go around.

So they did a Star Wars reference with the Princess' plea to Jim to save her, and then an Evel Knievel gag when Jim kicks in the Interstellar Overdrive on the Worm-Cycle, and jumps Snake River Canyon. Real '70s week going there.

When the Queen contacts Jim to show she has captured her sister, she gives Jim two hours to find the trout. Which is enough time for Jim and Peter to find the postcard company president and learn his awful secret, for Jim to then fall into a 'bottomless pit of despair', only to then remember his vision, and 'look within' for guidance. And then drive his motorcycle really fast to where the trout is. Which is more than I get done in a week.

I feel like keeping track of how often the opening bit actually plays into the main story. Like in "Sidekicked", Peter's transformation into his monster form lets Professor Monkey-for-a-Head escape, and prompts Jim cycling through several new sidekicks. But in "Sword of Righteousness", the opening bit where Evil has taken control of the suit doesn't tie into the whole thing with the useless talking sword at all.

This one falls somewhere in between. Jim and Peter swapping bodies doesn't factor, but Psycrow keeps popping up, dragging himself across the landscape while the locomotive still sits on his lower body. And at one point, he gives Jim bad directions to stymie his search for the trout. Although that's a pretty weak revenge. Once again, Psycrow overstates the scope of his actions.

Friday, May 19, 2017

What I Bought 5/17/2017

Well I found two books from last week, at least. Nothing from this week, though. I might go to Columbia this weekend to seek more comics, but it's going to storm a lot, so I might not. Also, I don't really want to drive anywhere this weekend after last weekend.

Ms. Marvel #18, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Francesco Gaston (artist), Ian herring (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Well that's sweet and depressing at the same time. Depressweet. Depreet? Swepressing? This combining words to make combo words is harder than the Germans make it look.

Bruno is struggling to adjust to his new situation as a student in Wakanda, and his injuries. His roomie drags him along on a highly illegal jaunt to acquire some Vibranium, ostensibly to impress a young woman, but really as part of a plan Kwezi has to build Bruno an exo-suit of sorts to give him some greater mobility. And Kwezi is distantly related to T'Challa, so nobody needs to go to jail.

Not sure what I was expecting, some sort of resolution to the emotional distance between Bruno and Kamala. Which I don't think was ever on the table. The character is still trying to figure out what he's going to do going forward, if he's going to go forward at all. That needed to get sorted on some level before he could worry about patching things up with someone else. I especially liked that moment where Bruno thinks about how much he hates when people tell him to stop saying he "can't" do something, and to instead think positively, and also how much he wishes they were right. I've had those moments before, although it feels like I'm on the other side more often, trying to find something good to say, but worried it's all going to seem trite and feel as though I'm dismissing their problems lightly. A really genuine moment there.

It's amazing to me how much Ian Herring's color work keeps this book feeling the same through all the different artists it's had. There's nothing bad about Gaston's art. He can do exaggerated expression when he needs to, he gives the surroundings a distinct look so you can tell this is a much different place than Jersey City or even New York. His art feels like it's somewhere between Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa's, not quite as exaggerated as the former, not quite as slick as the latter. But there were times reading it I expected the art to look like Miyazawa's because the color work makes it still feel like those earlier issues. The particular blue for the field surrounding the Vibranium, the colors of the flames from the hovercar, the yellow of the screens in the classroom (or as the background of that one panel of Bruno and Kwezi seeing the Vibranium), it's all in line with Herring's work on earlier issues, and so the issue still feels like it fits, even with a different pencil artist.

The Unbelievable Gwenpool #15, by Christopher Hastings (writer), Myisha Haynes (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Gwen, Kate, those bullets and arrows are eventually going to fall, you know. You're probably going to kill some rich kid's parents as they exit the theater and turn him into a grumpy asshole of a costumed vigilante.

The magic gem will collect a person's soul, and if you put the gem in another body it takes it over. The dwarves want the gem to take control of some giant mindless monster. Gwen uses her knowledge of the current Ghost Rider to track him down in his civilian i.d., while not letting Kate learn it, so they can all team-up to stop the dwarves. They do, Cecil takes control of the monster, the dwarves flee back to whichever realm dwarves are from, and that's another friend sort of helped after Gwen screwed his life up in the first place. And now Gwen is going to go look up the versions of her family that exist in the Marvel Universe. What I want to know is did they always exist, or did Dr. Strange create them when he did his hoodoo to give Gwen a past in this universe?

This was not one of the stronger stories. Maybe because I came in after Cecil was dead, so I missed all the stuff that would make me care. I don't know, being a ghost seems somewhat preferable to being a shaggy purple monster. The latter seems like a good way to have Elsa Bloodstone blow your head off. Everything just felt perfunctory. Here's Kate Bishop, let's have them team-up. Oh, throw Ghost Rider in too. Other than some brief drama about whether the spirit in G.R.'s car would convince Cecil to possess Gwen instead, there wasn't any point to it. And I don't care about either of those characters enough to be like, "oooooh, Kate Bishop! Sooooo excited!"

Haynes' art seemed stronger in the flashback sequence. Maybe it's easier for her to draw guys in robes and boots and armored helmets versus trucks and Ghost Riders. Although she did pretty well with the floating skull spirit that was trying to tempt Cecil. And when the monster is first released from the crate. The linework was a little busier, more shading than on a lot of the other panels. Gave it some heft, made it feel a little different from all the other characters. But the rest of the book just feels flat. The action sequences don't have much impact. Rosenberg seems to be going with a pretty basic color range, and I'm not sure it's doing the art any favors.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Then Everybody Died. Again.

The first D&D campaign I took part in was in college, starting about 9 months before this blog. Papafred and some of his friends had been running campaigns each semester, and I finally decided to take part.

I went with a Ranger, a human, who in my mind looked a bit like Spike because I was watching a lot of Buffy reruns at the time. Used a bow mostly, or else a combo of a bastard sword and a whip. Because I thought it looked cool when Indiana Jones ran around with a sword and a whip simultaneously in Temple of Doom. I was informed after the fact it was a bad idea not to pick a two-handed sword to be proficient with, because you're more likely to find awesome, enchanted versions of those. Sure enough, we found one and had no one in the party who could use it who didn't already have a better weapon.

Anyway, Will did the Ranger bit to pay the bills to support his family, because his father's maritime shipping business had run afoul due to, it was either because he bet on calamari and the market wasn't there, or giant squid attacks. I hated squids, because they were responsible for the failure somehow. So I knew a bit about boats and such, even though I know nothing about boats in real life. Which made it awkward when the game was on a ship and I was supposed to be able to give orders or know what to do. We were told to pick two magical items to have, I picked Odin's Bow for one, the DM promptly nerfed the shit out of it, something I was informed he always did. Except to his girlfriend's meat shield character, who picked an awesome sword that stole the souls of those killed with it and released them as extra damage. Which worked well for us, but was still some bullshit favoritism.

Especially once the party swelled to nine members, five of which were newbs, including me. There was always confusion in battle, because you had too many people who barely understood what their characters could do, let alone how to work cooperatively with anyone else. And it was a 15th Level campaign, so we were kind of thrown in the deep end. Result being, people died a lot. We had two elf clerics who knew Resurrection, plus a goblin shaman with a wishing orb (handy for the people killed so completely Resurrection wouldn't work on them), and we needed all of them. Every character in the party except Papafred's fighter-thief died at least once. Every character other than his and mine died at least twice. I had an osprey as a companion, it died. So did Papafred's dog companion, and the ninja girl's ferret.

Some immensely powerful being told us to recover a stone from a castle on an island. We land on the island, a dragon appears, and the newb elf cleric is reduced to ash. The goblin wishes him back, but not precisely enough (and I'm sure his deity wasn't happy being asked to bring back an elf). He still hadn't returned by the next day when we reached the castle, and half the remaining party was immediately enthralled by the singing of harpies from within. The rest of us - me, the mage, the ninja, and Solomon's lady elf cleric - rush after them, and find ourselves up against 11 harpies. The other cleric appears suddenly, and attacks the goblin. He's been brought back from earlier in his life, doesn't remember us, doesn't know anything about an elder telling him he needed to be on this quest. We got it sorted eventually.

Then he got turned to stone by a Beholder about an hour later, and shattered by a troll. Because we were all focused on the wooden door at the end of the hall, and nobody checked the open passageway off to the side first. Lack of coordination. I was surviving, but struggling with 2nd edition's rules for archery. Meaning I couldn't use my bow, because the odds were as good I'd hit someone 40 degrees to the left of what I was aiming at as that I'd hit my target. At Level 15, even if I'm not Clint Barton, shouldn't I at least be Speedy, or Kate Bishop? I died because the goblin was fighting a troll, and I had to help in close combat. Because I was too bad a shot to be sure I wouldn't hit the 4 foot tall goblin while aiming at the 10 foot tall troll. I have used a bow for exactly one day in my real life, and I'm pretty sure I could manage that. So we both walked in the Beholders' line of fire and got Death Beamed.

We got through that, found the stone, the meat shield got mind controlled by a cloaked wizard, badly injured Sol's cleric before we could kill the wizard. We grabbed the stone, the castle collapsed, a huge stone hit the lady cleric, she got pulped. We had to leave the unconscious meat shield behind. When they were both resurrected, Sol cast Destruction (or Destroy, something like that) on the meat shield. To be fair, she did have the meat shield hitting on the cleric nonstop the entire game. Though I had my character also clumsily trying to court the cleric's favor as well. Don't know why, same reason I had Will needle the meat shield constantly. I decided it was in character. The goblin had to wish him back again, which was dicey since removing the stone cut our plane of reality off from all others. He couldn't contact his deity, so there was a chance the orb would explode. A chance that increased every time he used it. Good thing we weren't routinely dying in horrible, massively damaging ways that required wishing to undo.

And people just made curious decisions. Ralph told us that about the Orb outside the game, but the goblin kept it secret inside the game. As we returned to port (having been relieved of the stone earlier by the same guy who sent us after it), a meteor shower emerged, which smashed the ship, killed our pets, and left Luc's awesome sword on the bottom of the bay. I volunteered to cast Breathe Underwater on myself and get it. No, the sword will possess you. Fine, get the meat shield in a boat with me, we'll row out, I'll cast it on him, and he can swim down to get it himself. Nah, let's just wish it to us. And the goblin complies. No wonder we died so much, we were fucking idiots.

The campaign didn't get much further. We found an inn, it was a trap by a demon who was pissed we'd trapped him here before he could return to conquer his dimension. He turned all our loved ones into flesh golems and set them on us, plus he rained fireballs on us. He eventually flew off, promising more revenge. I think Andy realized he needed to stop the fight because he'd killed everyone but me, Papafred, and the male cleric. If the cleric had died, I was considering what would happen if my character tried to use the Wishing Orb. Probably one more dead character. Or I was going to say screw it, shake the fighter-thief's hand farewell, and either head to a safe inn to get hammered, or try and track down the demon.

After that fight, I played Will as steadily distancing himself from the rest of the party, being focused on revenge on the demon. I'd resolved killing him was all that mattered. If we caught sight of him, I was just going to start firing arrows, let the DM handwave some bullshit for why I'm not triggering a fight scene before he was ready. We came across a badly injured knight asking for help with a giant monster, I wanted to ignore him. But the monster was on the way to the demon. As it turned out, the monster could only be harmed by +3 or better weapons, and was immune to magic, which ruled me out. A bunch of us had to just sit and watch that fight, completely useless, as it dragged on for, shit two hours? The thing had 1000 hit points, and once you got it down to 1 HP, you had to Wish it dead. That would have been great, survive that thing, then get blown up trying to finish it off.

That was where things ended, so any revenge remained purely hypothetical, along with any resolution of the story. It ended up factoring in to a later campaign I played, but not the next one. I don't suppose it put me off the game entirely, but it was kind of a mess. The party was too large and unwieldy, and the number of times everyone was dying and having to be wished back was ridiculous. Battles seemed to take forever, although this was not something that would change in later campaigns, even with different editions, DMs, and other players.

Next time, whenever that is: The only campaign that actually was completed. Also probably the most absurd.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

This Armor Wars Has A Lot Less Armor In It Than I Expected

I picked up a trade of the Iron Man: Armor Wars II trade, by John Byrne (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Bob Wiacek (inker), Paul Becton and Joe Rosas (colorists), and Michael Heisler and Chris Eliopoulos (letterers) because I remembered owning issue #259 as a kid. Which involved Iron Man fighting the apparent ghost of Titanium Man, and also struggling with losing entire days he couldn't account for.

As it turns out, the "ghost" is actually the Living Laser, trying to prove this was the original Iron Man, so it would mean something when he killed him*. The lost time, meanwhile, is the result of A Alexander DeWitt, who took advantage of Stark suffering spinal damage sometime earlier to "repair" Syark's nervous system by actually replacing it with a parasite of sorts. One that enables him to remotely control or shut down Stark's body whenever he chooses. He's also doing this with the funding of Desmond and Phoebe Marrs, who were prominent adversaries in Byrne's Namor run for awhile, until I think the Punisher killed Desmond for being connected to coke dealers. But DeWitt hates Stark anyway, though Tony doesn't seem to have any idea who he is.

Stark gets around his body being hacked with a system to remotely control his armors through his thoughts. So even when his body is being controlled, if he's in the armor, he can still moving by controlling it mentally (since the suit is much stronger than his body), but this is putting a considerable strain on his body, and may end up killing him before he can deal with it. There's also a build-up to the Mandarin regaining his full power and unleashing Fin Fang Foom to help him conquer China, and James Rhodes trying to help Tony out, while struggling with his own fears about getting back in the armors again. That's a lot of stuff for 9 issues, at least it would be by today's standards.

The Marrs don't seem particularly important to the story, except maybe as an explanation for how DeWitt has the resources to manage this, but still not be someone Stark would be aware of. Answer: he's being bankrolled by someone else with the financial resources. But otherwise, they're largely irrelevant and only notable to me because I've read Byrne's Namor run (the first two years of it, anyway, when he was drawing it, too).

I think Romita Jr. came to this book immediately after leaving his run on Daredevil with Ann Nocenti. Bob Wiacek seems to go easier on the inks than Al Williamson did on that book, which gives the art a slicker feel. Not as heavy with the shadows, characters don't feel as thick, as weighed down. Which is appropriate for Iron Man, it probably should be a little glossier. Romita hasn't progressed to that point of making everyone really big and bulky that he would get to in a few years, although he seemed to make the boots of the Iron Man armor enormous, compared to how Mark Bright drew them when this model of the armor was originally introduced.

Byrne wisely gives Romita Jr. multiple either full-page or double page splashes for Fin Fang Foom, and Romita Jr. typically fills them with the dragon, to the point where any other figures are not much more than small, vague outlines of people. And the dragon still usually doesn't fit all in the panel, an excellent way to convey how enormous and powerful it is. Heisler and Eliopoulous also add the effect that Foom's speech bubbles don't have a little tail connecting them to his mouth. So it functions as almost a disembodied presence that is everywhere, a voice so large it seems to come from all sides.

The Living Laser design is mostly a featureless human shape. There's some Kirby crackle-like dots, and some shading that suggests the shape of the mouth or where the eyes are, things like that. But Rosas and Becton help by making it a very colorful battle. There are dozen or bright pinkish lines going all over most panels as the Laser goes all out trying to kill Iron Man (though at one point when Stark loses control of his body, the Laser lets him live because he doesn't want an "easy" win, which felt pretty weak). But the longer the fight went, the less distinct, the more blurred the Laser's features gets. There's more crackle, like he isn't maintaining as coherent a structure as he gets more pissed and pours more into the battle. It's a nice touch.

There's a bit in here where Stark hires a bunch of professionals to figure out what's wrong with him, and when they all pronounce him fit, is positive they're wrong. Not simply because of the strange paralysis, but because, as he puts it, he was an alcoholic for years, and that had done all sorts of damage to his body. Damage which couldn't have all simply vanished. Which isn't something I feel like is addressed much in Iron man comics. There's frequently references to Tony's drinking, how it cost him his company, how he struggles against temptation, the "will he/won't he" in moments of stress. Don't usually see a lot about the physical toll that I can recall, which is curious given how long the comics relied on Tony's heart condition as a way to generate jeopardy. Maybe Byrne was trying to bring that back in a new form, or maybe he was annoyed Micheline had Tony shot and put in a wheelchair, then gave him some super-science escape clause 5 issues later. So he turned the cure into a trap.

Or maybe the two of them had that planned all along. I don't know.

The subplot about Rhodey struggling with whether he could get back in the armor didn't work quite as well as I'd hope. Maybe because I came into this knowing Rhodey is going to don armors a lot in the future. But part of it was that when he does come to Tony's rescue, the suit he's wearing looks so similar to Tony's, I thought at first Stark was remote controlling another suit while mentally controlling the one he was in. Granted there's dialogue coming from the rescuing suit, which should have been a big tip off, but it just didn't land as well as I think it was meant to.

Also, reading this story arc, I found out James Rhodes is meant to be smaller than Tony Stark. Which is not how I've ever pictured them. Go figure. Also, I think the armor design Romita comes up with for the suit DeWitt ultimately fights Tony with, got cribbed/homaged/stolen by whoever was drawing Bloodstrike. There was a giant robot/cyborg guy called Shogun that looked a lot like the design here (especially the lack of feet, just big, round cylinders for legs). Oh, it was Rob Liefeld, what a surprise, he said completely insincerely. At least the head regions on the two designs are different.

Overall, not exactly what I was expecting, and certainly not as much armor warring as you'd expect with the title, but not bad. I appreciate that the Laser trashing Stark Industries is independent of the other problems, rather than it all being interconnected. Sometimes a lot of random bad shit can happen all at once.

*This was back when they were still maintaining the old line about Iron Man being Stark's bodyguard, and that the Iron Man at the time of this story was a new guy, replacing the one who supposedly went rogue and was killed in the first Armor Wars story.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Let's Talk About Samurai Jack Before The Big Finale

I suppose it would make more sense to wait for this weekend's episode of Samurai Jack to write something up about this recent run, since it's the last one, but what the hell. I wasn't able to prep anything for this week ahead of time, so it's all just scrambling at the moment, and I've been meaning to type something on this for awhile. I guess there will be SPOILERS if you've been waiting to binge watch them.

I thought originally it was only going to be 5 episodes, but it seems to have expanded a bit. I can't tell if I'm just remembering wrong or what, though the pacing has seemed uneven. That might just be my expectations. I went in expecting Jack's struggles with the Daughters of Aku to last the entire 5 episodes, and he'd killed all of them but one by the end of the third episode.

During the first episode, I was toying with the idea Jack had killed Aku some years ago, but lost his sword in the process. And there was no way to get home, so he's stuck there, going through the motions, continuing to have to save people from Aku's minions, and fend off Aku's assassins, because none of them realized (or maybe couldn't accept) that Aku was dead. Aku has spent centuries, millennia, as the unstoppable god of this world. Even if people never saw or heard him, they might believe he was still there. The Daughters would have been an ultimate expression, people who destroy the lives of children trying to turn them into weapons to earn favor with a god who is dead by killing a guy who can barely be bothered to care any longer.

And, of course, there would be people who benefited from his reign, who would have a vested interest in keeping the existing structure in place. All of which could be damn demoralizing for Jack. Defeated his enemy, but can't get home to keep all this from ever happening, and the same crap persists under its own inertia.

Obviously that whole theory got blown to hell before the episode ended, when Scaramouche tried to call Aku to tell him Jack was sans sword. I found Scaramouche annoying initially, but he's grown on me as a comic relief character as he's persisted minus a body. He may be gone now, though. And I've also enjoyed Aku's struggle with depression. Jack has struggled with feeling that continued existence is futile. That he cannot win, cannot get home, is stuck watching people suffer and die (because like most people, Jack focuses on his failures and not his numerous successes).

Meanwhile, you have Aku, god-ruler of this world, but he can't enjoy it, because he's positive that at some point, Jack is going to show up with that sword and fucking end him. He's abandoned any hope his assassins are going to win, and he's sure as hell not going near the one thing that can kill him. So it's a stalemate, and he can't even count on time to do the job for him, 'cause Jack isn't aging. Makes it hard to enjoy what he's got.

I'm not really a fan of the romance plot thread between Jack and Ashi. Part of that is the fact she's probably in her late teens and Jack is probably closer to 70 or 80 in terms of the number of years he's been alive. If she were closer to 30, a little more mature or worldly, it probably wouldn't bother me so much. But with her relative inexperience with the world, with anything that doesn't involve killing, it feels off. Plus I figured it was another thing to give Jack angst, and that seems to be the case. Which, these episodes have already established Jack has struggled with guilt, was nearly destroyed by it, over the people he's failed to save. Not just loved ones, but random people he's been too late to help. He and Ashi don't need to be in love for him to not want to kill her to save himself.

I appreciated that it wasn't so much Jack repeatedly saving her life that seemed to turn Ashi, but the way that Jack seems to sit comfortably in the parts of the world Ashi had always been attracted to. They had established her attraction to the natural beauty of the world, even as her mother was telling her Aku created all that and Jack is trying to destroy it. But once they escape from the leviathan, Jack sits down and is at home among that same beauty. How would that work, if he's such a cancer on Aku's glorious creation? That felt like a good way to bring about an epiphany.

I would like to have seen a little more exploration of how she's adjusting to this world and the new path she's taken. She's still doing a lot of fighting and killing - she laid waste to an entire army protecting Jack - how does that feel? Does the violence feel more natural, does she feel more at ease with it, or is there no difference than when her sole purpose was to kill one guy? Maybe it even feels worse, that she's still fighting and killing, even as she's trying to figure out where she fits. She reminds me of Cassandra Cain in that way.

I don't know how things will wrap up this weekend, or even if they will. It might be an ambiguous ending, or no real ending at all. I don't know if a happy ending would feel earned, whatever that means. I do really want to see Jack get one over on Aku though, finally. Even if he can't get home, at least let him destroy this guy once and for all.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Wasted Weekend

Because Alex had a gig, we drove to Chicago. 30 hours spent there isn't long enough to justify the trip to me, but Alex and his other friends seemed to have a good time. But I was the one who did all the driving, while they slept, so I spent most of the 30 hours either trying to catch up on sleep, or addled from lack of sleep. Admittedly, I haven't driven all the way across Kansas or Iowa, but I'm still going to say driving north/south through Illinois is the worst goddamn thing. Interminable. That was probably my biggest issue, just not enough time in town for the amount of driving spent getting there and coming back.

Plus, we didn't do much that I would have done if left to my own devices. Sitting around watching other people drink and chat when I could be out seeing the sights doesn't appeal. But I didn't know where in Chicago we were going until we got there, so I didn't have a chance to scout online for places to wander off and go see by myself.

It's times like that I think about getting a smartphone. Then I watch Alex spend the entire weekend struggling to get his to work because after slightly over a year, it might be starting to break down, and I realize I don't want to deal with that shit.

I did spend some time Sunday morning roaming the neighborhood while everyone else was trying to sleep off their drinking. (They were not entirely successful, thus each of them getting two $9 Bloody Marys a piece at lunch. Which resulted in a damn big lunch bill. Thanks guys.) I found a few stores I would have been interested in, but most bookstores are not open at 8:30 on Sunday mornings. Still, it was a nice stroll. I wish I had the chance to visit the Nature Museum, but no dice.

My brief impression was there's a lot of stuff to do and see, but I'm not cut out for Chicago. Too many people, too much traffic (every person in the city drives like a complete asshole), too expensive for my cheapass nature. Driving underneath the elevated train lines was fun, made me want to reenact The Blues Brothers. Maybe that explains the drivers, they're all trying to emulate movies set in Chicago. Food was good. Weather was pleasant. It seemed to suit Alex; he's talking about making the trip again in summer, maybe staying a week. I'm going to take a hard pass on that.

Moral of the story is to not let people you know are terrible at planning things rope you into a trip they planned.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Earthworm Jim 1.8 - The Egg Beater

Plot: Jim and Peter escape Bob's fearsome Robo-Squid thanks to Jim borrowing Mrs. Bleveridge's egg beater. Now she wants it back, which means journeying across the cosmos to La Planeta de Agua (Arriba!). The trip runs into severe trouble, as one arch-foe after another crosses paths with Jim. Evil the Cat and the Henchrat are randomly traveling through space. Bob's had his Robo-Squid rebuilt by Professor Monkey-for-a-Head, who took the egg beater to complete a Hypno-Laser for Queen Sweaty, Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug-for-a-Butt. By the time they get there, Psycrow's already picked it up, and by the time they catch Psycrow, he's already delivered it. And by the time they get to the Queen's lair, she's already used it on Princess What's-Her-Name and the rebels, plus, all the other villains have arrived to help destroy Jim.

Through all this, poor Mrs. Bleveridge, in her slippers and curlers, and whatever the hell that weird yellow onesie she's wearing is, has taken the brunt of the attacks. She's been pretty addled for most of the trip, but pulls it together at the end long enough to confirm the egg beater Jim recovered isn't hers, because the handle is the wrong color. Which means they'll have to venture back into the cosmos and keep searching. A valuable lesson about thinking before you speak.

Quote of the Episode: Bob - 'When you want a job done right, hire a guy with a monkey for a head, that's what I always say.' Jim - 'Oh, you do not always say that.'

Times Peter Turns into a Monster: 1 (8 overall).

Cow? Yes, a brown one this time. Probably mutated from exposure to Insectica's alien sun. Or a joke about the egg beater's handle.

Other: Peter used the "fear is the mind-killer mantra" again this week. Also probably his longest stretch maintaining his monster form.

Jim tried calling on the Space Crickets to save them from Evil the Cat, but they weren't able to arrive until Jim had reached Professor Monkey-for-a-Head. And were promptly stepped on. Homm, the Mighty Hamstinator is still alive, and Johnnydactyl, but between these guys and all those sidekicks from the first episode, do-gooders have a pretty high attrition rate. I'm not sure Psycrow even needs to be doing PSAs about getting people treated for symptoms of do-gooderism.

So Jim defeated pretty much all his enemies at once, but at least it's evident there's no teamwork or cooperation on their part. They all pretty much started blasting (except the Queen, who seemed content to wait and watch, which probably saved Jim), and Jim turned it against them. Also, he ran in terror a lot.

Turns out in addition to being able to use himself like a whip, Jim can also use himself like a boomerang. Like about 15 other functions of the suit we've seen so far (the Swiss Army knife function, the Inflato-Suit) I don't expect we will ever see this again. But the Boomerang is always useful in only one particular dungeon, from what Zelda games have taught me.

Poor Mrs. Bleveridge, she just wanted the egg beater back, which is a perfectly reasonable request. And she got mauled, flash-fried, nearly brain-sucked, frozen, and hit by a cow. Rough day, but this won't be the last time she appears, and things go better for her next time.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Some People Have More Immediate Concerns Than World Saving

I was rereading Joe Casey and Dustin Nguyen's WildCats version 3.0 over the weekend. I don't think I'd reread them since I originally purchased them, but there's been a lot of other things to read.

Most of it revolves around the former warrior cyborg Spartan, having been put in charge of the Halo Corporation by its late founder (and leader of the WildCats back in their more extreme, Jim Lee drawn days), to improve the world. There's another thread in there about Grifter still being used to doing things how they used to do them, with bullets and cool one-liners, and struggling to adapt (or to avoid adapting).

Beyond the fact the thing ends before the Halo Corp. gets much beyond making themselves a big deal in the news and generically spooking the Powers That Be with their batteries that never run out, the biggest issue is it's a limited scope. It's admittedly difficult to buy into a story that argues some enlightened plutocrat is going to use his corporate resources to save the world where the governments have failed. OK, so the governments failing because they have too much invested in the status quo isn't hard to believe.

But the whole thing is very top-down, and ignores certain issues at the same time that it seems to be trying real hard to convince us how different it's being. Yes, batteries which last forever, and more critically, car batteries that function as fuel cells, eliminating the need for petroleum in vehicles, is a pretty big deal. We're told this is putting all other battery manufacturers out of business, and will presumably eventually do the same to a lot of automotive manufacturers. Halo Corp's factories are shown to be entirely automated. Left unmentioned, that a lot of people will be losing their jobs. No pages spent on anything Halo Corporation might be doing to help those people.

One might presume the well-meaning cyborg businessman has some ideas he will try to implement down the line, when he's finished buying product placement in big-budget action movies. I'm sure he's envisioning a world where people have their needs met, and don't have to worry about rent, or medical bills. But while he's busy with such important matters as placing an accountant in charge of a CIA front operation as a mole, all those unemployed folks still have bills to pay right now. And we clearly can't trust the incompetent, self-interested government to do anything for them.

A little surprised Casey didn't do anything with the government trying to fight a p.r. war. Condemn Halo's actions on news programs or through negative press from friendly outlets. Run lots of false information about negative effects. Instead they opted to try and assassinate the guy. Because I guess they were still operating in the old ways, like Grifter.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

On A Slow Minibus To Hell

I'm on some sort of kick for films about people finding themselves suddenly alone, because here's The Midnight After, which is about a bunch of people boarding a minibus at 2 a.m., and somehow, while they're in a tunnel, everyone else vanishes. They exit the tunnel into a Tai Po devoid of other people, except one of them, and young guy named Yau (or Chi) sees someone in a gas mask, but opts not to mention it to anyone else for several hours. He does that a lot in the movie.

Some of the characters start dying of something, which causes splotches to appear on their skin, and in some cases, their bodies crumble and fall apart. They all get a phone call at the same time that's Morse Code and is lyrics from that David Bowie song about Major Tom, which leads to an extended bit where the one character who recognizes the lyrics basically sings it to them. Yau gets a call from his sister that tells him he's been missing six years. They decide to head for a supposedly abandoned nuclear facility on a mountain, then change their minds and head for Kowloon instead as it starts to rain blood, or red water maybe.

The film isn't entirely serious, which in of itself isn't a problem. Some of the character's backstories, the whys and hows that got them on that minibus are pretty funny. But there's also a sequence where one of the passengers raped one of the other passengers after disembarking, only she died during, and he kept having sex with the corpse. So the rest of them opt to ritually execute the guy by taking turns stabbing him. Which is. . . not what I'd call funny. I guess as a comment on the weird things people get up to when they think civilization has collapsed it might work. Wouldn't have seemed out of place in a Mad Max film, for example, but it's a bizarre shift from that to their preparations to leave a few minutes later, or from the whole thing with the Bowie song maybe a half-hour earlier.

Or the plot thread with the cokehead who hid on the bus to escape some dealers he robbed, fell asleep, and then decided to try and walk home but kept stopping to snort more coke. All that feels like it's making fun of what you see in a lot of post-apocalypse films, people hoarding certain things, or doing goofy shit because they can. But it sits oddly next to raping a dead woman, or people running after a guy on a bike, pleading for help as they die horribly. That part seems less like satire and more straight horror.

Plus, nothing much gets answered. Where the six years went. Why one of the guys in gas masks insists they're trying to help, but the others try to stop the minibus. Why Chi keeps seeing this version of one of the other passengers where she looks like some evil spirit. if you're expecting any of that to get even the most perfunctory, bullshit, handwavey answers, forget about it.

On the other hand, the parts which show them trying to deal with the situation, making a point of sharing contact information to keep connected, and everyone going home, hoping to find loved ones, those parts were pretty good. Those are the parts that interest me, when everything you had to worry about previously is now irrelevant - so long rent! - and what do you do now? What do you want to do now?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What I Bought 5/3/2017 - Part 3

Last two books from the shipment from last week. Probably won't be able to get this week's books until Friday, at the earliest. Maybe not until next week. Problems of working on the road.

Real Science Adventures #1, by Brian Clevinger (writer), Lo Baker (artist, She-Devils story), Wook Jin Clark (artist, Sparrow story), Anthony Clark (colorist), Jeff Powell (letterer and design) - Every great pilot must master looking thoughtfully into the distance as twilight approaches.

Two stories. The She-Devils are grappling with a lack of supplies to raid within range of their aircraft. If they don't solve that issue, they'll have to close the base and pull up stakes. Rather than deal with the horros of moving, they're going to steal the flagship of a rival crew, which is a British Sunderland flying boat. Big, slow, good cargo capacity, excellent range. All they have to do is steal it, then stay airborne until until any pursuit runs out of gas. Maybe they'll get to that point next issue.The Agent Sparrow chapter, which is only six pages, is the start of a mission to wreck a Nazi super-weapon. The mission goes awry almost immediately, of course.

So a lot of set-up on both fronts. The She-Devils' mission certainly sounds like it'll be fun to read, but I'll have to wait and see. I'll also have to wait and see how Lo Baker's art does when it comes it action sequences. Baker shows a style here somewhat similar to Scott Wegener's, but with much heavier linework. The problem is that in panels where our viewpoint isn't pretty damn close, the character's faces are then overwhelmed by those big, dark lines, and Baker has to simplify things to convey anything. It's like looking at a blurry photo. But when there's space in the panel to concentrate on one character, the body language and expressions are pretty good. There's a tendency towards elongated necks that reminds of something, but it works. The sound effects' lettering has a loose feel that fits with the makeshift surroundings in the story. They look kind of rough, some look like they were written in with your basic #2 pencil. Using whatever is at hand. It worked for this.

Wook Jin Clark did get a chance to draw some fight scenes, and did a solid job. Nothing flashy, but everything is clear and easy to follow. The progression of action from panel to panel makes sense. On a couple of pages, Clark draws a large close-up of one character's face along the margin of the page, while other panels shows what's going on around them. Almost like an inset panel, but not exactly. So a view of Sparrow's face as she surveys the landscape after scaling the cliff, that stretches vertically across the left edge of two horizontal panels showing what she's seeing (that there's no farmhouse with supplies, but there are Nazis). I'll be curious to see if Clark continues to use that going forward.

I can't say this issue alleviated the concerns I had going in about whether I'd like Real Science Adventures any more this time around, but I'd like to at least see the main story get going before I make a final determination.

Copperhead #12, by Jay Faerber (writer), Drew Moss (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), Thomas Mauer (letterer) - It was as the alien worm erupted from the cadaver that the doctor realized he picked the wrong week to quit smokin'.

The now-former mayor was killed with some sort of alien worm. Or by said alien worm, since it's unclear if it is sentient or not. The artificial human, Ishmael, may be able to get the Sheriff a name, in time. That's about the most help she's getting out of any guys right now. This Ford fellow is just shoving his way into her life and constantly trying to explain to her how she's feeling about everything. Her son's father is still - gradually - making his way towards them. And she can't quit butting heads with her former deputy, current boss, Mayor Budroxifinicus.

Clara's not really helping on that one by assuming right from the start that he's got it in for her. I understand her concerns, but he's been a good deputy and so he deserved the benefit of the doubt. But with the threat Clay presents in the back of her mind, and Ford very much annoyingly present, she's a bit on edge/off her game.

I feel like Moss has de-aged Clara a bit though. Godlewski typically gave her some shadows under the eyes, drew the mouth a bit smaller (when she wasn't yelling) like her face was a bit drawn. Everything had tightened up, pulled in on itself. Her hair had this stringy, disheveled appearance. It gave a feeling of her experience, a lot of bad road behind her, a lady who has a son to look after and a town to protect, and not much time for anything else. Moss' version doesn't convey that so far. And Boo still lacks the same presence he had previously. That one I could at least possibly explain with the idea he's carrying himself differently as a Mayor than he he did as a cop, going for quiet dignity rather than looming authority. But mostly it just seems like he got downsized.

So there are some ongoing concerns about the change in art teams, but the story is still solid, so we'll see how this arc unfolds.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Gruesome Deaths Alone Can't Make A Film

I've relied on low expectations to see me through some lousy movies lately, but even that couldn't save Intruder. I picked it up for cheap at a store back in, February I think, because it said Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were both in it, although neither is the main character.

It's closing time at a local grocery store, but work is disrupted by the sudden appearance of Jennifer's ex-boyfriend Craig, out of jail after (accidentally(?) stabbing a guy. Jennifer hasn't been responding to his calls or letters, and Craig makes a scene, fights most of the staff, but eventually is bodily ejected. Shortly after that, and after the manager has announced he's closing the store in a month, people start getting murdered in various gruesome ways. Lots of stabbing or impaling, but there's also a deli slicer and some sort of hydraulic press. Everyone else seems blissfully unaware as they go about their jobs, until Jennifer is the only one left, and the killer's after her.

The film is a little under 90 minutes, it takes about 35 minutes for anyone to die, and it still feels overly drawn out. There isn't enough here to maintain interest. I couldn't kep most of the guys distinct in my mind, and I couldn't tell you any of their names, other than there was a Danny, and also a Randy, but which face goes with which name, *shrug*. There wasn't any reason to care.

There's a brief stretch at the beginning where everyone is searching for Craig inside the store where there's some tension, because no one is quite sure what he might do, but once they toss him out of the store, everyone goes about their business. And since everyone is scattered, there isn't a point when they start to realize what's happening and try to escape or fight back, until there's just Jennifer. And at that point, it settles into a rather tedious back and forth of her trying to escape, getting caught, briefly gaining the upper hand and then running off to start the whole thing over again.

Monday, May 08, 2017

What I Bought 5/3/2017 - Part 2

I got a good chuckle at Marvel doing a press release asking fans to just be patient with Secret Empire. Aw, is Nazi Captain America not proving to be a big seller? Boo-hoo. Best news I saw all last week, low bar that that was.

Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye #7, by Jon Rivera and Gerard Way (writers), Michael Avon Oeming (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), Clem Robins (letterer) - Superman trying very hard to ignore the look Cave's giving him there. Or keeping an eye out for flocks of migrating waterfowl.

We see the story of Cave and his crew saving Superman sometime in the past. Or a version of the story, since the Whisperer is in Cave's head, trying to destroy him with all his doubts and fears. But the Superman in Cave's memories emerges to help him fight and Cave wakes up. Minus an eye, back on the surface, the Whisperer seemingly having destroyed everything.

Probably my least favorite issue to date. Just not a huge fan of these trips through a character's self-pity, although I was intrigued by the actual memories we caught glimpses of as Cave was being "digested". The one of Cave pointing and yelling at Superman for one. But otherwise, eh, not much there for me. These stories about how much Superman can inspire others are OK, but I've seen others I thought worked better. That one issue of Hitman, obviously, but also an issue of The Ray back in the day. It seemed primarily a way to put Cave out of commission long enough for him to wake up and learn the situation has gone entirely to Hell.

I notice that even in Young Animal line of books, Superman can't get his trunks back as part of his costume. Ah well, maybe in that new, "mature" line DC announced. Dark Matter? I like that panel of the lemur holding the piece of Kryptonite between its teeth. Between its intense look, the swirly lines projecting outward from it for emphasis, and the strange background Oeming and Filardi draw, its a real attention-getter. Kind of a strange choice, but this is also Cave's memories, which are also being warped, so maybe that explains. Also liked the page of Superman rescuing Cave from the Whisperer, the way most of the panels are drawn so we're seeing things from the angle the monster would. So most of it is shadowy tentacles, and Cave's a mostly featureless figure in the background, stumbling around lost and defeated, while Superman tries to protect him until he can pull himself together. And the first panel looks a bit like Superman tore him free of the previous page (the monster's wound resembles a torn page).

Superman gave Cave a chance to bow out, be taken to a place he'd never be hurt again, but opted to re-enter the story. We'll see how that works out for him.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #19, by Ryan North (writer), Erica Henderson (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Henderson going old-school with a cover involving fighting gorillas.

Melissa talks a bunch of shit about how smart she is and how she's going to control everything and how Squirrel Girl is a dope for trying to help people and therefore no threat. Then she uses Pym Particles to shrink down the device she built to help her control animals remotely and has cockroaches install it in her ear. That scene just reminded me of the scene with the ear parasite thing from Wrath of Khan, which I could do without. Doreen's attempt to stop Melissa is thwarted by a combination of bears and a teleporter, and now Melissa is going to attack New York with mosquitos, but blame it on Dr. Doom. Which seems like the sort of thing that might get the good Doctor feeling murderous, but oh well.

Well, North is certainly doing a good job making Melissa a thoroughly unlikeable character we will be excited to see defeated. Heck, I was ready for it last issue, and I still think Doreen should exploit the flaw in Melissa's plan where it requires her thoughts to control the animals, meaning if you punch her hard enough to mess with her brain, she ain't controlling shit. Concuss her like you play on the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense, Doreen! Or fine, any NFL defense. Don't want to offend the no doubt legions of Steelers' fans who read the blog.

The bears in their various get-ups are adorable, although I question making a bear a medical professional. Although with the changes to health care in danger of being enacted, having a bear for a doctor may be the most economically viable option for several people. Unfortunately. And I have to say, even without the glider wings, I like the new costume for Doreen. More than the one she got with the skirt at the start of this volume. Granting that many squirrels do have grey fur, it doesn't seem like a great color for a superhero costume. Oddly, brown doesn't bother me as much on that score, and the blue squirrel head symbol (although it seems awfully pointy for a squirrel, more like a fox) adds a nice bit of color. Overall, the costume is just sleeker. I doubt she'll keep it going forward, having been a poisoned chalice from a villain, but it's a solid design nonetheless.

I don't know how Squirrel Girl is going to stop mosquitoes, unless she learn to talk to bats (and white nose syndrome hasn't devastated their numbers too badly), but I'm excited to find out.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Earthworm Jim 1.7 - Sword of Righteousness

Plot: Jim's love for vending machine sandwiches nets him a talking sword, the Sword of Righteousness, which declares it will train Jim to be a true hero. This involves teaching him the Voice of Dread (Jim keeps summoning moose), the Eye of Truth (Jim loses a staring contest to Peter), and the ability to cleave the fabric of the universe and time travel (Jim inadvertently helps the South win the Civil War).

On the Planet of Easily Frightened Beings, Psycrow helps himself to the Orb of Quite Remarkable Power, which is basically a Cosmic Cube. Except it's round. He teleports himself to the world Jim's training on, where the Sword has Conan'ed Jim up quite nicely. Or as Peter puts it, made him look like a complete goombah. Jim initially has the edge by quickly whipping the Orb from Psycrow's hands. But the Sword claims that's not proper heroing. So Jim gives it back and gets trounced. Psycrow chooses to leave our heroes to be eaten by ants while he goes to destroy Terlawk, but Peter helps them escape after Jim says mean things about Peter's singing voice and odor.

In the rematch on Earth, Jim doesn't fare much better until the Sword lets slip its terrible secret, and Jim renounces it. After that, he gets back to fighting like himself, which is brute force, basically. Which works better than you'd expect under the circumstances.

Quote of the Episode: Sword - 'Why didn't you move?' Jim - 'I was waiting for your instructions!'

Times Peter turns into a monster: 2 (7 overall).

Cow? Yes, depriving us of universal peace or universal destruction.

Other: During the opening sequence, we learned Jim's suit has a remote control to activate various weapons if someone hijacks the suit. More importantly, when Peter tries the wrong remote, we learn one of the two of them owns a car. Hard to picture either of them cruising around in a sedan, though. I expected Jim's garage to be jammed full of stupid tchotchkes and other crap.

When Jim barges in with the sandwiches, Peter is preparing Coquille St. Jacques Nouvelle. Which the internet tells me is some sort of dish involving scallops. It looked more like Peter was preparing stew, but would Jim know the difference?

Psycrow, having taken the Orb, vows to destroy his arch-enemy, then asks us if he's evil, or what. I don't know. Destroying your arch-enemy isn't very evil, as far as evil goes. All villains try to do that. And leaving them to be eaten by ants. Not even giant ants, just regular ants. Sure, points for laying them out on a picnic blanket with all sorts of goodies, it certainly creates the desired atmosphere, but kind of wasting the Orb's capabilities. I thought crows were supposed to be smart.

This is one of the episodes I remember best, probably for Jim in barbarian gear, and the Planet of Easily Frightened Beings. I was excited to watch it, yet this episode felt extremely thin, even compared to EWJ's normal levels. Probably because the Orb was so powerful, they had to keep Psycrow from actually using it against Jim as much as possible. So once the Sword is renounced, Jim gets it away from Psycrow relatively quickly, leading to an extended sequence of the two of them chasing the endlessly bouncing Orb through various settings, until the conclusion.

Friday, May 05, 2017

What I Bought 5/3/2017 - Part 1

One comic that I wanted came out this week, and I was pretty sure neither store in town would have it, so I didn't even bother to go look. But I do have books from last month, so let's look at those, starting with the last issues for two books.

Great Lakes Avengers #7, by Zac Gorman (writer), Will Robson (artist), Scott Hanna (inker), Tamra Bonvillain (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - I'm surprised Deadpool doesn't have his own weight loss supplement, aka him coming to your house and slicing parts off.

The team defeats Dr. Nod with Maneuver 33, which really needed to be accompanied by the phrase, "My immortal brain needs beer,", but Mr. Immortal is an alcoholic, so probably it'd be more a call for help. Fresh off their victory, which has given Detroit bragging rights over Green Bay - well it's not like the Lions or the Pistons have done anything for Detroit on that front in the last 10 years, or 50 in the Lions' case - they're told they've been fired by none other than Deadpool. And that's how the book ends, the team sitting in stunned silence as they learn of their cancelation.

When Bertha is fighting Dr. Nod at the start of the issue, she's a couple stories tall. During the fight, the drugs wear off and she shrinks back down while fighting her agent and the doctor's assistants. And it's about that time the wolf-girl shows up. But since Robson didn't really draw anything around them to give a sense of scale, I thought Good had gotten into the drugs to become a huge wolf-girl, rather than Bertha having shrunk to closer to her normal size. The agent and the goons show up in a van full of the drug, so i figured they loaded themselves up before fighting, and you can see in the panels where they fight Bertha is various large people and some bricks. There's nothing to give it scale.

Having Dr. Nod's teeth apparently not grow with the rest of his flesh, so that he's a blobby-looking monster with a huge mouth and relatively tiny teeth was kind of nifty. I'm not clear on how Bertha's powers work, beyond having control over her mass. Presumably she'd need to increase bone density to support the extra mass, but would that extend to teeth? Anyway, it was a little touch of the absurd to the visual I liked.

The book was probably always doomed to a short life, but I would have liked to see it come together a little more. I'm still not sure what Gorman's overall plan was for the book. He had something in mind, but it didn't get very far along. Oh well.

Patsy Walker, aka Hellcat #17, by Kate Leth (writer), Brittney L. Williams (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Playing as yourself in a video game would have to be strange and frustrating, especially if they made you a joke character like Dan Hibiki, or Phoenix Wright in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. "My attacks are better than that! Iron Man doesn't have a huge shoulder cannon!"

Patsy receives a letter from Jennifer Walters, telling her Jen negotiated her an excellent deal on various rights related to her childhood adventures and so she's freaking rich. Patsy takes her friends to the mall, where they are menaced by a couple of her fans pretending to be villainous vampires, who actually have crushes on each other. So things are resolved with a minimum of fuss, as Jubilee notes Patsy hasn't sent many of her enemies to jail over the course of this title. Ah well, HYDRA Captain America would probably just let them out again, so why bother?

So the book ends on an upbeat note. Like the GLA, Patsy doesn't seem sure what she's going to do next, but she has options, and she satisfied with where she's at in life. A check for an amount so large you doubt its validity will do that for ya. I'd hope she would keep the temp agency going, even if she hired someone to run it. Probably a lot of people using that to help pay the bills.

I appreciated the letter from Jennifer Walters bit. Reminds me of Cable sending Deadpool a psimitar in the last issue of Cable/Deadpool (after Cable had been absent from the book for the final 10 issues thanks to Mike Carey's X-Men run). I don't think Jen leaving the book was entirely Leth and Williams' call - I imagine they could have kept her in, given Marvel's lax approach to inter-book continuity these days, but it might have been an awkward clash with Jen's new title - but it's nice to acknowledge these characters are friends. And friends wouldn't just entirely forget about each other. If a person really matters, you'd at least check in with them somehow.

The fashion sequence thing was a cute callback to Patsy's earlier books I assume. And it got Jubilee back in the classic yellow jacket and huge pink sunglasses, which is appropriate for a return to her mallrat days. And Williams draws it very well, like I figure there are certain artists it would be a weird look, but with Williams it doesn't seem out of place at all.Also, in looking at the panel of her room, I notice there's a picture of her giving Dr. Strange bunny ears while Ian laughs and Wong, well Wong is probably suppressing the laugh. The shock lines combined with the brighter, deeper color in the panel where Patsy's tossed the cross at the Somnambulisters was a good attention-getter. Then the color fades to a duller pink in the next panel because these aren't actual vampires and they can't keep up their acting. The defeated posture and 'Ahhh, help,' were a funny combination.

So the Patsy Party is over, but it lasted longer than I thought it would. That's something.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Before After and After After

I had spotted After on TV while I was at Alex' over the weekend, but didn't get around to watching it. But it was on Netflix, so what the hell.

Ana (Karolina Wydra) and Freddy (Steven Strait) are on the same bus back home, and just so happen to live on the same street. Freddy's attempts to hit on Ana are thankfully, blessedly, cut short by the bus crashing. The two wake up in their respective beds, with a surprising amount of hair growth, in a town devoid of people, and surrounded by a miles high dark cloud slowly enveloping the town from all sides.

The movie only spends the first third on the question of where they are, and the remainder to figuring out how they're going to escape and the complications that arise. Like a monster that follows them out of an excursion into the cloud, and hunts them from then on. Their problems and solutions are a combination of both their childhood creative ambitions (Freddy did and does love comics, Ana wrote plays). And the two are connected by another thread neither of them realized that comes to light during the film.

I had expected the film would deal with solving the mystery of they were alone, a creepy mystery, but it was more of a tense thriller. Two characters working against a ticking clock. It worked fairly well at that. The solution to the monster problem felt extremely obvious, but I can't fault them for not seizing on it right from the start.

The thing that bothered me was the burgeoning romance between Freddy and Ana. Especially as Freddy starts off on the bus as the Guy Who Won't Take a Hint. He keeps pressing for her address, or asking why she won't commit to having a cup of coffee with him sometime, assuming it's because she's got a boyfriend. She's not interested in you, bro. And once they wake up in Empty Town and find each other, there's a lot of times where Freddy goes to do something, or tells Ana to do something, and if she asks a question, he ignores it. Doesn't answer it, doesn't even acknowledge it. Which, fine, pressure situation, but it happens so frequently it's hard not to read it as deliberate. And that could be the signal that Freddy really has no idea what he's doing, but is just pretending. The nerd who thought he'd be the awesome post-apocalyptic survivor, confronted with the fact he doesn't really know shit for dealing with this, but I don't think the film is really critiquing him for that.

The film spends a fair amount of time showing young Freddy as awkward, two "friends" who mostly pick on him and treat him like crap. We don't see his mother, but she's apparently really strict, while his dad tries to act as a buffer for a kid he doesn't connect with, rather than actually stand up for him. It feels like it's making excuses.

And ultimately, there wasn't much chemistry between them. I could see them as friends, shared a difficult experience, understand each other a little better, but they weren't believable as any sort of romantic pairing. And the further into the film you get, the more it telegraphs that conclusion, which, if you're wincing at the idea of it, gets increasingly frustrating the more they nod in that direction.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Not At All heated Disagreements About Movies

Alex and I just have fundamentally different tastes in movies, I think. I'll watch a lot of Westerns or sports movies of questionable quality, he liked Batman vs. Superman and the Michael Bay Transformers movies.

Whatever day it was we were watching Meet the Millers, a commercial came on for the Power Rangers movie, and Alex expressed a desire to see it, even though everyone he'd talked to said it was bad. He felt this is how you do a reboot, by making it more "adult", by having the teens really have some attitude, throw in some swears or whatever. Make the monsters not look so silly, maybe. The idea being this will bring in a new group of fans. That there are a lot of people who wouldn't have been into Power Rangers back in the day, but if you make it less goofy, or less, "this week's lesson is. . .", maybe those folks will give it a shot this time around.

I'm not sure I agree with that assessment. I figured you update it but keep it aimed at kids, who are an actual new generation. I figure if you start trying to age it up for an older audience, you lose a shot at a certain amount of the kids, and you still have to overcome the resistance of the adults who think it's too silly.

He also thought last year's Ghostbusters movie erred by focusing strictly on being a comedy, and not being scary at all. I don't remember the original movie being scary, bbut I don't remember what age I first saw it at, or how old Alex was when he first saw it. I tend to think Ghostbusters 2016 would have benefited from just being funnier, but that's me.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Cartoons Overstated the Fun Of Portable Holes

I bought Portal: Still Alive off Xbox live Arcade, because I remembered the game getting a lot of positive buzz when it first came out many years ago.

It's a puzzle game, as you're sent through a series of rooms where you have to figure out how to get to the door to the next room, all as a tonally pleasant computerized voice tells you various things. Most of which are either lies, or disturbing if true.

You have a portal gun to solve the puzzles, so it's a lot of figuring out where the portals need to be initially, then moving them to get things where you need them to end up. So you might need to shoot a portal for an electric sphere to enter and another on a different wall for it to exit from. Then, after it exits, you move the portals so you can run in one and come out another to hit a switch so the sphere can pass into the otherwise sealed room you need it to reach. Or jump from a great height into one portal and use the velocity to launch yourself across a chasm out the other portal. If you die, and there's a few ways for that to happen, you start that room over. There is a boss fight at the end, fyi.

I wouldn't say figuring out what to do was the hard part, which is usually the case for me with puzzle games. It was getting the portals in the right spot to do what I needed, in the time frame required. There were a lot of times I was sure I put the portal in the right place but no, too high, or too far to the left, try again. I did get a little dizzy with the puzzles that involved needing to drop through a portal. The portals must have a "top" and "bottom", because sometimes I'd go through them and as I was moving through, the character would get flipped or rotated. Which made it hard to get my bearings as I'd exit the portal. Which made it hard to try and direct my fall, or shoot my next portal where I needed it to go. Which wasn't a problem I'd expected going in. Probably should have, given it's a game all about taking advantage of physics.

I pretty much finished the story mode in an afternoon. Got stymied at one spot (it turned out I was overthinking it, making the solution too complicated), called it a day, finished the next night. I guess I could try Challenge Mode, but there doesn't seem to be a story involved in that, just more puzzles. And without some motivating reason, I'm not really that interested in messing around with the portals just to mess with them. Solving the puzzles to get my character safely through this shop of horrors was a decent motivation.