Friday, May 31, 2013

What I Bought 5/27/2013 - Part 2

Huh. Got to that book review yesterday after all. In other news, Happy Clint Eastwood's Birthday Day! I'm watching the Dollars trilogy to celebrate.

Avengers Arena #7-9, by Dennis Hopeless (writer), Alessandro Vitti (artist, issue 7), Kev Walker (penciler/artist, issues 8, 9), Jason Gorder (inker, issue 8, & pgs 6-15 of issue 9), Rain Beredo (colorist, issue 7), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (colorist, issues 8, 9), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Dave Johnson does some good cover work. Now I want a game called "3. . .2. . .1. . .Death!"

Issue 7 explains how Arcade's doing what he's doing and why. The "how" is that his new girl Friday, Ms. Coriander wired Magneto's old base underground in the Antarctic into Arcade's suit so he can control pretty much everything there by thought. The "why", is Arcade had a birthday shindig and learned all the other super-villains think he's a loser. He decided they were right, and it nearly destroyed him. Which is why he took a stint as a bartender in Bargalia, I guess. But he's rediscovered his muse, that it's about making other people do what he wants, more than the killing. Maybe.

I'm going to want to spend more time on it later, so for no, let's say I'm conflicted on this take on Arcade. Certain parts of it I like, other parts not so much. I do like the idea of super-villains as being essentially gossipy high society ladies. All polite smiles and hugs to each other, then horrible gossip behind their backs.

Vitti's work isn't quite on the level of Walker's but he does give Arcade appropriately deranged looks for most of the comic. He's always slightly bug eyed or with a creepy grin. Or both, which is especially unnerving. I will say, people seem to really like gritting their teeth. Constrictor and Arcade both do through most of their run-in in Bargalia. And for the record, Constrictor should not be talking shit about anyone. Omega Red ripped off his shtick, and does it better. Oh, you were a member of the Serpent Society? Too bad Black Mamba, Asp, and Diamondback are the only members anyone cared about. Oh, you tried going straight for a bit? Get in line.

The other two issues bring us back to the present. X-23 finds Juston and what's left of his Sentinel. Bloodstone asks Cammi and the 2 Runaways to help bury the now headless Kid Briton. And it turns out Apex has a twin brother who shares her body, except she's kept him sealed up inside for 2 years. Also, I was right about Apex being some sort of a technopath. Go me. The kids vote not to kill Apex while Tim's in control, Nico gives Chase the boot when he goes for it anyway, and it all goes balls up. Apex stuffs Tim back into the hole, regains control of Deathlocket, kills Juston, and steals his Sentinel. Well done there, team!

I expect better from Cammi and X-23, honestly. But I also thought Cammi and maybe Bloodstone would vote for killing, so I've clearly given all of them too much credit. I suppose I shouldn't encourage them to murder, but they clearly don't have it together sufficiently to keep Apex detained. They're smart enough to not let anyone reliant on technology guard Tim, but not smart enough to keep Deathlocket the hell away, because aww, puppy love. No, cyborg killing machine already occasionally commanded by amoral teenage psychopath hiding somewhere within the person you've tied up. There's a part of me wondering if Katy let Tim out on purpose.

I'm curious what big secret Cammi saw in Bloodstone's eyes, but I'm surprised it turned out he is romantically interested in Anachronism. Did Kid Briton know that when he described him as Bloodstone's boyfriend, or was he just being a sneeering, homophobic jock asshole? I'm inclined to think the latter, because the former would require Briton to have thought of anyone other than himself, but you never know. And we never will, with Briton dead.

So Jason Gorder inked a fair amount of Kev Walker's work over these two issues. I will confess, I'm not sure there's a substantial difference. I do think he probably helps, as some of the faces in Walker's pages look a little rushed. Understandable, given the 3 issues every two months pace the book is on. I like the look Bloodstone gets in #8 when he asks the others to help bury Briton. There's not much expression at all, mostly he looks weary, but you get the feeling he doesn't really care, he's just doing it because Aiden mentioned it as something they should do. The colors Beaulieu uses for issue 9 are pretty good too, especially the shift between 7 and 8. All the dark blues, then the change to orange with the campfire. it's light, it ought to be warmer, more reassuring, but it makes more shadows, too. Emphasizes how cut off they are, how isolated, how much they don't know. Later, there's the spotlight from what's left of Juston's Sentinel. It can highlight whoever has the floor at that moment, but it also casts even sharper shadows to highlight to divide over what to do with Tim. It isn't subtle, but it's effective.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Inferno - Roger MacBride Allen

Inferno is the second book in a series of at least three Allen set in Asimov's universe. It's somewhere in between the Robots series and the Foundation series, rather closer to the former. The Spacer colonies haven't been forgotten entirely yet, but they are certainly on the wane, including the planet Inferno (Why would anyone want to settle on a world called Inferno?).

Inferno's an interesting place, and not because it's terraforming work is coming undone. They have robots that don't adhere to the Three Laws. Instead, they have the Four Laws, similar to the original Three, but not identical. New Law robots still can't harm humans directly, but they are no longer compelled to protect humans from harm. Unless they want to protect them, as the 4th Law says robots can do as they please (so long as it doesn't contradict the first 3 Laws). On top of that, there's Caliban, who has no Laws programmed into his brain whatsoever. Which means he can kill humans, if he so desires, and most of the inhabitants of Inferno seem to think that's exactly what he would desire. Which means Caliban's in trouble when Governor Grieg is murdered after a reception where Caliban was the last known being to see him alive.

The story is functionally a murder mystery, right down to the Sheriff calling all the suspects to his office for a long-winded explanation of the guilty party's identity and motive. Allen writes it pretty well, though I can't helping thinking Asimov would have written a bit more wit and humor into the dialogue. I do like how the standards of Spacer society, and the ways in which things are changing, are critical to the answer. The Spacer tendency to be surrounded by robots, but keep people at a distance. The sudden return to a need for currency.

Still, it was the three key robots that I found most interesting. Donald is the Sheriff's assistant, and a standard Three Laws robot. Prospero is a New Laws robot, dedicated to helping his brethren escape the city they are confined to. Caliban is a No Laws robot. Donald doesn't regard either of the other two as true robots, rather they are 'pseudo-robots', and he very much wants them to be guilty of the murder. Which is kind of curious, since Three Laws robots are not supposed to have wants, desires, or emotions. On a basic level, I think it's the fact New Law robots aren't compelled as he is to protect humans. To his mind, his First Law programming, that makes them potential threats. They can't directly harm a person, but could they bar the way of a Third Law robot trying to protect a person from harm? Thus, threat, thus unease. On the other side, Prospero wants New Law robots to be granted rights equal to humans, but only New Law robots. Not Third Laws such as Donald, who he sees as 'hopeless slaves.' It's kind of strange to see robots segregating themselves that way, settling into "I'll get mine, and screw you, buddy".

It's a little strange that Allen has people assume a robot with no Laws would automatically want to kill humans. Apparently, when Caliban is recognized in public and approached, that's one of the first questions asked, what keeps him from killing people. Well hell, what keeps most of us from killing people? A lack of any real desire to do so, fear of the consequences, respect for life, take your pick. I'm not sure why people would think a robot's default state is, as Bender might say, 'kill all humans', and that only the First Law prevents it. It keeps bringing me back to High Plains Drifter, 'It's what people know about themselves that makes them afraid.' Does Allen feel like most people refrain from killing only because laws hold them back? That if there were no repercussions, people would commit murder willy-nilly?  Thus, as robots were created by humans, they would share that impulse.

Maybe it's about that contrary streak some people had. Tell them not to touch something, they feel they have to touch it. Either it's curiosity, or a desire to not submit. Perhaps the point is people believe that robots would want to kill humans precisely because there is a constant choir running through their heads obstructing them from doing so. All the time it's "Don't kill humans", and this makes them want to? But that wouldn't explain Caliban, who never had the Laws programmed into him to begin with. We could chalk that up to general ignorance, but I get the impression most people know the Laws never applied to him.

Could be humans fear they mistreat robots, and are afraid of resentment and reprisals, should the opportunity ever arise. In which case they're looking at Caliban as some avatar of latent robotic desire for freedom. Which wouldn't be unusual. Certainly people have used it as a scare tactic for centuries here, trying to deny rights to that religious group, or that race, because that group had been treated like shit and the folks in power are terrified that given the chance, the previously oppressed might be just as unfriendly to them, as they were to the oppressed. The question is whether robots are even capable of looking at things that way, and I'm not certain they are. Caliban doesn't object to Prospero's plans to enable New Law robot escapes, but he seems more concerned with helping robots of both types get along with each other and with humans.

Those are the sort of thought exercises I enjoy from reading Asimov's sci-fi, so in that regard, I have to think Allen succeeded wildly. I'll have to get around to tracking down the first and third books in the series.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What I Bought 5/27/2013 - Part 1

Yep, it's another round of reviewing several weeks' worth of comics. Factor in sporadic book reviews and the other usual stuff and this is going to go for awhile.

Angel & Faith #21, by Christos Gage (writer), Rebekah Isaacs (artist), Dan Jackson (colorist), Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt (letterer) - I wonder if Faith's necklace there on the cover has any significance? Can't say I've noticed her wearing one in-story, so perhaps Isaccs just liked it as an additional detail, to go with Faith's hair and the sword.

All right, time to bring Giles back to life! About time, I'm ready for this to work or not so they can get on with killing Whistler. Problem, how to resurrect Giles when spells don't work? Solution, steal Whistler's idea to convert magic artifacts into raw energy to power a spell. Makes me wonder what Angel was gonna do if Whistler hadn't blabbed about his big plan. Alasdair initially objects to the idea of destroying his relics, much guilt-tripping and accusing is thrown around, he eventually relents. Sophie and Lavinia are there as a touchstone of sorts, also as backup spell casters. Handy, since Whistler, Pearl and Nash show up to rob the joint, and the old man gets wounded during the fight. The artifacts are stolen, and there's a decent chance the aunties screwed up the spell. I'm left wondering whether it would have been intentional. Did they see everything was going wrong and decide it was better for Giles to be permanently at peace? or did they make their honest best attempt, and just flub it? Or maybe it worked.

Oh, and Spike bailed because the spell that created Dawn appears to be wearing off, seeing as Angel and Faith no longer remember her. I'm disappointed he's leaving, but pleased he cares enough about Dawn to want to help her. Yes, it's probably about Buffy, allow me my illusions.

Some of Isaacs' faces were looking a little rough this issue. Mostly Faith. Not all the time, but in certain spots her forehead would be too large, or the head in general would be oddly shaped. Still, the art was mostly its typical high quality, which is why the occasional stumble stood out. I do wish that in the panel where Faith is standing up to Angel, he didn't tower over her. The perspective even looks slightly tilted so that he's leaning in and she's leaning back. Maybe that's just a product of her having to tilt her head back to look at him, and yeah, he's taller, but you can work around that. But given that she's scoring some points on him, and making him consider his actions, she could get a little more powerful positioning.

For the record, there were a couple of flubs in the fight scene. In the panel before Faith throws the axe, her voice balloon comes from off to one side, but you can see her silhouette in the background between Pearl and Nash (the aunts are illuminated over by Giles' body, so the long hair can only be Faith.) Also, whatever Aramaic saying Sophie is telling Lavinia not to say, she didn't actually say, at least not in any of the speech bubbles we see. I don't know, doesn't mean much, just something I noticed.

Atomic Robo Free Comic Book Day 2013, by Brian Clevinger (words), Scott Wegener (art), Anthony Clark (colors), Jeff Powell (letters) - My question of whether Jack would order Real Science Adventures without me specifically putting on my Previews orders appears to have been answered. I'm waiting for the trade, it seems.

Robo's been called in by some young scientists because their robot has gotten out of control. For an out of control robot, it certainly seems interested in punching Robo, so it does that repeatedly. Robo's either badly off his game, or just sorely underestimating the thing. I would understand the latter. It looks as clunky as graceful as some of the Transformers toys I had way back in the day. You'd be forgiven for being surprised this thing could move at all. Anyway, Jenkins sees the explosions, rushes in, and fires the thing with his lightning gun. It turns out the whole was a trial run by the scientists to get a defense contract with Majestic 12. For new readers, Majestic 12 isn't exactly described, but the fact they have a base underground, want robots that can crush Robo, and have the money to acquire them, gives you a pretty good picture of what they are.

This one wasn't as funny as last year's Dr. Dinosaur story, but it's still pretty humorous, especially when Robo starts talking in single words like the robot. "Charge." "Oh yeah? Gun." "Bullets." "Reload." "Punch." Also, I'd like to see the eco-friendly robots he was wanting to see. Origami algorithms sound pretty cool. I do like how economically Clevinger gets the exposition out of the way. It takes one panel to explain what Robo's there to stop, one panel to explain lightning guns, all told, less than a page to get all the basic information out of the way so the punching can begin.

Which gives Wegener plenty of chances to draw punching, and Robo flying through the air and bouncing off things. I like the flare effect when it raises the Buick over its head, and the third punch (the backhand, with the PUNCH sound effect). It looks almost casual, but the explosion effect, plus the big solid letters, and the sight of Robo's little robot shoes and feet as he goes flying out of the panel really sell it. I don't know why it surprises me Robo doesn't wear socks, but it does. I figured if he wore shoes, he would wear socks, too.

OK, tomorrow, maybe more comic reviews. Unless I finish this book I'm working on tonight. I probably won't, but I might.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Whole Bunch of Weekend Stuff

Yesterday was post #2500 here at Reporting on Marvels and Legends. Which makes this my 2500th post, since Papafred has one in there.

One of the worst things is when my conscience nags me into doing something I don't want or have to do, and it turns out to be a really good idea. Today I have a mildly sick coworker and even though they hadn't specifically said, "Please come help me," they hadn't said not to, and the conscience kicked in, and I went, and yeah, they looked pretty bad. So it turned out well for them, and was a minor annoyance for me. But now my conscience is going to be such a smug git the next time it starts in. "Oh, you don't want to listen? Well I was right about you needing to help last time, wasn't I?"

Anyway, the lack of posts over the weekend was me being away visiting Alex, rather than lack of inspiration. OK, Friday's would probably have been lack of inspiration. I thought about trying something for Saturday, but the only person in Alex' apartment who knew the password for their Internet was on a float trip.

On a large scale, the weekend consisted of lots of drinking. Not by me, but everyone around me. The bonfire on Thursday, followed by hitting a bar until closing. Two more bars on Friday, followed by a trip to Clint's house for more drinking and another attempted bonfire. Saturday had a trip to a club called Roxy's for a show, which meant more drinking, then people came to Alex' apartment afterward for still more drinking. Too many expensive meals that weren't worth the price. Really wish I'd just gone to Five Guys at some point.

A few details. The highlight of Thursday's bonfire was Alex lighting the charcoal with his cigarette lighter, which led to him losing all the hair on his right forearm. He does have a tempestuous relationship with fire. Friday, my planned breakfast with my dad went out the window when his back did, so i got a haircut and bought Red Dead Redemption: Game of the Year edition. Funny thing, the used version had a higher price than the new one. Go figure. Alex did work Friday, so I dropped him off and went to run other errands. Hit Village Books, was sad to see I was the only customer. Sure most people have other things to do than look at books on Friday night. It's still sad to see a store selling new books for 25% off, to say nothing of used books for half-price. I bought a few things, discuss one briefly further down.

Would have gone to Rock Bottom Comics, but the price of parking in downtown Columbia is such I wasn't going near there until after 6 p.m., when it's free to park. By then the store was closed. Oh well, too bad for those nice small businesses. Excellent planning, city of Columbia! I didn't find anything for myself downtown, but did find a copy of Paperboy for a coworker, to replace the one that was stolen last year. Yes, someone stole a 20+ year old Nintendo cartridge. Let's see, the highlight of the second bonfire was Alex' failure to get it working, even with gasoline involved. Or it was that ember that landed on the ear of one of the pugs, causing Alex to freak and rush towards it, causing the pug to run, causing me to reflect on how I should have brought my camera to record a pug combusting.

Look, it was 3 a.m., I was exhausted, cut me some slack. Saturday, the overpriced lunch did lead to the hilarity of Jackie's oversized Long Island ice tea. Apparently, Houlihan's has two sizes: pint glass or pitcher, but I don't think the waitress explained that until after she brought Jackie her pitcher. Probably good she didn't accompany us on the target-shooting expedition. Which didn't go as planned, because the range segregates shotguns off by themselves, and their section is really just for shooting clay pigeons. Except none of us are any good at hitting moving targets, especially when none of us know how to throw them well by hand. it felt pointless to me, but everyone else had a good time, and I'll have the expression on that one guy's face when Alex trudged out there to stick a paper target on a downed tree limb. I'm not sure I've seen a more perfect dumbfounded/exasperated "What the hell?" in my life.

Sunday, we had Chinese buffet, which I liked, and we even got real fortunes. Alex' told him his courage would guide his future. Mine told me to assert myself because my ideas were worthwhile 'at this time'. Most backhanded complimentary fortune ever. We visited his grandmother, which was nice, and since it was in the area, I decided we'd drop in our my dad. Then the heavens opened and Alex nearly had a panic attack. We made alright, I got to talk to my dad for a couple of hours, drop off some stuff I bought for him, receive another shipment of books (so when the historical reviews start popping up in a couple of weeks, you know who to blame). Then we ran back into the storm on the way home. Zero visibility conditions at times. It was kind of cool being the only car in the passing lane on 63. Relatively little drinking on Sunday night, no bar hopping or loud parties. Did not feel bad only staying awake until midnight. Got up Monday morning, drove back to the boonies. Had almost no traffic. Lovely day. And now here's a book.

Made my way through The Regulators, by Richard Bachman over the weekend. It's not bad, but some of the violence, profanity, etc., feels indulgent. I know Bachman was usually King's method for getting some of the darker stuff out of his system, but I think past stories had more to them. This felt like it was just death and violence, excepting the bits about Audrey and Seth. There was a decent core there, about their love for each other, the struggle between that and the horror their lives are. In a way it sort of works, if you consider Audrey's safe place that Seth made for her, away from the hell Tak's created, and the relationship between them is a contrast to a lot of the ugliness in the neighbors once Tak starts in on them.

The saddest scene in the book was during the first "fire corridor" sequence, when Mrs. Carver shoves her daughter Ellen away, instead preferring to protect her son, Ralphie. For whatever reason, the book really played up how Ralphie was the apple of both his parents' eyes, so they let him get away with anything, even though every one else can see he's a miserable little shit who needs his ears boxed. You get the feeling Ellen has always had to deal with this, Ralphie giving her shit and her not being able to do anything about it because her parents dote on him so. The moment where the mother drops any pretense of caring about Ellen, tossing her aside as bullets fly, it was hard to read. There's not even an attempt to portray it as her believing Ellen can fend for herself, she just doesn't want this child in her arms, she wants that child. I wasn't sorry at all to see Mrs. Carver join Mr. Carver in death, even though I know it wouldn't end anywhere good for Ellen or Ralphie. I honestly wonder if Tak had stashed a little piece of itself inside Ralphie, both as an explanation for why the parents dote on him so (Tak's manipulating them subtly, more so than he bothers to with Audrey), and for his vow of revenge at the end.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Ink-Stained Trail- Chapter 13

John dragged me out of my thoughts as he hauled out of the way by me sleeve. We watched Lyle and the first shipment rumble and bounce into the darkness. Five minutes later, the other set of trucks rolled out and headed in the opposite direction. Time passed, I wasn't sure how much. Everything was quiet, except for a few birds you could hear flitting about up in the rafters. I didn't know for sure anything was wrong, or if I could do anything if there was, but what the hell. I'd come this far, might as well see it through. Besides, John kept poking me with the gun - to see if I slept standing up, I guess - and I was getting a little tired of it.

"You know one of your guys slipped out before the trucks left, right?" John ignored me. "he probably went to clue his buddies in."

"Be quiet. You're just making up nonsense."

"Your pals are gonna be in dutch. Don't you think you oughta warn 'em?"

John jabbed the gun into my side a little harder and said, "Mister, I've had about enough of your hash, now shut yer yap before - "

Funny thing. The padlock I picked off the Charlane's gate was still in my coat pocket. I'd just wanted to keep the gate open for a return visit, but it came in handy for clocking John Boy here. Not sporting, but effective. His head whipped around and the rest of him followed in a graceful downward spiral. Like a pigeon taken out of the sky with a slingshot. He was gonna need some dental work, but judging from his breath, he was overdue. I pocketed the padlock and headed for my car.

She wasn't in a cooperative mood. I checked under the hood, on the off chance someone had the bright idea to disable her. No such luck. Then I heard gunfire, to the west. they fell for the decoy. Good for whoever the guns were headed to, bad for for the guys in the trucks. I'd hoped this wouldn't happen, since most of the thefts had been quiet heists, a little smash and grab. I guess when Charlane upped the stakes with more armed guards, the thieves did, too. I tried the key one more time, pleading under my breath with her to start for me, sugar. The engine coughed, rattled the whole car, but at least it was running. I headed west, the same direction the whole neighborhood was gawking at from their lawns.

As I drove, I realized I couldn't do much with a padlock, if there was even anything to do. I reached across the car, careful to keep an eye on the road. never know when a cow will go for a stroll. In the glove box was my revolver, a well-oiled but beat up .38. I keep it in good working condition just in case, but letting it bounce around in the glove compartment doesn't do the outside any good. I don't like guns. I'm good with them, and in the past I've leaned too heavily on them. Not using them makes solving some problems harder, but also prevents others from cropping up entirely. Besides, I keep forgetting to renew my permit.

Turns out I didn't need it. The whole thing was over by the time I got there, though I didn't have any time to find out much. Thompson and his deputies were already there. Thompson was livid, his language would have lit up the sky if the burning trucks weren't doing a fine job already. He wasn't likely to be happy to see me at any point, but certainly not now, and he harangued his deputies to get me out of there. I was just able to confirm no one died, though plenty were injured, and a couple might be touch and go, as they hustled me away. Good news was Bill wasn't one of the injured, and he filled me and the other fellas in over breakfast the next morning.

It's hard to say how much he embellished the story, but the attack came at a sharp turn, with thieves using hay bales as a temporary roadblock, and others in the fields for cover. The roadblock only had to hold long enough to let them shoot out tires. Nobody was sure how many thieves there were, with the dark clothes and masks, but Hill assured us they were all giants, heavily armed (that part I figure for half-true). The first few guys who returned fire got shot down pretty quick, and then some of the ammo in one of the trucks went up and the rest of Charlane's men bailed out. At that point, with no cover of their own, the guys gave up the fight. Smart move. A few shadows moved in to start unloading crates, and turns out Charlane lied to me. The shipment that went west wasn't the decoy. All the workers knew that before I ever showed up. I guess Charlane was betting I'd escape, which made me feel a little better about hitting John. Bill swears John is the type to hold grudges, though, but hell, who isn't?

I mulled things over in the park while breakfast settled. Another shipment taken. They'd left behind another Raccoon mark, real elaborate the way Bill described it. Not just the track, but a mask, little nose, even whiskers. Someone fancied themselves an artist, and was also a little too cute for their own good. This is much too loud for the Raccoons. There were only two people in town I'd bet had the manpower to pull this off: Charlie or Maggie. I've been told the local ladies for Liberty are tough enough, but they only number a half-dozen.

I wanted to dismiss Charlie. He'd always liked how the Raccoons handled things, and this was too loud, too flashy. Making a deal with the sheriff so he could run illegal gaming, that was more his style. Crooked, but with enough respectability people don't object. He didn't announce himself, just let how well he ran things speak for itself.

Of course, if he was going to try something like this, the sheriff was a good person to be partners with. But that didn't jibe, either. Thompson couldn't want this level of trouble. The buzz had been growing that state troopers were about to get involved, and Thompson didn't want them investigating. If Charlie brought that heat down, it'd be the end of their partnership.

Which left Maggie and her army of boys, but where would she hide the guns? I had a good guess, but I'd need to make some plans. I rose, looking at the clouds to the northwest as I walked back to the boarding house. My car didn't give me any grief today, and rolled smooth as could be onto Main Street as we headed east.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Burn Notice 5.7 - Besieged

Plot: So Jacob Starkey is the man who impersonated Michael the day of Max' death, but he's also kind of a dope, which means he did so on someone's orders, rather than his own initiative. A someone who is trying to eliminate him by having him deliver mysterious packages in some gang's territory. Fi and Sam rescue him, not it's simply a matter of convincing them to help draw out his employer.

In other developments, Sam has taken a job on behalf of Elsa, his current lady friend. She's met a young mother, Denise, whose ex-husband didn't bring the son over per the custody agreement. Turns out John has kind of gone extremist since his brother died fighting overseas, and he's joined a militia stationed out in the boonies. A militia with lots of machine guns and equipment which can listen in on cell conversations. Which kiboshes Fi's attempt to sneak in on the underside of a fuel truck. Ultimately, Mike turns Zechariah's eavesdropping ways against him to draw him out of the compound, so Mike can sneak in and convince John to surrender the boy. Which John does, because he loves his son, and he's finally twigged to the fact it isn't in Tommy's best interests to be in some stupid fenced off compound in a fucking swamp.

After all that, Michael goes to meet with Jacob's employer in Jacob's place. he finds a deserted boat with instructions the drive to the Bahamas. He also finds a very nice bomb attached to the engine and a depth finder. He goes ahead and sends the boat out, but not before snapping a few pictures of the bomb - and grabbing a sample of the C-4 - to see if it can help them track down its maker.

The Players: Jacob (The Man Who Posed as Michael/Person of Interest), Denise (The Client), Zechariah (Extremist Nutbag In Charge)

Quote of the Episode: Sam - 'OK, I'll go as fast as I can, but remember: the army may be fake, but the guns are real.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No. She might have gotten a chance if Sam let her go to war against Jacob's hit squad.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (10 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (7 overall). Mike took a massively telegraphed rifle butt to the stomach, but Sam came out all right.

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (3 overall).

Other: Michael doesn't use an alias for the second week in a row. Unless you count his posing as Jacob at the end, but he never introduced himself to anyone.

I'm still not entirely clear on Jacob's involvement in max' death. He bought a cell phone in a place he'd be sure to be recorded, then made a call with it near the site of the killing? That's all I can figure. As Sam & Fi noted, he couldn't have killed Max, and if he had, he wouldn't switch to a gun with blanks to fire at Mike, before running off. Which makes him fairly incidental to the actual murder, which is disappointing somehow. I guess if he had done it, Mike could just turn him over to Pearce when she returns from Egypt and she could help him track Jacob's boss. And that'd be too simple.

Still, I question simply cutting Jacob loose. I really doubt he's going to be smart enough to stay hidden for long. Actually, I'm surprised the phone his employer gave him didn't have a tracking device in it. Seems like a logical step if you have a minion you need to keep track of for when it's time to remove him. Especially if you know he's not smart enough to think of looking for one.

I'm want us to meet Elsa at some point. She owns a jet, a hotel, thinks nothing of loaning Sam sports cars or mansions, but also works with some legal aid group that helps women with custody problems. And she sounds very frisky, if her promise to do 'anything' for Sam if he helped Denise was any indication. 'Anything. You have any idea what that means, Mike? I. . . don't need to.'

Maddy had a line partway through, describing Denise as having married the wrong man, and that she knew a little something about that. It made me think, was John always the wrong man? Does the fact he reacted to his brother's death in this way - anger, paranoia, becoming overprotective towards his son, and hostile towards anyone who questioned his judgment - mean he was the wrong man? Or was he the right man at some point? His actions, wrong as they are, seem motivated by love for his son, and grief over his brother. He made poor choices about how to handle those feelings, but can he correct those? When it came down to it, his first concern was for Tommy, even if it meant defying Zachariah, even to the point of getting his leg broken. It would have been better if he never brought Tommy there in the first place, but he realized that eventually, so maybe he's not beyond salvaging?

On a separate note, I enjoy Zechariah's smug face as he listens in on Mike and Jesse's fake conversation. He's so pleased with himself. I also think Fi wears a bandana around her neck very well. And I appreciated Jesse's attempt to justify his going after Jacob's phone by playing to Fiona's ego. She may very well be the better shot - I'm sure she has more experience, so I don't see why not - but Jesse was clearly trying to placate her by saying it was because she'd do better providing cover fire for him, than the other way around.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Professional

'But after the overtures, he does tend to get a little fucking boring. That's why I stopped! *laughs*' - Stan

I bought The Professional last week, because why not? It's a good movie, and I hadn't seen it in years, and I hadn't really watched it with any sort of critical eye when I did. So that's how I spent last night (when not complaining on a blog post).

I like the contrasts between Leon (Jean Reno), and Stan (Gary Oldman). Stan is all erratic gestures and shouting, Reno is soft-spoken, and sticks to short, quick movements.  Especially on the job, he tends not to linger in view. That whole first hit, where you see him in flashes, bits and pieces. A hand here, an eye peering through a bullet hole there. Meanwhile, Stan's blasting doors in and running amok when he kills. Stan waves his gun around like it's an appendage he's barely aware of, while Leon only brings a gun into view when there's a reason to do so. Leon drinks milk religiously, Stan pops those green and yellow pills like Skittles. Stan's supposed to be an officer of law, but he's dirty. Leon kills people for money, but operates by a specific code. He's probably not "good", at least not at first, but you know where his lines are.

By the end, things shift. Leon's the one blasting away at cops, making threats, yelling a challenge to the world. Stan begins to operate more carefully, especially once he spies Leon. He sticks to shadows, vanishes by stepping back into the rain from the sprinklers, is only partially in view as he peers around corners. And when he does shoot, he gets close to do it.

They both speak haltingly, too. Leon, because he often isn't sure of his words, isn't sure of himself. I think that's why he doesn't lie to Mathilda (Natalie Portman) about being a cleaner, about wanting to escape with her, about his rules, how the plant is his best friend, any of it. He isn't certain enough to try and lie. Or else it's because he's a bit of a child himself, and thinks he shouldn't. Stan's pauses are all about dramatic effect. The calm, then the outburst, be it anger or a lunatic glee. I'm not sure if it's meant to be deliberate on his part, or just something he does because of how his mind works. Mathilda's different. There's not much hesitation to her at all. Asked a question, she will answer, and her answer will not be halting. She will spit out whatever it is she intends to say. I think it's the only way she could get a word in edgewise between everyone in her family dumping shit on her all the time.

I don't know what to make of the thing between her and Leon. She says she's fallen in love with him, and that's probably true, but she also looks after him a bit, at least breaks his routine some. I don't think Leon understands very much other than caring for his plant, and killing people. So he keeps his life to a strict routine, because it lets him stick with what he understands. He's like the new kid in school, afraid to introduce himself, so he stays off by himself. I'm not sure exactly what form his affection for Mathilda takes. It feels like more than a paternal thing, maybe because he isn't much older than her in some ways, and that makes him very uneasy. Or it makes him aware of his mortality. Stan wasn't talking to Leon when he said, 'It's when you become really afraid of death, you learn to really appreciate life.' but he might as well have been.

That whole bit where Mathilda convinces Leon to play the "Who am I?' game was very strange. That Mathilda went with Madonna first, then Marilyn Monroe. Was it her idea of flirting with the guy she would later say she was falling in love with? Or was it just her wanting to dress up as a full-grown woman? Or did she just figure Leon would know them? I was really struck by how uncomfortable Leon, looked during the Monroe part. With the others, he was just befuddled, but when Mathilda starting singing "Happy Birthday", he looked like he genuinely wanted to be somewhere else. I don't know.

I like the use of the apartments themselves. When Mathilda's family is killed, people are scrambling from room to room, into and out of hallways, dashing out of a doorway that put them behind the guy chasing them, whipping around corners only to find more gunmen. The whole thing is like some hedge maze of death, each family member trying to find the way out before time runs out.

There's one shot that caught my eye. Two, really. One was when Stan cornered Mathilda after her disastrous attempt to kill him. When their foreheads are practically touching, and the camera is stationed a few inches below their chins, peering up at them. Most times, I'd expect the camera to be at the same level as their eyes, but off to one side, perpendicular to the direction they're facing. But I think this brings you in closer, traps you between them, makes you more aware of how close this mad dog is to the 12 year old girl, and how bad it scares her. Cleaning isn't some fun revenge fantasy any longer. It has real consequences, and there's a reason Leon said you start with the rifle, where you can be far away.

The shot that really intrigued me was when we first meet Stan and Mathilda's father. After her dad has insisted to Malky that he doesn't know what happened, and Malky tells Stan (who had been listening to music on headphones), Stan turns to face the man. And the camera does, I don't know exactly. It's that trick where it seems to zoom in on the foreground, while zooming out on the background, so the background is indistinct, but the character is in sharp focus. It was just very noticeable, somehow. It made the guy look displaced from the hallway, like he was a picture cut out of a magazine and pasted there. I think it's meant to be the moment Stan truly puts his focus on him and just how intense that can be. And again, the camera feels a little closer than it would normally be. As though Stan has somehow taken a step closer in the moment he turned and we (and Mathilda's dad) weren't able to back up in time.

It's like rattlesnakes. If you see one coiled up, you want to stay further away than half its body length. Then it shouldn't be able to strike at you without first moving closer, and slithering is slower than striking, so you'd have time to react, to increase the distance. Well, Stan is the snake, and it's too late, Mathilda's dad is already within striking distance. He can feel it, and we can see it in his eyes, in his uneasy posture, the way he's sort of trying to turn his body away a little, like he wants to run, but knows he can't turn his back. He's trapped, and just has to hope the snake chooses not to strike.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I'd Like To Review Some Comics, But. . .

Here's a thought from me as a customer: If I call you one day and confirm that yes, I'd like you to ship my comics, I should not be calling you back 12 days later only to learn you will be shipping them tomorrow.

That's not a good example of customer service, especially when you just took over the store, and it's the first time you're supposed to be sending my stuff out. You don't have any credit stored stored with me the way the fellows who ran the store prior to you did. Ken, Jack, I knew they were swell guys, it was an accident, and they'd do better the next time, or at least try to. I don't have any sense that's the case with you, new proprietor. For all I know, this is how things are going to be with you, and it's not promising.

I want to think this is just growing pains, and the new guy will figure it out, but man, it's not how I envisioned things starting. Fine, he hadn't sent them after six weeks, some of that was still Jack's tenure, I'd met the guy for 10 seconds at the convention, we'd barely been introduced, let alone discussed a shipping schedule. But I did call him, I did ask him to go ahead and ship the books, that was the 10th, and here we are, and they aren't on the way yet. So yeah, this is concerning, which is a nice way of saying I'm grinding my teeth thinking about it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

It's A Little Less Wonderland, A Little More Nightmare

'When you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space.' - The Cheshire Cat

Alice: Madness Returns is a sequel to American McGee's Alice as I understand it. I didn't know that when I started it, I simply assumed it was a sequel of sorts to Carroll's original story. Maybe it is, but this Wonderland is a fair bit uglier than the one I remember from the Disney version.

At this point, Alice is some years on from the loss of her family in a fire. She's living at the office of Dr. Bumby, helping to care for the children there as he tries to help her mind. By wiping away all those memories that trouble her so. Unfortunately, Wonderland itself is under attack by a monstrous train that destroys all in its path. Alice finds herself falling back into the world within in her mind with increasing frequency as she tries to stop the train, regain memories she fears lost, as discover the person responsible for everything.

I'd call the game a platformer myself. There's a lot of jumping, avoiding pitfalls and traps, triggering switches then trying to get where you need to go before time runs out. There's also a lot of combat, as Alice finds an array of weapons as the game progresses. Four of them - the Vorpal Blade, Teapot Cannon, Pepper Grinder, and Hobby Horse - can be upgraded multiple times, provided you find enough teeth. Fortunately, there are plenty of those around, and I was able to upgrade all of them fully well before the end of the game. There are also Clockwork Bombs and the Parasol. More a defensive piece, that last one, one I wish I'd used more. But you know me. It's attack, attack, attack all the time. Each weapon has its strengths, and it's fairly easy to switch between them, as most of them are mapped to a different button. The Grinder and Cannon share the right trigger, but you can switch between them by pressing the D-pad one direction or the other.

Combat on the whole is not necessarily easy, though most battles aren't hard once you find the enemies' patterns and weak spots, but the game doesn't try to hinder you the way some do. The camera is generally helpful, the controls respond well, and you get some nifty moves to help. Alice has a Dash move where she turns into a flurry of butterflies, which you can direct a short distance. It's a quick way to close or elude an enemy. What's nice is you can use it without even moving if you want to avoid an attack without losing your prime position. Tap the button, but don't move. Alice will dissolve into the butterflies, the attack will pass through, then you can reform and resume your attack. It's a lot like the dash move in Shinobi, which I also quite liked, except I think it works even better here. The camera isn't actively making life hell, for one thing. I will say I found it a little hard to switch targeting sometimes, which can be a problem when a boss surrounds itself with mostly insignificant subordinates. I couldn't get the weapon aimed at the thing I really wanted to strike. That didn't come up too often, though. The jumping puzzles were a bit more of a problem, because trying to find the right combination of repeated jumps and glides was difficult. I'd think I could glide the rest of the way, and then abruptly she'd stop gliding and start falling. Or I'd find I couldn't do any more mid-air jumps, but also couldn't glide.

One quibble with the game for me was just how long the chapters are. When playing games, I often like to try and finish one level or mission each time. With Madness Returns, that really wasn't going to happen without investing more than 4 hours. This wouldn't be so bad, except you tend to have just one true objective each level. So I start a level trying to climb a mountain to find the Caterpillar. 2+ hours later, I'm still climbing the mountain to reach the damn Caterpillar. There's been a lot of fighting, a lot of lever pulling, and helping these poor oppressed, um crickets I think, against the Daimyo Wasps, but ultimately it's all been in service of reaching Caterpillar. It doesn't help when you use Shrink to view hidden messages, you keep seeing pictures of him with an arrow pointing ahead. Yes, you've been telling me that for quite some time. Exactly how far ahead, though, would be more helpful.

I complimented the functionality of Dash, but I also really like it from a visual perspective. The burst of butterflies as she vanishes, then reforms looks very nice. The game has a lot of that. Most of the levels look very nice, each kind of has its own theme. I particularly liked the section set well up in the clouds, where walkways and buildings would form out of playing cards. Some levels have vibrant colors, others are murky and grey, things falling into disuse. Others are pretty disturbing, depending on how you feel about preserved specimens or the internal workings of your body. And that giant eye peering in through the keyhole? Yeesh. The Wonderland parts contrast nicely with the parts in London. Very little there is vibrant, but it's more that everything looks shabby, like it was never beautiful, and there's a sort of greasy smear to everything, emphasizing how dirty and unhealthy it all is. Except for the part in the asylum.

While playing, I very much wanted Alice to learn the truth she was seeking. Regain her memories, feel whole, and perhaps alleviate the guilt she felt. I had lots of theories about what was happening. Her sister wasn't dead, she'd used the fire as cover to start a new life. The Cat's responsible for the destruction of Wonderland. he is, after all, the one egging her on, and besides, he's a cat. Of course he'd be up to no good. In the end, I was wrong on all counts.

Still, as much as I wanted Alice to succeed, I understood the Wonderland inhabitants' frustration with her. Not only do her stated desires keep shifting, but everything is always about her. She wants Wonderland saved for her peace of mind, and they are merely tools to help her achieve it. Now one could reasonably argue that they are parts of her, or things created by her mind, but their lives seem to have progressed since the last game. Rarely for the better, but how much of that is their failure, and how much is Alice? There's a real sense that whatever she did in the first game was also done with only her own well-being in mind, and it had a ruinous effect on everyone else. And perhaps on her, given her state in this game. As it is, I'm not sure what to make of the ending. There's a part of me that thinks this entire game, her entire life since she left the asylum, was nothing but an extension of her mental trauma, and that none of it happened. Kind of like how there's a shot at the end of Once Upon a Time in America that makes me think maybe all the scenes in that movie from the '50s are a DeNiro opium hallucination. The lines between London and Wonderland do blur quite a lot, but I'm not sure if it works that way.

The game's story does have some deeply satisfying moments. The large fellow with the scythe in the background over there is the Red Queen's Executioner. He's an invincible monster that hounds you for most of a chapter. When Alice is finally able to turn the tables, I hardly even cared that it happened in a cut scene. Sure, I would have liked to administer the coup de grace, but I doubt I'd get to see the great reactions from both parties if I did.

Complaints about the length of chapters and occasional jumping issues aside, I really loved Alice: Madness Returns. I'd say it's easily in my Top 5 for the 360 at this point (though admittedly, the only two other sure things are Singularity and The Saboteur), and it's only looking better for how disenchanted some of the games I've begun since finishing it have left me.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Ink-Stained Trail - Chapter 12

I sat watching the shipping bays from my car. Grain elevators were barely visible shadows looming in the background. I'd been there two hours so far, trying not to fall asleep from the heat. Through the open bay doors I could see a lot of guys moving around. A half-dozen trucks were idling, but nobody had made any move to get in and go yet.

The night dragged on. A sliver of moon rose in the sky, casting just enough light to remind a fella how much he couldn't see. For example, someone sneaking up behind my car and pressing a pistol against my ear.

"Hands up where I can see them," the gun drawled.

"You can see out here? That's one up on me."

The gun pressed a little harder. "Just do it." The accent was local. A neighborhood gun. I raised my hands. My door opened, and the pressure behind my ear vanished.

"Get out." I did.

"Start walking."



"Which way is 'thataway'?" I saw the gun whistling towards my face as clearly as I'd seen it gesture towards the shipping bays. Sometimes I can't help myself, and no one else is interested in the job. After I checked to see if I'd lost any teeth (No), I picked myself off the street and headed for the shipping bays. No need to try for a twofer.

Inside, everything was lit up nicely. There were men with guns everywhere, 27 as best I could tell. Not professionals, just farmers and the like. I spared a glance at the guy behind me. The same. I didn't entertain any notions of running. Just because they weren't professionals didn't mean they didn't know how to use those things. With all the hunting and general messing around, they were probably better shots than half of the hitters back on the coast. They all eyed me with varying degrees of wariness, not sure of the surprise guest. A thin, wheedling voice called out from above.

"Mr. Curtis, is it? What brings you to my property, again?" It was an older gent, full head of silver hair, wire-rimmed glassed perched on a narrow nose. He was dressed well, maybe a bit too much for the loading dock. Double-breasted suit, starched cuffs on his black pants. The walking stick he leaned on was hand carved, the only thing that didn't fit. I figured that meant it was part of the real Aldophus Charlane, and the rest was just window dressing.

"You tell me. I thought I was here at your invitation."

"I thought you'd be excited to see the inside of my operation."

"Not really. manual labor has never been an interest of mine."

"I gathered as much from your chosen profession. Making a living digging into others' lives."

"Well, we can't all inherit land our ancestors purchased from others' misfortunes." Charlane's nostrils flared slightly, and his eyes widened, but he said nothing, unless the rhythm his fingers were tapping on the head of the cane were a code. "I'm more interested in what's coming out of here than the building itself."

"You mean all manner of produce?"

"I mean whatever you're shipping under all that. Guns, I imagine."

"You imagine? You implicate me as a gun runner based on your imaginings?" Not much of a denial, I noted., and his fingers were fluttering over that cane like a hummingbird's wings.

"All the men with guns are a pretty big clue. You don't set up security like this for grain. It's to help your son, isn't it?" The fingers grew still, along with the rest of him, like a current was running through, paralyzing him. "He's across the ocean somewhere, mixed up in something that doesn't concern him. And you're trying to load the deck in his favor with arms shipments. Does he know, did he ask you to, or are you dealing with his superiors behind his back? Guns in exchange for keeping him well out of the firing?"

Charlane said nothing, just clenched his teeth and glared at me. The workers didn't seem surprised by any of it. Either Aldophus had been upfront with them about it, or they pieced it together on there own. Given how much I'd figured out just from scattered conversations, the latter option wouldn't surprise me. The mice know more about the cat's life than it would ever expect.

Charlane's paralysis broke abruptly, as he started pacing, jabbing the stick at me for emphasis. "Who are you working for? It's the thieves, isn't it? You're their informant."

"You were getting robbed before I ever came to town."

"You could have been here earlier, hiding in the shadows. It's where your kind is most comfortable, anyways."

"I'm impressed you've researched the habits of my "kind" so thoroughly, but I had nothing to do with the thefts. If I did, why didn't you catch me until now? Your guy here," I jerked my thumb at the fellow with the pistol, "sniffed me right out. What I suddenly got stupid tonight?"

"Then who do you work for? Why are you meddling in my affairs?" Charlane took a step towards me, and all the men tensed up. Whether they planned to stop him if he got violent, or me if I did, I don't know.

"Sheriff Thompson hired me." I hoped invoking the law would make Charlane ease back.

"A pathetic lie. Thompson hates outside interference."

"He also hates a bunch of heists going on under his watch. Hurts his re-election effort." There must have been something true in that, because Charlane paused to consider it. Then he turned to a man to his right.

"Lyle, take 10 men on the first shipment and head east towards 103." He turned left. "Silas, you wait 5 minutes then take the decoy shipment west to Route 13, then onto County Road 219. Make like you're headed for the border. See how they handle that." He turned to me. "You'll wait here with John. If the shipment makes it through without you able to warn them, I'll have to conclude you're lying."

He stalked off, that cane rapping out one sharp note after another on the concrete floor. I'd have been worried, but before everyone got to work, I noticed there were only 26 men in the room. Someone had already ducked out. I hoped it was just to find a restroom, but I doubted it.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Burn Notice 5.6 - Enemy of My Enemy

Plot: Michael and the rest of the crew have chosen to ignore the fact Michael obviously has an evil alternate personality that took control and killed Max. Instead, they've decided to hunt down someone who looks like Michael, by having Fiona and Maddy travel to the country clerk's office, under the auspice of searching for Fi's deadbeat ex. They find a sympathetic clerk who grants them access to the DMV database, and track down a limited list of people similar to Michael, leading to an aspiring actor, Jakob Starkey.

In the midst of all this, Michael is trying to keep Pearce off his back by helping her with other problems. In this case, that's a Predator drone that was stolen, then sold to the Serbians. Pearce is adamant about finding it without blowing her asset's cover. Since these particular Serbians are into all sorts of things, he enlists Carmelo Dante to find them. You remember Carmelo. Appeared in the Season 1 Finale? Second biggest heroin dealer in Miami? Promised to kill Michael Westen the next time he saw him?

Which is why Sam has to play the poor sucker who helped the Serbians hijack Carmelo's smack shipment. Which puts him dangerously close to Carmelo when he's in an irate mood. And the Agency people in charge of this operation are the two pinheads from The Fall of Sam Axe, so they aren't in a helpful mood.

The Players: Pearce (CIA Bloodhound), Sugar (Drug Dealer), Carmelo (2nd Biggest Heroin Dealer in Miami), Djovic (Serbian Syndicate Leader), Gabriel Manaro & Matt Bailey (Not Fans of Sam Axe), Jakob Starkey (Fake Michael Westen)

Quote of the Episode: Jesse - 'Damn. It's like one of those nature documentaries, where a snake eats another snake. I can never watch those.' Fiona - 'Really? I love those.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? She shot a oil drum with something in it that went boom.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 1 (10 overall). I don't know if he brought that beer to the meeting with Pearce, or if he raided her supply, either way, he earned it.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 3 (7 overall). Carmelo's very hands on. He even does his own torturing, while wearing white no less.

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (3 overall).

Other: Michael had no alias, because he didn't need one. Unless we consider him to be Fi's deadbeat ex, in which case he said his name was Dave.

I would say between the nature documentary thing, and seeing what she's done to Mike's place, Jesse is well over his crush on Fi.

I'm not sure how I feel about how Fi treated Sugar. Yes, he's a drug dealer, yes he's sleazy. But he has helped them in the past, and he came to them once with a problem, out of concern for his cousin Dougie. I'm not saying they have to be back slappin' pals, but intimating he has some sort of transmittable disease while he's trying to chat up some women? Not very nice. Funny, but not nice.

Even as someone who tends to arrive early, I don't like criticizing people for only arriving a certain amount of time early, as Pearce did. What's the point of that? If you want someone there earlier, tell them to arrive at that earlier time. It's not hard.

I feel like this is the first episode so far in Season 5 I've really enjoyed. Most of the other have been too serious, too focused on Michael's inability to move on, or simply too obviously repetitive in terms of the case. Now that Michael has something concrete to work on - finding Max' killer - he can actually move in some direction where we can discern progress. And in the meantime, this episode was a bit funnier. Maybe that's a strange thing to say for an episode about a stolen drone, but it had a lot of amusing bits. Fiona's crying face at the clerk's office, and her complaint about the earrings Maddy loaned. The bit about the nature documentaries. Sam forcing Michael to sacrifice his blueberry yogurt to convince Carmelo he was telling the truth. Michael one-upping Fi when it came to sniping. Fi stealing Jesse's shot in response. Fi then letting Jesse be the one who convinces Carmelo not to shoot Michael and Sam. Jesse doing that with a bullet hole frowny face. Manaro and Bailey are infuriating with their indifference towards Sam's life, but it makes their frustration at Sam "losing" the 50K surveillance equipment all the sweeter.

Oh, and the story Carmelo cooked up to explain how he found the Serbian weapons stash. He and his boys went on a picnic at the waterfront, with no food, but lots of guns, and just happened to see these Serbians loading a weapon. So they heroically attacked them and saved the day. That was fantastic. To be fair, Manaro and Bailey's utter exasperation with having to sell this story gives it a boost, but still, it's a really good story.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A May Look At The June Previews Of The August Releases

The solicits for August releases are out, and there's a little good news, a little bad news, and a few things that are exasperating.

- Good news, the second issue of Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur was listed. Hopefully this signals things will remain on schedule for the rest of the mini-series.

- Bad news, August brings the last issue of Angel & Faith. Not at all sure how that's going to play out. Hopefully it'll involve some messy and painful death for Whistler, and if Angel finally got to make the big heroic sacrifice he seems so fond of (yet always manages to dodge somehow), that'd be fine with me.

 - Good news, Captain Marvel's going to run through at least September. I know this because it's doing a two-part tie-in to Infinity, whatever that is. The tie-in aspect might be bad news. As to Infinity. . .

- So Marvel hasn't even wrapped up Age of Ultron yet, and they're already doing the next big thing? They used to at least wait six months or so before jumping to the next one. Never thought I'd miss the (relative) patience they showed with The Initiative and Dark Reign.

 - Then there's this Hunger thing. Are they bringing back that extrauniversal blob thing Starlin introduced in his Thanos run? Or is this some deal where Galactus is hungrier than ever? Could he try filling up on bread?

- More bad news, Dial H is ending. It's not exactly a surprise, I pretty much figured it was on borrowed time the moment it arrived, but I'm still disappointed to see it go. I hoped it would be a surprise hit.

- Between that and A&F, I'll be down two ongoing series for September. I suppose there's always a chance DC will start up something new I'd want to read, but it's not a good chance. They'll most likely add more Bat books, or something Lantern related, and I'm not even going to spare those a second glance. Well, maybe if Mieville's writing one of them, but I doubt that's happening. He'd probably not enjoy the heavy editorial hand DC's wielding these days, and I can't see them easing off if they gave him the reins on their two successful properties right now.

- They list Romita Jr. as doing the art and cover for Captain America #10. Unless Romita seriously shifted his style, I'm pretty sure that's Simone Bianchi. The file for the image even says "Simone", so I don't know. I've never really cared for Bianchi's work myself. Too busy, everyone's too lumpy, not appealing to me at all.

- OK, so the Scarlet Spider (that'd be Kaine), is about to run afoul of Ben Reilly? Nobody told me Ben Reilly was back! Internet, be ashamed of yourself.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cardboard - Doug TenNapel

I said I might get to Cardboard this week, and here we are. Cardboard came out last year, which i think makes it TenNapel's most recent graphic novel. Unlike Power-Up, this one is in colored, the duties for that handled by Der-Shing Helmer.

Mike is a carpenter, father, and widower. Excep there's no carpentry work to be had, his insistence on being a widower makes things difficult for him and his neighbor Tina. and the money crunch is starting to affect his parenting. Especially when the only birthday gift he can afford for his son Cam is a cardboard box, purchased from Old man Gideon. Gideon gives him the box with only two conditions: Bring back the scraps, and don't ask him for more cardboard.

Cam rolls with it and suggests they make a cardboard man, a boxer. Who then comes to life, as cardboard men do. This produces great envy in Marcus, the unpleasant local rich kid, and he tries to destroy Bill. Only Mike's quick thinking turns the remaining cardboard scraps into a cardboard maker, which gives them enough supplies to save Bill. It also gives Cam the idea of making more cardboard people, including one of his mother, which Mike strenuously objects to.

Then Marcus gets ahold of it, takes the idea to the next level, and before you know it, cardboard monsters are trying to cardboard over the town.

As I mentioned in the Power Up review, TenNapel often has a main character who is their own worst obstacle. Mike believes carpentry is all he's good at, and the fact he can't provide for his son by it makes him a failure. There are a lot of panels of just Mike, close in on his face, or framed so his whole body is visible, but not much else. He's tried to wall himself, because he thinks it's what he deserves, because he doesn't want to rely on anyone, because it's supposed to be his job to look after others.

He feels like he'd betray his late wife Carol if he acted on the interest he feels towards Tina (and the interest she has in him). So he fights against the part of himself that recognizes she's a good person, who would help him, who would love Cam, and would very much like to not be alone herself. There's a nice sequence on page 52 where she brings over cookies, and at first, she and Mike are just talking. he's being sort of bitterly sarcastic, and Tina's not in the frame, because mostly he's talking to himself. Then there's a panel very close-up on Tina, as she offers to help in the job search. The fact that she's so close, from Mike's perspective is that moment where his pride, and whatever you'd call his loyalty to Carol's memory come flaring into effect, and the next thing you know, he's trying to return the cookies, because it might give her the wrong idea if he accepted. Ugh. Even Mike knows it's a stupid thing to say, but there's a guilty part that forces it out.

I like TenNapel's designs for the creatures. Marcus' especially feel like things an angry kid might make. Robots, gorillas with a cage in their belly, giant versions of typically small creatures the kid thinks are cool But most of them lack color, beyond the color of standard cardboard. Which makes Bill stand out more, with his boxing gloves, shorts, and hair. He gets a wider range of expressions. Among the regular folk, most of them look like normal people, except Gideon, who looks slightly kooky with his eyes that don't match, and side burns when there's no hair up top.  For some reason, I really like his fingerless gloves, they complete his look somehow, maybe for making him look a little more threadbare? He looks like an oddball, but not so far gone you couldn't run into someone like him in our world.

Helmer's colors work well also. When Gideon is selling Mike on buying the box, he gets really energetic and the shadows start shifting to mimic his movements. When he forms teeth with his fingers, the shadows form one around him. When he thrusts his arms into the sky, the shadows form a column around him. And in both panels, there's a strong amount of red present as well. Suggesting energy, danger, Gideon enthusiasm, I'm not sure, but it doesn't quite extend to Mike, who has a calm cream color, with some pink tinges. There's also a point where Marcus is trying to create cardboard life (minus the cardboard maker), where the background in this sickly olive color that sharply contrasts with the cool blues in the panels of Mike sleeping that surround it. It makes you a little worried, watching Marcus get frustrated, while at the same time, seeing how things aren't going too badly for Mike.

Between Power Up and Cardboard, I'm not sure which I prefer. Cardboard's longer, which gives TenNapel more room for story. There's more going on with the characters in that one, where Power Up didn't have much time to flesh out anyone but Hugh.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Explosive Irishman In Paris

The Saboteur was one of the first games I bought for the 360, along with Fable 3 and Rage. I finished both of those before Halloween and haven't looked back. The Saboteur I took my time with, and tried to finish every last thing I could.

I'd say it's easily my favorite 360 game so far, which is maybe a little disappointing. It's essentially Grand Theft Auto: Occupied France. You take on missions for a Resistance cell, missions which usually involve killing someone, or blowing stuff up. Maybe there needs to be a swift escape utilizing some fancy driving. You gradually get forged papers that let you travel to other sections of Paris, putting you in contact with other members of La Resistance, who also have missions for you.

It can be a little repetitive, so I tended to break up the missions with lots of freeplay work. There are hundreds of what are called freeplay targets scattered across the map. Some of them are postcards, or scenic views, there are some supply drops, but most of them are symbols of the Nazis that you need to destroy. SS generals, tanks, sniper nests, propaganda loudspeakers. Every one of them you complete earns you a little bit of contraband, which is how you pay for weapons. Not that you're usually at a loss for weapons or ammo. After all, there are Nazis all over the place, just kill one and take his gun.

One of the things for me that differentiates it from the GTAs are the stealth elements. Sean's a n adept climber, which makes getting to the freeplay targets easier, and also gives you a little more versatility in how to approach targets. This isn't a game that gives you truly different options on how to complete missions (like say, Dishonored), but you can at least opt to snipe from a nearby rooftop rather than barrel in guns blazing if you like. And I do, I do like. The climbing is very easy. Jump up to a grip, move the control stick until another grip is highlighted, push the jump button. Just make sure the Nazis don't see you.

Also, it's possible to stealth kill a Nazi (if you can catch them unaware), and steal their uniform. The game employs some common sense to the Nazis ability to see through your disguise. Namely, if they can't see you, then they can't see through your disguise. Sounds obvious, but apparently too difficult for the makers of Velvet Assassin. The driving isn't incredibly smooth like you might expect from a racing game, but it's fairly steady. There are a few races, but the difficulty isn't hard at all. My coworker is terrible at driving in games, and was able to win the big Grand Prix race on the first try. Vehicles tend to take a lot of damage before they stop working, unless shot by a tank. You will be able to find tanks and wreak havoc in them, by the way. Little disappointed I couldn't hijack a Messerschmidt and strafe people, but oh well.

One aspect of the game is perks. If you complete a certain task, you unlock certain bonuses. A new gun, a new stealth attack, not having to pay to have cars repaired. You're also able, if you have the dosh, to purchase one gold level perk, without having to complete the requirements. My coworker used it to unlock the Panzerschreck. I used to it to make it so Nazis aren't suspicious if I plant explosives while wearing a disguise. I'm sure this highlights something about our respective approaches.

One quirk of the game is that almost everything is in black-and-white at the beginning. There will be occasional things in color. Luc's scarf is sky blue, the swastika on the back of a car a deep red, but everything else is black or white. As the game progresses, as you gradually liberate France, color will return to the region, emphasizing the weakening of Nazi control. They'll still be present, but less likely to hassle civilians, and you'll find it easier to escape from them. It's a nice touch, but after awhile it seems like areas are being liberated just because. Why does my recovering a race car liberate the countryside around the villa I stole it from? What Frenchmen were around to see it who would care? So I'm not sure the execution of the idea is where it could be, but it's a nice touch all the same. Plus, it made your final confrontation with Kurt Dierker much more satisfying.

Which is good, because it seemed terribly anticlimactic for a moment. I haven't spoken of the story much, but in brief, Sean Devlin's drinking away his sorrows in Paris when Luc approaches him about helping the Resistance with his explosives aptitude. Of course the Irishman drinks heavily and likes explosives. Sean doesn't care too much about fighting the Frenchies' battle for them, but he does like the idea of getting his hands on Dierker, who he holds responsible for his friend Jules' death. And there you go. Throw in some double crosses, a Spanish weapons dealer, British Intelligence using Sean, tension between Sean and Veronique (Jules' sister). and there you go.

I imagine it worked for me because - besides Sean's frequent and creative use of profanity - I was watching Duck, You Sucker a lot when I started playing it, and I appreciated certain parallels between Sean and John. Sean let his temper and ego get his best friend killed, and was drinking his life away until he got a chance for revenge. John actually killed his best friend, which torched his belief in anything except killing. He's in the Mexican Revolution to kill anyone in uniform, Sean's in World War 2 to kill Dierker, and any Nazis in the way. Sean is maybe a little less cynical than John, but I'd say he's also younger, and not as far removed from his tragedy. Luc is probably Dr. Villega, which leaves Santos and Juan. Eh, it sort of works. Neither one is particularly interested in the war except for what they can make off it. Overall, I think that bought the story some slack it might not otherwise have gotten. I'm not sure how much story you need for trying to slow down the Reich.

Oh, I also really liked the music for when you're in the car. It all seemed period appropriate (I don't know if it was original music, or songs actually created during World War 2), and it was just very pleasant. Sometimes it's nice to get out of the city and just cruise the countryside in a nice car for a while. If only those French civilians would figure out which side of the road they wanted to drive on. I don't care which, just pick one!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

DOA: Dead or Alive

What the hell was I thinking? It's a movie based on a fighting video game, I guess I expected it would the sort of bad that's funny, and in places it is. In other places, it's just bad.

So, DOA. Kasumi's brother, Hayate, has been missing since he left their clan to enter one of these DOA tournaments. Kasumi leaves as well, which makes her an outcast who must be hunted down and killed. Ayane (who is Kasumi and Hayate's half-sister in the games, but not here) takes up that task, though as Kasumi notes, she didn't bother to hunt down and kill Hayate when he did the same thing.

Anyway, a bunch of characters show up for this tournament - after someone throws some weird throwing star at each of them, which makes me want to know who did that, because they're pretty good - and start fighting each other. Some of them want the prize money, some of them plan to steal the prize money, some want respect, Kasumi wants to find her brother, Hayabusa wants to protect Kasumi, on and on. What they don't know is that the physicals they received, included an injection of nano-things that are recording information about them. Which will ultimately be downloaded into a set of sunglasses for Eric Roberts to wear so he too, can know kung fu.

I'm not at all sure how downloading the fighting styles of all these other fighters enables him to predict Hayate's moves like he has precognitive vision, but there you go. I'm also not sure how knowing what's coming can keep a middle-aged man of not terribly impressive physical condition from getting his ass beat by a bunch of much younger and fitter opponents. Like, I could be boxing Floyd Mayweather, and even if I knew what punch was coming, there's no guarantee I could avoid it. I'm further not sure how Roberts (playing Victor Donovan) can claim he's kept Hayate in perfect fighting condition for this match, if he's kept him chained to a steel crucifix type thing for the last year. That seems like it would cause major muscle atrophy. Lastly, I don't know how Roberts can claim Kasumi lacks Hayate's fighting spirit or skill when we saw her whup the guy who allegedly beat Hayate's ass in the last tournament. I guess we're meant to take it that Hayate not only wasn't killed by Leon, he wasn't even beaten by him, but was captured in some other way. I don't know, he didn't look that much better than any of the other fighters. What, a girl can't be the best fighter, couldn't have been inspired after that time her brother rescued her and ended up even better?

There are some parts to the story I like, but I think that's a residual effect of liking those things in the games. The whole thing with Kasumi/Hayate/Ayane/Hayabusa, for example, has always been interesting. Kasumi's willingness to become an outcast to find her brother. Ayane hating Kasumi for having everything she didn't, Hayabusa trying to be Hayate's best friend by keeping Kasumi away from him (so Hayate doesn't have to try and kill her). Ayane's admiration for Hayate (which I think he uses to utilize her like an attack dog, because he's a gutless wonder. If you're in charge of the clan, then tell them to fuck off when they tell you to kill the sister who helped you recover your memories. It's an easy call). They shift things a little in the movie. Ayane is in love with Hayate, which would explain why she hasn't tried to hunt down and kill him. Hayabusa is not quite the super cool ninja from the Ninja Gaiden games. He fights pretty well, but he's kind of a goof around Kasumi (I assume because they wanted to tease a romance angle). I'm not sure how to interpret Ayane's unwillingness to try and kill Kasumi when anyone else is around. If it's that important, get it done, but it could be argued she's keeping up appearances while really hoping Kasumi will find Hayate, since Ayane can't officially come looking for him.

The thing is, I'm not sure how much of that would be evident to someone who hasn't spent too much time thinking about the character's backstories while playing the games. If all you had to go on was the movie, I'm not sure it would carry as well. I don't think the dialogue helps. It's very stilted, formal. People say names in that way that's clearly meant to introduce them to the audience, rather than in the way you might actually, say someone's name.

I thought they did a better job with Tina and Bass, but that one was a little simpler. Tina doesn't just want to be a pro wrestler like her dad, so she's bucking against his expectations. But it does work, because Bass very obviously cares about his daughter and wants her to be happy. He just doesn't quite understand what that means to her. There's a bit where he kicks in her hotel room door because they're supposed to fight, only to find her in bed with Christie. Christie's bed got trashed when Kasumi beat Leon, so Tina agreed to let her crash. Bass takes it a different way, but he does seem happy his daughter found someone, and he leaves quickly. I thought it was funny, anyway.

I thought the direction they went with Christie was kind of interesting. They label her as a 'master assassin and thief', but basically ignore the assassin part. Maybe they thought it would be harder for her to become friends with Tina and Kasumi if she was busy killing all her opponents. I thought it would have simplified things for her on a few occasions, at least.

I felt like they did at least make an attempt to give the different characters different fighting styles. I mean there were a lot of high kicks and people leaping around regardless, but each person seemed to have a few movements or attacks that were unique to them. To the extent I could tell. The camera never really seems content to stay in one place. It's always jumping from one face to another, from one place to another. It isn't Bourne Identity Nausea-Inducing Camera, at least. Still makes it hard to enjoy the flow of the fights, or even to tell if there is a flow. I prefer a more static camera, where I can see what's going on. Move in or back if you really need to, but otherwise, let the fight speak for itself. If it's good, if there's a reason to care, I'll stay engaged. Which might explain why it didn't stay still.

On the whole, just pass the movie by, OK?

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Ink-Stained Trail - Chapter 11

I retreated to my room for the heat of the day. The time I didn't spend regretting leaving that bottle with her, I spent going over the conversation. The comment about shipping was interesting. She wouldn't be the first to clear a space for herself by destroying an established competitor. It didn't explain implicating the Raccoons. It couldn't be common knowledge she was planning to enter the shipping business, even if people knew she bought some trucks. If it was, she'd have been a suspect. Thompson was smart enough to look into that. Unless he was being paid off, which might mean Charlie was involved, his claims of innocence to the contrary. Maybe it was payback for the Raccoons kicking him out. Or maybe Thompson didn't tell Charlie all the deals he had going. Or maybe shipping was just something Maggie told me to set my head spinning. If so, it was working.

That evening, I stepped out for some air, maybe grab a bite. Two blocks east from the boarding house, there's a bunch of ball fields. Hadn't really planned to go there, but I could get more of a breeze out i the open, and it was on the way to all the eateries.

It's a pretty nice place to play. Dirt infields looked neat, grass was trimmed, real bases and fences. It wasn't just some section of field the kids had claimed. A sign at the entrance stated plainly it had been built with money donated by the Charlanes. I wondered if they donated their groundskeepers as well, and if so, would they try to run me out of here, too.

I watched the game from under a tree, enjoying the rare sensation of my shirt not stickin' to me like a second skin. Both teams were shorthanded. One had 2 outfielders, the other was trying three infielders. Both were a work in progress. I would have said the first team had the right idea, but the boy manning the middle infield for the second team could move. 3 infielders was enough. The game wound down, I wasn't sure who won. The kids made their way off the field and one of them noticed me. He waved. "Hi mister!"

I said before I don't like to use kids in my work. They get in enough trouble on their own without someone else encouraging them to find more. Still, it doesn't hurt to find out what they already know. So I waved back. "Hi yourself. You boys put on quite a show."

"Gee, thanks!"

The other kids had turned to watch the chat. One of the taller ones spoke up. "Aren't you that nosy p.i. from the coast?" As quick as he said it, his eyes dropped. I guess the "nosy" crack was made by whoever he'd been listening to.

"That sounds about right," I agreed. "Name's Milo, though I do answer the "Nosy Gumshoe". It's one of the nicer things I've been called." That broke the ice a little. Most of the kids were still at an age were a private detective talking to them might seem neat. Much older, and I'd just be another adult nosing into their business.

"I'm Chet," the first boy piped up. "That's Tommy," he jerked his thumb at the taller boy, then went around introducing the rest of them. He was smaller than most, but they deferred to him. Some people just have that, even as kids. "So what are you investigating now? A murder?" He sounded pretty eager, and the rest of the kids leaned in.

"No, nothing like that." Their faces fell. "Unless you know of one around here that needs looking into?"

Chet shook his head. "A murder? Around here? Naw, we figured you followed a lead out here on some other case."

"Nope. I came out here for my health." The boys looked crestfallen, reality coming up short of their dreams. "I have a severe lead allergy, so I left town for awhile on the advice of, well I wouldn't call them friends, exactly." The boys acted like they caught my meaning, or pretended they did. Now that they knew I investigated things that might get me shot, I had their interest again. "I'm looking into the thefts of the Charlanes' food shipments."

"They hired you? I bet that riled Sheriff Thompson, having to work with you." That came from a freckled, big-eyed kid named Samuel.

"I'm operating independently of Thompson, but he's still not too happy." I shrugged, like unhappy cops were no big deal. "I'm hoping to catch them in the act."

"Then you should be down at the yard. One is going out tonight." Everyone looked at Frank. He shrugged. "My dad works there, ya know."

"That seems early."

Frank shrugged again. "I don't know. I heard my dad say the boxes arrived last night, and he has to work tonight so. . ." he trailed off, maybe worried it wasn't as obvious to us as it was to him.

"Boxes? What boxes?" Tommy had decided to interrogate. Frank shrugged. I wondered if it was really a twitch. I knew a fella, his right arm would jerk forward sometimes. It jerked forward when Katarina Rodonsky was standing in front of him, and the arm wound up a chew toy for her wolfhound. While it was still attached to the original owner.

"Maybe it's boxes to store food in." That was Joey, or Josephine. Bright eyes, hair back in a ponytail she tried to hide under her hat.

"Don't be dumb, Joey!" Tommy retorted. "They already have boxes for that!"

Joey flushed red. "Maybe they don't have enough, Thomas! Besides, the boxes have to come from somewhere!"

"I think the boxes already having something in them. I heard him complain about how heavy they are, and how careful you have to be unloading them."

I'd kept quiet through this. The kids were doing a fair job laying the pieces out. "Well, it sounds like I better get over there. Don't want to miss a thing. The Charlanes are real eager for this to be wrapped up before their boy gets home from school." I tipped my cap and started off when a different voice piped up from the back.

"Their son isn't away at school." It was a boy who'd been hanging back, like he wasn't totally in the group. His name was Juan, and when he sniffed and wiped his nose across his arm, it hit me. Hector Gutierrez' son. The one with the allergies.

"What do you mean, Juan?" I tied to be easy with him, easier than I'd been with his dad. He looked nervous, and I didn't want him to clam up. "Need a handkerchief?" I handed him mine, which he took and blew into loudly.

"I heard my Mama and Papa talking one night. I was supposed to be asleep, but with my nose, I couldn't breathe well. . ."

"I understand. I get summer colds, they're like that." Juan accepted this, and maybe noticed how all the other kids were giving him their undivided attention. I doubt he got that much. He stood up a little straighter.

"They were downstairs at the dinner table. Papa was drinking some coffee. He said the Charlanes were worried about their son. That his letters weren't coming as much, that they said things were getting worse over there."

"Where's 'over there'?" Joey asked.

Juan shook his head. "I don't know. He just said 'over there'. Wherever their son is. My papa said the Charlanes were really worried about the shipments not getting through, how they're watching all the help, thinking they're in on the thefts."

"Well yeah, if your dad's gonna go blabbin' everything!" Frank remarked.

Juan's face grew tense. "He just told my mom!"

"Easy," I cut in. "I've met Juan's dad. He likes the Charlanes, and I don't think he'd do anything to make their lives difficult if he could avoid it." But Maggie's nocturnal visits to his house lingered in my mind, arguing differently.

Frank tried to save face. "Well, I didn't mean he was doin' it on purpose!"

"Really? Sure sounded like it."


"Yeah, frank." And I thought syndicate guys turned on each other fast. I tried to steer the conversation back on track before the other kids measured Frank for cement shoes.

"Did your parents say anything else?" Juan looked around nervously. Whatever it was, he wasn't sure about sharing it with so many people. "If it helps me solve the case faster, then it'll be helping the Charlanes." I hoped Juan and the others took the hint, that he was doing a good thing.

Juan sucked in a breath, then blurted out, "My mom said she didn't know how much longer the Charlanes could keep trying. They were only making things worse. My dad said things were already bad enough, for everyone. They couldn't make it worse."

Vague, but ominous. Not my favorite lead, but take what you can get. "Thank you, Juan, you've been a big help. I really better move if I'm going to make it to the yard."

"Wait a minute, mister." It was Tommy again. I noticed he wasn't using "Milo". "If you're working for the Charlanes, how come you didn't know this stuff already?" Kid was sharp. Put it together with his charisma, he'd go far, on either side of the law. Still, it wasn't a hard question to answer.

"In my experience, rich people are used to giving servants orders and having them done without explanations. They get to the point they handle everyone that way. Even people who need to know to do their job. The Charlanes are rich people. You do the math." I tipped my hat, again, and walked away before Tommy could raise any other questions. I wasn't sure he bought it.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Burn Notice 5.5 - Square One

Plot: Max is dead, and Michael's meant to look like the killer. Fi whips up some thermite to melt the murder weapon, and Jesse cooks up some receipts that say the group was fishing off Key West at the time. In the meantime, Michael has to go spar, er, meet, with Agent Pearce. She's investigating Max' murder, and she's Michael's new agency contact. Swell. Michael's eager to help for two reasons: One, he can use the CIA's resources to find the killer himself. Two, he can keep them from landing on his trail. Pearce gets him access to all the phone calls in the area around the time of Max' death. Jesse breaks a few amendments mapping their locations, and tracks a cell phone to the store where it was purchased. Then he and Fi pose a dirty cops to get the security footage, and Maddy gets stuck sifting through it.

Hey, they bought her a carton of smokes.

If it sounds like Michael's letting others handle things, it's because he's busy helping a returning soldier named Ethan track down the guy who nearly put Ethan's sister in a coma. Turns out it wasn't her sleazy boyfriend, but a scam artist her sleazy boyfriend works with. Simply beating (or killing) the guy will get Ethan in trouble, so it's time for the old, "get the crook to hand over incriminating evidence" ploy. The only problem is that Ethan's insistence on being present for everything means he's in extended close quarters with someone he very badly wants to kill. Fi manages to stop it from happening once, but wrecks Jesse's car in the process. It all works out in the end, and now Ethan might join the CIA. Great. Traveling around the world on covert missions will do wonders for your desire to watch over your sister, Ethan.

The episode ends on Maddy having found the man who bought the cell phone, and boy, he sure looks and moves a lot like Michael Westen.

The Players: Max (Michael's Agency Contact), Pearce (CIA Bloodhound), Ethan (The Client), Ramsey (Scam Artist), Joel (Ramsey's Scumbag)

Quote of the Episode: Jesse - 'Just think of it this way. Every time he cracks a smile, he's tightening the noose around his neck.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No. She opted to shoot holes in Jesse's windshield, and redecorate the loft.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 3 (9 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (4 overall)

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (3 overall)

Other: Michael didn't use an alias this week. He had a cover i.d., but we were never formally introduced.

I assume Sam was shooting at the golf balls Michael was hitting with blanks. Not because he was missing, I just don't think he'd be that reckless.

The running gag through the episode about Sam and Jesse's reactions to the changes in Michael's loft was pretty funny. Jesse comments on the presence of a bread basket and potpourri, Sam wants to know where the workbench with their bug making tools went. I notice they were smart enough to not voice these complaints when Fiona was around.

Pearce said she learned her investigative technique from her pit bull. If my experiences with Charlie are any indication, that means she is easily excitable, learns things quickly, but forgets all about them once she gets excited. Which again, happens easily. Not the best route to follow. On another note, I question her use of the word "bitch". For one thing, I have never used that to describe a female dog I was speaking fondly of, which she seemed to be doing. Secondly, she's really describing herself to Michael, and I just think there were better terms. Why not "hardass"? I mean, I get that you can describe a female dog as a "bitch", but again, I just don't think it's a good choice there.

I'm very curious to meet Sam's lady friend at some point. Elsa owns a freaking hotel, thinks nothing of loaning Sam expensive sports cars or mansions. At least, I hope she just loaned them out, rather than buy them. Does Sam explain why he needs these things? Does she not care? I wouldn't think you could be a successful hotel owner if you weren't careful with your money, but what the hell do I know?

I do have to criticize Sam for pressuring Jesse at the beginning of the episode. When Jesse expresses concern about their destroying evidence, Sam makes it a "you're with us or you're not" moment. Hello, did you miss Jesse faking up receipts for Michael's alibi? I think Jesse's earned the benefit of the doubt here Sam, after last season. Man took rebar through the leg because of Westen. In fact. . . Clever Adolescent Panda!

CAP: {appears abruptly} What?

Calvin: Give Sam Axe a Bonk on the head for his rude behavior towards Jesse!

CAP: Hit Bruce Campbell?! Isn't that against the rules of the blog?

Calvin: Eh, it got hung up in committee during the drafting session. Damn partisan voting. Now, Bonk!

CAP: OK, if you say so. *BONK*

Calvin: {looks around} Huh. I was half-convinced that would destroy the universe. Super. Thank you. How goes the hunt for UnCalvin?

CAP: I have no idea where to look. There are lots of high-rises with nice views. What do you mean, you thought it would destroy the univer -

Calvin: Excellent! Keep up the good work!

CAP: Are you even listening?

Anyway, now Michael has learned he has a split personality. One that buys cheap cell phones and shoots people. So, much like his regular personality. Either way, he'll have to undergo some serious therapy to deal with it, so expect him to spend a lot of time laying on a couch next week.