Monday, December 31, 2018

What I Bought 12/21/2018 - Part 3

Rather than go out and spend time celebrating with friends and alcohol, why not stay home and read about some comic books? Yeah, I know, I wouldn't do that either. Well, OK, I would if Alex wasn't insisting I come to his show tonight. But if we did stay home tonight, we'd probably feel much better in the morning.

Giant Days: Where Women Glow and Men Plunder -John Allison (writer and artist), Whitney Cogar (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - Ed, damn it, you're supposed to ride inside the pouch! That's what it's there for!

Ed travels to Australia to spend time with Nina and her family. Ed struggles to cope with the fact he is not a big, manly sports person like the men in her family, just as the Creek Boys try to ruin the big regatta Nina's father is putting on. The plan to steal the giant sausage that was the centerpiece of the food falls apart when they accidentally kidnap Nina's grandmother instead. Ed does. . . not exactly manage to save Nana Joan, but he does manage to keep from being killed by an emu! That counts for something.

I really need to get that collection of the early, online Giant Days strips Allison drew (which I will buy before too long), just to see if Susan always has sharp pointy teeth. I could see that happening. Suits her naturally brutal personality. Allison's style is more simplified than Sarin's, but he gets a lot out of it. The sound effects help. "ESCAPE!" for the jar of pickles when it slips from Ed's grasp. So do the clothes the Creek Boys are sporting. So many tank tops and ill-considered hair styles.

It's a solid one-off. Nina and Ed wouldn't be my first two choices for one of those, but it's endearing to see Ed trying to make a good impression on Nina's family. His manners impressed Nana Joan, which is probably the most important thing. Nina's commentary about the history of the area and the Creek Boys had some good one-liners in there.

Giant Days #45, by John Allison (writer), Max Sarin (artist), Jeremy Lawson (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - Bartender, what's this depressed nerd doing in my drink? Contemplating the futility of hoping for a happy existence, sir. What? Like the man says, dying is easy, comedy is hard.

Back in England, Ed encourages Nina to resume hanging out with her rowing friends, confident she can control her drinking. This is misplaced confidence, as Nina then breaks into Ed's home to visit him in the middle of the night. Ed promises to go with her to the next one, but by the time she arrives, she's alraedy shitfaced, and as it turns out, she can be a bit cruel when she's drunk. Ed prepares to break things off, but is talked out of it by Esther.

Which is nice of her, but Nina's tendency to show no self-control when alcohol is involved is not a small problem. Sure, assuming she doesn't kill herself somehow, she may grow out of it by the time she hits 30. That's how it went with my friend. When it was just us hanging out, he was fine. But it was a long decade plus of me having not much fun as the person trying to keep him out of trouble because he couldn't moderate when he was around literally any of his other friends.

In other plot developments, Daisy is getting interested in driving. Or perhaps just having a vehicle she could accessorize. Susan, late in the issue, realizes that she is living a life of blissful domesticity, and is duly horrified. Her course correction in response should be impressive. Hopefully McGraw has flameproof clothes. What am I saying, of course McGraw has fire proof clothes.

Nina has this almost constant, it looks like a blush, but I'm not sure that's what it's supposed to be that runs across her nose from one cheek to the next. Makes her look perpetually nervous or embarrassed. It's absent in the other comic, and Nina comes off more certain of herself there. Maybe because she's on her home turf, she knows how things work. Here, she's spending time either with Ed's friends, or making bad decisions with her rowing buddies.

The wobbly drunk hearts floating around her during her attempted booty call on Ed are cute. The way that, when Susan has her moment of clarity, her two pupils are different colors, and it sticks for the next two panels (which are the last two of the issue.) Sarin always has interesting little bits or flourishes in every issue, along with the excellent work on expressions and body language.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sunday Splash Page #46

"Really Know How to Show a Lady a Good Time, Dane", in Avengers #264, by Roger Stern (writer), John Buscema (breakdowns), Tom Palmer (finished art), Christie Scheele (colorist), Jim Novak (letterer)

The first issue of Avengers I owned. At the time, it seemed like some random one-off issue about a woman swiping one of Hank Pym's old Yellowjacket costumes, only to eventually run afoul of a fairly irate Wasp. About a year later, Roger Stern and John Buscema would do their "Under Siege" story, and this new Yellowjacket would be part of Baron Zemo's massive Masters of Evil that tore the Avengers Mansion down, put Hercules in a coma, and left Jarvis badly beaten.

A few years after that, that same Yellowjacket would hitch a ride with the Guardians of the Galaxy back to the 30th Century and join the team.

So this issue was part of the build-up towards the "Under Siege" story, but I had no clue of that at the time. It feels like a breather issue, checking in on the status of the team in a quiet moment. What's on their mind, what's troubling them? Dane Whitman (the Black Knight) is starting to get interested in the Wasp. He convinced to let him play "Doctor". No seriously, he was helping her test her powers. Apparently she can maintain the wings at almost her actual size, give or take a foot. Reed, Sue, and Franklin Richards are living at Avengers Mansion (which I remember confusing the heck out of me). Namor is on the Avengers, too, so you know he's trying to flirt with Sue, while wondering whether being an Avenger is enough for him. Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau) helps her father rescue one of his firefighters from a burning building.

And that's fine. I didn't know most of these characters from anything at the time, so it was a good way to learn a little about them. Like Dane having spent years stuck in the Crusades (which may have been retconned to something else at some point). Stern is good at juggling subplots, making sure everyone gets some time, let the character show their worth, why they are on the Avengers, or to show us something about them, so we actually care about them.

Buscema and Palmer's art has a very slick feel to it, with a lot of expression. Dane has this hilarious stunned look when Jan, at insect-size, bends a 2-inch diameter steel pipe back on itself. Jan's nonchalant response that she doesn't show off the enhanced strength much because stinging people seemed more efficient and less messy than ripping off their arms is funny, too. But it works for the quiet stuff, Namor standing in front of window, stuff like that. And when there's fighting, well, the Buscemas always know how to someone throwing a punch.

It's strange though, I don't feel like this issue had as much of an impact on my impressions of the Avengers as a lot of other Marvel comics I got at the same time. Other than Captain America, and maybe the Wasp, I don't tend to think of the characters on this roster as core Avengers. I'm more likely to apply that to people who were on the West Coast Avengers in the first issue of that I owned.

Friday, December 28, 2018

What I Bought 12/21/2018 - Part 2

I see the end of the Extermination event sent those time-traveling teen X-Men back to the 1960s, but also brought back the older Cyclops that died in Inhumans vs. X-Men. I would have enjoyed a few months with no Cyclops. Ah well, wasn't like I was planning on buying X-books any time soon.

Domino #9, by Gail Simone (writer), David Baldeon and Michael Shelfer (artists), Roberto Poggi (ink assists), Guru-eFX (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Estimated number of casualties sustained from people trying to grab the jackpots in the middle of a gun battle: At least 15.

Domino is reluctant to kill Longshot for the young lady that hired them for the last job, but we're told he's going to somehow bring ruin to the world, so Domino agrees to give it a shot. And Longshot seems like he's back to being a near-mindless servant of Mojo, so maybe that's not a bad idea. That kid gets mindwiped more than anyone I've ever seen.

Little difficult to square the idea Longshot is going to end humanity, or that he's going to somehow "guide" the Dark Phoenix back to Earth. Pretty sure the Phoenix already knows how to get back there. Got it saved under Favorite Locations on the Cosmic Positioning System and everything. Did get to see Captain America with his shield sticking out of his chest. Take a shot!

Watching two luck users go at could be nifty, weird things happening to help one, only to be canceled out by something equally strange working the other way. But that isn't what we get. Just a bit of Domino and Longshot kicking at each other on an under construction hi-rise. They lose their footing occasionally, that's about the extent of it. So much wasted potential.

The art chores shift from Baldeon to Shelfer after the fight between Domino and Shoon'Kwa. Shelfer's art style is rounder, softer, inks are thinner (lighter?). That might be Roberto Poggi, I don't know what "ink assists" means here, exactly. Characters' eyes seem bigger, or at least wider. Everyone looks younger basically. Which would work for the early stages of Shoon'Kwa's life story, before the terrible burden of these visions is bestowed upon her, but not so much after that point. On the other hand, I like Shelfer's version of Mojo we see a few times. He doesn't look that different, but he's drawn as being very fat, but also with loose folds of skin in places, which was kind of creepy and unusual. Makes him look sickly, which fits with his original conception as someone who basically literally kills everything around him just from his presence.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #39, by Ryan North (writer), Derek Charm (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - That's a whole lot of Iron Mans. And at least a couple of his crappy Hulkbuster armors (which typically fail to actually "bust" the Hulk).

Doreen is able to spook Skrull Tony into dropping her disguise and running. Which means they still need to find Tony. After a lot of stuff with trying to track a signal that's being sent to one of Stark's servers, they find him in a cell underwater. A cell that is part of the Skrull herself, and chase her down. At which point she surrenders and says Earth is in big trouble. Please, like Skrulls actually count as big trouble. Even when they try to secretly invade, they always end up going big and flashy and getting their butts whooped.

I like the creative uses of shapeshifting we get to see. Creating a prison out of yourself and I assume pumping water to him from wherever you are on the surface. Although, was she doing that the entire time she was also pretending to be Tony? I'm unclear on that part. But the rapid expansion to create a pressure wave? Very cool. Maybe someone has shown Skrulls doing that before, but I haven't seen it. Also, when the Skrull girl forms wings, they have Kirby Crackle patterns on them. Why? Who knows? I mean, I guess if you can, you might as well.

I continue to enjoy the supporting cast. Brain Drain discovering the wonder of swimming pools was cute, but Mary and her barely concealed desire to pursue super-villainy are a real delight. The version of her in Doreen's mind being comforted by the idea that it's Doreen coming up with non-lethal solutions to a problem and not her was funny.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Green Mansions - W.H. Hudson

The story of a man forced to flee his home in Caracas due to some political upheaval, who winds up in the jungles of Guyana. While there, he ventures into a section of forest the native people don't enter, because there's thought to be a spirit that lives there. Instead he finds a mysterious girl who can speak in an odd, musical voice. He falls in love with her, it ends tragically, but not until after he's helped shatter a last happy illusion she had held.

The book was published in 1904, so it has some things in common with other stories about lost or hidden peoples found in the portions of the world unknown to white men. It also has a lot of casual racism about the inferiority of the native people in terms of their intelligence, often describing them as having only a 'low cunning', and having no hope of being able to think like a white man. There's a point where Abel is asked to kill the spirit with one of their weapons and throws it down, insisting a revolver is the weapon of a white man, and they would never use it to kill a woman. You might want to check the math on that one, buddy.

It's also, as I'd expect for the era, way overwritten for my tastes. Hudson never uses one word if he can use twelve instead. There's really no need to spend multiple pages on Abel trying to describe the world beyond her valley to Rima in as much detail as Hudson goes into. Or Rima praying to her mother to tell the angels to damn her grandfather for keeping secrets. Do I really need a verbatim account of her plea? When Hudson can restrain that impulse, it's written quite well. The descriptions of places and creatures are evocative, and the analogies are clever. The dialogue's a bit over the top for me at times, but probably about standard for the time and subject matter.

The story moves along fairly briskly, again when not grinding to a halt from too much description. Abel's search for the mysterious being in the forest. Rima's frustration with his inability to understand her true way of speaking, and her inability to understand what she sees in his eyes. Abel's kind of a surprise in that he's not some bold protagonist. He tries to lie or deceive, but Rima usually sees through it right off. He urges one village into attacking another village that made him angry, which results in every single person in said village being killed. He doesn't participate, merely agitates. If he was going to strike out of some misguided desire for vengeance, I'd expect him to handle things himself, and not to kill everyone in the process. If he's troubled by what happened, Hudson doesn't spend nearly as much time on that as he does on Abel moaning about in the forest over his lost Rima.

There's a core of something in here I would really enjoy, but there are too many conventions and trappings of the time it was written for it to really take.

'The pilgrim in the desert is sometimes attended by a bird, and the bird, with its freer motions, will often leave him a league behind and seem lost to him, but only to return and show its form again; for it has never lost sight nor recollection of the traveller toiling slowly over the surface. Rima kept us company in some such wild erratic way as that. A word, a sign from Nuflo was enough for her to know the direction to take; the distant forest or still more distant mountain near which we should have to pass. She would hasten on and be lost to our sight, and when there was a forest in the way she would explore it, resting in the shade and finding her own food; but invariably she was before us at each resting or camping place.'

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

What I Bought 12/21/2018 - Part 1

Current plan is that the last two comics from 2018 I want will be here next week. Review those by the end of that week hopefully, then spend the following week on the Year In Review posts. We'll see if things go according to plan. I found basically all the new comics I wanted that came out this month last Friday. All six of them. Yeesh. Anyway, let's get started on those.

Spider-Girls #3, by Jody Houser (writer), Andres Genolet (penciler/inker), Cris Peter and Jim Campbell (colorists), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - I have to wonder what Annie thinks that webline she's shooting is going to stick to.

While Mayday and Arana try briefly and futilely to delay Morlun's siblings with a goblin-mech suit, Annie somehow uses a scroll to open a portal and cure the mutated spider-people. The ones that hadn't been killed already. The ladies go through the portal, and maybe figure out that Annie can do something with some mystic web thing on the world they landed on that might save the day, in a different mini-series. I don't know. I have a vague idea of 40% of the shit they're talking about in this issue, but trying to explain it? No chance.

There is a nice moment between Annie and Mayday, near the end. Watching Mayday and Arana try to figure out the goblin-mech was kind of amusing, if they'd played it up a little more. But I guess these bad guys are supposed to be too serious to do a sequence where two people try to pilot a suit they're unfamiliar with, while not getting their asses completely kicked.

Genolet normally draws Annie with the blank white eyeballs, except for one panel, because I guess it was necessary to show she was rolling her eyes. So I suppose it was for a good reason, but it was kind of a surprise. Also, several instances of two of the characters discussing one thing, and the third abruptly cutting in with some other statement. Usually Mayday and Arana talking to each other, and Annie wants to get their attention about something. It's not quite a recurring gag, since they aren't funny, but it feels a little like that's what was being aimed for.

Smooth Criminals #2, by Kurt Lustgarten and Kirsten Smith (writers), Leisha Riddel (artist), Brittany Peer (colorist), Ed Dukeshire (letterer) - That guy is a little too smug about his hair. Needs to have an accident with a weed-whacker.

We find out a little about how Mia wound up frozen, which involves trying to steal diamonds from a so-called "Ice Man", who may be the blonde guy on the cover, who is also having a building at Ospina's university dedicated to him. And his daughter is engaged to the guy who was Mia's top rival, who does not look nearly old enough when he shows up at the end of the issue. Oh, and the special diamond thing Mia wanted to steal will be on exhibit in town next week, so our protagonists are going to try and steal it. What can go wrong?

So we have a mystery of why Mia was frozen, rather than just killed. I'm also guessing Hatch (the rival) was frozen, but by choice or because he got caught as well? And whether Mia can teach Ospina how to pull a heist, or whether Mia can even still pull one, given technological advances in security. So that's a fair amount of plates spinning, which is nice.

Ospina tries to get Mia caught up on late '90s culture with magazines and man, I didn't know what a "riot grrl" was then, and I still don't know now, so Mia might officially be more in the loop than I ever was. Low bar to clear there, but we have to grade on a curve since her brain might have freezer burn.

I'm a little concerned about the art, because around halfway through, things start to get a lot sketchier and rough-looking. The linework is looser, the backgrounds and other characters get less detailed. You can still follow what's going on, distinguish the important characters, but it's like Riddel didn't have time to finish inking everything. It's worrying, considering this is only issue 2. The bit in the middle of the book where Mia has an abrupt, nightmarish flashback (as seen above), is kind of nifty. The distorted perspective, the swirling colors, any spoken dialogue is in big, red letters. It's distinct from the rest of the book, even the other dreams and flashbacks Mia has during the issue.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Man Who Knew Too Little

I didn't exactly have high expectations going in, but I wound up laughing a lot. Bill Murray playing a guy who gets caught up in this web of intrigue, which he thinks is an improv theater experience his brother signed him up for, just works really well. It lets Murray ham it up as this goober who thinks he is supposed to be acting, and so tries to imitate all these hitmen and dangerous characters you see in stories like this. But since his character is a bit of a goober, he comes off as odd and unnerving to all the people he's interacting with.

Alfred Molina plays a Russian killer pulled out of his happy retirement to deal with this American, and he's fun, given his combination of scowling menace and awed respect for the nonchalant skill which Murray seems to be demonstrating as he keeps escaping. Although there's a bit right when he first enters the film where he complains that he was happy being a butcher, because he knew who he was chopping up and why, I thought that was going to set something up. It never really goes anywhere.

There are several cutaways to the business dinner his brother is trying to have (which is why he sent Murray out), only for Murray to interrupt by calling with updates and make things awkward. Those were annoying and not very funny, but they wanted to drag his brother into the main plot again near the end, so I guess it was a way to keep him in mind.

There are several spots where the movie with toss out some innocuous detail or comment early, only to bring it back around and use it as part of a gag or punchline later that I appreciated. It's a lot of misunderstanding humor, and a fair bit of slapstick, but it works.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Maybe The Next Year Won't Be So Bad

Maybe it's that old Christmas magic, or more likely dumb luck, but I found more interesting things in the solicits for the March releases than I expected.

DC has a new Dial H for Hero series starting up, which is always a potentially interesting concept. There's going to be an original Catwoman graphic novel, Under the Moon. I doesn't sound like it would be for me, exactly, but it could be good. On a less positive note, there's going to be an Omnibus Edition of Zero Hour. I would have to hate someone an awful lot to spend $125 on that for them.

Also, Bendis is sending Young Justice into Gemworld. Bendis, writing magical stuff. That always goes so well.

Marvel is restarting Ms. Marvel with a new #1 and a new creative team, Saladin Ahmed and Minkyu Jung. I didn't expect G. Willow Wilson to be the sole writer forever, but you have to wonder how this is going to go. And Domino did get canceled after all, but they're doing a follow-up 5 issue miniseries still by Gail Simone and David Baldeon. It looks like they added Black Widow and I think the Black Cat - in a terrible new costume -  to the cast. There's going to be another Marvel Rising mini-series. I haven't bought the trade of the last one yet.

Guardians of the Galaxy is introducing a "Dark" Guardians of the Galaxy. it's going to include Thanos' brother with the creepy powers and Gladiator. And Cosmic Ghost Rider, which is a Frank Castle with Ghost Rider powers who is also as nutty as Deadpool. All of which sounds like bad joke, but here he is. All of which is enough to convince me to give up on the book before it's even started. Even the fact someone is going to use Wraith for the first time since Annihilation: Conquest can't save it. Good work, Marvel solicitations! Once again, you've saved me money!

Image is re-releasing a complete collection of Scud: Disposable Assassin, which I have heard good things about.

Dark Horse had three series that sounded like they were worth considering. Jai Nitz and Tom Reilly's Astro Hustle, which looks like it's about a guy who gets unfrozen and becomes a space pirate, annoying his brother, who is Boss of the Galaxy. Bad Luck Chuck, by Lela Gwenn, Kelly Fitzpatrick and Matthew Dow Smith, about a lady with bad luck powers she hires out. And Calamity Kate, by Magdalene Vissagio and Corin Howell, about a lady who decides to become a monster-killer in an attempt to live more of the life she always wanted to live. Also, there was a trade for something called Lightstep, which I probably would have ignored except for the part where there's an ancient weapon hidden in an old radio transmission. That's just strange enough to catch my attention.

IDW says Atomic Robo and the Dawn of the New Era will be wrapping up, but they haven't shipped a single issue yet so, yeah, probably not. There was a trade for something called Highwayman, about an immortal guy just traveling and interacting with humanity. That's not actually out until May, though.

Boom! didn't have anything new, but Coda, Giant Days, and Smooth Criminals are a good trio. And Giant Days is going to let us finally meet McGraw's family. I'd never thought about them (to busy noticing similarities between McGraw and Susan's dad), but now I'm intrigued.

Kodansha is releasing the 9th volume of a manga called To Your Eternity, about an eternal being that is constantly being reborn in new forms to learn about everything. The second Bonnie Lass series will be up to issue 3 by that point. And Caliber has a trade of something called Infinite, which is about people born with immortality in conflict with people who weren't, but are trying to artificially match them. Could be cool.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sunday Splash Page #45

"No One Can Resist. . . The WINDMILL!", in Avengers #165, by Jim Shooter (writer), John Byrne (penciler), Pablo Marcos (inker), Phil Rache (colorist), Denise Wohl (letterer)

Last year, or maybe the year before that, I went hunting for some older Avengers stuff. Specific stories that I knew of, or just looked kind of interesting. This three-parter that turns Count Nefaria into a powerhouse. The lead-up to the big showdown with Korvac with Avengers disappearing, leading to Hawkeye taking down the Collector. I don't have the actual issues with Korvac, because I have never cared about him at all. A couple of random issues where they fight the Absorbing Man. That issue where Hawkeye has to fight Deathbird while working security for some company. Tigra's brief stint, that coincides with Hank Pym's complete nervous breakdown.

It's kind of interesting to see what crops up. John Byrne at artist quite a bit, with George Perez occasionally. Wonder Man trying to find some confidence, or at least stop being so worried about dying (again). Peter Gyrich is in here being a pain in the ass throughout. Ms. Marvel pops up off and on, eventually joining the team (which led to that disastrous Marcus storyline, sorry Carol). Beast getting frustrated no one takes his scientific expertise, which seems to encourage his "party animal" approach.

The Nefaria storyline has an interesting subplot where the Avengers with their own books (Iron Man and Thor) are proving unreliable and pissing off all the other Avengers. Cap and Wanda both chew out Tony, Wanda tells Thor to cram it with his usual smack talk and just fight when he shows up. Thor's big arrival at the end of this issue, is revealed at the start of the next issue to be as big a surprise to him as it is to everyone else, which is kind of hilarious. As though he has no idea how he is suddenly there, but what the hell, might as well throw his hammer as this dude in the cape. I guess Nefaria said his name three times in front of the bathroom mirror with the lights off.

Friday, December 21, 2018

An Odd Couple, But With Six People Instead

I think I've officially abandoned trying to do these hypothetical teams every other month, considering this one is two months late. Oh well. Have to be in the mood to think about it. With this one, if there's a guiding principle, it was to try and push towards extremes on their personalities. A couple of the characters are extremely loud and hyperactive, and a couple of the others (one in particular) are much more reserved and serious. Just let them ping-pong off each other and see if they amuse or irritate the hell out of each other. Beyond that, I was just picking characters I liked, as usual.

The Leader: Balsa (Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit) - I don't know that Balsa would want to be in charge, but she's probably best suited for it of these five. Typically she's a bodyguard for hire type, but that does put her in the position of being responsible for the well-being of others, so she has to be able to think of what she needs them to being doing, and be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Which aren't bad qualities for a leader to have.

But convincing her to rely on the strengths of others to get things done is another matter. She's used to doing most everything herself. Not that she won't accept help if she has no other choice, but she normally has to be in a situation where she has no choice. For example, being so badly injured she can't doing anything other than lie there and accept medical treatment.

She can be stern and unforgiving; she has certain rules she tries to live by, but she does show a sense of humor when there's a chance to relax. Given enough time around a person, she may loosen up and be friendly. Or if they give her enough grief, she may haul off and deck them.

Most of the other members of the team are as stubborn as she is, so there may be a lot of head-butting going on. Getting anyone on this team to sit down and take five minutes to heal is going to be a challenge, unless they all collapse at the same time.

The Rogue: Excel (Excel Saga) - Excel is the Rogue, not so much because she'll hold allegiance to another organization above this team, but because there is almost no way of knowing what she will do at any given moment.

Excel is a hyperactive idiot. Deadpool on greenies, but with much less competence. She works for a secret organization, ACROSS, dedicated to saving the world by conquering it. Recognizing that's a tall order, they opted to start by taking over one section of one city, as a trial run. Excel fails at most every mission she's assigned. Usually because she won't slow down and take five seconds to think about what she's doing before she does it.

And yet, this approach has led her to prevent alien invasions, zombie outbreaks, and keeping the secret base from being completely flooded. She's strong and fast when the situation requires it (and when she isn't on the verge of collapsing from starvation). She isn't likely to abandon ACROSS, not with her fanatical crush on her leader, Il Palazzo, so she's most likely here because the team has something Il Palazzo wants. Either that or this is somehow the part-time job she's stumbled into to pay the rent. For the team's sake, it's probably better if she's on a mission. Her part-time jobs don't last long before she destroys everything.

Since Excel can't keep her mouth shut, and will no doubt reveal she works for ACROSS in the first 5 minutes, the best chance the team has is to take the Inspector Gadget approach. Get her into a location under the auspices of carrying out her daily mission for ACROSS, then count on her to do something useful for the team by accident instead. As long as what you need from her is destruction, it should turn out alright.

The Muscle: Black Star/Tsubaki (Soul Eater) - Kind of a cheat to pick a duo. I could just pick one, make them half to function without their partner. But they're kind of a microcosm of this team overall, and so this way things are more balanced between the manics and the stoics.

Black Star hunts down people who commit vile acts before they can become a full-fledged demon, essentially. He's supposed to specialize in assassinations, but he likes being the center of attention. So rather than strike silently from the shadows, he will leap into the middle of his enemies and shout out his name and how he's going to surpass God. Tsubaki is his partner, who can turn into a variety of weapons he wields. She's calm, shy really, extremely patient and supportive of Black Star in spite of the fact he frequently screws up their missions. In turn, Tsubaki draws strength from his confidence in her and himself. If the guy thinks he's going to surpass God one day, and that you are the perfect partner to help him do it, then you must be pretty awesome too.

For all his over-the-top attitude, Black Star is extremely strong for someone in his early teens, and pushes himself constantly, at least physically. He's not so good on the intellectual side of things, but I think he's one of those people that is listening even when you think he's not. When things get truly serious, he'll show that he has learned the lessons others were trying to teach. This doesn't keep him from overreaching, challenging people outside his weight class, and he takes the losses hard. In the darker moments, it drives him to pursue power for its own sake, rather than with any greater purpose, which almost got him killed once (and did get basically his entire family killed when he was a baby). He seemed to have got his mind clear on that score by the end of the anime, but I suppose he could always fall back into bad habits if things go south for long enough.

The Lady of Mystery: Lala-Ru (Now and Then, Here and There) - She's much older than she appears, and has a pendant that has a massive reservoir of water inside it. She's the only one who can release the water, and it's tied to her life force. Release it all and that's it for her. Since she lived on a desert world, that meant people have been trying to capture and use her for most of her very long life.

So she tends to be very reserved, calmly accepting the greed and brutality of humanity, which is old hat to her by this point. Maybe resigned is a better word for it. The same patterns playing out again and again. She's patient, because the people after her generally know they can't kill her if they want that water. So they'll try to bargain or plead or threaten, but there's nothing she wants or that they can take. So it's really just killing time while she waits for an opportunity to escape.

That said, she can still care about people given time. She's received little enough kindness in her life that when people try to help or protect her, it can surprise her. Of course, the trade-off is that then there's someone she cares about that can be used as a lever against her.

I expect Lala-Ru is the one that draws everyone together. She was able to escape her world to another dimension briefly before being pursued and captured. In this version, she wound up in a different dimension, and met another person willing to defend, but better able to do it than the well-meaning kid she met originally. The ones initially chasing her aren't going to give up - they're following a lunatic of a king, so it's succeed or be executed - but I'd expect other people in her new home to get wind of her power and take an interest as well. ACROSS, for example.

The One with a Spaceship: Gene Starwind (Outlaw Star) - Whether he can use the starship is reliant on him having enough money to pay for fuel and upkeep. He was in massive debt pretty much throughout the entire series, always promising to pay people back when he 'made it big.' Also, if his crew is gone, then he's minus his tech genius of a partner, who handled a lot of the repairs himself to help keep costs down.

Gene was, like Balsa, a gun for hire. He's kind of a jack-of-all-trades, but calls himself an outlaw. Again though, he has his principles. There are jobs he's not going to take, and if he's trying to protect someone, he won't abandon them simply because things start to get ugly. He's very cocky, a smartass who tends to hide what he's really feeling behind a smirk. A lot of times, he can be very casual about big fights or threats against his life, but he doesn't want to die, he just tends to think he's invincible because he hasn't died so far. Plus, I think he knows his partner Jim would insist on them coming up with a strategy. He can treat it like he's just humoring his friend, but he appreciates it and he will stick to their plans for as long as he can. Hard to say whether, with Jim MIA, Gene will try to come up with plans on his own, or if he'll just trying winging it full-time. And if he does try to make an actual strategy, whether he can make it work without Jim. There isn't anyone remotely close to a computer or engineering whiz on this roster to fill that void.

He's not bad at improvising when necessary, adapting to new threats. He's fairly tough, as long as he doesn't get too cocky. I expect Balsa is probably going to kick his ass at least once during all this, whether Gene underestimates her or not. If he does, it'll just take less time. He's not as much of a ladies' man as he thinks, but he has enough charm that he can make friends easily, sometimes. Sometimes, it goes the other way and he just pisses people off quickly.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

We - Eugene Zamiatin

The things you find at a charity book sale at work. Zamiatin wrote this in the early 1920s, after having taken part in the Russian Revolution, then having seen what the Soviet Union was actually turning into. Maybe the most amazing thing is in the early 1930s, having been essentially blacklisted from work because of this story, Zamiatin wrote to Stalin requesting permission to leave, essentially expatriate himself, and he was allowed to do so. I kind of assumed Stalin's first through fifth response to any request or dilemma was, "kill them, plus fifty other people".

The book itself takes place in some far future, in the United State (singular), where total happiness has been achieved by the complete removal of freedom. All activities are strictly laid out by the Tables, all citizens live in glass apartments. The only time privacy is granted is if you have requested sexy time with another Number (no one has names), or they have requested time with you. Then you are allowed to lower curtains. I'm not sure what happens with the floor and ceiling. Maybe only the walls are transparent.

The story is written by D-503, Chief Builder of the Integral, the United State's first attempt at a rocket ship. D-503 is initially writing as a record of the perfection of the United State as an informational thing to whatever intelligent, but no doubt lesser, beings they will encounter on other worlds. Then he meets I-330, and finds himself completely infatuated and willing to deviate from the Tables and rules more and more.

The parts where he tries to describe his feelings towards I-330, his interactions with her, are a confusing jumble. Which is annoying when trying to read it, but it makes sense. What he's experiencing is entirely foreign to his frame of reference. He's raised in a society where having dreams is considered a sign of mental illness, that you have developed a soul, or "fancy". But they will soon have a way to treat that part of the brain, so don't worry.

It's not a cheery book, because you can see arguments made today in the book. That is a few people die testing the rockets because you couldn't bother to warn them to move first, well so what? 12 lives are inconsequential compared to the State, and the fact there was no need for anyone to die is not acknowledged. The idea that people were once allowed to vote in secret is ridiculed, and if people don't raise their hand to affirm the continued existence of the Well-Doer, they are considered to be disturbed individuals and therefore their votes don't count.

Total dissolution of the individual is happiness. Cruelty is the greatest form of love. The back of the book says We served as an inspiration for Orwell's 1984, which I can see it. Although I remember finishing 1984 and wanting to crawl under my bed for an hour, which didn't happen here. I'm more cynical now perhaps, or just more aware of history. I went in expecting a downer end, and that's mostly what you get. Looking at the long curve of history, it could turn out OK for them.

'This incident, insignificant in itself, had an especially good effect on me; it invigorated me, I should say. It is pleasant to feel that somebody's penetrating eye is watching you from behind your shoulder, lovingly guarding you from making the most minute mistake, from the most minute incorrect step. It may seem to you too sentimental, but I do see in all this the materialization of the dream of the ancients about a Guardian Angel. How many things, of which the ancients had only dreams, are materialized in our life!'

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

That Far Away Galaxy Had Everything, I Tell Ya

I had this dream about two weeks ago that involved Ash Williams (Army of Darkness, Evil Dead) somehow landing in the Star Wars universe. I don't remember much outside it being him and Luke running around looking for something.

(I assume having Ash and Han Solo in the same place at the same time would have been too much dumb machismo for the the universe to survive.)

Knowing Ash, he screwed up reading something out of the Necronomicon and wound up in a galaxy far away, long ago. Which got me wondering if stuff like that even existed in Star Wars. Demons, other-dimensional eldritch horrors. Because if not, that might be a little something unusual for them to contend with.

A cursory internet search revealed that while there's no Book of the Dead specifically, there is a character named "Necronomicon", which, what the hell?! I'm hoping that's a name he chose for himself, because if his parents gave him that name, they need to be horse-whipped.

As it turns out, there are some ways to raise the dead. One involves some witches on a world called Dathomir, who have a spell for that. Then there's a Sith Plague that Palpatine dragged back out to have some scientists mess around with as a potential source of immortality. Well, if you consider being reduced to a nearly mindless, shambling entity, that happens to be hard to kill, I guess it worked.

I guess Skywalker and Co. might not be caught entirely flat-footed by Ash's screwups. The biggest threat might be Leia losing patience with Ash and just shooting him. Although if the creatures raised are as, peculiar, as the ones Ash normally deals with it, that might take some getting used to. His enemies can be cunning, but mostly they're kind of manic.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Other Side of the Wind

I've had this attempt at cobbling together Orson Welles' last film on my to-watch list since Netflix put it up last month. But I have to be in the right mood for a film like this, as opposed to the mostly trash I've watching and reviewing since then.

As it turns out, I may still not have been in the right frame of mind last week, because this is a rough movie to sit through. Especially the parts where we get to see Director Haverford's (John Huston) partially completed film. That movie is terrible, which is probably the point. An old director, trying to prove he still has the chops and can appeal to the new audience, when he doesn't understand them at all.

The parts where everyone is filming everything going on at his birthday party, where they're doing a screening of what he's filmed so far, that's more interesting. It's still ugly, all these hangers-on sniping at each other over who gets his approval, Haverford, cruelly undercutting them whenever he feels like it. His inner circle are trying to deal with the ground irrevocably shifting under their feet, all in different ways. Haverford just keeps getting drunker as the night progresses, continuing to creepily hit on a girl probably 50 years younger than him. It'd be pitiful if he didn't have so many people eager to ignore his shit or prop him up in spite of it.

The whole conceit of the party is interesting. Supposedly him trying to get all the press stuff out of the way in one go by giving them all access, but you can see at times he's not up for this, and that at other times, he probably did this because he knows there wasn't going to be a better chance. The movie wasn't going to be finished, his last hurrah wasn't even going to end up being a whimper, or a wet fart. Stillborn instead.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Chaos Should Be Less Predictable

This isn't a new complaint, but for all the talk of the Joker being an "agent of chaos" or whatever we're meant to believe he is, he just keeps coming back to killing lots of people. The methodology might change, but where it ends doesn't. It's not much of a joke if the punchline is always, "and then they died."

I would just like to see the Joker doing random stuff sometimes. Batman's cruising along in the ol' Batmobile, stops at a red light ('cause he obeys traffic laws when not in hot pursuit), and the Joker runs out and throws a pie over his windshield. Made of glue, so Batsy can't easily clear it off. Then he just leaves, having mildly inconvenienced Batman.

Or one of the Bat's other rogues is on the loose, and the Joker drops him off in front of a police station. Alive. Not even because he doesn't want Mr. Zsasz or Riddler or whoever killing Batman, but just for the hell of it. Because that's what he felt like doing when he woke up that day.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

To Save Money, Two Blog Celebrations In One

Narrator: IN THE LATE MORNING, AT CALVIN'S APARTMENT!

Clever Adolescent Panda: Hey, you made me almost drop the mashed potatoes!

Narrator: SORRY.

Calvin: Seriously, guy is at a 12, needs to be at like, a 4.

Narrator: THIS IS THE ONLY TIME I GET TO BELONG!

Calvin: Fine, just, wait until it's funny, OK?

{A knock at the door. Calvin peers through the peephole before opening the it, just in case it's people wanting to talk about Jesus. It isn't.}

Makes-Brakes-Fail-Lass: Yo. I brought quality beer from the East Coast -

Calvin: *scoffs* Pssh, we don't care about that. Get lost.

Makes-Brakes-Fail-Lass: - and pancakes. With the good maple syrup.

Calvin: *instantly cheerful* Well get the hell in here! Just set the food on the counter next to CAP. How you doin'?

{Clever Adolescent Panda pops up from in front of the stove and waves.}

M-B-F-L: Eh, not too bad. Couldn't you have had this a week ago? I have to drive all the way back home for my first day at my new job tomorrow!

Calvin: *waves dismissively* No one expects you to show up on time the first day.

CAP: We were going to have it after Thanksgiving like usual, but there were conflicts.

M-B-F-L: You had to go visit some other relatives?

CAP: No, I had to perform an exorcism at this old campground, but it turned out to be this angry reanimated corpse instead of a ghost, so I had to punch it a lot.

Calvin: Awesome.

CAP: Not really. He kept trying to cut me with stuff, but he was slow. Really slow.

M-B-F-L: Slow is good, though. I mean, you don't want to get cut, right?

CAP: I guess. It was boring, though.

{Another knock at the door. This time when Calvin opens it, Pollock and Cassanee are standing there.}

Pollock: *visibly annoyed, hands Calvin a tray* Here, I brought a platter of mixed steamed vegetables, and a medley pie. Where is your bathroom?

Cassanee: I brought chips. {Holds up a bag of tortilla chips}

Calvin: Aw sweet, chips! Bathroom's first door on your right down the hall. It's the room where the bucket fell on your head, remember?

{Pollock's eye twitches before she turns to Cassanee.}

Pollock: There's no window in his bathroom, so will you please just stay out here?!

{Pollock rushes down the hall and slams the door to the bathroom as she enters.}

M-B-F-L: What was that about?

CAP: Have you really been following her everywhere?

Cassanee: *nods*

CAP: Even the bathroom?!

Cassanee: Last time I didn't, she went out a window. I had to chase her for three hours.

{There's a long silence in the room. Then. . .}

Calvin: AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

CAP: *trying to stifle laugh* Cassanee, you might be taking it a little far. And Calvin, you wouldn't like it if someone was around you absolutely all the time.

Calvin: *laughter gradually winding down* You're right about that. I'd go nuts after one day.

{Pollock emerges from the bathroom. Everyone takes a seat around the table. Food starts getting passed around.}

Pollock: *ladling chili into a bowl* I assume all the laughter was at my expense?

Calvin: *all about those pizza rolls* Not everything is about you, ya know? *pause* But yes.

Pollock: *grumbling* It's been exhausting. I had to tell everyone she's a bodyguard, which has gotten a lot of strange looks from the employees who remember her tearing the place apart.

Calvin: Who better to protect you than the person who got past all your defenses to punch you in the face a lot?

CAP: *turns to Cassanee* You went along with that?

Cassanee: It's fine. It keeps them from helping her escape.

Pollock: *turns to Makes-Brakes-Fail-Lass* I notice you didn't wipe out the mailboxes this year.

M-B-F-L: *putting the chili on top of the mashed potatoes* Yeah, I'm starting to get my power under control. Or keep it turned off, at least. I haven't really tried making someone's brakes fail yet.

Pollock: I can see how that would be a power you wouldn't find many chances to test safely.

Calvin: There's always Wade's suggestion to turn into a hitman.

CAP: Don't encourage her to kill people for money!

M-B-F-L: Kind of saving it for when I need to fake my death and flee the country.

Calvin: All the more reason to make sure you can make it work when you need it.

CAP: *trying to change the subject* Calvin, can you pass me those breakfast sandwiches you made?

Calvin: *happily* Sure. They turned out pretty well.

Pollock: Yes, I imagine microwaving frozen sandwiches was extremely taxing.

Cassanee: *around large bites of pancake* You brought store-bought pie.

Calvin: I'll have you know I made them, thank you. I mean, the biscuits were store bought, but I cooked the eggs and the chorizo.

CAP: *brightly* And you didn't set the kitchen on fire once!

Calvin: I have never started a kitchen fire in my life.

Pollock: Of course, one has to use a kitchen to burn it down.

Calvin: Exactly.

Pollock: You aren't supposed to agree with me about that!

Calvin: *feigning confusion* It's true, though.

M-B-F-L: I'm pretty sure I've seen you cook before, but whatevs. CAP, did you makes this chili? It's awesome, man!

CAP: That's right! 5-bean, 4-cheese chili, with 19 herbs and spices! I might have used too much faranat.

Pollock: Faranat?

CAP: *nodding sagely* Yeah. Pandas know a lot of spices humans don't.

Pollock: Really? I don't suppose. . .

CAP: I'm not telling you what they are.

Pollock: But we could market them and make a fortune. Call them artisanal spices and charge exorbitant prices!

CAP: *firmly* No.

Cassanee: Any luck tracing those transmitters the Amilgars had?

CAP: *shakes head* They were really set up well. All the ones I've looked at have been completely fried. Half of them crumbled to dust when I touched them. I have some friends looking at the Amilgars themselves, but I don't know what that will tell us.

Cassanee: *jerks head at Pollock* She hasn't had any luck, either.

Pollock: You are very distracting!

M-B-F-L: Calvin filled me in on what happened. I saw those things out in the woods a couple of times, but I didn't know they were on a rampage. Guess I'm lucky they didn't chase me that one time I ran into a bunch of them.

Calvin: I mean, I got away from them twice. You'd probably be OK.

Pollock: I believe the panda and the surly girl here had much to do with your survival. And my genius, of course.

Calvin: Hey, don't discount my solid cardiovascular conditioning! I'm a good runner!

CAP: That's right! I never had to carry Calvin because he was too tired, unlike someone.

Pollock: I twisted my ankle on that uneven soil!

Cassanee: Everyone twists their ankles out there. Most of us don't whine about it.

Pollock: I make a conscious decision to monitor my condition carefully.

M-B-F-L: *around mouthfuls of ham* Wow, you really are Calvin's opposite.

Narrator: ELSEWHERE. . .

Shadowy Voice: They won't be able to find anything, correct?

Nervous, Kiss-assy Shadowy Voice: No sir, definitely not. I mean, I'm pretty sure there shouldn't be anyway to trace anything back to us. Nothing originated here.

Shadowy Voice: There's a panda involved. Don't underestimate their resources.

Nervous, Kiss-assy Shadowy Voice: No sir, I definitely won't. *pause* Um, what should I do then?

Shadowy Voice: Nothing for now. Just be ready to destroy any connections to this place if they look like they're figuring things out. Arrange for some distractions too, just in case.

{If one could see in the dark, they'd see a seemingly dopey grin on the face the shadowy voice emerged from. If one could see in the dark, they'd also see that the grin in no way watched the coldly cunning look in the eyes, and that the smile seemed to grow wider and sharper by the second.}

Narrator: LATER, BACK AT CALVIN'S APARTMENT!

M-B-F-L: *slurring slightly* Whass that about?

Calvin: I dunno. But he did that randomly a couple of years ago too and nothing came of it. I'm sure it's fine.

Narrator: IT WOULD NOT BE FINE.

Calvin: Eh, what does he know?

CAP: OK, I know it's a couple of weeks late, but what's everyone thankful for? I'm thankful I'm enrolled in a study program where I get to help spirits find peace. That I can make really good chili, and that I have all of you as friends. Except Pollock.

Pollock: *muttering* Ungrateful, snide little. . .

M-B-F-L: A job! Actual benefits! Whoo! {She almost falls out of her chair} And people who will help me get home in time to go to work tomorrow?

Calvin: Don't look at me. I got work tomorrow, too.

Pollock: *sighs* It's on the way, I'll get her there.

M-B-F-L: Awwww, thanksh. I don't care what Calvin and the panda say about you being an uptight, amoral jerk, yer OK by mee.

CAP: How many beers has she had?

Calvin: *checks the fridge while getting another soda* Uh, two, it looks like.

Cassanee: I'm grateful for the two of you caring enough to come check on me.

Pollock: *coughs noticeably* A-hem.

Cassanee: Yes. I'm also grateful I can bother Pollock by following her everywhere.

Pollock: Is everyone going to mock me during this?

Calvin: We usually do. But OK, my turn. I'm grateful my blog has managed to continue, that people will actually still come to these get-togethers, even though Deadpool isn't here, that the sketches I tried to do this year mostly went well, and that Pollock actually did help in the woods.

Pollock: *surprised* Really?

Cassanee: *skeptically* Really?

Calvin: She didn't have to, so sure, why not?

M-B-F-L: *from the floor* Aww, that's so sweet! You're like besties now!

Calvin and Pollock: The hell we are!

CAP: That leaves you Pollock.

Pollock: I'm grateful my company didn't suffer any major setbacks this year. I'm grateful my security chief is finally going to take some vacation time. Androzier is really starting to put everyone on edge. I'm grateful I have the indomitable will to overcome being harassed by you bunch of idiots, even if this is more fun than the company holiday parties. *pause* I need a better party-planning committee.

Calvin: That was. . . almost complimentary towards us?

CAP: If we're being charitable. So, what's ahead for the next year of the blog?

Calvin: Probably the same as this year. No plans for any new features as yet. Fourteenth verse, same as the first thirteen.

CAP: Start buying Deadpool's comic so he can show up again.

Calvin: No. I've not heard good things. Really, I haven't heard anything since the first issue. None of the places I used to read about comics seem to review new comics any more. But I learned my lesson about buying the Deadpool series that comes after one that I really enjoyed. You want to relive the Daniel Way years?

Pollock: His presence would liven up my company's holiday parties. As it is, the only people who show up are the ones with nothing better to do. It's more depressing than anything else.

M-B-F-L: *snores* Hands, hands off my booze, Wade. . .

Calvin: See, Makes-Brakes-Fail-Lass doesn't want Deadpool back!

CAP: She's unconscious, that doesn't count!

Calvin: I never thought I'd see the day Clever Adolescent Panda supported voter suppression. Tsk, tsk, so disappointing.

Pollock: I thought I was the one who tried to mess with the panda's self-confidence that way.

Calvin: Eh, I'm flexible when it suits my purpose. Cass, what's your vote?

Cassanee: *eating half that fruit medley pie* I don't care. I only see Deadpool at these get-togethers.

Calvin: There you go, 2 for, 2 against, 1 abstain. Blog Constitution says tie-break goes to me, the "No"s have it, until he gets a creative team I'm more interested in, or a mini-series that sounds good!

CAP: Booooo.

Friday, December 14, 2018

What I Bought 12/6/2018 - Part 2

Does it feel like a lot of board games for kids lately are about bodily secretions? I saw one about popping pimples, and another about dog poop. I guess either one would be better than Mouse Trap. Could hardly ever get the dang Rube Goldberg trap to function properly. We have two mini-series to look at today. One is wrapping up, and the other is just starting. The cycle of life.

Smooth Criminals #1, by Kurt Lustgarten and Kirsten Smith (writers), Leisha Riddel (artist), Brittany Peer (colorist), Ed Dukeshire (letterer) - How difficult is it to apply those dot things she has under her eyes? Also, necklaces seem like a bad accessory for a cat burglar.

Brenda works in a computer science lab for a loser of a boss who makes her clean up some disused storage space. Where she finds a cryo-tube with Mia Corsair, cat burglar, inside. Mia bails, but Brenda hacks a bunch of stuff to guide her to where Brenda is so they can talk. Ultimately they agree to work together to steal some diamonds, but the government (or guys in black suits and sunglasses, anyway) know Mia's loose. And Brenda's shitbag boss pinned it all on her. That's not a bad bit of set-up for a first issue, certainly by today's standards.

Could you actually have done all the crap Brenda did - messing with street lights and fire stations and ATMs - in 1999? Were there enough cameras around all over the place to be able to track a lady running as fast as Mia that easily back then, especially given the resolution of security cameras then? I know the Nineties were the time of movies like The Net and Hackers or whatever, where computers were Magic. But I was also under the assumption those movies were written by people who did not understand the Internet or computers any better than I do. Which is to say, not at all.

I like the art. I can't assess the accuracy of the fashions, but I can never do that. Lot of motion lines getting used for emphasis, but that's OK. They aren't distracting, just something I noticed. I like the contrast between Brenda's awkwardness in most situations, and her almost maniacal grin whenever she can start messing with computers. I'm surprised she's as calm teasing a lady she thawed out of a weird tube as she is in the restaurant, but maybe she's riding the adrenaline high after maneuvering Mia where she wanted her. Riddel used more small panels for the conversation in Brenda's room, compared to earlier in the issue. Seems to play up how small her room is, and how tightly the two are now crammed together. They're making a partnership but, whether they wanted to or not, they're going to be in this together.

Stellar #6, by Joseph Keatinge (writer), Bret Blevins (artist), Rus Wooton (letterer) - She looks pretty mad. I think not enough of you bought this series and she's coming to destroy your illegally torrented fan-translated manga scans.

Stellar resumes trying to kill Zenith, but is halted by the old, other universe version of her, who married Zenith. Even after he eventually explained everything about how he and Stellar try to kill each other, and they're from other universes. She tells him to show Stellar he still has the gateway machine. He does, then tries to kill Stellar. That doesn't exactly work out for him, and she ends up back where she started the series. Or maybe not, since he said he destroyed that place. Maybe his machine went to still another alternate universe. Or he was lying, just to be a dick.

You know, there was that whole thing in the first issue about time behaving oddly, and they never came back to that. Little disappointed by that. I would say the series is about the futility of not letting go of the past, but I'm not sure about that. Stellar seemed like she was at least considering letting it drop, then Zenith took his best shot, and it backfired. He could never accept that she had her reasons for wanting him dead, and just letting it drop. If she hit him, he had to hit her back, only more. Which only seemed to convince her she still needed to kill him.

But was she right? He said he'd abandoned building killer robots, wasn't trying to conquer or destroy this world. The question is whether we're supposed to believe him. I mean, he has a robot in his home, but maybe it isn't a killer robot. If so, and if he could have just trusted his wife's sales pitch to Stellar, then let her go home, he might have been home free to enjoy his life. Or Stellar could have given up looking for him decades ago and just had a life of her own. But neither of them would quit, although things seem to have worked out better for her than for him. Unless his healing abilities are really impressive.

Zenith certainly seemed sorry or perhaps ashamed in the panels where his wife is trying to convince Stellar to let it go, but once it's just to the two of them in the garage, he's back to that maniacal grin. I could almost see it as him believing that she just would not leave it, and so he had to try just to preserve what he'd built, but he was enjoying it too much. He was monologuing and shit-talking and everything. If it was really just about protecting what he had, he'd have done it quickly and been finished. So he really couldn't change, although that raises the question of why the two of them can't? The criminal Stellar caught in the first issue and brought to that little sanctuary was still there at the end, and seemed a somewhat changed being. Is it something intrinsic to Stellar and Zenith being able to live as long as they did? Decades feel like only weeks or months, and they could have dropped it given a couple of centuries? Seems unlikely.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Keeping the Mojave Wasteland a Wasteland

At the same time my friend sent me Fable 2, she also sent along Fallout: New Vegas. I played that off and on from July into November. Around 10-15 hours in, I got fed up and dialed the difficulty down because I was getting killed by every damn thing around, minus coyotes or humans. Combat is not a strong point of these game, certainly not in terms of being visually interesting or cool. So there's not much fun to be had killing things. My interest is in exploring, seeing the weird crap they threw in, which was hard when I couldn't go anywhere without being killed by Ghouls, or Giant Scorpions, or Deathclaws. Or the Cazadors, those giant wasps.


One big difference I found between this and Fallout 3 was all the focus on relationships with different groups. A lot of different gangs, towns, centralized authorities to get on the good or bad sides of. If you piss a group off enough, it closes off all the quests you could potentially do for them. But let's face it, all those quests were going to involve going from Point A to Point B and either killing or stealing something, then returning to Point A.

I put my focus for Skill points into Repair, Sneak, and Speech (and eventually Guns when I had the chance to pick a 4th Skill to give a 15-point boost). Keep my equipment functional, and either avoid fights, or talk my way out of them. Either of which would also help keep my equipment in good shape. I talked my way out of a lot of trouble, especially later in the game as the Speech Skill climbed above 60 (on a 100-point scale). Like making sure Caesar didn't wake up when he went into surgery, then convincing them I tried my best.

Hey, my Medicine Skill wasn't high enough to perform the surgery anyway. That's their fault for not doing a better background check.

My favorite mission was helping the Ghouls who wanted to launch their spaceships to find a better place. I snuck past the Nightkin roaming the passageway, talked my way out of a fight with their boss, then talked my way out of having to fight the Ghoul holed up in the room with the records of where the shipment of Stealth Boys were (which is what the Nightkin wanted). Found out the Stealth Boys weren't there, and convinced the Nightkin boss I wasn't lying to him. Hardly had to fight anyone, it was fantastic.

I wish my Science skill had been higher, because I'm pretty sure their rockets' telemetry wasn't right, but I wasn't smart enough to help them. Bit of a letdown right at the end there, but I really tried my best.

I pissed off a lot groups. Stabbed a lot of people in the back. Pissed off the Khans, although they helped that zoot suit bastard shoot me in the head and bury me in a shallow grave, so screw them. Also killed said zoot suit bastard, because he shot me in the head and buried me in a shallow grave. Killed Mr. House. Blew up the Brotherhood of Steel's bunker, but they slapped an explosive collar on my neck first, so they had it coming. Told a rancher I'd find his missing son, who had been abducted by cannibals, but I had promised a farmer he was hassling I'd get payback first, so I found the young man, killed him, then told the rancher the cannibals did it. I was hoping he'd then wipe out the entire White Glove Society, in a fury, but no such luck. Worth a shot.

Unlike Skyrim, where I stayed out of the Nord vs. Empire mess, I tried playing both sides of the Legion and the NCR, only to ultimately wipe them both out. Forced to choose, I'd pick the NCR, seeing as the Legion are a bunch of enslaving, sadist, cannibal, misogynist jackasses. The NCR are more run-of-the-mill imperialists conquering you allegedly for your own good (but really because they want what you've got). But the NCR got angry with me first. About a mission for the Legion I didn't even succeed on. Which would have been funny, but I didn't realize what had happened until I finished a mission (successfully) for the NCR, tried to report in, and they started shooting at me.

OK, there was never any real chance of me helping the NCR. I had already made an alliance between myself and the "Boomers", but told both the Legion and the NCR I had spoken to the Boomers on their behalf. Which was fun, telling the NCR Ambassador that, yes, the Boomers agreed to help. . . us. Some really enjoyable dialogue options in this game. Like telling the NCR general who was so appreciative of the Securidroids that if he liked that, he'd love what comes next. Spoiler Alert: He did not love it.

It was pretty funny the game kept listing me on the Good end on the alignment. I had "Messiah" as a description up close to the end. I'm running around betraying and lying to people all the damn time, and the game is like, "Good work! You're a swell guy!" I thought Red Dead Redemption's Morality scale was out of whack.

In my defense, the small towns in the Wasteland love me. Goodsprings, Primm, Novak, I helped all those folks out repeatedly. Helped rid that quarry of its Deathclaw infestation (finding that Alien Blaster was a BIG help). Helped the former Powder Gangers hiding in that Vault to join the Khans. This was before I'd thoroughly angered the Khans, and I also tried blowing up the mineral deposits the guys were going to use to make explosives, but didn't have a high enough Explosive Skill at the time. But once that fell through I totally helped them out.

Helped the community of Super Mutants and Nightkin. Negotiated a peace between the Kings and the NCR (that was the mission I completed only to find out the NCR had declared me a terrorist when I went to report my success). Got the HELIOS One plant running, and distributed the power to everyone equally. Although I guess there were more Brotherhood of Steel assholes somewhere who took it over once I gave the NCR the boot. Whoops.

I was disappointed the game doesn't give you the chance to go forward in the world you've created with your choices after the Second Battle of Hoover Dam. Would have been a lot to have to develop I suppose, given the number of potential outcomes that could be in play at once. Still, I would have fought the Brotherhood when they tried to take HELIOS One if given the chance (I assume the Disciples of the Apocalypse would have warned me, since we were on good terms.) Plus, I'd have enjoyed seeing what happened once Yes Man finished upgrading himself to be more. . . assertive. That'd be another mess of mine I guess I'd have to clean up.

Because my friend is a swell person, they sent the edition with all the DLC. I ended up not finishing the Sierra Madre Grand Opening, because it annoyed me, but I made the trip thru the Divide. I strongly considered diverting the missiles to smite the Legion and the NCR, but opted to get the launch canceled instead. The last thing I wanted to deal with is more Ghouls. I don't think the story worked as well as they were hoping, because not only does your character not remember this part of their life, neither do I, so none of it meant anything to me. Yep, it's a devastated hellhole. Just like every other place I've ever seen in these games. Not like Ulysses was a reliable narrator, anyway.

Made the trip through the Northern Passage. That one was pretty good. Really enjoyed the journals of the Old Man in the Cave. Those are the little bits and pieces they put in these games I like best. The Burned Man wasn't what I was expecting. I was hoping for more of a lone crazy person, almost like a horror figure, roaming the region. I kind of regretted encouraging that one tribe to fight, since they and the one led by the Burned Man start fighting more as time passes as a result. My reasoning was if they don't, they have to leave. They have a pretty decent place to live, especially compared to the other places I've seen. If you send them away, how likely are they to find another place half as good that isn't already occupied?

The Big MT was a bit irritating, just for the sheer number of fetch-it quests to upgrade the home base they give you. I know they're theoretically optional, but if you want the place to be worth a damn, you kind of need the upgrades. I think I originally talked Dr. Morbius into just shutting down operations, but I got stuck in a dialogue loop while arguing with my brain and had to load my last save. So the second time I cut to the chase and just fought him and his stupid robo-scorpions. Even though it isn't nearly as effective as the Chinese Stealth Suit I had in Fallout 3, I do love the Stealth Suit that you can get there, just because it talks to you. It sounded so surprised when we got outside the lab, my heart broke a little for it. It had been locked up in that lab for like 200 years. The downside to that is, I hardly ever use it because I don't want it getting damaged.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What I Bought 12/6/2018 - Part 1

I haven't been able to track down all the books from last month I wanted. November's issue of Coda being the one I'm still on the hunt for. In the meantime, let's look at the books that I did find, starting with two from Marvel.

Spider-Girls #2, by Jody Houser (writer), Andres Genolet (penciler/inker), Jim Charalampidis and Triona Farrell (colorists), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - I don't think you need a spider-sense to warn you of a knife one inch from your nose.

Pete and MJ head off to join the fight against the Inheritors, while the Spider-Girls go to warn the only other spider-person in that universe, which is Normie Osborn, thanks to mad science, I think. Then Normie turns into a full-on giant spider, and while the girls try to deal with that, two of Morlun's siblings show up. That's it, that's the issue.

So, no real progress whatsoever on whatever Annie is supposed to figure out from the scroll things. Which, you know, were the whole reason Mayday and Anya came their in the first place, to find a solution to the problem. So either the solution is going to be rapidly crammed into the third issue along with the big fight, or it's being saved for the main mini-series. Which is really what I should expect.

There are a couple of moments of humor, mostly involving Anya being sarcastic about things, but the levity is nice. That one relative of Morlun's thinking the world is primitive because they poofed into the Cloisters or something when New York City is right there if he turns his head two inches to the left was a good chuckle. I appreciate that Houser didn't even bother naming the two villains. We don't care, not really, they're just something to punch and have act menacing. They barely have one dimension to their characters, forget about two.

Genolet does a good job conveying tone with body language, kind of important since most of the cast are wearing masks for the entire issue. There's a scene where they're heading to warn Normie, and their postures and positions while web-swinging are all different. But Mayday and Annie's are much more similar to each other than Anya's. Which makes sense if you figure they were raised by Pete and MJ, and their versions of their dad were probably fairly similar (except for Mayday's being a bit older and having one artificial leg). It's a little detail, but a nice touch.

Ms. Marvel #36, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Nico Leon (artist), Ian Herring (artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Uh-oh, Kamala's doing the "grim avenger" posing bit. Everybody watch out.

The entire issue is about why that one guy Kamala and Singularity met a couple of issues ago thought he recognized Kamala. The answer being, he met an ancestor of hers who looked just like her 800 years ago while he was sword-fighting a damn Skrull. Or it's just a hypothesis, since there are also people who look just like Bruno, Zoey, and Josh there. You know, I had almost forgotten about good ol' Josh, the guy who was arrested because they thought he was gonna blow up the school, then decided to become a fascist tool. He just kind of wandered off without facing consequences for that.

Where's the Punisher when you need him?

Breather issues are fine before the next big disaster, but maybe use them as an opportunity to set up or advance subplots with the supporting cast? Maybe it's just that my eyes cross when the Inhumans get brought up.

The swordfight wasn't bad, although you'd think a skrull would be a little more creative about incorporating shapeshifting into his technique. Watch One Piece or something. There's like 500 swordsmen with weird powers in that series, and they use their powers in ways that compliment their styles. No wonder the Skrulls could never finish off the Kree. What a bunch of putzes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Lady or the Tiger and Other Stories - Frank Stockton

I had assumed "The Lady or the Tiger" was written in the Middle Ages, but apparently it was written in the mid-1800s by Frank Stockton. Who also wrote an equally ambiguously ending sequel called "The Discourager of Hesitancy". 

So this is a collection of 11 stories Stockton wrote over his life, most of them involving magical creatures and people alternately behaving stupidly or nobly. The three stories involving his fairy character, Ting-a-ling most require every other character to be a complete moron, but they're absurd enough to be silly.

Most of the stories seem written for schoolkids, so they have some sort of moral. Appreciate how good you have it, don't complain about having to do a little work, don't keep expecting someone else to take care of your problems, that sort of thing.

A little of that goes a long way, but he occasionally shows a level of nuance to it that keeps it from being too irritating. "The Sisters Three and the Kilmaree" is actually about three guys who want to reach an island with three sisters on it, but a Fairy Godmother deposits them on an island of mythical creatures to "work the nonsense out of them", as she puts it. One of the three is a smart man, but has been content to farm his vegetable garden in his little village to provide for his mother and sister. I was getting annoyed reading it, the implication he was wrong for squandering his talent, but the Godmother acknowledges he got lighter treatment (he got to read a lot of books about other places and ideas) than the other two because he had still been working hard to provide for his family. There's still the implication he owes it to humanity to use his gifts whether he it's what makes him happy or not, but it's at least tempered by the acknowledgement there are other considerations.

Stockton ends a couple of stories by killing off magical creatures that feature prominently, even if they weren't doing any harm. Which didn't make a lot of sense. Didn't really seem like a thread that needed to be tied off, but perhaps he wanted to assure the children there were no griffins running around who would might eat people a couple of times a year.

"There need be no trouble about that," said the Ninkum, "I can build a room, right here, on this side of the house. I never work," he said to Jorn, "but I hate idleness. So what I want is to go into partnership with a person who will work - an industrious person like you. Then my conscience will be at ease. Please agree as quickly as you can, for it's beginning to grow dark, and I hate to walk in the dark."

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Long Weekend in the Woods - Chapter 10

Clever Adolescent Panda

Once the trap was sprung, everyone else came out of hiding and watched the scene. I felt bad for the Amilgars - I know how awful that sub-harmonic makes you feel - but it was better than being dead. Since things looked under control, I wanted to check on Calvin and Cassanee. He was leaning against the bluff, and she was standing nearby. They were both watching the trap, but their eyes both swung to me as I walked up.

"Nice save," Calvin said as he nodded. "They tried that jumping stunt a couple of times earlier. The second one almost did the trick."

I didn't respond at first. Instead I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. "What were you thinking charging at them?!" Cassanee looked curious, too. I wasn't surprised she hadn't bothered to ask. "And don't just shrug!" I added.

"I wasn't going to only shrug," he's always such a smart aleck. He did explain what he was thinking, and well, it sort of made sense.

"It was still dumb," I told him when he finished.

Now he shrugged. "Everything we do is dumb, or at least ill-advised." He gave me a calm, even look. We weren't going to get a better chance."

I didn't have a good response to that. I just didn't like him taking the lead on crazy stunts. I'm stronger and faster, it should be me.

Like he read my mind, he replied, "You were staying hidden with the others like we planned, so you weren't down here. I was. I'm just glad you brought the Aura Lock grenades down with you. If you'd left them up there, I'da been pissed. Or dead. So are the fam sending in some help?"

"Uh-huh. I called last night when we had a minute. They're on the way now. Mom said there was a lot of grumbling, but she convinced them. It's not like we don't have the room."

"Yeah, but it's a long way to haul a potentially unstable force, unless you think that thing," he waved his hand at the trap, "can survive being transported all that way."

"Also dangerous to bring that force into your own fortress." Cassanee wasn't technically wrong, but I wasn't too worried about the Amilgars. The Citadel had withstood worse, and I was sure we could talk with them and convince them not to wreck everything.

"I think they're just mad I keep bringing in new stuff. First Dwiddel the robot-wizard, now these guys."

"You are a magnet for trouble," Calvin said with a grin.

"I only have trouble around you."

"Good sir, I believe that is my line." We kept that up for a few minutes, arguing the point, until we were interrupted by a high tone, light and airy laugh coming from Cassanee.

Calvin stared at her, then turned to me. "Have we ever heard her laugh?"

I scratched my head, trying to remember. "Maybe at one of the Blogsgivings?" I glanced at Cassanee to see if she'd answer, but she composed herself and gave us a silent smile instead.

Pollock dropped down next to us from the bluff above. "I didn't think she could do anything other than scoff and glare."

On cue, Cassanee glared at her, and scoffed. "Shouldn't you be watching your trap?"

"At this point, there's nothing to monitor. Anything that breaks couldn't be repaired without shutting it down anyway. It'll either hold, or it won't. But the raccoon engineer is working to make certain no one shuts the engine down by mistake." Pollock did look at the trap, and frowned. "That's an odd reaction. You might want to get those magic grenades ready."

I turned around, because they shouldn't be ready again so soon. But they weren't drawing anything from the crystals that I could see. Before they'd be rolling slowly on the ground. One might rise, then stumble before they could do anything. They weren't really getting up now, but they were thrashing around more, rolling on their backs, and their noises were increasing in volume.

Then one let out an awful, high-pitched squeal that made us all wince, and stopped moving entirely. The others got more agitated, trying harder to rise, but getting nowhere. Their muscles didn't seem to be listening. Some of them started trying to dig, and as more of them stopped moving, a couple tried to drag themselves on top. Like they could climb over the trap that way.

A few had reached the panels and weren't trying to tear them down, they were trying to go through. Just pushing forward even though it had to be making it harder to do anything. I didn't know what was happening. "Use the blasted grenades!" I heard Pollock yell.

"It's not the crystals, the grenades aren't going to help!"

She turned to Calvin. "The gas, then."

"It's just smoke, remember? Someone didn't want me to have knockout gas. You want them panicked worse?"

There were more high-pitched squeals, and then each would cut off suddenly. The ones left were still digging, but kept hitting rocks. They'd pull them out and try to keep going, but it wasn't going to work. Not in time.

Then the field dropped.

Pollock

I'd gone back up the hill, and flipped the switch on my field generator. By then I could only see two thrashing around in the enclosure. Everyone swiveled their heads towards me when the field dropped. The locals looked angry, but they'd looked that way this entire trip. Who could blame them? If I lived in these cursed woods I'd be angry, too.

I chose to ignore them and focus on the two creatures, to see what happened with the field down. Whether whatever was happening would stop, if they'd try to make a break for it. We'd have to find them again, or more accurately the others would. I was determined to get the hell out of here. But it's just two of them. Surely these yokels could handle that?

As it turned out, it didn't matter. The two creatures had already begun seizing up, and couldn't take advantage of the field being down even if they wanted to. One of them did reach its feet, but immediately dropped onto its back. It didn't rise again.

There was no sound in the aftermath of all that. I sighed and jumped back off the bluff to approach the enclosure. I noticed several tendrils of smoke rising from the bodies.

"Did your trap kill them?" the sullen girl asked. She and the other two had come over as well.

"Do you actually care? Your problem's handled either way." She didn't react to that, which was slightly annoying. "No, the field shouldn't have produced that result. It's the same as the one the Predator Drone used against you and the panda. The only way it would kill them is if it pushed them to kill themselves."

"The way they were acting, I don't think that's it. Did you notice the smoke?" I nodded at the panda as I pulled the ceramic armor off one of the bodies. I felt through all that strong, fine hair on the neck and back, until I felt a plastic bump with a hint of warmth. I pulled it loose and turned it over in my hand, examining it, the panda's furry skull right next to mine.

"Some kind of transmitter?"

"Yes. Probably can double as a kill-switch." We checked a few more bodies, finding a similar transmitter on each. Each one was burned out now, but it appeared they'd completed their purpose in the process. "Might lend credence to Calvin's theory these creatures were built for this. At the least, they were working under someone's command who didn't want them talking."

The bear and raccoon that led that gang came rolling in at that point. Literally, they rolled themselves down the rocky slopes to where we stood. Seemed painful to me, but it's not my body. Calvin asked if they knew what had happened with the two we took prisoner yesterday.

The bear nodded. "Had the same thought. I already sent Claude back to check with the boys who are watching them."

"Assuming they didn't kill your "boys" and escape, they're almost certainly dead themselves. I'd like the transmitters. I might be able to trace a manufacturer."

"My family will be here soon. I'm going to take a few of the Amilgars along with me," said the panda.

"Could I have a few of the transmitters," called down that raccoon engineer. "Maybe I can still use parts of them for something?"

What is this, a swap meet now? "I doubt you'll get any use, but there are plenty to pick over." I gestured to the two dozen plus corpses. "Help yourself."

I rose, feeling tired, and turned to the idiots I came her with. "Are we done? Can we leave?"

Calvin looked at the panda. "I assume CAP wants to wait for his family, and he still needs to know if Cass is coming to Blogsgiving."

"That's why you came?" So their stupidity amazes even the surly girl. Something we have in common.

The panda responded. "I never got a reply to the invite, and you always reply back. I figured something must be wrong. That's why we came to check." Pause. "But yes, I was wondering if you were going to come to the party."

Surly girl could hardly process the direction the conversation had gone. I knew the feeling. "Yes, I guess I was planning to attend."

"Great! And I'm sorry we didn't get here sooner."

"You know, you can call for help if you need it." Calvin said. "We'll show up."

She only nodded, although I thought she might have looked embarrassed. Hard to tell with that hood up all the time. Does she staple it to her head?

The panda laughed. "That applies to you too, you know."

"I call for help all the time! I called you after the first time I met Cass! And for helping me with the birders. Which you did a crappy job of by the way."

"Can we get on with this? It's a long haul back to your car." These two can banter for hours. They stopped and Calvin looked at the Amilgar at my feet.

"Not until you find a tarp. That fellow is not decomposing in the back of my ride on the way home otherwise."

One of the locals wandered up. "I got a tarp. It'll cost ya. 600 bucks."

Of course.

Calvin

The pandas arrived a couple of hours later. By then, Claude had returned with to report that yes, the other two Amilgars had died. We'd also had time to backtrack the route Cass and I took to reach the trap to check for the ones that had accidents trying to stop us. They hadn't survived either, although at least had probably died crashing into a rock.

Seeing the reactions from Cass' people to a whole squad of pandas was worth the price of admission. Even though we had a talking, fighting panda standing right here, they didn't seem to expect there were really more of them. The pandas agreed to loan Pollock a tarp, so at least she stopped griping about the people here "extorting" her. She had to promise to clean and return it to CAP at Blogsgiving.

The Panda Squad loaded up several of the Amilgar, and prepared to return home. I heard a few of them grumbling that they ended up being dragged all the way out here on what turned out to be garbage detail. According to CAP, they'd been grumbling about having to deal with captives. Just no pleasing some people.

All that dealt with, we trekked back to my ride, which had not been broken into, struck by lightning, or carried away by sudden floodwaters.

"Why am I helping drag a corpse for you?" I muttered to Pollock.

"The panda has been carrying your dead weight for years. It's about time you took a turn." CAP snickered from their position ahead of us. I had walked into that one.

"You two looking forward to walking home?" I raised the rear hatch and maneuvered the body in. "I'm really looking forward to seeing you explain hauling this into the trunk of your car when we get back to my apartment."

CAP turned to Cass, who had walked all the way with us. I couldn't help noticing she had a backpack of her own with her. "When we learn something, I'll contact you immediately. But I'm not sure how long that will take."

Her gaze was steady as she replied, "I'm coming along."

I sighed. "You waited until the absolute last second to ask, I notice. You and my dad trading tips on how to be really irritating?"

They all ignored me as CAP tried to explain, "Cassanee, it's a long way to my home-"

"I'm following her," she gestured at Pollock. Well, this got worse, and Pollock reacted how you'd expect.

"You think I'm going to have you scowling over my shoulder the whole time I try to solve this?"

"You helped, but you might have caused this, too. I'm staying close until I'm sure."

"How would you even know if I tried to hide information?"

"Don't have to. The pandas will figure it out, and they just promised to contact me when they do. This way you can't vanish if it turns out you are guilty."

CAP looked distinctly uneasy with all this. "Cassanee, don't they need you to help rebuild your home?"

"They're working out a trade deal with the raccoons." She glanced at me. "And I'm not much of a builder, either. Plus, everyone else wants to know whether she's guilty or not, too."

Pollock appealed to CAP and I. "You two aren't going along with this?"

Figuring there was a good chance of a fight no matter what, I opted for the approach that would annoy Pollock. "She can get a ride in my car as long as she follows the rules. If she plans to ride with you from there, that's between the two of you." I thought for a moment. "But you know if you ditch her she's just going to come crashing through your skylight before too long."

"I don't even have a skylight," I heard Pollock mutter as I turned to Cass.

"Rule 1: Wear your seatbelt. Rule 2: Driver controls music. Rules 3: My car, I drive. Rule 4: You throw up, I throw you out without slowing down. Rule 5: If you try to kill someone, do it in a manner that doesn't cause a mess or break anything. Do you understand and agree to these rules?"

"Sure." She seemed amused.

Pollock, on the other hand, was outraged. "You're letting her try to kill me now? What happened to my presumption of innocence?"

"If she can do it without causing a mess. The same rules apply to you, ya know. So you can try to kill her, too." That didn't cheer Pollock up as much as I thought it would.

It also didn't put CAP any more at ease. "Calvin, we can't have them trying to kill each other!"

"It would hardly be the first time, and I'm certainly not going to be able to stop them. If you think you can ride herd, go for it."

As I headed for the driver's seat, I heard CAP address the other two in their best drill sergeant tone. "Pollock, you ride in the same place as on the way down. Cassanee, you ride shotgun. I'll ride next to Pollock. Anyone starts fighting, I'll Bonk them." The stern attitude faded. "I wanted this to be a happy drive back."

We all climbed in and I started the engine. So it hadn't been stolen by mischievous woods nymphs. That's good. "Think of this as a dress rehearsal for Blogsgiving. Just without delicious food or television."