Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My "Best Of 2013" Master-List

I've been posting about my favorite various forms of media these past number of days, and thought it would make sense now that I've finished to have a master-list of sorts that links to all those various articles. Even though some things were shoddy this year (as always) there really was some stellar stuff! I hope your 2013 was great and I wish you a happy New Year!

December 26th
"Saga"--The Best Comic-Book Series of 2013

December 27th
"X-Men Legacy #9"--The Best Single Issue of a comic in 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

"X-Men Legacy #9"--The Best Single Issue of a Comic in 2013

I've made it no secret how much I have enjoyed reading "X-Men Legacy" since it was relaunched with Si Spurrier as the writer and Tan Eng Huat as the often-times artist. While I have loved the run so far (and as it sadly comes ever closer to finishing), my favorite issue would have to be the 9th. When you open your issue with the main character and his romantic interest finally kissing, and then follow that with a joke riffing off of Watchmen you know things are going to get even wilder by the end.
Basically, our protagionist David Haller (don't call him "Legion") is on a date with Ruth Aldine on the moon (also known as "Blindfold") and tells her about how he's decided because the X-Men are always so reactive to threats, he has decided to be proactive and go stop the potential destroyers of mutant-kind before they get a chance to act. That is the general plot of this 2nd arc of the series where a bunch of seemingly unconnected events take place until David Haller learns how much of the newly brewing anti-mutant sentiment is due to some clever subterfuge by the Red Skull. This issue hasn't gotten us to that point though, but deals with a very real threat.

The one problem I have with the issue is that the threat kinds of strains credibility--its the golden-age era version of the character "The Vision" known as "Aarkus" whom despite other comics having established him as living on Earth, for this comic has been living on the Moon, popping over to Earth now and again to pick up some books to pass the time. There, he has apparently picked up the book of Ruth's deceased (well, sort-of deceased) brother and will be launching unforeseen attacks on mutant-kind due to reading about the alleged danger mutants pose that will wipe them out because really, who would expect the Golden-Age Vision (which is kind of why it makes some sense to have this random threat occur, but it still seems odd)?

The threat isn't so much the point of the story though, as it is the fact that Ruth finds the idea of David acting to stop Aarkus before he even does anything wrong...at which point he reveals he actually already took action before even brought her to the moon--which also riffs a bit on "Watchmen" with its famous, "I did it thirty-five minutes ago" line. We as readers feel both disturbed by David's actions, and also see the reasoning behind what he did. It firmly illustrates how David might have the right idea in trying to be proactive in dealing with threats to mutants, but in the process is going to do some things we as readers will be extremely uncomfortable with.

Tan Eng Huat is just as equal a factor at making this issue be one of my favorites, with his style of illustrating being both beautiful and grotesque in how he draws the human form and depictions of David's incredible powers.

Between the amazing story and terrific art this is without question my favorite single issue of a comic in 2013.

PC Gamer--My Favorite Magazine of 2013

I enjoy reading magazines. I've been reading less lately as they can be so expensive, but one I've always been fond of (especially with so many magazines going under) is "PC Gamer", which I've mentioned sometimes before.

In this era where you can get news and opinions on the internet, sometimes people will ask why you need a magazine, and to that I answer that it feels more often through newsprint you can get that high-quality long-form journalism that isn't just giving you bites of news, but deep and well-researched stories. For the same reason I feel sad to see many newspapers going out of business because while getting news on the web can be great, you sometimes need the resources of those bigger news entities to get the really big and juicy stories.

To see many magazines I've loved disappear is sad, so I'm glad to still have PC Gamer, which with its newsprint and web presence, seems to have found a good balance of internet and paper. Its mixture of news, reviews, humor, and insightful commentary makes it my favorite magazine of 2013.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Favorite iPhone App of 2013--Zite

Now, there is a big caveat here in that "Zite" didn't actually come out in 2013, it has been released for some time. However, in the year 2013 it was by far my favorite and most-used app.

I enjoy reading various articles about topics that interest me, Zite asks you what you find intriguing, and after you tell it, various articles are displayed in a main-section and various sub-areas. Then things get magical. You see, while viewing articles via Zite you can tell the application you like an article or don't like it, and from there it will try to find more/less of what you just read. Therefore, the more you read the better Zite gets at predicting what articles you might like--its ingenious!

There are other apps that do things like what Zite does, but I find Zite has such a good user-interface that it beats any other programs that are similar to it. Also, you can have an account that is synced across (for example) your iPhone and iPad so that you don't have to worry about repeating the process of telling Zite what you like and dislike reading about.

I used many helpful apps in 2013, and played a variety of interesting games but Zite easily was the best thing on my iPhone besides you standard stuff like mapping, and of course placing calls.

Turkey Burgers--My Favorite Food-Item of 2013

A random picture of a turkey burger. Tasty!
I have a beef allergy, it's no secret. The thing that sucks the most about it is that I didn't develop the allergy until much later in life (my later high-school years) so I know just how tasty a burger with cheese can be. I've tried various substitutes from Boca/veggie burgers (often gross) to buffalo burgers (not bad), but this year I started to eat a lot more and really enjoy turkey burgers, of all things. Whether it was ones that my girlfriend made for dinner, or out at a restaurant that served them, some Turkey burgers with fries or tater tots and some vegetables on the side was quite easily my favorite food item of 2013 regardless of if it came from a restaurant or my girlfriend's tasty home-cooking.

Besides the delicious taste, one of the best things about turkey burgers is arguably that they are also good for you. As a leaner meat with less fat a turkey burger is loaded with protein and all sorts of quality nutrients. When you can eat something that not only tastes good, but also benefits your health, you know you have a winning food-item on your hands. Therefore, for the year of 2013 turkey burgers are my food-item of the year.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Best Movies From 2013 I Still Need To See

Wait, Why List The Best Movies I Haven't Seen?
Talking about my favorite movies of 2013 is a bit tricky because there are a number of flicks I have heard are amazing and that I will love, but which I have not yet had the chance to see. I've just honestly been really bad about seeing as many films as I should have. Whether it has been because movie tickets are so expensive, or the people I am catching a movie with with would rather see a different movie than some of the ones I've been interested in viewing, there are a ton of flicks I have not yet seen. I'm trying to catch up via Redbox and Netflix (for the ones released for home-viewing), but i can only do so much, for I am but one man.

Therefore, next year I could finally get a chance to watch something like, "Gravity" and it could be one of my favorite movies ever (from what I've heard it is superb). I just don't feel comfortable naming my favorite movies of 2013 as I feel I needed to see more. With that in mind, I'm going to present a list of what movies from 2013 I HAVEN'T seen but feel could be anywhere on an enjoyment scale from "good" to "best movie ever". Hopefully, at some point I'll be able to see some or all of these and have a clearer picture of just what kind of year 2013 was for movies besides the relatively small number of films I saw.

In Alphabetical Order:
12 Years a Slave
This film is apparently violent, tough to watch, and extremely good. Gracing many a list as the top film of 2013, "12 Years a Slave" is a film that sounds as fascinating as it is apparently brutal. I definitely want to see this.
2 Guns
I'm a big fan of Mark Wahlberg when he is used well in a filml. I also greatly enjoy Denzel Washington. Plus, this is a movie based on a comic book which puts it a little closer to my heart. Therefore, I want to see this.

All is Lost
Robert Redford is a good actor, he also is probably the actor my mother has the biggest crush on besides Brad Pitt. I know she probably has seen this movie with Redford as a sailor lost at sea struggling to survive, so upon hearing her (probably) recommend this to me I will at some point seek it out.

Behind the Candelabra
Liberace was a complicated man, and seeing his story through the eyes of his "friend"/"chauffeur"/secret lover sounds like an interesting experience. Plus the movie has the equally great Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in it.
Anytime lately I tell someone I want to visit SeaWorld someday they inform me I ought to see this new movie, "Blackfish," that exposes just how horrendous life apparently can be for animals that live and work there. I've read all sorts of things from different viewpoints arguing everything from that the movie is a biased piece of junk to people saying this is proof why SeaWorld needs to be shut down forever. Honestly, I just want to see the movie regardless of other matters as it sounds pretty fascinating.

(The) Bling Ring
I remember when the events of "The Bling Ring" were actually happening in real life and how crazy the whole thing seemed. Emma Watson apparently is great in this and the plot is so crazy it makes one marvel at how this all really happened.

Blue is the Warmest Color
I remember the controversy the film faced in France for winning the "Palme d'Or" which is apparently France's equivalent of a "Best Picture" Oscar because the movie is based on a graphic novel. I also have seen the controversy the film has had in America because of the apparently highly explicit sex scenes between two women. Whatever the case, I think it would be interesting to read the comic and see the movie, comparing and contrasting them along the way. I hope to get around to doing so at some point.

Captain Phillips
Tom Hanks is awesome, so why not see this?

Dallas Buyers Club
I remember when Matthew McConaughey was more of a joke to people than anything else. Then the man started doing little projects that showed, holy Hell, this guy can actually act! "Dallas Buyers Club" is based on the true story of a straight Texan man in the 1980s who discovers he has HIV/AIDS and how it leads him to go from being a homophobic bigot to fighting for the rights of those he used to hate. I really want to see this despite some backlash against it asking if it is "The Help" for gay people.

All I know is this is a Pixar film and involves a Snowman or something. It looks like a cute way to pass some time.

Fruitvale Station
This is another movie that deals with race-issues straight-on and without trying to pretty things up. Based on the true story of a young black man who was killed by police officers for what appears to be little more than racial reasons, this is apparently quite the gut-wrenching flick. Some may complain  that it is 2013 and people are too whiny about racism, but in a world where just being black and dressing as Santa Claus can get you shot by a pellet gun, or a man can shoot an unarmed black teenager and get away with it scot-free, I think movies like this are more needed than ever.

This is another movie I've seen topping many "best of" lists. I've heard this is the most tense 80-something minutes you'll ever see in a movie, and how between the stellar acting of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney mixed with the incredible special effects, this is an incredible flick. I eagerly anticipate its release to home video.

Machete Kills
Yeah, I know this isn't going to be winning any awards this holiday season, but I liked the original "Machete" movie, so sue me if you think my tastes are out of whack putting this movie on a somewhat even plane as "Gravity" as a movie I'm eager to see. I know "Machete Kills" probably is the hokiest and lamest movie of all these listed, but damn it, sometimes you just want to have some good mindless fun and this looks like it can provide that.

Another movie that illustrates how McConaughey can act, I know only a little about this but it sounds pretty interesting with its plot of a convict on the run colliding into a coming-of-age-style tale.

Only God Forgives
This got slammed by many critics, but I wonder how much of that was them actually not liking this movie, and how much it was them having second thoughts about their glowing review of the director Refn's  movie before this, "Drive". Well, I really liked "Drive" and Ryan Gosling is a pretty good actor, so I want to see this.

(The) Place Beyond the Pines
Another movie with Gosling in it, but only as one of the protagonists--Bradley Cooper is apparently very good in this too. I first heard about this when I read a music artist I really like, Mike Patton, was involved with the soundtrack. He makes really weird music, but from what I've read this is a pretty weird movie. I like weird, so I think I might like this movie.

I know three things about this movie. One: Ron Howard directed it. Two: It has Chris Hemsworth AKA Thor in it. Three: It involves incredibly fast Formula One race cars and you know at least one is gonna blow up in an amazing fashion. Even only two of any of those three three factors would have been enough to get me excited to see this.

Warm Bodies
Zombies and a love story. It sounds really weird, but looks quite sweet also. Plus, this is probably the only movie with zombies in recent memory that my girlfriend told me she would like to see, so that's cool too.

(The) Wolf of Wall Street
This just came out, but I already know I may not have the time to see it in theaters, so it therefore is on my list. Watching DiCaprio go from the annoying guy in "Titanic" to the amazing actor he is now is quite the evolution, and Scorsese is such a talented filmmaker that this is bound to be a great film about the excesses of the 1980's.

That's a Lot of Movies
I may very well have forgotten some movies or not know about others I need to see. Should you have a favorite I failed to mention please do tell me and I'll inform you if I did in fact see it, or need to add it to this list.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The 5 Best Video-Games of 2013 (That I Had A Chance to Play)

There were some amazing video-games that came out this year, but which aren't going to be considered "The Best" for me. "Bioshock Infinite" was an amazing game, and I truly enjoyed it immensely, but this year it wasn't my favorite due to so many strong contenders. Also, it should be pointed out there are games I have heard are amazing such as "The Stanley Parable" or "Gone Home", but I have not had a chance to play them, so take my top 5 games with a grain of salt. Also, please note all the games except choice #4 were played on a PlayStation 3 for those who are curious (Choice #4 is a computer game).

My Top 5
5. Saints Row IV
With all the hype surrounding that other open-world crime-simulator game, you could be forgiven for forgetting about "Saints Row IV" You could be, but you wouldn't because this game is just plain awesome. Somehow it keeps the continuity of the previous games going while amping the ridiculousness up even more to a point where the game is spoofing the Modern Warfare games and your character is the President of the United States. Oh, and then after that first hour the aliens attack and you gain superpowers within a simulation of the city of Steelport. Yeah, how can you not find this game utterly and completely insane-yet-good? Plus, it is hilarious, which in this era of more serious games is sometimes needed.

4. Starbound
I debated whether I should include this in my list or not for two reasons. The first is that the game was just released December 4th so its a late entry and the second is that the game is still in very early beta. I decided to include "Starbound" however because even if it has only been out a short while and still is full of bugs (and is missing a multitude of features), I have enjoyed and played it so much that clearly something is very right with the game--and even in this early state it is one of my favorite titles this year. I think to be fair though, I will disqualify it from being considered for a best game of 2014 (if I do that for my blog) when the "full" release will happen as that would not be fair to other titles--as if "Starbound" is this good now it will be incredible before long.

3. Lego Marvel Super Heroes
The series of Lego games may have little technical flaws that are annoying beyond belief, but each game continuously gets better and better to a point where the release of "Lego Marvel Super Heroes" resulted in a game that was just as fun as the stellar "Lego Batman 2", but had my favorite Marvel characters and fixed what was arguably the biggest flaw in the Batman game, horrible flying controls. While these games may at times run jokes into the ground, or have those aforementioned flaws, they are just so fun to play by yourself or with a friend that you can excuse any faults thanks to the great time you have.

2. The Last of Us
This game is one of the most brutal, violent, and depressing stories you'll ever play. It also is touching, human, and thoughtful. The relationship between Joel and Ellie is so well portrayed and "real" in its feeling that you grow to care about these characters as if they were your closet friends. By the time you reach the end of the game and the credits roll you will sit there is disbelief at the quality of storytelling and game-play you just experienced. This would be my game of the year easily were it not for...

1. Grand Theft Auto V
What's that you say? I made the "commercial" choice? I picked the game that has some serious issues with sexism? I should have said something less a favorite of "mainstream" gamers that for some reason so-called "hardcore" gamers loathe? Is that what you're saying? I ask because I can't hear you over all the fun I'm having while you bitch and moan about how GTA V isn't that great, when you know full well it is.

Yes, the game has flaws in its storytelling due to the fact you don't really like the main characters, and perhaps sometimes things feel a bit bloated with all the activities (and only some of them being fun), but my God this game is a masterpiece in so many ways that those concerns fall to wayside easily. This game is a living, breathing world full of characters who all seem to have their own lives and stories. This is a world that is so detailed that if you drive at night without your headlights on other cars will flash their brights at you.
Something so small as that was paid attention to along with something as big as how glorious an explosion is when you detonate some sticky bombs and cars crumble into a mess of fire and billowing smoke.

You could play GTA V and barely bother with the main story, instead wandering around making your own adventures. The online component may be a flawed mess right now, but it was advertised as basically being like its own game, so you can't really judge it in the context of GTA V so much as its own entity (which is good as GTA Online is pretty toxic).

"Grand Theft Auto V" is a technical marvel with some great game-play and a quality (if indeed flawed) story and yes, "GTA V" may be a commercial choice, it might be too "Hollywood" for some with its billion-plus in money made, and it might be trying too hard to seem like its making a statement with its story when it really isn't, but this game is just amazing despite any issues. That's why "Grand Theft Auto V" is my top game of 2013.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Saga"--The Best Comic-Book Series of 2013

"Saga" is an amazing comic. Yeah, I know, I'm not rocking any boats making that statement. Seriously, who would argue "Saga" isn't the bomb-diggity? Issue #9 was the first issue of "Saga" to come out in 2013 and then after the 12th issue we had another painful break-period (which it seems will be happening after every arc so as to allow each issue within said arcs to come out on time) before the series resumed again and continued being superb.

Also, issue #12 has what must be the cutest alien ever.
"Saga" is many things. It is a space-opera, a love story, a tale full of humor yet also heartbreak, and most importantly it is a damn good comic book. Brian K. Vaughn is one of the best writers around, and his getting relatively-newer talent Fiona Staples to illustrate this book takes an already great comic to an unfathomable levels of awesomeness. Between Vaughn's alien worlds and Staples incredible depictions of otherworldly creatures and traditions, "Saga" is just as much about fascinating characters as it is an incredible world.

When Vaughn has worked within the constraints of familiar universes he has made delightful works but has also been somewhat limited. Yeah, "Runaways" was awesome, but because it took place in the Marvel Universe he only had so much freedom, and when he finished the book other writers took on the characters in their own comics to varying degrees of success and failure. With his works that are solely controlled by him and the rest of the creative team such as "Ex Machnia" (which I've also adored) however, you get unparalleled creativity. Aliens with televisions for heads, space-ships that are also trees, magic spells powered by secrets, these are just a few examples of the amazing ideas we witness within "Saga" with incredible art to match the tale.
"This haunted skull is eating my brain" has to be one of my favorite lines ever.
At the end of 2012 "Saga" found itself on plenty "Best-of" lists, having started so strongly. I feel it is a testament to the quality of the book that it continues to be brimming with quality and impressing readers with its world and characters. Many books start strong but then peter out, but "Saga" has been continuously marvelous. Honestly, this book is so good in the process of writing this article I have had to look up synonyms for saying something was splendid so that I wouldn't just keep saying, "This book is awesome," a hundred times. The fact I needed to look up more words to express the quality of this book should be enough proof that Saga is worth reading. It isn't even too far along, you can pick up the first two trades, a number of single-issues and you will be all caught up with this majestic series.

The enjoyment and wonder I feel when reading every issue of Saga makes this easily my favorite series of 2013, and one you should read too. I just want to thank Brian K. Vaughn, Fiona Staples, and Image comics for putting out such a resplendent work. And yes, I did find the word "resplendent" when I was searching for synonyms.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I want to wish all of you who celebrate it a Merry Christmas! I haven't been posting as much lately as this time of year can just be so hectic. I've got some things in the pipeline to post up though so I hope for January to be a productive month of posts to entertain and educate you...or at least provide a momentary distraction from the cold.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Super Graphic Is The Best Book Combining Superheroes and Graphs Ever

I enjoy reading interesting-looking charts and graphs full of information. I also am of course a big fan of comics. Therefore, a book like "Super Graphic" seems almost as if it happened to made just for me.

Within the pages of this book Tim Leong breaks down not just comics with super-heroes, but also discusses topics as varied as the alliteration in the names of Archie comics characters or the lifespans of characters in "The Walking Dead" comic. Don't get me wrong though, plenty/most time is spent discussing superheroes and illustrating fun facts about them in all kinds of ways. A lot of people on the internet may know the venn diagram showing some key similarities between heroes, to give on example of a stellar piece of art/data:
That is just one example of many great pieces and it is hard to describe the book as so much of it is visual and it would be wrong to just post a bunch of graphs and ruin the surprise and joy you feel when seeing something as snazzy as a chart breaking down the assumed politics of super-heroes and villains...
...or other awesome things. Basically, the best thing I can do is to tell you that getting this book is a great idea, as if you enjoy comics (or even if you don't but like cool and funny facts) this is just a stellar read. Seriously, I don't know if its because I like random information or what, but I love this book, and you probably will too!
5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Kill Your Idols AKA Let's Be Real About The Comic-Book Industry For A Minute

The Truth, A Hard Pill To Swallow
Lately I feel I've been too nice, whether that is because I've mainly reviewed things I liked, haven't had the time to read shoddy comics, or have cut said crappy comics from my pull-lists to save money. That said, I have had some thoughts swirling around in the my head that seem to be primarily negative and I should just be honest and get them out there, as that has always been my goal. Even if it means "Killing my idols" AKA bringing even those in comic's I love the work of down a peg, I shall now get real about comics. Now then, let's begin giving folk some of the reality they need!

I figured we would lead off with someone who really needs a dose of reality and that would be DC. The company seems to have a gift for pulling off stupid stunts at a such a rate that the website, "hasdcdonesomethingstupidtoday.com" is an actual thing, with the counter being reset at an alarming rate. Whether it is creator mistreatment and interference (See: All the people who have quit books), ill-thought out press campaigns (Example: "Draw Harley Quinn trying to kill herself, and have her be naked too for good measure!"), or just general stupidity (Too many things to make a link to), DC has often been behaving in a way best described as insane.

Their business strategy seems to be them asking, "Will this make us money/garner press attention/get more readers right away?" and if the answer is, "No," them then trying to drastically change things even if a little patience could help bring in more money/readers/press (at least press that isn't horribly negative). DC is doing well economically right now, but it seems to almost be more despite their actions in running their business than because of them.

Compared to DC, Marvel is a happy haven for creators who want a little more artistic and creative freedom. The company is far from perfect though, as I am not the only one getting sick of all these re-launches of comics that make zero sense. "Wolverine and the X-Men" is being re-launched despite little changes to the comic, the main "Wolverine" comic is barely nearing double-digits and will be "coming back" with a new first issue despite having the same writer, following basically the same plot he already had going.

Those are just the X-Men related books, as all the Avenger's comics are a huge mess of random titles too. Oh, and is it just me or does all this, "Inhumanity" business really remind folk of "Earth X" with a strikingly similar plot of the population turning into "Inhumans" with some of the only big differences being not everyone is transforming and this is taking place in the modern day?

Image Comics
You guys are actually in a new golden age of success, basically. You are seeming to be pumping out a lot of new comics in the hopes that one becomes the next "Walking Dead" however. Maybe slow down on that.

Independent Comics
I love the smaller publishers, they put out some amazing things. That makes it all the more sad that you have some entities dying due to poor business, or others such as a relatively-bigger publisher like Fantagraphics turning to Kickstarter in order to assure survival in this rocky market. It is just unfair that the big companies can put out the umpteenth "Justice League" or "Avengers" book and make a ton of money while some people who are putting out stuff that is just as good (or better) in quality face an uphill battle to stay in existence.

Alan Moore
Alan, I love your comics, buddy, and I agree you get screwed-over way too often ("Before Watchmen", anyone?), but if you are going to come off like a really cranky old man in all your interviews you're going to find people are less-then-sympathetic to you. Maybe just shut up and let your work speak for you, as it is some amazingly good work.

Frank Miller
Again, I love your comics (or most of them) too, but you come off as a crazy-person with the Islamophobia and such. You seem to have a been a bit better about keeping your mouth shut lately though, so I'll give you credit for that.

All The "Forgotten" Creators
I'm not mad at you guys, I'm mad at the companies who let you make such amazing works for them and then promptly forgot you once you are in need. Too many men and women have died in poverty despite creating comic characters that bring in absurd amounts of money because they didn't get any intellectual ownership over their creations and the big companies such as DC and Marvel could care less when their health takes a turn for a worse or they need help due to the general issues of getting older. It is disgusting that people who did so much get so little as thanks.

Sexual Harassment in Comics
This one has got me especially mad. At first people seemed to at least be talking about sexual harassment in the comic-book industry after some unsavory facts started to come out about creators such as Brian Wood. It seems people already are starting to forget/not care about how rampant sexism and harassment can be in comic-books and the issue is just going away. It basically makes the new joke-article on the The Comic's Journal by the ever-awesome Tucker Stone and Abhay Khosla seem far too true in its, "How to break into comics and still be a huge creep" theme.

I guess we as a comic-reading population really are going to just quietly push this issue under the rug as if it were some dust we'd rather not have to sweep up and try to clean the industry of. It makes me really sad, and even more mad that just as with almost any other controversy in comics this is going to slowly go away, as the fans would rather be able to keep reading their fun stories and pretend that a lot of unsavory stuff isn't going on than face the uncomfortable truth that things are messed up.

The Comic-Book Industry Overall Is a Dysfunctional Mess
It seems for every amazing comic or great idea we have 3 times more stuff that is boring, derivative, or otherwise not worth reading--but that is nothing new. The mainstream companies are behaving in a matter more erratic than a drug-addict coming down, the more independent labels continue to be ignored by much of the population, and sexual harassment occurs in comics and we turn a blind-eye. Some of the best creators have now been reduced to cranky old men by an industry that screwed them over, or are dying penniless because creators of characters who generate millions of dollars can barely scrape-by due to being ignored by the companies they helped make so successful with their stories. If this doesn't describe an industry that is a dysfunctional mess then I don't know what does.

You know what though? Despite all these problems I still love comics, because there are those amazing stories that just leave you bewildered and amazed. Some companies are treating creators right, sexual harassment at least was talked about and maybe, just maybe some impact will be had in stopping it. I may be striking some of the idols down right now, but I don't want them to be having problems. I want the big companies to get their act together, the small ones to thrive, creators to be happy and not abused sexually or financially. I want all this and truly hope for positive things. I just also know that in reality a lot of stuff is seriously messed up, and won't be getting much better anytime soon. How's that for a bummer of a closing thought?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Comic Review: "The End of the F****ing World"

While I edited the title slightly in the subject-line for those with delicate sensibilities, this book is in fact called, "The End of the Fucking World" or "TEOTFW" for short. Originally released as a series of micro-comics through writer/artist Charles Forsman's "Oily Comix" mini-publishing line, I picked up the book which collects all the segments and was recently published by Fantagraphics. This is best described as a twisted, "coming of age tale," that focuses primarily on a young boy who is a borderline (if not complete) sociopath named James, and his girlfriend who desperately wants to understand him, Alyssa. Two youth mad at the world going around America, what could go wrong?

 This is an interesting story with 16 parts, half of which are from James point of view, and another half are narrated by Alyssa. "TEOTFW" shows James and Alyssa going on a road-trip of sorts in an effort to both help James get away from his horrendous father and to help Alyssa potentially find her estranged one. Along the way various people are met, some surprisingly nice but most out to hurt or take advantage of our young couple.
 James clearly is very disturbed in his descriptions of how from a young age he started killing animals, and almost had the urge to kill Alyssa but instead, "Tried to let her in," showing that  at least maybe he isn't all bad. Alyssa is an interesting person too but doesn't seem to get as fleshed out during the story, instead being relegated more to a supporting-character role despite having half the book take place from her point of view. Things start to get more dangerous and violent when James and Alyssa by chance encounter a married couple who are in fact full-blown sociopaths. In my desire to not spoil too much I will merely say that from there things escalate quickly and don't necessarily end well for everyone.

Despite the story being quite dark, the art often has a nice light and clean feel. Forsman draws in a minimalist style where every line and dab of ink seem purposeful and never overstated. The often carefully-constructed geometric panels that make up the pages cause the comic to often feel like one of those daily strips you could find in the newspaper--albeit a very tragic one. Despite almost sometimes seeming a little too cute, in the end it works wonderfully for the story.
"TEOTFW" is a comic that is equal parts interesting and sad. As a portrait of disaffected youth and what it might be like to be (or fall in love with) a sociopath it is superb, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in a dark and engrossing story with intriguing art.
4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

There Still Are Video Stores--Despite Notable Closings, They Persist

The Swan Song of Video Rental Stores Hasn't Quite Started
It may be because I'm the perfect age to be someone who grew up in the golden era of video-rental stores, but I've always had a soft spot for the ol' rental shop where you could get the latest flick on a hopefully-rewound VHS tape (and later on a hopefully unscratched DVD) and grab a copy of the hot new game for your game console. Funnily enough, Blockbuster was probably my least favorite rental place of all the chains or independent stores I would go to. Therefore, I didn't feel too sad for the chain when I heard it was shutting down (although I do feel sympathy for the employees who worked there and had to follow the increasingly confusing rental schemes before now unceremoniously being laid-off), but it did get me nostalgic about video-stores and happy about the ones who do still exist.

Depending on where I lived there were the local stores, and in places those weren't available I would frequent chains that seemed to do a good job, such as Hollywood Video, which I primarily liked because some locations had really nice and attentive staff--plus when they started doing those connected "Game Crazy" stores that was fun too. The Hollywood Video's went of business some time ago however, and now so has Blockbuster, two giants are gone. This raises a question, who is left? Well, if you're willing to look a little bit you can see some stores not only doing well but actually thriving, surprisingly enough.

The Last "Big Guy"
Probably the biggest "chain" of video-rental stores to still be around is "Family Video". A store opened in an area I once lived shortly before the Hollywood Video shut down, and when it did I shifted my business fully over to Family Video. One of their stores is kind of like Blockbuster if Blockbuster hadn't sucked as much. Better rental fees on games and movies, the employees (in general) are more helpful and eager to recommend items to view/play, and on a personal note, I prefer the green and orange colors for Family Videos' logo and store-design instead of Blockbuster's sickly Yellow and Blue that seemed to clash more than compliment.

Another reason I like Family Video is they don't try to impose some puritanical viewpoint like Blockbuster and some other chains have in the past, with their refusal to stock NC-17 or Unrated movies. As someone who likes artistic freedom I appreciate that Family Video (at least the ones I've been to) will stock movies like that, allowing people to enjoy an NC-17 movie such as "Showgirls" in all its awesomely horrible glory. From what I've read Family Video seems to be doing better than ever, probably thanks to careful expansion in areas that may not have as much fast internet, or by knowing that instead of trying to fight entities such as Netflix and Redbox they need to just work at being better, e.g. having great employees, more obscure titles that Netflix may not have, etc.

Some Remaining "Little Guys"
Even though when chains such as Blockbuster came about they hurt the fabled "independent video store" some do still exist. By being in good locations, such as "9th St. Video" which is well-positioned by the University of Columbia in (where else?) Columbia, Missouri, or through catering to niche crowds such as folk who are big fans of independent and cult movies, which is what is done by "Video Americain" in Balitmore, Maryland (and plenty of other stores, like "Vulcan Video" in Austin, Texas), stores can continue on. There are other examples of places that found a way to keep being popular, like how "Movie Madness" in Portland Oregon also has a movie memorabilia museum.

Vintage Stock has an assortment of names
Plus, there are those stores that aren't meant to be "just" rental places, but do rent movies and games. Out here in the Mid-West  and further South there is a chain of stores called, "Vintage Stock"/"V-Stock" which sells everything from movies, to games, books, comics, trading cards, etc. Someone can create a rental account with them and then the rent movies or games, just like at a video-rental store, but its like one that also happens to have a ton of other stuff for sale.

It's Not The End...Yet
As can be seen, there are still video-stores doing pretty well despite the rise of Netflix and Redbox. There is struggling, and who knows how long these remaining entities will persist, but for now that part of me which treasured going down to the video-store doesn't have to go away just yet.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Comics, Sexual Harassment, and Brian Wood

If you've been following the latest big news out of comics you know that the past couple of weeks have had some time spent on the issue that depending on who you choose to believe, Brian Wood is either a little scuzzy and inappropriate, or a huge jerk who preys on women who want to get into comics. Confused by what I'm talking about? Let's rewind a bit to make things more clear for some of you.

Tess Fowler is someone in the comic's industry who in the past discussed how a certain creator had expressed interest in her work at a convention and invited her up to his room to discuss it "in private". When she turned him down he belittled her, insulted her work, and basically did a whole spiel of, "You realize who I am and how this impacts you chances in this industry, right?" The name of this man was never given, so there were whispers about whom it could be, but little came of it.
Tess Fowler
Then, recently after she had been contacted by other people who had suffered harassment from the mystery man, Fowler decided she would name names and said that this previously-discussed jerk was Brian Wood of all people. Yeah, the man who is generally known for being progressive about women, and is even writing the mostly-female "X-Men" book. Part of the reason Fowler spoke up apparently was that she was sick of Wood being portrayed as some sort of feminist while she kept receiving emails from other women whom he had taken advantage of, making him anything but progressive and "for women". The weirdest and most interesting part of all this is how Wood responded, namely he kind of admitted to some impropriety.

Brian Wood, when confronted with these accusations said he never tried to abuse any power he could have had (or didn't have yet back in those days) but did in fact, "Make a pass," at Tess Fowler, which he said was rejected and then that was the end of the issue. There was no pressuring of her to sleep with him in exchange for getting work, he didn't threaten her career, he just came onto her at a convention. First off, I'm glad Wood is at least owning up to misbehavior, but I'm not the only person who thinks he still comes off a little gross as one of those guys trying pick-up girls at conventions by doing the whole, "Yeah, I write comics," bit and exercising whatever power he may have, which to many women (or men) would mean little to get you excited, but there are people struggling to make it in the industry who don't deserve to be put in a place of feeling pressured to have sex with someone in order to get their work noticed. Being "somebody" in a career field trying to take advantage of another person who in your eyes is a "nobody" is textbook sexual harassment.

Brian Wood
Many feel it is good that this is at least being talked about now, the issue of sexual harassment in the comic book industry. A lot of folk are wondering why it took so long. In a sense, the comic's industry is starting to grow up, albeit painfully and kicking and screaming along the way as some comic-readers of course try victim-blaming and other tactics to make Fowler look bad.

It is just so strange that someone who is known for writing strong female characters (look at the stellar recent comic "Mara" for an example) may very well also be kind of a sleaze toward women. Still, I don't think trying to pin all the problems of sexual harassment in the comic-book industry on Brian Wood is a fair thing to do, as there are undoubtedly plenty of men in the industry (and possibly some of the few women) who have tried to use their power to coerce people to do certain things, sexual or whatever else. I feel that people working in any job field should be able to feel safe and secure, not as if their boss or someone else could harass them at any moment with inappropriate comments, behaviors, or such.

I have enjoyed much of Brian Wood's work I've read, but now think I look at it in a bit of a different light, having been made aware that the man may not behave in the most appropriate manner toward the opposite sex. It saddens me that might be the case, and I also wonder who else out there in the comic's industry may be less saintly than we think.

In the end, we just need to be better as a society, toward all sexes, genders, colors, beliefs, ability-levels, etc. I just wonder why that is so hard for us to do much of the time.

Warren Ellis is Writing Moon Knight AKA Some of the Best News Ever

In what sounded like news tailored specifically to appeal to my interests, one of my favorite writers, Warren Ellis, is going to be writing a comic about one of my favorite characters, Moon Knight. This news made me scream, "Dear God Yes!" when I first read it and roll around on the floor in a state of pure ecstasy. Then I saw the quite talented Declan Shalvey was doing the art and I rolled around with joy a little more.

Considering how I'll buy basically anything Moon Knight-related, and I love almost all of Warren Ellis' works, this is clearly a comic I want, no matter how much more strict I have become about my comic-purchases. I'm maybe getting my hopes up, but I bet that an Ellis-written Moon Knight is going to be something incredible. Plus, Ellis has written the character before, he did a a few issues of "Secret Avengers" a awhile ago and Moon Knight was on that team and therefore popped up in some of them. It was pretty cool stuff.
Ellis has penned stories with Moon Knight in them before.
In closing, Warren Ellis and Moon Knight, I'm excited beyond all belief!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

So...Did the Free Comic Book Day Mini-Event for Halloween Make Much of an Impact At All?

Alright, did anyone really do anything for this supposed "Halloween ComicFest"?
We are all the way here in mid-November and I have quite the back-log of comics due to life being busy. I was looking at some stuff I needed to read and noticed a few of those free comics that came out to sort of tie-in with Halloween, and it led to my above question. I don't blame you if you have little idea what I'm talking about, because even though Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) is a big deal on the first Saturday in May every year, this whole October-free-comics-business seems to gets minimal acknowledgement.

I was thinking about the Halloween ComicFest that happened now, and how it barely made an impact. I mean seriously, this year folk were still talking about FCBD a month after it had happened. They were thinking of all the fun stuff their stores had done, had finally finished the immense stack of free comics they picked up--and were already making plans for next year. Meanwhile, in late October my local comic shops just sort of put these freebies out one day. Folk who stopped in to pick up comics or browse grabed a few and it was quiet. There was no huge line in the morning, cosplay was nonexistent, nary a fun contest, it was just another regular day everywhere.
There were some fun comics, but did anyone notice?
It is kind of a shame because I could see this Halloween-comic stuff potentially resulting in a big event. You could have a big comic-store Halloween party with all the costumes, scary-treats, and free comics--it would be quite fun. Instead, we just sort of had a few interesting and fun free comics come out that happened to be free. It all seems like a missed opportunity.

Am I wrong about all this? Did someone's store do a big event? Please do tell me in the comments if there were places that took advantage of the chance to have a big celebration or such.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Film Friday (Despite it Being Saturday)--Thor: The Dark World & The Potential Troubles of a Marvel Cinematic Universe Made Too Big

I saw "Thor: The Dark World" last night and will share a few thoughts on it in a spoiler-ific manner so as to tell you why I enjoyed certain parts and disliked others to result in an overall quite solid whole. Plus, through revealing a few elements I can discuss a worry growing within me that I used to only hear the occasional mention of, but which is now becoming quite the topic du jour. Namely, can the Marvel Cinematic Universe get so big and overly complex that it becomes as impenetrable to casual-watchers as many super-hero comics are to a non-reader?

The Danger of "Too Much"
By now if you follow comics and/or entertainment news much you have probably heard about Marvel's big deal with Netflix to produce a variety of shows that will be interconnected to the point they all lead into a "Defenders" program. This sounds exciting, but as "The Guardian" points out, couldn't this result in a bunch of shows where unless you watch every program, the resulting whole will be confusing? Arguably one of the best aspects of the "Avengers" movie was that you didn't really have to have seen any of the other Marvel features that led up to it in order to enjoy the flick. Sure, it helped to have watched "Thor" or one of the "Iron Man" movies, but if you saw those and nothing else you could easily deduce that Captain America had just recently come into the present, or that Bruce Banner/The Hulk was a genius struggling with his inner-rage (Hell, you really didn't need to see "The Incredible Hulk" at all, with it possibly making a viewer more confused due to the casting switch from the decent Edward Norton to the superb Mark Ruffalo). Will that be the case with these Netflix shows however?
Netflix, about to potentially make a lot more money thanks to Marvel
I'm going to give you an example to prove a point. Okay if someone were to not be interested in Luke Cage (which is crazy, but bear with me for the sake of an example), but enjoy watching a show about Jessica Jones, would they still be able to enjoy the resulting "Defenders" program even if they just "tuned in" to some of the characters' original programs? This leads to the even bigger question of if people will be able to enjoy the upcoming Marvel movies even if they have only viewed some of them. Should someone only go to "Iron Man 3" and the upcoming "Captain America: the Winter Soldier" will they still be able to follow 2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron"? This is especially something to consider what with the big surprise at the end of Thor being--this is your last chance to avoid spoilers--the appearance of Infinity Gems/Stones, which makes it clear how important that original stinger with Thanos at the end of the first "Avengers" movie was, as I would bet a fair amount of money we are building toward some sort of "Infinity Gauntlet" type story in an inevitable "Avengers 3", which I talked about earlier today.

A movie such as this potential "Avengers 3" could incorporate all of these current films from Marvel's "Phase 2" and anyone new introduced between the 2nd Avengers flick and the 3rd (Marvel's "Phase 3"), or maybe even work in those Netflix characters. By now I bet you see just how intricate this could all get, and the potential for what at first was quite snazzy--a connected Universe--becoming an unbearably bloated and dense. In the nightmare scenario it gets to the point your average Joe and Jane throw their arms up in exasperation before even the 2nd "Avengers" film and declare, "Forget this, I'm just going to go re-watch those Christopher Nolan "Batman" movies!  At least those are just three movies instead of eleven (seriously, as of "Avengers: Age of Ultron" there will be a total of 11 connected Marvel flicks)."
Will people still be interested by this film? Probably.
I and some other folk out there could be worrying over nothing. For all we know, Marvel may be well aware of this risk and take great pains to make sure you can still enjoy  the tent-poles of their franchise like the "Avengers"-type movies without seeing anything else. There is that current "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." show and that seems to have not impacted the Marvel movies that much, other than obviously tying-in with various plot threads (working in Extremis, for example, or an episode that apparently involves the aftermath of this new Thor movie, and so forth). Maybe the Netflix programs will be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but not overly involved with a lot of the films, linking into them in subtle ways that make complete-viewing rewarding, but not essentially to enjoying the films--just as you didn't have to see "Thor" to like "Avengers" but it was a great way to really understand Loki's reasons for how he behaved. How was "Thor: The Dark World" itself, though? As I said, mostly enjoyable to a point I would recommend it.

The Movie
"Thor: The Dark World" starts out a brisk pace but does slow down a bit toward the middle before coming to a rousing close and a great mid-credits teaser. As with the previous "Thor" movie and much of the "Avengers" film, Loki generally steals the show and makes it quite apparent that without him and Tom Hiddleston's superb portrayal of the trickster that Marvel movies would be less awesome. Quite honestly, the apparent big-villain of the movie, the Dark Elf Malekith, is just sort of there to be the evil-someone Thor and Loki must put aside their differences to fight. There is not much of interest to the character other than, "He's a bad guy," and really if this film does anything right with Malekith it is that through not having him be all that neat Loki and his relationship with Thor is all the more interesting and integral.
"Thor, you aren't jealous I that I basically make this movie, are you?"
The major cast-members of the original Thor movie are all here, doing their usual quality job, although it still feels like an actor as established as Anthony Hopkins should have more to do than stand around and alternatively yell at or compliment Thor. Also, the potential romantic-rivalry between Sif and Jane Foster is hinted at but never really explored beyond a few jealous glances, which is quite the shame.

One other positive feature to this movie is that it spends a lot more time in Asgard than the first, showing us much of interest in this strange world of futuristic technology/magic and old-fashioned clothing. Between the Dark-Elves Star-Wars-esque space-ships and spears that shoot laser beams, it is an interesting dichotomy.

After all the fighting, explosions, and romance between Thor and Jane, at its heart this is arguably a movie about two brothers who alternatively are at each other's throats or watching the other's back, with their interactions making for some the richest and most interesting scenes. "Thor: The Dark World" may not be perfect with its dull villain and dragging along at certain points, but it without question is great fun and worth seeing for any fans of Marvel films.
4 out of 5 stars.