Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It Is The Listing Time!

Just like the last two years, I'm going to talk about the best and worst of the non-comics media I consumed this year, while I wait for comics to arrive. Next week, hopefully. I would really like to do the Year in Review posts before February this time. Decided to add a category this year, though it won't have nearly as many candidates as the returning ones. I was going to do music, but I only bought about a half-dozen albums this year, and half of those I haven't listened to enough to have a strong sense of one way or the other (offhand, I'd say the two-disc Essential Weird Al Yankovic collection was my favorite music buy of the year). I'm not going to recap all this stuff because every one of these things got its own review post here on the blog at some point in 2014. As always, this is restricted to stuff that was new to me. If it came out 50 years ago, but I just read or watched it now, it's in the running.


So yeah, I read a whole lot of books this year, but a lot of them covered the same ground. A lot of World War 2, a lot of Stuart M. Kaminsky detective novels. On the plus side, all those WWII books treading similar ground, but from different angles, with different interests, combine in my head to form this much larger picture. Eisenhower's Lieutenants, Roosevelt's Centurions, Marshall and His Generals, and Walter Borneman's The Admirals (as opposed to Andrew Lambert's The Admirals on the Royal Navy). They all had good and bad points, but they're more illuminating when taken together. You could even add Ricks' The Generals and Clodfelter's The Limits of Air Power as a continuation of certain themes in later conflicts. Makes it hard for any one of them to stand out, though.

In non-fiction,  The Collapse of the Third Republic by Robert Shirer would be tops, and more engrossing than I expected for a 900+ page book. I figured it would be a slog in places, but maybe the sense of all these people just leading their country into doom gives it a momentum, even if that was driven by me yelling, "What are you idiots doing?!" at the book a lot. It's hindsight, but that didn't make it less maddening. I'd also throw in the two sports-related books I read this year, The Breaks of the Game, and Achorn's The Summer of Beer and Whiskey. A lot of cool stories about players and owners and such in both those books. Toss Irving Stone's They Also Ran in there as well. His writing can be a little nauseating, when he starts waxing too rhapsodic about his subjects, but the discussion of their lives and actions, and the fact Stone is willing to actually state whether he thinks they'd have been better Presidents than the people they lost too, and why, was appreciated.

As far as worst non-fiction, I'm going to tap Lambert's The Admirals, because of some of his biases towards his subjects. It was a little too obvious it was coloring his perspective. Also, Halpern's A Naval History of World War 1. I understand some history books will not be written with engaging language, Ki-baik Lee's A New History of Korea had dry writing, though I attribute that at least in part to being a translation. But with Lee, it felt like he wanted to cover everything and tell the reader about interesting things, whereas Halpern kept ignoring things that sounded interesting to talk about stuff that was not. Oh, and Stashower's The Beautiful Cigar Store Girl, which felt like two books with not enough to them roughly combined into one. That one felt like the biggest waste of my time.

Fiction doesn't have many positive standouts. Lot of mediocrity, a lot of weak books - Circus Couronne and Purgatory Chasm were consecutive ones, and combined with Stashower's book, my dad's collection really let me down there in the middle of March - Douglas Preston's The Impact was disappointing, but I guess I expected something very different from what I got. Maybe it was OK for what it was trying to be. 

Of all the Stuart M. Kaminsky detective stories from early in the year, the best was probably A Cold Red Sunrise. I enjoyed the Soviet Union as glastnost was starting up as a setting for the particular challenges it presents, and I liked Porfiry Petrovich as a character. Clever in that quiet, understated way, careful about not pissing off the sorts of people who would make him disappear, but still seeing justice done. I'm always a mark for Asimov, but I'd rate Pebble in the Sky well ahead of Prelude to Foundation. The latter was too obviously an attempt to connect the various stories he'd written previously, so a little forced and constrained. I liked the first half of The Hot Country, but it was too uneven. Follett's The Man from St. Petersburg was pretty good, but Lydia's indecision was so frustrating. Her unwillingness to even make the decision to do nothing was just maddening. It made me hate her, when I felt like I should pity her instead. So if I were doing a Top 5, A Cold Red Sunrise would be the only piece of fiction, to go with the 4 history books I mentioned earlier.


About half the movies I saw this year were from the last 25 years, which is more than I thought. I figured it was going to be tilted to '70s or older films because of spending time with my dad. But there were a lot of films we watched I didn't care enough about to bother writing up. As for the ones I did write about, there were several I didn't like, but often because they wanted to do something different from what I expected (Black Dragon the most notable example, where I expected the romance to be the centerpiece, and it turned out to be about helping the rose lady maintain an illusion of affluence), and they did the thing they wanted well enough. Can't fault them for that. There were films with some good stuff, but weaknesses. The Heroic Trio didn't always make sense in places, and the action scenes were limited by budget or technology. I liked parts of Bite the Bullet, but it's edited and paced oddly. As far as worst, I just found A Man Called Sledge unpleasant in a stupid, inconsistent way, and Casanova Brown was a mess. The Last of the Comanches suffers because it tries to be Sahara (the Bogart film, not the Mcconaughey one), but doesn't do it as well. That doesn't make it bad, just mediocre, and Dad and I got a lot of laughs out of "they find the well, and it's filled with more rifles", so it has that going for it.

Look, I'm picking Amazing Spider-Man 2 as the worst movie I saw this year. It was long, frequently boring as hell, had so many different plot threads that it still wasn't long enough to keep most of them from feeling rushed, or insufficiently developed. It was a film that wasn't even much fun to make fun of.

Barquero and Drop Dead Gorgeous were two movies I liked, but it was as much because I had low expectations going in. The latter film is better, but I like Lee van Cleef, even if that one sequence with Mariette Hartley's character was ugly for stupid reasons. But it's a story where you have all these people thinking big, thinking of the future and what's to come, but they're all hung up by these two guys (Lee van Cleef and Warren Oates) focused on right now. I haven't gotten around to rewatching Seven Psychopaths, but I remember liking it for the same reasons I liked In Bruges. That ability to move between strangely touching scenes involving screwed up people, and in the midst of that, shift into something completely absurd. Or vice versa.

But if I'm being honest, my two favorite movies of the year were Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and The Legend of Drunken Master. I had concerns about the Captain America movie going in; I had loved the first one, I have no real affection for the Winter Soldier story arc. But it surprised me. Some of it was probably because I watched it right after the tire fire that was Amazing Spider-Man 2 - it certainly was helped by that comparison - but it kept things moving, there were rarely any lulls, and the ways in which they kept things interesting changed. Action scene, dialogue sequence that advances the plot and establishes characterization, car chase, maybe some humor. Everybody got chances to look cool, and Chris Evans is a good Captain America. I don't really care whether it's trying to make some larger point, I'm ultimately concerned about it as an action film (and a Captain America movie), and it delivered for me in both regards. As for Legend of Drunken Master, it has great fight scenes (which I expected), there's a lot of humor in it (which I sort of expected, but not always in the form it took, there are some great punchline/reaction bits), and Anita Mui steals the show (which I didn't expect at all). She's great as this theatrical, sneaky badass, who deeply cares for her stepson and is maybe a little too willing to encourage his risky behavior. It was her presence in Black Dragon, opposite Chan, that made me want to pick up that movie, though it wound up not being what I expected.

Video Games

This isn't a huge field. Handful of XBox 360 games, handful of XBox Live Arcade games, maybe a couple of things I fooled around with once or twice on my coworkers' older consoles, but I didn't play Silent Hill: Shattered Memories or Castlevania 4 enough to really consider either of them. I played Paperboy a lot when I was a kid, so that's out. As far as games I bought physical copies of, we have the following candidates: Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, Sonic Generations, Tales of Vesperia, Deadpool, Fallout 3, and I guess, Diablo 3. Heck, throw in Resident Evil 6. I didn't play it for very long, but I played it enough to know it was poorly designed and not fun. In fact, RE 6 wins worst game hands down. From the stupidity of setting up a co-op game where one of you can't do anything for the first 5 minutes, because your character is too injured to do anything other than get dragged around, to the idiotic "find the car keys" mini-game (and then they don't let you have any fun driving the car and hitting zombies while your partner leans out the window and shoots, what the hell).

I mean, Deadpool was formulaic, repetitive, and not really original, but it owned that, even played it up, and it didn't take itself seriously. Metro: Last Light generally failed to establish most of the story and emotional connections it tried to play up, because it didn't spend enough time on them, but they improved the gameplay (especially by adding the option to knock out people you sneak up on, rather than always having to kill or avoid them), and the setting is still very cool. I'd compare the experience of playing the two Metros to Resident Evil 2 and 4, actually. 2 had the better developed characters and stronger story beats, but some serious gameplay flaws (camera actively working against you), whereas 4 was a much smoother playing experience, but the story felt weaker, and I didn't care about the characters as much.

On the Arcade side of things, there's Aces of the Galaxy, Sonic CD, Comix Zone, Braid, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game. I've played Scott Pilgrim more than the others combined, so it wins in a landslide. I usually struggle with older Sonic games, I'm bad at puzzles (which makes Braid a real struggle), and Aces of the Galaxy is an OK rail shooter flight game, but you know, my N64 is right there, I can just play Starfox 64 again instead. None of them are bad games, but none of them have given me as much enjoyment as Scott Pilgrim.

Favorite game of the year, though, is easy: Tales of Vesperia. Most JRPGs I've played are successfully at getting me invested in the characters and the story. It's kind of the nature of those games, since they usually devote time to cut scenes for dialogue between the party, or to show the outcome of some fight that advances the plot or whatever. I don't always like all the characters (there often seems to be some young kid in the group who's kind of an annoying goober), but I get to know them, and still try to look after them, even if it's just in a proprietary, "they're mine, you don't get to kill them" way. The only potentially new thing Tales of Vesperia did there compared to other ones I've played was they didn't designate one character or pairing as the funny one. Lots of characters got busted on, or were the butt of jokes, which does help in some ways (it feels like more of a real close-knit group, where no one is off limits), but it's hardly vital.

However, Tales of Vesperia is the first RPG I've played where I didn't regard level-grinding as some horrible and tedious necessary evil. The whole Synthesis thing for items, and the fact it even included stuff that didn't help your character, but could alter their appearance, so just for kicks, meant there was another reason to run around fighting monsters. And since some of the items would give your characters new skills, that was another reason to want to make things, so it all tied together well.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It's A Little Late, But Let's Air A Grievance

I know, Festivus was last week, but heck, I never watched much Seinfeld. Kind of impressive the pop culture things one can pick up second hand.

One of the (many) choices Bendis made during his Avengers run I didn't understand was, in the post-Secret Invasion set-up where Osborn was Grand Poobah of government super-people, why Clint Barton was the outlaw Avenger who was gung-ho to kill Osborn. He even tried to attack Osborn's Avengers HQ alone to do it.

It isn't his trying to do it alone that surprises me; this is Hawkeye we're talking about. But Hawkeye places a lot of value on being an Avenger. He has historically staunchly believed Avengers do not kill. For as much as he objected to Osborn and his "fake" Avengers team, it's curious he would he decide to do something he considers against all the Avengers stand for.

What's especially strange is, practically anyone else on the roster would have made more sense as the one advocating killing Norman Osborn, based either on their own characterizations or past history with Norman. Wolverine is on this team, for pity's sake. He kills 40 guys a week, and most of them are just poor schmuck security types trying to protect whatever guy Logan is actually mad at. But OK, fine, maybe Wolverine figured it would be a bad idea for a mutant to kill a preeminent member of the government, considering there had been Sentinels surrounding the Westchester grounds even when it was the relatively benevolent dictatorial ass Tony Stark in charge.

The team also included Bucky Barnes, in his stint as the Winter Captain. Bucky's been killing guys for decades, and lest you think wielding the shield might have tempered that, recall he was packing heat throughout his stint as Captain America. I kind of doubt he would restrict use of the gun to guys who were bulletproof, like Ares. Then there's Carol Danvers, who has killed villains before when the situation called for it, and killed a LOT of Skrulls during Secret Invasion. Bendis actually had her pass up an opportunity to kill Norman, ostensibly because she was "better" than him. Let's not go into that whole argument, though. There's Mockingbird, who used to be a SHIELD agent, probably killed in the line of duty. I don't rightly know if she would have killed the Phantom Rider if he hadn't fell off that cliff, she seemed mad enough, she had cause, she sure wasn't broken up at his death (rightly so). At any rate, the idea of Clint as the one advocating murder, and Bobbi being the one trying to talk him out of it, seems like a curious reversal of the characters.

Luke Cage and Jessica Jones aren't really the killing types, but they both at least have an old grudge against Norman, considering he hospitalized Jessica once, as a reprisal for helping to report on him being the Green Goblin. Granted, Luke beat hell out of Norman and kind of blew any case Norman was making about not being the Goblin, but obviously that didn't take. Besides, I doubt Jessica ever got a chance for a little payback of her own. But fine, they're unlikely killers, especially with a kid to raise.

Which just leaves Spider-Man.

While I'm generally opposed to Spider-Man killing people, I do think it's possible someone could write a story where he decides Osborn has to be stopped permanently, that's he's the exception, and it's his responsibility. Osborn is his enemy, one he hasn't been able to check sufficiently, and now the guy gets to call himself Iron Patriot and lead an Avengers team. It would be one thing if Norman were actually being a good guy, the way Harry tried in his various attempts to rehabilitate his father's name. But he's just using it as a way to consolidate power for himself, and settle grudges. He's still a bad guy, he's just one with greater reach and a good press agent.

I don't think Bendis would be the writer to do it properly. Like I said, I don't particularly want Peter to start killing villains, even Osborn, so the creative team would have to really sell it. It's hard for me to picture what scheme or actions Norman could take that would bring it to that point. But given the ugly history between Peter and Norman, I can at least entertain Peter getting desperate enough to see it as something he has to do. More than Hawkeye anyway, if only very narrowly.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Breaks of the Game - David Halberstam

The Breaks of the Game is generally regarded as one of the best books about pro basketball, as Halberstam followed the Portland Trail Blazers through the entire 1979-1980 season, having numerous interviews with the players, coaches, the GM, some scouts.

This was only a few seasons removed from Portland winning the championship with a healthy Bill Walton, and Halberstam charts the way things gradually shifted and fell apart for the team after. Injuries, age catching up with guys, players feeling they ought to be earning more money. As they go through the season, he also checks in on players and coaches who were key parts of the team in the past. By 1979, Walton has gotten himself traded to the San Diego Clippers, but his feet are falling apart. Lenny Wilkens was the coach of Portland before Jack Ramsay (who was the coach when they won the title), and as Portland declines, Seattle, with Wilkens as coach, rises, winning a title of their own. And then you see the same sorts of problems beginning to set in there as well.

It's impressive how expansive the book is. He covers the shift in style of play with the increasing number of African-American players (I was slightly jarred by the fact Halberstam frequently uses the term "blacks". He also used "whites", so maybe it was just a way to keep things simple, or it was terminology the players themselves used, but I was always a little uneasy about it), the rise of television as a way to expand the game, and how that both helped and hurt it. It increased the audience, and the money, but it also encouraged expansion, which diluted the talent pool, weakened the existing rivalries that make great games, increased travel, which helped wear down the players, and then people watching see players going through the motions, because they're too tired, which hurts the game's image. He looks at the formation of the players' union, how that shifted things for them, helped them to get their piece of that TV pie, something that will likely come up in the next CBA negotiation. The owners locked the players out a couple of years ago, under some bullshit claim that 22 of 30 teams were losing money. They just signed a huge new TV contract a couple of months ago, so we'll see how that goes. Halberstam mentions some of the accounting tricks teams used even back then. A player making $90,000 a year could be listed as a depreciating asset costing the team $200,000, which is something teams still do today, and is still ridiculous. That's how 22 teams can claim they're losing money.

It's a little sad how little certain things have changed. The schedule is still 82 games, which most people agree is too long if you want high-quality play every night. People in the owner's boxes are still fretting about how to get money from white folks to pay to watch mostly black players. One of the Atlanta Hawks' principal owners had to sell his stake (at a handsome profit I'm sure) because a series of e-mails were leaked that showed he was at least considering ways they might entice more white people to attend games, since apparently either enough African-American customers weren't showing up, or weren't spending enough money when they did. There are still a lot of people trying to buy in as owners because sports franchises look like a good investment. Look at racist, sexually harassing slumlord and former Clippers' owner Donald Sterling (who didn't own the team yet in 79-80). He bought it for about $13 million, and when he was forced to sell this year, it went for $2 billion. Even the Bucks, stationed in Milwaukee and rarely relevant, went for like half a billion this year. Halberstam notes a lot of the new owners just want to make a quick buck if they can (or get a nice tax deduction), but if they do stay, they assume that because they are successful in other enterprises, they are automatically experts at constructing a successful basketball team. The Blazers' owner, Larry Weinberg, actually had assembled a successful team, largely by staying out of the way of the people he hired, but even he caused problems. He refused to renegotiate contracts, believing it was important to hold to principles, but failing to recognize the discord it created amongst the players. It's a common thing in sports for teams to try and get players signed when they have all the leverage and the players have none, and the Blazers did that frequently. Sign a young guy to a cheap, non-guaranteed contract, so that if he turns out to be good, the team has a bargain, and if he's bad, they can just cut him and wash their hands of the deal.

One thing that surprised me was Halberstam noted that most of the older, now retired players at that time believed the new guys were better than they were, which is unusual. It seems like almost any time old former players are interviewed, they scoff at the current players, arguing they aren't shit compared to the guys from the old days (sportswriters, especially baseball writers, are also fond of this.) The new guys are more athletic, and take better care of themselves (in the '50s and '60s, it was common for the players to smoke, and go get hammered after games). Yet they felt these guys enjoyed the game less, because the money was so much greater. It forced the players to treat it as a business, but then a guy looks around, and notices someone on another team is half the player he is, but is making more. So he wants a new contract, or a trade to a place where he can get a new contract. But getting the contract doesn't make things better, because it increases the pressure. People look at him more, so he has to up his game even more, but if he does that, then he ought to get more cash.

It just reduces the overall enjoyment, and Halberstam does well at conveying the sense that Blazers' championship team was special, because for one year everything worked. They had a bunch of guys whose skills complimented each other, and they had a defined system where each guy knew his role and was happy enough in it. Everyone stayed healthy, everyone was reasonable happy with their contracts. And then Bill Walton's feet disintegrate, and Maurice Lucas feels like he deserves more money, because he does a lot of the heavy lifting to help Walton. Larry Steele and Jack Twardzik's bodies fall apart from too many years taking charges and diving for loose balls. The promising draft pick Mychal Thompson breaks his leg suddenly. The team shifts, the pieces don't fit as well, guys are thinking about getting their own stats to bolster their contract negotiations, or they're maybe milking an injury longer than normal to force a trade. It's a lot of different pieces of human nature that begin to clash.

The book emphasizes some of the things I've grown to like about basketball over the last half-dozen or so years. It's a sport where I don't have a particular team the way I do in baseball or football. I was a Timberwolves fan for about a decade, but eventually it became clear the front office was incompetent near the end of KG's time there, and I wasn't rooting for two hopeless franchises (though the Arizona Cardinals have since shown flashes of being good). But because basketball goes back and forth between offense and defense so often and so quickly, it's fun to watch those teams that are together. Everybody knows what they're doing, and it works. The coach knows his stuff, but is flexible enough to build something that works with who he's got. That was one thing about Jack Ramsay, I wasn't sure he could bend enough as key guys aged and got hurt, and he needed to turn to new players. Part of that was loyalty to guys who had helped him win in the past, and I can't fault that, but some of it felt rigid. He wanted them to play a certain way, but as the roster shifted, the players, though good, didn't match that style. He adjusts as needed, out of desperation, but reverts when he can.

Anyway, it's a fascinating book, and Halberstam really gets into the backgrounds of a lot of the players, the different circumstances they came from, the different philosophies they brought to how they regarded basketball, the bonds and the problems that sometimes created.

'Not everyone in the Portland organization felt as he did about loyalty. Jack Ramsay had come to Portland a year after Culp and Ramsay argued constantly with Culp that there was absolutely no loyalty in sports, that any management would inevitably let go of a once popular player the minute it thought he was fading, that it would fire a coach even more quickly and that the only change in the equation was that the new generation of players, unlike the old, understood this and now had the means and power to retaliate. Ramsay and Culp argued about this constantly, and Culp was sure that while Ramsay was generally right, there were exceptions to the rule; the Portland team, he felt, was such an exception, especially in the championship season.'

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Invisible Man 2.17 - Exposed

Plot: Well I thought the Keeper was going to find someone qualified with sufficient clearance to help Thomas Walker, aka Augustin Gaither, recover his memories, but I guess she decided she was the most qualified person. And Thomas is starting to remember things, things he doesn't entirely understand, and doesn't like. Claire finds Darien waiting outside, though his interests are mostly selfish, as in, has Thomas remembered anything about how he might extract the gland? Unbeknownst to them, Thomas is sick of the secrecy about his circumstances, and rigs a modem for his computer, which he uses to log into the S.W.R.B.'s database. Which is detected by that agency, and since Tommy used Gaither's codes, No Name knows he's still alive. He demands a meeting with the Official on neutral ground, an arcade, but the Fat Man plays it cool, and denies any knowledge of Gaither's whereabouts.

Back at the offices, the crew meets in the Official's office. Claire is adamant they not turn over Tommy, nor does she want to break his trust. The Official doesn't trust him (and considering Thomas is listening in with a device he planted in the ventilation, perhaps it is justified). Alex wants them to just turn Thomas over. It's largely moot, because that night the S.W.R.B. sends in an assault team. At least they're equipped with nonlethal weaponry. How sweet. They catch Alex trying to copy all Claire's files, but the others have escaped with Thomas. Well, Eberts is still on the loose in the building, and he makes the mistake of calling the Official to report. He doesn't get caught, but his call is traced to the Fat Man's location. It's bad, but Thomas confesses to Darien that he remembers everything, and he turns himself over to the S.W.R.B., leaving our heroes free to return to their offices. Where they find all of Claire's data was stolen, including all the stuff on the gland. The Official is willing to write off Gaither, isn't even concerned about Alex being in their clutches, but agrees Fawkes and Hobbes should go and recover the data.

They make their way in - though they didn't bother to discuss escape until they were already inside - but when they find Gaither, he says he knew they would come, and they're captured. Hobbes gets thrown in the same cell as Alex, but Darien, oh Darien is going to get his wish, the gland removed. Too bad Gaither doesn't expect him to survive the operation. But Fawkes does wake up again, as Gaither didn't remove the gland. Gradually being reintroduced to the memories of his life caused him to reflect on his actions, and he's not happy with the man he was. So he provides Darien with a key card, and tells him where to find Hobbes and Alex, though Darien releases some other guy by accident first, but he does free them eventually and the three escape. No Name barges in to find out what's going on, where's the gland, and finds that Gaither has locked them in the lab, and the whole place blows up.

Back at the office, Claire has been going through Tommy's computers, and she found his makeshift modem, not to mention hours of recording he made of their conversations, which greatly concerns Hobbes, who asks to go through them first. Claire accedes, and she and Darien discuss the aftermath of all this. Darien admits he's a little mad Gaither won't be removing the gland, because he had that moment where he thought it had been removed.

Quote of the Episode: Augustin Gaither - 'I saw myself before I lost my senses. It was just a flash, it didn't make sense. It was horrible.'

The "oh crap" count: 3 (34 overall).

Who's getting quoted this week? Edmund Burke, who said that when bad men combine, good men must associate.

Times Fawkes Goes Into Quicksilver Madness: 0 (6 overall).

Other: It was actually a little frustrating watching Darien trying to show concern for Gaither when they were hiding out. Just because it feels so phony from Darien. All through the episode, all he's been worried about is whether they can get the memories relevant to the gland, without unleashing the unscrupulous guy. It's regarding Thomas as a resource to be exploited for Darien's benefit, nothing more. That might not be what they intended, Darien was concerned about Thomas when they first met, and he didn't know the truth about him, but it's how it feels.

I really don't want to know what conversation Hobbes has been having he's worried were recorded by Gaither. Also, I don't understand what that bit was with the guy Darien accidentally released. Fawkes insisted he knew the guy, but I don't remember seeing him up to this point. So probably some in-joke.

The reveal that Gaither actually regretted his past actions, rather than simply settling back into old patterns surprised me a bit. I kind of suspected it when he turned himself over to the S.W.R.B. so willingly, because it seemed obviously a way to save everyone. But, you could argue he simply didn't want to risk getting shot if the Official tried to tough it out. I would have said he was trying to play the "selfless" Thomas to trick the Agency people, but he'd already told Darien he had recovered all his memories (though Claire and Hobbes both seemed to ignore Darien telling them that moments later), so that doesn't work.

I've mentioned in the past with the two Resurrection Man series Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning wrote that the parts where Mitch Shelly tries to recover his lost memories are my least favorite part. And that's because, while Mitch always learns he was an awful guy in the past, there's never any real suspense about if he'll go back to acting that way. Mitch is too disgusted by those actions. The same could be said for Thomas, but he has slightly different circumstances. He's been working with people who have known the truth about him all along, but have lied to him, kept him under lock and key while telling him it was for his own protection. There were enough trust issues there to potentially cause some bitterness, and Gaither reverting back to his old self, with the S.W.R.B.'s resources, was terrifying.

I found Darien's conversation with the Keep at the end intriguing. Not just the fact he was angry that the gland hadn't been removed, but his belief that there's no chance it will ever get removed. That's a little harsh, considering Claire is standing right there, but the fatalism, that he's stuck with the gland, and the idea that everyone that gets around the gland tends to die. Some of that is probably just in the moment, still dealing with Gaither helping him escape and stopping No Name, but it's a bit of a shift. Darien's never been happy with the gland, but it's always been about how it's restricting his life. Now it seems like he's recognizing that there's so much value placed on the gland, that it creates a bullseye. But because everyone wants the gland intact, Darien is relatively safe. The same can't be said of the people around him.

Edit: Crap, there were two other things I forgot to mention. One, when the Official and everyone else returns to the Agency after the raid, Eberts crawls out of a ventilation duct, and he's cosplaying as Bruce Willis in Die Hard. No shoes, down to just his sleeveless white shirt and slacks. That was funny.

The other thing was, Darien actually won a fight. While visible. When he, Hobbes, and Alex were escaping the S.W.R.B., they had to get past a checkpoint, and all 3 of them beat up a guard each. And Darien didn't even go invisible. Just straight beat the guy. It's a Christmas miracle!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What Boy Doesn't Want To Fight Aliens With His Robot Pal?

I don't buy what I'd describe as a lot of manga, but I do pick up series here and there. Unfortunately, this year most of the series I've been interested in haven't been released in print collections here, and I don't really want to get an e-reader. And Yotsuba! didn't release a new volume this year, either. The one series I have been buying  is Heroman, which I'd considered waiting to talk about until I bought the 5th and final volume. But what the hell, there's enough I want to discuss we can start now.

Heroman's a collaboration of sorts between Stan Lee, Tamon Ohta, and Bones (the latter is an animation studio, so I'm not sure how much they're involved with the manga). Lee came up with the story idea, but Ohta created the characters. So there's a boy, Joey, who lives on the West Coast with his elderly grandmother and works part-time at a diner when he isn't going to high school. Joey's a sweet kid, small, kind of shy. There's a popular girl, Lina, head cheerleader, who seems to like Joey, but her big jock brother thinks Joey is beneath them and is constantly threatening him. He even spoke so poorly of Joey around his and Lina's dad (a wealthy CEO), the old man specifically asks Joey not to associate with his daughter.

He did this at the same time Lina was trying to offer Joey a ride home at night, so kind of a serious dick.

Anyway, there's this hot new toy, a voice-controlled little robot, Heybo, which Joey very much wants, but can't afford. A friend of Will's gets one, the lets it walk into the street like a klutz and get hit with a car. Then he throws it away, proclaiming he'll get his dad to buy him another $350 toy robot. We never do see if he got another one, so maybe Nick's dad decided to teach him some fiscal responsibility. Joey picks up the toy, and gradually fixes it, and he's very happy to have the toy, which he renames Heroman. He has it with him when Lina's dad badmouths him to his face, and then an ex-employee shopkeeper with a grudge (who is possessed by some angry spirit housed within an artifact from the Warring States era that sensed a kindred spirit in the shopkeeper's grudge) attacks, and kidnaps Lina, despite Joey's attempt to step in. He feels helpless, powerless, unable to change from the weakling Will derides him for being, and fate causes a bolt of lightning to strike the toy, transforming it into a roughly 10-foot tall robot that rushes off to rescue Lina, Joey in tow.

Because of Stan Lee's involvement, I kept noticing similarities and differences to Peter Parker. Joey being an orphan (though his parents were coal miners, Wikipedia says only his dad died in a mine, his mom contracted an illness later, but so far in the manga, that's not been specified), trying to provide for an elderly relative. Of course, the main character not having parents isn't really uncommon in a lot of shonen manga. It's a nifty way to allow a young boy to go off on the sorts of wild adventures you see in those stories. There's maybe some handwaving to explain how the kid has a home, but otherwise the any parental authority figures are largely irrelevant. There isn't any of the "Aunt May needs money for her medical bills" drama. Joey's grandma gets barely any dialogue, hardly even shows up, really, and they seem to have a decent enough home, however it's being paid for (Joey's income, plus pensions from his parents, maybe?).

Joey doesn't really have any doubts about using Heroman to help people. There's no moment where he contemplates using his giant robot buddy to make money in construction. In fact, in volume 4, after they've successfully stopped an alien invasion, Joey's using Heroman to help speed up repairing the city in secret, at night. Joey's biggest internal issues are whether he can be of any use at all, or if Heroman's doing all the work. So he has the "gotta get stronger and more confident" arc common in a lot of manga, but there's no question of him using that selfishly. Even though Will continues to pick on him at times - as much out of jealousy as anything - Joey never considers fighting him or anything like that.

He also doesn't make any attempt to hide the fact he has a giant robot from his friends. All of them, including Lina and Will, know by the end of volume 1. There's not any secret identity hijinks. The one time he tries to help fight a menace during the day, his attempt to stay out of sight fails miserably and he's caught on camera (the fight was actually a trap engineered by the U.S. government, which wants to know what exactly was able to defeat the aliens they were powerless against). Heck, at one point, Joey brings out Heroman to help the cheer squad get to a competition when a rival school slashed the tires on their bus. It isn't that he doesn't consider whether it's a good idea to let all these fellow students know, he just feels like they've worked so hard, it would be wrong not to help them.

Joey might have a little bit of a compulsion there. I'm sure he's trying to help people in part so he doesn't lose anyone else, and it's become so automatic now that he doesn't take time to think about the possible consequences for him. Though thus far, the series has avoided any stories about villains striking at his friends to try and get to him. Cy and Professor Denton get into trouble from trying to help him, Will's pride gets him in trouble, and Lina ends up in danger because of her father a couple of times, but no one is getting abducted to lure out Heroman. Problems arise, and Joey tries to deal with them. It's definitely a situation where trying to help others does not make life bad for you. Joey's friends support him, people who weren't sure about him end up trusting him and wanting to help, it doesn't hurt his social life or ability to make a living. Even the government, which is initially unsure is won over and want to work cooperatively with him, rather than trying to force him under their thumb.

It isn't a ground-breaking series, but it is a pleasantly positive one. I think the art would benefit from larger panels sometimes. Once you add in dialogue and sound effects, things get a little cramped, especially in fights scenes that involve a big robot and some equally large opponent. It gets a little difficult to tell what's happening, especially if Heroman's got a bunch of energy surging off him, it's another detail that clutters things up. But on the whole, it works well enough.

Friday, December 26, 2014

In Case You Haven't Heard About Norm Breyfogle Yet

I did want to take a minute to post the link to the fundraiser for Norm Breyfogle. My guess is if you read this blog for the comic related stuff, you already knew he'd suffered a stroke, and while he's recovering, he now has a huge hospital bill. So if you can spare a little cash to help with that, there's the link.

Apparently the stroke affected his left side, and he's left-handed. Hopefully that can be dealt with through physical therapy. My grandfather had a stroke, and I know he was able to get back some use of that half of his body, able to drive and walk at least, pick things up, things like that. Drawing is more of a fine motor skill thing, so I don't know how different that's going to be. That's one of the things that's scares me, that at some point my body's going to break in some way and I won't be able to do things I enjoy any longer. And it could just happen out of the blue. Hopefully Norm Breyfogle's going to make a full recovery with time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Are These Solicits The Equivalent Of Coal?

It's the holiday season, so let's look at solicitations that came out this month! For books that won't be here until March! Delayed gratification is the sweetest gift of all! Or is it the cruelest? Whichever.

Speaking of cruel, DC is going to cancel a whole bunch of series almost none of us were reading. I mean, I was reading Klarion, but apparently I was the only one, and I know Sally was reading Red Lanterns, but maybe they'll start that one up again after this Convergence stuff. Anyway, DC is ending 13 series in all, and most of them aren't any surprise, because it's the ones that weren't selling. Credit to them for trying two Aquaman series, I guess. That was definitely a surprise, even if the fact it didn't last wasn't.

As for Marvel, March is surprisingly a month without a linewide crossover event. I wasn't sure Marvel still did that any more. They're still doing the Black Vortex thing among the cosmic books, and Hickman might almost, finally, be ready for time to run out, whatever that's going to lead to. A bunch of crap I'm going to ignore, more than likely. In the world of comics I'm actually buying, Scott Lang's going to fight Taskmaster, while Squirrel Girl's going to space to fight Galactus.

Look, you have to understand your level as a hero. Some people are meant to fight assassins-for-hire, and some people are meant to defend the world from fundamental cosmic forces. No shame in not being able to keep up with Squirrel Girl.

I have no idea who that is on the Daredevil cover. Looks like Boomerang, except a lady. Fred's been messing around with Chameleon's shape shifting serum a little too much. That stuff's a hell of a drug.

Oh, let's not ignore Marvel expects to start up a new Hawkeye series, which implies the current one will have finished by March. Sure it will. I won't be picking up the new one. I'm not interested in an investigation of Clint's past. If I'm going to buy anything Lemire's writing in March, it'll be that new series from Image he and Dustin Nguyen are doing, Descender. I don't know, the little kid android could be annoying, but I'm hopeful it'll be a big, weird universe, and Nguyen will make it look good.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Hot Country - Robert Olen Butler

The first in a different series of historically-themed novels from The Yard Dog, The Hot Country follows newspaper reporter Christopher Marlowe Cobb - or Kit - as he follows a trail of intrigue during the Mexican Revolution. Cobb's in Vera Cruz, reporting on the recent landing of American troops there. A German freighter, loaded with guns that are presumably for Huerta, sits offshore, watched carefully by the Americans. In the dead of night, someone disembarks from the ship and goes inside the German consulate, Cobb having learned of this from a young boy he's hired to keep an eye on the ship. Cobb himself has been somewhat distracted by both a young sniper named Luisa Morales - who hates priests, the government, and Americans - and by a member of a German band who seems to know Cobb. Before long, the band member is dead, Luisa has vanished, and the fellow off the boat is catching a train north, towards Pancho Villa, with Cobb dogging his trail under a couple of assumed identities.

I'm not sure the book really knows what it's trying to be. There's a lot about Cobb trying to balance who he is, and what that means about how far he should go, and what he's trying to accomplish. But his mother was a great stage actress, and he was in many ways raised by actors, so Butler plays up the idea of Cobb trying to play roles all the time. Even when he isn't under a false identity, he behaves as though, Christopher Cobb, reporter, is a role he's playing.

There's also a subplot about his mother adapting to changing circumstances in her life, which I think is meant to dovetail with Luisa's arc, or be some illumination about how Cobb sees women, and how he needs to see them (not as things that need saving or protecting, but as people making their own choices about how to adapt, and when to fight their battles). Luisa went north to join Villa's army because she wants to fight, and he's the rebel leader she most respects. But while women accompany his army, they aren't allowed to fight. They cook, they launder, they give their bodies to the men, or just to Villa. Cobb describes it as Villa raping Luisa, but she never says that outright, though the implication is strong enough I think it's accurate. Certainly it isn't why she came there. But she also rejects Cobb's offer to help her kill Villa in revenge, which seems to be because she truly believes Villa is the best hope for her country, and even if she hates what happened to her, she accepts what happened to her as some evil that has to be tolerated, at least for the time being. It's hard to say; we're never privy to her internal monologue, and Cobb freely admits he doesn't understand her that well.

I was more interested in the goings-on in Vera Cruz, dealing with the sort of background violence of a revolution, the effects of having a foreign occupying force there. Since Cobb is an American, he's seen as part of that occupying force, but the American military would not necessarily agree. General Funston (who I recall from Honor in the Dust, the book I read last year about the Philippine occupation) is in charge, and makes it clear the military is going to start looking more closely at the stories the reporters are filing, to make certain they fit the spin the U.S. wants to put on things. That felt positioned at one scale, and then Cobb is mixed up in international intrigue, trying to play a German national when he doesn't speak German, uncovering secret alliances, getting into gun battles and sword fights, and the scale shifted. It didn't work as well.

Also, whenever there's a fight scene, Butler shifts to Hemingway-style run-on sentences for the duration. It's supposed to feel like everything is happening too fast, and thoughts and action are all blurring together, with no time to separate the two. It comes off as indulgent and kind of irritating, though. I think there are ways to describe a fight scene as being like that, but which read better.

'"Coffee," I said. "Mexican coffee. High-mountain, shade-grown, cheap-and-getting-cheaper coffee. Wonderful beans. Did you smell the coffee in the warehouses of Esperanza? Great bouquet. Half those beans will end up in Canadian cups. It's cold and it's dark in Canada. We need to get our blood going and we do it with Mexican coffee, which I export to great profit for the everlasting benefit of my countrymen."

I had no idea where all that came from. Unpremeditated. Improvised. To be honest, actors - who were, collectively, my aunts and uncles, my older sisters and brothers, my trainers and my professors, my fathers - through all my formative years - actors, I say - including the actor I myself often am - sometimes scare the hell out of me.

Monday, December 22, 2014

I Don't Understand My Sense Of Humor

Comedy Central was showing some South Park episodes over the weekend, and "Free Willzyx" came on. The one where two employees of the sea park play a prank convincing the boys the killer whale is actually an alien from the Moon, who desperately needs to get back home. The boys do that, with the help of the Mexican Space Program.

The episode ends with the boys reflecting on how, whenever they look up at the Moon from now on, they'll think of Willzyx dancing in his castle with his family. Then the show cuts to an image of the whale on the moon's surface, where it is dead, naturally. They roll the credits over that silent image.

I crack up at that every time. I was actually wondering whether I would this time, since I haven't seen the episode in a few years. So many things I used to find funny, or cool for that matter, I see differently now. I don't generally find violence to animals funny, be they real animals or cartoons. I don't watch nature shows and laugh when the Komodo Dragon bites a deer, and the deer gradually dies because of the cesspool the dragon's mouth is. I recognize it's part of life, animals dying to sustain other animals, but recognizing biological necessity isn't the same as comedy. I don't even try to watch that Futurama episode about Fry's dog, because it depresses the hell out of me (yes, I know that fate was averted by time travel shenanigans). But the whale dead on the moon is hilarious to me.

I thought it could be the boys' belief that they'd done a good thing, and then the confirmation that no, they'd killed it. I mean, aliens exist in the South Park universe. It wouldn't have been totally out of left field to learn the whale was in fact an alien (other than the point there'd been no indication of that up until then). But the episode makes certain to dash any hope of that by demonstrating that it was a whale, and whales can not survive on an airless, waterless world. The sea park may have been a crappy existence for the whale, but it was still alive. But, to bring up the Futurama comparison, Fry believed Seymour had already lived a full life when he opted against having him cloned, and then we see the dog actually spent the rest of its life sitting patiently in front of the pizza place, waiting for Fry to return.

Plus there's the fact I don't start laughing until they show the whale, so maybe it's just the bizarre combination of images. A whale, on the moon, Earth in the background. It doesn't make any sense for a whale to be there, but it makes perfect sense that if a whale were there, it wouldn't be alive. Maybe I'm just a cynical ass that enjoyed them making fun of heart-warming children's movies.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Invisible Man 2.16 - Sense of Community

Plot: Fawkes and Hobbes are in hot pursuit of some guys in a car, but like Buford T. Justice, their pursuit ain't so hot. Despite Hobbes having souped up Golda with surreptitiously diverted funds just two episodes ago, the van is back to being a broken-down piece of crap. As it turns out, the Agency is in dire need of funds (even with the money they're supposed to be getting from Alex' connections?), but Eberts has stumbled upon an Agency of Sequestered Seclusion, which is swimming in cash, though they can't determine what it's for, who it answers to, or anything like that. And the money seems to be getting paid out to a bunch of dead intelligence operatives. Except for Paul Grant, he's not dead. But when Fawkes and Hobbes pay a visit, he's ready to leave, and here come three more guys, including one dude who looks like Bald Bull from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, and they gut-shoot Paul, Fawkes, and Hobbes.

Fortunately, it's with tranquilizers, and now Fawkes and Hobbes are in the Community, a secret place for operatives who had their cover blown. They fake their deaths and move there to live out their days, safe from all their enemies. Except Fawkes and Hobbes didn't get their cover blown, but they're stuck there all the same, under the watchful eyes of camera-toting helicopters, fenced in with motion detectors and particle beam weapons. Of course, the unseens people in charge don't know about Darien's Quicksilver Madness issue, so there's a bit of a time limit on their escape. Especially since the Official has no idea what's happened to them, and has no money to pay for other agents to find them, and all of Claire's equipment is being repossessed, because it was all rented, so she can't even say when he got his last shot.

Hobbes and Darien aren't having much luck finding a way out, though Hobbes does find his old partner, Jack Carelli, and makes friends with a nice lady spy named Elaine, who apparently was a master of all those seduction and deception techniques Alex is supposed to be so well-versed in. Which means Bobby has a hard time trusting her motives as genuine when she shows up on his doorstep (the people in charge have already moved all of Bobby and Darien's stuff into bungalows) with champagne. He almost gets over his paranoia, but remembers Darien needs to get out of there, and rejects love for friendship.Then he nearly gets blown up because someone tampered with his gas line (though the explosion strangely doesn't damage Darien's place, which shares a wall with Hobbes'). As Paul points out, everyone here has a nice, safe life, which Darien and Bobby's attempts to escape endanger. So everyone could be out to kill them, including him. As it turns out, it's Carelli who's behind it, and not even because they're trying to escape. It's because it was Bobby's fault Carelli got burned. Hobbes blabbed to his shrink, who was a double-agent. Oops.

Anyway, Hobbes beats Korelli, Darien risks going invisible to bring down one of the helicopters, because he noticed they can pass safely through the particle beams, and they use it to reach a maintenance hatch and get out. Back at the Agency we learn the Official brokered a deal where the Agency of Sequestered Seclusion will give them enough hush money to keep the lights on, though he doesn't realize their office is now littered with monitoring devices, and Bald Bull is just waiting for them to let the secret slip and throw them in the hole.

Quote of the Episode: Elaine Lowe - 'You know how government contractors are: They're always cutting corners.'

The "oh crap" count: 1 (31 overall).

Who's getting quoted this week? Pretty dull week. Carelli used the "rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated" line, Darien used 'we're not in Kansas'. But there was Sophocles, who said there was nothing more demoralizing than money.

Times Fawkes Goes Into Quicksilver Madness: 0 (6 overall). Surprisingly, they made it out in time. I was a little disappointed. I wanted to see Crazy Invisible Fawkes wreaking havoc among the spies.

Other: The way they're playing up the money woes the last couple of weeks, this has to be a deliberate plot point. Chrysalis exerting lobbying pressure to weaken their only potential foe. Or maybe it'll turn out to be the side effect of Darien's father refusing to kill that Congressman. His legislation to reduce spending on security agencies is hitting the little ones - who have the narrowest budget margins to begin with - hardest. That'd be amusing, in a no good deed goes unpunished sense. Save a politician's life, he slashes your funding.

But it's getting a little ridiculous if we're to the point the Agency can not afford any agents other then Bobby and Darien (and Alex, who basically brings her paycheck with her). The Official had to send Eberts to try and track down Hobbes and Fawkes, fer pete's sake. He'd have been better off sending Claire. At least we know she knows how to shoot. Not that it mattered, Darien and Bobby made it out on their own.

Oh cripes, when Elaine paid Bobby a visit, they started up with the saxophone music again. Agh, noooo. I suppose it's too bad for Bobby he's spent so much time around Alex. She so seems to enjoy using the seduction and deception stuff on him strictly to amuse herself, that now he's paranoid when another practitioner of the arts approaches him with what appeared to be genuine interest. As she explained, all the other guys in the Community are either 100, or macho jerks. Though Bobby can be a bit of a macho jerk, but I guess it's more harmless bluster, and he doesn't bring it out unless he feels threatened.

It was nice to see him turn her down because he felt he needed to focus on escaping, for Darien's sake, even if it didn't feel entirely necessary. He'd clearly settled in for the night, was down to his undershirt and all, so he wasn't planning an escape right then. I think Fawkes might have understood. And while Bobby didn't outright say he had a special lady back on the outside, he didn't say he didn't. So he has given up hope on he and Claire. I really find that kind of sweet, even if I wish he would just take the plunge and be honest with her about his feelings. She clearly knows, but she's, I don't know, too locked down herself to make the first move. Either that or she's respecting his "No fishing off the company pier" rule, even though I'm pretty sure that's not ironclad.

Can't get over how much that guy from the Agency of Sequestered Seclusion looks like Bald Bull. Now we need Hobbes running in a pink sweatsuit while the Official bikes along next to him, telling him to get a subscription to Nintendo Power if he wants to know how to win (which is a pretty shitty thing for your trainer to tell you, really).

I'm not sure what I think of the reveal that Bobby's responsible for ruining Carelli's career. It makes a certain amount of sense, that countries would insert agents as therapists to get secrets. And it fits Bobby's tendency to sabotage himself with his various hang-ups. But he was so happy to see Jack still alive, and it seems clear he felt the loss of Jack keenly. Partners are important to Bobby, probably because he feels like if he sticks by them, then he has someone who will stick by him, in spite of his issues. The idea that Bobby ruined someone else's career, and not just his own, it feels like a low blow, a refutation of one of Hobbes' most important principles. But I guess it was needed as an excuse for Carelli to try and kill him, though they could always have chosen one of the other spies to do that, or had Carellia be mistaken about who was to blame.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

To The Maginot Line - Judith M. Hughes

Ha, and you probably thought you'd make it to the end of the year without any more history books concerning the Europe in the first half of the 20th Century. Silly audience.

The Maginot Line is perhaps the most famous futile defensive military structure in history, as the French built this massive stretch of fortifications along their border with Germany, only to see them thwarted when the Germans unleashed the brilliant strategy of. . . going around it. Hughes' work is an attempt to explain why France went that route, and how a series of decisions and circumstances gradually boxed them in, until this was the only decision they seemed to have left.

A lot of it boils down to demographics, that France was at a severe numerical deficit after World War 1, and was painfully aware of it. They came out of the war with a smaller population than they went into it with, and Germany (which already had more people) did not. And the biggest hit was to the French citizens who would have produced the next generation of soldiers, so they problem was only going to increase. Combined with France's inferiority to Germany in industrial capacity (even if Germany was prohibited from utilizing this capacity for war), and France felt very threatened, but also didn't really want to fight again if it could be avoided. So they want to keep Germany weak militarily, but try to do so in ways that don't make them seem to be the aggressor, because they don't want to lose Britain's support. They try to form alliances with the new countries on Germany's eastern border, but not the sort of alliances that would force them to fight if Germany invades those countries. They start out trying to keep the Rhineland demilitarized, and establish outposts there, with the idea that in that way they can keep any fighting in Germany, and spare France a repeat of the past war.

It becomes a series of steps back and compromises that steadily weaken their position, which they are aware of, and that forces them into an ever more defensive posture, which makes them feel weaker, and so on. The number of troops they station near the Rhineland keeps reducing, as does the term of service, in part because they can't foot the bill to maintain a larger army. They pay officers so poorly that several of them won't accept appointments to their military colleges, because they can't afford to live in Paris and attend. Which hurts the readiness of the army, which causes France to feel that much less confident about their ability to resist Germany. They gradually stop thinking about responding to German aggression by advancing into Germany and fighting there, and more about building defenses to supplement their manpower. Even in the early going, the defenseworks were meant to support the army, to increase its maneuverability, but the weaker France's army got, the less that became an issue.

And so, if the military couldn't protect the country, maybe concrete would. You could say they ignored the fact Germany might well attack through Belgium, as they did last time, but Hughes points out the French knew this very well. But the Belgians were not eager to tightly ally with France, especially when the end result seemed to be France and Germany fighting a big war within Belgium's borders. At the same time, France didn't want to simply build a bunch of defenses on their border with Belgium, because that wouldn't really encourage an alliance, to wall the ally off outside with the enemy (also, the part of France apparently doesn't have the sort of topography that encourages defenses). So they were going to concentrate the military there, but still wanted to feel secure along their common border with Germany.

Hughes makes a lot of good points, thought she basically stops once you get to the 1930s. Strangely though, the way almost everything ties together so neatly felt off. It was almost too obvious and smooth a path to where things wound up. I would have expected more fits and starts, the French heading in one direction, then changing mid-stream and going a different way in some half-assed manner. But the way Hughes presents it, it's a steady but gradual thing where France keeps making these decisions and one decision - reducing service from 2 years, to 18 months, to eventually 1 year - undermines the size of the force they have ready at any given time, which makes them concerned about whether they can afford to let the standing army go on the offensive, because they have to buy time to mobilize everyone else, and so they start trying to counteract that with structures to slow the enemy, tacitly admitting they've abandoned the idea of taking the fight onto German soil. It feels very logical, but I guess I'm not used to governments proceeding logically over a period of several years. Especially one that was turning over the people in charge as frequently as the Third Republic (even if it was really just recycling the same guys over and over again).

'In coming to depend upon such works France would tacitly relinquish its option to reoccupy German soil and would simultaneously abandon its interests in eastern Europe. And in thus implicitly renouncing the one substantial provision of the Locarno agreements, the French would feel a still greater need to buy time, in this case, in order to avoid a war they could not win.'

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cathartic Video Game Levels #6

I probably ought to re-title these "Favorite Game Levels", because this one, at least, isn't really about catharsis. It's just fun.

I've been replaying Starfox 64 for the first time in a decade. Had to buy a new copy, seeing as Alex lost mine after I loaned it to him all those years ago (also Goldeneye, Mario Kart, and Resident Evil 2, which is why I don't loan things to Alex any longer). Not really back to my old level of skill yet, though I'm a heck of a lot better than whoever owned it before me. Already beat your high score by over 300 kills, WLT!

There are a lot of levels I like: The warp in Sector X, the two battles with Star Wolf, to Area 6, which is level to go for 300 kills on. But if we're talking favorite levels, it's Katina all the way.

Katina's one of the possible third levels, which you can get to through either Sector Y, or if you can manage the warp, Meteo. That warp gives me a lot of trouble, so I usually go through Sector Y. Katina is one of the arena (or all-range mode) levels, as opposed to the more rail-shooter levels (like Sector Y and Meteo). One of the Cornerian military's bases (a square-topped pyramid) is under attack, and it just so happens to be under the command of an old friend of Fox', Bill (who appears to be a mouse or some other rodent).

It's a big mess of Fox, his team, Bill and his guys, and all of Andross' fighter craft. There's no "no friendly fire" option, so you can accidentally shoot down any of your allies. Takes a little more work with Bill or your wingmen, but it's a long fight, so it is possible. Still, the numbers aren't overwhelming, so the early stage of the level is a good chance to get into the flow, learn to distinguish the different ship outlines. Other than the base - which sits in the center - the level is a flat, featureless plain. So there's no worries about hitting any obstructions (which is a bit of a concern in the two Star Wolf battles).

After a couple of minutes, a huge, disc-shaped mothership settles over the base, and unleashes waves of fighters from 4 hatches on its underside. You can shoot the hatches when they're down and destroy them, limiting the enemies you have to contend with. But once you shoot all 4, the needle-like core of the mothership extends from below, and you have one minute to shoot it until it explodes, or else it destroys the base.

So yeah, it's basically the end of Independence Day, minus Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith defeating the aliens with laptops and cigars. But it's the level that most purely captures what I love about the game. Starfox 64 is a flight combat game, and that's all this level is. No branching paths, no enemies that always attack at a specific point as I progress through the level, no mouthy boss enemy. All the enemies are the same basic fighter design, nothing clever to do to beat them, I just have to get them in the sights long enough to blast them a couple of times.

It's a wild scrum with a hundred other enemies out there, and things will never go entirely the same each time. The last time I was playing, I was cruising, shooting down tons of enemies but mostly avoiding hitting any allies, and then, as I was turning to chase a foe, someone else crashed into me. Couldn't tell if it was friend or foe, but it didn't matter. A minute later, it happened again, and I was missing a wing. Before I could react to that, someone crashed into me from the other side, and I was missing both wings. I went from the Hyper Laser back to the single laser, and now it was more of question whether I could destroy the core in time.

And I wanted to destroy that core. Not just to accomplish the mission of protecting the base, and not just because Bill will lend a hand in Sector X if I do. Bill is Fox' friend, and I like Fox. Trying to take on his father's mantle, protect this system from Andross with his dad's old friend, an idiot toad, and a falcon who constantly undercuts and disrespects him. I don't know what Fox and Bill got up to, but you can tell they're close, and that Bill has absolute confidence that Fox will come through. Even when I accidentally shoot him, he just jokingly says, 'Try shooting the bad guys, Fox.' There's no heat to it, he trusts me. It's a little thing, but it works, it makes me not want to let down this friend of Fox.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Forget Crime, Business Is Where The Real Dirty Money Is

One more movie from the time at my dad's, Larceny, Inc. Edward G. Robinson as "Pressure" Maxwell, a small-time crook who talks big. He's fresh out of prison, and looking to rob a bank before an associate of his, Leo Dexter (Anthony Quinn), gets out. Pressure decides the best bet is to buy a leather goods store next to the bank, and go in the through the basement floor.

As it turns out, this is more complicated than he thinks. His two henchmen are no great shakes. Jug Martin (Broderick Crawford) is adamant they should just use dynamite and blow the wall. Considering how incompetent he is with a pick and shovel, the idea of that guy handling explosives is terrifying. The other, Weepy actually finds being a salesman rather enjoyable. The other shopkeepers on the block are worried the roadwork is killing their businesses. Also, they keep trying to include him in their get-togethers and sense of community. His niece (played by Jane Wyman) is disappointed he's not actually going straight, and is hellbent on making his store a success, whether he wants it to be or not. To that end, she ropes in a salesman for a leather goods making company to keep business booming (a scheme he's only to eager to take part in, since he's trying to woo her).

It's not a laugh out loud movie, but it's good for some chuckles, and watching Pressure gradually start to realize the earning potential of legitimate business is kind of clever, especially since he almost immediately starts thinking big in that direction. His shift in attitude towards the other businesspeople in the neighborhood feels less earned, but even there, the film expends a not inconsiderable amount of time showing the other businesses trying to involve him and befriend him. So we do at least see these people show genuine appreciation for Pressure's assistance, even if he wasn't actually trying to help them. It may just be that Pressure has never really felt looked up to. His niece worries about him, but is as exasperated by him as anything. His goons listen to him, but there's a lot of backtalk, he doesn't really respect them, and well, they are basically morons. Leo doesn't like him, is definitely sick of Pressure's attempts to be a silver-tongued devil. So the very real admiration of these small business owners may have been a new, welcome experience for him. It amuses me to think Pressure will probably be a more successful crook as a businessman than he ever was robbing banks, but I doubt a film would have been permitted to go that route back then.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Yard Dog - Sheldon Russell

Haven't done a book review in a couple of months, but you know how visits to my dad's lead to reading. So let's see if I can squeeze a few more books in before the end of the year.

The Yard Dog is Russell's first book starring railroad detective (or "yard dog", less favorably) Walter "Hook" Runyon. Hook lost an arm in a car wreck, then spent time wandering the country after his wife divorced him, and eventually became a yard dog. He's currently set up shop in Oklahoma, near the town of Alva, and a local fellow named Spark Duggan is found under the wheels of a reefer car. Everyone else is perfectly happy to write it off as Spark - who was a little simple-minded even before you factor in his love of the 'shine - falling asleep on the rails. But Hook isn't sure, and some people beat him up while he snooped around Spark's shack, and there is a German prisoner of war camp nearby.

Oh yeah, the books are set during World War 2. That's apparently a theme of the series, Hook moving from one rail yard to another, and coming into contact with different aspects of the war. The possible downside to this approach would seem to be it would cause a near total overhaul of Hook's supporting cast after every book.

Which is surprising, because Russell spends a lot of time building the cast in this book, from a love interest who is working on reeducating the prisoners, to his sidekick (who is also his 'shine hookup), to some of the railroad personnel. There seem to be a lot if disparate threads in the book, so much so that at times Spark's murder almost gets lost in the shuffle. I started to wonder if Russell was even going to explain it, or if was going to end up solving some other crime entirely, but finding no answer for Spark. Kind of doubted my dad would recommend a series that took that approach, but you can't rule it out.

They do all come together eventually, even if it doesn't feel entirely satisfactory.  Hook's relationship with Reina moved really fast, but beyond that, something about the solution to the mystery bugged me. Maybe it felt too big, like Russell felt he had to do something with the setting, but it didn't feel quite natural. Trying too hard, basically. Also, his dialogue is really stilted with most of the characters other than Hook. It tends to be too formal for certain characters.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Almost Bigamist And Child Abductor Is The Good Guy

I wouldn't have expected to see Gary Cooper in a romantic comedy. The few Westerns with him I've seen, he never seemed to have much chemistry with his female co-stars. He always seemed stiff too me. Which I don't think vanished when I watched Casanova Brown, but maybe it works it uses that to its advantage.

Cooper is a literature professor, all set to marry Madge Ferris in the small town of Rossmere, IL, despite his future father-in-law (Frank Morgan playing a loudmouth curmudgeon) advising him against marriage. The day of the rehearsal, Brown receives a letter from a maternity hospital in Chicago, requesting he come quickly, though the letter doesn't explain why. Brown reveals that a year or so earlier, when he traveled to New York to research a book he was writing on his ancestor, the famous Casanova. While there, he met Isabel (Teresa Wright), and they fell in love and got married.

Then he met her family, and her mother, in addition to hating smokers and liars (and especially people who lie about about smoking), believes in astrology. Going by when they were married, and when he was born, she proclaims the marriage catastrophic. Brown tries to remain polite, but finally loses his temper and unloads his feelings on astrological hokum. His point is somewhat undercut when the cigarette he tried to snuff out in his handkerchief lights it on fire. Then it lights his coat on fire, which lights the couch on fire. Meanwhile, the cigarette had been thrown in the trash can, and has started a fire there. Rather than letting it burn itself out, the idiots tell their butler to try and take the can outside, and he trips, starting a fire in their library. And the whole house burns down.

The marriage is annulled shortly thereafter.

Cass can't figure why he would need to go to Chicago, given all that took place in New York, but he goes, and learns Isabel had a girl, and she's planning to put the baby up for adoption. Cass, naturally, throws on some scrubs and steals the baby, setting up shop in a hotel room, where a maid and the doorman help him care for the baby. Meanwhile, Madge is trying to figure out what's going on, we learn Isabel never intended to give the baby up, but was only using the hospital as a way to get Cass there, Cass is convinced he has no parental rights and tries to convince the maid to marry him so he doesn't lose the child.

I recognize this is set in the 1940s, and that even today, courts tend to side with the mother when it comes to custody. But surely, if one parent wants to care for the child, while the other doesn't, that would be allowed, barring some definitive proof they were unfit? Admittedly, Cass is now guilty of kidnapping (his kid or not, I'm pretty sure you can't just yoink a kid from a hospital nursery). That aside, he seems a diligent, if somewhat overprotective, dutifully employed parent. It seems odd that the courts would actually say, "nope, go ahead and adopt the kid out". But the courts are a mess, and even if they wouldn't, I guess there's no reason Cass would know that.

The romantic aspects of the movie don't really work. We don't see Cass interact enough with Madge or Isabel to feel a real connection between either pairing. Cass/Isabel gets more time, but they spend a lot of it arguing, and given Cass' experiences at the maternity hospital (he gets the runaround from a bunch of nurses, then a bunch of procedures, and no one will explain what any of it is for until it's over), which he's put through because of her, it's hard for me to like her much. I don't think Cooper has great comic timing or anything, but I think he does alright playing a guy who's kind of befuddled by people. He takes the stiffness I see in him, and makes it into a sort of awkwardness, the well-meaning fool.

It's not a great movie, but it was worthwhile for me to see Cooper in a different role.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Calendar Turns Over Again

Don't be confused, we're operating on the Blog Calendar here. In case you were curious, Blog Calendar declares the Apocalypse will occur on the date of the 1st of Calvin Buys An Event Comic Written By Bendis, so set your schedules accordingly. It's the end of Year 9 at Reporting on Marvels and Legends. Just one more year to a solid decade. Crazy.

Let's see, what went on here this year? I decided not to wait for UnCalvin to show up after April Fools' Day, so we crashed her offices, with moderately hilarious results. Deadpool didn't invite Clever Adolescent Panda to his wedding, and they weren't able to keep me from being tormented by birders. UnCalvin built a really lame giant robot. A bear gave me my hand rake in exchange for a handkerchief. We found a cookie making factory in a tree that fed off happiness, and Deadpool shot me in the foot. That hurt.

I read far too many books about World War 2. Read several detective stories, watched a few good movies, and plenty of bad ones. I played a half-dozen games this year, none of those were bad, though in several of them, I found myself frustrated by the parts of the game I didn't like that I had to do to reach the parts I did like. Tales of Vesperia was very good, though. I made roughly 5 times as many jokes or snide comments about Hawkeye's release schedule as issues of the book actually shipped, but was surprised to realize Dan Slott had become my least favorite/most frustrating writer at Marvel these days.

I wrapped up the Burn Notice reviews, and started in on The Invisible Man. I expect that to continue for another couple of months (there are about 8 episodes left), but I don't know what I'll watch next. I actually got off the stick and did the posts about my Favorite Characters. I enjoyed that, except for the part where it was exhausting. I still plan to touch on the characters I'd consider putting in instead, but I don't know when I'll muster the drive for it.

Looking ahead to Year 10, I don't have any overarching plan. The usual mostly, review this, rant that, hopefully some more stories. Besides the Addendum to the Favorite Characters, I have a couple of ideas. Scans Daily has been doing this "31 Days of Scans" thing, with a different category for each day. I might adopt that, not as something I'd do for a whole month, but just pull one out when I need something to post on for a given day. Also, I've been thinking about reviving that "Build Your Own League of Extraordinary Gentleman" idea from the summer of '06 I stumbled across at Bully's/ I've been meaning to do versions for all my different video game consoles, but I never get around to it. Perhaps this year I'll manage a couple.

I'm also thinking I need to go back and start adding creator name labels to more posts. I have a few, but not nearly as many as I probably ought to. I might also need to work on some of the character names. Like I have Carol Danvers' posts under "Captain Marvel", "Ms. Marvel", and "warbird". And now there's Kamala Khan to consider. Probably ought to simply that and just use "Carol Danvers". It's funny, I always used to wonder how much longer the blog would continue. I still know it'll happen someday, but at this point, it's difficult to picture. I can see the posting rate slowing, but I can't figure I'll ever completely run out of things to talk about here.

I sure hope not, anyway.

I'm going to include some links to posts from the last year that I like for one reason or the other at the bottom of the page. I haven't done this in a long time, but what the heck. These are posts that mostly wouldn't fall into some of the broader labels the stuff I mentioned above would (books, movies, diversions, video games). So before I get to that, let's wrap up any formal chat with me thanking you, the audience, for taking some time out of your day to read this blog and comment, if you do. I'd still post otherwise, but it's nice to know someone notices, so thank you.

I know it's just a few days old, but I like the idea: Ghostbusters meet the MiB
Carol's cat isn't a cat: I had some questions about it
It had been 7 years, so why not: The Soundtrack Of My Film Life!
Marvel won't do a Black Widow movie: Not sure why they hate money
Sometimes I talk about sports: I still contend a horse is a better manager than Mike Matheny
Dan Slott's done a lot things recently I don't enjoy: I'll limit myself to the Felicia post
I like Wolverine, generally speaking, but man: His place in the Marvel U. was a problem
This wound up being totally wrong, but heck: I still think it was a good theory
I hope to be there again this spring: The Annual Cape Con Recap!
With a year's worth of issues, I can conclude DC is making Harley like Deadpool: In January I talked a little about how I thought they were different kinds of crazy
50 Things I Love About Comics: 'Nuff Said
I did a couple of posts on Longshot after his mini-series ended: One on if luck powers tend to be assigned to women and one on the weight Longshot bears
The people in charge of the Baseball Hall of Fame are morons: That is all

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Invisible Man 2.15 - Three Phases of Claire

Plot: Claire has been working with Thomas/Augustin to recreate a drug Augustin had been making back in the day. At the moment of success, the Official immediately swoops in and takes it, so he can sell it to the CIA for some money to pay the Agency's skyrocketing electric bills. Claire only learns of this because Darien noticed she was down when he came for a shot, and went snooping.  As it turns out, Beta-C is supposed to make people want to talk when asked a question, and the CIA have a traitor they've been interrogating for a long time (years?), but haven't gotten anything out of him yet. Claire is understandably concerned there's been no human testing, but says if she is allowed to adminster the drug, she'll go along.

The ends up being a mistake, because Stanhope pretends to be muddled from a head injury sustained while trying to escape a few days ago, but quickly takes Claire hostage, with the needle jammed in her neck. Darien has a brief chance where he could have stopped them, but has to turn around and stop an agent from taking a shot. Stanhope injects Claire and drives off with her. And once he realizes the effect of the drug - because he asked her - he is, unfortunately, smart enough to ask her the most important question: 'What is the most classified secret you know?' Which means he knows about Quicksilver, and so does his handler, and bulbous-nosed Russian named Dmitri, who Hobbes says must have faked his own death 5 years ago.

While all that has been going on, Thomas has explained that excessive talking in response to questions is only the first phase of the drug. In the second, Claire will begin talking to an inner voice, and in the third, she'll lose all inhibition, become self-destructive and violent. There is no antidote as of yet, but Thomas might be able to make one with access to Claire's computers. Meanwhile, Alex - still sporting that cast, though at least they explained it was from punching a wall - is called on to use her contacts to locate Stanhope, which leads to her walking into a steam room of fat Russians while an accordion plays in the background music. She gets the info, they find Stanhope, just as Dmitri goes inside, so now our two plotlines are even.

Dmitri immediately betrays Stanhope. Fawkes gets the drop on Dmitri, but somehow it gets screwed up and the guy escapes. But heck, Fawkes and Hobbes have Claire, that's the important thing, right? Well, Claire's into Phase 2, even though she knows the voice isn't real. And the voice reveals that Claire is very aware of how Bobby feels about her, which gets Bobby riled up, which gives Darien a headache, and then Claire has to pee, so they stop, and Dmitri tranq darts Hobbes and Fawkes, captures Claire, and stuffs her and Darien in the van. By the time Alex finds Hobbes, they're 30 minutes behind. Oh, and Darien is starting to go Quicksilver Mad. Which is a bit of a surprise for Dmitri when they reach the docks and he opens the van, not that it slows him down much, but Claire escapes, and forces the old guy to chase her up onto a catwalk. Claire is fully into Phase 3 now, so she's pretty much fine with throwing herself off the thing which Dmitri doesn't want. No worries, here comes crazy Darien, so the only one falling to their death is Dmitri. Of course, that leaves a woman with no regard for her safety up there with a crazy murderer, so naturally they start making out and oh god, why are they playing saxophone music?! Naturally, Hobbes and Alex find our two looney birds under a tarp back on the ground, which is crushing for Hobbes. But Fawkes gets his counteragent, Claire is returned to the lab where they attempt Thomas' antidote, and it works. In the aftermath though, everything is very awkward between Fawkes and Hobbes, and between Fawkes and Claire, and Claire and Hobbes. And that's where the episode leaves it.

Quote of the Episode: Darien - 'You actually care what an invisible voice inside her head is saying?' Hobbes - 'I know about invisible voices, all right? I know all about them.'

The "oh crap" count: 2 (30 overall).

Who's getting quoted this week? Voltaire, who said the great consolation in life is to say what one thinks. Mark Twain, who said man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to. And I think it's Shelly Chisum, who noted when morality comes up against profit, it is rarely morality that wins.

Times Fawkes Goes Into Quicksilver Madness: 1 (6 overall).

Other: We never did learn why the Agency's energy bills have suddenly risen so dramatically. Perhaps Chrysalis bought their power company and jacked up the rates.

It was nice to see they didn't just forget about Thomas. I'll admit I thought at first he and Claire were working on something to restore his senses to him. Somehow, it's hard for me to picture Claire working on something like Beta-C, considering the latter two phases. It feels like she should look at the potential damage that would do to people and say, "No thank you." But I guess "Germ Theory" demonstrated that Claire is one of those scientists who gets excited about learning something new, without necessarily stopping to consider the implications of learning it.

Also, it was nice to see that Thomas wasn't unaware of the fact he's being kept in a cell, and I think he's starting to sense they're lying to him somehow using Augustin as a spectre to keep him scared. That's his own doing, he won't accept he is Augustin, but I like the sense it's a slow-building pressure. It made me nervous when he was granted use of Claire's computer banks, because of what he might find in there. I don't know if he did find anything - Eberts was supposed to be watching over him - but that's going to linger with me until they pick the thread up again.

I didn't quite understand the sequence with the antidote at the end. They inject Claire, Hobbes seems concerned it isn't working, though how can he tell? Claire isn't talking, nor is she flirting with him. Thomas says it's not neutralizing the drug or something, but then it works after all. So I don't know. It was a little sloppy, like the writers didn't want it to just work smoothly, but didn't have time to really do anything with that.

Hobbes ditched the suit jacket this week for denim. It's not a bad look on him.

I know Dmitri was a bad guy and all, planning to take Fawkes and Claire back to Russia to pry all the secrets out of their heads, but still, shouldn't Darien be a little more bothered he kill a guy? I thought going Quicksilver Mad and killing people was a troubling thing for him, but we don't see any indication of it. Maybe because they wanted to focus more on the awkwardness between he and Claire over their escapades, and Hobbes being so hurt by it, but then, they really didn't take time to do anything with that, other than have everyone stand around avoiding eye contact. That's perhaps not out of line for those three; Claire tends to play things close to the vest, Darien has repeatedly - as recently as last week - worked hard to avoid talking about his feelings, and Hobbes, well Bobby tends to hide everything behind bluster. None of them are good at discussing their feelings, but I wouldn't have minded a few small scenes. Claire and Darien try to apologize to each other, and then each reassure the other it wasn't their fault. We got a little bit of Darien apologizing to Hobbes, because he knows how Bobby feels about Claire, but maybe something where Claire considers talking to Hobbes about his feelings for her, but pulls back, because she isn't sure what to say, because she's not quite sure of her feelings for him (or else she's worried about putting those feelings out there).

I guess they could be saving a big Claire/Hobbes conversation for somewhere closer to the finale. Those two need to get honest with each other at some point, though. Watching Hobbes try to disguise it, especially now that it's clear Claire is completely aware of the torch he's carrying, is painfully maddening.

In general, not my favorite episode. Claire working on an interrogation drug still seems off, and I find I don't like stories where the characters escape confinement, only to almost immediately get captured again. It's tedious wheel-spinning.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It's Dangerous To Ride Alone, Take Buchanan

Buchanan Rides Alone is a peculiar little Randolph Scott Western. He plays Buchanan, and rides into the border town of Agry on his way back to West Texas. He's made a healthy sum fighting in Mexico, and he's headed home to set up a ranch. But first he has to run the gauntlet of this incestuous little town, established and run by the Agry family. Simon is a judge running for Senator. Lou is the crooked sheriff, and Amos is the most inbred goofball of the bunch, who runs and inn, when he isn't running back and forth between his brothers, trying to play them against each other. Problem being, he's too much of an idiot to do it in a way that really nets him much of anything.

Buchanan just tries to get a steak and whiskey, but Simon's son takes his liquor, and vows to kill Buchanon when he finishes drinking it. Yeah, it's dumb, but the bartender was told not to give the loudmouth anything, and when Buchanan stepped in to order, the guy tried to pistol whip him, so Buchanan decked the twerp. Anyway, Buchanan ends up having his confrontation short-circuited by a young man named Juan, here because the loudmouth dishonored his sister. Said loudmouth is shot, Buchanan tries to keep Juan from being beaten by the constabulary, and they both wind up in jail, on trial for murder.

At which point the scheming between the Agry's comes to the forefront. Simon starts trying to delay Juan's hanging (he freely admits he killed the man, but won't explain why, so there's no doubt he's guilty), and extort his wealthy father (who may have been a big hero in the Revolution). Lou gets wind of it, and tries to move Juan someplace else, so Juan's father will give him the money. Lou also stole Buchanan's money, then had him escorted out of town and tried to have him killed (surprisingly, the jury listened to Buchanan's story and found him innocent. I hadn't expected that, but I guess it's only the Agrys who are crooked). When the murder fails, you have Buchanan running around, trying to get his money back, and also, eventually, to help Juan.

At that point, circumstances start changing so rapidly it gets silly. Every couple of minutes, somebody else has the upper hand, someone is in jail, or not in jail, someone is getting shot, or not. Hard for anything to have an impact, because nothing sticks long enough to set in. Plus, it makes everyone look kind of stupid, locked in a race to see who makes the fewest mistakes.

The more I think about it, my favorite character is Craig Stevens, who plays Carbo, Simon's right-hand man. He seems like the standard hotshot hired gun you expect Buchanan will have to kill eventually, but it never goes that way. They're on opposite sides of a large shootout once, but otherwise, they never face each other in the middle of a dusty street, in the classic manner. Which means Carbo is the smart one. He knows better than to fight Randolph Scott if he can avoid it. I really like that, the guy who sits back and watches these brothers and their stupid fights and struggles, and steps in when he has to for appearances' sake and to protect his position, but doesn't do anything out of anger. He might fight Buchanan, but only for the ransom money, not to build his rep or out of revenge. He might work with Buchanan, if Lou is the bigger problem at the moment. Carbo has a clear idea of his priorities, and acts with them in mind at all times.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Would The Ghostbusters Demand Tax-Exempt Status As Payment?

The series of late night took their toll. By Monday night, I was under the weather, and I spent most of Tuesday under a heated blanket, drifting in and out of consciousness. At least there was no puking. Operation: Fence Builder is officially on hiatus, until at least the next time I come to visit.

Two nights ago, I was watching Ghostbusters II, and it gets to that sequence where things are going crazy, and the Mayor looks out the window to see an eerie purple light in the sky, and asks what it is. My thoughts went to Men in Black, the "light from Venus reflecting off swamp gas" stock explanation for weird stuff.

Which made me wonder if they've done a MiB/Ghostbusters crossover in the comics. The Ghostbusters had (have?) a comic with IDW, and I know they did some universe-spanning zombie crossover with the Transformers, Ninja Turtles, and maybe G.I. Joe? I didn't read it, I'm going off vague memories here. I guess it's more likely that in a universe where there's already a distinct government agency to deal with extra-terrestrials, there'd be a different agency to contend with supernatural problems, so the equivalent of that - Mages In Black? - would probably be the ones to meet Egon, Ray, Winston, and Peter.

But setting that aside, and sticking to known quantities, in the event the two groups were brought together to deal with some immensely powerful alien ghost, I doubt it would be a friendly meeting. Peter Venkman's too much of a disrespectful smartass to avoid getting them in trouble, and while Ray's a well-meaning goober, and Winston is usually the voice of reason, Egon can't always avoid explaining things in a hostile fashion to people he thinks are idiots. Plus, they haven't exactly had great experiences with the government sticking its nose into their business previously.

I'm sure the MiB guys have plenty of experience with hostile civilians/ enthusiastic amateurs (I know the Ghostbusters are about as trained as you can be, but I feel like Agent K would probably still look at them as being rookies), but that experience leads to them using the Neuralizer, which isn't the sort of action that builds trust. I feel like Egon, at bare minimum would somehow recognize his memories had been tampered with. He just strikes me as the sort of guy who has such a particular set of thought processes that, whatever story the Agents came up with, it wouldn't mesh well with everything else in his brain.

There is a chance maturity would rule the day, and the two groups would just do the work and go their separate ways peacefully, minus a few loud arguments. Egon and Ray would probably be itching for the chance to see some alien science, and MiB might see something useful in studying the Ghostbusters equipment. If Star Trek's taught me anything, it's that there are a lot of alien species that have transcended their physical bodies and exist as pure energy. Which doesn't mean they've transcended crime or mischief, and Ghostbusters do have a lot of experience capturing immaterial beings.