Thursday, March 23, 2017

Whatdunits - Mike Resnick

Whatdunits is a series of short story mysteries where Resnick presented another writer with some sort of prompt, and let them write a story fitting said prompt (so Resnick is the editor, rather than the author). The idea came out of a desire to see some genuine mysteries in a science-fiction setting in short-story format.

As with any anthology, the selection is a mixed bag, but it's interesting to see what approach different writers take. Some take the bog-standard hard-luck private investigator, and toss in some sci-fi trappings like telepathy and robot secretaries (Michael Stackpole's "It's the Thought that Counts"). Esther Friesner and Walter J. Stutzman's "Dead Ringer" is ostensibly about telling whether it was the clone or the original version of someone that was murdered, but also examines a world where the wealthy clone themselves to have someone to attend functions they don't want to deal with, while workers or cops with valuable skills have their genetic material taken and are cloned if they die. It looks at how the clone would struggle with that, and how their friends and loved ones would adjust to the dead being back among them.

Some are written to be funny, like "Monkey See", where the story is presented as a letter from the scientists explaining how an alien scientist being killed by chimps is not murder. Others are more grim, like "The Colonel and the Alien", where a non-earthling is elected President of the interplanetary federation for the first time, but they only did so by crooked means, and we exposed thanks to a vast, always watching security network ultimately run by One Man, whose steadfast commitment and calm protects us all.

Some of the authors more rigidly follow the prompt than others. John DeChancie wrote "Murder On-Line", which was supposed to be about somehow proving someone who could teleport killed a person, but turned into a story about people getting completely absorbed in virtual worlds to the point the outside world falls into disrepair. Anthony Lewis' "Loss of Phase" seems more concerned with having a dolphin for a detective, to the point the murder is almost an afterthought. I'd say that the ones that strayed furthest from the initial prompt were the ones I enjoyed least, maybe because they seemed to forget it was supposed to be a mystery?

'It was Dr. Nestleroth who hit upon the brilliant solution of registering the Institute as a state mental hospital, and arranging for the involuntary commitment of all the chimps as patients of the hospital.'

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Different Sort Of Twisted Reflection

I wish Tim Roth's Abomination had survived the Incredible Hulk movie. Maybe he did, but I've always assumed Hulk broke his neck or strangled him with that chain at the end. Regardless, he hasn't made a return appearance since. Mostly I wanted him to encounter Captain America.

Ross initially pumped Blonsky full of an incomplete knockoff version of the Super-Soldier Serum, but beyond that, Blonsky is what Erskine was afraid of, what would have been the result if Colonel Phillips had his way and somehow got Gilmore Hodge chosen as the subject. Erskine feared giving more power to someone accustomed to it, that they wouldn't have any respect for what they could do with it. They'd regard everyone else as lesser, weaker beings to abuse as they saw fit. Here's Blonsky, used to being the baddest, toughest guy on the block, but fearing not only the loss of some of that prowess due to age, but also to being completely outclassed by this big, green monster.

Him taking the knockoff serum is understandable, since at the time he was going to be confined to a hospital bed for the rest of his likely short, certainly painful existence. But once he had it, saw what it could do for him, and saw that it still wasn't enough to stop Hulk, he wanted more. And once he had that, the world was a playground, something to smash and destroy as he saw fit until he could find a proper challenge.

Blonsky isn't Johann Schmidt. He doesn't have larger aspirations of ruling the world, any more than Steve Rogers does. Still, he might take orders from anyone, or attack anyone, simply for the chance to test his power, prove his superiority. A super-soldier with no interest in serving, or helping anyone but himself*. The Abomination is trashing a city, Captain America, or whatever Steve is going to call himself now, shows up with his team trying to figure out who Blonsky is working for and what the goal is. And the answers are "No one and nothing," Blonsky just wanted to draw out some Avengers to see if they could give him a challenge. Maybe the Hulk would show up and he'd get a rematch. Let Cap contend with someone who isn't working to some greater, awful goal. It would at least be a good starting point, if someone had perhaps suggested to Blonsky where he should try causing a disturbance.

Also, considering how Thunderbolt Ross berated Captain America for not keeping Hulk and Thor locked up, it'd be nice for the monster he stupidly created to show up and start wreaking havoc.

* To a certain extent, Frank Grillo's Brock Lumlow becoming Crossbones could have filled this role as well, although he did have an ideology he acted in service of. Irrelevant since they put him on screen for five minutes then blew him up in Captain America: Civil War.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Perils Of A Licensed Game

I asked for Lord of the Rings: Shadow of Mordor. What I wound up receiving was Lord of the Rings: War in the North. Well, if I really wanted Shadow, I would have plunked down the money for it myself already. That's on me.

So instead of sneaking about, stabbing Orc war chiefs in the back and terrorizing their ranks*, I was playing as part of a Human/Dwarf/Elf trio, trying to stop some wannabe wizard king named Agandaur from causing a lot of trouble. Which involves chasing him all of the place, thwarting his various schemes. Like trying to conquer a dwarf stronghold, or convince a dragon to throw in with Sauron. I was surprised the game doesn't make you fight the dragon, but maybe I was too accustomed to wiping them out with ease in Skyrim. In this case, the game has you make a counteroffer, which will require you to ultimately kill Agandaur. Which we were gonna do anyway, so sure, kill him and give the dragon his house.

The game gives you the option of playing as any of the three allies: Eradan's a human Ranger, and the one I stuck with. Farin's a dwarf Champion, and Andriel's an Elf Lore-master. You can switch between them if you want at certain checkpoints, but I was satisfied with the ranger. Combat is fine, the game doesn't have it set-up where your character gets tired if you have your bow drawn for too long, which is OK with me. This isn't really a game where you spend a lot of time waiting for that perfect shot. Usually by the time you see enemies, they're already rushing you en masse, so it's time to fire any and every arrow you've got, then cut them to pieces when they get too close for that.

The game feels very old. It isn't a new game by any stretch, but I'm also replaying Resident Evil 4 on my Gamecube right now, and this game feels older than that one does. Granting I play a lot of games which boil down to "enter a specific area, kill enemies until the game stops sending them, go to next area, repeat". Those games usually offer some sort of distinguishing stylistic quirk to make them stand out. That didn't seem to be the case here. You kill, you pick up some better gear, kill some more, level up, maybe make yourself better at a certain skill, kill some more, boss fight. Extremely straightforward.

Shouldn't have expected more from a licensed game, and sometimes I do just want to hack and slash a bunch of enemies, and it does suffer because I was expecting a different game. Still, the pacing was off. The end came on suddenly. I'd been chasing Agandaur for some time, but once I caught up to him, things ended quickly. Which at least meant it wasn't one of those final boss fights that goes on forever because he keeps escaping and you have to keep giving chase. But it was still a moment of surprise that the game was over. Maybe I was thrown because an hour earlier, I'd been repeatedly stymied by one of those irritating missions where you have to make sure something doesn't get too damaged. I was stuck fighting two Trolls by myself, trying to keep them swinging at me and not the door in question, because my allies were being useless. I almost gave up on the game entirely because of that. Agandaur was comparatively easy.

There are a few sidequests you can do or not, fetch this or that and receive something. But the map screen only pops up when you're getting ready to progress to a new area in the game. If you forget there's a quest you can complete by returning to Rivendell during one of those instances, you're shit out of luck.

* I know there's more to the game, but that's how I envision myself playing it, a spectral scourge attacking from every angle.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Puppet Using His Strings

There's a scene in one of the early issues of Gwenpool, where she explains the truth of his existence as a comic character to Batroc. When Batroc questions why he has never experienced his happy moment, his great trumph, Gwen points out that he's the villain. He's not meant to experience success, but he doesn't realize that. He goes into fights with Captain America or Misty Knight of whoever, and thinks that maybe this time he can win. From Gwen's perspective, there are outside forces that have put certain rules and conventions in place which dictate Batroc's actions and fate, which he doesn't perceive.

Gwen, because she thinks of it all as a fictional universe, doesn't operate that way. She knows what the conventions are, and so treats it like a minefield she has the map for. It was the in the Rocket Raccoon and Groot book, but there was a bit, once Civil War II started to intrude, where Gwen forcefully states she is not going to New York with Rocket and Groot because minor characters get killed in Big Crossovers, and she knew she wasn't a big enough deal to be safe. It was entirely possible that if she went with them, the Guardians spaceship might have landed on her. She wasn't going to play Arcade's dungeon by his rules, because she saw the larger pattern of what he wanted, and didn't see any reason to play along. Why fight these other mercenaries who aren't doing anything to her? Just find a way out, trounce Arcade, who is the one actually trying to kill them, and get on with your life.

She did make the mistake of buying into her own hype and thinking she'd be able to kill Deadpool, when, as Wade pointed out, there is no way she's popular enough to get that carrot. But she doesn't like Deadpool, and her plan to take him down through teamwork had worked spectacularly well, so you can't blame her for getting a little cocky. It happens to the best of 'em, and for the most part, she's avoided being jerked into pointless scuffles and dangerous situations.

But then there's Deadpool. Wade knows he's a fictional character, but unlike Gwen, he plays by the conventions of his universe. Normally he limits his awareness to commenting on the stupidity of events, or the convenient happenstances that keep certain plots moving. Wade knows all about two heroes having a misunderstanding fight, then teaming up, but he embraces it, looks forward to it. He knows Arcade is trying to make people kill each other for him, and Deadpool pretty much shrugs, says, "Sure, why not?" and gets to be stabbing. Wade explained it to Gwen as 'We all just live here, right?' Deadpool knows there are strings on him, but much of the time, he doesn't seem to mind. But sometimes he does. The second story in the final issue of the previous Deadpool volume (either #45 or #250), he gets the Infinity Gauntlet and has a roast in his honor. At the very end, he talks directly to us about how much it sucks sometimes that all the misery in his life is for our amusement of us, and that we treat it at disposable entertainment, but it's real for him.

That, combined with what he told Gwen, makes me wonder how much Deadpool uses what he knows about his existence as an excuse. Wade is capable of compassion, but generally demonstrates it towards people he regards as innocent victims. Agent Preston, his daughter, Ratbag from Simone's run, Weasel when he's gotten in trouble for helping Wade. When it comes to people he regards as having made bad decisions of their own accord, he's indifferent. He was supposed to be protecting Michael from having his soul claimed by Vetis, so Wade shot him in the head to send him to Hell as a way to outflank the demon. that it send Michael to Hell didn't bother Wade much, seeing as Michael was the one who made the deal.

I've tended to attribute this to Wade's traumatic experiences at the hand of Department K, the people who experimented on and tortured him in the process of giving him his healing factor. Wade didn't know what he was getting into, he was a victim, and so he feels sympathy for those he sees as being in similar straits. And because the world has been so cruel to him, he can therefore justify being cruel back. No one was there for him when he was in trouble, and even now, years after, even having saved the world a couple times, a lot of people, including heroes who ought to understand what he's experiencing, still treat Wade like something they'd rather scrape off their shoe. Deadpool struggles against those impulses, frequently tries to be good, tries to help people, builds connections with others, but he often fails, and ultimately it all goes to hell.

But if Deadpool knows his life is a story others read for amusement, that it's being crafted by other beings in whatever ways they deem fit, how does that impact what he's doing? Deadpool goes through a lot of supporting casts. There are certain characters who will carry over - Weasel, Sandi and Outlaw, Taskmaster pops up a lot - but most new writers want to introduce their own set-up (when was the last time Blind Al was a major part of his book? Early 2000s?). Wade goes from having a small, but solid core of friends who will come have a TV night at his decent apartment in the final issue of Cable/Deadpool, to living alone in a warehouse at the start of Daniel Way's Deadpool. What did Wade do to screw everything up that fast? Did he sabotage friendships because he knew he was supposed to be isolated for the new run, or did he choose to isolate himself so he could destroy his friendships, so he could hang out with his friends again somewhere down the line?

Does he jump at the chance for the misunderstanding battle because he knows it does lead to a team-up, so he'll get to hang out with Spider-Man or the Thing or whoever? He could try talking to them, but that might not work. They might see Deadpool and just hurry away. At least this way they'll hang out with him. he does get lonely, he would like for these heroes to like him at least a little, though he's often unwilling to show the more decent parts of himself to them.

Does he kill nameless cannon fodder because he knows they were put there by the writers for that purpose, that nobody cares whether they live or die? If so, is it because it makes it easier for him, or because he's trying to put on a show for the audience, or maybe he even thinks he's doing them a favor. The Nameless HYDRA guys he and Preston killed in issue 24 were put in the story for that purpose. To die in a manner that shows how serious the protagonists were about all this. They were created to suffer, and he's sparing them any delusions otherwise. It wasn't all strictly necessary; some of the HYDRA guys surrendered, but Gerry Duggan was trying to be dramatic, so they were coldly murdered anyway.

Wade in 2099 told his daughters and Preston he never asked for any of them, to have this weird family full of people who all kind of hate him now. And for most of us, we'd interpret that as life moving in unexpected ways, if I hadn't been late for that train, blahdeblah. Wade knows it wasn't random, it was written in that he'd take that job from Dracula, meet Shiklah, marry her to keep her free of Drac, and they'd have a kid. From his perspective, does he see it as something he had any choice in whatsoever?

Thinking about it, even Wade's memory problems, which are usually attributed to either the constant regeneration of his brain, or more recently, the drugs Butler was giving him, could be instead laid at the feet of the creative teams who add new stuff into his backstory. Butler wasn't part of Deadpool's history, until he was. Or T-Ray, or the idea that Wade went into the future and saved Young Cable's life multiple times, so that Cable knew Wade before they fought the first time back in New Mutants #98. The Deadpool who appeared in that New Mutants comic probably didn't even have memory problems, because nobody had bothered to write that into his character yet. His mind might have been reasonably sound (by Deadpool's standards), but has gotten progressively more wrecked over the years as writers put him through the wringer, adding new layers to his history, fixing the memory issues one way, adding them a different way later. And Deadpool, unlike Wolverine, knows he's never going to get that moment where he remembers everything. Because even if he thinks he does (ala Logan post-House of M), some other writer will come along with some other thing out of his past he didn't recall for some reason.

What does that do, if you know at any moment someone is going to come along that 5 minutes ago, you had never heard of, but now it turns out they were super-important to you in the past, you had just conveniently forgotten until right then? It's happened before, it will happen again. Would you still be able to be surprised after awhile? Would you still be able to care? "Yeah, I know we were best friends in 7th grade and I stayed at your house when things got ugly at home, but you didn't exist until three pages ago so piss off."

I started this with the idea that Deadpool used what he knows about his existence as an excuse, and it might still be. When things start to go south for him, if he backslides more towards being a bad guy at some point, he might claim it's what Marvel thinks is most profitable, not his fault he's ruining everything. But looking at it, all the jokes and jabs about pointless fights or losing his co-star to a better-selling X-book feel like Deadpool taking the one bit of solace he can in the shitty hand he's been dealt. He doesn't see anyway to get free of the strings. He won't be allowed to step off-stage until Marvel decides he's not popular enough to keep alive. So he shittalks them because it's the only little way he sees to get some back at them.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Foyle's War 8.3 - Elise

Plot: It's the final episode, and we start with Miss Pierce being shot by a young man who declares it to be 'for Elise'. Pierce survives, but is certain this has something to do with a mysterious "Plato". Sir Alec had already assigned Foyle and Valentine to investigate black marketeering kingpin Damien White, who is consorting with Soviet spy Arkady Kuznetsov, and now they have this to deal with. As well as the Director of Operations for MI6, Ian Woodhead, who worked with Pierce in the SOE during the war. Foyle's initial investigations show Miss Pierce occasionally visited the Special Branch Club, where a Mr. Stafford proves willing to help. Foyle also finds photos pointing to a working relationship between Pierce and Elizabeth Addis during the war, a working relationship Foyle knows continues to the present.

Stafford learns that Elise was the codename of one Sophie Corrigan, who died on her first mission into France, in three days. Sophie's mother reveals her son Miles hasn't been seen since he delivered a radio for her birthday two days ago (the day of the shooting) and was agitated about something. Also that is was Pierce who recruited Sophie personally, and who even came to pick her up when she joined. Elizabeth reveals that Sophie was the 9th of Pierce and Woodhead's agents to be quickly sussed out and killed by the Gestapo in a matter of months, and that she was brought in to search the SOE for a mole, which Woodhead named Plato. Addis narrowed the suspects to three people, five if you count Woodhead and Pierce, but couldn't reveal the traitor. Curiously Miles, who was in the RAF not Intelligence, knows about Plato, and is going after all the suspects. The guards Valentine placed around Mr. Caplin ultimately kill Miles. And Caplin is innocent of that crime, though he has certain connections to Damien White. .

Of course, that still leaves the question of who was the mole, and how Miles learned about all of it. Foyle's going to suss those out, but Pierce will be the one who finishes things.

In other threads, Adam, at Glenvil's urging, tries to get the police to crack down on black market goods, and ends up framed for possessing several cartons of stolen cigarettes. But Chief Superintendent Usborne has made the critical mistake of making an enemy of Sam. It's one last high adventure for Sam before embarking on the biggest adventure, throwing up in every bar in New Orleans in one night. I mean, being a parent. That doesn't sound like much of an adventure.

Quote of the Episode: Pierce - 'For head of communications, he was an extremely uncommunicative man.'

Does Foyle go fishing? No. And now I'll never learn to fly fish.

Things Sam can do: Imperil herself and others trying to bust a crooked cop. Have enough sense to call a professional badass ahead of time as backup. Recognize when she needs to get out.

Other: Watching Adam in this episode, I was reminded of Charles Roper from 7.3, "Sunflower". he said at one point that he never thought government, at least if you wanted to accomplish anything, would be so complicated. And, of course, Roper ultimately resorted to illegal tactics to keep George Gibson from getting his land back. For noble reasons - to keep the land in food production - but all the same, doing things by the book wasn't cutting it, so he tried something crooked. In this episode, Adam is initially unconcerned with black market selling of goods. He sees it as a way for people to get things they're looking for that the government and its policies seem unable to provide. What's the harm in a guy selling socks from a suitcase on the street, if people can't get socks in the shops for a reasonable price?

Damien White makes a similar argument to justify his actions in selling such goods. The people are tired of hardship and rationing, the war is supposed to be over. They want to be able to enjoy themselves, feel good, and he provides that. He provides it by a combination of bribery, murder, extortion and ultimately treason, but the customer don't need to know that, does he? It does feel like a cop out, because it doesn't really address what the average person is supposed to do if the government is failing to look after its citizens. The answer appears to be, "Suck it up and hope your government gets its shit together before you starve or freeze or catch pneumonia because you're walking to work in worn out shoes and socks because you can't afford anything better." Which is not a great message, frankly.

Didn't really mean to start with a discussion of Adam's thread, but it had been in mind, so it gets the coveted lead off spot. I would have liked to see more of Sam and Glenvil interacting based on this. Glenvil has continually surprised me with his generally high character. Probably because I keep thinking of him as a campaign manager, which he isn't, and my impression of them is they're willing to do anything to get their person elected. He and Sam share that desire to help people, but Sam is more hands on, do it yourself. Micro level, rather than macro. Also much more of a risk-taker. But it was fun to see Sam get to be the voice of experience in this scenario, and not have someone trying to hold her back who has any level of authority over her.

Also, Sam being completely unimpressed at being threatened by some mobster and his goons was fantastic. I hadn't considered she would contact the person she did for back-up, mostly because I didn't believe she'd interacted enough with him for it to work. I was tickled by that whole scene.

I was sure I'd watched this before, but apparently not because I didn't remember any of the end. Not how Pierce settles things, not how Miles learned about Plato, or any of the stuff about Caplin, Tellier, and Hawtrey (the three suspected traitors), and not how things end between Foyle and Addis. Damien White keeps making references to an Archie and the Blue Lantern. That, combined with every single person Foyle asked stating they had no diea where Hawtrey was, made me believe Hawtrey was some silent partner of White's coming in from his hidey hole to handle some business. That was not the case.

I also had thought Foyle and Elizabeth Addis were going to build to some sort of relationship. She was an intelligent older woman, and they seemed to have some natural chemistry when she helped him investigate David Woolf's murder. The lack of trust turns out to be a stumbling block, assuming a relationship was ever on the table at all.

That's it for Foyle's War. The last two seasons seem like they should feel strange, putting Foyle in a job he doesn't seem to want to be in, and which everyone keeps insisting he's ill-suited for. In practice, Foyle is still dealing with people who committed, at best, morally questionable acts, but feel the war or their position excuses them. That he's now more within the government apparatus hasn't reduced the stumbling blocks to seeing justice done. But he's been able to see a sufficient amount of justice done to avoid leaving in disgust, as he did with the police after season 4. Does he really not have anything else worth doing that he wouldn't enjoy more? I'm not sure if he's planning to stick with it or not. Sam finally tells him she's pregnant, and leaving, they say so long for now, Foyle sees Elizabeth in the distance, and gives her that sideways look and sardonic grin he favors. The one he usually gets when someone says something so stupid or bullshit he's torn between being disgusted and laughing at them. I don't know what that means.

Next week, a new show. I've narrowed it to two possibilities. Either one will be very different from this.

Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Bought 3/15/2017

Four comics I wanted this week, and I've only managed to get one of them so far. On the upside, an issue of Darkwing Duck came out at some point recently, so I have that to add to the mix.

Ms. Marvel #16, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Takeshi Myazawa (artist), Ian Herring (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - And this is what happen when you use cheat codes so you can deflect annoying axes rather than dodge them like you're supposed to: The game gives the boss a tank to hunt you down with.

The virus, created by some imbecile game designer with delusions of grandeur (who will probably end up recruited by HYDRA Cap), wants Kamala to upload it into SHIELD's systems. Or it'll reveal her secret identity, and Zoe's crush on Nakia, which Kamala was blissfully unaware of. Kamala almost goes along with it, but ultimately refuses, warns Zoe, and calls Bruno for help. And she has a plan to win, which I assume will be exposing the virus to more positive influences so it's less of a dick.

It's a "set-up" issue, getting the pieces in place for the conclusion. It does bring the subplot about Zoe's crush on Nakia to a head, although we'll see what happens with it going forward. They're going to still be friends, but nothing romantic, that's fine, but I am curious if we'll see the awkwardness Kamala was so afraid of. Also if this is going to be the push for her to finally tell Nakia her secret identity, so it's on her terms. That feels like what this is building towards, though what's wrong with having a secret? Not everything has to be shared.

This issue did give Miyazawa a chance to draw expressions and postures he doesn't normally. Kamala's nervous, hair-grabbing stance as she frets about the awkwardness isn't something I've seen get used in the book. Or some of Zoe's more shocked and panicked reactions. Not responses characters have often in this book. Anger, yes, smiles, yes, sad, sure. But this kind of comically nervous or worried, not so much. But it was fun, nice to see.

Darkwing Duck #8, by Aaron Sparrow and James Silvani (storytellers), Paul Little (colors), DC Hopkins (letters) - I'm not sure any of those are proper implements for dealing with vines.

The villain responsible for the zombie potatoes is the dean who drove Bushroot into becoming a plant/duck hybrid. He stole Bushroot's work, got some funding from various nefarious sources (including an old rival of Scrooge's), and found the secret to giant vegetables (that lack nutrition) by unearthing Bushroot's old vampire potato bride. Who is calling all the zombie spuds to her aid. Fortunately for our heroes, Gizmoduck shows up to help. I guess that's fortunate, depending on how you feel about him. It's ultimately Bushroot who defeats his would be potato bride.

The parts I was most interested in were all the future plots they set up. Quackerjack has something planned for the toy expo. Negaduck's got something planned for new resident of St. Canard prison, Splatter Phoenix. Steelbeak made off with the research on giant vegetables. Someone helped themselves to Quackwerks' Herobots. Morgana is still MIA. I don't know when Volume 2 will come out and possibly resolve any of those threads, though.

Darkwing admitting he's sustained a lot of cranial trauma as part of this job made me laugh, though. It was funny in context. Also, Gizmoduck using the power of shadow puppets to try and call Darkwing, and just winding up with determined haberdashers. But, Dean Tightbill as the villain is lacking. The idea of someone taking Bushroot's ideas and focusing solely on profit makes perfect sense, but it feels flat. Partly because he's obviously a patsy villain, being used by Steelbeak and others, and because so much of the story is still about Bushroot. Tightbill helped create Bushroot, taking a guy who wanted to make the world a better place for people, and making him love plants and hate people instead, but that doesn't necessarily make him an interesting character in of himself.

Also, Darkwing's distaste for and jealousy of Gizmoduck gets tiring, so I'm not particularly thrilled to see him. Which adds up to a two-part story that isn't the sum of its parts on the writing side. The art side of things is still solid. Silvani can sell the physical humor, and he can do the expression work to sell the dialogue jokes. The Quackerjack page is colored almost entirely in grey, except for the television screens. It gives a nice ominous feel considering the character in question is usually so brightly attired and gaudy. Creates that sense of him lurking, readying himself. And it's an odd contrast, wedged in between a page of a vampire potato using Darkwing to bludgeon Launchpad into the ground, and one of Gizmoduck fending off said vampire potato with buzzsaws. A different kinds of threat.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Stabbing People For A Good Cause One Last Time

There's probably spoilers below.

I'm torn on Logan. It's a good movie. The cast and crew seemed to have a clear idea what they wanted to do, and they pulled it off. But I've been surprised by the level of acclaim it's received, from sources which are not usually hyperbolic about every superhero thing that comes down the pike. Maybe I've watched too many Westerns about the old gunfighter trying to pull it together One Last Time. Or maybe the respective situations of Xavier and Logan touched a nerve.

I'm not, at present, so concerned with the dying part of getting old (assuming I actually get old, we'll see if my feelings change). What weighs on my mind is the physical and mental decline. I haven't ever been able to decide which option was more palatable: To maintain my physical well-being, but for my mental capabilities to decline in some way (as with my paternal grandmother, who lived to 93, but with steadily increasing senile dementia for the last decade), or for my body to fail me, even if my mind remains relatively sharp (as was the case with my other three grandparents). And here's Chuck Xavier, mind going, telepathy still incredibly powerful, but not entirely within his control. And here's Logan, as much there mentally as he usually is, but collapsing physically (and also basically a dead husk emotionally).

My discomfort aside, Jackman and Stewart play their roles well. The sniping and arguing between them, Logan's exasperation with this old man he's looking after out of some affection (even if it's hard to remember why), and Xavier, frustrated with himself and this world, with how things turned out, how Logan turned out. The part where Xavier disgustedly rails on about what a disappointment Logan is, that was pretty effective. I know it's a cliche that "Professor Xavier is jerk", but Stewart's rarely played him as that straightforwardly hurtful, so it's a bit of a shock. Logan falling apart while attempting a eulogy and simply going and trashing his truck was a great scene. Those moments where the words won't come, or you can't make yourself say them, and all that's left is impotent frustration and anger.

Dafne Keen does a good job as Laura. She doesn't say anything for a long time, so it's most down to looks and the screaming she does while she stabs people. Which is unpleasant to listen to, but that's probably the point. A kid shouldn't be in a situation that makes her make that noise, especially since she's killing people who want to kill and probably dissect her at the time. But in some ways, Laura acts like a regular kid. Playing with the door locking button because she can see it's bugging Logan, and because it's something to do on a long car ride. The way she watches Logan, trying to get him to step up and help, getting frustrated when he won't, but still looking after him. All three lead actors did a very good job.

Watching the two react to Laura is an interesting contrast. Charles wants to help her, let her experience as much of life as a free person as she can. Because he's still hoping to help make some chance for a peaceful life for mutants on Earth. He's still holding onto his dream, while Logan, I don't want to say he's taken the loss harder, but he's certainly taken it as a sign to give up, or try giving up. He's working a crap job to make some money to care for this old man until he can get him on a boat somewhere and hide for the rest of their days. Helping anyone, fighting for any dream, is out of the question. And so he doesn't want to deal with Laura, doesn't want to get sucked into trying to help anyone else. Even when he should have some inkling, more than most, or what she's been through. Although it was funny to me the evil doctor says they can't teach rage, it has to be built. Judging by Laura, they taught her rage pretty well. But I suppose it wasn't controllable rage.

I stepped out to visit the restroom during part of the scene at the farmer's home. I was getting antsy (although this is not your typical 150 minute superhero movie, so props to them for that), but I'd read a review of the film that pretty much told me how it would end for them. What? I didn't expect to actually see the film within its first week in theaters, but Alex was all gung-ho. The villains were interesting as archetypes. The oh-so-well meaning amoral scientist, the imbecile who just relishes the chance to kick around minorities, and the monster that mirrors the hero. Plus the faceless corporation that employed them all and presumably is trucking along undisturbed by anything that happened. But as characters? Not so much. Boyd Kirkland's Donald Pierce got the most screen time, and he's kind of amusing, but he plays that outwardly pleasant, but sociopathic Southern gent Walton Goggins gets handed much of the time. The pleasant drawl and some folksy saying, but oops, he's torturing a guy.

The fight scenes are fun. Watching Logan shuffle around awkwardly while Laura flips all over the place makes a nice contrast, and they introduce enough additional pieces to keep watching people get stabbed in the face from being too repetitive. They do one fight where Laura takes the approach of picking off some of the enemies one at a time in hit-and-run style. Another one, they throw in a group of idiots with guns and a sacrifice to keep things pinballing around. The last one has vehicles with weapons and a bunch of other kids with powers. As for the level of violence, limbs being severed and spurting blood, I'm not the best judge. I read Punisher comics written by Garth Ennis. You're going to have to dial that shit up pretty high to faze me at this point*.

Anyway, good movie, worth a watch if you get the chance. For some reason, we wound up at a faux-IMAX viewing, that cost $16 per ticket. I wouldn't recommend that at all. Granted I haven't seen it in not faux-IMAX for comparison, but I can't imagine it would suffer that much.

* Alternatively, get more realistic with it. There's a scene in one of the Evil Dead movies where a character gets stabbed in the ankle with a pencil. That made me squirm a little, I suppose because the camera lingered a second, and it could actually happen. I am unlikely to try to steal Hugh Jackman's car, and he is unlikely to stab me with knives erupting from his knuckles if I did.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Man, There's Nothing To This Saving The World Stuff

Another board game, this time Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the game. You select a Big Bad from the various options, and try to stop them from bringing about the Apocalypse. Which requires defeating three Monsters of the Week, and protect the Townies from various generic Baddies.

Defeating Monsters requires having the appropriate items, so the players have to spend parts of their turns moving between locations in town, collecting the right items (Weapons, Tomes, Magical Ingredients, Crosses, etc.) You can also spend time defeating the generic Baddies so as to protect the Townies, since Townies getting eviscerated brings the end of the world ever closer. Each player picks one of the Scoobies to use, who have advantages and special abilities and such. But using the Special Action forces you to draw an Event Card, which usually places more Baddies and Townies on the board to kill/protect. So judicious use is advisable. Probably.

The game said it could be played in 30 minutes to an hour, but it took us closer to two, since we had to keep going back and checking the rules on when certain things had to be done, or what the monsters could do on their turn. Given how easily we ultimately cruised to victory, we both suspect we were doing something wrong. It wasn't clear if the Big Bad was supposed to have certain powers taking effect before it was "revealed" or not. The way the rules read, we thought he wasn't activated until he was revealed, and so no on powers, but maybe we were wrong. It did help that the first Monster of the Week was The Judge, who wouldn't get active at all until we were already 4 of the 12 steps to the Apocalypse. I was able to kill him before he ever did anything. And we kept drawing Event Cards that put Baddies on the board, but no Townies for them to attack. And we were careful to stay away from them, so they couldn't get any shots at us. Maybe Spike (me) and Giles (her) are just that outstanding of a duo.

So, fun enough, not reinventing the wheel among games, but the rules were unclear at times. My guess is, if you aren't a fan of the show, you can find other games which offer similar gameplay, and do it better. But if you do have a fondness for the Buffyverse, this might do the trick for ya.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I'd Fire The Announcers Too.

I watch wrestling sometimes, or read about it online. The strange characters and stories, plus the incredible things they can do, it's really entertaining, sometimes. I might go months without paying any attention, then follow it raptly for a few weeks. Depends on which wrestlers are getting to have a good showing at the time.

I haven't ever bought a wrestling video game. Considered it, but the games never seem to get the fighting right. Which is admittedly tricky. You can't really do it simply like a regular fighting game, where there's a health bar you wear down until they collapse. You need to be able to incorporate characters getting squashed, characters winning by the surprise roll-up, or else hitting their finishing move out of nowhere. That seems to be hard to do.

But the execution of sports games not quite working out how I pictured is not a new disappointment. But I still manage to find enjoyment with some of them by messing with rosters. I spent a lot of time on NBA Courtside just seeing what would happen if I took the top two scorers off each team. Or building baseball teams with fast guys at every position on Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey Jr. With a wrestling game, I'd really like to be able to fire certain wrestlers. Just take them off the board entirely. Since I can't be rid of the possibility of Randy Orton showing up on TV to bore the hell out of me, it would be nice to create that circumstance in a game, at least. Just have the roster full of only wrestlers I actually like. It wouldn't be enough if the actual wrestling was still a mess, but it'd be a nice feature to have.

Monday, March 13, 2017

You Have Died Of Insufficient Spending On Infrastructure

A friend came to visit over the weekend and brought some board games, including the Oregon Trail card game. Where you try to reenact the frustration of the simulation of the pioneer's life, without the hassle of an ancient computer.

You lay out the Start and End cards a few feet away, and then each person in your party takes turns laying out a Trail Card. Each card is supposed to be turned so that the section of Trail drawn on it lines up with the end of the Trail on the previous card laid down. This caused the greatest amount of difficulty for us, because we almost got to the end, and there were multiple players with no cards that lined up, and none left in the draw pile. So we lumped all the remaining cards together and just drew through them until we found one that worked, rather than die because these pioneers, having traveled to at least somewhere in eastern Oregon, had decided they weren't going to forge any further..

If you're lucky, the Trail Card doesn't cause any trouble. But most of them require you to "hit spacebar", meaning draw a calamity card. And then your party has to fix the calamity, if they have the resources, and if they want to. The game does give you the option to, for example, let someone die of cholera if you don't wish to expend your supplies on them. We tried not to go that route, but one member of the party did die of cholera. Most of the Calamity Cards are the type that could kill the whole party if not resolved, though. Sick oxen, busted axle, but they typically give you one round to fix it, or until the next time you draw the same Calamity Card. We did need to shuffle them better, that's how our party member died. We drew back-to-back Cholera cards, and that was it for Mary.

I imagine with more actual players (we created a team of 6, but it was two of us controlling three characters each), it'd be a little more interesting. Lots of complaining and bribes to get people to give you what you need to not die. Even with two people, it was entertaining, and not difficult to pick up once it got going.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Foyle's War 8.2 - Trespass

Plot: The episode opens in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Palestine at the King David Hotel by a Jewish group. The attack claimed the lives of Palestinians, Jews, and British citizens, so the British Army is on the prowl for, among others, a Yakov Weiss. They barge into a family's home during dinner and arrest the patriarch for being Yakov, over his protestations. Back in England, one of Dr. Addis' students, a Daniel Woolf, is attacked and beaten by two men outside the university. Curiously, the family and the university both are eager to ignore the whole thing, but Addis has involved Foyle.

There's also a conference in London in four days, an attempt at some sort of negotiation between the different players in Palestine. No one has much hope for it, and the Security Service has responsibility for, well, security. But they're being roped in with the Foreign Office and a Mr. Ord-Smith. Sir Alec and Miss Pierce are united in their distaste for this situation. They aren't so busy stewing over it they pass up the opportunity to yell at Foyle for speaking to Mr. David Woolf, a maror shipping magnate, who is now dead. Meanwhile, Lea, the daughter of the man arrested for being Yakov Weiss (who has since died), arrives in England on a scholarship to study medicine, staying with an old family friend, Rabbi Greenfield. The rabbi's son, Nicholas, a sound engineer, is quite taken with Lea.

Elsewhere, Adam is trying to contend Fascist Charles Lucas, who is using the Jews as a convenient scapegoat to gather a support base among the disaffected working class, which he then incites to violence, with the support of the local police superintendent. Sam, in addition to helping Foyle and dealing with pregnancy, tries to help a single father with a sick child who is not getting much assistance from the nascent National Health Service. Foyle is briefly freed of this job he doesn't much care for when Ord-Smith demands his resignation as a result of Mr. Woolf's death, but has to step back in to prevent an attack at the conference. So he's back on the miserable job, but has learned all is not as it seems with Dr. Addis.

Quote of the Episode: Foyle - 'So you threatened him accidentally? You beat up his son accidentally?'

Does Foyle go fishing? No.

Things Sam can't do: Follow a dang order to stay in the frickin' car. But if you need a driver to get you somewhere in the nick of time, Sam's your lady.

Other:  Spoilers, natch.

Sam is making regular visits to the hospital, but still tells Foyle nothing is wrong and she's tip-top, and expects him to buy it. Sam, give your boss a certain level of credit for intelligence. People don't repeatedly visit doctors because everything is fine.

While they're out investigating, Foyle tells her to stay in the car, because she gets in trouble whenever she doesn't. Which is an exaggeration, but in this case, she leaves the car and immediately gets a gun pointed in her face. Still, she and Foyle were able to get a warning to Valentine about the attack through the exceedingly simply two-man game of "I'll lead the security guys off to one side, and you sprint past them.' Enjoyable as it might have been to see Foyle try to sprint, Sam was the proper choice, and she made it to the second floor before they caught up. Apparently, England's security service needs to spend more time on their cardio.

Ord-Smith is behind the murder of David Woolf, though he claims his men attacked in self-defense. A curious claim considering they broke into Woolf's home and threatened him at gunpoint, after beating his son. He claims to have been following orders, because Woolf was using his ships to send Jewish refugees and supplies to Palestine (which is why several ships were blown up), but Sir Alec still insists on his resignation. Not because of the murders, or the near cock-up he made of the conference by playing his games, but because he messed around in Alec's yard, so to speak. Gotta love the landed gentry. Kill people, but don't fuck with mah property.

Adam was completely outclassed trying to argue with Lucas. In no small part because Adam is trying to be reasonable and find a compromise, and Lucas is a Nazi. Which means there is no room for compromise. He lets Adam in just to humiliate him, and maybe to play the victim a bit. The big, bad government trying to squelch his free speech. So that Adam can rush to assure him it isn't that at all. Lucas even uses the phrase, "Make Britain great again," during his rally. I was surprised when he pushed for a unified European government, but then he explained they would oust the Poles, Czechs, and other Slavic peoples. It made more sense then. Yet another attempt by a jackass to get more living space. Oh, and he explained to Adam that Africa exists to be 'exploited economically and dominated politically,' which I'm sure doesn't surprise you in the slightest.

I was trying to decide whether Lucas genuinely believes what he says, or just says what he knows will strike a chord. But I think it has to be the former. The hatred he spews sounds so much more genuine than the platitudes he expressed to his son about feeling sorry for what the Jews experienced (right before explaining they could use them as a convenient target). It's unclear what will happen to him going forward. He will undoubtedly not be held responsible for the rioting he incited, or the kindly elderly couple who died when their home was burned down. But his own son has seemingly finally given up any idea of getting his father to stop, and simply walked out. I don't think that will convince Lucas to stop, though.

Foyle and Dr. Addis, woo-woo. She helped him find a quiet place to stay after his brief resignation. She also translated the French intelligence report on the destruction of Woolf's ship. Poring over top secret intelligence reports is the highest form of romance, after all. But alas, it seems that she is Miss Pierce's attempt to get some kind of leash on Foyle, per Sir Alec's directive last episode.

One thing that is true about Foyle: When he decides he's ready to go, he doesn't want any time getting out the door. He was pressed for his resignation, offered it gladly, and immediately left the office, returned to his, grabbed his hat and coat, bid Valentine farewell and whoosh, Foyle has left the building. I've had jobs I disliked as strongly as I think he does this one, but I've never really had the chance to make that sort of exit. Maybe someday, although I would probably be less classy. "Sniff you jerks later," would almost certainly be uttered.

Friday, March 10, 2017

What I Bought 3/8/2017

Was only able to find half the books I was looking for this week. Also overheard the guy who runs one of the comic shops in town say there are only three Marvel titles selling more than 10 issues at his store currently. I suspect the fans want more books with certain characters and aren't getting them, but I wonder if the sheer number of books Marvel's putting out is dragging things down. Diluting sales, sort of. Probably not.

The Unbelievable Gwenpool #13, by Christopher Hastings (writer), Alti Firmansyah (artist), Gurihiru (artist/colorist), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Batroc, when she asks for help, she doesn't mean rooting her on.

Gwen and her team battle Deadpool, and initially win because Gwen employs boss battle tactics against Deadpool. But then she makes the mistake of gloating about him being a guest star in her book, and Wade figures out what he's dealing with, turning the tables. But they realize how stupid it is to play Arcade's game, team-up, quickly dispatch Arcade, and the story moves on to other things. Gwen wants to try and make things up to her friends, but most of them are doing OK. Except Cecil, who is a ghost. So time to bring him back to life.

Firmansyah draws most of the issue. Gurihiru draw the part where Wade takes control of the situation. Firmansyah's style is a little looser than Gurihiru's exaggerates expressions more for comedic effect. It works fine, fits with the established tone of the book. Although at times Gwen's skull seems abnormally large. A bit of a mushroom head thing going. But I like the mental chessboard that appears as she devises her strategy, and that Wade's also able to see it when he grasps what he's up against.

So there's a surprise reveal in this issue which I will not spoil here. You can ask in the comments, or find the post about this issue on Scans daily if you care. But it was effectively surprising, so good on Hastings there. I would never have expected it. Beyond that, the different ways in which Gwen and Wade approach being in a fictional universe was very interesting. It made me reconsider some things about Deadpool, and also has me wondering about Gwen's continued presence. Wade knows he's in a story, knows there are genre conventions governing certain aspects, but mostly accepts these. He goes with it, Gwen is more inclined to exploit the loopholes or gaps. But I wonder how long she can exist in a fictional universe before her actions are controlled by outside forces as well, assuming it isn't already happening.

Nova #4, by Jeff Loveness (writer), Ramon Perez (writer/artist), Ian Herring (color artist), Albert Deschesne (letterer) - Something about that cover looks strange. Maybe just because they're paused as they move in to kiss, or something about the shading. Not sure.

While Rich and Gamora spend some time together, and Rich keeps putting off explaining what's happened to him, Sam goes on a date with Lina. He's awkward, but it could have gone worse. But his little sister tried messing with one of those Nova helmets he has in the garage, the ones the thing from the Cancerverse was hiding in. So that's bad.

I have to admit, this armor plates look Gamora is sporting the last few years isn't bad, though her past costumes set the bar pretty low. Keeping the cloak and hood was a nice touch, though I am a mark for costumes with a cloak and hood. The two page spread contrasting the two couples' evenings was nice. The pair just getting to know each other, not really understanding how this works, versus the pair that have some history, but it isn't Sam learning the difficulties of maintaining the secret identity on a date, but also bringing some of the experience he's picked up along the way. It also feels like Herring is using different background colors for the two threads. More reds, purples, oranges for Sam and Lina, more blues and a tan for Rich and Gamora. It's not a perfect split, there's overlap but the colors when Sam confronts the punks attacking the homeless man are very different from the ones used during Rich and Gamora's fight. Of course, those two are mostly having fun, defending themselves from schmucks, while Sam's trying to protect someone. The stakes are a little greater in his case.

I would really like for Perez and Loveness to get to the point of this Cancerverse resurrection. Deal with that mystery, and establish where the series goes from there. But you know, I didn't realize Rich had a safe house under the monument from the World's Fair. Is that left over from his original ongoing, or one of the ones Erik Larsen did for him in the '90s?

Thursday, March 09, 2017

I Am Lost In A Endless Haze

I Am Alive is an XBox Live Arcade game where you are a guy who has spent a year crossing the country to reach his family after some cataclysm, and has finally reached his home. Now he has to find his family, by climbing lots of things, finding food and drugs, and occasionally killing people. I downloaded the demo some time ago, but never got any farther because right at the end of the demo, it seemed to promise it was going to be be some escort mission thing with a helpless little kid. Escort missions suck.

But I took a chance, and keeping the kid safe simply requires keeping yourself safe. Just don't die, and she'll be fine. Problem being, the game sidetracks you with helping this kid, her mother, and their friend, and at no point do you actually look for your own family. Literally the game ends when you see these strangers safely away and prepare to actually get to doing the thing you're here to do. At least give me the choice of whether I want to help these random-ass strangers. The game does that all the time otherwise. There are "victims" scattered throughout who will ask for something. Food, water, a first aid kit, smokes. You provide it, they tell you mostly useless information. Late in the game, I did happen back by a person I hadn't been able to help earlier on, and she had hung herself. My self-esteem sure didn't need that.

The game has a lot of climbing, so there's a stamina bar, and you have to keep an eye on it, get to some place you can rest for a minute before it runs out and you fall to your death. The game does provide you with "retrys", either for helping people or simply making it through certain levels. I think it really provides them when you're on the verge of running out. "You sure died a lot in that last chapter, have a couple of retrys you clumsy fool." It seems to do that a lot with items. You typically get just enough bullets as you need. You find one bullet, you'll probably face two guys, the first walks up and you surprise him by slitting his throat with a machete, then you shoot the other one. You find three bullets, it's probably 4 guys. You find 5 bullets, etc. It's curious that no one in the game carries any weapons other than pistols or machetes. Nobody went for a katana, just to be a poseur*? Or a shotgun? You do get a bow at one point, with one arrow. Which magically never breaks, handy since the game is almost over before you find any more arrows.

There's a lot of time spent wandering the streets enveloped in dust which slowly chokes the life from you. So your stamina is already dropping, and you have to waste more stamina and time climbing things periodically to get out of the dust so you don't die. But the murky streets, combined with the street map you gradually mark up as you try to find your way, did remind me of Silent Hill 2. Which is not great for I Am Alive, as that's not a comparison it's going to win. Still, the parts where I'm roaming, trying to figure out if I can go down a certain street, looking for places to climb and explore, those were the most enjoyable parts.

* Note: I would probably go for a katana, because I'm a dork. Which is still better than a poseur.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man - Renew Your Vows

In this case, I'm referring to the Secret Wars mini-series, By Dan Slott, Adam Kubert, Scott Hanna, John Dell, Justin Ponsor, and Travis Lanham, and not the ongoing Gerry Conway's writing at the moment.

So, guy calling himself Regent builds suit that lets him draw on powers of super-people he captures and puts in special containment units. By the time the Avengers take him on, he stole enough X-Men powers it's too late. Spidey misses the fight because Regent also released a bunch of villains, including Venom, who knows Spidey's identity and attacks MJ and their new baby. Pete kills Venom (or leaves him to die in a burning building if you're really charitable), but retires to protect his family. Ultimately he has to get back into action, then the whole family has to team-up with the remaining resistance to beat Regent, who was after Spider-Man all along. Because having a Spider-sense would be the key to defeating God Mode Dr. Doom. You'd think he could grab a precog, a telepath, somebody with probability powers, and achieve the same effect, but no.

OK, first things first, because it's been bugging me since I read this: Regent's design is terrible. He's this big whitish blob, with some wiring stuff on the arms and legs, and a red emblem on the chest. He looks like frickin' Colonel Computron or some shit.

Beyond that, it's Adam Kubert's art. By this point, you pretty much know what you're getting with it. It's pretty solid, straightforward, easy to follow. Nothing really flashy. The fight scenes are solid, Kubert can draw an punch with some weight on it. There were some panels that seemed like they needed to be larger, for more emphasis. Near the climax, the whole family is fighting Regent, things are going well, teamwork, lots of small panels of each one taking their shots* , and then Regent grabs Annie, which is bad. The panel is a small, square panel, actually smaller than the others on the page prior with it, but as it appears to represent a turning point (and ultimately faces Peter with his big choice), seems as though it should grab attention a little more.

If you cared about continuity with Secret Wars, you could wonder about how Regent is the only one who knows about Doom-as-God (this Spidey doesn't even seem to have heard of a Dr. Doom. I guess one didn't exist in his world). But I doubt any of you reading this are going to be that broken up about that. I did question Venom being willing to threaten a baby, since he had historically considered Aunt May (and Peter's parents when they were briefly back) off-limits as innocents. But again, different continuity I suppose.

In-story, peter is faced with a moment where it looks as though he'll kill the Regent to protect Annie, since he knows who they are and like Venom could come back to imperil the family. But he chooses not to, and calls this renewing his greatest vow. Which means he broke it when he killed Venom, so are we supposed to see that as a failure, a lack of belief in himself? Peter didn't believe he could protect his family from Venom, so he killed him to remove the threat. He took the safest, most direct route to their safety, and then repeated this strategy by abandoning being Spider-Man, by not trying to help others or trying to defeat the Regent.  In the longterm, they weren't really safe, because they were having to hide their powers with inhibitor chips so they weren't discovered. That might not work forever. Parker was relying on the Tinkerer for inhibitor chips, that wasn't going to work forever. It was more kicking the can down the road on making a decision.

Although that makes those choices seem at odds. Killing Venom was Peter making the decision. Protecting his wife and daughter was worth breaking that vow not to kill. While I'm generally in favor of Spider-Man not killing, when presented as a parent trying to protect his loved ones from someone vowing to torture them (and then probably eat them), I'm not going to fault him too much. That's not even getting into Regent making most of Spidey's rogue's gallery into his strike force, which means it's extremely unlikely Venom stays locked up, and you don't really want a guy with telepathic abilities near someone who knows your identity.

Believing he could always protect Annie would be foolishness. Isn't that something parents are told, to understand that sometimes their kids are going to get into scrapes or trouble, and you can't always be there? Granting that as Peter is a superhero, he has somewhat outsized ideas of what is possible for him, it would still be dangerous to proceed as though he'd always get there in time.

* Kubert uses lots of small panels for most of the fights Annie's involved in, but not so much for the ones that are just her dad. Spidey gets taller, skinny panels mostly, and not as many per page. I don't know what that means.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Two Guys Who Don't Mind Hurting Themselves For Our Amusement

My movie reviews are starting to get backlogged. I watched Skiptrace on Presidents' Day. Jackie Chan is a cop trying to bring down a kingpin who killed his partner. Johnny Knoxville is fast talking card shark who just so happens to have witnessed a murder committed by the man Chan believes is said kingpin. Unfortunately, Knoxville is also in deep with a Russian mobster (who believes Knoxville impregnated his daughter), and Chan had to venture to Russia to retrieve him. Then they have to make it back to China.

So a lot like Midnight Run, or Bulletproof, or Planes, Trains and Automobiles (for the travel hijinks, as I don't recall a lot of martial arts action by Steve Martin), or take your pick. Lots of complications as they try to cross a considerable amount of ground in a relatively short time, and neither likes the other, and one is constantly trying to escape or sabotage the trip. They find some common ground, the cad does the honorable thing, the upright guy learns to enjoy himself, days are saved, criminals defeated.

It definitely has its moments. Chan is showing his age, the stunts aren't as fluid, you can tell they're using more editing to try and cover for it, but that's fine. Dude's like 65 and still 15 times more agile than I'll ever be. He and Knoxville play off each other pretty well. One guy never shuts up, is constantly putting his foot in his mouth, but he's clever enough to to get the drop on someone if their guard is down. The comedy is mostly physical, no real surprise there. Either Chan doing his improvised offense bit during the fight scenes, or Knoxville getting hurt in said fight scenes, that kind of thing. There's one gag involving a Russian nesting doll that got a good laugh out of me. Knoxville's character is enough of a loudmouth jerk that it's fun to watch all the moments he thinks he has the upper hand fall apart, but not so terrible you necessarily want him badly hurt.

Both the Chinese gang and the Russian mob that's after Knoxville have women as their primary asskickers, so those two square off during the big final fight and are swinging away at each other with giant wrenches and stuff, that was pretty cool. Could have been longer. There's a couple of romantic subplots that are underdeveloped, just not given enough screen time to sell them. There's some gorgeous scenery in the film.

But in some ways the film felt long, even though it's less than 2 hours. The whole story is basically the two of them heading back towards Macau, and somehow there's just not quite enough momentum to carry it all the way there. Maybe the plot is too cliched, so you really need something special to make it work, and that's not quite there consistently.

Monday, March 06, 2017

It's Science, Don't Argue With It

Back in the day, I had a professor whose specialty was flying squirrels. Most of his work involved trying to suss out the physiology behind those flaps of skin they use for wings, and what advantage they conveyed. If I recall right, the gliding wasn't much faster than running down the trunk of one tree and across the ground to the other. And the gliding didn't help much in predator avoidance because owls can still easily pick a flying squirrel out of the air. The advantage of powered flight over gliding.

What I'm saying is, now that Squirrel Girl has her flying squirrel suit, I want her to fight the Owl. Presumably he's recovered from his bizarre information overload in the San Francisco stint of Waid and Samnee's Daredevil run, and it's time to get back on the field.  And here's this Squirrel Girl, with the temerity to invade his skies? Can't be allowed, no sir.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Foyle's War 8.1 - High Castle

Plot: In 1942, two lads, Johnny and Albert, try stealing some High Castle whiskey from a merchant ship. But Johnny sucks some of it down and has a violent reaction, and the two make a staggering escape. Four years later, a man is found dead in a forest. He's William Knowles, a professor, but recently had been working as a translator at Nuremberg. In his pocket is the address of the home of one Clayton Del Mar, head of a major oil company, and of considerable importance to the British government, as he serves as an "in" with the shah of Iran (and his oil). Foyle is instructed to tread lightly, so he can't press Clayton when he says he knows nothing about Knowles. But Del Mar did have his goon Grant take a photograph from Knowles' pocket.

Del Mar does have an elderly, dying father, in need of a companion, and that provides a way in for Sam. Foyle's opposed, but is won over by Valentine's assurances he'll keep an eye out. As for Sam, it provides a nice escape from home, where Adam is pressuring her to stop working because of the impending baby, and then she comes home to find him in an embrace with a constituent, Vera Stephens, who has lost her job to a returning veteran. Adam is struggling to figure out how to help her, while reconciling his actions there with how he's acting towards Sam. Anyway, Sam gets the job, but finds the elder Del Mar to be somewhat more perceptive than his arrogant son. On top of that, there's a Soviet agent roaming the streets of London who also has an interest in Del Mar.

Foyle is pursuing other paths, which leads to the university, where he figures out Knowles took a photo from the archive of leading businessmen hanging out with Nazis. The path leads to Nuremberg, where he encounters Mr. Deakin, the lawyer from episode 6.3, who arranges for him to speak with a Herr Linz, that Knowles was working with. But someone has killed Linz with a scalpel to the throat. Fortunately, Deakin recalls that Linz had an attack of some sort recently, and mentioned there was something important hidden in his office. At the fuel producing factory he operated. That used concentration camp labor. Which is why he was on trial.

Quote of the Episode: Glenvil - 'You either believe in something or you don't.'

Does Foyle go fishing? No.

Things Sam can't do: Hoodwink a dying old man, sneak around unnoticed within.

Other: Spoilers below.

The older Del Mar is played by John Mahoney, who readers of this blog will recall was Management on Burn Notice, the first of several shadowy evil bureaucrats. Here, he's a cranky old man who liked Hitler, and constantly belittles his son, to the point his son takes risks he wouldn't otherwise and dismisses his father's advice, because he's sick of hearing it all the time. On the plus side, he gets to watch from his bedroom window while that Soviet knifes his son and drives away clean. Ha, ha, tough shit, old man.

Deakin tells Foyle at one point that he doesn't have an opinion on the trials, that 'studied neutrality' is his watchword. Neutrality seems abandoned once they begin discussing Linz' actions, which is fine with me. I just liked the phrase 'studied neutrality'.

Adam struck out with Sam in record time this week. Strike one was insisting she would have to stop working to care for the child, but not him. Because his work is "different". Strike two came when Sam was preparing to go undercover, as he told her she had to grow up and stop trying to play secret agent. Strike three was her coming home and finding him comforting Vera Stephens. The two of them do reconcile, though Sam still hasn't told Foyle she's pregnant. But it's unclear if one or both of them will stop working or take turns, or what.

And Adam doesn't seem to have any answer for Vera. There's little doubt there was no cause for her job to be taken away, but you aren't going to get far telling badly wounded WWII veterans to piss up a rope. That women were mostly not allowed to join unions was sad, but unsurprising.

I do think, if you're going to ask Sam to go undercover, give her some damn training. She can be a good liar, at times, but she's not very good at being sneaky. If it hadn't been for Mrs. Del Mar lending a hand, she'd never have made it out of the house. And if it hadn't been for Grant being enough of a sadist to want to drag out capturing Sam (or else being too fat to move quickly), she still wouldn't have gotten away. Credit to Valentine for stepping in with the last-minute save, though. He's really starting to go up in my estimation, even being helpful to Foyle willingly.

Foyle was able to find out about the photograph with the aid of a Dr. Elizabeth Addis, a colleague of Knowles at the university. I'm pretty sure she's a recurring character for the remainder of the season.

I feel like Miss Pierce is getting ready to put the noose around Sir Alec's neck. He was having dinners with Clayton Del Mar, he wants men like Linz out there producing (and making bucks) rather than standing trial, and he's trying to push Pierce to bring Foyle to heel. But as he's making all these pronouncements to Pierce, I can't shake the notion she's leading him out on a ledge, getting him to commit to some course of action that can be used to wreck him. I'm not positive, but it would jive with her style.

Friday, March 03, 2017

What I Bought 2/28/2017

No new comics came out for me this week, so here's two books from last week. Both nearing the end of the line.

Avengers #4.1, by Mark Waid (writer), Barry Kitson (penciler), Mark farmer with Rafael Fonteriz and Drew Hennessy (inkers), Jodan Boyd with Matt Yackey and Wil Quintana (colorists), Ferran Delgado (letterer) - Christ, how many people does it take just to do this one issue?

Cressida's attempts to shatter the team almost pay off. Pietro sulks in bed and lashes out at Wanda, Cressida has the Acrobat frame Hawkeye for theft, leading to a blow-up between he and Cap. But Steve pulls his head from his butt in the nick of time, and the team tries to right the ship by challenging the Frightful Four to a rematch, minus Quicksilver. They're doing OK until Cressida boosts Sandman's power, but Hawkeye is able to get Pietro back in the fight, and Cap confronts Cressida. Who appears to instantly kill the team. I'm assuming this all has something to do with whatever Kang is up to in this book's main storyline. Trying to unmake the Avengers in early days or something.

Waid writes a very good early Hawkeye. Always running his yap, always trying to spur people on with jibes and negative reinforcement. Always able to take a heated situation and throw some gasoline on the fire. Overall, Waid seems to get most of the characters, although I've gone back and forth on Jarvis getting back at Hawkeye with itching powder in the costume. It's a good gag, but seems too overt for Jarvis.

Kitson's artwork continues to remain clear and expressive, although you can see the influences of the different inkers (not that I can tell which is which). At the point when the team leaps into battle, Captain America's head is rounder than it was two pages earlier as they left the mansion. The shadows make the chin more pronounced, the "A" on the forehead looks wider. Just little variations. I like the outfit Kitson gave Cressida when she secretly hires the Acrobat. It's strange, the hood and cape combined with wrapping her face in bandages with almost a couple of robot eye things poking out. But it's fairly simple, and kind of cool, which is enough for me.

Great Lakes Avengers #5, by Zac Gorman (writer), Will Robson (aritst), Tamra Bonvillain (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Little surprised there's no "After MacFarlane" on the cover like you see sometimes with these homages. Still a solid cover.

The team has agreed to keep quiet about what happened to Snerd, but Good and her brother are leaving town. Alive, which, as she points out to Flatman, is a leg up on what Mr. Immortal typically managed. Beyond that, Bertha reluctantly agrees to take a modeling gig as both the before and after for some weight loss drug. But it turns out to be a trap - one her agent is in on - to copy her power.

Seems Gorman has dropped whatever he might have been starting with Doorman's boss, Oblivion, being displeased with his work recently. Or even the stuff about Doorman having been away so long, and in such a strange place, he's kind of lost touch. Basically, it feels like once Mr. Immortal was back in the fray, there weren't enough pages for the team.

It is a recurring theme with most of the team that no one believes in them. I'm sure Bertha's agent is going to make her betrayal somehow Bertha's fault, for deciding to go a different direction with her career. Flatman can't get anyone to buy into him as a leader, or even as a hero. Oblivion clearly isn't impressed with Doorman, though the guy is slacking on whatever his job is supposed to be. But none of the GLA really stick to their guns. Mr. Immortal said to bury him alive for a year, and then changed his mind. Bertha had misgivings about taking the gig, but said to hell with it once offered 20 grand. Flatman is decidedly not rallying the team around him. They're all covering up what happened to Snerd, although I don't want to see Good jailed for it, so I don't mind that. They want to be Avengers, without acting like Avengers are supposed to (though hardly alone in that sense these days). I would say the one genuinely good thing they did was sticking up for Good, but even she realizes it's a smart time to get out of here, before her luck runs out.

I'm very surprised that Bertha falling on her agent's legs after they toppled out of at least a fourth or fifth story window didn't, you know, smash said legs into goo. The page where the photographer is encouraging Bertha (in her bigger form) to look as sad as possible ('Frown with your eyes. Perfect!') was some of Robson's better work on the title. The photographer's expressions, from dismay, confusion, irritation were good, too. Robson is capable of doing more understated stuff, but he keeps giving characters that extremely pissed off look, teeth-clenchingly angry, even when they shouldn't be that angry.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

"Nice" Is Not The Same As "Smart", Or "Competent"

So the same night I saw Doctor Strange, after we got back from one of Alex' shows, we watched The Nice Guys. I've seen several good reviews, except that one guy who thinks Ryan Gosling's a terrible actor (I'm not sure I've seen enough of Gosling to form an opinion).

Gosling's an alcoholic private detective and lousy father trying to find a woman named Amelia. He was hired by a lady who insists her niece (an adult film star we see die at the beginning of the film) is still alive, and Amelia is who he suspects the lady saw. Amelia doesn't know why she's being sought out, and hires Russell Crowe's character, who is a sort of low-grade professional thug to dissuade the person doing the seeking. But then other parties show up looking for Amelia, and Crowe and Gosling ultimately team up. There's a hired killer lurking everyone calls John Boy, because he has a mole on his face like the character on The Waltons (the movie is set in the late '70s).

It's very funny, although as Alex noted, I kept waiting for them to do something cool at given moments, only for them to foul it up. Gosling's character in particular. A lot of that is self-inflicted, alcoholism fueled by grief, self-loathing, self-pity. It's easier to not care, not try, as an excuse for failure. Crowe's character is just lonely, trying to find some direction. Wants to do the right thing, has a limited range of skills, which limits his options on how to do it. Things don't necessarily work out on this particular case, but in the longterm it helps both of them.

Oh, probably should mention, as the plot involves the adult film industry, there's a fair amount of nudity, fyi. But it is funny, and I think it does what it wanted to do well. I need to watch it some time when I'm more alert, rather than 3 in the morning.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Drifter Vol. 2 - The Wake

I bought the first volume of Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein's Drifter a year ago, and eventually, I get around to volume 2. It picks up shortly after the previous volume ended, the town reacting to the preacher going on a murder spree and being killed by the sheriff, Lee Carter. The townsfolk are also coming to grips with the restrictions placed on them by their limited resources, and decide to do something about it. They head to a distant crash site to scavenge supplies, only to find another group there. Abram actually attempts to negotiate a truce, but this is wrecked by the "Boss" of the strange hivemind Wheelers that the humans delicately coexist with. Things end explosively.

The surface level of the story isn't much, but there's something they're trying to build beneath the surface. Something about how none of this is what the people think it is. Memories are a mess, people seem to forget things, but know they've forgotten something. Pollux thinks he just crashed, but the ship crashed over a year ago. And at the very end of this volume, we see that Emmerich, the man who shot Pollux almost as soon as he emerged from the ship's wreckage, has the same memory of trying to land the craft as Pollux. Are they both pilots, or sharing memories somehow?

Then there's what one of the Wheelers said, that they only came into existence as when the humans arrived, for the purpose of ridding this world of them. But that particular Wheeler lives with its one small gang of humans, rather than among the group in the town. And it mentioned that the humans have thus far been spared because they serve a purpose, but will be smashed if they step beyond it. Which applies to Wheelers as well, if that individual's fate is any indication. But the Boss Wheeler is choosing not to fulfill his purpose because the humans provide something. So ignoring the truth of things in favor of fruitless desires. Like Pollux, possibly like Lee, who is trying to come to grips with Jonah's death at the hands of the preacher.

So there's something kind of intriguing, but I'm not sure it's enough for me to pick up the next volume. Brandon's writing tries for something poetic, in this slightly stilted manner, and sometimes he overdoes it. 'I had this line I built across the sky. Bigger than anything had ever been. Pulled tight across the distance.' It grates, he's trying too hard for something. And I still don't know half the characters' names after 9 issues.

Klein's artwork is lovely, though. This volume is colored much darker than the first, most of the action taking place in a location the suns don't reach, or inside dingy bars. Characters stumbling in the dark, or traveling under a dark cloud, I don't know which. The violence as the two groups fight feels oddly distant, although Klein draws most of it from a middle distance perspective. Maybe because so much of the violence is done by either a Wheeler, who doesn't seem to really care what it's doing, or Pollux, who I'm not certain much cares, either. He shoots in one panel, a person's head vanishes in the next panel, which separates action and reaction. Plus none of the victim's allies react to it. The flying creatures are gorgeous, and the sequences of them trying to reach their target were beautiful, though you could question whether the pages would have been better spent on a little more story.