Tuesday, April 30, 2013

DC is Looking Over-Sensitive Lately

Opening Statements
DC Comics, you are looking kind of like that overly-sensitive person we all know. The kind who gets upset if we question anything they do, or even if we make gentle jokes at their expense. What proof do I have to back up this accusation that DC is being wimpy? Well, let's examine three important facts.

Presentation of The Evidence
The "B & B" logo.
Fact 1: DC stopped doing a segment on Comic Book Resources known as "B & B" where fans could ask questions of the editorial staff. Why did this happen? People asked perfectly reasonable questions that weren't utter softballs and wanted an actual, honest answer. Apparently asking DC to clarify what the hell it was thinking with its recent Orson Scott Card fiasco (which they now have "put on hold" and are basically trying to bury any discussion of) is out of the question, just as is pointing out how famous comic creator Jerry Ordway and his fellow fans feel it is unfair he isn't getting any work from a company he did so much for (helllloo, ageism!).
The Outhousers' Logo
Fact 2: The Outhousers is a website that talks about comics and also parodies the industry. It was told by DC that if they didn't stop making fun of them, they would no longer get access to DC's talent. Basically, they were told, "Shut-up or be shut-out." The Outhousers however, had some editorial integrity and have instead spoken openly about their being blacklisted from doing interviews with DC.

Dan DiDio, out of his "robe".
Fact 3: Dan DiDio walks around the offices of DC naked and insisting he is wearing new robes made of the finest fabrics and decorated with expensive jewels. If anyone calls him out on this they are immediately fired and thrown into a pit where he burns the remains of people who upset him; this is done in order to power the heater that keeps his office warm.

Closing Arguments
Alright, that last fact is not true, but if the trend from the first two facts holds my just stating a joke such as the third "fact" could get me shut-out from DC, it seems. I don't know for sure however as I've never actually interviewed a creator who was actively working for DC. They always were doing independent or Marvel work.

In those past interview situations, while at times my questions were requested to also be sent to Marvel PR people when I did interviews, it seemed that was more to make sure the writers didn't spill the beans on any big announcements or such. I never got the vibe that it was to stifle any questions I had that could be considered "touchy"--I never was told, "I can't answer that question because Marvel will get mad," I would just be informed something like, "I can't answer that right now, but keep an eye out for an announcement." How would things go with DC go, however? Possibly not that great.

The Prosecution Rests
I can say any of my press interactions with Marvel, Image, and whomever have been just peachy, but I wonder what would happen if I wanted to interview someone under a big contract with DC. Readers of this blog know I am not one to pull punches when it comes to saying what I think, and DC is giving off the appearance of not liking that. They are acting like that aforementioned metaphorical acquaintence who becomes outraged if we call them out on their actions or tell a joke about them, no matter how mild.

DC, quit being so wimpy and maybe instead of shirking away from reasonable questions, answer them. The worst that could happen is you come off looking like a jerk...which you kind of already look like now.

Monday, April 29, 2013

This Sucks AKA Comics Alliance Shut Down

Comics Alliance (go to it here while something still exists at the link) was a good site for fans of comic-books...and now it's gone. AOL was the "owner" of the site, as it were, and the company is in the process of shutting down a lot of its properties. As this article discusses, last week a big chunk of "AOL music" was shuttered and now it seems Comics Alliance has suffered an untimely demise.

I really liked Comics Alliance. It had reviews, it had articles, and most importantly in my opinion it wasn't afraid to let its writers say what they felt and stand by it. If contributor David Brothers (also a writer of the excellent 4thletter blog) wanted to say that "Before Watchmen" seemed terrible, they let him. If sexism in the comic-book industry was to be discussed, no punches were pulled. In a world of sites that suck-up to the comic-book industry in hopes of getting an exclusive story about the next big and/or stupid event, Comics Alliance often stood strong and said what needed to be said.

This is sad news and quite frankly sucks. Comics Alliance was by no means some sort of mover-and-shaker that broke the biggest news or shared spicy rumors. It was just a solid site of well thought-out editorials and other fun bits such as links and little galleries of good comic-art from the week. I will miss it, and imagine others will too.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Sheer Utter Madness of the Comic "Change"

When I first read the description for, "Change" in Previews all those months ago, I had no clue it would be four issues of confusing, basically-indecipherable madness. I also did not know despite being horribly confused by the comic that I would like it.

Written by Ales Kot, "Change" features a screenwriter, a rapper, and some other characters who fight weird Lovecraft-style monsters. Also there is a spaceman, hallucinogenic flashbacks, and discussions about life between all the weirdness. Plus, the art and coloring is pretty cool with its shifting styles and otherworldly feel.

I really struggle to describe this comic, and it is annoying that I can't come up with much to say besides, "You should read it." I suppose I can tell you that if you don't like it you will probably hate "Change" as I've seen much negativity as well as positive opinions on the internet. The common complaint is how it doesn't make sense, but I feel like there is an immense density to the comic I'm just missing at times, and which others may have missed too. For example, one small thing I caught is that our rapper, W-2, has an album called "(f)lowers of Algerbong" which is a clever little reference to the book I love titled of course "Flowers for Algernon". That is just one tiny thing I picked up on that may well have gone over countless people's heads--which raises the question of how much in this comic went over my head? Now you see what I mean about the feeling I have of there being a lot of meaning I just might not be grasping.

Whatever the case of how much or how litter I understand of "Change" I do know that I enjoyed it. When the trade comes out before too long it would be worthwhile to at least give it a look and see if you enjoy it too.
Overall rating for all 4 issues of the mini-series: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Discussing Trailers For Upcoming Games That Look Promising.

Coming Out Sooner or Later
As my subject lines says, I thought I would talk about trailers for various upcoming games that make them look promising. Of course, the problem with trailers is that even something which is terrible can appear to be awesome (Hello, "Aliens: Colonial Marines"!), so who knows how good these future titles will be. From the promising footage of both cinematics and game-play however I think we may be in for a treat with these titles. No, there are in no particular order except for the first one which I am in fact most excited about...

Watch Dogs
Last summer I heard about how at an otherwise boring E3 there was a demo for a game that looked incredible. Yes, there was the issue that the graphics looked too good for current consoles (and it has been confirmed this is a next-gen title) but otherwise it was so glorious. You watched the tricks the main character did with his cell-phone and went, "How did he do that? How can that be possible in a game?" something I hadn't asked about a title in some time. I now present that debut trailer to you in all its glory:
 Yeah, that looks pretty awesome, doesn't it? There is a 2nd trailer you can find here, but for my money that first one was just plain amazing. I am so excited for this game and if it is as good as it looks it may be the main reason I buy a next-gen console earlier on instead of waiting the safe year-or-so for all the kinks to be fixed in the machines. The release date is a tentative Fall 2013.

Battlefield 4
I enjoyed the third game in the series even if single-player was quite mediocre -actually, let's be honest and just call it bad. With the fourth entry in the series, however, it seems the goal is to make that single-player experience something memorable. I now present to you the 17-minute trailer of what is apparently game-play. I know that sounds like a long time but it goes by pretty quick in this action-packed mini-movie:

If the actual game can live up to that, and deliver some awesome multi-player we may have us a dynamite game on our hands. I've heard release dates as vague as Fall 2013 and as specific as October 25th, 2013.

Beyond: Two Souls
There are a lot of videos of this title floating around, but let's view that first suspenseful trailer:

 Pretty snazzy, wouldn't you say? I recognized developer Quantic Dream's last title "Heavy Rain" as the best game of the year in the early days of my blog, and I stand by that decision completely. David Cage and company look to be making something just as unique and fun with this game. I look forward to October 8th, 2013 to play it.

The Last of Us
Naughty Dog has an interesting history. They did Crash Bandicoot, did those Jak and Daxter games, and then suddenly leap into realistic(ish) stories with those Uncharted games. Now they are going all sci-fi with this title, which is a zombie game without zombies...in the sense that it is a fungus causing all the trouble. Here is a trailer breaking-down some of the story:

I am intrigued by the premise. We will find out if it is a good game on June 14th, 2013.

Grand Theft Auto 5
Come on, was there any doubt I would at least be a little pumped-up for this? Now to view the 2nd trailer which introduced us to the main cast.
This game will probably sell more copies than anyone could imagine. I would bet it will be pretty good too. Expect it on shelves September 17th, 2013.

Remember Me
This game has slowly been gathering more and more press. Even if the rest of the game isn't that great, the memory-remixing bits should at least be a ball. To illustrate that I have a video of the "memory remixing" at work:
Very cool. It is out June 4th, 2013.

A Potentially Great Year for Gaming
All of these titles should be out in 2013 if their current release dates hold. This makes me think that we might be in for quite an enjoyable year of gaming even if only half of these six games deliver on their seemingly vast potential for fun and deep story-telling. We will know what is good before too long.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Problem With Tyler Perry

The problem with Tyler Perry is not that his work itself is popular, after all people like what they like. The problem is people don't call him out on the many offensive views he expresses in his work for a variety of reasons. Let's back-up though and discuss how I came to form my opinion of Tyler Perry and why it seems so many people are afraid to criticize him.

It started when I was reading an article on the AV Club about Tyler Perry that got me thinking. I write about race sometimes on the blog, be it race in comic-books or other forms of media. Perhaps it is my interest in equality and fairness that makes me have a big interest in racial matters--with my being involved in multicultural life starting back in college--where I was introduced to the works of Tyler Perry.

With Tyler Perry so much of his work has felt like biblical moralizing disguised as entertainment--sort of a "Veggie Tales" for grown-ups. I first developed this opinion when I was at college and a friend of mine from South Africa described how while she felt her country's independent black-cinema and plays were superior to anything put out by America, she made a exception for Tyler Perry's work, considering it golden--and yes, she was pretty religious. This friend would always be eager to watch a DVD of one of Tyler Perry's plays--before his stuff was made into movies there would be DVDs of the plays themselves, you see. Through this friend I saw a variety of Perry's plays but can't recall which ones were which as they all sort of start to blend together plot-wise after awhile (I have a funny clip on that in a minute). I know I saw, "Madea goes to Jail," because of how the character Madea...went to jail. Otherwise I just remember certain catchphrases such as, "Click-click, lock-down " which is said by a young girl in one of the plays who knows to tell boys abstinence is best (although she ends up pregnant anyways).
Few works have had titles that sum up the project so easily. Perhaps "Death of a Salesman" and "Jurassic Park" could count too.
Some critics of Tyler Perry's work have more issues with how his movies/plays/etc. seem to be melodramatic, and have tonal changes so rapid within the same scene that a person can go from laughing to utterly depressed in the span of a few seconds. I read comic books though, and most of the time you can't find anything more dramatic than brightly-costumed characters spouting outlandish dialogue and pummeling each other, so I don't fault Perry for going a little heavy on the drama. I have never liked Madea though because she strikes me as a walking racial caricature with the "Loud and Sassy Old Black Lady" persona. It is just like a minstrel show came to life but black audiences aren't offended because it is done with some kind of hinted-at self-awareness (which Spike Lee made a statement about much more effectively with "Bamboozled").

As the AV Club article points out however, white critics are afraid to take Perry due to a fear of possible accusations of, "Not getting it," or even being racist. I'm white and have seen enough of Perry's work that I think I get his general message, and I'm not a racist, so I have little fear of having those accusations put toward me as other white reviewers apparently have. Hell, even black folk who have dared to critize Tyler Perry have felt his wrath. Anyone remember when the Boondocks mocked Perry in every way besides outright saying his name? Besides the fact the show summarized his general plot-lines with amazing succinctness:

 It also raised some eyebrows for questioning Perry's sexuality. Frankly I don't care if Tyler Perry is gay, straight, bi-sexual, or something else, because I'm too busy being concerned about the messages his works themselves have.

"For Colored Girls" was a film written, produced, and directed by Perry that adapted the stage-play, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf." I have not read the script to the play or seen it so I cannot comment on if it imparted the same message as the movie, but basically I felt that throughout the film Perry was saying, "Hey, black women, almost all black men are terrible people who will rape you, murder your children, cheat on you (with another man and thereby give you AIDS), and otherwise cause you to be miserable!"

Seriously, between the husband who throws he and his wife's children out the window to the man who assaults the woman he is on a 2nd date with whilst she cooks them dinner, the general message of this movie is that men, and black men in particular, are not nice. Perry is by no means pro-woman however. As I and the AV Club think, his works come off as quite anti-feminist, with the main female characters just needing "the right man" to counter the evil one they were with first--and of course it is a religious man too.

"Wait. My character cheats on his wife with another man and automatically is 'punished' with HIV? That is offensive on multiple levels."
As I said, Perry seems to use the same plots with the same uncomfortable subtexts of how all you need is Jesus and a spouse who loves (and fears) Jesus and things will be fine. Perhaps it is because I'm not all that religious that Perry's themes of religiosity bother me. Maybe it is because I am pro-women's rights that Perry's, "Be submissive to your man," tone in his works irritates me. It could be the way Madea basically comes off as a racial caricature that bugs me. It could be and probably is all of these factors together.

As I said, the problem with Tyler Perry is not so much that his works exist and are popular--people can enjoy whatever they want--it is that people seem afraid to point out the unpleasant messages of his works, instead complaining about the aforementioned overwrought drama and messy plotting. Perhaps as more people of any color and creed realize it is okay to criticize Perry people will have discussions about his work, its positives and noted negatives. Just start talking, folk, that's all you have to do.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Straw Man" a Fun Independent Comic--A Review

While I was at Wizard World Saint Louis I met David Branstetter and picked up a copy of the tenth issue of "Straw Man". I'm glad I did because I had quite the fun time reading this.

While various other independent comic artist get a section in this comic to show off their skills with various stories that sometimes do and sometimes don't relate to Straw Man, this issue is at its best when showing the "adventures" of our hero himself. I always have a soft-spot for heroes who suck at being heroes, and boy is Strawman an example of that. He's a hero who looks like a straw and  whom has no powers--which can be fine, Batman doesn't really have powers--but he also is just such a sad-sack. He's unemployed, his friends would rather he weren't around, and children insult him in the street. Straw Man is basically hated by everybody and does little more than mope around.

This may sound  depressing, but it actually is pretty funny. Branstetter gives Straw Man just the right amount of snark to make him not wholly pitiful, but also quite humorous. Straw Man knows people laugh at him, and he just brushes it off and doesn't care--well, he does care, but makes sure not to let it show. Plus the art is pretty good, which is a nice plus as sometime independent comics suffer from really bad art. Straw Man is both absurd-looking and carries a clear sadness behind his evocative eyes (the eyes do much emoting as he doesn't have a "mouth" per-se).

As I mentioned earlier, this issue has segments featuring other independent comic-makers to break up the bits with Straw Man. Some names are more recognizable than others (Tom Scioli of "American Barabarian" is growing in popularity quite fast) but those parts of the comic don't grab my attention as much as the main Straw Man bits. Still for $3.99 you do get a lot of content, so that's snazzy.

"Straw Man #10" is a comic I liked quite a bit. Whether it is my fondness for pitiful super-heroes or the dark humor is seeing Straw Man just keep losing this is just a good time. I would encourage anyone who likes jokes in their comics to read this along with anybody who enjoys super-heroes but wants something a bit quirkier.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
Go here to buy an issue of Straw Man.
Go here for David Branstetter's official website for his graphic-design company.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Is Drake Finally Growing Into His Potential?

Let me tell you a true story
I once heard how a college near where I lived would be having a concert with Drake. I didn't care...until I was told that the opening act for him was Clipse. Now, I love me some Malice and Pusha T so you know I got those tickets. I went to the show, and to my utmost disappointment Clipse was unable to be the opening act that night and they substituted some dull rapper as the opening. Then Drake came out, did some of his songs that never really impressed me and I left halfway through the concert so I could get to a nearby Barnes and Noble I liked before it closed--and so I could beat any traffic. Clearly, I haven't had the most positive feelings about Drake. I don't hate him--I've just lacked any sensation of caring about his music.

I've followed Drake with a mild curiousity, noticing on songs how he will occasionally show a hint of talent with a clever verse or two. I just haven't found him to be that good though. He often has a weird monotone voice, doesn't have lyrics that usually seem especially deep, and basically comes off as quite mediocre. Then he released, "Started From The Bottom."

Intriguingly Deep
"Started From The Bottom," is a Drake that I've only ever seen glimpses of until now. It's introspective, but self-aware in its navel-gazing in a way that benefits the song. It is in a way a song about bragging, how Drake is now on top, but it has some sadness, pointing out it all started out at the bottom. The first verse is in my opinion the strongest, telling a story of arguments with his mother, working all night only to be bothered by his Uncle for borrowing the car--it paints a picture in the way my favorite rap artists are able to with their lyrics.

The music video carries its bits of depression and self-deprecation too, with Drake working at a drugstore and getting all excited at being promoted to Night Manager. The video morphs into a bit of the cliche rap video with smoke being blown, girls dancing, and drinks being downed, but it feels like it is doing that in the interest of showing a stark contrast to the past. We see a Drake who is just ecstatic that this life of luxury is possible and all his friends ("My whole team") can share in his happiness. He's wearing all his chains now, and its good.

There still is that hint of melancholy though that makes the song really work for me. We get an ending wondering about who real friends are, with, "fake friends" being a concern. Drake contends he's stayed the same, but the question lingers of if, "The story stay the same through all the money and the fame," or whether Drake is just trying to convince himself of that--that he's still the same man working hard all night and not some nouveau riche elitist.

Perhaps Drake is finally starting to express the potential I thought he had, but for all I know his future songs will go back to feeling formulaic and otherwise unimpressive. I hope he keeps growing as an artist though, and assuming he does we may very well have a Drake who is both successful and talented. Therefore, I give this song...
4 out of 5 stars.
May there be many more that get high marks.

Penny For Your Soul Volume 1 Review

This is an interesting read. The basic plot is that the granddaughter of the devil has opened a casino in Las Vegas (with the help of Mary  Magdalene) and is buying the souls of people for ten thousand dollars. If you're worried this is some kind of religious-comic trying to impart biblical lesson let me assuage your fears--this isn't that in the least. What we've got here is a comic that is quite darkly humorous and not afraid to "go there".

Before I say anything else about the comic let's get one thing out of the way first. Yes, the art is extremely cheesecake styled. I don't mean, "occasionally," cheesecake either. I'm talking, "Anything with two XX's for chromosomes is drawn as sexy, and a fair amount of the time scantily-clad." While I've grouched about this is the past (see my ripping-into Ed Benes) I'll let it go with this series. Why? Because whilst people such as Ed Benes can't draw anything but cheesecake, artist J.B. Neto does a pretty good job with demons, angels, and a host of crazy creatures. Sometimes his way of illustrating action can be a bit confusing, however. Plus the story is quite fun.
As I mentioned, this is not a comic that is afraid to be politically incorrect. One of the reasons I enjoyed this is while Marvel and DC are scared of trivial little controversies or even being asked tough questions (you seriously are going to quit doing Q&A with fans online because they want actual answers to real questions, DC?) this comic isn't afraid to take plenty of pot-shots at politicians  popular culture, and of course religion--and for that I tip my hat to publisher Big Dog Ink. Jesus comes off as someone who is both at once caring and creepy, Danica, the granddaughter of the devil is both easy to like while also purposely unpleasant, and plenty other crazy characters appear too that make the darkly comedic tone of this comic keep moving along nicely.

Overall I enjoyed reading this comic thanks to its ability to be funny and not let what is in "good manners" limit it. It is a solidly fun time and worth checking out if you want something different to add to your stack o' comics.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

As I always want to give you readers full disclosure--I paid for the trade paperback at Wizard World Saint Louis but got a discount of five dollars because I mentioned I would review it--of course I warned them I would be objective and could very well hate the comic. I ended up liking it though, clearly.

Film Friday--Holy Motors

A bit ago I watched "Holy Motors" via the magic of renting and downloading movies to your PlayStation 3 (I lack Netflix due to how I wouldn't watch enough movies to make me feel I'm getting my money's worth). I watched it with my girlfriend and she felt it was too French in a bad way while I felt it was too French in a very good way. I was tickled pink to see Warren Ellis had seen the film and basically felt the same way I did. Namely, confused, intrigued, and a little bit mesmerized.

Holy Motors is about....well, that's kind of unclear. Basically a man named Oscar (played expertly by Denis Lavant) exists in this world where he is hired to play out various roles, from upset father, to weird monster-man, to an assassin and the man attacked by the assassin (its a weird scene). Basically director Leos Carax has said he had multiple ideas for movies and this was a way to explore them all.
The oddest character played by "Oscar" in the movie, easily.
So, is this film about a future where people watch a man somehow performing various roles? Is this film more a comment on the act of making a film and a tiredness with cliche (In one scene Oscar's boss talks with him about Oscar seeming to be losing a joy for his work)? I'm not sure, it is just an interestingly odd little film. Plus, one good thing is that if you don't care for one vignette it won't be too long until another happens. It is so full of symbolism with a person wondering just what exactly is being symbolized.

I enjoyed the film, with its odd little quirks, and would recommend viewing it to anyone who is patient with odd little flicks that don't reveal what their "point" is so much as giving the viewer all kinds of ideas as to what could be going on.
3 out of 5 stars.

This Is The Newest Rant--Atomic

Nuclear Bottle
This is The Newest Rant, we bottle the energy of an exploding sun and present it for you safely with no risk of malfunction. Seriously, nothing has ever gone wrong with nuclear power.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Happy 75th Birthday Superman/Clark Kent and Lois!

It says "June" but that is when retailers were to take things off shelves, it came out today.
Superman AKA Clark Kent and Lois are 75 today. Without the character of Superman super-hero comics probably would not exist as we know them today. Much thanks goes to Siegel and Shuster for this amazing creation.

What My Girlfriend and I Thought of "Bioshock Infinite"

Press Start
I've previously discussed how I'll play video-games and my girlfriend, Samii, will watch if they have a good enough story. Also, like almost everyone else out there I bought and played "Bioshock Infinite". My girlfriend sat and watched anytime I booted it up and we both formed opinions that generally lined-up together, but not always. Anyways, let's share what my girlfriend and I thought of "Bioshock Infinite" in spoilery detail.

A Fascinating World 

I want to point out that while I knew what the game was about, Samii went in pretty much blind. I told her it was about a city in the sky that followed an extreme view of what America should be. Also that I was going into it to rescue a girl named Elizabeth who then went around the city with me; other than that she had no clue what we were in for. From the start both Samii and I were amazed by the fantastic world of Columbia. This city floating in the sky was wondrous to see, with the populace going out their business casually whilst amazing technology floated around--such as the barbershop-esque group singing a Beach Boys' song. Speaking of that, Samii and I were always amused and intrigued by the songs from "the future" done in a style how songs were in the past. Hearing, "Tainted Love," as if sung by a dead-ringer for Cole Porter was just a treat. Columbia of course is not a perfect city. It is full of xenophobia and racism. When the character I was playing, Booker Dewitt, first sees a mural proclaiming how Columbia is the perfect city my girlfriend casually noticed, "Everyone's white." At that point I told her it was intentional and she began to understand that this seemingly-perfect city was far from it.

The time came in the first hour of the game where my character won the lottery, both Samii and I gasped upon seeing that Booker had "won" the right to throw the first tomato at a biracial couple. At that point Samii  no longer had any false notions about this city, she knew as I had from reading all the promotional material that this glistening metropolis was actually rotting from within with hatred. Also at this point in the game something happened that was talked about between Samii and I along with having been discussed in the gaming media extensively. Namely, the game got really violent.

Too gruesome?
Samii has seen me play some violent games, she doesn't mind the violence if it serves the story and isn't outright gratuitous. Once that first gruesome scene occured with a mans face being shoved into the spinning blades of a skyhook she and I both knew this game wasn't going to be stingy with the bloodshed. Seriously, it isn't pretty:

At that point I began basically rampaging through the city throwing fireballs, shooting off people's heads, and siccing swarms of crows on my enemies. Samii was about ready to quit watching it was so violent, but didn't because she was curious about the character of Elizabeth and really wanted to see me meet her. Therefore, while the majesty of Columbia had faded in fountain of blood, once Elizabeth was met both Samii and I became quite enraptured with the game again.

The Joy of Elizabeth
The amazing thing about Elizabeth in "Bioshock Infinite" is not just that she is an empathetic and well-written character. It also is not that she actually is programmed to be helpful and isn't annoying as most computer-allies tend to be in a game. No, its the fact that during the game you do something that all forms of fiction dream will happen--you genuinely start to care about her character, that is what makes her special.

From those first glimpses you get of her from the scientific-observation rooms to once you meet her, the vibrancy and personality possessed by Elizabeth just makes everything in "Bioshock Infinite" feel more alive. From her love of Paris and reading to being simply ecstatic upon the first time she hears live music, Elizabeth is more of a fully fleshed-out and fascinating character than some people I know in real life. As soon as I met Elizabeth in the game Samii wanted to start watching again. True, there was still the violence, but now between those loud incidents of gunfire and explosions there were touching quiet moments where Elizabeth and Booker talk. It doesn't matter if they are making small-talk about life and dreams or discussing deadly serious matters such as stopping Comstock, anytime Elizabeth and Booker have a conversation it feels natural, flows right, and otherwise impresses onto you how were it not for the fictional nature of the game these could be real people with their own interesting lives.
Elizabeth is a triumph of characterization.
Once Elizabeth comes into the game combat becomes interesting--if still bloody --with her ability to open "tears" in reality. Plus, the story picks up a sense of urgency and what started out as a good game becomes an amazingly great one. That's why its all the more surprising when the ending arrives and its kind of, well, disappointing.

That's the Ending? Really?
Some people have absolutely loved the ending to "Bioshock Infinite", and I won't say they are wrong, everyone can have their own opinion. However, I felt though that the whole, "You are the bad guy, just from another dimension " twist was kind of a let-down. Then the game goes, "Oh, and by the way, Elizabeth is actually your daughter Anna all grown up!" and I really feel that the team behind "Bioshock Infinite" ran out of steam.

How can I be mad at the ending when you're so delightful?
Samii put it well when she told me while the credits ran, "I haven't been this disappointed in something like these last 20 minutes since I read the last 20 pages of the seventh Harry Potter book." I didn't read the last Harry Potter book so I can't comment, but I agree it is a weak ending. Plus, the whole time the game was going on Samii and I were waiting for a romance to blossom between Booker and Elizabeth. Once we found out she was actually his daughter, Anna, that threw that plot possibility out the window if the story didn't want to become really creepy. When Samii also said, "It feels like they made the ending and congratulated themselves for being so clever when its really just kind of dull," I felt like we had some kind of mind-meld as I was thinking the exact same thing. Still, all the great times before the game comes to an end help make it so that the somewhat "meh" ending doesn't leave too sour a taste in one's mouth because so much fun was had for hours before.
"Bioshock Infinite" and its world of a floating city, alternate realities, and the amazing character of Elizabeth is an absolute joy to play. I've talked more about how the game made my girlfriend and I feel, but rest assured the game-play itself that goes with the story is a great time too. While much has been made of the question if "Bioshock Infinite" needs to be as violent as it is, I feel more people should be asking, "Why aren't there more great games with astonishing characters such as this?" We have these video-games that struggle to make us care about the main character or their friends and "Bioshock Infinite" pulls off the job of making you adore Elizabeth within an hour of meeting her. While the story may peter-out in the end, that doesn't change the fact how while you're playing the game and going on the journey of Booker and Elizabeth it is just an astonishing game. If you have a console or PC capable of playing it, you owe it to yourself to play "Bioshock Infinite". It is a marvel of a game despite my complaints and truly engrossing. I wouldn't want to live in Columbia, but boy was it a treat to visit it.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Samii's Rating: "I had a really fun time watching 'Bioshock Infinite' even if the ending was disappointing and the game was more violent than I thought it needed to be. I give it 4 out of 5 stars."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rant-Reviews--Funny Comics, Serious Comics, and Just Plain Confusing Ones

Adventures in Reading
Even though my blog had been a bit sparse on the posting until this avalanche of content, I still was reading plenty of comics when I had the chance. Therefore, I now present to you my thoughts on some of them.

Deadpool #7
Poshen and Duggan have been writing one fun Deadpool. Despite a start that I found a bit weak, once the book found its footing around issue #3 it became highly enjoyable. Interestingly enough, this issue doesn't continue the story of the first six issues, choosing instead to be a faux-inventory issue set around the Bronze Age of comics. With an art style that could easily pass as being from then you could almost believe this were set in the past, were it not for the fact that Deadpool hadn't been created yet back then (plus there are some smart little winks to the future in a few of the jokes). Scott Koblish absolutely nails the aforementioned art and most of the jokes are successful in making me laugh. Whoever said you can't do quality done-in-one issues this modern day was as liar, as this comic proves otherwise.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Stormwatch #19
I've seen some positive reviews of this issue and am wondering if something is wrong with me and the not comic. I say that because I read this issue and instead of fully liking or hating the it I can only wonder just what the Hell is happening. It seems the current Stormwatch has been erased from existence so now heroes are being pulled from other dimensions to form a new team, but some of them are the previous versions of Stormwatch characters? Is that what is going on? Do those weird robot-looking things that are altering history serve as villains or are they actually doing good things and we don't realize it? Why is that creepy guy with the huge eyes around, as I've read writer Jim Starlin created him long ago for a different comic? Seriously, what is happening in this comic? I ask because I truly have no clue, and that makes it pretty low in enjoyment-levels.
2 out of 5 stars.

The Standard #2
It is only on its second issue, but after its strong debut (as I've discussed before in a post on new publisher Comixtribe) and this equally excellent entry I'm prepared to say "The Standard" is shaping up to be one stellar story. Between its clever bouncing-around from the past to present, an older superhero investigating the death of his former sidekick, and some clever meta-commentary on how heroes have functioned in society's psyche ("If people see us as fun and colorful they're not as scared of us") this is definitely a comic worth buying, or demanding your store start stocking if they haven't been carrying it yet.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Batman #19
The opening to this issue had me absolutely scratching my head until I reached the conclusion (which I'm going to spoil) some 20-ish pages later. After that everything made sense. Writer Scott Snyder is at his best when instead of trying to tell complicated sweeping tales (such as "Court of the Owls") he focuses in on characters and their motivations. His run on "Detective Comics" was stellar in making James Gordon extremely creepy, and in this single issue Snyder has made the villain of the issue, Clayface, pretty interesting between his powers changing and new mysterious motivations occurring. Clearly the evil Bruce Wayne at the start of the issue is Clayface, but the question now is what does he have planned, and why? After the somewhat disappointing, "Death of the family" arc with the Joker I'm pleased to see the book become a good read again.
4 out of 5 stars.

Team 7 #7
I've given up on trying to understand this comic. The characters that randomly show-up, their motivations, what the overall plot is, I just don't care. This thing went from moving at a relatively leisurely pace to throwing out every random idea it has now that the series dies a sad and unnoticed death next issue. This is just bad comic-booking right here.
1 out of 5 stars.

Age of Ultron #6
This came out today and I read it first out of my stack of new comics. I didn't do this because it is such an amazing comic that I have to read it as soon as I buy it. No, it is more a curiosity about if Bendis can keep this pretty-good-so-far story moving along as well as he has. Perhaps having Bryan Hitch turn in lovely artwork those first five issues helped as his super-detailed way of drawing scenery really imparted the destruction being wreaked by Ultron. That, and things are relatively fun with the whole, "The heroes lost and are just trying to survive now," plot. Also, Bendis has a tendency to have a huge team then strangely just focus-in on a single character or two, but that has worked pretty well in this series, giving everyone a bit of limelight. Be it showing Black Widow and Moon Knight on the West Coast, Hawkeye and Spider-Man escaping a bunch of villains, or Luke Cage and She-Hulk working together to trick Ultron, having all these little moments of duos has helped move things along pretty well.

One thing that has bugged me is we still haven't actually seen the main Ultron doing all this and learned what his true motivations are beyond killing everything--and we're more than half-way through the series now. Perhaps there isn't much of a twist beyond, "Ultron hates human life," but the story has kept hinting at such a thing, be it in the text or with the weird announcement that a character Neil Gaiman wrote for an issue of "Spawn" will be showing up at the end (I still can't wrap my head Angela showing up like that). I'm just concerned with the next issue seeming to go the, "We changed the past and ruined the future!" route if it turns out that actually occurs. Still, the accelerated release schedule of the book has been great as it keeps it fresh in readers' minds and means the event won't go on forever ("Secret Invasion" felt like it took 2 years). I'm liking this still, and that's always good.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

That's All She/He Wrote
We've got some comics reviewed, some being quite good and others pretty bad. I guess at the end of the day all you can do is hope the positive outweighs the negative. Then again, most comics weigh the same so that saying doesn't really work now, does it? Such is life...

How is the Same Writer Behind Two Comic Books of Such Vastly Different Quality? AKA Nick Spencer, What's Up?

How Can one Man Vary So Much?
Nick Spencer has written some comics I've adored and others that have left me slightly cold or outright disgusted (in terms of quality, not the content). The same man behind the much-popular "Morning Glories" and superb recent DC-run of "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" somehow also did the at-first-promising but then horrendous "Iron Man 2.0," and an extremely underwhelming start to the re-boot of "Ultimate X-Men," before Brian Wood came in and righted that near-sinking ship. So really, Nick Spencer, what's up?

I don't get it, Nick--if I can call you that--you put out some amazing DC stuff like your Jimmy Olsen story, and your creator-owned work such as Infinite Vacation earned rave reviews. Yet, you signed that exclusivity contract with Marvel (that thank-the-Lord let you finish your work on "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents) and everything you've put out with them has failed to make me the slightest bit excited.
Belam #6 in what is apparently a variant cover, but it costs the same as the regular so I'm happy.
Now there are two newer comics that you have been making and just as has happened in the past, they couldn't be any more different in quality and my enjoyment of them. I've just finished reading the sixth issue of  "Bedlam" your creator-owned comic from Image, and I have read the third issue of the Marvel NOW re-launch of "Secret Avengers". From what I've said I am pretty sure that you, the imaginary Nick Spencer I am talking to along with my readers, know which comic has me as a big fan and which one I won't be getting the next issue of.

"Bedlam" is about a man who was one of the worst super-villains imaginable. Known as, "Madder Red," he was basically the Joker cranked up to 11 in homicidal tendencies. From the first issue his masked visage inspired a bit of terror in the reader.
Scary, just scary.
The hook however, the thing that keeps someone reading besides, "Oh, it's basically a comic from the Joker's point of view," is that Madder Red is actually cured. Yes, through tons of surgery and conditioning by a mysterious doctor we still don't yet known the true intentions of, Madder Red is in fact now sane. He's been released into the real world with a new fake name and everything. He can't help but be drawn to crime and starts helping the police with his amazing intellect and profiling skills that he no doubt gained from his time as a murderous villain. The art by Riley Rossmo is awesome and Frazier Irving keeps providing delightfully twisted covers. It's a gas to both read and observe the art of, and a book I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone looking for a creepy take on heroes, villains, and the books perennial question of, "Is evil just something you are or something you do?" 

My fountain of praise for "Bedlam" makes it all the more strange how I have so little that is positive to say of "Secret Avengers". Whereas Bedlam lays out its premise clearly, Secret Avengers teases you with a big secret in the 1st issue but then does an annoying thing of making it "redacted" so it remains a secret. I'm not joking:

Then in the later issues Spencer kind of takes advantage of the fact our heroes are having their memories altered with a little twist at the end of issue #2, but I still don't quite understand why it happened as it did. Now in issue #3 we've got more attempted-intrigue in the form of the organization A.I.M. taking advantage of having their own legally-recognized island by building up some kind of arsenal, but I honestly still have no idea what in the dickens is supposed to be going on in this comic and we are 3 issues in.

I wouldn't mind as much if the characters were written well, but Nick Fury Jr. comes off as a jerk, Hawkeye lacks all the charm of his solo book and instead seems like a major tool, and the female characters come off as either snarky or little more than just being another character the artist had to draw standing around doing nothing. Speaking of the drawing, the art is fine. Yeah, not everything about the book is bad, Luke Ross does a good job with what he's given, even if it is very little. The story however feels bloated, confused, and otherwise is just unpleasant to read.
The cover to the third issue, also known as the last issue I'm buying.
Bedlam is complex but clear in its motivations. Secret Avengers is just confusing. Bedlam has fascinating characters with them feeling important no matter how big or small their role. Secret Avengers has characters with all the personality of a cardboard cut-out. Bedlam has great art, Secret Avengers has fine art (I guess not everything is a polar opposite). One comic is unquestionably much better than the other, which makes it all the more baffling how one person can be the writer for both books. It is as if Spencer forgets everything he knows about plot development and characterization when it comes to his Marvel titles, but suddenly gains skill as soon as the book is DC-related or creator-owned (with the exception of "Thief Of Thieves" which Spencer co-wrote some issues of with Robert Kirkman owning the rights, and which is basically a boring-as-Hell book,).

Spencer writes some awesome and some bad comics, it is just odd how basically all the lesser ones seem to be Marvel titles. Someday the mystery behind this may be solved, but for now all I can do is pick up his good books and avoid his lesser ones.
Bedlam #1-6: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Secret Avengers #1-3: 2 out of 5 stars (the art saves it from a lower score).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Television Tuesday: Glee (Again) and Hardcore Pawn.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt and Love
Those who have been reading the blog for at least awhile should remember I have talked about "Glee" before, around the end of its last season (although episodes air in such random spurts with long breaks it can be hard to know what season we technically are in now). I have not yet talked about but also regularly watch "Hardcore Pawn", which seems to have a season finale followed a season premiere with a month of each other so that's another one I cannot say for sure what season we are in. Both shows have fun moments, dramatic bits of yelling, and both tend to go a little over-the-top. With "Glee" I'll discuss my thoughts on this new season in general while also sharing my opinion on the, "Shooting Star" episode because everyone else is too. "Hardcore Pawn" has so many episodes that just sort of blend into one immense tale I'll give my thoughts about the series so far as a whole. Let's get this show on the road then!

Glee Season 4 (apparently) and the "Shooting Star" Episode
Ever since the other students graduated/left the school at the end of last season I was truly excited by the prospect of getting new students and never seeing the character of Rachel Berry again. Sadly, of all the "graduated" characters the show chose to follow closely, Lea Michele's got the screen-time. One consolation is we still get to see Kurt, and eventually during the season Finn showed up. Still, while we have some old characters still around such as Tina (who cares?) and Brittany (meh) it is the new cast members who've truly kept me from giving up on the show.
Just. Go. Away.
Why would I give up on "Glee"? As I've said before, I started watching the show more out of the desire to be a good boyfriend than any interest in the program, but over time I grew to genuinely like the show even if I was in the minority of people who could do without the singing 90% of the time (the 10% is when they do a rare song I actually like). When the new season started though and ol' annoying Rachel Berry was thrust to the front of the episodes (as always) I was perturbed. Plus, that whole fiasco with the show ripping off Johnathan Coulton was upsetting.

Then the new students came in such as Marley (a sweet kid), Jake (a half-brother of Puckerman who is just as hot-headed but has a kind heart), Kitty (a huge bitch), and my personal favorite, Ryder (more on him in a minute). These new characters not only were interesting, but unlike some of the duller and older members of "Glee" this batch of folk feel fresh. We've never seen them, they have new problems, new dreams, and don't just whine all the time like Tina. Plus, dear God can they act.

Everyone on Glee sings great, but while all are fine actors only a few have ever made me really "feel" when watching the show. Season 3's finale where Finn sends Rachel to New York? I actually really felt the sadness and despair Finn was showing even if I despise his love interest. That episode where Kurt and Blaine break-up? My heart was giving me the same sensation those characters felt. When certain people on the show are given a chance sometimes they really shine in regards to their acting. That makes it all the more of a wonderful surprise how well the new "students" do at making me care about them. Marley has had a rough life but is such a wonderful person, Jake isn't sure where he fits in but is making his way in the world, and Ryder, man is he awesome.

Best new character on the show, no question.
 Ryder is portrayed by Blake Jenner, the winner of the last "Glee Project". It is no surprise he won because the whole time he was on the show he displayed not only a great singing ability like everyone else on that show, but the creators of the "Project" kept marveling at how amazing he was when asked to act. Jenner portrays Ryder with deft skill as a football player who seems to be perfect, but hid a secret disability from everyone to avoid being mocked (he's dyslexic). Now, he's being "cat-fished" AKA tricked into thinking he is internet-dating someone he's not--and once he found out how that was happening the way Jenner made Ryder seem both outraged and hurt really made you want him to find out who was doing such a cruel thing. Trust me, this Blake Jenner kid is going places.

All the numerous plots and characters "Glee" constantly juggles make for a very busy show. This made it all the more jarring when everything seemed to screech to a halt in the sudden swerve the show took last episode. Everything was going like a normal "Glee" episode with jokes, drama, et al. Then suddenly out of nowhere shots ring out and shit gets real. I didn't have any clue this was going to be a "school shooting" episode of "Glee" but that little disclaimer about how the episode dealt with school violence at the beginning should have tipped me off.

Once the shots ring out, lights are turned off, and everyone hides, the show turns from a dramedy to feeling like a horror flick. The super-serious nature of the characters crying in fear truly put my girlfriend and I on the edge of our seats. Then "Glee" decides to have its cake and not only eat it too, but just straight cop-out. We learn there was no school-shooter, it was an accident that happened when one of Sue Sylvester's students brought a gun to school and accidentally fired it--with Jane Lynch's character covering for them. Really? I mean REALLY? You want to impart a message to us about school violence, "Glee," but don't even have the balls to actually have there be an incident of actual school violence? Again, having its cake and eating it too.

The all-time best character thanks to the amazing Jane Lynch; you deserved a better exit!
For my money, if you want a movie that truly feels like it is chronicling an average day of school that then turns into a horrific nightmare just watch Gus Van Sant's, "Elephant." It portrays school violence with an uncomfortably unflinching eye, but it should be uncomfortable because when violence happens in a place we feel is supposed to be safe it is upsetting. We need to talk about school violence and face that it is a very real problem, but what "Glee" does is make it seem like the conversation is going there before it suddenly goes, "gotcha!" and pulls the rug out from under our feet. This feels less like an episode with an important message and more like an excuse to write Jane Lynch out of the show (which, if she truly is gone I'm sad as she has always been the best part of the program).

"Shooting Star" is a perfect illustration of why I both really enjoy and also sometimes just hate "Glee". For every moment of great acting there is a crappy song. For every important message there is a silly plot development. It is like the show takes two steps forward and one step back. Cast members actually graduate and leave the show--two steps forward, but then a bunch of them are still on the show--one step back. The episode brings up the very real issue of school violence--two steps forward, but chooses to make it little more than cheap plot device instead of encouraging conversation or imparting much of a message--one step back, and it goes on like this forever.
Flaws and all, you're still pretty snazzy, "Glee".

"Glee" is a good show, I just wish when it had the chance to be even better it would take advantage of such opportunities instead of acting wimpy and reliant on old ways. I'm still going to be watching, but mainly because I love the new characters and crave those occasional moments "Glee" really makes me feel something. The singing and majority of plots I could take or leave.
"Shooting Star": 2.5 out of 5 stars.
"Glee" Season 4 in General (so far): 4 out of 5 stars.
When it is on: 9PM Eastern, on Thursdays

Hardcore Pawn AKA A Modern Greek Tragedy for Our Times
You may read my sub-heading and think I'm joking when I say "Hardcore Pawn" is a modern Greek Tragedy. I'm not. The early seasons didn't reveal the true nature of the show, I'll admit that. It just seemed like another one of those, "People bring in weird stuff," programs, with the occasionally loud and angry customer getting thrown out. However, as time went on I began to realize how this wasn't a simple reality show, it was the tragic tale of Les Gold (yes, that is his real name). We have a man who has spent pretty much all of his life working to build a pawn shop empire, and his two children do little more than squabble with each other when they aren't working to screw-over their own dad. His son Seth tried to sell one of the less-successful stores without Les finding out. His daughter is generally the meanest person out of any employee in the shop to customers and I would argue makes them lose business. Then, to top it all off not too long ago we learned that there was a thief in the store, and it turned out to be Les' own head of security, Joe!

"Hardcore Pawn" is about one man trying valiantly to keep his stores successsfull despite his children doing more harm than good, his employees being terrible at their jobs (or just flat-out robbing him), and his customers seeming to often come in with a chip on their shoulder that they feel can only be dealt with by yelling insults at the top of their lungs until they are escorted from the store. Les is basically Caesar in Shakespeare's play and everyone else is all the folk who stabbed Caesar.
Et tu, Seth?
"Hardcore Pawn" may be what I consider a modern Greek Tragedy, but that doesn't mean the show lacks in hilarity. This is an incredibly funny program. While his own children seeming to work against him is sad if you think about it, watching them go about it is quite entertaining. It may be depressing how so many customers at his shop are jerks, but seeing them throw a fit as if they were a small child is quality television. This show is just so over-the-top it has to be fake, right? After all, a fair amount of programs on Tru TV show disclaimers saying how the outrageous moments we witness on "Operation Repo" or "Lizard Lick Towing," are actually reenactments. Well, I keep looking into it and no matter how much research I do it seems "Hardcore Pawn" is at least mostly for real. There actually are people out there who behave like incredible fools in the store, Seth and Ashley do in fact argue all the time, and Joe really was arrested for stealing from Les.

"Hardcore Pawn" is always fun to watch. Seeing Les try as hard as he can to keep things going smoothly is both sad to witness and makes for engaging television. Tru TV has made another pawn show called "Hardcore Pawn: Chicago" and despite it being somewhat fun and having idiot customers, it is missing something. That something is the chemistry the Gold family brings to the screen when we see them in their store and how we always are sitting there rooting for Les even when everything goes wrong. "Hardcore Pawn" is a one-of-a-kind gem in the wasteland that is reality television, and if you haven't seen it I encourage you to do so. That way you too can see this real-life play that is all at once full of hilarity, rage, and weird knick-knacks.
Series as a whole so far: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
When it is on: 9PM Eastern, basically every Tuesday.

When I sat down to write this I thought I would just post some quick thoughts on "Glee" and "Hardcore Pawn". Clearly, I had more to say about the shows than I initially thought I did. However, whether you watch "Glee", "Hardcore Pawn", both of them, or neither, the important thing is that each of the shows are full of interesting people (both real and fictional) with captivating stories--and isn't watching the stories we love what television is truly about? Well, that and selling us useless junk during late-night infomercials? Yes, yes it is.

Content Avalanche Imminent.

I haven't posted in awhile. The reasons have varied from final projects at school keeping me busy to my own or others' health issues requiring my time. The good news is while I've been busy I have been working off-and-on at making various articles. Now they just need a bit of editing and I'll be releasing them at least once daily from today to Friday or maybe Saturday if I get some more things written during rare moments of free time. Get ready for a content avalanche of television thoughts, a video-game article or two, and of course comics.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Extremely Busy.

I haven't posted too much lately, and may not be able to post much too soon. Between final-projects with school and health things life has been hectic. Before too long there will be plenty of my thoughts being shared, however.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Misery of April 1st

I hate April 1st for a very simple reason, I generally can't trust any new information I read that day until April 2nd.

Sure, news sites such as CNN aren't going to pull any April Fool's Day gags, but a fair amount of video-game and comic-book sites seem to think it is funny to post an absurd story they later reveal to be a "joke". I generally enjoy the website Bleeding Cool but on this day I wait until they update their headlines with what is a joke and what is real just so I don't see something like this and get all excited about movies with Marvel heroes crossing-over before I read the article and it becomes abundantly clear the whole thing is just silliness.

Perhaps I'm just cranky, but it bothers me, therefore I can promise you will never see me pull some sort of prank on this day.

That is all.