Sunday, September 30, 2012

Burn Notice 3.8 - Friends Like These

Plot: Barry's ledger has been stolen. As he launders money for some very powerful and occasionally violent men, this is not a good turn of events for Barry. Fortunately, he knows someone who is very good at getting things back, and happens to owe Barry a ludicrous number of favors. Enter Michael Westen.

It wasn't too hard to track down the pair who stole it, a Serbian named Milovan and a real estate agent named Natalie, but neither one will say where the ledger is. Milovan specialized in interrogations himself, so he's not cracking, and Natalie is just some frightened working mom, so she's no help. Which means Sam's wasting that lovely villa for nothing, when he could be there with Ms. Reynolds and large quantities of rum.

In other key developments, Madeline's roof is leaking! Wait, that's not an important development (said the guy who has never owned a home with a leaky roof). The important development was Michael did a job for Strickler. More critically, he does it without asking questions, like who they're working for, why they let the thieves make off with the goods and destroy the safe house, who the thieves work for, etcetera. All of which leads Fiona to refuse to help Michael with that job (Strickler's attitude towards her didn't help). Michael completes the job solo, and what do you know? Here's a call from Diego, saying they'll be reviewing Michael's file.

The Players: Strickler (Michael's Ticket Back In), The Cleaner, Barry (The Client), Amy (Barry's "Special Lady")

Quote of the Episode: Strickler - 'Laugh if you like, but I wouldn't be driving an Aston-Martin if I didn't know how to keep a promise.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? She activated the trembler switch in Amy's car, causing it to explode, but that was someone else's bomb. Half-credit, then.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 2 (27 overall). I'm sure it would have been higher if his lovecapade hadn't been ruined.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 2 (2 overall). It took half the season, but Milovan made it happen. I'm counting burning his hand with a cigarette and the headbutt, but not the spitting. That's not really painful, just disgusting.

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (2 overall).

Other: Mike opted for no name this week.

I like the friendship between Maddy and Barry. They both live very different lives from Michael, Sam, and Fi, yet constantly find themselves being dragged into the world of violence and threats. They seem to share interests, and I think it's good for Barry to hang around someone who calls Michael on his crap. Barry gets pressured into doing a lot of stuff for Michael, and rarely says a peep. Not that maddy doesn't frequently help Michael, but she also makes him work for it, and speaks her mind. Not her fault Michael doesn't listen.

Which brings us to Fi. Things between her and Michael are getting steadily worse, as they do, but I'm completely on her side here. She feels strongly that it's a mistake to work for/with Strickler. Michael is clearly too focused on getting back in, or he'd be asking more questions. Let's face it, in most of Michael's cases, setbacks are caused because the client either didn't follow instructions, or withheld some crucial piece of information. It's like House that way. Michael wasn't listening to Fi, so she stopped helping him. Short of pistol-whipping him, there wasn't any other way to get his attention. As long as she kept helping him help Strickler, she's an enabler, so it's good she drew the line. If things blow up in Mike's face, well, then it's his own damn fault for being a moron.

But maybe that won't happen. There's movement on his burn notice now! Diego will be in touch! Hooray, I like Diego Garza! His complete refusal to play Michael's games endears him to me.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Dark Monk - Oliver Poetzch

We interrupt these already late comic reviews for. . . a book review! I still have one more Mark Mills book to read, but I thought I'd step away for a moment, which brings us to The Dark Monk. It's the second book is Poetzch's* "Hangman's Daughter" series of books, which follow the Kuisl family, from which he is descended. The Kuisls were apparently a pretty well known family of hangmen/executioners. if you're wondering how you get an entire family known for that, it's because the job sort of stays in the family. The average European citizen considered executioners unclean or possibly cursed, so you could pretty much only marry people from other families of executioners.

In this story, Jakob Kuisl, his daughter Magdalena, and the Schongau medicus Simon (also Magdalena's boyfriend, despite the disapproval of pretty much everyone except the Kuisls) are drawn into the poisoning of the local priest. That anyone would bother to poison him is strange, until they discover a hidden crypt beneath the church, one which houses a Templar grave, and a riddle. So yes, there's lots of running about trying to decipher riddles and find the Templar's hidden treasure. Which could get old, but Poetzch wisely includes several other plotlines. He introduces the dead priest's sister, whose worldly sophistication drives a wedge between Magdalena and Simon. He has not one, but two groups of mysterious sorts following our heroes on their quest. There's also a fever running rampant through the village, and bandits besieging all trade coming into and out of the town.

What I enjoyed most was the character of Jakob Kuisl himself. He takes his responsibilities as hangman seriously, but takes no particular joy in it. While people's tendency to fear or avoid him can irritate, it's also something he uses to his advantage. He's considerably more well-read than one might expect for 1660, and knows quite a bit about medicines and healing himself, to the extent Simon often turns to him for help in those matters. What I like best about him is his approach to life. Jakob Kuisl firmly believes in taking responsibility for his actions, and holds others to similar standards. If you choose to become a highwayman, regardless of the reasons, you had best be prepared to be executed someday if you're caught. If you hurt a loved one, don't expect them to forgive just because you want it to happen. And if Jakob gives someone his word that they'll receive mercy, he has to keep that promise, even if other people have gone back on their word to him.

Certain elements of the plot are fairly predictable, but Poetzsch keeps things moving with sufficient momentum that I didn't mind. The characters are generally interesting, as he makes sure secondary characters get a chance to have their motivations and goals examined. And some of the villains are overzealous religious assholes. You know the types, where anything they do is OK because it's in service of God. I hate those people, so they make excellent villains. I can read about guys like that getting shot through the back with crossbows all day.

* His last name is spelled with an umlaut over the O, but as I don't have that symbol on the keyboard, I'm using "e" behind it instead. It's phonetically equivalent, but it does change the spelling a bit, in case you were planning to look him up.

Friday, September 28, 2012

What I Bought 9/21/2012 - Part 2

I suppose I ought to review the 0 issues I bought before Zero Month is over.

Dial H #0, by China Mieville (writer), Riccardo Burchielli (artist), Tanya & Richard Horie (colorists), Steve Wands (letterer) - This theme cover month thing reminds me of the one DC did January of 2011, with the characters in front of their emblem, against an otherwise white background? I found those covers boring, too.

This one's set in the far past, as a woman named Laodice manages to activate a very clunky dial and becomes "Bumper Carla", a hero capable of stopping a fabled beast of Babylon. The dial gets broken in the process, but the day was saved, she's made leader, all is well, right? No. Someone in a strange costume came around asking questions about her, but he's locked up, and not the problem anyway. The real problem comes when Bumper Carla shows up and kills Laodice. For stealing her powers. For letting innocent people die.

So that was creepy. Burchielli really gave Carla a genuine look of grief and rage, but more than that, a sort of derangement that makes her frightening, where she might otherwise look silly (like she did when Laodice transformed into her earlier in the issue). All this raises some interesting questions about the dial and the heroes, especially the addition of the "Still Zone" Carla was banished to. What's that, and does it relate to the figure Jent observed during one of his transformations?

Green Arrow #0, by Judd Winick (writer), Freddie Williams II (artist), Rob Hunter (inker), Rob Leigh (letterer), Richard & Tanya Horie (colorists) - I was not planning to purchase this, as it was being written by Winick. Not so much out of some protest against him as for the fact I'm buying the title for Nocenti. He isn't Nocenti, so I don't buy it. But the cover said it was written by her, so I left it in the pile. Stupid, lying covers.

So it's Ollie's origin. Where he's supposed to be running an oil rig, but is instead having huge stupid beach parties and generally being terrible at archery. Thieves take the opportunity to hijack a heli of drunks and take over the rig. Rather than let them just steal the oil, Ollie tries to stop them and gets all the hostages and the rig blown to smithereens. He survives, returns to civilization, posts bail for Roy Harper, his buddy Merlyn is lying burned up in a monastery somewhere, and I don't care about any of that crap. I could not give less of a damn about Roy or Merlyn, or any of the rest. Neither of those feels like things Nocenti will bother to pick up on, so why bother? And did Ollie call Iron Eagle "Raven" as a point about how little attention he was paying, or because Winick wasn't paying attention either?

The Hories colors are brighter than usual. Not to the extent they are on Dial H, but more so than when Tolibao draws the book. Which leads me to believe they have to try hard not to overwhelm his thin linework. Freddie Williams' art looks rougher than I remember, though it's been awhile (the early stages of Beechen's Robin run, I think).

Resurrection Man #0, by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning (writers), Ramon Bachs (art, 1-19), Jesus Saiz (art, pg. 20), Jeromy Cox (colors), Rob Leigh (letters) - That's not a bad cover. More creative than the other 2, but it'd work better if Mitch showed a little more sign of struggling against all the hands. I suppose he could be so accustomed to it he hardly notices them anymore, but he looks sort of bored.

Good Mitch Shelly is the arm Bad Mitch Shelly got blown off while they were illegally testing their Tektite solutions. They reattached the arm, then it was rejected as Bad Mitch grew a new one. They tried burning the rejected arm up, but the Tektites in it survived and rebuilt the entire person. Viola, Good Mitch! In the present, Good Mitch quickly defeats Bad Mitch, then when Heaven and Hell show up for his soul, he hands Suriel Bad Mitch. Which seems like cheating since I wasn't under the impression Bad Mitch kept resurrecting, but whatever. Hell Guy is content to let Good Mitch roam free, as he has 'plans' for him.

I'm not at all clear on why Bad Mitch's condition deteriorated. He had healed, then after they get rid of his old arm, his condition went in the tank? Did all the Tektites get together in the right arm? If so, how did the new one regenerate? Does it raise any issues that Good Mitch has his own soul, despite basically being Bad Mitch's right arm? Why have Jesus Saiz draw one page? What's the point of that? I don't know. Maybe my hopes were too high for this title. There was a good idea for this final meeting of the Mitches, but it didn't have enough time, or DnA wasted too much time. Take your pick.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What I Bought 9/21/2012 - Part 1

Typing this up Wednesday afternoon may not be the best idea I ever had. It's been storming wildly all day, and the power already blinked out once. But what the hell. It'll take six days to get through all these comics, so best to get started.

The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1 & 2, by Mark Waid (writer), Chris Samnee (art), Jordie Bellaire (colors), Shawn Lee (letters) - The Rocketeer is a well-designed character when it comes to striking dramatic poses, you gotta give him that.

Cliff Secord is having his usual problems. He's broke, so he hasn't paid up his fees to be a licensed pilot. When told that leaves him grounded, Cliff let his temper do the talking and slugged the guy. Sure, he was a sleazeball and probably deserved worse, but Cliff didn't know that. The CAA fellow who inherited the case is roughly the size of Montana and goaded Cliff into a fight (which didn't take much work) so he could deck him. Cliff's been neglecting Betty - as usual - leading to her being cross with him. As usual. And none of that is being helped by Peevy's niece Sally, who has a serious crush on Cliff. She was also nearly the victim of an assault from that first CAA guy during her flight inspection, though she looks maybe 14. Cliff, being a meathead, has not been much help for her sorting out her feelings.

Oh, and a freighter showed up in L.A. with a guy in a frilly shirt and dinosaurs on it. The dinos are headed for NYC, to wreak havoc at the behest of a Mr. Trask, but frilly shirt guy thinks they'd be more effective if he can steal the rocketpack, duplicate it, then attach them to the dinosaurs. I can't argue with that logic.

Chris Samnee does a bang-up job on the art, which should be no surprise. There are a lot of little touches that he does very well. Framing one panel within the sound effect (panel 5, page 1, issue 1), or having a panel in the shape of the Rocketeer helmet's eye holes as shorthand for Cliff being suited up (panel 8, page 3, issue 1). The first glimpse of the dinosaur's eyes was suitably scary. Also, the bit in issue 2 when Cliff wakes up and learns his new CAA fellow has just learned his "secret" identity (I put it in quotes because Cliff's worse at keeping a dual identity than Ultimate Peter Parker was). The reaction was very Charlie Brown, though the "AUUGGHH" helped, and so did Garland standing with one foot casually on Cliff's helmet. Lucy with the football.

It is a little tough to deal with Cliff as the main character, because he is almost constantly being an ass to someone. If he isn't pissing off Betty with neglect, he's hurting Sally with dismissal of her feelings, or doing something stupid and hotheaded. The key things Waid does to mitigate this are that 1) Cliff tends to recognize his mistakes, if just a moment too late (a bit like Hawkeye, then), and 2) there are consequences for it. He thought he could slug Mr. Feeny and it'd be no big deal, but it got Mr. Garland brought in, which puts Cliff up against someone who not only has the law on his side, but is sufficiently big and tough enough he can't be pushed around by Secord. Cliff rushes to recover the rocket alone, and he winds up getting tossed to a hungry dino. If he keeps hurting Sally, Peevy will probably brain him with a wrench. It's OK for a character to be a jerk, as long as there are consequences, or someone at least calls them on it. When neither of those things happens (Buffy in Season 6, Batman pretty much any time in the previous 20 years of comics), it's just aggravating.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This Is About Heroclix, But Not The Fan Vote, Relax

It's become a bit of a yearly tradition for me to talk about characters I'd like to see made into Heroclix. And I usually talk about DC in September, then Marvel in October. It's September, so let's get to it.

To clarify, I'm talking about characters that have never been made. There was a DC set a month or two ago, JL52, that had a new Cyborg and a new Enchantress, both of which I'll get around to purchasing eventually. But both those characters have been made before, albeit many years ago. I'm more interested in figures that have never gotten the nod.

Last year, I picked a top 5 of Sand, Terra (the most recent one, Power Girl's friend), the Haunted Tank, Enemy Ace, and the Unknown Soldier. In the last year, exactly none of those characters got made. Sand had a shot, but he lost last year's fan vote to Barda (although as I mentioned over the weekend, Barda's has yet to actually be released, though we have seen the figure and its dial).

That's. . . not great. Admittedly, there haven't been a lot of opportunities. There were a couple of Fast Forces (a box of about six figures so you can put together a team quick and easy) based off earlier sets. There was a set for the Nolan Batfilms, the JL52 set (which had about 20 figures), and the 10th Anniversary set, which had 2 dozen, but many of those were the same character at two different stages of their career. So Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and Oracle. Not always, since one Flash was Jay, the other Barry, and the GLs were Alan and Hal, but there was overlap.

The upcoming Batman set may help a little. Several years after introducing the "Vehicle" keyword with Thor's wagon in Hammer of Thor, they're seriously getting into vehicles with the upcoming Batman set. The Batmobile's a lock, but so is the Invisible Jet, Ted Kord's Bug, and, I believe, the Haunted Tank. I don't know whether it's the M-3 Stuart, or the Sherman they started using later. I hope it's the Stuart, but the way things are going, I better take what I can get.

I haven't heard anything about Enemy Ace, and it may be too much to hope for Rittmeister von Hammer and his Fokker triplane, but with them making vehicles now, there's a chance. The Batman set is also going to include some of the Outsiders, which means we might see Grace and Thunder, who almost made the top 5. I have this desire to put together the short-lived Chuck Dixon Outsiders team, and I need those two for it. There's a Teen Titans set coming out sometime next year, maybe Atlee Terra would show up there. All of that is circumstantial, but hopefully next year's edition will have more good news than this year's did.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

House of the Hunted - Mark Mills

House of the Hunted is about a man being sucked back into a life and past he had worked hard to escape. Tom Nash at one time worked in British intelligence, but is five years into a more relaxing career as a writer on the French Mediterranean. He's also preparing for an annual two-week stretch of partying with an international collection of friends and acquaintances.

Sadly, all that fun is spoiled by the Italian assassin who sneaks into Tom's home and tries to drug him into a heart attack. Tom isn't clear why someone from Italy would be out to kill him, but as he and his friend Leonard (still working in the Foreign Office) investigate, Tom becomes convinced this has something to do with a mission in Russia in 1919, sixteen years earlier. That Leonard dismisses it makes Tom all the more paranoid.

House of the Hunted is a bit more focused on the problem at hand than The Information Officer was, which I appreciate. I think the idea of someone's work wearing them down, prompting the need for a change is appealing. So is the idea that the past can easily come back to cause problems. There's a bit of a discordant note with all the dinners, sailing, and scavenger hunts, because I was reasonably sure Tom was safe during those scenes. Frankly, he's fairly sure of the same thing, but it doesn't reduce his tension, because he spends much of the time distracted, watching for threats, trying to determine who is working against him.

Mills writes a lot of interesting, variable characters to surround Tom with, which helps make the party scenes more interesting. There's a lot of witty back and forth, and some pointed discussion about the deteriorating state of the world in the mid-1930s. I did find the relationship between Tom and Lucy (Leonard's daughter) a bit dodgy. She's a college kid by this point, but he's known her since she was four, which I find unsettling. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Racket

The Racket pits Robert Mitchum as McQuigg against Robert Ryan as Nick Scanlon. McQuigg's a clean cop, constantly being transferred by corrupt administrative types. Scanlon is an old school local boss type, not real happy with the increasing trend of using money and political influence to get things done. He prefers beatings and killings as ways to eliminate problems.

So McQuigg is trying to bring Scanlon down, and trying to use as assistant D.A. he knows is crooked in the process. It's not a bad ploy. The D.A. is crooked because it has him in line for a judgeship, but McQuigg pitches the idea that helping to bring down organized crime and corruption in the upper levels of state government will possibly propel him to governor. Play on the greed.

The movie has its flaws. It gives Nick a younger brother, one who he's highly protective of, and who has met a lounge singer he wants to marry. Nick, naturally, disapproves, and the singer later becomes a potential witness, if she can be convinced to testify. But Joe Scanlon vanishes entirely from the plot after dashing her plans. There's a bit in there about McQuigg and Nick having grown up together, but it doesn't serve much purpose. McQuigg doesn't much try to play on it to sway Nick, and Nick doesn't use it to try and sway McQuigg. I suppose it just helps them to converse a little more easily. Also, they couldn't have telegraphed one of the deaths any more clearly if they'd place a flashing neon light over his head saying "THIS CHARACTER WILL DIE!"

That said, I did like Nick's frustration with the new way of doing things, and the other people in the organization being equally frustrated with Nick's stubborness. He finds their methods unreliable, they find his too risky and attention-getting. It's a shift, and the inevitable conflict between the old and the new. It makes me wonder if Nick didn't take the drastic steps he did because he was tired of all the nonsense. Or he was trying to make a point.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Burn Notice 3.7 - Shots in the Dark

Plot: Michael still has Tom Strickler trying to employ him, so he decides to do a little research on Strickler. By research, I mean he decides to make Diego Garza's life more difficult so he'll check into Strickler. The end result is that Diego was heavily interrogated, I mean interviewed, about Strickler by six different agencies (including one he didn't know existed). So Strickler really is that connected.

But Michael can't just sit around, and tapping Diego's data feed only takes up so much time, which is how he ends up helping Joey. Joey's father is dead, and his stepdad, Erik Luna, is an abusive jerk trying to gain full custody of Joey and his little brother. With all his connections, Erik has the pull to make it happen, which is why Joey tried to steal one of Fi's guns. Michael convinces him there are better ways. Better ways like scaring the crap out of Erik. See, Erik likes to swipe cars from shipments off the docks, then sell them off the books. So Michael plays a former customer now being hunted by a very angry, well-armed person. "Peter" needs his money back so he can run, and suggests Erik do the same. When that fails, they hire killers of their own (Sam and Fi) to handle the problem. When it goes wrong, Erik will panic and run.

Only Erik is more scared of his brother Quinn than he is of these shadowy killers. Which really says something about Quinn. Which leaves Michael with one option: Make Erik look unhinged.

The Players: Strickler (Agent to Spies), Diego (Michael's Point of Contact), Joey (The Client), Erik Luna (Sorry Excuse for a Man), Quinn Luna (The Guy Behind the Guy)

Quote of the Episode: Fi - 'Nice fall, Shakespeare.' Sam - 'Oh, you should talk. You look like you got shot with a bow and arrow.' Fi - 'You don't know what you're talking about. A nine-mil at this range?'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 3 (25 overall). With more surveillance comes more opportunities to drink.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (0 overall). Erik was the only one getting hit this week.

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (2 overall).

Other: Mike's full alias for the episode was Peter Carson. He was also "Pete" of the Lady of Grace Church.

I love Erik's entire breakdown there at the end. Erik pointing at Sam (posing as a fruit vendor), claiming he's a hired killer, while Quinn exasperatedly yells 'That guy? He sells pineapples, Erik!' That little wink Michael gives Erik when no one else can see. Oh, Michael might go to Hell for that one.

Joey's family are the first people this season to stay at Maddie's house. I suppose Quinn got Erik committed, so we can count that under "getting the bad guys to take care of each other". That's only the second time that's happened this season, the first being when Santora and his guys shot each other over suspected double-crosses in "Question and Answer"

I know the Quote of the Episode was a little long again this week, but I thought it needed both sides of the exchange for maximum effect. And Sam really did try and sell it. Just like at the end of season one, when Michael no-sold the ship explosion, while Sam flung his arms out and clearly was getting shoved by the concussive force.

A couple of weeks ago, I felt bad about the show's attempt to get humor out of Spencer's condition, even if I completely understood Michael's frustration with him. Yet I love this whole bit about making Erik look nuts. I suppose the difference is Spencer was an innocent, well-meaning person with a chemical imbalance that made hm difficult to deal with. Erik was an abusive asshole who, near as I can tell, only wanted custody of the children because appearing to be a loving dad helps his image with all those judges and leaders of enterprise. I certainly don't have any impression he cares about Joey or his brother for themselves.

That said, the writers hammered the point about similarities between Joey and Mike way too hard. Maddie commented on it, Sam commented on it, Mike talks with Joey about understanding what he's going through, Joey tries to imitate Michael. I think if they had just left it at Michael and Joey's interactions, it would have been sufficient. Mike sees something familiar in the boy, Joey sees someone who gets where he's coming from in Michael, that would have worked.

I don't understand at the end, why Michael is so eager to distance himself from Sam and Fi to visit Strickler. Sam gets Michael's desire to reclaim his old job, though he likely won't trust Strickler. Fi doesn't get it, but she agreed to support Michael, and has done nothing but support him thus far. I suppose Mike fears blowback from his decisions and is trying to protect them.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Down To The Last Few Candidates Now

So Ikon didn't make it to the final round of the voting. It's down to Sleepwalker, Death's Head, and Ghost Rider. Which, I don't want to say it's a disappointing array of choices, but it's not one that inspires much enthusiasm. If I had to choose, I suppose I'd vote for Sleepwalker

The real question, regardless of who wins, is how long it'll take them to release it. Barda won the DC vote last fall, and she still hasn't shown up for purchase. Not for a couple more months, anyway. She'll be in the Batman set later this fall, which is actually looking halfway intriguing with all the characters who aren't Batman in it. Marvel typically has more set releases, so there might be less turnaround, but I haven't seen anything on any upcoming sets recently.

Friday, September 21, 2012

On Dangerous Ground

I don't have much to say about Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino's On Dangerous Ground. What I do can be summarized in three comments.

1) There's a curious focus on the footprints in the snow of the killer Ryan and Ward Bond are pursuing. It isn't enough to simply show there are footprints, the camera lingers over them for some reason I can't discern. Is it to emphasize their prey is a human, but one being tracked like an animal? That he's not some sure-footed mountain man, but a person as much out of their depth as city cop Ryan is in the wilderness? Or maybe they thought audiences really needed to be reminded of how the killer was being tracked.

2) Ryan's character has a serious anger problem after 11 years on the force. He can't set aside all the ugliness he sees on the job, and it comes out in brutality, as he beats on potential source of information until his bladder ruptures. After a different loss of temper, his veteran partner slams him up against a wall and lays it out for him, His voice echoes strongly in the alley, which gives his words an extra resonance. However, because we're looking at him from essentially over Ryan's shoulder, it's as though he's yelling at us, but we're somewhere far away, like a deep cave, or the bottom of the ocean. That's how lost Ryan is to the anger.

3) I was really embarrassed by how long it took Ryan and Bond's characters to realize Lupino was sightless. I figured it out within 30 seconds, just by the lack of lights and the way she moved. it took those morons over 5 minutes. Bond can be excused, he's a distraught father, but Ryan's a cop. He ought to be more observant.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Lady Can Stay In The Lake For All I Care

I didn't actually finish watching The Lady in the Lake. There came a point when I realized it still had 20 minutes to go, and I couldn't bear the thought of watching it for that much longer.

George Montgomery's version of Phillip Marlowe was too abrasive. Bogart could play cynical detectives with a penchant for straight (read: harsh) talk, but he also knew when to play nice. Everything Montgomery says sounds like it comes with its own sneer. Of course, I can't be sure of that, what with the gimmick Montgomery decided to employ (he was also the director).

See, the entire movie is shown from Marlowe's perspective. We see it as he sees it. We only see his face when he looks in a mirror, usually to inspect his latest set of injuries. If Marlowe gets punched in the face, the fist comes right at us, then the camera wobbles, falls, and goes dim. The entire movie is done like this (excepting brief interludes where Marlowe addresses us directly, before continuing with his story).

The problem it presents is twofold. One, we only have Montgomery's voice to go off in our determination of who he is. As I said, most everything he says is mean-spirited, but we have no way of perceiving his body language. Maybe he's just tired, irritated, maybe it was a joke that fell flat, but those are the sort of things the actor's posture and face tells us, and those aren't options. The other problem is that by placing us in Marlowe's eyes, all the other character's reactions are directed at us. When he says something hurtful, and they look at him with anger or pain in their eyes, they look at us. Which makes me feel like I'm the guy who hurt them, and that makes me angry at Marlowe.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Information Officer - Mark Mills

It's been several years since I read Mark Mills' first book, Amagansett, but I recall liking it well enough. So I had fairly high hopes for The Information Officer.

Set in Malta during May of 1942 (though framed by two scenes set in London ten years later), it follows Max Chadwick, the British officer charged with presenting the news in the way best suited to keep hopes up and keep the citizens of Malta on the British side. This is somewhat complicated by the fact everyone knows that's the purpose of his job and the Daily Situation Report, not to mention the fact the Brits are so low on ammo and viable aircraft they can't mount much more than a perfunctory defense against German bombing. That someone has begun assaulting and killing local women, and that the most recent victim had a scrap of a British submariner's uniform in her hand, isn't helping matters. Especially as Max decides to investigate, while his ranking officers* tell him to back off, and the possibility is raised by a friend of Max' that this may be a German plan to sour relations between Malta and the Brits. Which isn't to say the killer doesn't enjoy their work. . .

Mills paints a very lovely picture of Malta, even if it is one being systematically blown to bits by the Nazis. His dialogue is amusing at times, and he creates the fine characters. The murders at times seem largely secondary to Max trying to work through his frustrations with his personal life, which is a curious choice, but truthfully, the book will go long stretches without mentioning them, or without any progress made in any form with regards to them.

I found it silly that seemingly every female character in the book is either attracted to Max, or at least likes him enough to want him to hook up with their friend/boss/relative. The one woman who wouldn't fit those categories is also the one who immediately betrays Max' confidences, which is a curious choice. What, if a woman doesn't like Max, they're a conniving backstabber? That, and certain ways in which Max handles his personal life left me not entirely sure I liked him. Oh, I certainly wanted him to catch the murderer (assuming nobody else was going to), but I thought things turned out a little too neatly for him. Deserve may have nothing to do with it as William Munny once said, but it wouldn't be such a bad thing if it did.

For the record, I completely whiffed on the identity of the killer. Nothing new there, though I thought I had it, which is atypical. I suppose I glossed over a critical comment made by a friend of Max, because I figured word would get around about the murders on its own. A few of the chapters are written from the killer's perspective, so I tried to apply what we knew from those, to what we hadn't learned about other characters. Which obviously didn't work.

* I originally typed "superiors", but I hate using that word to describe someone simply because they've been given authority over another. I've known too many lazy, incompetent prats who got to be bosses to put much stock in the idea of them being anyone's superior.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

His Kind Of Woman!

I don't know if I should include the exclamation point or not. It's in the title on the DVD cover, but not in the actual credits.  My dad loaned me this collection of noir classics, and I didn't have much to say about Border Incident, other than it has Ricardo Montalban in it, which was nice.

I can say a bit more about His Kind Of Woman, though. Robert Mitchum is Dan Milner, a gambler having a bad run of luck. Fortunately, the fellow he owes has an offer. $50,000 to fly to a lodge in Mexico and wait. There'll be a boat along, a man will get off the boat, Milner will get on, and have to stay out of the country for awhile. That's it, and Milner's hardly in a position to refuse, at least to start.

The middle part of the movie is Milner trying to figure out what he's being paid to do and by whom, while getting mixed up with all the other guests. He flew down with Lenore (Jane Russell), and while there are some sparks, she's there to see famous actor Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price, playing an Errol Flynn pastiche?). There's a sleazy investment banker no one likes, a young married couple in need of money, and a doctor who plays chess alone and always wears sunglasses. He seems to be waiting for someone as well. . .

Mitchum's always a good actor. Milner's quiet, realistic about his circumstances. He tries to take precautions, but isn't the type for futile heroics. He's a gambler, he plays the odds, decides when it is and isn't worth fighting. He and Russell have decent enough chemistry in their banter, though they didn't really convey the apparent attraction, maybe because Lenore does like Mark, at least some.

Vincent Price really was the show stealer. I remember watching The Last Man on Earth and being completely unconvinced during the flashbacks when he had to interact lovingly with his family. In this case, he sells me on Mark Cardigan. Even though Mark is fooling around with Lenore behind his wife's back (though he seems certain she was going to get their marriage annulled), I still like the guy. He's a ham, and a bit of a dork, but Price also gives him a decent core, a man who doesn't hesitate to risk his life to help Milner, who he hardly knows. Mark strikes me as someone lonely, eager to feel a connection to someone. He was so eager to have Milner go hunting with him, he's like a kid desperate to make just one friend.

That being said, the movie shoots itself in the foot in the third act. Milner goes to the boat for a showdown, gets captured, and there's an extended stretch where the bad guys can't decide whether to kill him or continue with their plan. Then when they decide to kill him, they can't decide how. But it has to be drawn out like that, otherwise, Mark can't fend off some of the goons back on the beach, then rally forces at the lodge to attempt a rescue (with numerous mishaps). The stumbling blocks are funny, but the tone undercuts the seriousness of Milner's predicament for one thing, and for another, it gets ridiculous that the bad guys dither about just long enough for things to turn around. If the sequence had been shorter, say by half, I think they could have maintained the tension and still let Price have some fun with his character.

So I guess I'd recommend the movie, but tell you to watch the last third at double speed.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Infinite Possibilities, But Most Mundane

The Mammoth Book of Alternative Histories is what the title promises. Problem being, based on my father's description over the phone, I had been expecting something more similar to What If? which he loaned me a few years ago. Basically, I thought it would be more history, less fiction. I suppose one of the entries being written by Harry Turtledove should have clued me in.

As far as alternative historical fiction goes, the stories are mostly alright. The lead entry, James Morrow's The Raft of the Titanic was a dud, as the idea of the crew of that liner using the life boats as pontoons to hold a massive platform for all the passengers to sit on was, well, that wasn't the ridiculous part. It was the people eventually deciding they liked it there and turning the raft into its own country. I can't believe everyone was on board with that. Certainly I wouldn't have been. Confined to that amount of space with that many people, I'd have thrown myself to the sharks in a month. So not a strong start.

Some of the other stories are better, though they all start to blur after awhile. This one's set in America, but the Mongols rule most of the world, except the English might be getting ready to start something. This one's set in England, but it was conquered by the Mughal Empire when it allied with Portugal during a couple of harsh English winters. The one where Benedict Arnold pulled off his betrayal had an interesting perspective, though it seemed a bit much that descendants of the Native Americans who allied with the Brits would look upon George Washington as a Christ-like figure. I'm probably not doing it justice, so heck out Mark Laidlaw's His Powder'd Wig, His Crown of Thornes if you'd know more.

One thing I found interesting is while there are several stories that focus on either the Romans not going into decline, or on the status of Europe after the Roman Empire had fallen apart, nobody examined the Greeks. Like what if the Persians conquered them, or Alexander lived longer, or anything like that. Perhaps they saw no good fodder for stories.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Burn Notice 3.6 - The Hunter

Plot: There's a new wrinkle in Michael's life, a mysterious gift of yogurt, plus a card listing a time and place to meet. The person who wants to meet is a Tom Strickler. Strickler isn't an old foe, no he's someone who wants to see Mike get paid for doing what he does best, and Strickler just gets a cut. Mike's not interested, but he is interested in the rumor Strickler heard about some angry Ukrainian coming to Miami for Mike's head.

Not wanting to be indebted to Strickler, Michael needs another source of information. Fiona (trying to be supportive) knows a man named Beck. Well, "knows" in the sense she hijacked some of his gun shipments. Michael's attempt at a cold approach goes so poorly, it's probably to his benefit the armed team burst in and abducted he and Beck. He and Beck manage to escape, but now they're stuck fleeing heavily armed guys from the Motherland through a mangrove swamp. Sam and Fi are on there way, as soon as Maddy gets some answers. And Mike's poor people skills mean Beck isn't too eager to follow Mike's plan, especially when the plan leads to even more guys with guns showing up. Of course, it did get the boss man, Chechik, out there too. . .

The Players: Strickler (Agent to Spies), Beck (Guy with Connections), Chechik (Hardass)

Quote of the Episode: Michael - 'If I have to drag a complaining pain in the ass through the woods, so do they. Give me your shoelaces.' Beck - 'You know, what say we listen to the guy with the gun for a change?'  Michael - 'Fine. *Takes gun* Now give me your shoelaces.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 2 (22 overall). When they're at the bar, trying to grab the pilot who snuck Chechik in, he was actually drinking a soda. Scary.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (0 overall). He's doing much better at staying out of harm's way this season. Though Maddy did threaten to smother him in his sleep.

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (2 overall)

Other: Fiona has an unorthodox definition of "subtle" On the other hand, she did demonstrate why carrying a gun by tucking it in the front of your pants is really stupid. Seriously, people, don't do that. It's a bad idea.

I'm not sure Michael should promise Beck he can make Fi stop stealing Beck's guns. But if Fi is really on board with helping Michael, maybe she'll stop of her own accord. Plus, Beck now has a better idea how to start tracking her down.

I love how terrified Chechik gets when Beck mentions one of his biggest partners in the Russian mafia is an old general who owns 800 miles of Siberian, crap, was it railway or pipeline? Whichever. Chechik knows exactly who he means, and he was more scared than when Mike had a knife to his throat.

I do hope Beck has a good doctor. It can't have been hygienic to swim through a swamp with an open gunshot wound in his leg. I don't even want to think about what one could contract there. *shudders*

Ben Shenkman brings just the right air to Strickler. He's so outwardly friendly and relaxed. Not trying to push anyone to do anything, just making suggestions. But there's something about all of it that's just a little sleazy, a little too complimentary. A real shit-eating grin. It's also kind of amazing how bad Michael is at making friends. He resorts too easily to threats or "I know something you don't know". That being said, the back and forth between he and Beck (Keith Diamond) works pretty well. You get the feeling Beck's kind of forgotten what it was like when he was clawing his way up, but that same tough customer is still there. it's just a matter of Michael getting on the same side.

I do enjoy this episode. The Beck/Michael arguing is funny, and I seem to enjoy these episode where Michael has to dismantle a superior force singlehandedly.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I Needed To Stuff More Ballot Boxes

The Heroclix vote I mentioned last week didn't go as I hoped. 3-D Man didn't make it past the first round. Neither did Hellcat or Major Victory.

On the plus side, less difficulty for me in deciding who to vote for in Round 2. It's Ikon or nothing. On the minus side, the odds are that much worse I'll get a character I want. More likely it'll be Death's Head, Mangog, or the Lady Ghost Rider.

Friday, September 14, 2012

They'll Get To Genosha As Soon As Ultron Goes Away, Alright?

I was reading Chad Nevett's discussion of an earlier conflict between the Avengers and the X-Men. It's the '80s mini-series where the Avengers and Soviet Super-Soldiers are trying to bring in Magneto for his various crimes, and the X-Men end up protecting him. Nevett points out the X-Men take a protect mutants stance, regardless of the circumstances, since Magneto did actually do all the stuff he's accused of (like, you know, try to take over the world and sink Soviet subs).

In the comments, the issue is raised that the X-Men have no reason to trust the Avengers when it comes to mutant rights. The Avengers don't take stances against Weapon X or the Sentinel program. They did act against Genosha's systematic oppression of mutants*, nor did they show up to help when the country was largely wiped out. It could be construed the Avengers don't care much about mutants, except those on their team. Not necessarily a bad point, and the X-Men's point that the Phoenix has existed peacefully on Earth before has some merit.

Of course, so does the Avengers' point that the Phoenix was destroying every planet in its path on the way to Earth, inhabited or not, and oh yeah, it's done that before.

There's another aspect, and that's if you're going to play the continuity game, it isn't hard to highlight some occasions where the Avengers could question whether the X-Men care about the safety of the planet. Defending Magneto for one thing, but hell, look at the Busiek Avengers run. Ultron wipes out an entire country, then turns out to have an army of himself. I guess there were no mutants in Slorenia because the X-Men don't show up. Count Nefaria prepares to detonate an ionic bomb so he can control anyone in the world who gives him lip. Do the X-Men (who would presumably find themselves as much under his thumb as the rest) help stop him? Nope. When Kang took over the entire planet, did the X-Men help? No. Admittedly, I doubt Kang cares about mutants in any way other than if they serve or oppose him, but still, no help from the X-groups.

It can work both ways, and make both groups look bad. Or there's another option: Both sides are busy people.

I came to this conclusion reading Amazing Spider-Man #229-230. Spider-Man vs. the Juggernaut. Spidey realizes he's outclassed and tries to call reinforcements. The X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four (there's another thing, I don't see the X-Men showing up to fight Galactus), they're all out of town, busy with their own stuff. The editor even added a helpful footnote directing the reader to precisely which comics would describe those adventures.

That's become my stock answer for why such-and-such hero didn't show up to deal with a threat. They're busy with something in their own book This has been harder to maintain in the Bendis years, where Avengers spend an inordinate amount of time sitting around coffee tables talking. Prior to that, it wasn't hard to point out other heroes are occupied with their own difficulties.

It still doesn't mean both sides haven't behaved like idiots in the current mess, but I find it a useful answer to questions like "Why doesn't Batman call the Justice League to clean up Gotham?", or "How is Daredevil the only person around to fight the Hulk?" You've probably had it happen where you try to get a bunch of friends together for something. It can take awhile, because they all have their own lives, and things are happening all the time. Why wouldn't it be the same for heroes?

Look, I either go with this idea, or I accept the Avengers really don't give a damn about mutants and the X-Men are a complete pack of lunatics who don't care if the world's at risk as long as mutants aren't involved.

* I'm not clear on when that became common knowledge. The X-Men didn't even know until the Australia years, and they were pretending to be dead, so I'm guessing they didn't mention it to the Avengers. So when would they have found out. Post-X-Tinction Agenda? During the crossover in the early 90s, Bloodties, Bloodlines, something like that. And by the latter, I'm pretty sure things had changed and mutants had earned full rights.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Riddle of the Sands

My dad sent The Riddle of the Sands along before he'd even had the chance to watch it himself, so I pretty much have to watch it, don't I?

The movie starts with a young Englishman named Davies sailing along the German coast in 1901. He's there because he wants to chart the sandbars and update the sea charts, as all the ones in England are woefully out of date. He has dinner with a German yachter named Dollman, his daughter Clara, and a member of the German Navy, and explains this is why he's here. Next thing you know, Germans are poking through his boat while he's away. That combined with another incident when he tries to follow Dollman further into the Baltic, convinces him to write his friend Carruthers (Michael York) in the Foreign Office. Carruthers travels to Germany and the two set to snooping, though Carruthers does not take to life on the cramped confines. The ultimate revelation is Germany plans to pull those barges (loaded with soldiers) across the sea and attack Britain's unprotected east coast. So it's up to Carruthers and Davies to try and short-circuit that. Somehow.

For a film that's primarily an espionage film (two guys trying to thwart an entire nation with wits and resolve), it's not what I'd call a tense movie. I never found myself on the edge of my seat. The bit where Davies navigates them right to an island in a blinding fog was a nice bit, but it felt inevitable he'd lead them true. The strongest part of the film was the interplay between Carruthers and Davies. Carruthers trying to adjust to life on the boat, dealing with Davies, but recognizing Davies' affection for Carla and trying to avoid damaging that for his friend.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What I Bought Two Weeks Ago

I picked up some back issues online recently, and they just arrived over the weekend. I think I'm finally done tracking down Uncanny X-Men back issues, unless I want to pick up more stuff before issue 200. And why would I want to do that? I'd be exposed to dangerous levels of Cyclops. Among the back issues, there were also issues 2 and 4 of Atomic Robo Real Science Adventures, as I'd kind of concluded they weren't likely to be arriving as reorders at the store anytime soon.

Atomic Robo Real Science Adventures #2, by Brian Clevinger (words), Matt Speroni (colors), Jeff Powell (letters), Ryan Cody (artist, "To Kill a Sparrow"), Rob Reilly (artist, "Monster Hunters"), John Broglia (artist, "Leaping Metal Dragon") - Those are some pretty sweet panther bots Wegener drew on the cover. I especially like the empty nasal cavity on the uppermost one, giving it a bare skull appearance.

There's not much to say about the two serial features. The Allied commando ladies don't manage to successfully escape their blowing up several Nazis, which is how we got to the point where Sparrow bluffed some soldiers with a bunch of unarmed Resistance fighters. And Bruce Lee gets Robo to discuss why he feels the need to learn how to fight.

As for "Monster Hunters", Robo hires a group of guys to try and capture the Yonkers Devil, which showed up in Volume 4, I think. This doesn't go well at all, but it turns out the Robo that's with the guys when they make their attempt was an agent of Majestic in disguise. Because they want to observe the creature. Quite why it doesn't eat that idiot while he's sitting there gabbing on his phone, I don't know. Honestly, I'd almost forgotten about the Yonkers Devil and Majestic, so this was not one of my favorite stories. Rob Reilly's art is nice, though. Clean, energetic, gives the Hunters the right look of fear, overconfidence, or mania for the moment.

The high point of the issue might have been the reprint of Robo fending off another assassination attempt by Thomas Edison, this time involving the ghost of Rasputin. I don't know about Robo, but I would have found that a welcome distraction from studying for finals whether I had lightning guns to defend myself with or no.

Atomic Robo Real Science Adventures #4 by, Brian Clevinger (words), Matt Speroni (colors), jeff Powell (letters), Ryan Cody (artist, "To Kill a Sparrow"), Zack Finfrock (artist, "The Dark Age"), Xevi Benitez (artist, "Most Perfect Science Division"), John Broglia (artist, "Leaping Metal Dragon") - Scipio can talk about sweet octopus love all he wants. I'm with Robo, stab the damn thing!

Again, not much to say about the serials. Sparrow infiltrates the base, gets found. Bruce Lee spends a lot of time use Robo as a punching bag. Which is pretty funny, especially when Robo comments that it feels like he got hit by a truck, and he should know. As for "The Dark Age", it's set in the '90s, but a lot of the comments the comic shop owner makes feel as if they'd be equally applicable today (Obviously not the part about barely selling 100K being pretty sad). I'm not sure if that's Clevinger's point, or just an unfortunate side effect of where the industry is. And "Most Perfect Science Division" details how other countries have tried to build their own Robos. While none have apparently reached his level of autonomy, China apparently built one that is controlled mentally by 5 guys that can at least fight Helsingard to a draw, which isn't too shabby.

Benitez' art for that last feature is a bit different than most of the artists seen in this series up to this point. Thinner linework, more use of speed lines, more of a tendency to draw the action out over multiple panels (a bit like David Aja on that last one, though not to the same degree).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Touch of Evil

I'm not certain what Touch of Evil refers to. Does it mean we all have some of it within us, just a bit? Or does it mean "touch" as in something foul reaches out and taps us, and we're instantly affected, perhaps marked as unclean? You could go either way with this movie.

Quinlan (Orson Welles) certainly has a bit of evil within him, both in how he gets his man, and in how far he's willing to go to save his reputation. Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) has perhaps a bit of it later on, when he barges into bars and begins attacking people, looking for his wife. His shirt is ripped open, his hair a mess, eyes wild. Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) has it in his family business, and the deal he cooks up with Quinlan to discredit Vargas, removing him as a thorn from both their sides. Quinlan's friend Menzies has a bit of evil, depending on your point of view, in either his assistance of Quinlan's deeds all these years, or in his betrayal of him later on.

I'm not sure who exactly who be the something foul that reaches out and touches all of them. It could be the man who killed Mr. Linnekar at the beginning, since that's what draws all the players together. It could be Grandi, a dishonest, sleazy man desperate to save his family. But it could also be the man who killed Quinlan's wife decades ago.

Because I think the film is all about Quinlan ultimately. Linnekar's death is almost an afterthought, foreshadowed immediately beforehand when he tries to get through the border crossing. He's impatient, eager to get home with the young 'strip teaser' he's picked up. But the guards ignore him, more interested in asking Vargas and his wife Susan (Janet Leigh) what they're up to and how the Grandi case is going. Linnekar's eventually let through, and then he dies. Joe Grandi has his plans, but its notable that Quinlan regards him as little more than an amusement early on. Even later, when they work together, the camera stays focused on Quinlan, even if all he does is sit and listen, while Grandi moves about, a small figure in the background. All of Menzies actions and struggles are tied up in his loyalty to Quinlan. Tana (played by Marlene Dietrich), is only in the movie because of some past association she and Quinlan had. he regards her place as one of his better days, a safe haven.

This focus on Quinlan is interesting, and it produces a lot of questions (did his going on the wagon coincide with planting evidence? is he aware that's what he does, or is he delusional enough he convinces himself his lies are true?), but it does have some unfortunate results. Susan is assaulted, drugged, probably gang raped, and it's all sort of brushed aside. There's more attention paid to the smell of weed on her clothes than anything else, and the fact is this is Quinlan's doing. And you could argue that his attempt to wreck Vargas only made Miguel more determined to bring him down, but the movie still seems to treat it as though Susan will wake up from her drugged stupor in the car with her husband, and all will be well.

I've watched the theatrical version, and the one that was restored in accordance with the 50+ page memo Welles sent the studio execs. I'd like to watch that version again, after reading the memo, to see how well I pick up on the things Welles had in mind (also, truth be told, I wasn't completely focused on the film on the first viewing). Maybe the memo will explain the ridiculous Dennis Weaver character.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What I Bought 9/7/2012

 No, comics didn't come in the mail. Perhaps later this week or the next. But I did a little traveling on my weekend, there was a comic shop along the way, and I picked up both issues of Daredevil that shipped last month. It seems possible Jack got shorted on DD #16, so why take chances?

Daredevil #16 by Mark (writer), Chris Samnee (art), Javier Rodriguez (color art), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - I must like how Samnee draws shoes. That's the only explanation I have for why my eyes keep going to Matt and Foggy's footwear on the cover.

Much of this issue is spent inside Matt's brain. Literally, as Hank Pym has shrunk himself down and is running around with an EMP gun blasting all those little nanobots. There are an awful lot of them, though, and it doesn't help that Matt's senses are still trying to transmit information. And seeing as Matt's brain isn't being allowed to decipher it, everything's going to Pym's brain instead. Which is just what Hank needs: A stressful situation that completely alters his perceptions for a period of time. He does help Murdock, though, and once Matt learns he's been out for 9 days, he's off like a shot to the office. Only to find Foggy has essentially fired him for being unstable. Turns out Foggy found the remains of Matt's father in his desk. Well, his skull and boxing gloves, anyway.

That's awkward.

But it's a good issue on the whole. Samnee draws the inside of the brain to look a bit like a squishy pink cave, which, might be what it would look like from the size? I don't know. I guess I know where Pym's supposed to be, and that's sufficient for me to go along with it. Some of the expressive work Samnee does is fantastic, though. The 2nd panel on page 8, after Pym loses contact with Stark and loses the gun, where he looks up afraid and unsure, to be greeted with pitch darkness in panel 3. Very effective, as is the bit on the next page where we see Matt's brain somehow confer his radar sense to Pym, and so there's a shift in how the bugs are perceived, and the outline of the hero goes from Pym's head to Daredevil's. Also the confrontation on page 19, Matt holding his head in his hands, looking crushed, with the reflection of his father's skull reflected in his glasses.

So Nelson and Murdock is just Nelson, now, which brings us to. . .

Daredevil #17 by Mark Waid (writer), Michael Allred (art), Laura Allred (Color art), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - So is Daredevil supposed to look gigantic on the cover? Is it meant to be the city closing in on him?

Matt takes a walk to where he and Foggy used to house their law practice, now torn down. Matt reflects on another time when they were set at odds, only for the partnership to be saved by an attack from Stilt-Man, of all people. He grabs some things Foggy is highly protective of, Daredevil captures Stilt-Man, saves Foggy from the actual threat, and makes Foggy tell him what's going on. What's going on is Foggy's agreed to work for an inventor named Pasko who has a device that may restore sight to the sightless. But he's being hassled by a ruthless company, and so Foggy's been fighting for him on the chance it might someday give Matt his sight back. Recalling this convinces Matt he won't let anyone mess with his life, and that's where the story ends.

I find it significant that in the last panel, as Matt vows to keep his life on the upswing, he's diving off a building and shown in a slow-motion descent towards. . . Well, the way Alrred draws it, I don't think matt's going to reach that building on the other side. Maybe it puts lie to his words, maybe it's supposed to show he's still Daredevil no matter what, I don't know. It just wasn't the sort of image I'd expect to end with given the inner monologue.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Burn Notice 3.5 - Signals and Codes

Plot:  Michael's approached outside the shooting range by Spencer, a highly intelligent young man who has tracked Michael down because he needs his help. There are evil aliens from Procyon A within a security contracted company called Stone-Kittredge, who are systematically killing off the Guardians, from Ross 154. Or, put another way, Shannon Park, head of the security department at S-K, is selling the identities of American spies to the highest bidders. Somewhat reluctantly, Michael has to admit this is worth looking into. Which means trying to get her somewhere with evidence in her hands. Which unfortunately means relying on heavily on Spencer, which is a dicey proposition at best.

On other fronts, Michael has watched a local airport sufficiently to peg "black flights" coming in and figure out where the CIA keeps its hanger. Which is how he finds Diego Garza, a spy who just wants to enjoy his easy job here in Miami and not be hassled by Michael Westen. Which naturally means Michael hassles him. Running in the background of all that is Fiona's continued irritation at Michael's insistence on getting his old job back. That's right, we've officially entered the part of the season where Michael and Fi have relationship problems! Because Michael's an ass.

The Players: Spencer (The Client), Shannon Park (Murderer, Traitor, Probably Not An Alien), Diego Garza (The Spy Michael's Looking For)

Quote of the Episode: Spencer - 'You're right. We shouldn't be out in the open like this. They're probably looking for me.' Sam - 'The aliens?' Spencer - 'The police. I broke out of a psych ward. Weren't you listening?'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No, though Michael would have had it coming by the end of the episode if she totaled his Charger.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 2 (20 total). I'm sure he wanted to drink more. Spencer has that effect on people.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (0 total).

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 1 (2 overall). It was a mean fake laugh, though. I think he enjoyed talking down to Shannon the entire episode. Probably how he vented his frustration with Spencer.

Other: Michael uses the name "Jeremy" in dealing with Shannon. He uses "Michael Hearts Diego" as his online auction name.

There are a lot of little things in this episode. The fact Michael probably got that lady at the airport fired by convincing her to let him see the file. Which he stole, so yeah, she's out of a job. I wonder if Sam actually had ice cream cake when he posed as the 'teamwork consultant'. I would put up with that meeting in exchange for ice cream cake. That Virgil got them the boat they passed off as belonging to Spencer's dead friend Brad. That Barry dropped out of podiatry school, and his mother gives him grief about it.

I don't really care for this episode. Part of that is Spencer, who seems like a nice guy, but seems to have a chemical imbalance. I mean, I understand Sam, Mike, and Fi getting frustrated by him. I'd get irritated, too, but that's because I have very low tolerance when it comes to dealing with people doing things that bother me (and the list of stuff that bothers me is pretty long). But I also know I shouldn't do that, so I end up torn between feeling bad for Mike and Co., and feeling bad for Spencer when Michael punches his lights out.

The bigger problem, though, is Michael's in full on jerk mode this episode. Like I said, he almost certainly got that nice lady fired. He wouldn't put suntan lotion on Barry's back. Sure, Barry charged him a grand to investigate the file he swiped, but still, be a pal. He's making life hard for Diego, as if Diego can magically get him back in. Leave the guy alone. He's been shot twice. Sure that may have been while watching villages burn and children get orphaned (probably by someone the government sent Diego to support), but the man just wants to enjoy his peaceful assignment. And like I said, he can't get Michael back in. That's for the higher-ups, so what good is antagonizing him?

Actually, I like Diego. He's tired of the ugly jobs Michael would apparently love to have, and he has no patience for Michael's games. So he doesn't play them. He just cuts through them and makes Michael get on with whatever it is he wants.

Then, of course, there's Fiona. Michael's request she be 'with him on this' is laughable at best, infuriating at worst. With him? I'm sorry, I'm fairly sure I've seen Fi fighting right alongside Michael this whole time. Even when she's pissed at him (often), even when he's on some mission she doesn't agree with (protecting Victor). And he has the gall to sit there and say that? Apparently Michael paid no attention to Spencer when he said he envied Michael for having people he could trust, because Mike's doing a fine job of pushing them away. Which will be an issue as we move further on into this season. But will it be a problem next week?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

'Tis The Season To Vote. . . On Heroclix

Last year, Wizkids did this fan vote to decide on a DC character that would get made in some future set. Despite my hopes (and votes) that Sand would triumph, ultimately Big Barda won out. She actually hasn't been made yet, but there's a set coming out sometime soon she should be in.

Having, done it once, they've decided to do it again, this time with Marvel characters. The first round voting started yesterday, so all 12 are still in play. And the nominees are:

3-D Man/Triathlon
Death's Head
Ghost Rider (Alejandra Blaze)
Major Victory
Silver Sable

It's kind of interesting they didn't offer anyone with the level of appeal of say, Kyle Rayner (who was one of the options last year), or even Starfire, really (also one of last year's choices). And over half the choices have never been made before, which is nice. Though it's sure to produce a lot of acrimony on HCRealms, with the fans of those characters fighting amongst themselves since each will figure this is their favorites' one chance. I've looked at the threads that already popped up. Every character on that list has ardent supporters.

I don't have anything against any of the characters, but there are some I'm able to easily discount. I've never read anything with Death's Head in it, and Xemnu is limited to a couple of Defenders appearances.

Executioner and Mangog would be nice if I had a Thor villains team (the way I have a Sinister Six or Evil Mutants team), but I don't, so no thanks.

I already have both a Johnny Blaze and Dan Ketch Ghost Riders, and I don't know what team I'd use Alejandra on, so I'll pass. I don't have a Sleepwalker (since he's never been made), but I don't know exactly what I'd use him for, so not really interested.

Annihilus was made as recently as the Secret Invasion set, which was about 4 years ago, but wasn't that many sets ago. Certainly not compared to the other characters that have already been made. The figure's still a beast. All it needs is the "Annihilation Wave" keyword to work with all the Wave-related figures they added in Galactic Guardians this spring, and it would be fine. Wizkids can errata that in if they want.

Which still leaves 5 choices. Silver Sable could go on an Outlaws team. I have all the others thanks to the Web of Spider-Man set, but there's already a Silver Sable from an earlier set to use if I really want. The same basic deal with Hellcat and Major Victory. I could use them for Defenders of Guardians of the Galaxy, respectively, but they've both been made in the past, and I'm willing to go forward relying on those figures. So it's down to Ikon or 3-D Man. I have both an Annihilators team and an Agents of Atlas squad, so I could use either one. All the other members of Atlas are "retired" figures, but that's more relevant to someone who plays a lot of competitive events at venues. I mostly just goof around with them at home., which is why I went with Delroy. I like Agents of Atlas more than the Annihilators, and I think he'd bring something interesting to the team.

We'll see if he can even survive the first cut.

Friday, September 07, 2012

The Light's Out

We seem to have lost a lot of good characters in the DC relaunch, but it occurred to me yesterday we're also rid of evil Dr. Light. We lost the good Dr. Light too, but I'm not counting that as a positive.

Anyway, evil Dr. Light. He hasn't shown up so far, and I have to say that's a good thing. Given the general turn the DC Universe seems to have taken (nice work there, Barry), I shudder to think what a relaunched Dr. Light would have been like.

I suppose there's always a chance he could have reverted to his loser ways, but I doubt it. Which is a disappointment. There's something to be said for a villain with incredible power, but no nerve. The kind who would rather commit robberies someplace unlikely to attract superheroes, or flee if he does encounter them. There's stuff to do with that. Make him try to plan things out (if you want him to remain sort of bumbling, have him forget really obvious problems with his schemes). Have him be obsessive about observing other criminals, either to learn from them, or to use their activities as cover for his own. And there's always the possibility he gets fed up being a joke and tries for some big, rep-making move, only to get smacked down. Combining power with fear and insecurity could be a good mix.

Or keep him as a joke villain to trot out every so often when you want to take a breather between big stories.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Rage Against The Limitations Of The Game

It feels like video games try to give players more options these days - or at least the illusion of having more options - but they just can't help putting the player on rails at the worst times.

Case in point: Rage. I don't know why, exactly, I decided this should be one of the first games I bought last month for my new XBox 360. The Saboteur, sure, I know why I bought that. It sounded atmospheric and fun. Rage? Temporary insanity perhaps?

Anyway, having bought it, I might as well play it, and so I've reached the delightful burg of Subway Town. To be able to live there mostly peacefully, I have to get on the mayor's good side. Problem being, Redstone is the same sort of asshole employer as Kenji from GTA III was, or the Keepers from Thief: Deadly Shadows. This is never good.

He tells me to clear out a Mutant infestation that's prohibiting the town's expansion. I take care of this like a boss, he blows it off. No big deal, he says. That's not what all those corpses of people who tried before I looted for ammo say, but fine. Now he wants me to sneak into a vault held by the Gearheads and steal their new power source, so he can stop being at their mercy when it comes to Subway Town's power supply. I go, I kill a bunch of people, I get the thing, I kill some more people, I bring it back. It's a dud. He takes this to mean either he was fed bad info, or I'm trying to pull a fast one. Because that makes perfect sense. I decided to kill a bunch of people belonging to a huge gang, and steal from them, all as part of an elaborate prank on him.

So now he's told me to head to the Gearhead power plant, route the controls to him, and kill all the Gearheads. I've yet to try it. At this point, I'm starting to think he's coming up with excuses not to give me the OK, so he can use me as free labor.

Besides that, it rather quickly occurred to me, why not just kill Redstone? Rage is a first-person shooter. I have solved every problem I've been confronted with by shooting it. What makes more sense: To get in another big fight -requiring hundreds, if not thousands of bullets - with a powerful gang to solve Redstone's problem so he won't be a problem for me. Or I could use a few bullets to solve my problem by killing Redstone, and avoid having problems with the Gearheads entirely. Once we get the whole "broke into their vault and killed a bunch of guys" issue sorted out. And honestly, if I have to kill them then because they've sworn revenge, at least I'd be dealing with a problem of my own, rather than somebody else's.

It'd be so much simpler to kill him and take over. The only reason I can't is because the game won't let me. Sure, it might run the risk of raising my profile, but any chance of keeping a low profile got blown out of the water when I joined the Resistance (which I didn't want to do, either). They don't have any problem sending me out there to fight the people I should be avoiding for their benefit, so why can't I act boldly to suit myself for once?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

All These Expectations Are Cutting Into Ollie's Party Time

Reading Oliver Queen's actions up to this point, he comes off as someone who would rather just do as he pleases, but can't stop worrying about others' opinions of him enough to fully commit.

What I mean is, Ollie clearly seems to want to do as he pleases, but he hates that his actions produce expectations in other people. He enjoys owning a company, but hates the meetings, the reports, the memos. In other words, the administrative stuff needed to keep the company running. Once he's actually lost the company, he wants it back. Partially for himself, but also because he doesn't like people thinking he blew it on some fratboy road trip deal.

He hates that his late father seems to have set up numerous tests for him before he can take full control of the company. He's sick of them, of being measured and found wanting. Yet, he can't let the company go. He has to get it back, because he can't bear to think he's confirmed his old man's suspicions.

He did the right thing in not showing his full range of skills during his fight in Mr. Fang's home. Might give him an edge, cause him to be underestimated. But he can't stand being mocked by Fang, being told his company will become a chain of pet stores. He feels like he has to suit up and hit Fang back right then, even though it could cause a lot of problems for a costumed American to be running around attacking wealthy businessmen in China.

He likes being Green Arrow, but gets resentful when other people question whether he's fighting the right kind of crime. They wonder if he's making a difference, really helping people with their problems, and he hates that. Hates that people who use his name as they steal may be more highly regarded, hates that he can't just fight the crime he wants, have some fun with his trick arrows.

It could be that Nocenti is going to make him grow up, get some awareness. Ollie has so far spent his time indulging whatever impulse enters his head without a thought for the consequences. If it happens to be something good (charity poker tournament), he acts like he wants a pat on the head and a cookie for it. We could be seeing his maturation process, as he's more gunshy around women now, and more aware of his responsibilities to his employees and to the world at large (hence the conflict between regaining his company and giving Fang facial recognition software that could enable greater oppression).

As for me, I enjoy the struggle Ollie's having. It happens to me a lot, where I'd rather not do something. It's usually something I should do, helping a coworker or a friend with moving, but I know it's going to be a hassle and an inconvenience, and I'd rather not. But I don't want people thinking I'm a shiftless slackass, so I end up helping. That's ego chiming in, I suppose (guilt, too, because I know they can use the help and I ought to), and it's nice to see Ollie with the same problem.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Can A Robot Intentionally Play A Violin Badly?

Do you think Atomic Robo really does a good Jack Benny impression? He says he does, but I don't believe I've ever seen it (not that I'm sure I would recognize it if I did), so I can't verify. It isn't as if he'd be the first person to think they did a good impression that was actually lousy. I used to think I could do a good Sean Connery, but no, I really can't.

And you know, sometimes your friends tell you things that aren't so because they don't want to hurt your feelings. Or, if you're an atomic robot, because they don't want to get their organs hurt. It could be Robo does a terrible Jack Benny, but nobody will tell him so.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Burn Notice 3.4 - Fearless Leader

Plot: Detective Paxson continues to increase the pressure on Michael, assigning him a tail, which Michael proceeds to ditch at every opportunity. Still, this is only going to get him in more trouble, so its time for a change in plans. If Paxson can't be eluded or scared off, then the remaining option is to convince Michael really is a good guy she doesn't need to be trying to arrest.

Which leads Michael to Matheson, a crook who makes his bones ripping off drug dealer. A crook Paxson's tried to bust so many times, he got a restraining order on her. Getting close to Matheson won't be easy, but getting close to Tommy D'Antonio, a small-timer trying to rise up the ranks? That is easy, if Michael's willing to play the starstruck even smaller time hood wanting to learn from Tommy.

Meanwhile, Sam must face the terrifying  menace of . . . a tax audit.

The Players: Randall (Charmless Sleazebag), Detective Paxson (Inconvenient Cop/Client), Stacey Connolly (I.R.S.), Matheson (Public Enemy), Tommy (Aspiring Public Enemy)

Quote of the Episode: Michael - 'We just need to keep the bad guys from killing each other until the cops arrive.' Sam - 'By standing in front of them?!'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Well, there are several small explosions to deter the drug lab's guards (and connect Matheson to all the other explosions that were actually Fi), but I don't think they actually blew up any objects. Maybe some of the parking lot.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 8 (18 overall). I'm not going to rag on him this week, the man was getting audited. Plus, the last one was a fuzzy navel and by Sam's standards that hardly counts as alcohol.

Sam getting Hit Count: 0 (0 overall).

Mike's Fake Laugh Count: 1 (1 overall). I was starting to think he'd never use a cover identity that required laughter again.

Other: Mike's name this week is "Milo". I love how he and Fi both go for some sort of Jersey (Joisey?) accent, but Sam doesn't even bother.

Madeline really can't cook. Perhaps it's all the cigarette ash in with the eggs.

Right near the end of the episode, Michael describes himself as being free of the people who burned him. Which is a load of bull. They aren't protecting him, but if he doesn't think they're watching him like a hawk, he's considerably dumber than he's appeared up to this point.

It was maybe a little predictable that Tommy would turn out to be a nice sort of guy, who couldn't go along with Matheson, but some people aren't cut out for the tough administrative duties that coming with being boss. Or it could be that unlike Matheson, Tommy's not a total asshole. Whichever.

The whole situation between Michael and Paxson is a little strange to watch. Michael is guilty of the things Paxson thinks he is, the explosions, car chases, and so on. By the end of the episode, he's gotten those things tied to Matheson, in addition to the crimes Matheson actually committed. And he did it in a way where if Paxson starts pulling at the threads to separate Michael's actions from Matheson, Matheson will get away. I'm not sure if I should be glad Michael pulled that off, but there are two mitigating factors. One, it's clear Paxson knows Michael helped her, so it isn't as though he's pulled a fast one on her. Two, we know, even if Paxson doesn't, that Michael's actions were largely taken while trying to stop other crooks, some of them worse than Matheson. Like Carla.

There's one other aspect to it, and it's that I don't really like the way Paxson tries to apply pressure with the tail. Michael says at one point, 'So I answer your questions or you get me and my friends killed?' And Paxson responds, 'No, you answer my questions before you get yourself killed.' She washes her hands of all responsibility, and maybe that's just tough talk to try and spook him, but it still feels wrong. That police tail didn't materialize out of thin air, lady.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

One Year Of The New 52, Part 2

The quantitative stuff is easy. Crunching numbers. Quality is a little trickier. Maybe it's just me. We'll see.

Prior to the relaunch I was buying three titles from DC: Batgirl, Secret Six, Batman Beyond. We could throw REBELS in there too, since it had ended only three months earlier (making room for Flashpoint mini-series). Batgirl would be the headliner, well above the other three. Batman Beyond had solid writing undermined by weak art. When Secret Six was good, it was really good, but when it was bad, I was close to dropping it, which is pretty bad. REBELS was just consistently good. Never great, but never bad, either. I'd rank 'em:

1) Batgirl
3) Batman Beyond

Secret Six would swing depending on the arc. At its best, it'd be #2. At its worst, #4.

So that's the old. What about the new? Since the relaunch, I've tried Suicide Squad, Grifter, Resurrection Man, Green Arrow, and Dial H. Batman Beyond Unlimited is more of an anthology, so I'm not sure how to consider it. Generally speaking, I'd list those:

1) Green Arrow
2) Dial H
3) Resurrection Man
4) Grifter
5) Suicide Squad

Of the various stories in Batman Beyond Unlimited, I'd rank Krul and Porter's Superman arc even with Grifter, the Nguyen and Fridolfs' Justice League would be ahead of Resurrection Man, and Beechen and Breyfogle's Batman Beyond story would be even with Green Arrow, maybe a little ahead.

Suicide Squad's tone hit me entirely wrong. Grifter had a good concept it wasted by not getting me interested in any of the characters. It's disappointing to see Resurrection Man third, but Abnett and Lanning simply fooled around to long and the momentum of the book was lost. At the end of 2011, it was the book I thought had the best chance of making up for losing Batgirl. So much for that. That's why I have Dial H ranked second. I think it can be a book like Batgirl, in the sense it'll have consistently good writing (in a very different way, Miller's was clever and funny, Mieville's is more mysterious, with a bit of insanity) paired with a good artist who makes the story come alive. But it's only been 4 issues, so I'm going for cautiously optimistic.

Which leaves the Nocenti/Tolibao team at the top. Which isn't a great, since Green Arrow is a lot like Batman Beyond. There's more going on with the writing on G.A., but the art still isn't doing the book any favors. It's basically a stronger version of either the 3rd or 4th best DC comic I was buying a year ago. I could probably slot it second behind Batgirl, but there'd be a wide margin between those two books. If Mieville and Santolouco can maintain the quality on their book for a year or so? Or DC can pair Nocenti with a stronger artist? Then there might be something.

In terms of overall quality, it probably hasn't been an upgrade. I say "probably" because one, it's still early in the game for Dial H, and two, parts of Batman Beyond Unlimited can bolster the relaunch's results. Assuming we're willing to fudge it and count that book as part of the "New 52", the addition of Norm Breyfogle was a major boost, and I've found myself more interested in the Justice League story than I expected. I knew I'd like Nguyen's art, I just didn't figure to care about the plot. Pleasant surprise. Again, that's assuming we count that book as part of the relaunch.

Actually, it kind of annoys me they couldn't simply replace Ryan Benjamin with Norm Breyfogle on the pre-relaunch title, give Nocenti the Green Arrow book they had going then (I'm sure she could do something with Ollie living as an outlaw in a forest that grew because of a magic lantern), and let me keep my other books. I know that wouldn't have been their best financial strategy (supposedly), but they have their concerns, I have mine.

For the books I tried, there are various problems. Some tried too hard to be edgy, or maybe "mature" is a better word. Books that have a good central idea to drive a story, but forget about things like character building. Or they have both those elements, but move at such a slow pace it kills the book. Or it comes down to DC not having enough good artists to go around. Or else they aren't using the ones they have properly. Those aren't issues exclusive to a relaunch, and there are plenty of titles out there I wasn't interested in that managed to avoid those problems. But from this point of view, it feeds that sense DC charged into this without a lot of advance planning. If they'd had more time, maybe suggest spending more time making the reader care about the cast, or finding an artist to mesh with the writer.

So that's me. What about you? Are you happier with the books you get from DC now than you were with the ones you had before? Is it a mixed bag, some books you want back, current ones you want to keep?