Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I Accuse Her Of Breaking His Heart

So, no ranting today. I think. War of Kings #1 had one scene that resonated with me, or maybe just produced an emotional reaction. It was the scene where Crystal and Lorna are discussing recent events. Crystal is trying to rationalize the her upcoming marriage to Ronan the Accuser as being a 'symbol of unification', that it's about consolidating power and influence, not love. She goes on to say that neither she, nor Ronan, actually think this represents a personal relationship.

While she's saying all this, Ronan is standing outside below her balcony, looking rather dapper in a nice green coat*, holding a bouquet of flowers. As Crystal says she's not marrying him for love, Pelletier gives us a closeup of Ronan's face, then the next panel shows him walking off, tossing the flowers away as he goes. Aw, that's so sad.

Well, it was for me. I thought about mocking Crystal, mentioning that Ronan's too sane to be her type**, but I can't really fault her for thinking that. One, she was forced into it by her sister, without being consulted ahead of time, which I imagine would sour one's mood towards the event. More critically, this is Ronan the Accuser we're talking about. The man who seemingly only has eyes for the Kree Empire, will fight tirelessly to protect it, and will do what he feels is in its best interest to keep it strong. It's reasonable to expect that he would regard the marriage as just another duty he must perform for his Empire and its people, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I suppose it could be, that Ronan does see it as a duty and/or mission, and is simply trying to do his best at it. He figures men bring flowers to the women they court or marry, so he ought to as well***. Still, his concern for her during the attack seemed a little too genuine for that. I guess you could explain that as his being devoted to serving the new rulers of the Kree Empire, and that would include not letting the Queen's sister get killed by the Shi'ar Imperial Cannon Fodder, but I don't quite buy it.

So, assuming I'm right (big assumption, I know) what does it mean for Ronan? Is he just smitten with Crystal? He certainly wouldn't be the first, and she's pretty, and generally nice, but can be pretty dangerous if you rile her, which I think Ronan might appreciate. He seems to respect people who will stand and fight for what they believe in****, so that might appeal to him. Or maybe he realizes he's getting old, and while his record of service to the Kree Empire is extensive, and I would imagine, damned impressive, he wouldn't mind having a family. Yeah, I know, that's probably ridiculous, we've not seen any sign he's worried about his future or legacy, I'm just throwing it out there. Plus, there's the fact that he came a hair away from using the Kree Sentry robots to wipe out every Kree on their homeworld during Conquest, so maybe that's got him thinking about bringing people together in a happy way. As opposed to blowing them apart with giant killer robots*****.

* Which he's wearing a cape over, which seems excessive, but works for him. Ronan the Accuser will never be underdressed for an occasion, damnit!

** Well, look at the track record. New Avengers said she had something with the Sentry, poster boy for mental problems. There's the Black Knight, occasionally driven nuts by his sword. Quicksilver, who alternates between being good, being evil, being insane, being evil whilst insane, being insane while evil, or thinking he's God's instrument. Johnny Storm's the most consistently sane boyfriend she's had (that I know of), and he's an immature dunderhead.

*** Which reminds me of that Next Generation episode where Data has the relationship with the other crew member, and he just tries to do things that he read are typical of relationships, without grasping the nuance or reasons why they happen. So he has an argument with her, because that's what couples do sometimes, even now really isn't the time for it?

**** Though whatever respect he might feel probably won't stop him trying to kill them if their beliefs cause them to stand against the Kree, but respect can only go so far.

***** Not that there's anything wrong with blowing people apart with giant killer robots, but there's a time and a place for that, and this is not that time. I know, I must have gone crazy to say such things.

Monday, March 30, 2009

My Scott And Jean

I've been debating throughout the day whether to get with this meme, or do the post I originally had planned, but I finally figured I might as well. I haven't taken part in a meme for awhile, and I haven't really ranted about anything too recently, so why not?

So here should be the link to the description of what "Scott and Jean" means (as I type this, my computer keeps telling me there's an internal server error every time I try and load the page. It's basically something geek-related you feel so strongly about, you can't really debate it, rationally, I think. I have a few of these, of varying intensity, so I've been trying to decide which to focus on. I thought about "Cassandra Cain as a villain/killer", but I don't get angry about that anymore, so much as I just ignore stories which don't jibe with my view of the character (Beechen's Batgirl mini-series, for example). Maybe One More Day, since I don't see why it was necessary to remove the marriage so Peter Parker can have a supporting cast. Hey, I'm glad Pete has a supporting cast, but when JMS put Pete and MJ back together, Paul Jenkins kept including the wacky apartment neighbors he created previously, so I don't think the marriage was the issue, as much as the unmasking and having him move into Stark Tower. But I chalk that up to lazy writers and move on. I guess with anime there's my distinct feeling that as far as the Tenchi Muyo series go, Tenchi ought to wind up with Ryoko, and that prissy princess Ayeka can take a long walk off a short pier into a black hole infested with space piranha, but even there, I don't find myself getting actively riled about it. So I finally settled on the Scooby Double-Standard of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 6.

I've complained about this before, in reference to the Spike/Buffy relationship of Season 6, and the different treatment Faith and Willow receive, compared to their relative crimes. Oddly enough, unlike most things that bother me, where I complain about them on the blog, feel better, and can sort of move on, I can't quite let this one go. I suppose it's because I liked, or at least in Buffy's case, could tolerate the characters before, but was actively wishing for their deaths by the end of the season. There's just something that bothers me so much about how Xander, Willow, and Buffy all pull various crap on other characters, then skate on it. Xander bails on Anya at the altar, then when she has drunk comfort sex with Spike(who had just been told by Buffy it's over between them*), Xander acts as though he's the hurt party, and was about to stake Spike, rather than deal with his own inadequacies. Plus, of course, Spike can't fight back, so Xander can beat him up as much as he needs to feel like a big man.

Then Buffy acts like Spike wronged her by sleeping with Anya, after Buffy freaking broke up with him, and then he gets chewed out by Dawn about hurting Buffy later, and it all ignores the loads of shit Buffy dumped on him throughout the season. The beatings, the insults, diminishing his every attempt to improve himself (which he was doing for her), occasionally pretending they could be friendly when they were alone, then treating him like dirt as soon as her friends showed up. And she gets away with it! No one calls her on this bullshit! And then everyone acts horrified that Spike did something bad (which assaulting Buffy in the bathroom was, I'm not denying that), when they spent the entire season telling him he was bad, that he was a monster, a thing, that he couldn't ever be good. Here's a thought: You want someone who's been evil in the past to stop being evil? Give them encouragement when they do something good. Let them know you recognize their efforts, and appreciate it. If all you do is mock or belittle them, you shouldn't get to act hurt when they decide it's not worth the hassle and revert to old habits.

And yes, Buffy consistently defends and protects Spike in Season 7. Swell, except I still think that support would have done more good when he didn't have his soul. Also, near as I can tell, her friends still don't understand the damage she (and they) did to him the previous year, which probably contributed to the nervous breakdown that lead to the assault attempt, so there's no recognition that, yeah, Buffy really ought to assume some responsibility for Spike, and maybe we should too, since we treated him like dirt, except when we needed him to act as muscle for us. Bunch of poncy bastards, the lot of them.

I've gone into the Willow/Faith thing before, so I won't bore you by repeating all of it (here's one example, the rant in the last footnote). For me, it boils down to accepting responsibility, where the core Scoobs don't, and the others do. Faith accepts she screwed up, goes to prison, stays there until she's needed. Spike decides he screwed up, that he can't be good without a soul**, goes to get one. Anya had a chance, after Xander caught them, to let Spike make a wish against Xander and she restrained herself, because she'd grown to the point she didn't really want vengeance for herself. Meanwhile, Xander's acting like bailing on your bride on your wedding day is no big deal, Buffy's (for a long time) unwilling to risk her friends' scorn by admitting what she was doing with Spike, and I still don't think they know about the beatings she gave him, and Willow gets to foist the blame for her actions off on the magic. Funny, I recall Giles accepted the responsibility for that demon he and his friends summoned back in their youth, even though that was also dark magic, just like what Willow was messing with. Can't quite see the difference there myself.

So, there it is, hopefully for the last time on this blog. Tomorrow, making fun of stuff from War of Kings #1!

* And for the record, I'm glad she ended it, since she was killing him by inches, but she doesn't get to act proprietary towards him afterwards. Where I come from, if you break up with someone, you don't get to be mad if they screw someone else later. You want to be their one and only, then say so.

** Again, I think if the Scoobies had simply encouraged him a bit, he wouldn't have needed the soul. He was struggling to do good, but the point is he was making the effort.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Back To The Foundation

I found a copy of Foundation and Empire, which is the book that goes between Foundation (reviewed here)and Second Foundation (discussed here). As you may recall (or just read on those links), I enjoyed Foundation, but found myself sorely troubled by certain things the characters did in Second Foundation. Foundation and Empire sits in between them in both those areas.

Like Second Foundation, Foundation and Empire is essentially 2 parts. The first is when the a general of the fading Empire gets interested in finding the magicians the worlds at the edge of the Empire speak of. These magicians are actually just technicians and Traders of the Foundation, who still have access to all the technology everyone else seems to have forgotten. Still, the Empire decides they want what the Foundation has, and there's a war, which ends with the Empire essentially shooting itself in the foot. At least, that's how the characters regard it. I'm still inclined to think the two characters that were prisoners for a time of the General had something to do with it, even if it was just starting the ball rolling. I'd say I rather enjoyed this part, which focuses on the duplicity, insecurities, and risks that come with success and power, and how those can be exploited.

The other half takes place decades later, as the Empire has basically fallen entirely. Still there are difficulties within the Foundation between the people running things and collecting profits on Terminus, and the Traders who are doing most of the work. This is interrupted, however, by the looming threat of the Mule, who had come out of nowhere and conquered the world of Kalgan recently. The Traders send a dedicated young couple to kalgan to try and find the Mule, ostensibly to try and team up with him against the Foundation. Instead they find the Mule's court jester, and head back to the Foundation with him. Which gives the Mule an excuse to attack the Foundation, then the Traders, and both of them collapse completely at the oddest moments, simply giving in to despair. Still, there's a single hope - the barely alluded to Second Foundation, if only they can find it, so the young couple, the jester, and an elderly scholar head for Trantor to try and find the location. OK, spoilers are going to start, and possibly some ranting.

Turns out the jester was the Mule, as his name refers not to his physical strength, but his appearance. He's very eager to learn of this 2nd Foundation, since it's another threat to him. The scholar learns its location (supposedly), but the young woman disintegrates his upper body before he can utter it, since she figured out the jester was actually the Mule, and the Mule didn't tumble to that because when she first saw him, she looked upon him with true kindness, and he was so thrown by that, he never pried into her mind or altered it to ensure loyalty. Whoops, but he cops to it as a mistake. For her part, Bayta is pretty cocky, proclaiming that she's completely defeated him, because by the time he finds someone else who can deduce the Second Foundation's hidey hole, they'll be prepared. All I can think is, "You're pretty haughty for someone who just killed a man in cold blood." That's unfair of me, I suppose, since the reason the scholar was able to figure it out was the Mule had amped his brain's abilities up, and that was already killing him. Still, I don't think it's a time for boasting.

Something occurs to me. Ebling Mis, the scholar, is talking about the Seldon Plan at one point, and says there were things which could throw the Plan off, one being a new, unimagined technology which would change life sufficiently that Seldon's plans formulas would no longer apply, the other that humans would stop reacting to external stimuli as they always had. The Mule throws the Plan off because his mutant abilities alter how people react, so large groups of people don't respond as they should. So since the First Foundation is built on science, and could theoretically, resist or overcome any scientific progress that would threaten the Plan, the Second Foundation had to be created to deal with the other, thus, they have to possess the ability to affect emotional response, I guess to force the proper response to happen, if necessary.

There's an issue with all this. It assumes, as Mis mentions, that there won't be any significant change to human society for the 1000 years the Plan needs to take effect. So what does that mean if things do change? If the Plan is so important, won't the Foundations have to work to undo those changes, since they would render the Plan useless? Or would the Second Foundationers, who do know psychohistory and how to work it*, be able to adapt the equations to accommodate it? If the answer is the latter, then swell. If it's the former, then they would be purposely retarding the development of humanity, just to ensure it sticks to the Plan. And as we saw in Second Foundation, they're prepared to let entire planets be razed for that. It suggests a sort of stagnation, that things must remain as they were, or we don't get the spiffy new Galactic Empire we were promised.

* Seldon didn't send any psychohistorians to Terminus, so that the people wouldn't be aware of what dangers the Plan foretold, because if you know, then you stop behaving as expected.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

How Does Bane Define His Actions?

Throughout the opening arc of Secret Six, Bane has refused to use the Venom drug, on the grounds it's immoral, and he only does what he knows is right. That's a credo he stuck to, even as Junior pulped him by throwing bricks, after he declined to sell out his teammates*.

Bane did eventually use Venom, to save Scandal from some goombah named Komodo. it also may have driven him nuts, since he started seeing Batman everywhere**. We'll have to see how sane he is in April's issue. But where does taking Venom stand on Bane's "Only do what is right" stance?

Bane describes using it as being off the wagon, as falling, which would indicate that he thinks it's still wrong. However, he used it so that he could save the life of someone he cared about. Granted, one could argue whether Scandal "deserved" saving***, but to Bane she did, so does that change things at all? Basically, if you do something that's immoral, but do it to save the life of someone dear to you, does that, purify the act somehow, since it was done with good intentions? Or does it, if not make it a moral action, at least excuse the immorality of it?

I think Bane would consider it the latter. I get the impression using Venom is no less distasteful for him, largely because he knows what it will, or could, do to him, but helping Scandal is important enough that he's willing to end up dependent on the drug again. He's decided that her life is worth his suffering, which is rather appropriate considering the larger story about people trying to avoid paying for their sins, or trying for redemption****. Bane accepts suffering, because it will allow him to do something good, so maybe that redeems the act of taking the Venom in some way.

* Almost all of whom were prepared to forget him and move on. Of course, I imagine Bane was primarily thinking of Scandal when he refused to snitch, and she did vote to save him, so the important person cared about him.

** I was a little disappointed that the "Batmans" he saw all wore the current costume, or some derivation of it. Given that it was Jean Paul Valley that initially beat him, and sort of crushed his spirit, you'd think he'd have seen the AzBats suit somewhere in there.

*** Though that gets into the issue of who deserves to live or die, and who decides, and I'm prepared to go into that.

**** Which is, I'm sure, why it's there, it's all part of Gail Simone's plan.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Back To The Books

So let's start with The Osterman Weekend. It's by Robert Ludlum, which means if this copy was published today, it would say something like "By the bestselling author of The Bourne Identity!" on the cover. However, since this was published in 1972, it says 'The electrifying bestseller by the author of The Parsifal Mosaic'. How things change in 37 years, I've never even heard of that book.

The gist is that the CIA is concerned about an extremist Communist cell called Omega here in the U.S. This cell, which consists of between 1 and 6 people, has sufficient dirt on various important economic figures that, were they to blackmail those figures, the country could be thrown into economic ruin. The suspected six people are three married couples, all who know each other, and who are all close friends with another couple, the Tanners. A CIA agent approaches John Tanner and asks him to help his country ferret out these dangerous subversives. It just so happens that all the couples will be coming together for what they call an Osterman Weekend, named because it happens when the Ostermans fly in from L.A. to visit (the other three couples live in the same community in Jersey), and the CIA would like John tanner to just act normal, let them place listening devices in his house, and see what happens, becuase the three couples will all be receiving disturbing and vague messages warning them of. . . something.

Which leads to a weekend of heavy drinking, strained conversation, and people talking past each other because no one is willing to come right out and say what they mean. So lots of confusion, especially for Ali Tanner, who is not privvy to her husband's espionage work, so she gets all of the stress and terror (when that starts), with none of the udnerstanding. For some reason, Ludlum felt it necessary that Ali would have a difficult childhood, with her father being some sort of messianic wannabe living in the desert in a compound with many "devotees", and he eventually got shot. All this really seems to accomplish in story is to show John would like to protect his wife from that being made public in their community, but it barely seems a serious threat. What was more important, and less dealt with, was the idea that John and Ali are supposedly totally honest with each other, no secrets, but John keeps this from her for several days, and maybe that should have been more relevant.

Being an espionage thriller, there's naturally a double-cross, big surprise type thing, which I suppose I really should have caught, but I didn't. There were apparently two clues, which I remembered but didn't make a connection between. To excuse myself, I think one of those could have been flimsy, and the other could have been excused as someone trying to manipulate Tanner. Which is true, it's just the goal of the manipulation was not what I thought it was. It was pretty standard fare, nothing special, good or bad.

The Man Who Never Missed - Steve Perry. One man wages a war against the Confederation on one little planet. The Confederation spans stars, but Khadaji's taking the longview, and this only one step on his big plan to bring the Confederation down.

The book is three parts. Part 1 is the general set-up. Here's Khadaji, here's where he lives and does his business, here's how he does his business. Part 2 is a flashback, the whys and hows, what brought him to this point, where he learned to be as good as he is. Part 3 returns to the present, as Khadaji wraps things up in his current locale, and prepares for what comes next. What that is, I don't know, because that's the end of the book. I imagine there were more books, but this is the only one I have currently, so how was it?

It was pretty entertaining. The bit where Khadaji is unsure where to go, but then meets the wise and powerful old master who teaches him some really super awesome martial arts is a bit cliched, but at least Perry cops to it in the story. That doesn't make it not a cliche, but I get the feeling it's his way of asking us to roll with it, and I guess it serves a purpose. Khadaji has big dreams, that he has to do something that seems nearly insurmountable, but he's still a kid basically, understands little of how the universe works, and so Pen serves as the obviously more experienced character who can teach him. What helps is Khadaji continues to meet people who teach him things all through the flashback, and they aren't "old master" types, they're mostly just people with different lives and experiences than Khadaji, who can teach him things. It's probably about the way the universe works, how you always have to keep your eyes open, there's always something to learn, or someone to learn from.

Like I said, this seems to be the first book in a series, but I think it still works as an isolated work. Perry presents us with certain mysteries about Khadaji in the early going. Some of these are answered in the flashback, some are answered when the book returns to the present, but there are a few that are left unanswered (though there are hints). Still, his campaign of nonlethal guerilla warfare against the Confederation on the planet Greaves, which started here, also ends here, so that's one complete arc in the book.

Charlie Chan Returns - Dennis Lynds. I've never read a Charlie Chan mystery before. My dad's a fan of the movies, and I've watched at least one with him (though I can't recall any of it), so I thought, what the heck. In this, Charlie Chan comes to New York, where his 3rd son, Jimmy, is a cop. While there, Mr. Chan is invited to a party by a Victor Cosmo, and at the party, Cosmo announces he has a ledger with information that will ruin 4 of the guests there (Chan's not in that group). That night, Cosmo gets blown up, and so we're off, with Charlie and Jimmy trying to solve the murder. There's also a robbery of a hotel vault which ties in.

I'm guessing this is a pretty typical Charlie Chan mystery. I figured it out, not by some brilliant piecing together of the evidence, rather I just figured it was the one person that nobody was suspecting. No, not Charlie Chan, though that would mean he placed the hand grenade in his hotel shower, and that would be pretty devious.

What I was left wondering is if there was some sort of translation device, where you put a relatively ordinary phrase in, and it comes out as a Charlie Chanism. At one point, when they have lost sight of the killer they were pursuing, Jimmy comments that it's creepy knowing the killer could be somewhere in the crowd watching them. His dad's response is 'Condition of being policeman. Remedy is to move fast on trail that leads in circle to behind man with gun.' So basically, you need to find him before he can get a shot at you? It's part amusing, part irritating.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pandas Will Take On Anyone

Adorable Baby Panda: So the dream ended in a police station?

CalvinPitt: {Yeah. Strange thing was, it was the police station from Resident Evil 2. The game, not the movie. Where you find the injured cop who gives you a key and asks you to find any other cops that may have survived, then he gets killed as soon as you leave the room.}

ABP: He gets killed?!

Calvin: {Yep. Big ugly monster that used to be human came in through another door and it was bon voyage for that cop. Hmm, I can't remember if he had a name or not. Can't remember the name if he did.}

ABP: Everyone should have a name.

Calvin: {Then let us name him the Honorable Cop John Boeheim, and raise a glass in honor of his concern for others. Salud! *raises glass*}

ABP: There's nothing in that glass.

Calvin: {How true. I'll have to correct that. Why don't you get started? I'll return anon.}

Right! I think Lao the dragon needs a Bonk for eating Man Mountain Marko. It's excessive, and how is Jimmy going to explain that to Norman Osborn? Gorilla Man gets Applause for thinking to buy a cattle ranch so Marvel Boy doesn't have to steal cows for Lao. Actually, Marvel Boy is stealing those cows from some rancher, isn't he? Bonk for Marvel Boy then, unless we find out he left money to pay for them. {That would freak out some people. "Well, Sheriff, this flying saucer dropped fromt he sky and took some of my herd, but then it dropped a birefcase full of money and flew off!" "Sure it did McCluskey. What have you been drinking?"} McCluskey? {Fine, I couldn't think of a good last name for a rancher. Give me a break, and while you're at it here. Raise your glass to Honorable Cop John Boeheim.} OK! *drinks soda* I miss soda. Mom won't let me have caffeine. {Why?} She's says it makes me hyper. {Really? Maybe you ought to give it back. . .} NO! I mean, I'm fine. She just worries too much. I'm giving Mayday Applause for convincing the Other May they don't have to fight, and little Ben gets Applause for saving his mom. {Yeah, except Mayday and Pete were keeping Ben having powers secret from MJ. I imagine they heard something about that.} Then they shouldn't keep secrets! Bonk to Mayday and Peter for keeping secrets from MJ!

Now let me see. Michelle needs a Hug, because she's saw her own death, and it made her sad, Rex Hunter gets a Bonk for showing it to her, Rip Hunter gets a Bonk for not saving Rex Hunter and stopping the whole mess from starting! That Mr. Kilgore gets a Bonk too, for trying to trick Deadpool into dying to help his son's stupid career! {Wade seemed OK with it. After he received 2 million dollars, anyway.} Well it's not OK with me! *drinks more soda* I'm giving Maelstrom a Bonk for dressing stupid, and that old Iron Fist, he's going to sell Danny out, so he gets a Bonk. And the Thunderer, he's planning to double-cross Danny too, so Bonks to him! {Whoa, slow down there! This is getting a tad aggressive. Don't you think maybe the old Iron Fist has a plan? And maybe Lei Kung won't have Davos double cross Danny. How about some applause or something? Maybe for Phyla? She beat Maelstrom with a stick.} Yeah, that was awesome! Applause for Phyla!

The girl Moon Knight is protecting, Carmen, she gets Applause because she tricked that one wrestler into thinking he was about to blow up. Her father gets another Bonk because he still wants to kill her. *drinks more soda* And the Punisher gets a Bonk because he hasn't killed any of the bad guys yet! What's he waiting for, an invitation? He's just a big wuss! {Um. . .} And Sagat, he killed that Hibiki guy! He didn't have to do that! {The guy did take out his eye.} Because Sagat was trying to wreck his school! Sagat's a jerk, and not only does he get a Bonk, I'm gonna go take his other eye right now! {Jeez, calm down. Remind me never to give you soda again *takes soda*} Give that back, I wasn't done with it! {No.} You - ! *lunges, punches Calvin in the face* {Agh! My eye! You took out my eye with that punch! Aw jeez, this is really painful!} Oh, Calvin I'm sorry, I didn't mean to! I just got real excited. I'll get help! {*straightens up* Don't bother, I'm fine, other than what I'm sure is turning into a beauty of a shiner. I just needed to snap you out of that caffeine rage.}

That's a dirty trick! {Maybe, but it worked. You've calmed down, so stay that way, OK?} *grumbles* I was just having some fun. {Fun for you, pain for me and all those chumps, I mean, victims, you whalloped on the noggin.}

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What I Bought 3/24/09 - Part 2

Sunday night I had some odd dream about a small woman, we're talking the size of a ventriloquist dummy, who really badly wanted some item, a coin I think, which she absolutely could not have, so I had to keep shooting her, and she kept dying. Except it kept not sticking. The being dead part, and every time, I had to shoot her more time to stop her. The last time around, we had the item in a police station when she came after it, and I think I shot her 15 times, to no effect, then I slipped, and tried to trap her against a desk with a chair, but she slipped around the chair and was bringing a shiny knife with an ivory handle towards my throat (and I was trying to swing my left forearm up to block her forearm) when I woke up. Don't know where that dream came from. It doesn't have anything to do with today's reviews, I just needed something interesting for the opening paragraph, and I hadn't gotten around to mentioning it yet. Certainly didn't fit with Monday's post, you know? Onward, to ribaldry! Well, probably not. I just wanted to use the word "ribald" today.

Guardians of the Galaxy #11 - Captain Mar-Vell: Abusive parent, or rageaholic? Relax, it's not really him. The whole issue is Drax and Phyla wandering through a otherworldly realm (which they spend some time arguing about which it is, before the find out the truth), trying to find some trace of Moondragon. Which they do, but not until after they run into Maelstrom, who wants out of this realm, and says they have the spark of life he needs to escape. Ohhh-key-dokey, then. Oh, and they find Moondragon, but not in the form they were hoping for.

Wes Craig handles the art chores, and he's another fellow I'm not familiar with, but I dig the work. There are times I think he exaggerates the expressions a bit, mostly with Phyla since Drax is remaining calm, but he makes Maelstrom look properly, off his rocker I'll say. Not a lot, just a little, which works. Really, Craig's art reminds me a little of the Bruce Timm/Mike Parobeck style. Not that it's necessarily their style, but he seems to also use an economy of lines, keep things simple, but still expressive. Writing, I like how calmly Drax handles all this, and the idea that it can be just as bad to have too much Life as too much Death. Which means, Thanos was right all those times he was going to kill lots of people to redress the balance between life and death? Wild.

Immortal Iron Fist #23 - Danny learns stuff from the other Iron Fist, comes up with a way the Immortal Weapons can communicate with each other, gets called on it by Changming (the dude running things in the 8th City), and looks like he's gonna catch a whuppin' from that other Iron Fist. Damn, Danny, you're about to get your ass beat by an old man!

OK, probably not. I'm sure it's all, how they say, part of the plan. Either way, Danny's a clever boy, and resilient too. I doubt I'd be standing if some guy jammed meat hooks through both forearms and had me hanging off the ground that way. Course, I'm impressed they got those around the bones and any major arteries. After all, they wouldn't want him to bleed out. That'd be too quick. I like the bit where Danny decides he might as well hit his demon opponent a lot. I thought Foreman depicted that nicely. That's how you use lots of little panels, if you're going to. I've definitely liked his art more in this arc than "The Mortal Iron Fist", and apart of it is just I think he's using the space allotted him more effectively. And Timothy Green III, artist of that solo issue a couple months back, draws a couple pages of this issue, and I guess he affects the style of art from the time period he's trying to represent. It looks right to me, though I didn't realize it was him until I noticed his name in the credits on my second read-through. It doesn't necessarily show off his style, which is fine. Sometimes the story asks you to set your style aside for something else, I guess.

Moon Knight #28 - I like the spikes on Moon Knight's gloves. Nasty-looking accessories. Lockley defends the girl who would be a witness from the tag-team of the Zapata Brothers. More people try to chase Jake and Carmen, only to get chopped by weird sword guy, who is apparently called the Toltec. OK, then, good to know. And the Carmen's father is not pleased the Zapata's didn't recover or kill his daughter, because that was his big way of showing off to the Russians, who are remarkably not already dead by Frank Castle's hands.

This is moving slow. It's like a dance, where everyone is circling the floor, but nobody's actually picked a partner yet. I have this sense everyone has plans, but no one has put them into motion quite yet. Somehow I don't it's the Zapatas that will light the fuse, so much as it'll be some random idiot, probably trying for the reward on Spector that gets it started. That's how these things seem to work. Everyone painstakingly prepares, then some unexpected thing happens, and plans go out the window, and there's only action.

Street Fighter Legends: Chun-Li #2 - Confession: I stink at Street Fighter games. I mean, I'm terrible. Granted, I don't play much, and I'm bad at most fighting games (Super Smash Bros. and maybe the Dead or Alive games being the only ones I'd even rate myself as competent at), but I mean really bad. Like, "loses first fight on difficulty between really easy and normal" bad. Still, I like the series anyway, like the characters, and I think it's cool how they've built this whole world out of the games, even if I'm not that well-versed on all of it. Besides, Chris Sims touted the face-kicking properties of the series, so what the hell, right?

There's not actually much face-kicking in this issue, speaking quantitatively. But Hibiki does kick Sagat in the face hard enough that Sagat loses an eye, so qualitatively, I'd say that's some good face-kickage. Other than that, there's a bit about Chun-Li and her partner having the usual problems trying to stop Bison's schemes. You know how that goes: Vast organization, very secretive, can't get a bead on what they're up to, etc. Somehow I'd expect a guy who dresses in bright red with a cape to flaunt his activities a bit more. You know, "Yes, I delivered those drugs to your city, and I'll do it again, because my organization is invincible, you can't stop me, ha, ha, blah, blah."

And that's the haul.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What I Bought 3/24/09 - Part 1

Truth be told, the comics actually came in yesterday, but I figured if I put of yesterday's post until after the reviewing and panda-related tomfoolery, I'd probably talk myself out of it entirely. It may surprise you, but there are times when I think one of my posts may be too stupid even for this blog. Stunning, I know, so I find it best to post before I have a chance to reconsider. As to yesterday's post, it seems one thing we can agree on is that if Strange is gonna give up the title, then the replacement should not have a Y chromosome. Hellcat, Elsa Bloodstone, Amanda Sefton, Pixie (even if meant not entirely seriously). Heck, Clea would be my preference out of all the characters that were actually on the cover. Not entirely sure what to make of that.

Agents of Atlas #1 - Woot, it arrived! I don't imagine I need to waste much time recapping it. Venus extends an offer of partnership between Atlas and Osborn, Mountain Man Marko tries to snoop around Atlas headquarters and gets eaten, and the team meets Logan sometime in the past. I wonder whether all these past adventures are going to end up tying together somehow. Will the mind control insects be connected to the weird Soviet jet pilot skeleton guy?

Odds and ends from the issue: Enjoyed Gorilla Man's Continuity Catch-Up. Enjoyed that Jeff Parker took the time at least give us some idea where these characters came from and how they wound up together. Enjoyed little details in Carlos Pagulayan's art, like how the Sentry is sort of playing with Venus' hair during her meeting with Osborn, how he helps her out of the suit, all those things that show how totally in her thrall he is. Also, he draws a really awesome dragon. And Jimmy Woo looks totally fly in his Leader of Atlas Outfit. Little bit Mandarin, little bit Hefner, all cool.

Amazing Spider-Girl #30 - To the surprise of no one, good triumphs over evil. Norman Osborn is banished from Peter Parker's mind and that's hopefully the last we'll see of him in the MC2 Universe. It'd be nice to have one universe be devoid of that pain in the ass. I was surprised at the resolution of the 2 Mays arc. Not at all what I was expecting. It's like that one What If? about the Spider-Clone. The original Clone story, not the '90s one. So that could be interesting. I'm not sure about DeFalco having Peter say he never quite mastered making web parachutes, and had trouble with the landings. I know, it's a piddling thing, but I think it would have been enough to suggest she figured that out without his teaching her, since she'd already demonstrated what she learned from him by properly saving Gwen Stacy. It's an astral plane thing, don't ask.

I think this is it for me and Spider-Girl, at least for awhile. Going back to the previous series, it's been about 90 consecutive issues, and I think I'm good for now. Plus, Spider-Man Family costs an extra dollar, and I'm kind of cheap.

Booster Gold #18 - What are you doing there Rip Hunter? You don't even show up in this issue! Actually, where the hell is he? I've forgotten entirely when we saw him last. One Booster goes after the original knife, and learns it's connected to the Blue Beetle scarab. The other Booster tries to find Rainbow Chronal Man, who turns out to be Rex Hunter, pissed off at Rip Hunter and how he does things. I suppose if a guy let me die because I pushed a Lex Luthor in front of a train (among other indescrections, like trying to stop Barry Allen from becoming the Flash, I'm sure), I'd be mad too. Also, he told Michelle she was supposed to die in the explosion, so now she's on the verge of a breakdown.

Thing I don't understand. Rex is explaining the portal thing. He says 'Ask for any time you want to see, step inside, and you're there.' Michelle responds 'Which means you can't do it on your own.' Uh, what? Where in that statement does it say he can't do it himself? Is she referring to how he would get back? The portal would close and you'd need someone else to request the time you were at so the portal would appear again? I think I need more laughs out of this book.

Deadpool: Games of Death - Wait, Greg Land drew that cover? Really? Huh, maybe Deadpool being fully masked minimizes the telltate marks of Land's style. Wade travels to an island for a life-or-death reality show, supposedly to save the no good son of a rich man, and hijinks ensue. I love that word, "hijinks". Wade poses as Grand Master Woo Ping Yeun, Father of the 'Flying Guillotine', Renowed Master of the patented 'Serpent Strike Death Touch'. That's a pretty impressive title. Anyway, there's much hilarious, slapstick style death, as Wade and the other contestants try to survive the various trials, like mini-bike riding through a minefield. Fun!

Deadpool proves more resilient than expected, and actually has himself a successful day for once. Hooray! It also demonstrates, for as often as Deadpool might be played for comedy when around other costumed types, just how dangerous and skilled he is when dealing with your run of the mill martial artist, special ops type guys. Those chumps never had a chance. Mike Benson does the writing, and follows Daniel Way's current rendition, as Wade argues with his two sets of internal narration boxes and hallucinations. Not a lot of them, but enough to keep it consistent with the current portrayal. I'm not familiar with Shawn Crystal, the artist, but like the style. His Wade is a slimmer fellow, closer to the Reilly Brown version than the Paco Medina, Ed McGuinnes style, which is fine. The art remins me of someone, but I'm not sure who. Doesn't matter, I like it fine, though I wonder how Kariem Williams got the top half of his afro cut off, but not the top half of his head. Curious.

Monday, March 23, 2009

We Will Be Accepting Astrally Projected Ballots

As you may be aware, we face an important choice here in the year 2009. Marvel Minister of Information, Mr. Bendis has informed us that Dr. Stephen Strange will be removed from his position as Sorcerer Supreme, Master of the Mystic Arts, Defender of our Reality from Breeding 4th-Dimensional Hyper-Fungi, and whatever other titles he possesses (excepting his doctorate of medicine, of course).

Now, there are going to be a lot of beings vying for your support to help them gain this position, and we here at Reporting on Marvels and Legends feel it's important you know more about these candidates.

Brother Voodoo: Sure, his supporters will tell you that he was the person Iron man turned to when he needed to know if Dr. Strange and his New Avengers were hiding in the apparently run down Sanctum Sanctorum. What they won't mention is that Voodoo wasn't able to determine whether Strange was there or not, because his magic is weak. Furthermore, did you know Voodoo owns a partial share in the Mm-mm Chicken Conglomerate? That may not seem relevant, but this is a man who frequently kills chickens, ostensibly for his voodoo rituals. But who do you think those chickens belong to? That's right, honest, hardworking folks like you and me! And when we don't have chickens of our own to eat, guess who we have to purchase chicken from, thus improving their bottom line, and that of their shareholders? That's right, Mm-mm Chicken Conglomerate.

The Scarlet Witch: Really now. We're expected to entrust the protection of our reality to someone who goes around killing friends and drastically altering reality simply because her children were imaginary? She says she's better now, but she's said that before, and then gone around the bend. Can we possibly trust her?

The Hood: Mr. Bendis would have you believe that Parker Robbins is a fine choice. That he's the All-American success story, coming from low beginnings, gaining power through hard work and seizing every advanatge that comes our way, and that he'll work to protect us. What he doesn't tell you is that Mr. Robbins has a close partnership with Dormammu, Chairman of Dark Dimension Incorporated, who has attempted hostile takeovers of the 616-Reality Company on several occasions. So whose interests is Parker Robbins really serving, hmm? Besides, Mr. Robbins is as prone to using cyborgs to do his dirty work as the mystic arts. If we wanted someone reliant on technology, we'd call Tony Stark, or perhaps Ted Kord, since he's not busy these days.

Dr. Doom: Dr. Doom certainly seems a qualified candidate. Brilliant, driven, already well-versed in sorcery. Still, Doom has maintained close relations with dangerous sorceress Morgana Le Fay, and on one occasion, killed a woman who deeply loved him and used her skin to make mystically powered armor. Now this dedication to his craft sounds promising, but it also reveals that Victor von Doom focuses too much on the big picture. Sure, it's great if he saves the universe, but if the spell used requires him to kill an entire country, as it's powered by their pain and anguish, well that's a bit drastic, isn't it? Especially since you couldn't be certain you wouldn't be the one sacrificed. One thing is certain: it wouldn't be Dr. Doom sacrificing himself.

Illyana Rasputin - Certainly knows her way around a Hell Dimension, and her old-fashioned policy of dealing with threats by stabbing them with her magic sword until said threats die will certainly appeal to those fond of the good old days. Still, contrary to what manga may have taught you, it's rarely wise to entrust the safety of your reality to a teenager. Too mercurial, unstable for the job. And how do we know she isn't working with the rulers of Limbo, as she's so recently left?

Ghost Rider - Well, it would be pretty cool to have a stunt biker with a flaming skull be Sorcerer Supreme, but let's be serious here: There's no way he can possibly wear the Cloak of Levitation without his tires lighting it on fire as he tears down the highway. And we can't have a Sorcerer Supreme who can't use a Cloak of Levitation, that would just be ridiculous.

The Druid - Dr. Druid's son. Now, if his father had taught him a few things, we might be on to something. As it is, he has less experience than any of the other choices. Plus, there's the question of whether we want Nick Fury to have access to all the places a Sorcerer Supreme has to go. It sounds like a good idea to have Nick Fury deal with extra-dimensional beings by smashing into their homes on a rocket cycle, firing two guns while smoking a cigar with no shirt, but then you find out they were having a peaceful dinner, and now the entire universe is being attacked by aggrevied sentient cucumbers.

Other Guy With Flaming Skull - Um, Zarathos? It's not that Ghost Rider knockoff Vengeance is it? Look, if we don't even know who he is, there's no way we can go handing the keys to the groovy pad in Greenwhich Village over to him.

Clea - On the positives, she's a longstanding opponent of Dark Dimension Incorporated. Learned from Dr. Strange, and has helped defend this realm, even though it is not her home, showing a level of empathy that we could believe in. On the other hand, she also did the nasty in the pasty with Ben Franklin, potentially endangering our timeline. That's a rather cavalier attitude to take. Also, come people may be put off by the fact Dormammu is her uncle, assuming guilt by association. Plus, if Strange was her teacher, then mightn't she repeat his mistakes?

So all these candidates have their strengths and weaknesses. But as leader of Reporting on Marvels and Legends, I'm going to throw my weight behind a true dark-horse candidate. No, not Hellboy (we already asked, he declined to jump realities) Someone who's been exposed to magic through people other than just Dr. Strange. Someone who can use magic, but doesn't like it. You may find that a curious qualification, but the most common downfall of Sorcerer Supremes is falling in love with the power, as witnessed by attempted coup d'etats by Baron Mordo. A Master of the Mystic Arts who distrust mystic arts is less likely to be seduced by them.

With this in mind, I throw the full support of my organization behind. . . Patsy Walker, Hellcat!

Patsy Walker has years of experience dealing with the odd and unusual from her time as an Avenger and Defender. She did have a disastrous relationship with Damion Hellstrom (as her more mean-spirited competitors will no doubt bring up), but Patsy admits to it. The experience taught her many valuable things about magic, and made her a more formidable opponent, to the extent she even outsmarted Hellstrom and Dormammu when they attempted to takeover all the other Underworld realms*, a clear demonstration of her understanding of the value in keeping threats to our realm divided. Plus, Patsy Walker will look out for the average citizen, and have a bright, cheerful disposition while doing so, a delightful change from the typical brooding, unfriendly mystic defender.

In 2009, vote Hellcat for Sorcerer Supreme**!

* As detailed in the Extra-Dimensional Committe report submitted by Engelhart and Breyfogle, Status Update On Dark Dimension Incorporated's Hostile Takeover Attempt of Various Other Smaller Scale Afterlife-Suffering Based Corporate Entities. ** This post was paid for by A Blogger Supporting Hellcat As New Sorceress Supreme. Hellcat is not affiliated with this organization in anyway, and comments here do not reflect her opinion, only those of CalvinPitt.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Little Lighter Reading Material This Time

Just two sci-fi stories I managed to polish off in the last couple days.

Clarke County, Space - A reporter is told the story of what really happened on man's first self-sustaining orbiting satellite that nearly brought it to ruin. It involves gangsters and their molls, sentient computers, time travel, and the Church of Elvis. And that sums up the problem with the book, I think. Allen Steele throws a few too many things at the wall, and so they don't have any real resonance. The revelation that the station's central computer has developed sentience is just sort of thrown out there, with the time traveler figuring it out, but no time is really spent delving into the ramifications, and no one who learns about it shows any real surprise. We spend more time learning the story of the man who founded the Church of Elvis and what his reasons were. Steele could be making a point that artificial intelligences gaining sentience is old hat in science fiction by now, to the point even the people in a story that have never seen it happen aren't fazed by it. Still, I can't really fault a book for having too many ideas in it, even if I think they could have used more fleshing out.

The Stars Must Wait - NASA plans to send ship to Callisto to form permanent stable colony. The crew (and the backup crew) are placed in cryogenic suspension in preparation, on the day the Air Force One just happened to get shot down, with a Russian fighter seen in the area. Yeah, you guessed it, astronaut wakes up decades later, finds world in ruins.

Couple of problems with this book, one sort of piddling, one I think more critical. The piddling detail is that I can't get a handle on the whens of stuff. The main character, Torrance Jackson, finds some preserved newspaper articles that suggest things fell apart around 2008-2011, and that there was no war, just internal unrest (people refusing to vote, to pay taxes, military just up and coming home, people rushing into banks and burning all the money, etc.). When he finds the remains of his home, he notes how messed up his car looks (this is before he recognizes the amount of time that's gone by), even though it's an '01. Yet he finds a headstone in the backyard suggesting his wife died in '92, except he was heading back home to see her and his pre-adolescent son, so clearly she wasn't dead when he left. Like I said, little thing, kind of irritating.

The more critical issue is Jackson himself, because he seems shift from having a goal, to drifting aimlessly rather quickly. He wants to get home, then he wants to get to this "Palace" he hears about, then he resolves to overthrow the other crew member he finds running things there, then he spends a considerable amount of time wandering through a squalid nearby settlement, or meeting a random couple and teaching them all sorts of things that have apparently been completely forgotten in 80 years (or less, and we'll get to those things in a minute, because I'd like your input on whether it seems feasible). Then he abruptly remembers he needed to stop his old crewmate, and rescue a nice girl he met at the palace, and so off he goes again. It's all herky-jerky and inconsistent, along with his physical condition. He's rather dazed when he gets out of the tube, but he's strong enough to walk several miles to his home, except then he conveniently gets too weak to even stand. He can beat up two guys in a fight with limited issue, but the next thing you know some guy slams him against the wall and he's remembering how weak he is. Oh, and sometimes he has a sprained arm that he can't even lift apparently, but he can still use a bow sometimes. There's mention of a flying thing that swoops around and kills, and can even go inside homes, but you never see it, or even hear it, just hear mention of it. It's as though there are pieces of the story missing. Jackson tends to black out, fall asleep, get knocked unconscious a lot, and at times the book makes me think the same thing happened to me while I was reading. Or maybe it was the editor that kept nodding off.

OK, the issue of everything that's been lost. Not surprisingly, electricity is out the window, except at the Palace, since the crewman running things was an engineer type, so he can keep a generator going. Everywhere else, forget it. People don't know that you can use coal for fuel. They only eat some tinned goods referred to as "prime", and think the idea of killing a pig or chicken is disgusting, or ridiculous. Agriculture is pretty much unknown, 'cause who would eat weeds that grow out of the dirt, right? They don't know about nails, or what wheelbarrows, or hoes are for, or that you could domesticate dogs, and they would guard your home. Most people can't read, they think tanks and cars are magic, and one character looks at a bottle of Aunt Jemina and thinks it must be made out of people.

Oh, and any concept of altruism has gone flying out the freaking window. There's an extended sequence where Jackson comes across a guy complaining he's hurt his leg, when jackson goes to help, the "injured" party has a friend who tries to rob him, except Jackson has a gun and they don't. He only wounds the guy, and then the partner kills him and tries to act like Jackson did it, even though there's nobody else around. And this repeats itself, with people trying to attack Jackson, him only wounding them, then they ask for help, and try and whack him with a pipe or something when he starts to try and assist them. And even if they failed the first two times, they keep trying the same crap over and over. Everyone interprets his willingness to help others as a sign he's stupid (when they seem to be the ones whose brains barely function well enough to keep them breathing). I don't know, maybe I'm a sucker, but I find it hard to believe humanity would slide that far, that fast.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Once More With Patsy Walker: Hellcat

Fine, so the title is probably inaccurate. After all, this is just ideas I had after reading the final issue, without having the previous four around to check things against, so I'm sure there's a post like that somewhere in the future. Maybe.

The thing I think I hit on with Patsy Walker: Hellcat #5 is, for all the speechifying about portents and heirs, and souls being stolen and everything else, it really boils down to a story about teens conflicting with their parents. Ssangyong wants to be an artist, has creativity in her heart*, but her mothers (all seven of them) want her to follow in their footsteps, be a shaman, that kind of thing. All the stuff they gave Patsy about how they got out into the area around their home, map it out, and then return, is just a metaphor for how people settle into routines, get less adventurous as they get older. They won't just hop in the car and drive wherever, they have to have a specific destination, and a map to make sure they get there**. When they tell patsy that they can't find their heir, that all their maps just lead in circles, it represents how different generations have difficulty understanding one another because they come from different places. Ssangyong wants different things from her life than they did, and they can't understand that, so they can't "find" her, where that represents being able to really communicate with her.

The stuff about how Patsy must rescue their heir from the Windigo, before it devours her soul is "parents don't like your new boyfriend" problems. The only way he's going to steal Ssangyong's soul is by encouraging her to go do what she wants, rather than listening to her parents. That's the problem with him as far as the kooky shamans are concerned. After all, he's magic, they should love that their daughter is hanging out with a magic creature, rather than a doctor, or law student or something. But he's a sign of her growing independence, so she must be rescued from him.

The shamans believe ravens are significant when it come to Ssangyong because one flew overhead when she was born, so any ravens are a portent that must be heeded. Seems like the overprotective parent syndrome, where the kid scrapes their knee once when they fall off their bike and after that it's much too dangerous to let them go outside. Or a raven did something bad to them when they were younger, and so they're sure it will do something bad to Ssangyong as well. The father being turned into the map that looks like a "calendar"? He's a map because he comes from the world Ssangyong wants to be part of, he can talk with her in a way all those shaman/moms can't, so he's the one that can guide the way to some sort of peaceful resolution. The fact that he looks like what Patsy believes is a calendar represents all the years he spent in that form rather than step up and be a parent. If he had accepted responsibilities as her father, he could have served as a buffer or mediator between daughter and mothers. Sure the shamans changed him that way initially, but they tried to change him back, and he didn't want to be changed back, so it didn't work. So he represents time, time lost, time wasted on pointless arguing where the principals involved just talk past each other.

With all that said, and me feeling pretty pleased with myself, it's time to raise the questions I still don't understand, namely, what all this had to do with Patsy herself? I still think it has something to do with her relationship with the mother that made her a multimedia superstar from childhood on, and Patsy getting sick of the control her mom was trying to exert on her through that. I still don't understand what was the deal with the fellow who took her on the tour on the snowmobile, but also was driving the SUV when Patsy received this mission. How does he figure into all this? He never appeared again, but he's the only character that Patsy sees in both worlds. That has to mean something. Ssangyong pointed out that Patsy was supposed to have seven helpers with her, but at the time she reached the ship, she was a little short***. She had her wolf, the bear, the rabbits (which only count as one). I'm guessing the map/father counted, and Patsy mentioned she had a snow lemming for a time. That's five. My guess is that Pete and Ssangyong are the last two. Patsy's weird reflection in #3 said that the helpers would not always ask nicely, and Ssangyong certainly wasn't being nice. But she kept them from falling into the really cold ocean, and Pete swallowed all the ravens his girlfriend unleashed in her angry, keeping everyone from getting their eyes eaten and being left gasping****. Also, I'm still concerned by what it means that Patsy was so cavalier about letting the wolf and the Bear with Antlers fall into the ocean. That was pretty cold of her, even if she insists they'll be fine.

* And thus is horrified that her parents were so terribly uncreative as to name her after an SUV. And it just occurred to me, that is the vehicle Patsy is driving isn't it? A Ssangyong Rexton. I'm so terribly slow it kills me sometimes.

** Sadly, this describes me as well. I don't really drive without having a specific destination anymore. Alex and I used to just cruise around wherever the road took us for hours. Then gas got more expensive, and golly gee, my vehicles mileage started to get up there a ways, and I just kind of stopped. I'm too young to be acting so old.

*** I find it amusing that Ssangyong apparently hates the life of magic she grew up in so much, but not only did she end up dating a Yeti with magic powers (though I imagine the options were limited), she certainly doesn't mind spouting off about mystical requirements when it suits her. or using magic to unleash a horde of ravens when she gets pissed. I guess that shows the ability of teenagers to be so busy being angry at the world, that they miss their own hypocrisy.

**** That's a nice curse. I need to remember to use that sometime.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I'm Not Certain I'm The Best Person To Dicuss This Book

There were times when I wasn't sure I would manage to finish I'm Not Stiller in time to use it for today's post (and by the time we're done, you may wish I hadn't). It's actually 100 pages shorter than Dead Man's Song, but it feels considerably denser. Of course, Dead Man's Song didn't have me on the Internet looking up Orlando Furioso to try and figure out what the characters were referencing.

A man with an American passport, Sam White his name, passes through Zurich, and is halted by a customs official, who wishes to investigate the passport. White becomes annoyed, eventually bops the official in the ear, but doesn't flee. He soon finds himself in prison, not for hitting the official, but because the people of Zurich are convinced he is a sculptor who lived there years before, name of Anatol Stiller. White insists this is false, but is told they believe he is Stiller. A veritable horde of people keep insisting he is Stiller: Stiller's wife, Frau Julika, his defense counsel, the public prosecutor (name of Rolf), the prosecutor's wife, Sibylle (who had an affair with Stiller), Stiller's brother Wilfried, all of Stiller's friends. And still White insists he is not this Stiller. They provide White with notebooks, in which he is meant to describe his life, in theory providing verifiable details which will prove he is not Stiller. In practice, White does very little of this, and the notebooks (which compromise the first 350 pages of the book) are filled mostly with stories the other people tell him about their experiences with Stiller, or with White's feelings about his current situation. The final 50 pages are notes from Rolf, describing interactions he had with White after the whole affair concluded, as they had grown to consider each other friends during White's incarceration.

SPOILER! White, for all his protests, does turn out to be Stiller. Or else everyone has browbeat him with that "Fact" to the point he simply accepted it as truth. White admits that he feels he has no identity, so I can't rule out the possibility that he simply went along with everyone just to shut them up*. I don't believe that's what Max Frisch is going for, but it's a nagging idea I can't shake.

One thing about this book is that I frequently found myself set on edge by it. Part of it is the characters, and part of it is Frisch's writing style. At times I feel I've gotten the point, or a point anyway, yet he continues on. For example, the 2nd Notebook is White relating to us the story of Frau Julika and Stiller's relationship, I presume as told to him by Julika. Within the first 15 pages or so, it becomes terribly clear how doomed the marriage is, how hamhanded and occasionally cold Stiller can be to Julika. Certainly, it was enough for me to conclude Julika was better off without him (and to wonder why she seemed so determined to convince White he was Stiller), but the chapter goes on for another 45 pages of people hurting each other with words and indifference. It became a struggle to get through the book, which is where Frisch's style comes in. He varies between terse conversations between characters (where all the dialogue is lumped together, so that it can be difficult to tell which character is speaking, and if they are alternating or if one character keeps starting and stopping statements), and these monologues by characters, expounding on their beliefs on marriage, freedom, identity, love. The most frustrating one came late in the 7th notebook, as White's counsel has grown tired of White's refusal to be Stiller, and begins ranting for 4 pages, a stream of consciousness of useless cliches about pulling oneself together, not letting logic rule all, but letting emotion have its way, and putting the past aside, and on and on. All the while, I kept wishing White would punch the stupid prat in the mouth, or that I could reach into the book and do it myself. Alas, not to be.

OK, so those are some complaints out of the way. What's the book about? Well, that's where I'm lost. I feel like the discussions of marriage, identity, freedom, all that, have to tie together somehow. How, I'm not clear. Rolf went on at length to White about his belief on marriage, some load of drivel about how neither person can feel trapped by the other, where one doesn't claim they'll cease to exist without the other, where one must expect living experience, even if it endangers the marriage, and sexual fidelity isn't required. personally, I think he just made all that crap up to excuse meeting other women on business trips. To his credit though, he didn't get pissy when Sibylle started seeing Stiller. Of course, she wanted him to get angry, to show he did actually care, but it took him some time to get around to that (two years, roughly). I can't see how he can still believe that about marriage after the stories he and Sibylle told, but he described it to White in their present, and the affairs were in the past, so he justifies it somehow.

White and Rolf both talk about how having an identity involves accepting what you are, rather than worrying about what you are not. Stiller served in the Spanish Civil War (Communist side), but failed to fire on Fascists to defend a ferry. Throughout his marriage to Julika, he could never forgive himself for that failure, when the point was, that wasn't who he was. The other thing that seems to be important is to not only know who you are and are not, but to be comfortable and self-assured about it. White notes that people will often quickly correct misconceptions others have about them, seemingly because they do not wish to be seen in that way. Apparently, this represents the person not being comfortable as themselves, even if they know who they are. I guess if they are comfortable as themselves, they wouldn't worry if others have misconceptions about them. Or, would they simply be certain that who they truly are shows through clearly enough to rpevent the formation of misconceptions? How this relates to White is that everyone is trying to claim he is Stiller, to attach motives for the stories he tells of his life** that would work for Stiller, and White contends, naturally, that he is not Stiller, that a criticism of Swiss government and policies is not evidence of self-loathing, or that he didn't not flee to escape militarys ervice, because he never fled at all, damnit. Yet, by White's statements, by trying to fight their misconceptions, he's weakening his own identity, isn't he?

Then there's Frau Julika. She is an undemonstrative person, which makes her seem cold, or disinterested in things not related to dancing (she was a fine dancer once, even with tuberculosis). Stiller apparently saw something more lively in her, and is was determined to bring it out. Why? Julika has no idea. She tells Rolf she has no idea what Stiller wants from her, so his attempts fail, and he apologizes and she half-heartedly says she forgives him, not because she actually thinks he's done anything wrong, she just doesn't really want to get into all of it. Unfortunately, Stiller perceives her "forgiveness" as admitting he did do something wrong, when he wants her to tell him he did nothing wrong. It drives him nuts. So Stiller has a picture in his mind of what Julika can, or should be, and it drives him nuts that Julika won't be this person. Julika meanwhile, seems to know who she is, and is merely tired of Stiller trying to force her to conform to his image. On the one hand, Julika seems to have her identity settled, and she doesn't waste time trying to explain to Stiller that the Julika he wants to see will never emerge. At the same time, Julika complains that Stiller has formed this image of her in his mind, and expects her to remain thus forever, which imprisons her. So she's not free, except that whatever the image has isn't happening. She isn't the person he wants to see, that's why he's so frustrated.

So is it all about talking past each other? White often complains of both Julika and his counsel, that anything he says, that isn't admitting he's Stiller, simply passes by them. Rolf presumably has his theory of marriage to allow Sibylle freedom from the hurt he causes by not remaining faithful, but Sibylle sees it as indifference. Likewise, she has her affair with Stiller to try and get some sort of reaction out of Rolf, some sign he cares, but Rolf sticks to his theory and does nothing. Even when she is waiting for him to ask her not to go to the U.S., and he knows that's what she's waiting for, he does nothing because he thinks she has done wrong, and should make the first step, not realizing that's what the freaking affair was, an attempt to get him to explain how deep his feelings go.

I think I'm Not Stiller is probably a well-written book, and it can be entertaining, but it can also really drive me up the wall. I think I was expecting it to be a bit more like Catch-22, though isntead of the trap of being crazy enough to be removed from duty, without telling the docs you were crazy, we're presented with the difficulty of proving who you are, or who you are not. it didn't wind up being as hirlariously absurd, which was disappointing. I don't think that was Frisch's point, but like I've said, I'm not sure what point he was driving at? It can't be as simple as "Accept youself and others for who you and they are", can it?

* White is taken to a dentist, because he needs some work done. It isn't Stiller's dentist, but the dentist's nephew, who is confused by the fact that the condition of White's teeth don't match what's on the X-rays, or what he's observing as he probes around. The dentist attributes it to his uncle using outdated methods, or simply being a poor dentist, and White's mouth is stuffed with cotton, so he can't explain. But if he's Stiller, why would his dental condition be so different? Yes, it's been six years, but could things have changed that much? Or are we to infer that the young dentist is right, and the blame falls on the shoddy work of his deceased uncle?

** Some of the stories intersect with Stiller's, such as how White "murdered" his own wife, and there's a Director White supposedly killed in Jamaica. Other stories overlap with each other, or become confused. At one point, White tells of living in a house in Oakland, and being forced to care for a cat he despised, which one night ran away and returned injured, to the horror of Helen, who lived with White. This is as he relates it to his counsel. To his warder, the only one who believes he isn't Stiller, he repeats the story, but Helen is noticeably missing, and the concerned woman is a girl named Florence, who he had mentioned in a earlier story. Florence doesn't live with him, but she finds the cat, returns it, and chides White for taking poor care of it. He had earlier said he saved Florence from her home burning down, then stolen a car and run for the Mexican border with her, only to be pursued by her solider husband, who he killed. How much of any of this is true, I have no idea.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Questions About Immortal Iron Fist

I don't have answers for all of these, but maybe you do. They're just questions I found myself with today. I guess I could wait until my next shipment brings this month's issue, but patience is not really one of my virtues.

1) Davos said that the 8th city was created to house monsters and demons that plagued K'un-Lun thousands of years ago. But they wouldn't have only been threats to that city, right? It took all the original Immortal Weapons to banish the creatures, so there had to be something in it for the other cities as well, since they don't seem to have been that chummy with each other prior to Danny coming along.

2) The reason Danny's going there is because there are many people the previous ruler of K'un-Lun dumped there for questionable reasons. How was that Yu-Ti able to send them in? yes, the gate is supposedly always open, but it doesn't appear to be something you can simply walk through. The Immortal Weapons had to use some sort of weird chi-focusing exercise to get through, and I can't imagine it's easy to get people to focus their chi and open the path to a hellhole you're about to throw them into, so how did that work? Did Yu-Ti have some special key that makes it easier?

3) This one is a bit older. In the Tournament of the Heavens, Davos represented the city of K'un-Zi, ruled by the Crane Mother. I'm wondering why she wouldn't have had any other suitable candidates come along prior to that? Yeah, Orson killed her weapon at the Tournament That Wasn't, but that was 70 years ago in the real world, no telling how long it was in K'un-Zi, since time seems to work differently there. The other cities can find new representatives in that timespan, witness the fact that the current Bride of Spiders is not the same one that came after Orson in the mountains of Tibet with the Lightning Lords of Nepal. It strikes me as odd the Crane Mother couldn't do better in all that time than an Iron Fist wannabe like Davos.

4) How Xao know about the 8th City? He's related to those Lightning Lords somehow, did they or some of their family spend time in the 8th City? If so, how would Xao have escaped (if he grew up their), or know about it, if he was born/grew up elsewhere? At this point, mentioning the 8th City seems to have been Xao dangling the carrot in front of Danny's nose, to lead him into a trap, which makes me think Xao is familiar with life there, but that still raises the question of how he left.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Dead Man's Song Is Surprisingly Cheerful

Yes, it's another book post! I suppose I'll be alternating for as long as I can continue to finish books quickly enough.

First order of business: As far as I can tell, nowhere on the cover of Dead Man's Song, front or back, does it inform the reader this is simply the first part of an at least two-part story. Which would have been helpful information, if only so I'd stop wondering how the heck Jonathan Maberry was going to wrap everything up in the last {insert however many pages were left at that moment}. When all along the answer was that he wasn't. There is sort of an ending, a fateful confrontation between some of the protagonists and one character that had bedeviled them throughout, but the main evil is still very much cruising along, plans still in motion. It's reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back, where the Rebels have been taking it on the chin throughout the whole movie, but at the end you can (maybe) console yourself that at Least Luke and Leia are still free to rescue Han, and oooh, Luke has a robot hand now. That's pretty cool! In a more plotcentric way, it reminds me of a combination of Salem's Lot, It, and The Talisman, if that's of any help to you at all*.

The book itself is centered in a town in Pennsylvania called Pine Deep. Thirty years ago there was a terrible crop blight, then a string of murders, which ended abruptly with the death of a character. Which character's death it was, I'll let the book tell you. Either way, at this point there's another terrible blight, the ghost of a black drifter with a guitar the children called the Bone Man has shown up, and people are dying. There's a malevolent force buried in Dark Hollow consolidating its forces for a big to-do on Halloween (the book starts at the beginning of october, and makes it to Friday the 13th, called Little Halloween by the locals). The townspeople are either unaware anything is happening, don't grasp how dire the situation is, or have some grasp on it, but are responding by getting frequently drunk rather than being, you know, useful.

The problem in question is vampires. Or werewolves. It's a bit muddled. The evil in Dark Hollow appears to be a werewolf, but is somehow turning people into vampires. How it does this, especially since it's buried in the swamp, not actually doing anything itself (it communicates telepathically with its various minions, both vampiric and human), I haven't the slightest, but there it is. Sure, once you have one vampire, it can make others, but how did you make the first vampire? Also, the vampires vary. Some burst into flame in the sun, some don't. Some still have their full cognitive abilities, some are barely as intelligent as your average shambling zombie. Why? No one knows. Seriously, no one in the book has any idea, including the people working for Head Evil Being. All this confusion irritates me.

There's also a teenager who is apparently very special. He's the stepson of Head Evil Being's Renfield, and his father (or the man he thinks is his father) died under mysterious circumstances. Then there's the fact that his stepdad is an abusive, evil jerk, that his real father could be either the Evil Being (which explains him being special) or the poor schmuck that Evil being possessed to do the deed. Then there's the main character, Malcolm Crow, who appears to be the closest thing to an actual father figure, in terms of caring about the kid, trying to help him with his problems, teach him things and so on. Yes, it's My Five Dads, which seems a tad overkill.

There's also a subplot with a fellow who believes the voice of God is telling him to kill the Beast, who has cleverly disguised itself as a kid. I'd pity the poor fool, but everytime he starts thinking to himself how he is the Sword of God, I can't help myself from thinking "The Sword of God needs some serious sharpening". I do wonder whether he was always devoutly religious, or whether hearing this voice made him that way. Not sure whether that answer will be forthcoming, or even if it matters.

So I'm torn. On the negative side, I'm annoyed that this played out as essentially 500 pages of set-up. I'd probably be less annoyed if I'd known that from the start, but I didn't, so there it is. On the positive side, Maberry has made me care about the characters. They're scared and freaked out by the things that are happening, and not all of them handle it well, and not all of them receive the positive support they need, which is probably true to life. They do things they shouldn't because they think they need to prove something to themselves, or because it makes perfect sense to them at the time. By and large, characters are actually exercising some common sense, and only freaking out and losing their heads at moments when that would be understandable, which is nice to see. It's hard to root for really stupid people. At this point, I'm not sure whether I'll hunt down the next book or not. It's supposed to be out already, but I don't know that I care that much.

* Not that the similarities I'm seeing are exclusive to those books, or that I think Maberry is ripping off Stephen King, and in the case of The Talisman, Peter Straub. It's just those are the books certain circumstances remind me of. You know, long buried evil from main character's childhood returns, supernatural army forming, one special kid that needs sage guidance and protection to save his loved one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

They Seem To Be In The Wrong Mind For This

Last week, in the first half of my reviews, I was a tad dismissive of the fact that Amazing Spider-Girl appears to be wrapping up with Mayday battling Norman Osborn inside Peter Parker's subconscious. I have to say, that last sentence looks very strange actually typed out, and I've been thinking a bit about the whys of that.

At first, I thought it was because combat in the realm of the mind is outside Spider-Girl's usual ballpark. Well, that is true, but it's not like it was in Spider-Man's wheelhouse either, but I could see him having a battle like that. Still, I could see Spider-Man in a struggle like that. Maybe that's because of all those stories DeMatteis wrote that dealt with the inner workings of Peter's mind* that I read as a kid. Or it could be due to the character himself. I can't remember where I read it (probably multiple places), but someone said that Spider-Man is such a well-defined character that as long as you portray him "properly", he can be in that story and it's not so odd. So he can find himself face-to-face with Thanos, and if you show Spidey being freaked out, feeling totally outclassed, but still trying to do something to stop Thanos, or at least louse up his plans, then it can work.

She hasn't had anywhere the publishing history her dad has, but for me at least, Spider-Girl is a similarly well-defined character**, to the point I haven't batted an eye when she's gone into the Negative Zone to try and help the Fantastic Five against a Skrull bent on revenge, or if she follows that up with getting mixed up in another gang war. So I don't think it's that.

Some months ago, when I was reviewing some issue of Amazing Spider-Girl back when the Other May first showed up, and I wasn't too enthused with the issue, the Fortress Keeper suggested something to the effect that meeting this Other May, and the doubts it would raise about her own origins would ultimately lead to Mayday emerging from this with a stronger sense of herself, and an idea of how to balance the different parts of her lives (I would be in complete support of that result). This seems like the time for that, with the Other May exposed as some weird Parker/symbiont hybrid that's helping Osborn, but the fight's happening in Peter's mind?

Granted, Mayday's already had a run through her mind, dealing with some of her own doubts about being Spider-Girl, but there's still this other version of herself to deal with. Yet the focus seems to be on helping her father finally get past the specter of Norman {Expletive Deleted} Osborn. Which doesn't feel like an issue Mayday has to work through. Yeah, Norman had her abducted from the hospital as a baby, but she doesn't recall any of that. The most influence Norman's had on Mayday is how royally her screwed up his grandson. Maybe I'm just on Norman Osborn overload, but it feels like this is really going to come down to Peter against Norman, again, which would sort of push Mayday to the side in the final issue of her own title. I'm sure she'll play some important role, but it's going to come down to Peter getting on his fight and booting Norman out of his mind, you know?

* The Child Within, as one example.

** Probably it really helps to have had essentially just one writer for the character's entire existence. Has to make a consistent vision of the character more attainable.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Others Weren't What I Was Expecting

On Friday I took a little driving trip to investigate some stores in a town about 2 hours away. One of them was a pleasant little bookstore, where I grabbed many cheap paperbacks to help while away the time*. Somewhere along the line, I had this sudden** urge to read a book about ghosts. Not in the sense of a scary book, more just about what a ghost would do with its spare time, if say, they couldn't remember what their unfinished business was, how would they amuse themselves? So I took a chance on a book in the horror section that seemed marginally promising. The cover had white, ill-defined shapes floating on it, so I figured "ghosts". Nope.

The Others, written by James Herbert, is a mystery, with horror trappings around it. There are no ghosts involved, not really, anyway. A investigator named Nicholas Dismas is hired by a woman to find a son she gave birth to 18 years ago, which she was told died shortly after birth, but which she believes is still alive. The fact that her recently deceased, rich husband (whom she married after this birth) had his will written so that half of his fortune is in a trust that can only be accessed if he has an heir (not necessarily of his blood) likely has something to do with it. Dis thinks it's a waste of time, but then he starts getting haunted, and a clairvoyant that convinced the client her son was still alive encourages him to keep going, and the trail leads to an old folks' home called PERFECT REST (always written in caps), and things get progressively freaky. Horrible experiments are exposed, evil is punished, love is found and lost, true rewards are revealed, and so on.

The book has a twist to it, though. It starts with an unnamed character residing in Hell, or Purgatory, one of the two, who is visited by angels, who tell him he's getting a very rare second chance, which he could you to earn his way into heaven, but it'll be hard, and if he fails, he'll wind up somewhere even worse than his present location (which is why I figure he's in Purgatory at that point). Then next chapter then starts with Dis and the client, and the story progresses from there, with Dis occasionally seeing this handsome face he vaguely recognizes in the mirror. See, Dis had a hard go of it. He has a humpback, his spine is crooked, one leg is shorter than the other, which enhanced the crookedness of the spine, he was left behind a church, and grew up in a boy's home, where one of the adults tried to molest him, leading to Dis accidentally stabbing himself in the eye with scissors while trying to defend himself. Oh, and he has a drug habit, primarily weed, sometimes coke. It's not all bad for him. He has friends, his own business, with employees, he has bars where he can go and be accepted, but still, people stare as he walks by, they make jokes, they pick on him, it can really suck.

I don't think I'm spoiling anything (seeing as I figured this out about 20 pages in, and I'm not usually terribly perceptive), when I say Dis is the soul from the beginning, getting his second chance***. Now all the ugliness that was in that person's soul has been transferred to the outside, where people can see and react to it, as they would have if they'd truly known him in his earlier life. This kind of bothers me. Sure, the soul agreed to it, even having been warned of how hard it would be, but Dis doesn't know any of this. All he knows is he's had a hard life, one certainly not helped by his physical condition, and he's had to press on regardless. It feels as though he's being punsihed for shit he didn't do, which I guess gets into the question of whether the sins of a past life should carry over to the present one. Still, I can't help but feel it a little Silver Age Superman by the Big Fella upstairs. You know, "Ha, ha, I've used my immense power to make your life difficult to teach you a lesson, but it might not work, so you could be screwed in this life and the next! Ha, ha!" Then again, I tend to be somewhat cynical about religion, so I'm sure that's part of it. I mean, he does get a second chance to get into Heaven, so it's not like there isn't a possible benefit, I just find the circumstances somewhat unfairly stacked.

Two other things about the book. One, Herbert likes to rehash certain points frequently. So there are multiple sections that discuss Dis feeling everyone staring at him, and how that makes him feel, or him cursing God, or how wonderful a particular lady makes him feel. I suppose it's repetition to provide impact. Herbert really wants us to recognize how Dis' physical state is a constant part of his life, and that no matter how much he might insist he's grown used to the jeers and stares, and pain, he hasn't. So that makes sense.

The second thing is somewhat related to the first. Herbert likes to spend several pages describing people who were really dealt a bad hand in the genetic lottery, and does this frequently, occasionally in detail that made me grateful I wasn't eating anything at the time. To be fair, at the end he says he drew most of these descriptions from actual medical reports, so they're real in that sense. He also says he sincerely hopes we have been disturbed by reading this. Yeah, well, mission accomplished there, Jimmy Boy. It did make the book go faster, since after a time I started just skimming those passages. I've already read three pages worth of these descriptions, do I really need another eight, getting progressively weirder? It's interesting how even Dis draws a line somewhere between those who he considers to be people like himself, and those he thinks of as "beasts". Having read the physical descriptions (or skimmed enough to get the gist), I think it has to be based on their surroundings, the effect it had on their psyches that creates the line in his head, but it's curious to see him regard others as lesser, when he'd been treated that way as well.

Maybe everyone just wants somebody they can look down on? The book went quickly enough, but I'm not sure I would really recommend it. Maybe because I was hoping for one thing, and it wasn't what this book was meant to be.

* The one negative aspect was an middle-aged lady who entered the store, apparently on a search mission for a friend, because she kept calling someone on the phone, then loudly asking about which author she was supposed to be looking for, or loudly reading titles. Really, just speaking very loudly in general, which kept disrupting my attempts to silently read book titles and determine whether they sounded interesting enough for me to read the book jacket. If one is going to seek out specific books or authors for someone, have them make a list so there's no confusion. Is that so difficult?

** And I really mean sudden. As in, I was perusing shelves in the mystery section, and just then, decided I wanted to find a book about ghosts.

*** This raises another question with me. Clearly, the higher powers arranged for the soul to be placed in a body they felt would reflect the soul's ugliness. So, did they interefere with the embryo's development? Did they control the parents, forcing them to abandon a child they might have otherwise been willing to raise, because it would make things harder? Was the body simply created out of the aether, to spare anyone else any suffering? Or maybe they just waited for the proper circumstance, and took advantage of a genetic mutation or the inner weakness of people. I kind of hope it was that one, because purposely altering a child to make it seem abhorrent to the parents, or making the parents want to get rid of the child, would be pretty kind of dirty pool.