Sunday, July 31, 2011

Adventures of Brisco County Jr. 1 - Pilot

Welcome to the first of these, well, I'm still working on a good descriptor. Let's go with rundowns for the moment, until you or I come up with something better. I'm still sorting out exactly how these are going to go, so let's just start. I'm thinking of making this a Sunday feature, but we'll see about that as well.

Plot: It's the first episode, so it's all about setting up the overarching plot and introducing the characters. In this case we see John Bly (Billy Drago) and his gang escape incarceration, killing Marshall Brisco County Senior (R. Lee Ermey) in the process. Which leads to a group of robber barons, ahem, I mean, successful businessmen, hiring Brisco County Junior (Bruce Campbell) to track down and recapture Bly and his gang. I assume he's hired by these guys because they don't trust law enforcement to protect their holdings as they'd like. First on Brisco's list is Big Smith (M.C. Gainey), who's supplementing his slave trade in Chinese laborers by robbing a government train. Brisco comes under attack briefly from the Scarred Foot Clan, who believe him to be an agent of Big Smith's. There's also the discovery of The Orb, which will be a frequent Macguffin.

On the character introduction front, we me Socrates Poole (Christian Clemenson) who serves as expository source/sink, since he's the go-between for Brisco and the barons, but doesn't know much about the rough-and-tumble. There's Dixie Cousins (Kelly Rutherford), traveling singer and Big's paramour. Lord Bowler (Julius Carry), rival manhunter, and Professor Wickwire (John Astin). I'll tell you now that Mr. Collier, the newspaper reporter, and Wickwire's daughter Amanda will not be recurring characters. Also, the landscape painter is played by Carlton Cuse, series creator.

The pilot also establishes a few things about Brisco. Despite his scruffy appearance, he attended Harvard and studied law. Spent some time as a lawyer, but didn't care for it. He thinks it was better to have wasted 7 years in college, than an entire life in a job he hated. While he flunked Greek History/Mythology (twice), he does know Latin well enough to send telegraph messages in it. Has been punched by girls who attended Catholic school before. Mostly, Brisco is looking to the future, for what he calls, 'the coming thing'. New ideas that will change the world, essentially.

Now let's go to the tape!

Does Brisco use his gun? He draws it, but it's kicked away.

Things Comet (Brisco's horse) does: Opens doors, talks (not really), tracks Brisco across long distances, cuts through ropes with his hooves.

Brisco Kiss Count: 2+ (1 from Dixie, 1 from Amanda). I say "+" because I'm sure there was more kissing with Dixie during the bedroom scene, but those weren't shown, and thus cannot be confirmed.

John Bly Spreads His Arms Dramatically Count: 3. What? he likes to spread his arms to punctuate a point. Like Atomic Robo, he speaks with his whole body.

Is Pete Hutter (John Pyper-Ferguson) in this episode? Yes.

Pete Hutter Quote: 'Personally, I have little use for this current crop of Frenchmen, who slap their paint on in big, bold strokes of vibrant color. Call themselves Impressionists. Guess I'm just a classicist at heart.'

Non-Pete Hutter Quote: 'I want this job - and I'm the man to get it done. Never mind I'm Brisco County's son. This job isn't my birthright. The important thing is I can outshoot, outride, outspit, outfight, and outthink John Bly or any one of his gang.' (Brisco to the robber barons)

Brisco's Coming Things: San Francisco's trolley system, Pete's assertion trains go over 100 mph, Wickwire's rocket, the abbreviation UFO (standing for Unearthed Foreign Object).

John Bly Gang Count: 1 - Big Smith (fell out of a train while on a high bridge).

Stuff The Orb Can Do: Provide superhuman strength. Use of The Orb may cause rapid aging, resulting in a death like Walter Donovan's from the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Also, The Orb itself is bulletproof.

Other: How did Bly get Collier's tie pin? Were the guards dumb enough to let a reporter get that close to Bly? When Brisco's about to be hung for cheating at cards, his hands are tied behind him. As he makes his escape, he grabs hold of the reins as he rides off. It'd been nice to see him working free of the ropes. The Scarred Foot Clan attacked Brisco at his hotel room, but even knowing their assassination attempt failed, didn't stick around since Brisco was able to go back and retrieve his coat and hat. Did Brisco really need a rocket to catch the train? Comet was right there. Yes, Comet would have been knocked out by the gas, too, but with the time Brisco wasted riding back to Wickwire for the rocket, he could have caught the train sooner. A guy riding a rocket to lasso a train was pretty cool. Brisco's Senior and Junior are both lefties. Brisco uses the aliases Roscoe Merriweather and Kansas Wiley Stafford.

That took almost as long to write as it did to watch the episode. Hopefully I'll get the hang of it.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Atomic Robo - The Shadow From Beyond Time

So I called Jack yesterday to check on my comics. Last week, I'd contacted him to say I'd be at a new address and to give that address. The piece of paper the address was written on was lost, so the comics hadn't left. Why Jack didn't try contacting me, I don't know. Comics should be on their way now, which doesn't help anybody today, and they won't get here before I leave town to visit my dad early next week.

I'll try reviewing another trade instead, Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener's Atomic Robo Volume 3. I started buying the trades last year, and I've decided I'm going to purchase the new mini-series (Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X, starting in August) as it comes out. Which told me I'd better catch up. I don't think it's necessary, as Clevinger is good about including whatever backstory a particular arc requires within the arc, but it can't hurt.

This volume is all about Robo trying to stop an extra-dimensional monster from overwriting the entire universe. Essentially, it's atomic science versus Lovecraftian horror, in some ways literally since one incursion begins with Lovecraft himself*. Tesla and a few others stopped it at Tunguska in 1908, but Robo has to face it down in 1926 New York, in Oregon in 1957, in Peru in 1971, and within his own Tesladyne HQ in 2009. If the creature succeeds in overtaking the universe at any time, it can then spread backwards through time so that it will have always controlled the universe, and any past setbacks it may have faced will never have happened. Which is problematic, though in true heroic fashion, Robo turns that into an advantage. Robo also employs various people to help him, from Charles Fort to Carl Sagan** to his action scientist employees.

Clevinger writes it well, injecting humor into the story in a way that works, even though the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. It's like an action movie that way, with different characters getting cool one-liners. Also, the threat is so bizarre in some ways that playing it deadly seriously probably undercut it to a certain extent. And there are something situations where you can't help but laugh at the oddness of it. He also conveys Robo's growth over time through his dialogue and interactions with others. 1926 Robo doesn't think things through much, and he can't really keep Lovecraft or Fort under control as they talk over him. The later Robo's become progressively more confident, clever, and in control.

Scott Wegener's art impresses me for how much he gets across with so few lines. Especially with Robo, who has no mouth. If you're going to get across his mood, it'll have to be with his eyes and his posture, and Wegener does that very well. Robo speaks with his entire body. Wegener and Clevinger as seem to like what I'd describe as a "silent beat" panel. There's a panel where somebody says something, the next panel is the others in the scene regarding the speaker silently, then the next panel the scene's moved on. I'm sure there's a more appropriate name, but "silent beat" is the best description I could think of. I think it works because there's enough detail in the silent panel that my attention holds there long enough that things sink in. Then i move on to the next panel and the fallout is that much more effective.

Other notes:

- When Fort and Lovecraft show up looking for Tesla, Robo flashes back to two years earlier, when Tesla told him to immediately shoot any two men who show up mentioning Tunguska. I'm not clear why. I understand he was a pacifist, and so creating a weapon to destroy something, even if it wasn't clear whether the thing is alive, might make him unhappy. But the universe is at risk.

- I like that Robo's fashion sense changes with the times, though I'm a little surprised. I'd think he might find a look that worked and stick with it. I suppose a scientist shouldn't be content to reside in the past.

- Robo enjoyed radio sci-fi dramas in the '20s, and Conan comics in the '70s. Which is an interesting shift. Maybe decades of battling science horrors stranger than any radio drama could conceive of, caused him to seek entertainment value in fantasy instead. Or he just thinks dudes who run around in loincloths and kill wizards by stabbing them are cool. Hmm, maybe Dirk Daring's method of problem solving was similar to Conan's (and Robo's). Apply violence to the problem.

- I thought it was funny Robo hates bugs, but thinking about it, I understand his concerns. There's nobody qualified to open him up and clean out his insides if bugs get in there and die or nest. It probably isn't feasible for him to open himself up either, though maybe he can manage that. Feeling insects crawling around inside you would have to be distracting, and creepy. It's still funny, but I get where he's coming from.

- Sagan says trust in causality is the foundation of sanity, and doubting it would be a living nightmare. Charles Fort says causality is an illusion caused by linear thinking, and nonlinear events happen all the time. These feel contradictory, but I'm not sure they are. If causality is an illusion, than trust in it is a sucker's game, but failure to trust in it could cause one to lose their sanity and endure a living nightmare, which seems like what happened to Lovecraft in this story. If you trust in it but have subsequent experiences which demonstrate it's illusory nature, would that make things even worse? At any rate, Robo handles it well, so perhaps one can trust in causality, but recognize the cause doesn't always precede the effect as they perceive it.

Tomorrow, I'm going ahead and trying those episode reviews I mentioned as possible content in my "Five Years of Blogging" post from last December.

* Having not read his work, was Lovecraft really racist? He initially believes Robo to be some sort of pygmy man, and figures he can't possibly have the intelligence to do more than parrot speech. He also states that they should be able to operate Tesla's machines because even if the man is a genius, he's only an Eastern European.

** Sagan was also in Volume 1, since he was the guy who convinced Robo to accompany the Viking lander to Mars and make certain it landed safely. So there's at least one scientist Robo gets along with, even if both Edison and Hawking hate his mechanical guts.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Captain America

Short review: I loved this movie.

Beyond here, there are probably spoilers. I'm never certain what qualifies and what doesn't.

Long review: For whatever reason, Captain America is the only superhero flick this summer I was excited about. Thor mildly intrigued at best, and Green Lantern and X-Men: First Class held almost zero interest to me. Captain America? I'd been eagerly awaiting it for months. Which made me nervous. When I went to see Iron Man, I was just hoping it wouldn't be terrible. It wasn't, I loved it, but I wondered if my worries about it's quality made it look better than it was*. Now here was a film I was really excited for. Oh, what it sucked? My hopes and expectations would be crushed.

But that didn't happen. Woohoo! I loved this movie. Even the part where Steve's being used as a ridiculous symbol to get people to buy bonds, because I felt bad for him. The movie had made it clear how badly he wanted to help, and this was all he was getting to do. It does make the scene where he decides to go into enemy territory to rescue his friend all the better, though. I was really impressed with Chris Evans as Steve Rogers. I thought Evans did a good job in the Fantastic Four movies, but Johnny Storm isn't Captain America. Still, I thought he sold Steve's desire to help, his courage, the frustration he felt before the treatment and after (when he was thinking of himself as a costumed performing monkey). Actually, I liked everyone's performances. I kind of expected Bucky to be portrayed a little sneakier. Not like he's dishonest, just clever, crafty, but the plot didn't present opportunities for that, so I'm not laying it on Sebastian Stan.

Anytime I see Hugo Weaving in a film, after he finishes a line, I add "Mr. Anderson" on to the end of it. Not out loud (at least, not out loud in public), but in my head. What? I thought he delivered those two words very well, just the right hint of condescension and contempt. That aside, I thought Weaving was an excellent Skull. I liked the accent, the way he carried himself, walking tall, looking imposing, no doubt in him. Also, I like how, before he pulls off the mask, when Steve hits him, it's slightly dislodged, so we can see that hint of what's beneath around his right eye. I mean, I knew what was there already, but it's a nice touch. I was worried the red skull would look stupid, but I thought it looked good. I'm assuming it was makeup, and not CGI, so excellent work by the makeup crew.

I saw some people question Skull's motivations, but as I understood it, he wants to rule the world, but he's going to kill lots of people first, so everyone left will lose the will to fight. His big final plan was a Death Star style intimidation tactic. Go big or go home, I guess. He already believed himself part of a master race, and the serum amplified** that belief so that now he's superior even to that master race, and he's found and harnessed a weapon of the gods, which only feeds into that belief in his superiority, which is why he turns against Germany and includes them in the list of targets for his strike***.

Other random thoughts:

- After Steve receives the treatment, as he chases the saboteur, I liked how he rounded that corner but overestimated his speed and went through the window of the bridal store. It made sense he'd have to adjust to his body's new capabilities.

- I applauded Steve's ingenuity in getting the flag down.

- The nod to Steve being an artist - or at least liking to sketch - was a nice touch. He was a comic artist when I started reading comics so I'm used to the idea that Steve likes to draw, and that he's good at it.

- When Steve rescues Barnes and all those other soldiers, the Skull starts up the self-destruct sequences. Originally I thought that was horribly inefficient, to have what, 7 or 8 different self-destruct switches to have to hit. Then I realized it was actually German practicality. If necessary, they can blow up just certain parts of the compound, instead of the whole thing.

- The part where Barnes tries to wield the shield to protect Steve reminded me of Chuck Austen's Avengers run, of all things. Kelsey Leigh using Cap's shield to defend him from Thunderball's (actually an evil Black Knight in disguise) attack. Cap can brace himself and handle that sort of thing because he's stronger than a normal person. Little different when a non-enhanced person tries it.

- I was a little disappointed I never saw him bounce the shield off multiple Hydra agent heads in one throw, but I did get excited when he used the ricochet off the tank. Well that's the sort of thing I expect to see in a Captain America movie.

- I didn't realize Steve didn't know what "fondue" meant. I thought he was reading more into sharing cheese and bread than he ought to be.

- The fights between Cap and the Skull had a solidity to them. It wasn't a bunch of high-flying stuff where neither guy is fazed when the other lands a hit. Punches and kicks hurt, they got the wind knocked out of them, needed a few seconds to recover. A lot of times they lashed out with whatever was most convenient, nothing pretty about it. That was cool, very down and dirty. I thought the part where the bomber was out of control and the were fighting while on the ceiling didn't work quite as well. It seemed awkward, but in the sense that there were wires attached rather than because they're being bounced around on the ceiling while they're still trying to kill each other.

Slightly longer short review, but not a long review: I enjoyed Captain America so much, I'm having an internal argument with myself right now about whether to go back and see it again today. I'm not sure whether I like it more than Iron Man, but it is close. It's well ahead of any of the other superhero flicks I've ever seen, at least in recent memory****. As a movie to watch to have a good time, it worked incredibly well.

I'm still leery of The Avengers film, though. Gut feeling is it's going to be a big mess.

* I don't think that was the case, but it was a concern of mine at the time.

** The idea Super-Soldier Serum amplifies a person's inherent qualities, has that always been in the origin. Or was it something added for the movie to explain how the Red Skull was even more evil than Hitler?

*** I thought it was strange how Hydra had painted the names of the cities to be destroyed by their manned missile weapons on the outside of the weapons themselves. I know pilots named their plans and had the name painted on, but it seems sort of, I don't know, jaunty, for Hydra. I guess it ensured two pilots didn't hit the same city.

**** It's been a long time since I watched any of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films, and I can't recall how much I liked those. Little Kid Me might argue strongly in favor of the first one, I think.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I'm Not Discussing Captain America. . . Yet

Give me a day to let it sink in. Until then, let's discuss the trailers that ran before the movie!

Don't roll your eyes at me. Look, either we discuss those or I'm doing a post where I rant about how sick I am of Tony LaRussa. Again. Do you want that? Well, if we do this instead, it'll be delayed two days, and maybe my comics will finally show up, and then it may be averted entirely. Or at least until the next time the Cards trade a young, talented player because LaRussa just can't get along with him, which hmm, will be about November. I better prepare for Jaime Garcia's inevitable trade.

So, trailers? Great!

They were still running trailers for Cowboys vs. Aliens, which was felt strange since it's coming out tomorrow. I can't decide what to make of that movie. Part of me wants to see it, but I don't think I want to see it badly enough to pay for it. I can't decide if they should be playing it as seriously as they seem to be. Maybe they should embrace the ridiculousness of the whole concept. I don't know. Also, Harrison Ford's voice seems rougher than usual, like he's trying to channel Eastwood (not a bad thing). Maybe that's how his voice is now, though. I haven't watched a movie he's appeared in since - hang, let me check IMDB - Hollywood Homicide?! Holy crap.

OK, there's going to be a Tintin movie. I'm sure I'd heard something about that, but must have forgotten. They're going computer animation with it, I guess? Not surprising with Spielberg and Peter Jackson involved. Do you think it would work better as live-action, or perhaps a more old-style animated film? Because some of the bits I saw put me in mind of that Beowulf movie (I wish I hadn't wasted time watching that, or at least had forgotten I wasted time watching it), where it was computer graphics, but graphics that were trying really hard to look like real people. Which would seem to defeat the point of doing computer animation in the first place when you could just use real people.

There's going to be a new Three Musketeers movie, but it's a little off. When it started, and the person covered in leather or whatever emerged from the water to kill people, I thought it was another Hellboy flick. I figured it was the bad guy from the first one, that was partially mechanical and liked to stab people? Then you add the big guy with a sword people are afraid to fight and I thought, "OK, League of Extraordinary Gentleman movie. Hope it goes better this time." No, even with airships, and the Cardinal (presumably Richelieu, but who knows) an adept swordsman, and highly skilled assassins who are also ladies of the court (or royalty, I wasn't clear on that), it's a Three Musketeers movie. Sure it is. I don't think I'll be going to see it. I was fond of the one with Jeremy Irons and Charlie Sheen myself. Plus, Tim Curry as the Cardinal, he just exudes creepy evilness.

I had almost forgotten what the last preview/trailer/whatever was, which was strange because I knew I had a thought about it, but Captain America must have blown it clear out of my mind. Then I nosed around in the trailers on IMDB and remembered it was the new Mission Impossible. The thought I had was this: I'd rather put saving the day or stopping the bad guys in Simon Pegg's hands, rather than Tom Cruise's. That was it.

The actual movie will be discussed tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I Know It's A Mentality These Days, But Still. . .

In the first few weeks after DC announced this upcoming reboot, I saw a few people here and there mention how the announcement lead them to drop several titles they had been buying. The reasoning seemed to be that since everything was being rebooted, those books no longer mattered, so why keep buying them?

I know it's just an offshoot of the thinking that has people only buying the "important" titles, or what drives some fans to only buy a series if it's tying in to the current big event, but it still seemed a strange reaction to me. In some cases, it seemed as though the news of a series being canceled had helped the fan realize they'd been buying the book out of habit, even though they weren't enjoying it. In that case, I think dropping the book is a logical response. But if they're actually enjoying a series, why drop it one second sooner than necessary?

I know Batgirl is ending soon, so Barbara can take the mantle up again. I know Steph will be around after the reshuffling, but I'm not sure what her backstory will be or if any of what I read recently will still have happened. What I do know is Bryan Q. Miller's writing it until the end, there'll likely be a good artist drawing it, and I really enjoy the book. I'll take every issue I can get. Same with Secret Six. For as often as that title's teetered on the brink of getting dropped, I've still liked several arcs and I want to see how it ends.

If I didn't read series that were in danger of being canceled and swept under the rug, I wouldn't read anything these days. Well, there'd still be mini-series, but not much in the way of ongoings. I don't see why decisions DC made regarding their product in the future should affect what I read in the present.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Do Like Listing Things

Maybe you saw it already, but over at CBR's Comics Should Be Good blog, they're doing another Top 100 Marvel and DC characters poll. Well, it's Top 50 for each, 100 overall, but you get the point. They did the last in '07, so I'm curious to see how the results differ. Who has moved up, and who's moved down? Who fell of the list entirely, and who is the new hotness? There were a lot of complaints that certain characters only ranked as high as they did in the last poll because they had recently gained a higher profile, so it'll be interesting to see if that sort of thing holds true again*. Though I don't know if I'll recognize characters

I'm planning to submit a ballot this time myself. I didn't the first time around because I couldn't come up with a Top 10. With DC I was having trouble coming up with 10 characters, and with Marvel I couldn't get it chopped below 20. I have the DC list ready to go this time, and the Marvel list is getting there. I know who 8 of them will be, but there are 5 characters vying for the last two slots.

Which is making it a little tricky. Cronin (wisely) left it up to each person to determine their own criteria for their "top" characters, but that means I actually have to come up with some criteria. Crap, here there be indecisiveness. Say I really like Joe Kelly's Deadpool, but only Kelly's version. Whereas I like Ben Grimm under just about anybody's pen, but none of those versions as much as Kelly's Deadpool*. Who would I rank higher? If I like a character even though I haven't bought a comic with them in it in 7 or 8 years, can they really be in the running? What about characters I think bring a lot to team books vs. ones I prefer as solo stars? That sort of stuff.

I thought about trying to use my blog post labels, but I realized I've bitched about Iron Man a lot over the years, so that's not an accurate indicator. I don't even have a Rocket Raccoon label. How the hell did that happen?

* As I recall, one of the complainers was citing the fact that Nova and Luke Cage where up in the same ballpark as Adam Warlock, which strikes me as a weak argument. Adam Warlock wouldn't make my Top 200 Marvel characters list. I'm not sure why people voting for Adam Warlock based an ongoing from the '70s is more valid than voting for Richard Rider based on his, at the time of the poll, ongoing series.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Ink-Stained Trail - Chapter 2

It's a hot mess here, which is an unwelcome surprise. I'm used to it in the city, where the buildings suck up the heat and try to smother you with it. I figured out here on the plains, where the wind is always going, and there aren't that many buildings, it wouldn't be an issue. Turns out the wind does shut its mouth sometimes, precisely when ya don't want it to. It makes me not want to move, even talking feels like too much effort.

Seems the locals feel the same way. They're friendly enough, in that fake way where they all say hello and ask how it's going, even though they know the answer. I'm sweating through my clothes at 9 a.m. in the shade, that's how it's going. Still, it's more than I got back home, where people couldn't be bothered to fake pleasant. Still, these farmers as just as good at shutting their yaps when they feel like it as the rummies back home. Which means my investigation into the food thefts isn't making much progress. Nobody knows anything about the thefts, why the Raccoons would be doing it or where they hang their shingle, or so they say, if they even say that much. Groups of people stare dead-eyed until I go away. Must be a contagious condition. There's something up with the Charlanes though. They run the other way if they even catch a glimpse of me. Lead to quite a commotion in the drugstore last weekend. Cough syrup and castor oil everywhere. You know, a guy could start to get a complex if this keeps up.

I've never been one to strongarm people for dirt, and now doesn't look like the time to start. These farmers stick together, and most of them are the size of my Edsel, and twice as sturdy. Drawing more attention to what I'm doing wouldn't be the smart play, not at this point. Maybe later, when I have someone to try and draw out, but I don't know whose attention I should be trying to get. So I go the other way, fade into the background as I head to Granny's House, a local eatery. Besides, I need to eat. Everyone looks up when I walk in, but lose interest once I pick an out of the way table and place my order. It's a flapjacks kind of day. I'll regret it later, when they're sitting in my stomach like a starchy anchor, but for now, it's good eatin'. Glancing at the other customers I have to figure the salad bar is listed on the menu as a joke. Or that's how everyone else takes it. As the conversations pick up, I try listenin' in.

'She told them she was going to retire in two more years, so they should just wait to close that branch until then.'
' . . .cut her loose and replace her with someone . . ."

"Had to go to the doctor. . . foot pain. . .'

'Why's this burger so crumbly?'
'That's how they. . .'

'Cain't understand that. Who's gonna buy houses all the way out thair?' Hmm?
'George said he heard it'd be young couples, wantin' a house to start a family.'
'In the middle of nowhere? That don't make no sense. Gonna have some lonely kids.'
'I'm just 'ellin' ya what George said.'
'Ah what does George know? He's in the bag half the time, and seeing William Jennings Bryan when he's dryin' out the other half.' A talkative drunk? Thanks Red Cap.
'Well, it's their money, and their land, they can build what they want out there.'
'Sure, if they want a bunch of empty, rotting houses on perfectly good grazing land.'
'Not like the Charlanes don't have plenty of other grazing land.' A third voice heard from.
'Say mister, something about us interesting you? Mister?'

Huh? Uh-oh, paid attention a little too closely.

'Just wondering if I could borrow that hot sauce,' I told the fellow in the red cap. His buddies looked at each other, then at me. A hefty guy with a burned nose a flannel shirt (which isn't much help, they're all wearing flannel shirts) spoke up. 'Hot sauce? For flapjacks?'

Good lie, Ace. I make a sniffing sound. 'Nah, for my allergies.' Sniff. 'Driving me crazy, so I'm gonna get tough with them, show them who's boss.'

They all break into huge grins. 'Well this I gotta see,' laughed Red Cap. 'Here ya go.'

I'm going to have to go through with it. They're all watching. Guess that answers what they do for fun around here. They watch people make fools of themselves. I dump some hot sauce on my plate, take a straw, and snort it up my nose.

I was hit across the face with a pool cue once, courtesy of Johnny Two-Left-Shoes. That hurt just a little less than this did. As I start coughing and tearing up, the boys break out laughing. At least I've entertained someone. The day isn't a total waste. All it cost me was my sense of smell for the foreseeable future. Which means I'll miss the pig crap smell when the wind comes out of the north. This is looking like a better idea all the time.

'Did it work?' A third guy inquires. This guy's my height, but twice my width. Grey flannel shirt, thin blond hair, his entire face is burned. Or it's red from years of hard drinking.

'Absolutely. My nose is as wide open.' I don't mention that actually breathing though my nose is like pouring salt in an open wound. I finish my meal and step outside, the boys waving good bye to me as I go, huge grins on their faces. The thought that maybe I'm making some friends vanishes as I step back into the clambake outside.

Across the street I see a lady. Not a kid, but not old, either. Not bad looking, but in a drab grey dress. There are four guys following her, each wearing all black with brown hair. Well, three of them have brown hair. One's wearing a brown rag on his head. They hover around her, not talking, always at least a half-step behind, not jostling each other, either. She turns suddenly, the boys collide with each, get straightened out, and hustle to catch up. I walk a block down to the park. Try keeping cool in the shade.

An hour later I decide I need to try harder, because the sweat's running off my like spaghetti sauce off a wiseguy's chin. Still, I've noticed three more groups like that first one. A woman in grey, several guys in black clothing with brown hair tagging along obediently. The lady doesn't even give commands, they just follow like dogs with their eyes on a stick. They're cruising the town, going in all the stores, , leaving a few minutes later, on to the next one. What's strange is none of them seem bothered by the heat. Well, there was one guy who had dyed his hair, you could tell because the dye was running and staining his suit. After awhile, they vanished. Either it got too hot, or they finished whatever they were up to.

Looks as though I have something else to look into besides that new housing and the food thefts.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

It's Nice To See Rocket Getting A Higher Profile

So I saw online they'll be releasing an Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 game, which normally wouldn't mean much to me. Then I learn they'll be including Rocket Raccoon as a playable character. Which is a surprise, to say the least*.

Now I'm debating it. I've mentioned before I generally stink at fighting games. I wasn't too shabby at the first Super Smash Bros, but other than that, success relies on me being willing to keep trying until my button mashing translates to victory. I'm not surprised that I was bad at games I only ever played in the store displays, but even the ones I owned, that I put a lot of hours into, I wouldn't say I was more than a journeyman. That's if I didn't outright stink (as was the case with the copy of Mortal Kombat I had for my Game Gear). So there's the question of whether, if I owned the game, could I get good enough at it to enjoy playing it. Getting repeatedly humiliated by the computer has never been my idea of a good time.

'Course, I'd have to buy one of the current consoles, but there are other games I've wanted to play. I just wasn't willing to shell out the cash for them, and I wasn't going to ask someone else to pay for it, either. They were a little pricey for what I'd almost certainly use solely as a gaming system. Maybe they still are, I haven't bothered to check, but I guess it's in play.

* A surprise to the gamers too, who are befuddled by the inclusion of a raccoon. Well, it's the ass-kickingest raccoon you've ever seen.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Noticing Any Changes In DC's Current Books?

Question for those of you reading DC's current ongoing series: Have you noticed anything you'd consider an abrupt shift?

I know Gail Simone said she was given enough advance warning to set up Secret Six for what she felt would be an appropriate and satisfying conclusion, but I still wonder. I thought she'd adjusted her plans when I read June's issue, because I couldn't picture Bane at the end of #34 turning around and waging war on Gotham. Obviously I misjudged Bane, but at the time I had thought she'd been given enough heads up to alter her stories, but not the solicits for those stories.

That's just one writer on one title. I still haven't seen an issue of Batman Beyond since the announcement, so I can't judge there. I think Bryan Q. Miller was probably going to wrap up the conflict between Batgirl and the Reapers around issue 24 anyway, but I wonder if he'll have to add some other things in to present what he'd consider an acceptable solution. Or if it'll stand well enough as is.

I figure since some of you read titles I don't you might have noticed some twists or turns that are a bit out of left field, or maybe the pace has sped up, the creative team trying to hit everything they wanted to before the clock runs out?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Giant Extinct Sharks Will Kill Us All

I read MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror in high school. The reason was simple. It was about a giant, presumed extinct species of carnivorous shark being discovered in the Marianas Trench, then escaping to the surface where it wreaked havoc. My 2nd favorite movie ever (at that time) was Jaws*, so yes, this was up my alley. In that regard, it lived up to expectations, as the Carcharodon megalodon even defeated a nuclear submarine**, along with eating several people, all before it was killed by lead character Jonas Taylor piloting a mini-sub down its throat, climbing out, and cutting the shark's heart open with a fossilized megalodon tooth.

I never said it was realistic. I read the next book in the series, The Trench, when it was released, but I don't recall much other than author Steve Alten expanded on the list of presumed dead creatures that were still alive in the Marianas Trench. I picked up MEG: Primal Waters in my bookstore excursion, I guess because I was curious. And I still enjoy giant sharks wreaking havoc.

The book's leapt ahead some, as it's about 20 years since the first story, and Taylor's dealing with money problems and a mid-life crisis. Plus his teenage daughter is driving him crazy, as teenage daughters are wont to do (or so I'm told by sitcoms). Taylor takes a job as a color commentator on some stunt show, which is actually a trap by a bitter scientist who regards Taylor as a 'con man wrapped in a diploma'. Many deaths ensue, at several locations as there are three giant sharks to deal with this time, instead of just the one. Alten also has Evil Bitter Scientist Guy hint at even larger, also presumed extinct creatures leaving somewhere are the Philippine Plate, which sure, why not throw in a brief mention of a creature twice the size of a 60-foot, 30-ton shark? I guess it popped up in the 4th book.

It's an absurd book overall, and though Alten might be trying to keep things moving fast enough that doesn't have time to sink in, there are still plenty of moments that make me stop and reread. Which doesn't mean it isn't entertaining, just that it's one of those books where I think it's best if the reader embraces the absurdity. If you go in expecting a more grounded, scientifically accurate tone, it'll be tough going.

Speaking of the absurd, during the story, Barry Bonds' all-time home run record is about to fall. The man who's going to break the record? Pat Burrell. {hysterical laughter} Pat {more hysterical laughter} Burrell. {falls out of chair} Alten {still laughing}, Alten might as well said Rafael Belliard (except he retired a decade ago) or, {gasping} or, Jason Kendall {lapses into guffaws}.

I guess it's really only absurd if you follow baseball. But still, not Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols, Pat Burrell?!

* Behind Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, if you cared. I don't know what the rankings are now.

** Look, the Navy made the mistake of being concerned about public perception if they sent their top of the line subs after an endangered species, so they used the Nautilus, their very first nuclear sub, which had probably been decommissioned for a long while. Here we see the danger of worrying overmuch about public opinion when there's work to be done.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Still Talkin' Bout Tasky

OK, so two more thoughts I had in relation to Taskmaster - Unthinkable. Don't look at me like that. I didn't plan it, these didn't occur to me until today.

1) Taskmaster's learned so many things that exist in what he calls his implicit memory that he's lost most of his explicit memories. Can he learn so many things that he starts losing some of the implicit memories? Similar to Mimic from Exiles (and maybe the Mimic in the Marvel Universe, too, I'm just more familiar with the Exiles one). He could only copy the abilities of so many (I think 5 or 6) mutants at a time. If he wanted to add someone else's powers (say optic blasts), he had to lose some other person's copied abilities (teleportation or bone claws, or whatever). So Taskmaster learns some new skill, playing a 1987 DG-20 electric guitar, for example, and forgets some flying kick he stole from Shang-Chi. I suppose that's what his memory palace is for, creating sensory inputs that trigger those skills, but it seems like it'd be easy for him to forget what the particular stimulus he needs for a skill was.

2) If Taskmaster had remembered everything about himself sooner, how would Nick Fury have handled that? Would Taskmaster have been as effective knowing the truth about himself, or would he have wanted to do things differently? It'd still be possible for him to pass himself off as the same old Taskmaster. He told Mercedes he's a master of 'intimate sounding, utterly superficial chit-chat', so he can probably continue to talk in a way that seems normal to whoever he interacts with, even if his mindset is completely different. I think Tasky might decide he wanted to do things differently, to make up for a past mistake, but I worry Fury would try and put him in a situation where he'd forget himself and revert to the Taskmaster we're used to seeing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One Gripe And One Rave

These are two thoughts I had related to Taskmaster - Unthinkable, that didn't really fit with the review I was typing. So we can discuss them now.

There-s a point in the story when Steve Rogers shows up at the diner where Tasky and Mercedes were attacked by hordes of cannon fodder. The detective in command is some gruff old bastard named Rolling who gives Rogers a lot grief, telling Steve if he doesn't respect Rollins' crime scene or if he expects Rollins to salute, he'll get the cop's boot up his ass. Rogers, not being the sort who cares about that stuff, defers and lets Rollins lead the way. Nick Fury's there as well, waiting for Steve. Rollins is completely different around him. Deferential, respectful, calls Fury "Colonel", and doesn't seem to mind Fury's curt 'I'll take it from here Sergeant Rollins. You are dismissed.'

That whole sequence bothers me. That the cop goes out of his way to try and mark his territory when Steve Rogers shows up, but with Nick Fury it's a whole other matter. I know it shouldn't make a difference, but the idea Fury is somehow more deserving of respect than Steve Rogers grates. I have this impression that Marvel Fury's characterization has been drifting towards Ultimate Nick Fury territory for awhile. If you were reading the blog back when I still bought Ultimate Spider-Man, you may remember I rarely cared for Ultimate Nick Fury, with his manipulative ways, and tendency to view everyone as assets he could use as he saw fit, whenever he saw fit. Marvel Nick Fury might not be that far gone, but he's close enough I don't really like seeing him deferred to so strongly.

OK, so that was the thing that bugged me. Let's move to the other thing, the Legion of the Living Lightning. Or is it the Lords of the Living Lightning? The bonus material in the back refers to them both ways. They're one of the criminal groups after Taskmaster. They aren't one of the ones created for this mini-series, as they appeared previously. I thought they were related to the Lightning Lords who menaced Orson Randall in the Immortal Iron Fist Annual of 2007. Orson won a challenge with one of them (with the help of Danny Rand's father), and the loser had to drink poison, which set his brothers on a vengeance path*. Anyway, I figured these guys were devotees, or maybe just the many, many offspring of the various brothers. Mr. Xao, who was one of the enemies in the Brubaker/Fraction Iron Fist seemed to have lightning powers, so why couldn't there be enough of them to form a criminal organization all their own.

Well, until someone comes along and retcons it into place, that isn't the case. The Legion of the Living Lightning's first appearance is from 1967, which is just a little before Immortal Iron Fist. Little disappointing, though perhaps for the best. I have a feeling the Lightning Lords would be horrified to learn their descendants had such poor fashion sense. At least ditch the suspenders. If they were connected, the fact they had a device that created the Avenger Living Lightning would be interesting. Perhaps their power's diluted, because they've inherited the trait, but not the proper training. The device that enabled Miguel Santos to become pure energy was an attempt to put them on the level of their ancestors? After all, three Lightning Lords can combine to for one Super Lightning Lord, which about made Orson Randall soil himself. Imagine dozens of Super Lightning Lords, or if dozens of the group combine, an Ultra-Mega-Super Lightning Lord, towering over cities.

I guess that wouldn't fit with their goal to provide others with weapons that will destroy civilization so the Legion of the Living Lightning can become rulers of the new world. But turning into a giant electricity monster might let them destroy everyone who would oppose their taking over, so it all comes to the same end. They just cut out the middleman.

* Though they were also working for the Bride of 9 Spiders to capture Wendell so he could be executed for his crimes against the 7 Heavenly Cities.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Taskmaster - Unthinkable

This trade came in with my last bunch of comics and even though I don't normally review trades (don't know exactly why, just don't), why not?

The mini-series is set after the conclusion of Siege, when a lot of criminals were apparently arrested at Asgard. Taskmaster wasn't one of them, and the word is he's working for the good guys now (not an impossible premise), and a group known as The Org has put a $1 billion bounty on him. So Taskmaster needs to find The Org and set things straight. Or kill them, if they won't listen to reason. The problem isn't the hordes of cannon fodder from practically every criminal organization in the Marvel Universe (including several writer Fred van Lente made up for this mini-series).

The problem is Taskmaster can't remember anything about The Org. Or anything at all, really. He's absorbed so many fighting styles, languages, and other assorted skills that his memories of actual people, places, and events are overwritten. They're still there, but buried under mountains of stuff he uses in his work. So we follow Taskmaster and an unfortunate waitress named Mercedes Merced as they try to work backwards through Taskmaster's memories to The Org.

I like all the bits of strangeness van Lente puts in this story. The different criminal organizations he created (the Black Choppers especially), the Andean village where everyone is Hitler as a result of an old operation SHIELD tried to destroy years ago. The Don of the Dead and his songs about his criminal exploits. The more oddball stuff that populates the Marvel Universe the better. It's all things other writers can play with if they want, and even if they choose not to, it's still adding something to the tapestry.

OK, van Lente sort of changes Taskmaster's origin. He had a mini-series years ago that told us he'd had these abilities since he was a kid (as demonstrated in a scene where he's copied Olympic diving techniques, but forgets he hasn't copied how to swim yet). Which would make him a mutant, I guess. van Lente makes it so Tasky gained his ability as a result of a drug he chose to take as an adult. It does add a certain Marvel element to his story. He chose to take the drug so he could be the best, but in so doing badly hurt someone close to him, and he can't stop hurting them the same way over and over. It has a bit of Spider-Man, where a moment of selfishness lead to his Uncle Ben dying, and maybe a bit of the Hulk, where no matter how well things are going for Banner/Big Green, eventually the Hulk will overdo it and wreck everything and be alone again.

The question is whether Taskmaster needed that added to his story. Before he might do the right thing, but it was down to whether he felt like it or not. Or if he was paid enough to do it. Or he might attack the Avengers, or open another cannon fodder training facility. Either way, it was his call. If he helped Agent X fend off a group of super-powered killers, it was probably because X's partner Sandi was in the line of fire and Taskmaster was sweet on her.

Now that isn't really the case. He has such a vague idea of who he is, he probably wouldn't remember Sandi well enough to know why he'd care she was in danger. He's reliant on guidance from The Org (more specifically The Hub). Or he's pushed by an instinct he can't explain that he's a bad guy, which seems to give him the attitude that if he feels like a bad guy, he ought to be one. The origin's twist is that the end result of his drive to be the best makes it that he can't use those skills for his won goals anymore, because he can't remember who he is well enough to have goals. The gift comes with a curse. A reverse of Iron Man, where the suit originally keeps his heart going, but then advances further to becomes a weapon he can use to rectify mistakes, protect people, throw his friends in a Negative Zone prison, etc. It makes Taskmaster a little more tragic, but I don't think he needed that. A guy who was just good enough you might be able to get his help, but would be looking over your shoulder the whole time just in case seemed more interesting. He can still be that, I suppose, but if he turns on someone, it'll be due to forgetting who they are, or The Hub tells him to, rather than a conscious decision on his part.

Jefte Palo's the artist for the series, and lets hear it for an artist who doesn't need fill-in help to finish a mini-series. What? That's seems rarer than you'd think these days. I last saw Palo's work on the last arc of the Moon Knight series I was buying, right before it was canceled. Which was only two years ago, but we're on our second Moon Knight ongoing since then, which is nuts. I liked Palo's action sequences more there than I do here. I think the difference was Moon Knight was doing anything fancy in those fights, mostly punching and being punched. Taskmaster's being a lot more acrobatic and varied, since he draws on skills from close to a dozen characters over the mini-series, but the art doesn't convey the grace I'd expect. There's a sequence where Taskmaster says he'll use the Destroyer for acrobatic skill, but he doesn't really do anything acrobatic. Just charges at the machine gun nest and lunges.

I haven't seen Palo's method of showing whose skills Taskmaster's using before. The one I see most often is a sort of after-image either superimposed on Taskmaster, or floating around him. Palo opts for a sort of sepia-toned square. Any parts of Taskmaster outside the square look like him. Any parts inside look like whoever he's mimicking. It works, and it did make for a nice visual when Taskmaster unleashes multiple styles simultaneously.

I did like Palo's expressions and body language. One in particular was at the start of issue 3, as Tasky and Mercedes climb a mountain. Taskmaster's leading a llama, Mercedes is following, holding onto the llama's tail. Everything about her, from the way she's hunched over, to the way Palo drew he with a sort of stomping tread, how her hat is pulled low over her eyes, and the little bit of an outthrust lower lip, sell that Mercedes is seriously aggravated by all this, and actually, probably a little pissed. Understandably. And Palo does this with what looks like relatively few lines, so I was seriously impressed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I've Been Waiting Forever To Say Goodbye To California

I thought I'd give Alistair MacLean another shot, since Bear Island was action packed, even if it wasn't the sort of mystery I was hoping for*. Which brings us to Goodbye California.

A man calling himself Morro has stolen nuclear material from a nuclear plant, had it installed in several bombs, and is threatening to send California into the ocean unless his demands are met. He also took some hostages from the plant, including the wife of one Detective Sergeant Ryder, which is how he gets involved.

Things certainly keep moving, as Ryder almost casually makes the chief of police and a senior judge admit to corruption, bribery, and murder, among other crimes, all of which is incidental to his search for Morro and his wife. Ryder is essentially unflappable, and rarely censors himself, insulting everyone from the aforementioned judge, to the director of the CIA, to a man in the FBI who is actually being very helpful. And of course, he isn't called to the carpet on any of it, because he gets results, and is usually right about what's going on. Which does get a little tedious, but in several cases he doesn't put things together until it's too late to make a difference, and he does underestimate Morro a few times.

Morro makes me think a bit of Hans Gruber from Die Hard (the book predates the movie by over a decade, though). Very cultured, very friendly, easily discusses torture in a dispassionate voice, and excellent at convincing most people he's something he isn't. Morro doesn't have that edge of anger Alan Rickman brought to Gruber, but that may be due to Ryder not really inhibiting Morro's plans until the precise moment those plans go down the tubes. Ryder doesn't block the placement of bombs, or prevent the taking of nuclear material, or do anything that delays the scheme, so we never see how Morro might react to such adversity. It mostly represents how well Morro planned things, that even as clever, resourceful, and willing to push things as Ryder is, it takes him almost the entire book to catch up. You could also argue it's necessary for the plot, since Morro's downfall is predicated on his self-confidence/arrogance, and if Ryder was proving an obstacle earlier, that might not be the case.

When I discussed Bear Island, I complained a bit about MacLean's info dumps, typically providing a lot of information about a character's history in a very direct, but obviously expository way. Here characterization seems more smoothly integrated, but he tends to go on these digressions about various topics. The differences in nuclear fuel, and how easily it can be "misplaced". The history of earthquakes in California, the public's fear of a big one, and considered methods of prevention. How nukes could be used to open a hole in the ozone layer to attack one's enemies. Some of it sounds made up, some not, but at least it's all mostly relevant to the plot.

* I don't know why I'm so keen on mysteries, since I hardly ever figure them out. I guess I expect that continued attempts will lead to success.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What'd They Expect For Visiting A Big Bear Star?

I returned to the local used bookstore on Friday, and that's how we end up talking about Fed and Geoffrey Hoyle's Rockets in Ursa Major.

Mankind had been sending manned rockets into space for some time, but never hearing back from any of them. So they kind of gave up on interstellar exploration and focused on the Solar System, mostly trying to build a defense fleet, though it's unclear why they'd assume they needed to do so. Surprise, one of their rockets, one sent to ursa Major, does return, but it's empty, save for a single message: 'If this ship returns to Earth, then mankind is in deadly peril - God help you.' That's cheerful.

Soon enough, the aliens do arrive, and Earth realizes it's not on the level of its opponents. Fortunately, not all the aliens that arrive are hostile. There's one group that once had settled on many different planets, and whose names all seem to be those we've given to stars (the captain of the ship is Betelgeuse) but in so doing, aggravated a group called the Yela, who have since chased this race across the galaxy. The Yela are considered unstoppable, since their preferred tactic is to light a planet's atmosphere on fire. Fortunately, an Earth scientist comes up with an insane possible way to repel the Yela, and the book ends hinting at future conflicts.

One thing we learn about the Yela is they're pursuing this other group because they objected to how said group would colonize worlds, as this was perceived as a form of subjugation. At one point, Dr. Warboys suggests Earth and the this group try to negotiate, and is told the fact that Earthlings have advanced over thousands of years to become the dominant life form would be seen as subjugation, and the Yela would object. Then we learn the Yela have essentially press-ganged other races into their war against Betelgeuse's people, which sure as hell sounds like subjugation to me. But we're told they pursue Betelgeuse's people for that reason by one of his people, not any of the Yela, so perhaps it's conjecture.

In a certain way, this reminded me of Harry Turtledove's series about aliens attacking during World War 2. In those books, one of Earth's advantages was humans would act without concern for the future. The aliens had nuclear weapons, but were careful about setting them off because they wanted to live on the planet later. Humans didn't care, they detonated them as fast as they could build them, and would concern themselves with the fallout later. The Hoyles use a somewhat similar principal here, as Warboys' plan to repel the Yela seems ridiculously dangerous to me, but he figures defend Earth now, worry about the rest later. Once again, our self-destructive natures have saved us all. It does seem like a typical response. I don't think we really worry about a problem until it's happening, and even then it has to be dire before we'll take action. Otherwise, we figure the Earth will be the same tomorrow as it was today.

It's discussed that even though Betelgeuse's people are well advanced compared to Earth, Earthlings can develop new technologies faster. The idea seems to be Earth has provided a safe, stable home to work out new ideas on, whereas Betelgeuse's people are constantly on the run in space. If they try to settle a world, the Yela arrive and burn the atmosphere. As such, all the energies are focused towards keeping their ships running, which has made them highly efficient in that regard, but hasn't offered an opportunity for invention. Which sounds right. Not perhaps when dealing with Earthlings versus other intelligent species, but humans typically advance faster if they have some sort of home base, don't they? They could still venture out from it, but somewhere that's safe, and they don't have to focus solely on things necessary to survive right this moment can help things move along.

I do wonder about the other spaceships sent out from Earth. The one sent to Ursa Major wound up in the middle of a battle, and the Yela sent it back so they could follow it to the source. But that doesn't explain what happened to the others. Are they still in transit? Wildly off-course? Did they reach their destinations, but aren't able to contact home? Maybe they ran into problems other than the Yela. The answer to that might have been planned for follow up stories.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Soul Tattoo" Is A Problem For Constantine

I was listening to VAST's Tattoo of Your Name yesterday, and not for the first time, I wondered if the man in the song is really crazy or not.

In the song, he's convinced to kill the abusive husband of a woman he loves (to the extent he has her name tattooed on her soul), only to find himself arrested afterward, with the now-widow disavowing any knowledge of the scheme.

Or so he says. We only have his word that she told him about an insurance policy taken out the day before, and shouldn't that raise some alarms? It turns out there is no insurance policy, which makes sense. You take out a policy and he's murdered shortly thereafter? Yes, I'm sure the police wouldn't have found that suspicious. She could have lied about it, or he could have made it up in his own mind, which might explain why it didn't give him pause*, as his brain supplied the reasons why that wasn't a bad idea.

Also, they would supposedly flee the country for awhile until things calm down. I was under the impression that would also raise police suspicion, so unless they plan to head for a country with no extradition treaties, and thought they could make it out of the country before the cops got wise, it's not a very good plan. Again, could be her setting him up, could be his fevered mind creating its own implausible scenario and convincing him it is plausible.

Even in as he tells it, she only tells him to make her husband 'go away', which could be her protecting herself, or could be him misinterpreting it. We have no clue who the singer is or what he does, so maybe he could have scared the husband off.

One of the things I find telling is he refers to her crying twice, and there's no suggestion they're false. Once he calls to 'give her the signal as she cried', the other he describes the courtroom as 'filling with her tears'. Which gives me the impression that there was no collaboration, though he certainly thought there was, and she is genuinely grieving over her dead husband. We could question why she'd grieve over someone who apparently beat her**, but that isn't as uncommon in this world as we might like

Right to the end, the singer is convinced he was played for a sap, that she knew how infatuated he was with her, and used him to set herself free, but he wouldn't be the first person with a fixation on someone that wasn't returned, who feels betrayed as a result.

The music and the singing both increase in volume as the song progresses, though the singing does so more abruptly. His voice rises pretty sharply about the time she calls the cops on him. The other thing I notice is the music starts as just a guitar, but once the story progresses to the point where he's describing their plan (the insurance policy and fleeing the country), other instruments start coming in. First it's drums, then by the time he buys a gun it sounds like a tambourine. I think another guitar (or maybe a fiddle? I don't know instruments) cuts in as a backup when he actually kills the guy. It has the echoing aspect to it, like he's telling the story from his empty cell. The added complexity of the music makes me think it's all this elaborate fantasy he cooked up, and the downward spiral it puts him into. Or it could be her duplicity, what seems like a simple "kill my husband and we'll run away together" turns into "kill my husband, go to jail, and I'll run off with the money".

* The brain can come up with some impressive solutions to its own problems. In her later years, my grandmother thought my grandfather was still alive (dead for 3 decades by this point), even though he was never home. When wondering aloud where he was, she'd decide he must be working a night shift or staying with some friends who lived near a lake. Some part of her knew the truth, but since she couldn't admit to it, her mind concocted a scenario that sounded plausible so she wouldn't worry about his absence.

** The bruises could be something she faked, or something he imagined, or even saw and misinterpreted. I tend to think there were bruises, the narrator saw them, and made his own decision to act.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Kids Are Better Role Models Than The Adults

I'd forgotten to mention it, but I watched Role Models while I was at Alex' over the 4th. He'd been trying to get me to watch it for awhile, assuring me it was good (whatever that meant). That didn't help much, since I tend to take Alex' opinions on movies with a 5 pound bag of salt*. Plus, I'm not much of a fan of Seann William Scott. Sure, I liked The Rundown, but I chalk that up more to Christopher Walken and the Rock**. Expectations suitably lowered, I did end up enjoying some of it. Let's hear it for lowered expectations!

Studio Audience: Yeah, Lowered Expectations! Woooo! You're the greatest!!

Thanks folks. Lowered Expectations really appreciates that outpouring of emotion.

The story arc's predictable, with the Scott and Paul Rudd not wanting to do the community service, then doing it half-assed, then trying harder but letter their own hang-ups wreck thing, then finally they get it right. I did like when the community service starts, that Scott's character actually makes an effort to connect with his kid, but can't find common ground, and forgets some basic rules. Like, "don't leave the hostile kid alone in your car when the keys are in the ignition." I also laughed when Scott decided, after that incident, to drink the juice he'd bought for Ronnie. Pettiness is funny. The opening sequence, where you see how Rudd and Scott spend every day at work was effective in conveying just why Rudd might finally snap (though I'm not sure Scott doesn't have the worse job).

The part that grated was Sweeny, who founded the program Rudd and Scott were dragged into. Her constant berating was old the first time she started in about how they couldn't slip any b.s. past her. She is very open about the problems she had in her life prior to founding this organization, and maybe I should be more sympathetic to a character who needs this task she's given herself so she doesn't backslide into drug use, but I kept waiting for someone to tell her to shut up. She's trying to act as though she's on top of everything, but she's highly unstable, and someone needed to call her on it. Or I hated her voice. One of the two.

* On the 3rd, he suggested our big 4th of July activity should be to go see Transformers 3. Some friend he is.

** The same way I attribute my love of The Untouchables to everyone in the film but Costner.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Captain America And Killing

Mark Gruenwald wrote a Captain America story where Cap was forced, to save lives, to kill an Ultimatum soldier. Cap stated afterward that he had never killed anyone before, not even during the war.

I've seen that statement roundly criticized or dismissed a fair number of times*. Fans think it's unrealistic, or doesn't fit since Cap was a soldier during the war. I'm pretty sure Brubaker's either shown Cap killing during the war in flashback, or alluded to it. Also, I think it contradicts what was depicted in Captain America comics from World War 2.

I see people's points about it being silly to say Captain America never killed anyone, not even in the middle of a war. No one (that I've seen) is arguing he'd enjoy killing, only that he'd do it if the situation required it. Still, I never really had a problem with the idea that he hadn't killed. When I would have first read those comics, it was because he was a superhero, and they don't kill, and so he wouldn't kill anyone, even in war. When I was a bit older, I probably figured he was too lame to kill anyone. That's for cooler, hardcore characters**.

Nowadays, I'm closer to how I thought in the beginning, but it's not that he wouldn't as much as he doesn't need to. He's Captain America, he has physical gifts and training the average soldier didn't have. Situations where they have to kill or they'll die themselves (or secondarily, the mission fails), he can get through non-lethally because of his advantages. He could knock those Nazis out and take them prisoner. It's war, he's allowed to take prisoners. I can picture that in the Marvel Universe there were a lot more captured Axis soldiers, and fewer dead ones, than in our actual history.

* Brian Cronin had it as one of his 5 most ridiculous moments from that stretch of Gruenwald's Cap run, and the commenters seemed to agree with him.

** That may be overstating it. Even in the '90s I wasn't a huge Punisher or Ghost Rider fan. But I didn't have a high opinion of Cap, who I thought spent too much time making inspirational speeches and ordering people around.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What's The Coat Have For Him? How About A. . . Missing Friend?

I thought when Darkwing confiscated One-Shot's coat at the end of last month's issue, that was going to be the solution to Morgana going missing at the conclusion of the Duckthulu arc.

The bad guy's coat lets him draw any object once from some unknown dimension. Morgana, as far as we know, vanished into some other dimension in the process of banishing Duckthulu from theirs. When Darkwing started rooting through the coat I was sure he'd suddenly pull her out of the coat. OK, One-Shot hadn't thrown any people yet, but he had used a bird of some sort and a piranha, so living organisms can pass through from wherever the stuff comes from.

He could probably only pull one person through, though, since I doubt the coat would consider individuals to be different objects. In which case the odds are much better Darkwing accidentally drags one of his other selves back there, or some alternate dimension version of one of his arch-foes. Still, it's comics, improbable stuff happens all the time. Maybe we'll see Darkwing continue rummaging through the coat in his spare time. Can't see his ill-conceived attempt at becoming mayor leaving much time for it, though.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Time To Leave Venice

Death and Judgment is the last of these Donna Leon Commissario Brunetti mysteries I have around, and it's probably not a bad place to leave off. Throughout the books, Brunetti's dealt with the difficulty of pursuing people of status and influence. He's generally been unable to touch the real power players behind the crimes, forced to be content with their front men/fall guys. He's watched other honest officers who try to help get similarly stymied, if not transferred to a location likely to get them killed.

This is the first book I've seen him truly lose his cool. Not in a Steven Segal Out for Blood way. For Brunetti, it means going to the home of a murdered man, because he's convinced that man and his wife are mixed up in selling women for the sex trade, and basically yelling at the widow until she breaks down and confesses that yes, her husband was involved in that. She denies any actual involvement, of course.

The joke is, losing his temper may produce information, but it ultimately makes no difference. The people in the shadows cover their tracks well, and Brunetti's left back where he started, dealing with surface symptoms. In that way, I think it's less satisfying than The Slavers arc Ennis did in The Punisher. Frank Castle couldn't get to the people really driving the trade anymore than Brunetti could, but Frank did manage to dispatch anyone involved he could get in range of. That sort of behavior would have been wildly out of character for Brunetti, so I'm not advocating Leon have him hunt down and brutally murder people, but the ending does make him seem a bit too ineffective. He'd been warned of the people his suspect could implicate, but he still seemed content to let his guard down and go home to get some sleep.

His daughter, Chiara, plays a larger role in this story than she has in the previous ones, as she knows someone connected to the crime. I do find it interesting that Chiara tends to actually get some use in the stories, even if it's just as a tether for Brunetti to a world not tainted by corruption and violence. But Guido and Paola's son, Raffi, is practically a non-entity. He's mentioned by one parent or the other, lives there with them, even appears occasionally, but I've yet to see any significant interaction between him and his father. It made a certain amount of sense in the first book, when Raffi was in that stage where he sees corruption everywhere, and distrusts adults because he thinks they can't or won't see it. He'd supposedly snapped out of that once he noticed a pretty neighbor girl, but that only makes him less visible, even as a topic of conversation.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I Started To Lose Myself Somewhere In Here

In stories, characters (often hard-boiled types) will say 'I guess we have to do this the hard way.' Or something to that effect. This often seems to be used in reference to an attempt to make another character divulge information by simply asking, or making threats that haven't yet been acted upon.

Here's your question: What is the easy way to determine you need to do things the hard way?

The simplest would be to skip straight to the hard way immediately, but if it wasn't necessary, then you really didn't need to do things the hard way? Which suggests trying the easy way first is necessary. But then you've gone to all the trouble of trying the easy way. Does asking someone if they feel cooperative count as the "easy way", even if the purpose is to find out if the easy way will work, as opposed to an attempt to get the information you want? It feels like it does.

This feels like an experience thing, where you need to have dealt with people in similar situations before, or tried this particular project before. Then you already know from past attempts whether people will talk if you ask nicely. Or if you can pull a tractor onto a trailer by detaching the trailer from the truck and chaining the tractor to the tow hitch, then driving away from the trailer*.

In that scenario, you might easily be able to look at the individual situation and recognize similar aspects that tell you the easy way won't work. So that individual situation you're able to easily switch to the hard way, but you still had to have those past experiences where you tried the easy way first. It's like an asymptotic graph where the time needed to decide to go the hard way declines as your opportunities increases, towards some time threshold you can't beat (your recognition/reaction time?). On the micro scale, you've done it the easy way, but macrowise, not as much.

I can't think of a better solution, though, besides the idea of immediately discounting the easy way ever working, so that you always start with the hard way regardless of circumstances. But that's not a great solution, either.

It's probably good I waited until after work to try and sort this out. I'm sure my coworkers would find it strange if I fell to the ground abruptly screaming "I can't make sense to myself!" Or maybe they'd wonder what took so long.

* My single experience says that doesn't work. Which is what my dad said would happen, but then, why did he try it anyway? To teach me something? I think he was out of ideas once the handles of both his chain hoists bent.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

It Starts At An Abbatoir, And The Violence, Like The Smell, Hangs Around

For the first time in 3 books, Commissario Brunetti was able to arrest the person guilty of the primary crime. So Dressed for Death is truly a momentous occasion. If we want to be accurate, he managed to arrest two of the three responsible, but not before they killed three other people, including that third guilty party. And one of the two has sufficient influence and prestige that he'll likely wiggle his way out of anything more than being an accomplice, but it's still an improvement.

I did find it funny when one of the crooks killed the other, as it made me think that might happen to the third crook, and the one doing the killing was the person least protected by money and status. Three books in, I was starting to think Brunetti was in some Jim Corrgian/Spectre situation. Brunetti's always able to piece together who is responsible for whatever death he's investigating. Frequently, he's unable to get them prosecuted. However, there's always a catch, and the guilty will wind up suffering (or dying) through someone else's actions. As though Brunetti were Corrigan, and the city of Venice was the Spectre, possessing random citizens to carry out vengeance.

Didn't turn out that way, though. It would clash with the tone of the book*anyway. So once again, the plot was not the major interest for me, but Leon continues to flesh out the characters that inhabit Brunetti's world. This time, the case prevents him from accompanying his family on a trip to the mountains, but Leon uses their absence, where Brunetti can only occasionally talk with them on the phone, to emphasize certain aspects of their characters and how much they mean to him. She also fleshes out Brunetti's sergeant, Vinaello, and Brunetti's boss, the Vice-Questore Patta. He's been a sort of comic figure until now, the boss the does no work, hogs all the credit, and is always ready to warn Brunetti not to ruffle the wrong feathers. We do get to see a different side of him this time, which was a nice touch.

Leon portrays Italians as very cynical about their government. They fully expect corruption, and while they still grow outraged over it, they don't seem to hold any belief things will change. Which is the sort of attitude I think Americans have (and probably people all over the world), but it's presented as though the Italians believe they have some special monopoly on such attitudes**.

* It would be an interesting touch, especially if Brunetti gradually realizes this seems to happen a lot and starts trying to uncover the truth.

** In Death in a Strange Country, Brunetti noted while on a military base that Americans certainly smiled a lot, which struck him as odd. Do we smile a lot? I don't - I've been told I can be pretty morose - but I didn't have the impression Americans walk around with big grins on their face all the time. Maybe I'm in the wrong part of the country. That was one thing I appreciated about that book I should have mentioned. It provided a different perspective on the U.S.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Why Was I Thinking About Old Cartoons Today?

For no reason I can figure, I remembered this morning that Roseanne and Louie Anderson both had Saturday morning cartoon shows about them as kids when I was younger. I thought they came out at the same time, which would have been odd, but they were about 5 years apart. Less odd, but it still seems strange. I know John Candy had a cartoon show, too, but that was him as an adult, a camp counselor, which is a little different (it also predated the other two).

I'm pretty sure I watched Camp Candy at least occasionally, but not the other two. Mulling over cartoons I used to watch (back in those days when I was also a Power Ranger fan), brought the Super Dave cartoon to mind. What I remember of it (which isn't much) suggests it was like Wil E. Coyote became a superhero/secret agent/general troubleshooter, with all the explosions and injuries to the main character that would suggest*. I don't know what other choice there was. The main character is already a stuntman/daredevil in real life, a cartoon would have to exaggerate that, which leads to trying to lure a giant something to a particular spot with an ice cream truck**.

* I just pulled the show up on IMDB and cripes, it's from the 1988?! I was thinking early '90s at the oldest. Like I'd watch it after yet another irritating X-Men episode about Bishop futilely trying to change the past.

** What was going to happen to the giant if it reached that spot is lost to my memory. I do remember that plan didn't work.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Apparently I Still Have It In For Iron Man

I don't know why precisely the Annihilators are headed to Earth this fall. I don't know why they'll fight the Avengers. Obviously there will be some difference of opinion between the groups, but will the Annihilators show up looking for a fight, or will they come on other business and the Avengers get their backs up about these dadgum aliens (and Quasar) throwing their weight around.

The important question is who will kick Iron Man's butt? Somebody's going to do it, but who gets the honor? It's almost too easy for Gladiator. It is too easy for the Silver Surfer. He blinks, Stark's armor explodes around him. Not that I don't find that an amusing idea, but it's a little too quick. Quasar's would pull too many punches, and I imagine Beta Ray Bill will be busy with Thor.

Ronan would be my choice. Iron Man did try to assassinate the Supreme Intelligence once*, which will not win him any points with Ronan. I always enjoy people with hammers swatting Iron Man around like a golf ball (see the third issue of JMS' Thor). Or driving him into the ground like a tent peg, that's also good.

Cosmo would be fine too. I know he didn't accompany the team on their trip to Galador, but maybe a trip back to Earth will be more enticing.

* He may have only argued in favor of it, but expected someone else (the Black Knight?) to do it. Because why get your armored mitts dirty if you can pin the actual regicide/deicide on someone else?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Is The Concern Of One Villain For Another An Act?

For a time, I thought Bryan Q. Miller was making a midnight toker reference in Batgirl 22. Then I realized the lyrics are 'a smoker, a joker', not 'a poker, and a joker'. Teach me to pay closer attention to songs played repeatedly on certain radio stations.

I thought it was interesting that Squire attributed The Orphan's crime as a reaction to what happened between Poker and Joker*, because he honestly seemed like just another overly ambitious crook to me. Squire did comment earlier that causing worldwide chronal chaos is a little more crazy than most British costumed crooks, and so maybe it really is a response.

The idea of villains actually taking things that happen to other villains personally always strikes me as odd. Villains are selfish. They use their powers for their gain, generally without regard for others' safety and well-being, and either don't justify it, or do so by claiming they're owed it somehow. I know there are some villains that work together frequently, but even they seem to often be at each others' throats. The Sinister Six have stabbed each other in the back multiple times (Doc Ock turned Sandman to glass at least twice). Cobra ditched longtime partner Mr. Hyde. Even the Flash's Rogues periodically fight and/or kill each other, and they seem like the closest thing to villains that actually like each other.

It's not that I can't buy villains claiming to be angered by something done to them. In the lead up to Infinite Crisis, we had yet another Society of Super-Villains formed out of alleged outrage over mind-wipings perpetrated on some of them by Zatanna. But it was a load of bull, and not just because they were secretly put together by Annoying Twerp Alex Luthor for different reasons. The idea that, for example, Talia cared whether Zatanna mucked with Dr. Light's brain is a joke. Some of the villains might have been concerned it could happen to them, but most of them joined out of fear of reprisals if they refused, or because it provided another excuse for them to commit acts of villainy. The heroes hurt them, so they hurt the heroes back, and this time it'll actually happen, because they have strength in numbers, blah, blah. It's just another convenient excuse the villains give themselves.

It isn't that I don't think super-villains are incorrectly portrayed if they're shown to care about someone besides themselves. I do think the people they care about exist outside that world. Maybe because other villains are competition, or rivals, which makes them obstacles of a sort. You want to rob an armored truck, but they hit it first. So it's hard to care when they're removed. Or the villains know what they're like inside, and figure other villains must be the same. As they're privy to their own dishonorable thoughts and schemes, they can't trust the others. Caring about another villain could get them betrayed, jailed, killed, their powers or weapons stolen. A villain can imagine someone outside the criminal world is different, so it's safer to care about them.

* My guess is that what happened answers my question of whether the Joker will be setting up Joker Incorporated to counteract Batman Inc. I'm pretty sure the answer is "No."

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

They Only Think They Escape

It may be too late to put this theory out there, but do you think there's a chance the Secret Six were still in Hell in June's issue?

They'd been told that if Scandal left with Knockout, it would doom Liana to Hell, and judging by Scandal's dialogue, she did bring Knockout with her. If she made that choice, then it's possible they could have run into Liana and her tormentor in Hell. Maybe the gas line in the guy's crap shack exploded and killed them.

Catman seems oddly happy, Scandal and Ragdoll seem to have buried the hatchet someplace besides each other's backs, and Spencer was really strangely accepting of Bane's retelling of history, and his casual killing of that carny*. Everything was going strangely well, which makes me think of that Twilight Zone episode. Where the loser dies and thinks he's gone to Heaven because he has it all, then realizes he's bored and this is actually his Hell? Maybe the Six were allowed to think they escaped Hell, the better to twist the knife of their torment.

Jeanette seemed to be suggesting Scandal didn't need to choose between Knockout or Liana, which strikes me as a good way to end up with neither of them, which would be a painful result. Ragdoll commented on how Black Alice left no trace that she was ever in their house. She didn't accompany them to Hell, so perhaps that's why there's no trace.

The biggest problem is there isn't really a reason for Hell to work so hard to keep them now. The Six will all die eventually, and there's no particular sign they will change their ways sufficiently to avoid their toasty fate**. First thing they did when they got back (if they got back) was torture and kill a guy. A scumbag lunatic the world is better off without, but I have the impression DC's afterlife doesn't take things like that into consideration. So they'll wind up there eventually, so why not let them go.

Also, there wasn't any guarantee that when Scandal took Knockout from Hell it would immediately consign Liana to Hell. That could be years down the road, when Liana's inherent goodness has been destroyed by prolonged contact with Scandal and the world she inhabits. Hell can afford to play the long game. Which doesn't mean they wouldn't play a trick on the Six, just to amuse themselves, but there's no need to.

* I think he killed him. He jammed the knife in the guy's face, which considering Bane's strength means it probably went most of the way through the skull. Probably lethal.

** If it's even possible to do so. Deadshot would have to save a lot of kittens from trees to compensate for all the people he killed.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

It's Bound To Get A Size-Changing Scientist Down

Sorry about the absence. The lack of a post on Saturday wasn't in my plans. The lack of posts Sunday and Monday were, but the Saturday post would have told you I was heading away to celebrate the Fourth with friends. Then the Internet was unavailable on Saturday and the plan went up in smoke.

Anyway, Hank Pym set up to fight the Absorbing Man this month in Avengers Academy, a rematch of their fight from last December. Of course, the Absorbing Man has one of those Fear-Hammers now. And Pym only beat him last time by enlarging him to the scale where Abstract Entities exist, overwhelming Creel's mind. This is not likely to go as well for Hank.

I am curious how it'll play out between them. Not the fight so much as the fact that Hank actually tried to do something nice for Crusher Creel by designing a cell that wouldn't require the villain to be in a constantly drugged state. Which Hank certainly didn't have to do, but I imagine he thought it was a nice gesture. No reason to deprive someone of their higher-brain functions. Yet here the Absorbing Man is, rampaging and smashing Pym's face with a magic hammer. There's gratitude for ya.

It may not be Creel's fault, since Maria Hill suggested the hammer is a means for something else to control him. Which makes sense. Why else would Ben Grimm be using his fear-hammer to further the villain's agenda, rather than using its powers to help stop this mess? It'd be interesting if the Absorbing Man actually tries to rein himself in, regain control, because he does remember how Pym actually listened and tried to help before?

OK, that's unlikely. So assuming Hank survives the fight (I imagine he will), does it provoke a reaction in him? He tried to help this crook out, and when next they met, said crook cheerfully used his enhanced powers to make Hank's face resemble roadkill. Will this lead to more self-doubts for Pym, or might he start trying even harder to guide the cadets away from villainy, figuring that once they go that route, there'll be no bringing them back? It's a silly notion, considering all the criminals that have reformed and joined the Avengers, but Hank can tend to get obsessed, and his judgment isn't always the best, so there's a possibility he would overreact to the fight with Creel.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Was It Italy Or The Military Base That Was Strange?

I went ahead and read another of Donna Leon's stories starring Guido Brunetti. I figured I had three more sitting there, and it wasn't as though I had much else to do, so why not? Plus, that leisurely pace of Death at La Fenice had been a different experience.

Well, Death in a Strange Country is a little more what I'm accustomed to when it comes to murder mysteries. Powerful people are committing crimes, then killing people to keep their original crimes a secret. Which means Brunetti is faced with people who have considerable influence and are quite willing to use it. Even so, there's only one scene I would describe as tense, where I thought Brunetti might be in danger.

The book ends in a somewhat similar way to the earlier story. Brunetti knows the truth behind the death, but no one is going to jail for it. Even so, there is a resolution, and some comeuppance, so that's good.

In the first book, Brunetti's son is described as being at that stage of adolesence where he's discovered how corrupt the world is, but doesn't believe anyone else realizes it but him. So he's self-righteous and irritating. In Death in a Strange Country, I wondered if Brunetti wasn't still like that a little. He uses his father-in-law - who has considerable influence and connections of his own - to look into certain aspects of the case. The Count does try to help Guido, but when all is said and done, Brunetti isn't satisfied, and wants to know why the older man doesn't do more with his power. Which doesn't seem to recognize that the Count's power isn't limitless, and he really didn't have to help Brunetti in the first place. He may not have done all he could, but even if he had, it may not have been enough, and would have exposed his family to danger.

It's interesting to me because Brunetti has the maturity to recognize governmental corruption as a regular part of everyday life, but in this particular scenario he can't tolerate it. He knows his immediate superior is only there because of connections, does no actual work, and will buckle the instant anyone with any influence even suggests they should drop a case. He accepts this and works around it. But he can't seem to recognize that with the people and governments involved, there are limits to what any single person could do. Legally, I mean.

So much like the first book, the plot wasn't terribly interesting, but the character bits, whether it was Guido's relationship with his wife, or a Carbarinieri officer, or the mother of a man he nce arrested, were the real appeal of the book.