Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Road To Rule Needs Repaving

I finished Fable 3 a week or two ago. There are still money-making quests I could do, but I'd beaten the big challenge, and earned enough seals to open all the chests. That's good enough for a game I didn't really want (it was included with the console, if I'd known that, I would have asked if they could take it out and replace it with Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3).

I hadn't played a game in the franchise since the original Fable. Back then, I'd gone into the game convinced I'd be the most evil person ever. Then I found myself constantly rationalizing not taking the evil choice. Which was frustrating. I went in with no such plans this time, preferring to simply make whichever choice seemed right at the moment. Even that didn't go as planned. If you're still working through the game, this will likely contain SPOILERS for the storyline, so be advised.

I overthrow my cruel tyrant of a brother and become ruler. Then the mysterious sage who's been providing cryptic advice on the otherworldly "Road to Rule" tells me the living darkness I encountered in Aurora will launch an attack in one year. Before then, I need to raise money to prepare my country for its attack. Each gold piece will save approximately one civilian life, so I need 6.5 million gold. This is what my brother was supposedly trying to accomplish with his harsh rule. As ruler, I will, however, be able to make policy decisions that can raise the funds. Like turning the shelter for the less fortunate into a brothel

Problem: The decisions that make money will often require me to break promises to the very people who helped me overthrow my brother. I refused to do this, with two exceptions (letting them dump sewage in the swamp, and turning the lake into a strip mine. Some biologist I am). I felt like crap about both of them, and what's worse, it made no difference. Not only had I not raised the necessary funds by year's end, I was in the hole 400 grand.

Still, I faced the Infinite Darkness, and crushed it. Because I'm a boss like that. All my friends and allies congratulated me, the credits rolled, and at the end, told me that I'd left my kingdom woefully unprepared, and the few remaining survivors would remember me as the ruler who let her (I decided to play as a girl, cause why not) kingdom die.


Then what the hell was the big celebration about? The final chapter had been titled "The Ends Justify the Means?", and apparently the game was saying "yes, it's acceptable to be a bastard and make people suffer to save them". In the real world, I might accept that. In a fictional world, where I'm a HERO, in capital letters and that's supposed to mean something*, no, I don't. I ought to be able to save them without there needing to suffer. Sure, that's unrealistic, but so is giving me only two options on what to do with my brother (pardon or execute). What about a lengthy prison sentence? What about community service?

That was exasperating, and roaming the streets of my kingdom, empty of anyone except soldiers and bandits, didn't help. I swung between finding gameplay depressing and infuriating. Was the game telling me I had to compromise my morals to save people? If that was the case, why bother having me oust my brother? He was doing a fine job of that already, and don't give me any guff about needing a true hero, since clearly my being one didn't help much. I put every cent I'd made into the treasury, but it barely made a dent. Was I supposed to rent out properties, play Lute Hero for 5 hours, make pies? I wasn't interested in any of that, any more than I had been in starting a family.

Two things happened, one which softened my stance, the other just confuses me. The first is I found my way to the Sunset House, having finally bothered to look up what it was and how to get there, since it was on the map. I found 10 million gold there. Maybe it wouldn't have been there if I found it when I needed it, but it might have been. Missed opportunity on my part. The second is the people began to reappear. Bearing gifts, no less. It makes no sense, given what I was told about casualties and my kingdom's doom, but it's as though everyone respawned after a certain amount of time. I don't know what to make of that.

It occurs to me I haven't said anything about the game beyond the story. It looks nice, the quests can be a bit repetitive, but you don't have to play all of them if you don't want to. The combat is a lot of fun, and pretty simple to grasp. There were times it felt almost as smooth as Beyond Good & Evil, which is probably the best game I've ever played in terms of a creative fighting system that was easy to use. The game doesn't it take itself too seriously, with all the smart alecky remarks at the completion of quests, which is appreciated, if a little surprising, given the apparent dire stakes. It isn't gallows humor, more like the creators of the game expect the players to see the flaws or quirks in what we're doing for quests.

* When approaching a resistance leader in the city for help, my instructor, Walter, tells her I'm a hero. When she dismissively replies, 'Then give her a medal,', he says, 'No, I mean she's a HERO'. Clearly there are heroes, and then there are HEROES, and the latter have something truly special.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Let's Talk Favorite XBox Games

The XBox might have the highest ratio of good games among my systems, after the N64. There were duds, or games that were good but had certain features that wore on me after awhile (Burnout 3 and that damn elastic AI), but I can make a Top 5 without even touching any number of games I really love. Neither of the GTAs make it, nor any of the DOAs, or Secret Weapons Over Normandy. For that last one, blame the terrible, terrible, wingman AI. Anyway, the Top 5:

5. Crimson Skies: The High Road to Revenge
4. Max Payne
3. Beyond Good & Evil
2. Phantom Dust
1. Thief: Deadly Shadows

Let's see. A flight combat sim, a 3rd person shooter, an action/adventure game with a bit of old school platformer and fighting mixed in, an RPG (sort of), and a stealth action game. Despite the number of enjoyable games, this has always been a really easy Top 5 for me to put together. I can pull any of these games out and start over and have a good time. Phantom Dust might be the lone exception, since it takes several missions before you're able to create your own arsenals to take into battle, which is a lot of the fun, mixing and matching.

I was looking back over those posts, and in the Thief one, I mentioned it was one of three games vying for the top spot, the other two being Phantom Dust and Max Payne. I'm not sure when it started happening, but sometime within a year of that, I felt like they sorted themselves out, Max Payne dropping father behind first, then Phantom Dust. It's only recently (within the last couple of months), I concluded Beyond Good & Evil should move ahead of Max Payne. It's close, but I think the variety of gameplay elements give it the edge. It might not hurt that Beyond Good & Evil never had any subpar sequels to tarnish its rep somewhat. I can't speak to Max' most recent adventure, but I know Max Payne 2 was lousy, which made the original look better and worse. Better because it's easy to see how it could have turned out, worse because I think it showed some limitations of the game. It really is about shooting and bullet time, with some hardboiled narration thrown in for good measure. I like all those elements, but within a single franchise, there's perhaps only so much you can do with them before it gets stale.

I don't know when I might get to the PS2. The problem there isn't finding five games; it's figuring out what their order is. *Shrugs* Something for me to think about during the many hours I'll spend driving this week.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Welcome to Havana, Senor Hemingway - Alfredo Jose Estrada

Welcome to Havana, Senor Hemingway is largely a book about Cuba in the time before Batista rose to power. It's framed as a young man trying to uncover whether the story about his grandfather, Javier, knocking down Hemingway is true or not. Hemingway is not present throughout the book, as the story carries over at least a year or more of unrest prior to Machado stepping down, and "Papa" wasn't in Havana the entire time.

Estrada's method is a little unusual, because he doesn't go the well-worn route of presenting it like some investigative drama. There are no chapters of the author trying to track down leads, then chapters set in the past describing what he learned. Estrada opts to shift into the past merely by having the author picture how his grandfather would have looked, and goes from there. Which is fine, it probably helps the reader stay more engaged in the story if it's presented as though we're there, rather than as though we're hearing about it second hand decades later. Still, it leaves me a little confused, since the chapters in the present are written from the author's perspective, but those set in the 1930s are an omniscient, third-person perspective, as the focus shifts amongst several characters, what they're thinking and feeling. It leaves me wondering if this should be regarded as a "true" retelling (allowing for the fact the book itself is a novel, in the context of the world it inhabits, is it true), or just the author's conjecture and best reconstruction?

However, the book is sufficiently engrossing that these questions only came to the forefront once I stopped reading for the evening.

I was particularly interested in the glimpses of Cuba we get, since it's not a country whose history I'm terribly familiar with. This will seem foolish, but I was surprised by the frequent mentions of a Chinese population. Laundrys, restaurants, general "chinamen" in the markets or pulling wagons of goods. I never pictured Cuba as a popular destination for Chinese immigrants, and perhaps it was limited to Havana, but it was still intriguing. I thought Estrada, by having characters receive focus who were in a variety of professions, was able to nicely chart the rising tension in the country as unrest grew louder. How banks struggle when shops start closing down, or newspapers can't find people to buy ad space and have to worry about being shut down by the government if they don't tread carefully. That air of unease, where anyone in uniform is given a wide berth, not merely out of fear of them, but also fear for them and anyone nearby.

I should have read this before Hemingway's Boat, since having read a dedicated biography of the man makes the version here seem a bit caricatured. It's true Hemingway was prone to fishing, drinking, committing adultery, was likely to be gripped by sudden dark moods that might vanish equally suddenly. Still, I feel Estrada sort of files him down to just those things. It's a bit like how people use Tesla in fiction when they want death rays. It'd be worse if Hemingway was the subject here, but he's more a means to an end, a way to draw ignorant chaps such as myself into the subjects Estrada is more interested in, and in that regard, it worked very well.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Burn Notice 3.12 - Noble Causes

Plot: Now that Michael's proven himself to be Gilroy's kind of guy, it's time to get down to brass tacks. At a French restaurant, where we meet another member of the team, Claude. Michael tries to act bothered by the surprise reveal, but obviously, he does not back out (if for no other reason than Gilroy and Claude would try to kill him).

As Michael tries to sort through this, he's approached by Sugar, his old drug-dealing neighbor, not seen since the Pilot episode. He needs Michael's help protecting his cousin Dougie, who has fallen in with a robber named Lynch. Lynch has a reputation for leaving no witnesses, but he's managed to convince Dougie he's the coolest, so Sugar needs help making Lynch back off. After some initial reservations, Michael accepts. Just in time, too, since Lynch tries to eliminate Sugar, and nearly succeeds. Sugar is surprisingly resistant to bullet wounds.

Meanwhile, Sam befriends Dougie, and tries to figure out what role a guy who works in the loading bay at a flower delivery shop could have in a major heist. Fi adds some pieces to the puzzle when she finds breathing equipment during a search of Lynch's home, and a bug she plants reveals Lynch has a meeting with a fence named Bolo. Michael convinces Bolo to introduce him to Lynch as the man who can get what Lynch needs. Which turns out to be the Jaws of Life. Putting it all together, they conclude Lynch's crew will have Dougie sneak them onto the van delivering flowers to a major art exhibit near the dock. The Jaws of Life will open the case without damaging the exhibits, the breathing equipment will enable them to escape without the van.

Great! The exhibit isn't for two weeks. Which leaves Michael with plenty of time to stop Claude from breaking into the Chilean embassy to steal documents (and kill interfering guards) without arousing Gilroy's suspicions. It doesn't allow him enough time to see Madeline receive an award for being a helpful citizen (by reporting the cars Michael's stolen in the neighborhood). Things get worse when it becomes apparent Lynch has a job planned for right then, and they have to figure out what it is, fast. They save the day, there's a touching moment with Sugar in the hospital, Michael makes it to Maddy's award (wearing the apparently awful tie she bought him), and Michael meets with Gilroy to learn he'll be getting the documents himself. Claude experienced "complications" from his broken ankle.

The Players: Gilroy (Freelance Psychopath), Claude (Michael's New Teammate), Sugar (Michael's Old Neighbor/The Client), Lynch (Public Health Hazard), Dougie (Sugar's Cousin), Bolo (The Fence)

Quote of the Episode: Gilroy - 'Did you know your resting heart beat tends to synchronize with your watch? That means by the end of the day, or hearts will beat as one.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? A dumpster.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 1 (35 overall)

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (2 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (4 overall).

Other: Michael meets with Lynch under the name DJ. As far as I can tell, methyl chlorate benzidine (what Michael claims he injected Bolo with), doesn't exist.

I don't know if that Gilroy line about your heart synchronizing with your watch is true or not. A very brief Internet search is inconclusive, and he did specify "resting" heart rate. Honestly, he could just be saying that to mess with them. Or to flirt.

I can't say I'll miss Claude. He was such a grouch. I still enjoy all scenes with Gilroy, though. I also enjoy Sam's mistrust of French cuisine. And Sugar making sure to provide Michael with duct tape when he agrees to take the case. Sugar is really impressed by Michael's skills with duct tape. Beyond hat, I'm not so enamored of the episode. Dougie is, as Sugar puts it, 'a little slow' (though he probably has Sugar beat handily for common sense), and I can't help feeling like the episode is a bit patronizing towards him. I don't think it's meant to be. Dougie has his own place and a steady job he likes, he's really just naive, that's his problem, as it lets Lynch act like someone a kid would think was cool. Still, it just feels off, and it's always in the back of my mind while I'm watching the episode.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How To Transition To This From Yesterday

I think one of the keys to any job is enjoying it. Ideally, this would be easy, because we would all get to do things we loved. In the real world, that often isn't how it works, which means you have to find your joys where you can.

I tend to like my job. It has its less endearing days, but on the whole, I'm get to do something I enjoy, at least some of the time. Which doesn't mean I don't look for any extra boost I can find. This week it was the realization that because of the location and circumstances of my job, a coworkers can say 'Speaking of squirrel balls. . .' and have it be a perfectly legitimate segue into their anecdote. It's not even the specific subject matter. More that our jobs give us a set of common experiences that allow for more than one person in a discussion to have a story on a topic that unusual.

Friday, October 26, 2012


I said I'd get back to some of the other movies in that noir collection, so let's touch on Shock. Anabel Shaw plays Janet Stewart, who is in town to see her husband on leave. Her reservation is lost, but there's another person who won't be in until tomorrow afternoon, so they give her his room. While there, she looks out her window to a room across the way, and sees a man arguing with his wife about a divorce. Then he clubs his wife to death. When Mr. Stewart arrives the next morning, he finds Janet sitting on a sofa, staring into space, dead to the world. The hotel doctor calls a specialist, who just so happens to be the man she saw commit the murder, Dr. Cross (Vincent Price).

The movie is largely Cross' struggle with what to do. He quickly figures out what she saw to put her in this state, and so he wants to help her, but does not want to go to jail. Which means he either has to keep her in a state of shock indefinitely, or figure out some way to "treat" her that will also convince her she didn't see him kill his wife. This struggle isn't aided by his head nurse, Elaine Jordan (Lynn Bari), who is the woman he wanted to divorce his wife for. She has none of Cross' conflict. She's very pure in that regard. She loves Dr. Cross, wants to be with him, and she really doesn't care about what has to be done to make that happen.

Janet gets a bit short-changed, since she spends much of the film in shock, emerging from it periodically to accuse Dr. Cross of murder, then subsides. Her husband gets more time, and doesn't do much with it other than being concerned and eventually suspicious. Still, I find Janet's situation fascinating, if highly depressing. She is rightfully afraid for her life. A man she knows to be a killer has been placed in charge of her well-being, been given the power to pass judgment on her mental fitness. He can drug her, subject her to insulin shock, dismiss her fears as delusions, keep her husband from visiting, and no one will question it. At one point she makes it out of her room, and pleads with an orderly to help her, that Cross will kill her. The orderly does that condescending thing that's meant to be reassuring, but he's basically blowing her off.

That whole thing has to be horrifying. Would she feel like the last sane person, or would everyone else's insistence she's wrong make her doubt her own mind? What's the longterm effect of that for her? Is she going to lose faith in her judgement, or be especially sensitive to people questioning her perspective? It's one of the things that concerns me about going to doctors. How do I know what I'm being prescribed is in my best interests, rather than their wallets' best interest? It's not limited to the medical profession, since obviously we could have these same questions about politicians, or whoever. There's always that fear the person you rely on to work for you, is only interested in themselves. It's bad enough for some physical injury, or tax rates. But when it involves your very sanity, your ability to be considered a rational person capable of making your own decisions, that's scary.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Beat the Devil

I'd been curious about Beat the Devil ever since it showed up in my Amazon recommendations. Not curious enough to buy it myself mind you, but I might have asked for it as a gift. Fortunately, it was in that noir collection with Quicksand and the rest, so I've been saved the trouble.

Beat the Devil is Bogart late in his life (released 4 years before his death). He's Billy Dannreuther, who's lead an interesting life, but he's low on money, and not content to live that way, has entered into a partnership with 4 other gentlemen: Peterson, Julius O'Hara, Major Jack Ross, and Ravello (O'Hara is played by Peter Lorre, also showing his age a bit, but an interesting character nonetheless.).

These four with to purchase some land in British East Africa they believe has uranium deposits. Billy has a contact in the government there who can make this happen, for a price. So they sit and wait for their ship to be ready to go (and for the captain to sober up sufficiently, his drunken, inarticulate screaming is one of my least favorite parts of this movie). While they wait, a young married couple, the Chelms come to town, also waiting for the ship. Billy and Gwen Chelm start flirting, and Billy's wife Maria starts making eyes at Harry Chelm.

It's not a serious movie. The 4 men are ridiculous, Ross' murderous edge blunted by his tendency to spout  stupid, impulsive crap. Peterson is a self-important ballon who finds himself frequently popped. O'Hara seems so relaxed as to be in a daze, unless he's using that as cover. All their plans go awry, whether it's delays with the boat, believing one of their group to be dead, letting word of their plan slip to the wrong ears, or conversely, trying too hard to conceal themselves and their purpose. Billy doesn't seem terribly interested in any of it, or them, but goes along with a sort of resignation. He needs money, this is the best way he has to get it.

I don't care for the ending much, largely due to my distaste for Harry Chelm. He's quite self-important, like Peterson, though Chelm's is centered more on what's "proper". The difference is while Peterson is repeatedly deflated, Chelm's so far into his "stiff upper lip", he never becomes aware of his buffoonery. Also, there's an element of classism to him, looking down on these fellows scrabbling to make their money. His finally telegram states he purchased the land they planned to steal. Well, Peterson and his crew fully intended to pay someone for that land, and if you want to get down to it, the British stole it from the people who were living there before, so either way, it's purchasing stolen property. I just don't like his air of moral superiority. They should have let the captain shoot him.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hemingway's Boat - Paul Hendrickson

Hemingway's Boat seems to have been a book Hendrickson's been working on since at least the late 1980s, perhaps even longer, owing to some fortuitous meetings with some of Hemingway's family.

To describe it as a book about Pilar, Hemingway's fishing boat, would be a bit inaccurate. Hendrickson does start when Hemingway and Pauline (his second wife) arrive back in New York from another hunting trip in Africa, and shortly thereafter, the boat is purchased. However, Hendrickson moves around a lot in time, spending a lengthy section on some of the writer's childhood in Illinois, as well as summers in Michigan. Much of the end of the book details the rough life of George Hemingway, Ernest's youngest son, extending well beyond Ernest's suicide in 1961.

Hendrickson's goal seems to be parallels. He devotes sections of the book to various people Hemingway met and befriended during the years he owned Pilar, looking at their lives both before and after, comparing and contrasting them with Hemingway. Most of these sections are depressing, people who are alone now, or had their lives wrecked by personal demons, in that regard much like the primary subject.

The book was useful because most of the time, one only hears of Hemingway's faults. The drinking, the rages, the infidelity, the petty grudges. All of those things are here, especially in Hemingway's personal communications. Hendrickson uses a lot of letters and telegrams Ernest sent to various people over the years, and there is a lot of nastiness in there. But there are also a lot of kind words. He and George especially shift back and forth between threats and vulgarity, to heartfelt concern over each other, and promises to help if they're needed.

On more than one occasion, Hemingway will start a letter with curses and insults, only to apologize later in the same letter. He knows he ought not to be writing these things, but even having realized it, he won't go back and cross it out, or simply tear up the letter and start over. He seems to feel like he has to go ahead and air the grievances, then try to fix the damage. Maybe it was too much to keep inside. Or he simply wasn't the sort to keep it inside (though there are a few things Hendrickson suggests that Hemingway was only able to hint at obliquely through his writing).

I think Hendrickson uses Pilar as the focus because it was something that brought the best and the worst in him. It was a place for him to see and experience new things, which were new things to write about. It was a place for him to connect with his sons, with other people, and a place for him to go when the stress of writing, or the critics grew too much. But it was also a place where his competitive nature could cause him to be quite unpleasant to others, and if things weren't going his way, if there were no marlin to fight, then it was no relief at all, just one more thing building up the anger.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In the Mouth of Madness

Going back to third grade, I can remember having premonition dreams. It's never been for anything important, merely flashes of me doing something mundane, but with a particular detail that's sticks in my memory. The first time it was a girl in my class wearing a yellow sweater, which she did the next day. Another time it was sitting in class watching the teacher explain some mathematical concept, but my grandmother was sitting next to me (my elementary school had a Grandparents' Day). Sometimes I remember them when I wake up, other times not until the event takes place. I'm sure there's a scientific explanation, or perhaps it's just coincidence, but it's kind of groovy nonetheless.

Over the weekend, my coworkers were watching some horror flicks, what with Halloween fast approaching. By this point we were watching In the Mouth of Madness, the movie was nearly done. Sam Neill (as John Trent) has finished relating his tale to David Warner. As they sit, regarding each other, one of my coworkers opines that she doesn't believe Trent could draw those crosses so neatly in black crayon on his own face. And there's the flash. Her saying that, as I sit at a very particular angle watching the screen, looking at a guy in a straitjacket with crosses on his face. I can't recall every seeing the movie before (or even having heard of it). I've certainly never watched it with my coworkers. Yet here we are.

Like I said, probably an easy explanation. Still, it's a little creepy to have it happen when you're watching a movie where the main character has to question if he has any control over his life at all, has to question his very notion of reality. I think my coworkers were more spooked by my knowing the correct age Charlton Heston died at without looking it up (he's in the movie, too). I don't know how I did that, either. Luck, I suppose.

I don't have a lot to say about the movie. It was a mistake to show so much of the "old ones" in the sequence where they follow Trent down the path that leads back to his world. They were distinctly not terrifying. Hideous, yes, but hardly the sort of thing that causes ones sanity to recede into the darkest corners of the mind as a defense mechanism. Effective use of shadow would have helped a lot. Other than that, eh, it was all right.

As someone who likes the believe we're all ultimately responsible for our own actions, a film where a person's actions are controlled by the whims of some hack writer is not really one I'm going to dig. Though I guess it's up in the air whether Trent made the decision to watch the film at the end, or if he was written that way. I suspect that latter, if only because it was awful convenient how he wasn't killed, even when his door was ripped loose, and there was clearly something watching him as he left the asylum.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I'm Coming To Accept Conquest Is The Only Way To Get All The 'Clix I Want

Last month was "DC characters I want made into Heroclix", and now, as is the tradition, it's Marvel's turn. I'll go ahead and take the opportunity to mention Death's Head won the fan vote. Doesn't mean much to me, other than being one less figure I need worry about purchasing.

As is typical, Marvel had more sets than DC. I'm not sure why it works that way, but it has pretty much for as long as I've been playing the game. Marvel seems to get 2 sets for every 1 of DC's. Perhaps a licensing cost issue? No matter. Marvel had a 10th Anniversary set at the same time as DC's, and prior to that, there had been a Chaos War set, an Avengers movie set, Galactic Guardians, and early last winter Incredible Hulk.

I ignored the movie, set, because it isn't really the universe I'm interested in, if that makes any sense. Hulk was a bit disappointing, not many new figures I wanted, with the exception of Amadeus Cho. Mostly just new versions of figures previously made. Galactic Guardians and Chaos War did a bit better in that regard. So, looking back over the categories from last year:

Cosmic - Galactic Guardians had Cosmo, so that effectively takes care of the DnA Guardians of the Galaxy. They also, for the Gerber's Guardians fan put in Charlie-27 and Martinex (Vance Astro, Starhawk, and Yondu all came out in sets several years ago), as well as some of the cast of the '90s version. Ikon couldn't prevail in the fan vote, but she might make it into a set somewhere down the line.

Street-Level - Not nearly as successful here. My hopes that Rage might make it into the Avengers-themed Chaos War set were dashed, and no sign of Silhouette, either, not that I really expected her. Misty Knight and Colleen Wing also failed to make an appearance, but there's a Spider-Man set ready to go next spring that's supposed to have the Daughters of the Dragon in it. It's something, at least.

Mutants - No joy here. Stacy X, Monet, and Layla are all still absent. It wasn't a great year for mutants in general. A few Avengers-related ones, a few of the big names in the Anniversary set, but that's about it. Oh, and Mr. Sinister was in Chaos War, as the figure designed by the World Champ. There's a Wolverine and the X-Men set supposedly coming out next summer though, so I'd expect the X-Factor ladies to at least have a chance then.

Avengers - For some reason, we got few GLA members in an Avengers set than in last year's Captain America set. Dinah Soar was the only one to make the cut, and it's strange, because I was sure she had the capacity to make ranged sonic attacks, but they didn't give her any range. I was certain I'd seen her use it against Songbird in Thunderbolts. That still leaves Flatman and Bertha, no telling when they might show up. We did get an Eric O'Grady Ant-Man in Chaos War.

Atlas - You might recall I was rooting pretty hard for Triathlon to win the fan vote, and instead he was bounced after the first round. Alas, alack, to be cut down so. I don't have nearly as much confidence he'll show up eventually as I do Ikon, which is a pity since I'd much rather have Triathlon. As for my Derek Khanata wish, I'll probably have to settle for a generic SHIELD agent (or the Gabe Jones limited edition), and leave it at that.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Burn Notice 3.11 - Friendly Fire

Plot: Michael gets to meet Mason Gilroy (Chris Vance), who has something planned in Miami, and is trying to decide whether to work with Michael, or simply kill him. For the time being, he's decided to look into Michael and see what sort of person he is. Michael, concerned about the kind of work Gilroy does, has to convince him that Mike's his sort of guy. Fortunately, an old friend of Sam's comes along with an opportunity. Perhaps "friend" is the wrong word.

Mack's trying to track down a child predator named Rincon, who has gone to ground in Miami. But the whole neighborhood is on the lookout for anybody who looks like a cop. So Michael gets to play a mysterious guy who is searching for Rincon, and he ropes the local gang leader, Omar (Jacob Vargas), into doing the searching. Omar, for a local gang leader, is a pretty decent sort. He deals drugs, but it's baby formula mostly. He doesn't seem to tolerate a lot of misbehavior in his neighborhood, and he takes care of problems himself.

Except Omar has problems, a rival gang leader named Vega (Danny Trejo). Oh, and Vega and Rincon just happen to be partners. Michael has to not only convince Omar he's a bigger threat than Vega, he also has to keep Omar from getting wiped for looking into Vega's business. All without making Gilroy suspicious of his motives. And it works! Gilroy wants to work together! But they'll talk later. Mike's a little busy, letting Fiona know he's not dead yet.

Meanwhile, Madeline has taken it upon herself to find out what the problem is between Sam and Mack. Because Sam isn't drinking right now. Yes, it's a true RED ALERT situation.

The Players: Gilroy (Freelance Psychopath), Mack (Sam' Old Friend), Mack (Sam's Former Friend), Rincon (Child Predator & Cop Killer), Omar (King of the Barrio), Vega (Scalp Collector)

Quote of the Episode: Michael - 'The devil wants Rincon's soul. I just want the man.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Let's see, there was a car, a couple of ice cream carts, I imagine she made the explosive they put on the support braces of the warehouse door. Yeah, busy episode for Fi.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 1 (34 overall). I'm not even sure he drank that one, since he was listening to Mack's sales pitch. And here's a relevant exchange.  Maddy - 'He's not himself, with the drinking.' Mack - 'Well now, Sam's always liked his beer.' Maddy - 'I mean he's NOT drinking!'

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (2 overall). Sam landed a couple on Mack, though. Another relevant quote: Sam - 'There's a code. You don't sit in another man's canoe.'

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (4 overall). This was not a role that used laughter.

Other: Mike's alias for the week is "Louis". I'm sure there's some significance there, perhaps to Lucifer, but I don't, that's stretching it a bit. Is there a dishonored saint named Louis?

Every time I say "Sam and Mack", I'm tempted to shout "FREELANCE POLICE!" I know, that was Sam and Max, but it's really close, you know?

I think this might be my favorite episode of this show. Not just this season, all seasons. I love Gilroy as a threat. He has that cultured, stylish aspect to him that makes him more interesting to me somehow. I suppose the fact that he can be ruthless, based off his killing of Diego and his rep, but also sort of playful. Having a sniper watching his first meeting with Mike, but only having him shoot the champagne glass on the balcony with Fi, which was several feet away from her (I also like that Fi was merely annoyed by that). He has a definite appreciation for Michael's style that's beyond simply appreciating someone who is good at his work. He legitimately enjoys the job, and likes people who do it not just well, but with a flair all their own. Maybe that's why I like him, he appreciates some of the same things I do? Plus, Vance has a great accent. I wanted to use some Gilroy quotes, but without the accent they just don't work as well.

As stylish as Gilroy is, Michael outdoes this week. The whole identity of Louis, the black-and-red ensemble, the slicked back hair, the low voice, that shifts between gravelly and raspy depending on need (I think it's more gravel when he's being aggressive, raspy when he's being calm). And, of course, all the snaps triggering explosions. There's so much theatricality to it. I love striding confidently down the middle of the street (in slo-mo, no less) towards the warehouse. Absolute confidence and calm. It's like Michael became Batman for an episode. Maybe the Shadow is a better comparison. The whole bit at the end, responding to Rincon's "Go to hell." with 'Come with me.' before snapping his fingers. Making the big show of snapping the handcuffs.

What makes it work though, is that we see it work. We see how badly he spooks Omar when he walks up behind him after stealing the van. Omar insists Louis is flesh and blood, but you wonder who he's trying to convince. When Louis comes for the address where Rincon is hiding, he walks right through Omar's guys, and not one of them makes even the slightest move to stop him, even though Omar clearly wasn't expecting him. Nobody wants to cross Louis by that point. He's in their heads.

At the same time, I like Omar, too. I know we're supposed to. He's a gang leader, but not in the sense we usually think of them in fiction. He's does clearly steal, we know that's how he gets all the medicines, and he doesn't give them away, but I presume he sells them at affordable prices, and by Vega's own comments, people in the neighborhood seem to be doing well. It isn't just that the place is clean and orderly. You can get that with a dictatorship, and people are still miserable. But the neighborhood seems pretty happy, everyone's just sort of hanging out, relaxing, talking, eating. You don't see anyone squabbling, and presumably, that's Omar. Beyond that, it's that while Omar is clearly no stranger to violence, he recognizes it isn't the first option. In his first meeting with Louis, one of his guys suggests beating Louis' ass. Omar gives him a look and he quiets down. Omar has numbers and firepower, but he isn't going to resort to that when Louis has a gun at the head of one of his guys. Omar clearly wants to fight Vega when the 'scalp collector' first shows up, but he reins himself in. Barely. He can't stop himself from slugging one of Vega's goons that harasses a woman, and he gets a little short with Vega, but he understands the situation. He can't win a straight up war with this guy, and he certainly doesn't want to start it in broad daylight in his neighborhood.

That's the bit Vega misses, which becomes abundantly clear at the end. Vega mocks Omar, because no one from showed up to help Omar. He ridicules him because one of Omar's guys spilled his guts after "only" one hour of Vega cutting him up. One wonders exactly how much weight that guy lost in that hour, and whether he survived. Smart money for the second question is "no". But that's what Vega misses about Omar. Vega thinks everyone exists to serve him, and while Omar expects loyalty from his guys, he fights to protect them and the people in his territory. Which is what I like to see in a leader. It's one of the things Vega underestimates. He wouldn't alone, unarmed against a rival gang, so he can't see Omar trying it. He just sees a crushed foe.

Jeez, and I'm finally getting around to Maddy and Sam. Suffice to sat, I like her admission that not only is Sam Michael's best friend, he's hers as well. Though it does make the horrible wreckage of her aborted friendship with Tina last week even sadder. But I appreciate her approach. She tries talking to Sam directly, he shuts her down. So she goes to Mack. He has less experience with Madeline, so he's not ready for how stubborn she can be. Plus, I think her concern touched him, and he feels guilty. Having all the facts, she then tries to get Sam to forgive Mack, easing into it with a joke about her figurines, then getting serious. That doesn't take, and she gets a little frustrated, but it gets the ball rolling. I think it helps Sam doesn't seem to be a serious grudge holder. If that's just his personality, or if it's because he knows he's down things that need forgiving as well.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The More He Struggles, The More He Sinks

I've been working my way through another collection of noir films. The first three (Whirlpool, Shock, They Made Me a Criminal) haven't really fit my definition of "noir". The endings are all too happy. Happy couples reaffirming their love, bad guys getting their just desserts, cops being decent, hard-working sorts, rather than crooked scum. On the plus side, Shock had Vincent Price, and They Made Me a Criminal had Claude Rains. I might get around to talking about those three in detail later, but for now I'm going to focus on Quicksand, which I'm watching as I type.

So you have Mickey Rooney. He works in a garage for a penny-pinching boss, but he meets a swell dame at the lunch counter he wants to take out on the town. One problem: He's broke, and he decides to take a loan from the register, figuring he has days before the bookkeeper comes by. Things spiral rapidly downhill from there.

It's well set-up how things keep building upon each other. Dan continuously opts to keep his problems to himself, and the situation keeps getting worse. He goes from needing 20 bucks, to 100, to 3 grand. He keeps making rash decisions, keeps trusting the wrong people, keeps fearing the punishment of the crime he's committed so much he figures it's safer to commit more crimes. This in spite of the fact he's really bad at being a crook. He doesn't pay attention to details, he gets spotted regularly, keeps losing firearms or otherwise incriminating evidence. It would be comical if he weren't so legitimately stressed out over it.

Of course, by this point in the typing, the film has ended, and things are at least somewhat happy. It appeared for a moment that Dan might be killed fleeing the police, while crawling underneath the docks like a rat, but the film couldn't commit itself to that path. Which was kind of surprising, and a bit disappointing.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Busy Now, Come Back Later

My copy of Earthworm Jim The Complete Series finally showed up this week. It only took a month from when I placed the order, but it did arrive.

So that's what I'm doing. Get started enjoying your weekend and try again tomorrow.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What Might Have Been

What Might Have Been is more what I was looking for in alternative history when I reviewed the Mammoth Book of Alternative Histories a month ago. This one is a bit less fanciful, with more background of the actual events.

Each chapter is written by a different author, concentrating on a different event of their choice, running from the Spanish Armada's defeat by the British, up to the 2000 Presidential election. Some of them were more interesting to me than others, such as Conrad Black's "The Japanese Do Not Attack Pearl Harbor", which outlines all the methods FDR had already adopted to goad Hitler into declaring war on them, methods he likely would have escalated had Hitler not gone ahead and declared war on the U.S. after Pearl (since the terms of Germany's treaty with Japan did not require it). Simon Heffer's "The Brighton Bomb Kills Margaret Thatcher" was somewhat less effective since, as an ignorant American, I didn't really know most of the players. Heffer did do a very good job of outlining what he thought the policies of her successor would be, why they'd be a disaster, and the effect on England going forward.

The nice thing about the book is there isn't a distinct style the authors are forced to conform to. Some choose to outline events as they happened, then select a divergence and explore its possibilites (Amanda Foreman's "The Trent Incident Leads to War"). Others opt to simply dive directly into their alternative, presenting it as if it's the actual result (Anne Somerset's "The Spanish Armada Lands in England"). Most are fairly serious, with the notable exception of David Frum's "The Chad Falls Off in Florida". WIth that one, I couldn't tell if Frum was being serious in a positive or negative way, if it was supposed to be a satire, or if it was a "the grass is always greener on the other side" narrative. It's the last chapter in the book, so it's a bit of an awkward landing, but other than that, most of the selections are pretty good.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hickey & Boggs

Something else my dad threw in the box. Hickey & Boggs put Bill Cosby and Robert Culp back together, after I Spy. This time they're alcoholic, nearly broke private investigators. They're hired to find a woman, who just so happens to have a lot of money that several very dangerous people are interested in. So Hickey and Boggs keep trying to track down leads, and those leads keep get killed, and the police keep getting angrier about all these dead bodies turning up around these two investigators.

So the plot's a little formulaic. OK, very formulaic. I do like the gradual gathering of the hit squad Hickey and Boggs must contend with throughout. They don't talk to each other. They receive phone calls at their usual place of business, grab the equipment they'll be contributing, and off they go. The scenes are cut in amongst other developments, so there's a rising tension to it. How many are there? When are they going to clash with our heroes? That sort of thing.

Still, I was mostly paying attention to Cosby's performance. For someone who pretty much only knows him from The Cosby Show, this is a bit different. There are no jokes. He makes a few smart ass remarks, mostly to angry police captain Papadakis, but for the most part, he's just tired. He smokes cigars almost constantly, he's on the outs with his wife, the job's not what he wants it to be. Last night I settled on the description that he's an idealist looking for something to believe in. He doesn't want to believe the world's gone to hell, and he doesn't just want a job to pay the bills. It needs to mean something, have a purpose behind it.

Still, it's strange to see Bill Cosby stand there with a loaded gun, waiting patiently for someone to wrench loose a piece of metal they plan to cave his skull in with, only for hit to shoot them square in the chest. It's so deliberate and matter of fact. He has his reasons, but it's still unusual.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I Can't Imagine Everyone Got The Cool Powers

Something I'm not clear on when AvX, is the new mutants. Are they simply all the people Wanda depowered in House of M, reset to their status prior to that story? Are they entirely different folks who didn't have the X-gene, but do now? Is it a mix of the two?

I tend to think the easiest thing would be to say Hope just undid what Wanda did. There were millions of mutants on the planet prior to that, so it would be easy to introduce any new character you want as a repowered mutant, because it's entirely likely the X-Men wouldn't have run into them before. It's a big world, and with all the crises X-Teams routinely face, they wouldn't have time to make a recruiting speech to every mutant.

Regardless, there are certainly a few people with powers now that didn't want them. Maybe they had a lousy mutation. I remember a guy in Rucka's Wolverine run, he needed alcohol to stay awake, but if he drank, he got drunk. There are people with legitimately dangerous mutations, to them and others, who probably didn't want them back. Say your mutation was sweat that's a corrosive agent. Summer would be hell, because you couldn't do anything with your clothes, shoes, the pavement, the walls of the pool, whatever, melting around you.Might have been glad to be rid of that problem.

Other people might not have minded their mutations, but they've settled into a new life without them. Not necessarily better than the old one, but not worse either. They get their powers back, and in the apparently heightened (re-heightened?) anti-mutant climate, that life is upset. Maybe they lose their job (though I'd think being a mutant would be protected under job discrimination). Maybe they grew to be 8 feet tall, and 900 pounds of solid granite, so that 4th floor apartment isn't going to work any longer.

While I'm sure there are plenty of people glad to have their powers (and we'll discuss them in a few paragraphs), there's likely to be a decent percentage who aren't happy about it. We could use this as another thing to bash Cyclops over the head with, that he never bothered to consult these people before unilaterally going ahead with his plan to repower them, but this isn't so much about Cyclops, though it may involve him. It's a question of what those people do.

Are they angry? Do they lash out? If so, at who? How much does the average person in the Marvel Universe understand about what just happened? Would they point the finger at Cyclops, attack his prison in an attempt to exact vengeance? It'd be interesting to see how he reacted to that, given his current position seems to be "I did horrible things, and I have to pay for them, but I believe they were worth it." Would he feel bad? Would he not care, tell them they were taking one for the team, so to speak? Would their attempt to confront him enable him to escape, so we have Cyclops dodging the authorities and lynch mobs?

They might go after Hope, reasoning, that since she gave them these powers, she can remove them again (depending on how much people know, they might turn to Wanda for the same reason). Reading discussions of Generation Hope, it seems she can exercise some sort of control over the Five Lights, make them do what she wants. Could she do that with these people, and if so, how many at once? Would she use the ones she could control against the ones she couldn't, or take a different route entirely? I think she tried to do the best she could with a situation she didn't ask for, so maybe she'd work to help the unhappy ones.

There are a lot of ways one could go with it. You could see people struggle with it for a bit, but resolve to carry on with their lives like before. Other people could abandon their current lives and try to start anew. Still others could give up entirely and take their own lives. There could be increased interest in a mutant "cure" from people who'd gladly take it. Obviously the potential for abuse of such a thing is considerable, but if it can be developed, should the people who want to take it be prevented from doing so? Some could decide to hire themselves out as weapons or simply rampage, angry at the world and eager to take it out on anyone. We could have newly repowered people who love it fighting with the ones who don't, with humans as allies on both sides, as well as on their own sides.

Among the people who are glad to have powers, there's a lot of ground to cover. Beyond people using them for good (would the Avengers get swamped with people trying out?), for ill, or just for kicks (the skies are full of people just flying around whilly-nilly!). Would some of them start to worship Hope? It could be new fashion trends. All her followers would wear green-and-yellow spandex with a ragged cloak on their shoulders. What does she do if she finds herself with an army of devotees? There's potential there, if Hope doesn't carefully weigh what she says or does, for things to go very wrong. Would people try to influence her as way to use those followers to their own purposes? What if they simply get out of control on their own, doing things they think Hope wants, without bothering to check with her first? And, of course, Hope could always let the power go to her head.

There could religions that form around the Phoenix (which they did in Ultimate X-Men, but I'm not sure about the Marvel Universe). That could just be an interesting background thing, it could tie into Hope's situation (since she harnessed the Phoenix' power), or they could be a serious problem. Say they want to bring the Phoenix back, and someone in the group starts muddling about with mystic forces, trying to speed its, what, resurrection, recoalescing, but releases something else? Or they do, by force of will/focusing or giving of their life energies/mystic handwave bring the Phoenix back full force. Then what? Is it really angry, confused, just ready to get off Earth and never come back?

This is thing about Marvel events. For as much as I frequently don't like the idea behind them (usually because it makes the heroes behave like jerks towards each other), they do, on occasion, set up a status quo with the potential to be interesting. Or reestablish that status quo in this case, I guess. The question is whether Marvel will stick with it long enough to get anything out of it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Let This Be A Lesson To Take The First Available Shot At Hitler

Amongst the movies my dad passed along to me recently were Rogue Male and Man Hunt. Both are based on a story written Geoffrey Household. Both are set in 1939, starting in Germany, then moving to England. Both involve an Englishman on the run, not only from the Germans, but from the British because he dispatched one of the Nazis. The rest is a bit different.

Man Hunt is the older film, from 1941, and stars Walter Pidgeon (who I know primarily as Dr. Morbius from Forbidden Planet) as Alan Thorndike. Rogue Male is from 1977, with Peter O'Toole playing Thorndike. Both men are captured without successfully shooting der Fuhrer, and both claim that they had no intention of shooting, that it was a 'sporting stalk'. Thorndike is apparently a very successful big game hunter (to the extent he's written books on the subject), and he was merely seeing if he could slip past the security and get close enough.

Except the O'Toole version makes this a rather feeble lie. It's already indicated Thorndike lost someone he loved to a firing squad, so it's apparent he fully intended to kill Hitler. Pidgeon's version seems more genuine in his contention of innocence. I also find it interesting that O'Toole has already been tortured as part of his interrogation by the time we hear his claim (then he's tortured some more), but Pidgeon isn't tortured until after he refuses Major Quive-Smith's (George Sanders) offer. The offer is he'll be released as soon as he signs a paper confessing he tried to kill Hitler on the orders of the British government.

The O'Toole version was a TV movie, and about 20 minutes shorter to boot, so it's a bit more spare. The conversations Thorndike has are trimmed down to largely the essentials the plot requires. The Pidgeon version has more room, so it indulges itself in a bit more good-natured humor. His Thorndike really does take the whole situation, even the part where he finds himself pursued once he makes it back to London, very well. Meeting Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett) probably helps, as she's a very cheery - if highly mercurial - sort. Also, he's from British upper society, she's, I think the implication is she might be a lady of the evening, or at least people keep thinking she is. At any rate, she's considerably further down the economic ladder than Thorndike.

I didn't get to see how Rogue Male ended. The DVD kind of crapped out on me in the last 10 minutes. Given its tone, and when it was made, I have a hard time picturing it ending the same way Man Hunt did. As for Man Hunt, its ending was pretty strange. As I mentioned, the film had been surprisingly upbeat throughout, as if the chase was all just great fun for Thorndike. Right at the end, things get ugly, and suddenly it's all seriousness and a revelation of Thorndike's true motives, which I found dodgy. I don't buy that he had, until the moment Quive-Smith forces it out of him, been that blind to why he did what he did. I'd find it more likely he was simply tired of living in a hole in the ground and wanted this damn German (who goes marching through the woods in a clean suit and a monocle) to shut the hell up and go away.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Burn Notice 3.10 - A Dark Road

Plot: So Fiona is still in Miami, healing up, and generally being an unpleasant patient for Michael. Maybe he really is that bad at stitching up wounds, I don't know. Fi asks Michael to meet with a client for her, a woman named Calia. Her husband died recently in a car accident, but it appears he may have be convinced to take part in an insurance scam, and the people responsible are pressuring Calia to sue the city. So Michael's going to have to track these guys down and take them apart. But to find them, he needs county medical records, and the lady barring the path is immune to the Sam Axe arsenal. I wasn't aware such a thing was possible, but there you go. Fortunately, Tina (Tyne Daly) just so happens to be more approachable for an older woman. Say, Madeline?

Throughout all this, Sam is trying to track down Diego's killer. Fortunately, American intelligence agencies don't suspect Michael. Strickler's phone had calls from a particular number from a hotel. When Michael arrives there, he's expected by the staff. Then the room he's directed to erupts in flames. They track the cell. . . to an abandoned marina, where Michael receives a call from a mysterious British man, who hasn't decided whether to kill Michael or not. A point he punctuates by shooting several of the seats around Mike. This also serves as a bit of a clue to his identity.

Amidst all this, Michael has gained entry into the insurance scammers' group as a new driver. His attempt to get them busted kind of blows up when they try and put one of his plans in action without him. While Michael's been frustrated that Maddy has started a friendship with Tina, it gets even worse when he forces Maddy to blackmail Tina into giving them more insurance records, which they can plant on the scammers as evidence of their crimes. Maddy has some harsh words for Michael, but he does manage to redeem himself to her by the end. He also, thanks to Sam, knows who the mysterious killer is. Unfortunately, Mason Gilroy also knows who Michael is, and where he lives. So probably best to convince him not to kill you, Mikey.

The Players: Calia (The Client), Ryan (Insurance Scammer), Connor (Big Bad "Businessman")

Quote of the Episode: Sam - 'I think your mom is a little unclear on the proper handling of intelligence assets.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No. Give her a break, she's still recovering from a gunshot wound to the arm.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 4 (33 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (2 overall). Mike's the one getting hit this week. At least he gets to do a little hitting as well.

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 2 (4 overall). He played a little more energetic character this week.

Other: Michael's alias this week is "Alex".

I find it funny all the characters we're introduced to in the recap at the beginning (O'Neill, Strickler, Diego) are dead, or gone. "Here are these guys, you might hear their names, but they won't be showing up! Ever."

I'm not sure if it is, but this felt like a very full episode. Maybe because it took time to track down Ryan and his dad, and also because the way they went about that set up another subplot with Maddy and Tina. Throw that in with trying to decipher Gilroy's identity, and there's a lot going on. Fiona is surprisingly peripheral to this episode, considering how Michael's feelings for her drove a lot of "Long Way Back". At least we do see he's glad she's safe, and still in Miami.

The whole Tina subplot is painful to watch, but in a good way. Madeline has some valid complaints about playing on this woman's sympathy so as to deceive her (though we've seen her do that with Michael numerous times), but she understands enough of what Michael's doing to agree to help. Then she finds she likes Tina and they become friends. We don't really see Maddy spend time with her friends. There were the girls over for poker once, and her aquarobics class, but other than that her life mostly seems caught in the chaotic vortex that is Michael's life. So seeing her enjoy herself makes it all the worse when she has to crush Tina. Maddy has to play it like this was the plan all along, or Tina might bluff her out, but it's wrenching for her, at least in part because it makes her understand what Michael does.

We've seen him do this, work an asset without much concern for them. Any concern he does show is to keep them from falling apart and becoming useless. And we're encouraged to go along with it, because Michael's usually trying to help people, and that sort of makes it OK. And he can justify it to himself that way, but he's has years to learn to do so. It's harder for Madeline, even though she's no stranger to tough calls for her family's sake (forging Mike's dad's signature so he could join the army).

The key to it is that Michael goes back at the end, breaks into the county records office, and messes things up to the point no one will be able to tell Tina did anything. We could see his going to Madeline as an attempt to get her to not be mad at him, which is notable enough for Mike caring about that, but I think it's more he wants her to know Tina isn't going to lose her job. It doesn't help Maddy reclaim that friendship, but she can at least feel a little less guilty. Also, it emphasizes that Michael is a good guy. He may do ugly things, but he doesn't enjoy them, he'll avoid doing them if possible, and try to make things right if he can't. It reminds me of the pilot episode, where Michael explains his philosophy about stealing cars. He will fill the gas tank, he won't make a mess, and if you're at work, he'll have it back by 5 p.m. It's a little silly, but it helped establish that Michael cares about people, at least enough to not want to inconvenience them needlessly. That might have been getting lost in his recent tunnel vision about the burn notice.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Lying Tongue - Andrew Wilson

In The Lying Tongue, we have young Adam Woods, fresh from college, headed to Venice to teach a wealthy son English. It's a fine opportunity to see the world, and he can work on his novel in his off hours. Once he arrives, he learns the boy got himself in a bit of trouble and has been shipped off to New York City for the time being. Because no teenager can get in trouble in the Big Apple.

Adam's at a bit of a loss, but is told there's an elderly gentleman nearby who might need a caretaker. Adam, eager to not return home, takes the offer, and finds himself looking after one Gordon Crace. Crace is the author of one best-selling book, but has spent the past several decades in seclusion, writing nothing. Adam can't help but be intrigued, and the more he noses about, the more intrigued he becomes. Until he decides he'll write Crace's biography on the sly for his first book. Things spin out of control from there.

Reading this produced two almost contradictory reactions in me. On the one hand, the book quickly and easily, so I found myself breezing through it, carried along by the tension in the story. On the other hand, I almost didn't want to keep reading, as I found the main characters both increasingly unpleasant as the book progressed.

Wilson does a lot of repetition, not of dialogue, but of plot elements and backstory. Characters making disastrous decisions in their love life is one, deceit and justification of it is another. Given the thread of theft that runs through the book, it makes me wonder if the point is there are no new stories, only variations on old stories. The only difference is the names.

One other bit of advice if you plan to read the book, don't read the book jacket first. It kind of spoiled the ending, because I knew to be waiting for it. I didn't know the precise form it would take, but I knew it was coming.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Even As An Old Man, Wayne's Still The Master Of Ominous

'When all hope is lost. . . Spread the ash around you in a circle, open the book, and recite the marked passage. Use it only in Earth's final hour.' - Bruce Wayne, Batman Beyond Unlimited #8, "Konstriction"

So, what did Bruce give Terry for a last ditch weapon against the Ouroboros? It's something mystical, what with secret phrases and ash circles. It's powerful enough to actually be of use against something that shrugged off everything the Justice League, Apokolips, and New Genesis threw at it. And it's carries sufficient risk Wayne won't tell Terry what it does.

That last one could be for two reasons. It could be dangerous enough to the Earth he doesn't want Terry thinking it's the easy path to victory and using it when it isn't necessary. Or, it could be dangerous enough to Terry that Wayne doesn't want the kid hesitating to use it when it is necessary. Which still doesn't solve the question of what it is.

I thought Etrigan at first. The specific phrasing, the unwillingness to let Terry know, made me consider the possibility Blood and Etrigan had been separated, and this would bond Terry with the demon. Which should certainly qualify as a last resort. But I can't see Etrigan being that powerful, to succeed where everyone else failed. It would have to be something even higher up the ladder. Or lower, as the case may be.

Of things I can think of, there's Eclipso or the Spectre (I considered the Phantom Stranger, but this seems like a situation calling for direct intervention, which is rarely the Stranger's bag). Either might be powerful enough to turn the tide, and bringing either one into the mix could be seriously dangerous. Especially if Terry has to act as host (though there's a chance the ash is a protective measure for him). Calling up Eclipso would certainly carry a sizable risk, and depending on his disposition, the Spectre would be pretty dicey as well. Sometimes he can be friendly, other times he acts fairly contemptuous of mortals.

I don't know, I can't think of any other characters that Bruce would consider summoning that could make a difference. Unless it's some sort of binding or sleep spell, which doesn't seem like the sort of thing to entrust to a magical novice.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Treating AvX With All The Seriousness It Demands

I know a lot of important events revolve around Earth in the Marvel Universe, so it isn't surprising the Avengers and X-Men would both assume they were the destination of choice for the Phoenix. Especially when we consider how Cyclops pinned all his hopes on the Phoenix. That doesn't mean everything is going to involve Earth, though. There's a big universe out there, full of all sorts of horrors and dangers.

So I think it would have been funny if the Phoenix wasn't headed to Earth at all. Maybe someone was letting the neutron galaxy out of the M'Kraan Crystal again. Or it wanted another rematch with Galactus. Or Thanos made it back out of the Cancerverse and is still pissed at Death (and everyone else). It just so happens, Earth was along the way.

Sure, it would be a remarkable coincidence the Phoenix would pass by (or through) Earth on its way to wherever it was really going. But it's also remarkably coincidental the Phoenix would need to pass through all those other worlds it destroyed on its way to Earth. I guess even cosmic firebirds need landmarks to navigate by. You think it'd know better than to go near Earth, assuming it wanted to avoid entanglements, but I suppose it couldn't anticipate Cyclops losing his damn mind, or Iron Man building a "disruptor". Really, Earth in the Marvel Universe is not a friendly place for tourists, is what I'm saying.

"Come to Earth! Be blasted into pieces, then have your abilities stolen by a bunch of fanatics for their own purposes! Then get yelled at once you pull yourself together and express displeasure at your treatment!"

Mostly, I like the idea because I picture Cyclops standing out in an open field, Hope next to him, as he waves a big sign. Giant Space Birds Welcome Here!, or something to that effect. The Phoenix approaches, closer and closer, close enough to see every detail. . . and then it keeps going. Passes right on by and back into space, like a meteor skipping across the Earth's atmosphere. And Cyclops is left standing there, the sign slipping from his grasp, a dumbfounded look on his face. Hope sighs and asks if she can go back to Utopia.

Meanwhile, the Avengers all high five and congratulate each other on a job well done saving the planet. Iron Man tries to take all the credit by claiming he sprayed the entire planet with "Phoenix Repellent" he had loaded inside special satellites. Everyone smiles indulgently, while thinking "jackass". The exception is Hawkeye, who actually calls Stark a jackass.

As for the Phoenix Force, it continues onto its destination, blissfully unaware of all the stupidity back on Earth. Oh, and it stops whatever the menace was, ensuring the continued existence of the universe. Everybody wins. Except the menace. Oh, and Cyclops.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Found Wanting - Robert Goddard

I'm pretty sure I've only read one of Goddard's books before, Never Come Back. It was. . . OK, I think. It didn't give me any reason to expect Found Wanting to be great, and it wasn't.

Which doesn't mean it was bad, I may simply be tired of books about secrets emerging from the past that everyone is willing to kill for. I gave up on the other Goddard book my dad sent along, Beyond Recall, within 40 pages. I never find it to be a good sign when I have to set a book down to do other things, then find I have no interest in picking it back up again.

In Found Wanting, the secret has something to do with Marty Hewitson's grandfather, who was a police officer on Isle of Wight, and claims to have saved the Russian royal family from an assassination attempt in the early 20th century. Marty's found some letters belonging to Clem that might support that, letters that are worth quite a bit to a lot of people. But Marty's dying of a brain tumor, so he calls his ex-wife Gemma, and asks her to bring them to him. She wusses out, and hands the task over to Marty's best friend (and her other ex-husband), Richard.

And Richard promptly finds himself caught in a series of twists, lies, double-crosses, switches, and attempts on his life. No one is being straight with him, least of all Marty, but Richard sticks with it to the end. Trying first finish the task, then just to piece together what it is everyone wants so badly, and finally, to see justice done, somehow.

The book was a frustrating read because I kept wanting Richard to just go home. Marty not only wasn't telling him everything, but was generally using him as a decoy, letting Richard walk out there like a sucker while Marty's carrying out his real plan somewhere else. Goddard raises the possibility that this is due to Marty's thought process being off because of the tumor, but undercuts it by having Richard note Marty has always been an unreliable person. I can appreciate Richard wanting to help his oldest friend. It's an admirable quality, and probably why I wanted him to get out while he could. I like Richard. He handles things a lot more calmly then he has to*, so I wanted him to make it out OK. At a certain point, I gave up on that. He was too far in, things were getting too dire to simply run home and hope to put it all behind him. Until that point, though, I was frustrated that he wouldn't wise up and leave.

Anyway, it's a very quick read, and the mystery isn't too hard to piece together, depending on how much you know about Tsar Nicholas the 2nd's kids. I figured it out 3/4 of the way through, which isn't bad by my standards.

* There's a point where Gemma calls him and berates him for not being in a certain place to take care of something. He was short with her, but he needed to unload. Point out he shouldn't even be here, Marty called her, and if she doesn't like how he handles things, she can damn well grow a spine and do it herself next time. Alas, it was not to be.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Cyclops Was Right? Has The World Gone Topsy-Turvy?

I'm not sure I'm ready for a Marvel Universe where Cyclops gets to be right. Especially since it's given him a martyr complex. Gad, he'll be insufferable. Thing is, was he right?

Yes, Hope used the Phoenix Force to restore mutants, just as Cyclops said. But there seems to be an implication Hope needed the training she received in K'un-Lun to actually control the giant space bird. Without that, it's likely she'd have gone the same route Scott and the rest of the Phoenix 5 ultimately went.

Of course, I get the impression no one writing the damn crossover ever explicitly pointed this out. Which isn't surprising. You'd think people co-writing a book would bother to get things straight. Or their editors - oh right, never mind. Anyway, it would have been a nice way to deflate Scott. Point out that if he had simply thrown Hope in front of the Phoenix unprepared, it'd have been a disaster. Have Hope be the one, as she tells him what it felt like to try and control an ancient, incredibly powerful force hellbent on destruction.

Because I have a hard time believing restoring mutantkind is what the Phoenix actually came there to do. If so, why does it need a host? Just spread its wings, and make the magic happen. Why destroy a bunch of innocent planets? Surely the Giant Space Fire Bird is maneuverable enough to avoid them? That's not even getting into the question of why the Phoenix cares what the Scarlet Witch did.

Ultimately the results were  what Cyclops wanted, so I guess he doesn't care about the methods. Ends justify the means, and all that. Considering the circumstances though, calling Cyclops "right" is a stretch. If the Avengers had stayed out of it, assuming Wolverine and his crew of X-Folks didn't step in*, the Earth would have been destroyed, which puts the kibosh on Cyclops "restore mutants" dream. Then again, maybe he wouldn't care. I get the impression Cyke doesn't think Earth should continue to exist if there aren't mutants. Which is at least one more good reason to not like Scott Summers. Add it to the pile, then.

* I don't know if they would have. Did they even know the Phoenix was on its way until the Avengers showed up and started throwing their weight around? That's the really disappointing thing from the Avengers' standpoint. If they had just been more reasonable, they could have come out looking a lot better in contrast to Cyclops' idiocy, I mean zealotry.

Monday, October 08, 2012

What I Bought 10/5/2012

I know, I know. "Another comic review? You just finished a week of those!" And that's true. But I went on another little trip Friday, went past the same store I picked some Daredevil comics up from last month, and I did it again. I'm just getting the feeling Diamond keeps shorting Jack on his Daredevil orders. At any rate, I thought it best not to look a gift horse in the mouth, and here we are.

Daredevil #18, by Mark Waid (writer), Chris Samnee (artist), Javier Rodriguez (color art), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - That is an extremely creepy cover. Especially the capillaries traveling into the horns. I notice Rivera didn't get a credit for it inside the book, which is odd. I know his name is on it, but still. I wonder if he colored it himself, or if Rodriguez did it. It's highly effective. The red stands out against the black backdrop very well, and the black "DD" stands out against the red, and then the bright white of the billy clubs pops against all of it. The clubs especially are almost like two lit fluorescent bulbs.

So we start with a new client visiting Foggy Nelson, attorney at law. Mr. Santiago hopes to be taught how to defend his sister in her upcoming murder trial. He insists she had nothing to do with the death of her patient, noted Syndicate man Victor Hierra, found drained of all blood in a locked room of which she was the only other occupant. Foggy explains that they no longer teach people to defend themselves, since they can actively take cases with Matt no longer around to be a distraction. However, Foggy believes him, and takes the case himself.

Matt, meanwhile, is on a date with Kirsten McDuffie, only to cut it off abruptly because his ex-wife Milla is in his apartment. Even though she's supposed to be mad as a hatter in an asylum. But it's her, and Matt doesn't know what to do, so he calls Foggy. That's awkward, but they agree to a trade. Foggy will go check the hospital to find out how Milla got out, Matt will investigate Hierra's boss, Jardiem Salazar. We also learn Matt's made no progress in learning how his father's remains landed in his office. While Matt's dealing with Salazar's goons, the man makes for the elevator. And promptly falls down the shaft. Matt levers the door open, preparing to make the save. . . and steps into the elevator car. Just as Jardiem should have. That's disconcerting, and it gets worse when Foggy calls to say Milla's still at the hospital. Never left.

Hoo boy.

Yeah, this is creepy, but in a good way. As opposed to the first volume of Amnesia Labyrinth I read last night, which was creepy in a way that put me off the series entirely. A lesson about reading up on things before I buy them, not that I'll learn from it, I'm sure. Back to Daredevil. I like the idea of taking someone who normally has absolute trust in his sense - with good reason - and forcing him to doubt them. I think because Matt's senses are so much more acute, and bring in so much more information, the impossibility of what he's detecting has to be even more disorienting for him than it would be for us. I appreciate the quick primer on Milla that Waid gave us. I knew basically all of it, in that way you pick this stuff up without realizing it by reading about it on blogs, but I still appreciate Waid taking the time to catch people up.

Chris Samnee's art was full of things I loved. Foggy's expressions throughout the book were gold. His look of disdain and irritation at having to be reminded of Matt, that almost pouty look on his face when Matt calls, the resignation when he realizes he's going to take the case. Also, all the little traces of Matt's presence he's removed. The dummy head with dark glasses and a hat he threw in the trash. "Murdock" crossed out on the office stationery. There's a bag of chips in the background in the first panel of page 2, a sign Foggy's gone back to his old junk food habits now that Matt isn't around to harass him about it any longer. And the significance of the picture Foggy left up: him, Matt, and Karen Page (though you can hardly see her).

Also, perhaps because it takes place at night, or maybe because he's fighting thugs with guns, but the panel of page 14, as Sardiem enters his office to see Matt crouched on the desk, Daredevil had a little of the old, grim menace to him. I like cheerful, witty Daredevil, but like with Spider-Man, I don't mind it when he gets to look kind of badass. Rodriguez' colors help there, too, this time with the black on the chest, so the red "DD" stands out, the same with the eyeholes. And the city behind him is mostly black and deeper blues, which doesn't hurt for contrast either.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Burn Notice 3.9 - Long Way Back

Plot: So Fiona's moving back to Ireland. Having decided she can't stick around and watch Michael jump through Strickler's hoops, she's leaving.

Let it never be said Fi isn't decisive. While reels from that, he meets with Diego who says there'll be people in contact with Michael soon to hear his side of the story. Diego looks forward to them ending Michael's dreams once and for all. But not if Tom Strickler has anything to say about it. He's got a file prepared for Michael, detailing all the things he's done. Except, Michael didn't actually do those things, and some of the people vouching for him are people he'd prefer not to associate with. So there's friction there.

On top of all that, Madeline is getting ready to sell the house.

OK, that's relatively small potatoes. The real problem is Fi's brother is in town. He's there to protect Fi from one Thomas O'Neill, who is looking to either kill Fi, or perhaps sell her to some important people back in Ireland in exchange for getting a 'seat at the table', as he puts it. Michael's glad to help, but one small problem: Fi never told her family the truth about Michael. As far as they know, the cover i.d. he used when he met Fi is his real self. So Michael has to play that role for Sean, then play another role while he tries to set up O'Neill. O'Neill likes to make nasty bombs you see, always the same type, but he can never be tied to them. So Michael's going to dupe him into being caught with one as part of a trade in exchange for handing over Fi.

Except O'Neill has someone else feeding him info on where to find Fi. Someone adamant Michael not be killed. Yes, all those Westen/Strickler shippers will be disappointed, because that relationship breaks up on the ugly rocks of "You handed my off-and-on girlfriend over to a murdering bastard". Seen it a million times. Bye, bye, Strickler. Sam and Mike make the daring rescue, but just as things are looking up, a panicked Diego calls. Strickler's death has gotten out, though it apparently isn't known Michael's responsible, and someone is cleaning up the mess. By the time Michael reaches Diego's home, he's done a swan dive onto the pavement. Which leaves Michael without a clue what's going on, other than there's a killer out there, somewhere. Someone connected to a man Michael just killed.

Ready for some sleepless nights, Mikey?

The Players: Strickler (Agent to Spies), Diego (Michael's Agency Contact), Sean Glenanne (Fiona's Brother), Thomas O'Neill (Bloodthirsty Hooligan), Fiona (The Client)

Quote of the Episode: Strickler - 'Oh come on, Michael. You're not in the truth business. You never were.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No. Not really Fi's best episode.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 2 (29 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (2 overall). Sam comes out pretty well. Mike got shot with rubber bullets, Sean with real bullets. Fi got abducted.

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (2 overall). Yeah, not much funny about this week.

Other: Mike has two aliases. For Sean, Michael McBride. For O'Neill, Paul Smith.

Let's take a moment to mourn the loss of Ms. Reynolds' beautiful Buick. *pause* Hmm, when Sam said last week that sometimes it's hard being Mike's friend, he had no idea.

Sean's an idiot. How do I know this. The first time we see him, he stuff a loaded gun into the waist of his pants. Did we not see why this is a bad idea in "The Hunter"?

I'm very impressed with how calm Maddie was helping Sam try to patch up a chest wound on Sean. Ice in her veins, man. At least very cold mountain stream water.

I'd also like to pause a moment to mourn the loss of Diego. *pause* I mentioned last week I like how he won't play Michael's games. But he does it in a way that's distinct from Brennan. Brennan knows Michael's always trying something, he just figures he's smart enough to stay a step ahead of him. He's the babysitter who deals with the hyperactive, sneaky child by trying to beat them at their own game. Be more sneaky, anticipate the kid's tricks, and circumvent them. Diego's the old lady babysitter that's too tired for that shit. She just refuses to play, and figures the kid will lose interest once they see they're being ignored.

That being said, why is Diego just now getting concerned Michael is working with Tom Strickler? What the hell did he think Michael was doing asking Diego to check on him for? Idle curiosity? Continuity glitch there people.

I'm not happy with how Fi gets handled in this episode. I understand she's already shipped out most of her heavy ordinance, but that hardly leaves her helpless. But most of the episode is guys trying to protect. Sure, Sean's her brother, Michael's her boyfriend, Sam considers her a friend (even if he'd never say so to her face), but Fi doesn't get a chance to do much for herself. I think the part that disappointed me most was when O'Neill and his team bust in, as Michael's passing out, we see Fi being carted off by one goon, kicking futilely. I don't mean she's kicking him and he's such a wall of muscle he doesn't notice. I mean just flailing her legs around like some damsel in distress. It'd have been one thing if we see Fi fighting some goon, then getting clocked in the head with a rifle butt. Fine, there's like a half-dozen baddies, Mike's down, Sean's down, Fi's blinded by tear gas. As it stood, though, she didn't feel much like Fi in this episode

Except for the bit where she said she'd envisioned stabbing O'Neill in the neck with an ice pick. That felt like Fi.

So, now Fi and Michael can never return to Ireland (O'Neill outed Mike as an American), so I guess they're stuck in Miami. Well, Mike was already, but, uh, um, never mind. Anyway. There's a killer on the loose, so we'll see next week where that leads them. And whether Sam can keep dodging Ms. Reynolds' calls.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Bigger They Are, The More Likely They Die

Seeing Whistler smack around Nash and Pearl for mouthing off in Angel & Faith #13 made me so happy.

Not because I have anything against Nash and Pearl. Sure, they're bad guys, unrepentant killers, and the fact they worked for Angel when he was Twilight gives him another thing to feel guilty about. As if he didn't have enough. But as far as villains go, they're fine. I'll enjoy seeing them lose, and if that means dying -as it frequently does for villains in the Buffyverse - then so it goes. I won't mind if they survive to cause mischief, because if nothing else, they have a creepy style to them (the fashion sense Isaacs gives them helps).

The reason I was happy is because the more obviously powerful Whistler is, the more likely he is to wind up dead.

Hang on, let me explain.

I've never liked Whistler. I mentioned this back when I first saw him in this title. I never like characters like him. They stand around, saying cryptic bullshit that supposedly has significance and helps guide the hero, but they never actually do anything. They ride the coattails of the people who actually do. In Season 2, Whistler didn't stop Angelus, Buffy did (with an assist from Spike in the sense that he kept Dru out of it). Buffy might have been better off if she hadn't had to waste time listening to Whistler blather on. I give Xander Harris a lot of crap for being a git, as Spike might put it, but he does actually contribute. He gets into the fray, or at least fray adjacent. Whistler talks big, but always vanishes when the fur starts flying.

Now? Now he's actually getting involved. Angel didn't do what he wanted, so he's trying to manage it himself. What's more, he has an apparently considerable amount of power. Whether he's always had it, or if it's some unexpected result of the death of magic, I don't know. The point is, he has it, and he's not afraid to throw it around. Pearl and Nash are terrified of him, and these are two beings who killed dozens of Slayers, and squared off with Angel and Faith no problem.

Which means when Angel (and perhaps Faith, if she's refuses to let the Broodmeister do his Lone Ranger shtick) face him, they'll be massive underdogs. Which means they're going to win. Somehow. If he weren't so powerful, it might be different, because then Angel beating up some weak loser would be a letdown. Maybe even cause the audience to root for Whistler, or at least feel bad for him. The weaker he is, the more likely he would be to pull some sneaky trick to win. Since he's the one with the power, that option goes to the good guys. That's how it works. It may not be a pretty victory, but they'll manage. And like I said, in the Buffyverse, most villains end up dead. Which means I'll get to see that irritating little shit wiped out once and for all.

I can hardly wait.

Friday, October 05, 2012

What I Bought 9/21/2012 - Part 6

We wrap up the reviews with a couple of recently started solo titles.

Captain Marvel #3, by Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), Dexter Soy (artist, pgs. 1-16), Rich Elson & Will Quintana (artists, pgs. 17,-18), Karl Kesel & Javier Rodriguez (artists, pg. 19), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - No, you're not reading that wrong. 19 pages, not 20. Nice, Marvel. As though I wasn't questioning myself buying the title enough already.

Carol helps fend off the Prowler attacks. She lets one Japanese pilot return to his base and bring everything they have, so he'll know when he loses that he never stood a chance. A. . . questionable strategy to put it mildly. Carol also confirms the Prowlers are Kree, though what they're doing her she doesn't know. She chats a bit about her origin with some of the ladies she's fighting alongside, morning comes, the fight starts. It's going well, then the Prowlers form into a giant mech. Hmm, second mech in the last two days. The Elson and Quintana bit is about several female pilots, including Helen Cobb, butting up against bureaucratic stupidity/institutional sexism that keeps them out of the NASA. That last page is, I don't know what, unless it's a sign Carol's appearance in WW2 is already changing history.

I have absolutely no idea where this story is going, why Carol's in the past, how those two bits at the end are connected, no clue at all. Which is more frustrating than having a hunch, because then I could at least judge whether I thought I'd like how it'll go. Soy's artwork is, hmm, there's some good work with the expressions, especially in the quieter moments, when Carol's talking to Daisy and Bijoux (that's a great name). Some of the others are a little flat, not really clear on what the character's feeling. The fight scenes are dull, there's no real sense of flow, just a bunch of vaguely interconnected panels. That might be how it's scripted, might just be how Soy does things, I don't know.

Hawkeye #2, by Matt Fraction (writer), David Aja (artist), Matt Hollingsworth (colorist), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer) - I know a lot of people are going ga-ga over these covers, but they're a bit too minimalist for my taste. Oh, and I still haven't gotten my hands on issue 1. I saw a copy available online, but they wanted 23 bucks because it was an Adi Granov variant. Cripes, I may not love these covers, but I sure as hell ain't paying that much for a comic with a cover done by an artist whose work I can't stand. I mean, I'll take Granov over Greg Land, but probably not ahead of Harvey Tolibao, if that gives you an idea of where his work stands on my personal spectrum.

Clint's recruited Kate Bishop into whatever this big thing he's investigating is. It starts with a circus performance for a bunch of mob boss types, including Wilson Fisk and Madame Masque, among others. Turns out it's the Ringmaster and his revamped Circus of Crime, out to rob all these wealthy crooks. This seems ill-advised, as the Kingpin doesn't take kindly to such things, but what the hell. Kate and Clint stop the heist, mostly without incident. Other than Clint taking a crowbar (and several fists) to the head, and Kate getting grazed with a bullet. Then they steal all the money, so now all the mob types will be after them. I repeat, ill-advised. Clint's does a pretty poor job of explaining why he wants Kate to work with him, but eventually is honest enough she agrees.

So it's interesting. There are times I wonder if he isn't being written as too much of a dork, but I mostly write that off as him trying to be a helpful teacher to Kate, when she's more than capable, especially in some areas where Clint has very little experience. Certainly this Hawkeye rings more true to me than Remender's, whose Clint still seems too purposefully abrasive, rather than simply speaking without thinking.

As for Aja's art, it's gorgeous. I mean, there are a couple of pages where the faces are kind of rough, but on the whole, the expressions are good, he lays out the action in clever ways where it flows clearly from one panel to the next. Even the brief skirmishes Clint and Kate have separately (page 11), where it switches from one to the other from panel-to-panel work, because it serves to highlight how their respective fights are going in opposite directions. Plus, there's a nice bit in panel 5 where Clint's punching one guy as another leaps at him from the right. In panel 6, Kate is on the left side, slugging an attacker to the right with a fire extinguisher. It's like the guy jumped into the next panel, wound up in an entirely different fight, and got clocked.

Also, Hollingsworth's colors. They aren't extremely bright, like the Horie's work on Dial H, but they're effective. They aren't murky, or obscuring the art. They monochrome backgrounds in places highlight the Aja's linework and made the figures stand out more. It's great stuff. Hopefully Fraction's writing can keep up. He did use the word "cornpone", which is one of those words like "poltroon" I wish I used more often. That's promising, in its own way.

I love ending on a positive note. Tomorrow, I don't know yet what tomorrow's post will be. See where the mood takes me.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

What I Bought 9/21/2012 - Part 5

Back to the grind. That's not right, though. These were fairly enjoyable comics, which is a decent starting place, at least. There's still that Superman story I could do without, but I can at least appreciate the attempt by the parties involved.

Batman Beyond Unlimited #7 & 8, by Derek Fridolfs (writer, inker), Dustin Nguyen (writer, penciler), Randy Mayor (colorist), Saida Temofonte (letterer) {Konstriction, chapters 8 & 9}; Derek Fridolfs & Dustin Nguyen (writers), James Brouwer (artist), Saida Temofonte (letterer) {Beyond Origin: Aquagirl}; Adam Beechen (writer), Norm Breyfogle (artist), Andrew Elder (colorist), Saida Temofonte (letterer) {10,000 Clowns}; J.T. Krul (writer), Howard Porter (penciler), John Livesay (inker), Tony Avina (colorist), Saida Temofonte (letterer) {Failsafe} - The heroes are getting progressively more beat up across these covers.

So I guess the Superman story is taking place some time prior to Wayne tapping McGinnis to be Batman. Which might explain the clunky armor, the different Batplane, and Superman being so much more mopey than he is in Nguyen and Fridolfs' story. The two of them manage to not die, but with Supes weakened by the Green K asteroid belt ringing the Earth, they flee for the Fortress. While Bats tries to find a way to deal with that problem, Lex has his tower convert into a mech and rampage through metropolis to draw Superman out. Once he sees that Walker, that one nanotech cop has overloaded himself on the stuff to try and fight the mech, Superman activates the "Eradicator protocol" and flies back towards Metropolis encased in some ugly looking protective gear.

I like the idea of Lex having a building that turns into a giant robot, solely for the purposes of luring out Superman. The fact he wouldn't give a thought to the loss of lives is chilling, if frustrating since he appears to be dead and thus can't be held responsible. I do think Krul shunted off Solomon Grundy awful fast. Wouldn't he object to his criminal enterprises be crushed underfoot by some massive decoy of Luthor's? Porter's art doesn't serve to elevate the story any. People look wildly different depending on what panel, and there's no energy to the fight scenes whatsoever. That's why I talked about this story first, to get the negativity out of the way.

The origin story for Aquagirl did raise some interesting possibilities about her motivations in my mind, but mostly it serves to illustrate what a jerk Aquaman is. I get how nearly losing his son could make him overprotective of his next child, especially after she's abducted from the crib and brought to Apokolips (that came out of left field, let me tell you). But the fact he banished his son for not stopping this, then becomes such an overbearing presence in Aquagirl's life that she wants to get to the surface just to get some peace and quiet, and so he banishes her as well, what the hell?

That being said, it was an action-packed 10-page story, and James Brouwer's art carries it off well. He does his own colors, and the cool greens of the undersea parts, contrasts very well with the dark reds, almost black. Also, something about the way he lays out the panels, the occasional extreme close-ups, the long, short panels showing two different locations, both related by the exposition box, it reminds me of Samurai Jack. That's a good thing, I quite liked Samurai Jack.

In the Justice League story, everything is going badly. The JL's team-up with Apokolips and New Genesis accomplished nothing - except causing the Serpent to change into a bigger, meaner version of itself. And Mad Harriet died! Aw, I kind of liked that daffy dame. Before they try to defend Earth, everyone goes off to see their loved ones, except Supes and Barda, who apparently have no one. Warm fuzzies. Terry is feeling more than a little overwhelmed, so Bruce hands him a book with a passage marked, and a tube of ashes. Only to be used when all hope is lost. And he won't tell Terry what to expect. That's ominous.

On the Batman side, Doug's made himself King Joker, and dosed all the other Jokerz with some sort of drug. Which means they don't mind suicide bombing Gotham into oblivion. The cops are outmatched, and Terry's on his, except for Mr. Chill, who has finished upgrading his outfit and decides to become Vigilante. Oh, and the new Catwoman showed up at the end, and Dick Grayson might get in the swing of things. But for now, not a lot of help available. Max has been abducted by some mysterious pair, and Bruce is in the hospital because his liver is failing. Apparently he's been taking major painkillers for years. Admittedly, I don't know a lot about organ donations, but if Bruce got himself near the top of the list years ago, should he still be waiting for a new one?

I think I'd be OK with Doug's new look except for the little whatever on the top of his head. There's a line of black, then more white with little black triangles above it. It's like some ridiculous little cap, and it throws off the creepier aspects of the rest of the design. I do like the first page in issue 8, with Sad Batman walking out of the explosion carrying the bodies of his former sidekicks and partners. He looks almost comically sad, but if you look, his shoulders are sagging more with every panel, every death, the weight of it all, crushing him. It's a highly effective image.