Saturday, February 28, 2015

Things Are Uncertain With May's Releases

May could end up being the calm before the storm on the comics front. Convergence will be wrapping up, but we won't really see what comes out of it until June. I want to see the solicitations for all these new books DC is going to put out before I start making any decisions on that score. So look forward to that next month, I guess.

I still can't believe they got Ennis and McCrea to do Section Eight. When I saw that title I glossed over the creators, so I just assumed it was another book about yet another paramilitary, semi-secret group. Like Team 8, or Suicide Squad, or that spy group Dick Grayson is a part of now. But no, I guess it's going to be about Sixpack and Dogwelder and the rest. Maybe. They could do something entirely different. Have to wait and see.

On the Marvel side, it's the start of Secret Wars! Oh boy! *fart noise* And here we see the beginning of the likely to be nearly endless wave of tie-in mini-series. The only one they have listed for May I might buy is Master of Kung-Fu. I skipped that recent Shang-Chi mini-series because I doubted Tan Eng Huat's art was up to the task, and I generally haven't heard good things about it, so score one for me. But this has Dalibor Talijac listed as artist, and from the few Deadpool things I remember him drawing, that's fairly encouraging. As I'll be down to a measly 5 ongoings from Marvel by then - Rocket Raccoon, Ms. Marvel, Ant-Man, Squirrel Girl, and the rapidly approaching its end Daredevil - I can spare the space. At some point there's going to be a Spider-Girl or MC2 mini-series with the Tom DeFalco/Ron Frenz team, and I'll probably get that, too, but beyond that, who knows? And I read somewhere Ms. Marvel is definitely doing one of those "Last Days" tie-ins, which is what I was afraid of. Secret Wars is too big for books to just ignore it.

Outside those two companies, Descender will be continuing, but there's as yet no sign of Roche Limit. Though I haven't decided if I'll continue with it or not. See how issue 5 goes. No sign of an Atomic Robo mini-series, either, but that could be because it either hasn't started yet, or that when they decided to go the webcomic route, they're abandoning print versions entirely. Hopefully there'll still be trade collections. I still dislike reading comics on a computer. I have a few trades of other things I'm waiting to have come out, and if I like them, I might start buying those. That sci-fi/Western series Copperhead is the most notable, and the trade comes out this month, so if I get that quickly enough I may pick up the new issues where the trade left off. More wait and see.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Aliens vs. Time Travelers

Have we ever seen Kang go to war against any of Marvel's big alien empires?

I started thinking about that because of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. When Kang first arrives, he's trying to avert the death of Earth in the Kree/Skrull War because of a decision Captain America will make. His solution, besides killing Captain America, will be to provide Earth of the early 21st Century with the technological advances it needs to defends itself from his these star-spanning empires. Of course, he's going to do that by conquering the entire world and ruling. I know, it's shocking that Kang the Conqueror would turn to conquering as a solution.

The Avengers did defeat Kang, and took care of the Kree and Skrulls themselves, but it left me wondering if he'd faced off with them at other times. I'd imagine so, if only because one usually doesn't build an empire without fighting and defeating other, preexisting or contemporary empires along the way. Also, if we're going with the version of Kang that likes a challenge, then at some point he'd have tried the Kree Empire.

On the one hand, fighting an empire that spans a galaxy presents a certain set of logistical challenges. Reinforcements at crucial points, communication, supply, then throw in the fanatical aspect of the Kree, where you'd have to crush every single world. By comparison, fighting only a select group of people on one planet is a fair amount easier, given that the Avengers aren't typically much for hit-and-run tactics. You'll know where to find them (or how to draw them out). On the other hand, the space empires rely at least in part on having overwhelming advantages in firepower. Which, if we're talking 20th Century Kree, or 35th Century Skrulls, they probably won't have that when they face Kang, direct from the 41st Century. The Avengers are used to facing alien races who are far more advanced than Earth. They're used to being underdogs and winning anyway.

I'd actually be interested in a story where Kang uses the various alien empires to further some plan of his. Maybe he thinks they'd be more of a challenge if they're united, so he engineers conflicts between them until one stands supreme (which would have been the Inhuman-ruled Kree by the end of Abnett and Lanning's cosmic run, but I have no idea who it is now. The Spartoi, maybe). Or he takes power in some disguise, then throws one of them at Earth to test the Avengers, or even to toughen them up for when he arrives with his true forces.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Who Names A Town Warlock? Really

Warlock is a late '50s Western starring Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark. Fonda is an ace gunman named Clay Blaisedell, hired as a marshal by the citizens of Warlock, who are tired of their lives being ruined by a gang living up in San Pablo, run by a man named Abe McQuown. So Clay and his partner Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn) take the job, and they do pretty well getting the point across without killing anyone, though poor Curley (played by DeForest Kelly a few years before he'd be Dr. McCoy on Star Trek) nearly gets killed in a showdown will Clay. Fortunately, Clay felt it sufficient to show he was a lot faster on the draw, and Curley was able to walk away.

Widmark plays Johnny Gannon, who was a member of the gang, but gets tired of them always settling things by shooting guys in the back. He ends up staying in town, no longer welcome in McQuown's headquarters, but not entirely trusted by the townsfolk. Still, when the townsfolk tell the sheriff they're sick of him never being around, Widmark accepts a job as deputy sheriff.

I expected a fairly straightforward story, with Clay and Gannon eventually teaming up to fight McQuown, but there's a lot more going on. Clay falls for the local girl, Jessie Malone (played by Dolores Michaels), and considers hanging up the guns, to Tom's consternation. Lily (played by Dorothy Malone) comes to town, with a score to settle against Clay. She had brought along a man whose brother Clay killed, but that fellow is killed during a stagecoach robbery Gannon's brother was part of as she Lily was coming to Warlock. But the robbers didn't do it. Then she and Gannon fall for each other, but she still hates Clay, and there's Tom, moving about in the background.

Gannon does end up facing McQuown and his gang, but it isn't Clay that ends up having his back. You would think the townspeople standing behind their duly appointed representative of the law would be a good thing, but it only brings things to a head, and Clay is actually the one who ends up with the hard choice. Gannon doesn't get as much of a conflict. Sure, he didn't really want to fight his old friends, but he'd sworn to uphold the law, and that's all there was to it. He was going to try and do the job, even if it got him killed.

Clay is in this spot where he has to decide who he's going to be going forward, especially when he learns about all the things that have been going on around him without his knowledge all these years. There's a question of just what he's been doing all these years, how much of the Clay Blaisedell reputation is actually Clay, and where he draws the line, if he draws one. I thought his solution was fairly clever.

I'm not sure the film says anything good about people, though. At least enough of the citizens of Warlock wanted Clay to get him hired in the first place. And they seemed mighty pleased when he got McQuown's men to back down in the saloon. His reputation worked for them. But once Gannon is deputy sheriff, and shows the law will stand up to McQuown, suddenly Clay's rep is a liability. It'll bring in guys looking to make their rep against him. So he's gotta go. It's the Dark Knight thing: Die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain, but Clay never really changed. If anything, he was about to give up being a gun-for-hire, and they still turned on him.

They were still a step up from those backstabbing cowards in High Plains Drifter.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"Hellish Wasteland" Got More Literal

Over the weekend I had this dream where I was in Fallout 3, roaming the Wasteland. It was the usual burned out remnants of a long ago destroyed society, but at least I wasn't getting attacked by Raiders or Deathclaws. Then doorways to Hell opened and there were demons all over the place. Which as a video game would probably not be all that different from Doom, except I didn't have a BFG 9000. I mean, I liked Ol' Painless from Fallout 3, but a .32 rifle is not necessarily the best instrument for fighting demons that are 25-30 feet tall. To say nothing of the swarms of moderately large - we're talking beagle-sized, as opposed to bear or car-sized, which is why I said "moderately large" - demonic insects that were this shiny black color, except for the parts that were a dull red.

I have a fair number of dreams that turn into gun battles, but this one didn't. It also didn't become one of those dreams where I'm being chased forever and just running over the same place over and over again. I didn't fight anything. I ran for a while, dodging demons as they clawed their way out of the earth. I slipped into an old one-story house through the back door to catch my breath, and watched 3 Super-Mutants as they peered out at the world through boarded up windows while they argued over what to do. You know things are bad when those guys are hiding and talking rather than running at something and trying to beat it to death with a board with nails in it.

Eventually I wound up in some large garage, or transmission facility, and was going to try and figure out the password for a computer so I could send off a radio signal. What that was meant to accomplish, I don't remember. I don't think I was trying to warn anyone so much as get a lift out of there, but I doubt Hell was only breaking through in the remains of the suburbs of Washington D.C. It didn't come to anything, because I noticed something crawling on the ceiling above me, and I was trying to decide whether it had noticed me yet, and whether I should keep trying or get the heck out when the dream ended.

What I found interesting was that the way things played out in the dream generally conformed to what I enjoyed about playing Fallout 3. I didn't get involved in any combat. Instead I spent my time running/sneaking around, seeing how the inhabitants were reacting to this set of events (that mostly involved dying, or hiding while trying to figure out a way to not die). So that was nice.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Binge-Watching Avengers Cartoons

Finished watching Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes late last week, so here are some thoughts, in no particular order (probably be some spoilers):

- I didn't like the shift in season 2 away from the full theme song to a spoken intro by Nick Fury, followed by just the last few seconds of the theme song.

- I did notice that in Fury's voiceover, he refers to Thor as "Prince of Thunder", not "God of Thunder". Trying to avoid the wrath of irritating, whiny Christian parent groups, no doubt.

- They pulled out pretty much every big Avengers threat. Kang, Loki, the Masters of Evil, Ultron, the Kree/Skrull War, even Galactus. Really, the amount they get in, even just as nods or references, is pretty impressive. Beta Ray Bill shows up, Malekith, Jimmy Woo and Clay Quartermain, Jocasta gets referenced, Annihilus, freaking Air-Walker and Firelord show up (sort of).

- The interesting thing is the varied approaches they take to the stories. They use the mass super-villain breakout Bendis kicked off New Avengers with, but put the Enchantress (working with Loki) behind it all. The Kree are presented in more or less their classic form, of a vast militaristic empire that claims whatever they see is theirs. But the Skrulls are in their Secret Invasion status of a people without a home (thanks to Big G), trying to take Earth because a prophecy says they will. It better plays to their strengths as a race of shape-shifters relying on deception, but it never gives much sense of them as a rival empire at war with the Kree.

- They do change the hero the Skrull Queen poses as, since Spider-Woman doesn't show up in this universe.

- Watching the Avengers fall apart because of mistrust over the Skrull presence got tedious after awhile. I was ready for them to stop squabbling and start punching bumpy-chinned aliens. I much prefer stories where the heroes are caught between squabbling villains, rather than the heroes hampering themselves because they can't get along. The Enchantress' war of revenge on her mortal allies, with the Avengers trying to corral all of them before Amora can kill them, that was fun.

- The one outcome of all the Skrull-induced dissension I did enjoy was the brief Kooky Quartet that gets formed. Captain America, Hawkeye, the Wasp, and the Hulk. You'd expect the Hulk to be a real cause of strife, but it's actually a case of pairing him up with the characters that were most likely to give him benefit of the doubt, or just be friends. The Wasp and Hawkeye pretty consistently get along with old Jade Jaws. and Captain America has made his feelings on the Hulk quite clear to the big fella.

- Then that got broken up by the appearance of, sigh, the Red Hulk. He and Adam Warlock were my two least favorite characters to show up in this series. I was so excited for a Guardians of the Galaxy/Avengers team-up, and then there's Adam Warlock and his stupid Soul Gem. Booo, boooooo, Adam Warlock.

- I liked pretty much everyone on the show, even Stark, whose arrogance annoys all the others just enough they enjoy poking at him whenever possible (the first time the Avengers go to Wakanda is almost one long stretch of Stark getting egg on his face at seeing an entire country that's years ahead of him technologically).

- Hawkeye, unsurprisingly, was my favorite. He just seemed perfect. Brash, smart-mouthed, arrogant enough you enjoy the times he gets egg on his face, but good enough to come up big and show the ego is justified. He and the Hulk make a pretty good duo, because Clint's confidence in himself is so great he thinks nothing of threatening the Hulk to his face (and that amuses/impresses the Hulk he doesn't pop Clint's head like a grape). They did make him a SHIELD agent, but they let him keep his traditional costume (as opposed to the current Avengers Assemble cartoon, which has him in that stupid ass movie/Ultimate universe inspired thing with the sunglasses), and they at least kept the time in the circus as part of his backstory.

- Spider-Man gets to show up a few times, and his interaction with Captain America in the first appearance is pretty good. It's very much Peter in his early stages as a super-hero, still a kid, and this is at a point when Cap's standing with the public is pretty low, something Spidey can relate to, and struggles with. It even makes pretty good use of the Serpent Society, who get a fair amount of respect in this series overall. Whirlwind seems to be the stock "loser" villain, or maybe Blizzard. Thor did refer to MODOK as 'the head of a frost giant on an infant's body', but he at least gets to be a credible threat sometimes.

- I can't decide if I wish Galactus had more build-up or not. He's referenced once by the Skrulls prior to the last episode, when he shows up on Earth, looking for dinner. It works in a sense, because it's a big universe, and the Avengers are still learning how big, but it kind of blunted the impact to have it all in one episode. But it was the final episode, so maybe they'd have built it up more if they had a 3rd season. The Surtur Saga was going on all through season 2, but never got a payoff.

- I never was quite clear on why the Enchantress would work with Loki. I understood her working with the mortal villains, because she was always going to betray them, because she thinks them inferior to her. But she really ought to know better than to trust Loki, or to work with him even if you don't trust him. I mean, he was taking Odin's power for himself and was going to conquer all the Realms. How did she think that was going to work well for her? He'd just give her Thor, his hated brother, and let them go live happily ever after somewhere?

- I like the idea of different super-villain prisons for different types of villains. If nothing else, it reduces how many dangerous beings you have stored in one place, though it also disperses your forces for controlling them.

 - Hank Pym gets characterized as a pacifist, committed to rehabilitating the villains while they're confined. Which is not a characterization I've seen for him previously, but I thought it made sense. Hank has historically struggled with feelings of inadequacy about being Ant-Man, which has led to him either trying to be big strong heroes (Giant-Man and Goliath), or one that's really cocky and violent (Yellowjacket). But those are usually roles he's shown as not being comfortable in, or come about because he has a nervous breakdown. He's seemed most natural to me in roles that emphasize his mind, either Ant-Man or that Dr. Henry Pym stint (his time as the Wasp would probably also count, but I haven't read much of it). Being a superhero who relies on punching isn't his strong suit, so take it to an extreme conclusion and make him a pacifist, who then struggles with the fact that being an Avenger means punching, and means he's always putting out a new fire, but never dealing with the aftermath of the last one.

- Then you contrast that with Jan, who loves the adventure and the fighting. She understands it isn't Hank's cup of tea, but I think she fools herself into thinking he's at least adjusting to the idea. Also, Hank's bad at feelings, which annoys Jan, and then there's a lot of confusion and awkwardness in how they feel about each other. On the plus side, she does not try to marry him after he has a breakdown, but she does try to help him. Come to think of it, they never really resolved that plot thread either. Hank had an almost complete personality shift, and it just kind of stuck. Ran out of time, I guess.

Monday, February 23, 2015

I Really Got To Stop Watching War Flicks

I was fairly impressed with Twelve O'Clock High, if only because it actually managed to make me dislike Gregory Peck for most of its runtime. He takes over command of an American bomber squadron in England, during the early days of the U.S.'s involvement in World War 2, because the brass determine the previous commander has become too emotionally invested in his men. The result of that is he's let discipline go lax, and the performance of the squadron is suffering.

So Peck takes over, and is the sort of stock, hardass commander I w always hate in movies. He tells the men to stop thinking of themselves as special, to give themselves up for dead. He criticizes the former second-in-command for laziness and cowardice, and assigns him a crew of all the worst guys in the squadron, in a plane with the words "The Leper Colony" painted on the side. When one of the bombers breaks group cohesion on a mission to hang back with a damaged plane, Peck demotes that pilot to The Leper Colony, and makes everybody change roomies so they'll stop caring about the other guys in the squadron.

So you're supposed to care about the group, but you aren't supposed to care about the people in the group. That makes a lot of fucking sense. Just care about the group as an abstract concept, to keep everyone alive. Oh wait, but you're already dead, so who cares? Might as well get drunk and crash a jeep into an embankment, then. Saves you freezing your ass off on a flight to Germany where you can catch a 20mm cannon shell in the abdomen.

Of course, as it turns out, Peck does care about the men, he just feels the tough love approach is the only way to make them the highly disciplined unit he feels they need to be to be successful. And the longer he's with them, the more he ends up like the previous commander, too emotionally invested.

The basic gist seemed to be that yeah, they were asking a lot of these men, but it had to be done. They were all that was available at the time. So you just keep sending them up until they don't come back, but you do your best to train them so they will come back. And that apparently requires stamping out any sense of them as an individual, or any sense of the other planes as individuals.

I get all that, in theory. But the approach here just seems so wrong-headed. And heck, when Peck makes his initial, "you aren't special, give yourself up for dead" speech, every single pilot applies for transfer (which is what he said they could do at the end of the speech). So Peck has his adjutant "lose" the paperwork, so he can have time to convince them to stay. Even then, he only pulls it off because all the other pilots take their lead from Lt. Bishop, who won the Medal of Honor (for flying the plane under fire while struggling with the captain, who had gone wild after taking some shrapnel to the head), and Peck basically browbeats/shames the kid into not transferring. By suggesting the young man would be shirking his duty if he transferred to another branch of the service. Which is a pretty shitty tactic from where I'm sitting.

It just seemed he could have still achieved discipline (and avoided the paperwork hijinks) if he hadn't taken the Bobby Knight approach to leadership. The "you're all pieces of crap I'm going to mold into men" bullshit. Respect the work they've done already, rather than crapping all over it.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Zorro 1.3 - Zorro Rides to the Mission

Plot: We start with Monastario humiliating Sgt. Garcia by making him recite a speech about how he's a fat, stupid pig, and a disgrace to the army. At least it was happening in the privacy of the Capitan's office. Garcia has failed to find Don Nacho Torres, but along comes a local Indian, who reveals Torres is hiding at the mission, in exchange for the reward, which Monastario actually pays. I was sure he'd stiff the guy on the 500 pesos. Off the soldiers go, passing Diego and Bernardo on the way. At the mission, Torres and Padre Felipe watch as the Indians bring in the orange crop, but whoever was up in the bell tower helpfully alerts them to the approaching soldiers, so Torres makes it back inside the church before Monastario can grab him. And even the Capitan isn't willing to violate Sanctuary.

About this time, Diego and Bernardo arrive, but Torres tells him to stay out of it, as it would be bad for Diego or his father to aid a man accused of treason. While Diego tries to find a solution, Monastario conscripts all the Indians into pointless, backbreaking labor as way of tormenting Torres into surrender. Which nearly works, but Diego is able to convince Don Nacho to wait, and sends Bernardo off to get Tornado. By the time Bernardo returns, and Diego is able to don his Zorro outfit, Monastario is whipping the Native Americans, and Torres can hardly bear it. But Zorro rides up, grabs away one of the whips, and turns it on the soldiers, and then he and Monastario have themselves a whip fight on horseback, which I'm sure was great fun for those horses. But Zorro gains the upper hand, while all the Indians escape.

Quote of the Episode: Garcia - 'It is very hard to chase a fox through the rocks, Comandante.'

Times Zorro marks a "Z": 0 (3 overall).

Other: I'm pretty impressed a Disney show would have a whip fight back in the late '50s. I'm sure stuntmen were involved, and hopefully those guys had extra padding under the outfits, but still. There used to be an old bullwhip in the basement of my grandmother's house I would fool around with (because Indiana Jones), and those things are no joke. It's like what they say about nunchuks: If you don't focus on what you're doing, you're gonna have a bad time.

I did not know Sanctuary only works for 40 days, but according to the padre, that was how long the church can keep Torres.

Interesting to see Monastario, for all his bluster, still obeys the conventions of the Church. He removes his hat when entering. He even puts a peso in the poor box, and you could see a moment where he wasn't going to, and then he thought the better of it, or remembered to, before confronting Don Nacho.

I've been in a few too many history classes to completely support Padre Felipe, though. His comment about 'growing a fine crop of Indians' was probably meant well, but it still boils down to the Spanish probably forcing them to work on the mission so they can "save their souls" by converting them Christianity. I'm sure picking oranges is better than being forced to move heavy rocks back and forth for no particular reason other than cruelty, but still. This is going to be one of those things that'll be problematic for the duration of the series, isn't it?

So the Native Americans have escaped into the hills, removing at least one lever for Monastario to use against Torres. But the soldiers still surround the mission, and Torres can only hide in there for so long. Zorro's gonna have to come up with something before Monastario does.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

It's 31 Days of Oscar Month on TCM

Irma la Douce is the second movie I've seen with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine co-starring, after The Apartment. Lemmon plays an honest French policeman named Nestor assigned to the red light district, where MacLaine is the title character, the most well-known lady of the evening there. Nestor is smitten almost immediately, but when he finds out her profession, has her arrested along with about 15 other ladies. Unfortunately, at least one of those ladies was with Nestor's captain at the time, and Nestor unwittingly accepted bribes from the "boyfriends" (read: johns), so he got fired, and winds up moving to that neighborhood. He objects to how Irma's boyfriend treats her, and with considerable effort, beats him up, taking his place.

At which point difficulties arise. Nestor isn't entirely comfortable with Irma's profession, but she feels it's a far better one that working as a secretary or as a seamstress. Nestor also isn't comfortable with not providing any income, but Irma claims it would reflect badly on her with the other girls if her guy had a job. Confronted with this, Nestor takes a job at the fish market on the sly, but then builds an entirely separate identity as a British lord, and uses his wages to pay for time with Irma as a sly way to contribute. But in the meantime, Nestor is too exhausted to spend time with Irma, while this Lord X is a kind man she starts to fall for, which produces resentment in Nestor towards his other self and Irma, and leads to a whole big farcical mess.

Somehow I found this movie more depressing than The Apartment, which is nuts considering MacLaine's character tried to commit suicide in that film. Maybe because so much of that seemed to be about the perceptions of people outside (like how all Lemmon's neighbors think he's a ladies man, when really he's a would-be romantic schmuck trying to climb the corporate ladder). There is a fair amount of that here - Nestor's views on a man being a provider, and he's fairly buttoned-up about sex, Irma not wanting the other ladies to think she can't provide for him - but it's focused more on how those characters let those expectations and pressures warp how they treat each other. And it gets ugly. Irma feels neglected by Nestor, while Lord X is kind and caring, and then Nestor feels like she's about to throw him over for another guy (who Nestor created) and that she doesn't appreciate that he's tired from his job (which he's keeping secret from her).

I'm always impressed (and unnerved) seeing Lemmon play characters when they're mean. He's so often the pushover, either a klutz, or a babbling goof, the inept knight with the otherwise hangdog expression. But near the end, when things are going south in a hurry, he gets nasty, and it's hard to watch. I think because his characters are so often kind of a joke to others, and you know he knows it, and feels it keenly, that it's believable there's this fountain of bitterness and resentment boiling up in there, and then it just spills out.

MacLaine does well, though I don't think she gets as much to do. She's, not quite the straight man, but she definitely provides a calm set-up for most of Lemmon's humorous reactions. Irma pretty much knows who she is, and is comfortable with it. She doesn't want a more traditionally "respectable" job, she's happy with the one she has. Her feelings for Nestor or post boyfriends are separate from her work, and her work pays better and grants her more freedom and control over her life than working some 9-to-5 job in a cannery or whatever. She does hope Nestor is different from her past "boyfriends", and that hope seems dashed, but even that is something she's seen before. She accepts it, deals with the disappointment, and tries to move ahead.

I do have certain reservations about a character being completely cool with being a prostitute. Some of that is my own attitudes, and some of it is me thinking this reflects a guy's idealized vision of that practice. Maybe that's off-base, but it's very easy for me to picture some male writer saying, "Yeah, she actually really loves turning tricks! It'd be an embarrassment if her boyfriend did any work!" But maybe that's true, or was in Paris at that time. That isn't any fault of MacLaine's, like I said, she plays it well, Irma's self-confident when it comes to work, and if she's less so in more personal matters, there's still an air of experience, that she's seen all this before. It's just this constant question that was running in my mind watching the film. "How much of this is pure fantasy?"

Friday, February 20, 2015

Santa: He's Wherever He Needs To Be

So Carol Danvers got an assist from Santa Claus in Captain Marvel #11. It had appeared to be some poor mall Santa Grace Alexander and June Covington abducted to use as a test subject, but then he changed into Real Santa.

Chris Sims had talked about it in a past Ask Chris, how in the Marvel Universe, people seem to absolutely believe and accept that Santa exists, to the point he has his own entry in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. So Carol's complete lack of surprise at his appearance is perfectly natural. Still, it's the nature of him and his form that interests me, because the Mall Santa had a fake beard and looked nothing like ole Saint Nick, right up until he did.

The simplest explanation is that Santa, being able to see and know everything, knew Grace and June were about to be naughty, knew that nice Carol Danvers was their target (and that her friend Tracy could use a pick me up), and assumed another form to be abducted so he could help out. If we factor in that supposedly in the Marvel U. Odin was an inspiration (or early version) of Santa, handing out presents in elation over how Thor killed some troll, it would make sense for Santa to behave that way. Odin has at various times loved to take other appearances to either play tricks on people, or teach his son some life-lesson. So tricking a couple of villains and ensuring they aren't able to harm anyone on Christmas, would be somewhat in character for him.

But there's a part of me that wants to think Santa can possess or swap places with any one of his avatars or servants. Like certain interpretations of Billy Batson and Captain Marvel (the Big Red Cheese one, not Danvers), or a less malevolent version of that Space Phantom guy who hangs out in Limbo. He can keep them from harm that way, or it would be one way to get wherever you needed to be fast.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What I Bought 1/26/2015 - Part 11

Last set of reviews from this batch, so let's finish with a couple of more comedic entries.

Deadpool #40, by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn (writers), Scott Koblish (artist), Val Staples (crayon tester), Joe Sabino (letterer) - Thanks to a visit from Makes Brakes Fail Lass, I was able to read most of Deadpool's Axis tie-in, and I feel good about choosing to skip it. There were some good parts, but as with most event tie-ins, also a lot of crap I didn't care about.

This is set up as a coloring book commissioned by the Roxxon Corporation to convince everyone how wonderful gracking is. Gracking is like fracking, but with gamma irradiated water, and it's totally safe, and not at all cancer causing, and hey, who doesn't want fire to shoot out of their faucets?

Eventually even Deadpool realizes something isn't kosher, and so he teams up with Sarah Silverman, as well as co-creators of the comic Southern Basterds Jason Aaron and Jason Latour to fight the CEO of Roxxon, who turns out to be a secret minotaur. They kill him, though Latour dies in the process, only to realize corporations already own everything so trying to only buy products from ethical companies is a fool's errand. Hooray!

It's an OK issue, maybe hits a little too close to the truth to be too funny. Especially the part about how gracking doesn't work where there are mansions, only where poor folk live. And the Sarah Silverman guest appearance seemed random. Aaron appearing I could at least justify because I think he created that Roxxon exec, so if anyone is going to kill him, it ought to be his creator. Most of the jokes are on the cover. Koblish did well recreating the feel of a kids coloring book, along with Staples. The exec's face changes color sometimes, which I assume was the kid getting bored and wanting to use different crayons. The panel illustrating the dire threat wind turbines pose to dolphins was pretty funny.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1, by Ryan North (words), Erica Henderson (art), Maris Wicks (trading card art), Rico Renzi (color art), Clayton Cowles (lettering) - Seems appropriate, pairing Wade with the one character he fears most in all the universe.

Squirrel Girl is going to college, which means it's time to move out of the Avengers' attic and into the dorms. It's also time to fight Kraven the Hunter because he was in a bad mood and kicked some squirrels. Our heroine saves the day by helping Kraven find a new purpose in life, by upping his hunting game and taking on new threats. Then she finds out Galactus is on his way to Earth, and has somehow shielded himself from all eyes and instrumentation, except squirrel eyes. So it's off to space.

It's not the most dense first issue, but it's a solid start. Henderson and North introduced a couple of potential civilian supporting cast members, who will hopefully be further fleshed out as the series progresses. We got a good intro to her powers and abilities, but also the way she thinks. She's full of confidence in herself, but also open to trying different solutions to solve problems. I hadn't ever spent much time thinking about it before now, but I am curious to see how she spends her free time. Squirrel Girl has always struck me as a reasonably well-adjusted costumed hero, so it makes sense she would have some sort of civilian life, and other interests besides squirrels. Getting a chance to see those ought to be interesting. I do question the wisdom of having a squirrel and a cat sharing living quarters. In my experience, cats sometimes regard squirrels as something to kill, and honestly, squirrels can kind of be assholes sometimes. Not as bad as Blue Jays, but close.

Henderson's art and Renzi's colors fit the breezy, upbeat tone of the writing, and Henderson's doing well providing a variety of body types. Doreen doesn't have the typical super-hero body type, though some of that is the huge tail she has to conceal, but she's also very different from her roommate. It's an encouraging start, though I'm curious what mental jiujitsu she's going to pull on Galactus to divert him. Or are there space squirrels? Giant, ravenous space squirrels?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie Would Be Boring

I finished Sleeping Dogs last week. If you've ever watched a movie about a cop who goes undercover in a mob and then finds which side of the line he's on getting harder to distinguish, then you're familiar with the basic plot of this game. Bonus points if the film you watched was set in Hong Kong and involved Triad gangs, since that's where this one is.

You play as the most excellent Wei Shen, who grew up in Hong Kong. His family moved to San Francisco, where he became a cop for a time, but now he's back as a member of Hong Kong PD, working undercover to try and bring down the Sun On Yee organization. Of course, there's a personal stake in it for Wei, and not just because a lot of the guys he works with early on are people he knew growing up.

In terms of gameplay, it's in the general GTA mold. There's a map, there are missions, plus a lot of other random stuff you can do or buy to waste time. Cockfights to bet on, martial arts clubs and street races to participate in, lots of clothes and cars for you to buy. You don't have to buy stuff; Wei owns a motorcycle and you get an impounded car for some street races, but it opens up some things for you. You can't race in a stolen vehicle. Some of the missions are strictly for police, some are triad missions, and in those cases, you get graded on how well you do. From the triad side of things, it's usually about how creative you are in your use of violence. Headshots, using the environment to finish people off, things like that. But the cop score is reduced if you damage property or injure civilians, which is kind of hard to avoid doing when you're pursuing someone in a car, or leaning out a window to fire at a bunch of guys on motorcycles chasing you.

The hand-to-hand combat reminds me of Batman: Arkham City (or maybe it should be the other way around). Time your counters to opponent attacks is pretty essential, and adjusting your strategy based on which type of foe your up against is important. Some guys are nimble and dodge flying kicks, you can't grapple with someone carrying a bladed weapon. The big fat guys are a pain in the ass, so my strategy was to pick one of them and hammer him until he drops, then more to the next one. Counter other attacks as necessary, but go back to hitting Fatso as soon as possible, before he picks Wei up and drops him on his head.

The amount of gunplay increases as the game goes on, and it's there you see the game trying to ape the, I guess John Woo style of film. The game encourages you to take cover initially, but there is a specific button command to make Wei vault over whatever he was hiding behind, and then you can go into slow motion and fire while doing that move. It isn't like Max Payne, where you can trigger bullet time whenever, you have to be pulling off some sort of acrobatic move. I wouldn't say I ever got excellent at it - I'm much stronger on the hand-to-hand combat - but I was good enough to get by. There's also the ability to hijack other vehicles by getting close to them and then leaping off your ride onto theirs, which is handy, though I didn't use it much outside of the times the game specifically called for it. I was usually happy with whatever I was already driving. The controls for driving, shooting, and fighting and all pretty smooth, though trying to drive and shoot was tricky. There are so many bumpers and buttons to keep pressed all at once, but the game makes shooting tires a viable strategy, so that helps. You don't have to keep firing until the car blows up.

One thing I had expected that I didn't get was the ability to make choices. I had thought it would be set up where at certain times, Wei would be given a mission, and he would decide how far he might go to accomplish it. Would he outright kill someone, or try to threaten them into hiding so it would look like he killed them? The game doesn't have that range of freedom, which isn't a deal-breaker, but it was mildly disappointing. Like, I really wanted to kill Sonny Wo five seconds after I met him, he was an extremely obnoxious sleazebag, but the game didn't allow it. There are points in the game where Wei decides certain things are a bridge too far, but the game makes those decisions, not you.

Maybe that isn't true, though. One of those lines was when Wei is working for a loan shark. As the story goes on, you're introduced to different characters, and some of them you have the choice to work for or not. They show up as contacts in your phone, and you can call them up and do missions for them if you want. You get money, maybe unlock some cool stuff, and it ups your Face Level (which is separate from your Triad or Cop Levels, as I think Face mostly relates to how much of a badass you are). But those are strictly optional. I made the choice to have Wei call the guy the first time, and then all the subsequent times. I wanted to see what the missions were (mostly involve chasing people over rooftops, vaulting railings and vendor's tables and beating the shit out of them until they cough up the cash). In that sense, I made the decision to put him on that path. Still, the game doesn't give any leeway in how to accomplish the objective.

Along those same lines, Wei does meet some girls over the course of the game, and so I thought perhaps there were different threads he could follow from dating one. As it turns out, all of them a basically a one-time deal. You go out with them once, and unless they call you in to help them with a problem, you don't hear from them again. Which is too bad, I liked a couple of them, they might have been interesting to bounce some of Wei's inner conflicts off of.

There are some portions of the game that are cop surveillance stuff. Mini-games for picking locks, planting listening devices, things like that. It mostly involves rotating the joysticks in various directions, so it's not the most fun part of the game, and I usually groaned, especially when it came to listening for the tumblers to click so I could open the many, many lockboxes scattered around. I'd think it had recorded getting one of the tumblers to click, so I'd start spinning the other way and end up losing the first number. Fortunately, that stuff is rare enough it doesn't bog down the game too much.

Some of the time, the game is very good at making me care about the other characters, which is key. The whole point is that Wei is supposed to start to care about these criminals and think of them as friends and family, so that the fact he's an undercover cop creates internal conflict. So that needs to work, and Sleeping Dogs succeeds, often enough. There's always at least one or two characters I care about that I want to look after, or keep out of the police's hands. Jackie, Winston eventually, Vivienne. Again, there's not much I specifically can do, because their fates are predetermined, but that actually helps me connect with Wei more, because we both feel powerless at times. It helps draw me in to the desperation he feels to try and find a way to fix things.

I would have liked it to be a little more obvious which buildings you could enter and which you couldn't. There's no simple way to tell other than just running up to a door and seeing if you pass through it. And there are a lot of doors, because it's a big flipping city (or four cities on the same island). Especially when there are places you discover you can definitely enter, the game just won't let you enter it now. Or there's a ledge you absolutely ought to be able to climb. Wei routinely climbs walls twice his height, but sometimes I can't get over a wall that doesn't even reach his chin, because they didn't make allowances for me climbing it. That gets frustrating when I'm just wandering around exploring.

On the whole though, the things Sleeping Dogs will let me do, it does very well. It's just there were some other things I was hoping to be able to do, that I can't.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What I Bought 1/26/2015 - Part 10

How long before Carol Danvers and her #1 fangirl team up? Battleworld would seem like a natural opportunity, but hopefully it'll be in a book I'm actually reading.

Captain Marvel #11, by Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), David Lopez (artist), Lee Loughridge (color art), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - So when I was reviewing the previous two issues of Captain Marvel, I forgot that I'd ordered this one, since comic guy forgot to send it along. Whoops.

Back on Earth for a day, Carol goes to the hospital to visit her sick friend Tracy, falls asleep there, and wakes up a prisoner of Grace Alexander and June Convington, whoever the hell that is. Yes, I know Carol's internal narration box describes her as a geneticist, I'm just saying she doesn't ring a bell with me. They want to experiment on Carol and some poor mall Santa they abducted so they can figure out how to copy her powers for themselves. Oh, and Grace has some bombs hidden around, because why not, right? But even with her powers nullified and her wrists shackled, Carol Danvers is still a badass former intelligence agent, and that means she can whoop a couple nerd psychopaths. With a little assist from Mall Santa, who was also Real Santa, which in of itself raises some questions we should expand on to an absurd degree another day. Carol finds the bombs, saves the day, that's pretty much it.

So were Grace and June just sitting around the hospital waiting for Carol to show up? Grace says she was sure Carol would come back once she heard Grace was on the loose, but Carol wasn't looking for her. She was with Tracy for hours, she thought Grace was still in jail. So how'd they find Carol?

I like how apparently no one is excited when Carol Danvers says she has a plan. Even Jarvis can't conceal his concern at that statement, and he's the height of politeness (as an aside, how long before Edwin Jarvis in the comics gets replaced by the J.A.R.V.I.S. of the films?). I like the jacket/coat Lopez gave Carol for civilian garb. It reminds me as bit of the redesign Mockingbird's outfit got after Secret Invasion. Which makes sense, considering he drew her in Hawkeye and Mockingbird. Still wish that series had been better, short-lived as it was.

Ms. Marvel #10, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (art), Ian Herring (color art), Joe Caramagna (lettering) - I like Anka's covers more than McKelvie's. They more closely resemble the interiors in how Kamala looks.

So all these teens are working as batteries for the Inventor voluntarily, because he's convinced them it's the only way they can be of any use. Kamala points out that's stupid crap, and after the Inventor abducts Lockjaw with another of his giant mechs, the teens all agree to throw in with her and fight crazy Bird Edison. Except the Inventor has still got his giant mech, and a bunch of other kids he's going to use as hostages, I guess. I mean, otherwise what's point of showing them floating in tubes to Kamala? When he asks what's she's going to do about them, what does he expect her to say, other than "Free them"?

Also, isn't it common knowledge that the whole Matrix idea of humans as an energy source doesn't work because it takes more energy to keep them alive than you get from them? Fine, maybe Bird Edison didn't see that movie, but he's a scientist, surely he'd understand that. Unless the Inventor isn't worrying about it and is just using them until they die. Certainly not something I would put past him, and he clearly thinks the older generations regard them as so useless they won't object, so maybe that is his plan. Never underestimate the ability of an adult to delude themselves into thinking it'll never affect them, it'll never be their kid that gets used.

I love the Inventor's mech. He gave it a little derby hat, and the fists are like giant Extend-o boxing gloves, with brass knuckles that deliver electric shocks. I don't know if that's all Alphona, or if he and Wilson collaborated on that design, but it's fantastic. A little homemade, little old-fashioned, a little crazy, but still effective. Also, it's nice that he is adapting and responding to the changing threat Kamala represents. She gets a teleporting dog, he figures out how to neutralize it. And I think he's figured out she isn't really about fighting, but about protecting people, and now he's going to use the other kids he's lured in as a lever against her. Still not clear how, but that seems like the plan.

Monday, February 16, 2015

What I Bought 1/26/2015 - Part 9

For today's reviews, we have one series wrapping up, and another just getting started.

Secret Six #1, by Gail Simone (writer), Ken Lashley (penciller, inker), Drew Geraci (inker), Jason Wright (colorist), Carlos M. Mangual (letterer) - Before I realized the letters on the cover were forming words, I thought it was a weird periodic table reference. Then I was trying to figure out what element would have an isotope of W47, and what that had to do with anything.

Catman's hanging out in some dive bar, and three dudes posing as cops try to arrest him, and get thrashed, only for the singer to tase Blake. Then he wakes up in a big metal box with 5 other people. They have 15 minutes to figure out a secret, or one of them is gonna die. And since the box is at the bottom of the ocean, they kind of seem to be out of options.

This was not what I was expecting. I am curious as to what the secret is - though I have a strong hunch it's something along the lines of the Sixes' lives being in the hands of whoever put them there - but I feel like it might have helped if we had a better sense of the people who set all this up. Blake and the others don't have to know anything, and we don't have to know everything. But at this stage, things are so vague this could just be some asshole sadist torturing people, like those crapass Saw movies. I highly doubt that's the case but you can't rule it out, at least not after one issue.

The art varies in quality, depending in part on who's inking, and also what's going on. When the characters are sitting and talking, things look pretty good. The club scene at the beginning, that was solid, though I think Wright's colors help a lot. There's something about how panels or pages will have this one overwhelming background color, but the characters are shaded differently, like the light plays off them differently, I like it. When people have to start moving, things don't go as well. It's more muddled, and as busy as Lashley's style is, he might want to use either larger panels, or put less stuff in them to make things clearer. Also, at certain points the faces get really undefined, and even seem to lose their shape (around the point Blake accosts Black Alice), which I'm assuming is when Lashley wasn't inking himself. Things got a lot more, Impressionistic, post-Impressionist? The general idea of human shape, rather than an actual one?

I wouldn't call this a win as first issues go, but we'll see if my curiosity keeps me here long enough for things to pick up. I'm confident that if Simone has time, she can build some relationships between these people they was she did the previous versions, but she's got to keep me here until then.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #17, by Nick Spencer (writer), Steve Lieber (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Are they in a shawarma joint? And I just now found out what that actually is, from looking it up to see how to spell it. While I don't know Steve Lieber or Nick Spencer, I'm not sure I'd trust them to prepare my grilled mixed meats wrapped in, is that a flatbread? Let's go with flatbread.

Boomerang is on the verge of breaking his own strikeout record, while impersonating the guy who was going to break it anyway. He calls up his lady friend to give her some spiel about how he'd give up the whole crime thing for her, and hey, he has this super-expensive painting of Doom they could share. He used that villain Mirage to steal the real one, but used a duplicate of him to carry a fake painting to trick Chameleon and Owl. Two problems: One, the Owl isn't tricked. He's watching the game from the stands, and orders Boomerang to throw the game, or else. Two, his girlfriend was actually Felicia Hardy, and she took the painting. And we never find out if Fred threw the game or not, though the fact he's alive suggests yes. Otherwise I think rats would have eaten his innards by now.

But let's be honest, most of this is him making stuff up. Hey, I enjoyed watching the Shocker become head of the Maggia by taking out the Punisher with his Shockermobile, but yeah, that didn't happen. I mean, Fred says Speed Demon won 90 bajillion dollars when he sued Iron Fist, and we all know Danny Rand is a lousy, broke ass businessman, so there's no way he's being ordered to pay that much. It's highly unlikely Fred was really dating Felicia Hardy, even if she was in disguise. And Iron Man showing up to help Mach 7 out of that bind, while bolstering Abe's sense of self-worth? Please.

It was funny, though, which counts for a lot. It is, as Fred says, about a bunch of people scratching and clawing to fulfill their dreams, and pleasantly enough, their dreams don't revolve around killing Spider-Man or world conquest. They can't quite pull it off, because they're second-raters and they can't stop backstabbing each other, but they make up, and try again. I've been frustrated at times with how stupid Fred's made everyone around him seem, but having him openly admit on the last page he's making half of it up helped a lot. I'm going to miss this book.

Lieber's and Spencer are very good at those one panel, reaction shots? set-ups for the punchline? I'm not sure what you'd call them. The one of Frank, slightly perplexed and saying 'Hell', right before Shocker blasts him over the horizon. It gives the reader a moment to appreciate the preceding panel, and get ready for the next one. The use of arrows in this issue, to help clarify all the shape-shifting and fakeouts. Appreciated, but they run with it just long enough for it to become funny, without getting annoying.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Zorro 1.2 - Zorro's Secret Passage

Plot: It's the morning after Don Nacho Torres' Zorro-aided escape, and Capitan Monastario hasn't wasted any time. He's had Sergeant Garcia and one of the privates out all morning putting up reward posters. 500 pesos for Torres, 1000 for Zorro, dead or alive. Meanwhile, Monastario is convinced if he can find Zorro, he can find Torres, as he reasons the two must be friends. At the De la Vega hacienda, Bernardo is surprised to see Diego in his room, even though Bernardo slept outside the door last night. Diego reveals a secret passage in the room, one he discovered as a boy. It leads under the house, all the way to a cave, where Diego is keeping Tornado. The cave opens into the end of a box canyon, which is where Bernardo will make sure Tornado gets exercised every day. Having shown his sidekick this place, Diego heads to Padre Felipe's mission, to deliver the books, and to check in on Don Nacho, since this is where Zorro told him to hide. The three are joyously reunited, as Torres asks Diego to let his family know he is well (but not tell them where he is), and reveals his plan to deal with Monastario. He's going to ride to the governor in Monterrey and speak to him directly, hoping the official will recognize he's a patriot and not a traitor. Diego is concerned, but does visit Torres' hacienda and passes the message along to his daughter Elena.

Returning home, Diego finds Monastario waiting for him, with a replica of Zorro's outfit. Monastario is certain he will recognize Zorro once he gets the outfit on the right guy and sees how they handle the sword. Diego, however, is not a suspect, to his faux consternation, and demands the opportunity to clear his name, which he manages with an impressive (if excessive) display of ineptitude. Monastario isn't there for Diego, he's there for a vaquero named Benito, and Garcia has found the man and brought him in. Benito is reluctant to explain where he was last night, since the other workers on the hacienda can't account for him. A young boy named Pepito tries to help, by stating he saw Benito walking under the moonlight with Elena, but considering it was her father Zorro saved, that's not the best move. So the Capitan hauls Benito off to the Torres' place to interrogate Elena. Diego rushes up to the passage to change to Zorro.

By the time Zorro reaches the Torres' hacienda, Monastario has already forced Benito to don the mask and cape, and he's testing him with the sword. Benito's staying alive, mostly by keeping any furniture he can between him and the Capitan. Zorro's able to free Garcia's horse to distract him, sneak in, and enter the fray himself. Monastario, to his credit, doesn't let the fact he was wrong slow him down. Benito was already injured, so he simply shifts attention to the true Zorro. Not that it helps him, and neither can Garcia, as Zorro easily escapes. OK, not entirely easily. He had to make Tornado just a chasm, but it didn't seem too difficult. Diego does only narrowly get back and change in time to answer a shouted summons from Monastario as to whether he's seen an outlaw about.

Quote of the Episode: Zorro - 'I hear you've been looking for me, Comandante!'

Times Zorro marks a "Z": 0 (3 overall).

Other: I'm debating whether to keep count of the use of the word "baboso", seeing as I learned that word from this show. There was one this week, but we'll see if it become an official thing or, a sporadic one like "Shut up, Eberts".

It's interesting to note that Garcia is literate, while the private he was working with is not. I wonder if that's how he made it to Sergeant, because it's kind of hard to picture how a man of his otherwise limited skills could have reached any rank of command. I like Garcia, but he's not especially swift of foot or mind, Zorro humiliated him in a swordfight last week (though Garcia was minus a boot), and he doesn't even have the sort of cruel nature certain commanders might appreciate in a subordinate.

He was definitely right to not make his horse try and jump that chasm. I'm pretty sure the horse would have refused, anyway, but if it hadn't, I don't think it would have gone well.

I doubt they had this in mind, but I like that so far, the flintlock pistols the soldiers carry are fairly useless. Monastario missed Zorro and Torres last week (although that was a long shot from across the compound, at night), and Garcia missed Zorro from the bottom of a staircase when Zorro was at the top. Missed him badly. Seems about right for that sort of firearm.

It's a little odd to me that Monastario would continue to suspect Benito is Zorro, even after seeing his lack of skill with a sword, but completely dismiss Diego. After all, he'd only met Diego once previously, so it isn't as though Diego had that many opportunities to try his "disguise" on the Capitan. Plus, Diego shows up, and then so does Zorro. I guess Monastario is more focused on the fact Zorro's first appearance coincides with Torres being imprisoned, though he didn't know of Benito's connection to Elena until after Pepito told him. Also, I should account for the fact Monastario has probably convinced himself Zorro just got lucky that first time. So he'd see his being able to wound Benito not as a sign that this guy isn't Zorro, but merely as a sign of his superior skill. Blind arrogance at its finest.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Long, Dark Day For Kurt's Soul

One of the first things I thought of when Nightcrawler was able to come back to life after a fatal stabbing was GrimJack. Maybe not unusual, since I think about that series fairly often, but it fit in this case.

John Gaunt died, and narrowly made it into Heaven. Once he was up there, he saw his best friend was about to be killed by John's reanimated corpse, and he left Heaven to save his friend (this involved a clone body created by a clone of a scientist trying to prove she was more than just a copy of the original). Eventually, Gaunt learns there are consequences to leaving Heaven. He'd tied his fate to that of the city of Cynosure, and so until it is destroyed, he's going to be reborn again and again. This ends up having a less than positive effect on Gaunt's sanity, being destined to see everyone he cares about die, and being denied any chance at reuniting for who knows how long.

In the Marvel Universe, death is a little different, at least for the super-powered set. It's almost become a joke now how often people come back. A lot of times, the character wasn't actually dead. Xavier's faked his death before, Captain America was shot with time bullets instead of real ones, Kraven put Spidey in a two-week coma, Colossus was. . . actually, I'm not sure what Colossus was. Wolverine died at least once before, during the Tieri/Chen run on Wolverine, but it lasted for about half an hour, and he didn't seem to remember any of it.

That's the most notable thing to me about death in the Marvel Universe: It seems like most characters shake it off pretty fast. Wonder Man actually sticks out to me, because after his first return, he was scared for a long time of going into battle, because he might get killed again. Which seems like a perfectly reasonable response, since he knows he can die. But I don't know if it was ever detailed what his time being dead was actually like, if he remembers it. Was he in Hell, did he experience nothing at all? You'd figure it had to be a lousy experience if he was so desperate to avoid it again.

Hellcat's probably the exception. We know she went to Hell, and she struggled to shake off the effects of that (and the knowledge she'd go back the next time she died) for awhile. I honestly wonder if Soule's portrayal of her in She-Hulk, as someone with nothing going on, and string of shitty boyfriends in her recent past, is meant to be some result of that. It's made it harder for her to connect, or messed with her self-esteem or something. Or it could just be a continuation of her past history of having lousy taste in men. Either one.

Kurt's in a situation where he died, went to Heaven, which basically confirms the things he'd believed in his entire life, and then left it. He remembers what he left, and now he finds he can't get back to it. In the first few issues, Claremont wrote a scene between Kurt and Logan where they discussed that, as well as the changes Logan was having to accept. Logan mentions he'd always figure he would live forever, and in particular that meant he and Jean would meet up again someday when she came back. Now he had to accept he was going to die, and given Logan's lengthy list of enemies, probably very soon. Kurt, for as much as he enjoys life, had believed there was a greater reward waiting later, and that he was definitely mortal and would see it. Now he has to come to grips with the idea that may not be the case, because the fact he couldn't enter that portal to Heaven like Amanda, and the fact he pops up miraculously fine after being stabbed three times in the torso, suggests something is up.

That could be an interesting approach for Kurt. If he's become immortal in some regard, how does he react to that? Part of Gaunt's problem was he already struggled with the question of whether he was a good friend, considering people around him die an awful lot. On the one hand, when he died he learned it was that quality that got him in Heaven, because his friends argued for him, which ought to put the question to rest. On the other hand, it was going back to save a friend that effectively bars him from seeing those people again for some ludicrous amount of time, and now he gets to start the process of watching friends die all over again, and again, and again, because in his reincarnations, it takes awhile before he remembers the past lives, so the chance to make new friends. Who will eventually die. Before it's all said and done, Gaunt pretty much sabotaged his chances of getting back.

Kurt doesn't have the reincarnation issue, and I doubt he's going to do things that would get him barred from Heaven. Still, he's a deeply compassionate guy who may end up watching a lot of his friends die, from the same things he pops back up unscathed from. Does he start taking the most dangerous missions for himself? I don't expect Kurt to start throwing himself on live hand grenades - after all, he can't be entirely sure how long this is going to last, or if there are limits - but the idea he might continue on indefinitely, that ought to have some sort of effect on Kurt. I know I'd do things differently if I thought I wouldn't stay dead. Kurt's a swashbuckler, but if there's less risk for him, does that take some of the fun out it? Though it might encourage him to try different things. I would love to see Kurt try acting, because what the hell, he's got time.

Friday, February 13, 2015

What I Bought 1/26/2015 - Part 8

I still watch Pardon the Interruption. I avoid all of ESPN's other "shouting about sports" shows, but that one always had the air of two friends bickering gently, so that helped. Lately though, Wilbon's just gotten so irritating. Implying Marshawn Lynch has nothing worth saying, just because he doesn't like talking to the media, or those strawmen he created to rail against analytics Wednesday (I'm pretty sure no one has ever argued you shouldn't start Jordan and Pippen together because they were both wing players). Fine, he's old and cranky, but Kornheiser is older still, and he's managed to keep his head from drifting that far up his own ass.

She-Hulk #10 and 11, by Charles Soule (writer), Javier Pulido (artist/storyteller), Muntsa Vicente (color artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - They changed Pulido's credit from artist to storyteller between these two issues, but left Soule as writer.

 Steve Rogers gets on the stand to tell his side of the story, which is basically the same story, except the guys Sammy's brother was working with were actually Nazis, and the FBI showing up on a raid was the only thing that saved Steve. Which is what the file Patsy recovered says, but Jen can't use that, as there is no "Hellcat stole it" exception for evidence. Which is a shame. Anyway, it boils down to he said, he said, the word of a dead man admitting he was mixed up in something (though he omitted that fact about it being Nazis), versus the word of Captain America. So Steve is found innocent and later reveals to Jen and Matt that it was all part of a plot by Dr. Faustus to ruin Rogers' reputation. I had the same reaction to that reveal as they did. "Oh, Dr. Faustus, of course!" I don't know anything about him, but OK sure, I guess Cap's enemies are lining up to get their last licks in before he keels over. I expect Crossbones will be mailing Steve a package of adult diapers and applesauce any day now.

Jen, Angie, and Patsy return to their office to be greeted by Titania, who is here to convince Jen to stop nosing around in the Blue File. But being a bad guy, she'd just as soon use it as an excuse to kill Jen, and she even brought her old friend Volcana along. In the ensuing fight, Angie demonstrates control of energy by redirecting one of Volcana's blast back at her, and Hei Hei survives being in thrown into orbit by sprouting wings and growing considerably. While he finishes pummeling Titania, Angie reveals she'd been continuing to look into the file, and Jen (with weird swirly light in her eyes) fires Angie. Who then tells Jen that Nightwatch has been behind everything. Pretty much like we figured.

What do we figure is the deal with Angie? Personally, I'm betting on her being an Ancient One. Maybe not the one that trained Stephen Strange, but maybe the one from before that. She's been walkabout in other realms for a long time, and now she's back. In paralegal form.

It's rare I say this, but not a fan of Pulido's version of Volcana. She looks like a rock creature, when I'm pretty sure she's always been a being of energy. Like "Volcana" was more a reference to the heat and light, and less to the geologic origins of that heat and light. That said, it was nice to see Titania bring her along, rather than the Absorbing Man. I mean, those two are a fun villainous couple, don't get me wrong. But sometimes you want your friend to come along, not your significant other. Plus, Volcana was more likely to work in a supporting role, whereas Crusher would have tried to hog more of the action.

I don't know much else to say. The Steve Rogers story kind of petered out. I guess I was expecting something more to swing it than "Steve tells his side and it involves Nazis". I didn't expect him to lose exactly (though they were dealing with a jury made up of the sorts of imbeciles who populate the Marvel Universe, so it wouldn't have been a huge shock), I guess I just figured Jen would have to do something more. And I have to wait and see how things play out with the Blue File in the final issue. What's it about, what's Nightwatch trying to protect (because I'm pretty sure something bad is going to happen when they start remembering). Sticking the landing is hard.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What I Bought 1/26/2015 - Part 7

I started watching Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes on Netflix this week. It's been as good as I remembered, Hawkeye was a good addition, though the show still had a lot of humor even before that. But he and the Hulk play off each other well. The closed captions had an awful lot of errors, though. Stuff like, 'But several we are strong', instead of 'Assembled we are strong'. Metal instead of mettle. Little things, not a big deal, just kind of distracting.

Nightcrawler #8-10, by Chris Claremont (writer), Todd Nauck (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Little disappointed they didn't go with a 'Welcome back to the X-Men, Nightcrawler - Hope you survive the experience!' cover blurb. Sure, Kurt's been back for awhile, but this is the first time where it's really fit.

The Crimson Pirates went looking for a powerful energy signature in the Gobi desert, and unleashed the Shadow King. Because of course they did. Bess, having some psychic ability, was the only one who avoided being controlled, and while on the run from her former allies, called out to Kurt of all people. So off he went (with an assist from the Bamfs), the X-Men in hot pursuit. Which turned out to be a bad idea. While Kurt is somehow immune to the Shadow King now as a result of his metaphysical journeys, the rest of the team is quickly controlled, which leaves Kurt locked in battle against the lot of them. He does manage to separate Psylocke from the rest, and leave her to Bess, but that doesn't seem like a good strategy, since even as Kurt's turning the X-Men's powers against each other, Shadow King is possessing the Bamfs, who are naturally not going to fall prey to Kurt's teleporting tricks.

About that time, Rico, Ziggy, and the remaining Bamfs arrive in the old school Blackbird, and Shadow King gets distracted tormenting them, enabling Psylocke to reveal Bess helped break her free of his control. The two of them use their powers to send Kurt into the astral plane, he beats the Shadow King, and he and Bess stuff S.K. back into Omega Black (whoever that is). But in the meantime, the Crimson Pirates got up, they've gotten Ziggy (who was their original target, after all), and a bunch of them stab Kurt before departing. So he's dead, again. Oh well, no wonder the book is ending, wait, what's this Kurt isn't staying dead? He chats with Amanda a bit, and then he's able to go back, and he's mysteriously healed. And now he and Bess plan to rescue Ziggy and Rico from her former partners.

Well, at least the Shadow King's appearance was relatively brief. I didn't really buy that Bess would, when in trouble, call out to Kurt telepathically, as the only person she knew would come help. Admittedly, she doesn't know hardly anyone else on Earth, but it was a little odd, as was their almost immediate makeout session. I can sort of buy it from Bess, since I don't know enough about her to know if it's unusual. She's a pirate, takes what she wants, lives for the moment, Kurt has a long history of being remarkably irresistible to the opposite sex. Seems a little odd for Kurt, given it's a lady he barely knows and was fighting against the last time he saw her. I'd suspect she was pulling some shenanigans with her psychic powers, except Kurt's apparently immune to that now, so who knows.

As for Kurt not staying dead, it could be interesting. I want to think it over a little more, so we'll come back to this, maybe this weekend.

Nauck did a good job with issue 9. Always good when the artist can draw a nice fight scene. The giant ice monsters the possessed Iceman made were fairly cool looking. I continue to enjoy the Bamfs, how they're always around and up to something. Maybe they're grabbing the Blackbird, or they've retrieved Kurt's escrima sticks, or they're just hanging out. There was one panel where I think one of the pirates was supposed to have a big grin on his face, but his mouth was opening and he was shouting something about Kurt being doomed, slight miscommunication between Claremont and Nauck there. Otherwise, the two seem to be on the same page. Even so, this is probably the end for me with this book. I might pick up the final two issues down the line, depending on if I get really curious about where Claremont leaves Kurt.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sometimes People Forget For A Reason

Anna is a point-and-click horror/puzzle game. Your character is a professor of archeology who one day finds a lot of photos of himself with a wife and children, at a cabin in the forest. He doesn't remember any of that, and sets out to find the cabin, which is now haunting his dreams. The game starts with you outside, trying to find the way in.

Like I said, it's a puzzle game. You have to wander around and examine things, and then try finding items that will help you get around whatever obstacle you're facing. In practice, this results in a lot of walking up to something you can interact with, and seeing which thing in your inventory you can actually use on it. The game is a little sparse on clues, even if you set it to give you hints on how to solve puzzles. On the other hand, there are plenty of clues as to what happened there. Books scattered around, talking about folklore or rituals for summoning the Goddess. Paintings that appear, wooden mannequins, masks that alter your perceptions. Shadows that watch you, and sometimes, if you make the wrong move, they do something else. There's at least two forces at work in the house, one that wants you to leave, and one that wants you to stay.

And there's that creepy tree-woman you see above. You find her about a quarter of the way through the game, and after that, she follows you. Not in the sense she walks behind you. You'll be standing in a room, surveying it, and all of the sudden she's in a corner that was deserted a moment before. The next time you look, she's gone again. The game is surprisingly effective at being scary, considering there isn't a real penalty for screwing up puzzles. You can be damaged, but if it happens too much, you pass out and wake up outside the house (and get the "Expelled" ending). Even so, the game had at least one moment where I actually screamed and tossed the controller in the air. Look, I was playing at night, in the dark, the house was empty, and you'd freak if a wooden hand suddenly grabbed you across the face.

I think the scary part comes from being completely defenseless. If something in this house decides to get you, there isn't doodley-squat you can do about it. There's no button command to protect yourself. On a couple of occasions you can avoid a bad time if you just don't approach the obviously dangerous looking thing. At one point I entered a hall. There was a door in front of me, and to the right, a hallway split by a thin wall. One side of it led to a large room with a fireplace. The other dead-ended almost immediately, but at the end was a vibrating shadow, with noticeable bright spots where its eyes were. I figured what the hell and approached it, and the next thing I know, I'm frozen in place. I can still turn, and when I look behind me, there's several more, I turn again and the first one has moved much closer. Things didn't get any more cheerful after that.

But I guess that's what works. I don't really know what's going on, and neither does the character, so there's at least a sense that I could get surprised at any time. Even when I was playing through sections I'd done multiple times before (because for awhile I was getting every ending except the ones where I actually got to the end), I was nervous. Because I could step into the wrong place at the wrong time and trigger something I hadn't seen before.

One weird aspect of the game is that if you examine certain things, you gain these "intuitions". Which you can combine with other intuitions to help piece more of the story together. You don't have to, but if you don't figure enough of it out, you can't certain endings. So the game lets you decide what's driving you more: your interest in learning what's going on, or getting through it before something scares the crap out of you. The game even, at certain times, gives you the option to leave the house, though that ends the game.

The controls are kind of crap. This is one of those games where you have to get the cursor over whatever it is you want to look at or use. Except the controls are herky-jerky, so it's a real struggle to manage that. I try to gently nudge the joystick and nothing happens, so then I press a little harder and the thing swings too much. Small adjustments are exceedingly difficult. In a game where you don't necessarily want to be in one place too long, being stuck because I can't get the game to recognize I want to interact with the leaf attached to the painting, not the painting itself, is maddening. I tried turning down input sensitivity, which might explain why small movements are hard to manage, but the default setting makes the character swing around wildly, like some kid hopped up on sugar, who is also hooked up to a car battery.

So the atmosphere of the game is good, the music is pleasantly creepy (although they overdid it on the persistent strange noises, they get annoying rather than unnerving), it looks all right, it is scary, and the story is fairly interesting. It's just the game doesn't make itself easy to play, even if you know how to solve the puzzles, and if you have a good idea what you're doing, you can finish in about 40 minutes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What I Bought 1/26/2015 - Part 6

I'm surprised Adam Silver didn't fine Knicks' owner James Dolan for calling that fan an alcoholic who ruins his family's lives when the guy criticized Dolan's ownership of the team. It would have been an easy move everyone would have approved of, a smaller version of forcing Donald Sterling to sell the Clippers. It isn't like the fan was wrong. James Dolan is an utter failure at building a competitive team.

Klarion #2-4, by Ann Nocenti (writer), Trevor McCarthy (artist, #2, layouts and finishes #3), Sandu Florea (finishes, #3), Staz Johnson (finishes, #3), Fabrizio Fiorentino (artist, #4), Symon Kudranski (artist, #4), Guy Major (colorist), Pat Brosseau (letters) - The march of the fluctuating art teams. Always a sure sign the book is dying.

Klarion and Rasp fight a bit, but Rasp gradually gets it under control and retreat to the Moody Museum. Piper tries to get Klarion to understand there are consequences to his actions, but he doesn't listen, and he and Zell start getting closer. Meanwhile, the little tech thing Rasp got from Coal grows and works its way out of him and develops into a "Buddybot", a rapidly evolving A.I. that becomes whatever a person wants most. In Rasp's case, a girlfriend, but for other people they take the form of dogs, housekeeper's, whatever the person wanted, and they're eager to please, and people are eager to get them. Except Klarion, but when he starts trying to throw his weight around, he walks into a trap, and ends up in the crosshairs of a couple of government investigators of the paranormal (one of whom is the daughter of Piper's paramour, Noah). Faced with that, Klarion takes up Beelzebub up on his offer of a ride, and escapes, making the decision to leave Zell behind, but she gets dragged along anyway.

As you might expect, asking a favor of a devil doesn't lead anywhere good, and Klarion ends up in some magic bar, meeting with a black market arms dealing time traveler named Swag, who happens to be Coal's nanotech connection, and has some interest in Klarion being evil. Zell, Piper, and Noah find their way into the pocket, and try to talk Klarion away from Swag. And they fail miserably, as Klarion chooses power, though it remains to be seen what he'll do with it.

At one point in issue 4, Noah comments that he and Piper are offering Klarion something he's never had, which is a family, and that Klarion is finding he likes it. But I can't help noticing Klarion seems to pretty much choose the most selfish and/or destructive option at the end of every issue. He could have tried backing down when Rasp came after him, clearly not in his right mind, but he upped the ante. He could have chosen to try and free Zell and face down Agent Moody, but instead hopped in Beelzebub's car and bailed. It was only because of Zell's Petbot that she escaped. And then he chooses power, rather than try and prove he's right about the Petbot and wind up with Zell hating him. Except he might be about to destroy the thing anyway, which would still make her hate him, but hey, at least he'd be powerful.

I'm a little confused. There are a lot of moving parts, and I'm not sure where they're all going or if they're going to tie together. There's only two issues left, so odds are they won't be tying together. The whole Buddybot thing is kind of interesting, in that different people clearly want different things. Some people just want someone to listen, others need someone to tell them the things they desire are OK. Some people have contradictory desires. Actually, all people probably have that, and if the series were running longer, I'd be curious to see how the bots resolve that. So far, they seem content to just follow whatever instruction they receive first, like the alcoholic who told his to tie him to a chair if he went for a drink. But I would imagine it's going to get harder to make a person happy the more accustomed they get to the bot. Which I think is Swag's plan somehow. Coal seems like he doesn't have things nearly under control as he believes he does, and now Swag's trying to use the power he's given Coal as a lever against Klarion. I don't think either of them has any clue what the time traveler's game is, but neither do I.

McCarthy was doing a lot of cool things with his panel layouts in issue 2. There were a couple of pages where the backdrop was a floor plan of the Moody Museum, the panels corresponded to rooms marked with open doors, or with the name of the actual room. He seems to like tall, thin panels that move across the page like a series of irregular columns. It makes the book interesting to look at, because there's a lot of variety to the layouts. That's true of issue 3 as well, but with two other people besides McCarthy responsible for some of the finishes the figurework isn't as steady. Still, there's a nice build when he and Zell find Coal. The panels start out rigid, and the more Klarion sees of Coal's bots, the more suspicious he gets, and the borders turn into a swirling black mist, and the panels start tumbling toward the lower right corner. They start overlapping, the borders don't line up, and by the third fifth and sixth pages, the panels are moving in a huge circle around the pages, everything swirling down the drain into the escape route. It's nifty.

Monday, February 09, 2015

What I Bought 1/26/2015 - Part 5

Slight correction for the Year In Review posts. When I was calculating the artists' pages, I didn't have Harley Quinn #12, so I assumed Hardin drew it, since he also drew 11 and 13. But it was actually John Timms for most of it, so that knocks 18 pages off Hardin's total. But then I still don't know how to assess the issue that listed him and Stephane Roux as artists, without distinguishing who did what, so maybe he should get half of that. Which would still only put him at 152.

Harley Quinn #12 and 13, by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Chad Hardin (artist #12, pages 1 and 20, and artist #13), John Timms (artist #12, pages 2-19), Alex Sinclair (colors), John J. Hill (letters) - I love how Amanda Conner draws scowling faces. I mean, I love most things Amanda Conner draws, but I really like her scowls for some reason.

Peej and Harley try to stop Clock King and Sportsmaster, but C.K. has a teleportation ring and sends the ladies to some distant world he seems to use as a dumping ground. Harley's secret is almost blown by an accountant he sent through (who had become the queen's consort), but Harley disintegrated the guy with an alien weapon she grabbed. The queen is pissed, but her husband - a giant pug - wasn't happy about her sleeping with another species, and eats her, then tells our heroes where they can find a way home. It's a ring worn on the toes of a barely veiled Thanos analogue, who they defeat (well, Harley swipes his rings and accidentally kills him), and they get home an instant after they left. Only to be immediately be shipped out again by the villains, then reappear again a moment later, having spent 2 weeks in some universe where Peej got married to Vartox. That memory loss may have also affected her decision making skills.

So try again to capture the bad guys, but Sportsmaster bought himself some tactical missile on line and tries to blow up Power Girl with it, but only succeeds in blowing up the mall (and ruining Peej's hair, which she's a little sensitive about). Eventually, 4th time is the charm, and the villains are captured later that evening. Back at Harley's place, there's an almost sort of touching moment where Harley tries to concoct an origin for Peej, and gives her two loving, super-powered Earth folk for parents. I said almost because it's still a lie, and Harley tries to excuse her lack of knowledge by saying Power Girl kept it secret so it couldn't be tortured out of Harley. And right about then, a pigeon craps on Power Girl's head and she gets her memories back. Remarkably, she doesn't incinerate Harley for all the lies, though she does leave her perched on top of the Eiffel Tower for a ill-advised suggestion.

There were parts of this story I enjoyed, and parts that felt really forced. Then there were parts that just felt skeevy. Tony implying to Power Girl that they used to be a couple felt pretty skeevy, even if it went nowhere (other than making Peej feel confused). I do feel odd that I'm not more concerned about Harley's repeated attempts to convince Power Girl to sleep with her, but they come off as Harley not being entirely serious, maybe because she knows there's no chance. Also, she doesn't try and pretend that's something they did in the past, so it's a rare instance of her not taking advantage of Power Girl's amnesia.

The cabaret show or whatever was another one of those awkward things, maybe because it's very honest about certain aspects of Power Girl as a character? Like, she's drawn as she is at least partly (OK, mostly) because guys like to look at her, but there's other aspects to her. But in that show, it's only about putting her in a ridiculous outfit so guys can gawk at her body. It's taking away any of the pretense and going strictly with what some people care about. Which is maybe too honest for me, or disappointing, because I like a lot of Power Girl's character beyond what she looks like. I don't think Palmiotti and Conner are endorsing it - it's only happening because two people are taking advantage of Power Girl not knowing who she is - but it made me feel complicit in the whole dirty trick.

All that being said, I did like most of the interaction between Harley and Power Girl, because they actually felt like friends. An odd couple, to be sure, but it sort of worked. Power Girl is the sensible, morally upright one, and Harley's the wacky one who gets them mixed up in crazy situations. Power Girl is frequently exasperated by Harley, but also kind of amused by her, and so she's kind of protective of her. I am positive that Power Girl getting married to Vartox was because she finally listened to one of Harley's plans that involved using her appearance to help them get what they needed, and it just spiraled out of control into a wedding. Plus, it still helps me that Harley encourages Power Girl to fight crime, and tries to assist her. Harley's not terribly good at, not the way Power Girl or I might define it, but she's making an effort. She isn't trying to trick Peej into robbing a bank by telling it her it's holding funds for the mob or something. They see the crooks, they try to stop them. She's at least encouraging that part of Power Girl's character.

So the story had some good points and some bad points, and probably overplayed a couple of the jokes. Which is about par for the course for this book. I really liked those comically overdone sad faces Harley gets on the last page as she pleads with Power Girl not to toss her to Saturn. We haven't really seen much of that from Hardin, at least on this book. I think it might be a good style for it, given how absurd the story gets some times. Maybe he should loosen up his style a little more. Of course, I thought the same thing about Paco Medina after seeing some of the "hallucinations" he gave Wade in Deadpool, but near as I can tell, it remained something he saved for special occasions. So I'm not holding out hope Hardin will go more exaggerated, but there's always a chance.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Zorro 1.1 - Presenting Senor Zorro

Plot: That's right, it's the late '50s Walt Disney Zorro series. The story opens on a ship off the coast of Spanish California in 1820. On the deck of the ship, Don Diego de la Vega has a match with the ship's captain, and demonstrates his considerable prowess with the sword. Diego is returning home after 3 years, but the Captain warns him California is not as he left it. The military's current Comandante is a harsh man, and is abusing his power. Diego is warned to hide anything he doesn't want stolen by the soldiers at the customs house. Back in his quarters, Diego reveals to us and his mute manservant, Bernardo, that he left the university in Spain early because of a cryptic letter from his father, and now he knows what it was about. But, as it would be unwise to confront this Comandante directly, he has to find another way. Bernardo suggests (through gestures) that Diego hide his skill as a swordsman by pretending to be a scholar instead. So out the porthole go all Diego's fencing trophies, and even his sword. As an added deception, Bernardo will pretend to be deaf, as well as mute, so people will speak freely around him.

When next we see them, they're in a stagecoach arriving in town, where they're stopped, because their possessions have to be searched, again. Which gives us the chance to meet Sgt. Garcia, who is pleased to see his old friend Don Diego, and gives Diego and Bernardo their first chance to try on their roles. We also meet this new Comandante, Capitan Montasario, who is conspiring with a lawyer to accumulate all the wealth of the area into his hands, and will kill anyone who stands in his way. Right on cue, the lancers ride up with Diego's old neighbor, Don Nacho Torres, who stands accused of treason and is promptly locked up. Diego almost blows his cover right there, but is able to recover, and sells himself as a meek scholar to Montsario, even stating that he left college because there was too much emphasis on swordsmanship and gymnastics. Which isn't good news to his father, Don Alejandro, who is outraged at Montasario's actions, taxing the rancheros into debt, and selling Indians into slave labor. Diego's suggestion to send a strongly worded letter to the Governor fails to impress. But afterward, Diego introduces Bernardo to the third part of their team: Tornado, a stallion an old friend of his has being keeping while Diego was away. Now Diego's ready to be the fox, since being the lion would carry too much risk to his father.

That night, Zorro easily scales the wall of the fort, and sets about freeing Don Nacho. However, his attempt to retrieve the keys from Garcia comes a little late, because he'd already left them with Montasario. The Capitan plans to send the lawyer out with the keys and release Torres on the pretext he was falsely charged. When Torres is about halfway to the gate, Licenciado will call out, and Montasario will rush out to kill Torres in the act of "escaping". Except Zorro, having learned from Garcia where the keys are, foils the plan by surprising Licenciado, and freeing Torres himself. Eventually, Montasario gets suspicious, but misses the shot with his pistol, and while Torres escapes, we have our first real fight. Montasario gives a good showing, but gets overaggressive and winds up with his sword stuck in a wall. By that time Garcia has freed himself, and well, he doesn't have such a good showing. But by that time, the lancers have gone stumbling out of their barracks, so Zorro climbs so crates piled up near an outer wall and makes an easy escape. Outside town, he meets Torres, and tells him to hide at a nearby mission.

Quote of the Episode: Diego - 'You're right, Father. I'm going to sit down and write a detailed letter to the Governor.'

Times Zorro marks a "Z" in something: 3 (3 overall). Once in a piece of sheet music, once on a wall, and once on the Sergeant's pants.

Other: I'm impressed with how much information they get in this episode, for just 20 some odd minutes. We know Diego's an excellent swordsman, and that he believes in standing up to abuses of power. That he can be a little hot-tempered, but he's mostly clever enough to keep his cool when he needs to. And that he's a kind fellow. He knows Montasario had murder on his mind, but doesn't kill him. He toys with Garcia, but he clearly could have done much worse. And he brought all these books back from Spain for the Padre (including The Effects of Moorish Culture on Spanish Poetry, sounds gripping).

We know Bernardo's a bit of a ham, perhaps a consequence of expressing himself through gestures (I'm guessing Universal Sign Language didn't exist in 1820), but clever and with steady nerves. Montasario didn't accept the story of Bernardo being deaf so readily as Garcia, so he tried firing a gun behind his back, and Bernardo didn't flinch. Alejandro is at least partially responsible for Diego's sense of responsibility, but despite sending Diego a cryptic letter to sneak it past Montasario, he's not much for subtlety. He wants direct, forceful action against a representative of the government. Which is bold, but probably ill-advised. Some of that is probably that Montasario doesn't defer to the great Alejandro de la Vega as he's accustomed to, and some of it is probably that he went through some serious trials to make it to where he is, and wouldn't have if he wasn't willing to fight. So this is just one more battle for him.

Montasario is maybe the most interesting. He's ambitious and unscrupulous, but also smart enough to recognize his advantage. There's no one else who can directly challenge his authority, especially with a lawyer on his side to make it look legal. He can drum up any charge he wishes, and so long as he claims it is a military rather than civil matter, there's no legal recourse. He controls the mail, so if you want to contact higher authorities outside the Pueblo de Los Angeles, you'd have to go there yourself. A dangerous, and time-consuming proposition. How long was there between when Alejandro sent off that letter, and when Diego actually arrived? Probably at least 6 months. That sort of thing gives Monatsario plenty of time to set things up however he likes.

Beyond that, he's equal parts suspicious and cruel. He's careful enough to not take Bernardo as a deaf-mute merely because he's told it, over even after Garcia insults Bernardo to his face and is greeted with a smile. But he took some glee in the idea of firing a rifle right behind someone who might not even be aware of it. When he and Diego are conversing, he won't take Diego's appearance as a timid scholar at face value, either. He has to draw his sword and wave it about threateningly to intimidate Diego, but it also serves a purpose of letting him see how Diego responds. Does he get his blood up and hotly object, or meekly accept it?

At any rate, Zorro has completed a successful first mission. Let's see if he can keep the streak up.