Sunday, February 28, 2010

What I Bought 2/26/2010 - Part 2

Hello dere, boys and girls! How's every little thing? The weather here has been lovely lately. A little nippy in the morning, but that's what coats are for. Sun's been shining, skies have been clear, fantastic. It's put me in an uncommonly good mood while I've been working, which is a nice change of pace. There's one thing I received in my package from the store I'm not going to discuss today, but I did want to mention I had it. DC's 2nd printing of Hitman: 10,000 Bullets. I wonder if DC is actually going to finish the series in trade format, or if they're going to stop where they did the first time? I hope they keep going, but I suppose sales will be the final arbiter.

Deadpool #19 - I imagine that cover sums up the feelings many people have towards Deadpool these days.

Deadpool has come to New York to learn the art of heroism from Spider-Man. Stop laughing! Peter Parker bumps into Wade in the subway and recognizes him, even though Wade's not wearing his mask. I didn't know Spidey had seen Deadpool sans mask. I suppose he could have recognized his voice. Spider-Man later finds a storekeeper killed, hunts down a gassy Deadpool, and beats him to a pulp. Why can't he do that to actual villains in his own title? Noooo, he's gotta be getting his ass kicked by schmucks like Mr. Negative!

Sorry, for the digression. Suffice it to say, Deadpool didn't kill the man, but knows who did: Hit-Monkey. I buried my face in my hands after typing that, so it's time for another digression. What is this fascination people in comics have with monkeys?! They're disgusting! They fling crap! If I wanted to see that, I'd hang around babies! Except I don't like babies either! Perhaps I need to visit a futuristic theme park where Man's attempts to use science to play God run amok and terrorize myself and some children. End digression.

While Hit-Monkey attends a happenin' night club, Spider-Man determines, based on what Deadpool knows about H-M, that it is also here to kill Wade. Good luck with that.

The part of this issue I enjoyed the best were the two times Spider-Man makes Deadpool promise to kill no one. Wade agrees while his inner caption boxes freak out and ask if he's lying. Both times, the first word out of Deadpool's mouth confirms that yes, he's lying, but not in a way that would tip Spider-Man off. It's not any sort of spectacular writing achievement, but it was nice to see Wade staying on the ball there.

Deadpool #20 - Spider-Man refuses to let Deadpool hide at his apartment. Hit-Monkey kills two dirty cops. This convinces Spider-Man Deadpool was telling the truth, except Hit-Monkey somehow knew to follow Spidey right to Deadpool. How? I don't know, monkey-telepathy? Deadpool wearing a french maid outfit fails to distract the simian, and he gets shot. Spidey proposes that since Deadpool has a healing factor, he should let himself get shot, thereby tricking Hit-Monkey into thinking it succeeded in killing him. Then it will leave. Aw, Spidey come on. You can't foist Hit-Monkey off on some other city like that!

It's irrelevant, as Deadpool won't go for it. Spidey gets shot, Deadpool runs away, comes back, and is shot repeatedly by Hit-Monkey. End issue. I'm going to say the best part was Deadpool demanding proof Spider-Man wasn't a monkey, and Spidey showing him his thumbs, then having to explain that monkeys don't have thumbs. Let's move on to happier reviews.

Guardians of the Galaxy #23 - Does Magus look creepy enough for you? He does to me.

We learn how come Magus and the Guardians he seemed to kill aren't actually dead. Magus played a little trick on everyone, like the dirty magician he is. That was two weeks ago, and since then, he's been busy trying to convert the captured Guardians to his side, with no success. Turns out Magus knows what's on the other side of the Fault, and he plans to welcome it with open arms. OK, not the reaction I was expecting of him.

The Guardians he didn't capture are playing security detail for an attempt at reforming the Galactic Council Vulcan exterminated. Even Blastaar showed up, and he's behaving himself. That's kind of frightening. He's learning. Someone takes a shot at him, and right as our heroes start to have their hands full, Moondragon gets a psychic message from Phyla, warning her the Magus is still alive and there's big trouble. Then Phyla sucks it up, breaks free, and it looks like she and the formerly captured Guardians are going to do the Big Damn Hero thing. Go team!

This book makes me so happy. I was bummed out when I thought all those characters were dead, and now they aren't. Threats are coming from all over, which is a good way to handle a big cast, because you can split them up. Makes it easier to juggle them. Wesley Craig is back on pencils this month, which makes me extra happy. His work's a little rough, but I like his sense of design and page layout, and his art has a lot of energy. His Magus is darkly gleeful.

Marvel Boy: The Uranian #2 - Bob saves the eastern U.S. from a nuke, meets a nice girl through the fella writing his comic, but has to rush back to. . . the 7th planet because his father's been poisoned, I mean, fallen ill. Bob stays there for a year, gets some improvements to his super-hero stuff, and returns to Earth, saving civilians from a crazed sniper in a flashy and impressive manner. Which suits the honchos back on Uranus just fine. Cue ominous music.

That's about it. I like the first scene, because it established whatever the feds might think of super-heroes, Marvel Boy had won the cops in New York City over, to the extent they call him in for the bomb problem, and they're willing to give him a ride in their car, and Bob will take them up in his spaceship. It's nice, the people in the Marvel Universe actually liking their heroes. Makes a nice bookend for this Heroic Age, perhaps.

Power Girl #9 - Power Girl captures her photographer, but doesn't realize it, so he escapes. Whoops. She heads off to work, and deals with a grabby fellow on the subway. That's one of those reasons I couldn't live in a big city. There's no way I could handle being crammed into a subway car. Even if I made it where I was headed, I'd be ready to scream by the time I got off, but once you get out, you're still in a crush of people, so the situation's only getting worse. Damn, that was another digression.

Power Girl's bank calls and says it needs her to come down. Her receptionist asks her to bring back a toaster. Because banks used to give customers free toasters, right? Historically themed humor, kudos! Anyway, by the time she gets there, her bank is being attacked by elephant and rhino men. Who are trying specifically to draw Power Girl out. Congratulations, you succeeded. Does this mean they know her secret identity? She's got to work on the secret part of that. Then the Manhawks show up. I think the creative team's been reading Mightygodking's Who's Who posts. First Vartox, now Manhawks. Next, The Director! Or not.

Satanna shows up in a suit of armor with a big hammer, and proceeds to whup Power Girl's butt. Maybe Peej needs to learn some martial arts. Even Silver Age Superman had Batman teach him some judo, and that guy had so many powers computers exploded trying to count them. At least Power Girl has friends who'll lend a hand. Satanna can't say that, 'cause she doesn't have any friends! Let's all point at her and laugh! Ha, ha!

Now I feel bad for laughing. Not having friends is a terrible thing. This issue went from sort of comical to deadly serious, and it worked, which is cool. I hope we get to see that tour of her company they were discussing, at least a little of it. It'd be nice to see what they're working on. Crazy inventions make good springboards for wacky adventures, you know.

Secret Six #18 - It's not a great cover, but I like the bits of the Six' outfits floating there. Deadshot's eyepiece, I think Ragdoll's mask, a bit of Catman's shirt. Nice touch.

The Six and the Squad are both faring poorly against the Black Lanterns. Alice gets her stuff together long enough for the team to run back home, except the Squad follows. And then the undead do as well. So the whole thing starts over, only add Waller, Scandal, Multiplex, and that gargoyle into the mix. Amanda Waller destroys the Black lanterns by glaring at them. OK, not really, but you believed it for a second, didn't you? Part of you said 'She's the Wall, hell yeah she could kill the undead by looking at them.' Anyway, Black Lantern problem solved, the Six still refuse to join the Squad. Then Deadshot shoots her in the heart. I'm surprised Calafiore drew all the Squad members as being surprised by that. He's Deadshot, what did they think he was gonna do? Waller doesn't die, and hey she's actually Mockingbird, which I did not see coming.

Well, the Blackest Night stuff is over. This was fun. Waller doesn't make it easy to root for her, though. She's cool, but so ruthless all the time. I like her, but I still think she had that bullet coming. Strange. About Calafiore's art, he's still drawing some creepy looking reanimated corpses, but the design on some of the pages wasn't the best. That double-page spread of the teams lined up together against the Black Lanterns with all the little panels scattered across it was confusing. I couldn't see any order to the little panels, and they seem oddly placed considering they happen after the main image.

That's it for my stuff from the last three weeks. How have your comics been?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

What I Bought 2/26/2010 - Part 1

Yes, comic reviews are here! Get funky! It's a fine haul, well maybe not when I consider this is three week's worth of books for me, plus three comics I didn't actually order, but Jack shipped by mistake. It's cool though, he said he'd deduct the price of them from my next shipment, which I wasn't expecting. I let him know so he didn't keep sending copies of stuff that were probably earmarked for some other customer. I can always use stuff to read. Also, he forgot I added Batgirl to my pull list before I came out here, so I'll have to wait another couple weeks for that. Probably should have given him more advance warning. I was putting it on my Previews back when February's releases were up, but I didn't tell him, and I think Jennifer handles Previews' orders, because she's more orderly than he is. I don't know, whatever, reviews!

Amazing Spider-Man #620 - Finally, a comic that delivers precisely what the cover promises. I suppose the Hulk books do that as well, since they always promise Hulk or Red Hulk fighting someone, and hey, they fight them, but I prefer to ignore Hulk books. My doctor said exposure to Red Hulk increases my chances of aneurysm. This cover says Spidey will smash Mysterio's bubble head, and he did. Then Mysterio kneed him in the groin, which the cover didn't mention, and I'm not sure whether it would have increased or decreased my desire to buy the comic if it did.

Carlie plants a Spider-Tracer on the man claiming to be her father. This leads Spider-Man to Mysterio. Mr. Negative and his cannon fodder also arrive, with special poison gas that will kill only people with Spidey's DNA. Wow, they've held that in reserve since early 2008 haven't they? Negative acquired Spidey's blood way back when Brand New Day had just begun. Mysterio tries to escape, Spidey pursues, Mysterio does escape eventually, minus all his cash. So probably not a win for the web-slinger. Lots of people (mobsters, but still people) died, the bad guy escaped, and Carlie dislikes Peter Parker because she feels he uses people.

Slott's writing is fine. His Mysterio is more of a ham than I'm used to, but it works. Anyone who dresses like Mysterio would have a theatrical streak. I'm not clear on why Negative hates Silvermane so much, but there was at least a footnote directing me to a possible resource. As for Marcos Martin, his art is swell. He still does some odd extreme close-ups on Spidey's eye or foot I don't understand, but he has some beautiful page layouts, like the Spidey-Mysterio fight in the fog, and you can always earn points for incorporating sound effects into the panels.

Amazing Spider-Man #621 - Comic I didn't order #1. Spidey asks the Black Cat to steal his blood back from Mr. Negative, so he won't have to worry about deadly gas anymore (except when he eats Chinese food with energy drinks. It's a Paul Jenkins' run on Spider-Man joke). She agrees, but Spidey can't let her go alone. It probably would have been better if he had, as he gets slapped through a couple buildings by Mr. Negative. They do successfully recover the blood. Carlie captures her thought-long-dead, dirty cop of a father. Then she chews Pete out. Aunt May continues to be evil, Harry Osborn moves into MJ's apartment, and Curt Conners prepares to do something stupid. Again. That guy really ought to give up on science.

I enjoyed that issue more than I thought I would. Maybe because the Black Cat was in it. It's nice to see her having fun stealing things and teasing Spidey, even if he is a putz. How about a little gratitude, Webs? Sheesh. Maybe Carlie has a point. I'm not usually a fan of Michael Lark's work, because I think it looks stiff, but it worked pretty well here. It suffers in comparison to Martin's art, but so does most people's.

Amazing Spider-Man #622 - Comic I didn't order #2. Perhaps this is why Peter is not grateful to Felicia. She sold his blood to a vampire-wannabe club to turn a profit on her caper in #621. Pete tries to blend in, fails, is bewitched by a vampire, tracks down Morbius (who bought his blood) is used to invite the other vamp (Morbius' old girl Martine) inside, gets thrown through windows, and inadvertently helps Morbius end Martine's existence. You know, I remember when Spidey used to actually win fights outright, rather than having to hope for a draw. We learn why Morbius wanted Spider-Man's blood, and Spidey agrees to help him, so maybe it's a victory of a different sort. Also, there's a story about Flash Thompson trying to recover from losing his legs. Let's move on.

Actually, I don't know if I have anything else to say. Little surprised Felicia would sell his blood, but only a little. Joe Quinones' art reminds me a bit of Amanda Conner's, especially in the range of facial expressions. Thinner lines, and not quite the level of background detail, but pretty good.

Avengers vs. Atlas #2 - The Avengers arrive in the present, and immediately attack the Agents of Atlas. I didn't realize the Marvel Rules of Misunderstanding Battles had been established that far back, though I guess they were in effect as soon as Spidey tried to join the FF by fighting them. Atlas holds their own (at least), but Jeff Parker presents it in such a way I didn't think he was having the Avengers job to them. Atlas knows all about the Avengers, while the Avengers know zilch about them. Atlas is also more used to working as a team than that group of Avengers, if this was shortly after their first run-in with Kang. The teams eventually stop fighting, until Thor tries to fend off the portal/person thing and makes things worse. Now the Hulk is on the scene. There's also a quick back-up story written by Scott Kurtz about Jimmy Woo trying to shut down an evil Atlas Organization Sushi place. It's fairly lighthearted, and it's OK.

There's not a lot to say. It's a big fight issue, I was entertained, Gorilla Man had several good lines, including telling Iron Man that the reason M-11 wasn't losing power was because his 'armor was filled with more machinery instead of boozy millionaire'. Iron Man being insulted never gets old. Even when it's an Iron Man that hasn't committed all sorts of acts of flagrant stupidity.

Booster Gold #29 - Comic I didn't order #3. Not sure how Jack sent this my way, since I dropped Booster Gold last summer, but it's here, I'm here, you're. . . wherever you are, so what the hell. Michelle, Booster's sister, is living in Coast City, and Cyborg Superman just showed up. So Coast City is about to go bye-bye, serving as the impetus for however many hours it took Geoff Johns to come up with Giant Yellow Fear Bug.

Rip tells Booster to go there and make sure things go the way they did, because there's a rogue element threatening to change things. Oh no, someone is trying to save 7 million lives! How awful! Someone punch Rip Hunter in the throat, please. The rogue element, Sondra Crain, possibly sways Booster to her side of things. Good for her. Save those lives, because I don't buy Rip's line about Coast City's destruction spurring greater heights of heroism. It may be a moot point, as the destruction is kicking off as of the end of the issue. There's also a Blue Beetle back-up strip, where Jaime has gone evil, or is being controlled by the scarab, and Peacemaker has to stop him from doing something. Possibly conquering the world, I wasn't clear on it. That's what happens when you refuse to have recap pages, DC! At any rate, the day is saved, so hooray?

I'd like to see Booster rebel against Rip and save Coast City, except, unfortunately, I've seen what happens when does that. He saved Ted Kord, and everything went to hell. Then again, I'm not sure how Booster could save Coast City. He's up against Cyborg Superman and Mongul, which means he's sorely outclassed.

That's it for reviews today! Tomorrow, six more comics!

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Connection That Spans Everything

While I was reading Jeffrey Carver's The Infinity Link, I had deja vu. There's a sequence where one character describes tachyons to another. He talks about how something moving at sublight speed can never reach light speed, and something moving faster than light speed (tachyons) can never be slowed to merely light speed. As I read that, i had the strangest sense that not only had I read that exchange before, I'd blogged about it, and had a discussion about it in the comments. Which is impossible. I've never read the book before. I think it must have been one of my premonition dreams, which I have periodically*.

Anyway, the book. Mozelle Moi (Mozy for short) is a test subject at Sandaran Research Center. She enters a mental link-up with a fellow called Kadin, and they go through various challenges, with the purpose being psychological research. What does Kadin need to do to convince Mozy to go along with him? What are the buttons he needs to push? Mozy falls in love with Kadin, who is up on a space station, and resolves to reach him somehow. Fortunately, SRC is working on using tachyons as basically a transporter, and she convinces Hoshi Aronson, who works at SRC to help her. Naturally, things are not what they seem, and she receives a rude surprise. Also, the attempt does not go smoothly.

Earth has been receiving tachyon signals they believe are being created artificially, from something headed this way. Kadin is being prepped to make contact, and try to establish peaceful relations, and Mozy has just placed herself in the middle of it, to the consternation of the higher-ups. Contact is made, things are going fairly well, but contact with Earth has been lost, and with the military involved, you know what that means.

The book shifts focus between several different characters. Mozy, Hoshi, Jonders (who is in charge of the link setup), Leonard Hathorne (who's one of the higher-ups), and Joseph Payne (a reporter chasing a story). There are a few chapters focusing on other characters, such as Slim Marshall the man in between Jonders and Hathorne in the command structure, and Payne's friend Donny Alvarest, but the first five dominate. I generally like this, as each character tends to have their own circle of supporting characters. Mozy has Mardi and Mother Program, Jonders has his family and Kelly, the security chief. Payne has Denine, his girlfriend, Teri and old friend, and Donny, plus a professor. Some of these supporting players serve to connect the main characters, others are their for plot or character conflict purposes (or both). It gives a sense of scope to the book, that the world is a big place, with lots of people, and one event can impact many of them. So that's good.

On the downside, with so many characters, it feels like certain bits fall through the cracks, because Carver didn't have time to explore them further. Mozy has a scar on her face, from an attack she and a friend survived when they were teens. While this feeds into her questions of self-worth, and how she interacts with people (defensively), there's never any indication from the characters we see that they notice or care about the scar. Maybe that's the point, but I wonder if it wouldn't have been better to see some indication of how it makes it difficult for Mozy to interact with people from the perspective of those others. Also, in the Slim Marshall chapter, as Marshall wonders why he feels so tense, he questions if part of it is feeling that, as a black man, he has some extra standard to uphold in this position of authority. He dismisses it quickly, thinking he's put those feelings well behind him, but if he had, why would the possibility occur to him? That's the only chapter from Slim's perspective, though, so it felt out of place, an anvil dropped in the middle of that paragraph, then ignored. I was considering adding how quickly Kadin exits the book as a major player, but I think that reinforces something the aliens point out a couple of times. Namely, humans have very limited perceptions, and it's difficult for them to go beyond them when confronted with something they aren't prepared for**. Mozy works through it, but Kadin is more limited, and can't.

I'm not sure about the importance of singing to the aliens, certainly not as it relates to joining disparate species. What would sound glorious to one group might sound ear-shatteringly horrifying to another. Also, the aliens love Earth rock n' roll. Well why not? Rock n' roll is only the jammingest musical style in the whole universe! It's totally got the music of the Universe*** beat!

The character that most intrigues me is Hoshi, who acted out of strong emotion, with disastrous results. He descends into madness as the story progresses, and questions his true motives for acting, which made me question them as well. It seemed like he was trying to make Mozy happy, while leaving some small chance he could be happy as well. I don't think it was going to work, even if things hadn't gone south, but I'm not willing to label him one of those "Nice Guys" that aren't really nice. Hoshi probably would apply that descriptor to himself, though, but I wonder if that would change if he knew how things turned out?

I think what happened with this book is that there are several ideas presented I wanted to know more about, that were really just pieces added for atmosphere. Each section of the book starts with a couple of pages from the perspective of some sentient species in the Solar System that isn't humans. See, now I want to know more about the beings living deep inside the sun, or the methane-slush eating creatures of Titan, or the crystalline entities on Pluto. We get brief glimpses, mostly how they react to the aliens' tachyon-signal songs, but how their civilizations worked prior to that interests me more than a story where humans try to form peaceful relations with aliens, but the military almost fucks it up, because that's what it's for, apparently.

Related to that, one other bit I find myself wondering about. Once the aliens arrive, and the public knows about them, it's said that while there is some panic, most people are excited about the aliens, and when word gets out the government tried to nuke the aliens, people are angry, wanting to know why they can't be friends with the aliens? I wonder, if extra-terrestrials actually did show up, would that be the way reactions would go? Or would the majority of the people be terrified, or aggressive? I'd like to think curiosity would win out, and we'd extend a friendly hand, but a more fearful response wouldn't surprise me in the least****.

The possibilities brought up by the book intrigued me more than the story itself, but I still enjoyed the story, I just felt things progressed to quickly in places, but there's no strict timeline, so the plot may take place over an even longer period of time than I think. The book read quickly, though some of the techno-jargon made me start to zone out, and the aliens' tendency to speak over each other, kind of grates, even if it is probably the best representation of that particular organizational approach. The Infinity Link isn't going to break into my favorite books of all time list (if I had one of those), but I feel the time spent reading it was well-spent.

* Though they never tell me something useful, like lottery numbers. It's more like "That one girl in your class with the scar will wear a yellow sweater tomorrow", and lo and behold, she does. The Legion of Superheroes would laugh their asses off at me.

** At least the aliens aren't particularly condescending about it.

*** Also known as the microwave background radiation that is the remnant of the universe's formation, and can be heard as music, apparently.

**** Not coincidentally, while I'd hope the aliens were friendly, I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to kill us, and take our planet for their own. It's the kind of thing we do.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Perhaps Not What They Expected To Be The Selling Point

I used to own Halo for the XBox. It was the game that introduced me to the XBox, playing multiplayer with a bunch of Papafred's computer science buddies. I died a lot, the poor schmuck who didn't even understand the controls* against these guys who beat the game on its highest difficulties.

In spite of all that, I did buy the game sometime after I purchased my own XBox. By then, Halo 2 was already out, and people were probably anxiously anticipating Halo 3, so it was kind of old news, but what the hell. I played it a bit, mostly when I had someone else to play either with or against. Not a lot, but enough to beat the game. I think the massive multiplayer games I'd started with kind of ruined it for me. Playing against one person made the arenas feel terribly empty, when I was used to at least 4-on-4 games. That was never a problem with Goldeneye. Or maybe I wasn't used to being the best player in the match. It was strange, not constantly thinking I was seconds away from dying.

Still, the bit about Halo I liked best had nothing to do with the gameplay, or the graphics, or the story. At the title screen, the background music is these monks chanting, or vocalizing. 'Oh-oh-oh-oh-ohhhhhh, oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohhhhh', and so on. I loved that, pure adrenaline rush, made the hair on my arms stand up. Like the opening to Mason Williams' Classical Gas, actually. I could sit there and listen to that for minutes, to hell with killing aliens or defending humanity. Plenty of people around willing to take care of that business. I'll be over here appreciating the monks, thank you very much.

I've had some other games like that, where I appreciate them as much for their music as anything else. All the Sonic games I had on my Game Gear had at least one level with music I absolutely loved, to the point I'd pop the game in, and go to the Options menu so I could call up that particular theme, just for kicks. Majors Pro Baseball, any time the computer team would get runners in scoring position, they'd start in with this fast, tense beat that just worked so well. I didn't even mind that I was in danger of letting the other team score, because I was getting some good music out of it.

* I remember Papafred telling me to click the thumbstick to crouch, and me looking at the controller bewildered, wondering how to "click" a thumbstick.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Not Quite As Random

I can trace how I thought of this question. I was mapping out the brief Cassandra Cain/Superboy relationship in my head for a potential blog post. I reached Batgirl #41 where Batgirl hops on the roof of a train and rides out to Smallville to visit Conner at the Kent farm*.

She surprises Conner in his room, causing him to shriek. Martha Kent comes up to investigate, and Superboy plays it off as just a dream. A dream about being surprised in his room by a cute, leather-clad girl. Martha becomes flustered and tells him that's the sort of thing he ought to discuss with Pa Kent. A part of me thought "Well he probably can't discuss it with Clark, that big old goofy farm boy**." Then I thought, well perhaps he could discuss that with Lois. She's worldly, which brings me to tonight's question.

What is Lois' relationship with Conner? I gather that Superman regards him as, if not a son, a nephew he's been given responsibility for guiding. The Kents seem to like Conner well enough, though I remember Pa was leery of Conner after the whole mess about Superboy being half Lex Luthor DNA came out***. Still, I think they both care about him, and try to raise him as best they can.

I don't know about Lois, though. I could see her not trusting him because of the Lex having had a hand in his creation, worrying that Lex will use Conner to destroy Clark. I could also see her appreciating Conner's brashness, if being a bit irritated with his tendency to not think things through. It has to be a bit strange, since Conner is an offspring of Clark's, in a sense, but one who showed up already partly grown-up. Lois could be used to such things, given what she involves herself in.

* In an earlier run-in, Conner had told her that was where she could find him. When she tells him that's how she found him, he admits he has trouble with the secret identity bit.

** I may not be giving Clark enough credit, but I see him having trouble discussing romance with Conner. Reproduction he could handle. He grew up on a farm, after all.

*** Plus, Lex taking control of Conner and sending him after the Titans and Outsiders.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Out Of The Blue, But

Before his parents died, do you think Bruce Wayne went to public school or private school?

His family was loaded, so they could certainly afford private schooling. But the Waynes are generally portrayed as having a philanthropic spirit, and I could easily see them enrolling Bruce in public schools, since they no doubt contributed considerable funds to improving them, and would want to show they believed in the staff.

Obviously not an important question in the Batman mythos, but it came to me abruptly over the weekend, so I thought I'd ask you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

It Doesn't Make Me Feel Old, Just Strange

At one point during the Apples to Apples game, a judge chose "Cary Grant" as the winning card for a particular round (I think the Green card said "Handsome", or "Attractive"). One of the other players bluntly asked 'Who's Cary Grant?' I was flabbergasted.

I'm not that old. I'm still in my 20s, and so is this guy, though he's a couple years younger. I'm no Cary Grant aficionado, but I know he was in North By Northwest, and that movie where he's a cat burglar, and if you say his name, I can picture him in my mind. So this guy having no idea who Cary Grant was, I was surprised. More than I should have been, as he wasn't alone. The two guys sitting on either side of him also had never heard of Cary Grant*.

I shouldn't have been surprised, since everyone has some gap when it comes to popular culture knowledge. I couldn't tell you anything about American Idol, any reality TV show, or really, most any show that's still going today, except Burn Notice, NCIS, and Pardon the Interruption. And I'm behind the curve on those nowadays. No doubt, there are people who would be stunned I don't know who {insert name of Idol or Survivor winner} is. So I should have restrained my incredulity.

That was one thing. Later, a couple of the same guys were talking about who the phrase 'I coulda been a contender' originated with. One of them said he thought it was Ali, or some boxer. I piped up that it was Brando is On the Waterfront. They sat there stunned, and one of them asked 'How do you know this stuff?' I shrugged and said something about taking film classes in college, which is true, but that's not how I know the quote is from that movie, or that it was Brando who said it.

What was I supposed to say? Even though I've never watched On the Waterfront, I know the quote's from there, somehow. It's just one of those things I picked up somewhere along the way. Maybe another movie directly referenced it. That's how I learned of the Walter Houston Dance years before I saw Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Billy Crystal did it (and explained what he was doing) in City Slickers 2. I guess people pick up random information all the time, without even realizing it. It does make me feel a little strange, though.

OK, maybe it makes me feel a bit old. I am a little older than these other fellows, after all.

* The three guys are from all across the country, and they'd never met prior to this month, so it isn't as if they were friends who grew up together, and had mostly shared experiences.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I Require More Structure In My Board Games

Another weekend, another get-together by my coworkers. This week, instead of make your own pizza, it was gumbo night. That's cool, I like rice, and the cooks didn't make it spicy, which suits me. I don't have much tolerance for spicy foods.

Then there was more game-playing, starting with some 90s edition Trivial Pursuit. Despite my decent-sized based of random knowledge, I'm not a big fan of Trivial Pursuit. When I was much younger, I played against my father, and was asked to name the largest cat in the world. From various books, I knew the answer was the Siberian Tiger, but the fellows who made the game said lion*. Even though I could go and retrieve a book which supported my assertion, my dad refused to give me credit for the right answer**.

My coworkers also played a little differently than I was accustomed. If your team answered a question correctly, you earned another roll, and could keep rolling until you missed a question. Which is a fine reward for answering correctly, but it meant that one team could be answering questions for 10 minutes***, and with 3 teams, a team could go close to 20 minutes without getting a chance to roll. With my family, you rolled, answered a question, then, correct or not, the next person rolled. Also, I think the board has too many "Roll Again" squares. All the teams (mine included) had stretches where they rolled five or six times in a row, hopping between those squares, trying to land on the squares where pie pieces could be earned. It's a little absurd. I think one "Roll Again" in the spaces between those squares would be better than two.

Then they trotted out a game called Apples to Apples. The idea was everyone takes 7 Red Apple cards, then you go around the table, each person getting to be the judge. The judge draws a Green Apple card, and reads it aloud. It's a word, happy, furious, smart, whatever. All the other players must select one of their Red Apple cards (which have names, or things, or activities on them) they feel fits most accurately, and slide them facedown to the judge. The judge reads the choices aloud, and selects which one best represents the word. The person who submitted that card gets the Green Apple card. Person who collects the most Green Apple cards, or reaches a certain number first, wins.

The problem is that everyone's definition of what fits best is different. Some people specifically chose ones that were the opposite, and that was why they chose it****. So the edge goes to people who know each other well, because they can then predict which card will strike the right note with that judge, to earn them the green card. Which seems to stack the deck against people who are new to the group, but I'm not sure how that would be addressed, without robbing the game of some of its spontaneity. Maybe you can't. I finished in the middle of the pack. There were a few people I was ahead of, but I also had several ahead of me. I didn't really try and guess what the judge would prefer. I tended to pick either what I felt fit best, or what I thought would be funniest. I'm not sure which strategy worked better.

One thing I wasn't clear on. Certain Red Apple cards would say things like "My Job", or "My Hair", and I wasn't clear on whether the my referred to the person who played the card, or the judge. I was thinking of the former, but I had the impression most people went with the latter. One judge, when the word was "Unforgettable" chose "My Body", and made it clear he was thinking of himself. I'm not complaining, since it worked for me once. For "Mystical", I sent "My Love Life", to a judge whose significant other is also one of my coworkers, and was sitting right next to him. I had the impression he also chose it with their love life in mind.

Whatever works, I suppose.

* Although poking around online, the answer appears to be the "liger", the existence of which I was not aware of. Fine, Ignorance is no excuse, but that goes for the people who made the game, too.

** It's not as if he needed to screw me over to win. His knowledge base did - and still does - dwarf mine. And it was the card that was wrong, he showed it to me so I could see they said "lion".

*** We didn't have any sort of time limit on how long you had to answer questions, so teams would dicker over a question for five minutes or more at times. Which explains why the game took close to 4 hours.

**** One Green Apple card read "Quiet". The judge chose "Outlet Malls", because they weren't quiet.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Twists Work Best When You Don't See Them

I read A Twist in the Tale recently. It collects 4 short stories, each of which end with a twist. The twists would have been more effective if, the title hadn't told you they were coming ahead of time.

I'd say Dusk, by Saki (aka Hector Hugh Munro) worked best because it ended with a double twist. I thought I knew what the surprise was but, no! I had been fooled! Also, I was intrigued by the main character, Norman Gortsby. I wonder if he often comes to the park to watch people. Why does he think of dusk as the hour of the defeated? I'd ask what it was he'd failed at, but it's more fun to speculate on.

The other stories aren't bad, but perhaps because the writers place more focus on the main character, I have fewer questions about them, and find them less interesting. An Occurrence at Owl Creek by Ambrose Bierce had a very Twilight Zone feel. Though, considering the relative timing, I guess it's more appropriate to say the Twilight Zone had An Occurrence at Owl Creek feel to it.

Each story is prefaced by a couple of pages detailing the life of the author. It points out that Bierce served as an Union scout in the Civil War, but casts a Union scout as the villain of this story. I can see that interpretation, and I don't know whether Bierce intended it that way or not, but I'm not sure I agree. The main character makes his own choice, is tripped up by his desire to serve, or his desire for glory*.

I hadn't read O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi before, but I was familiar with the concept, from an episode of Futurama if nothing else. It was a quick gag there, so the story does a better job of making me feel for the characters. I can't help but feel for them at how things went, since both of them had good intentions. Even in fiction, perhaps especially in fiction, life isn't fair.

* I don't believe he took the actions he did purely out of desire to help, because he seems so grateful to get back to his home, I think he realized he'd made a poor decision, or at least had acted for the wrong reasons.

Friday, February 19, 2010

More Beefs With Fictional Employers

It's been a year and a half since the last one, but I felt it was time for another Cathartic Video Game Level post! I've found the trick in coming up for subjects for this is that "cool" is not necessarily "cathartic". I love the Shalebridge Cradle level of Thief: Deadly Shadows, but it's because I find it so nerve wracking and ominous. The cathartic part is when I've maneuvered Garrett through successfully. Which doesn't mean there isn't a perfectly good level to discuss in the game. In fact, ti's the level that more or less proceeds the jaunt to Shalebridge Cradle.

Up to this point in the game, you've stolen several important mystical items for the Keepers, self-appointed shadowy protectorate of the city you live in. Acquiring the Jacknall's Paw and Builder's Chalice have put you on the hit list of the two major religious groups on the city. Snagging the Glyph Key pitted you against 8-foot tall, sword-wielding fishmen, and the path to the Compendium of Reproach went through the undead, as well as a house full of conniving mourners. Yes, Garrett walked with decent hauls from each trip, but he's still the only one risking his neck, and the Keepers aren't good at showing gratitude.

That last bit becomes abundantly clear when Head Keeper Orland pins the death of the Chief Interpreter squarely on Garrett. How Garrett inflicted the damage is ignored. As a thief, Garrett easily escapes prior to his execution, but he's on his own. The few Keepers who know he's innocent won't stand against Orland, which means the only option is to sneak back into Keeper headquarters and investigate, so perhaps the true murderer can be uncovered and Garrett's name cleared.

This may sound bad, going into the lion's den, but it's a great opportunity. Ever since Garrett started working with the Keepers, the game instructs me to do nothing to antagonize them. I can still steal, but I have to do so without so much as rendering a single Keeper unconscious. Now the Keepers are already after my head, having dispatched their telepathic assassins after me, so whacking a few of them (OK, at least a dozen) on the head with a blackjack can't make things any worse. I can rob the stuffed shirts, beat them up (or kill them if I feel like it, but that makes more noise than I prefer), and track down the real killer. This level is even the one which presents Garrett with his true enemy, the old hag who animates stone statues, and orders them to seek out Garrett and 'cut him until bleeding stops, crush him until breathing stops'. Yikes.

The one downer is that on the night I raid the compound, Orland decided to venture into the city and attempt to catch me on his own. By the next time our paths cross, he's realized his error (though he's still a Henry Peter Gyrich-level jackass about it), and we're teamed up again. Which means I can't shoot him with a fire arrow. Dang. At least he gets his.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

In Case You Were Wondering

When I was younger, junior high basically, I read a lot of Harry Turtledove books. Most of them alternate historical fiction. You know, "time-traveling racists equip Confederacy with M-16s", "aliens attack Earth in 1942". I imagine that, even allowing for things being different due to whatever change the story was based on, the books weren't all that accurate in terms of what characters might cross paths in what locations.

Still, I got a kick out of the idea that, had McClellan not been handed those messages detailing Robert E. Lee's strategy, the end result would be Abe Lincoln traveling the West 20 years later as a Socialist, and having arguments about it in a small Montana town with ranch-owner Teddy Roosevelt. It seems to be an exercise in name-dropping, but it worked well for me back then. Plus, there was always lots of fighting and that suited me just fine. It would probably work well for me now, though I'd be aware of the fact much of the path-crossing was highly improbable, if not impossible. That didn't register back then, but as I said, it wasn't the reason I was reading those books anyway.

Don't think I didn't learn anything from the stories, though. The series about the alien invasion taught me that there was a sexually transmitted disease colloquially referred to as the clap, which was news to junior high school me. Really, can you ascribe a value to such knowledge?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Thanos Always Lives To Serve Death

OK, I'm past my dour mood of yesterday. Actually, my dour mood's focused on things unrelated to comics, so I can be more engaged with the post tonight.

Thanos is coming back to life, after a bit over 3 years in the ground. I'm guessing he'll wind up being the fellow in that other cocoon the Universal Church of Truth has. It would make sense. Adam Warlock, in his current incarnation, emerged from a cocoon, and is/was described as the Avatar of Life. If you were going to describe someone as the "Avatar of Death", Thanos would be a good choice.

What's interesting is why he would be coming back. Maelstrom told Drax that when Drax killed Thanos, the balance between life and death was upset. Life became too strong, and a universe with too much life is as doomed as one with too much death. It will simply meet a different kind of horrific end. A safe bet is that Death is concerned by this turn of events, and sent Thanos back among the living to redress things*.

The other possibility is that Death is well-aware of the world Moondragon described as existing on the other side of the Fault, the one where life ran unchecked. A "cancerverse" was what she called it. The next big cosmic thing looks to be that universe trying to encroach upon the 616-reality. It's life, so it will spread if it can, and a whole new universe would provide considerable room for growth. Death knows this is coming, and is concerned by it. One universe where life won might not be an issue, since there's probably at least one universe where death won as well. This could be the start of a chain reaction, universes becoming choked with life, one after another. Which is bad, not just for Death, but for everyone.

Perceiving that, Death sends her most loyal apostle/servant/fanboy back to combat the threat. Which means Thanos would be helping to defend the 616 against that other universe. Which would make Thanos sort of a good guy. He's probably going to kill lots of people, whether it's needed or not, and he'd likely consider any allies he made expendable, but still. He'll be trying to protect a universe from a different doom than it's used.

Or he could be after Adam Magus and his followers, since they support unfettered growth of life. They'd be a more local, immediate threat, especially with the future we've seen, where the Magus ends up ruling all timelines. I'd be curious to see how Thanos would approach that challenge, considering the odds against him. If he's facing a threat from the other universe, Magus might actually throw in with him, since the enemy isn't likely to just let Magus step in and conquer. But if Thanos is after Magus himself, he's going to have to go through a lot of meat shields. Not that Thanos would care, except for the fact he'd be expending energy better spent killing Adam Magus.

Could he manipulate the Guardians of the Galaxy into helping? or would he play it (mostly) straight with them, explaining exactly why he needs to destroy Magus? Though, if he tells them Adam Magus isn't dead, the Guardians shouldn't need much encouragement to go on the offensive.

* The safest bet is Thanos observed all this, and hating to see Death marginalized, asked to be sent back, to serve her. In which case, death would send him back because he hadn't truly embraced her as it seemed he had by the end of Annihilation.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I Am Concerned

Scrolled through Marvel and DC's solicitations for May.

Worryingly, Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy are absent, least as far as I can tell. This makes me think they've been canceled. I know their sales were getting close to the level where Marvel tends to kill books, but I'd hoped they were still high enough to be OK. Maybe they're both just taking the month off? Yeah, I'm sure that's all it is. Sure, that's all.

Dang, now I'm depressed. I'd be angry, tossing expletives left and right, except I'm not sure the titles are actually done. The hope keeps me from acting the fool. Well, acting the fool in that manner, anyway. Still, it's not as thought my pull list was all that large before this, and I'm not seeing much that piques my interest* to replace books that end.

Perhaps they'll try a relaunch in a couple of months, thought I can't see that having much effect. If anthologies did better, I'd suggest just going for one big monthly comic, with lots of cosmic-themed stories for 5 bucks, or whatever. Similar to those 96-pagers Marvel puts out occasionally, like Amazing Spider-Man #600, or Deadpool #900. Except those were special events, and Marvel/DC readers aren't be big fans of that format on a monthly basis.

Oh well, life as a comic fan sucks sometimes. Let's end with a happy comment. I'm happy to see the Showcase Suicide Squad trade is back again, provided DC doesn't yank it like they did last time they solicited it. That was bullcrap, got my hopes up for nothing.

Hmm, not quite as happy as I'd like.

* Marvel's not helping with the all first issues are 4 bucks policy. I have to be sure I want to buy the book ahead of time for that not to serve as a deterrent. If I'm on the fence, that's a push away.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Flights Of Fancy

At the get-together on Saturday, the discussion between myself and a fellow who isn't on the team but works in the same location, and in a similar field, turned to the gold market. I made a comment that something a person at the table said or did wasn't just fabulous, or awesome, it was fabulously awesome. Like a peacock that lays golden eggs, was my example*.

The fellow, Jake, responded that he'd like to have one of those. I agreed at first, but then wondered if perhaps it'd wouldn't cost more than it's worth to have such a creature. We realized the crucial question is how much of the egg in question will be gold? Is the entire egg solid, just the shell, or just the yolk in between? The eggs are described as being similar in size to a turkeys, which isn't shabby, but it might require a bit of funding just to provide proper care for the bird, so we might be looking at breaking even at best.

We hypothesized that for reproductive purposes, the egg can't be solid gold, since a chick isn't going to survive encased in that. Further, the yolk couldn't be gold, since it consists of various important nutrients designed to feed a chick if the eggs been fertilized. I suppose you could argue that the yolk is gold in unfertilized eggs, but the act of fertilization causes a chemical metamorphosis which makes the yolk viable. We eventually settled upon the idea it's most likely the shell is all that's gold.

Jake wondered how the chick would escape the egg if the shell is gold. I pointed out the gold is fairly malleable, so it's really just a selective mechanism, the advantage resting with the stronger chicks, better able to push at the enclosure until it breaks or tears. That did lead to a concern that for the shell to be thin enough for even strong chicks to break through, it would have to be too thin to adequately protect its charge. If the parent sits on the egg, the shell might not retain its shape, instead being smooshed, and the chick inside along with it.

I think we've concluded egg-laying birds are more trouble than they're worth.

* Upon further reflection, I realize that females - the peahens - don't typically have bright plumage like the males. So it wouldn't be quite as fabulously awesome as we thought. Unless, it's a female with bright plumage, or a male that lays eggs. Either of which would be fabulously awesome.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I Still Hate Losing At Board Games

Last night the crew I work with had a get-together. The social butterflies of the group feel we should have more big dinners/potlucks for the bonding experience. I had thought last year's crew bonded well simply by griping about work as we passed in the hallways, which is how normal people do it, but no, that will not be sufficient. So food and games it is.

The food was good (fortunately, the social folks are also good cooks), and we played Cranium, which I hadn't played. It's several games all crammed into one, which should keep the challenges fresh. Except people seemed terrified of the red (knowledge) and yellow cards (grammatical), so there was a lot of "Guess who I am?", or "What am I sculpting out of clay?", or "Guess this song I'm humming?" The song stuff is terribly frustrating. Try whistling the three lines you know from "Billie Jean" over and over again for a minute, only to receive clueless shrugs from your teammates, while people from all the other teams are saying "Oh, I got it".

Maybe this was due to the number of people involved (14 spread over 4 teams), but I didn't like the Club Craniums, where all the teams can compete in the same challenge. It felt like chaos, how can you tell which of the two teams arrived at the answer first? You'd need one person to not play, and serve as referee instead, which wouldn't seem to be much fun for that person.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Is It A Big Change If The Same Writer Is Still There?

I see several bloggers are excited about some of DC's upcoming news. Aquaman's coming back, and Geoff Johns is going to do that thing he does - Mutilate some characters while making everything fit into continuity. I'm kidding. Sort of. The Green Lantern franchise is getting another book, which is nice for Green Lantern fans, if not their wallets. Or maybe it is good for wallets. They won't be as full of money, lowering their chances of bursting at the seams. I'm happy Tony Bedard gets to write a higher-selling title, as he seems to keep landing projects which aren't going to get high sales (I'm a fan of his Exiles run).

You know me, though, always been more of a Marvel guy. I'm happy to hear the Agents of Atlas are getting another chance (as Atlas), but the bigger news seems to be about the Avengers. Two teams, two books, Bendis and Romita Jr. on one, Brubaker and Deodato on the Secret Avengers.

Anybody excited about these? I don't mean that in a sarcastic way, I'm curious. I'd prefer the artists be switched, as Deodato's more hit and miss for me than Romita Jr. You say, "Then buy the Bendis/Romita book, Calvin," but I've made my feelings on Bendis' team books pretty clear on this blog. His style hasn't been what I look for. Then again, I'm not sure Brubaker's pacing will be to my liking either. When I read Immortal Iron Fist, I felt some individual issues had little forward progress, and not much to them, though they worked much better when I read several issues consecutively.

In spite of those misgivings, there's part of me inside hopping up and down chanting "They could be good! The rosters could be interesting! You really liked that issue of Moon Knight Deodato drew! Maybe you'll enjoy Bendis' style more this time! Or maybe he'll shift his style more towards something you like!" Yes, it's quite irritating, but it's enthusiasm is a little endearing, like scans daily. I've been trying to encourage that voice, because I'd rather be excited, but I can't help wondering if the titles will be left to their own devices long enough, or if they'll swiftly be dragged into whatever the next big important deal, limiting their ability to find a groove. There's that cynicism again.

How about the rest of you? I imagine there are some folks with considerable trust in Brubaker, or Bendis, or fans of Romita and/or Deodato's work. Maybe you're excited about the prospects of a particular character being on the team?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dual Worlds In Peril, And The Would-Be Hero's Lost

I've mentioned Dreamfall: The Longest Journey twice this week, so why not some more?

The story revolves around Zoe. She's been feeling detached from the world, dropping out of college, breaking up with her boyfriend, Reza, and generally sitting around the house bored out of her mind. Two problems present themselves to roust her from the monotony. First, Reza, who's an underground journalist of some note, goes missing, and there's a dead woman in his apartment. Secondly, Zoe is being followed by some small, creepy child, who appears on TV screens and such. The child is standing in a vast ice field, a crumbling house in the background, and she's always imploring Zoe to find and save April Ryan*. This leads into a major corporate scheme which may be unwittingly endangering two worlds, and the requisite people who are willing to do anything to make sure it carries through. The other world, Arcadia, is having trouble with a powerful empire which tends to protect people in exchange for the protected people adopting the empire's ways and beliefs.

To the point I've reached, Zoe hasn't had much luck finding Reza. She's met several of his contacts, but no sign of him. She did find April fairly quickly, the only problem is, April doesn't want to help Zoe, and doesn't think she needs saving. Unfortunately, Creepy Little Girl won't accept "She says she's fine!" as the end of the quest. Zoe's a likable person, loyal to her friends, and possessed of a fair amount of determination. April has her own inner steel, but she's also worn down from years of feeling like the world's on her shoulders. It's not surprising, if beings of great power kept telling you that you had to do stuff, because the universe is at stake, you might get a little tired of that, but once it stopped, you might also feel confused at how to proceed. At least she has a straight-talking crow as a loyal companion.

So the characters and the story have captured my attention. Much of the gameplay is Zoe or April being confronted with a problem. Then they have to run around until they find the right person to talk to, or find the right item they need. This can be fun, when it's clever, but it can also venture into irritating when the game doesn't provide much in the way of guidance. Example: April needs to break Zoe out of prison. Zoe has gotten part of the way herself, and knows a guard wants the warden to order out for lunch for him. Crow relays this information to April. The correct answer was to go to the inn April stays at and ask the owner to make a sandwich, then receive a knockout drug from a formerly evil wizard who owes April a favor**. For a time, though, I tried lying to the warden about it being the delivery, but not having a sandwich, or worrying that perhaps I'm meant to ambush the actual sandwich delivery guy. There seem to be many options, but there's really only one. On the upside, the game doesn't put a timer on these things.

I hate time trials. Almost as much as escort missions.

The conversations flow well between characters, and you'll often be given options on how to proceed. Sometimes this relates to what topic you wish to pursue, other times, the attitude you adopt. I don't think it ends up making much difference how you handle it, but I'm still on my first play. If I play it through again (assuming I beat it) I may try approaching things differently, and see if it makes a difference. The conversation always goes on long enough for me to gather what information I require.

There's some puzzle solving, mostly matching symbols to unlock doors. You're able to pick up some items in the world, and at least investigate many more, but you can only pick up what might be necessary later on. Which is fine, I'd be annoyed if I kept picking up useless crap. Eventually, I wouldn't know what to grab, and I'd leave some critical item behind. Some of the puzzle solving involves combining items, which can be amusing or frustrating, as you sometimes have to stand in just the right place to be able to combine things, and finding that correct spot can be tricky.

There's also hand-to-hand combat, but it's a weak spot in the game. It's not complicated, you just have to pick your spots to attack, and know when to go for big attacks or settle for the weaker ones, but it feels very stiff. It makes a bit of sense for April, who is sort of a Robin Hood, but with Zoe, they might have been better served to encourage more stealthy handling of the problems. The stealth parts I discussed yesterday, and they at least seem to have an internal logic to them as to whether you're spotted or not. It's just a matter of figuring that logic out. The game is very helpful in letting you know if you can hide in a particular location, and if you do, you ought to be safe. Can't ask for much more.

The controls aren't great. They don't seem well-suited for the combat parts, at least they don't let it feel fluid. Also, there's an option where you can click one of the joysticks, and your character becomes stationary, but you can look around, and perhaps interact with something you couldn't otherwise. It's a nice touch, but in that case the controls are too sensitive, or perhaps still not sensitive enough. I turn the stick, and the character doesn't move, so I turn it more, then they spin 180 degrees. Well that's too much, so now I'm trying to finagle the character to point the direction I want them too, and they're all over the place. They look like someone in a desperate hurry, who can't decide which direction to go. Fortunately, the issues don't come up enough to wreck the fun of the game.

There's one aspect of the game I can't decide is insidious or ingenious. There tend to be long cut scenes, which usually contain valuable information, or sum up the information in an attempt to keep the player in the loop. The cut scene ends, and I find myself thinking I could save and call it a day, but there might be an important reveal in this next part, so I keep playing. The gameplay only continues for a few minutes, then another cut scene starts. This can just keep happening for some time, bits of gameplay interspersed with equally long periods of cut scenes. Once I've sat through a cut scene, I feel as though I ought to keep playing, since it probably won't be very far to the next cut scene, and so i find ti hard to stop playing.

* April was the star of an earlier game, The Longest Journey.

* Trapping him in a calculator gave him invaluable time for reflection.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

If Hidden Properly, You'll Never See This Title - Maybe

Though I've played a few of them, I don't know whether I'm a fan of stealth-based video games. Like most things, it depends on the execution, as well as story, the characters, whether there are irritating glitches, and so on.

I did love Thief: Deadly Shadows, the most stealth-oriented game I've ever played. You don't have to be sneaky in that game if you choose. You can run haphazardly over tile or metal floors, stabbing people with your knife, or shooting them with fire arrows, but it'll make life much harder*. It was the same way for Goldeneye. Nothing said you had to use silenced weapons, but it made things easier. I don't think a game has to present stealth merely as the option most likely to keep you from getting shot. Beyond Good and Evil would have certain parts of the game where you could not be spotted, or you'd die. Even so, I still tended to enjoy those parts (as well as the rest of the game), and there were stealth optional parts as well.

Recently, I've been playing a couple of games that each have some stealth elements, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. They don't have much in common beyond the stealth aspects, and they don't employ it the same way. With Riddick, it's largely an option. You can sneak around, but if you're spotted, you can always try running for cover, or just start stabbing and/or shooting people. Dreamfall is more similar to Beyond Good and Evil. There are times where you have to make sure you aren't spotted. Or you'll die.

Despite the restrictiveness, I'd say I prefer Dreamfall's stealth parts more. That comes from it being easier to understand what you need to do to remain stealthy in Dreamfall, which is partially related to the camera. Riddick is a first-person perspective, while Dreamfall is third person. Cameras in both games can be rotated, but in Riddick, it means turning the entire character, while Dreamfall allows your character to remain stationary. Also, the 3rd-person perspective provides a wider view, and gives me a better idea of whether I'm concealed or not**.

The last time I played Riddick, I failed miserably in my attempt to slip past some guards. They were on a walkway above me, and I couldn't see them. I could hear them, but I couldn't determine whether they were facing me or had their backs turned to me. With other guards roving, I had to take my chances. I was spotted immediately, and only narrowly made it through, Riddick much the worse for wear. That's frustrating, as I'd prefer to take little damage, which means being stealthy, but it doesn't seem to be working.

With Dreamfall, the last stealth bit was in an octagonal hallway patrolled by a couple of security spider drones. There I could spin the camera to watch behind me, so I could see if the laser eye of the drone was approaching. I don't have to turn my character around to look back that way, which could potentially be the sort of movement that draws attention (or at least costs me precious time if I need to flee). Plus, the security drone's laser eye thing gives me a clear picture of what to avoid if I want to succeed.

I think Riddick's stealth aspects are hampered by the fact the game can go from stealth, to hand-to-hand combat, to first-person shooter in a second, depending on the situation or the player's preference. With Dreamfall, the stealth stuff exists in its own sort of bubble. The combat parts of the game come along rarely, and they stay separate from the stealth, so that conflict in styles isn't an issue.

* Not that I'm adverse to those tactics, I just tend to use them only when I'm confident the person I'm about to loudly kill has no companions nearby.

** Riddick does have a visual trick, where if you're hidden from view, the screen will turn a shade of blue. That doesn't help if a guard comes along and shines a light into the shadows, and not being shaded blue doesn't mean someone sees you right then, but it's something.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Probably A Preferable Situation Than His Usual Fare

That is probably my favorite panel from Deadpool: Suicide Kings (it's from #4). Apologies for the glare in the center. I tried taking the picture 7 times, and that was the best result.

Carlos Barberi is definitely trying to ape (homage? copy?) Skottie Young's style, since Young was drawing that Marvelous Land of Oz mini-series at the time. That's fine with me, as I prefer Barberi trying his hand at being Skottie Young to Barberi's work in the rest of the mini-series. Which doesn't bode well for my satisfaction with the upcoming Deadpool #20. Then again, that issue is going to feature Deadpool and Spider-Man trying to stop Hit-Monkey. Considering my disinterest (or distaste) for most non-human primates in comics, that's possibly a bigger strike.

At the end of the previous issue, the Punisher performed and explosive headshot on Deadpool, and this is what he's dreaming about as his entire head regenerated. No, I'm not sure how, minus a brain, his body remained alive long enough to pull that off. What's a little creepy is he was trying to explain to Spider-Man he wasn't guilty of the particular crime he was being hunted for, and so Spidey and Daredevil (who showed up shortly after the unsafe cranial expansion) brought him in an empty apartment to pull himself together. Which suggests they watched his head grow back (well, Daredevil radar sensed it, but close enough*). even for two heroes who have been around the block as much as those two, you'd think that would freak them out more. They were pretty blase about it.

In the panel, we have Wade as Dorothy, Spidey as the Scarecrow, Frank as the Tin Man**, and Daredevil as the Cowardly Lion. Spidey as having no brain I get. He wouldn't believe 'Pool. Frank as having no heart, yeah, makes perfect sense. Daredevil lacking courage is a little dodgy, but this is Deadpool's regenerating brain we're talking about. It's close enough.

* Then again, he also heard and probably smelled it. That might be even worse than seeing it.

** Two panels from now he's going to kill the freak Deadpool mentions. Which is actually a munchkin, as the munchkin points out. Then Tin-Frank kills it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The First Time I Discuss Super Bowl Commercials

Probably the last time as well. There was a commercial during the Super Bowl with David Letterman, Oprah, and Jay Leno watching the Super Bowl together. It didn't seem like a fun gathering, as Leno seemed depressed and Letterman just looked peeved.

Watching it, I wondered, did Letterman invite Oprah, and she brought Leno along? Or is it Oprah's party, and she invited both without informing them who else would be there in the hopes they'd put aside their differences, in the time honored tradition of sitcoms? Heck, I don't even remember what it was a commercial for (Oprah's show? Letterman's? Leno's? How hard it is to forgive and forget?) All it all, it seemed like it was just supposed to be a funny bit, which isn't a bad thing, just a bit strange.

I had an idea for something they could have added to it. At the end, cut to a shot of Conan O'Brien watching the Super Bowl all by himself, and looking suitably down. It'd be awkward, but the bit was already that, so what's the harm? If you'd prefer it be more uplifting, one of my coworkers (several of us went to a BBQ place to watch the game since we have no TV reception at our lodgings) suggested Conan get up and leap into a pile of that money he received to vacate the Tonight Show. Maybe he could porpoise through it like Scrooge McDuck. That would be cheery. OK, it still wouldn't make any sense, but we can't let that stop us.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Brainless Undead Aren't Much To Fear

Watched Zombieland this evening. I don't know that I'm a huge zombie fan. When they're slow, they hardly seem like something to fear, overwhelming numerical superiority or no. But fast zombies don't seem quite right* somehow. The most entertainment I've had with zombies was discussing with Alex what we'd do in the event of your standard zombie outbreak.

So it's good that Zombieland isn't terribly serious about its zombies. They run about and kill people, but it's clearly people who weren't being smart, 'cause if you're smart about it, you'll be fine. because zombies are dumb. The main characters only seem to get into trouble when they give in to hope, letting it override their common sense. Why would an amusement park be blessedly free of zombies**? As Morgan Freeman said in Shawshank Redemption, hope can drive a man insane.

The movie follows a path for me that's rather common. In the early going, when characters are being established and we haven't hit the turning point, I'm really enjoying myself. Columbus' rules, his interactions with Tallahassee, the initial run-ins with the con artists. Then things start to turn, the situation gets somewhat more serious, and I find myself annoyed the plot (or is it the character arcs?) is asserting itself on the film***. Maybe the increased camaraderie between the characters would have worked better without Columbus' inner monologue about how this group is what he's been looking for all along. It fits with the movie, since this is a fellow who actually wrote down all his rules for survival, even though he appears to have memorized them, but I was sitting there thinking 'I got it, you care about all of them! Not needing to be hit over the head.'

Perhaps it was an error to expect subtlety from a zombie comedy flick? I'm sounding far too negative. I really enjoyed Woody Harrelson's character, Wichita and Little Rock were appropriately manipulative to the point I doubted their sincerity constantly, which feels proper since the characters just met, and the ladies had hijacked the fellas twice. The movie star cameo (I won't name them in case it would spoil it) was strange, but I'm focusing too much on why that particular actor, rather than just letting myself enjoy his appearance. I don't think he needed that much makeup to appear undead. Better safe than sorry, I suppose.

* There's a question for you: In zombie movies, which do you prefer, slow and shuffling, or fast?

** I wonder who spreads the rumors of havens from zombies. People with out of date information? Crazy people? Evil people who are trying to use zombies to eradicate the rest of the human race, after which they'll flip a switch and kill all the zombies, leaving them the sole inheritor of earth? Or is it someone who just likes to mess with people?

*** Office Space is my classic example. I love that movie up to the point where their embezzlement scheme goes awry, and they all start freaking out, and Peter snaps out of his relaxed, go with the flow attitude.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Some Villains Just Can't Make It Stick Can They

As the cover says, this is Spellbinder. Detective Comics #358 is the only Batman-related comic of my father's I still have. If he'd waited another month, he could have bought the issue with the first appearance of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. And it wouldn't be worth jack because it probably wouldn't have its cover either.

I didn't keep this issue out of some great love for Spellbinder*, though I have to admire the chuztpah of any man who stops Batman cold with cartwheels (the acrobatics, combined with the costume, hypnotized Batman). But if comicvine is right, that's the last time he tangled with Batman for almost 30 years (showing up again in a two-parter in 1995). Maybe because the Mad hatter took control of the mind control bit, and Hugo Strange had other avenues of messing with Batman's brain covered, I don't know.

Oddly enough, Spellbinder has had decent career in the Batman related cartoons. He was in an episode of The Batman, though he was a fallen monk who mastered a "third eye" which enabled him to alter people's perception of reality. He's actually one of the most frequently occurring villains in Batman Beyond, with three appearances, tying him with Inque, Shriek, and Mad Stan for second place behind Kobra**. Interesting he'd experience more success as a character on TV than in the comics.

Neither of the TV versions relied on cartwheels, and perhaps that's the key. Gymnastics were just too dorky to be a threat to Batman. Though the comic version had more up his sleeve than that, it's just what was up his sleeve were pinwheels and bottle rockets. Kind of humiliating for Batman to keep being thwarted by a guy with kid's toys.

* I actually kept it for the Elongated Man back-up story.

** Kobra appeared in 4 episodes, but it was really just three stories since one of them was a two-parter.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Music Is Chosen To Encourage Rampaging

It's the mark of a good game where I spend 2.5 hours playing it, think "I'd better save and call it a day", and 2.5 hours later I'm still playing and telling myself I ought to save and quit. Or it's the mark of a game that's yet to start making sense and has really long cut scenes. One or the other.

But I'll discuss Dreamfall: The Longest Journey another day. I've also been playing quite a bit of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City lately. I guess you'd call it playing. I beat the game years ago, and now all I do is drive around, collect money from my various businesses (some of which are even legit*!), and wage war on gangs and buses.

Part of the fun of driving around is being able to listen to music as I go. Typically, I stick to music I transferred from my own CDs to the XBox, but lately I started listening to some of the game's radio stations. Mostly it's been Wave 103, and you wouldn't think pop music (or new wave, whatever) would be a sound that fits a game about mayhem, but it works on me. Part of it is a result of the use of synthesizers, so a song starts, I hear a beat and think it's one song, but wait, it's a completely different song! I think it's "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This", but it's actually "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night"**. There's at least two other songs where the beats make me think it's another tune entirely. At least the station is making fun of it. There are commercials for synthesizers telling you that no musical talent is required to make great music, and one of the personalities for the station says 'Who needs music with soul? We've got drum machines!' Plus, she has a British accent that really works for me.

What? Don't judge me and my love of British accents.

I guess the major issue is the primary DJ, Adam First. Inspired portrayal of a man who thinks entirely too highly of himself. Whether he's hoping you'll enjoy a song as much as he did listening to it in absolute darkness, or saying that the record companies know he will only play the hot underground tracks. Or the prize quote, when he starts off describing it as his most favorite album, and that it hits with 'unprecendented lyrical intensity', the song starts, and he's describing Gary Numan's 'Cars'. The first time I heard that sequence, I nearly drove my motorcycle into a building.

The good news is, it puts me in the mood to go forth and wreak havoc. Bad news, I don't know where that station is, so I can't direct my havoc at the DJ. Not that it would do any good. Blow it to hell today, and it'll be back tomorrow. For all Vercetti's wealth, he's powerless before the design of the game. He can never eliminate the cops, or the threatening gangs, or any buildings that offend his eye. There's a lesson to be learned there. Or I'm talking nonsense. Probably the latter.

As you may have derived from Thursday's post, I'm returning to the Boonies shortly, which means the return of twice monthly comic reviews. It also probably means more video game related posting to fill the time in between. Maybe some more book posting too, if I feel like driving to a book store (sixty miles away). I guess there's the library. We'll see what I can come up with, OK? Perhaps some truly insane bit of inspiration will come along. The Boonies always seem to spur some of that on.

* I think some of them are legit. It's been a long time since I completed the missions to get them up and running. I know I did some nasty stuff to help the cab company, but I think it really is just a taxi service.

** Every time I hear that song I think of Tony LaRussa. Sunny day? He wears sunglasses. Cloudy game, night game, game inside a dome? Sunglasses. He says it's so the other team can't read his eyes and divine his intent, but Tony, it's not much of a secret. If it's late innings, you're trying to figure out how many relief pitchers you can get away with using in one inning. Last season, until mid-July, you were trying to discern how many at-bats you could waste on Chris Duncan before the fans stormed the field and assaulted you both.

Friday, February 05, 2010

It's A Nice Tirck, But Is It Widely Applicable?

I'm talking about Shiva's little stunt in The Question #37. I guess it was Montoya and Rodor's trick too. They voided themselves of all emotion and became invisible to Black Lantern Vic Sage.

Like the title says, it's a nice trick. I'm not quite sure how it works. How did Shiva rid herself of all will? Is it a willingness to accept everything, reaching a state of mind where she doesn't try to resist anything? 'Become like water'?

I'm also a little surprised how easily Montoya and Rodor were able to follow suit. Shiva's had who knows what kinds of odd training, so I can buy that she can supress or expel all emotion from herself. Plus, she was there to fight a Black Lantern, and she'd done that, so she accomplished her goal, and maybe that makes it easier. But Renee and Aristotle don't have nearly her training, and I figured they both had deeper ties to Vic, so the ease with which they divorced themselves from their feelings was surprising.

Still, this whole thing is pretty strange anyway, so I guess allowances have to be made. And much of The Question seemed to be about Sage trying to overcome his anger at the world and focus instead on helping people, rather than just lashing out. In that sense, the characters surviving by rising above their emotions fits.

My other thoughts are related, I think. First, is this tactic going to show up in Blackest Night stuff still to come? Second, is this related to why the Black Lantern ring couldn't revive Dove? It said he was at peace, with no residual feelings to exploit, so did that make him undetectable to the ring, as our heroes made themselves to Vic? Being invisible to your enemies would be handy, either to search for a weakness, or to launch an attack. Except, it seems like the various Corps will be the key to victory, and they have to feel their respective emotions to use their baubles, which would make it difficult for them to feel nothing. I can't see how that would work, but I imagine there's a loophole somewhere.

Assuming the "feeling nothing means Black Lanterns can't see you" approach will have any wider use than this comic and wherever Current Question continues the pursuit of her predecessor.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Remember To Think Before You Hug Or Applaud

Nooooooo! You can't go back out there again! {I have to, it's the job.} If you go, then I only get to be on the blog twice a month! {That's what you're worried about?} Yes. {Such warmth. You'll wind up an Orange Lantern alongside Lex Luthor if you aren't careful.}

I'm not greedy! {So you say, but I think you and Aristotle Rodor would get along great.} No! He only cared about what he wanted, so he gets a Bonk! {But don't you see? You are guilty of the same thing.} Oh no! {You have no choice but to Bonk yourself. It's the right thing to do.} I guess so. *hits self, loses consciousness*

Hmm, maybe ABP should've held off on that until we'd finished. Well, I'll soldier on as best I can. Black Bolt learned the depressing truth of his and his peoples' future, so he can use a Hug. Shiva deserves some Applause for figuring out a way to survive against Black Lanterns, even if I'm a little surprised how easy it was for Renee and Rodor to copy. Darkhawk's gonna need a Hug when he realizes he may have just handed Old Sphinx control of the universe. That's all I've got.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

What I Bought 2/3/2010

UPS Guy was late again today, though he did make it before noon, that's something. He was short one box, so whoops? In other news, Store Owner Jack was watching Star Trek in the store today - again. It sounds like he watches it every couple of days, which if true, damn. I liked Star Trek too, but that's a bit much.

Nova #34 - Old Sphinx and Young Sphinx pit their catspaws against each other in single combat, first to three victories wins. The Good Guys win! Hooray! Hey Darkhawk, wait, what are you doing? No, don't give him that! Oh, that's right. Their winning still helps a bad guy.

That's the issue, a series of fight scenes, which is OK, but I had hoped for a free-for-all situation. The heroes triumph through teamwork or something similar. Maybe that's being saved for next month. Abnett and Lanning touch on the possible connection between the stones powering Young Sphinx' group and the Ka Stone, and the Darkhawk amulets may be part of that as well, but it's still a mystery how they plan to bring it all together. Mahmud Asrar is the penciler for the issue, and is certainly closer in style to Andrea DiVito than Kevin Sharpe was, so the shift isn't as noticeable. Asrar draws a nice Darkhawk, and the fight scenes are generally drawn well, though the faces have an indistinct quality at times. Maybe Scott Hanna's inks don't suit Asrar's style well?

The Question #37 - It was a small week, so I figured I'd try another one of these series back from the dead. Renee Montoya is hanging out with Vic Sage's old compatriot Aristotle Rodor when Lady Shiva shows up, ostensibly to test Montoya. So they fight until a Black Lantern ring seems to appear, and rebuild Sage's body out of three hairs. Turns out this is what Shiva was actually wanting, to fight a Black Lantern. Considering this is taking place at a seemingly remote lighthouse, I wonder if she wanted to fight Sage specifically, or if anyone would do. If it's the latter, I have to think there were easier ways to find a Black Lantern.

Anyway, our protagonists eventually realize they can't actually beat Vic, and Rodor won't get the info he'd like, they manage a stalemate of sorts. They aren't killed, but they didn't exactly stop Sage either. Still, it's at least a different solution from the standard "find source of light, destroy Black Lantern who said mean things to you" many of the stories seem to be. And it fits with the tone of the O'Neil/Cowan series, where there were rarely clean victories. People died, and the deeper problems persisted, but the Question was able to achieve small victories. There are two inkers for Cowan, Sienkiewicz and John Stanisci. I'm not sure who inked what, and I'm not a fan of the vertical squiggles in many of the panels. I understand it when they're outside and it's raining, but why does it persist when they're inside? It's in the way.

I am curious to see if the technique used in this issue comes up again in Blackest Night itself, since the usual formula doesn't seem to be enough for everyone. Not curious enough to buy Blackest Night, mind you, but enough to see if any bloggers mention it when they discuss it.

That's it for my reviews this week. How'd your comics treat you this week?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Another Round Of "Guess The Antagonist!"

Questions for those of you reading Avengers vs Atlas: Who is it that will be revealed as the one behind everything, and who is the she they're searching for?

We have a rift with faces, which destabilizes time, who is looking for a mysterious "she", and has some past history with the Avengers.

For me, the "she" made me think Mantis, aka the Celestial Madonna, who was pursued by Kang for this reason, only to be thwarted by the Avengers and Rama-Tut (Kang's younger self). Then I thought it could be that Korvac guy. He trashed the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, but committed suicide (or faked it) when he sensed that the woman he fell in love with doubted him*.

Problem being neither of those stories involved the original Avengers**. Course, Kang tangled with that group of Avengers, and the Growing Man was one of his tools. For me, it stinks a bit of the Grandmaster. He would absolutely imperil the universe by messing with time to throw together a group of heroes thought to be criminals with a time-displaced squad of Avengers, just for kicks. It's no skin off his nose if the universe is destroyed, he can't die, being an Elder of the Universe and all. He also used Mantis as a hostage once, although that was against the Silver Surfer. But the Avengers do have experience with him and his fellow Elders.

Or the antagonist could be someone completely new. I'm reasonably confident the "she" will be someone we've seen before.

* Based on Wikipedia, I think he may have misjudged her. It says Carina was angered by his apparent suicide, and went after the heroes herself.

** Or would they be Avengers Version 1.1, since it's Cap instead of the Hulk. Or would you call it Version 2.0. I'd tend to apply that label to the Kooky Quartet myself, because it's such a major roster overhaul, but it's all arbitrary definitions.