Thursday, May 31, 2012

Happy Clint Eastwood's Birthday!

How are you going to celebrate? I'm going to try and watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly again, Then maybe Unforgiven, and High Plains Drifter if I can. So a typical weekend.

I did have thought this morning while scrambling through the woods trying to beat the rain, that's there's a certain similarity between Callie Travers (played by Marianna Hill) in High Plains Drifter, and W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) in Unforgiven. They both tend to latch onto the coattails of whoever is on top at the moment. Callie was apparently with Stacey Bridges when he was originally in the town of Lago. After he and the Carlins were framed for robbery and sent to prison, she took up with Morg Allen, who was sort of top dog in town now that the gunfighters were gone. When Bridges returned (and Morg had fled, leaving her behind), she tried to work her way back into Stacey's good graces, unsuccessfully.  This was apparently an obvious (or well-known) enough character trait of hers that the Stranger figured she'd overlook his raping her since he was clearly running things at that point*.

With Beauchamp, he makes his living writing up the stories of these aging gunfighters, and he starts off with English Bob. Then he learns the "Duke of Death" really is more of a Duck, and latches on to Little Bill instead. And ultimately, Little Bill's corpse isn't even cold (heck, he isn't even a corpse yet!) before Beauchamp is trying to get details of the gunfight out of William Munny.

I was trying to think if that kind of a character - not simply someone who feeds off another's success, but may use it for their own purposes - is common in Westerns, but I'm drawing a blank. There are the comic sidekicks, the Gabby Hayes and Rio Bravo's Stumpy, but for all their humor factor, they're still presented as good people out to help the hero. There are plenty of opportunistic businessmen and politicians in Westerns, but they're usually presented as being evil, out to manipulate the hero. Beauchamp and Callie are, the word that comes to mind is "pathetic", but that feels wrong. They're more survival driven than anything else, it's just the path they've chosen to that end is one that requires taking a subservient position to another, while constantly being ready to jump ship at a sign of weakness. It's one that demands an appearance of loyalty, or at least fealty, while really being entirely self-serving.

* I think he knew she was still pissed about that, and just didn't care. It was all part of his ongoing plan to let the citizens of Lago's own worst impulses destroy themselves.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Dinosaur Heresies - Robert T. Bakker

The Dinosaur Heresies is another of those books I loaned to Alex he never got around to. Must remind myself to not loan him so many next time.

The book was originally published in 1986, though this is a later reprint since it has "By the Consultant to the Film Jurassic Park" stamped on the cover. Bakker's goal is to address many of the notions concerning dinosaurs that he considers incorrect, and discuss the evidence that works against them, and supports his ideas. This generally involves the debate of whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded like birds and mammals, or cold-blooded like reptiles and amphibians*. This ranges from examinations of bone structure and fossilized footprints, to comparisons to current creatures as examples of similar evolutionary paths. It also includes debates about whether the sauropods, like Brontosaurus (I thought it had been changed to Apatosaurus. Maybe I've got it backwards), really did spend all their time in water to support their bulk (Bakker argues no), how dinosaurs managed to eat enough to keep themselves going if they were warm-blooded, their relationship with birds and flowering plants, and touches on what may have lead to their extinction. He's not a big fan of "the meteor did it!", except as a finishing touch.

The book's written well, at not too high a level of comprehension. I think someone who only had biology in high school could follow the arguments he makes pretty easily, because Bakker tries to lay things out clearly, and critically, he draws lots of comparisons to living creatures, rather than relying solely on fossil evidence. I think being able to compare animals you only see in books, or as deceased remains, to something that's actually alive and moving about helps make the point sometimes. Also, the book is full of illustrations Bakker did himself, in two varieties. Some are extremely detailed, usually meant to either show some anatomical/physiological feature, or to show the dinosaurs in motion, to give some idea of how he perceives them: energetic, lively, bounding, running, and fighting, rather than shuffling along slowly. The others are vastly more simplified, and usually part of some larger diagram where he's trying to illustrate some concept like the different food requirements for warm vs. cold-bloods, or the phylogenetic trees. They aren't always placed the most precisely - they may be related to something a page or two farther ahead or behind - but they are informative.

Rereading the book now, it's hard to think this was ever a debate. To the extent I keep up with discussions of dinosaurs these days, the idea they were energetic and warm-blooded seems widely accepted. So the idea that maybe 30 or 40 years ago it would have flown in the face of what was commonly agreed upon seems strange. This even though I can remember more than one book on dinosaurs I had in the '80s that stuck to many of the ideas Bakker's trying to refute. It's interesting though, because Bakker points out that the assertions he and many others began making in the 1960s and 1970s were widely accepted in the late 19th Century. Many people then did believe dinosaurs were warm-blooded and energetic. In the 1920s, this idea was dispatched, at least partially because a scientist argued birds could not be descended from dinosaurs, and this apparently relegated dinos to a sort of sideshow. An interesting diversion, but ultimately unimportant, which caused people to regard them as slow, dimwitted lizards instead. Strange how that works.

* The better terms are probably endothermic versus exothermic. Body heat generated internally like us, or externally like a lizard. It could also be homeothermic (us) vs. heterothermic (lizards), but there are large reptiles capable of homeothermy simply because their size limits their heat loss, rendering them somewhat more resistant to temperature fluctuations than smaller animals.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Photos From The Woods

In light of the fact I can't think of anything substantive to write about, here's a couple of photos.

First up, we have an eastern hog nose snake. It's not venomous, but it does like to flare out that hood to make itself appear larger. To dissuade predators, you see. On other occasions they may opt to play dead, but this one was a little too feisty for that.

This, on the other hand, is a timber rattlesnake. They are venomous, and I walked past this one with no more than two feet separating us. It didn't seem to mind, didn't coil up or rattle, though there's a theory rattlers are gradually becoming less prone to rattling. The rattle, like the hog nose's hood, is supposed to be a way to avoid confrontation. If they can warn off an attacker, they don't have to waste venom defending themselves, energy fleeing, or risk being eaten or injured. However, some peoples' automatic response to seeing snakes is to kill them, and rattling is a good way to give away your position. I don't know if there's been any serious research on it, but the idea is humans are creating a selective advantage for rattlesnakes with smaller, weaker rattles, or who are simply not temperamentally inclined to rattle. We're encouraging them not to give us advance warning we're pissing them off.

Anyway, this one stayed stretched out the whole time it was around, so I guess I hadn't worried it too much. Once I got over being startled, it wasn't an issue. I left it alone, but kept an eye on its position. It left me alone, and kept an eye on my position. Eventually it went off to the north, and I went east. Everyone got to go on with their day.

Monday, May 28, 2012

We Don't Have To Read Adult Books All The Time

I come across a link to a discussion on the New York Times' web page about the rise in popularity of young adult fiction, even with people who aren't young adults. Specifically, the link lead to Joel Stein's piece, "Adults Should Read Adult Books".

I suppose someone had to play the contrarian. Everyone else is talking about why they think young adult fiction has become so popular, or what its strengths are. Stein really didn't address the topic, preferring instead to sneer at people who enjoy fiction he considers beneath him. I love the line about how he'll read The Hunger Games when he finishes the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults. A truly impressive air of smugness conveyed solely through written word. One can picture him in a study straight out of Masterpiece Theater, slippers, smoking jacket, and pipe, reading Gilgamesh in Sumerian, pausing occasionally to look out his window at scoff at those dim people with the sparkly vampires, CSIs, and Playstations.

I'm honestly perplexed at what he was driving at. He wants people to read, OK fine. I quite enjoy reading, as you may have guessed from the "books" label. But he's going about supporting literacy in completely the wrong way. For starters, I don't think mocking people for their choice of reading material is a good idea. A better idea might be to talk with them about what they, learn what they enjoy about it. Then maybe you can suggest something else you think is more appropriate. Maybe they take you up on it, maybe not, but at least they are likely to be receptive. Humiliating them - he says seeing a guy reading young adult fiction is more embarrassing than seeing them looking at porn - is only going to make them feel the need to hide their interests. It's going to prompt defensiveness, and they probably won't listen to you (and if you are an arrogant jackass like Joel Stein, they shouldn't).

To a second point, Stein argues books are 'one of our few chances to learn'. I think that's a gross oversimplification. I've learned quite a bit from reading books, this is true, but I've also learned from watching movies or TV, talking to others, working, talking walks, on and on. Beyond that, my guess is most people read to be entertained. If they are also educated, fine, but that isn't the primary goal. Once he begins talking about learning, it sounds like being back in school doing book reports.

I generally hated being forced to read books in school. The only two I remember being assigned in high school I actually enjoyed were The Old Man and the Sea, and Crime and Punishment. Things like Jane Eyre and As I Lay Dying never had a chance, because it wasn't my decision to read them (this was also true of The Three Musketeers when I read that in 6th grade). This was true of my friends as well, and we all normally liked reading. We just didn't like being told what to read.

People have a better chance of engaging with a work if they come to it by choice. If they read a book simply to match some societal definition of "adult tastes", regardless of whether it interests them or not, they'll treat it as a chore, and not get much out of it. They might end up enjoying it quite a lot; like I said, there were books I was assigned I wound up loving, but it stacks the deck. Reading is something people do in their free time; why spend that on a book they aren't even interested in? There's not enough time, and there's too much else to read, to waste time with that nonsense.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Burn Notice 2.6 - Bad Blood

Plot: Carla, displeased with Michael's recent chicanery, has brought in Victor (Michael Shanks). Victor's a wrangler, in that he basically makes Michael's life miserable until he falls into line. He also doesn't seem as interested in keeping Michael alive as Carla is. And he's just, off, enough that Michael wants someone to keep an eye on his mother. So guess where Sam will be staying this week. As for Victor he'll being using Michael to steal a certain object from a warehouse. Like Timo from last week, Victor is not big on sharing information, so Michael will have to be sneaky if he wants to know what they're getting. He'll also have to think fast if he wants to keep the body count down while they're getting it.

On top of that, he has to help the little brother of his old childhood friend. Ricky works as an accountant for music mogul Valentine (Method Man), only $2 million of Valentine's money has gone missing. It looks as though only Ricky could have taken it, but he swears he didn't, and suspects Eddie of it. Which means Michael must once again trick someone into bringing out the money they've hidden so he can steal it. Failing that, he has to prove Ricky didn't take it, and he has to do that before Eddie decides to tie up loose ends, or Valentine gets tired of waiting for the issue to resolve itself.

The Players: Victor (the Wrangler), Ricky (The Client), Valentine (the Mogul), Eddie (the Embezzler), Barry (the Money Launderer).

Quote of the Episode: Valentine - 'Eddie, what do I do to thieves?' Eddie - 'What you have to, Valentine.' Valentine - 'Rick, what you think?' Ricky - 'I think, you're in a conference room full of witnesses, V.'

Does Fiona get to blow anything up? No, sorry. She gets to pull a gun on Valentine, though. And throw a rock through a window.

Sam Axe's Drink Count: 1 (12 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (6 overall). Remarkably, Sam avoided getting hit, despite playing an annoying "doesn't think rap counts as music" old white guy to Valentine's face. He even got to beat people up instead! It was painful watching him act that way, though. It's a legitimate form of musical expression, Sam.

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (4 overall). Victor kind of put a downer on him. Odd, for someone prone to bouncing around giddily to be such a mood kill.

Other: Michael's fake name this week was "Jimmy Glynn", from Boston.

Chalk this episode up as another one where someone else takes care of the bad guy for Michael. That's four this season.

That whole scene in the conference room was shot really well. Keeping the camera low when it's looking a Valentine, so we're always looking up, the lack of music and general dead silence in the room except for Valentine's voice, and Method Man did a really good job. Every move had a deliberation to it, so that you're just waiting for the explosion.

I think this is the point where Madeline starts to more frequently call Michael and the others on their tendency to keep her in the dark. Not that it stops Michael from doing that; it'll be some time before he gets out of that habit, but I feel like she's been mostly oblivious to a lot of what's going on around her. Now, even if she doesn't know exactly what's happening, she knows there's enough going on Michael sent Sam to act as watchdog.

Fin and Michael aren't doing much solo interacting lately, which makes a certain amount of sense after their break-up. However, there is a scene when Fi hands him some incendiary rounds which I noted as being "strange" when I watched the episode. I think Fi expressed concern for Michael, and they were standing close together, and Michael perhaps felt awkward. I'm not sure.

While we're discussing the incendiary rounds, I assume they aren't pellets. If they were, I'd question how much shot and set off the tanks of water sealant without hitting the guards (who he was trying to stop before Victor could kill them). The guards were between him and the tanks by the time he fired the shot that made everything go BOOM!, so if it was pellets, they'd have been hit. Which might not kill them, but would sure as hell leave a mark.

I'm pretty sure there has never been a fictional character that called people "sport", who wasn't an asshole. If there is, it isn't Victor, because he uses it on Michael, and he's kind of an ass. Plus, he says things like 'someone's got a case of the "need to knows".', which is just stupid. Then again, Victor didn't find it at all suspicious that Michael just gave up trying to find out what they were stealing, so maybe he is stupid. Or simply too sure of his abilities to break people.

Anyway, through the magic of an x-ray machine built in the trunk of a car, Michael knows they stole a sniper rifle. Now it's a matter of figuring out who it's for, what they're using it for, why they're using it, where and when they'll be using it. We'll see if Michael can start unraveling those pieces next week.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Four Questions About The New DC

First question: When do you think DC will announce the next round of cancellations? You can choose a month, or what issue number you think will be the last for the titles on the chopping block.

My guess is December will be the last issue for several books. That should get all of the remaining original 52 titles to 16 issues, and the second wave will be at 8 issues that month, which is how far they let books get when the axe fell the first time. It's a little strange, given that trades are usually 6 issues a pop rather than 8, but it could work. Use the end of the year to wrap up certain titles, start fresh with some new ones in 2013.

Second question: How many books will get cut in the second attempt? Will they stick with six, cut more, cut fewer?

I assume they'll want to keep the total number at 52 titles, so I guess it's a matter of how many new series they have ready to fill the gaps. I'll predict they stick with six. I'm sure there are people pitching at least that many ideas to them that can get approval.

Third question: Of the books that get canceled, do you think any of the Second Wave would be included? I'm not asking you to pick one of the six to be a sacrificial lamb, more a question of how much patience you think DC will have with them?

They announced their first round of cuts when the books were in the process of releasing their fifth issues. That's probably about how far along Dial H, Earth-2, and the rest would be if I'm right about December being the point when the next cuts take effect (they'd have to announce it for solicit purposes a couple of months ahead of time). Would they give those titles more time, focus on culling more weak sellers from the original 52, or will the Second Wave be fair game as well? I'm going to guess there are enough options amongst titles from the original relaunch that the more recent group will be safe for awhile longer.

Fourth question: How long before I should stop referring to it as "DCnu", "new DC", or the relaunched DC, or whatever? At some point, should it just be the DC Universe? Given the differences, I'm inclined to maintain the distinction, the way people refer to pre-Crisis and post-Crisis DC. Current Amanda Waller is not the same as she was prior to the relaunch, you know?

Beyond that, I guess I still doubt the thing will last. I expect that at some point, Barry Allen's screwups will be "fixed", and the universe will be set right. Which would really be another relaunch, since it's unlikely they honchos at DC would simply revert everything back to how it was pre-Flashpoint, or pre-Final Crisis, or pre-whatever reset button event you prefer. The result would be another mishmash of older versions of characters (Ray Palmer as the Atom?), plus whatever came out of the relaunch they liked (maybe the current version of OMAC, or the new Ray), plus some other new stuff (another ugly new costume for Superman!) So I don't attach much permanence to the current set-up. But at some point, if it lasts long enough, I may have to revise that opinion. So maybe the fourth question is really, how long do you think this will last?

Chime in with your predictions in the comments, if you'd like.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Let's Talk Favorite NES Games

I'd been meaning to do formal lists of my favorite games for each console I've owned for awhile. Why? Lists are fun, I suppose. In light of the fact I'm tired and not particularly inspired, now seems as good a time as any to start. I might as well work chronologically, so it's the old NES first. The title of each game will be a link to a post I wrote about it, assuming there is one.

5. Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle
4. Mega Man 4
3. Super Dodgeball
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game
1. Kirby's Adventure

OK, one thing I might as well admit up front is, if I couldn't beat a game, it isn't likely to make the Top 5. Not saying there won't be games like that on here. I've never beaten Mega Man 4, and 2 months ago, I hadn't beaten Ninja Turtles 2. Still, I am competitive enough that repeated failures are bound to frustrate me, and may eventually sour me on a game*.

That's a sort of survival/puzzle game, a platformer, a sports game, a beat em' up, and another platformer. We're still years away from my discovering the fun of first-person shooters (during junior high and high school, which is probably significant), or RPGs (which came even later). The only NES game I can think of I had that wouldn't fit in the 4 categories above is Duck Hunt, and I did not like that dog. Always pointing and laughing. One day, dog, I'm just gonna leave you at the wetland. If you're lucky. . .

Ahem. Without really thinking about it, I'd always kind of assumed I liked Mega Man 4 for the ability to use your enemies' powers against them. But I remembered I hardly ever did that. Mega Man's versions of the boss attacks were so much weaker than the originals it hardly seemed worth it. I think I only used them out of desperation. I did love the music though (especially Skull Man's level), and I'm sure the idea of my dog being able to transform into a jet a help me out held a certain appeal (I played some Mega Man 2 earlier this spring, and was surprised/disappointed when Rush wasn't there to help. Guess he hadn't been introduced yet).

One thing I didn't mention when I celebrated beating Turtles 2, that I had brought up in the post linked above, is that jump-kicking wasn't as flawless a strategy as I remembered it being. The Foot ninja were much better at timing their punches to coincide with my kicks and send me flying that I expected. Which didn't cause me to abandon that strategy: I still figure I have less chance of getting hit if I'm constantly in the process of jumping or kicking than if I'm standing still swinging a weapon. Memory's a tricky thing.

None of these games seem too hard in retrospect. I'm basing that on my ability to beat them. Well, not Mega Man 4, but all the others. Given my miserable track record with every other NES game I had, I assume these were relatively easy. Maybe they just required certain skills I actually had or, more likely, I'm forgetting how much time I put into beating some of them. I think unless there's something noteworthy about the setbacks, we tend to forget them in the aftermath of success (though we may still remember how narrow the margin of victory was).

* Case in point: I'm trying to beat Metroid Prime again right now, and after the 7th consecutive death at the hands of the Omega Pirate, I was getting a little fed up. I did beat it last night, so souring averted.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dangerous Currency

Having failed to find Ducktales #5 & 6 in my various back issue hunts, I broke down and bought the Dangerous Currency trade, even though I already had the issues of Darkwing Duck (17 & 18) that make up the other half. Only having half the story when it came out last fall left me feeling lost. Certain things were happening for no explanation I could find, and I figured with both halves, it would make more sense.

(For the record, that's not the cover they used for the trade. I just happen to like that one, which Darkwing artist James Silvani did for issue 17, more than the X-Men #101 homage he did for issue 18, which is what they used.)

Did it work as I hoped? Well, sort of. I still have lots of questions, but they don't appear to be ones that will be answered by having the entire crossover. For example, Magica's plan. She's after Scrooge's first dime, as always, because it has some property that will amplify her powers. To that end, she gathered up a trio of villainesses from the two series history, and formed her League of Eve-il (Except in four issues, I'm not sure we saw them do anything that demonstrated why she needed their assistance). She figures out Scrooge is using Quackwerks in St. Canard as a dummy corporation to hide certain assets. Given that Magica set up operations there - which is how she found the slime that's been creating the new villains bedeviling Darkwing for the previous several issues - one would assume the dime is among them. Especially when Scrooge mentions he wouldn't have needed to hide anything if he hadn't lost his top accountant, Fenton Crackshell (aka Gizmoduck) mysteriously. Turns out Magica abducted him because he could verify whether the dime was real or not.

OK, great, this all makes sense* from an evil plan perspective. By a little over halfway through, the villains have succeeded in taking over St. Canard. The entire cities been transformed, the Beagle Boys and the Fearsome Four are more powerful than ever, and Scrooge's nephews and Gosalyn's friend Honker have transformed into various Disney monsters (like the demon from Fantasia, or the whale from Pinocchio). The remaining good guys run back to Duckburg. But then Magica has them attack Duckburg, because she still doesn't have the dime. So where the hell was it? If it was in St. Canard, why didn't she get it already? If it was in Duckburg, why was she messing around in St. Canard in the first place? She had Fenton as a prisoner for a year, to authenticate the dime once she had it, except she never got around to getting it. Was experimenting on the slime's properties that critical?

There are a few other things, like how Fenton's mother's nagging counteracts the effect of the slime. I assume it's some play on Ghostbusters II, but I'm not sure how berating the slime makes something that turns people evil not do that. I'd think such treatment would produce resentment and anger that would amplify the effects. I'm not sure how Negaduck, having been hit with the Tronsplitter so many times his body was reduced to a mass of minute particles (which formed the slime), had a physical body at all when he reemerged on the regular plane of existence. And I didn't realize Launchpad was so apprehensive about his two sets of friends not liking each other. Not that I don't understand the concern; I was worried the first time Alex and Papafred met that it might not go well. It's just I hadn't seen any sign of it prior to this story.

I do wonder how much was ultimately a matter of not having much time. Boom! was about to lose the license to publish the titles, and so maybe they had to throw things into gear sooner than they expected. I can kind of see that in the two-page exposition dumps we get through the story. Fenton relating what happened to him. The slime that's still on the Gizmoduck suit (but has been affected by his mother's yelling) showing us Magica's plan. Negaduck telling us what he's doing here. It feels like they had more story than issues to tell it in, so they had to cut corners a bit so it would make some sense.

All that being said, Ian Brill and Warren Spector do an excellent job of fitting a lot of good character moments in amongst the action and exposition. Scrooge's nephews trying to impress Gosalyn, Launchpad reminding Darkwing these folks are his friends too, and Darkwing agreeing to play nice (and the fact Launchpad said this to DW, but not to Scrooge, who has done nothing but give Darkwing grief for three issues, says a lot about the differences in his relationships with those two). I think my favorite may have been when Scrooge and Darkwing make it into Quackwerks, and find Quackerjack, who, as Darkwing points out, was a villain of DW's who turned himself into a toy. Scrooge rolls his eyes and says, 'Oh good. I was worried when something weird didn't happen for a few seconds.' Those two do get to play off each other a lot, and it works well, given their different perspectives and priorities.

Jose Massaroli (who drew parts of the two Ducktales issues) and James Silvani (who drew everything else and inked Massaroli's work), are probably the real strong point of the collection. Their work with the expressions for the characters, the new designs for some of the villains, making the boys into recognizable monsters, while still having some aspect of their own looks. One of the things I like best about Silvani's work is his attention to detail. Not just on the background action, but also in how actions in one panel are usually set up in the panels before that. Rather than objects or characters just appearing seemingly out of thin air, you're able to see the set-up coming, and then it's a matter of waiting for the pay off. I will say, his double page splashes are not the most dynamic, though there aren't many. Silvani seems better at using a whole panel well when he has less space to fill, but that's fine. Double-page splashes are overused these days anyway.

* Except for the question of how she kept Fenton a prisoner for a year, only for him to somehow escape in time to bring dire portents to Launchpad and Scrooge (before being recaptured). I thought she meant to use Fenton as a lure to get Scrooge there - why she wants him around to potentially wreck her plans I don't know, except to gloat - but she seemed to think the slime overwhelming the Quackwerks building is what would draw him, so I'm not sure Fenton was supposed to get loose, and if that's true, I don't know how he did it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I Can Write About My Writing, Right? Right.

The whole "Tales from the Woods" thing kind of got away from me. Originally, the meeting with the Lady in Orange in #7 was going to be the end of it, at least until some other odd happenstance I could adapt took place.

The mistake I made was deciding to try and tie things together. Rather than leave the Ghost of the Forest separate from the coot appearances, and both of them distinct from the Lady in Orange (which was originally a dream I had), I thought I was, I don't know, Roy Thomas or something. I'd make it all fit. Except once I made that decision, I realized the ending to #7 wouldn't work, because it would answer nothing. Of course, the joke wound up being that having decided I needed to provide answers, I didn't have ones that felt particularly satisfying, or else where ones I wasn't prepared to use. Yet.

So things ended up very different from where I originally planned. I'm hopeful there was still enough song and dance to keep you entertained, and I'm hoping I learned something for future attempts.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mystique And Her Survival Instincts

Reading over both of the Mystique collections (one written by Brain K. Vaughn, the other by Sean McKeever), it's hard not to be impressed by Mystique's instincts for self-preservation. She's really quite impressive at turning a situation to her advantage, even if only briefly. Whether it's taking the appearance of a child to try and make those arresting officers pause, or send Rogue into a fury by saying she only wanted what's best for her (because it's better to have a pissed off Rogue trying to kill you than a calm Wolverine, apparently).

The flipside to that is it makes it kind of hard to root for her. Both BKV and McKeever go the same route Ennis did with the Punisher, presenting her opponents who were such remarkable examples of human fertilizer Mystique could look almost good by comparison. Even so, because much of what Mystique does is so clearly self-serving, and since she isn't really in this situation of being a secret agent for Xavier by choice, I tend to find her motives suspect. I'm always wondering what she's getting out of it.

Mind you, it can still be highly entertaining, because there's benefit in the short-term and the long-term, and Raven Darkholme knows the difference between the two and how to weigh it. But again, that makes it that much harder to trust anything she does. Even when Fantomex just happens to show up in time to warn Forge that Mystique is nearby planning to kill Xavier, you know it's all part of some larger scheme, where the potential payoff is worth having all the X-folks out for her blood.

Still, have to be impressed with her commitment to survival. I wonder how interconnected that and her mutant abilities are. If she was always like this, focused on protecting herself, shapeshifting would be a good mutation to develop. The ability to look like anyone she pleases, letting her get close to anyone she wants, or elude nearly anyone she likes.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Marvel's Solicitations

They really are giving Gambit another ongoing series? I thought the chatter to that effect I saw online was just the Internet having some fun with me. Apparently not.

While I do appreciate the solicitation assuring readers Bella Donna won't be appearing in issue 1 - that's one of those relationships I could go the rest of my life without seeing more pages wasted on* - but I must disagree with its description of Gambit as the premier** thief of the Marvel Universe. Hello, the Black Cat? Wouldn't have been enough to refer to him as 'the X-Men's resident thief'?

I am left wondering why now? Has there been something big going on with Gambit recently that might prompt giving him another shot as a solo star? I know he was in X-23 regularly, but given that got canceled recently, I can't imagine it would serve as a springboard for him.

Maybe getting your butt whupped by Captain America is a good career move?

If you were wondering, I'm not actually planning on buying it. Maybe in trade, if it gets a lot of superb reviews that describe it as having strong points I find appealing. I find I don't want people to tell me why they think I'd like something or should buy it; rather I just want to know what they like about it, and I'll decide if it sounds good to me from that. It goes along with my enjoyment of other peoples' enthusiasm for things, and my dislike of the hard sell.

I am going to try Hawkeye, because I like Hawkeye, and it has David Aja. For how long, I don't know. I hope he's had sufficient lead time to get at least six issues done by August, but I doubt it. Admittedly, Hawkeye doesn't have the best track record when it comes to maintaining his own series, but what the hey. If I enjoy it, it won't be the first series I liked Marvel canceled, and if I don't, then I won't care if it gets canceled, will I?

I'm trying to be more accepting of the inevitability of such things these days.

By the by, what's the deal with all the Point 1 (or Point 2) issues of Spider-Man titles that were canceled years ago? Are they planning to pick up where those series left off, because I think Web of Spider-Man ended on a Clone Saga tie-in*** , and nobody needs to rush to pick up threads from that.

* Also on that list: Scott Summers/Jean Grey, which always seemed a waste of space that could be devoted to characters I was actually interested in, and Hank Pym/Janet van Dyne. I don't need to see any more writers tease the possibility of them getting back together only for it not to happen because of, well, you know. Just leave them as two people who care for each other, who could maybe be friends, but don't work as a couple. Such things do happen in this world.

** They spelled it "premiere" though, which means what, he's the first thief? That's not what they meant, right? Unless they meant "first among equals" or something to that effect.

*** Something to do with the Jackal programming Peter to kill MJ, and Ben Reilly and the New Warriors trying to stop him. Yeesh, even as someone who liked the Scarlet Spider, there were some terrible stories in that stretch.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Burn Notice 2.5 - Scatter Point

Plot: The P.O. Box pays off! All Sam's hangovers from working Harvey Gunderson were worth it! After trailing Carla's secretary, Michael now knows where Carla set up shop. The question is how to get past her security of guys disguised as maintenance people. While Michael tries to sort that out, he finds himself approached by Trevor. Trevor has worked as the wheelman for a particular group of criminals in the past, and that group is ready to pull another job. Problem: Trevor is out on parole, and promised his son he had gone straight. Which means no heists. Bigger Problem: His boss does not take "No" for an answer, though "dead" is an acceptable excuse.

Michael attempts to get the job called off by getting the crew's safecracker arrested (Gilbert has a tendency to drink and drive). When that fails, he gets Trevor to present him as a replacement, so he can figure out what the job is and shut it down that way. But Timo is a bit of a control freak, which means he doesn't like sharing details, and if he calls you, you better drop whatever you're doing, even if it's infiltrating Carla's building.

Also, Sam finds himself in a tricky situation when Veronica asks him to marry her. Except Sam's already married. Sort of. Has been since the '70s, actually. Good luck, Sammy.

The Players: Trevor (The Client), C.J. (The Hustler), Gilbert (The Safe Cracker), Kandi (The Muscle), Timo (The Boss)

Quote of the Episode:  'You know what your boy needs more than a promise? He needs his dad!' - Michael.

Does Fiona blow anything up? She gets to blow up the crew's base of operations. Don't worry, no one was inside. That was the point.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 1 (11) overall.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 6 (6 overall). Sam's been pushing the Annoying Guy shtick pretty hard this season, and it finally came back to bite him. Oh well, it was for a good cause.

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (4 overall). This week Mikey's lake of laughter seems to have been a choice of cover identity. Perhaps people find jovial safecrackers untrustworthy?

Other: Mike keeps the cover name simple this week. "Joseph". Guess nobody really needed to know last names anyway.

 - Fi really screwed Sam over this week. She stood there and let Gilbert hit him repeatedly, and I'm not asking for her to break her cover as "Fifi" and tase the guy, but she could have yelled to get the cops' attention a little sooner. Though to that end, we have to throw some boos the way of the police, who were unaware of the fistfight going on not 20 meters away from them. Great peripheral awareness.

 - Then, of course, there was her poor advice to Sam, though to be fair, I'm not sure "I love you, but both I and the lady I married in the '70s have been too lazy to have our union annulled, so I can't marry you" is the sort of thing words can fix. Still, she enjoyed him getting pummeled far too much. At least she felt about about Veronica kicking Sam out of her life. Or maybe she was just worried Sam was going to try and kill her. We haven't seen Sam truly angry yet, you know? Fi, yes, Michael, to a lesser extent, but Sam, not so much. Grumpy, but not enraged.

 - The Timo/Trevor plot isn't one of my favorites, but I do like how Michael uses Timo's control freak tendencies. Timo won't just tell him everything he'd need to know to stop the job, but his patterns tell Michael enough. Trevor is always supposed to park the getaway vehicles within a half-mile of the job, Timo will tell "Joseph" what kind of safe it is, it all adds up without Timo even realizing it.

  - The bad guys are taking care of each other a lot this season. Ivan ending up in a dumpster last week, Kandi getting to Timo this week, Zeke didn't look like he was in for happy days when his partners closed that door in "Trust Me". The only times I can think of it happening in Season 1 were "Fight or Flight", when the cartel became convinced Alvara DeSantos was squealing to the feds, and "Broken Rules", when Diego Cruz took the bomb meant for Ernie, and used it to blow up his boss Concha instead. Not sure what to make of it. I guess I should wait until the end of the season, see if it's a trend.

 - Somewhat related to that, Trevor says he heard about Michael from some guy he met in prison, who had a con broken up by Michael. Which person you think that was? There have been several. There was Quentin (1.2, "Identity), possibly Lawrence Henderson (1.8, "Wanted Man") but I think he had the cash to avoid real jail. I doubt Zeke went to jail, but even if he did, could Trevor have gotten out so recently he'd have a chance to meet Zeke and learn his tale of woe? So, smart money is on Quentin then.

 - With the reveal at the end of the episode that Carla's moved her base, and left Michael a mocking gift in her place, I'm left wondering: did she know what he was up to all along, or was she unaware until the security monitors caught his first, aborted attempt to get in? I think we're meant to think it's the latter, because all the photos of him on that electronic picture book are of that attempt, with nothing from his hours of surveillance there or at her p.o. box. Still, considering how closely they were watching him while he was getting Nefzi to counterfeit those security cards, it's hard to believe she'd pull back entirely. I suppose she could be arrogant enough to not care what he does when he isn't working for her, believing herself too powerful for him to hurt, but she seems smarter than that.

Next week, Michael's back to square one in his pursuit of Carla.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Eaters of the Dead - Michael Crichton

I read Eaters of the Dead once, in 7th grade during my Michael Crichton kick. It was probably my favorite of the 7 or so of his books I read that year. Largely because it was the only one that got to the point. That was a frequent complaint of mine with his books back then, that it took forever for things to start happening because he Crichton was so busy infodumping. I have to get to page 80 of Jurassic Park for Dr. Grant to see a live dinosaur? What the heck?!

Coming back to it this week, it was strange to see what parts had stuck with me. I remembered that an Arabic fellow ends up on a monster-slaying quest with some Norsemen, but I didn't recall the specifics of how he wound up with them. I definitely didn't remember that Ibn Fadlan was a real person who journeyed north as an ambassador to the King of the Bulgars and kept extensive records of his trip, leading Crichton to essentially draft him into Beowulf.

I remembered monsters attacking from the mist, smashing their way into a great hall, but I didn't remember anything about a "glowworm dragon". Which might be due to there not really being one. I didn't remember the frequent footnotes about how different scholars had interpreted and translated Fadlan's "text", and how this particular interpreter would sometimes sarcastically comment on how these told more about the person doing the interpreting than about the actual text. I probably wasn't interested in that back then, preferring to stick with the fighting and killing. That mockup of scholarly sniping was more appealing this time.

Strangely, the one detail that has resolutely stuck with me over the years is that of "pig windows", which Fadlan mentions looking out of right before the final battle. For some reason, the idea that people made windows out of animal membranes formed a particularly strong bond in my mind. Go figure.

I didn't remember some of the idiosyncrasies of Fadlan's writing style, the repetition of phrases such as "these things I have seen with my own eyes", or "and we stayed there two days before moving to ___, where we stayed for two days before moving on to . . .". I wouldn't be surprised if that had irritated me back then, but I kind of like it now. It's still tedious, though not overbearing, but it does illuminate certain aspects of the character, how he thinks, that he considers it important to be clear about things he actually observed, as opposed to things he was told of. Attention to detail, concern for accuracy, it fleshes the character out a bit without having to waste time with Fadlan speaking more extensively of himself.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bad Retcons Make It So You Can't Even Enjoy Someone Dying

Mentioning Dr. Light's death on Apokolips in the pages of Suicide Squad started me thinking how differently it reads for someone coming to it 20+ years later. I can see what Ostrander's going for. It's kind of sad, with Dr. Light as the pitiful figure, possibly traumatized from his humiliating defeats, and just wanting to be liked, respected, to feel like part of a group. But even in the Suicide Squad he can't manage it. The other villains don't like him, neither do the heroes or any of the support staff. So he made a big play for their admiration and it got him killed.

Of course, it's more funny than sad, because he listened to the ghost of his old partner, who he killed, and honestly believed he was getting good advice. Then it turns into a whole thing about the two of them as ghosts, and Hell messing with them to try and amuse itself. It feels like a satire, though of what, I'm not sure. It is funny, though.

Even with all that, while I'm reading the book, I have that baggage of having read parts of Identity Crisis, and other comics featuring Dr. Light that followed, and, well, that certainly colors things. It's annoying, because I'd just as soon forget Identity Crisis was ever published, and hey, if the relaunch took it out of continuity that'll be one (the only?) good thing it did. Still, there is a part of me saying "Light's a putz because Zatanna mindwiped him for raping Sue Dibny", and with that in play, I end up wishing Ostrander and Yale had just left Light dead.

I know, that wouldn't have stopped another writer from bringing him back, or stopped Meltzer from either ignoring his death or simply picking some other loser villain to use instead. I do wonder, though, for someone who read that story when it was first published, with no inkling of where DC would go with the character, how it played with them.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Coyote - Catherine Reid

Coyote: Seeking the Hunter in Our Midst, is another of those books I had loaned to Alex that I collected recently. It's also another of them that, as far as I know, he didn't read. Loaned him a dozen books, at his request, and in 3.5 years the only one I know for sure he read was I Am Legend. Why did I bother?

Moving on.

Reid's book details her return to Massachusetts after several years living elsewhere, and her desire to see one of the coyotes wandering the woods near her new home. Coyotes have only made their way to the eastern seaboard in the 20th Century*, and having interbred with wolves (suffering from a lack of available mates), are not quite like the ones people west of the Mississippi are accustomed to.

Reid doesn't only describe her attempts to find one. She discusses how human modification of the habitat and preexisting animals made the coyotes' success (they're one of those rare species that seem to only do better the harder people try to exterminate them) possible, the varying reactions of the public, and encounters other people have had with them. She incorporates the history of bounties and hunting efforts, searches through written records of folklore from local Native American tribes to see if coyotes were here earlier, and compares the success of these canids to all the animals and plants that haven't prospered from meeting humans, as well as some of the others that have. She even gets into the difficulty the coyotes' interbreeding has posed not just for attempts to preserve what some think of as a separate species, but for the concept of "species" itself (though the way plants readily interbreed has probably done even more for that).

At times, the topic of coyotes gets lost in Reid reminiscing about her past, her family, or in her descriptions of the health problems facing her partner. It does mirror the fact the coyote search has fallen to the backburner during those times as well, though, and it highlights how she is in some ways as much of a new arrival (even having spent her entire childhood there) as the coyotes.

* There is a school of thought mentioned in the book that coyotes were there at least as far back as the arrival of European settlement, based on descriptions of "brush wolves". It's unclear, as there don't seem to be any definitive records to prove it one way or the other.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tales From the Woods #16

Later. . .

Guyamo sat slumped in what had been his dining hall. He was exhausted, but the rebuilding of everyone's homes was almost done. Except for his home. No one seemed likely to lend a hand reconstructing his castle. He felt a flash of anger at his situation, but was too tired to maintain it. At least everyone had moved out, and his home was solely his again.

"Not looking so hot there, big guy," came a low, but upbeat, voice from the shadows.

Guyamo straightened. "Who is there?"

"No one you know," came the response. "Pretty sorry state of affairs. This hole wasn't much, but it was yours. And you let a girl, a pet, and an idiot take it from you."

At this, Guyamo rose from his chair and lunged towards the voice. A figure slipped back into the doorway. Guyamo pursued. He chased the figure through the halls, often so close to having the upstart's throat in his grasp, but always just missing. Finally they reached a dead end where a portion of the castle had collapsed.

"Nowhere to go now, interloper." Guyamo wheezed out. The chase had taken a lot out of him - he wasn't built for running - but it would be worth it.

The intruder turned and a big smile appeared on his large, stubbled face. "Of course there is: back down the hall through you."

"You think to best me in battle?" Guyamo roared.

"Well, I certainly didn't come here to die. Use your brain, though if you had a working one you wouldn't be a villain of his." This last bit was said as the smile changed to a sneer, and the stranger drew a small pistol from inside his overcoat. The other large hand reached into an exterior pocket and removed what looked like a cigarette case. The stranger calmly opened the case and removed a single bullet.

"That is what you expect to save you? A bullet?!" Guyamo laughed incredulously. The stranger's expression didn't change.

"It's a special bullet. See? It has your name on it." He holds up the bullet, and while Guyamo is too far away to read it, his name is indeed printed on the cartridge. "I'd have been here sooner but it takes time to make these." He popped the chamber open and inserted the round. Guyamo took a hesitant step back, but froze as the stranger's face took on a knowing look, making his smile even more infuriating.

Yes, he had suffered reversals of fortune recently, but he could not back down to one man with one bullet. Whatever the peasants around here though, he still knew he was their sovereign. He bulled forward, prepared to pulp the intruder beneath his fists. The stranger, still calm, leveled the gun and fired. Guyamo felt the sensation of the bullet striking flesh, but continued forward. Within 2 steps, his body had ceased listening to his commands. Looking down to see if the bullet had done more damage than he expected, he saw his body vanishing in blue flames. He fell to his knees, then pitched forward, and uncomprehending look on his face.

The stranger stepped nimbly around the dissipating giant, coming to an abrupt stop after a few steps, snapping his fingers as he did so. He spun around to see Guyamo fading quickly, but his face still faintly visible amongst the flames. "I almost forgot why I came here!" He reached into his coat again, this time coming out with a chunk of the rock Guyamo had used to seize control. "I wanted to thank you for making me aware of this mineral." He hefts it experimentally in his hand, turning it left and right, watching the light catch its facets. "Don't fret, I'll make good use of it."

With that said, he spun on his heel again and strode out, ignoring the flickering light that signaled Guyamo's end. The wind from the stranger's passing snuffed the candles as he left, leaving the now empty castle dark and silent.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Even A Wall Can Be Broken Down

As DC opted to not release any more Suicide Squad trades after the first one, I was forced to resort to back issue hunting. While fun, it does have the drawback that I often don't realize it's crossing over with another title until after I've read the book, by which point I've missed a chance to pick up the relevant tie-ins. Presumably a trade would include such things. Oh well, one thing I've figured out about myself by now is that just as soon as I start making progress on finding titles of interest, I think of just as many things I'd like to read I haven't started on yet. If it wasn't tracking down the other parts of The Janus Directive, it'd be collecting the BKV/Alphona Runaways stuff. The joy and curse of the collector.

Anyway, I found the entire run of Suicide Squad proper, and I wanted to talk a little about a scene from issue 37 dealing with Amanda Waller. If you haven't read the series, but are planning to, you should hold off if you don't want certain things spoiled. Go buy the first 39 issues, read them, come back. Assuming the Internet doesn't eat this blog, the post will still be here.

Issue 37* was the start of the story that dealt with the fallout from half the Squad being abducted and dragged off to Apokolips by Duchess/Lashina to help her regain her place as leader of the Furies. Not everyone that went along survived, and one of the casualties was Flo, daughter of Amanda's cousin. She'd been part of the support staff at Belle Reve, had fallen in love with Ben Turner (the Bronze Tiger), and believed if she could prove herself on a field mission, he'd break off his relationship with Vixen and notice her instead. Lashina played on this (and the Wall's refusal to let Flo into the field) and brought her along as a gift for Granny Goodness. Flo proved less suited for surviving a battle on Apokolips than the rest of the Squad (save Dr. Light who died in an blessedly brief attempt to be the big hero).

On page 7, Waller sits in her office with her sister, Mary, and Father Craemer. We learn the Father will be accompanying Mary and Flo's body on the trip home. We also learn Edna Mae, Flo's mother, told Amanda to stay away. Mary thinks it's wrong for her to have done that. Amanda's response: 'Well, that may be, but I don't hold it against her. I know what it's like to lose a child. You haven't been there, Mary. It's hard to stay rational.'

It's a different reaction from usual for Waller. No anger, no sarcasm, no blaming Edna Mae, or deflecting blame from herself. She doesn't think it's necessarily wrong she be asked to stay away. Amanda may not accept full blame - Lashina deserves much more, anyway, and Flo made her own mistakes - but she knows she could have done more to protect Flo. She saw Flo's attraction to Turner, teased her about it, and brusquely dismissed Flo's requests to go on missions by stating she knew what Flo's mind was on. But Amanda never sat down with her and talked it out, too busy trying to maintain her grasp on the Squad as things fell apart (Flag losing his mind, the Squad being outed to the public amidst a Senator being murdered, various missions that didn't go well). She could have done more, she knows it, it hurts.

She knows what it's like to lose children. I don't think, though, Amanda was ever afforded the time to be irrational. That can help, when you have the chance to just lash out and not worry about the consequences. I doubt she was after her son's death, and she certainly wasn't after her daughter's, since her husband did lose control, and died seeking vengeance. Amanda was left to pick up the pieces, support her children, hold her family together, alone. She had to stay rational, think clearly about her options, because it was the only way to get through.

It ties into what we (and Father Craemer) learned about her from Mary in issue 30. How after suffering all those setbacks, all the pride she had to swallow to raise her remaining children, she swore she would get power someday, and no - NO ONE - would take it from her. Waller is wonderfully confident in her abilities, with fair justification, but she can also get too obsessed with controlling everything. Trying to do too much means nothing gets done properly. Sometimes she would ease off, listen to those around her (Dr. La Grieve, Flag, Nightshade) and change her mind. Other times, all she can see is the threat to what's she's gathered, and she focuses on control, thinking she can maintain it all alone, ignoring everyone around her, unwilling to trust others' judgment or help, too certain she's the only one capable of handling the problems. Sometimes she's right, but now it's cost her.

The panel I found most interesting was the one in the middle of the bottom row. Amanda sits at her desk, hands folded in front of her, almost like in prayer. Mary and Craemer stand on either side, with their backs to her, but turned so they're looking at her. The three of them and the desk are set against a white background, but with black rushing up from the bottom of the panel to the soles of their feet, and looming over head. The way her shoulders are bowed, you can see Waller feels the weight, and it's as though the other two are all that is keeping it from collapsing on her entirely.

The next panel is a close up of Waller looking at us as she talks about how hard it is to stay rational. The background behind her is now completely black, the shadows even encroaching on her. It makes me think Amanda is holding her grief at bay because there are others present, that desire to maintain control, to be strong for others overriding everything else. But it's close now, the point where even her considerable reserves aren't going to be enough, and she's going to have to do something.

Which, of course, she does over the next two issues, as the Squad got shaken up in a big way and had to change how it operated. Which you know about if you've read the series, and if you haven't, I'm not going to spoil that for you.

* Written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale, John K. Snyder III credited with breakdowns, Todd Klein as letterer, Carl Gafford as colorist. He isn't credited as such, but I assume Geof Isherwood handled finishes, since his name is next after Snyder's.

Monday, May 14, 2012

For No Particular Reason, A Brainiac Versus A Lantern

This question came out of reading the Blackest Night tie-ins for R.E.B.E.L.S., where Vril Dox found himself inducted into the Sinestro Corps, only to ultimately be dismissed because he wouldn't follow orders. Head-to-head, who is more dangerous, Sinestro or Vril Dox?

Sinestro has the power ring, obviously, though which version varies, but Vril has the intellect. Sinestro is no idiot, though, and Vril's more than capable of coming up with some dangerous weapon, given time to think. They're both arrogant enough to regard basically everyone else as expendable, though I'm not sure it's for the same reasons. With Dox, he tends to view things from a logical standpoint. If you have to sacrifice one person - or a whole planet - to stop someone who's conquered 9 galaxies, so be it. He's confident he's devised the best plan. With Sinestro, I think it's simple arrogance. He thinks he's better than everyone else, so they're less important than he is. Not that Dox isn't arrogant, but he's not going to throw away lives unless he has to. A person who is dead now is one who can't help him later, so better to avoid suicide strategies if possible.

At the same time, Dox is a little more ruthless. He'll do just about anything to win, including pleading with his son for help, making deals with interstellar despots, go drinking with Lobo, or hamming it up to the media*. Sinestro will do things he finds mildly distasteful - teaming up with Hal Jordan, for one - but I think he has too much pride. There are certain things he wouldn't do to win, because he'd consider them too humiliating. I don't think he'd play servile to encourage a foe to drop their guard, or to gain assistance. He'd be more likely to brashly demand submission, which isn't always going to work.

* After he captured Braniac (with a little help from Brainiac 5, slumming it in the 21st Century), he told the media he pulled it off because it's a law of nature, the good guys always win. Which is the sort of thing he'd normally sneer at, but it plays well with his potential clients.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Burn Notice 2.4 - Comrades

Plot: This week, it's Sam taking the lead in the hunt for information on Carla. Having learned Carla's cover in the Middle East was as an irrigation consultant, Sam's hitting up Harvey Gunderson, who has a finger in pretty much every agrarian related pie in the area. The downside is that Harvey's hitting up Sam for meals, and may actually be able to drink more than Sam.

At least it's on Michael's dime, and he's too busy to object to Sam's expenses. With Sam and Fi having roped Michael into jobs recently, it's now Nate's turn to bring someone requiring his big brother's help, a coworker of his whose sister is in the clutches of a human trafficker named Ivan (Andrew Divoff, who was Blackbeard LaCutte on Brisco County Jr.). When interrogation fails to produce results, Michael has to pose as a member of the same organization, gain Ivan's trust, and find out where all the girls are kept. In about three days, since the girls will be killed if Ivan's men don't hear from him by then. Nothing like a deadline.

The Players: Nate (The Brother), Katya (The Client), Ivan (Human Trafficker), Takarov (Mob Boss), Harvey Gunderson (Secretary/Treasurer, Agricultural Association of South Florida), Harvey Gunderson (President, Miami Water Resources Board), Harvey Gunderson (Vice President, Board of Soil Scientists)

Quote of the Episode: Michael - 'What do you want Katya? You want your sister hack, or to hit Ivan with a wrench? Because it's gotta be one or the other.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No, but she does use a stun gun on Ivan, which meant using it on herself, which was pretty cool scene.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 3 (10 overall). That we know of. Considering the hangover he complained of, and Harvey ordering two bottles of wine simultaneously, it's probably quadruple that, at least.

Sam Getting Hit Count: He wasn't hit, per se, so it's still at 0. He was pushed down on a bar with his arm behind his back. Employees of restaurants run by the Russian mob are not as tolerant of his Annoying Guy routine as Pakistani consulate employees, or even cartel security.

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (4 overall). There wasn't much to laugh about this week, being locked up with Ivan like he was.

Other: Michael's fake name this week is "Sergei Yoblanovich". Hey, Sam used a different fake name for once! He told Ivan to think of him as uncle. Uncle Sam. I love Sam playing interrogator throughout this episode. How excited he was for it, the "thinking bag", the Bulgarian disco, even the bit with the gum. And there's the point when he gets fed up with Harvey's crap and drops the hammer.

Unlike last week, I enjoyed all of this episode. I think it's because Nate is such a wild card for Mike. Not in the sense that Nate will complicate things, since Michael knows Nate's going to do that. But he's never sure when Nate might show up, or what exactly is going on. He's always suspicious of Nate (with reason), but that makes things harder because even when Nate's trying to do something right, he's still catching crap from Michael. And because he needs Michael's help, he feels like he has to sit there and take it. Which is why I enjoyed it when he seized the opportunity to punch Michael during their prep, and that he refused to be fake knocked out as easily as the plan called for. If you have to lose a fight to your brother, might as well make it a good one. Plus, Michael once again showing no tact in dealing with a client forced Nate to defend him, which brought the wrath of Madeline down on Michael's head.

What's impressive is that even though Ivan is a miserable human being, a thief and murderer in addition to being a human trafficker, I still felt a little bad for him when he realized he'd been duped. Michael had done such a masterful job of gaining Ivan's trust, and even so, Ivan really thought he was just being loyal to his boss. Except, whoops, he kind of screwed up and now he's dead. You know it was an ugly death, too. Lots of screaming.

Anyway, now Michael has a post office box connected to Carla. What will come of surveillance?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I'm Not Sure Who Was Taking Vengeance, To Be Honest

In one of my back issue sprees this spring, I bought Vengeance, the mini-series Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta did last year. I admit, I bought it because I heard Casey used Stacy X and I was curious to see that. I still have a soft spot for the character, to the extent I ignore anything involving her Casey didn't write, for my own benefit. I think the mini-series as a whole turned out to be a chance for Casey to use most of the characters or concepts he'd come up with for Marvel no one else was using, like that Defenders lineup he came up with.

Having admittedly only read it through once, it was an interesting story, even if it doesn't feel like all the threads necessarily hold together. The one about the Red Skull felt somewhat superfluous, and I have no idea what the spectral scientists commenting on the fight were about. Dragotta's artwork reminds me of Marcos Martin's, though, which is never a bad thing, and he makes the monsters pursuing the In-Betweener suitably terrifying.

I did find both the Teen Brigade and the Young Masters of Evil kind of irritating. The Teen Brigade moreso, because they seem to spend a lot of time chastising the super-heroes (like the Defenders) for how they're going about doing things, while patting themselves on the back for how they go about their business. It's akin to someone bragging about how modest they are. It's easy to say you're in it for tradition, not for glory, but when you're clearly glorying in your own exploits, the line of bull starts to fall apart.

I think that was part of the point, but I'm not sure which direction Casey was going with it. Both the Teen Brigade and the Young Masters are the sort of typical frustrated youth, convinced the adults are doing everything wrong, or are focused on the wrong things, the unimportant things. But for all their talk about saving the world without worrying about anyone knowing it, or getting back to real villainy (which seems to be pointless slaughter and chaos, which makes sense given the true villain behind everything), they waste a lot of time hooking up or geeking out over Bullseye's corpse. At the same time, as far as the heroes are concerned, they do spend a lot of time fighting each other, or getting into punchups that don't solve the real problems the world faces (world hunger, climate change, so on). Maybe those aren't the problems the Brigade thinks the heroes should be worrying about, but there's certainly a fair bit of "You're doing it wrong!" in their viewpoint.

What I can decide is whether Casey feels the kids are right, the heroes and villains have lost their ways, and they need to get back to their roots, or if he's making a point that each generation feels this way about the one preceding it, but in reality they all have their blind spots, and the kids are guilty of the same thing they accuse the adults of, just in a different way? I suppose it could be a screed against nostalgia, about wanting things the way they used to be, because the world is going to change, and you can't run back and hide in some time and place you think is idyllic. That might incorporate the In-Betweener, since it tried to hide from its responsibilities in the form of a kid.

Anyway, like I said, an interesting read, and a well illustrated one. I don't know if I'd say splurge on the hardcover (though you can probably find it at reduced cost out their now), but it's worth looking into, especially if you're a fan of Casey's work. I run hot and cold on him myself. I own the two volumes of WildCATS version 3.0, and the 4 trades I could find of 2.0, and it's well-written, but it never totally grabs me. There are ideas I like, that I want to see explored, but Casey never quite seems to get around to it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ultron May Need To Design Himself A Nose To Stick In Their Business

Assuming Father actually does care at all about propagating artificial life, it's only a matter of time before Ultron gets involved, isn't it?

The whole thing about trying to create a form of artificial life indistinguishable from biological life, while retaining certain superior aspects, seems awful similar to Ultron's goals from Annihilation: Conquest. The question then is whether Ultron would object to someone trying to succeed where he failed, and work to oppose them, or if he'd try to hijack their scheme for himself.

It'd also be interesting to see how the residents of the Core would react if Ultron showed up. At one time, the Vision was supposed to be built off Jim Hammond's design, or built out of Jim Hammond, but I'd say that's clearly not the case any longer. Since Hammond is "Grandfather" to them, would Ultron hold some revered position as well? Great-Uncle, perhaps? Would his constant attempts to destroy the Avengers endear him to those of the Core, or would they despise him because he tries to subjugate all that lies before him? Deathlok Miss America made a point of stating that no one's free will is to be tampered with. While I find that a suspect claim, they at least seem to believe it's true, so Ultron's tendency to take control of others might be considered abhorrent.

Which might put the Avengers and Ultron on the same side, if Father or his children get aggressive all of a sudden. Ultron might or might not care about their goals, but they might view him as a threat that needs eliminating, and I don't think Ultron's likely to sit on his metal duff and be eliminated.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Perhaps The Avengers Need A Consultant To provide More Creative Solutions

I bought that six issue stint Warren Ellis had on Secret Avengers during one of my back issue binges a few months ago. Generally speaking, it was pretty good. I liked most of the artists, and Ellis seemed to come up with the stories that worked to their strengths (the Maleev drawn issue was mostly the Black Widow manipulating people into place by talking, because the scant bits of action at the were not the best). I kind of like the fact that for all the might want to stop this Shadow Council (whatever that is), they're always running around playing catch-up, trying to shut down some plan after it's already well into motion.

I still don't agree with Steve Rogers utilizing torture, but we've been over that previously.

The one thing that did bother me as I read through the issues was most of the Avengers' solutions to their problems boiled down to "Kill it". Hank McCoy killed a bunch of people with a nuclear-powered car he turned into a bomb. Shang-Chi and probably Sharon Carter killed a bunch of people with their hands. Steve Rogers lit a dude doped up on otherworldly souls on fire so Moon Knight could kick him out a 5-story window. In most cases, Ellis presents them as facing something of a time issue. As I mentioned, they're always playing catch-up, so they don't have an unlimited amount of time to prepare, not that they always know what they're up against before they get there anyway. Even so, super-heroes have historically been reactive, and still tended to find ways to get by without constantly resorting to lethal force.

It's not I think these characters wouldn't kill. Well, seeing Hank McCoy do it was a bit strange, but I'm pretty sure that was the point Ellis had with that one. The Black Widow, Moon Knight, War Machine? Sure, if they felt the situation called for it, I can certainly see them killing. I don't know that it's their default state.

In #21, War Machine actually refuses to go directly to "kill". He doesn't know what he's facing yet, or if it's even a threat so he does not, as Steve Rogers yells at him, bring his biggest gun online. Naturally, it turns out to be people who are used as doorways for extra-dimensional beings and so Rhodey takes crap from Sharon Carter for not simply killing them on sight.

It reminded me of The Deadly Trackers, where the one character who is portrayed as believing in law and order, is also portrayed as a hapless dope. No matter how many times Richard Harris' Sheriff Kitzpatrick betrays Gutierrez, the Mexican policeman is always there to save Harris' bacon the next time his headstrong rush for vengeance gets him in trouble (about every 5 minutes). Even so, the movie never suggests being so intent on killing you treat everyone as at best, an asset, at worst, an enemy is a poor choice. No, the system is broken, and the people who follow it are suckers.

This comes to a head at the end when Harris turns over Rod Taylor to Gutierrez, only to learn the witness to the crime Gutierrez can legally prosecute Taylor for is dead. So he must go free, and Harris, unable to stand it, shoots Taylor, in front of a policeman and a half-dozen witnesses. Then he opts to ride off, and Gutierrez must kill him, since there is really no question of whether Harris just committed murder. I imagine we're meant to sympathize with Harris, but I wondered if they couldn't have arrested Taylor sooner if Harris wasn't always beating up Gutierrez and going off alone. Maybe he could have been put on trial before the witness died. There's no arguing things would go faster if Harris isn't getting beaten to a pulp because he didn't think ahead, or Gutierrez isn't constantly wasting time saving Harris, then having to regain consciousness after getting hit with his own rifle butt by the guy he just saved.

It isn't entirely the same thing, but I had that same feeling reading the issue, where those that won't kill take flack from those that do. Ultimately, Hank McCoy did come up with a way to kill the other-dimensional beings (his objections had strictly related to doing so if it would kill his teammates), but there it is. The ones who don't immediately go to lethal force, end up accepting it as a necessity, thus proving their teammates "right", whatever that means.

We could make something of that. Are personal beliefs any good if adhering to them results in the deaths of friends and allies, or innocent people? If Hank had refused to make a bomb of the car in issue 16, the city of Cincinnati was doomed, not to mention whatever place the Shadow Council dropped it. That's a lot of dead people. So he made the bomb, and killed some almost certainly smaller amount of people. How much smaller? Who knows? Would it make a difference if it was 3 dozen or 3 thousand? He saved more lives than he took, is it as simple as x > y?

At the same time, once he breaks whatever personal rules he had against killing, how effective are those rules? I don't mean once he kills he'll never stop. Certainly there are some people (and some fictional characters) that might apply to, but not everyone. So I don't expect Hank McCoy to start mindlessly slaughtering people like Carnage. But the next time lives are at stake, will Hank work as hard to devise plans that don't require lethal force, or will he turn to that response right off? Killing foes does have a certain appeal. It can be quicker to just hit them with maximum force because you don't have to worry about injuring them too much. There's a certain permanence, since a dead enemy is less likely to be trouble in the future. Where would Hank (or whoever we're talking about) draw the line? Does it depend on how many people are at risk, or the nature of the threat opposing them? If it's something the Avengers don't necessarily recognize as being alive, then it probably doesn't count to them? What if it's Skrulls, or the Phalanx, some alien race? How much consideration do they merit, compared to if the threat is an Earthling?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Tales From The Woods #15

The Sun had risen well into the sky by the time my friend, the Real Kung-Fu Panda, and I made it back to Site 3. Or maybe it had never set here. I was prepared to accept the idea that only a few hours had passed outside Site 9 during our time there. I supposed I'd sort it out later. In the meantime, Cassanee had agreed to accompany us, and I was taking my turn at asking questions.

"So the bootprints on either side of the creek. . ."

"I jumped it because my boots aren't waterproof."

"Oh. Mine aren't either." The squishing noise emanating from my feet supported this statement nicely. "If you weren't looking for allies, why come visit me?"

"I heard you talking, and I wanted some company." Reasonable enough. "Who were you talking to? The Ghost?"

I shrugged. "Eh, I talk out loud whether anyone's around or not. Carrying on a conversation with yourself isn't hard." Cassanee looked at me a little strangely, but seemed to accept it. Eventually we returned to the place where we'd last encountered the Ghost. I turned to CAP. "Sense the Ghost?"

Fur shimmers with the shake of the head. "Try calling to it."

I'm not a fan of raising my voice, not alone anyway. "You just want me to look silly, standing here in the woods, yelling for a spirit!"

"Do not!"

I suppressed a grin. "Do too!!"

"DO NOT!!! Oh, there it is."

Sure enough, I could feel that slight change in the air I'd come to associate with my hiking companion. The howling wind might have been a tip off as well. I turned to Cass. "Still no idea what its beef is?" I had my theories, but no idea how to go about testing them.

Before she could respond she was forced to leap away as a branch fell. CAP had to do the same. I was tired and few up. "Enough of the childish garbage already! These are friends of mine, a group I thought included you. You don't all have to be best friends, but enough lumberjack-style assassinations! I have to leave soon, maybe for a long time," the wind stopped abruptly, "it'd be nice to spend time with friends without worrying they'll kill each other."

The Ghost of the Forest gradually calmed itself, but I could almost feel it swirling about, things it wanted to say or ask that it couldn't. What do I say to a sad spirit? I couldn't think of anything, so I knelt down, slipping the pack off my shoulder. I reached in and withdrew a Frisbee. "Where'd you get that?" came the voice of my inquisitive friend.

"I found it on Site 9," I remarked nonchalantly as possible.

The gasp meant I'd been seen through. "You stole it from Guyamo's castle!" If the panda and I are going to keep hanging out, I've got to work harder at lying. I'm not dealing with a gullible baby any longer.

"Please," I said as I stood, flipping the disc in between my flattened palms, "I prefer 'looted'. Or 'sacked'. Yes, that's an appropriate term with dealing with a castle. I sacked Guyamo's Frisbee supplies." I said this with as much exaggeration as I could manage for friendly mockery, which wasn't much by this time. I turned away, back to the seemingly empty space in front of me. "Thought you might enjoy this, considering the presents you've given me this year."

With that, I tossed it into the air and the wind picked up, just enough to keeping it aloft and spinning, then it sent it back in my direction. That it wasn't hurled like a missile I took as a good sign and threw it again. Again the wind caught it nimbly, and this time, after a moment's hesitation, the Frisbee went spinning towards Cass. But again, not too hard. The next time, CAP leapt and snagged it between its teeth, twirling in mid-air to add force when it released.

I stepped out of the way, settling down on a log to watch. I was beat. Besides, given the agility of two of the people involved, and the incorporeality of the other, I'd have just embarrassed myself trying to keep up. Occasionally, the Ghost sent one humming along that seemed a little too aggressive, but neither the Lady in Orange, or the Friend in Fur objected.

As the Sun sank low, the Ghost floated the Frisbee up to the crook of a tree. The wind then sank, and whirled around all three of us in dizzying circles. It stirred the leaves up into a blizzard of colors around us, then stopped and withdrew. The panda and I bid the other two farewell as we began the last leg of the trek back to the truck, and Cass started towards her home on Site 9.

We whirled about at the sound of a crash, and a branch that had landed a few feet from Cass, close enough she had tensed but not needed to dodge. I cast a glare into the trees, where the leaves were rustling, but whether that signified the Ghost was laughing mischievously, acting innocent, or actually feeling a bit sheepish, I couldn't tell. I sighed, looked to Cassanee, and said, "Thought we had it sorted. Sorry." Cass merely shrugged indifferently. I think she'd been less convinced of the bridge building powers of Frisbee. Maybe next time I'll get a hackey sack.

The rest of the way back, I stayed as close to CAP as I could, trying to dissuade the Ghost from any more practical jokes involving falling objects. At the truck, we said our goodbyes to it again, and I implored to please try to behave if Cassanee came to visit. I'm not convinced this plea will have any effect, but I had to try one last time before we left. Having done so, I climbed in the truck and we drove off.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

I'm As Close To Giddy As I Get

OK, I just found this last night on Amazon. Maybe it's been there awhile, I don't know.

It is possible to pre-order the complete Earthworm Jim cartoon on DVD right now. As Earthworm Jim is one of two things I've wanted to purchase which wasn't available on DVD*, I am ecstatic.

However, there is a catch. Naturally.

The company releasing the DVDs will not do so unless they get sufficient pre-orders. Such a turn of events would leave me forlorn.

That being the case, I'm posting to let you know about the possibility of being able to watch the series without resorting to either crappy bootlegs or buying a region-free DVD player**. If you have any interest, please go seek it out on Amazon and pre-order. Look under "earthworm jim" in movies and tv. Here, I'll try and throw in a link. (Don't worry, you're not putting any money in my pocket by clicking that. This is a not-for-profit operation, folks.) It's less than $20, with shipping. And if it doesn't ship, you aren't out any money, so what's the risk?

There's 2 months to the theoretical release date, so place your order, tell your friends to place their orders. Threaten them with bodily harm if necessary. Do it for your old pal Calvin, huh? Please?

Look, I'm on my knees here, begging you to help make this happen. Do you need me to cry? Fine *sobs hysterically, with the snot running out of the nose and everything* Is that enough? Should I rend garments and stand in the rain arms cast wide in supplication? I will, don't doubt the desperation.

* The other is Season 2 of the early 2000s Invisible Man series. Four years since they released Season 1, and still waiting. Still hoping.

** There's a version of the complete series available in Australia for some time, but you know, their DVDs don't run on your standard North American player. You'd have to buy the set and the appropriate equipment to watch it with, which I imagine some might find cost-prohibitive. I was nearing the point that was no longer the case with me, but I might be more impatient than most.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Trying To Suss Out The Old Geezer's Plan

One bit of fallout from rereading "The Descendants" is there are a lot of little pieces that seem odd that I can't put together. So I'm going to lay them out, and maybe you'll help me sort them out, OK?

- Let's start with Yalda. She and her son Parvez are allegedly high breed Descendants, meaning they (or their ancestors) are artificially created organisms indistinguishable from humans. Yalda appears to die protecting her son and Ant-Man. Later we see her on a slab in some sort of lab, her head detached as Father works on it. By the end of the story, she's absorbing the energy of the Sentinaught's self-destruction, protecting the Core while letting the Avengers think it was destroyed.

- According to the story Jim Hammond was told, the original Descendants were created by three scientists: Father, Mother, Brother. It was Brother who came up with the Orb of Necromancy, which was the key to giving them 'true life'. Brother took the Orb with him over disagreements about how many to create. That being the case, if Yalda was actually descended from one of these high-breeds, shouldn't she be beyond Father's capability to revive? She would have the 'true life', and he wouldn't have the Orb to restore it.

- Related question to that story: Why no "Sister"? Is Brother connected to Father, Mother, or someone else? To choose those specific names, with their connections, it has to mean something. Father keeps saying that it's his daughters who serve him best. Was Brother some earlier attempt Father and Mother made, who provided insight based on his own existence? Then he rebelled,as children are wont to do? It's really a question of whether that story is a complete load of malarkey, or if there are simply certain pertinent facts being excluded.

- Why are the Avengers so convinced the Deathloks they face are actually made up of their friends? Given they've already faced an Adaptoid with the power to make miniature versions of themselves, it's that hard to believe someone might make a cyborg that resembles the Wasp? How would they even have a body to use? The last time we saw her, she was 50 feet high and being vortexed into another dimension by Thor. Plus, she was about to explode. Would that even leave viable remains to use for a Deathlok?

- Also, what is it the Avengers did to mutants? Are they being blamed for House of M? That's Wanda's fault, and yes, she's an Avenger, but she's also a mutant. Actually, with the current fight over Hope and the approaching Phoenix Force, part of me wonders if the Core exists in the future, and this is in response to the Avengers fighting the X-Men. Somehow, the Avengers trying to get between Hope and the Phoenix will be disastrous for mutants, and Father's using that to keep his society terrified of the Avengers.

- More likely, it's just propaganda, playing off the fact Earth heroes don't have a great track record of respecting the lives of beings that exist outside a fairly narrow definition. Remember, it's OK to kill Skrulls who just want to live on Earth with humans, it's not OK to kill nutso Norman Osborn who's likely to get the entire planet burned to a cinder. Because he's human, or whatever. Frankly, the Descendants have reason to be afraid.

- We know Father expected the Avengers to show up in the Core. His surprise at seeing Ant-Man was only in the specifics of who they sent, not that one was there. We know that when convening his council of war with Emperor Doombot and the rest, he makes a big show of the need to cut the Avengers down before they can attack the Core en masse. Yet he is entirely unconcerned when the Avengers escape. Yes, he has a plant on the team now. Yes, the Avengers think the Core is destroyed, crisis averted, so on and so forth. But tricking the Avengers into thinking the threat is gone, so that they turn their attention elsewhere until you're ready, isn't the same as wiping out the group of them that learned of your existence.

- During that council, Father says Ultravision Commander said a tactician sees the need to gain advantage before war. If he said that, we never saw it. The only thing we saw him say was 'Origin, you and your Adaptoids were the ones who led these Avengers to the Core.' It's also significant that in between those two panels, Father states that he didn't call them here to listen to their opinions, but to give them their opinions. Given that, I find it significant the way Father places his hand on Ultravision's shoulder when asserting he said something we didn't hear. Wasn't there a mutant who could control machines? Machinesmith, or something like that. Is he still alive? This would be a pretty big step up, but a realm of nothing but machines to rule would be right up his alley.

- For all that Deathlok Miss America might contend no one's free will is messed with, I have my doubts. If that were true, why was Yalda suddenly willing to help Father? Answer, either he altered her, removing her free will, or she was never what she appeared to be. She was always a plant, designed to draw the Avengers' attention, to lure them into all this. Which suggests her son is part of it, too. It is rather convenient he demonstrated his powers not when he could have saved his mother, not when he could have saved O'Grady (who has since been replaced), but when he could save the Black Widow, to aid the remaining Avengers' escape.

- There's something that comes up in Burn Notice a lot, the idea that people are more likely to believe information they have to work for. The Avengers just ran into an entire society of artificial lifeforms that hate them, led by some looney old man. And the Avengers nearly died. But they didn't, they escaped - narrowly - and so they feel pretty good. They believe they succeeded, and they believe what they learned, because they came by it the hard way.

- My best guess, at this moment, is Father wants that Orb of Necromancy back. He isn't that concerned with getting the original high-breed Descendants back, because with the Orb, he can make more. And why not use the Avengers to do it for him, while he keeps his children happy and off the radar?

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Burn Notice 2.3 - Trust Me

Plot: As Sam's buddies were unable to unearth anything on Carla (no records of her fingerprints even), Michael needs some other intelligence agency's resources. So he turns to Pakistan. Since they are unlikely to just give him the file, he steals a report on chemical imports from their consulate to encourage their security officer to get him that file. This proves more difficult than he expected, though by this point he should have learned to expect that, don't you think?

In the meantime, he gets roped into helping the son of one of his mother's friends who is in debt to a loan shark to for 200 grand. Andy was tricked out of the money by Zeke and his bogus Cuban nightclub investment scheme. So Michael gets in the club, steals the money back from out of the safe, no big deal. Except the safe was all part of the show to part fools from their money. Which means Michael has to figure out a way to get Zeke to show him where the money really is, before the loan shark gets violent.

On top of all that, Madeline has decided to meddle in the wake of Michael and Fiona's abruptly ended relationship (which Michael insists was not a relationship to anyone who brings it up). So that's distracting.

The Players: Waseem (Pakistani Spy), Andy and Diane (The Clients), Zeke (Con Man), Baranski (The Loan Shark), Zeke's Partners, Barry (Money Launderer).

Quote of the Episode: Andy - 'I'm such an idiot.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No, other than Michael's free time by getting him roped into saving Andy from his own stupidity.

Sam Axe's Drink Count: 1 (7 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (0 overall). This is actually really impressive since Sam played a really annoying guy that people want to go away from the second straight week. Granted, he was doing so in a consulate lobby this time. Probably look bad if they beat the crap out of him right there.

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 2 (4 overall). Honestly, I probably missed some. His cover identity was laughing a lot, and I got so sucked into it I forgot those were technically fake laughs.

Other: Michael's cover identity for the episode is Davis Cullen, son of Texan oil man, rich, drunk, aggressive. He was also Rich Franklin of the Miami Herald while sneaking into the consulate.  I'm guessing the British accent Fi was using on Zeke is horribly overdone compared to a really British person, and that this was intentional, because she recognized Zeke was kind of an idiot. A flashy one, but an idiot nonetheless.

I hope it isn't really that easy to get files from a consulate. I also question how effective a rolled up magazine is as a weapon against burly thugs. It might depend on the quality and strength of the paper it's printed on but frankly, I think it'd be more effective if you opened it and took advantage of their less than top-notch literacy.

I love watching Sharon Gless (Madeline) interact with the others. Madeline's so capable of cutting through the bullshit they (especially Michael) throw up around their lives. This doesn't mean she always gets through; Mike can be pretty good at shutting things out when he chooses, but she at least makes it clear what's true and what isn't. Plus, her tendency to view the past through rose-tinted glasses frustrates Michael so (witness the scene at the end where she tells Michael kids make life a little more fun, and he incredulously replies, 'I was fun?'), which is half the reason she does it I think. That, and she's done a better job making peace with the ugly parts of the past than Michael, who ran from them.

So that part was good, Michael's negotiations with Waseem, highlighting that tendency of Mike's to always dig for info, always seek out the angle were a lot of fun. I'd like to see Waseem (Assaf Cohen) again sometime, though I can understand why Michael wouldn't approach him, and he wouldn't be happy to see Michael again, but you can work with that. I wasn't as enamored of the con plot. Zeke's oily enough (and contrary to what Fi says, he is not the same kind of smooth as Sam) it's enjoyable to see his very angry partners literally close the door on Zeke's life at the end. But Andy is such a complete incompetent it's distracting. There's a reason I chose the quote I did., and wrote things like "Damn, Andy's dumb as a post" in my notes. Even the other characters were commenting on it.

On the plus side, Fi got to take her turn roping Michael into a job after Sam did it last week, and Sam got to do the shooting this week. It's nice they take turns.