Friday, October 30, 2015

Looking To The Next Year

October is almost over, so what better time to look at January solicits? 2015 has not been what I'd call the best year for me on the comics front, so perhaps I can receive a boost to my hopes for next year.

*glances over January solicits* Or maybe not. There's nothing from DC I can say with any certainty I'm going to buy. It's like 2007 all over again. There's that mini-series with stories for both Deadshot and Katana, but what are the odds Deadshot's going to be much like the version I actually care about? And the only time I've been particularly interested in Katana was her brief ongoing written by Ann Nocenti, and I kind of doubt there will be much similarity to that, considering it sold horribly. It isn't that there aren't books DC's publishing that are good, but none of them seem to hit the sweet spot for me. Oh well, wait 5 minutes and they'll change direction entirely.

Elsewhere, Atomic Robo and the Ring of Fire concludes, and that Rocketeer mini I might buy enters its second issue. There's also a collection of something called Onyx, about a warrior coming to Earth for uncertain reasons, and the team that has to figure out what's going on and whether to assist or fight said warrior. I guess I missed it entirely when it was coming out as single issues, but it sounds kind of cool, and Gabriel Rodriguez drew Locke & Key, so I can feel confident I'll like how it looks.

At Image, Descender continues, though it's up in the air whether I'll be along for the ride, but Copperhead hasn't started back up yet, and the third and final Roche Limit mini-series doesn't start until February. So I have a little more time to decide whether I'll see that through to the end.

Who am I kidding? I'm only rarely smart enough to bail out mid-stream when I ought to, because I always end up hoping it'll get better. Reading the entirety of Chuck Austen's Uncanny X-Men run as it came out taught me less than I'd like.

Speaking of Marvel, the main new point of interest is the Rocket Raccoon and Groot series, written by Skottie Young and drawn by. . . Filipe Andrade. Hmm. Andrade did OK with the story he did for Rocket Raccoon, but it was a grim story, with not too many different characters to have to draw. If Young tilts the tone of the book to fit Andrade's style, this could wind up being something I don't love. The solicit says Rocket's going to be the new top criminal mastermind for unspecified reasons, though, so perhaps that's implied. Hopefully that's an act by Rocket, because I kind of hoped Young moved past that with his first arc last time around.

On another track, I finally figured out why they've been double-shipping Deadpool. It's so they can have a complete trade ready to release in February when the new movie comes out, right? Which is still a little silly, considering there are 15 volumes to Deadpool Classic, not to mention how many other collections are out there (the earlier Cable/Deadpool trades, the ones for the recently concluded Posehn/Duggan/Hawthorne/Koblish run, etc.), but at least there's a reasoning behind it. Assuming I'm correct. If they keep double-shipping the book in February and beyond, disregard this.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mysterium - Robert Charles Wilson

The other 3 dollar paperback I took a chance on, Mysterium. An archaeological expedition finds a strange green slab in the Turkish deserts. The U.S. government swoops in and claims it (somehow, you'd think Turkey might at least extort something for it), then sets up a research facility around it near a small Michigan town. The physicist they put in charge of examining it does something, and the entire town ends up in a different, somewhat similar world. Soon enough, the inhabitants of that Earth become aware of this town that appeared from nowhere, and you get an uneasy occupation, as people try to adjust in different ways.

The divergence point has something to do with Christian Gnosticism, and Constantine not converting to Christianity. All the talk flew over my head, though the basic point seems to be someone trying to make or reach a better world (as they see it), and not quite managing it. There's also the added effect that their arrival is going to have a considerable impact on the world, even if it's only temporary. If we're going with a Biblical metaphor, the town of Two Rivers ends up being the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Or it's the apple, and the people of that world are their own serpent. Whatever, the Bible isn't my thing.

There's a few subplots, one about a high school teacher who doesn't care about much of anything, and a scholar from this world. There's the one member of the government project still alive, trying to piece things together. His uncle was the physicist, and he's grappling with trying to understand what happened and what his uncle was trying to do. There's the requisite shy, bookish kid that's investigating on his own because his mother doesn't pay him any mind. One of the blurbs describes Mysterium as Arthur C. Clarke mixed with Stephen King, and I can definitely see that, especially the King influence. Which isn't bad. The book is easily readable, if also fairly predictable. I have no idea if the alternate timeline proposed is at all feasible given the changes (would the Black Death really have struck so many times?), but I was willing to roll with it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What I Bought 10/20/2015 - Part 3

Wrapping up this round of reviews with two Secret Wars-related titles. Because everything at Marvel is Secret Wars-related right now. Still.

Marvel Zombies #4, by Simon Spurrier (writer), Kev Walker (artist), Guru-eFX (color artists), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Composite Zombie Ares is probably not the Sensational Character Find of 2015. I sure hope he isn't, anyway.

Elsa and the mysterious little child are trapped between an undead Ulysses Bloodstone, himself full of all the other pieces of Bloodstone he could get his hands on, and Mystique and her band of zombies, all rapidly getting stupid now that their Deadpool food source is blowed up. As it turns out the child is some manifestation of Elsa's stone that emerged to draw her to all the other Bloodstones, because they all want to be together. Things are looking pretty bad for our hero and her hallucination, especially as Elsa is turning undead herself, since dear old alternate dad tore her arm off with his teeth, but she distracts him long enough for the little one to blast the stones, Elsa eats a bunch of them, and uses that power to save herself, restore Ulysses to human, and kill all those zombies.

I think Spurrier ended the story on a Calvin & Hobbes line. 'Let's go exploring.' It does fit, as Elsa has rediscovered some hope for the future, and thinks she can actually make the world better, rather than simply maintain a miserable status quo. She barely regards the hordes of undead between them and the Shield as a nuisance, and Walker shows them walking off together towards hills bathed in sunlight, and everything is colored in warm yellows and pinks. None of the ominous grey clouds we saw throughout her trek south with the child, no dust cloud indicating legions of flesh eaters approaching. So the tone the creative team is trying to strike fits the quote, it just amuses me in the larger context of the world they're in. Then again, Calvin & Hobbes often had stories where the title characters went exploring and discovered things they were either unable to comprehend, or unleashed forces they could barely control (the duplicator, the snow goons). So there's every possibility Elsa will start something she isn't prepared for. I'm speaking as though anything that happened here is going to be referenced in the main Secret Wars mini-series, which I'm sure it won't, but not my problem (or Spurrier and Walker's).

The back and forth blasts between the zombies and Elsa near the end were nicely done. Walker placed the respective hits at the top of consecutive pages, and the way it's set up, Elsa is slightly lower in the panel she gets shot at than Mystique and the others are in the panel where they get blasted. So the spot where the zombies' blast comes onto page 17 from the left is a little lower than where they are when they get shot by Elsa's retaliation on page 18. And her blast comes from a place off the right a little higher than Elsa's placement on page 17. It's a little thing, but I it's a nice attention to detail, and really makes it feel like those two panels are connected, part of the same set piece. I hope Walker will be the artist on something else I want to read soon, whatever that might end up being.

Ms. Marvel #19, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (artist), Ian Herring (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Callback to a cover from earlier in the series, but I think it works better lie this than with Kamala's face hidden in shadow, which made her look slightly menacing. That isn't really her style.

Kamala's mom knows she's been superheroing, and is largely OK with it. Her father doesn't know, so I'm curious to see how that plays out. Kamala puts off talking to Bruno about their feelings, but has to talk to Nakia about how she hasn't really been keeping her best friend in the loop. Which is true, Nakia has largely fallen out of the book since the initial story arc. Bruno's been sort of Kamala's Alfred, but Nakia's totally in the dark. I don't know that there's any real resolution there, Kamala can promise to do better, but words are cheap, and once the dance party starts up, she heads off to talk to Bruno. For which I think her. I don't need to see any dance party. On the roof, as the world ends, Kamala and Bruno discuss feelings. They both love each other, in some sense or the other, but Kamala is too invested in helping others to have time for romance, which Bruno is very cool with. Then the world ends. Great hustle out there, Avengers, way to save the day.

So maybe everything was a little too tidy, since everyone wound up being OK with Kamala's choices, but this book has largely taken the approach that trying to help others is the right thing to do, and worth encouraging, and if people care about you, they'll understand and give you a chance. It's surprisingly hopeful for a Marvel comic, now that I think of it. Most people aren't suspicious of Ms. Marvel, she tries to help, and they see that and buy into it.

I'll be curious to see how close to this the new series picks up from. Will it be months later, or just a short amount of time? Mostly because, as much as possible, I'd like for the new volume to be a continuation of what Wilson and Alphona had going here. I would have liked to seen how they handled the subplot with Nakia feeling ignored if they'd had the time, or the thing with Zoe. I did laugh at how, even as Zoe is trying to be better, she's still being helpful because useless people get eaten first in zombie apocalypses. There's still that vein of self-interest in her actions, mingled with an apparently honest desire to be helpful that felt legit.

Alphona really does take full advantage of these crowd scenes to fill them with all sorts of details. That's assuming Wilson doesn't have Alan Moore-like scripts that tell Alphona to draw things like a bamboo quarantine cage on wheels, surrounded with guards wielding piranhas on sticks. Perhaps I should write into the book and inquire about those. Also the person in the non-denominational, non-judgmental prayer area with the eyepatch and hair done up like a Minish Cap. And the little person in the Hazmat suit that keeps popping up. Crap, AIM knows Kamala's secret identity! I'm still trying to figure out the significance of when Herring goes with a solid yellow background in a panel, because it only happens a few times, and they aren't grouped together. It's usually at some emotional turning point, the football guy announcing the dance party as Nakia and Kamala are making up, or Kamala opting not to tell her parents the world is ending. I guess it comes when she chooses not to focus on the inevitable, but instead on the things she can do right then.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Even Samson Doesn't Want To Deal With Animal Control

Black Samson feels more serious than either of the Jim Kelly movies I watched in the last few weeks. Samson (Rockne Tarkington) has his nightclub, and he keeps his neighborhood clean of drugs and crime. Of course, because the neighborhood is not controlled or influenced by any gang, all the gangs want to claim it, the strongest of which is the Nappa family. Giovanni wants to try and make a deal, cut Samson in on the profits, which almost ends very badly for the Nappa family attorney. His nephew Johnny, bigoted, misogynist scumbag he is, prefers the direct route, and keeps trying to kill Samson. Even though the goons are largely incompetent, the fight scenes aren't played for laughs, or to let Samson show off how much better he is. He struggles to win at times, and there's no scenes of him hurling each guy through a different window or humiliating them by turning off the lights.

What was interesting is the film rejects any notion Samson can handle this alone. He tries, but it's pretty clear to everyone, including him, that he's only holding on because Nappa is only gradually increasing the pressure. He sends two guys after him, and even after they hit Samson with the car door, they still lose. So he hires 4 guys to jump him and his lady Leslie. When they fail, he tries three guys in a car. Samson keeps winning out, but the margin for error is getting narrower. There's more than a few times one of the goons got him down and I wondered if he'd be able to get back up. He throws one off, another comes at him. The whole "one man as the savior" thing is a no go. One man as an inspiration for others to rally around, that works, but one man against an army is a losing proposition. It's not a wholly unique approach, but there are an awful lot of movies where One Guy blows up the right thing and saves everything. So seeing one that dismisses that was unexpected.

I knew from reading a review of the film last year that Samson's pet lion does not eat anyone. Even so, I was disappointed that it doesn't do anything at all. Even when Nappa comes strutting in and tries to intimidate Leslie while Samson's out tracking some leads, the lion does nothing. Even when Nappa decides to show off by breaking a glass by sticking his fingers in it and flexing, the lion just gets this surprised look on its face, but otherwise won't even hop off the bar. No matter their size, cats are lazy and useless.

Monday, October 26, 2015

What I Bought 10/20/2015 - Part 2

Friday was the two DC books, today is for the two books from outside the Marvel/DC circle. Two weeks ago, I was running some numbers to amuse myself during a mandatory workshop on collaboration and thought non-Marvel/DC books might just outnumber DC for me this year. Then I realized I'd forgotten a few DC books I bought early in the year - like those 3 issues of Klarion - so never mind.

Atomic Robo and the Ring of Fire #2, by Brian Clevinger (words), Scott Wegener (artist), Anthony Clark (colorist), Jeff Powell (letterer) - They're gonna need a bigger gun, and a bigger boat.

The Action Scientists get Robo's head up and running, and set about a plan to build him a new body. Which requires traveling to a freighter sitting in disputed waters that houses the international super-science black market (which is itself a remnant of the USSR's version of Tesladyne). They start putting their shopping list together, and even find Broughton, another Tesladyne employee, and the only person with any chance of building a new reactor to power Robo. Then the ship gets attacked by a Biomega (kaiju, basically), which we've learned in the b-plot are increasing in number (thus Majestic-12's takeover of Super Science Team 5's headquarters, and the effort to construct more giant robot suits, for which they could also use Broughton.) Fortunately a Chinese sub arrived and fired some missiles, so the giant monster went away for now.

I have this feeling the Kid's interest in fungus as a growth medium for replacement human parts (I think that's what she was talking about) is going to be relevant to the Biomega thing. The fact she was so eager to get a sample that she forgot she was talking about a monster large enough to easily smash an oil tanker was kind of a tip-off. Also, there was a back-up story once that showed China had a mech defense force team, only instead of Power Ranger style, one pilot per suit, it was a single robot with 5 people controlling it (mentally? it's been awhile since I read it). I feel that could end up being significant, too. So more stuff happening has gotten me considerably more engaged in the story than I was after the first issue. Even if Robo's a head in a little moving box, at least he's active again. The Hackers joke was lost on me, since I've never seen the movie, though I guess I can appreciate using fictional names (I'd kind of like to use the name Vash first used with Wolfwood at some point but "Valentinez Alkalinella Xifax Sicidabohertz Gombigobilla Blue Stradivari Talentrent Pierre Andri Charton-Haymoss Ivanovici Baldeus George Doitzel Kaiser the Third" is kind of a mouthful. Most JRPGs will not let you make a character name that long.

I think Wegener's really softened the lines on his work, or else someone's upped their shading game. Would that be him, or Clark? The shading seems like it's over the colors, which makes me think Clark's doing it as he colors the work, but shading is part of inking, which is presumably something Wegener does himself. Anyway, they're doing an excellent job on shadow effects and general expressiveness of the characters. It's good stuff. Also, the coat Lang's wearing while they're on the Vasilisa is pretty cool. I feel like I've seen one like it before, but I can't think wear.

Favorite line of dialogue is Broughton's, 'As the chief safety guy, it's my duty to yell at people so we can get through this alive.' This has been my impression of people who are concerned with workplace safety. When will they learn the old motto, "Safety third"?

Roche Limit: Clandestiny #5, by Michael Moreci (writer), Kyle Charles (artist), Matt Battaglia (colorist), Ryan Ferrier (letterer), Sarah Delante (flora/fauna), Tim Daniel (design) - I don't have much to say about that cover, so I'm going to mention I hate how the credits page is done, because the people's names and titles are extremely difficult to read against the backdrop. Which, if you're wanting credit for your work, seems counter-productive.

As we learned a couple of issues ago, Sasha isn't leaving the colony with the others, she's going to stay and kill the thing causing all the trouble because she knows what it is, though she doesn't exactly share the revelation with the rest of us. She ventures into the forest, finds Kim's corpse - nice to know what happened to her after she wandered off a couple issues ago! -  and is approached by the whatever in the form of her dead husband. She stabs him, white lightning/threads/something comes from the woods and the Monster is revealed as a giant robot? Sasha manages to kill that by shooting, and before she dies, talks to the wraith impersonating her husband who admits these creatures are a hive, and thus find humans, with their individuality, amazing. So they try to be humans by consuming a person's soul. OK, sure. Meanwhile, Elbus, Colt, and Danny took the ship they'd unwittingly brought parts of here and rather than go to Earth to find the creatures already there, fly into the Anomaly to find their source, only to encounter a lot of spaceships.

So the creatures consume souls to become individuals. Simply possessing the body turns it into those shuffling corpses that tore the colony apart. I'm not clear on why passing through the Anomaly disassociates a person from their soul, though. But I'm not clear what the Anomaly is. Did the creatures make it, or is it a chance occurrence? If they apparently have spaceships of their own, why haven't they come barging through in them until now? They surged out as a formless mass near the end of the first mini-series, seemingly without difficulty.

I can't shake the feeling Moreci and Malhorta didn't plan this out enough. It has a certain awkward pacing to it that reminds me of stuff I write, where I'm pulling it together as I go along. Things dropped and seemingly forgotten until it's convenient to pick them up again. Kim going off alone and no one bothering to wonder about her until near the end, and I'm not even sure why a botanist was sent on this mission. I know whatever reason given for the expedition was a smokescreen, but what purpose was she going to serve? The first mini-series made the surface of the planet appear barren and rocky, so why send someone who knows about plants? And I'm still not sure how the Recall drug will end up tying back in, if it even does.

Also, the art shifts on this widely from page to page. At times I'd swear it was an entirely different artist, but I think there's just a lot of variability in how much of the respective load Charles and Battaglia are carrying. The last 5 pages in particular, I think Charles may have gone with less detailed figurework, and Battaglia's trying to fill in the gaps with more color, because things become much more about different blobs of color and almost no detail, especially on anything around the characters. Sasha's hair keeps a same general shape, but the details of it shift a lot, from being very frizzy for a few pages as she prepares to part company with the others, compared with a much more uniform mass for most of the rest of the pages. She's still distinguishable as the same character (though there aren't a lot of other options as to who it could be), but it's distracting. I did like some of the first few pages after she enters the forest. Charles and Battaglia combine for some very effective use of a purplish color and a lot of shadows to make the forest seem like a presence that's moving in closer. Even the things we're supposed to see are sort of half-glimpsed in shadows, so it's easy to wonder what is going to step into view, and what isn't.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Zorro 1.37 - The Eagle Leaves The Nest

Plot: The Eagle dictates to a letter to Greco on his plans to claim the de la Vega hacienda for his own. When Greco questions him, the Eagle reminds him who is boss by jabbing with his sword, and mentions he is expecting a message which Greco should bring whenever it arrives. Diego has been listening through the secret passage, and receives more bad news when Bernardo comes home with a letter from Alejandro. His civilian militia has been approved, and he's on his way home, and will undoubtedly be unhappy to see someone living in his house. As Diego mulls over what to do, providence arrives in the form of a change in the guards. The Eagle steps out of his room to enjoy a smoke, and can't see anyone around. he immediately freaks out, yelling for the guards.

From this Diego surmises the Eagle fears being alone, and sets to a plan. First he talks to Garcia, who admits he misses the revelry of the tavern being stuck out in the boonies. Diego mentions he could buy the tavern if he caught Zorro, and chides the sergeant for giving up too easily, imploring him to keep pursuing the next time he sees him. While this is going on, the Eagle is humiliating poor Corporal Reyes, using him as an orderly, but mostly making him stand at attention in the library all the time. Diego saunters in and mentions he and Bernardo are going to leave for town for a few days, because Diego has felt so isolated out there. Bernardo doesn't seem totally on board with the plan, but that night, he sneaks into the sala and uses some odd gourd thing to make a screeching noise, then escapes through the passage by the time Garcia and Reyes come in.

At this point, Diego announces he and Bernardo are going to leave now, and depart. Soon enough Zorro makes like he's Corvo from Dishonored and takes out the guards. Later, Garcia and Reyes sit outside as Garcia speaks of his dream of running the tavern. At which point Zorro pops over the wall, and taunts the sergeant. Garcia takes one lancer and sets in pursuit, leaving Reyes and one other guy. Zorro slips back in and plays awful notes on the piano to draw the Eagle and those two soldiers to the sala. Soon all the guards are down, the lights are out, the noises are ramping up, and the Eagle is about out of his head when first Greco arrives with his message, and Garcia returns in defeat. The piano starts up again,and though it's only a cat, the Eagle has had enough and is moving to L.A., because it's time to take California.

Quote of the Episode: Corporal Reyes - 'What does a noise look like?'

Times Zorro marks a "Z": 0 (14 overall).

Other: The Eagle's a little too fond of jabbing people with swords to assert his authority. Plays up the fear Diego speaks of, that the Eagle knows he's actually weak.

I'm always torn when Diego plays games with Garcia like that. Yes, Garcia would probably be a horrible tavern owner because he'd drink all his stock, but it's a harmless dream for him to have. And Diego knows it will never happen, certainly not by capturing Zorro. But he jerks the poor sergeant around. I understand that it's a serious circumstance, this evil man is going to use some claim to an authority he doesn't really have to steal Diego's home and land, but the part of me that values friendship can't help but look askance at that stuff.

That said, it's nice to think Garcia and Reyes ran a tavern together someday, somehow.

So, the reveal that the Eagle is deathly afraid of being alone for even an instant was a little contrived. But setting that aside, I like this episode. It's a different version of "The Ghost of the Mission", since Zorro is really just focused on unnerving one person, rather than an entire company of soldiers. I like how completely Diego pulls things together, from planting the seeds with Garcia, to his asides to the Eagle about the hacienda's location, to Bernardo's stunts with the gourd. And especially Zorro sneaking around taking down all the soldiers one by one. I mentioned Dishonored, but it really reminded me of Thief: Deadly Shadows since he didn't kill any of them. I even like the way there's a moment you think the Eagle might snap entirely, lose his nerve and flee into the night, only for Greco to arrive and save his nerve. As it is, Diego's averted a scene that likely would have gotten his father killed, but the Eagle's plans are still moving forward, and he might be ready for his ultimate move.

Friday, October 23, 2015

What I Bought 10/20/2015 - Part 1

Six books for four weeks. And four of those books came out last week. It's a slow, sad time here, but oh well, make do with what we have. Quality, not quantity, I hope.

Harley Quinn and Power Girl #4, by Amanda Conner, Justin Gray, and Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Stephane Roux (artist, pages 10-22), Elliot Fernandez (artist, pages 1-9), Paul Mounts with Alex Sinclair (colorists, Sinclair for pages 18-20), Marilyn Patrizio (letterers) - In another second, Power Girl will open her eyes, realize she was only dreaming about (insert character of your choice), and throw up in Vartox' facial hair.

Evil Vartox appears to have Power Girl on the ropes, only to be freed of the mind control by the purring of a caticorn that decided it liked Harley because she lured out a giant, carnivorous fish for it to eat. Vartox tries to explain where he knows Power Girl from, though no one bothers to explain to him this isn't that Power Girl. Oreth Odeox arrives with his gun-toting space nuns, which accomplish nothing, though he does blast Vartox' clothes off, which is much more an impediment to the bad guy than to Vartox. All seems well, but a force called the Harvester of Sorrows is about to arrive, and that will probably be bad.

Back when Annihilation: Super-Skrull was going on '06, someone explained to me Harvester of Sorrows is a reference to a Metallica song. it was used to refer to a planet-destroying weapon there, and I assume it'll be much the same here, though probably a much sillier one, given the tone of this series. Having both Power Girl and Harley to interact with Vartox is a good plan, since Peeg tends to be disgusted with him constantly, whereas Harley just keeps egging him on. It's a bit different to have a character who pretty much encourages Vartox to be himself at all times, but if anything, she's pushing him to be more Vartoxish than normal. And he's the sort who doesn't need much pushing on that score.

This was a fairly good issue, maybe because I felt like it tried moving the story forward a little more, instead of wasting so much time on drug hallucination sequences. Not that there's much of a plot, but at paying lip service to it is nice. I still wouldn't say any of the jokes made me laugh, though some of the expressions Roux gives Vartox are pretty great. His big grin when Harley compliments his "evil" wardrobe, and his haughty look when he's lecturing Oreth while wearing no clothes in particular. Power Girl said Harley had no shame, she just as easily could have been speaking of Vartox.

Starfire #5, by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Emanuela Lupacchino (pencils), Ray McCarthy (inks), Hi-Fi (colors), Tom Napolitano (letters) - I notice the rest of the sea life as unsure of how they feel about what's happening as I was. Good to know.

Kori has some drinks with the killer guy, they trade toasts, she touches his hand, and someone gets a flashback of his life. Wherein we learn he was a doctor with the power to cure cancer, except it made the tumor in his head grow, which eventually made him the crazy serial killer he is now. He flees, Kori doesn't follow, and isn't sure whether she should tell the sheriff. About the serial killer. Kori, you're an immigrant, not an idiot, c'mon now. The guy her sister hired to find her is approached by the Citadel, who want Kori dead, and they captured the guy's wife and kid. The guy agrees, but only after blowing up one of the Citadel's ships, which might have had said wife and kid. O-kay. Little nuts, though I did appreciate his wife's smirk after the Citadel guys started freaking out. I guess you don't marry a dude like that unless you're prepared for that sort of thing.

Back on earth, Kori goes to her interview at the aquarium, but a lack of experience leaves her out of luck. Isn't that always the way? You need experience to get the job, but need the job to get experience. Anyway, Kori does wind up getting the job, because the bounty hunter guy shows up and kills all the other applicants. I'm JOKING! Actually, she makes out with a sad dolphin so she can speak its language and find out why it's sad. The ability to communicate with sea life gets her the job. There's a big party, the sheriff seems to have been roped into Kori and Atlee's trip to visit Atlee's home (whenever that happens), but when Kori gets home, she finds Dr. Killer waiting, having already attacked the sheriff's brother. Oh, and one of those jewels she had was an egg, and hatched into a star-thing that flew off. It spoke in musical notes, so maybe it's from the same sector as that one Green Lantern? Probably not.

So the dolphin thing. It seems weird, but I know this is because I associate kissing as primarily a romantic thing - and not something done with animals - whereas it isn't that necessarily for Kori. It has been at times - I'm pretty sure she wasn't kissing Boone in issue 1 just to learn 'more English' - but that needn't always be the case. So I wonder if this wasn't Conner and Palmiotti trying to drive that point home in a particularly direct fashion. She wanted to communicate with the dolphin, that would enable her to do so, so she did it. Still, not something I was expecting to read in a comic this week.

There are certain panels where Kori's hair looks like something Lupacchino drew separately, then cut and pasted into place. Note I'm not saying he isn't drawing it, just that there's something about it that makes it note seem to be part of the same picture. Like the hair and her face aren't interacting like they should. The panel on page 3 where she makes her toast in particular. Something about the color of the hair (which I guess would be more Hi-Fi's doing than Lupacchino's), or especially the dark line around the outside boundary of her hair compared to all the lines inside the mass of her hair, just really make it feel like it came from something else. Of course, the dark line might be McCarthy's doing, in which case I need to stop blaming Lupacchino. So someone on the art side of things is making Kori's hair look out of place.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Pleasant Surprises On the Marvel Heroclix Side of the Board

As usual, there were more Marvel Heroclix sets released in the last year than DC, though the disparity wasn't as great as in past years. there was an Avengers: Age of Ultron set, Avengers Assemble, Age of Ultron Storyline Organized Play, and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. The first Ultron set was based on the movie, the second is. . . I'm not sure. Some of it is from that Avengers A.I. series that came out after the Age of Ultron comic storyline. But a lot of the characters in it are '70s versions. Like yellow shirt and tiara Luke Cage, or Carol Danvers in her original Ms. Marvel outfit (with the exposed midriff). I guess these characters were important to the comic event? I don't know, I avoided Age of Ultron like it was a rotting, plague infested corpse. As for the Nick fury set, it's partially the classic SHIELD characters, and partially the ones from the current TV show.

Before we advance further, let's see what I was hoping to get this year, in no particular order:

Rage, Silhouette, Stacy X, Triathlon, and SHIELD Agent Derek Khanata.

And we got. . .  Rage and Triathlon! Whoo, thank you Avengers Assemble set!

Seriously, that set was pretty great. We got a new Hellcat for the first time in over a decade, a new Justice and Night Thrasher for the first time in almost as long. they gave us a bunch of the Avengers Academy/Arena/Undercover kids. Though not Finesse or Striker, but we did get Cammi. I don't know precisely what team I'd put her with, but at least she got made so I have the decision to make. They gave us Firebird, D-Man, Living Lightning, Silverclaw, Sersi, Red Wolf. Gilgamesh, the Forgotten One, from that weird lineup Simonson cobbled together around issue 300, got himself a figure.

Oh, and a bunch of characters from Hickman's Avengers run, if you're into that sort of thing. I'm not, so I'm much more excited about the Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel Heroclix. It's a super-rare, which means it isn't necessarily easy to pull, but at least they made one.

So that set alone pretty much compensated for the rest of the sets basically being duds. The Nick Fury set has a Jimmy Woo figure, but I already have one of those. I really wanted Khanata for my Agents of Atlas team, but at least I have Triathlon/3-D Man. Going forward, I can't see any of the remaining characters getting made, but then again, I wouldn't have expected Rage to pop up this year, either. And someone on HCRealms at least did a thread about how Stacy X hasn't gotten a figure, and what her dial could look like. Maybe someone will get some ideas. Of course, the X-Men aren't currently in favor at Marvel, so I probably ought to expect a lot fewer mutants and a lot more X-Men soon. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Let's Talk Favorite Xbox 360 Games

So at this point, I don't think there are any more 360 games I'm likely to get. I should mention I'm counting things I bought through XBox Live Arcade as separate from this list. That's for games I can't get in physical form for the console. If I really want to play it, and there's a physical copy, I'd buy that.

Given those criteria, I've owned 38 games for the system, though I only have 24 of them these days. We can safely eliminate the other 14 from consideration, so what did make the top 5?

1. The Saboteur
2. Dishonored
3. Tales of Vesperia
4. Singularity
5. Alice: Madness Returns

So, GTA clone, first-person stealthish game, JRPG, first-person shooter, action-adventure/platformer game. Pretty much all of them take place in worlds that are either already ruined, or one their way there. Alice's mind is falling apart. Certainly the altered timeline Ranko creates is a mess, and even before that, Katorga is a horror show. Vesperia's world is one where humanity's ability to survive is contingent on their ability to maintain any barrier they can create between their cities and the outside world, and their method will destroy them anyway. Dunwall's on the verge of collapse, and Sean's running around in a Nazi-occupied country, which I think speaks for itself. I know most games take place in worlds with problems, otherwise what is the character doing, but this selection seems a bit grimmer than most of the previous consoles. Probably says something about my state of mind I'd rather not consider.

I haven't tried to go back and play The Saboteur through again to see if it holds up. I kind of suspect it won't. I've never played all the way through any of my other GTA-style games more than once, either. But this one just had a style that worked for me, and it made me think of Duck, You Sucker in certain ways, at a time when that movie was on my mind a lot.

Until I got to Tales of Vesperia, there was a long stretch where I had no idea what #5 would be. It was kind of going back and forth between Catherine and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. But the former struggled due to my issues with puzzle games, and with how much I despised Vincent, and the latter had some plot developments I found distasteful, plus I wanted more freedom to use Monkey's Cloud. The console was kind of shaping up as a system with few games I really loved, mostly just a lot of OK games, each with a few different strong points, but also some weaknesses. Since Tales of Vesperia, I'd say both of those games have been passed by Sleeping Dogs, South Park: Stick of Truth, and probably one of the Metro games, though I'm not sure which (leaning toward Last Light because of the gameplay).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Radon File - Denise Vitola

So I tried a bookstore in a nearest town with one, and came away with two cheap sci-fi paperbacks. I didn't have real high hopes, and so far, that pessimism's been borne out.

The book's about two marshals, Merrick and LaRue, assigned to solve the murder of an opera singer who was receiving treatment for arthritis by being exposed to radon in a mine. But someone has it in for them, so they might lose their jobs, which may not matter if the Spark of Creation movement takes over the government. Oh, and Merrick's a lycanthrope.

Going in, I didn't realize this was the fourth or fifth book in the series, so there's a lot going on that's already in progress. Vitola's good at bringing me up to speed on past relationships between characters, but there's so much going on it gets befuddling. There's lots of talk about alien abductions, inserts in people's heads, magic, chakras, the diamond mind, on and on. I still don't know if there's actual magic in their world or not. I mean, Merrick doesn't sprout fur or huge fangs, though she does gain enhanced senses and get somewhat larger. Initially, I figured the "people from the center of the earth" were everyday folks with the ability to change size, because magic, but no.

It's a pretty cynical book. The government is useless, corrupt, and serves almost none of its constituents. In response, all the people have adopted an "I've got mine, and screw you buddy," including our protagonists, who rifle through a dead man's possessions, stealing his clothes, because hell, someone else will if they don't right? Merrick and her shrink are in a sexual relationship, and he's using his findings from studying her condition to make money, just like her previous shrink did, which seems horrible on multiple levels, but they both seem fine with it. There's a tired acceptance the world is terrible, and even if a new government comes to power, nothing will change. Which is a viewpoint I can understand, but I expected to see one character that was genuinely altruistic or had some kind of hope. Ha, ha, nope. If every single character in the book accepts the world is fucked, I don't see much reason to care what happens.

I went into the book determined I would figure out whodunit, and gave up on that goal halfway through. There were only so many times I could see them interview someone about the deceased and get a completely contradictory version of him from the person before. He was a good singer, he wasn't. He was broke, he was wealthy. He was loyal to the government, he was a Sparker. I started to wonder if we were going to let him be determined by a vote. By a tally of 11-7, he is. . . pretending to be loyal to the government, while getting paid under the table! Wow, what an unexpected result!

'When I get my next paycheck, I'm going to have a T-shirt printed up that says ONE OF THE FEW WHO HAS NOT BEEN ABDUCTED. This particular phenomenon has gone on unabated for a hundred years or more and underground religions have grown up around the abduction experience. It is a sad statement of our times. Life on planet Earth is too much of a trial, and the only way folks can think to relieve the pain, frustration, and boredom is to join those who claim to have been taken aboard an alien spaceship.'

Monday, October 19, 2015

So Expect My Next Round Of Favorite Characters In 3 Years

Comics Should Be Good is running the results of their most recent poll on the Top Characters from Marvel and DC. The last time they did it, in 2011, I submitted the lists that formed the basis for my Favorite Characters posts last year. This time around, I swapped in the alternate characters I have in mind for the addendum to the Favorite Character posts (Which I might get to early next year. Maybe? If I can do a lot of prep for them over the holidays, when I'm back near my collection?) What that boils down to is 90% of the DC list is the same, and 80% of the Marvel one is different (and it isn't the top 2 that are the same, because my mind works oddly).

We'll see how it turns out. So far, Stephanie Brown's the only character from either list to show up. I could see as many as 6 of the other  DC characters making the Top 50, but it'll likely be less. With the Marvel list, I'd only expect 4, maybe 5 total.

The thing that interests me is which characters will make a big jump from the last time (or a big fall). Like on the 2007 list, Nova and Luke Cage both finished in the mid-20s. I distinctly recall much gnashing of teeth from certain sectors that they finished ahead of Adam Warlock, which is why I've resolved not to read comments, because that kind of "that character sucks! Nuh uh!" gets real old. I haven't forgotten the bickering that erupted in the comments when Hal Jordan ranked highest of the Green Lanterns, and people used it as evidence he was the best GL. Nova was definitely not that high up 4 years later. I've already noticed Squirrel Girl is on the list, which speaks to her current surge of popularity.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Zorro 1.36 - The Sergeant Regrets

Plot: We open with Diego and Bernardo observing the Eagle practicing his swordsmanship, and he's actually pretty good. He nearly kills the poor soldier he's practicing with, over Diego's objection. The Eagle, however, would rather ask Diego about his father's plans for a militia, and who might have signed up. For his part, Diego plays dumb, and any further interrogation is interrupted by the arrival of a Senor Brighton, an arrival not expected by the Eagle. From their discussion it becomes clear Brighton represents the people who expect the Eagle to hand them California, and also that Brighton knows de Varga is running into some roadblocks, Alejandro among them. Brighton departs, having booked a room at the inn, and leaves the Eagle in a nervous state.

Outside, Corporal Reyes has snuck inside the gates to complain about being guard of the outside, and that he hasn't eaten since breakfast. Sergeant Garcia is not terribly moved, especially once he realizes Reyes drank the last of his wine. He orders him outside, but as he falls asleep immediately, doesn't notice Reyes slip into the house. Meanwhile, the Eagle has hatched a plan. He sends one of the de la Vega's oldest servants on a mission to visit all the rancheros and tell them Alejandro has returned and is having a meeting of everyone who signed that night. Diego is listening from a secret passage, and rushes back to his room. From there, he calls Garcia, and gives him a message to give to the servant before he departs. Diego makes certain to emphasize its importance, and yet Garcia gets distracted when he passes through the kitchen on his way to the stable and catches Reyes swiping a chicken.

Garcia returns to see Diego, and it's only then he remembers he forgot to deliver the message, at which point Diego lets him have hit with both barrels. As the sergeant walks off, dejected, Diego rushes to turn to Zorro in the hopes he can catch Juan and get him to not deliver the message. Unfortunately, the arrival of Senor Alfredo would seem to indicate he was too late. Alfredo is ushered in to see the Eagle, and while asking to see Alejandro, mentions two things: That he has changed his mind and is leaving California after all, and that he was the last to sign. The second bit is of great interest to de Varga, and he prepares to have his goon Manuel work over Alfredo for the names, when Brighton arrives. While Brighton may be OK with paying for the overthrow of a government, he isn't OK with torture. It's at this point the Eagle, apparently feeling pretty full of himself, tells the guy where he can stick it, and suggests there are plenty of other interested buyers. Brighton doesn't seem to buy the bluff, and storms off.

It's about that time the candle goes out, and buy the time it's re-lit, Zorro almost has Alfredo free. Unfortunately, as Alfredo flees, Zorro is too busy making sure the Eagle can't get to his sword to stop Manuel from pursuing. Fortunately Sergeant Garcia has arrived, and he handles Manuel pretty handily, aided by that old bit where the villain falls on his own sword, er, dagger. Zorro arrives in time to compliment Garcia on saving the don, and rides away.

Quote of the Episode: Diego - 'Right here tonight you may see some of your friends die because of your negligence!'

Times Zorro marks a "Z": 0 (14 overall).

Other: I'm curious which country Brighton is representing. Britain seems the most likely option, but I'll admit I would expect him to speak in some stereotypically "British" accent if that were the case, which made me wonder if he's American. Since the series is set around 1810, I don't think that would necessarily jibe. We're only a few years past the Louisiana Purchase at that point, but I'm not sure how much into expanding the borders the U.S. was at that stage. And "Brighton" just feels like an English name.

I wonder, if the Eagle was telling the truth about Brighton not representing the only interested parties, who those others would be. He's getting it away from Spain, so they're out. The French had just sold off a huge chunk of land a few years earlier to the U.S. Germany didn't exist as a unified country yet. At this point I think China is still remaining isolated (or trying to). I suppose it could be the Dutch, but I'm leaning towards Russia. They held parts of North America running down into the Pacific Northwest, they might have felt like making a run at a firmer grasp on things.

But I'd guess the Eagle was just talking shit.

It was striking to see Diego come down so hard on Sergeant Garcia. Garcia deserved it - this was the definition of "YOU HAD ONE JOB!" - but Diego has always been one of the sergeant's staunchest defenders. He's always recognized that whatever Garcia's failings, at heart he's a good, (mostly) honest man who doesn't abuse his power and tries to be understanding. So for him to just let loose, and end by telling Garcia to get out of his sight, it made an impact.

Last episode we saw that Don Alfredo was only reluctantly drawn into Alejandro's plan, and here we see he's had second thoughts. I wonder if this thread will be continued, if we'll see some fallout from Alfredo deciding to leave, or if maybe he'll have a change of heart, having experienced firsthand the danger California faces.

For as much as de Varga knows of Alejandro's feelings about his son, the elder de la Vega must be a 19th Century Spanish version of Helen Lovejoy. Just gossiping away about his disappointment of a kid every chance he gets. "He turned down a chance to ride in a race to write poetry. Poetry! And he won't get married! I don't know what's wrong with him!" Maybe he's less Helen Lovejoy, more Hank Hill. "That boy ain't right."

Friday, October 16, 2015

This Isn't A Response To Any Specific Thing

One thing I enjoy about reading blogs is when people talk not only about what they like, but why. Even if I don't share their enthusiasm for a writer/artist/character/show, the thought process behind what they see in it is interesting.

On the other side of the coin, I get irritated by people who state an opinion in one sentence, without bothering to back it up with any evidence. Not so much if it's about them liking something, more when it's an assessment of the specific quality of the work. For example, "Jim Aparo is a terrible artist," something like that.

I know it's because I see an arrogance in it, someone so certain they're right they don't think it even requires explaining, or debating. We don't need to see the work, because they're obviously right, so let's just take their word for it. Also, that certainty they're correct is a little troubling to me, indicates a lack of willingness to conceive that maybe they're wrong. Which I'm sure is a nice feeling to have. I remember it being that way for me when I was that way as a dumb teenager.

Now, I find I'm not sure about much. Even when I'm pretty sure, I know there's at least on other side, and I wonder if they're right, and I'm missing something. Frankly, people with no doubts whether they're right or not worry me. I know I'm talking about comics and entertainment here, not politics or religion. It's not really a big deal whether some person on the Internet has strident opinions about whether Adventure Time is any good. But we slip into "I'm right, you're wrong" so easily I'm always leery of people who consistently operate that way.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Crushing My Younger Self's Dreams

When I was a kid, I remember when it seemed as though every comic I bought had an ad for Flashback, and I thought it looked like such a cool game. Mutants! Cyborgs! Death Tower! A super-cool secret agent trying to recover his memories! Of course, it was a Sega Genesis game, and I skipped that generation of consoles, so I never got to play it (this was the stretch when I was phasing out my NES, but still a few years away from my N64, so the Game Gear was the only current thing I had).

They released an updated version of the game two years ago on Xbox Live, and even though I'd read reviews which suggested it was a disappointment, I still rolled the dice and spent 10 bucks on it. Not my best decision. All those people who warn about the dangers of nostalgia might be on to something.

The story is Conrad B. Hart is an agent for the GBI, except he doesn't remember that at the start. All he knows is some jetpack wearing androids were trying to murder him. Which sounds cool, but it was a cut scene. The times in the gameplay when it happens are significantly less cool. So he has to try and recover enough of his memories to figure out why people are trying to kill him, then stop the thing he was trying to stop before his memories got erased.

The game is all two-dimensional levels where you spend a lot of time running back and forth between hallways, climbing up or down levels in one manner or another. Usually you're trying to find someone or something that will enable you to advance the story. Sometimes you run into various enemies, or traps. There's a few puzzles, in the sense of needing to figure out how to deactivate a trap, or open a door you can't directly reach. The latter usually involves grenades. Sometimes so does the former. There's a lot of solving problems through shooting, but I don't love the controls. You use the right thumbstick to aim in whatever direction you need, but use the right trigger to fire. What I find happens is that when I depress the trigger, it makes my hand move and that throws off my aim. In the early levels, I was able to alleviate this by briefly using my left hand to control the right thumbstick, but later in the game, it's kind of important to be able to switch from shooting to running quickly, and so the left hand was occupied.

The game could also be glitchy. Sometimes it would just keep trying to load a checkpoint after I'd died. One time I made it back to a boss fight I'd failed at earlier, took the option to skip the cut scene, and the game froze Conrad in place. Couldn't move, couldn't shoot. Just stood there until the boss killed me. And since I'd been dying over and over again during that stretch of the game, that was almost the breaking point. As it turns out, the key to surviving fights, is to get the high ground, and crouch near the ledge and fire down. Sometimes the enemies won't climb up after you and you can just shoot them in the face from relative safety (except when they do).

I was going to say Flashback isn't a bad game, but I was going to follow that by saying the gameplay was nothing special, the dialogue can be pretty bad, and the whole thing is fairly cliche. Which sure sounds like a bad game. Some parts of it just don't make a lot of sense, like the speeder bike level, which is just Conrad trying to make it from Point A to B in a set amount of time. But no one is chasing him, so it's just a time trial, essentially. And it's the only level like that in the game, so it sticks out as an oddity. Why include it?

Looking back, I think there's a point that could have saved it, when I used a teleporter to reach the bottom of this pit, only to face two cyborgs. I was dying repeatedly (this was shortly before that boss fight I mentioned), and finally ran for a nearby elevator and rode it up. Then I kept charging my gun, riding the elevator down, shooting whichever cyborg was in my sights, and then going back up before they could shoot me. Several times I couldn't get a shot off because one of the cyborgs was standing under the elevator, so I bounced off its head. If the game had let that damage the enemy, so I could beat it by hitting it with an elevator, I might be more kindly disposed towards it. But no.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

This Is Necessary For Me To Function

I'm going to list my favorite lines from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Recent sports results have decreed I do this to avoid spiraling into a torrent of profanities. These are in no particular order, and there's no strict criteria, except perhaps how often I find myself repeating them. I'm going with 10, because that's the commonly accepted number.

'I'm looking for the owner of that horse. He's tall, blonde, smokes a cigar, and he's a pig!'

- Tuco's demand to the hotel owner the first time he catches up with Blondie. I'm just like the characteristics he decides are defining traits of his quarry, and how he spits the last one out.

'God is not on our side, because he hates idiots, also.'

- That moment when Tuco and Blondie realize those aren't Confederate soldiers riding towards them. That recognition that everything is going horribly wrong. Unfortunately, looking at the world leads me to believe God doesn't hate idiots, he hates everyone else, and the idiots are one of his forms of punishment, in much the same way as my grandmother used to tell me that ticks and mosquitoes were a way of punishing us for original sin. Not to be confused with the Jason Aaron-written Marvel event, though in either case, I'm not a fan of being punished for something I didn't even do.

'Sure, I'll go, I'll go. And while I'm waiting for the Lord to remember me, I, Tuco Ramirez, brother of Brother Ramirez, will tell you something!'

- I devoted an entire post to this scene between Tuco and his brother Pablo (played by Luigi Pistilli) some years ago, because I thought it was so well done, and this is my favorite line. The moment after Tuco's learned both his parents are gone, and his brother takes exactly the wrong approach, chiding him for his criminal life. So Tuco draws on the bravado, the sarcasm, and swings back. And I love how he emphasizes the second "brother", not just with his voice, but by poking Pablo in the chest with his finger as he says it.

'Doctor, can you help me to live a little more? I expect good news.'

- The poor drunken Union Captain (played by Aldo Giuffre). When my dad and I nearly had a fight earlier this year because he said some blatantly incorrect things about Leone's films, one of them was everyone was a scumbag, and I countered that Eastwood's characters usually show some small bit of decency that distinguishes them. I think the fact he actually told the Captain to hang and keep listening is one of those (so was comforting that dying soldier right before the big final showdown). He and Tuco could have just grabbed the explosives and gone on their way, but he took the time to let this guy know his dream was going to come true.

'More feeling.'

- This is from the scene where Tuco's getting the crap beat out of him by the fat corporal, while the prisoners play a tune. It's spoken by the Union soldier watching over them, and there's something so callous about it, the way he's sitting relaxed and casual, enjoying a smoke. Then he takes it out of his mouth, and utters that command, when he knows, and he knows they know, exactly what their music is the accompaniment to. It's a total dick move, impressively so.

'Every gun plays its own tune. And it's perfect timing, large one.'

- This is the point when, having both gotten out of the prisoner of war camp in their own ways, Tuco and Blondie's paths cross again. It's kind of interesting the Blondie recognizes the sound of Tuco's gun (especially considering it must be yet another pistol Tuco's cobbled together since the first was confiscated when they were captured). Also, Blondie is talking to a kitten he found that is playing around inside his hat. So, you know, Clint Eastwood playing with a kitten, not something you see that often.

'You see, there's two kinds of people in this world, my friend.'

- In this case, I'm generally thinking of the exchange near the end, about people with loaded guns, and those who dig. But it's a recurring theme, as Tuco uses it a couple of different times. And frankly, it doesn't often come up in my life that who digs is determined by which person has a loaded gun. When I was at my dad's helping look for his water leak, I did the digging because his back is trashed. However, I do tend to use the "two kinds of people" thing a lot. Usually the second group of people are idiots, and the first group is some description that applies to me, like people who recognize Hawkeye is awesome.

'Where's the rebel going?' 'To hell, with a rope around his neck and a price on his head.' 'Yeah, $3,000. That's a lot of money for a head my friend. I'll bet they didn't even pay you a penny for your arm.'

- That little exchange is between a wounded Union soldier, the corporal Wallace, and Tuco. I just really like Tuco's remark at the end. It's cruel, but they're making jokes about how he's going to be executed, so screw it. It's kind of a perfect example of his bravado, that even when he's surrounded by hostile soldiers, not to mention handcuffed to a guy who already nearly killed him, he still can't keep his mouth shut.

'People with ropes around their necks don't always hang.'

- I felt like I had to get a quote from Angel Eyes in here somewhere, but he didn't have a lot of lines that resonated with me. It was this or one of his insolent lines to the commandant of the prison camp. Plus, it ends up being very true over the course of the film. The fact he knows Tuco's got someone watching out for him, and picks that someone out immediately, reinforces how sharp he is (we've already seen how quickly he recognized there was a lot more money at stake than he'd been lead to believe). Also, his utter lack of concern at Tuco's list of crimes (this last time I watched it was the first time I remember hearing he was guilty of passing himself off as a general in the Mexican army, which I thought was hilarious), compared to the lady in the stagecoach's evident disgust. Because hell, Angel Eyes has done worse, if significantly more quietly.

'Such ingratitude after all the times I've saved your life.'

- Blondie's line after he dissolves the partnership with Tuco and leaves him stranded in the desert. I think about how bad an idea that was sometimes. Certainly he made the mistake Tuco warned of, betraying him without making sure to finish him, and this lead to his own near death in the desert. But that's how they found the dying Bill Carson and learned of the gold, sooooo, everything worked out?

There were a lot of other lines I could have listed, which is interesting to me. Leone thought American films talked too fast, and probably also too much. He liked long sequences with little to no dialogue. And English wasn't his first language (which I notice in the way certain dialogue is worded, where I think something would work more smoothly is you changed the order of things in the sentence). But Leone and his other scriptwriters (Luciano Vincenzoni, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli) came up with a lot of good lines. Maybe they work as well as they do because I've watched it so many times, so I can focus on the delivery, the camera angle, the music, whatever.

When I watched the commentary for Duck, You Sucker, it mentioned that Rod Steiger spoke at a seminar about the film and said that it wasn't so much that Leone wrote great dialogue, but that everything else he did - how he composed a shot, the music, the cues for the actor's reactions - all combined to aid actor's in giving great performances (the commentary also mentioned that James Coburn accepted his role because Henry Fonda told him Leone was the best director he ever worked with which, considering Fonda worked with Hitchcock and John Ford, to name two, is pretty damn impressive). And that is a part of it, to be sure. The lines are indelibly linked with the actor's faces and body language as they spoke them, and it all comes together to make them memorable to me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Potato's More Half-Baked. 60% Baked, Tops

I think Hot Potato is supposed to be a sequel to Black Belt Jones, though the later film never references the earlier one. Jim Kelly still plays Jones, and he gets sent into Thailand to rescue an abducted Senator's daughter from Carter Rangoon who is trying to instigate a civil war between two halves of the country by forcing the Senator to rescind an aid package he'd promised. But Rangoon's going to try and trick the rescue operation with a double of the Senator's daughter, but the double decides to steal some evidence of Rangoon's treachery towards both sides of the Civil War, and so our heroes are pursued by all manner of strange henchmen. There's guys in skintight black bodysuits, except they look knitted, and there's no mask or anything. Then there's a group of guys in cavemen loincloth outfits.

If they'd run into one more oddly themed group, I'd have started to suspect this version of Thailand was a big fan of The Warriors.

Jones has himself a crack squad, between Johnny Chicago constantly demanding more money, even stopping in the middle of a fight to go argue that he needs to be reimbursed for his damaged hat, to the White Rhino, a fat guy we're introduced to as he tries to win the right to sleep with a girl by outeating the madam of the establishment (I fear she may have had a heart attack), and Detective Pam Varaje, who spends a lot of time being thwarted in her attempts to be sensible and stealthy by the bickering Americans.

It's not as strong a film as the first one. It spends a lot of time on romantic subplots, between Rhino winning a wife and child in a fight while they rest in a village, Jones trying to win over Pam, and Chicago falling for the false Senator's daughter. But that's not what I'm watching the movie to see, so it feels like filler. Rhino kind of got on my nerves after awhile, the fat guy comic relief, always has food hidden somewhere, the joke got played out kind of quick. Him and Chicago busting each other's chops worked a better, because it played off their personalities, Chicago being very concerned with making this gig pay off, and being kind of precise, and Rhino kind of playing up his lackadaisical tendencies to annoy Chicago.

To the extent the film works, I'd credit Jim Kelly. He has a fair amount of charm, and usually gives the appearance of a guy having a great time. Jones clearly enjoys humiliating fools in fights, though the thing he does I enjoy the most is how he'll approach one bad guy and get into a ready stance. Then he abruptly stands up straight and walks lightly past that guy towards more bad guys. Like, he wasn't surrounded sufficiently to make it interesting, so he had to get more surrounded before he was really ready to fight.

Monday, October 12, 2015

It's Not A Kingdom Anyone Should Want To Inherit

My new coworkers wanted to be social. That is, as you know, not generally my thing, but I tried. They were watching Army of Darkness, which helped, but once it ended, there was much bandying about of, "Well, maybe we could do this. . ." until we finally settled on another movie, and they chose Kindgom of Heaven.

I did not have high expectations. Orlando Bloom doesn't tend to do much for me, and it's set during the Crusades, so I was pretty worried we would get something about wonderful Christians killing evil Muslims or something equally stupid. And we get some of the white savior stuff with Bloom's character, though his positive qualities are presented as more a result growing up in lower economic classes and becoming a blacksmith than because he's Christian. It's a little surprising Liam Neeson's words affect him so deeply, considering how little time they spent together (Bloom having never met his baron of a father until Neeson rides up asking him to come along to Jerusalem). We're probably meant to infer they traveled together for at least a few months, but as it's presented, they interact for maybe 15 minutes (they take much the same approach to Bloom's development as a fighter).

It seemed the movie was more interested in condemning religious zealots of all stripes (though mostly those asshole Templars), rather than one specific religion, so I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the major players - Bloom's character, Tiberius (played by Jeremy Irons), the leperosy-stricken King of Jerusalem, Saladin - seem unconcerned with people's religions as long as they aren't going around causing trouble by killing people of other faiths. This is probably pragmatic rather than any high-minded ideal. Certainly for Jerusalem, it wouldn't be wise to exclude any one faith, lest they find themselves stuck fighting off either Saladin or still more European knights. But if it keeps the citizenry from being slaughtered by invading armies, the motivation is not terribly important. Certainly that's the perspective of Bloom's character. The cities themselves are irrelevant, only the safety of the lives within matter.

There is a moment I found awkward right before the big battle, when Bloom gives this speech to his assembled force, about how none of them were alive when the Christians took this city and killed many, and neither where any of Saladin's forces out there claiming right of vengeance. It put me in mind of the people who say African-Americans ought to get over slavery, because that happened in the past, and everyone involved is dead, so just move. It's not the same situation, but it still felt like one character speaking from a position of advantage, dismissing the other side. He may have been right as far as Saladin went, but I would imagine some of Saladin's army had ancestors killed in that earlier conflict, so to simply dismiss that as "not our problem", is kind of stupid. But hell, he's a blacksmith, not a politician. Though given how fast he seemingly became a superb fighter, I'm surprised he didn't instantly become a master orator. Liam Neeson should have spent a little time training him in that before he took that arrow in the sides.

There are far too many shots of Eva Green just staring, bleary-eyed, at something back over our shoulder. Sometimes in the middle of big battles, or just at other random moments. Sometimes they cut to Orlando Bloom looking in what I assume is supposed to be her general direction (even if they're miles apart), but not always. It gets silly after awhile. Fine, she's sad because she's stuck in a shitty situation, and she can't do anything to fix the situation herself and save a bunch of people. Don't belabor the point.

I wasn't very emotionally invested in the movie, outside of worrying Irons' character might be killed. None of the men who served, first under Neeson, then Bloom, were fleshed out to the point I cared when they started dying. Like, the German guy with the ax might have been cool, but he and the one black guy in Neeson's bunch died before they even got out of France. But it wasn't horrible, just too overwrought for me, when it's a subject I'm not that interested in to begin with.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Zorro 1.35 - The Tightening Noose

Plot: Diego and Alejandro are leaning on Don Alfredo to sign into a little group they're forming. Alejandro plans to travel to see the Governor and petition this group be recognized as an official militia to protect the area, since the soldiers are apparently insufficient. Alfredo buckles eventually, when he was previously about to sell his land and leave, and Alejandro sets off, a spare copy of the list of names hidden away in the library. Some time after Alejandro's departure, Bernardo notices Sergeant Garcia has arrived, and uses a secret passage through a cabinet in the sala to reach Diego's room without being noticed and alert him. Diego receives bad news from the sergeant: The new Administrano, Jose Sebastian de Varga, is on his way to Los Angeles to assume his duties, and until his home is completed, he's seizing control of the de la Vega hacienda.

Diego is outraged, and vows to fight, only to be talked out of it by Bernardo, who convinces him it would be better to listen and learn. And thus, the Eagle came to stay in Zorro's house. Yep, the Big Bad has apparently finally run out of henchman (save his secretary Juan Greco), and has come to this trouble spot to handle things personally. He knows of Alejandro's plans, having met him on his way here, and he wants that list of names. He and Greco search the house, the Eagle well aware homes like these are full of hiding places. Bernardo is able to warn Diego, and so Zorro arrives to steal away the list of names before they can read any. Things get a little dicey as he tries to exit the room through the sala and encounters Garcia, who has been stymied in his attempt to swipe a leftover leg of mutton, but Zorro's able to reach Diego's room, switch out of most of the costume, and tell the lancers some story of Zorro going out the window, with Bernardo riding swiftly away to sell the story.

It seems disaster is averted, but it may be better than that, as they not only found a host of eagle feathers among de Varga's things, but also a letter he hadn't mailed yet which clearly incriminates him as the Eagle. So now Zorro knows the face of his enemy, but he's surprisingly pessimistic. We'll see if that's warranted.

Quote of the Episode: Diego - 'My father, and my father's father have defended this house, and I shall do the same!'

Times Zorro marks a "Z": 1 (14 overall).

Other: I'm pretty sure watching this show is how I learned the word "popinjay", which the Eagle uses in reference to Diego. Sadly, it isn't a word I get to use very often.

You would think, after the last couple of times Alejandro tried to create one of these well-meaning groups, he'd have learned his lesson. First he tried to rally the dons to rebel against Monastario. Then there was the time he let the Magistrado sucker him in to arresting some poor kid to use as bait for Zorro. He says this one will be officially recognized, but so was that last one, and it was still a disaster. And for Diego to support it. I guess if you wanted a sign the situation is dire, that would be one.

Diego seemingly being resigned to fighting a losing battle, even now that he has his foe in his home, would be another. Admittedly, given the resources the Eagle's demonstrated he has at his command so far, there's reason to wonder if two men can stop him alone. On the other hand, they've done well at thwarting most every move he's made in the area so far, and now he's right there. He even has a big old Kirk Douglas-style crater in his chin that would fit the point of a sword just perfectly. Stab him in the face and call it good. I know, he's not going to do that, certainly not while de Varga appears to all the world a legitimate servant of Spain's government. And exposing him as the leader behind a vast, treasonous campaign certainly wouldn't be easy. Almost everyone who's worked for him is dead, and even if they weren't, or if Zorro could get to those who aren't, I'm not sure what procedure there is for testifying.

It does seem the stress is starting to wear on him. He's letting his timid scholar act slip more and more, from encouraging other dons to join this militia - because he figures they need all the organized resistance they can get - and actually planning to resist the Eagle's intrusion into his home directly. He's expressed frustration with the act more than once, how it causes others to regard him as unreliable, how his own father is openly disappointed in him (and so vocal about it even the Eagle knows). I start to wonder how long he can keep this up, even if it does give him an advantage now, since the Eagle dismisses him as any threat.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Things Take A Dark Turn

{Calvin's standing alone in a sunny field ringed by woods. He's scribbling in a small, yellow notebook and mumbling under his breath to himself.}

Calvin: Yes, this field has definitely been mowed, as it was supposed to be. *pauses to look up* Can't help feeling I should be writing something more expansive, but I'm not sure what else to say. . .

{As Calvin turns to his left to return to his truck, something whistles past the right side of his face. It's a sharply pointed boot, with a foot inside it. Calvin flinches away, and sees UnCalvin alight a few steps away in a crouch, back turned. The wind from her landing makes the cape flutter impressively.}

Calvin: Did you just try to kick me in the head?!

UnCalvin: Yes, you oaf.

{With that, UnCalvin springs backwards, towards Calvin, and spins, planting her left foot squarely into Calvin's stomach. Calvin goes flying, then skids across the field as he lands. Before he can rise, UnCalvin is charging towards him, winding up for a kick to the chin. Calvin barely gets both arms up to block, but still goes sliding several feet more. He manages to awkwardly roll backwards and get to his feet, pulling his backpack in front of him as he does, trying to use it like a shield.}

Calvin: What the hell is wrong with you?!

UnCalvin: *advancing steadily* I'm seeing things clearly now. *burst of speed, draws a blade, Calvin's left holding two halves of what used to be his backpack, and with a small cut on his right shoulder.* No more fooling around with trying to wreck your blog through your own computer. I just need to destroy you.

Calvin: So this is your Nineties, grim-n-gritty revamp? Maybe you could destroy my blog through a different computer instead?

UnCalvin: Enough jokes.

{UnCalvin thrusts, and Calvin, having wrapped the remainder of the pack around his left hand, grabs the blade before it can run him through. He twists, spins, and draws his metal water bottle from the other half and hopes head trauma will settle his opposite down. Before he can make contact, the bottle is blasted from his hand and spent flying. The combatants separate, though Calvin is at least able to take the sword with him. Looking up, Captain Adrozier and five other members of Smile Time Alternative Solutions' security force emerge from the tree line. While UnCalvin's face breaks into a cruel, triumphant grin, Calvin's remains largely expressionless.}

UnCalvin: Nothing left to chance this time. The panda hasn't been by in months. Too busy hanging out with the robot wizard, I hear. Deadpool is still dead for another month, and you're so cheap it'll be another month after that before you buy his comic. The orange-hooded girl is a state away, and wouldn't help you anyway. And the girl with the terrible mutant powers is even further, and let's just say I'm not too worried about her acute time-determining powers or good eyesight. *UnCalvin pitches her voice higher, mock concern adding bite to the taunt* Who's left to help you now?

{Calvin looks around at the enemies in front of him, and at the truck several hundred yards behind him. He glances at the sword he's still holding by the blade in his left hand, sighs, and takes a grip on the handle with his right. Then, he looks back up at UnCalvin.}

Calvin: *calm in a way the surprises even him* When you put it like that, nobody, I guess.

UnCalvin: Why don't you just return my sword before you hurt yourself? That's my, well, job isn't the right word, I enjoy it too much, what's the word I'm thinking of?

Calvin: Privilege?

UnCalvin: *snaps fingers, points at Calvin* That's it precisely! Now hand over my sword. *with mock sincerity* If I have to beat you to death it's going to take so much longer.

{Calvin regards UnCalvin silently, then looks at the sword, and his grip shifts a little. Androzier tenses, concerned Calvin might do something crazy and/or stupid. The other guards follow suit. Calvin raises the sword until it's over his head, parallel to the ground, pointed at UnCalvin, in his best mimicry of Saito's Gatotsu stance from Rurouni Kenshin. Because what the hell, might as well try to go out looking cool, right?}

UnCalvin: *smiling in a seemingly good-natured way* Well?

Calvin: *smiles back* Nah, fuck you.

{Calvin hurls the sword over their heads as far as he can and turns to run. Androzier prepares to gun him down.}

UnCalvin: No! *turns on the security team* Damn it, he is mine. You are here to prevent outside interference, nothing more!

{UnCalvin turns to give chase, and it's no contest. She moves lightly and swiftly, while Calvin dashes clumsily in boots poorly suited for sprinting. UnCalvin closes the gap easily and leaps in the air, planning to bring both feet down squarely on Calvin's back. Then she'll grind them into his kidneys a bit, that'll be fun. She's so lost in that thought, she almost doesn't notice the flash of light out of the corner of her eye. And that's why, even if she avoided being cut by her sword, her cape didn't. But twisting in mid-air throws her off completely and UnCalvin crashes to the ground on one shoulder. A moment later she rises, eyes swiveling, holding her left shoulder.}

UnCalvin: *through gritted teeth* Who threw that? *looks to her security team* WELL?!

Androzier: Commandant, we don't know! We didn't see anyone!

UnCalvin: *notices Calvin is still running* Stop him, shoot him, but only wound him!

One of the security lackeys: Sure, don't shoot him when he was only 20 yards away, but now that he's a 120 yards and at full speed, absolutely. Swell. I hate crazy bosses, that guy in the break room was right.

Different security lackey: I know, right? Benefits are getting slashed and now we're out in the middle of bug-humping nowhere shooting at some nobody. What the hell?

Androzier: Shut it and do your job! Save your discontent for the suggestion box!

Still another lackey: Nobody actually reads those, do they?

Second lackey: Well, I asked for an alternative to cheeses 'cause of my lactose intolerance, and they added some fresh fruit and vegetables.


{The security team raise their weapons as one, and the sword flashes through the air again, slicing through all the barrels. Then it stops and spins lazily in the air, before wagging back and forth at them.}

UnCalvin: *muttering* The ghost, of course. *turns to Calvin, still running for the truck - hey, it's a big field* I suppose you thought that was clever, "No body"?

{Calvin doesn't hear the question. He's making too much noise, and so all he hears is unintelligible shouting. He hopes it isn't someone warning him that's he's being chased by a T-rex, and needs to stand still. As it is, he's almost to the truck, he's got the keys in hand. And then a black SUV screeches to a stop, blocking the access to the road.}

Calvin: Oh come on.

{Three more security guys pile out, and then one more person emerges. The others quickly form a protective circle around him, though he's a big guy. Six-foot-five, probably at least 240. Hair shaved almost entirely off, kind of a chubby face. He moves towards Calvin, the guys still around him.}

Big Guy: Mr. Pitt?

Calvin: *resigned* Yeah?

Big Guy: *gets a big, goofy, slightly shit-eating smile and extends his hand* I'm Robert Bartlett, and I wanted to come out here and apologize to you personally about all this.

Calvin: *shakes hand* Apologize for what?

Robert Bartlett: Well, all this. *gestures behind Calvin, where UnCalvin and the security guys are still trying to catch up, dodging the sword as the Ghost of the Forest swings it at them. UnCalvin is in the middle of preparing to cast some spell when she notices Bartlett.*

UnCalvin: Sir, you and your entourage need to leave the area immediately! We are testing - erk - some new magnetic suspension gloves - yikes - and it isn't safe to be here!

Robert: Now Ms. Pollock, you know that isn't true. You don't have any such thing as magnetic suspension gloves in design stage, let alone testing.

UnCalvin: *stops, stunned* How do you know that?

Calvin: "Ms. Pollock"?

UnCalvin Pollock?: *rushes up to them, turns to Bartlett* Answer my question!

Bartlett: *cheerfully* I'm your new boss! I just finished buying up a controlling interest in your company last month, and had myself appointed as president just yesterday. We wanted you there for the vote, and the official transfer of power, but you were busy with this.

UnCalvin: On what grounds are you taking over?

Bartlett: *turns to his security guys* You think the little lady is serious, boys? You're here trying to commit cold-blooded, premeditated murder of this fellow. What's worse, you've used company resources to do it. Prior to that, you've been harassing him for years, to no particular gain, and you've wasted how much money on "secret bases" and trick desks? You couldn't even run a travel agency in Nebraska without screwing it up. All of this is hurting the bottom line, and the stockholders demanded a change.

UnCalvin: *sputters incoherently*

Bartlett: *still smiling* Now don't fret, sport, we still want you as part of the company. You have a lot of good ideas, and a knack for hiring smart people. You just need someone a little more level-headed to help you control your emotions, that's all.

UnCalvin: You, you, *clenching fists*

Bartlett: *turns to Androzier and the other guards* Don't worry fellas, we know you were just following orders. Just pick up what's left of your stuff and we'll head back to New York, get back to making this the best darn company around, what d'ya say?

{Several of the security guys murmur and nod agreeably among themselves. Androzier looks troubled, and glances at UnCalvin, who is still standing dumbfounded, shoulders sagging. UnCalvin doesn't react to Androzier placing a hand on her shoulder, and the captain reluctantly follows the team to their ride.}

UnCalvin: *to Bartlett* I, I need a little time to process this. May I catch up with you? I suppose I have some vacation time stored up.

Bartlett: *very cheerful* Well sure, take a little time to think things over if ya feel you need to. We really want to keep you as part of the team at ExpanCo!

Calvin: "ExpanCo"?

Bartlett: "Smile Time Alternative Solutions" is too much of a mouthful. we need something quick and punchy.

Calvin: I'd suggest you keep looking, then.

Bartlett: *smile's looking a little strained* I'll keep it in mind. Nice to meet you, son.

{As Bartlett extends his hand once more, the sword comes whistling by and he has to retract it swiftly. He's surprisingly quick for a big guy, if a little awkward. A dark look passes over his face for just a moment, a cold scowl, then it's gone, the big smile back in place.}

Bartlett: Whoa ho! Feisty friend you have there!

Calvin: *shrugs* Yeah, sorry about that. Thanks for not letting me be killed, I guess.

Bartlett: *waves as he climbs back into the SUV* Not a problem, and Ms. Pollock, don't get any ideas about killing him in your free time once we're gone. That'd be a breach of the conduct clause in your contract for sure!

{The SUV backs up fast, throwing gravel around as it departs, leaving Calvin and UnCalvin standing at the edge of the field.}

Calvin: So, you're not going to kill me, are you?

UnCalvin: *sighs* I'm alone, your ghost has my sword, and frankly, I have bigger problems now. How did he manage this?

Calvin: See, this is why I don't play the stock market. It's all a lot of backstabbing and dirty deals, whichever side you're on. Just a big hustle.

UnCalvin: Yes, yes, and the bourgeois are parasites spoiling the fruits of the proletariat's labor. Why didn't anyone at the company warn me?

Calvin: Why didn't you tell me you were going by Ms. Pollock? And why Ms. Pollock?

UnCalvin: I had to do a lot of paperwork to get a flying castle built, or start a business, and I wasn't going to have "UnCalvin" on my stationery. And I like Pollock's work.

Calvin: He's just throwin' paint at a canvas, I could do that.

UnCalvin: Please don't make me want to kill you, I need a ride.

Calvin: I'm in a work truck, I can only take you back to the office.

UnCalvin: *glum* That will have to do. Can you have the ghost give me my sword back?

Calvin: I can ask. Ghost, you feel like giving it back?

{The sword floats in front of them, then points at Ms. Pollock and slashes the air once.}

UnCalvin: Of course, perfect.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

I Never Manage To Rally Against Sports Games

I’ve mentioned previously the danger I face from watching sports. How it gets me in the mood to play sports games, which inevitably frustrate me. I’ve mostly resisted the urge in the past few years, at least as far as buying any new games, but this NBA season must have got me so fired up it overrode my common sense, because I went out and bought NBA 2K15 a couple of months ago.

I was mostly intrigued by the MyCareer option, where you make a player and he goes through an entire career, from a Rookie Showcase game that determines his draft position, up to retirement. Of course, there were things I didn't know when I started out. I didn’t realize the default (and lowest) difficulty for MyCareer is All-Star. I didn’t realize I was going to hate the shooting mechanic so much. I didn’t realize there was going to be a stupid teammate grade you get at the end of each game, but that you can see updating throughout as you do good or bad things.

The game is not nearly intelligent enough to be allowed to grade you. If your offense makes three passes in a possession, it give you credit for good ball movement. Even if all three passes took place in a five second span, followed by one guy standing in place dribbling for 10 seconds, then throwing up a contested shot (the game rewards “hero ball” iso crap waaaay too often). The game penalizes you for what it calls bad shot selection, bad attempts at steals and blocks, bad passes, not getting back in transition, but it’s all screwy. I’ve been penalized for bad shot selection for taking a 3-pointer when my team was down 10 with 30 seconds left. I’ve been penalized for not getting back in transition, when the game decided my character was going to stand and bitch about not getting a call. If it had been up to me, he’d have been running, but the game would not allow me to make him run, then docked me for it. One time, I grabbed a rebound, then my character sprained his ankle on the landing, so he let go of the ball. So I was penalized for losing the ball, even though my teammate Joakim Noah grabbed it. Then Noah stood there waiting for me to stop hopping around before handing me the ball, just in time for us to lose the ball because we didn’t get across halfcourt in 8 seconds. Since I was holding the ball, I got tagged for the turnover, even though it’s Noah’s fault for being a witless buffoon. That’s complete bullshit.

Which is another thing, your teammates are morons. I got drafted by the Bulls, which you’d think would make things easy. But Mike Dunleavy gets at least 2 shot clock violations per game, and Jimmy Butler dribbles out of bounds roughly the same number of times (it’s funny how off the game is from reality. It doesn’t think much of Butler, but Kobe and Rondo are both still presented as being really good players). Gasol and Noah will call for passes then turn away as I pass to them, leading to a turnover (which gets pinned on me, rather than them). There is no way in hell Thibs would have named me starter when Rose got injured, not with Hinrich and Aaron Brooks on the team. He definitely wouldn’t have left me starter over a healthy Rose, or be playing me more minutes than anyone else. I was the third worst player on the team, and I played the most. It makes no sense, given the game will let me skip the parts where I’m sitting out. I’d be content to play as a part of a bench unit, but while the game lets me discuss things with the GM, “Play me fewer minutes” is not a topic option. 

Which makes me wonder how much of what’s happening is predetermined. Am I losing all the time because I stink, or because the game thinks this is an interesting plotline to present me with? Is that why Rose got hurt, so there was an excuse to make me starter? Are my teammates going through those stretches where they screw up everything possible because the CPU is trying to force me to take over? If it wants me to take over, why does it penalize me when I try to do more, take more shots, gets steals and blocks? Having my teammate grade go down for “bad” attempts at those disincentivizes me to try. I’m better off just passing the ball to a teammate and setting screens, since I get a little positive boost for that. Winning a game only nets you 20 of the skill points you need to upgrade your player, but getting an A+ teammate grade nets 175 points. How does that make sense?

I will say the game nailed the social media aspect of it. There’s nothing like losing by 20 and having some dumbass opine it’s my fault, because as the point guard, I should have grabbed more than 2 rebounds. Also, Pharrell’s music selection was very good on the whole. There are a couple of songs I don’t like, but overall, it’s good. I’ll sit in the menu screens for awhile just to listen. Also because I’m trying to gather the nerve to play and lose another frustrating game. The postgame press conference, where you're given an option of 4 answers to a specific question, can be fun, though there are times I want to type my own responses. Granting they'd mostly involve hurling expletives at my useless teammates, but it might help me move on to the next game.

The game lets you use skill points to try and boost your attributes, but I can’t tell it helps. Sometimes it seems like the game specifically tries to mock my attempts to improve my guy. I maxed out his ability to Shoot in Traffic, and my next game I shot worse than I ever had before, 2 for 16, almost all close-range shots. I max out my Hands score, I get stripped going up for a shot the next game, by Enes freaking Kanter. Twice! The only thing that guy knows about defense is he can’t play any. Forty games into my third try at a rookie season (the first abandoned 10 games in, the second during an abysmal Rookie Showcase), I didn’t feel I had any better grasp of what I ought to be doing to be successful. I wasn’t shooting consistently better (I still can’t distinguish a difference between a “slightly early” shot release and a “slightly late” one on free throws), or playing better defense. I couldn’t get guys to take the open shots I got them consistently (I would have had twice as many assists as I did if they’d just fucking shoot the 10 wide open 3-pointers I got them each game). So I retired, citing not being good enough as the reason, though "I don't enjoy playing" would have been just as valid.

I'm on a 4th attempt, the first to last past the rookie season, and it's the same thing. I don't feel like I'm better. If anything, I think I'm getting worse. The game doesn't flow smoothly. The things I enjoy seeing when I watch basketball on TV, I can't replicate in the game, outside of sporadic moments. There was one game against the W2izards where I either stole the ball from John Wall or forced a turnover like 4 times in 3 minutes, to the point they subbed him out of the game for a few minutes. That was pretty cool, and I thought it meant I was figuring things out, but no, isolated incident. I still can't figure out what it wants from me.  We had a playoff series against the Hornets, and in Game 7, I tried to take control. I took almost nothing but layups, and they kept rolling out. On defense, I tried to force Gerald Henderson and Lance Stephenson to beat us with 3s (neither is a good shooter from long-range, Stephenson shot 17 goddamn percent last season). Naturally they hit their 3s, and we lost. When things like that happen, I can't help concluding the game is cheating, and I have no clue what to do. I try passing to open teammates on fast breaks, they lose the ball, or brick the shot, and the computer inevitably scores going the other way. It starts to feel like one of those RPG boss fights you aren't supposed to win, but are expected to stay alive for a certain amount of time anyway. I hate those.

I think I've given up on NBA 2K15. It's frustrating to play, and frequently makes me want to either smash my controller, or kick my TV screen in.