Friday, February 28, 2014

May's Releases Bring New Atomc Robo. And Some Other Stuff

The first thing to mention from the solicitations for May releases is that there's a new Atomic Robo mini-series starting that month. Atomic Robo: Knights of the Golden Circle #1. Let your comic store person know to order you a copy!

Other than that, not much of note. Still nothing new interesting me from DC. I mean, if a suggestion that Stephanie brown is going to play an important role in a weekly Batman series can't get me to buy it, the presence of Grifter certainly isn't going to entice me to try Future's End. Someone pointed out that if Batman Beyond is coming from just 5 years in the future, then it can't be Terry McGinnis, can it. I sure hope it isn't an older, even more unpleasant Bruce Wayne Batman. Maybe it'll be Dick Grayson. His stint as Batman a couple of years ago seemed to be fairly enjoyable. Shocker that a Batman who isn't a complete ass to everyone is fun to read.

Not much new on the Marvel front. The new volumes of Daredevil, Ms. Marvel, and She-Hulk will continue to not try double-shipping. Admirable restraint on Marvel's part there *sarcasm*. Deadpool, as befitting the character, is showing no such restraint, double-shipping for at least the third time in 2014. Oh, and the price went up to $3.99. I don't know why Marvel keeps trying to encourage me to drop books I enjoy. One of these days, I might actually take them up on the offer. Seriously, it stinks, because I'm quite enjoying it, and don't want to drop it, but also don't really want to reward Marvel's attempt to pillage my wallet. Wade, can you make an appeal to their humanity.

*Deadpool looks up from rolling around in money* Huh?

Silly me, look who I'm asking. Never mind.

The last two months, I've noted that at least as far as Previews' order forms, Captain Marvel's been getting listed as a being a 6-issue thing. That vanished this month. Which is intriguing. Was Marvel originally hedging their bets, only committing to it as a mini-series until they got a couple of months of pre-order numbers? A few years ago they were doing the opposite. Something would start as an ongoing, but 2 issues in, it suddenly becomes a 4-issue mini-series. They did it with She-Hulks, and I think the last attempt at a Mayday Parker Spider-Girl series. It doesn't necessarily seem like a bad idea to try it the other way, though I'd expect to need more than 2 issues worth of data before I made the decision.

One thing is, mini-series, unless it's the Big Event Tentpole, don't tend to sell well these days, ostensibly because they aren't "important". So I'd think that wouldn't help the book's numbers, but is it possible that Marvel's policy of rebooting books every whipstitch has made readers used to short runs for creative teams. That Gillen/McKelvie Young Avengers book was basically a 15-issue mini-series, a slightly longer thing than Gruenwald's Squadron Supreme mini-series back in the '80s. If everything is a mini-series, then there wouldn't be any stigma against mini-series.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Smart Moves - Stuart M. Kaminsky

Nearing the end of this Toby Peters experience. One thing I've noticed in these last few books is Kaminsky likes to mention early on how Toby's back was injured. Namely, that a large black fellow wanted a closer look at Mickey Rooney, and it was Toby's job to not let people have closer looks. He's been making certain to mention that within the first 10 pages, while all the other pertinent details - about his dentist officemate, dwarf roomate, poet-wrestler landlord, asshole cop brother - filter in as needed.

It made a certain amount of sense in Smart Moves, since Kaminsky started near the end, with Toby and Shelly (the dentist) in peril, and Toby's back featuring prominently. But Kaminsky rarely does things like that, so I'm not sure why he finds the back problems the detail he must get out there quickly.

This book breaks the formula a bit, because it draws Toby to the East Coast, to protect Albert Einstein from a threat on his life from Nazi spies. The FBI knows, but are choosing to watch and wait, hoping the killer will lead them to the entire network. Real bunch of sweethearts, the FBI. The fact Hoover apparently suspects Einstein of being a commie pinko probably has something to do with it.

So Toby's somewhat on his own. Shelly shows up for a dentist's convention, but Gunther and Jeremy are on the other coast, along with Toby's brother Phil. Wasn't sorry to see him excluded from the proceedings. He doesn't run afoul of any rude cops, and the feds are generally OK. That was a nice change of pace. Of course, Toby's still fumbling about, making up plans as he goes along, walking into dark rooms hoping to flush out his quarry without being shot. He spends a little more time than usual reflecting on his methods, but he doesn't seem inclined to change. He enjoys the risk and I guess stopping to think before he acts would detract from it.

It's another solid entry in the series. Not one of the best, but not a bad one.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

They Also Ran - Irving Stone

They Also Ran was originally published in 1943, then re-released in '45 and '66, which is the version I have. It's all about the men who ran for President of the United States, but were never elected. Their personal lives, the jobs they held prior to their campaign, the story behind their nominations, the actual campaigns, and what they went on to do after they lost. Each man gets a chapter, and each chapter ends with Stone trying to use their past history and stated beliefs to ascertain what sort of chief executive they would have been, and whether they were a better choice than the person elected.

All told, Stone believes the voters got it right 12 times, wrong 9 times, and that there were 3 occasions where either man would have been a good choice. It's worth noting that he counts Samuel Tilden as one where the voters got it right, because Tilden did win the popular and electoral votes, but Tilden wasn't elected, losing to Rutherford B. Hayes, thanks to some fairly questionable tactics used by the administration to fudge (or outright ignore) the results in 3 key Southern states. It's nice to see that 130 years later, the Republican response to losing elections hasn't changed: rig things to disregard of or block people who don't vote for you.

Interestingly, among some of the elections he considers to have turned out for the best, he acknowledges that the Also Ran might have made a fine President in different times. Wendell Willkie was one he felt might have been fine in quieter times, when the country simply needed a steady hand, but he was far too inexperienced in international affairs, or even politics in general, to be in charge as the country was about to be drawn into World War 2.

Stone's descriptions of the Also Rans can be more than a little overdone, in some cases verging on haigography. When he starts describing their gaze or smile as it's depicted in pictures, I wondered if I ought to flip ahead and leave him alone for a moment. After awhile, the repeated stories about men who worked their way up through newspapers or taught to earn money for law school start to blend together. The trends and patterns are what I found interesting.

It's about evenly split between people who set out with the Presidency as a goal (Dewey, Henry Clay), and ones who didn't really want it, but felt they couldn't refuse the nomination, such as Horatio Seymour and Alton B. Parker. Up into the early 1900s, there's a trend of the candidates doing hardly any actual campaigning. Parker is described as mostly staying at home and letting people come to him, while others got the word out. Hey, it worked for McKinley. Some people, like Parker, mostly fade from the scene after their loss. I felt very bad for him, because he liked being a judge, and he had to step down from the bench to run, which he only did for his party's sake. Then he could never really get back on the bench. Others are unfortunately sore losers and either do all they can to hamstring the person they lost to (Henry Clay), or actively work to sabotage anyone who got a nomination they felt was rightfully theirs. Examples of that last group include Dewey, William Jennings Bryan, Clay again, and in a surprise heel turn, Alfred E. Smith. That last one was a real disappointment when I found out, because he'd seemed like an upright guy up to that point. Maybe the constant hammering he took for being Catholic soured him.

That anti-Catholicism thing was a surprise. I knew on some level that it was one of the questions about JFK, whether he could overcome that to be elected, but I hadn't expected it to be such a big deal. A lot of the elections devolve into name-calling and mud-slingling. Often the candidates stay out of it, and it's their supporters losing their minds, but it still gets ugly. And one of them common things people use is to accuse someone of being Catholic, and thus being totally subservient to the Pope's wishes. This occurs a surprising number of times with people who aren't Catholic. But when has the truth ever stopped people in an election?

The section on Henry Clay was maybe the one that caught my eye the most, if only because he comes off as such a terrible person. Completely disingenuous, constantly contradicting himself, only concerned with the acquisition of power, to the point he consistently undermines the government when he doesn't get his way so as to make everyone else look bad. I don't know if I agree with Stone's assertion that Clay would have become the U.S.'s first tyrant if elected, but he makes a decent case of Clay's only goal being to have as much power as he can grab.

I was left wondering what Stone's reaction would have been to later elections. He calls Grant and Warren G. Harding the two worst presidents, suggesting he really hates corruption and cronyism. Well, at the time he wrote this book, Nixon was still an Also Ran (because of his loss to that bean-eating war hero in '60), so I wonder how he'd have ranked.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Are Female Characters Unusually Likely To Get Luck Powers?

I almost titled it "Are Female Character Unusually Lucky?" Kind of a joke thing, talking about luck powers and all. Then I remembered, "oh yeah, women in fridges",  and figured it might be better to take a different route, avoid misunderstandings.

This occurred to me typing yesterday's post: Are a large number of characters with luck-themed powers women? Longshot is a guy, obviously, but past him, the ones that leap to mind are the Scarlet Witch, Black Cat, Domino, Roulette (from Emma Frost's Hellions). At DC, there was a daughter of the Gambler, who followed in his footsteps and had luck powers (I saw her in one of those Who's Who entries MGK did).

Beyond that, I'm not sure who else there is. Amos Fortune is interested in luck, and some of his schemes involve it, but a lot of times he branches out into other, vaguely scientific-sounding stuff as the plot demands. And they aren't really powers, at any rate. There was that '90s Titan Risk, the one who kept getting his arms ripped off, because someone at DC - Geoff Johns -  thought that was hilarious. But for some reason I'm not sure he actually had luck powers. No idea why. And Wikipedia says I was right, that he had enhanced physical abilities that increased with his adrenaline, which was ramped up by risk. Oh, now I get it. Well, never mind him, then.

I can't decide if Shamrock should count. I suppose not. She has ghosts that help her if she'll help them. Even so, that's 5-2 in favor the ladies. Hardly definitive, but maybe it's indicative of a larger trend. What, I'm not sure. Could just be a coincidence. We're talking multiple different creators, with several years between most of them. And who isn't going to give a character called "the Black Cat" freaking bad luck powers?

But it seems like female characters tend to get passive powers more often. Admittedly, I'm thinking largely or early Marvel, your Jean Greys, Wandas, Sue Storms, the Wasp. Stuff where they can (or have to) stand back and sort of wave their hands. Don't get to be actively hitting people, maybe get to zap them. Luck powers don't have to be like that, Longshot's frequently jumping around doing things while his powers are taking effect. Same for Felicia and Domino. At the same time, it's still more passive, depending on how much control the character is given over it. Scarlet Witch is on the active end, casting deliberate spells with her powers, the others more passive since they're usually trusting something will happen to make things go their way, without any concrete idea of what that might be. So maybe luck is classified as a feminine power? Which, considering that characters in comics are almost all attractive, could have an ugly undercurrent of "things always go their way because they're pretty". Hope I'm going too deep with that.

Does that make Longshot in some ways a more stereotypically feminine character? He's sort of small, very light (hollow bones), agile but not particularly strong, presented as naive about everything, and especially nowadays, he's an object of desire for almost everyone he meets. And things just seem to work out for him. Is he a romance novel protagonist? That's probably also going too far. A lot of male characters are depicted as being highly attractive to other characters (women usually, though that's shifting some these days).

But I feel like there's a difference between how Batman or Spider-Man are depicted in those situations, and Longshot. Maybe because they're usually having reciprocal feelings, or at least voice their lack of interest, whereas Longshot seems frequently indifferent. He's had relationships, at least one serious one with Dazzler, but a lot of times, people just fall for him instantly, and he doesn't really care about it one way or the other. A lot of times, his feelings on the matter don't even enter into it. It's played as a joke about how everyone thinks he's hot, or how he'll roll with it, but it doesn't mean anything to him. It's just something that happens he has to deal with, these people pursuing him.

Wasn't where I planned on that post going, but I figured it was worth throwing it out there for consideration. Get some other perspectives, see if I can flesh it out, or trash it if it's a mess.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Dice Keeping Rolling Long After The Initial Throw

One thing I enjoyed with the recent Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe series was the idea of just how far the effects of Longshot's luck powers reach, for good or ill. Usually, when comics show people with probability powers, we see them work for a specific moment in time, and that's it. The Scarlet Witch waves her hand, something weird happens, the moment passes, there are no ripples. What Hastings did was go with the idea that the effect wouldn't just stop there. That if the altered probability involves other people, then their lives will continue to be impacted by it long after the initial, highly unlikely event took place.

At one point, Longshot recalls a moment where he crashed through the roof of a house with a jetpack. He was all right, good fortune for him, but it created problems for the family, which ultimately fell apart. The husband didn't deal with it well. The mother and daughter ended up coming to visit their friend, who happens to be the daughter of Dr. Dipson. And the daughter's stuffed bear wound up as the safe haven of the Cosmic Cube, keeping it from either half of the In-Betweener, helping Longshot set things right.

Longshot's powers are only supposed to work if his motives are pure, but the trick is that even with pure motives, that doesn't guarantee happy results for everyone. His powers cause of some rich mogul to randomly appear in front of that salon where he gets his hair done. Great for them, bad for the salon across the street that goes out of business, and can't even find a buyer for the space. And because of his psychometric powers, Longshot can see the results of his actions.

Think of the weight that could place on him. All heroes have to deal with the idea that every decision has consequences. Turn right and stop a mugging, miss the car accident that they would have stopped if they went the other way. But Longshot can affect lives, bring them joy or ruination without actively doing anything.

Maybe that's why he keeps getting his memories wiped. He has to approach the world with a clean slate, because otherwise, he'd never be able to use his powers. The risk of unintended consequences, of altered probabilities running to their ultimate end could cripple someone with doubts, or make it impossible to act with pure motives. Imagine Tony Stark with probability altering powers. He'd unleash some 217-step process that made him God King of the Universe that began with causing Captain America to spontaneously develop a peanut allergy while enjoy PB&J. Peter Parker would probably never do anything, because he'd be paralyzed by the chance it would hurt innocent people. Longshot is sort of aware of the possibilities, but just naive enough to roll with it. Those long-term ripples are just a little too much for him to keep track of, so he uses his powers (mostly) to try and help, but doesn't get hung up entirely by the idea that one person's fortune is another's misfortune.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Burn Notice 7.9 - Bitter Pill

Plot: Michael, Fi, Jesse, and Sam find themselves abruptly brought at gunpoint to a warehouse patrolled by guys with assault rifles. Very subtle, James. He has a mission for them: to keep Omar Hamed, a leading voice for peace and reform in the Middle East from being killed by people not in favor of peace or reform. They are unfortunately saddled with a lead guy named Ben Snyder, who has never been on a field op. They don't do so well at their task, as Hamed eats a poisoned crab cake. And the waiter is killed in a drive-by before they can interrogate him. But his last call was to a known poison maker/biochemist, Dr. Khalid Mazik.

They track down and abduct Mazik, and when he isn't forthcoming with the antidote, Ben injects him with what they have left of the poison. Which encourages Mazik to help them sneak into his drug lab/fortress and get it, only for Ben to decide to kill Mazik once they have what they need. He does this in the not-at-all stealthy manner of shooting him repeatedly. Which makes it rather difficult to escape, what with all the armed guards coming to investigate. The guards leave when chemicals catch on fire, and Ben leaves Fi to die. Michael is naturally having none of that and rescues her.  All is well that ends well, right? Well, no. James arrives, again escorted by many gun-toting guys, and straight up shoots Ben. Because you do not leave anyone behind. Can't argue with that. This after James confirmed Maddy's suspicions she was being followed by showing up in her living room, and explaining he's only doing it to protect her for Michael.

The Players: Ben Snyder (Leading This Op), Omar Hamed (Potential Deadee), Dr. Khalid Mazik (Friendly Neighborhood Poison Maker)

Quote of the Episode: Madeline - 'You know Michael, sometimes people get used to the wrong things.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No.

Sam Axe Dink Count: 0 (5 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (1 overall).

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

Other: Maddy, I've said this to Michael many times, and I'll say it to you when you found James in your home: Just shoot him. Michael isn't going to do it, not yet. He's still trying to fix everything, and capturing James is the key to that. So you do it Maddy. I don't know what Strong will say to that, but you need to keep James away from Plot Device, I mean Charlie.

Gabrielle Anwar's accent seemed to be all over the place in the scene in the combat support hospital. I heard the Irish once or twice, but not always.

Admittedly, I don't know much about poisons, but if you have a sample of the poison, how is it you can't reverse engineer it to make a cure? Can't you break it down to its constituent parts and figure out what the problem is? It wasn't presented as being a time constraint, simply that they could not do it at all.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

High Midnight - Stuart M. Kaminsky

Pretty sure I have these last three Toby Peters books in chronological order. I don't think it's really a necessity, but it keeps me from spoiling whatever shifts Kaminsky might put into action. As for High Midnight, Peters finds himself with some mobsters leaning on him to lean on Gary Cooper to appear in some crappy little western. Toby has no idea what they're talking about, until he finds out the man he shares office space with took the case without telling him.

The man he shares office space with happens to be a dentist, if you're wondering. Those are the sorts of little quirks and twists I enjoy about Kaminsky's work. The 15 or so pages where Hemingway appears, I'm not as fond of. It's Hemingway as a bully, a blowhard. And his appearance doesn't serve much of a purpose. Makes the book a couple of pages longer, but that's about it.

It's not one of the better ones I've read so far. There's also a subplot involving Toby's ex-wife, Anna, that is pretty depressing. It might be worse because I've read two of the later books, so I know how it's going to turn out. But even beyond that, the way Toby mentions that Anna found so many things wrong with him, it leaves me wondering why he keeps bugging her, if he's fully aware of all the things she didn't like about him. Yes, Toby is a private eye, used to going where he's not wanted, but he's also usually more respectful to the women he meets during the course of these stories. If they want him to leave, he typically does.

Friday, February 21, 2014

An Experiment or A Game Show, High Body Count Either Way

At a coworker's urging, we watched Battle Royale last weekend. At least now I understand what those Avengers Arena covers were homaging. I was busy reading, so I missed the first half hour or so. By the time I came in, about 4 or 5 kids were already dead.

I'm not sure we were supposed to be laughing as much as we did, but some of it was so over-the-top, it became hilarious. The confrontation between the blinded, golden-haired, machine pistol-toting transfer student, and the shotgun-wielding kid who resorted to break-dancing to compensate for his leg wound, for example. In general, the violence was ratcheted up to 11 constantly. Characters took a lot of killing to actually die, and at times seemed to keep going solely so they could be shot or stabbed some more.

The movie seemed to delight in showing moments where characters were refusing to participate, were instead working together, or trying to get everyone to stop fighting. And then, they'd die. Throwing down your arms doesn't work unless everyone does it. Some people are going to give in their darker impulses, or take the opportunity to right wrongs. Once it started, it would keep snowballing until everybody was dead.

There are some touching moments, some that make you groan at the stupidity of the young, and at least one that made me think the whole thing had been a dream or hallucination. I was never clear why the whole thing was happening, but that seemed fitting. I'm not sure the kids really understood. I'm not sure they could understand. As endearing as it was to see some of them try to remain friends and just stay out of the fighting, the fact was, if there was more than one person alive at the end, everyone was getting killed. Sooner or later, the were going to have to turn on each other, or die. I'm not sure if they'd considered that, and simply refused to go along with it, or if they thought the whole thing was fake. If they just kept their heads down, everything would work out OK.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Moment of Battle - James Lacey & Williamson Murray

Moment of Battle is subtitled "The Twenty Clashes that Changed the World", so it is, as you might expect about the 20 battles Lacey and Murray think were most important in setting the course of history. They take a chronological approach, starting with Marathon and ending with Objective Peach from the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

I feel the book might benefit from a counterpoint approach, because I'd appreciate some perspectives on why perhaps Saratoga shouldn't be included, or why Lepanto maybe should be. Murray and Lacey do end each chapter with an explanation of why they think the battle is significant, but it's usually only one page, versus the 20 or so devoted to describing the battle. Which is the inverse of what I was looking for. I guess I was almost looking for a counterfactual book, where they would demonstrate the relevance of their selections by describing how different the world would be if the battle had turned out differently.

There were a few points I found either curious or intriguing:

In the chapter on Teutoburger Wald, they discuss how the ability of the Germanies to resist conquest by the Romans lead to a different culture from most of the other European nations, and that this create a divide in Europe that has been the source of much conflict, up to and including World War 2 (since apparently the Nazis blathered on about the significance of their separate Teutonic culture). They wonder if we'd have even had two World Wars if the Romans had succeeded in their conquest. Which sounds a bit like the authors are blaming those ancient Germanic peoples for refusing to be subjugated by the Romans. How awful they didn't want to be ruled by the people who decide they have to exterminate everyone opposing them in a war, as Murray and Lacey themselves highlighted in the chapter on the Battle of Zama from the Second Punic War. Apparently Hannibal's failing as a commander was that he either wasn't willing or able to fight at the Roman level of total annihilation for everyone. Which doesn't sound like such a bad character trait to me.

They also raised the that Europe never gets as spooked by the idea of a British Empire as they do by the idea of an empire ruled by one of the countries they share the continent with. Like Napoleon, or the Germans later on. They attribute it to Britain being on an island, rather than the mainland, which makes them safer. This seems a little curious to me, because the British certainly faced challenges as they rose in prominence. Spain, the Netherlands, France, Germany (repeatedly). But I suppose it's true that they rarely faced a coalition of multiple nations aimed solely at stopping them. Then again, the British haven't spent much time trying to actively conquer the European mainland. They seemed content to grab as much as they could everywhere else in the world. Is that why the Continent didn't rise up as one to try and smash them? If Britain and France are fighting over who controls North America, it might be difficult to rally other countries to help France defend its imperial holdings. But if Britain invades France itself, it's perhaps easier to convince the rest of Europe to pay attention to how close that puts England to all of their borders.

I feel cause and effect might be confused there. England being an island nation feels less significant than the fact they weren't constantly invading their neighbors on the mainland. But were they choosing to not invade because they were an island nation? They have much easier access to the rest of the world, because they aren't landlocked, aren't restricted to ports in only a small portion of their borders, so they don't have to struggle for trails to other lands. Compare that with Russia's seemingly endless quest for the warm water ports.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ten Dollars Was Still Too Much

I have a coworker who's been gung-ho to get Resident Evil 6 ever since it got something like a 4 out of 10 on Gamespot. She was, however, wise enough to wait until its price fell to $10. That day came on Saturday, she bought it, and I was roped in to testing the co-op mode. In retrospect, the fact that co-op starts with a 5+ minute sequence where only one player gets to do anything - and the anything is Leon dragging Helena slowly through a wrecked building - should have been sufficient indication this was a bad idea.

The game, at least the section we played, was murky, extremely dark. We had the brightness set far above what the game wanted, but it didn't help. Darkness and shadows can be fun for creating atmosphere, but this didn't feel like that. Even when zombies would shuffle close, they could still be difficult to see. My coworker and I kept losing track of each other, and there didn't seem to be any on-screen symbol telling you where they were relative to you. You know, a little circle with their face in it, an arrow pointing in the appropriate direction. There's a PDA thing you can call up that shows which direction to go, but nothing for keeping track of a teammate. Or if there was, the game neglected to tell us about it. It really didn't tell us much at all, so we were fumbling about, trying to figure out how to turn Herbs into usable health items, how to reload, which thing was the health bar, what that other bar that I think declined if you used too many melee attacks in a short period was, and so on.

I understand some gamers hate those tutorial chapters, and I've certainly been annoyed by them in the past myself, mostly when playing through a game I'd already beaten previously. But if they're going to have an opening sequence where one player can't even do anything, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing to teach us while they sit there uselessly. Instead, the opening bit was an exercise in Introduction to Button Press Actions.

Oh, the button press stuff. Want to remove an annoying piece of wood nailed across a doorway? Well, forget the Resident Evil 4 method of chopping it with a knife or shooting it. Nope, you need to pick up that pipe over there, then hit the A button at precise moments to gradually break the wood. Considering the door seemed to open away from the wood, I don't know why we couldn't just climb over or under it. Grappling with zombies? That'll require lots of joytstick spinning and more precisely timed button pressing to knife them in the throat. Steering a damaged helicopter is all timed button presses and joystick spinning. At one point we were trying to escape in a car. We were subjected to a "find the keys" mini-game, where I had to move the joystick around to certain places (like the glove box), then press A to search them for keys. Find the keys, wait for the game to tell you to press a button to turn the ignition, wait for them to tell you to hit a button to go in reverse, then wait for another command to hit a button so it goes forward.

Why not, I don't know, just include some regular driving controls? How hard would that be? Maybe one player drives, the other tries to dislodge zombies that grab on to the car. Both players get to do something. How novel. Instead, it's these stupid button presses, where the game is forcing me to slow down to a pace it wants to set. Left to my own devices, I would have had Leon start the car and be gone long before the zombies could smash through the driver's side window in an attempt to grab me. Oh, but I suppose that wouldn't be fun.

Fun. *bitter, raspy laugh* The only thing we had any fun with - besides the shininess of Leon' hair - was in the early stages, when there wasn't much ammo, I kept finding it and hoarding it. Which led to my coworker asking if I'd found ammo, and why did they hear reloading. I, of course, feigned innocence.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

He Done Her Wrong - Stuart M. Kaminsky

I had the remaining Kaminsky books in some sort of order two weeks ago. But it fell apart when the box they were in went upside-down into the ditch along with me and my car. Stupid ice. Anyway, He Done Her Wrong was actually the book set just before The Fala Factor. So we can at least see how Toby reached the dire financial straits he was in, though the thing with the IRS that crops up here was not resolved by the end of the next book (basically, the IRS doesn't believe Toby makes so little money given the high class of clientele he sporadically has).

This time a disgruntled and apparently unstable failed actor has set his sights on certain figures he blames for his fate, including Mae West. Which wouldn't be an issue, except that he escaped from the hospital where he was being kept. Toby's brother knows Mae from before his marriage, so he actually asks Toby to handle it discreetly. Well, I'm not sure about discreet, but it does get handled. Eventually.

It's another perfectly fine story. There's a nice bit where Toby comes up to the hospital for more info on the man he's chasing, and it's pointed out just how strange Toby's life is when you lay it all out. It had that nice creeping horror, at least for me, where you can see exactly where it's going, and it's not good. But after The Fala Factor, I had been looking forward to seeing if there was going to be a real shift in Phil's attitude towards his brother. Instead, we're still at the stage where Phil treats him like a screw-up, when he isn't punching Toby for saying things Phil considers impertinent (a category which includes any show of concern or affection, up to and including asking how the wife and kids are). Unfortunately, there's a reference in the book to Toby's working for Gary Cooper, which I'm guessing is High Midnight, which I haven't gotten to yet.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Fala Factor - Stuart M. Kaminsky

It's back to the world of Toby Peters, as this time he's sent out to retrieve FDR's missing Scotty by none other than Eleanor Roosevelt. As usual, Toby winds up in proximity to dead bodies, which raises the ire of his cop brother, Phil. Not that it takes much to raise Phil's ire. He brings in some help this time, both his neighbor Gunther (who was actually a suspect in Murder on the Yellow Brick Road), and the owner of his office building, Jeremy, former wrestler turned poet. We meet Dr. Hodgman, who patches Toby up so he still has a handball opponent. And Phil is promoted to captain. Hey, if it keeps him off the street, and away from suspects he can beat, all the better. Phil being condemned to a career of dealing with petty public complaints is a perfect hell for him.

That's nice, but it's mostly just window dressing. A few new touches to keep the formula from getting stale. Somewhat more amusing is that the dognapping leads to the fledgling New Whig Party, which is described as being composed of people who felt even the most conservative Republicans were too soft. Kaminsky predicted the rise of the Tea Party 25 years early, though the New Whigs are considerably less successful than the Tea Party.

What caught my interest was the position Kaminsky places Peters in at the start of the book. Peters is down to 4 dollars in his name, and seriously considering applying to Grumman as a night watchman. But it's the last resort. When he became a private investigator, he swore no more uniforms. The days of being a cop or a security guard were behind him. And despite the fact it cost him his marriage, the respect of his brother (though I doubt that was ever in effect, his choice of profession definitely doesn't help), and isn't doing his nose or general health any good, he sticks with it. It gives him something he needs, an excuse to exercise his natural curiosity, perhaps.

That was the hook that really got my attention. The idea of Toby as someone trying his best to follow a dream, and make a sufficient living off it in the process. To find answers to the questions he finds, despite a lack of any particular gifts beyond stubbornness. He's not that bright, not big, not fast, not a good fighter, a lousy shot, kind of looks like a bum, has a crappy car, lives off tacos, Pepsi, and Shredded Wheat. But that's largely OK with him.

It's different than with Kamisnky's Porfiry Petrovich books, because Porfiry was fairly intelligent and harder to read. For him, the challenge is to do his job the best he can without making too many of the wrong enemies, which is no mean trick in the Soviet Union, age of glastnost or not.

'I was one hell of an on-the-spot liar. It was what every good private detective had to be in a world of liars. Phil, on the other hand, was a lousy liar. He didn't have to lie. He had a cop's badge and the gun that went with it.'

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Burn Notice 7.8 - Nature of the Beast

Plot: Michael's supposed to be waiting for a James to meet him, but is instead told to hurry to a car, and then whisked away to a secret location (another giant house), thwarting Strong's hopes of catching him. James has a mission for Michael, to capture Marcus Carbral, the Dominican republic's top narcotics officer, and also its top drug smuggler. Cabral has a made a deal with MI6 in exchange for a safe exit from his homeland, and James is not all right with that. Michael is to capture Cabral so he can be interrogated and not get away clean. He's only allowed one helper, but at least James lets him pick. So now Sam's involved, as a man making a counteroffer. And it's a real counteroffer, briefcase full of cash and everything. Cabral needs a little convincing, mostly that MI6 can't protect him from his enemies, which Mike handles, probably concussing himself in the process. The capture doesn't go entirely smoothly, as Cabral is (wisely) cautious about being separated from his security, but they manage it.

Back in the States, Strong's had his people analyzing the copy of all that data Mike and Fi retrieved from that hacker syndicate, and it's led to something interesting. James has been paying the bills for a mental patient for the last 15 years, shuttling the John Doe from one mental hospital to another. Strong has him brought to a regular hospital, but has him brought out of sedation, and now the guy is on the loose in the hospital. Jesse winds up with a bomb around his neck, but manages to talk this man, Peter Mallard, into working with them to stop James. But Peter will only talk about James Kendrick to the man trying to bring him down, meaning Michael. What he has to say isn't encouraging, I guess. James and Pete were Delta, sent as part of a squad to kill a warlord. They find a peaceful village where the warlord is basically some kid. They're told to follow orders, wipe out the village. Peter begs James to stop the others, who are inclined to shut up and follow orders. James does - by killing them all in their sleep.

The Players: James (Network Leader with Messianic Pretensions), Marcus Cabral (Drug Smuggler/Sneaky Weasel), Peter Mallard (Old Buddy of James)

Quote of the Episode: James - 'Now when we find a monster, we don't make a deal with it. We destroy it.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Yes! She blows the door to the morgue off its hinges! Finally! It's been so long!

Sam Axe Drink Count: 3 (5 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (1 overall).

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

Other: I thought it was interesting Michael let Sam be the one to approach Cabral, while Mike covered him from a distance. Most times, Mike prefers to be the one who gets close, probably because he doesn't want to put his friends in any more danger than he can avoid. I don't think Mike's stopped caring about his friends, so I wonder if that's a sign that he figured the most important thing was to make sure Cabral didn't escape. So if Sam couldn't sway him, kill Cabral. And the past history suggests Sam might balk at that. Maybe. He shot Andre, that smuggler with the speedboat full of money way back when.

The meeting between Maddy and Fi was nice. That Madeline is encouraging Fi not to keep Carlos in the dark, to not risk losing him. I imagine somewhere inside, Maddy harbors hopes Michael will come back and Madeline knows Fiona's probably the only woman for him. But she cares about Fiona enough to care what's best for her. And Fi loves Carlos. So Maddy wants Fi to not keep him in the dark. I tend to agree. Fi should know by now keeping secrets isn't going to lead anywhere good, and what's Strong going to do if she tells? He's already shown his hand. He needs this mission to succeed, and he needs Fi to help make that happen. Still waiting for Strong to catch a bullet, by the way.

We're getting more glimpses of James' resources. I mean, he bulldozed a huge mansions, just because he'd used it as his site to interrogate Michael. He has multiple identical cars, boats, helicopters, trains are not out of the question. Mike can ask for a suitcase full of a million bucks and get it, not to mention a table piled high with guns. I guess when he set himself on this path, he killed a bunch of guys he thought needed killing and took their money.

I still don't see how he can draw all these people to him, and provoke such loyalty in them. Burke made it seem like James was his religion, Sonya's not much different. Even Peter indicates he felt that way. You know, until James had him locked in a looney bin for 15 years. But I don't really see it. He's that sort of vague figure who says a lot of deep-sounding stuff that doesn't mean much. Morpheus in the Matrix was like that sometimes. Said things that sounded good, but weren't actually enlightening. I guess James is playing upon their dissatisfaction with their work. The murky nature of it, the ambiguous goals. Michael's made mention that as a spy, you accept that your work is done in secret, and it's ugly, and you just have to hope that when it's all over, it'll have been worth it. Maybe someone will even acknowledge the good you did. James is playing on that, promising them direct action. They don't have to let the lesser of two evils off the hook; they just take both evils, get what they need, then kill them both. I'd think there'd be issues with conflict of interest, but I suppose that's the point of all the work to establish their loyalty to him. They want what he wants, or they aren't part of the group.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Twelve Caesars - Matthew Dennison

At times, The Twelve Caesars is pretty interesting. I've not read that much Roman history, and while this is hardly exhaustive, it does provide a decent look at each figure, as well as provide a good overarching view of the changes in Rome and its politics.

Even so, I frequently found my mind wandering to other topics while reading, and going through most of a page only vaguely aware of what I was reading. Dennison's quite in love with his own vocabulary, which can make his writing a dense at times. I note he uses "grizzly" in situations where I think "grisly" is what he's going for, unless they share the same meaning now. It's only two or three times, but in each case it snapped me out of the sentence and got me thinking about grammar. One more distraction from the book itself, then.

When describing each of the caesars, Dennison largely quotes ancient historians. Plutarch, Dio, Tacitus. His book is itself based on Suetonius' work on the 12 caesars. He says in his introduction he hopes to illustrate telling facets of these different men in these brief overviews, and would consider the book a success if he convinced even one reader to read Suetonius' work. Considering how he describes that fellow's approach to things, I can't imagine why I'd do that.

With Suetonius, everything is portents, signs, oracles, prophecies. There is no significant event which happens where there wasn't some allegedly significant sign of it beforehand. These signs are, naturally, always interpreted in one way, and that is always the correct interpretation given how things turn out. Suetonius might view my life and proclaim my distaste with waffles one morning as a sure sign that I was going to fall and twist my knee later that day, as I just so happened to do. The most interesting thing Dennison revealed to me about Suetonius' work was the idea that character was believed to be unchanging in those days. So if you believed a particular action was the sign of poor character, then that person must always have had that particular failing or weakness. Which puts the historian in the position of having to explain decisions which run contrary to their overall perspective on the person in question.

Tiberius starts out doing fairly well as principate, but gradually withdraws from Rome more and more, grows more prone to having people killed, more imperious, less willing to humor the senate's delusion that it still has any power whatsoever. Whichever Tiberius the ancient historian decides was the true one, they have to jump through hoops to explain the other actions, usually opting for either a malignant outside influence, or that any benevolent actions were a sham (Domitian gets that last one)

The shifting state of the Senate was another interesting part. Augustus pulled a nice little song and dance where he appeared to surrender his position and powers after a certain point, but in reality, he'd surrendered nothing. However, he made the Senate feel as though they were still important, which kept them mostly happy and quiet. Some of the later fellows did this, others didn't, and the latter frequently fared worse. Which is funny, because the Senate rapidly loses any real say in it, as the legions, and especially the Praetorian Guard, become the king-makers. Which it's decided someone is to be removed, they're the ones who do the removing, not the Senate, which mostly sits there doing nothing until the caesar's dead, at which point they engage in a lively round of "I hated that guy so much, I always said so!" But soldiers can be fickle, and it's hard to keep enough of them happy enough that they don't start looking for a new leader in sufficient force to make something happen.

As far as The Twelve Caesars goes, I was more intrigued by the things less directly related to the actual caesars. The perspective of historians - both how they approach it and who is writing the histories* - and how the position was achieved shifting over time. The book's not bad for an overview of the caesars, but I think if that were your interest, you'd be better off seeking out specific books on whichever one you were most interested in.

* There was a note that Tiberius, while not loved in Rome for the distance he kept from it, was quite well-regarded in the provinces, who were used to being handed edicts from afar, and so were less concerned with whether they came from Rome or Capri, than with how smoothly their own lives ran. Perhaps like umpires, the best emperors are those you never notice?

Friday, February 14, 2014

2013 Comics in Review - Part 5

Last night I dreamt I was reading Ms. Marvel #2, which is funny since I haven't read the first issue yet. There was an island lab, intelligent murderous monkey with an eyepatch and a flower in her hair, exploding volcano, stuff like that. But the art was horrible. I was so confused. "Where is Adrian Alphona?" I wondered. Ah well, just a dream, nothing to worry about.

This is the part where I list things and talk a bit about them. I took Best Anthology out because it would have been a category of one, and outside of the Batman Beyond  stuff, I didn't enjoy Batman Beyond Unlimited enough to feel it merited the distinction.

Best Ongoing Series (minimum 6 issues shipped):

1. Daredevil
2. Dial H
3. Avengers Arena

Daredevil wins for the 3rd consecutive year! What a surprise! I sure hope the impending cancelation, relaunch, and move to San Francisco doesn't throw it off its stride. Dial H's attempt to unseat it was undercut by the necessity of its rushed ending, and the fact I enjoy Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez' art more than Alberto Ponticelli's. Angel & Faith would have been 4th this year, but I felt the gap was sizeable between it and the Top 3. Hawkeye fell way off.

Best Mini-Series:

1. Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe
2. Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror
3. Atomic Robo: Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur

The top two are very close, but I think being set in the Marvel Universe gave Longshot a little bit of an edge. I care more about that fictional setting and its characters than the Rocketeer's.

Best One-Shot:

1. Empowered Special: Nine Beers with Ninjette
2. Atomic Robo Free Comic Book Day 2013
3. Justice League 23.3 - Dial E

I figured Dial E could count since it really has nothing to do with the title it's borrowing numbering from. As it is, the disjointed feeling of the story due to the constantly shifting artists hurt its coherence. Between the other two, Robo's story was nice, but slight and shorter, and Empowered had the advantage of Miyazawa's art.

Favorite Trade (purchased, not necessarily released):

1. Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin's Bandette Vol. 1: Presto!
2. Kiyohiko Azuma's Yotsuba&! Vol. 12
3. Kathryn Immonen & Valerio Schiti's Journey Into Mystery w/ Sif Vol. 1: Stronger than Monsters
4. Tony Cliff's Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant
5. Doug TenNapel's Power Up!

I usually consider manga separate from tpbs and such. Not sure why, just one of those things. But, I figured what the heck. Since I don't normally do a Favorite Manga list, I needed to get Yotsuba&! in here somehow. Volume 2 of the current Deadpool title was what got bumped, though it was close between that, Power Up!, and Delilah Dirk.

Deadpool: [What?! I got bumped for some story about an adorable kid who is amazed by everything?]

Sorry, Wade. Volume 3 is our early frontrunner for Favorite Trade of 2014.

Deadpool: [Great, the one where I remember I had a daughter only to find out she died in North Korea. Thanks.]

I am almost certain she's not dead.

Favorite Writer:

1. Kathryn Immonen
2. China Mieville
3. Ann Nocenti
4. Mark Waid

I didn't buy anything Immonen wrote in single issue format, but I bought at least 4 trades of things she wrote, and really liked 3 of them. Even the fourth (Pixie Strikes Back) wasn't bad, I just don't particularly care about Pixie or her family history. Waid's in 4th because of how disappointed I was in Pulp Friction.

Favorite Artist (minimum 110 pages):

1. Chris Samnee
2. Kev Walker
3. Rebekah Isaacs

Honorable mentions (for artists I liked with less than the minimum page count): Javier Rodriguez, Scott Wegener, David Lopez, Emma Rios, Timothy Green, Amanda Conner, Norm Breyfogle, Cliff Richards

I have the page count because I figure it's one thing to draw 20 really nice pages, but the key is in the artist who can maintain the level of quality while producing work on a regular basis. I still feel weird putting Conner and Rios on there, since each is below 10 pages.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

2013 Comics In Review - Part 4

Back in 2009, I started keeping track of who was drawing the comics I was buying, and how many pages they were doing. Maybe it was a way to get me to focus on the artist more, but knowing me, it's more likely I was trying to see who you couldn't count on to meet deadlines. I set a completely arbitrary line at 110 pages (5 22-page issues), and another at 154 (7 issues) for the folks who were really involved in the books I was buying. Since 2010, the number at the lower level has stayed between 7 and 9, with 8 artists this year. Alex Sanchez and Filipe Andrade just reached 110, Scott Wegener fell just short (100 pages, too bad the last issue of Savage Sword didn't ship when it was supposed to). J Bone reached 132 since he had to come in and do the last two issues of Pulp Friction.

In the previous years, it's been 2 or 3 artists who reached the second level, but this year it was 4, maybe 5. I say maybe because John Romita Jr.'s credited with breakdowns only on the last 2 issues of Captain America he drew, so I'm not sure how to count that. If I give him full credit, it's 160 and he makes it. If I go half, it's 140 and he doesn't. Beyond him, Rebekah Isaacs and Chris Samnee made it for the second year in a row, Alberto Ponticelli finished with 179 pages (ahead of Isaacs by 3, behind Samnee by 9), but the lead artist of the year was. . . Kev Walker, who drew 200 pages of Avengers Arena in 2013! It's nice when it's an artist whose work I consistently enjoyed. It means I wasn't buying the book in spite of them, but at least partially because of them. I know the fact Walker's working with Hopeless again on Avengers Undercover was one of the reasons I decided to give that a whirl.

Katana #1-10: This was the book Nocenti started up as she left green Arrow, and so I followed her. Sadly, the book didn't sell, and died quickly. Alex sanchez drew a little over half the series, ChrisCross drew #9, Fabrizio Florentino drew half of one issue, and Cliff Richards drew the rest. Richards was my personal favorite, though it may not have helped Sanchez' case that he was being inked by two or sometimes three different people in a given issue. Anyway, Katana set out to bring down those she held responsible for her husband's death. Her sword was broken, her goals and motives brought into question, even the truth of Maseo's death was shown to be not what she said. And so she had to sort her way through that, deal with threats physical and supernatural, with people pulling her this way and that. I wouldn't describe it as a cheerful book, but I loved reading it.

High Point: Nocenti's writing style isn't for everyone, but I tend to enjoy her work. There's always more than what's on the surface, but beyond that I enjoy her characters. When they make bad decisions, I can understand why. Their motives and obsessions are ones that seem real, even if the circumstances are unusual. And I like the whole theme of Tatsu struggling against everyone's expectations of her, including her own, to figure out who she really wants to be, and how she wants to live.

Low Point: I was not a fan of Sanchez' art. I thought the action sequences were awkward, but more critically, I felt Sanchez didn't lay out pages in a manner which conveyed important information well. On more than one occasion, it felt as though the page was set up primarily to show off something Sanchez felt was more impressive looking, and so that one panel took almost all of the page, but told the reader very little. Meanwhile, other panels with useful information where squeezed to edges and were difficult to read. This is the book I was talking about when I said reading a book in spite of the art.

Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe #1-4: Longshot's targeted as a threat to reality by the In-Betweener. Really, it's when Longshot and a Cosmic Cube get together that things go wrong, and Longshot has to push his luck to the limits to fix things. I'm not sure why Christopher Hastings wanted to write this story, but I'm glad he did, and Jacopo Camagni was a fine choice for artist.

High Point: The assault on the Helicarrier was entertaining, and Dazzler's annoyance at Longshot not remembering her - again - brought a chuckle. I like the idea that Longshot's luck reaches so much further than he expects, in ways he can barely realize. Camagni's version of the In-Betweener was pretty cool. Dapper, even.

Low Point: Nothing really jumps to mind. I could complain Spider-Ock felt largely superfluous, but he's not in there enough to really bother me. That would be a complaint on principle, rather than anything specific to the work.

Rocketeer - Hollywood Horror #1-4: Betty's roomie, enterprising reporter Dahlia Danvers, goes missing investigating a man promising enlightenment and safety in his religion. Betty opts to go snooping, and Cliff would love to help, but the rocket pack's inventor needs it back for some tests, and his boys took it by force. At least Betty has Nick and Nora Charles on his side.

High Point: I think J Bone's art was stronger here than on the next entry, either because he had more lead time, or perhaps because he colored it himself. I worried at times that Langridge was throwing too many celebrity guest stars in, but he used them well. Opinion on that might vary depending on your fondness for The Thin Man. The writing was very light and funny, with a good wit behind it. Important things to have, considering who was supposed to be narrating the whole thing.

Low Point: Again, nothing comes to mind.

Rocketeer/Spirit - Pulp Friction #1-4: This was supposed to be a Mark Waid/Paul Smith collaboration, but Smith bailed after the first issue. Loston wallace drew the second issue, then J Bone reappeared to handle the second half of the mini-series. A strange murder of a Central City councilman draws the Spirit to L.A., because Betty was the one who found the corpse. He and Cliff butt heads, kick butts, save FDR from Nazis. In retrospect, I could have done without the Spirit. I'm just not interested in him.

High Point: Though he was only on the book for an issue, I like Paul Smith's work. I thought he came pretty close to evoking Dave Stevens' style.

Low Point: Certain aspects of the plot didn't make a lot of sense, mostly related to the 11th hour arrival of a company of Nazis. More critically, this is the second time I haven't enjoyed Mark Waid's version of Betty. There's just something about her that's meaner, more fickle than seems right.

Secret Avengers #36, 37: With Matteo Scalera drawing, the tail end of Remender's run on the book. The original Human Torch saves the world from being turned into advanced techno-organic beings, or whatever it was that was going on. I haven't read the books since the story finished.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #6, 7: Along with Deadpool, a recent addition to the pull list. I just reviewed these a couple of weeks ago, but like with Deadpool, I was encouraged by what I read. It's super-crooks working together to make some bank, stabbing each other in the back, and suffering for messing with people higher up the food chain.

X-Men #1-8: Can't pass up a chance to use an Amanda Conner cover. Brian Wood and Oliver Coipel's all-lady X-team lasted exactly three issues, before it became Wood and David Lopez' all lady X-team, which was promptly sucked into Battle of the Atom nonsense. Now Terry Dodson's drawing it, as the all-new Lady Deathstrike forms her Sisterhood. It hasn't really clicked like I hoped though, and I can't decide if Wood's purposefully leaving things unanswered because he's planning to get to it later

High Point: The bit in issue 4 with Wolverine and Jubilee visiting her old stomping grounds with Shogo. I find it kind of funny how the whole thing with Mercury and Bling keeps getting interrupted by explosions and invasions and stuff. David Lopez' art was lovely. That smirk he gave Evil Future Xavier was outstandingly hateable.

Low Point: The Battle of the Atom crossover. Did not care. The irregularity of the artists. The way Wood tries to be clever in how the characters use their powers, but it just comes off as being needlessly complicated.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

2013 Comics In Review - Part 3

Marvel was just over 61% of what I bought last year, which puts it about 2% ahead of 2010, but a long way behind '06 or '07, when it was something like 86%. The first few years Marvel's share started dropping, DC was getting most of it, peaking at 35% in 2010. It wasn't that I was necessarily buying a lot more DC; the raw total increased, but there isn't that much difference between 25 books in '06 and 47 in '10. More I'd gradually taught myself to stop buying books I wasn't enjoying, to stop buying books because that were "important" (I don't think that was ever a huge problem, but it probably played a part in my buying New Avengers), and Marvel canceled a lot of books I was buying without releasing anything that replaced them. Now DC's down to 21%, and while some of that's going back to Marvel, at least a little of it has slipped over to some of the other publishers. Non-Marvel/DC stuff was almost 18% of the total this year, and that's its lowest share of the last 3 years. Prior to that, it hadn't broken 10%, and only 6% once (2009).

Looking forward, things might actually be shifting back towards to the early years, or at least 2008/2009. Judging by my pull for these first 4 months of 2014, Marvel's taking up a huge share. Between releasing at least a few of their intriguing sounding books at $3 rather than #4, and double-shipping all the damn time, they're getting some decent numbers. DC's just about lost me, down to 1 book, and since I decided to pass on the next round of Angel & Faith, there hasn't been much from other publishers I've decided to plunk down for. The last issue of Savage Sword slipped into 2014, and there's another Empowered Special, and that's about it up through April. I'm curious to see whether Marvel can continue to build up my good will, or if they'll do something I'll hate that sours things again.

Deadpool #20, 21: I'd heard good things about Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan's work on Deadpool, so I bought the first 3 trades over the last half of the year, and enjoyed them enough to start buying it monthly. I reviewed these two weeks ago, so I won't go into them heavily, but the Kirby homage/pastiche they did with Scott Koblish didn't really work for me. I did like the start of the next arc (drawn by Mike Hawthorne), that's going to involve Deadpool going after his cash from SHIELD, while SHIELD tries to kill him with various assassins. There's gonna be a Deadpool/Sabretooth fight, and Wade hates Sabretooth.

Dial H #8-15: China Mieville and Alberto Ponticelli's book was one of the best things I read last year. Good enough to make me wonder how good it would have been if the ending hadn't been rushed by it's cancelation. There was so much potential in the chase after Centipede and the Dial Fixer across worlds. We'd barely gotten to know the Dial Bunch before they started dying and getting left behind.

High Point: All the different dial ideas Mieville came up with: the gear dial, the sidekick dial. Nelson's development and growth, plus his friendship with Roxie, which had the possibility to be more if there'd been time. Open Window Man. He was ridiculous, kind of all the worst personality traits of Batman, but Mieville presented them in a way that made me sad for the kind of person he'd become, rather than irritated at what a jerk he was.

Low Point: The rushed ending. I don't know how long Mieville had this story planned to go, but I wish he'd been given all the time he needed for it. I really didn't feel like he had the decompressed pacing problems a lot of comic writers had, he just had too much to tell, and not enough space to do it in. I like they gave him and Ponticelli almost 40 pages for the last issue, but you could tell Ponticelli had to rush his art a bit as well, which is too bad. I still preferred Santolouco on the book, but Ponticelli's work had the right looseness to make those odd heroes look as strange as they should.

Empowered Special: Nine Beers with Ninjette: Bought this on a whim, enjoyed the heck out of it. This is one of those books where I like the main character fine, but I think I like the supporting characters more and want to see more of them. Happens to me a lot with shonen manga, too. Anyway, Adam Warren wrote it and drew the intro sequence, and then handed off art chores to Takeshi Miyazawa, who has a much softer style, but it worked very well.

Fearless Defenders #1-4: I tried this book by Cullen Bunn and Wil Sliney, but I gave up on it. It felt completely mediocre in that way where nothing is so aggressively bad I felt I had to rail against it, but nothing jumped off the page as particularly cool or clever. It was just sort of there.

Green Arrow #16: The last issue of Ann Nocenti's run on the book, which meant it was the end of my interest in Ollie. I wasn't sticking around for Lemire to spend 18 issues telling some story that needed 10, tops. Ollie stops a gun runner, and saves the kid he uses as sort of an attack dog, and also saves a parade from major casualties. Unfortunately, by this point, he's so jaded by the realization of the limitations of being a costumed vigilante he can barely take any good cheer in the lives he's saved. Which is a downer, but probably important for Ollie to start understanding things beyond his own enjoyment.

Harley Quinn #0, 1: With Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti writing, the 0 issue was Harley imaging her comic as drawn by different artists (who then each drew a few pages). By the end, artist Chad Hardin was on the scene, as the set-up for the series emerges in a patient leaving Harley a home, which she must get jobs to support. The 0 issue hardly matters, and the first issue is all set-up and potential, but I'm cautiously optimistic.

Hawkeye #7-14: It was a year of bad decisions and moping for Clint Barton. Girlfriend broke up with him (rightly so). Protege/partner left, took dog with her. Neighbor friend killed, etc. Kate moved to L.A., is basically broke, has Madame Masque gunning for her. Matt Fraction wrote it, David Aja drew basically 4 issues, Steve Lieber and Jesse Hamm split #7, Francisco Francavilla handled 10 and 12, Annie Wu drew parts of a couple issues, then all of #14. I should confess, I'm seriously thinking I should bail on this book.

High Point: David Aja's art. Francavilla's art. The Hurricane Sandy issue (#7). Issue #9, the one that focused all on the women who, like it or not, have the orbits of their lives occasionally intersect with Clint Barton's. Clint getting dumped by jessica Drew. I've said this before, I don't approve of infidelity, so Clint had that coming, and I was glad she didn't let him slide.

Low Point: The delays. Grills' death. Pizza Dog abandoning Clint: Finding out Tony Stark of all characters lectured Clint on proper behavior for Avengers. In much the same way Mark Waid and I disagree on Dr. Doom, I don't like Fraction's Tony Stark. It might be accurate, but his obliviousness to his own failures makes me hate the character. The delays. The incredibly slow pace, so that I can hardly say the plot's "progressing". I'd say the delays again, but the single biggest problem is that Clint Barton is an awesome character, and he did not do one goddamn awesome thing in an entire year of comics where he is the main character. Not one. I could deal with the waiting, if I felt confident Clint was gonna do something awesome when the book arrived. Which is why I'm currently arguing with myself over whether to stick it out.

Hawkeye Annual #1: Kate arrives in L.A., and finds life rather difficult as Madame Masque sets out to take revenge for Kate knocking her out and impersonating her to try and get that tape back in 2012. Kate escapes, but that's a running plotline for her stay in L.A. So at least Kate got to do something cool, if not particularly wise. Javier Pulido drew it, and parts of it are very nice to look at. But in a lot of panels, Pulido leans so heavily on shadowy outlines, I started to feel he was cutting corners to save time. I just didn't see a pattern that suggested a theme to it. But the non-excessively shadowy outline parts were excellent.

Justice League - Dial E #23.3: Part of DC's Villains Month, this didn't have any connection with anything that was happening in that book. Nope, it was really just a chance for a little more closure for Mieville, as some kids find the Centipede's custom dial and he fights them for it. What? He'll hit a kid, he doesn't care. He's a bad guy. It had a different artist for every page, which was more of a mess than the mass of artists Harley Quinn #0 had. In the latter case, each artist had their own little story to illustrate, while here, they were all drawing part of one big fight, and there was a lot of variability in styles and skill, so a real mixed bag. I'd have preferred them sticking to Santolouco, Lapham, and Ponticelli, since they were the three main Dial H artists. It still left some questions, but there the end was very satisfying.

Things got a little down there at the end, but that's the risk on days where I fly through a bunch of titles. Some of them have few issues because they were limited to begin with, some because they were canceled or delayed, but a lot of times it's because I dropped them due to problems I had with them. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure tomorrow's post won't end on a real high note, either, but there should be some positivity in there.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

2013 Comics In Review - Part 2

I imagine few people care about the stat stuff I put in these opening paragraphs, but too bad, it's my blog. Neener-neener. So, 131 new comics this year. Last night I started adding it up in my head, and when I did it by different publishing companies, it came out fine, but when i went by how many I was going to cover each day, it came out at 130. Which meant I had to get up and look over my list until I realized I was just making an addition error on the second approach. don't try to do maths while also trying to go to sleep. Anyway, that sets a new record low since the start of the blog, narrowly beating 2010's 134. The last 4 years have all been around the same number, within a range of five.

Even so, Marvel had it's best year in some time. 80 whole books, reversing a downward trend that's been going since 2009. It narrowly edged out 2010 (by 1 comic), but it's an improvement of about 15 of last year. So I guess Marvel NOW! is working on me, assuming they don't shoot themselves in the foot with all these price hikes. DC, meanwhile, had its worst year since 2009, dropping to 28 books. 2010 was DC's high point for me, and it's been downhill since then. And that just so happened to be the last full year before the relaunch! Hmm, strange. As for all other publishers, they topped out at 23 books, which is down a bit from the last two years, though only narrowly worse than 2011 (25 books). It's still quite a bit better than any of the other years. I'm going to save any talk about percentages or looking ahead to this year for tomorrow. I always wind up with one day less of introductory stuff than I need.

Batman Beyond Unlimited #12-17: JT Krul and Howard Porter kept doing their Superman thing, and I kept not enjoying it. Norm Breyfogle and Adam Beechen wrapped up the Joker King arc, with an aftermath chapter drawn by Peter Nguyen, and then a new arc involving the Metal Men drawn by Adam Archer. Dustin Nguyen departed Justice League, leaving Derek Fridolfs as sole writer and a host of artists, from Fiona Staples, Jorge Corona, and Ben Caldwell to handle the load. But the loss of Breyfogle and Nguyen was enough to convince me to drop the book, though it was canceled a month or so later, so moot point.

High Point: Norm Breyfogle's art, the Joker King arc in general.

Low Point: All the Superman Beyond stuff. I hated Porter's art, and the story simply didn't work for me. Also, I'm not sure I like Dick Grayson as an embittered old man. If Batman ends up making his adopted son just like him, that's a pretty big failure on Batsy's part. And as much as I enjoy Batman failing, that's not really the kind I'm looking for.

Captain America #3-11: Rick Remender gave Cap an adopted son, who happened to be Zola's son. Zola and his daughter Jet tracked them down, nearly killed Cap, took Ian back, so Zola could brainwash him. But Cap came back, convinced Jet to help him, just in time for Ian to try killing him, only to be shot in the throat by Sharon Carter. Who then killed herself blowing up a giant Zola. And now Cap is grim and mopey. John Romita Jr. drew most of it, though he was down to breakdowns by the last couple issues, with Klaus Janson and Scott Hanna mostly doing finishes, which led to some really erratic looking art. The last issue I bought, Carlos Pacheco had taken over.

High Point: Um, Zola's battle armor mode he attacked with in issue 5 or so looked kind of cool. The Phrox would have been nice, if they were the start of many alien cultures Cap would meet.

Low Point: The book wasn't what I wanted. I wanted to explore the strange new world Cap was in, not watch him get progressively torn up fighting Zola and his stupid fake Captain Zolandias. And Remender just never made me care that much about Ian. And killing Sharon Carter seemed pointless.

Captain Marvel #9-17: Carol has herself an apartment, neighbors, maybe even a piloting job working for Frank Gianelli. She also had a tumor that meant she wasn't supposed to fly, but once she kept getting attacked by Deathbird, she couldn't help herself. Which made the Kree Yon-Rogg even more powerful, until he tried to recreate the Throneworld city on top of NYC. So Carol stopped him by flying until her brain kind of crapped out and she lost her memories. Then there was an Infinity tie-in. Then the series ended. Kelly Sue DeConnick wrote most of it, working with Jen van Meter on the Infinity tie-ins, and Christopher Sebela on some of the earlier issues. Filipe Andrade drew 5 of the issues, with Scott Hepburn and Gerardo Sandoval handling the Yon-Rogg thing, and Pat Olliffe the Infinity stuff.

High Point: The fights with Deathbird were pretty good, it worked to Andrade's strengths as an artist with a lot of energy in their work. The supporting cast was nice. I actually cared about them (see my complaint about Ian in the Captain America entry).

Low Point: The whole thing with Yon-Rogg wasn't great, because I don't really care about stuff related to Mar-Vell, and I only bought 40% of it anyway, so it was kind of a mess to read. But the worst part was the Infinity tie-in. Don't care, doooooonnnn't care. Some event tie-ins are good, most aren't. This one didn't work.

Daredevil #22-34: Mark Waid and Chris Samnee mostly sharing "storyteller" credit, with Javier Rodriguez handling the color art, when he wasn't drawing the book himself (he did that 3 times). Ryan Copland also drew one issue near the end of the year. Busy year for Matt. Found the person behind all the disparate attacks on him over the previous year, but not after almost being beaten to death by someone with his powers, but also functioning eyes. Then there's Foggy's ongoing battle with cancer, which prompted him to ask Kirsten McDuffie to take his spot at their law firm, producing romantic tension for Matt. Then he got into it with the racist Sons of the Serpent, who are quite well dug into the NYC justice system. He's called them out, but we'll see how that ends up working out for him.

High Point: Samnee's art, obviously. Javier Rodriguez' art, and color work. Waid's ability to write a Matt who takes things seriously when need be, but does not let it turn him into a grim, depressed guy. In more general terms, the bit where Matt convinces the Silver Surfer to let Matt control the surfboard. But the best part was issue #25, Matt's first battle with Ikari. That fight was gorgeous, intense, entertaining, and had an excellently done surprise at the end.

Low Point: I was going to say the Spider-Ock appearance in #22, just on principle, but no. I'm going with Matt possibly letting Bullseye be blinded by toxic waste. I'm not opposed to Bullseye being blinded; I'm not nearly a good enough human being for that, but I was perfectly content with Matt being trapped under rubble and unable to reach him. Matt could still take a certain enjoyment in it after, that's a little dark, and can work as a sign of that mindset he's trying to work against. There isn't any need to have Matt sit by and let it happen.

I know, not many titles today. Tomorrow it'll go the opposite direction, a lot of books with not very many issues a piece.

Monday, February 10, 2014

2013 Comics In Review - Part 1

Finally, right? If you're new, this is going to run for a week. The first four days are me going back over all the different titles, roughly a quarter of the books a day. Talk a bit about plotlines, creative teams, if there were enough issues I'll touch on high and low points. The last day will be more of an overall listing approach. Everybody good, clear on all of it? Outstanding.

Amazing Spider-Man #700.3, 700.4: And we start with some of the books that held this whole thing up for as long as it was. I just went over these on Friday, so I won't linger. Stories with Peter Parker Spider-Man, by the Joe Casey/Timothy Green, Jen van Meter/Emma Rios, Keven Chapman/Javier Rodriguez teams.

Angel & Faith #18-25: Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs wrapped up an active final third of the book. The attempt to resurrect Giles ran into some snags. First, because Eyghon had claimed possession of Giles' corpse, which required the assistance of Spike to handle. Then because Whistler, Pearl, and Nash burst in during the ceremony to pilfer all of Alasdir's magical trinkets. Giles does emerge alive, but in the body of a 12-year old. But there was little time to contend with that, because the evil trio were about to unleash their magic dispersion bomb. The day was saved with only limited magical mutation, and Faith realized being around Angel is bad for her life. She also got one last kick in the face by Giles, when he asked if he could tag along - as a way to get to Buffy. Stupid, dense Brits.

High Point: Kid Giles in issue 22 was a delight. From his description of what it was like sharing space inside Angel's head, to his horror at being a child (and his great-aunts' delight), to the readjustment he and Faith have to make. Whistler dying wasn't bad, either. I'd been waiting for that since the book started, maybe since he appeared in the TV show.

Low Point: Spike's cameo. I had high hopes he'd get to be cool and badass, but nope. Gage plays him largely as a pitiful comedy figure. His attempt to be the hero against Eyghon fails utterly, taken by Angel (again). Faith shoots him down. Seemingly everyone can tell he's still pining over Buffy, which, Christ Spike, get over her already! You two aren't good for each other in any way shape or form! Didn't Season 6 teach you anything?! Horribly disappointing. The best part of his entire time in the book was the dig he got at Angel upon arrival. It was all downhill after that.

Atomic Robo 2013 Free Comic Book Day: Robo is lured into battle against a clunky robot. Turns out the robot wasn't out of control, but actually something its creators are trying to sell to Majestic-12 to use against Robo. Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener laying the groundwork for later stories.

Atomic Robo Real Science Adventures #10: Didn't actually order this, just my comic guy trying to be conscientious, I guess. Clevinger and Owen's work didn't convince me I'd made a mistake giving it a pass. Real Science Adventures is a good idea in theory, but in practice, it hasn't worked terribly well for me.

Atomic Robo - The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur #1-4: The pitfalls of sticking to strict alphabetical order. I would have liked to put this after the FCBD book, so I could follow up the bit about later stories with, 'later stories like this one!' But it doesn't work as well with another book sandwiched in between. Anyway, the clunky robots are part of Majestic's attack upon Tesladyne, now that they've sufficiently turned public opinion against him by claiming he stole nuclear weapons. Nukes which are likely really in the claws of Dr. Dinosaur, down in his hidden underground kingdom, which Robo and his action scientists stumble into. At the point issue 4 leaves off, things weren't looking good on any front.

High Point: Dr. Dinosaur's worked better as a multiple issue threat than I might have hoped. Probably because he isn't carrying the plot himself (thanks to Majestic). I usually find him funny, his odd choice of phrasing and delayed reactions to it are good stuff, plus his roundabout, Silver Age approach to science. I was just worried he might get over-exposed this way. Hasn't happened. Bernard's quick adjustment to underground civilization is also pretty funny.

Low Point: I don't know, I'm pretty worried for Robo even if he survives this thing with Dr. D. Which is a good thing, really, Clevinger and Wegener building a sense of concern and dread in the reader. I'm just saying, he's in a pinch. There's plenty of people who wouldn't mind seeing him dismantled, since they surely don't consider him a person.

Avengers Arena #3-18: Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker did most of the series. Chistos Gage wrote issue #13, about why no one's come looking for the kids, and it was drawn by Karl Moline. Alessandro Vitti drew issues 4 and 7, Riccardo Burchelli issues 10 and 11. I'm guessing all those skipped issues in the middle is what let Walker draw the last arc entirely. The kids fought and allied, and turned on each other. Some of them became better than they thought they'd be; some of them became worse. Arcade escaped, and he isn't going to let the lies the kids tell go unchallenged.

High Point: Cammi in general, how she went from trying to do it all herself, to being the one of the more compassionate characters, trying to form alliances and protect people. Cullen Bloodstone's story, and his showdown with X-23 was pretty awesome. My single favorite issue, though, was #12. Nico's Rampage through Apex and his army of mechanical puppets. Also, Chris Powell survived.

Low Point: I'm still not sure I like the idea of Arcade actually caring whether he wins or loses. Hopeless tried to justify as best he could, but in the same way I like the Shocker as a baddie uninterested in revenge, only in money, I like Arcade as the guy who just wants to have a good time. Which, he did here, to be sure. Even in retreat, he's possibly getting the last laugh, just for all the damage he inflicted on them, but I'm still not sure it's a direction I like, the guy who cares the other villains thought he was a loser. Especially since none of them really have any grounds to talk. Also, I don't like Chase, but that dates back to when I read all the BKV/Aplhona Runaways stuff 2 years ago. It sort of works here - Chase is the guy who makes bad decisions under pressure, and keeps making things worse - but every moment where I wasn't sure if Chris Powell was dead, but Chase was running around with the Darkhawk armor was kind of galling.

OK, as usual, can't get past "A" on the first day. I don't know how that always seems to happen. The titles change, but the results keep coming out the same. Tomorrow I'll at least make it part way through D.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Burn Notice 7.7 - Psychological Warfare

Plot: Michael gets his meeting with the mysterious leader of this terrorist network. The leader will eventually introduce himself as "James", but not until he believes he can trust Michael. sure, Michael has filled multiple legal pads with a recounting of his career, but that isn't enough. James drugs him, and subjects him to various wild sensory overloads to make it harder for Michael to concentrate enough to lie or withhold. Seems to me any discrepancies would be as likely to be him being too confused to remember the truth as him trying to lie, but James doesn't really seem interested in the facts. He claims Michael was a completely ordinary operative right up to the point where he began working with Larry. James wants to know what changed, what made him into the superstar he is, the guy so good shadowy international conspiracies can't help but try and use him, the guy whose ability to succeed without killing people was the subject of so much discussion in the GRU during Sonya's training?

As it turns out, the last time Michael worked with Larry, he - meaning Michael - did a bad thing. He flat out blew up a factory full of innocent workers because there was a Russian officer who betrayed them hiding there. But this still isn't enough, James keeps pushing, and so instead of a hallucination of Dead Larry yelling at him, it's Mike's dad, demanding Mike tell the truth. Mike keeps his tongue, and makes himself seem sufficiently loyal to be welcomed into the fold. Uh, hooray?

The Players: Sonya (Link to the Network)

Quote of the Episode: Young Michael - 'I didn't tell him anything. I never tell him anything.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No. I hope she's blowing stuff up in between scenes, because otherwise she's got to be getting antsy.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (2 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (1 overall).

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

Other: Interesting that when Mike hallucinated Fi, she was wearing the orange dress she wore on their mission to South American in 5.11 "Better Halves". Which was right before Anson showed his hand. So it's probably the last time there things were good between them. Mike was helping Anson to protect her. Fi wasn't in jail. Nate wasn't dead. Mike hadn't killed a senior CIA official and made them all enemies of the state, and Mike hadn't seemingly thrown away everything on one last try to make things right.

Mike has a bit of Angel (Buffverse Angel) in him. Always trying for the grand play that will magically fix all the things that have gone wrong. And it never works. There's always another thing broken or wrong.

I was a little disappointed in Fiona's response to Mike when they met at the start of the episode. Mike trying to awkwardly to explain he slept with Sonya - as part of the mission, which again, I find really off-putting. Fi is kind of hostile, telling Mike he's sleeping with the enemy. Which is true, but I would have preferred indifference as her reaction. The way Mike plays it, it's very clearly him feeling like the job forced him to cheat on Fi, and he wants her to forgive him. Except they aren't together, and Fiona could do us all a favor by getting that straight in Michael's head. That it's his life, and as long as it doesn't impair Mike's ability to get them all out from under the CIA's thumb, he can do as he pleases.

I spent the whole episode thinking "James" looking familiar, and sure enough, it's Brisco County Jr. alum John Pyper-Ferguson. Pete Hutter, what's happened? Did you touch the Orb and get religion like Big Smith? Beyond that, I'm gonna have to see more of James before I have an opinion. I'd like to have a better bead on what inspires this loyalty characters like Burke and Sonya have to him. It can just be drugs and cheap psychoanalysis can it? I'm hoping he has some goal or method that's drastically different, and that's what attracts people to him. As it stands, telling someone "don't resist" as you pump them full of drugs doesn't seem like the way to gain the loyalty he's apparently so fond of.

I appreciated the opportunity to see Dead Larry again, even if he was just a drug-induced hallucination. That winter camo was pretty bad though. It looked like the crap Sam got saddled with in The Fall of Sam Axe. I do like that of course Mike's version of Larry would try to take all the credit for making Mike who he was, when a lot of it is, unfortunately, the result of his father's works.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Admirals - Andrew Lambert

So I read The Desert Generals last month (only a month ago?) I mentioned to my dad that Churchill comes off as an interfering buffoon, and I asked if FDR had meddled constantly, since Churchill had that in common with Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler. Being who he is, my dad can't resist dropping a bunch of tangentially related books on my lap, like this one.

Admirals does not address my question (I think my dad said that FDR mostly let his military do their thing, within the constraints of stuff like the European Theater taking precedence. Honestly, once he gets going, it's hard to pick out the strictly relevant points from amongst all the interesting, but unrelated bits).

Admirals is all about British admirals who helped make and sustain Britain as a world power. Nine admirals get a chapter to themselves, starting with Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham, and ending with Andrew Cunningham. Samuel Hood and John Jervis share a chapter. He details their lives, as much as is known for the earlier ones, their time in the service, successes, failures, faults and strengths, and the ways they shaped the Royal Navy. This means, especially with later admirals, that he deals as much with their work in the Admiralty or as First Sea Lord in defining the course of the Navy, as he does with their time at sea. Which is not what I was expecting, but Lambert does very well at showing the importance of their work there. Hornby's interest in adjusting to the improvements in ship technology with the rise of steam engines may help to explain John Fisher's success focusing largely on technical aspects such as gunnery, while never commanding a fleet (or even a ship) in an actual battle. The struggle between an admirals need to control and direct, with the necessity of encouraging initiative in their subordinates, and the increasing reach of politicians in their sphere of influence.

There are some curiosities. For one, Horatio Nelson, hero of Trafalgar and such, does not get a chapter. However, he is mentioned almost constantly, by Lambert and people he quotes when they refer to those who came later. Even earlier admirals have some of their successes compared to Nelson, and one gets the impression Hood and Jervis are there largely to detail how each helped shape the admiral Nelson became (as he apparently combined the best qualities of both, without either's weaknesses). It's a bit like writing a book now about players who shaped the NBA, but not devoting a chapter to Michael Jordan. Surely a guy who was so great every admiral since is compared to him would be relevant. Best I can figure, Lambert's already written a book about him, so he decided to highlight lesser known figures. Which is fine, though I would have appreciated a little more on him, since I'm not a naval historian, but kind of odd when he ends the book by stating none of them were on Nelson's level across the board.

Ultimately, that's just a curious decision, but not one that cripples the book. There are certain biases Lambert demonstrates that hamper it, especially in the later chapters. His disdain for the army is not surprising, given he's a naval historian, but at times he takes it a bit far. While discussing Cunningham's time in the Mediterranean in World War 2, he says Auchinleck and Tenner, 'complained when he went to sea with the fleet, seemingly unaware admirals had always been in the thick of the fighting, not taking decisions in air-conditioned offices.' Well snap, take that land and air! Except, I know from The Desert Generals that when Auchinleck took command from Ritchie, he led from a decidedly not air-conditioned tent/bunker near the front lines*. Perhaps they complained because it was supposed to be a joint command, and it was hard to get ahold of him to plan while he was out at sea. To Cunningham's credit, he was willing to be landlocked as he was given greater command responsibilities later on. I've no beef with him, just Lambert. Yes, Barnett has me biased in favor of Auchinleck, but that section comes off as Lambert ignoring facts to make a pithy comment that elevates his guy while denigrating others.

More troubling, though, was his tendency to excuse serious character flaws in the admirals. It was one thing when he acknowledged but mostly ignored James II, Duke of York's failures as a monarch, because I thought he made a decent case that James' flaws did not harm him when in command of a fleet as they did as king. That's fine, we're judging these guys as admirals. I wouldn't dock Jordan's career as a player because he was a lousy GM for the Washington Wizards. But with Fisher, he ignores the fact that Fisher didn't really encourage initiative in his subordinates, preferring to keep his cards close to the vest and handle things himself. Which is a fault he criticized Hood for just a few chapters earlier. With David Beatty, he acknowledges that Beatty screwed up at Jutland because he was a slapdash fuck-up, more interested in splashy moves that made headlines than in paying attention to the details that would make those splashy moves succeed**. Beatty later tries to cast the blame on Charles Beresford, and Lambert handwaves it. A couple of quotes:

'While this was unfair, revealing the darker side to Beatty's character, rewriting history was also necessary to sustain his reputation as a successful naval commander.'


'If he abused his position to protect his reputation, he did so with good reason: he did not take the issue as seriously as his critics suggested.'

On that latter quote, let me note that "not taking it seriously" involved the suppression of reports that painted his actions at Jutland in an unflattering light, and demanding that the Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty place a disclaimer in Sir Julian Corbett's official history. So, you know, he tried to character assassinate a fellow admiral and rewrite history, but it was all just a lark, really!

The thing is, Lambert makes little secret of the fact he doesn't consider Beresford worthy of the titles he had conveyed upon him. Which apparently means it's OK for Beatty to talk as much shit as he likes, because Beatty's one of the special ones, and if the truth was recorded, Beatty would have lost influence at the Admiralty, and that would have been bad for the Royal Navy in the interwar period, and so the lies, duplicity, and bullshit are acceptable. Ends justify means.

An interesting book, but Lambert's views are too jaundiced on some of his subjects. The chapters on Geoffrey Hornby and William Parker were excellent, though.

* One of the things Barnett mentioned was that Auchinleck hurt his image because unlike Monty, he wouldn't roll out the red carpet of refreshment and lodging for Churchill and the press. The ate what he ate, and that was roughly what his men ate. Take it or leave it, and a lot of them didn't like it. Just in case you thought all those sportswriters - Peter King - who bitched about being paid to cover a Super Bowl that might be in cold weather were some recent occurrence.

** In an earlier run-in between his battlecruisers and the Germans, the Germans scored 22 hits to the British's 6. Beatty's response was not to make improvements to the British guns' rangefinding equipment, to but to remove safety equipment that would allow his guns to fire faster, but also make them more likely to catch fire and explode. He opted for spray n' pray, which if you've ever seen an '80s action movie, you know how that works.