Wednesday, July 31, 2013

True At First Light - Ernest Hemingway

I think it's a good time to take a break from Hemingway. True At First Light was a well-written book, but I struggled to get through it at times. It details part of a stint Hemingway and Mary, his last wife, spent in Kenya in a safari camp. At the start of it a local hunter who is a longtime friend of Hemingway's, departs, leaving the writer as the local game warden to an extent. Meaning that if there's troublesome wildlife - elephants destroying homes, lions eating livestock - it's his responsibility to deal with it. Mary's determined to kill a particular lion before Christmas, and in the early chapters, there's the threat of an insurgency by the local farmers against the European farmers, who presumably were granted more power and influence. And Hemingway is also courting a young local girl from a nearby village, even considering making her a second wife, with the apparent full knowledge and consent of Mary.

Then again, this is at least partly fictional, though which parts are true and which aren't, I couldn't tell you (a quick online search suggests the whole subplot with Debba isn't real). It seems unlikely Mary would be OK with his fooling around with Debba, but Mary does frequently ask for reassurance that he loves her best, that he's not leaving her for Debba, and Hemingway doesn't spend much time with both of them simultaneously. He may simply be oblivious (or unconcerned) with her doubts and fears. Everything is from his perspective, we don't get either of the ladies' opinions beyond what they tell him (and of that, only what he saw fit to include in the narrative).

Debba's even more of a puzzle to me. Does she really love him, or is this a matter of convenience? She lives with the Widow, her aunt near as I can tell, who doesn't seem to have much (other than potential suitors), and Hemingway doesn't think much of Debba's father, so I wonder if she's trying to help her family. Hemingway certainly favors them with gifts, food, and such. If so, I don't think he picks up on it, but there's a sequence where she grows distant, and I wasn't sure what to make of that. Mary was away, and he'd invited Debba and the Widow to stay at the camp for dinner, and for the night. The implication being he and Debba were going to have sex, but I was pretty Keiti cut that off. But there's a later mention of Miss Mary's cot being broken, and I'm left wondering if Debba did that out of jealousy, or if she and Hemingway did that from fooling around. Which would be pretty sleazy to my eyes, but hardly out of character for him. Like, I said, that relationship appears to have been fictional, a metaphor for Hemingway's concerns about his writing skill fading with age (which reminds me of his idea that mediocre writers live forever, and thus have the largest library from Across the River and Into the Trees).

One thing I've noticed in his fiction over these last few weeks is how the main characters all shift abruptly between cruelty and reconciliation. Things will be going smoothly, then someone makes a snippy remark, or an outright cruel one, there's some more hostility, but by the end of the page, they're apologizing and asking that all be forgotten and let's just have a good time. I wouldn't say this an unheard of characteristic in people - I am frequently hostile or impatient with people initially, only to regret it shortly after - but it's pervasive in Hemingway's characters. Some of the things I've read about Hemingway suggest he was much like that - writing letters that insulted friends in one paragraph, only to apologize at the bottom of the page - so it makes a certain amount of sense that some characters would speak that way. I wonder if a lot of his conversations devolved into that because his attitude brought out a similar one in the people he talked with.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

October's Looking Pretty Quiet

The last two months things have been chaotic for my pull list. Books getting canceled, books skipping months for unknown reasons, or skipping them because of stupid publishing stunts.

The solicits for October's books are largely lacking in all that. Hawkeye's skipping a month, though my guess is September's issue will show up then. This is a way to get things back on track.

Other than that, there's not much of note. Rocketeer/Spirit is back. I half expected DC to use their Villain Month as cover to cancel more low-selling titles, but Katana's still going, so I guess not. I'm pleased to see Captain Marvel made it out the other side of its Infinity tie-in without getting canceled.

The most notable thing for me is how small my pull list is for the month. 8 books, 2 of which are mini-series scheduled to end in November. I shouldn't be surprised, given all the cancellations and books I've been dropping, but when it happens a little at a time, I don't always notice.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Raid: Redemption

I caught The Raid: Redemption last night, because the movie channels show about one flick per week I'm interested in. I'm guessing it was dubbed? The voices didn't seem to quite match. Not sure how much of a difference that made, though I usually find dubbed voices (at least on live-action things) to rob lines of their impact. Even if the voice actor and the actor are doing their best, somehow it doesn't mesh right.

Not that I was watching for the depth of the performances. I was watching to check out the action sequences, and the movie has plenty of those. I was disappointed I didn't see anybody get kicked through walls, or take a heel stomp to the chest that knocked them down to the next floor. I guess the movie was trying to be somewhat realistic in terms of what people could do. There were a lot of little bits that were good - the knife work, Rama slamming a guy's head against the wall repeatedly, but working down the wall as the guy falls to do it. The fight in the drug lab was pretty good, the old lieutenant not doing any high-flying maneuvers, but typically grabbing and swinging whatever he could find. Two guys jumping onto either end of a table and sprinting full out towards each other. The fights flow, nobody mows through opponents. You can feel them adjusting to each other's styles, getting sloppy as they get winded, regaining the advantage when they can.

I thought the fight with the two brothers teaming up against the "mad dog" was really well done. Even a neophyte like myself could pick up on differences in the styles, and they gave it enough time to show the advantages and disadvantages for two guys fighting one guy. The build-up was excellent. There was a minute or two of everyone getting themselves ready, the mad dog letting the one brother down so his sibling could free him. They'd already established the mad dog liked to fight, so it made sense he'd wait, and it lets the anticipation build. Even though he seems like he's going to wait until they're ready, you're still thinking "he's the bad guy", and the brothers are just urgent enough in bandaging a wound to have that hint that he might jump them early. But he waits, and so do we, and he's so casual about it. Rama hasn't even seen the guy fight, but he's just as apprehensive as his brother, simply from how Mad Dog carries himself.

In the early stages of the movie, I thought everything was going too smoothly. Then things stopped going smoothly, and at the same time, you realize it doesn't matter, they never had the element of surprise. That comes right about the time the cops realize everything's going wrong, but I don't think they realize it in quite the same way. Which is kind of coo, even if it all leads to the same place. Namely, that a whole lot of them are about to die horribly.

The lieutenant should have run out of bullets one shot sooner, I think. Which could have made for an exciting end in its own right, but I don't have any complaints with how things went.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Burn Notice 5.16 - Depth Perception

Plot: Mike didn't attend Benny's funeral, but that's OK. He'll get plenty of emotional fallout from explaining to Madeline that hes' known for awhile Anson had been her substitute therapist. He also explains that Anson used what he learned there to coach Benny to be the perfect boyfriend. Way to shatter her illusions. No time to worry about that, because Michael has another meeting with Anson, who completely denies any responsibility for Benny's death. Anson wants his money, which is stashed in a flagged Cayman Islands account. Since Mike can't travel without the CIA noticing, it falls to Jesse and Fiona. Not much difficulty, they have the banker's - George Anders - entire client list, so it's a simple matter to threaten to reveal those names to convince him to make the transfer. Fi and Jesse even help George disappear (with a healthy pile of his other clients' money).

Mike's not sitting around idle. Beatriz, the young journalist Sam met in the Fall of Sam Axe is in town and one the run. One of her articles on Russian oil companies in Colombia outed a Russian spy, and now he's out for blood. Sam's hellbent on protecting her, which means Mike is, too. But for once, Michael is incapable of predicting his opponent's movements. So he calls in Anson, initially using Anson's need for Michael to be alive as a lure. Unfortunately, it doesn't take long for Anson to turn things around, and before you know it, he's doing a ride along, pestering Michael with questions about his motivations and justifications. Not that I haven't wondered if Michael feels guilt for the innocent people whose careers are ruined by his chicanery, but I damn well don't want to hear Anson bring it up.

Mike gets stonewalled by the local FSB bunch, who are well aware of who he is, and his attempt to trap Oscar fails miserably. Fortunately, Anson holds the key to bringing Oscar in, and the head FSB guy proves a little more receptive by this point. Of course, Anson had his reasons. His solution was to have Beatriz declared a Russian agent herself, which means Sam is a close friend of a Russian agent, which blows his meeting with the deputy director of the FBI all to hell, which saves Anson's bacon. Which leaves Fiona contemplating going on the run again, and Michael really doesn't have any plan at this stage.

The Players: Anson (The Man Who Framed Michael), George Anders (Scummy Banker), Agent Harris (Sam's FBI "Buddy"), Beatriz (Sam's Old Friend), Oscar (Russian Spy Hunting Beatriz)

Quote of the Episode: Anson - 'You're done by the end of the month, Michael. I promise. In the meantime, remember actions have consequences. Just ask your mother.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Nope. Gets to light a car on fire, though.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 3 (23 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (7 overall)

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (11 overall). There was a laugh in there, but it wasn't fake, so much as slightly hysterical.

Other: Michael passes himself off as Dmitri Malkin for a good three minutes.

This episode had a lot of Anson in it, so no, I didn't enjoy it. He's such an incredibly smug dick about everything, that every moment he's not getting punched or shot is an irritation. Unfortunately, that's all the moments he's on screen. I guess it's a credit to Fiona's confidence in Michael that she doesn't go ahead and shoot Anson. She trusts Michael will find the way out, because he always does.

She really ought to shoot Anson, though. His arrogance practically demands it. Or let Maddy do it. I don't care.

Seriously, though, at least Brennan and Larry accepted responsibility for their killing. Anson tries to act as though he had nothing to do with the bomb that killed Benny, as though Michael sent it. One more thing for me to hate about him.

I find it strange that Michael, who has gone up against any number of trained agents over the course of this series, it consistently flummoxed by this guy. I could accept Mike having trouble deducing his identity, but after that, no. I mean, how hard is it to find the guy? He's after Beatriz. If you go where she is, you will find him. And frankly, Oscar is a lousy sniper. All those shots he fired and the best he could do was get Beatriz with a little shrapnel. Pardon me for not being impressed. For that matter, what does killing Beatriz even accomplish? The story is already published. He's outed, killing her gets him nowhere. I guess it's revenge, but if that's the case, why bother trying to touch base with Ivan? He'd only do that if he thought he could get back in, and killing a reporter is hardly going to help.

And given all that, the solution is pretty ugly. Tell Oscar all's forgiven, come on home, then shoot him in the head. That wasn't even Anson's suggestion, it was Mike's. Not happy with anyone in this episode.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Only Partial Recall, Sadly

I watched part of the new Total Recall last weekend. It was OK. I didn't understand why Kate Beckinsale's character tried to kill Quaid one more time there at the end. Her boss was dead, his plan was blow to bits and scattered across the surface of Mars. It seemed to me the smart move was to disappear, but no, she just had to try and kill Quaid.

It didn't make sense, unless it was professional jealousy, her not wanting to accept he was better than she was. Once she found out who he really was, there was this sense that made her really want to kill him. Based on some things she said, I think she'd spent a lot of time hearing about how great Hauser was. And it undoubtedly had the undercurrent of, "You're not as good as him. That's why we didn't trust you with this mission." I can see how that would get maddening after awhile.

I had thought the Cohaagen in the original Total Recall was a CEO, and I was going to talk about how it was interesting the bad guy was a corporate executive in the 1990, but a politician now. Then I looked it up, and the plot summary on IMDB says Cohaagen was the Mars colony administrator in the first one. So politician either way. Although if you think of a colony as an economic endeavor, and the administrator as being ordered to maximize profit (possibly without much oversight from the home country), he could be roughly equivalent to the head of a business.

Maybe it's because I haven't watched the original the whole way through in a long time, but I have this impression the bad guys were more reactive, or at least less overt. They knew the resistance was up to something, and were trying to figure out what and how to stop it. Whereas in the new version, they seem more overtly aggressive, what with bringing an army of robots to subjugate the entire colony. The resistance really doesn't seem to be much of a threat, seeing as Cohaagen has to create incidents which he can blame them for, rather than having things they actually do to point to.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Garden of Eden - Ernest Hemingway

Garden of Eden is supposed to be an uncompleted Hemingway novel. Which makes me wonder how much more he might have added or subtracted to it before he would have declared it completed.

What we have is a story of a recently married couple, Catherine and David. David's a writer, Catherine seems to come from a family of wealth, and has provided funding for David's works, which sell modestly (I assume a print run of 5,000 or so would be modest). The story follows them across several months as they travel from France to Spain and back, and things deteriorate. Catherine is, well, it's hard for me to say. It seems pretty clear she has some sort of mental disorder, maybe she's manic-depressive, but it could also be an identity issue. She likes to be a boy sometimes, gets her hair cut short, like she envisions a boy would have it, and tries to tan herself as dark as she can get. She meets a young woman, Marita, while out one day, and before you know it, she's encouraged her to come stay at the hotel/resort Catherine and David are staying at. Initially Catherine plays it off as her just wanting to experiment, but then she's encouraging David and Marita to sleep together as well. Then she starts to regret that, and tends to act in a more hostile fashion towards David.

Through all this, David has his misgivings, but tends to go along with Catherine's wishes. Part of it is a honest desire to make her happy, but part of it seems like a desire to avoid conflict, and that part only grows stronger as he starts avoiding Catherine and throwing himself deeper into writing stories about his childhood in Africa with his big-game hunting father. he starts out trying to avoid Marita, but ends up spending more time with her than Catherine. Marita seems to be what David thought Catherine was, and I'm left wondering if that's why Catherine encouraged her. She recognized that the person she wants to be isn't the person David liked, and so she finds a replacement for herself. She tries to be happy about it, because she loves David still, but part of her is angry or resentful that he can't love who she wants to be.

I really wish this was written from Catherine's perspective, frankly, because I am fascinated by what's going on inside her head. Like I said, I think she must have some sort of mental difficulty, but then there are times I feel more like she's a spoiled wealthy girl used to getting her way. So every time David indulges her, get his hair cut and died identically to hers, fools around with Marita, it just encourages Catherine to push further. Other times I think she's straining against what's expected of her. At one stage she asks if he likes her as a girl, and when he says yes, she responds it's good someone does, because it's a goddamned bore. So maybe she just hates being limited. If she feel she's a boy, then her frustration and anger would be understandable, and it isn't always going to manifest itself when or how I might expect.

David is almost passive in all this. Catherine and Marita make all the real decisions between themselves, David just goes along with it, while secretly resenting the situation. I figure it has something to do with the story he's writing about the time he regretted helping his father track down an elephant, but I'm not sure how. The story is the point where David learned the difference between the idealized version of how we see things and the truth. Sure, your dad being a ivory hunter sounds cool, but then you get a good look at the elephant he's going to kill, and suddenly it's a different perspective. So he found a beautiful, kind, curious woman willing to subsidize his writing. And look at that, she's encouraging him to sleep with another woman! It's a dream come true! But the reality is messier, when real emotions are tied up in it. The honeymoon's over.

I really would have like to have read a finished version. As it is, Garden of Eden is intriguing, but the writing lacks a certain something. The descriptions aren't quite as vivid as in his other works, and the ending sputters out. Things wrap up a little too neatly, given the personalities involved, and it feels like there were other things he was getting ready to expand on, but didn't get there.

'I can because I'm lion color and they can go dark. But I want every part of me dark and it's getting that way and you'll be darker than an Indian and that takes us further away from other people. You can see why that's important.'

Thursday, July 25, 2013

These Birds Feathers Have Rusted

I traded in another four XBox 360 games around the 4th. I didn't see myself playing Eternal Sonata or Halo 4 again, and Left 4 Dead was getting old. I can see the appeal if you play with friends, but solo wasn't nearly as fun. I got the feeling the computer-controlled characters were using me as bait for the zombies, since they always let me go first. Eh, shooters are touch-and-go with me, that's old news. Something else that's old news is that I like flight combat games, even if they frequently let me down.

Which is how we get to Birds of Steel, which was the fourth game. It had one thing going for it right from the start: That I wouldn't have to give my wingmen commands, then watch them fail to carry them out. Instead, the wingmen operate more as extra lives. If I get shot down in one plane, I can switch to any of the remaining wingmen, assuming there are any. Well, that was encouraging, and the fact you can switch around even without dying was nice. Sometimes I get tired of chasing the same plane forever, so try a different plane and see if I can make it work.

So as long as the wingmen aren't dying quickly, they're not hampering me - except when one of them crashes into me, which is possibly a realistic simulation of the chaos of air combat, but that's precious little comfort when I lose three of my four lives in one moment - but they aren't a huge help. What I found was if we were fighting an enemy of roughly equal numbers, I have to shoot down enough of the enemy to where my forces have roughly half-again as many (so from 15 vs. 15 to 15 vs. 10) before the other planes are good for anything besides giving the opponents something to shoot at besides me.

The game does allow for a bit of customization even in the historical campaign. There are three levels of controls - simplified, realistic, and simulator. I'm not clear on why simulator would be a higher difficulty than realistic, but I never tried it. I found the risk of blacking out in realistic a problem I didn't want to deal with, so I stuck with simplified. The controls themselves are pretty smooth, though some planes were considerably less responsive than I expected (the Zero fighter being the prime example). The other bit of customization related to fuel and ammunition. You can choose to have unlimited quantities, or to have either one or both limited, though I never did receive any warnings about running low on fuel. Also, the game's definition of "unlimited" or "limited" ammo are a bit curious. Even with unlimited ammo, you can still run out, at which point you have to wait some predetermined amount of time before your ammo is magically replenished. This can run anywhere from 20 to 60 seconds, so you're better off just hopping to a different plane, if you can. Likewise, on limited ammo, your stores will still replenish themselves. Sometimes. And sometimes they won't. I wasn't able to discern a pattern to it.

If you want to create your own missions, I think there are a lot more options, in terms of what your objective will be (bombing mission, defend bombers, ground attack, air patrol, etc.) and what you'll face. I tended to ignore that in favor of of the Dynamic Campaign, which allows you to play certain battles and try to determine the outcome. That's overselling it some. Say you select the Battle of Malta. The island will be split into sectors, and you can play as either side, and you can determine how many sectors you start with. Then you select a mission, and if you succeed, you capture a sector. If you fail, you lose one, and this continues until one side captures all sectors. What missions are available vary depending on circumstance. You won't have the option to attack shipping if you aren't attacking a water sector, for example. The problem being, it doesn't really make me feel like I'm part of a larger campaign. I go for air-to-air combat, and me and my 15 buddies beat the 15 fighter planes on the other side. I can sort of visualize how that helps us capture that sector (if I take it to mean we establish air superiority), but I don't feel like I'm accomplishing that much.

Another irritating aspect, is the hanger. If you play historical campaign, you can use whatever plane they say you're supposed to have, out of the 100+ they have in the game. In Dynamic Campaign, though, you're limited to planes you've unlocked. You unlock planes firstly, by completing missions, which earn you experience so you level up. You can't use a particular plane until you reach a certain level (or rank). Then you have to earn enough points to purchase the plane, which is why I was playing Dynamic Campaign, because completing missions there was the fastest way available to earn those points. Except you win two Dynamic Campaigns, you have maybe enough to buy 3 planes, 4 if you're lucky. I still had about 80 to go when I gave up the ghost, because it wasn't worth it. I was tired of having to fly the damn Brewster Buffalo all the time, so that maybe I could earn enough points to get the Wildcat.

Plain and simple, it started to feel like punishment to play, because I was slogging through the same missions to earn enough points to buy better planes - which I would have then used in those same missions. Also - and maybe this was my old, non-HD TV - but it was really hard to distinguish targets on the screen. Especially ground targets. On the positive side, torpedo bombing was oddly satisfying, and I felt good any time I managed to land successfully on a carrier. The game captured the speed of the planes, but not the maneuverability. Overall, not remotely worth it. Another console, another disappointing World War 2 flight combat game.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What I Bought 6/29/2013 - Part 9

It's the last day of reviews. Yes finally. Don't worry, come fall I expect these are going to be a lot fewer parts, given the direction my pull list is going.

Daredevil #26 & 27, by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee (storytellers), Javier Rodriguez (color art), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - I like that they moved the title down to the bottom so it didn't interfere with the overall picture, and that Rodriguez colored the same as the clouds. I love it when the clouds are that rosy pink color. It's one of the nice things about being up early.

What we've got is Matt completely spooked after the beating Ikari gave him. He tries to put a calm face on, but it cracks quickly and once that happens, he spends several pages running liked a panicked rabbit, until Foggy settles him down. Samnee and Rodriguez do real well there. During the interview with Foggy's replacement, they draw Matt as very composed, rigid, expressionless, with shadows obscuring much of his face. But once he loses control, the shadows vanish (and the room brightens considerably), and Matt's fear comes pouring out. The part in the subway tunnel, where Matt is once again surrounded by darkness, but now is not shrouded from it is a nice bit. Even though his radar sense tells him there's nothing there, he's still so spooked that the darkness is actually ominous to him, the way it can be for the rest of us who can only imagine what terrors lurk inside.

Anyway, Foggy helps Matt sort through the evidence to find the mastermind, and just as they've come to a conclusion, Pym calls to let Matt know he traced a shipment of radioactive chemicals to Matt. I do question how Matt can read texts. I thought he couldn't read something that was flat, so he can he pick up pixels on a screen? Do they alter the temperature on the screen, so he tracks it by that? I think D.G. Chichester and Lee Weeks had him use that in their "Fall of the Kingpin" story. Matt, certain that Ikari is somewhere nearby, alters his pulse with three shots of adrenaline and takes off to the address. Where he finds Bullseye, living inside a metal coffin that keeps him alive. Because only his brain came back from the dead after Matt killed him in Shadowland.

Matt, having found Bullseye, demands answers, which he gets because Bullseye figures with Ikari and Lady Bullseye there, Matt's toast anyway. Plus, Bullseye has agents ready to strike at Matt's loved ones. Too bad, Matt anticipated that and called in favors. Which won't help him survive his current situation, so he better get smart, which he does. I love the smile Samnee give DD when he surprises Ikari with the billy club. This seems like the perfect situation for Matt to be gritting his teeth and snarling, but he has a plan, has confidence in his friends, and so he's fine. Even when things start to go south, he's still relaxed, adjusting and adapting, and smiling through a lot of it. He has the experience advantage, he uses it. Ikari has all Matt's powers plus sight? Fine, turn the sight against him. The contrast between his smile, and Ikari and Lady Bullseye's dual looks of shock and horror as the ceiling collapses was excellent.

I am not entirely happy with the idea Matt stood by and let the toxic waste blind Bullseye before saving him. It isn't that I feel bad for Bullseye. He's an unrepentant mass murderer with a body count in the triple digits, who was also dumb enough to store a ton of toxic waste near the giant metal sarcophagus he calls home. At the same time, I don't like the idea of Murdock standing aside and letting it happen. You want to say he was buried under rubble and couldn't dig himself free in time? Fine. That is exactly what I would have assumed and it's how it's presented in the comics (see page 17). But once Waid and Samnee have Foggy raise the question, and once they show stand silently for two panels, then issue a non-denial ('I did what was right.'), I have to think I'm wrong. That Matt got free sooner, then stood and watched as Bullseye was scarred by toxic waste. Which is something I could possibly see myself doing in Murdock's place, but I like to think the heroes are less vindictive assholes than I fear I am. It's frustrating because when Foggy asked the question, it jolted me out of the story, because I was disappointed that Waid/Samnee had opted to go that way.

That long, complaining paragraph aside, I still love Daredevil. The creative team is doing a great job, and now that they've completed this long, initial arc, I'm curious to see what's next. This has been a trial of Matt's ability to remain positive in the face of severe difficulties, but he made it through. He may have learned the importance of not trying to do it all himself, of not trying to always respond to threats immediately, so what's next?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Death In the Afternoon - Ernest Hemingway

Death in the Afternoon is Hemingway's book on bullfighting. If you have any interest in bullfighting, or in Hemingway's writing when he's genuinely invested in the topic, it's a great book. If neither of those categories applies to you, give it a pass.

I don't have any real interest in bullfighting myself. I'd enjoy it more if bulls which defeated the matador were allowed to live. The matador has an entire team with him, the bull is on its own. If the bull can triumph in spite of the odds, put it out to stud. Hemingway explains they were spared originally, though it was so they could be reused. The good news - from the bull's perspective - this works to its advantage*. Many matadors were dying, so Pope Pius the Fifth threatened excommunication to any princes that sponsored bullfighting, and barred those participating from Christian burials. The compromise was that bulls was not used more than once. Which somehow translated into killing them at the end, no matter what.

As usual, the Vatican ruins everything.

Anyway, despite having no interest in watching bullfighting, I was curious about it, and Death in the Afternoon comes through better than I could have expected. Hemingway covers everything, from the different stages of the fight itself, to the different types of passes, to the differences in bulls depending on breeds, the best places to sit depending on what experience you're after, where are the places to go at a given time of year for bullfights, the way bulls are chosen, the wheelin-dealin' that goes on when picadors choose their horses, and how a matador gets his specific bulls for a match. He discusses the role of the press in a matador's commercial success, how we deify the past, even if we hated it when it was happening, the conflict between the fans' desire for a show and the matador's desire to not die, which results in very different ideas of what the ideal bull is. He discusses the ways in which the techniques have changed, so that what is considered a "good" bullfight changes over time, and a matador can grow to be considered old-fashioned and unpopular before he knows it.

Given the scope of the book, the level of detail he reaches, is remarkable for less than 280 pages, and that's with a few pages at the end of each chapter typically devoted to other things. Odd little stories that have nothing to do with bullfighting. Critiques of critiques of his writing**. A brief discussion of the few times he's tried getting in the ring. When pressed whether he actually did that (by an old woman he conjured as a piece to address certain things), he claims there were hundreds of witnesses, though many have sadly died from damage to their diaphragm from excessive laughing (Hemingway wasn't nimble enough, though he was smart enough to recognize it and avoid being gored). Obviously I haven't read any other books on bullfighting to compare it with, but I feel as though I learned a lot from this, as he does it best to explain things clearly, trying to focus on one subject at a time and cover all he thinks he needs to before moving on.

I think the most important thing I learned from the book with regards to bullfighting was what he explained at the start of Chapter 2. Bullfighting is not a sport, in the sense that basketball or tennis are, where you have people competing to see who triumphs. Bullfighting is more like theater, because the bull's fate is largely preordained. It will fight well, use its strength, speed, and ferocity for all it's worth, but in the end it will die. It's like going to watch Hamlet. You know everyone will die, so it's a matter of how well the carry it off. The bullfight is the same. How well does the matador perform, how well does he bring out the bull's courage, highlight the danger he is placing himself in. Thinking about it that way doesn't make me a fan of bullfighting, but it helps me understand it better.

'He was a fine-looking boy who studied the violin until he was fourteen, studied bullfighting until he was seventeen, and fought bulls until he was twenty. They really worshiped him in Valencia and he was killed before they ever had time to turn on him.'

* The bulls are smarter than we might expect (depending on how smart you think bulls are), and they learn quickly enough the tricks of the cape. It's a matter of whether they can figure it out before they grow too tired to take advantage.

** He has a great line here I'd seen in one of his biographies about his writing: 'If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things he knows and the reader, the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.' I think Death in the Afternoon, though not prose is almost an exercise in this. He can't put down everything he knows, the book would be massive, and he'd never finish, since as he admits, he's always learning new things. So the goal is to describe enough the reader can understand what he's discussing and make some of the other connections on their own.

Monday, July 22, 2013

What I Bought 6/29/2013 - Part 8

It's another fine day for comic reviews, don't you agree? Of course you do! And if you don't, too bad..

X-Men #1 & 2, by Brian Wood (writer), Olivier Coipel (penciler, inker), Mark Morales (inker), Scott Hanna (inker #2 only), Laura Martin (colorist), Matt Milla and Christina Strain (colorists, #2 only), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - That baby looks really grumpy, but I'd be grumpy if someone dressed me in that, too. I mean, footy pajamas with a hood with ears? Yeesh. It's a good thing most of us don't remember things from that earlier, or we'd all want to take revenge on our parents.

Jubilee's headed for the Jean Grey School, baby in tow, with some mysterious fellow on her tail. Turns out he's John Sublime, which means nothing to me, but the X-Men recognize him when he shows up on their door. A few of them rescue Jubes and the baby when the train they're on gets out control. That turns out to have been caused by Sublime's sister, who was inhabiting the baby and can control machines. So she jumps to an inert body of an Omega Sentinel and wreaks havoc until Kitty damages her enough to force a withdrawal. Then Storm leads a team after the ancient, intelligent bacteria, but neglects to bring the one person who had some success against her, leaving Kitty behind to repair the School, and in all likelihood, keep the students from being killed by what appears to be a bomb.

I don't understand why Arkea (that'd be Sublime's sister) caused the train to get out of control. I can imagine she doesn't give a hoot about humans, but if the X-Men don't show up and the two trains collide, that kills the body she's using, and all the others around it, which I assume would be bad for her. There are a lot of little things that don't quite add up. How does Sublime know she has an affinity for possessing technology, given he supposedly ran her off a really long time ago? What was there for her to possess back then that let him make that determination? As far as we know, she'd only possessed a baby before she got to the school, so there's nothing there to suggest it. Why does Jubilee not appear to be a vampire any longer? How much has Wood downgraded Rachel's powers? I know she hasn't had the Phoenix Force since before War of Kings, but she seems practically useless. When Sublime shows up, Psylocke's asking Rachael if she wants them to go get some Omega-level telepaths. Well what is Rachel then? So far she seems to have been placed as the person who stays calm and talks, but nobody trusts her to handle things on her own.

On the plus side, Wood was able to provide enough clues for me to understand Sublime and what he is, when I had never even heard of him prior to this. Props for that. As it stands, I can't decide if these are deliberate things Wood's setting up to deal with later, or if it's some flaws in his story I'm just gonna have to roll with it.

Enough kvetching about the writing. Might as well discuss Coipel's art for the 5 minutes he's gonna be on the book. That last page of issue 1, the shot of Arkea in the up-and-running Omega Sentinel, it reminds me of Skottie Young's work. Some of it is how slim her arms seem, the swirl of the mist around her, and
the shading a little. Its the only page that gets that response from em, so I thought it was worth mentioning. I like it. The green and the black are striking, and shots of characters facing us with their eyes hidden are a way of making the scene feel ominous I really like. I always find that a little creepy, because it lets my imagination run wild about what I'd see if I could see their eyes.

Beyond that, I thought Coipel did some great work with the expressions and body language, especially on Jubilee. The middle panel when she's on the plane, as the baby cries and the stewardess checks on them in particular. There's exhaustion on her face, the strain of caring for this kid, but also embarrassment because she knows everyone's irritated (witness the guy next to her plugging his finger in his ear), and nobody likes having that scrutiny. Nice touch of the creative to have include the caption box stating 'alienation, shame, and seclusion' in that panel. All things I imagine Jubilee is either feeling, or wishing she could have right then. The smile he gives Arkea/Karima near the end of issue 2, when she leaves the school was appropriately creepy, though the coloring and shading in the eyes helps there. The blank look to the eyes makes a little smile more unsettling.

I will ask, is that what the Beast looks like now? Jeez, I thought the cat form that nobody could draw consistently for the last 10 years looked bad. His face is too small for his head, and his hair/fur looks like it's forming little Daredevil horns, which I think bothers me because it suggests a receding hairline. Not that heroes can't go bald, someone has to take up the mantle from Xavier, but it doesn't make a lot of sense on someone still covered head-to-toe with fur.

My overall impression is there's potential here, certainly some things I like, but I'm not convinced Wood thought this story out ahead of time. Maybe some of these things nagging at me will be resolved, but right now I can't be sure of that. Coipel's art is working well, but his aforementioned 5 minutes on the book are almost up, so I'm not sure it matters.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Burn Notice 5.15 - Necessary Evil

Plot: Having discovered Anson's using an encrypted military radio, the next step is to bug it. Except, you can't. Well, Anson's piggybacking the signal off some nearby defense contractor, so Mike and Fi get themselves hired as window washers, stage an accident which gets them in an office, and get ahold of Anson's call logs that way. Making a veiled threat of lawsuits against the security guard seemed unnecessary. As it turns out, Anson's been calling one person regularly, and that person is Benny, aka Maddy's boyfriend. Hopes that Benny is merely someone Anson's observing because of his proximity to Michael fall apart when Fiona tails him and notes Benny's received some training in looking for tails (not enough to notice someone he already knows, though). Which means it's time for Michael to have an awkward conversation with Madeline.

While all that drama is taking place, Sam and Jesse are stuck carrying out a mission for the CIA. A weapons designer by the name of Resnick has gone missing, and it's feared he's turned traitor. Turns out he hasn't betrayed anyone. He's building a missile for a warlord named Kamba, because Kamba has his daughter as a hostage. Jesse and Sam are supposed to deliver some components for said missile, but then have to devise some way to get Resnick - and ultimately themselves - out of there without getting shot repeatedly. Or getting Resnick's daughter killed. Or letting Kamba escape with the missile. Oh, and the CIA wants the design specs for the missile, because of course they do.

Meanwhile, Madeline has set out to prove Michael is wrong about Benny, but has only succeeded in proving him right. So she bugs Benny's phone. And sure enough, he gets a call from Anson. Oh wait, Benny also received a package in the mail from Anson? Well, why doesn't he just open that up and - BOOM!

The Players: Benny (Madeline's Boyfriend), William Resnick (Hostage). Joseph Kamba (Lunatic Warlord)

Quote of the Episode: Sam - 'The last time I did a favor for the C.I.A., there were a few hiccups.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Nope.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 1 (20 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (7 overall)

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (11 overall)

Other: No alias for Michael this week. I kind of like that he couldn't be directly involved with Kamba because of all his past work in sub-Saharan Africa. The odds he would run into someone who knows his face among this particular warlord's forces seems small, but there is a chance, and it's a nice nod to Michael's past history. Like how he knows Farsi, but not Spanish.

I'm not sure why Sam should care that he has detractors in the C.I.A. He was a Navy SEAL, who cares if the spooks don't like him? Besides, we know when Pearce says "detractors", she means Bailey and Manaro (the twits from Fall of Sam Axe and 5.6). The idea of doing something strictly in response to criticism from those buffoons is ridiculous.

That said, this mission did give us Jesse in big glasses and a sweater vest. Where such things are irritating on Anson, they're endearing on Jesse. And watching Sam try to simultaneously massage Kamba's ego and stoke his paranoia was fun. I think he needed to dial back the attitude at times, because he seemed to be pissing Kamba off too much. That might just be my inclination to not rile up a man with lots of armed guys at his beck and call.

The Benny situation has some good and bad to it. The good is I find it believable Anson could find someone he'd expect to be compatible with Madeline who he could use as a spy. He took a stint as her guest therapist, he's talked to her husband, he's studied Michael. If he's half as good as he claimed, he ought to have some idea of what she'd be looking for. It more believable to me than his assertion he can anticipate everything Michael will do. That Anson eliminates Benny when he becomes a liability (for various reasons) fits with Anson's previous actions to keep barriers between himself and threats, and to close off loose ends. It also suggests he has a wider network than might be suspected, because my guess is he had someone watching Benny who observed Mike and Fi sniffing around, and that's why he eliminated him. I'm not sure how he was funding this network, when he needed Michael to wipe his records because the CIA had a list of all his bank accounts.

The bad is, I don't care about Benny. He'd been around for awhile, but he's actually been on-screen for about 10 minutes, if that. I know Maddy was always excited to spend time with him, and so I sympathize with her, but I don't feel anything for Benny. The reveal that he regrets taking this job, regrets hurting Maddy, you can see what they're shooting for, that he wasn't a bad man, more a good one who made a bad decision. But I'm not sure it came soon enough. It does make me wonder, if Michael had confronted Benny with his suspicions, rather than telling Maddy and waiting for her to be convinced and bug the phone, would things have gone differently? Could they have saved Benny, and possibly gotten something useful from him? I doubt it. I expect Benny would have lied, and Michael wouldn't have had sufficient evidence Benny was working with Anson to press, and Anson would still have had time to kill Benny. Might have spared Maedline the gut-punch of watching Benny be blown to bits, though. I'm sure Anson did that on purpose.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Across the River and Into the Trees - Ernest Hemingway

I went through a Hemingway phase near the end of high school and into my undergraduate years. Big surprise the guy who wrote about bull-fighting, shooting, and dying would appeal to the teenage boy. The phase ended some time ago, and I hadn't read any of his work since then, but the books were still on my shelves, several unread. No time like the present.

Across the River and Into the Trees details an American colonel's acceptance of his mortality. It isn't set in a war, he's in his fifties, and I think that's roughly when the story takes place (it's post WW2, for certain). His fighting is behind him, but his heart can't go any further, and he knows it. So he travels to Venice, a town he loved in the First World War, to visit friends, to see the young woman he loves, and to go on a duck hunt. He tries to enjoy himself, but specters loom over it all. Not just his impending death, but the past. The battles he's fought, the men he's lost, the commanding officers whose stupidity he's resented, he can't move past it, despite his best efforts. By the end, I believe he'd made peace with it, but those last few days were rocky ones.

One thing I remember liking about Hemingway's writing was this sense that he got to the point. He didn't waste time blathering on about irrelevant details, and so his books didn't seem to drag. Looking back, I think it was actually that the things he talked about were more interesting to me than what Faulkner or Fitzgerald's topics of choice. If you're interested in something, you can read about it forever.

His dialogue is more stilted than I remember. Maybe because this is later in his career, or not one of his stronger works. Also possibly because they're speaking English, but that isn't Renata's first language, so she's a bit awkward. I think the repetition, the frequent description of the Colonel as being "rough" or "bad" in his speech, the imploring him to say he loves her, it's all part of something. I guess the book was described by some affair he had shortly before he read the book, and I imagine there's much of that in this. I'm not sure whether Renata is meant to be uncertain if the Colonel is genuine in his feelings, if she believes that if he loved her enough he'd find a way not to die, or if she simply enjoys having him wrapped around her finger. She isn't written as possessing any sort of malevolence, but the Colonel is the only one we have to describe her, and he's smitten. He tends to describe her as an effortless beauty, someone who simply has something that draws the eye, but who can say? Ah hell, I should not doubt her, she is a perfectly pleasant and compassionate sort, whatever doubts I have that the Colonel isn't giving her enough credit.

Even with the repetition, the book speeds along. There's something about his writing style, not only his ability to describe things well and succinctly, but something in it that carries its own forward momentum. He's fond of run on sentences, with a lot of commas in there breaking them up, and somehow that makes it like rolling a ball down a hill, as my eyes feel like they're gaining momentum, hurtling down the page. It's pretty impressive, even in one of his lesser works.

Even though I haven't read any of Hemingway's work in years, I've read three or four books about him in that span, and I found myself incorporating what I'd learned from those into my view. Even without looking online to see he'd carried on an affair shortly before this was written, it wasn't hard to see Hemingway in the Colonel. Just into his fifties, beat-up, scarred, simultaneously critical of his physical appearance, but strangely proud of it, because of what it signified about his experiences. Trying to recapture a feeling of youth with a much younger woman. Frequently rude or coarse with his remarks, but almost instantly regretful of them, but internally and externally, leading to vows to be nicer, which are always broken before too long, leading to more internal rebukes. The Colonel's journalist ex-wife almost has to be Hemingway's 3rd wife, Martha Gellhorn, and the Colonel's scorn for General Montgomery is likely Hemingway's as well.

I don't know who - if anyone - the pockmarked and pitted writer the Colonel becomes mildly obsessed with might represent, but I found the Colonel's assessment that mediocre writers are the ones who live forever, and that's why they have the most material, intriguing. Hemingway wasn't one to downplay his own skill as a writer, but I wonder if he wasn't losing a little faith at this point, wondering if he'd lost it, and was doomed to become a middling writer for the remainder of his days.

Friday, July 19, 2013

In The Ice Sits A Boat, Where The Boat Takes You. . .

When I reviewed Syberia, I said I'd probably pick up the sequel at some point. So guess what I did last week?

Syberia II picks up where the first one left off. You're still playing as Kate Walker, the New York lawyer who sought out Hans Voralberg to finalize the purchase of his family's automaton factory, only to decide you'd accompany him in his clockwork train on his quest for the land of Syberia and the mammoths that supposedly exist there.

Despite the fact he's brilliant, Hans is still a frail old man, so he's more hindrance than help. Which means it's up to Kate to do all the work. "Work" in this case, means dealing with every problem that comes your way. Hans falling ill, crumbling Russian infrastructure, the weather, homicidal monastic orders, bears, and all manner of puzzles  will get in the way, and Kate's going to have to figure out ways around all of them.

This game is exactly like the first one. Which means some of the puzzles are clever, and others are maddening, because I'm not sure how you'd solve them other than just randomly flipping switches until something happened. The scenery is lovely, but the camera is unhelpful. The entire game is a series of different screens, and for each screen, there's only one camera angle. Which means you can't swivel it to get a different view, and sometimes that would come in very handy. I was stuck in one area for a half hour because I couldn't see there was another trail I could take. Because the entry for it was at the extreme edge of the bottom of the screen, so you couldn't tell what was there. If I could rotate the camera, I would have found it immediately. So that's irritating. There's still quite a bit of back-tracking, and Kate hasn't learned to run faster yet.

But these were problems I had with the first game as well. The story and the larger world that was hinted at made it worth all the frustrations, and that's largely the case here. Syberia 2 doesn't instill me with quite the same curiosity about what's happened in the world as the first one did, but that's because Kate spends most of her time out in the wilderness. There aren't many signs of human habitation to begin with, so I don't find myself what wondering what's happened to them. At the same time, there are still some wondrous things along the way, and I find myself sharing Kate's awe at them.

That's something the sequel maintains, is the sense of connection I had with Kate in the first game. I don't entirely share her concern for Hans, but I can appreciate her determination to save him. In general, I really like Kate Walker. That this started as a job, but it became a chance for something more and she seized that chance. When she gets frustrated, or exasperated, it's usually with something that would provoke the same response in me, so I empathize with her. She's determined to see this through, to get Hans to Syberia. Maybe because a part of her recognizes how much she gave up for this, and she doesn't want it to be for nothing. But that doesn't harden her. She keeps a sense of humor about things, but more critically, she's still a kind person overall. The game has one moment that's shocking (in a horrifying way), and a couple that are truly touching, and the graphics and voice acting make convey that Kate feels the same way. When Oscar decides it's time for him to have a purpose, you can hear a little panic in Kate's voice, because she doesn't understand what he means, but she's grown to care for him and she's worried. And dang it, I'd grown to care for Oscar too. That was a gut-punch of a scene.

There is one problem with doing such a good job of making me like Kate, and that's the ending. I have no idea where the ending leaves Kate. I mean I know where she is, in a geographical sense, but in a larger sense, it's a little dire. Hans just left her there, alone, thousands of miles from anything. Something I read about the ark they took to get there suggests it moves on a specific current, so it only goes back to the Youkol Village every 10 years. The detective her boss sent after her, turned back well before that. No one is coming after her, so is she just stuck there? I sure hope not.

Concerning ending aside, the story, voice acting, and world building of Syberia 2 more than make up for my frustrations with the camera and some of the puzzles.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What I Bought 6/29/2013 - Part 7

Yes, more reviews. I have nothing else to add as an opener, except it's warm outside and I don't like it. Blasted tilted planetary axis, with its resultant seasonal variations in sunlight.

Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur #1, by Brian Clevinger (words), Scott Wegener (art), Nick Filardi (colors), Jeff Powell (letters) - I feel there must be some joke about Robo's Enviro-suit, but I don't know what it is. Is he at risk of rust because jungles are so humid? If it isn't something related to his being metal, why wouldn't he outfit his action scientists? Is that significant? I'm all kinds of turned around.

What I mean is, the way Clevinger and Wegener have laid this out, I don't feel like I can take anything at face value. Robo's still dealing with fallout from the events of Ghost of Station X, or maybe not dealing is a better description. She takes an assignment that lets him travel to Venezuela to deal with cryptid sightings. These cryptids just so happen to have been spotted around the remnants of Marconi's secret Nazi space program science city. Meanwhile, some of the nukes A.L.A.N. was going to use to power his ship's launch in Ghost of Station X have gone missing, and one turned up on Robo's doorstep, right after he left.

I don't believe the nukes are part of Dr. Dinosaur's plan. He couldn't have resisted showing his hand in some way. There's the possibility Majestic is behind this, seeing it as their best opportunity to remove Robo once and for all. Or it could be A.L.A.N., who I'm worried found some way to infect Robo's brain. Maybe Robo did authorize the delivery of the nukes, but doesn't know he did it. Or maybe he knows full well. See, I'm even starting to doubt Robo, because things are falling together too neatly. It's unnerving, which is pretty cool. It makes me wonder if it's significant that Robo watches TV inside his brain with his eyes closed. He says he does it every so often, but we've never seen it (that I recall). What if it's a sign of A.L.A.N.? Or Robo's hallucinating? Is the fact his eyes were closed important? Why did he grab a geologist for a cryptid search?

I don't say this enough, but I'm consistently impressed with how much expression Wegener's able to convey with Robo's face, considering he has no nose or mouth (you can imagine how good a job he does with characters who actually have those features). Wegener makes full use of the eyes to be sure, but I think he also uses the angle we view Robo at, or else the way he positions Robo's head to tell us something else. The third panel on page 11, where he's looking up at the sky, it makes me feel Robo being reflective, thoughtful. He does well with giving things a sense of scale. He knows how to pull back and let you see the landscape, but not lose important details in the process (contrast that with my complaints regarding Alex Sanchez' work on Katana). The first panel on page 11. You have this long-distance shot that gives us an idea of the size of the crater by the tents and tiny campfire, but you can still tell someone is standing at the edge of a small hole, which is relevant for the rest of the scene. it's not incredibly detailed, but Wegener makes sure to convey important information that helps set things up, while also giving a sense of scope.

Filardi did a nice job on the colors, too. The parts underground, it's dark in a way that you understand that (and the darkness is a different, deeper one that when they were aboveground a few pages earlier), but it doesn't murk things up where it's hard to tell what's happening. Everything is perfectly clear, and it makes for an excellent contrast with the explosion. Also, I like how they fall into deeper darkness at the end of page 18, but the next page has that bright pool of pink water. They contrast so well, it' really eye-grabbing. Also, I'm not sure whether it's something Wegener did, or if it's Filardi, but Wegener's art looks smoother. People's heads are more rounded. Part of me thinks he's beefed up and smoothed out his lines, but it could be Filardi getting more comfortable with the colors, shading it in a way that causes that. Or it's the paper. I think the paper is a different quality, Thicker, but less glossy, maybe? I don't know.

Hawkeye #11, by David Aja and Matt Fraction, Matt Hollingsworth (color art), Chris Eliopoulos (production) - What the hell does "production" mean? I know Eliopoulos didn't have much to letter, this being from the dog's perspective and all, but that title tells me nothing.

Yes, it's the Pizza Dog issue. Lucky is led to Grill's body by another dog, who belongs to an old woman that lives in the building who is somehow connected to the bros. Does this mean Clint will get to jump kick an old woman in the face, ala Simon Pegg in Hot Fuzz? If so, that will probably be my favorite comic moment of the year (Note: It doesn't have to be a kick. I'd settle for cracking her in the face with the bow). Aja opts to use small pictographs (that Hollingsworth colors yellow) against and blue and white outline background to represent Lucky's perceptions. I don't get the blue-and-white background. Does it mean the surroundings don't really exist for a dog, other than what sensory input it gets from them, meaning the smells and sounds of people? I guess a dog wouldn't appreciate the architecture of a building. Does it seem incredibly stupid to anyone else for Kazi to walk around a crime scene in his clown makeup? I get Kate and Clint are gone, but it's asking for trouble. I'm not sure how Lucky knows about hearses (see page 10). Hollingsworth really went with a blue and yellow palette for this issue. Besides the blue and white flat surroundings, even in the more detailed panels, there are a lot of blues, with occasional yellows. I thought the yellow was meant to be a warm color, for when Lucky feels safe or happy. Except he uses yellows in three panels during the fight on the roof, including when Lucky gets kicked. So I don't know, unless it's suggesting nowhere is as safe as you think. There is the blue background with the flash of yellow from the gunshot in panel 4 of page 15.

Anyway, while this going on, Clint's dealing with cops, going to Grills' funeral, oh, and then Kate leaves for Cali. And takes Lucky with her.

She took Clint's dog? She took Clint's dog?! What the hell?! Clever Adolescent Panda!!!!!!

Clever Adolescent Panda: *arrives several hours later, carrying a package* What?

Calvin: {Hit Kate, right now!}

CAP: I don't know, she asked the dog, and he left with her.

Calvin: {Don't give me that malarkey! This is part of a trend! She stole Clint's codename, then she took his bow -}

CAP: Captain America gave that to her.

Calvin: {And Clint won it back, so she stole it again!}

CAP: And he told her to keep it.

Calvin: *grabs CAP by shoulders* {That's not the point! This is a pernicious trend, and damnit, you do not take a man's dog! It's mean! I thought you used to care about meanness, or are you too busy these days? Am I the only one who cares?!}

CAP: Calm down! *grabs Calvin's wrist, flips him across the room* You're acting nuts, and I don't appreciate you calling me here just when you want someone hit! I was busy looking for UnCalvin!

Calvin: {Still? Oh my gosh, you still haven't delivered the blender Furby? It's been three months! How have you not realized UnCalvin's in New York?}

CAP: What?

Calvin: {Isn't it obvious? Where's the last place I would go? Answer, a massive city full of people, noise, and Mets' fans.}

CAP: That's why I couldn't find UnCalvin! I was looking in Vegas.

Calvin: {Why would UnCalvin hide in Vegas?}

CAP: There's a big dam nearby producing electricity to steal for nefarious projects. Besides, you'd never go to Vegas, would you? All the bright lights, high temperatures, and gambling.

Calvin: {I might pass through it on my way to natural wonders. But UnCalvin mentioned having a great view. I don't think Vegas has a lot of that, unless you like neon.}

CAP: Well, I guess I'll try New York after I leave. I'm not hitting Kate, though. If she took the dog, maybe, but she called.

Calvin: {Yeah, I guess. . .}

CAP: Don't ask me to hit Lucky.

Calvin: {I wasn't gonna. Here, take a look at Atomic Robo. Give Jenkins a Hug for having to deal with paperwork. Then give his assistant one for having to bring Jenkins paperwork.}

CAP: I can do that. Hugs! So, did you like Hawkeye #11?

Calvin: *shrugs* {Eh, I can appreciate the idea of doing it from the dog's perspective, but nothing's really getting resolved, you know? It's like revving your engine while the brake's on. Looks impressive, lots of noise and smoke, but you're not going anywhere.}

CAP: It does look really nice.

Calvin: {Heck yeah. Aja does some good work with Lucky, even though I've never seen a dog salute before, but page 17, where he's scrambling down the stairs, and the yellow pictographs get more numerous and jumbled the farther he goes? That was pretty nice. Got across the panic very well. So it's pretty, but the comic overall isn't one where I felt really absorbed in what was happening. It's almost like I'm reading it to try and tech myself how to notice things about comics, not to just read for enjoyment. And the comic is letting me do that because they're messing around rather than doing something that sucks me into the story.}

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Magnificent Seven

I'd never seen The Magnificent Seven before this weekend. My dad kept mentioning he'd loan it to me, but we never got around to it.

To be fair, I wasn't that enthused. The older I get, the more I find myself wary of things - movies, books, video games -  that are highly regarded. I tend to build them up to much, then find myself disappointed they aren't the GREATEST THING EVER. I'm trying to work on that. I was also concerned that with such a large cast of heroes, things would feel too crowded. You know how it goes sometimes; everyone's jostling for screen time and the thing becomes more about who's in each scene than what's happening. The third reason was some review I'd read that compared it unfavorably with Seven Samurai, which is where the plot for Magnificent Seven came from. But hell, if I wouldn't watch films because they didn't stack up to Akira Kurosawa's work, I'd never watch any movies.

In a lot of ways, the first concern was undercut by the third (even though I haven't gotten around to Seven Samurai, either). The movie managed to keep itself from feeling overly stuffed. Mostly by having a hierarchy where some guys get a lot less time than others, so they're not meant to be as important. Chris and Vin (Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen) are the stars, so they get a lot of scenes. Then there's Chico and Bernardo, then Harry, Lee, and Britt. I did think John Sturges (or the screenwriters, whether that's the credited William Roberts, or Kurosawa and his fellow screenwriters) did a good job of giving each guy a few moments to themselves, so I could get a little invested in them. The connection Bernardo had with the three kids, or how Harry would use every down moment to quiz someone about the fabulous wealth that was obviously hidden somewhere around here. I think Griff was shorted the worst, which irritated me as a fan of James Coburn. The smart thing there was they made him a man of few words, so on the occasions he did speak, it carried more weight.

I'm not sure how I feel about Chico's romantic subplot. It felt shoehorned in at first, like some quick concession they made to 'appeal to female audiences', or however they'd have described it. The more I think on it, the more I can see it fit. Chico's the kid, the one who's just starting on the path the other six have walked for a long time. He's caught up in a lot of fanciful notions about what the life of a hired gun entails, but this gives him a chance to see the reality of it. The dying, the fact that you sell your life along with your gun, the fact the same people who ask you to save them will be glad when you leave, because they fear you as much as the people you're protecting them from. Faced with all that, Chico figures it might be better to get out while he still can. Maybe he realized he doesn't have to prove anything to anyone at this point. He survived where many others didn't, that's enough.

In some ways, the the film makes me think of some of Leone's later work, mostly the bit at the end about how the farmers win, while the gunmen always lose. You could throw in Bernardo's speech to the boys about their fathers' courage. It's kin to Leone's idea that you shouldn't get involved with revolutions because they come and go, and it won't make much difference in your life, so don't sweat it. Worry about your friends, your family. The gunmen (or the soldiers/revolutionaries) will go on killing, so keep your head down and let them take care of each other. It's not totally similar, obviously, since the farmers did get involved and fight for themselves, but still, when it was all said and done, most of Calvera's men are dead, and so are four of the Seven. The ones that survived on either side are leaving (with the exception of Chico) to try and find some other place they can do the same things to make a living. Meanwhile, the farmers pick up their tools and go back to farming, just as they were before.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What I Bought 6/29/2013 - Part 6

Alright, back to comics. I'm looking at some DC books today. Won't be long before DC's down to one book a month for me. It's the Curse of 4 Ongoings. I get to 4 DC ongoings, it drops back to 3 within 6 months, and a year after that, it's down to 1. This'll be the third time now.

Dial H #13, by China Mieville (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (penciler), Dan Green (inker), Tanya & Richard Horie (colorists), Taylor Esposito (letterer) - The title of this issue is "Tekel Upharsin". Hey, a reference I recognize! I don't know if it's what Mieville was going for but "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin" was supposedly a phrase found scribbled all over the walls of Babylon prior to its being conquered by the Persians. It translates to, "You have been weighed and found wanting by the Pharsi (i.e., the Persians)." Thank you Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe Volume 6!

This is largely an exposition issue. Mieville recognizes he's out of time, so if he's going to bring any sort of resolution, he has to lay out what's happening quick as possible. Thus Open-Window Man describes a little about each member of the Dial Bunch, and what the group's goal is, both in the larger sense, and in the immediate sense of why they're in a world of living graffiti. I love that, because it's so odd once you start to think about it. If Open-Window Man and the rest are standing there as their normal selves, looking at this wall and talking to the people on it, where are they in relation to the graffiti people's world? Are they in the equivalent of outer space, or another world? Or simply another dimension? Is it a play on Flatland, the story by Edwin Abbott Abbott about life in a 2-dimensional universe that is periodically visited by a 3-dimensional being? I don't know.

I like what Ponticelli does with it. the way he uses all the different walls to build a Graffiti City, and he makes the child remarkably expressive for being little more than a stick figure. The enthusiasm on the child's face as he decides he understands O-PM's mission is heartwarming, only to be kicked in the teeth by the hero in question's glare. That contrast is very interesting, the fact that Open-Window Man claims not to understand this world. It feels like a conflict between how we like to perceive a hero's motivations and goals, versus what they actually turn out to be. Making Things Better vs. Hurting Bad Guys. But then there's the end of the issue and maybe it's a repudiation of the whole idea of superheroics? No, I don't think that's it, more likely it's about rejecting the idea in comics that tragedy should push people towards that, rather than some other constructive path.

I think Open-Window Man is Miller's Batman (or maybe the jerk everyone started writing because they like Miller's Batman so much). He has a short temper, is impatient, arrogant. he seems largely interested in violence, and has an extremely narrow worldview, incapable of seeing responses to trauma or setback other than "punch crime". Which is strange, for someone who supposedly understands windows and their potential as entryways to other worlds to have such restricted vision. He's too wrapped up in his own pain, ego, and mythology. Which is why the bit where he enters the Graffiti World and tries to adjust is hilarious, if only for how readily it punctures his self-importance.

'Damnit, my thoughts are legible. Think mysteriously. . .'

As I said, it feels like an exposition issue, laying the groundwork so the last two issues can handle the final conflict. But Mieville handles it deftly by weaving all that in with Open-Window Man's attempt to help the kid, and the view it gives us into both characters, so I loved it.

Katana #5, by Ann Nocenti (writer), Alex Sanchez (penciler, pgs 1-15), Cliff Richards (penciler, pgs 16-20), Art Thibert (inker), Matt Yackey (colorist), Taylor Esposito (letterer) - The cover says the guy leaping down towards Katana is Coil, but the sword clearly marks him a Sickle, so who messed up there? The person who lettered it, the person who drew it, the person handing out instructions to both?

Practically everyone in here is trying to dissuade Katana in one form or another. The elderly swordsmith - the only one who might be able to fix the Soultaker - thinks her foolish for trying to remove corruption from a centuries old group, and for focusing only on what she wants. The swordsmith's grandson disagrees with Katana's approach to dealing with an unwanted legacy. Sickle thinks her one-woman crusade is futile, and that she's dumb enough to fall for his "white knight" routine. The Creeper still wants to stop the sword being fixed. This new foe, Swagger, wants the sword, either to finish destroying it, or use its power herself. Even Tatsu's dead husband questions her judgment.

There are two ways to look at that. One, this is a test of her resolve. With the whole world telling her she's wrong in one way or the other, can she remain firm in her quest? The other possibility is that when so many people are telling you you're nuts, maybe they're on to something. That can lead to a couple of different results, so I'm curious. The contradictory ass in me wants Katana to going forward and screw all the haters, even as I recognize it's not cool that she wants to fix the sword specifically so it'll bring her dead husband's soul back to her, after he already told her he hated being stuck in that sword. Is it worth it if it confines the Creeper, though?

So Alex Sanchez handles the art chores for the first three-quarters of the book, and it's not really a good thing. When a swordsmith at the convention dies on page 2, it looks like something hit him in the chest, but on the next page, the shuriken appears embedded in the neck (and Tatsu even notes in lodged in the 'spinal nerve'). When Swagger first attacks Katana, the fight concludes with this very nice panel of them fighting amongst a field of cherry blossoms. I wish I could draw a field of trees, grass, and flowers that well. But the actual fighting is confined to a small portion in the dead center of the panel, where you can hardly tell what's going on. The sound effect and dialogue suggest Katana impaled Swagger with a sword, but the art makes it look like she missed. You have to wait for the close up in the next panel to see where the sword hit, and it's not easy to tell there because the focus is more on Swagger sheathing her own swords, and her arm partially obscures the one she's been stabbed with. Sanchez also uses one of those short, wide panels of someone flying right at us, so that their face is very large and the rest of them is almost entirely hidden by their head. I think he's used that at least once in every fight scene so far in the series, and I don't get it because it looks so awkward to attack of defend from. Not to mention the questionable decision to lead with your ahead against people using swords (something I'd think you want to keep away from your head).

Sanchez can draw very nice settings and some good facial expressions at times, but fights are not his forte, and I question the things he chooses to emphasize in panels sometimes.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Honor In The Dust - Gregg Jones

'As McKinley attempted to silence debate over the nation's presence in the Philippines, American civilians poured into the islands to teach, preach, and make money.'

Honor in the Dust starts with the Spanish-American War, but is largely concerned with what went on in the Philippines after, as the U.S. decided they needed to have some colonies of their own, and the lengths they went to try and hold it. Those lengths end up including a lot of the same tactics the Spanish has used on the Filipino population, the same tactics the U.S. has decried and used as a pretext for fighting Spain in the first place. Burning villages and crops, killing water buffalo, relocating people into camps, torturing local officials to divulge the names and locations of nearby guerrillas, all with the tacit approval of the upper command. Until it became politically inconvenient, naturally.

Actually, that's overstating it. Even when there was fallout for the Roosevelt administration, and court martial proceedings were put into motion, they were largely for show. The officers brought up on charges were almost all acquitted, or at most fined some minor sum. Jacob Smith, who had ordered a Marine Major to kill all persons capable of bearing arms, down to the age of ten, received a reprimand for it, then TR retired him later. That's it. But how could they convict Smith of anything more, since the officers on the tribunal were guilty of much the same thing, and didn't appreciate all this hostility from politicians and civilians besides.

So it's a "cover your ass" situation. Or "us against them", if you prefer. And the politicians dicker and grandstand, accomplishing nothing, because if they get to vocal against it, they might also be seen to be criticizing the economic gains, and you can't risk pissing off the businessmen. Eventually the American public gets tired of hearing about it, and the water cure (where water is sent down a person's throat via syringe until their stomach swells to the near bursting point, only to have the water removed by soldiers beating on the person's stomach with their fists, then repeated) becomes a joke.

The thing that struck me was how familiar it all seemed. Not just to the European imperialism the U.S. had claimed to stand against (the idea that the U.S. controlled only whatever pieces of ground they held at the moment was reminiscent of the French situation in Douglas Porch's Conquest of the Sahara), but to recent history. In case you thought America's inability to respect and get along with the locals in countries we've invaded was a development of the recent conflicts in the Middle East or further back, Vietnam. The U.S. presents itself as the liberator of the Philippines and Cuba, but decides the Filipinos can't possibly understand self-government, so the U.S. will take care of that for them. After all, if the U.S. wasn't there, one of those big meanie European countries would no doubt come along and subjugate the Filipinos. The idea of simply being an ally to a fledgling nation, of making it clear they will be left alone or you have to mess with us, was apparently not an option. The helpful civic projects - more courts, roads, schools hospitals - are undermined by the military's hateful treatment of the people those projects are meant to aid. The military excuses their harsh tactics by arguing that a) the other guys started it with sneak attacks and executing American prisoners, which ignores the fact it wouldn't be happening, and b) that they're savages, do they don't deserve proper treatment anyway. And so it's an ugly cycle of each side constantly responding to other's ugliness with more ugliness. That's a productive as you might think. It's sad that some of the most strident opponents of the conquest were southern racists who didn't want Filipinos polluting white racial purity. Criminey.

Jones has a picture of Roosevelt prominently on the cover, which is why I initially assumed this was a biography before I read the full title. It wouldn't have been an unreasonable assumption - my dad has at least a have dozen TR biographies - but he's not the only player, merely the largest. The book is rather depressing in that regard - it's depressing in a lot of regards, from the racism, to the present day similarities, to the lack of accountability for those in power - because I remember thinking TR was really cool back in high school history classes. He didn't take shit from anybody, awesome! But yeah, he was an imperialist, at least somewhat a racist (he certainly bought into the idea the Filipinos couldn't govern themselves). He accused his opponents of not being men, at least not in the sense Roosevelt believed, meaning big, strong, physically dominant, imposing their will upon others (but for benevolent purposes, really!). That's when he was describing them as socialists or communists. 100+ years and nothing's changed. I'm reminded history is terribly depressing.

I understand Jones was looking at this from the American perspective, but considering the book is about the conquest of the Philippines, more time spent on the Filipino perspective would have been appreciated. We're introduced to some of the important figures - Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy primary among them - but the focus in on the Americans. There's a point where Jones mentions rising U.S. casualties as the resistance has moved to guerrilla tactics rather than direct battles between armies, and I couldn't help thinking, "Yes, 995 American casualties in 7 months. How many Filipinos?" Considering that in most of the surprise attacks, the guerrillas would still lose more men than the soldiers, I'd expect the Filipino death toll to be substantially higher. Especially when you factor in American reprisals, burning villages or shooting anyone they see (plus the guerrillas killing collaborators). I suppose there might be a lack of written records, but I felt like Jones short-changed the people of the islands as much as the Americans of the early 20th century did.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Burn Notice 5.14 - Breaking Point

Plot: Michael no has clearance to view 'sensitive compartmentalized information'. Meaning he can easily upload Voidbot and wipe Anson's information from the CIA's computers. He hasn't done it yet, and calls a meeting with Anson to give Fiona an opportunity to plant a tracker on Anson's car. Michael's decoy doesn't quite work, but Fiona's determined and with a little crawling under some vehicles, she plants the bug. Which eventually leads them to an apartment complex. Then Sam suckers some do-gooder college kids into doing all the work of figuring out which place is Anson's with some b.s. about a class-action lawsuit over carbon footprints.

Michael has other concerns, though. His friend Ricky (last seen in 2.6 "Bad Blood") has just lost his brother, Andre, who was even more Mike's childhood friend than Ricky. Andre had spent some time in prison, but was working hard to clean up his community at the time he was shot. Ricky has no faith in the police, and wants Michael's help. The trail leads to Dolly, an old friend of Andre's, who tells us Andre was investigating the recent death of a gang leader that had stirred things up. Dolly knew who did it, Dion Carver, the man who took over as the leader. Michael dusts off his Mr. Turner alias (last seen 4.2, "Fast Friends") to pose as a weapons dealer. If Dion really did cover up a theft of a large sum of money by killing his boss, then offering him great weapons for settling grudges might be the way to get him to bring it into the open. That, combined with Dolly's testimony, might be enough.

Sadly, Dolly didn't stay at Maddy's, got spotted by one of Dion's guys, and wound up dead. So much for that idea, but Ricky's got another plan: Blow everyone up. Michael's not terribly happy, but manages to divert the plan onto a less murderous course that still lands Dion in prison. At least he experienced some success there, because he can't stall Anson any longer, and Fiona and Sam didn't come up with a lot when they tossed Anson's apartment. An encrypted military radio he's using to transmit information he wants to keep secret, but that's about it. Nothing that can keep Michael from uploading Voidbot and deleting those files.

The Players: Ricky (The Client), Dion (Andre's Killer)

Quote of the Episode: Ricky - 'Can you do me a favor? Tell Michael not to worry about making that meeting.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Kinda sorta? She modified the bomb Ricky made to be less powerful, but Ricky made it initially, and Dion set it off.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 1 (19 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (7 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 2 (11 overall).

Other: Like I said, Michael reprises his role as Mr. Turner.

I meant to mention this last week, but it still fits here. If Oswald made Voidbot long enough ago for him to taken into custody by the feds, then processed into witness protection, and send Sherry a big TV as a birthday gift, wouldn't Voidbot be obsolete? At the very least, wouldn't the feds have tested it and devised countermeasures, or at least ways to detect its use and point of origin? I guess you could argue they wouldn't share that with the Agency. Interdepartmental rivalries and all.

Along those same lines, no hard copies? No file folders with Anson's information on them? Nobody has printed it out to look over at home? Just another reminder to diversify your file storage methods.

I enjoyed Sam deflecting that one (probably) pre-law kid with the baby penguin defense. Invoking cute animals is a surefire path to success for any scheme!

I like Fiona's derision at Ricky's bomb. I imagine someone who makes them regularly wouldn't think much of an amateur's efforts.

I thought Ricky caved in really quickly there at the end. He went to all the trouble of making the bomb and trying to warn Mike off, then Mike seemed to convince him to tell where it was and go modify it with about two sentences. I could see it if Mike had said, "I'm going in there whether you tell me where the bomb is or not, so if you're OK with my being blown up, too. . ." Ricky clearly doesn't want Mike hurt, but otherwise, he seemed so pissed, so bent on vengeance, it's hard to believe it burned away that fast.

That aside, I did enjoy this episode. I still would prefer not to see Anson, but for the most part, he was in the background, everyone else moving around working while trying to avoid him. That helps. Past that, I liked this story. Andre changing his ways, which makes me think he was the Nate Westen to Ricky's Michael. Ricky's frustration when the plan seems to be falling apart. The fact that Michael refused to go the murder route when things went south. It parallels what he's doing with Anson. While Fi's contemplating turning herself in, going on the run, or simply killing Anson, Michael keeps going along, positive an opportunity will present itself to pull this thing out. It worked with Dion, didn't it? Even when Dolly was killed, he was able to use Ricky's attempt at homicide to corner Dion so he'd turn himself in. It's always worked in the past. Just keep your cool and there'll be a chance, that's what Michael's banking on.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Dain Curse

I saw this at my dad's last winter, but didn't get around to watching it. The Dain Curse was a 5-hour TV mini-series, based on a story by Dashiel Hammet, starring James Coburn. That latter fact being the reason I was interested in watching it.

Coburn is Hamilton Nash, private eye, sent by an insurance company to investigate the theft of some diamonds they loaned to a Mr. Leggett, who they hoped could devise a process to artificially color the diamonds, so as to make them appear more rare (and expensive). Nash tears that scam down right quickly, but in the process, he uncovers a succession of strange twists. The Leggett family has some ugly history, and Mrs Leggett (formerly Alice Dain) believes both she and her daughter Gabrielle are cursed to bring death and doom down upon all those close to them. They're cursed somehow, you see.

And certainly, people close to Gabrielle turn up dead with remarkable frequency. Her parents, her family doctor, that deluded messianic leader of the Church of the Holy Grail, her husband, that crotchety guy living out in the boonies. Nash seems to be the only one impervious, and I was a surprised at just how little actual danger he finds himself in. I guess I expected he'd at least get clocked on the noggin a few times, but not really.

Which would seem to put a lie to Gabrielle's fears that everyone close to her will die, considering she spends more time in Nash's arms than anyone else's (certainly more than her fiance then husband's). It's a bit creepy frankly, considering the age gap - which Nash alludes to - because I can't quite decide what the story is going for between them. Mutual romantic attraction, or one-sided? More of a father-daughter thing (Gabrielle didn't care for her father much, small wonder)? Could be curiosity on Nash's part, since Gabrielle sits at the heart of a riddle, and he isn't inclined to accept "curse" as an explanation for what's happening.

Occasional creepiness of that relationship aside, I like Coburn's performance as Nash. He can bring a harsh tone into his voice when needed, both loud, blustery anger, and that sharper, colder kind, that really hurts a person. At the same time, he has a jovial enough personality to carry off the witty repartee and one-liners you need for a role like this. The rest of the cast does well enough, though no one jumps out. I feel I should say more about Nancy Addison, who plays Gabrielle, considering how central she is to the story. But she spends most of her time alternating between hysterics and this disconnected, dreamlike state. She's very good at making that shift quickly when need be, though.

I would have preferred if they'd opted for more, shorter chapters. As it was, each chapter was about 95 minutes, and it started to drag after the first hour.

'I thought we agreed: No bodies.'
'You agreed. I never interfere with nature.'

Friday, July 12, 2013

What I Bought 6/29/2013 - Part 5

Saw a bunch more clips and/or trailers for Wolverine yesterday after I did that post. Saw a certain cockiness (or maybe just confidence) in Yukio that was encouraging, but they've also decided Logan was in a POW camp near either Nagasaki or Hiroshima during WWII. Not sure that's a good call. It depends on whether the Japanese officer he saved is relevant in a larger sense, or if this is just some cool moment they're shooting for. Like how major monuments always get destroyed in disaster films.

Moving on, comics.

Captain Marvel #13, by Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), Scott Hepburn (artist), Gerardo Sandoval (artist, pgs. 12 & 14), Jordie Bellaire & Andy Troy (colorists), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - The way the Avengers in the background are colored in faded tones, part of Clint's (stupid) costume looks skin-toned, so for a second I thought he was wearing this low-cut outfit to show off his upper chest. Well, Natasha's actually zipped up for once, and the Hulk's wearing armor, so I guess someone had to do it.

All right, 40% of this thing is already done, so let's see if we can figure it out. Fortunately, Carol and her associates are doing the same, which neatly catches me up to speed with Rose's brief abduction, and the theft of a piece of the Psyche-Magnitron from Carol's place. Before they can do much more than hear from Banner that someone sent a message to Kreespace (I'm so out of the loop these days, how are the Kree doing?), Yon-Rogg starts waking up Kree Sentry robots for some mysterious purpose. The Avengers are trying to destroy them, but there are a lot more of the robots than there are Avengers, and Yon only needs a couple.

Given the power of Kree Sentrys, it feels like the Avengers would have made finding and destroying them a higher priority. Surely after all their conflicts with the Kree they would have developed some way of doing that? Ah well. Also, Cap still hasn't gotten around to watching Star Wars? I know there's a lot of film to catch up on, but I'd think he'd find time to squeeze in something that prominent. This is very much a middle chapter, DeConnick's starting to tie things together, she advanced the plot a little bit, but that's about it. I was pleased with Scott Hepburn's artwork. It reminds me a little of Andrade's but Hepburn's a lot less exaggerated and much more consistent with character's face and body shapes. Hepburn also has a cleaner style, which works better for facial expressions than Andrade's did.

It's gonna be interesting trying to read July's issue, since that'll be the conclusion and I'll have missed Part 4. I expect a lot more plot movement will have taken place by then. You know, Yog's master plan will actually be happening, the Avengers will be on the ropes, things will look grim. That sort of thing.

Fearless Defenders #4, by Cullen Bunn (writer), Will Sliney (artist), Veronica Gandini (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - That's a nice cover. The Thor plushie's a good touch. Are those fingerless gloves, though? I have never understood those. I get the frustration of not having fine motor control when using gloves. I've tried to finger tighten a bolt or pick up some small thing with gloves on enough to understand the problems. But I feel like if the gloves aren't going to protect your fingers, what's the point? Just wear something with long sleeves.

Our heroines rescue Dani Moonstar and escape the Doom Maidens, who are rapidly growing stronger. Valkyrie has to deal with some revived memories which reveal she was one of the Doom Maidens once, until Odin did. . . something. Meanwhile, Hippolyta's trying to drag Dani off the Hela, but Dani tells her to piss off. Good for her, and it seems to impress Hipployta sufficiently for her to drop it. The three of them take off to face the Doom Maidens somewhere else, while Misty calls for reinforcements.

OK, I had some doubts about Hippolyta earlier, but this is more what I was envisioning. She's loud, arrogant, cheerfully violent, but there's just enough of something tempering that to keep her from being completely insufferable. I think it's the fact she respects people who stand up to her. Misty's complete disinterest in her threat after Misty slapped her, Dani telling her off. Polly doesn't strike them down, regardless of her big talk.

I'm still not impressed with Le Fay. I'm sure at some point she'll do something, but for now, she's just an old woman who talks shit while everyone else does all the work. I suppose the fact they all take her abuse should be a sign, but Mr. Raven's hired help, so I'd expect he's used to unlikeable employers, as long as the money's good. Essentially, she's a crotchety old person, and I find them annoying (or hilarious, depending on their brand of crotchety), but not intimidating. All the panels with her face partially obscured by shadows in the world can't change that.

Not that it matters. I'm still moving on from the book. Just in time too, since there appears to have been a recent death that has people riled up. I'm not too worried. There's already one character that was returned from the dead, and two others that either serve Death or are responsible for working with the deceased. I'm sure there's a way to get her back in play if they want.