Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What I Bought 6/28/2010 - Part 3

Since I'm covering Heralds #1-4 today, I'm just going to try one big review, rather than hit each issue individually. Not sure how well it'll work, but at least worth a try.

It's Emma Frost's birthday. As a surprise, Scott Summers convinces Hellcat, She-Hulk, Valkyrie, Monica Rambeau (former Avenger and leader of NextWave) and Agent Brand from S.W.O.R.D. to help Emma celebrate. While they drink and are merry, a bunch of stuff S.W.O.R.D. had in holding breaks loose due to a system overload, so our heroes fend off clones of many different scientists and other folks (Einstein and the Red Ghost both appear, though no sign of the Super-Apes). Meanwhile, in a diner, a waitress named Frances goes kind of nuts, stabs a guy, then kills one of the clone scientists she seems to recognize by exploding into flame. Our do-gooders investigate, find her, and take her to the Baxter Building, because that's where she wants to go. Meanwhile, Nova (former Herald of Galactus Nova, not Space Cop Nova) shows up and goes after Johnny Storm, then Frances, then is nearly collapsed into a black hole by Brand before Reed's reverses the effect. We learn Frances met the Silver Surfer once, and he may have placed some small of piece of Nova (original name: Frankie Raye) in Frances, which irks her. Then Nova appears and abducts Valeria Richards for some reason. There endeth issue 4.

I like the story Immonen's telling. I mean it is kinda strange that Nova, of all Galactus' Heralds, died and was pretty much forgotten. I mean, even Air-Walker got to come back as a cyborg (about the time Nova died, actually), and years later he got to be killed in Annihilation. Much better than dying at the hands of a dumbass like Morg. Holy crap, I just realized, the court executioner turned ruthless Heralds name is "Morg". Like "morgue". Cripes, how did it take me 15 years to figure that out? I'm so embarassed.

Ahem, back to the topic. Why shouldn't Nova make a comeback, and maybe be riled everyone seems to have forgotten her? If she's missing some part of her soul because the Surfer just arbitrarily decided to place it in some random young woman he spotted, well, she and that young lady have a right to be angry. I mean, Frances is essentially a puppet in all this. The Surfer didn't really care, most of the heroes are more concerned with Frankie, Valkyrie wants her locked up as a murderer (Really Val? You've never been prey to powers beyond your control?)

I like how the main characters interact, and the dialogue between them. I already knew Immonen wrote a great Hellcat, and that's still true. Emma trying to hide how much she's actually enjoying all this behind frustration (some genuine, no doubt) with the antics of her temporary teammates. Val's straightforward, brash, somewhat melodramatic approach, all of which seems appropriately Norse. Not so fond of how Immonen writes Ben Grimm (really, it was just the line about his being glad Johnny dumped Frankie, which one, I was under the impression she became Nova and left without giving Johnny a second thought, and two, it seemed needlessly mean-spirited for Ben. maybe he meant it as a joke, but it didn't seem that way), and some of the jokes fell flat with me. The one about the Miata, for example, or the bit about Ben whistling and Emma not appreciating it like Reed does. Emma seemed to treat it like a wolf whistle, I thought it was supposed to be more of a "Hey, can I have your attention, please?" whistle.

Now we have to talk about the art. It was only Tonci Zonjic is #1. In #2, Zonjic drew all the scenes with Frances, and James Harren drew everything else, so there was at least some consistency there. In #3 Zonjic drew the dream sequence at the start, Harren drew the rest. In #4, I think Zonjic draws the first 6 pages, up through the point where they resolve the black hole problem. Then I believe it's Emma Rios for the next 12 pages, then I think it's Harren for the last 4, starting about the time they realize something's up with Frankie's old roommate.

I don't have a problem with any of the artists' work. It took me awhile to get used to Harren's, because part of my mind says the characters look ugly, though part of that is some of the angles he draws the view from, so we're seeing a character from up close, above, but kind of at an angle, so their head is this sort of moon in a corner of the panel. He does some outstanding exaggerated expressions, say Patsy spying the doughnuts, or Val getting angry about ancient history being dismissed. Also, his Ben Grimm looks appropriately rocky (that was the one thing I haven't liked about Zonjic's work is, his Grimm looks too smooth, not particularly textured). So I can't complain, but I will anyway.

I still think this would have worked better if it was Zonjic the whole way through, and I don't understand why Marvel couldn't have given him time to finish. It's not as though June is the only month with five Wednesdays left in the year, if Marvel was concerned with releasing all of it in a single month. It could have come out in September, or December. I haven't seen anything in the solicits that suggests it's building off this mini-series, so I don't understand the need to rush. Just give Zonjic the time needed to do the whole thing, because the way the pages are being broken up amongst artists, I don't think it was planned this way from the start.

The last issue came out today, which I plan to purchase when I run by the store on Friday, and I'm looking forward to it. Not just for how the whole Frances/Frankie/Nova situation works out, but to see how the heroes part after it's all over. I'm not seeing a big group hug being part of it. How is Agent Brand going to factor in? After Reed stopped her attempt to destroy Nova at the start of #4, she dropped out of sight, and I figure she'll loop her efforts back in with the rest at the end.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What I Bought 6/28/2010 - Part 2

I can't think of anything to say as an introduction. I hate when that happens. More reviews.

Hawkeye and Mockingbird #1 - I suppose fondness for the old West Coast Avengers was the nudge that has me giving this a try. Our heroes stop some guys making off with a weapons shipment and run into Crossfire, who looks like a wannabe Deadshot/Bullseye. They also run into a descendant of the Phantom Rider, and she apparently holds a grudge at Mockingbird for, tarnishing her ancestor's name, I guess. Yeah, I think your ancestor did that all to himself, but she wouldn't be a villain without the ability to misplace blame, right? Just like that putz Calculator. Anyway, villain team-up looming!

I'm not sure about the whole "Bobbi Morse has been dead for 8 years" bit when Clint tried to track down Mockingbird's family. I do like Hawkeye decided to try and contact her family without her input, as that's the sort of well-meaning, but pigheaded thing he'd do. Mockingbird's goggles are kind of nifty, the fact they remind me of Catwoman's is probably due to David Lopez being the penciler. He drew Catwoman drew the Will Pfeiffer run, correct? The rest of her outfit I can pretty much take or leave, though the coat she wears during her conversation with Dominic Fortune (he's a jackass who needs an arrow taking that stupid mustache off) is nice. I think the term "boy scout" was overused in this issue. I'm sufficiently interested to keep buying it.

Power Girl #14 - Well, Winick didn't waste anytime tearing things down. Power Girl's company is broke by the end of the issue. And she didn't get Max Lord because of his stupid OMACs. I thought all those things were gone, and good riddance might I add? There's not a whole lot of other plot stuff to discuss.

OK, so first issue for the new creative team. Winick's Power Girl is definitely different. She still maintains an ability to be amused by the world around her, but she seems less mature than she did under Palmiotti and Gray. Not about the superheroing, she's intense there, but about her company, she has this attitude where she seems like she can barely care about Starrware. The dialogue says she's been in lots of meetings, but we see her trying to make her employees leave her alone when they want to talk to her. Maybe that's going to be related to Max's mind trick stuff somehow (this is me trying to give benefit of the doubt). Sami Basri's art plays into it as well, because his Power Girl looks younger than Amanda Conner's. Thinner linework is part of it, because it makes her seem more, delicate, softer to me. The colors are softer too, which mutes the impact of the art a bit. This issue didn't do anything to assuage my fears that I'll need to drop the book shortly, but I'm still prepared to give it some time.

Secret Six #22 - Great, so Roy Harper's mucking about with dead cats, and now Thomas Blake's got himself a dead rat? I assume at some point during his walk across America, Superman will be found holding a dead horse in an alley? No word on whether it will have been beaten to death.

OK, so I was wrong about who McQuarrie might be. Par for the course, as I'm now about 4 for 932 in predictions on this blog. Anyway, Blake kills the guy in the boater hat, who has electricity powers (sure, why not?), and learns why the old man did it, and then kills him. Black Alice seems to want out of the Six now, and I learned about a drawback to her power. She's not like the Parasite who gets the powers and the knowhow to use them. She just gets the powers, and has to muddle along as best she can. Which is probably not a good strategy in some cases.

Once again, Deadshot's insensitivity manages to astound me. You'd think I would learn, but nope, keep being surprised. I'm not sure I understand why the old man involved Blake in all this, if he was, as McQuarrie put it, 'unimportant'. To make a phone call, but it seems a roundabout way of doing things. As for what Blake did to Boater Hat guy, can a human mouth even open that far? Jeez, that may be the most disturbing thing I've seen in Secret Six. At the very least the most disturbing thing drawn by Calafiore in Secret Six. This month.

Thanos Imperative #1 - So beings from the Cancerverse are charging in through the Fault. They're killing the Imperial Guard, and the Inhuman Royal Family. They're also looking for beings that don't really belong, giving off weird energies, because they need the Avatar of Death. They don't know who they're looking for (psst, don't tell them it's Thanos), so they just grab anyone, including Namorita, which makes Nova do the "drop to your knees and cry out" thing. How 'bout doing the "I'm Nova Prime and I'm going to kill your many-angled asses for grabbing someone I love" thing, Rich? It's more productive. Meanwhile, Thanos (still unhappy to be alive) and some of the Guardians of the Galaxy travel into the Cancerverse to try and wreak havoc behind the lines. Except Thanos doesn't look like he'll be much help.

Well, that was fun. I do wonder if seeing the good guys fight these corrupted versions of heroes is going to get old, but if it involves Lovecraftian Puppet Iron Man getting his butt whupped, the answer is probably "No, it won't get old". I'd like to think Abnett and Lanning provide enough information as they go that even someone not following Cosmic Marvel prior to this can follow along easily enough. About the only thing I felt they didn't explain was why Namorita was one of the beings they'd be looking for, but trying to do that would have brought things to a screeching halt (unless you just say she's displaced in time. That's close enough), so probably best to just move on.

I like Miguel Sepulveda's art better here than I did in Thunderbolts. The coloring helps some, though in the fights at the Fault, there's almost too much color, all the explosions seem to be overwhelming the details, and with all the tentacle creatures, things get messy. Could be a purposeful thing, since the Cancerverse was filled to the bursting, and it's mentioned that it's pouring into the 616-reality, maybe this is supposed to be an extension of that, the energy from there overwhelming everything else (more attempting to give benefit of the doubt). Anyway, Sepulveda. I don't love the art, but it's not killing the issue like I feared. He can draw creepy looking people pretty well, and when it's a quiet moment (read: no explosions), I think the coloring helps make them more ominous, so that's nice.

OK, tomorrow the first 4 parts of a 5-part weekly series!

Monday, June 28, 2010

What I Bought 6/28/2010 - Part 1

Hey comics! 12 of them to be exact. Not too shabby. I was gonna split the reviews into 2 parts, but I'm running behind (distracted by cute stray puppy), so we're going three parts. If you cared to know what the posts were gonna be like for the first half of the week. Onward!

Atlas #2 - Does the cover feel like an homage to something? I feel like I've seen something similar before. Group of people in a car, charging headlong into danger? Maybe something Valiant published?

3-D Man avoids being eaten by Mr. Lao. The team clues him in on their history, and he shows them the weird dreams he's been having. He knows Bob Grayson is hiding something from the team. Hmm, alternate reality adventure, perhaps? 3-D Man helps fight another rogue branch of Atlas, and shadowy, long-fingered people are preparing to strike at all of our heroes. The backup story wraps up the graveyard zombie fight, and shows us that Master Plan and Lao have expected for quite some time that when Jimmy took over Atlas, he'd bring his team along with him.

I like Jimmy's explanation for how everyone on the team can be useful. I didn't really need it explicitly stated, showing each member being useful in different situations would have been enough, but I always approve of that philosophy to super-teams. Gabriel Hardman's art is still really nice. I'm kind of worried I'm not enjoying this as much as I'd like.

Batgirl #10 - Calculator uses Apokoliptian technology to set a large chunk of Gotham after Barbara Gordon, and succeeds in catching her, despite Steph's best efforts. Oracle did succeed in getting Calculator's daughter, Wendy, into the new cave to keep her safe, so there's that. Steph had a conversation in her civilian identity with the cop, Gage, and was both too cryptic and too knowing with her comments, so he'll probably be getting suspicious of her anytime now.

It would be better if it was harder for Fourth World types to use their technology. Booster Gold taught me its something even OMACs can't adapt to, so it seems like unless one is Luthor smart, it ought to be over their heads. I'm not convinced Calculator's on that level. But that's me. All this seems a bit much simply to get back at Oracle for getting his daughter the hell away from her, but he is a villain, so inappropriate overreaction is par for the course.

Batgirl #11 - Batgirl's trying real hard to stay alive against Calculator controlled Catwoman, Huntress, and Man-Bat. I wouldn't say it's easy, but she manages to get by. If one is bothered by the fact she pulls it off, just tell yourself their skills are probably dulled by being controlled. Wendy uses Oracle's equipment to track down her father's location, meets Steph at an airport, and proceeds to airdrop her into Slaughter Swamp. Meanwhile, Oracle's trying to keep her secret from a Calculator running around in her mind, by shoving the two of him into his mind. That should be ugly.

I think Miller may go overboard with the banter, but his Steph does seem to have a good mixture of determination, chip on her shoulder, and awareness of herself. She knows she's still learning, is sick of being reminded by others she may not be good enough, and is going to see through to the end whatever she's doing at the moment. I still like Lee Garbett's artwork, and maybe it's the brighter colors, but the scenes in Oracle's mind look different from the rest. The lines look thicker, maybe a little rougher, but there are fewer of them, so perhaps a bit more simplified. Reminds me a little of Pete Woods. Perhaps because it's just some mental projection, and the falseness means fewer details.

Deadpool #24 - Deadpool (as Wildcard) pummels Grizzly, though he escapes. This makes Weasel (as The House) look bad. Deadpool suggests they switch suits, he'll be the House, Weasel can be the now well-liked Wildcard. The Grizzly reappears. Wade is decked early, then shows no inclination to rejoin the fight, and Weasel struggles before triumphing. When the House arrives to share in the cheers and gets booed. He turns on the crowd, grabs the Grizzly and the cash and flees. So effectively, Deadpool (as Wildcard) is the big hero, and everyone believes Weasel (as the House) is the big crook.

I have a feeling this could all turn out to be a ruse that will end up making Weasel look like some brilliant, selfless hero, risking his reputation to stop some dangerous crook. Well, the Grizzly, but close enough. So, similar to what Deadpool pulled last fall in San Fran with the X-Men. Of course, I think it's more likely he simply can't make up his mind about being a proper hero, and decided to just go for the cash. Either way, I'm done. Two years with this book is long enough.

So, yeah, a bummer of a place to leave off, but so it goes. Tomorrow, let's see, we've got a Heroic Age title starting up, a couple of my usual DC selections, and the first issue of Marvel's latest cosmic hoop-de-doo.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Better Be Prepared To Defend That Home On The Range

Harry Sinclair Drago's The Great Range Wars details the various conflicts in the American West from the mid-1800s until the end of the 19th century, roughly. He breaks the book into sections, each section tending to deal with a general area and the struggles therein. As cattle were a major part of that, cattlemen tend to be mixed up in each conflict. Sometimes they're dealing with Native Americans or rustlers. Other times it's sheepmen or farmers (or "nesters", as they were called). Eventually it becomes big cattlemen versus little cattlemen, at least in Wyoming, where the book ends.

The end of the book itself is a bit strange, as Drago doesn't bother with any summation chapter. The final chapter deals with the Johnson County Invasion of 1892, details how the big cattlemen responsible likely bought themselves out of the trouble they were in*, and simply ends by stating that by perhaps the Wyoming Stock Growers' Association may have learned something from the scene, as their newspapers started referring to rustlers as citizens. That's the last line. I wouldn't say there's a clearly defined connecting tissue between sections, at least nothing explicitly stated by Drago. The book does progress from the early attempts to raise cattle and make trails to places to sell them, to dealing with people using money for political influence, to people using it to shape public opinion (the Wyoming SGA controlling some of the major newspapers in the state). So you could say the battle evolved over time, though much of it still came down to men shooting and hanging each other, often on flimsy pretext.

Drago's style is a bit contradictory. At times he seems determined to wipe away the myths and stick to facts, as when he points out many of the conflicts described as "wars" are in no way deserving of that description. At the same time, he's prone to describing men as 'fearless' or 'redoubtable', which feels a bit like mythologizing to me. He'll say that there had probably never been so many cattle in one place as there were in such-and-such in those days, or never so many lynchings, and so on. Whatever is being described is the most of it that ever happened. He tries to be even-handed about things frequently, such as his discussion of the Tewksbury-Graham feud of the Pleasant Valley War, but he still can't help editorializing a little, usually with regard to hired gunmen. The Wyoming SGA hired a Frank Canton to be a detective for them (though he also got himself hired as a sheriff by people who didn't know about the first occupation), and Drago described him thusly:

'Before, during, and after his career in Wyoming, Frank Canton was a merciless, congenital, emotionless killer. For pay, he murdered eight - very likely ten men. When a compiler of one of the so-called "galleries of gunfighters" turns the spotlight on Wyoming, the celebrated Tom Horn, of a somewhat later day, is given the full treatment. Little attention is given to Frank Canton. Perhaps that is because there was nothing glamorous about Canton. Even Jesse James was kind to his mother.'

That last line kills me. The writing is probably a product of its time (the book was published in 1970), but it's at least an engaging style, and keeps things interesting. As I read the book, I recognized the effect Westerns have had on me, as I kept expecting the various players, especially those who seemed to be manipulating the law for their benefit (Laurence G. Murphy and James J. Dolan of Lincoln County, New Mexico Territory, for example), to be felled by vengeful (righteous?) gunfire. Never really happened. The movers and shakers all know how to stay far enough back to not get hit.

* The plan was to send a large quantity of cattlemen, their employees, mercenaries into Johnson County, disarm the local militia, then kill any known or suspected rustlers. Of course, suspected could include simply having been seen talking with a known rustler, so clearly these were men a bit drunk on power. Fortunately, they were also basically incompetent about it, which minimized the death toll.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

There Won't Always Be Time, Though

Poul Anderson's foreword for There Will Be Time is a bit curious. I believe he's saying that some of is related in the story comes from notes he received from a relative of his, a medical man. He doesn't insist the story is true, he merely notes where some of the ideas came from. The story itself is told by a town doctor, who is relating the life of one of his charges, as that man has related it to him.

Jack Havig can travel through time. He doesn't know why or how precisely, though he suspects it's the result of some fortunate happenstance in his genetics. He's been able to do so since he was a baby, and as a child, used it as a way to go exploring, to escape from unhappy times at home, and in one circumstance, to defend himself from bullies. The only person he confides in is the doctor who delivered him, and handled his childhood ailments.

The problem for Jack comes as he starts going forward (he's born in 1933) and sees civilization will be largely destroyed by way. Jack is faced with two problems. First, he feels the need to do something about what he's seen, though he never seems to much contemplate trying to stop it. His focus is more on how to best put things together afterward. The second problem is to try and find more people like himself.

Poul deals with the challenges of both goals rather well, I thought. For starters, time travel itself presents difficulties. He can't move through space, so either he has to find some way to get where he wants to be after he reaches his chosen time, or he has to go there first, then move through time. There's also the matter of how to hit the time he wants to hit. Language barriers, money problems, trying not to stand out too much, but still being able to reach people who could be useful. Simply being able to comprehend what he's seeing. He's only one man, can only be in one place at a time, how readily can he understand a culture from centuries in the future? If Jack can understand what he's seeing, can he deduce what needs to be done to either help it come about, or avert it? Can one person pull it off on his own, which is where finding more time travelers comes in, and the initial solution makes a certain amount of sense, in a limited way. Then there's the issue of whether or not Jack wants to be associated with the travelers he finds.

Anderson doesn't present Jack as someone with an intense focus for most of the book. As often happens in fiction, a loss is required to spur him on. Until then, Jack would consider what he should do, but he also took time to have flings with girls in different times, and even married a young woman after the sack of Constantinople in 1204*. I suppose since the 'Day of Judgment' wasn't going anywhere, there was no rush to getting around to guiding what comes after.

As with a lot of time travel stories, things feel inconsistent to me. Jack tells the doc he can't change the past. As an example, he describes trying to go back and warn his father not to enlist during World War 2. He says when he appeared in the house, he immediately tripped over a power cord, fell, and broke his arm, prompting him to jaunt back uptime. By the time he'd recovered, his mother he saw his mother had two sons with her second husband, which somehow convinces him he can't - or shouldn't - change what happens. Except we see time travelers with drive off Crusaders from certain locations in Constantinople with firearms so the travelers can sack them instead, or that it was supposed to be that Jack would marry that girl, because otherwise, those are changing things in at least some minute way. It's even suggested at the end that the mutation allowing time travel may have been engineered in the future and sent back to humanity, which sure as hell sounds like changing things. The argument seems to be those were preordained to happen, so they can, but John warning his father is not, so it can't. Which sounds like bunk to me.

I don't think it's a great book, but there are parts of it, and certainly concepts I like. The idea that one person would find it difficult to shape progress, would find it hard to even know where or when to act was a nice touch. Seems like in a lot of time travel stories, the characters always know exactly what they have to prevent, or who they have to kill, or whatever, which will magically make it all better**.

* What bothers me is Jack befriended her father, a goldsmith, when she was about five. Then jumped ahead a year or so to maintain the friendship. When the sack occurred, Jack was able to rescue her and some of the rest of the family, and after she spent some time in a nunnery for safety, they got married. Even though he had to be at least in his mid-20s when she was five. Admittedly, with him jumping forward in time, so that she was aging years as he was aging minutes or seconds, the gap closed, but still. Offended my sensibilities a bit.

** I guess the Terminator franchise is an exception since, no matter how many time John Conner avoids death, or destroys the remains of the one from the first movie that served as the blueprint for Skynet, or whatever, the war always happens, and they just keep sending machines to kill him. Neither side can ever seem to get it right in that conflict. I think it'd be kind of funny if Skynet succeeded, killed John as a kid, and all that happened was some other persistent human brought it down.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Can You Make A Principled Stand Without Principles?

Do you think Tony Stark has any principles?

I was reading Chad Nevett's Random Thoughts post this week, and he mentioned he wasn't a fan of the trend in the Marvel Universe of Steve Rogers always being right. I tend to think if it's a question of whether it's right to do something or not, at least as it pertains to the American Ideal, yeah, Steve Rogers should be right. Doesn't mean he can't be wrong about other things, or handle things incorrectly*.

So in the comments, someone argued that Stark was the bigger man than Rogers, because Stark was being treated as a villain, he was taking all this blame, he has to provide Rogers with some way to stop him if he goes off the rails like this again, Stark never set up a covert ops team**. The point being, if Steve Rogers is lauded for standing by his principles, Tony Stark should be as well, perhaps more s,o since he did it while becoming hated by everyone.

I'm not convinced Tony Stark really has any principles, though. He was big on making people register their identities with the government, but this is the guy who previously somehow used satellites to make the world forget who he was. He wanted everybody to fall in line and follow the law, but that's coming from a man who wrecked the armors of all the guards at a super-villain prison because, through no fault of their own, parts of their armors were based on his designs. Hell, he beat up Stingray just because he thought Stingray's armor might have some of his designs in it.

Tony Stark strikes me as a character who doesn't have any set rules, except perhaps "Don't touch my stuff!" He seems to do what he thinks is right in the moment, but may do the exact opposite later if he decides it's the right choice. Other people's thoughts on the matter may not factor into his decision at all. Or they might, if he feels like listening. Which is fine. As long as he's trying to do right, I imagine he can be a hero without a strict code he follows, but I'm not sure that qualifies as having principles. I'm obviously biased against Stark, so I may not be giving him enough credit. Plus, my collection of Iron Man comics is pretty small. So I'd like your input on whether Stark has principles, and if so, what you think they are.

* I think after he escaped Maria Hill at the start of Civil War, it might have been a good idea to have some friends cover him, visit a major TV network, and ask for some time to present his thoughts on why the Super-Hero (Human? Whatever.) Registration Act was wrong. Give the public something to chew on before embarking on his "fight crime from the shadows campaign".

** No he decided to unleash Venom, Bullseye, Lady Deathstrike, etc., on Spider-Man, after Spidey switched sides. He used nanites to make Norman Osborn shoot an Atlantean diplomat, because the threat of war with fish people would convince the public to go along with what Stark wanted. Say what you will about the Secret Avengers being "covert ops", they are actual heroes. OK, the Ant-Man he's using is a scumbag, but the rest of them are, give or take some time as Communist spies (Black Widow), or being insane (Moon Knight).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cathartic Video Game Levels #3

I never beat Earthworm Jim for the Game Gear. Wouldn't say I even came close, but there was a level that served as an excellent stress reliever.

In the preceding level, Jim is on La Planeta De Agua, trying to defeat Bob, the Killer Goldfish. To reach Bob, one must pilot a bubble submersible through a narrow passage among the reefs. Go too fast and the sub hits the reefs, and begins to crack. Hit them too often and the sub collapses and you die. But the sub can only carry a limited amount of air at a time, so you have to make it to the refill spots before time runs out, or the bubble will collapse, and you'll die.

This is one of the levels that hastened the death of my first Game Gear (along with NBA Jam: Tournament Edition), since I would die frequently on this level. Sometimes I almost make it to the end, but hit one rock too many. Or I went too slow and ran out of air. Or I was really off my game and was slamming into reefs right from the start, so there was no hope. Only rarely could I find that magical combo of speed and control that would lead to success. Of course, if you could reach the end, Bob was a snap. He was just sitting in his goldfish bowl, no guards, no weapons. The whole challenge was reaching him.

Somehow, that didn't seem right. Sure, it was nice it was easy, but it didn't provide an opportunity to vent frustration on him. Which is where the next level, Snot a Problem, came in. The idea was simple. You're bungee-jumping over a pit with a huge monster in it. Alos bungee-jumping is another of your foes, Major Mucus. Slam him into the cliff faces until his bungee cord of snot breaks, while not letting him do the same to you. Avoid the big creature when you're at the bottom of the pit waiting to go back up.

It was a nice contrast to the previous level, which was all about finesse. I still couldn't hit the walls too often myself, but at least I could strike back against my foe repeatedly, give them a taste of what I was going through.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Your Own Super-Villain Team-Up

I was talking about Alex last week, and math entered the discussion somehow. I believe he made some sort of calculation that was wrong, and I corrected him. He declared math to be his arch-nemesis. He went on to state that if he had a nemesis more arch than math, he'd like for it to fight math. . . and lose. Knowing something which could be an even greater nemesis, I asked him if that meant he wanted thunderstorms to fight math. We each took a moment to envision it, before I mentioned it would be bad news if they set aside their differences and teamed up against him. Lightning bolts in the shape of pi signs were envisioned. Thunder asking for the Pythagorean Theorem was hypothesized.

So, your silly hypothetical for the day is, what arch-nemeses of yours would team-up? None of mine are quite as powerful as Alex', so it'll have to be a Frightful Four of venomous snakes, unsteady heights, and elderly people driving minivans*. So I'm envisioning the minivan having a snake catapult like that bad guy from Speed Racer, as they try and force me to climb a series of rickety ladder onto various slick and/or slanted surfaces, which will also be covered with venomous snakes.

There might actually be a good chance at infighting there. Figure the elderly person misses me and hits on of the ladders, then the snakes get peeved and attacker the minivan and its driver, they start getting run over, and the van goes out of control and smashes into one of the buildings I was supposed to climb on top of, bringing it down on them as I escape unscathed, possibly laughing like Woody Woodpecker**.

* Yes, that's two. Elderly people driving are one, minivans are another, regardless of who is behind the wheel.

** I've had the oddest urge to laugh like him lately. But it's not really my normal laugh. My laugh is more, how can I put this, evil? Like Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Don't Think, Just Read, And It'll All Be Fine

When I first saw Ice Station in the library, I assumed it was Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean, so I figured it would be a good chance to give another of his books a try. I couldn't figure why it wasn't with the other "M" authors, but who knows with small-town libraries? Then I read the cover more carefully, saw there was no Zebra in the title, and this book was written by Matthew J. Reilly. Well, what the hell, still might be worth a read.

It does have one thing in common with a MacLean book, it goes quickly. Things are constantly happening, most of them involving shooting and/or explosions. Also, most of it isn't probable. It's very much a big summer action movie. An American Antarctic research station hits something metal over a thousand feet below them in the ice. They find a water passage into the cavern where it is, and proclaim over the radio they've found an alien spacecraft, oh, and one of the researchers killed one of the other researchers. Please send help. A U.S. naval vessel in for repairs in Australia sends a Marine Recon team down there, and everything goes nuts.

The book has fighting between the Marines and a crack French Parachute Regiment, between Marines and the SAS, pits the Marines against traitors within their unit, loyal to some shadowy cabal in the U.S. government dedicated to making sure America stays on top of the world, and willing to kill anyone (even their own soldiers) to keep secrets the U.S. discovers secret. The Recon unit is full of the usual types: the eager rookie, the experienced sergeant the commander counts on, guys nicknamed "Hollywood" and "Montana", and one of the two female members of the squad has a crush on the lieutenant. The lieutenant, nicknamed "Scarecrow", is the "good" type of commanding officer: open-minded, concerned for the well-being of his subordinates, not overconfident, not too good* at what he does, and apparently handsome, despite the scars. I wouldn't say any of the characters are developed past a rough sketch stage. Even Scarecrow, whose mind we spend the most time in, doesn't flesh out too much. I couldn't tell you a hobby of his, for instance. I suppose Reilly's counting on the reader to recognize Scarecrow as the "good guy", and that'll be enough for us to root for him. It works to a certain extent, though you could say it's from everyone else being even more of a cipher, or because if this group is killed, the conflict probably wraps up sooner, and where's the fun in that**?

Lot of death in the book, in a myriad number of ways. Death by choking, crossbow, machine gun, handgun, fragmentation grenade, claymore, liquid nitrogen grenade, by gunfire igniting flammable CFCs (CFCs are not usually flammable) causing a huge explosion, grappling hook to the stomach, diving bell implosion, orca (lot of those), radiation-mutated elephant seal, drill, Stinger missile fired into a hovercraft, tossing a helmet into a hovercraft fan (causing it to flip into the air in an apparently improbable manner), explosive launched into a torpedo tube on the end of a magnetic grappling hook, and sea snake venom. There's near death by nuclear missile, torpedo (a French sub tries to shoot the hero, swimming underwater, with a torpedo), and all those ways people actually died listed above also nearly killed people on other occasions.

There's a clever little girl who manages to avoid all these methods of death so she can save the day with Fibonacci numbers. She has a seal for a friend, who also helps, naturally. There are ice stations swallowed by earthquakes, ice stations floating upside inside icebergs for over 30 years (with still functioning scuba gear inside), ice stations blasted off the continent by explosives. Planes equipped with Predator-style cloaks (which run on plutonium and require more power than Doc Brown's flux capacitor). Marines presumed dead who are not, members of Nixon and Carter's Cabinets who vanished that, fortunately, do not make dramatic appearances decades later***, but were mixed up in this. The SAS, despite being perfectly willing to shoot handcuffed men in the head, decide to try and kill some of the Marines by lowering them into the water to be eaten by orcas. I guess they do it because they find it entertaining, because otherwise you think they'd realize elaborate Silver Age death traps like that inevitably backfire.

It's all completely mad, and if you take the time to do a little research (I've done a little as I write this) much of it doesn't hold up. My advice would be to not do that while you read. Surrender to the momentum, and once it's over, then look things up and shake your head at the book.

* He seems to think that, but all the loyal members of his group seem to think the world of him, and for all his concerns about how the French got the drop on them, and how the SAS commander anticipated his moves, Scarecrow survives, and those dudes do not, so, maybe he's better than he thinks. Or maybe he needs to be a lone operative, rather than lead troops. Things seemed to go somewhat better when he ran around on his own, killing people.

** It could have been funny if the station kept switching possession. The French have it, the Marines take it, then the SAS slaughter them and get it, only to lose it to the, I dunno, Argentinians, screaming 'For the Falklands!', then they lose it to the South Africans or Chileans, then maybe the SEALs retake it for the U.S., and so on until someone blows it up. Though Reilly wrote it so there probably isn't time for that lengthy a game of hot potato.

*** Was there an Otto Niemeyer in Nixon's Administration? The only Otto Niemeyer Wikipedia came up with was the director of the Bank of England from long before Nixon was President. I though perhaps this was a real guy who abruptly vanished that Reilly decided to use for kicks, but I think he didn't really exist.

Monday, June 21, 2010

To Start With, I'm Not Recommending The Book

I have to learn to trust my instincts. Standing there in the library, a little voice inside said not to waste my time checking out Dean Koontz' Odd Hours. Did I listen? Of course not. I told myself even if it was a terrible book, I'd probably finish it in a few hours, and I've wasted more time than that on more meaningless prospects before. Not a ringing endorsement, I know. Well, it's not gonna get any better. By the time I finished, I felt so bored, nonplussed, something, I wasn't even going to bother reviewing it on the blog. But with my comics still M.I.A., I have to post about something.

Part of it was I felt Koontz was editorializing too much. Odd Thomas tends to comment on aspects of modern culture he finds distasteful in each of his stories I've read, but it seemed more noticeable here, like rants were being used to fill page space. None of it was germane to the story, and after awhile, I grew tired of it. In the story itself, he's trying to stop some corrupt local law enforcement from doing something that could destroy the country. He's also trying to protect an unusual lady named Annamaria, who is the sort uselessly cryptic character I hate. You know the type, where they're asked a question and respond with meaningless crap.

'Why do I trust you? You know why.'

'Why are they trying to kill you? For the wrong reasons.'

Those are typical back-and-forths between them. If I'm trying to save a person's life, I'd expect some straight answers, and the fact Odd just accepts those non-answers is irritating. Plus, for all the danger she's supposedly in, Odd manages to successfully hide her at a friend's home (a friend we're introduced to only when the plot requires her to be there), and she's never threatened again. From that point, Odd's the one being shot at, beaten, interrogated, and taking all the risks. If she's so vitally important these guys are after her, I'd think they'd do a more extensive search.

I have to question Odd's marksmanship as well. For someone who hates guns, and uses them no more often than he does, I'm not sure he misses with a single shot he takes in this book. Granted, we're not talking about sniping a person from 200 yards or anything, but probably 20 feet or more at times, on a boat in the ocean. I'm confident I have a lot more experience with firearms than Odd, and I really doubt I could shoot that well, even at inanimate targets, let alone living people. Odd does show an impressive ability to simply kill people if he thinks he has to, without any dithering, so maybe that helps.

Or maybe it will turn out Odd was receiving help from mysterious forces, many of which seem to be roaming around the town in this book, most of which are new to Odd's experiences. I have a feeling Koontz may follow up on those in the next book, but he seems to be playing as coy with the answers as Annamaria. Well, I probably wouldn't like his answer, anyway, so maybe it's for the best I plan to leave the series be from here on.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Trying To Change The Past Rarely Works, Does It

Ever since I first beat The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time (which was geez, nearly a decade ago, where does time go?) I've been intrigued by the ending. At one point, I was so intrigued I started to write fan fiction based on it, but stopped myself after about five (boring) pages.

At the end, Link, Zelda, and the Sages have defeated Ganondorf, and banished/trapped/sealed him in the Sacred Realm*. The day having been saved, Zelda confesses how guilty she feels about this to Link. Seven years ago she sent him off to collect the Sacred Stones which, combined with the Ocarina of Time and her knowledge, would gain them access to a sealed area of the Temple of Time. From there they could reach the Triforce, and use it to stop Ganondorf**, who she did not trust (good call on that). By the time Link returns with the stones, Zelda's being whisked into the night by her bodyguard, Ganondorf in pursuit***. Zelda did toss the ocarina and the necessary instructions in the moat, so Link retrieves them, heads to the temple, opens the chamber, and lifts the Master Sword he finds out of the stone it's set in. This opens the way to the Sacred Realm where the Tri-force was. . . and Ganondorf promptly follows Link in, brushes him aside (kid couldn't be more than 10), and seizes the Tri-force (part of it, anyway).

The Sage of the Sacred Realm sealed Link up in a crystal for 7 years, until he was old enough to actually wield the Master Sword, and sends him off to awaken Sages and eventually trounce Ganondorf. In the 7 years, Ganondorf's generally trashed things. Hyrule's a burned-out wreck, the Gorons are imprisoned in a volcano, the Zoras are frozen in ice, the Kokiri hide in their cottages to avoid all the monsters. People in Kakariko Village are doing OK, though I believe the town is set on fire eventually. Still, most of the people there are refugees, who lived in Hyrule or the surrounding areas.

That's all pretty rough, and the reason Zelda feels bad is because it's sort of her fault. The Master Sword can only be wielded by the Hero of Time, which turns out to be Link. You have to be able to draw the sword to access the Sacred Realm, so Ganondorf could never have gotten the Tri-force without their efforts****. In her defense, I'm not sure she was aware of that safeguard, and I don't know who she could have asked about it.

From what I could discern, Zelda sends Link back 7 years, to before the whole thing started (since we see shots of him asleep in his home, which is where the game started), and I had the impression she to change how things went. Since at the very end, Young Link shows up in the castle courtyard, surprising a Young Zelda the way he did originally, the best I can figure is he's supposed to tell her younger self it's a bad idea to send him after the Sacred Stones. Perhaps it's my cautious nature, but I've never been sure that's a good idea.

Yes, the idea of using the Tri-Force against Ganondorf backfired, but it wasn't as though Ganondorf was really wholly on gaining the Tri-Force. He set loose some arthropodic monster inside the Great Deku Tree (who kept one of the Stones), which killed it, despite Link's efforts. He helped seal off the cavern where the Gorons found their favorite rocks (which they eat), and I can't remember if he was responsible for all the Dodongos***** in there as well. Link blasts open the cavern and kills the King Dodongo. Ganondorf also unleashed some sort of octopus parasite inside the Zoras' fish-god, Lord Jabu-Jabu, which inhaled their princess, so Link had to save the fish and the fish-princess. Both these peoples were allies of the Hylians, so he's starving one bunch, and possibly throwing the Zoras into mourning or despair over their princess and their god. Plus, he's the ruler of a group of warrior women, who Older Link would be able to attest are no pushovers. Ganondorf himself is a pretty tough guy, he knows magic, and he's crafty******. Tri-Force or no, he would have been trouble.

Cozying up to the Hylian King, while simultaneously weakening his allies, is a good prelude to a surprise attack. It might cost Ganondorf some more of his people, probably take a little longer when he doesn't have enough power to keep a castle levitated above a lava lake, but I highly doubt that's going stop him. And if Link doesn't go after the Stones, does he go back to the Kokiri Village? Then you've got the Hero of Time out in the relative open, where he could be taken out by Ganondorf's forces (they've already killed the Deku Tree, who protected the Kokiris). At least with how things originally went, Link was safe in the Sacred Realm until he was old enough to be useful.

Again, I'm not much of a gambler, so that's definitely affecting my perspective on this, but it seems risky to go back and try for a better outcome (I guess they don't operate on the Marvel idea where changing the past just creates a new alternate timeline, but doesn't change the original). I figure with the Tri-Force, Ganondorf conquered what he wanted quickly, and the people who were going to escape safely did so quickly, and with no challengers to his power, Ganondorf established the way things were gonna be in his turf, and things settled into a static, but horrible, situation. Without the Tri-Force to ramp up his power, I'm picturing a drawn-out battle*******, more deaths on both sides, with the battle spreading out over a wider area (maybe pockets of resistance in the Lost Woods), as the sides try to gain an advantage. I'm not sure the triumph of what's good and right would be any cleaner than the one they already have.

One could always hope, though.

* They couldn't take his piece of the Triforce away, so they weren't able to kill him, even after Link buried his sword in Ganondorf's face nearly to the hilt.

** Ganondorf was leader of the Gerudos, and was establishing diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Hyrule.

*** He stops to ask Link if he saw them, and Link draws his sword, really a dagger compared to Ganondorf's size, which gets him promptly knocked on his butt by an energy blast, who laughs, then rides off.

**** I'm not clear on what would happen if Ganondorf had tried to grasp the Master Sword. Would it have simply not budged, similar to Mjolnir if the unworthy grab it, or would it have injured him to touch it?

***** Large, gray, scaly, fire-breathing lizards. Not really dragons though, their body type is more crocodilian, slow, fat, and shambling, no wings. Link fights a real dragon when he's older.

****** I have a hard time picturing he made all these moves strictly to push two kids to try and use a powerful magical artifact against him, so I figure he caught onto their plan somehow and was smart enough to use it to his advantage.

******* I'm picturing trench warfare, actually, which doesn't make much sense considering most of the peoples involved are at swords and arrows level technologically. Then again, there'd also be fish people, sword-wielding skeletons and bickering witch sisters involved, so who knows.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pirate Is Such An Ugly Word; I Prefer Privateer, As The V Makes It Sound Cool

Lyle Saxon's Lafitte the Pirate is an attempt to discuss the life of both of the Lafitte brothers, but especially Jean, working strictly from more trustworthy sources. Which is a difficult task, as the story of Lafitte's life is presented many different ways, with stories gradually becoming more exaggerated as they're retold.

The Lafittes, Jean and Pierre, went from initially serving more as middlemen, or brokers, for smugglers and "privateers" (read: pirates) trying to make a profit off their goods in New Orleans. Eventually, the two built up their own organization, and armed with letters of marque from Cartagena, set to plundering ships themselves, then having grand auctions at their base on Grande Isle. For a time, they operated with impunity, as Governor Clairborne couldn't get the legislature to approve any actions against them. The military did finally destroy their base, but only when the British were preparing to invade New Orleans during the War of 1812, This after Jean Lafitte told a British contingent he would consider working with them, then immediately sent all they had given him to the American authorities. So ingratitude and poor prioritization. Despite all that, the Lafittes and their men joined Andrew Jackson's forces and helped fend of the Brits. Of course, a peace treaty had already been signed by then, but neither set of forces knew it.

After that, Jean's career suffered the gradually diminishing fortunes that seem typical of this life. Where he was once admired for his charm, style, and wit*, more and more merchants were annoyed with their business being undercut by the Lafitte's sales of ill-gained goods, and there was the story of the fine clothes of a local Creole woman whose ship had been destroyed being found in the Lafitte's warehouse by the military, so his reputation soured. He tried moving to Galveston and setting up base, but was eventually forced out there as well, and the scant reports of him after that indicate his attempts at piracy began to fare worse, as the ships traveled in armed convoys more often. The few sources there are indicate he was buried at Silan, in the Yucatan.

Saxon also takes the time to describe the histories of various other important parties, such as John Grymes, one-time D.A. of New Orleans, who left that job to defend Pierre Lafitte***, Clairborne, even a little for Andrew Jackson (I didn't realize he was suffering from malaria during the Battle of New Orleans). The book also provides a certain amount of detail into women's lives, though mostly in terms of the attempts of quadroon women trying to land a wealthy white guy for their daughters (dubbed "free women of color"). Since it was written in 1930, I wasn't entirely surprised to see slaves described as "savages" when they decided to revolt at one point. Something to keep in mind.

The last two chapters feel extraneous, with the first one detailing many of the embellishments fictional writers made to Jean's story, while the final chapter is about people still (in the 1930s, when the book was originally published) searching for the treasure the assume Lafitte must have buried (but never dug up, even as his resources dwindled). Even though neither chapter was more than 20 pages, they seemed interminable compared to Saxon's account of Lafitte's actual life**. You could probably give those a pass, as I felt Saxon was mostly mocking these folks for either believing in the treasure, or buying all the ridiculous stories about Lafitte.

One interesting tidbit. There are several illustrations in the book, all of various locales in New Orleans or Grande Island, drawn by and Edward H. Suydam. The work is quite nice, providing a good feel for not only the particular building, but also how structures were set with regard to each other and the streets in New Orleans. A person better versed in architecture would probably gain even more from them than me.

If the last name looks familiar, you might recall Arthur Suydam drew those zombie variant covers for Marvel a few years ago. He's drawn lots of other things as well, but that might be what some of you are most familiar with****. E.H. is Arthur's great-uncle from what I can discern, and they're both part of a line of excellent artist in the Suydam family. Their styles aren't the same, as E.H. prefers pencils and charcoal, Arthur's more an oil-painter according to his site. I can't say I figured it out based on similarities in the artwork (I'd like to, but no), as it was actually E.H.'s signature (specifically how he writes the "y" in "Suydam") that made me wonder about a connection.

* Clairborne offered $500 for Jean's capture, so Jean (presumably) jokingly had posters planted around the city offering even more than that if someone would capture the governor and bring him to Lafitte.

** As best he was able to piece together. At different points he notes certain documents one might expect to be present, say from a trial of Lafitte's men, are missing from court records. Maybe they were destroyed in storms, or burned, or stolen, any way it's sliced, they weren't there.

*** Supposedly for $20,000, which he wasted gambling as he traveled back to New Orleans from Grande Isle with it. By most accounts, he found this extremely funny.

**** According to his website, he also did illustrations for the recent re-release of Br'er Rabbit
and the Wind in the Willows.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Perhaps The Moon Is Livelier Than I Thought

I watched Moon yesterday. While goofing around on Amazon a couple of days earlier, I noticed one of the labels someone had applied to the movie, and though it meant nothing in the moment, once Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell*) wakes up in the infirmary after his accident with the Harvester, I immediately knew what the label was talking about (I'm going to try my best not to spoil it for you, if you haven't seen Moon, which is a movie I'd highly recommend).

What's nice about Moon is I don't believe knowing the reveal ahead of time spoiled the movie for me. Director Duncan Jones has the reveal in the first third of the movie, so it isn't as though the film is built around it. Most of the movie is about the employees in the lunar station coming to grips with the reveal. It's not easy for any of them, and we see denial, anger, acceptance, but in different ways, and at different times. So you have one character ignoring the ramifications of it all, and trying, first to be friendly, then later simply throwing himself into a model he's working on, while another starts with ignoring, then moves to tearing the station apart looking for a secret room. The whole thing might be hardest on Gerty**, the computer assistant responsible for looking after the employees and the station.

Gerty (I'm not aware of it representing any cool acronym) is supposed to represent the company's interests, but this also includes looking after those who man the station. The answers Sam wants, the things the people on the station want to do after the reveal, are in conflict with the company's interests. What's Gerty to do? We see Gerty try to deflect queries, and try to care for Sam in other ways (like making sure he's well-fed), but I don't know if Gerty ever really doubted who it would side with. There's a scene before the reveal (it actually leads directly to the reveal) where Sam appears to have tricked Gerty, but I wonder if Gerty wasn't simply playing along, since it would help Sam, and Gerty would have plausible deniability.

There are some touching moments in the film, and the early parts, depicting Sam trying to cope with the isolation he was feeling, are well done. The shots of the interior of the station make it look so quiet and sterile, I could see how it would place a strain on Sam, especially when he might never know when he'd round a corner and one of Gerty's assist arms would pop up. Like having a coworker everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Freaky.

Sam's hallucinations early on did confuse me. Between them, and the weird skip during a transmission from his wife, I thought the movie would be about Sam thinking there were people he didn't know about, hiding in the station, possibly out to harm him, but maybe he's just losing his mind, or perhaps they're ghosts. Might make a decent horror flick***, but the route they went was more interesting. Still, I'm not sure what the hallucinations were meant to represent. I believe the transmission glitch was just a sign the system the company had in place was breaking down after too many years, and maybe the hallucinations were a similar sign of things falling apart with Sam after so long. Anyway, highly recommended.

* So Rockwell was Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2, which I guess I'll be waiting to see on DVD at this point. When I saw him in trailers, I thought it was Edward Norton, which confused me, because you can't have Edward Norton playing the Hulk and some industrialist foe of Tony Stark's. That's just going to muddle things. For whatever reason, Rockwell's face reminds me a lot of Edward Norton's, which continued in this movie, having slicked back, Bruce Wayne style hair. Also Rockwell's eyebrows, of all thing, reminded me of Christian Bale's.

** Kevin Spacey, doing what seemed to be a pretty solid version of HAL, from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

*** It feels like I'm describing a more grounded version of Event Horizon or Pandorum.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

There's More To A Memory Than I Remembered

Some months ago I was searching for music from video games, and I found VGMusic, which wound up being a pretty handy resource. Especially with some of the more popular games, there are multiple versions of a particular piece uploaded onto the site, so it's interesting to compare the variations. Which ones are the same as it was in the game, does it sound better using a guitar, or a piano.

What I find frequently, though, is the feeling something's missing. In some cases (Halo's opening theme) what's missing is voices, since it's strictly instrumentals on the site, no singing. More often, I realize that it's not matching up with my memory of the song, because I remember it from when I played the game, and it wasn't just the music I'd hear then.

When I listen to "New Junk City" from Earthworm Jim, I keep expecting to hear the sound of Jim bouncing on piles of tires accompanying the music. If it's a level of Goldeneye, I remember it with the occasional silenced gunshot mixed in (the levels Bond had a silenced gun, anyway). With a racing game I keep thinking I'll hear engine noises and so on. But those are sound effects, not music, so they wouldn't be included. Even if they were, in the case of shooting, when the sound would appear in the piece would vary with the individual player.

I find it kind of neat that in my recollections, the sound effects are part of the music for me. It makes the music almost alien to hear it without the noises of the actual gameplay.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

DC's Playing A Merry Game With Me, But I Am Not Amused

Did DC cancel Showcase Presents: Suicide Squad again? I guess when they solicited it earlier this year, I wrote down the release date on my calendar, and well, that was today. No sign of it on the shipping list, no sign of it anywhere on DC's site that I could determine. I checked the releases they had all the way to December. Nothing there, or in their graphic novel section.

Once, Amazon's recommendation system, in either a stroke of insight, or more likely, an example of a blind hog finding an acorn, suggested I might like that collection, and I said I owned it. I had ordered it, so I did own it, except I hadn't yet paid for it, or taken it into my possession. Other than that though, I owned it. Amazon's still waiting for me to rate it, but when I check their link, all it says is the book is unavailable, and they don't know when they'll have any.

I wish DC would make up their mind. I've put off hunting down the series in back issues because they were releasing these collections. If they want to make it easier for me to collect all the issues, more power to them. Guess it's back to Plan B after all.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Try Staring At Cows, That'll Freak You Out

I watched The Men Who Stare At Goats over the weekend. I don't know what parts of the movie are true (it says right at the start "more of this is true than you might think"), but other than the very last scene before the credits, I have no trouble believing any of it could have happened. Not so much the psychic powers, but the idea the military would devote funding to studying the possibility of using psychic powers, that someone would originally want to use it as a way around killing in wars, only to see it twisted? No trouble there. Nor did I have any trouble believing Bob, depressed over events in his personal life would try and make up for it by doing something big in his professional field.

I said I wasn't including the psychic powers as something I could believe readily, but man, I really want to believe in psychic powers. Which is a little strange, since the idea someone could be reading my mind, subtly manipulating my thoughts without my being aware is unpleasant. But there's the thought that if psychic powers did exist, then I could have them! I could learn where criminals disposed of things that will link them to crimes, or whether the person I think keeps stealing glances at me is interested, or if I'm just imagining it. Yeah, that would be pretty cool.

I have the "little man inside" Bob mentioned, too. With me he says "What are you, a dope? That stuff doesn't exist! You sucker."

As to the movie, well it was alright. I wasn't bored by it, but I didn't feel invested in the characters. Bob especially annoyed me, because he was desperate to get a ride with Lyn, then he spent most of his time complaining. Nobody made him tag along, it's on him. I did keep waiting for Larry (Kevin Spacey) to get his, but I wasn't dismayed he essentially escaped unscathed. I was glad Lyn found the chance to make amends he needed, but they introduced that aspect so late in the film, it didn't have time to gain a proper weight. It works better afterward, when I can view the earlier scenes with that added knowledge, but even then, Lyn feels more like a man trying to find something to care about, than a guy trying to make up for a past mistake. There were several scenes I enjoyed, but it didn't hold together.

I did think of one other thing in the movie I don't believe is true. I don't believe Angela Lansbury was really ignorant of the location of Noriega. She's a cagey broad.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Californian In Churchill's Armed Forces

I was considering yesterday whether, between the books I've discussed on the subject, and the video games related to it, I ought to make a label for "world war 2 aviation", or just "aviation". Haven't made up my mind. In the meantime, Spitfires, Thunderbolts, and Warm Beer.

Philip D. Caine explains that while he was doing research for another book on American pilots in the Royal Air Force (RAF), he had the opportunity to talk with one LeRoy Gover. Over the course of those discussions, Caine decided that Gover would make a excellent subject for a book all by himself, and after much prodding, Gover agreed. So the book is the story of Gover's time in the RAF, and later on, his time in the 8th Army Air Force*. There's a bit at the beginning about Gover's early love of flying, and how he had logged 800 hours in the air before he applied to join the RAF, and the end details what he did after he was transferred out of combat**.

What makes the book work is that Gover kept a diary (which had reached nine volumes by the time he received a 30-day leave to go home in early 1944) which provided an idea of the day-to-day life of a pilot, as well as his reactions to some of the hazards of his work. Also, his mother saved all the letters he wrote home over the course of the war, so it can be interesting to compare how he describes a weekend in London in the diary to how he describes it to his family (his prowess with the ladies was not something he told the folks about).

These records allow the reader to note the changes in LeRoy (or "Lee", as he's normally called), as he begins to be more forthright with his family about the hazards he faced, especially as he begins flying P-47s (the Thunderbolts) on escort missions over Germany. It seems he needs to let it out to someone, and the other pilots weren't an option. Part of that may have been he was feeling the responsibility of moving up the ladder, and didn't feel he could let the men following him see his stress, or it could owe to the fact not many of the fellows he trained with and developed strong bonds with were around. Another thing about the diary entries, his awareness of how many of his friends are gone, dead, captured, over-stressed. In his earlier diary entries, there's a sense of whistling through the graveyard, trying to convince himself the risks don't bother him. Later it's more of a glum resignation, and a frustration when he can't be up there helping.

Most of what's covered were things I'd picked up in other accounts of pilots in WWII, but the bit I did find new was Gover's discussion of how the people in England embraced Americans who had joined the RAF. The civilians would use a week's rations to prepare a meal in their homes for these fellows who came over to help defend their country. It gave Gover an appreciation for the people, something he tried (without success) to impress upon the other Americans once he was transferred to the USAAF, and so he also notes the reaction of the English to the American fighting units, once they arrived, which was less positive. Leave it to Americans to make their allies wish they'd go home.

* After the U.S. officially entered the war, all American pilots in the RAF were transferred to American units, along with their Spitfires initially, since the U.S. didn't have any fighters that were more than target practice against the Germans.

** He flew over 150 missions, and the worst injury he suffered was a burst eardrum when he tried too many aerobatics to escape a Focke Wulf-190 with some sort of sinus infection.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Worst Hard Time

Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time details the lives of the people who stayed where they were during the Dust Bowl years. Among other resources, Egan interviewed several people still living in the area who survived the 1930s in the High Plains. Melt White's father was an old cowboy had the family settle in Dalhart, after their wagon team lost too many horses to go further south. Jeanne Clark's mother was a Broadway dancer who moved to the Plains for her lungs. Hazel Lucas' was a child when her family moved there, but even after she married and saw city life, she wanted to go back and set up back in the open expanses. He also found a rescued diary of a man living in Inavale, Nebraska, trying to keep his farm going during the bad years. Through these people he's able to learn about their neighbors, the physical, financial, and psychological hardships, and why people held on.

The book starts before the bad years, at the point when the land was supposed to be for various Native American tribes to live on. That didn't last once ranchers decided that if the land could support buffalo, it could support cattle, and things followed the typical pattern of white people exterminating Native Americans, or driving them away, and killing all the buffalo. Except cattle don't excel at surviving in the High Plains like bison do. Soon, the ranches are being chopped up and sold to homesteaders, who've been told this land will grow plenty, and they can be owners of their own piece, which was pretty appealing.

Egan talks about how the government setting a fixed (highly profitable) price on wheat during World War I drove the farmers to plant even more more wheat, turning over more soil, tearing up more native grasses. As prices stayed high through the 1920s, people began buying more land, frequently on credit, betting the next year would be better than the last and they'd be fine. Which works until they produce so much wheat there's no buyer for it. Massive piles of grain sitting at railway depots, wasting. The economy fails, the price drops to the below the break-even point, which makes people nervous. Going on more credit, they buy more land, hoping for an even bigger haul that will bail them out. But people still won't (or can't) buy, and the Plains enter a drought period, and people stop being able to afford to plant. Now there's nothing holding down the soil, a bad thing in a place where the wind blows strongly most of the time.

The majority of the book deals with what happened after the dusters became a common occurrence. People trying to survive it, while trying to understand why it was happening, and what they could do about it, all the way up to FDR. The first tentative steps to correct the problem. The book effectively captures how the mood of the people turns. Even through 1932, they have hope. They're holding on, even though it hardly rained, though the bank had invested (and lost) all their money and closed up without an accounting, even though dust gets everywhere. They still believed in tomorrow. All it would take was a few good rains, the ground would soften up, wheat would grow, and people were starving in the cities, so surely there would be buyers. But the "drouth" continues, the dust continues, and the mood sours. Even so, people hold out, trying to not only sustain their livestock on salted tumbleweeds, but eat the Russian thistle themselves. Some of them can't afford to leave, or heard it's bad allover, but others are determined to stick it out.

Even then, you have people trying to keep hopes up. Joe McCarty ran the newspaper in Dalhart, and he chose to focus on the positive. This included comparing his readers to Spartans, because they were tough, and could handle whatever nature threw at them, and choosing to focus on the positive side of the dust storms, namely that they were really big, impressive, and one couldn't see their like anywhere else*. What's strange, he seemed genuine in this; he believed if Dalhart could ride out the tough times, it would rebound and become some great city out in the Plains. He even formed a Last Man Club, of people swearing to stick it out until the end.

Of course, it's not all ludicrous headlines, or big barbecues celebrating cowboy days. There were jackrabbit roundups, people clubbing thousands of long-ears to death, considering them part of the problem. The threats towards banks that foreclosed on homes, and racism, naturally. A white man riding the rails into town was told to get back on the train and ride out. A black man who got off the train was immediately arrested for vagrancy. Maybe the food and living conditions were better in jail, though I doubt it. To be fair, the racism was in effect well before the hard times, but it probably didn't improve in the bad years. People abandoned their children, or lost their sanity from the wind that was always howling outside. Teachers (such as Hazel Lucas) being paid in scrip that was not honored by grocery stores, so essentially not being paid at all for years on end, and dust pneumonia, which was as pleasant as it sounds.

Reading the book, certain things seemed relevant today. I work near a little town out in the boonies (though it's the Ozarks, rather than the High Plains), and I see houses being put up for sale all the time. Can they not make payments? Is there not enough economic opportunity, or do they just want a change of scenery? The idea of people borrowing too much from banks, then needing miraculously productive circumstances to get out of debt seems familiar. The sense people never learn.

FDR wanted some big project people could see as a sign they government was trying to fix the problem, and restoring the grasslands was too slow, too small. So he ordered trees planted as shelterbelts for hundreds of miles, sending people across the globe to find tree species that could survive the conditions. All told, over 200 million trees were planted, and most are gone. Some couldn't survive it out there, but Egan writes that when the rains came back in the 1940s, and the price of wheat rose, many farmers tore the trees up so they could, survey says, PLANT MORE WHEAT! Which is the same stupid approach that got them into the mess in the first place. It was a wet cycle, it won't last, and then they'll have exposed soil being blown 200 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean again!

Anyway, depressing examples of human arrogance in the face of past experience aside, it's an excellent book. I'm not sure whether Egan's descriptions, or even those of the people who lived through the times, really capture how harsh it was, but they describe it well enough that my imagination did the rest. I could see myself baking in the sun, being afraid to touch anything during a storm because of the massive static buildup (during that time, people took to dragging a chain behind their car to ground it, so it wouldn't short out in the middle of a storm), being afraid to breathe. I wasn't always sure what year things were happening in, as I felt Egan might follow a particular thread for a few years, before going back to the year he originally was discussing. The upshot is, it gives a sense of every day being like the last. It was horrible yesterday, horrible today, it'll be horrible tomorrow. What day it is exactly, doesn't matter in such circumstances.

* He also tended to blame Dalhart's dust storms on other states, and tell his readers how all the people in other states were wusses, who surely didn't have it half as bad as Dalhartians, but complained so much. It was around that point I wanted to go back in time and punch McCarty in the throat.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Secret Identities, Easy Or Hard To Maintain?

When it comes to superheroic secret identities, what's your pleasure?

The old school, Silver Age I guess, style, where the hero is able, though not without difficulty, to keep people from learning who they are in their civilian lives? This doesn't mean no one would know, necessarily. The hero could decide to tell someone, or there could be a member of their cast that's just really on the ball. Captain Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man, Lois Lane for Superman, though she had the deck stacked against her considering all the powers, robots, and Batman assistance the writers pulled out of their butts to help Superman keep her guessing in the Silver Age*.

Or, I guess I'd call it the Ultimate-style, where it is really hard to keep a secret identity. Especially if you are, for example, some teenager from Queens who gained spider-powers then fairly quickly jumped into the deep end of fighting insane businessmen, and mad scientists, while being harassed by well-funded and well-equipped spy agencies.

Some blending of it, where some heroes keep it secret from everyone, while others don't hide it at all, plus some heroes who just aren't good at keeping it secret, or they trust someone who isn't (Karen Page might fall in that category for Daredevil), would probably be the best, if just because it offers the most avenues, but assuming we live in a horribly strict universe, where there are only two options, and you can't mix-and-match, what would you prefer?

I'm in favor of the old one myself. Yeah, it was funny to see how bad Peter was at keeping his mask on, especially when MJ handed him a list of everyone who knew who he was, and it hits home just how bad he's been about keeping the mask on, or not blurting out his name to the X-Men just because they've seen his face. I grew used to it there, because that was a generally consistent law of the universe. The X-Men were in the open, Kingpin knew Murdock was Daredevil, Dr. Strange was on late-night TV, and everybody knew who Spider-Man was. I could roll with it. But I feel it's an attempt to put too much realism into a situation that doesn't necessarily call for it.

It might be unrealistic for these heroes to manage to keep their secret identities hidden, but considering all the other things I suspend my disbelief for, it's not hard to swallow. I accept Peter Parker not only didn't die from a radioactive spider-bite, he gained awesome powers. I accept his Aunt can survive 700 heart attacks (may be an exaggeration), but needs magic help to survive a bullet. I accept the idea of stupid little blue men handing out rings that do anything if you will it hard enough. I'll buy that heroes (and villains if they're good enough at getting away) can keep people around them from figuring things out. Some of them will be better at it than others, or have more resources to help them out, be it powers or money.

Another part of it, is the problem-solving abilities most heroes tend to demonstrate. I've seen a lot of heroes apply their resources quite creatively to deal with a particular threat. Between that and their witty banter, they seem to possess excellent abilities to think on their feet, and devise solutions quickly. So while I believe I'd have some trouble explaining why I was always covered in bruises or missing whenever Hood Guy** appeared, the heroes seem more on the ball, so sure, they can come up with some quick excuse that saves their bacon. For a little while, at least.

So old-school for me, because I like the idea the heroes are smarter than I probably would be about it.

* I know Morrison and Quietly used it in All-Star Superman, though I don't think they started it, but I really like the idea that Clark Kent carries himself completely differently when he's Clark, compared to when he's Superman, so it isn't just the glasses. He really seems like a completely different person. Along those lines, how easy do you think it was to figure out Hal was Green Lantern? Setting aside how little of his face the mask covers, I can't see him behaving any differently from identity to the other.

** Though I like Spider-Man's costume, I think my love of hoods would cause me to design a costume with a hood. Or, more likely, get someone else to design it for me, because I know squat about fashion design.

Friday, June 11, 2010

There Is One Way Out Of The Labyrinth

Gabriel Garcia Marquez' The General in His Labyrinth is a partially historical, partially fictional recounting of Simon Bolivar's (most frequently referred to in the book as either "The General" or The Liberator") last months alive in 1830. The book also details some of his earlier adventures, using the pretext of the General having visited a particular place previously, or meeting with an old ally who shared in that adventure. Marquez did conduct considerable historical research with the aid of several historians and the memoirs of Daniel Florencio O'Leary, Bolivar's aide-de-camp. Even so, Marquez does fabricate certain things since, for instance, there ar eno records of what the General said over his last 14 days.

One of the best things I can say about this book is it makes Bolivar feel like a real person, full of contradictions. I didn't feel there were easy answers to explain his actions. At the start of the book, the General has announced he will not continue in the Presidency. The Admirable Congress goes on to elect Joaquin Mosquera President of Colombia in his place. Bolivar is presented as being disappointed that no one voted for him to remain president, even thought he had said he no longer wanted to fulfill that role. What to make of it. It feels to me that Bolivar grows tired of everything being on him, as this isn't the first time he's tried to surrender power*. However, it's also possible that he recognizes that a system which must have him in charge to remain stable, is not viable. There are multiple occasions in the book where an old subordinate of his tells the General they have 2,000 men (or however many) ready to follow him if he wishes to overthrow the new government, and for a while Bolivar keeps sending them away, stating he has no power, or is already dead. Maybe he's tired, or maybe he just wants these men to show some initiative, do what they think is right without first getting his approval.

At the same time, he has an ego, which is understandable considering all the victories he had, and what he tried to accomplish (trying to unify all the lands in Latin America he helped free from Spanish control into one nation). By the start of the book, the people in Bogota have turned on him, with hurtful slogans scrawled across walls throughout town. The General takes every insult personally, so maybe he just wanted to know the people actually still wanted him. Or he perhaps, when he agrees to support Urdaneta's assumption of power, he figures this is important enough that if he's the only one who can hold it together that's what he'll do (though even then, he refuses to assume command, preferring to lead troops). Or perhaps he was simply having a bad day. The General's mood shifts throughout the book with his health. He has days where he feels strong and dances, goes on long walks, talks animatedly about politics, and demonstrates a good appetite. Then there are the days he can barely move, when his skin goes from green to yellow, when he sees a woman in the house they're staying in, but no one can find a trace of her**.

The General in the story has been with many women since the death of his rarely mentioned wife, but apparently loved none of them enough to stay with them. Most of them seem to understand this, even Manuela Saenz, who saved him from an assassination, and after his departure, wages a battle in Bogota against those who would besmirch the general's name. She cares for him, and he probably cares for her to some extent, but she recognizes he can't be held down, and that he won't permit her to travel with him. That's how it goes. The General is always heading off on another campaign, fighting to free this land, or quell that civil war. The story of his life seemed to be that as soon as he left to calm things in one half of the continent, the other would fall apart again. Which could fuel both the sense he's indispensable, and the sense that something has to happen so that the country can survive without him.

Still, the General, even as his health fades, is a charmer. He might not be able to read things given to him because of his farsightedness, or hear speeches directed to him due to a coughing fit, but he still knows just what to say to make people feel he was paying rapt attention, and that he truly cares. Which is interesting, because some of his friends became enemies because of things he said in speeches he had time to prepare. Declaring one person his greatest general, to the exclusion of another, or declaring one place in the country to be where he loved it most, or felt the most support, drawing the ire of another region. All of which brings more people against him, which leaves him feeling hurt by their invective. It's not so different from today, when people aren't happy with their current elected officials, so they get them ousted, but then they aren't happy with the ones who replace them, and there's an air of "What have you done for me lately?" over the whole thing.

What it comes down to is, the General can't find peace for himself, and he can't find peace for the lands he's fought for. One large country won't seem to work, but will multiple small ones, and thus weaker and more vulnerable to Europe and the United States, be any better? The General doesn't want to stay where he feels despised, but he isn't sure he wants to leave when things are unsettled. There is no answer.

I was surprised how quickly the book read***. Things move along, and the flashbacks to The Liberator's earlier years don't feel gratuitous. They add to the picture of who he is, and it isn't some idealized saint, but a man who fund great dreams, then learned what a struggle it can be to make them happen.

* In 1825, the Congress of Peru refused to accept his renunciation, and he ended up accepting the presidency with unlimited powers. He tried to renounce the Presidency of Colombia in 1927, and the Congress of Bogota also refused to accept.

** That's never returned to, so I wonder about it's meaning. Was it a vision of his long deceased wife, the memory of whom Bolivar buries deeply so he can survive without her? Does she represent death, or some ideal Bolivar was never able to achieve, which the others can't even comprehend?

*** The story is about 265 pages, with a bit about Marquez and who helped him research for the book, and a handy timeline of Bolivar's life. I'd suggest reading the timeline first, then referring to it during the reminiscences to keep things clear.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Moon Seems A Dull Place To Have To Wait

In Fantastic Four #577, the FF find four species from around the universe camped out on the Moon, awaiting the return of the Inhumans. When Black Bolt and the Inhumans come back, these folks will unite with them and make a new home for themselves, on Earth, naturally.

A couple of things. First, haven't the various species in the universe learned to leave Earth alone? Every intelligent species in the Marvel Universe has tried to pull something with Earth at some point, and they've all been sent packing. Earthlings are freaking nuts, and you don't want any part of that. Don't think you can coexist peacefully with them either. The Skrulls tried that with their "embrace change" nonsense, and we see how that worked.

Secondly, and I believe this is accurate (finally found a review that mentioned it), but each of the groups (all of whom, like the Inhumans, are the result of Kree tampering with other species' genetics) has a queen, who are planning to all marry Black Bolt (I'm not clear on whether they know he's dead and simply figure he'll be back, or don't know he's dead). They expect Medusa to simply go along with this? Well, she is the one who told Crystal she had to marry Ronan to unite their people, I guess she can take one for the team as well.

Thirdly, Dire Wraiths! Where are the SpaceKnights?! Oh right, they were being controlled by the Phalanx. Well, they ought to be over that by now, get on the ball, there's some banishing to Limbo that needs doing. Or kill them. Whichever. Really, who's going to trust Dire Wraiths? Sure, they'll settle peacefully with these other Inhumans races on Earth. Then they'll make the sun into a star like the one their world revolved around, and basically destroy Earth*.

Fourth, apparently the Inhumans didn't go to the Kree to rule them and look after them, but to grind them into the dust, which is what the Kree figured when the Inhumans first showed up. Not sure how these people from across space know that, but whatever. Who knows, maybe they're misinformed, though it would explain the cavalier attitude most of the Royal Family took to the Kree losses during War of Kings.

If it's the case, I hope the Kree send the Inhumans packing. I don't care for the Inhumans. I'd like Crystal to stay, she can feel a sense of responsibility and stick with Ronan to help lead the Kree. Sure, the Kree might not want any Inhumans around if it comes out their intentions toward the Kree were hostile, but if anyone can get away with being married to an Inhuman, it's Ronan the Accuser. Go ahead, say something about it. Congratulations, he killed you with his Universal Weapon.

* One thing I learned while trying to look up this issue was that the Wraiths have popped up in the Marvel Universe (as opposed to Limbo) in comics that aren't SpaceKnight-related since Rom stopped their invasion of Earth. They showed up in Nova's series from the '90s, which I guess makes sense. He was in outer space a lot then, too, but I figured they'd been basically unused since Rom ended.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

This Is Why You Avoid Reunions

I should have posted this sooner, since some of you already have your copies of this week's Secret Six, and probably know the answer, but what the hey. Mr. MacQuarrie, the old man that apparently didn't shoot himself in the head earlier in the arc, do you think he's Thomas Blake's father, or his grandfather*?

He treats people horribly (remember his "coat rack"?), has a lousy attitude towards women, and thinks money lets him do whatever he wants. And he has some sort of interest in Catman, specifically. He doesn't have the hunting trophies one might expect of Blake's father, but there are all those planes, which might suggest a different interest. Maybe Blake's grandad fought in the war and preferred shooting down aircraft and people to animals? We only have MacQuarrie's word that was really his grandson they tried to save. Photos can be faked, he could have hired those folks as actors to pose with him. Or they could really be MacQuarrie's descendants, from another woman than Blake (or Blake's father).

Secret Six #21 seemed to suggest Thomas shot someone as a child (I think we're supposed to assume it's his dad, but maybe he shot his mom instead/by accident), but we thought MacQuarrie shot himself in the head, and he's still alive. Even if Blake did shoot his dad, it doesn't mean he killed him. Though I'm really leaning more towards this being Catman's grandfather. He seems too old to be his dad.

* Edit: I mean specifically his paternal grandfather, under the idea a scumbag like Thomas' dad would at least be partially formed by having a scumbag of a father himself. It could be his maternal grandfather, but I don't see that quite fitting with the story up to this point.