Friday, July 21, 2017

What I Bought 7/19/2017

I must be going into the store I buy comics from enough they recognize me, as the guy behind the register mentioned the store does pull lists. I don't think I can go back to that, although I do miss hanging out in comic shops shooting the breeze with other customers. Haven't done that regularly in a long time.

Ms. Marvel #20, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Marco Failla (artist), Ian Herring (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - That's no way to hold a superhero. She's going to hop right out of your grasp if you slack-ass it like that.

Aamir is being interrogated for his one-time occurrence of powers, and will possibly be deported, or maybe disappeared. Kamala is trying to pull herself together and fight back, but isn't haven't much luck against the considerable resources HYDRA is bringing to the fight. It might be going better if she abandoned her attempts to reason with the angry shouting crowds, but she's a better person than me, so she keeps trying.

Gotta love the panel of Discord standing there in his ridiculous outfit, insisting they are getting rid of superheroes to get things back to "normal". Shades of Max Lord nattering on about needing to get rid of superhumans so "regular" humans could determine humanity's course, and saying this while using his mind control powers to keep from getting beaten up. It's also reminiscent of any number of unpleasant real world examples of hypocritical jackasses, but I'm trying not to think about those every moment of the day.

I don't understand how the brief skirmish between Kamala and Discord/Lockdown was a stalemate, but I do appreciate the absurd amount of firepower on the hovering whatever that tried blasting Kamala. That's the kind of overkill you want to see your municipality waste tax dollars on. I'm wondering if the giant clock at Chuck's rally will be a recurring theme. "Time running out," or something similar. Regardless, good on Failla to show that time is progressing during the fight. A little touch, but a nice one. I wonder if the clock is to keep track of whether the trains are running on time or not?

There's a stunned look Failla gives Kamala in one panel, as Chuck's spewing his crap and then the crowd responds with a resounding "Yeah!" It's that realization there actually are a lot of people buying into the nonsense, a lot of people who think she's making their lives worse, who aren't super-villains. It's an effective scene, for how what Hallucination Bruno said about her being alone on this one.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wonder Woman

So I went to see Wonder Woman two weekends ago. There were probably 15 other people in the theater, maybe more, which isn't too bad for a noon showing over a month after initial release.

Spoiler warning.

The movie tracks Diana from her childhood on Themyscira, training secretly against her mother's wishes, until Steve Trevor crash lands on the island. Trevor has information on a new gas weapon Dr. Poison is developing for the Germans, and so the Germans arrive on the island. The battle and Steve's description of World War I convinces Diana Ares is behind it, and she sets out into Man's World to stop the war by killing Ares.

I liked it. I did want it to hurry up a little at the beginning and get Diana out into the rest of the world, but the time on Themyscira was important for showing the world she came from, the stories she grew up on - which play into why she's so determined to go out and find Ares - the things they didn't tell her, etc. But pretty much from the point where she and Steve get on the boat until she finally meets Ares was good stuff.

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine have good chemistry. I'm not going to claim to be an expert on Wonder Woman, but I thought Gadot got the character. She's compassionate, bold, has a bit of a sense of humor, and she's a skilled fighter without seeming like she enjoys hurting people. I think when she liberates that village she's enjoying the fighting, the moments where she's leaping around between them and kicking butt, but it's not as though she's enjoying breaking bones or whatever. Chris Pine was an excellent Steve Trevor. Trevor is supposed to be a good man, not perfect, but at heat, a decent guy, and Pine gets that. And Steve is supposed to recognize Diana can pretty much take care of herself, with maybe an assist every now and then, and the film's version of him gets that too.

I especially liked the scene where  he's admitted he lied to his boss and when Diana accuses him of possibly lying to her now, he immediately grabs the lasso to prove he's telling the truth. Like, it isn't just the most expedient way to convince her, it really matters to him to do so. He's worried about her and doesn't want her going off alone (and also probably knows his mission's chances of success improve greatly with her along. But I think it hurts him that she thinks he might be lying to her.

Lucy Davis as Etta Candy didn't get a lot of screen time, but she made the most of it. Wouldn't have minded if there'd been a way for her to have a bigger role in the movie. Trevor recruits three people, Sameer, Charlie, and Eugene Brave Rock, for the mission to destroy the gas, and Diana's initial assessment of them is, 'a liar, a murderer, and thief,' and then the film takes the time to show their other facets, to explain why they're like that. Diana is new to the world, and she's learning, and the film shows that, her growing as she goes along. And even when she's determined to get to Ludendorff, who she believes is Ares, she's still stopping to try and help people in trouble she encounters along the way. All the little acts, that may add up to something more down the line.

My favorite scene involving Ludendoff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru/Poison (Elena Anaya) was when they opt to gas the German General Staff, and Ludendorff throws a gas mask - that will be entirely ineffective - into the room before sealing the door. And admits it was because it'll be fun to watch them fight over it. It's such a petty thing, and Maru thinks it's just great, it's a fun scene. They're an interesting pair, Ludendorff seems driven by ambition, to win, to dominate, be the big man. Maru, I think is mostly curious, about death, about just how lethal you can make something. And each of them will sacrifice anyone else to get what they want, but each provides the other with the means to their goals, so they stick together.

This isn't connected to anything else, but I was surprised how unperturbed the German soldiers were throughout the film. Here's this lady, she leaps in a second floor window with a sword and a shield, starts blocking bullets and beating their asses, and they keep attacking. Nobody tries to run, nobody tries surrendering. I at least thought when she started hefting armored cars we'd get somebody freaking out like that guy on the cover of Action Comics #1. Or the ones who landed on Themyscira, you'd think those guys would be a little more confused about what's going on. Maybe they're just grateful not to be mired in knee-deep mud and rat excrement.

It's been mentioned by other people, but the last bit of the movie, when she actually finds Ares and they fight, doesn't feel like it fits in with the rest. Up to that point, things had been in a sense grounded. She's fighting ordinary soldiers with regular guns and bullets, or having to deal with all these old white guys' ideas about women, or our capacity to be indifferent to the suffering of others. Diana is a fantastical figure, but what's she confronted with is more everyday horror. And then, at the end, she finds Ares and now it's people telekinetically hurling bullets and tanks and it abruptly all feels entirely cut off from everything else. Sameer and Chief are not too far away trying to help Steve, but it feels like another world entirely, almost like they're two different films that happen to be taking place on the same screen.

Which could very well be what Patty Jenkins was aiming for, the gap between the two worlds Wonder Woman can inhabit. Our world, and this larger, mythic world, where humans can be seen as playthings or pests to be removed. And a big part of the film is Diana realizing there isn't a simple solution, that's her mission is going to be a long process of her repeatedly setting an example by helping others. But that's in the future. In this film, she's convinced the entire time if she can just find Ares and kill him, War will stop, like flipping a switch. Steve doesn't believe - although Chris Pine does a good job showing how much Steve wants to believe - but ultimately it's something Diana has to learn herself. Which means she has to confront Ares, the one she holds responsible, and defeat him, and then see you can't lay our faults on his doorstep.

I'm not sure how you handle the "defeating" part without some kind of a fight. Diana could reject his offer to team-up and he could leave, as a way to prove his point, but then what? He'd be doing that to demonstrate that he's right about us, which means he'd come back at some point to try and coax her to his side again. She'd still have to reject him, and it would seem like they'd be at an impasse and have to fight. So I don't know.

Those misgivings aside, I had a good time. I don't know if it's in my Top 5 comic book property movies, but it has to be close, at least.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What I Bought 7/15/2017 - Part 2

It's extremely hot here this week. I hate July. I have a new computer now! The last one provided six strong years for me (after three years for my dad), so this one has a lot to live up to. I'm definitely enjoying the much larger screen.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #22, by Ryan North (writer), Erica Henderson (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - I'm glad to see Doreen remembered practical footwear for her trip to the Savage Land. Stubbed toes and blisters are no fun.

Doreen and Nancy enter a computer programming challenge and win a trip to the Savage Land. After an extremely long flight to Antarctica, they are greeted by the dual horrors of gift shops and snooty Latverian computer science students, who hate Squirrel Girl. But one of them locks eyes with Nancy, and rose petals appear, so that could be something. Assuming Stefan didn't blow it with that 'some things are worth being Doomed for,' line. Which I thought was pretty great, especially since he somehow suggested the "D" was capitalized by his pronunciation, but Nancy did not agree. Although Latverian schools probably train their students to imply capitalization with how they pronounce the "D". Like an "a" in German having an umlaut versus not.

But the trip isn't all burgeoning romance and sweet, featherless dinos. The students were brought here because of their sick programming skills to help save the Savage Land. Dun-Dun-Dun!

Nancy did not believe the Savage Land existed, because its Wikipedia page invoked Atlantis, which she took to mean the whole thing was bunk. Even though Nancy lives in New York City, which is invaded by a half-naked guy calling himself the Scion of Atlantis as he declares war on the surface world every other week. Like, how does Nancy not realize Atlantis is a real place in her world? She's not your typical dumbshit American who doesn't know anything about other places.

That was the single most unbelievable part of this story that involves an alien technology maintained jungle in Antarctica filled with dinosaurs. But it was funny, so it's OK.

I'm assuming Dr. G is evil because she has yellow, maybe even golden eyes. That seems unusual, and ominous. Like an android, or maybe a lizard person? I know the solicits said there's a certain villain showing up, but maybe Stegron the Dinosaur Man could also show up?

This book doesn't use double-page splashes much, so the three pages of dinosaur fun were pretty effective. Although my favorite panel might still be the one of Doreen noticing the look between Nancy and Stefan. Her completely goofy look is hilarious. Then again, the oddly cheerful looking Doom on the Latverian passport one page earlier is a strong contender. Though he should look stern, shouldn't he? The passport warns that the person holding the passport better be allowed admittance or else.

Wait, I just noticed that in the panel where Doreen is giving Nancy the thumbs up, there's an Iguanodon in the background. They had these thumbs that were kind of sharp and tended to jut upwards noticeably, so the dinosaur is also giving Nancy a thumbs up. Kudos to everyone involved on that gag.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Assassination (2015)

Assassination, set mostly in 1933, Japan-controlled Korea, is about an attempt to kill both the longtime commander of the Japanese forces stationed there, as well as a notable Korean industrialist who has chosen to ally himself with the Japanese. To that end, the Korean Provisional Government, based in China, pulls together a trio of soldiers, each with special skills, each one currently behind bars, and sets them the task of killing both targets.

Things are complicated by a turncoat within the Provisional Government who informs the Japanese, who opt to hire a hitman pair, Hawaii Pistol and Buddy. Things are further complicated because the sniper on the assassin team, An Ok-yun, has a connection to the industrialist she isn't aware of.

The movie has a lot of chance encounters between characters, which then complicate their interactions and entangle their stories more and more. Ahn and Hawaii Pistol meet each other on a train before either knows they should be on the lookout for the other. Ahn has a twin sister (neither aware of the other's existence), who catches a glimpse of her when they both happen to be in a department store. The kind of thing Guy Ritchie used for comedic effect, where all these different characters eventually end up colliding (often literally) at the climax of the film, wiping each other out without even necessarily knowing why.

Director Dong-hoon Choi isn't playing it for laughs, but does use it to great effect in creating an air of unpredictability. There are certain cliches I'd expect to play out in movies (or maybe just American movies) with some of these set-ups. But in Assassination, I never felt entirely confident I knew how it would play out. Who would survive, would the targets be eliminated, would that turncoat get what's coming to him. It was hard to tell which side someone would land on, even when it seemed like there was a clear answer, I couldn't quite be sure. There was one death in particular, maybe I should have seen it coming, but I was caught completely off-guard by it, and it ramped up my anticipation for the finale.

It's a nice film to look at, I thought the costuming was pretty good - I don't know how period accurate it is, but the characters look distinct and some of them look very cool - the frequent gunfights are entertaining. There's one hand-to-hand fight which was kind of unusual, since one of the characters supposedly learned his fighting style from tennis.

As you might expect, the Japanese do not come off well, but the ones who ally with them get it even worse. The spy within the ranks is fun to watch, where I wonder how much he believes the justifications he spouts. At sometimes, it's an act, like when he feigns being willing to shoot himself because a superior distrusts him, because he overheard an earlier conversation and knows the gun's not loaded. But later, I think he might actually believe what he says, that he sacrificed for his country.

There's a spot where the film dragged a bit, starting maybe in the last forty-five minutes, until the last 20 minutes, where I was wanting it to hurry up and get to the end. For the most part, though, the film moves at a brisk pace, changing things up with betrayals and complications, forcing the characters to change their plans and scramble to stay alive long enough to finish their mission.

Monday, July 17, 2017

What I Bought 7/15/2017 - Part 1

Did manage to pick up last week's comics. I opted not to get Real Science Adventures, but I found the other two books I wanted, plus I took a chance on a different book. Which ended up being a mistake in this case, but oh well.

Wynonna Earp Season Zero #1, by Beau Smith (story, writer), Tim Rozon (story), Angel Hernandez (artist), Jay Fotos (colorist), Christa Miesner (letterer) - I'm a little concerned about the guy in the back. Looks like one of those SS stormtroopers you'd kill in some vaguely horror-themed first-person shooter.

So when Wynonna originally left home, indulging her bad girl side, she met up with a group called the Alpha Team X, and they did a lot of stuff. And now someone named Keegan is trying to kill all of them to get something Wynonna has the key to. She's determined to find her old friends and help them. Her new friends are determined to help her, but are so far just arguing with each other about the best approach. I appreciate the novel approach of not having Wynonna have a huge heated argument about how she has to do this alone. She accepts pretty quickly they're not going to allow that, and is ready to move forward.

There's a lot more hostility between Agent Dolls and Holliday than I remember from the mini-series I read last year. I don't know if these mini-series are reacting to events from the TV show (which I've never watched) or something else. Something may have happened to ratchet up the tension. Also, at the point when the two begin arguing, I can't shake the impression the word balloons are ordered wrong, or attributed to the wrong character. Holliday asks Dolls opinion and gets this response:

'In my experience, if you fail to prepare. . . prepare to fail. It's always better to have a plan and not need it, then to be without one and need it. Sounds more cowardly than common sense. Do those words mean anything to you?' Which prompts Holliday to respond, 'Common sense? Hhmpf. . . I coughed that up with my lungs years ago.'

It's not just me, right? That exchange tracks strangely. Holliday hadn't mentioned common sense before Dolls did.

It's a very chatty issue, lots of talking, since there's so much backstory to lay out.  Maybe Smith and Rozon decided to get it all out of the way at the start, but I doubt it.

Hernandez doesn't get a lot to do on the art side. Mostly people standing around talking, or panels of just people's head or faces as they talk. Seems very good at drawing people scowling or otherwise looking unhappy. There are a few panels the expressions don't match what I would expect under the circumstances. One where Wynonna has this light smile on her face as her friend is bleeding out on the pool table. It didn't seem like his comment was amusing enough to prompt that reaction at that moment.

It's an open question if I'll buy the second issue or not.

Tinkers of the Wasteland #1, by Raul Trevino (writer/artist) - I have been a few places where a battle-scarred Mini Cooper loaded with chickens wouldn't qualify as unusual.

33 years after an apocalypse brought about by a meteor swarm, three kids - Milla, Splitter, and a third one I don't know the name of - are trying to get some dinner. By stealing some chickens from the tower fortress of, sigh, King Queer. The theft is helped by a meteor knocking over the tower and freeing the chickens, but they're observed by King, and will probably have to drive for their lives next issue. Also, one of the chickens swallowed a piece off the meteor, not sure what that's going to do.

I like the art, it reminds me a bit of Jamie Hewlett's, probably because Splitter looks a bit like one of the Gorillaz. The faces are expressive without an excessive amount of linework, and the shading is mostly a light touch. Trevino saves the heavy blacks for the meteor and that one particular chicken, as well as Splitter when he's chasing it. He would be a terrifying sight to a chicken. The design of the settings and outfits aren't anything unusual to this type of story, but they look good.

There is the issue of the King. I can't decide how bothered I should be by him. I know "queer" is a term some people use for themselves, while others would find it offensive to be referred to with it. I assume the King took the name for himself. He's dressed in the typical S&M gear bad guys wear in this post-apocalypse stuff. He wears some make-up, and has a lackey that serves as a make-up artist. The lackey's arrival somehow unnerves Splitter more than the King. He referred to Splitter as "dear" once, but at least doesn't seem to be falling into the cliche of the cross-dresser that's a child predator. It may be too early to tell, but I had a reflexive reaction when I saw the character. If the King is meant to be a frightening figure, it hasn't played out that way so far. But he doesn't seem like he's meant to be a comedy figure yet, either.

Which brings us around to one other issue: I think the book is supposed to be funny, but I'm not laughing. Milla and Splitter spend most of the issue yelling at each other about plans or lack thereof. The third kid vanishes for half the book, then shows up at the end having collected a bunch of helmets for some reason. He just likes helmets, I guess. Maybe more humor will come in subsequent issues, once the story finds more traction? Assuming I get the second issue, which is up in the air.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Earthworm Jim 2.4 - The Exile of Lucy

Plot: Psycrow and Professor Monkey-for-a-Head are about to destroy Jim, but are ordered not to by Queen Slug-for-a-Butt, who still wants that supersuit. Which gives Jim and Peter time to start a musical number, distracting the villains until Jim can steal their weapons.

In the aftermath, the two villains are understandably cheesed that they got fried because of their lazy boss, and resolve to overthrow her. Which they accomplish thanks to Psycrow threatening the narrator into stating they did. The Queen is exiled, sans scepter, and crash lands on Earth, in the backyard of Mrs. Bleveridge. The two strike up a fast friendship over their combined love of shit talking. Lucy takes to life on Earth, finding a job, hobbies, and eventually love. No, not with Mrs. Bleveridge, but with a Cuban bandleader.

Jim and the other heroes, oblivious, play poker until Princess What's-Her-Name arrives to ask for help. Seems the Professor and Psycrow are busy having the populace of Insectica build war machines, and she needs help stopping them. Off our heroes go, but their plan runs into a snag in the form of Red Wormtinite, which transforms Jim into a bowl of candy corn. Also, the Princess can't get the scepter to work for her, so she has to take it and run. After all the heroes fail to step up, she turns to her sister and Mrs. Bleveridge. They rescue Jim and trash most of the war machines, but the last one is a doozy, and only by letting Lucy wear the supersuit will they have a chance of destroying it. That, of course, carries its own risks.

Quote of the Episode: Mrs. Bleveridge - 'I mean, you give that suit back or I'll hollow out your butt for a storage shed!'

Times Peter turned into a monster: 1 (17 overall).

Cow? A day late, and probably a dollar short, but yes.

Other: During the musical number, Peter stated he wets the bed. You'd think he'd have been housebroken at some point. Thankfully, Jim's attempt to start another musical number during the attack on Insectica was interrupted by Peter turning into a monster.

I did not remember Wormtinite at all, so that was a pleasant surprise. Although being turned into candy corn at least ensures no one will try to eat you. Though Peter was hungry enough to consider it. In which case, it's probably good Jim didn't turn into a bowl of fun-size Snickers or Milky Ways. Chocolate and dogs, man.

The Professor's monkey believes that bananas were invented in France, and is therefore interested in conquering it. Yeah, I don't know where he got that idea, and neither does Psycrow. Times like that, he has to question the choices he makes in partners.

Lucy's one saving grace as a ruler was she was too lazy to ever do anything, like start invasions. Which is true. We only ever see her trying to destroy Jim and get that supersuit. Contrast with Evil the Cat, or Bob the Goldfish, who do expend some effort trying to destroy Jim, but also frequently encounter him while on some other nefarious scheme.

Once again, I have to wonder what the Professor was thinking when he designed that suit, if it was truly meant for Queen Slug-for-a-Butt. It doesn't match her body type at all. Did he think she could enter some chrysalis stage and emerge with just two arms and legs? Had he never seen her before? Just gets a letter, 'Build me an all powerful supersuit or I shall destroy you and use your entrails for hair extensions!'

Once again, a trip to outer space didn't go so well for Mrs. Bleveridge. She keeps catching stray rounds, although she's one tough lady. But, now she gets to live with her best pal Lucy in a big palace (that looks like it's made from the fresh secretions of something I'd rather not see), and hopefully have a ball doing whatever they want.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Griffins and Cupcakes and Bullshit and Puzzles

In the story of my second D&D campaign, I left off at the point where we had killed some members of the thieves and were preparing to storm their stronghold. We knew the members of the group each had a tattoo, and were able to draw a facsimile on our arms, but didn't know if there was a password. So once we reached the fortress, we stood in the shadows debating what to do. We eventually decided to try bluffing our way in, but it turned out to be unnecessary. We had the tattoo, nothing else was required. The sentries couldn't figure out why we stood there awkwardly chatting them up. Well, overthought that one.

Inside, there was a maze we made our way through without incident until reaching a room with three chests and a sign that says "Evens and Odds". We opened one chest, and a panel in the wall slid open, revealing 5 kobolds (lizard people). We had heard from someone along the way there were some lizard people among the bandits (whoever we talked to also told us about a swamp to the west with possible treasure but lots of monsters, which we decided was a distraction from our quest and ignored). When a Ranger hits Level 5, he can choose a Favored Enemy, which he gets bonuses against. So I picked "humanoid - reptilian" with that intel in mind.

And so I opted to try Bluffing the kobolds, specifically by lamenting that the "bourgeois" thief bosses made the poor, proletarian kobolds sit in a cramped room behind a wall with no food or drink. The DM responded, 'They have no idea what you're talking about.' They also couldn't or wouldn't tell us how to solve the puzzle, so we got impatient and opened all three chests at once. Five more panels opened, 10 more kobolds and 15 goblins entered the room. So it's a fight. I made an impassioned plea for the first 5 kobolds to rise up and help us, but they opted to go back in their room and close the wall.

So the Marxist rhetoric failed to gain traction. At least I got five enemies off the board.

The fight wasn't much trouble, even with the numbers. The monk took some slings to the head, but was crushing enemies left and right with attacks of opportunity. Our wizard had taken the Fireball Wand we found in the spider cave, but wasn't having much luck with it. Magic Missile fared better, and Nylis busted out a Flaming Spear attack that killed at least 4 enemies. In all, it was a slaughter, but left us no closer to finding what we were after.

OK, I don't have any notes from our recovery of the relic. I remember there was a different room, and the relic was within some sort of cage. The thief couldn't find her way through, so I think we used the Ring of 3 Wishes to get her inside the cage, grab the relic, and then get her back out. The Sack of Holding was involved somehow as well. I'm sure we made it infinitely more complicated than it needed to be, but I frankly hate that aspect of D&D where you have to declare you want to inspect something, then roll to see if you noticed anything when you inspected, and hope your character is intelligent enough to understand what they see, if they see anything. If you roll crappy, then what are you supposed to do? Shrug and throw up your hands? Oh well, quest over, we're too dumb to figure out this trap.

Anyway, we got the relic, and fled the bandit's fortress, which was remarkably easy. I think the leader was away at the time, but you'd think thieves would be more alert to theft. I can't talk, though, since that night, as we camped on our way back, it was stolen from us. By Ordai the cleric, who turned out to be a doppelganger. Apparently, the DM was worried we would figure out something was up with him earlier because he used Death Touch, and a cleric shouldn't do that. But most of the players wouldn't have any experience to know that, and I'd watched a cleric in my only previous campaign kill one of our own party in a fit of pique sooooooo. . .

I assume clerics are basically crazy, violent religious fundamentalists. Like the Crusaders, basically. Spread your religion of peace and tolerance by killing people different than you. Maybe that's actually paladins, I haven't played in a campaign with one of them yet.

Now we had to return to the village and explain we'd let the relic be stolen a second time, and maybe question why we were assigned a cleric that wasn't actually a cleric. Along the way, we revisited the elf commune, only to find it devastated by the doppelganger. Many were wounded, and the chief was dead, although his son had survived his injuries (and was happy to see Taug, which embarrassed the barbarian, though he was still kind enough to be friendly). We continued on and were caught up to by the leader of the thieves and some of his men, on horseback. Fortunately, we heard them coming with enough time to dive off the road into the bushes. Unfortunately, Nylis was too busy eating a cupcake and was caught flat-footed in the middle of the road when they rode up. But she served as an excellent distraction for when the rest of us jumped out to attack.

The fight itself wasn't terribly competitive. Oswald dealt the finishing blow to two of the lackeys, I killed a couple, Taug used Cleave so hard one guy basically exploded (27 damage, he might have had half that many hit points). Crulin was able to use Stunning Fist on the leader so we could have a chat with him.

Will once again volunteered to do the talking. The team, having not learned their lesson from last time, let him. Will tried being pleasant while crouched over the thief, who was tied up on his back. When that failed to produce results, he became angry and cut his hand with the head of an arrow, dripping blood on the very intimidated boss' face, while pretending not to notice he was doing this. The leader confessed the doppelganger had hired his crew to take the relic (though he may not have know he was dealing with a doppelganger), and must have mentioned something about an island far to the east. Will opted to cheerfully ask if the thief had considered accepting Pelor as his savior. Leah incredulously pointed out the guy probably worshipped the same god she did. Well, by that point Will was just messing with the guy for kicks. You may have heard, kicks, they just keep getting harder to find.

We let the guy live, because he promised that, even if he kept stealing, he wouldn't hurt any people. As Leah had pointed out, we already had a thief on our team, who had proved in the tavern she wasn't above (attempting) robbing anyone she pleased, so I suppose Will didn't see that we could throw stones. Or he was uncomfortable killing another helpless foe.

Back in town, we reported what happened, and learned there really was an Ordai, though no one could figure when he'd been replaced. It turned out he's the brother of Vera, the flirty bard we met in the tavern at the start, and she was interested in finding him, and offered her help. Which included hooking all of us up with Legacy Weapons of various types (Will got himself a quiver full of special arrows, and the quiver boosted a couple of his abilities), and a flying carpet. Also, Nylis must have leveled up to the point she unlocked some nifty bonus, because rather suddenly, a griffin showed up to be her companion. She named it Sage. Vera also knew, from her extensive travels, that there was a portal in a village to the east which might lead to that island.

Looking back over this, I'm starting to suspect the DM put the bard back in because she realized we'd never figure things out on our own in time to finish the quest before the field season ended and we scattered to the four winds.

We went east and found the village full of nothing but children. They told us monsters had come, killed all the adults, burned the women, and carried the monsters off through a portal. There was some debate over the next step, because some people wanted to help the kids before proceeding, and others (Will included), did not. Will likes kids about as much as he likes squids, OK? Even among the "leave 'em" camp, there was debate between just leaving them, or seeing if the griffin was hungry. But the kids were ultimately transported to a nearby village where the people agreed to look after them. Then it was back to the ruined village, and through the portal.

We exited the portal on an island, and were immediately confronted with a massive fortress of grey, forbidding rock. Oh, and two flesh golems guarding the entrances. And a minotaur. And a wizard. But we spent too much time playing Child Services, so I'll tell you how things wrapped up next time.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Genius of Birds - Jennifer Ackerman

The book is what the title suggests. Ackerman looks into the work that's been done in testing how smart birds are, or can be, and in what ways they're smart.

Each chapter deals with a different aspect of their intelligence. So one may deal with their ability to navigate, how we've tested it, what we've learned, what we still don't understand, whether their gifts in that area constitute "intelligence". Other chapters deal with tool creation and usage, or their vocalizations, or their social connections.

Ackerman clearly has a lot of enthusiasm for the subject, and she'll add in her own experiences with observing bird behavior among the discussions of research into the topics. Her stories tend to involve birds that most people in the U.S. would be somewhat familiar with (such as the one about a jay trying to drive a crow off a feeder with a pointed stick, only to have it backfire), emphasizing we aren't just talking about certain rare species in far-off lands. There are birds all over the world that exhibit some of these traits, albeit often belonging to particular families of birds. The corvids - crows, ravens, those guys - are pretty exceptional in tool usage and problem solving. Pigeons and the like not so much, but they have outstanding navigational abilities.

The book provides a look into a lot of the discussions that are going on, the differing theories, and ways people come up with to test the birds. If a dead jay is laid out on a yard, and one jay notices and calls others over, what does that signify? If they all stand in a circle around it for some time, then eventually fly off, is that a sign of intelligence? Or, how much does a lack of predation pressure contribute to being able to use tools?

'For birds, it seems, the quality of relationships, not the quantity, calls for additional brainpower. The mental challenge is not remembering the individual characteristics or hundreds of individuals in large flocks or roosts or managing a large number of casual relationships. The really demanding task - at least from a psychological and cognitive point of view - is forming close alliances, especially forging bonds with a mate and providing long-term parental care to young.'

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What I Bought 7/7/2017 - Part 2

I didn't realize the Justice League movie was coming out this year. I figured that thing was still years away. But until a month ago, I didn't realize the new Spider-Man movie was coming out now, either. I thought it was still a ways off, too. My grade school self would be appalled.

Real Science Adventures #3, by Brian Clevinger (writer), Lo Baker (artist/letterer Flying She-Devils), Wook Jin Clark (artist, The Sparrow), Anthony Clark (colorist), Tessa Stone (letterer, Flying She-Devils), Jeff Powell (letterer, The Sparrow) - A bottle of hooch, a seaplane, and a sturdy tree to lean comfortably against. That covers everything you need.

The She-Devils discover that Mad Jack watering his booze with hooch hurts fuel efficiency, so it's a question of whether they can reach the rendezvous point before they hit "E". Also, Jack isn't out of tricks to try and recover his plane - and his brewmasters - mostly undamaged. As for Sparrow, the Nazis caught her, but she stashed all the munitions she took off soldiers in the base in various places you wouldn't want explosives, so stuff is blowing up, which is going to give her a chance to get loose and wreak more havoc.

Baker's certainly good at drawing characters that show the wear of their lives. Nobody looks too smooth, everybody has a worn look to them, and in the case of Jack and his men, a maniacal look to them. As for the flight combat, which I was curious how Baker would handle, there isn't a lot of it yet, since Mad Jack is still trying to be crafty. The little there was, was OK. Baker breaks up the panels of the action outside with shots of the She-Devils' and the Tongan ladies' efforts to fight them off. Keeps the reader's attention on the stakes. The Sunderland dominates most of the panels it's in, but doesn't convey much sense it's moving. But it's essentially a fortress (not be confused with the B-17 Flying Fortress) under siege. Like in Sahara (the Bogart movie, not the Matthew Mcconaughey one) or whatever story about a small group trying to hold a position against overwhelming odds you prefer. The plane is target, everything else revolves around it.

That said, I don't know if I'm going to stick with it. I can't say I'm incredibly invested in it, and despite Clevinger's efforts to keep things moving at a brisk pace, the same is true of the Sparrow story. Although there it's because it's broken into six page chunks. Just as you start to get into it, it's over for another month.

Copperhead #14, by Jay Faerber (writer), Drew Moss (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), Thomas Mauer (letterer) - No jokes, I just like that cover. It's fairly simple, but it's straightforward and tells you what you need to know: there's gonna be a fight.

The Sheriff is trying to find this assassin, and has to ask Ishmael to lean on some possible sources, which nets them a picture of the killer, right as said killer takes a shot at the sheriff. A fight ensues, and the sheriff narrowly wins. And it's right then that Clay finally reaches Copperhead, and he finds the sheriff immediately. That's probably bad.

I'm wondering what the big surprise is going to be in the next story. Faerber keeps hinting there's more going on with Clay's obsession with reaching the sheriff than her simply being the one who put him away. References to Clay wanting revenge on the partner who sold him out, which makes me wonder if Clara was originally a crook who went straight, or was undercover as Clay's partner, or what. Still wanting to see what Mr. Hickory's plans are. Seems bigger than simply not wanting a sheriff who isn't properly deferential to him. Although my track record on guessing where Faerber's going with a story is so abysmal, I'm not even going to bother.

It's Moss' first fight scene on the book, and it works. He doesn't do anything particularly dynamic with panels or layouts, focuses on the action, two people ultimately punching each other a lot. There's one panel where the sheriff avoids being impaled and he draws her nose as being really wide, but it works as a suggestion of how fast she had to move to dodge, that our view of her is warped by it. I do wonder what happened to all the people that were shown in the background watching the fight right after that, who all seem to have vanished by the end when Clay appears. Granting that a brawl in the streets of Copperhead is probably not unusual, this one involves the relatively new sheriff, which you think would draw interest, if only from people waiting to see if the law is gonna get it in the neck.

There's a page where Clara scopes out the train station, trying to decide who looks like an assassin, only to pan over a whole crowd of rough-looking types and conclude that's going to be a tough call. Moss uses one wide panel, but breaks it up into three with a couple of panel borders, which, I feel works at cross purposes. If you're going for Clara scanning the crowd carefully, one wide panel suggesting an uninterrupted moment would work better. But if you want to suggest she's glancing around, eyes darting from one face to the next, multiple panels are a good idea, but then it probably shouldn't be drawn where a figure that starts on the right side of one panel, continues on the left side of the next. The general impression is still conveyed, but it doesn't work quite as efficiently as it could.

Overall though, Moss is still getting the job done, even if there are some stylistic tics I don't love.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Re-Kill

You know how it is, you're wanting to kill some time, or just feel like having something on while you do other stuff. I'm certainly not going to watch something I have real interest in, because I might get interrupted.

Re-Kill is a zombie apocalypse movie, but set after humanity has seemingly reached some sort of equilibrium. The undead are mostly under control, people are back at their jobs and homes, but there are of course still random undead out there who could start the whole mess over again if not found and killed. So there are teams for that, and being America, we have turned their struggle into a TV show, where a camera crew accompanies them on missions, and interviews them, and so on. The movie is basically one "reporter", Jimmy, and his camera guy following one particular team through a series of increasingly bad missions, as it quickly becomes clear the undead are starting to learn and organize. They use strategy, distractions, misdirection, in addition to overwhelming numbers (and these are fast zombies, fyi).

The movie is trying to be a satire, in the same way as the original Robocop. There are lots of commercials, many of which promote sex as part of some American committee promoting repopulation. There's one that shows a couple screwing on a bed and the phrases, "Good for her, good for him, GOOD FOR AMERICA" overlaying the scene. The network is promoting a week of stories about how people survived the apocalypse, at least one of which was probably not a guy surviving a zombie so much as using the apocalypse as cover to kill his pain in the ass father-in-law. The Re-Kill show picks out a rookie on his first mission as their main character and give him lots of screen time, really push the blonde white boy as the star, even though he knows nothing. It's not exactly subtle or difficult targets, but it's more effort than I expected.

The very end end doesn't quite fit. It doesn't take place within the show, but after, as a reveal of how things turned out. SPOILER, the outbreak emerges again and what's left of humanity is trying to hole up in some "ark" hidden inside a mountain, sending out teams to try and rescue any other survivors they get word of. And the one member of the team we followed who survived has become a big wheel in all this. Something about the "massive survival bunker" thing didn't sync up with the rest of the movie for me.

Still, it was a better movie than I expected, and worked as something the pass the time.

Monday, July 10, 2017

What I Bought 7/7/2017 - Part 1

I was at the movies over the weekend - although we won't get to the actual film until next week - and I saw the trailer for The Murder on the Orient Express. I initially thought they'd tapped Johnny Depp to play Poirot. That would have been a shitshow, just Depp mugging for the camera like a clown, though my dad's reaction when he found out might have been worth it. He's a big David Suchet Poirot fan. Anyway, here's reviews of some of the comics that arrived late last week.

Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye #9, by Jonathan Rivera (writer/story), Gerard Way (story), Michael Avon Oeming (artist), Nick Filardi (color artist), Clem Robins (letterer) - I went with the Michael Cho variant, not because Oeming's cover was bad, but there was a copy with the variant for a little cheaper, and it's still a good cover.

Pursuit of the Whisperer continues across worlds. Cave's eye is hiding on it, watching everything, for what purpose we still don't know. The Whisperer, through the old man it merged with, gives the usual spiel about how much better everything will be when everyone is united under it's control and guidance. Cave and the others get close of for their Mighty Mole to attach, the MM Mk 2's crew, fully on-board with the Whisperer land. There's a fight, Cave's side wins, although Wild Dog survives a freaking machete to the head, takes the Mk. 2, and get dragged into yet another world, of relative giants, one of which the Whisperer controls and uses to pluck our heroes from it's hide and flings them into the distance.

Story feels like it's playing for time. Rivera and Way threw in a few bits about the justifications the Whisperer's followers are duped into making that feel like an attempt to make a point, plus some stuff about rebooted universes and things carrying over from them, but the latter especially doesn't fit in the flow of the story. It's a big, desperate chase and then blurp, here's a page of blah-blah about rebooting universes. Even the story doesn't want to listen to it (and Wild Dog's asleep during the whole thing) because it abruptly shifts to Cave and Chloe arguing in the front seat about whether alternate universe versions of people will care about you, simply because your universe's version did. Which is a pretty dumb conversation. Why would they? You're the kid of some other me, so what? This issue is not a high point for the series from the writing side of things.

Filardi adds yellow speckles to the panels set on or around the Whisperer, or in worlds he's already affected. The characters don't interact with it or notice is, so it's more like interference on our perspective. It's over everything, but not to a distracting degree, just there, evidence of its presence, or influence. The fight scene was brief, and almost entirely focused around Wild Dog fighting that one guy, so there wasn't much sense of place or flow to it, but it's questionable how important it was in the grand scheme of things. They're ants scrabbling around on the back of a whale.

That said, the panel of a blade getting buried in the top of Wild Dog's skull was an attention-getter. For a moment, I completely bought in to the notion they'd killed him off. And the following panel, of him mocking the guy with the blade still in his head (with a background of neon concentric diamonds centered on where the blade is stuck), that worked too. It's an affecting image, even if I'd expect a lot more blood, even just a moment or two after.

Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #4, by Peter David (writer), Mark Bagley (penciler), John Dell and Andrew Hennessy (inkers), Jason Keith (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Foolish title, you can't stop those two from fighting. Don't you know you'll only wind up smashed or jumbled, like so many titles before you?

Kaine survives more attempts on his life and heads for Vegas where, in plainclothes, he's mistaken for Ben by both Aunt June and Slate, the latter is back from beating up one of the guys who tried robbing the casino. You'd think even bent cops would prefer you not rip the door off a guy's cell when you aren't supposed to be back there, but I guess there are a lot of bent cops in Vegas. Or doors fall apart quickly.

Slate drags Kaine upstairs to make "Ben" get back to work, which gives Kaine a chance to see everything Ben's up to. He winds up in Ben's lab, Ben's there, tries a sales pitch on Kaine, it doesn't work, they start fighting, including going out a window, which you'd think would attract Ms. Mercury or Slate's attention.

I thought Kaine was bigger than Peter or Ben, as a result of not being an entirely successful cloning attempt. You'd think some people would notice that, maybe not June or Mercury, but Slate, surely, from having fought with the guy a bit. But I think Kaine's died and been reborn a couple times, maybe he shrank in the cosmic laundry.

Hennessy is heavier on the inks than Dell, in that there are pages where the lines on characters' faces seem much more heavily emphasized than others. So the lines on Aunt June's face are more pronounced than they were in previous issues. Sometimes Slate's face is shaded in a way that makes the art vaguely remind me of Stuart Immonen's work. There's still a trend of characters inflicting damage to other people, and the panel being close in on the person being hurt, but very little of the character doing it is visible. So Kaine stomps a guy's hand, or kicks his face, all we see of Kaine is his foot. Which still feels like a way of implying disconnect between the act and the character. Kaine, or Ben, hurting someone, but it doesn't affect them, they don't care, it's just what they have to do (or tell themselves they have to do).

That said, I'm looking forward to what's hopefully a more extended fight sequence next issue. So far the book keeps doing these quick, one or two page skirmishes, before jumping to something else. I don't think they're strictly to keep things from getting too talky, that David and Bagley are trying to highlight some things about the participants by their actions, but it's hard to get into the flow when the fights keep ending just as they start to get interesting.

Also, in the second-to-last panel, I think Keith got it backwards and colored it in as Kaine saying, 'You wanna go? Fine.' when I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be Ben (since Ben is the one who says, "Let's go!' in the next panel.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Earthworm Jim 2.3 - Darwin's Nightmare

Plot: Bob's attempt to flood the universe by backing up the Cosmic Commode fails utterly when Jim jiggles the handle. Bob decides he's going to have to meet the universe on its terms if he's to conquer it, and builds a device that will steal the evolutionary energy from those around him, and transfer it to him. Thus, by the time Jim and Peter confront him on the Planet of Man-eating Socks (thanks to Jim receiving a page from the episode's script), Bob is a dinosaur. Once he adds Jim and Peter's energy, he becomes a human, and our heroes are reduced to cavemen. They are only saved from being chewed up - but not swallowed! - by the socks thanks to Princess What's-Her-Name.

While the Princess futilely tries to re-educate Jim and Peter, Bob begins conquering Earth. Our trio tries to catch him by surprise, by this fails as well, and Bob de-evolves the Princess to some tiny ladybug, while he advances to the state where you have brain so large it exists outside your cranium. He could have finished things right there, but got a little too involved with evil laughter, giving Jim and Peter a chance to clumsily fall out of his warship. Jim tries one last time to be a hero, only for Peter to wind up de-evolved to a trilobite, which pushes Bob further up the evolutionary ladder, where he changes into. . . his original form, which releases the stored up energy back to its original hosts, after which things are settled rather swiftly.

Quote of the Episode: Jim - 'My head is floppy.'

Times Peter turns into a monster: 0 (16 overall).

Cow? A missing link between fish and bovine, but I'll allow it.

Other: Peter does an extended Three Stooges riff, after being re-evolved which just feels like stalling for time until the end of the episode. Jim and Peter, in their cavemen states, do a couple of Beavis and Butthead references, laughing at the word 'but'. There's a couple of Baywatch jokes, a stuffed crust pizza reference, a whole thing with a knock-off of Jacque Costeau who is kind of loopy. It's kind of a strange episode.

They did warn us of at the start, this episode contained scenes of graphic strangeness. I'm just not sure it's strange to me in the way they intended. The whole thing with Bob evolving himself and de-evolving everyone else would seem weirder if we weren't watching a show about an earthworm that was mutated because an alien supersuit fell on him. A supersuit that was built by a guy with a monkey for a head.

The start of the episode also warned us not to sit too close to the TV, because it was bad for our eyes. Then during the massive battle of Earth's militaries against Bob, the picture goes blurry because we've ruined our eyes. By the time we back up to a proper distance, the battle is over. That was a good gag.

Bob being defeated in part because it turns out he was right about fish being the highest form of life in the universe was a good twist.

In the opener, Jim refers to Peter as a 'kettle drum', which sets Peter off with accusations that Jim is saying he's fat. And Jim seems thoroughly annoyed by Peter during it. I thought there was going to be some hostility between them, maybe one of those episodes where the heroes struggle because they're too mad at each other. That's a pretty classic action cartoon plot. But no. Peter must have directed his insecurities about his figure inward, which is going to no doubt manifest in unhealthy fashions. Hopefully not with interpretive dance or the use of puppets.

Friday, July 07, 2017

A Trip Down A Trail of Bad Purchasing Decisions

Due to the holiday, my comics didn't arrive in the mail until today. Meaning I'm not prepared to do reviews, so a different idea. We've all had series we ultimately dropped, that looking back we should have dropped even earlier. It doesn't happen as often for me these days. Mostly because Marvel cancels books so fast that by the time I'm considering dropping a title, it's already gone.

So I'm going to look at some titles I dropped in the past, and then when I should have dropped them. This may be a recurring series, we'll see. I'm going to start as far back as I can recall and work gradually forward. Feel free to share any series from your own experience in the comments.

JLA: I started buying the book during Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch's "Queen of Fables" story arc, probably because there was a lot of buzz from the just concluded "Tower of Babel" story (aka, the one where Ra al'Ghul uses Batman's own secret plans to take down the League). I stuck with it until around #110, in the middle of some story involving the Qwardians and the Crime Syndicate of America from the anti-matter universe. I had no idea what the hell was going on. Probably dropped around #113 or a couple issues earlier.

In retrospect, I should have dropped the book sometime back during Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke's run. Maybe after the story where Martian Manhunter overcomes his weakness to fire (with DIRE CONSEQUENCES). That would be roughly issue #88, but that means I would have stuck it out through that Axis Amerika story, so maybe I'd be better off jumping ship before that, so #79.

How many issues too late - 23 at minimum, possibly as much as 34. Although the book was double-shipping for a little while there.

Uncanny X-Men: Started with Joe Casey's run, probably #396, stuck through the entirety of Chuck Austen's run, into the return of Claremont and Alan Davis. Stupidly enough, it was being introduced to X-23 (wearing the costume of the character Fang from the Shi'ar Imperial Guard for some reason in-story) that drove me off. Oh boy, a girl with a couple of Wolverine's claws, past Calvin said while rolling his eyes.

Well, I also remember wondering what the hell the X-Men were doing being part of the XSE, which was a thing they introduced to the status quo at the time, considering that was part of the mutant-hunting organization Bishop had worked for in his hellish time. But the X-23 thing really seemed to be the straw. I think because with Austen, I had kept thinking he'd either leave and Casey would come back, or they'd get back to the plots Casey had been writing eventually. I didn't keep track of creative team changes to the extent I do these days. Claremont and Davis brought this whole new status quo with them, which seemed to be a clear signal there wasn't going to be any going back to Casey's stuff.

So that's. . . Jesus, did I really buy the book all the way up to #450? It didn't seem like it was that long. Smart play would have been to jump off when Casey and Sean Phillips did, so #409. Austen's first story, which brought in the Juggernaut, wasn't terrible, but why take chances?

How many issues too many - 41. That's gonna be tough to beat.

Sensational Spider-Man: Originally was titled Marvel Knights Spider-Man, switched to Sensational after The Other storyline, and with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Angel Medina taking over the book from Reginald Hudlin and Pat Lee, I think. I couldn't tolerate Medina's art, and the book hadn't been doing it for me for awhile, so it was dropped at #25.

The book started with a Mark Millar/Terry Dodson 12-issue story, which as Millar-written things go, I found good then, almost tolerable now. There are parts of it I like, the Black Cat getting to play a prominent supporting role being one, but there's also Millar trying too hard as usual to introduce some big reveal. I didn't end up keeping any of the series in my collection, so I could have skipped it entirely. Failing that, I definitely didn't need to stick around for Hudlin's run.

How many issues too many - 13 at minimum, 25 maximum.

Wolverine: This was the second ongoing Logan by that title, the first had concluded after about 190 issues. It started with Greg Rucka/Darick Robertson, then went to Millar and Romita Jr., and eventually wound up in Daniel Way's hands. I dropped it after some particularly boring story where Logan remembers Winter Soldier took some kid of his we never knew Logan had (and neither did he, prior to House of M), and goes after him for revenge. Of course it accomplishes nothing, nobody dies, whoop-de-doo. I wasn't interested in the traipsing through Logan's past, so I dropped the book. And then dumbly picked up the first issue of Wolverine Origins before realizing it was what I was trying to get away from.

I think #39 was the last issue I bought, didn't even stick around for the conclusion of the story.  Enemy of the State and Agent of SHIELD had a certain action movie appeal to them. A Mark Millar written story approximating the dumb summer blockbuster feel? The hell you say. So maybe I could have stuck until #31. But I probably would have been fine dropping after issue #12. Rucka's last storyline is one I didn't even remember until I looked back over the series online.

How many issues too many - 27 maximum, 6 minimum.

New Avengers: I can't even remember why exactly I bought this. I guess because I was buying Avengers when it was canceled, and then this was the only Avengers book on the stands. Hard to believe these days, I know. And I probably figured Bendis could write Spider-Man OK, so it would work out. In theory, I still liked the core of the team he put together (Spidey, Cage, Spider-Woman, Captain America, Iron Man). In practice, well. . .

I dropped the book at issue #20, after the lousy "Collective" story, just before Civil War tie-ins commenced. It would have been better never to buy it at all. There are sporadic pieces in there I liked, but they're scattered among a lot of other junk.

How many issues too many - 20. Let's hear it for blogging about each issue, which helps confront me with the realization I'm not enjoying titles more directly!

Robin: Issue #85, as I was drawn in by the combination of the "Batman Dies!" blurb on the cover, plus the image of an uncertain-looking Robin inside the Joker's head. The book went from Chuck Dixon/Pete Woods, to Woods and Jon Lewis, to Bill Willingham and a slew of artists (mostly Scott McDaniel) to eventually Adam Beechen and Freddie Williams II. Which was when we got the delightful story about Cassandra Cain being crazy and evil. Dropped at #152.

Looking back, it's a bit tricky. The simplest answer would be to drop the book when Willingham took over. There was some initial promise there, but it got buried under a lot of decisions that were out of his hands, like Spoiler's death in War Games, and the death of Jack Drake in Identity Crisis. On the other hand, it was because I was buying the book that I started buying Batgirl, because of a crossover between the two titles. If I drop the book with Willingham, I miss out on Cassandra Cain's series. There's always the chance I come back around to it later, like I have all sorts of other series, but there's no guarantees. So, either #120 or #133 for final issue.

How many issues too many - 18 a minimum, 31 maximum.

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man - Bought right from the start because heaven forbid I not buy all Spider-Man books. It opened with parts of "The Other", and I dropped it at #8 when it seemed like they'd introduced an alternate universe version of Uncle Ben who was murdering people. That was a bridge too far, apparently.

Turned out to be a version of the Chameleon from an alternate universe. Or was it a Mysterio? I forget. Smart play would have been not picking it up at all. There were some good issues in there - there's a two-parter where Spidey gets roped into fighting this mysterious luchador being pursued by his own specialized hunter - but there wasn't anything essential.

How many issues too many - 8! Woo, progress! Let's hear it for getting angry about silly things! Impatience won out for once.

Teen Titans - This was the Geoff Johns-written book, combining parts of the Wolfman/Perez Titans with the crew from Young Justice. I started buying it somewhere between #11 and 14. I had #11 for sure, but I'm not positive I bought the next couple of issues. I stuck with it through Identity Crisis fallout, Infinite Crisis tie-ins, and gave up a couple of stories into One Year Later, issue #41. No one on the team liked each other or seemed to want to be there, so why the hell should I keep buying?

Dropping it after #20, the issue that deals with Tim Drake trying not to deal with his father's death, would have been a sound decision. The next story is the one that introduces Speedy (Mia Dearden version) onto the team, but also brings in not-magically lobotomized Dr. Light. Then after that comes a story where Luthor controls Superboy, and man, I have always thought making Superboy's human genetic material come from Lex Luthor was just stupid. It's trying to be too cute, or too obvious with some metaphor. I know, not a surprise coming from Geoff Johns.

How many issues too many - 21. Hmm, so much for progress.

That carries us up through 2006, which seems like a decent place to stop for now. Looking at it, there is just that inertia that's hard to fight against. A story is real good, but I stick through to the end to see if it picks up. It doesn't, but here's another story, maybe they'll do better this time. The potential is there, I'm sure of it. I've liked what the book was doing before, or liked the character before, why can't they just do more stuff like the stuff I liked? Or in the moment, reading the issue, I'm into it, and it's only afterward, going back and looking at it that I shake my head and wonder what I was thinking. Although sometimes the writer or artist does something in the story that prompts that response. Using Teen Titans as an example, Johns teased this mysterious blue arrow Roy Harper left for Mia. What could it be? Turns out to be a Phantom Zone Arrow he stole from the Fortress of Solitude on a tour Superman gave, which she tries using against Superboy-Prime. And it works - for about two panels. All that build-up for that.

Where was I? it feels easy to just drift along, buying the book I was always buying. Before I know it, I've got a crapload of comics I never want to read again, that I have to find someplace to donate or otherwise unload them. Still happens now, though not as often. Sometimes even with my back issue hunts. I try something, it turns out to be a dud. Just one of those things.

Anyway, like I said, if you've got a story of a title you stuck with too long, share it in the comments. I'm not going to point and laugh. I mean, you've seen some of the dreck I bought, I've no high ground.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Star Trek Beyond

I wouldn't have expected Alex to suggest watching a Star Trek movie, but here we are.

Three years into the five-year mission and some of the crew are reconsidering their life choices. They're sent out on what is ostensibly a rescue mission, but is actual a trap set by a guy named Krall and his swarm of little ships that send the Enterprise plummeting to the planet's surface. Most of the crew is captured, and the few who aren't have to team up with another survivor of Krall's attacks to rescue the prisoners and stop him, while being reliant on the remains of a long-lost Federation ship.

It was solid. I didn't enjoy it as much as Kong: Skull Island, but I was rarely bored. Kirk can't seem to help finding himself in freefall at some point in each of these movies. We get quite a bit more interaction between Spock and Bones than in the previous two films, which is of the good. I feel like Karl Urban gets McCoy a little better than Zachary Quinto gets Spock, but it's hard to articulate why, exactly. Best guess, I think of Nimoy as showing his human side more subtly than Quinto does. That could be how Quinto's being told to play it. Also, his Spock feels younger than even TV series Nimoy's did (Nimoy was about 35 when the show was on air, Quinto is 40 now), and has experienced all sorts of trauma Original Recipe Spock didn't have to deal with as soon, if at all (Vulcan blown up, mother dies when planet blows up, close friend dies, relationship with Uhura, meets awesome future self). So he just might be more overwhelmed. But, Bones and Spock are fun, regardless.

The action sequences were pretty good, maybe not a surprise with a director who's cut his teeth on the Fast and Furious movies, although it felt like there were an awful lot of them. Probably not any more than in the previous two films, but still felt like a lot. I admit that when it was apparent Kirk was going to try ramping a motorcycle to Jayla's rescue, I expected him to kick the bad guy in the face, ala Vin Diesel in XXX. Wrong extreme motor sports movie franchise, I know. It didn't happen, which is good. The bit where the Franklin "surfs" the wave of the attacking ships, with them blowing up in its wake was a bit much.

OK, some spoilers past this point. The movie is a year old, but it took me this long to see it, I'd understand if you hadn't made time yet. You're busy people.

Krall and his two lieutenants are actually the last survivors of the Franklin, altered somehow by their surroundings and living off the life energies of the people they capture to extend their own existences. Krall in particular, played by Idris Elba, was a former officer under the military precursor to the Federation, unhappy with his new role as explorer and diplomat. So that's two Star Trek films in a row where the crew faces a threat which disagrees with the approach Starfleet takes, and would prefer a more militaristic response.

Of the six earlier Trek films that were focused on the Original Series crew, only the sixth one really dealt with that idea, there being people within the Federation invested in not helping the Klingons, not moving away from an antagonistic relationship. Beyond that, the question seemed mostly settled. Starfleet explores, and if they absolutely have to blow something up, OK, but otherwise, no. Maybe it was more of an issue in the TV show.

The original series and its subsequent films are based on the idea humanity would get its shit together and stop with a lot of the pointless infighting, focus on a more unified approach. I don't think these current films are disagreeing necessarily, but they seem to be arguing that there needs to be more awareness of the potential for pushback from certain sectors. that we can't just expect the people who don't like the direction things are going to give up and go sulk in a corner. They're going to try and put things on the track they think we should be on.

Things feel more unsettled in this Starfleet, but I would imagine between Eric Bana's character wiping out a ton of starships in the first film, and then CumberKhan killing a bunch of senior officials in the second one, things have been a little unsteady the last few years. A lot of people getting shuttled up the ladder faster than they probably would otherwise. Like Kirk. Are we meant to take it that all this stuff is happening sooner than it did in the original timeline? That this crew shouldn't have been brought together on the Enterprise for some time yet? Might explain a few things.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

"Scrap" Appears To Be Their Default State

Duncan Rouleau's 8-issue Metal Men mini-series from 2008 is kind of an odd duck. It starts the story by playing off fallout from Joe Kelly's Obsidian Age story in JLA, which came out, six, seven years earlier. It incorporates parts of the Oolong Island thread from the 52 series, and probably all sorts of stuff from the Metal Men's backstory I didn't know about. Like Will Magnus having an older brother in the military, who happens to be a total dick.

The story is a lot of different forces wanting to exploit the Metal Men for their own purposes. The Nameless, an ancient being, thinks the Metal Men will grant it control over the Earth, and tries to encourage a young Magnus in his endeavors. Will's brother, having gotten his hands on a time machine, is trying to keep the Metal Men from ever being created. And Magnatech, a company formed by robots that survived whatever went down on Oolong Island, keep thwarting him because they're trying to use the Metal Men to shape public opinion of machines to their advantage (and they have some novel takes on corporate culture). The story jumps between at least three time periods, has at times two different sets of Metal Men, surprise betrayals, characters being reversed, Will Magnus' broken heart, a renegade Manhunter, and T.O. Morrow as a sort of wild card in Magnus' life.

There's a lot going on, basically. It's comprehensibility is questionable. When I'm reading it, I can pretty much follow what's going on and why. But sitting here trying to organize it from memory is turning into kind of a mess. The story seems to revolve around making an embracing a choice. The Nameless insists Magnus' made a mistake giving the Metal Men free will, that they should have been blindly obedient instead, while Magnatech and Will's brother try to bend events around him to either make him create and use the Metal Men to protect humanity, or whip them out. Doc himself never intended to go into robotics, the Metal Men were just something he created to help him along the way to the work he was interested in, except they kind of ended up dominating his life. Which might explain why he always acted in the old comics like it was such a pain to have them around, yet kept putting them back together and sending them off again.

Ultimately, he has to accept that this is where things are at, and he can't go back and change it. Whatever he had with Helen Garin is gone. Being bitter and resentful towards her for not waiting endlessly for him to confess his feelings, or towards his brother for not being able to be the bigger man, isn't helping anything. He might be frustrated he never got any further with his Hypo-Hyper Flux theory, but that's a choice he made. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, he got caught in having created the responsometers and the Metal Men, and the celebrity from saving the world. He could have gone back to his original pursuit, but chose not to.

And the Metal Men, as always, have people trying to make all the decisions about them for them. The Nameless, Magnatech, David Magnus, Checkmate supposedly pops up with some division to decide whether to classify them as a threat or not and keep them deactivated until then. Morrow turns them into the Death Metal Men. Magnatech comes the closest to giving them an option, but it's the old, "Work with us or perish" choice. That said, it still feels like more of a story about Doc, him dealing with his issues, than one about the Metal Men. I guess there isn't much question about whether they want to surrender their free will.

I don't know if this is the first appearance of Copper as part of the team, but of all of them, she's the one who shows the least personality. I can't readily define her compared to the others. Doc says he thinks she'll have multi-task capability, maybe be able to help with bookkeeping. Maybe she's the smart one. Seems level-headed but practical, not a leader, but insightful. It's hard for her to get much panel time with so many characters and factions running around.

Rouleau's very fond of pages consisting of five wide panels, one on top of the other. How much he uses it varies, sometimes 3 pages in a row, or 6 out of 10. Seems to be most common in the sequences set in the past. In the present day parts, or the scenes that take place outside time, Rouleau leans more towards one large image in the center of the page, with varying numbers of smaller panels set against it either above or below. In fight scenes, it's common for the Metal Men to be all over the place, stretching from one panel into another, or over the top of it. On pages with those larger central images, which don't have panel borders, it can turn into a mess trying to parse what's happening. There's robot heads on stretched out necks all over the place.

That said, Rouleau has some fun with the shapes he can contort the Metal Men into. His style is more exaggerated with them than with most any of the other characters, including the other robots (who generally don't shape-shift). He also takes advantage of setting the story in different time periods to draw the Metal Men as various models. There's an extreme prototype, when his work first catches notice, and it's all about function. Then a style where they've adopted a more human form (except Tin, who hadn't settled on a style, perhaps due to his thirteen different isotopes), but still have certain archaic elements, antennae as receivers. And the current day forms, which are much more sleek, but also show more of each one's personality.

His style's more restrained with the human characters - except for Morrow's mustache, that thing is an impressively wide handlebar - although he also reuses panels from time-to-time with them. Or maybe it's just that there are a lot of panels of Doc with his pipe in his mouth, looking into the middle distance.

The coloring by Moose Baumann and Pete Pantazis could probably stand to be brighter. In the sequences taking place outdoors, or in what are supposed to be well-lit locations, it works well. The colors aren't incredibly vivid, but they're bright enough. But the parts set inside, or outside time, are almost overwhelmed with gloom. Deep shadows and purples that overpower all the other colors. The whole page tends to look like someone set the brightness down a few notches.

There's also this technique being used of shading by using a bunch of small, individual dots. It only seems to be used on the human characters, mostly in close-ups. I thought it was restricted to the flashbacks, trying for a retro-feel, but that isn't the case. I can't really trace a pattern, other than it gets more use in extreme close-ups, and it's used to imply deeper shadows within the shadows. Curious it isn't used for the artificial life-forms.

It's not a bad mini-series, although it gets a little too tangled up in all the time-travel stuff, and I'm not as interested in Doc Magnus' relationship issues as Rouleau wants me to be. But I enjoy the art, and Rouleau certainly tried to give the reader their money's worth in terms of how much is going on. I can't speak for how a Metal Men fan would feel, but I liked it pretty well.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

A movie where the American military is sent into a situation it didn't have good intelligence on, under bullshit pretenses, and gets involved in a needless fight with a local force that endangers the future stability of the region. Maybe not the best choice for Fourth of July, but also perhaps the most quintessentially American (or perhaps 'Murican) movie possible.

(I know some people argue Ghostbusters is the most American movie ever, because the Ghostbusters prove the afterlife exists, and then try to make money off it by building a ghost prison, and that's fair, but I think this movie has a decent argument on its own cynical grounds)

Spoiler Warning, since the movie is fairly recent. Leave if that's an issue, come back tomorrow for something different.

There's an island in the middle of a neverending storm. An agency gets the green light for a "survey mission", complete with a military escort of helicopters (led by Sam Jackson, whose character is unhappy the Vietnam War is ending.) The island is full of giant creatures, including Kong, who objects to all the explosions the "seismic testing" involves, and destroys all the choppers. Jackson becomes obsessed with destroying Kong, everyone else is just trying to get off the island. It turns out there are things much worse than Kong on the island, the humans have to help him try and kill them.

John Goodman's in there, as the guy proposing the mission, for his own reasons. People obsessed with past demonstrations of their limitations get a lot of people killed in this movie. His character is a little hard to track, because he seemed to want to provoke a confrontation, but doesn't want to stick around and try to kill Kong. I'm not sure if he realized partway through how incredibly outclassed they were, or is simply focused on getting off the island with evidence, so he can come back with more military. But I'm not sure what he expected from all the explosions, clearly trouble, or why the need for military. Maybe he was just too far gone, though he didn't seem deranged, just hung up on a particular conviction.

Tom Hiddleston's in there as a former SAS guy who is an expert tracker. Doesn't do a ton of tracking, mostly spends a lot of time arguing with Sam Jackson. Oh, and making sure the sleeves on his t-shirt are pulled back for a little gun show. I guess he'd been taking tips from the Chrises, Hemsworth and Evans. Brie Larson's playing an anti-war photographer along to document things, she and Jackson don't get along, though Jackson gets along with fewer and fewer characters as the film progresses. John C. Reilly is playing a guy who has been stuck there since World War 2, and is a little loopy, but hey, he's survived, credit to him.

I was worried Reilly's character would get irritating, be too silly, but he actually works well. It lightens things up at times, and also kind of shows how isolated he's been, since the locals he lives with apparently don't speak. The line about not knowing when he's speaking or not, for example. With no one who reacts to anything he says, after awhile, it might get hard to tell if you said something out loud or in your head. Anyway, he was the character I was most invested in seeing get him, and was pretty sure he'd get killed*.

I wouldn't say many of the characters really get fleshed out much, but the movie does devote at least a little time to a lot of characters, not just the main stars. The banter between two of the soldiers, Mills and Cole (played by Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham, respectively), did a lot to make me care about those guys. And the film didn't leave it at one scene, they kept giving those guys a little time throughout, maybe just a quick exchange here and there, but something to make us give at least a little bit of a damn.

You figure Hiddleston and Larson are safe, because they're the romantic leads (although the build in that direction felt underdeveloped). Sam Jackson is screwed, both because his character is Ahab, and because Sam Jackson doesn't survive movies with large killer animals (see also Jurassic Park and Deep Blue Sea). Makes it hard to give a shit about them either way, so it's the others we need to care about, and the movie succeeded better on that score than I expected.

I enjoyed a lot of the fight scenes, felt like the filmmakers tried to incorporate the surroundings in interesting ways. The setting of the island itself was pretty interesting, the kind of thing that would be cool to explore in a video game. I have no interest in doing so in real life, because I don't want to be eaten by some giant spider or flocks of pterosaurs. But in a game it could be really cool.

I wouldn't say I had high expectations going in. I don't have any pre-existing affection for King Kong, but it was enjoyable. I might have expected a little more pushback against Jackson's character, but the people that went along either had enough history with him that they'd trust/defer to his judgment, or were scared enough to figure they were better off staying close to the guys with the most guns. So clearly I can justify it to myself. I didn't need the attempt to turn into a whole franchise of monster movies in the post-credits sequence, but that's just a thing everyone tries to do these days, I guess.

* Which didn't stop us from joking during the credits that when he made it home to see his wife, he'd find his brother had married her in his absence, and it would be Will Ferrell.

Monday, July 03, 2017

A Party O' Fools

My 2nd D&D campaign was 7 years after the first one, during one of my stints in the boonies. The nice thing here is I took notes during the campaign, though they're a little limited earlier. Either way, this is going to run a couple of posts, at least.

It was a more manageable party of six characters this time, pretty much all newbs, considering I constituted one of the more experienced players. Of the other 5, 4 had never played before, and the other hadn't played in years. The DM had played a lot, but never run a campaign of her own. She wisely started us at Level 4, on a campaign she thought would only take 3 or 4 sessions. Just a quick trial run.

It lasted six weeks, and probably over a dozen sessions. We tended to deliberate a lot before doing anything, and battles, as in the first campaign, took a while. If my first campaign had been your standard Big Event comic - the fate of the world at stake, everyone dying - the second one was more like the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League, in that there was a lot of comedy, and none of the heroes seemed to know what the hell they were doing.

I dusted the cobwebs off Will the Ranger and Oswald the osprey, for a tale set earlier in their careers. Still favoring the bow, just an ordinary one at the start, and a rapier. No whip; we only had space for two weapons. Besides myself, there was Crulin, the half-elf monk, Cora, a wizard, Nylis was an elf druid, Leah was a halfing thief, and Taug was a half-orc barbarian. How we formed a team, I don't know, we opted to not worry about it. This franchise doesn't need an origin movie!

We were hired to recover a missing relic of Pelor, your standard god of goodness and light, or maybe just Order, I forget. He wasn't my god. The DM played as a bard named Vera - who my notes describe as "flirty", I don't recall that - to clue us in on a large band of thieves that likely took the relic. I do recall Leah trying to pick some drunk's pocket during the exposition dump and being caught by her would-be victim, although he was too inebriated to get sore about it. Still, hardly an auspicious beginning. As we were entirely lacking in healers - though I grabbed a First Aid kit as a special item - the guy who hired us provided a drow cleric to keep us upright (also played by the DM)

We fought some goblins early on, no trouble. That night, we set up camp, and kept being attacked by wolves. The third time around, Cora was rendered unconscious, or else slept through the whole thing. We found out eventually our mistake was in not having a fire going. You could question whether that's the sort of thing to expect your mostly inexperienced players to know, but we survived, so no harm, no foul.

We wound up at the village of a bunch of elves, situated on a lake. They provided some helpful information about the thieves, such as that their ranks included a bunch of lizard-men, and their base was further north. Also, there was an interesting cave in some mountains nearby. As it turned out, it was time for some celebration the elves had every year, and they invited us to join in frolicking in the lake. A lake which was either enchanted, or laced with some sort of drugs. Taug, Cora, Nylis, and Leah jumped in, the first three immediately succumbing to the effects of whatever the hell is in the water. At which point they get involved in the orgy taking place. The thief complains at being left out, since her will was apparently great enough to shrug off the effect, so the DM rolled and stated that four elves approach the thief, which made her very happy.

Traveling together teaches you new things about people.

Crulin and Will both opted out. I don't know the monk's reasons, I was operating under the idea that a) Will had a girlfriend back home, and b) I don't know what kind of STDs elves might have, or if they do, but if they do, anything that could hang around despite the immune system of a race that lives centuries would probably cause a human's entire lower half to rot off.

Ridiculous logic? MAYBE.

The next day, with everyone basically recovered, we decided to check that nearby cave. The chief's son was only too happy to guide us there, as he was quite smitten with Taug after the night before. Taug insisted he had not slept with the 'pretty man-elf', so the DM rolled, and stated plainly, 'Yes you did.' So there you go.

The trip to the cave resulted in a fight with a giant spider and some of its babies, which went easily enough. It was at this point the DM possibly made a mistake. She rolled to see what loot we'd find, but didn't think to scale the results to characters of our level. So there was a Fire Staff, a Sack of Holding, and a Ring of Three Wishes. Which, if we'd been smarter might have ended the campaign right there, but we were leery of messing with wishes. Also, one of the corpses had a Longbow with +5 Frost, which Will grabbed immediately, turning Will into the biggest damage dealer. Taug could do more with a single hit, especially combining Berserker Fury with Cleave, but once I reached the point I could do two attacks per turn, and fire two arrows per attack, with Frost damage tacked on to every hit, I was racking up a higher cumulative total. Downside to that was, in later battles, the DM knew it, and Will became the primary target every time. But that's later.

Suitably powered up, we bid the elf farewell and continued north, eventually stumbling upon a small group of bandits. I don't have extensive notes, but some members of the party killed some of the thieves while helpless. However, they had a wizard in their ranks, who "decked" Crulin and Leah, which I'm assuming meant they were simply knocked over, since I know nobody died this early in the campaign. He turned invisible, but Cora cast See Invisibility, plus Oswald pretty much landed on his head. I had my bow drawn, but hesitated to kill a surrendered opponent, despite my teammates urging. Then the wizard admitted he would go on hurting people if we let him live, so I let fly.

Critical hit, instant kill. At least he got a quick death. Better than the poor thief the cleric used Death Touch on.

Next time: We actually reach the bandit fortress! Will we have any patience for puzzles? Will our thief be of any use whatsoever? Is Will, like Hawkeye Pierce, going to deal with the grim realities of the world he finds himself in by resorting to absurdist humor at inappropriate moments?

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Earthworm Jim 2.2 - Opposites Attack!

Plot: Evil Jim's attempt to destroy Jim and Peter with a Chrono-Laser falters before the horrifying cuteness of babies. Later, as Evil Jim bemoans his lonely fate, he hits on a plan. He'll create a universe of evil duplicates like himself. He starts by attacking Jim, Peter, and Princess What's-Her-Name at the International House of Haggis, and gets himself his own Peter and Princess. The former gains intelligence when he changes, and the latter is very concerned with her personal appearance and actively flirts with both Jims.

After narrowly escaping the initial battle, Good Jim settles on the questionable tactic of splitting up to try and, I dunno, catch the villains by surprise I think. It might help if the heroes weren't all just running off in random directions like chickens with their heads cut off, but oh well. And the heroes are promptly defeated. Evil JIm brings them to the Fraternal Order of Super-Villains, offered in exchange for helping him with his plan. Except he accidentally triggers the gun and creates opposite duplicates of all the villains. Giving Good Jim a chance to get free and blast Evil Jim with the ray repeatedly, creating a whole lot of Good Jims, who promptly obliterate the villains.

Quote of the Episode: Evil Cow - 'You fools, I shall destroy you all, starting with the lactose intolerant. Moo, moo.'

Times Peter turns into a monster: 8 (16 overall). OK, I'm honestly guessing. I forgot to count during the part where he and Evil Peter where changing constantly.

Cow? Yes, did you not see the Quote of the Episode?

Other: Walter, who was Jim's cellmate in Evil Jim's original appearance, returns her as a waiter at the International House of Haggis.

We learned Peter hates instant cappuccino. It seems like his opposite's default state should be monster form, though. Jim spent time in the Wao-Lin temple, or at least in the home of some robe wearing senile guy he thought was a Wao-Lin master.

We also learned there's a warthog living with a talking eggplant down the street from Jim and Peter. The eggplant likes chickpeas and it's, it's not a happy home. After that sad scene, no wonder they gave us three seconds of dancing turtles later in the episode.

Peter seems to enjoy having Princess What's-Her-Name around, because it means there's someone else to be frustrated by the idiotic things Jim says.

Evil Jim initially tried to build his own Negative Synthesizer, but it didn't work. So then he bought one from a mail-order catalog. That was an interesting touch. Playing with audience expectations, or delaying them a little, at least.

I have no idea what happened to all those Good Jims, or any of the other opposite for that matter. Did they vanish eventually? Evil Jim has stuck around, but he was created in an entirely different manner. It'd be too bad if they all vanished. Professor-Monkey-for-a-Head was getting along well with Monkey-Professor-for-a-Head.

Two episodes in a row with no interlude, and where the opening sequence directly plays into the larger story.