Thursday, September 30, 2010

Two Worlds, One's The Past, The Other The Future. Or They're Both Futures

In Maire C. Farca's Earth, two astronauts crash land on a hostile looking world with surprising gravity. They find on this world a dome, with people inside. One astronaut dies shortly thereafter, the other is saved by one of those inside the dome, and lives with them for a time, learning about their world. Then he (Ames) has to decide whether to stay or go.

Except there's no real choice. The technology of his world - called Earth - enables him to return home and stay on this world - whose inhabitants, somewhat similar in design to Ames, also call Earth -at the same time. So there's no particular conflict there. Ames doesn't have any difficulties dealing with the locals, as they're helpful and understanding of his ignorance of their ways. The question of why both groups call their homeworlds "Earth" isn't delved into in any serious way. There's conjecture, but it amounts to "Well I think you must be a lost settlement of ours. Perhaps YOU are from one of OUR lost settlements. Oh, I doubt that.", with no real investigation into the issue.

Farca seems more interested in playing up the myriad differences Ames sees between his world and this one he's currently stuck on. His is a world dominated by humans, overrun with them. They live in cubicles, never really sleep, have no time to themselves, never see the sun, etc. The world he's reached may have been like that, once, but as is typical of humans, they nearly destroyed themselves, and those who survived have begun to rebuild, slowly, while trying to maintain some measure of balance with nature.

What's interesting to me is how they're presented as maintaining that balance. To prevent themselves from growing too powerful, cooperation is a no-no, sort of. They live in a community, and every day one person is responsible for feeding and caring for the children, another for the elderly (each person takes turns). But the children are expected to pay attention to what the adults do, because they'll have to learn those skills if they want to survive. If they haven't by the time they reach a certain age, they'll die because no one is going to lend a hand. If you want to be an adult, you have to build your own home (using whatever materials or design you choose), but you also have to expand the dome to accommodate having more houses. Even if multiple people are building homes and expanding the dome simultaneously, they aren't supposed to work together. They might work adjacent to each other, but no dividing of labor in an efficient manner. I guess the idea is that makes simply surviving harder, as opposed to people specializing in something that helps everyone.

Farca's not advocating it as a superior way of doing things, since she presents it as limiting their ability to advance, compared to Ames' people, but I'd say she's absolutely in favor of their approach to interacting with nature. Since this was published in 1972, I wonder how influential Silent Spring was on this book.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Cursed Egyptian Walks Into An East Texas Rest Home

I didn't take full advantage of my access to movie channels while I was at Alex'. I mostly wound up watching parts of movies I'd seen before, like the first 15 minutes of Hancock, or Black Dynamite. I caught the second half of 9, which I'd never seen. That wasn't bad, didn't end how I expected, but the story felt thin.

The one movie I did watch all the way through for the first time was Bubba Ho-Tep. I'd avoided it previously, but that was because I was confusing it with 3000 Miles to Graceland, which has Kevin Costner in it. Hey, they both have people dressed as Elvis in them, don't judge me!

Like the title of the post says, there's a rest home in East Texas, and it's become a feeding ground for a mummy, looking for easy (if not filling) souls to eat. The only two people who stand against it are Sebastian Haff (or is he Elvis, as he claims), played by Bruce Campbell, and Ossie Davis' character. Ossie's character believes he's really JFK, who was removed from power by the machinations of Lyndon B. Johnson. Ossie fully expects Lyndon and his cronies will send someone to finish him off one day, or else he'll perish some other way.

It takes some time for JFK to convince Sebastian/Elvis to help, but once he does, they set themselves to the task of defending their fellow residents from the mummy who's denying them an afterlife to prolong its own existence. John's the curious sort, willing to do the research, and Elvis is more the action-oriented type, because it's kind of nice to have something to do.

The rest home is a dreary place. It reminds me of the apartment building James Sunderland wanders through in the early stages of Silent Hill 2, just a little better lit. The walls of the home are stained, the fluorescent lights and tile floors make it all seem cold, and it's just a dreary place (except for JFK's room, which actually doesn't look too bad). Seeing what it's like there, one can see how Sebastian/Elvis would be ready to die, while being filled with regrets for lost opportunities, and how a threat like this would be welcome, simply as something more tangible to occupy the mind.

The film has some of the Army of Darkness feel to it. The fight scenes have a mixture of absurdity and clumsiness to them (as when Elvis threatens to show Bubba Ho-Tep his "stuff", which goes as well as you'd think for an elderly man with a bad hip). The mummy's dialogue is shown first as hieroglyphs on the screen, then a translation is provided beneath it, and it's comments are usually profane trash talk.

That tone clashes with much of the rest of the movie, especially Campbell's performance as Elvis. I'm not an Elvis aficionado, but most reviews I looked at say he captured the King well, which I can believe. He has the fire sometimes, and the showmanship, but there's also exhaustion, frustration, regret (lots of it), and questions about whether he made the right decisions, and if it's too late to change anything. I really enjoyed the performance, as it captured what I figure being old and stuck alone in a rest home would be like, but the tone of that clashes some with the stuff with the mummy, who wore the sort of hat you might seen in a Western* for some reason. I could argue the point was it would take something that severe to snap Sebastian/Elvis out of his funk, but I don't think I can convince myself of that.

I wonder if we're supposed to believe Elvis and JFK are who we say they are. I'm pretty sure we aren't supposed to think Ossie's character is really JFK, but I'm less so about the Sebastian/Elvis situation, as you've no doubt guessed since I've used that description a few times. It all seems a little far fetched, but it's a movie with a mummy eating people's souls, so I'm prepared to accept just about anything. Ultimately, it doesn't matter much, since they believe they are who they say they are, and maybe they even believe the other fellow is who he says he is. Either way, it's a story about two guys stepping up to save the day because there's no one else around who cares enough to try.

If you're unsure if it sounds good, I'll point out it's barely 90 minutes, so it's not a huge investment of time. Just be prepared for the things to shift once the mummy appears. It's not the same movie once they've set themselves to destroying their undead foe.

* Wide, round brim, the top sort of bowl-shaped, not real high. Not quite a sombrero.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I'm Looking At An Aesthetics/Functionality Spectrum

I saw there was a bit of debate earlier this afternoon on twitter about video game controllers, namely, which one was the worst. Chris Sims argued it's the Nintendo 64's controller, other folks mentioned Dreamcast or Intellivsion, maybe the Gamecube.

I've never understood the gripes about the N64 controller myself. I was able to use it fine. My father - whose total video gaming experience prior to the N64 was that time he played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 co-op with me - was able to play Goldeneye competently with it. OK, not competently, but he played so rarely he kept forgetting which button cycled through weapons or opened doors, and I don't see how that's the controller's fault. The point is he could work the controller, so what's the big deal? I find most controllers to be difficult to work until I put in sufficient time with them. Like most things, they just take practice.

Sims did agree the N64 controller worked, but apparently he found it aesthetically unpleasing. I can see what's he saying, but it wasn't something I was expecting as a reason a controller is bad. It did set me to thinking, and I realized I have this sort of spectrum in my mind, with Aesthetically Pleasing on end, and Functionality on the other. Perhaps that's common, something everybody does, but it's not something I'd ever fully realized until today. Different things I'm going to purchase sit at different places on the spectrum, depending on what's important to me with regards to them.

A painting would be almost purely about whether I like how it looks, with maybe a little consideration to whether I have a place to put it. Clothes are a bit more about Function, but mostly about if I like how it looks. It doesn't matter if a shirt can fit me, if it's ugly I'm passing it by. A car would be functionality first, but I wouldn't want to buy one I found unappealing, if there was something that could do what I needed that looked better. That could mean it's less beat up, painted a color I prefer, or the shape of it is more pleasing to the eye*.

Once I started thinking about this, I realized video game controllers are almost entirely about function for me. I'm sure there could be a controller so ugly, so confusing looking I wouldn't want to mess with it, but my concern is essentially whether I can use the controller properly. If I can, then how it looks won't amount to much. I do think the large XBox controllers to be kind of ugly, lots of wasted space and generally too thick, but I can still play the games just fine, so it isn't a big deal for me. I tend to use a smaller controller, but if Alex wants that one, then I can use the big controller, it works the same.

* I find PT Cruisers ugly, so I'd not buy one if there were any other options. Which fortunately there are.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Yes, I've Returned

I'm not as addled as usual when returning from one of these weekend jaunts. Strange considering how off my typical sleep schedule I was. Still, I'm sure waking up for work at 7 tomorrow will be loads of fun.

The weekend itself was OK, though filled with both predictable and unpredictable stupidity. There was a party in the middle of nowhere. Alex bought a keg, made back maybe half his money, and considered that fine. I was less enthused since a bump caused the bucket to spill ice and water in the back of my vehicle, and I was sprayed with beer while he tried to tap the keg. Plus he lost the new phone he'd received as a replacement for his last one four days earlier, one of those predictable acts I mentioned. The disorganization of the party with regards to the DJ schedule and who was bringing equipment was similarly unsurprising to me. We reached his home to find ourselves locked out by his sister, whether because she's an idiot or an ass, I don't know. Probably both. I ended up entering through a window, then Alex passed out on the floor, leaving me to haul everything in. The urge to drop the keg on his head was fortunately not overwhelming.

We visited his coworker's home again, at her request, and like the time back in July, she started arguing with her spouse while we were there, making me desperately want to be elsewhere. The visit to his aunt and uncle's place went better; no one gave me grief for not wanting an alcoholic beverage. We played a card game called Quarters that netted me a couple of bucks, and played several rounds of pool, though every game was won when one team scratched while trying to sink the 8-ball. Victory by default. I played my usual sorry game, interrupted by occasional impressive shots I'd like to say I planned, but were luck.

Sunday, I was reminded Alex and I have very different philosophies on life. His is "No regrets"; mine is "There's no mistake so far in the past I can't still beat myself up over it". His is probably more conducive to a happy life, but I think it explains why he makes the same mistakes repeatedly, as I think he's combined not regretting past choices with not learning from them. Speaking of poor choices, we both ate far too many White Castle burgers yesterday, which I've been regretting all day. I think Alex got most of his regretting over last night, so perhaps he does regret, but only for a limited time. I don't think I'll be wanting any of those for several months, so that's something.

Driving back this morning, had a truck with a camper on it, that was also hauling a trailer, cut in front of me at a turn. Why they were in such a hurry to get on that road I'm not certain. They drove no faster than 40, when the speed limit was 55. If they'd let me go ahead of them, I would have left them in the dust easily, leaving them free to drive the speed they liked. Instead I was trapped behind them for several miles until I found a passing opportunity. Which lead to me being trapped behind another truck hauling a trailer, albeit at a slightly faster speed (more like 45). The problem with this one was a tendency to take its half out of the middle of the road, especially in straightaways. When I went to pass, I had to wait for them to register that, and get back in the proper lane, rather than having their driver's side three feet into the oncoming lane.

Regardless of the annoyances that come with sharing a world with other people, I'm here. My comics weren't waiting for me, so I may need to call Jack. I thought we sorted this out last week, but apparently we did not. We'll find something to discuss to fill the time, so don't worry about that.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tales From The Woods #2

"Done for the day," he said with an air of satisfaction, as he walked away from his last array.

It was unusually warm for early April, and the gnats were out in force, buzzing right in front of his eyes, near his ears, a constant to fly into either of those places and annoy him. He'd be glad to get back to his truck and head home. As he started to leave he paused, and looked down the hillside, scanning the trees. Several of the trees had tiger-striped flagging tied to them, and nearby each of those trees was a small, rectangular box made of metal. There was no sign of movement. He sighed. "I really don't want to," he thought "but I suppose I ought to at least make the offer."

He drew his radio from his backpack, pressed the call button, and in his best fake jovial tone, said "Hello down there, coworker! Would you like some help checkin' those traps?"

He released the call button, and after a few seconds where his hopes rose, heard in response, "Sure, I'll meet you at J1."

He radioed a confirmation, hitched his pack up more squarely upon his shoulders, then sighed and set off down the hill. At the appointed spot, he found his coworker, waiting. "Catching much?" he inquired.

"Not really," she replied. "I keep finding traps that are triggered, but empty. or they haven't been triggered, but the bait is still gone. I'm not sure I brought enough spare bait."

He pursed his lips and "Hmm"ed. "Probably raccoons, wouldn't you think?"

"I guess so. They could probably figure out how to grab the bait without tripping the trap, and they're too large to stay caught if they did set it off. I wish they'd cut it out. I have to rebait half the traps every day."

He shrugged. That certainly did sound annoying, and he was glad it wasn't part of his usual daily routine. He had enough problems with fences coming out of the ground, or holes being chewed in his traps. Best to just get this over with. "So, is line J finished?"

The two continued with the work, making decent progress since they could check two lines simultaneously now. Gradually, they made their way up the hill, and what she had said was true. No animals in the traps, and often, no bait either. At least one trap had been damaged to the point it had to be replaced, as something had made quite the effort to pull it completely apart. Finally, at C10, he found himself stymied. He noticed his coworker was at the nearby B10, and called out, "I can't find the trap here."

She looked up, curious, and ambled over to see for herself. They looked around for 10 meters in all directions, and further than that downhill, in case it had rolled or been washed down, though it hadn't rained since before this trapping began. There was no sign of the trap. "That's weird," she remarked "What do you think happened to it?"

"Maybe it was the Ghost of the Forest," he said. "I know it likes to mess with me, why not you?" She laughed in response, as though he'd said something funny, so he smiled and laughed as well, but it was no more real than the tone he'd assumed over the radio earlier.

"It was probably the raccoons," she said. "Though I don't know what they'd want with it." With that, she pulled another spare trap from he sack, opened and baited it, and they continued on their way, as there were still 3 lines not checked yet.

Neither of them saw the den under the fallen tree, where two pairs of beady eyes watched them go, before moving further into the den.

"Explain this to me again." said the first raccoon.

The second responded excitedly. "It's simple. Every night we find food in these shiny hollow logs, and we take it. And the next night, there's always more food! Now we won't have to even leave here to get something to eat, the food will come to us!"

"Uh-huh," the first responded, unconvinced. "You don't think those big things that walk by and check the shiny logs have something to do with the food appearing?"

"What?!" The second replied incredulously. "That's crazy talk! Next you'll be telling me they put those crunchy little things with all the legs and the pinchy hands in the stream!" The second raccoon shook its head, as if terribly amused with the first. "No, those big things are looking for food the same as us. They're just too dumb and clumsy to check at night."

The first raccoon considered this. The big things were clumsy. You could hear them crashing through the brush, from far away, as they made strange, low calls the others of their kind couldn't possibly hear. That one today, that had noticed the shiny log was missing, had been making such noises almost constantly. "Dayumthorns" was common, whatever that meant. It really was amazing those big creatures didn't starve.

So maybe the raccoon's friend was right, and the food appeared in the log some other way. It couldn't hurt to test it and see.


And with that, I'm off for the weekend. Posting should resume Monday!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

And Then There Are Your Legends

Part 2 of comparing Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings to other games with similar concepts! Today, Tomb Raider: Legend! Prior to this, I'd never played any Tomb Raider games. For a long while, I didn't own the right consoles, and once I did, I didn't have much interest. Legend had pretty decent reviews, and it wasn't pricey by the time I bought, so I figured it couldn't hurt. If it was terrible it wouldn't be the first lousy game I regretted purchasing*.

It certainly wasn't terrible. It's actually a little surprising to me that the Indy games aren't better than they are, since Tomb Raider games could at least be used as a starting point. I know Indy's not quite as gun-happy as Lara Croft, but that's hardly insurmountable. Speaking of the shooting, it works better here than in either of the two games I mentioned yesterday. Lara's aim isn't perfect, but if I don't just hold the trigger down continuously (and if I'm within the gun's effective range) she hits often enough. Plus, I'm usually strafing since there's rarely only one enemy to be concerned about, which would naturally make accuracy more difficult. It can take a few shots to kill someone, but they're wearing body armor, so it makes more sense than when I pump 20 rounds into a Nazi in ordinary clothes and he's still standing. It helps Lara that her .45s never run out of ammo, but during the shooting sequences in Staff of Kings, Dr. Jones has an endless supply of revolver ammo, so it evens out.

Like Staff of Kings, there's a certain amount of interactivity with the surroundings possible during combat. With Staff of Kings, there was usually the whip icon to tell me I could pull something down, whereas Tomb Raider encourages me to shoot at something, usually so it'll blow up. In each case it isn't necessary to utilize those opportunities, but it can make it easier. Tomb Raider has some close combat fighting capabilities, but after the mission early in the game where they taught me that, I forgot until I accidentally kicked someone on the second to last mission. Considering the numbers set against me, I figured it was safer to just keep shooting and chucking grenades. The foes in Tomb Raider have no qualms about all trying to kill me at once, while with Staff of Kings I'd rarely have more than two enemies in close proximity at one time. Others would be in sight, but they'd hang back, perhaps because there was no room to step in. Until I put together the magic sword at the end, the straight up combat was my least favorite part of Tomb Raider: Legend. If I want to run about shooting people, I'll play Max Payne, you know?

Tomb Raider does have boss fights, but they aren't terribly complicated. It's the classic sort of boss battle: Observe the boss' attack style, strike when the opening is there, do whatever you're supposed to once he's stunned. The specifics change, but the general pattern remains the same.

Tomb Raider: Legend's puzzles were more fun, if also more tense, since they were more agility based. Most of the puzzles confronting Indy in Staff of Kings are simple shove this box over here, step on the switches in the proper order situations. There's a fair share of that in Legend, but there's also more swinging from place to place with magnetic grapple lines (or vines), and messing with counterweights, and there's usually a time limit. It was frustrating when I'd keep failing, but when I'd succeed, it felt cooler, more impressive than merely stepping on a switch.

Both games have quick reaction sequences. Indy's involve either tapping the shoulder buttons so he outruns whatever the danger is (bullets, falling statues, a boulder, because yes, they had to include a sequence where Indy flees a massive boulder), or hitting one button before the floor collapses beneath him. For the running stuff, it's always the same two buttons (L1 and R1 on a PS2), but the collapsing floor usually changes which button it is each time you go through. In Tomb Raider, there are certain sequences where Lara has to pull of a series of acrobatic moves to avoid death, each on triggered by a specific button, pressed at the moment indicated. The order's always the same, so unless you get it on the first try (which I rarely did), it's less about good reflexes, and more about memorization. Which is better is probably a personal preference. I know I got annoyed with Resident Evil 4 when it would change which buttons I needed to hit to dive out of the way of the boulder, but I'm old, and my reflexes are gone. If you have the fire of youth, you probably prefer it changes, if it even matters, because you may get it right the first try every time.

Perhaps because I'm less familiar with the Tomb Raider universe than that of Indiana Jones, I preferred the story in the former over the latter. Lara starts out artifact hunting, but has to start delving into her past, and eventually has to confront some painful history. Indy's story was to get the powerful artifact before the rival archeologist working with the Nazis does. Which is fine, there's an element of that (minus the Nazis) in Tomb Raider: Legend as well, but it does feel like a remix of past adventures. Indy is following the notes of an old mentor of his, and is supposed to be concerned for him, but it doesn't come across in the story. There's not much about what the older fellow meant to Indy or why, and they hardly interact, so it feels flat.

The voice acting doesn't really help, as Indiana rarely seems angry or worried, even when his rival has the upper hand. I can see him not being flustered, but he certainly could be angry. Lara is definitely angry at times, when she's not being regretful, reflective, or joshing around with her support staff. The support staff is actually very helpful to the characterization, since it gives her someone to talk to as the game goes along. We can see they care about her, and she cares about them, and it helps to reveal bits of her past and how she feels about them. There isn't any of that in Staff of Kings, probably because they figured we already know Indiana Jones, so they didn't need to provide insights or make us care. And it's true, they didn't need to, but it wouldn't have hurt.

* First Game I Regretted Owning Award goes to Kung-Fu Heroes on the NES. First Game I Regretted Purchasing Myself is probably Spider-Man and the X-Men: Arcade's Revenge on the Game Gear. Or Bartman meets Radioactive Man, also on the Game Gear. I must have bought at least one of those with saved up allowance money. Months and months of saved up allowance money.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Emperor's Tomb Vs. A King's Staff

Having beaten Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings over the weekend, I thought I'd compare it to two games that were similar in concept, if not execution. I decided to start with the other Indiana Jones game I've played, Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb. So the Indy game I beat versus the one I didn't.

The major difference is Staff of Kings keeps its different types of gameplay more rigidly separated. If Indy has to fight some bad guys, it's going to happen before he starts trying to solve a puzzle. You won't find yourself in the middle of moving statues around, only to start getting kidney punched by goons. Use of firearms only occurs at specific points in the game. Indiana will draw his revolver, dash to some nearby cover, and you'll have to time when he should lean out and shoot the bad guys, or shoot some part of their surroundings. A water tower, or a lamp hanging over their head. Or explosives. Shooting explosives near the bad guys is always a good plan. If you can hit an enemy, one shot will do them in, whereas it took a lot of bullets to kill anyone in Emperor's Tomb. In Emperor's Tomb, you can shoot anytime you want, provided you have ammo for some gun.

Emperor's Tomb had combat that was somewhat annoying in terms of how much punishment all the opponents can withstand, and the whip was mostly an annoyance, or a way to disarm enemies. I'd think being whipped a few times repeatedly would make your standard goon surrender, but apparently it has to happen a lot for them to stop fighting. With Staff of Kings, the opponents aren't nearly as resilient, and the whip is much more useful. My most common technique was to lasso an enemy's throat, haul them over, and knee them in the face. The downside to the combat is the large number of goons that will just stand there and block every punch thrown forever. It's necessary to goad them into attacking, then ducking and counterattacking, but I found it was hard to predict how quickly Indy would react to a button command. Sometimes he ducked too soon, and they didn't start the punch until he stood back up, other times he wouldn't duck at all, and would get caught in a 4-punch combo. It's a different type of frustration.

Also, Staff of Kings has the same annoying tendency with regards to shooting that Darkwatch, of all games, had. When the gun is drawn, there's a targeting reticule on screen. if Indy's leaning out to shoot and not aimed at anything he can affect, it's red. If he's aimed at something he can damage, it's green. But just because it's green doesn't necessarily mean he's actually on target. It turns green if he's close, but he may still be aiming too far left or too high. Which lead to several occasions of me thinking I had a guy dead to rights, only to get shot because I wasn't actually aiming the gun well enough. Granted, Indy in the game is still a better shot than Indy in the movies, but I wasn't shooting from horseback as often as he does.

Emperor's Tomb was the harder game, though that could relate to those technical glitches I had been warned of. With Staff of Kings, if I needed to swing across a chasm, well, all I'd do was hit the appropriate button once I was close enough, and it would happen automatically. At worst, I'd have to tap a few buttons to help him get a better grip on the ledge I swung to. In Emperor's Tomb, they'd tell me where to swing from, but it was up to me to provide the necessary running start, jumping if necessary, and in some cases swinging from one thing to the next. The controls didn't help, but it was definitely harder, requiring better timing.

Emperor's Tomb had a bit more creativity in its boss battles. In one stage, I'm guiding Indy from hanging platforms above an underground lake that's home to a very large crocodile, the next I'm fighting a metal man in the basement of a castle. For Staff of Kings, levels frequently end with chase scenes. Indy's on a streetcar/elephant/motorcycle, and he has to shoot his pursuers. Sometimes I was only concerned with shooting, other times I had to worry about steering whatever I was riding as well. It doesn't challenge the player in different ways.

Considering it's the older game, I think Emperor's Tomb did the better job of capturing Harrison Ford's likeness. Staff of Kings' version lacks some of the scruffiness, and has a hangdog expression more reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart much of the time. Also, the older game's dialogue was more clever, and they were going a bit more creative with the story. Staff of Kings reminds me of the third Terminator movie, where it felt as though they had a checklist of phrases and scenes from the first two movies that were popular, that had to be referenced at some point. Chase scene with motorcycle? Check. Fight scene in a zeppelin? Check. Scrappy and supposedly competent female character who will nonetheless need rescuing? Check. They did the bit where Indy rolls through closing doors, only to reach back for his hat no fewer than three times in a game with only 7 levels.

It's too bad that Emperor's Tomb did end up having some issues with the controls because I think it was the better game overall. It was still an Indiana Jones story (as far as I got through it, anyway) but without having an "Indy's Greatest Hits" feel to it. If that's what I was looking for, I'd play Lego Indy, since that really is his greatest hits (and his not so greatest). Staff of Kings did have a superior level of interactivity with the surroundings during fights, since Indiana could jump up, grab a low-hanging pipe, and kick a guy in the face, or use his whip to topple something on enemies, but otherwise, its combat felt more restricted. Throw a punch to trigger an attack, which I try to duck, so I can counterattack. Failing that, throw objects at them until they're beaten, or use the "whip + knee" combo. In its defense, I will say some of my coworkers love the random items that would be around to use as weapons. Bottles, pool balls, trash can lids, they thought that stuff was hilarious.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Two Batman Inc. Thoughts

I confess I'm not clear on how this Batman, Inc. set-up is going to work. I know there will be globe-trotting and team-ups, but what's the end result? Is Batman traveling the world and training people to be Batman in different places, or just outfitting suitable heroes with some Bat-equipment? Or is he creating a network with these heroes to keep in touch about various criminal threats? Anyway, I had two thoughts related to the idea of Batman franchising himself.

1) Can this get Cassandra Cain back in the mix? I like Stephanie Brown, I'm fine with her as Batgirl (though I'd have no problem if she remained Spoiler), but I do miss Cass. Plus, the excuse for her to dump the costume was pretty weak. She's sure Bruce was dead, so the costume doesn't mean anything? She once told Bruce the costume, and what it represented, was what she was loyal to, not Batman or her father. For her to leave it for Steph so casually felt off.

If there are going to be Batmans around the world, no reason there can't be Batgirls, too. She doesn't have to be called Batgirl, necessarily, if that's an issue. She could dust off the "Kasumi" identity from Justice League Elite. She can keep the silent, skilled fighter that strikes from shadows parts, and dump the assassin part. Or take a different name. She's already done her fair share of world-traveling, so she probably knows how to get around the streets of most any city in the world. I'd like to see Cass fighting crime throughout Europe, but send her to India, sub-Saharan Africa, Argentina, wherever.

2) The Joker's going to respond to this, isn't he? Detective Comics had a story - it might still be going, but I know it was running in August, at least - with armies of Batmen and Jokers fighting it out, but I don't think any of the participants on either side were sanctioned by the men they were imitating. Maybe the Jokers were, I'm not sure.

Still, if Batman's actively recruiting people to help extend his brand of law and order throughout the world, then the Joker really has to do something to spread chaos on an equal scale, doesn't he? I don't know whether he'd follow Batman, trying to eliminate these other heroes as he goes along, or if Mr. J would try to create his own club of like-minded individuals. Seek out people he sees some of himself in, then give them the push towards his level of madness. They won't be his equal, but I doubt the reader is expected to believe the people Batman's going to be meeting are his equal, either.

I suppose the Joker could ignore the whole thing, find it irrelevant to his ongoing struggle with Batman. He could think of them as pale imitations, not worthy of his time, but I wouldn't expect that. He's certainly never shied away from trying to kill Batman's sidekicks, if for no other reason than to rile Batsy, so he might think it a fine pursuit for that reason alone. Dismantle what Batman's building before he even completes it.

The idea of Joker doing nothing appeals to me, though. Partially because he feels overused, even to someone who hardly reads Batbooks, partially because it's not what I would expect. The latter is probably a consequence of the former, with the overuse leading me to figure the Joker will always interfere in Batman's business.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Some Characters I'd Like To Add To My Gaming

I have to get back in the habit of writing potential post ideas down, because I forgot one I thought of last night before I fell asleep. Oh well. Instead, I'm going to amuse myself by discussing figures I'd like to see in DC's next Heroclix set that haven't been made before. There are a bunch of DC characters that have had figures, that are a bit dated*, that could use a new version, but that's a whole other thing. I don't imagine we'll see any of these in the next set, unless I'm very lucky. DC's next set is a "75th Anniversary", so I'm betting on iconic characters, so the 27th-29th versions of Superman most likely. *shrugs* It's good if you're a fan of those characters.

1) Ragdoll - He's not the only member of the Secret Six not to have a figure yet, but he's the only one of the core group. He'd likely be a low-point piece players could set next to the other person's big brusier, and use to keep him tied up, which seems appropriate for Ragdoll. Plus, I'm curious as to what names they'd give his abilities. Something suitably unnerving, I'm sure.

2) Sand - Offhand, I can't think of any other major members of the JSA that don't have a Clix. They made a Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman, in Origins, and some of his abilities could certainly be incorporated into Sandy's dial. Sand has the gas gun, and the predictive visions, so that would be similar. Toss in a bit of Marvel's Sandman's dial, or maybe Geo-Force's. Hmm, Groot has a power that represents when he grows to an enormous size, they could toss that in somewhere for when Sand merges with the earth and becomes a giant rock creature (as I remember him doing against Mordru). I don't know if he still carries the wirepoon gun, but that could be worked in, too, I'm sure. He'd probably be a fairly heavy hitter, not on the scale of a Kryptonian, but a figure that could alternate between being hard to damage (if he becomes rock), and just being hard to hit (with the predictive power, or he could turn into a mass of swirling sand, how do you hit that?)

3) Enemy Ace
4) Haunted Tank - I figured I'd discuss these two together. Several sets ago, the designers introduced the idea of Keywords for each figure. Things that summed up character's team affiliations, or said something about who they are. Spider-man might have "Avengers" depending on when in his career it's supposed to represent, but it might also have "Reporter" or "Scientist". The idea was if you put together a team with everyone shared a Keyword, you received certain bonuses. it's not perfect (I don't know why red-and-silver armor Iron Man doesn't have "West Coast Avengers, for example) but they try to cover all the appropriate bases.

In Hammer of Thor, they made a figure called Thor's Mighty Chariot, which was Thor with his chariot and his two goats. They even created a new Keyword, "Vehicle". So with that in mind, why not Enemy Ace and the Haunted Tank? They haven't done any World War 2 characters in a while (Sgt. Rock and a couple of the combat happy Joes of Easy received figures in the second DC set, many years ago), but that's no reason not to add a couple new ones.

I would probably annoy my opponents by going "clankety-clankety-clank" as I moved the Tank across the map. But that's the sound it makes!

5) Unknown Soldier - My father's comics gave me quite an appreciation for DC's war characters, and they're a group that hasn't had a lot of representation. There was a Mademoiselle Marie in The Brave and the Bold set, but it was the one introduced by Rucka and Trautwein in Checkmate, as opposed to the skirt-and-beret wearing, Sten gun using WWII version. Which is still nifty, just not quite what I'm looking for.

Unknown Soldier wouldn't be a powerhouse, but he'd probably be hard to hit (being a master of disguise), and could probably do enough damage that he could clean up the opponent's supporting figures and secondary attackers, who aren't quite as tough. Probably some skill at inflicting damage up close or at range, but maybe not the best team player. He might have some special power where he can choose a particular Keyword, and he can, for example, Perplex (improve, or decrease if targeting an opponent) the values of only characters he shares that Keyword with. It would represent him playing a role for the mission, so he can't demonstrate skills unusual for who he's pretending to be, or he'd blow his cover.

* What tends to happen is the designers come up with new powers, the attack and defense values shift over time, or they introduce a new game mechanic (Sharpshooter). The end result is figures that were great back when the game first started aren't all that useful now, because by the end of their dial they have an attack of 4 and defense of 11, while most characters don't go below a 7 or 13/14 these days.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Too Many Curses

A. Lee Martinez' Too Many Curses takes place entirely within a castle. The castle is owned by a wizard, who has filled it with various weapons, items, tomes, creatures, and the many, many people he's cursed over the years. Also within the castle is a kobold named Nessy, responsible for keeping things neat and orderly. She takes this job seriously and does it well, despite receiving no praise, and being certain the wizard will someday seize upon an excuse to kill her. Except it's the wizard who winds up dead, at which point things begin to go very wrong in the castle, and Nessy has to try and hold everything together, with the assistance of some of the cursed inhabitants.

Even though the lives of everyone in the castle are at risk, Martinez maintains a light tone. It's accomplished primarily through Nessy, who is a very practical, sensible creature. She doesn't worry about problems that haven't occurred yet or that are beyond her control, preferring to focus on matters at hand she can deal with. She doesn't give in to fear readily, which keeps her and those around her a bit calmer. As things don't devolve into complete panic, the situation doesn't seem hopelessly dire. She isn't a wizard, but she knows the castle well, and can use that to her advantage. She's cautious, though, and this makes her a bit slow to accept that the pecking order has shifted in the castle, and even once she accepts it, it's a bit longer before we see an adjustment in how she carries herself. had she embraced the change sooner, things might have gone more smoothly.

There's also quite a bit of dry humor, usually in the narration, and even a riff on a Bugs Bunny/Tasmanian Devil gag I enjoyed. The cast of characters is suitably strange, since it consists of people cursed and entrapped by an evil wizard, and I think it helps the story that everyone involved accepts these sorts of things as part of the world. Not that most of them are happy about being cursed, but they recognize they live in a world with evil wizards, and sometimes those evil wizards curse you, and then you have to hope the wizard dies and the curse wears off, or that you're uncursed some other way. They're probably much as they were before they were cursed, but they've adjusted to the limitations of what they've become. It helps create a sense of their world, more than if we'd been introduced to the place through some recently cursed character who spends their time shocked that such a thing could happen.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Maybe Being Heroic Was The Wrong Move

Don't know why, but just yesterday I started thinking about when Storm lost her powers. It was Uncanny X-Men #185, or somewhere around there. She pushes Rogue out of the way of a shot fired by a fed, the weapon is actually the device Forge created to take away a mutant's powers, and viola! Depowered Storm for the next 40 issues.

It was good of Storm to do that. Risk her life for a teammate, especially Rogue, who was going through a rough time. I think some of the memories of people she'd touched were acting up, she was frustrated by her powers (as usual), and I'm not sure she felt trusted by the team*. Certainly there had to be a bit of a disconnect, when everyone around you has to keep their distance. Even when Rogue's injured, her teammates can't simply rush over and check on her, they have to be careful where they make contact, or be sure to wear gloves. It would mean no one is totally at ease around her, and that has to wear on a person.

Anyway, yes, nice heroic act, but when I started to think it over, it probably wasn't the best plan. I don't know if Storm realized what the weapon was. I don't believe she did, but it might be I'm remembering she didn't know initially that Forge made it**. OK, so let's say it's a standard government laser/blaster weapon. If Storm's worried it's strong enough to hurt Rogue, who is pretty injury resistant, what would it do to Storm? Blast her to pieces? Cut her in half?

Of course, it wasn't a standard blaster gun, it was a device to remove mutant powers, so if Storm had known that, do you think she'd let Rogue be hit by it? At the time, there didn't seem to be much progress in Rogue learning to control her powers. The powers were clearly causing Rogue distress, both from her interactions with real people, and the echoes of people inside her mind. I imagine Rogue's preferred scenario would be to keep her powers, but have control of them (which is where she's at these days apparently), but I'd think if given the choice between an inability to touch people without putting them into comas, and not having any powers, Rogue would have opted to ditch the powers. They were causing her nothing but grief.

Since some of her powers were what she took from Carol Danvers, I wonder if she'd lose the flight/super-strength. They aren't mutant abilities, and if I remember, Forge's gun did something to the target's DNA***, she might get to keep those powers. Of course, if she kept those powers, she might also be stuck with all those other peoples' memories in her head as well, which could be difficult, but she'd have one less problem, at least.

I'm inclined to believe that even if Storm knew what the gun would do, she'd still push Rogue out of the way, because she'd want Rogue to be able to make a decision as to whether she had her powers removed, rather than losing them to the actions of your bog standard fearful jackass government guy. I suppose a story about how happy Rogue was about being able to have normal relationships wouldn't have had the melodrama of Storm's anger over having her powers taken from her. Plus, I liked depowered Storm leading the X-Men, maybe that's because she beat Cyclops to take over. Cyclops losing is always good.

* Maybe by Wolverine, since he let her absorb his healing factor after she was injured protecting Lady Mariko.

** Which was very shortsighted. Make a weapon that takes away mutants powers, when he's a mutant. Like the government might not decide a guy whose power is he can make nearly any device conceivable ought to be dealt with.

*** Or was it the RNA? I don't have the issue with me where he helped Storm get her powers back.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The War In The West Was More A Disorganized Skirmish

The other book I managed to finish while I was away was Albert Castel's General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West. There's a chapter at the start about what Price did prior to the Civil War, and a couple about his life afterward at the end, but most of the book is exactly what the title says it will be.

Generally, Price seems to have cared greatly about the men under his command, and in the earlier stages of the war, if they weren't the most disciplined lot, you couldn't doubt their fighting spirit. At the same time, Price wasn't much of a tactician, and Castel suggests he would have been best suited as a division commander, where his ability to inspire the men would have great impact, but their would be better minds higher up the ladder deciding how to position those forces. Part of the problem was Price had many friends loudly campaigning for his being a general, and the South needed soldiers badly enough they weren't quite willing to risk the men he brought from Missouri leaving if Price was sent away.

The other problem was there don't seem to have been any generals available who were better. Not near the Mississippi, anyway. The trans-Mississippi region is where both sides started to dump commanders they deemed lousy. Too cautious, too reckless, too old, whatever. Castel details most of the major engagements Price was involved in, and typically, one sides wins because the leader on the other side was incompetent in some way. General A splits his numerically inferior force, and figures he can coordinate simultaneous advances in different locations. That never works, and so the forces that are under attack deal with first one, then the other of the advancing groups. Or the troops available are lousy, and they stop in the middle of battle to loot*, rather than continuing to advance.

In one case, Price is supposed to stop Rosencrans' forces from joining with Grant's. He requests another general, Earl van Dorn, bring up his troops and they'll work together. Price even agrees to relinquish overall command to van Dorn, who has more experience. Price and Bragg are both receiving orders from Bragg, who is telling them to work together and that yes, van Dorn will be the one in charge. Meanwhile, van Dorn does nothing, except send letters farther up the chain requesting that if he and Price work together, that Price be the subordinate of the two. Even though Bragg has already said that's how it's happening, and Price was making the offer even before Bragg issued orders to that effect. It's a miracle any of them could tie their shoes.

For all that Price was well-liked by his soldiers, he wasn't particularly well-liked by most of the other people in the military. The commanders who attended West Point tended to look down on him and disparage his tactical mind (a fair complaint, not that most of them were any better), Jefferson Davis didn't like that every time something didn't go Price's way, he'd show up in the capitol, complaining about it, demanding this or that, threatening to resign if he didn't get what he wanted. If Price himself didn't do this, some of his friends probably would. Nobody likes the guy who always runs crying to the boss (or teacher) when they don't get what they want.

Price's primary beef was all these soldiers who joined on to follow him did so because they wanted to liberate Missouri from the Union. After some early fighting, that's not how they were used. They were sent east, and took part in various battles over there. Price was eventually given leave to go back to Missouri, but his troops had to stay, placed under a new commander. They were focused on their personal concerns, and either didn't see, or didn't care that if the Johnny Rebs fell east of Mississippi, it wasn't going to matter if they freed Missouri. That didn't stop price from demanding more resources be devoted there, to the annoyance of the people receiving these complaints.

Castel's writing is fine. It's not a wildly engaging style, but it's not overly dry, either. There's enough going in Price's life, intrigues, disputes, rumors, battles, that it's interesting reading. Castel's willing to call out Price, though that seems restricted to points where it's obvious Price made errors in judgment, tactics, tact. Perhaps that's a credit to Castel's delivery of information, that when he criticizes Price, it doesn't feel as if there's a way he could have avoided doing so, as his description of the events has made the errors clear. When blame for failures - or credit for successes - on the battlefield starts being tossed about, Castel is ready to break down the arguments point-by-point as to why one is valid or not. I appreciate the orderliness of that, and it helps as a sort of summary of the battle being discussed.

* Which isn't something new. The Persians did that in a battle against Alexander the Great once. Their forces were running wild through the Greeks' camp, but stopped pressing the advantage to hoard some stuff for themselves.

** As it stands, it seems considerably more of Missouri wanted to stay in the Union than leave, anyway.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Predators And Prey Have A Precarious Balance

Prey is the first book written by Michael Crichton I've read in at least 8 or 9 years. The last one was Timeline, and I gave up on that after 200 pages. I did finish Prey, with all the time I spent in airports the last 3 days, there wasn't much else to do (I'm not one for people-watching).

Prey is nanotechnology growing beyond the control of the people who made it. The plot is about trying to stop the nanotech before it grows too much, but the story is more about humanity's inability to perceive all possible results of an action. It's also about the tendency of people to ignore possible negative consequences because they're more concerned with their own skin, in the financial or reputational sense. Basically, humans are easily smart enough to develop something that will kill them all, but may not be smart enough to avoid actually killing themselves with what they developed.

The plot is about Jack, formerly a computer programmer/manager-type, now stay-at-home-husband, being hired as a consultant because the company his wife Julia works for, is having some trouble with the programming code of their supposed nanotech breakthrough. Mistaken assumptions and death ensue. Unfortunately for Jack, the problem can't be solved by changing a code and sending it to the nanotech. The answer is more action-oriented, and while Jack does OK, it's clearly not a situation he's accustomed to.

When I was in 7th grade, I went through a heavy Crichton phase. Andromeda Strain, Congo, Jurassic Park, Eaters of the Dead, The Great Train Robbery, The Terminal Man, maybe Sphere. I read all those in about a year, which was strange, considering how often I was dissatisfied with how not enough was happening. "Not enough" probably meant explosions, gun fights, and car chases. I know the reason I enjoyed Eaters of the Dead so much was it was half the size of his other books, and so he got right to the point, lots of fighting and killing of monsters. The other problem was much of the technical jargon (usually lots of that in a Crichton novel) went right over my head. With Crichton's books, he always did (or gave the appearance of doing) a lot of research, and was going to share what he found. If you aren't interested in the topic, it's probably not going to be a fun read. I don't care about medieval French castle architecture, so Timeline bored me.

If I reread the books from 7th grade now, would I enjoy them more? I think I'd certainly understand more, and I don't require nearly so much action movie stuff to keep my attention. In the case of prey, it actually was the technical discussions that kept me interested. I didn't feel any particular concern for any of the characters' fates. Some of them died, and well, did the survivors learn anything new from what happened? It was frustrating seeing Jack, who was largely passive, a peacemaker, become more aggressive and demanding at precisely the time he shouldn't. It seemed convenient to cause problems for him. But I was really into the idea that programmers model their work on what living organisms do in the wild. At Jack's old job, they designed a program modeled on the focus of a hungry predator on achieving its goal. Namely, finding something to eat. This was supposed to make sure what ever was running the program would stay focused on its goal, rather than being distracted too easily by changing external stimuli. The biologist in me thought that was pretty cool.

Whether you'd want to read this book or not depends on how interested you are in the subjects of nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and programming. If the answer is "not very" give it a pass.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Hero Leaves The City To Save Himself

No post tomorrow or Tuesday. Hopefully there will be one (probably a book review) on Wednesday. Sometime in the evening, assuming my brain's in the same time zone as the rest of me by then.

I finished reading the O'Neil/Cowan Question series, the monthly one, anyway. The city hadn't been improved by the end. There might be fewer dirty cops and politicians, but the honest ones were too few to do any good, the public seemed to know it, and the city was completely broke. Vic Sage, investigative reporter, couldn't help the city, and for the last year of the title, he doesn't really try. Vic opts more and more for the Question's approach of breaking laws - and bones. But that's no good. He keeps beating up the same people over and over again. They don't learn, and getting beat up doesn't convince them to stop committing crimes anymore than being beaten convinces Sage to stop playing vigilante.

By the end, Sage isn't quite what Batman accused him of being at the start of the series. He's not half-doing the crimefighter thing, and he's certainly not using it to bolster his reporting career. But he's still operating on anger and violence, rather than planning or thinking. He only returns moderately to those patterns when Shiva reemerges and demonstrates how far he's slipped since they last met. Even then, it doesn't last, and the Question keeps pushing himself on against all common sense. So, not that different from Batman, in someways.

Ultimately, Vic leaves the city before he falls apart entirely, even as it does fall apart. Which is what surprised me. Not only does he not fix things, he doesn't continue trying to fix things until he's broken himself. I tend to expect the hero will never give up, never surrender, unless they're unable to continue, and maybe that's what happened here, only it was less obvious than the Question being physically broken. He threw himself at Hub City's problems until much of the progress he'd made moving past his anger was gone, until he was emotionally torn open. In that state, he wasn't any good to the city. In the last few issues, he crashes his car from exhaustion, gets stripped and dumped, then some skell puts on the Question outfit, and roams the city robbing and killing. Not much of a legacy for a hero. So maybe he had to leave. "No-Face" wasn't scaring criminals, wasn't inspiring the populace (as they mostly aren't aware he exists), and he wasn't in the proper state of mind to be useful himself.

Still, it's interesting that he leaves, but his sometime lover and friend Myra stays, as does Izzy O'Toole. Myra is the Mayor, but she was all set to leave, before she decided she had a duty to the people who elected her to try and fix things. O'Toole's a bad cop turned good, who is trying hard to clean up the city with a couple dozen clean cops. Both of them had power given to them by others in Hub City, whereas the Question didn't. Vic Sage might have, if you consider that some people turned to him for news on the corrupt and distressing happenings of the city, but Vic hadn't been doing that job very well.

As for the Question, the power he wielded was power he took for himself. Richard Dragon and Shiva taught him some things, but he's the one who opted to use it as he did. His reasons were still ultimately about himself, not others, and that's why he couldn't save things. Or it's that you can't solve vast municipal problems by beating up drug pushers. That doesn't fix potholes or put gas in the fire engines.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

This Won't Take Long

I'm supposed to go bowling with coworkers, so I'll be brief. At some point, I'd like to see another appearance in Batgirl of the Blimp-Master*. Blimpmaster. However it's spelled.

Yeah, he's a gimmick villain, but his gimmick is blimps! It probably includes, zeppelins, airships, hot air balloons, maybe he throws in a detachable glider on the underside of the blimp, like the Ninja Turtles used to have. Hopefully he does more than just try and use his airships to blow up buildings. He could have lackeys, who would repel out of them to rob places. I know that's part of my 710-point plan for world domination, using an airship to steal stuff**.

All I know is blimps are classy transportation, and they say that he's a villain who isn't in a rush, or worried about heroes catching up to him. So he's classy and confident. And apparently a little sweaty, but he has a scarf, so he can mop his brow with it, when not letting flutter impressively in the breeze behind him. Scarves aren't quite as nice as capes or hoods, but they are an excellent accessory in the right circumstances.

* As seen at the end of Batgirl #12!

** I thought I'd start with the Dallas Cowboys' current stadium, just to see if Jerry Jones bursts a blood vessel.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Heroclix Hit Some Of My Geek-Out Buttons Again

I mentioned it briefly last month, but I haven't really discussed Heroclix since summer of 2008. Well, it the license was up in the air for awhile, and even though the releases started up last fall, I haven't really had an opportunity to play much. I still like to keep up on happenings, since you never know when I'll get back to playing regularly again.

The Web of Spider-Man set came out earlier this week. I'll probably get around to purchasing the figures I want sometime, as there are several figures I want that were released in this set. It's not about the numerous Spider-Mans (excepting that Cosmic Spidey), as I already have more Spider-Mans from various sets than I have teams I'd use them on. The fun is in seeing what characters that haven't been made into Clix get the honors each time. In that regard, this set worked out great for me, I'm at least moderately interested in about 50% of the set. Compare that to the last DC set, when there were only 3 figures I wanted, and one of those was a new character (The Parademon from the Secret Six). It's nothing against the set, I think a lot of people liked what Brave and the Bold had to offer, there are a lot fewer characters at DC I'm interested in. Plus, they made a lot of Duo figures, and I don't care for those.

With Web of Spider-Man, they tapped the Prowler, Puma, Rocket Racer, Will o' Wisp, people! Even gave them all (and Sandman) "Outlaws" as a keyword, which means I'm not the only one who remembers those stories in the early '90s where Spidey formed a team out of his old foes who reformed. Throw in Molten Man, Cardiac, The Spot (!), Solo*, a new Black Cat while they're at it, I'm pretty happy.

There's even a J. Jonah Jameson figure who can stop anyone he can sees from using the Spider-Man team ability. That can be handy given the number of characters in the set with that team ability, but more importantly, if your opponent uses JJJ, you could have Spider-Man leap over and punch his lights out! You know Webs has been wanting to do that for years, and you can make up whatever story you like to explain why Jameson's involved in the fight, and why Spidey would punch him. Actually, coming up with stories to explain why two teams are fighting, or narrating it as it goes along is a lot of the fun for me. Especially if your opponent goes along with it, which isn't always the case. There were some very serious players at the store back when I played regularly, in addition to the folks who wanted to have fun with it. While still wanting to win, mind you.

It's not all Spider-Man related characters, either. There's both Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk, if you liked those characters and wanted to use them. I don't, but why focus on the negative? I'm sure someone is ecstatic to have them, either because they love the characters, or just because the figures do serious damage. I'm more excited about them providing another member of the Runaways (they added five members with the Hammer of Thor set last fall), the U-Foes, and best of all, Groot! After they added 4 members of the team in Hammer of Thor (Star-Lord, Moondragon, Phyla, and Rocket Raccoon**), Groot was one of the last ones to need a figure. Just leaves Jack Flag, and who knows, maybe it'll be his turn in the next Marvel set (the next set scheduled for release is a DC 75th Anniversary set). I love I can say with a straight face that Jack Flag might get a Heroclix soon, but I think the designers like comics as much as the fans, and they want obscure characters to get some love, too.

It's got to be a mostly thankless job. The set comes out, and if some folks aren't complaining about one character being included, it's other folks complaining a character was omitted. Or that this character was made too powerful, or too weak. I know I've sat around the store with the other players and wondered why they were making another Robin, or wishing they'd made Stingray's dial a little better***. Still, if you're a smarter player than me (or if I'm having a particularly clever and/or lucky day) any character can be useful, so it's better to have a particular character than not.

* While he lives, terror dies! What a putz, but a putz who can teleport.

** Surprisingly, Rocket's clix didn't simply say "You are playing Rocket Raccoon. You win."

*** OK, I was the guy who felt Stingray could have been tougher. I just figured he gave Iron Man some trouble underwater, he could be a few points more, maybe get some better values.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Clever, Not Entirely Rotten Thieves Are Fun

I didn't review the first two issues of the Black Cat mini-series when they were released, though I'm planning to review issue 3 when I get it, but I did want to mention how much I'd been enjoying it so far.

I wouldn't have really expected that, since it ties in with the Grim Hunt story, but the connection is tenuous enough (so far) that I can ignore it as necessary. The plot isn't all that unusual for a story focusing on a thief. A rich and powerful (not to mention cuckoo bananas) family wants some pretty things, they first try to frame the thief, then force her to get the baubles for them, using family members for leverage. It works fine as a plot, get the reader to root for the thief, who is, after all, a lawbreaker (and not in the sense of being a costumed vigilante stopping super-powered bank robbers, though Felicia does some of that as well).

I'm enjoying the greater focus on Felicia's character. I like that she takes pride in her work and in her name. She's so good authorities usually can't tell anything was even stolen, so when someone commits crimes and gets them pinned on her, it riles her. It aggravates her more when Spider-Man buys into and stops her from catching the other thief*. I like that she has people/associates/friends that help her prep, and that she puts in the work to make things go smoothly. It would be easy for her to simply rely on her powers and breeze through, but she wants to do things cleanly, and do them well, which I imagine is a nod to her father**.

Felicia's not close to her mother, though I wonder whose decision that was. Ma clearly doesn't approve of the cat burglar lifestyle, and also doesn't seem to approve of Felicia's relationship with Spider-Man. Which is funny to me, because I remember in the '90s, Aunt May was never very pleased when Felicia was around Peter. She even busted out the icy voice bubble at one point. Admittedly, Peter was a married man (or not), but it was still surprising, since Aunt May's usually nice to most everyone (even Harry Osborn when he was in his downward spiral).

Javier Pulido's been handling most of the art so far, and I've enjoyed the action sequences, or the rooftop scenes. There's a part in issue 2 where Spidey catches up to her and is trying to talk to her, offer to help, and she wants no part of that. Until the last couple panels, they're both drawn as silhouettes, and I really love that. I think it reminds me of an opening credits of a caper film, or what I think such an opening sequence should be like, and that feels appropriate for the story. Felicia hasn't spent much time in civilian clothes, but when she has, Pulido and Javier Rodriguez have made what she's wearing interesting. I don't know if it's practical or realistic, but it's definitely more distinct than the usual "t-shirt and jeans" look.

If you can find the first two issues somewhere (or just the first one), I'd say pick them up, give them a whirl. Or wait for a trade, since it would likely include extra content, maybe some of Felicia's early appearances.

* It's funny, though, she gets mad with him for suspecting her, but she does, in fact, still steal things. Spidey just doesn't know about it. Or chooses to ignore them because there's no evidence linking her to the crimes. Which I guess is what people use as evidence, the theft being that perfect.

** Jen van Meter hasn't had Felicia discuss why she's a thief, though at the end of issue 2 she has a phone conversation with her mother about why her dad was a thief. As near I can tell, van Meter's going with the idea Felicia became a thief to follow in her dad's footsteps, rather than the reason Kevin Smith assigned in that other Black Cat mini-series from a few years ago. I am all for sweeping that under the rug, then beating the rug ferociously, then burning the rug and what's underneath to make sure.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Did It Get Cold In Here?

Something I recently realized I liked about comics is the icicle speech balloons. That's probably not a good term for them, but you know what I mean. Speech balloons where the bottom of it is jagged, like icicles hanging off a gutter. There's an example over to the side, from Amazing Spider-Man #622 (written by Greg Weisman, art by Luke Ross, lettering by Joe Caramagna). It should get bigger if you click on it.

Maybe that isn't even what they're supposed to represent, but that's how I've always read them. They show up when a character's seen or heard something they aren't happy with, and they're being a little passive-aggressive about. Not outright screaming about how angry they are, but keeping a cold edge to their tone that's easy to pick up on. You've probably used it, or been on the receiving end of it, at some point in your life. I love to use it, partially because I don't like screaming, but it's also highly effective at getting a person's attention. They notice the abrupt shift*, the way emotion is being restrained, it makes it more dangerous. A rabid dog straining to break it's tether.

Well, in comics, it takes on a physical property. Emotions, happy ones, angry ones, put a warmth, so the effort of restraining them, only letting them out a little, if that, lowers the ambient temperature to the point the balloon partially freezes. OK, I'm talking silly, but I do find it a great visual. It's not just for repressed anger, it can work for disdain, disgust, disenchantment, I'm sure some other words that start with "dis-".

There's one example I usually laugh at from JMS' run on Amazing Spider-Man. The issue with the tailor to the costumed set? He criticizes Spider-Man's uniform, then asks who makes it. There's a panel of Spider-Man staring at him, then the next panel he says 'I did,' with the frosty voice balloon. Granted, what makes that particular example really work is the tailor doesn't act embarrassed for insulting the guy's sartorial skills, he just goes on with what he was saying, how you shouldn't leave a job like that to amateurs. Still, Spidey's irritated, resentful, maybe a little angry about the criticism, and the voice balloon has to convey that because his mask is covering almost his entire face**, so the only other cue would have been if Romita Jr. drew him gritting his teeth, which he may have, I don't have the issue to check. Still, the bubble tells the reader the emotion of the panel, very effectively.

I don't know who started that trend. For some reason, it feels to me like something developed during the Lee/Ditko Amazing Spider-Man run, after Peter does something that riles Liz Allan or Betty Brant. That seems like an appropriate place, but it probably predates that title. Maybe it started with earlier romance comics?

* I really like talking in a jovial tone to start, then switching mid-sentence to jar them. It's fun!

** He had the mask pulled up to expose his face because they were having coffee at a diner at the time.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Copycatting New Foes, To Beat Old Foes From Past Lives

Musashi: Samurai Legend is the second game featuring a young sword fighter named Musashi. In the first one he was merely a brave fencer, now he's a samurai legend. Or he will be by the end of the game, so moving up in the world.

I made it through last week, but I held off on reviewing until I could see what the deal was with the new game being saved on top of the completed one. I was hoping for a similar experience to Resident Evil 4, where I'd start from the beginning, but with all the swords and equipment I'd accumulated by the end of my first play through. That doesn't seem to be the case. I'm back down to Level 1, with only what I started with originally. All that's changed is I think the difficulty went up. Oh joy.

Much of the game is similar to others I've played. The hero arrives to help the princess and her people stave off a dangerous enemy. The enemy in this case is a corporation, rather than some rival nation, but that mostly means they talk about their nefarious plans in "board meetings", rather than military debriefings or cabinet meetings, or whatever. And rather than fighting the head bad guys lieutenants, I'm fighting his board of directors. The names are changed, but the rest is the same. Go to a level, hack through lots of enemies (including ones that in many cases respawn if you tarry too long in a particular room, which is annoying), fight boss, beat boss, thwart particular nefarious plan, and rescue the Mystic or sword that's the goal.

There are two things about the game that can make it a bit more interesting. The first is the ability to learn enemy techniques. Musashi can lock onto an enemy, and when a gauge on the screen is filled, if the enemy attacks, he can learn that attack, if I can hit the button at the right instant. That's was where the problems started, because I was really bad at that. I'm guessing there were at least a few dozen techniques, and I only picked up 7 or so, on my first play. Mostly I couldn't get the timing right, or I'd be hit by an enemy other than the one I was locked onto, or they didn't use an attack I could copy. As you might guess since I beat the game, the learned techniques aren't mandatory. I got by basically just slicing through whatever barred my way, defending occasionally, using the special powers contained in some of the swords a little more often. I imagine some of the better learned skills make things easier, but they aren't vital by any means.

The other bit was story-related. Apparently Musashi and the villain of the game have past history. Past life history, to be exact, which Gandrake remembers and Musashi doesn't. Musashi has heard of their past names and great battles, but he doesn't seem to know he was one of the two involved in them, for whatever reason. It's not so much the idea that the two of them may be linked somehow, possibly being reborn on opposing sides of problems again and again that interests me. I'm sure that's been done before. That could sort of describe The Doctor and The Master, couldn't it (I'm guessing, as I know about zilch when it comes to Doctor Who)? If you making it being lovers instead of adversaries, it sort of describes the Hawkman/Hawkgirl thing.

It's more that only one of them remembers it. I wonder what's the most common variation. They meet again, and they both remember they fought in past lives? They meet and at least at first, neither of them remembers? The hero could remember when the villain doesn't, or vice versa, which is the case here. I'm betting only the hero remembering is the most rare, because if that happens, then hero can try to plan ahead for it, then the villain is operating at a disadvantage before it's even begun, and I think it's much more common for the hero to start on the defensive, only to turn things around later. It could be worked out so that the hero trying to be proactive makes things worse, accelerating the villain recalling, or making them more erratic, more dangerous because they don't know why this person is after them.

I suppose the proactive approach could be used to establish a cycle where only one remembers their previous life per life cycle. Set it up so the one that remembers (Person A) is being proactive because they have strong emotion attached to the memories of being hounded by the other person (Person B) in that past life. A felt persecuted, hunted, hated, and A doesn't know why it was happening, but they're angry about it, and not prepared to let it happen again. So A goes after B, who was perhaps satisfied with how things went in the past life, doesn't have strong emotion attached to the memories, and thus doesn't remember. Except all this does is ensure that when they're reborn later, B will have the intensely bitter feelings, and go searching for A. Eventually, someone would have to figure out how it started, and see if it could be halted, assuming it isn't one of those endless conflicts the universe requires for some reason.

There's nothing quite that looping suggested in Musashi: Samurai Legend, but that is where the game sent my thoughts, so I owe it for that, at least.

Monday, September 06, 2010

I'm Not Agreeing With Fi Just Because She Likes Explosives

I've been rewatching Burn Notice over the last week. Started Season 3 today. Michael and Fiona have a little disagreement in the first episode because Michael's still determined to get his old job back, and Fi thinks it's stupid to go back to the people who got blacklisted him in the first place. She tried discussing it with Sam, and he just told her if she didn't get it, then she'd never understand Michael.

I'm with Fi on this one. I understand that as long as he's not employed by any agency, he and his family are unprotected against the various intelligence agencies out there that would like to kill him. Probably after torturing him, either for information, or just for kicks. Still, these folks kicked him to the curb, pinned a bunch of ugly stuff on him he didn't do, all to put the screws to him so he'd do what they want. "Management" claims to have been protecting Michael through the first two seasons (though that didn't stop that one Czech assassin from finding Mike*), but that's not benevolence so much as their own self-interest. Michael's of no concern to them beyond his potential usefulness in whatever it is they want him to do. If they find another prospective operative they think is as good, and more cooperative, they'll burn that person and probably kill Mike without a second thought.

Though with Michael, I think he's less interested in getting his old job back for the protection it offers, and more eager to be back doing what he's trained to do. He does those same things now, but I guess the stakes aren't high enough. He feels he could be doing so much more, making things better on a larger scale. We don't really know specifics on a lot of his missions pre-burn notice, so maybe he's right. Maybe he routinely made nations better places for more people at one time than he's helped through 3.5 seasons of doing this work in Miami. The cynic in me doubts he did more than enable different people to continue the same old song.

* I love that scene where Michael first spots him while in a sports bar. Just for Mike pretending to be a drunk fan and bellowing "Dwayne Wade sucks!!", then extolling the virtues of Kobe's multiple rings and superior free-throw percentage to the fat Heat fan that objected to the opening statement.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

There Is Something That Can Make Me Buy Superman Regularly

I don't own many Superman comics, four to be exact. Three of those belonged to my dad, the other was the issue Kurt Busiek wrote about the Prankster, which I bought because I thought the Prankster was a fun adversary ("villain" doesn't seem right, somehow). He has that flair and showmanship I like in villains.

I don't necessarily dislike Superman. I used to, when all I had to go on was my dad's Silver Age stuff. He was too powerful, the super-powers just seemed to pop-up out of nowhere (super-willpower was my breaking point), and he could be kind of a jerk (as has been attested to by any number of other bloggers). But there are a lot of people out there who have written about what Superman represents to them, or in his fictional world, and how that makes him awesome. That's made me more neutral towards him, if not a fan. It can be interesting to read other characters' comics where he makes guest appearances and we see what he means to them, in small doses. Don't need lots of comics about that, but the occasional issue, that doesn't derail the book's ongoing stories is fine.

Recently, I've become more certain I'd buy a Superman title if DC handed it to Garth Ennis for at least a year. This is strictly hypothetical, just something I'd be interested to see (in case you thought I'd gained some inside source at DC). Superman is the one costumed hero Ennis really seems to like*, and somehow I think he'd surprise people if given the reins. I don't know what he'd do, what it would be about. Maybe how Superman tries to fit in amongst people, rather than hold himself apart. I've seen bits of Hitman #34 where Tommy talks with Superman on a rooftop, and I think that was something Monaghan said he liked about Superman. I don't know if Ennis was expressing his own feelings through Tommy, or just the reason he thought Tommy would have for admiring Superman and Ennis' are completely different. Since he seems to feel Superman represents the best of the U.S.'s ideals, he might confront Superman with problems representing the worst of the realities of the United States? I'm just throwing that out there, it would probably be something completely different.

I'm not sure how it would go over with Superman fans and readers**. Some folks are always going to buy Superman. There are probably at least a few people who like Superman and Ennis that would stick around, and a few like me who would check it out based on Ennis. I imagine there would be folks familiar with Ennis' work, but not fans of it, who would drop the book because they didn't feel he was a good fit for Superman. And some of the things that were common in his Punisher MAX work, the people being set on fire and such, probably wouldn't fly in Action Comics. I have this feeling he could do fine without the graphic violence and such, if he really wanted to write the book, but knew he'd have to tone things down some. OK, probably a lot.

I doubt it will ever happen, and it might turn out horribly if it did, but I'm still intrigued by the idea. Heck, while we're at it, who is someone you'd like to see write an ongoing Superman title, who hasn't so far? Or, if there isn't anyone new, who is someone you'd like to see return to the title?

* I remember an interview in Wizard, when the Thomas Jane Punisher movie was close to release, where Ennis said he doesn't hate superheroes, he hates how they dominate the market. Would that mean when he had Spider-Man or Daredevil appear in his Punisher work, it was his way of saying "You want superheroes? Fine, I'll give you superheroes. See how you like this"? He'll give the fans what they want, but do it his way?

** Now I'm stacking a hypothetical on top of another one.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

I'll Ramble About Pathfinder Like I Did While I Watched It

Two of my coworkers were watching Pathfinder last night, and I wound up watching it as well. I missed the first 20 minutes or so, but Karl Urban plays this Viking, who as a child, was left behind on a Viking expedition to the coast of Nova Scotia (I think). He's been raised by one of the local Native American groups, but now some more Vikings have shown up and are commencing with the killing and burning of all in their path. Naturally, only he can stop them, with a little assistance. But he does most of the work.

Mostly, we made snide comments and criticized the characters' decisions. As Urban leads the Vikings across a somewhat frozen lake, I made a 'Tonight on Ice Road Vikings' crack. When Urban and some others are attacked by a bear, several of the men fail in their attempt to stop the bear. So I chided them, pointing out Anthony Hopkins killed a damn bear with a sharp piece of wood, and he was 60 then. Eventually, a wise old man succeeded in killing the bear, basically how Hopkins did it, I think. I also spent time wincing at the violence. I'm not sure if a person can swing a sword hard enough to cut through a Viking helmet and the top of someone's skull, but it happened. Lots of blood flying about, but if there are Vikings running wild in a movie, I ought to expect blood.

At one point, Urban is waiting to ambush the approaching Vikings. Moon Bloodgood shows up, there's an attraction, cue sex scene. None of us thought this was a wise decision. I was sure it marked Bloodgood for an agonizing death near the end of the film. One of my coworkers argued that she needed to spurn Urban, so he'd be frustrated when the Vikings show up, and he could add that to his anger with said Vikes, leading to total Viking annihilation. I agreed, citing Crank as an example of the guy not getting any (or not getting to finish) leading to rapid antagonist death. My other coworker argued the sex would make Urban calmer, which might be useful. Well, she was right. When he calmed down later on, he had a lot more success eliminating Vikings. Much lower casualty rate on his side from that point on. Of course, most of the people who had tried to help him were dead by then, but the ones that weren't stayed alive at a much higher rate!

It took me awhile to be sure, but eventually I figured out that yes, the leader of the Vikings was the guy who played Hadley, the head guard in Shawshank Redemption, and the Kurgan in Highlander. I never thought to look up his name, which is Clancy Brown, so I was floored when my coworker looks him up and hey, he was the voice of Lex Luthor on the Superman cartoon. I knew a Clancy Brown was the voice actor for Lex, I just didn't know he was this guy. It's one of those things I don't realize until someone points it out, then I wonder how I missed it.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Amazing Spider-Man: Shed

"Shed" as in sloughing off skin, not "small building to hold gardening tools". I ordered the Shed storyarc through my comic store, but Jack forgot to ship the issues to me. I think it's because after he sent me a couple of issues I didn't order in February, I contacted him and mentioned I wasn't buying every issue of Amazing Spider-Man, but I did want the Roger Stern/Lee Weeks Juggernaut issues. I didn't mention this story because either it hadn't been solicited yet, or I figured he had my order form, so it'd work out. Anyway, when I had a chance to swing by the store over the summer, there were copies on the shelves or in the Amazing Spider-Man back issues box, so I went ahead and picked it up. I never reviewed them, so here we are.

I wanted this story because the last time I bought comics written by Zeb Wells and drawn by Chris Bachalo, it was Amazing Spider-Man #555-557, where Spidey fights a Mayan Death God in the middle of a snowstorm. I enjoyed the story, thought Wells wrote a good Spider-Man, and felt the art was Good Bachalo, as opposed to Incomprehensible Bachalo, which is how I'd describe what I saw when I looked at some of his X-Men work a couple years earlier.

The story is that Curt Conners is under a lot of pressure. He's trying to keep the Lizard down, as usual, while maintaining his job at a pharmaceutical company, and trying to regain custody of his son, Billy. He knows with all his past problems, he's lucky to have a job, and he has to keep it for any shot of regaining custody of Billy. He also can't let there be even a hint the Lizard is lurking just beneath the surface, begging to be freed. Unfortunately, he has a boss who knows how important this job is, and so Mr. King keeps pushing Conners, demanding more progress, undercutting him in front of Curt's assistant, sleeping with Curt's assistant. King is fully confident his money and status will protect him, because antagonizing someone you know can turn into a giant lizard, and has eaten people in the past, is too stupid to explain otherwise.

So the Lizard takes over, and he's tired of Curt trying to keep him down. He decides to strike back, and with some outside assistance, succeeds in doing something that apparently destroyed Curt Conners forever. Conners being out of the picture apparently means the Lizard can use all of their brain now, and that makes him into something new. Sort of. His look changes a little, his powers are augmented a bit, and his goals have shifted some. None of them are necessarily huge changes on their own, but they add up to a somewhat different creature.

I still think Zeb Wells writes a good Spider-Man, and a good Peter Parker. His Spider-Man in this story is much more serious than in the snowstorm arc, but things are a little more personal for him here. Curt Conners is a friend, an occasional ally, and I'd imagine Peter sees a bit of himself in Billy. Peter's lost three parents (his mother and father, and Uncle Ben), he'd like to see Billy avoid losing his dad after his mother passed away from cancer. Which might explain why he struggles fighting the Lizard (beyond the Lizard being very powerful), he's more concerned with bringing back the man inside. Went on a tangent. Anyway, Wells writes a Spider-Man with a somewhat dorky sense of humor, who tends to ramble around the ladies, a little self-absorbed, but still very capable of being shaken by others' pain. This may not be strictly attributed to Wells, but I also like that Aunt May's love for her nephew enables her to overcome what Mr. Negative did to her, without Peter doing anything other than being in pain. You don't need a superhero to fix every problem. I do hope it didn't ruin her marriage. Also, his Black Cat has a mixture of playful and blunt that I highly approve of, even if she's burning Spidey with it.

I think this was Good Chris Bachalo again. I know his style isn't for everyone*, but I think he does some nice page design, his characters are decently expressive, even when they wear masks. His Lizard is suitably large and fearsome at first, and then kind of freaky after its metamorphosis. His Spider-Man is small, and his head seems oddly shaped, but something about the way Bachalo draws him suggests a coiled spring, full of energy. The coloring by Antonio Fabela helps, the reds in the background during moments of intense emotion (usually aggression) matching the red of the Lizard's eyes. Emma Rios handles some of the penciling duties in the later issues, and her styles a bit of a shift from Bachalo's. Thinner lines, more space in her panels. What I mean is I think Rios sets the view for the panels further away, so we aren't in so close to the characters, whereas Bachalo seems to zoom in close, where the Lizard, Spider-Man, Billy, are taking up more of a particular panel. It's a more crowded feeling, maybe designed to produce a strong reaction in the reader. We're looking this massive monster right in the eye, or we're right there next to Billy as he resigns himself to his fate. It makes us more a part of it, stimulates that lizard brain in us the Lizard kept going on about.

OK, there was one thing about the Lizard's change I wasn't terribly impressed by, his talking. When the Lizard starts talking to Spidey in #632, Spider-Man seems stunned by this, while I'm thinking, 'He used to talk all the time! He'd rant about how much he hated you and all mammals, and how he was going to make this a world for reptiles! The hard part was making him shut up!' I know the Lizard hasn't been much for chatter since about the time MacFarlane wrote and drew Torment**, but Lizard talking is not an unheard of event. I wasn't particularly high on his newfound ability to communicate with the lizard part of a human brain at first, either. It felt a bit like what Vermin could do, where being around him seemed to bring out the viciousness in people. But the Lizard's not so much making people angry as removing inhibitions, so it's not precisely the same thing. Besides, I haven't seen Vermin since Frank Tieri was writing Wolverine, he may be dead.

I'm unsure about the end of the story, where the Lizard runs because now that he has access to Conners' part of their brain, he udnerstands so much more, and it sort of freaks him out. Especially feeling shame for doing something considered perfectly natural in some parts of the animal kingdom. Back in that past when he was smart enough to talk, he once robbed a high-rise jewel store, simply to cast suspicion on Spider-Man, reasoning the web-slinger would come out to find the real culprit, and the Lizard could destroy him. So him just now realizing a plane is not just a big shiny bird, struck me as a bit strange. That's probably not fair of me. It really wouldn't be hard to argue that the Lizard's been in a mostly savage, purely instinctive mindset for so long it's forgotten all the things it knew when last it was smart. it does get the point across, that this is a different Lizard than a lot of people are used to. Even Spider-Man's forgotten what it's like to deal with a smart Lizard.

The other issue I have is, would suddenly having access to the mammal part of the brain necessarily make the Lizard regret its actions, and hightail it into the sewer? Spider-Man has plenty of enemies without such a strong reptile brain who do horrible things without a second thought. Maybe it happens because having access to these feelings and level of comprehension is new and overwhelming, like Commander Data when he installed the emotion chip. Or maybe it signifies Conners isn't entirely gone, leaving some future writer a backdoor if they want to bring Curt back. There were comments to the effect Conners was gone, leaving only the Lizard, heck, Conners' caption boxes disintegrated as he went away (nice piece of work by, would the caption boxes be Bachalo or letterer Joe Caramagna?). But people can pick themselves up and put themselves back together with time, so maybe someone will argue Conners just went deeply dormant, and will emerge when he can cope with what happened. Could wind up with this intelligent Lizard taking concoctions to keep Conners down, rather than the other way around.

This story was part of The Gauntlet, which seemed to be an excuse to trot out most of Spidey's old foes and give them an upgrade, a refocusing, or replace them with a newer model. The whole thing was supposedly being engineered by Kraven's family to wear Spider-Man down for some purpose, I assume to do with their plans to bring Kraven back from the dead***. The recap pages keep telling us Spider-Man is losing steam, but I don't really believe it. Yes, he's been getting beaten up every time you turn around. Mr. Negative knocked him through 3 buildings, Morbius' old girlfriend did a number on him, he was caught between the Juggernaut and a guy with the Captain Universe powers, even Mysterio got some shots in. But in the fight, I didn't see indications he was struggling because he was worn down and beat up. First he didn't want to hurt the Lizard too much, because he was trying to get through to Conners, and the Lizard's a tough foe anyway. Then he was unprepared for the Lizard's new abilities. Then a Lizard-controlled crowd did a number on him because he wouldn't fight back, for fear of hurting them. Maybe some internal narration would have helped. They did that a lot during Knightfall, Batman thinking about how slow and worn down he felt, how he had to be sneakier, more clever to get by, because his strength was waning.

I suppose they could mean emotionally he's losing the will to fight. He was a bit of a wreck at the end of the story, which is why he ends up at Aunt May's even though she's been horrible to him. However, he seemed plenty determined to stop the Lizard prior to that, so I think the will was still there. Maybe all that's a side effect of the rotating writers, there not being enough connecting tissue between arcs. Roger Stern made it seem like Peter was making the most of that one last shot Carlie gave him, but Wells (whose arc immediately followed Stern's) gave me the impression she was still peeved at him. The Kravinoffs were using Madame Web's visions to help them decide how to make situations worse for Spider-Man, but this arc didn't explain why she'd help them. I think they were torturing the third Spider-Woman, Mattie Franklin, and she helped them to stop that, but I'm not certain. I'm also not sure if they gain anything from having the Lizard in this new form other than it put the screws to Spidey just a little bit more.

Taken as part of an ongoing thread leading into a big event, I don't think Shed does very well. Taken on its own, I thought it was a pretty good story. Nothing fantastic, but enjoyable.

* With that snowstorm story, I recall one person using Bachalo's work as an example of the "mangaization" of American comics, which he considered the worst trend in comics art. I would counter that the worst trend is folks who crib their work from magazines and celebrity photos, providing lifeless art, but different strokes, I suppose.

** I do recall him talking in at least one comic after that, Amazing 365, but mostly I think he grew more savage and stupid. I was not a fan of that development.

*** I didn't read Grim Hunt, which dealt with all that, but if I understand it, they brought Kraven back, he wasn't happy to be back, but rather than kill himself again, he ran off to the Savage Land to do something. Collect his thoughts, perhaps. What was the point of bringing him back, from the Kravinoffs' perspective, or the writers? Maybe Slott has something planned coming up, but otherwise, I can't see the point in bringing a character back when they don't have a purpose in mind. I'd prefer the Kravinoffs try the ritual, it fails, and while they're dumbfounded their stupid thing didn't work, Spidey lays into them, more frustrated than ever they caused all this suffering for such a stupid reason. But I've never been much of a fan of all these little Kravens running around.