Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Review of Mike Wolfer's "Ragdoll" Graphic Novel AKA Good Times All Around


I'm a fan of Mike Wolfer's various works, so when I heard he had a Kickstarter going for a creation of his known as "Ragdoll" titled, "The Curse of Ragdoll," I was very interested. I interviewed him about the Kickstarter, past comic-works by him I've enjoyed, and what future projects he had coming up. Well, the comic is done and it along with any other extras folk pledged for are in the process of being shipped with digital copies already in supporter's hands via their Laptops, Kindles, iPads, or whatever folk are using today to read their digital comics (I myself enjoy the iPad).

Having now read "Ragdoll" I can say that while some plot elements bugged me, it is overall a highly enjoyable read. Mike Wolfer writes and illustrates it, with some gray-tones done by Dan Parsons and lettering by Natalie Jane. It centers on the titular Ragdoll, with her adventures being told through various chapters of her journal discovered in an ice cave by the adventurer Peter Wyndham. Wyndham and his reading of the journals serves as a sort of framing device for the book, with him appearing primarily at the start and finish. The real star of the show is of course Ragdoll herself. Sewn from the parts of various women who died in murderous ways, Ragdoll goes about getting revenge for them as a paranormal righter-of-wrongs. Various chapters of her journal lay-out her violent missions, and generally whenever we see an evil man the odds are good Ragdoll will soon be ending his life.

Some mysterious men appear in the story.
This all sounds straightforward, but there is clearly a bit more at play than a simple magical avenger going about. We never actually see just how Ragdoll came into existence, but some eerie men pop-up at various points in the story at just the right moment to help the assorted murderers dispose of the bodies of the women Ragdoll is made from--so clearly something is up. These strange men sometimes are undertakers, other times carriage-drivers--whatever the occasion calls for, and I imagine in a future installment of "Ragdoll" more will be revealed. For now they exist on a bit of the periphery of the stories, flitting about, hinting at something evil but not quite making it clear what their end-goal is.

With "Ragdoll" being a horror-revenge story hinting at a mystery the plot is quite enjoyable. What about the art though? Well, I was familiar with Wolfer for his art before his writing, and I've always thought it to be stellar stuff. An interesting thing about the artwork is how Wolfer says in the introduction to the book that much of "Ragdoll" was actually originally contained within an Avatar Press anthology known as "Raw Media" before having some parts re-drawn for this collection. "Raw Media" contained stories that at times got X-rated, and Wolfer wanted "Ragdoll" to come back, but operate more as a general horror story as opposed to a pornographic one. Therefore, "Ragdoll" collects installments from those issues of "Raw Media", but with the new artwork and lettering--and the X-rated stuff replaced.

The Ragdoll herself/selves
While it might not be as raunchy as it once was this is still definitely a "Hard-R" type of comic, with Wolfer expertly contributing some cheesecake to go with the scares and violence. It usually doesn't feel excessively sexual however, considering the main M.O. of the Ragdoll is she often seduces the men she then ends up destroying--as it was their lust and violence towards past women that leads to their downfall. Therefore, you get some erotic-styled art, plenty of creepy and scary images, and toward the middle of the book other supernatural elements such as werewolves and vampires start showing up. It is actually these elements that made for the parts of the book I most enjoyed, and elements I was perturbed by.

One thing that bugged me about "Ragdoll" was a chapter that seemed almost completely removed from the rest of the rest of the book and went against the usual routine to somewhat confusing results. Basically, there is a part of the book where Ragdoll thinks back to the past of one of her body-parts and it actually involves two evil women who are vampires--posing as nuns, no less. In this chapter the nuns are in fact the ones who murders the woman that finds one of her body-parts put into Ragdoll, and one non-nun escapes stating she plans to attack the town. Then....the chapter just ends and is never mentioned again. Clearly, this threw me off and felt a bit odd, having this section of the book that seems disconnected from the rest of the story. However, one of the mysterious part-gathering men does appear, and Wolfer has announced that the next volume of "Ragdoll" will be titled, "Orgy of the Vampires," so I am pretty sure my concerns with this bit feeling removed from the main book is more a case of foreshadowing future chapters as opposed to Wolfer forgetting to follow-up on this segment.

Nuns, the last people you expect to be vampires...
so in way it makes perfect sense.
Besides that strange chapter, the only other element of the story that bugged me would spoil some of the plot, so I'll merely say that one of the few seemingly happy romances in the tale has a disturbing twist that otherwise ruins things--but then again there usually aren't happy endings in horror stories so perhaps the shocking surprise was to be expected.

One thing that isn't a complaint so much as a hope for the future would be that we didn't see as much of the interesting Inspector Pike as I would have liked. If "Ragdoll" is more of an antagonist, and Wyndham is used as a framing device for some of the stories, then it could possibly be argued that Inspector Jason H. Pike is the closest thing to a "good guy" in the story. Despite being on a vacation his skills are needed by his fellow British policeman, taking him back to work attempting to solve a string of strange murders that have been occurring--which we as the reader know of course relate to Ragdoll. Reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, Pike is a man with a keen deductive mind, and an extremely morbid wit--I often enjoyed his purposely-terrible puns about the mutilated bodies they would find of Ragdoll's victims. Pike is another character the book makes clear will be in future installments of "Ragdoll", so while I wish he had been within the book more I look forward to seeing him again.

Inspector Pike is wonderful.
"The Curse of Ragdoll" is a delightful first volume in the adventures of our spooky heroine, and I would eagerly recommend checking it out. Between the entertaining story and superb art "Ragdoll" is full of good times all around. I mentioned how some plot elements bothered me, but on the whole it was great. There is in fact another Kickstarter going currently for other "Ragdoll"-related goodies, including the book, but should you want to just get your own snazzy copy of the book it can be found on Amazon here currently, with plans in place for it to be in "Previews" in the future too. Also, for more "Ragdoll" news, such as updates about the upcoming 2nd volume, you can check it out on Facebook.

In closing, if you're someone who enjoys the work of Mike Wolfer, horror comics, or just a person who enjoys great art I would say to go ahead and give "The Curse of Ragdoll" a read.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Note:
A digital copy of "Ragdoll" was provided for review purposes before my physical copy arrived as I supported the Kickstarter also. As I've reviewed other books I've funded on Kickstarter, and reviewed works by people I've interviewed this is not out of the norm for my journalistic standards. I'm always my good ol' brutally honest self, but just of course want to let you, my readers, know about these things.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

More Thoughts on Race and "Open Carry"

I Keep Having New Thoughts About Race and Open Carry...
I wrote not too long ago about the concept of "Open Carry" and how it struck me as being inherently racist as all the open-carriers seemed to be white (and almost all male, but that would be its own article). My argument was basically that while a white man might be able to stroll down the street with an AK-47, if a black man did this the odds were he would have the cops called on him right away, and then instead of being ordered to put the gun down as sometimes happens with white open-carriers, a black man would just be shot. I mean, if recent events where a black man carrying a toy pellet-gun he wanted to buy got him shot-on-sight at a Walmart in Ohio, am I making that much of a logical stretch?

My post caused a lot of comments to be made on my blog, something which surprised me as I barely get any views on political posts usually. There was enough discussion I made a follow-up post about the attention I, a relatively small presence on the internet, received for my article and what that could mean for bigger names who thought to question open carry. Some of the comments were dumb insults, and some were well-written and made me think. One thing that was repeated by some folk and made me really wonder though was if I needed to look harder to find those of other races who engaged in open carry.
The Black Panthers.
Black people do in fact open carry. It is a small demographic, but it exists. There is a group in Texas named the Huey P Newton (a founder of the Black Panthers) Gun Club that proudly open carries to protest police brutality towards black people. From what I've read about these sort of groups they are both useful to those who support open carry as they can say, "See? Other races do it!" but also worry them, because as this article points out, how long will it take a State such as Texas to enforce stricter gun laws once it becomes apparent it isn't just white people who want to walk around with their guns out?

When you name your gun club after a famous Black Panther, it wouldn't surprise me if I shortly after a city or State you are located in makes open carry illegal. It sound strange, but California enacted tougher gun laws under then-Governor Ronald Reagan in response to the group known as the Black Panthers and how they would openly carry their firearms. Known as the Mulford Act, it banned open carry and it was supported by the NRA back in 1967. Now here we are in 2014 and the very same organization is proudly proclaiming how open carry is a constitutional right, and I'm just here wondering if more Huey P Newton-styled gun clubs would change the NRA's tone.
An open carry group with multiple races.
I am by no means saying that white gun-owners are racist, I am saying that our society has its own issues with race that caused me to consider the initial question of why it appeared only white individuals would open carry. I have known white gun-owners who are loving of all races, but the organization of the NRA itself seems to often put-out racially charged messages that portray minority individuals as the dangerous "other" that guns are needed to defend oneself from. By digging deeper I have found that there are minority individuals who open carry, but at the same time as proving me somewhat wrong it could in the end prove me more right than ever. After all, if suddenly we see more minority individuals engaging in open carry than the small amount gun-organizations are comfortable with so they can claim diversity, and just as suddenly a strong effort begins to ban open carry by those who had at first supported it....well, would you be particularly surprised?

On the flip-side, perhaps I am completely wrong, and those who support open carry along with the NRA will rejoice at these new demographics now open carrying. I actually wouldn't mind being proven incorrect, as it would show our society is moving into an era with less racial-conflict. Then again, look at Ferguson and tell me racism is a much more minor issue as I've heard claimed. Really, only time will tell where this all ends up going politically. We will probably see soon enough.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Hearthstone: Curse of Naxxramas" Review


I've discussed "Hearthstone" and how fun it is in previous writings. A short while ago an expansion was released in weekly installments for the game and titled "Curse of Naxxramas" or "Naxx" if you have as much trouble as I do remembering how to spell its official name. I wanted to wait for every week of "Naxx" to be released and "out in the wild" for a little bit before I reviewed it. My reasoning was that until every new card (of the approximately 30) was available it would be hard to see how the overall way of playing "Hearthstone" would be impacted. Well, now that the dust has settled and "Naxx" no longer quite has that new-expansion smell, I can say that while the way of playing the game has shifted in some respects, there is nothing absurd and game-breaking.

If you don't play "Hearthstone"then my using a term such as "Deathrattle" may confuse you, so in order to keep this review understandable for those who don't play Hearthstone I'll explain in non-Stoner terms (there has to be a better way of putting that) the biggest aspect of this expansion. Basically, when a card has a "Deathrattle" it means it is a "minion" you put on the board, and if you play that card and it is eliminated/killed something useful will happen. This useful action can range from you drawing an extra card to summoning a super-powerful minion. 


Within this new "Naxx" expansion a bunch of cards have the deathrattle ability, and of the various character classes you can play as there are cards that compliment these deathrattles quite well. For instance, if you have a card like the "Nerubian Egg" that summons a pretty powerful minion when it is eliminated, and then have a card that lets you destroy it and make a new one (AKA reincarnate, you basically get a free powerful minion. Cards like that are result in "Naxx" being a very deathrattle-heavy expansion, and it has influenced a variety of decks.

Another useful ability in "Hearthstone" is playing cards that set up a "secret". These are what their name says, a secret action that only takes place when your opponent takes a certain action. Whether this means you get to survive an attack that would otherwise make you lose the match or that when an opposing minion tries to hurt you or your own minions they end up being put back into your opponent's hand and cost more to re-play, secrets are extremely useful. That makes the "Mad Scientist" card one that I've seen be quite popular with people playing as Mages or Hunters--two characters heavy on secrets.


A very fun aspect of "Naxx" is that to unlock most of the new cards you have to play matches against computer-controlled characters with unique decks and powers. Instead of being like regular matches, these are sort of like fun puzzles, where to figure out how to win a match you need to build a specialty deck. The matches are never too hard, which is good as many of us players just want to unlock the new cards--there is a "Heroic Mode" where winning is extremely difficult however for those who want a challenge. I feel that 30 cards is an okay amount, but am pleased to hear future expansions will carry more, even if it is at the expense of the puzzle-style matches against the computer.

"Curse of Naxxramas" introduces some fun matches to play in and a good helping of new cards. It changes the overall way of playing "Hearthstone" just enough to keep things interesting, but does not alter the game so much it becomes unrecognizable. While "Hearthstone" is a game that is free-to-play because you gain gold (which can buy a lot of stuff) by completing challenges, you can just pay to open every level or "Wing" of "Naxx" if you don't want to work at gaining enough gold, with it costing you about $25 to unlock every "wing". That isn't cheap, but it also is relatively easy to earn gold should you want the cards for truly free. The cards also are of course not mandatory to do well at "Hearthstone" but help expand your options. Overall "Curse of Naxxramas" is fun, even if 30 cards seems a bit light and it can be bit more costly then I would like. Should you already be a fan of "Hearthstone" you'll love it, and if you're thinking of getting into "Hearthstone" these cards will give you even more choices as you start out--should you pony-up the cash early-on for them.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Some Much-Delayed Thoughts on "Afterlife with Archie" #6 AKA How I Wish "Fatale" Had Been Done

If You'll Allow Me To Explain

I really loved the latest issue of "Afterlife with Archie" that came out some weeks ago. It took me until recently to read it but once I did I had two major thoughts, "This is incredibly good," and "This really reminds me of 'Fatale', and is actually how I wish 'Fatale' had been." Should this thinking confuse you or seem weird to compare two seemingly very different comics I'll explain. Basically, its all about the creeping sense of horror.

So Much Tension That It Eventually Got Boring
"Fatale" featured a female protagonist named Josephine with scary powers (in this case the ability to basically mind-control men and recover from any injury whilst not aging) who was trying to escape from an evil cult that seemed to worship a variety of horrifying Cthulhu-styled creatures. It jumped around in time, and despite starting out promising I found myself growing bored with it. I ended-up quitting the comic around the point it had jumped-forward in time from what was arguably the "main" story to a tale about Seattle in the 1990's.
I did like the earlier issues.
As I stated, it began quite well, with Josephine--also known as "Jo"--being interesting and a bit scary, yet also sympathetic. I've loved past works by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Philips, so I was intrigued when I began the series. There was this sense of tension and foreboding...and then nothing much happened for a bunch of issues. You can only have tensions ratcheting-up for so long without a release before people just get exhausted along with possibly bored, and well, with Fatale I became pretty bored. For all I know the last issue paid off in a big way and cashed-in expertly on all that led into it, but as it stands, when I remember "Fatale" I think of how it had so much tension that it eventually got boring, if that paradox makes any sense. Then in comparison we have "Afterlife with Archie" #6, i.e. how I want a comic to build-up my anxiety and then pay off on it.

Not the Kind of Dream Wedding Most People Hope For, But Delightful For A Reader
"Afterlife with Archie" has centered on a zombie invasion of the town of Riverdale brought about by Sabrina (The Teenage Witch) using magic she shouldn't have in an attempt to help Jughead bring his dog named "Hot Dog" back to life. After the first issue where Sabrina was banished by her aunts to a nether-realm the comic has focused on Archie and crew, with us readers only able to wonder what came of Sabrina. Well, the sixth issue of this comic offers a bit of an interlude from the goings-on in Riverdale and fills us in on Sabrina. Basically, she has been at an institution for troubled youth since the supposed deaths of her aunts. Clearly, something is amiss.

This may sound quite different from "Fatale", but in this issue there are many similarities. The issue features a female protagonist with scary powers (magic), who is trying to escape from a sort of asylum run by an evil cult that worships Cthulhu. See how that sort of links up? There are little things too, like how the motif in "Fatale" of people seeing creepy things for a split-second before "reality" sets back in happens a bunch in this issue of "Afterlife", which was in fact one of the first things that made me start thinking of "Fatale". From my noticing how this was like "Fatale" I started to see how it did something very well that I've made clear "Fatale" did not--the tension-building.

The issue opens with Sabrina describing a nightmarish dream to Doctor Lovecraft (see what they did there?) and continues from there as we see her in the institution. Sabrina is trying to figure out why everything seems off, and if this strange belief that she is actually a witch is true or some delusion--as she has been informed as such by folk at her establishment of forced housing. As the issue continues a sense of palpable dread and fear grows and grows until a heck of an ending where Sabrina learns the truth is she is a witch that the Doctor's snatched from the nether-realm and is to be the bride of none other than Cthulhu himself. Yeah, not the kind of dream-wedding most people hope for, but delightful for a reader.

Whereas with "Fatale" I was putting up with issue-after-issue of a feeling of fear and trouble, nothing too big actually really occurred (yes, there were some smaller pay-offs, but not a "wow" moment like "Afterlife" contained). Meanwhile, in a single issue of "Afterlife with Archie", writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa expertly started things out with a creepy vibe, built up my worry and fear for Sabrina, and ended with a huge bang. If any issue of "Fatale" had been as good as this single one of "Afterlife with Archie" I probably would have gladly stuck with it till the end.

Top-Notch Stuff
I've sounded negative about "Fatale" but it was a perfectly good comic, it just got grating after awhile. At least the art in "Afterlife" is incredible thanks to Franco Francavilla, and Sean Philip's work in "Fatale" was top-notch too, so both books are beautiful; it just in the end comes down to the story the comics have been telling. While most of "Afterlife with Archie" has had more of a strange "Walking Dead"-type feel, this check-in with Sabrina was full-tilt Cthulhu and Elder Gods-styled. Therefore, trying to compare other issues of "Afterlife" to "Fatale" would be a bit silly, but works wonderfully for this issue.
Usually "Afterlife with Archie" has more zombie-smashing than Cthulhu
This issue of "Afterlife with Archie" is a stellar example of an interpretation of HP Lovecraft, period, not just how I wish "Fatale" had gone. In the end they are very different comics, but I just felt like sharing how while reading the sixth issue of "Afterlife with Archie" I couldn't stop repeatedly thinking, "This is how I wish 'Fatale' had read." It may be unfair to Brubaker and Philips to write this as they were doing their own thing, but its just an observation I had and wanted to share with you all out there on the internet. As it is, this issue of "Afterlife" is my favorite thus far and just a great comic. I mean, when one comic is so good you wish other comics were like it that means something, I would argue. Anyways, top-notch stuff.

5 out of 5 (for the sixth issue of "Afterlife with Archie").

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jack Kirby Would be 97 Today


Jack Kirby, arguably one of the most important people in comics, would have been 97 today. Kirby basically created the Marvel Universe as people know it today with Stan Lee (how much credit goes to one man or the other is constantly debated by fans) and made a number of DC characters that are still relevant today (The New Gods, for example). Non-comic fans may know Stan Lee more because he is still alive and can take a lot of credit, but its no secret much of the credit for Marvel creations such as The Fantastic Four, Avengers, and many more belongs with Kirby too--if not more-so than Lee.

Comic fans owe a great debt to Jack Kirby, and if you want to learn more about him I would encourage you to explore the website of the museum dedicated to the man and his works.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Three Things Filling Me With Rage This Week


So. Much. Anger!

Oh what a wonderful week--except for the fact I've had a seven days of rage in just the span of Sunday through Wednesday. Why am I so angry about various topics? I cannot really say other than to tell you just what it is that would be causing all my emotions, with it being three things in particular.

The First Rage-Causer:  Sexist Video-Gamers

I love video-games, that is no secret. I also don't keep quiet about how women deserve to be treated as human beings, something which most people would say is obvious but many of those in the video-gamer community appear to think is asking too much.

Until today I had not heard about The Fine Young Capitalists, which is a group of women running an Indiegogo campaign to support charity and awareness-raising about discrimination in industries such as gaming. I guess this upset all the male video-gamers who feel only those with an X and a Y in their chromosomes can make games because since its launching the campaign has been under attack from hackers, and all other sorts of harassment. As this article points out, it is strange how gaming sites such as Kotaku and Polygon have not discussed this.

Ms. Sarkeesian.
It isn't surprising to see female game developers being the brunt of abuse, as one only has to read about creators such as Zoe Quinn being harassed, or how Anita Sarkeesian's series of YouTube videos about feminism and video-games for Feminist Frequency receives hate to get the impression that video-gamers and the industry they support apparently despises women. Oh sure, it's fine when a hot chick plays video-games, but should a lady dare try to make games or point out sexism within the industry and/or video-games themselves and suddenly it is a terrible thing deserving of vile rape threats toward those "bitches" who dare question gaming.

I truly enjoy playing video-games, and when the gamer community comes together to support causes like the Desert Bus for Charity I feel happy. I just am absolutely disgusted when I see video-game players band together into a hate-mob because "girls" are suddenly getting into their hobby too. All you "Anti-Feminists" and "Men's Rights" so-called "advocates" are terrible people and you don't help gaming, you just bring the community down to an abhorrent level of slimy hatred. So yeah, its enraging.

Next-Day Update: Anita Sarkeesian has left her home temporarily due to violent and specific threats. Really people, really?

The Second Rage-Causer: Confusing Comic-Numbering
Wait, is this the third issue, or the 5.3rd issue?
I've never been shy about how I hate when comics get all confusing with their numbering, be it having comics with ".1, .2" or ending with a ".NOW". Well, Marvel's "Original Sin" is winding down and the biggest takeaway I have is how weird it was to see the main series, then a spin-off called "Original Sins" and more "Original Sin" comics that were their own mini-series but had numbering like "#3.1 and  #3.2" instead just being something like "Hulk VS Iron Man: #1, #2".

I've mentioned cataloging my comics, and it is important to point out that even software designed to record comics starts acting up and getting confused when you have multiple issues of some series, with the only difference being a dot and another number (recording my "Villain's Month" comics that DC did was ever-so-fun a time). I often find myself annoyed with confusing comic-numbering, but when it gets as silly as it did during "Villain's Month" or with the currently-going "Original Sin/s" I just become so angry.

The Third Rage-Causer:  This Stupid Weather And How Little Effort Is Being Made to Help our Climate
I've seen this every day the past week.

It has been hot out here in Missouri. Truth be told, this past week it has been hot most places in the United States, with many regions finding themselves so high above their regular temperatures that it threatens the health of people who are very young, older, or lack air conditioning. Now, by complaining about this I might sound like a whiner, because while we as a society can do something about sexism or absurd comic numbering there is little we can do to adjust the weather, right? That is wrong, actually. The weather may be something that changes day-to-day, but climate is the over-arching cause of weather, and lately we as a society have been harming our climate.

While there may be uninformed people who deny global warming and the shocking climate change it brings, one need only look at our violent winters an scorching summers to see the climate has been getting more and more out-of-whack. The thing is, when you have lobbyists who push for tax-cuts to oil companies yet want taxes raised on solar panels you get a government that would rather make big industries happy than protect and serve the people as it was actually founded to do. Well, I guess all those people who want less environmental regulations will be a little less pleased with themselves when their grandchildren cuss them out for potentially dooming our future to rising oceans, reduced ozone, and all sorts of nastiness. The current weather makes me mad, but thinking about that possible future really enrages me.

Calming Thoughts, Think Calming Thoughts

There is a lot to be angry about. I've only listed three things that jumped immediately to the front of my mind, but there is always plenty more. I suppose I should try to relax however, and think calming thoughts as being so full of rage can't be healthy. I of course don't want to become so calm that I feel complacent and make less effort to fix the problems I've discussed. No, the key is to stay calm, but still have enough anger that it gives you the drive to fix what you see is wrong with the world.

I'll work at staying cool and collected, but I can't make any promises. There is just always so much to make a person upset! At least I have reading gossip about happy celebrity marriages to keep me calm. Wait, what's this about Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey? Oh Motherfu...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Television Tuesday: BoJack Horseman


On Friday the internet-streaming service Netflix released their newest original series, "BoJack Horseman". I kind of broke my rule against binge-watching because as of today I was able to digest all 12 episodes. I saw some mixed reviews of the series but enough people have already enjoyed the 1st season enough that it has been renewed for another one. As for how I felt about BoJack? I thought it was great.

"BoJack" focuses on its titular character, a washed-up 90's sitcom star desperate for a comeback. With the help of a ghost-writer named Diane he might have a chance, but "friends" like Mr. Peanutbutter (a golden lab) who also had his own sitcom or house-mate Todd (a friend BoJack met at a house-party who never left) might derail those plans. Various people from the past come into the picture along with new folk and half the time we want BoJack to succeed and other times we think it might be better if he fails.


"BoJack Horseman" starts out with the early episodes having a bit of an absurd feel almost like the early episodes of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" or the other quirky Adult Swim programs from some years ago. Perhaps I felt that way with the mixture of humans and anthropomorphic animals (who aren't given a reason for existing, but just sort of are people in this world), as that really gives everything a slightly surreal feel. It works though as the animal-people look different but not too jarringly separate from normal humans. Much of the credit for that goes to the talented Lisa Hanawalt (someone whose work I'm a fan of) who designed the characters expertly.

Now, the early episodes are quirky and silly, but then something interesting happens as the season proceeds, namely things get darker and a bit more serious. I like that "BoJack" does this as we actually see some character growth. BoJack is clearly unhappy, but as we slowly learn why, BoJack becomes...not necessarily someone we have sympathy for, but someone we understand.


"Bojack Horseman" does a solid job mixing the serious with the silly, and I would give Will Arnett a good deal of props for it. Having played characters that are often lovable heels (see Gob on "Arrested Development") he brings just the right amount of being smug and a jerk yet caring and clearly desperate to be liked. Other cast-members such as Amy Sedaris as Bojack's agent and girlfriend (whom is also a cat) turn in wonderful performances also. With the mixture of solid animation and great voice-acting it makes everything work wonderfully.

Netflix has been producing some quality shows lately, and shows little sign of slowing down. As time goes on and more people use DVR or internet-streaming television as we know it appears to be shifting radically in its design. "BoJack" is another quality program spearheading this change to internet-television and binge-watching, with many more to follow. I greatly enjoyed watching "BoJack Horseman" and if you have Netflix you should give it a look too.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"God is Dead" and its "Alpha" and "Omega" Specials Were Quite A Good Read

I've been reading the trade paperbacks of Avatar Press' "God is Dead". Dreamed-up by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Costa it has been quite fun. I checked out the first two issues when they were coming out serially but decided it felt like it would read better as TPBs. Since that point I have read the first and second trades, collecting the first six and then the the second half-dozen issues. I enjoyed them, although I actually think that the later issues read better, e.g. the issues that were written by just Mike Costa with minimal to no involvement by Jonathan Hickman, whose first six issues are pretty good, but lack as much of a clear focus as the later issues seem to maintain.

For those wondering what "God is Dead" is about, basically all the Gods of every religion one day come to Earth and start fighting it out to determine who gets to be the boss of our planet. A group of scientists rebel against these Gods and eventually become Gods themselves through scientific means, with a single science-God prevailing. That's the first trade, and then the second one jumps forward a great deal of time later (a generation or two) to show the ramifications of all that happened and how some remaining Gods who have stayed hidden start fighting back with the assistance of mortals. It's pretty good stuff.

Despite picking up the trades I wanted to get the "Alpha" and "Omega" issues that make up "God is Dead: the Book of Acts" on their own because I heard of the who's-who of talent that were working on them and figured I didn't want to have to wait forever to get to enjoy the comics. Therefore, I picked them up and was able to follow them quite well, if for no other reason than they mostly seem to take place earlier-on in the series' time-line. Was I wise to not wait and instead pick these issues up earlier? Yeah, I would say so overall, with one issue definitely being a treat and the other being at least decent.

The comics are an anthology of sorts with their variety of comics, the story written by Mike Costa known as "Arts and Letters" serving as a bridge between the books, with its first and second parts taking place in "Alpha" and "Omega" respectively. It focuses on an ifrit (a sort of supernatural fire-jinn/genie) that is involved in the solving of a mystery of a murdered God that goes much deeper than it or its fellow Gods suspect. It is a pretty good story and answers some questions about just what caused all the mayhem the series has shown. It opens each book and serves as a good appetizer for the rest of the stories we get in each volume.
Alan Moore, in the flesh (ink?)!
I can say with no hesitation that I enjoyed the "Alpha" comic more than the "Omega" one thanks to its two stories (besides the just-mentioned opening one in each book) being dynamite yarns. The story "Grandeur & Monstrosity" is a delectable piece written by none other than Alan Moore himself and featuring...well, Alan Moore himself. Yes, this is a bit of a meta-comic as it features someone who is clearly Alan Moore dealing with the fact of how with all the Gods coming back its odd the God he and only he worships, Glycon, has yet to appear. The thing is, however, that as Glycon was created as more of a performance piece and a self-declared hoax, it takes Moore presenting Glycon on a stage for the "God" as it were to come into existence. It is a fascinating story full of humor and enough self-awareness to be clever but not overly smug.

The last story in the "Alpha" comic is titled "Pitter Patter" and is written by Si Spurrier. It focuses on a cherub bemoaning the fact that early on in history he and his fellow creatures were shown as terrifying things, but through the passage of time and various interpretations he has been reduced to being a cute little baby with wing. Sounding a bit like some of today's child-stars who want to convince everyone they are an adult now our cherub relates his sad tale over whiskey to a bartender about how no matter what attempts he makes people think of him as cute and adorable. The story is a fascinating treatise of sorts on religion and aspects of celebrity that can make life difficult for those who become pigeon-holed into a particular -role--be that acting in a film or acting as a piece of heavenly force.

When I say how "Alpha" was clearly my favorite comic that isn't to say "Omega" was bad. Its stories just were not as great in my eyes. "Omega" has the conclusion of "Arts and Letters" and brings it to a satisfying close, then follows that with "Alastor: Hell's Executioner" afterwards. Written by Kieron Gillen, "Alastor" is about a demon who despite being an awful and terrible creature is also logical and sees how another demon's plan to invade Heaven is just terrible, resulting in Alastor taking violent action to prevent it. It's a perfectly fine story but considering how amazing some of the stuff Gillen has put out is ("Young Avengers" being a recent example) it is kind of sad to have him turn in a "perfectly fine story" when a reader knows he can provide much more than something passable.

The last story in "Omega" is "The Great God Pan" and is by no means a bad entry, but a little annoying. Why is it annoying? Well, it isn't really a complete story so much as an taste of writer Justin Jordan's newly upcoming series, "Dark Gods". Whether this tale takes place in the "God is Dead" universe or the "Dark Gods" world (or if both comics take place in each other's continuity) is unclear, but it is obvious this is meant to be a sampler/advertisement for Jordan's upcoming series--and that results in a story that is good, but as I said, annoying.
Having your last story promote another comic is a bit annoying.
These "Alpha" and "Omega" comics provide good stories and also serve to show how a variety of writers can put their own unique spin on tales set in the "God is Dead" Universe. While I may have been more fond of the "Alpha" comic I did also have fun reading "Omega", and would of course recommend getting both as they obviously are designed to go together. The amount of talent on display in these pages is staggering, and I really had a wonderful time reading Moore's and Spurrier's stories. Should you not even be familiar with the "God is Dead" comics you could still enjoy the "Alpha" and "Omega" comics with relative ease and I would heartily recommend doing such a thing.
God is Dead, The Book of Acts: Alpha: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
God is Dead, The Book of Acts: Omega: 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ferguson

Ferguson

I live near Ferguson, Missouri--at least in comparison to the rest of the nation. I have driven through it, and during a period of time where I had an internship with a health organization (while acquiring my Master's Degree) I spent a good chunk of time in one of Ferguson's neighboring areas, Florissant, and within Ferguson itself. Soon it will have been two weeks since the events that caused Ferguson to gain such National prominence, and everyone seems to have an opinion. On what? Well....

  • People have an opinion on Michael Brown, whether he was a "gentle giant" who was ruthlessly gunned down by a racist cop, or a supposed-thug who charged toward an upstanding police officer--which somehow warranted the man firing a bunch of shots directly into Brown in whatever version of the story we hear.


  • People have an opinion on Ferguson, a part of the Northern County of Saint Louis, a predominantly poorer area with a large number of black residents, whereas a mere 20 minutes away you find neighborhoods that are 99% white and have gates to protect their high median income. Some people say Ferguson was just waiting for an excuse to boil over, that it represents many poor cities of our country--living in the shadow of wealthier areas and sick and tired of being ignored at best and demonized at worst. Other people say that it has a population that is tired of being 2/3 black but with a police force that has three black officers out of all the other whites ones.
  • People have an opinion on the aforementioned police, whether giving them military-grade hardware is a good idea because the military fights enemies and the police protect and serve--so when you make the police the military the populace starts to look a lot like an enemy. People have an opinion on guns, with some wondering why the NRA is usually so nervous about the government bossing people around but is ignoring Ferguson (the general conclusion? The NRA doesn't care because it is black people).

People have an opinion, and it seems to be on everything. I'm not sure I do, but I have questions. For example:

  • I want to know why with so many supposed witnesses we keep hearing such differing versions of what happened? Why are some versions of the story that Michael Brown was basically assaulted by the officer and then murdered? How come some say Brown was threatening and charging at the officer, and even if he were why would that warrant lethal force in the form of six gunshots (or less with some re-entering his body, but at least the final shot apparently proving fatal)?


  • I want to know whether the presence of police in military-duty gear causes a riot or if to prevent a riot you need SWAT teams present--although I lean more toward the police riot theory. I want to know if after the media gets distracted by something else (remember how Ebola was dominating the news for a couple weeks until this happened) there will still be protests, a thorough investigation, and ultimately justice will be served--whatever that will end up meaning.
  • I want to know why so many people in the nation--including people who actually live in this region--continue to barely follow this story or not follow it at all besides the occasional news-blurb about looting. Is it because people think this doesn't affect them if they are white? Is it that people are exhausted hearing about black youth being gunned down and justice rarely being served (just look at Trayvon)? Could it be because it is easier to condemn looting than looking at the reasons that such a thing occurred--namely the poverty, rage, etc.?
I want to know why, and I think everyone else does too. What exactly that "why" is varies, but in the end regardless of what "side" a person is on I think we all want answers and the truth. How long it will take for that to come about is something I don't think anyone knows for certain.

What I do know is that a young man is dead, and we don't know exactly why. That is something that isn't an opinion or a question, it just is a sad fact. Now the time comes to finish having an opinion and start finding out the why.

Friday, August 15, 2014

You Can Rip-Off a Limb, but Don't You Dare Show a Birth AKA Much of The American Comic-Book Industry Treats Readers as if We Are Puritanical Sociopaths

I was doing some casual reading around on the internet the other day, and noticed how an issue of a comic all the way from 1986 that is currently being re-released by Marvel had something so shocking and apparently disgusting within its pages that even today, in 2014, Marvel has decided to put it in a poly-bag to make sure younger readers don't accidentally stumble upon the page while flipping through comics at the shop. What could possibly be so gratuitous that even these decades later it needs to be sealed-up? A scene of childbirth in "Miracleman" #9.

At least the content warning is pretty small.
If we're being honest it is one of the most anatomically-correct renderings of childbirth ever put to page, so I won't post it in case anyone reading this at work or the library fears getting in trouble. Still, isn't it odd that in this day and age we think showing something like the gift of life and birth in all its admittedly messy glory is something only mature-readers can take, while meanwhile on Free Comic Book Day the publisher DC gave away a comic to plenty of adults and children that featured super-heroes getting their arms cut-off along with the head of another character sewn into the body of Frankenstein?

Fun for the whole family!
Is it just me, or is it a tad odd that a comic where decapitated head is poking out of the body of another character is considered fine reading for all who want some of DC's offerings (they admittedly had more children-geared comics on FCBD also, but if you're a kid you know you would grab anything with your favorite heroes on the cover), yet showing the miraculous act of a baby being born is treated as if it is something shameful and pornographic? Now, I'm not saying all comics should be poly-bagged or something, because at the end of the day it comes down to the parents to decide if they are offended more by little Tommy seeing a baby being born or a woman's head grafted into a monster's chest. It just is bizarre, especially considering how so many readers of comics are grown-folk, that Marvel felt they needed to poly-bag "Miracleman" whilst Image has their "Black Kiss: XXXmas in July Special" sitting on the shelf without a care.

Doing a drive-by is okay,
but how dare you show the main character having sex!
Maybe it is a case that while a publisher such as Image feels they can have both images of sex and violence out in the open for readers, Marvel still operates under that weird view that seems so common in much of America that it is okay to have as much violence as you want in your films, television shows, or video-games, but dare show a nipple, talk about sex, etc. and everyone loses their mind. You could claim I'm exaggerating, but remember when "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" caused a scandal not because of the violence that every game had, but for daring to include a sex mini-game where the characters weren't even naked? Again, you can have your entertainment contain as much violence as you want, but hint at sexuality and suddenly we have an issue.

Another choice panel from DC's 2014 Free Comic Book Day offering.
It is kind of strange that we as a nation operate in a way where something so much of us experience--romance, sex, having a child--is treated as a taboo and gross topic, yet other acts which disgust us in real-life --assault, gun-violence, murder--are celebrated in our forms of media. True, other nations have violent movies, and some don't allow violent movies or too much sexuality, but we Americans in particular seem to want our entertainment to be made as if we are puritanical sociopaths. Look at  a movie such as "The Dark Knight" which is loaded with violence yet it gets a PG-13 rating (although I've seen and heard plenty about how our ratings system is broken for movies) and parents happily bring their kids to it because, hey, its got Batman and the Joker from those fun comics! You can have the Joker slicing up people's faces as long as with enough clever-editing you don't quite see the blood, yet the idea of two people making love and having a baby sends us into a tizzy. Really though, aren't parents who are dumb enough to take a five year-old to any movie that contains content they might find unsuitable (be it violence or sex) to blame because they lacked the foresight to read-up on if it contained things they disliked?

Thanks for helping us survive the winter!
Now, practice our religion or we will kill you all.
I'm not sure what my point is with this article other than to complain about an aspect of American culture that is so deeply ingrained within us that protesting it is pointless. We are a people who seem to be perfectly fine with extreme violence but freak out when the concept of sex is brought-up. Perhaps it traces back to how the nation as we know it was founded by uber-religious folk who came from across the ocean (we seem to forget the Pilgrims were basically religious zealots who attempted to convert the Native Americans and then murdered them if they didn't comply, although the genocide due to germs did a lot of the work too), as that is the best reason I can think up. Whatever the case, I just find it odd that in 2014, Marvel needs to take a comic written back in 1986 by Alan Moore--excuse me--"The Original Writer"--and seal it up in a plastic bag, and not for the usual reason of it being an event comic that  they're trying to raise the value of, but because they chose to treat it as if it were a dirty magazine. Meanwhile, that time The Sentry literally ripped another character in half during the event "Siege" is perfectly fine to have sitting out:

Ew, just ew.
I mean, how could anyone find that remotely as gross as childbirth? I'm going to go sigh and shake my head now.