Friday, March 28, 2014

Film Friday--"Justice League: War"

The"New 52" Comes To Home-Video (Sort-of)
When DC relaunched all their comics as the "New 52" one of the flagship titles was the new "Justice League" comic which over its first six issues had a story-arc titled, "Origin". This new animated feature from DC is basically a re-telling of that with some major and minor changes--probably the most noticeable being the replacing of Aquaman with Shazam (although if you watch the credits there is a teaser that makes it clear Aquaman hasn't been completely forgotten). Just like that aforementioned Justice League story this is a fun tale with good art that may not amaze but satisfies its goal of entertaining.

For those not familiar with the story, it basically goes that super-humans and heroes are just starting to pop-up in the nation and people are scared and worried. Almost none of these new super-heroes have met each other before but when a great threat arrives in the form of Darkseid and his Parademons all the heroes have to put aside their differences and unite as a team to fight for Earth's safety. It's pretty basic stuff, but the true fun doesn't come from seeing everyone fight Darkseid (who is kind of a bore) but instead interacting with one another and seeing how their heroic personalities bounce-off each other.
Take your eyes off Batman, and he might take your power-source.
At a brisk almost 80 minutes, "Justice League: War" does not meander much, dispensing with action often and having the occasional short-break to get some plot out of the way. You've got the requisite segments of the heroes arguing before getting along and everyone mostly behaves and interacts with each other how you would expect based on their personalities in the comics--Batman is intimidating and smart, Superman is powerful but caring, Green Lantern is a loudmouth, etc.

The animation-style is good, with everyone looking how a viewer would expect, and all the explosions, eye-lasers, and building-crumbling being just as well-animated as the smaller-scale fist-fights and generally quieter moments. Sometimes I felt the action was taking up far too much time and glossing over certain aspects of the story that could have used more explaining--with one big example being that while we learn the basics of most character's powers and motivations we get very little character-development for Shazam.
Darkseid has little motivation in the movie besides being "evil".
This is meant to be an action-movie so I can't begrudge it too much if the majority of the movie is fight-scenes as opposed to quiet talking. Still, I feel a little more time spent exploring the characters and their motivations would have given the movie more heart, with Darkseid especially coming off as little more than an evil threat with little inspiration for his actions besides simply being the bad guy. Also, it sometimes felt the movie was trying a little too hard to be more "mature" and really earn that PG-13 rating it has, with some swearing randomly happening and the parademons getting sliced up by the heroes quite gruesomely. I didn't mind the swearing or violence at all, but it just kind of felt like when a young kid thinks saying "Damn" makes them look more grown-up.

"Justice League: War" is a good movie. It isn't a masterwork or anything, but I had a good time watching it and it definitely makes for a solid rental if you want to pass by an hour and some change. Overall, considering how I had some fun but wasn't necessarily impressed, "Justice League: War" earns from me:
3 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

So, I Played That New "Metal Gear" Game...

Not Quite A Review
As the title says, I have played that new "Metal Gear" game, or if you want to say the full (and lengthy) title, "Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes". Note that depending on whom is typing the title the "V" might be a "5" if they hate/don't understand roman numerals--which can admittedly get confusing (what Super Bowl are we up to now?), but I'm getting off-track.

I should open with saying this isn't quite a review of the game. I'm not going to break down in extensive detail the controls, gameplay, and plot. I'll discuss those a bit, but nothing too spoilery. Instead, I'm moreso going to just share with you some of my thoughts on the game and the various questions that have been going around about it, from if it is too short and expensive, to certain plot-elements upsetting folk. I will give a final rating though, because I just can't help myself. With that clear, it is time to delve into my thoughts...

"Ground Zeroes" Thoughts
The graphics may not be this amazing on the older generation of consoles,
but they still ain't nothing to sneeze at, as they say.
Let's get one major thing everyone is talking and complaining about out of the way:  "Ground Zeroes" is indeed quite an expensive purchase considering its play-length, be you playing it for your newest generation of consoles (PS4, Xbox One) or enjoying it on what is now the older generation (PS3, Xbox 360). The thing is though, so many games come out and get quickly discounted that I wonder if the price will even matter much in a few months when you can easily snatch-up a boxed copy for maybe 15 bucks of the less-advanced copies and a digital version goes on an inevitable 20-dollar sale, even for the fancier-versions of the game.

All of that makes price kind of a non-issue, as long as you're willing to wait to play the game. However, if you must play the game now and are worried about the cost I would recommend finding one of the few remaining video-stores or going to a Redbox kiosk, where PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game can be had for a relatively-cheap $2.00-a-night, and you'll only need one or two nights, because as I stated, this game is short.

Once I gained control of "Snake" in the game I found it only took me a bit over two hours to play through the main game/mission, and that was even with me listening to all the included back-story cassette tapes you have immediate access to that flesh out the story a bit. Then by the time I did the side-missions--which I also took slowly--I had played the game for basically a total of five hours. Yes, I could go-back and find all the collectibles, do the missions on a harder difficultly, all that jazz, but that doesn't change the fact I had effectively beaten the game within five hours. The short length has had people use words varying from the angry and insulting--"Over-priced demo"--to the understanding and apologetic--"A sampler of what's to come".  Regardless of your feelings about length the question remains, is the game fun? To that I can say that yes, it is.

I myself greatly enjoyed the time I played "Ground Zeroes" for, because just as gaming has evolved over time, the Metal Gear series has followed suit. Controls are even more dynamic and easier to use now, making it feel much more sensible to play the game in an action-style way, even though I myself always prefer a good sneaky run-through. The inventory has been heavily streamlined and no longer will you be juggling 20 different weapons and items, instead finding yourself with a small-but-useful supply of guns and explosives.

The plot is extremely straightforward (and surprisingly dark, but more on that shortly)--especially for a "Metal Gear" game which is a series that loves to wander into random side-plots and nonsensical story-elements that somehow make it actually more endearing. No, this is a simple rescue mission and most of the silliness many have come to associate with Metal Gear is nonexistent, which had some asking if maybe the game was trying too hard to be professional, losing a bit of the zaniness. It also doesn't help that instead of the classic voice of Snake we are used to (David Hayter) we get a decent (but not amazing) Kiefer Sutherland stepping into the role--although rumors persist that is all a clever ploy by the often-tricky director of the series, Hideo Kojima, to make us just think Hayter is gone from the role.

Another element that makes it apparent the lighter-elements are gone is just how depressingly dark and gritty the story is. We've got subjects few games dare broach from questioning how constitutional our sites such as Guantanamo Bay are, to exploring state-sanctioned torture, the use of rape as a weapon by male soldiers against female ones, and all kinds of things that make this game more disturbing than any "Metal Gear" before it. In exploring more touchy-subjects and doing it in a mostly-responsible way it kind of feels like "Metal Gear" is effectively growing as a series, even though I miss the silly stuff too (the rape element seems forced and in poor taste, however). Some have been relatively upset by just how tonally different this entry in the "Metal Gear" canon is from other games, but I think that considering how short the game is that when the next-game/main-game after this prologue comes out, "Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain", there may be more funny-stuff mixed in with the new super-seriousness, resulting in a better balance than a person can get a sense of from such a short game as this one.
Much time can be spent listening the cassette tapes;
a lot of the story is helpfully fleshed-out by them.
I realize with all this talk of length and tone I haven't touched at all upon the graphics. Well, those are startlingly beautiful. I played "Ground Zeroes" on a Playstation 3 and even with that being the "older generation" of consoles now, it still was gorgeous--especially the main-mission which takes place at night in a rain-storm. I've seen videos illustrating how the lighting and everything is even better on the new consoles, but even if I didn't get jaw-dropping graphics with my PS3, it all still was plenty good-looking. Should you have one of the new consoles however, prepare to be even more amazed (especially with the PS4, which apparently does some more atmospheric-stuff with clouds and such than the Xbox One).

"Ground Zeroes" is an incredibly short game, but during the time you are playing it there is at least immense fun. Still, I can't help wishing there were more to do after those first few-ish hours of "Ground Zeroes" besides finding collectibles and replaying missions. Also, I miss the lighter tone and over-complicated plot that usually occurs in "Metal Gear" games too, although I am all but sure those elements will be more apparent in the upcoming longer game. Therefore, while I have loved some entries in the Metal Gear series and wouldn't hesitate to reward them 5 out of 5 stars (1, 3, and 4 would be examples of this, 2 was maybe a bit too weird to earn a full 5 stars), such a short game as this which is fun but also missing many of the elements that make "Metal Gear" the series we love results in a title that is very solid, but not quite at that level of near-perfection.

I hold out hope that "The Phantom Pain" will be as much as masterpiece as some of the previous games in the series, but for "Ground Zeroes" I award a still-impressive 4 out of 5 stars. I would say to just maybe wait for it to go on sale if you can't rent it, though.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Convention-Going Tips AKA Wizard World Saint Louis Approaches

Convention-Going 101
I was at the 1st-ever Wizard World Saint Louis last year and had a wonderful time. The newest Wizard World is approaching fast and I will be there again this year, talking with creators and fans! I will of course also be searching for good comics, so you might find me digging through a long-box if I'm not spotted wandering the floor. This will be the 4th time I've attended a convention and with that in mind I thought I would offer a few tips on how to prepare for a convention and behave at one such as this Wizard World if it is your first time attending, or it has just been awhile since you went to a convention.

Making sure you are prepared for a convention is key. A little preparation truly does go a long way. If you are already at the convention center and find you're lacking something you should have packed you can't do much, so make sure you're ready before arriving at the America's Center--or wherever your convention is.
Some key items to pack include:

More and more these days retailers and even celebrities at conventions will take cards, but quite often cash is still king, with plenty of people preferring--or only accepting--the ever-popular green-stuff. Plus, even if someone takes cards being able to offer cash can sometimes get you a slight discount.

A Tote, Purse, Backpack, or Bag of Some Sort
You need a way to carry all the stuff you're bringing and going to be buying, so make sure you bring some kind of big bag to carry everything.

The convention-floor can get incredibly hot and sweaty, with a resulting stink of body-odors from the men and women around you being more than a little strong. In order to avoid contributing to this potential stink sometimes it is a good idea to bring along deodorant if you're the kind of person who sweats profusely when hot.

A Print-Out of the Convention Map
Conventions usually will supply these, but having your own map you're marked in advance for where you know you want to go can save time

A Print-Out of Events and Panels
Again, most conventions will often have these available, but having your own that you've been able to make notes on already is handy
I myself really like the V5 brand of pen, especially the retractable kind.
A Pen or Pencil
Remember how I said you might have already written on your own maps and plans? Well, I would assume you'll want to keep taking notes while at the convention and having a pen or pencil to do so is pretty key for that.

Cameras Are Useful (If Your Phone Doesn't Have One Already)
There will undoubtedly be interesting things you want to photograph, and most of you probably have a phone with a handy camera built-in, but just in case you don't I thought I would mention bringing a camera.

Blank Paper
While some creators will be happy to sign a book, you might run into someone who will sign something for you, but you'll suddenly recall you don't have any of their work on you. Well, that's why it is good to have some blank paper for them to sign in case they are lacking any of said paper on their own person.

A Folder
In order to hold all your print-outs and papers you really should have a folder. It helps keep you organized and stops your papers from getting crumpled up.

A Business-Card Holder
Some folders have this built in, but if they don't it is always good to have a way to store business cards. Whether it is a fancy holder you bought or a zip-loc bag, various creators or celebrities may have cards they give you/you take and having those loose in your pocket or bag is a very easy way to lose stuff.

Breath Mints/Strips
During the day you may be drinking coffee or eating things that make your breath a little offensive. Give those comics creators you're talking to a break and make sure to bring some mints or strips to keep your mouth from stinking.

At The Convention
You've arrived at the convention and are extremely excited, right? Well, even though conventions can have an "anything-goes" sort of feeling between the wild costumes and fun events there still are general rules and etiquette you should follow.
For example:

If You Have a Prop Weapon, Expect it to Be Inspected
In this era of increased fear of terrorist attacks, or general fighting and violence in public places, someone walking around with a huge battleaxe or tricked-out Uzi may look a little threatening to the convention's security, even once you explain its all a prop made out of harmless crafting-materials. Please, don't be upset if security wants to take a closer look at your decorative weapons, its just for safety purposes, and if anything you should be flattered your fake weapon looks so convincing people worry it could be real.
I've seen people sneak pizza into events in a bag, a whole pizza, for real.
Sneaking-In Outside Food Makes You Look Bad
Look, conventions charge too much for food and drink, that's no secret. Just like at sporting-events or amusement parks refreshments are over-priced and that's just a way of life. You keeping a mini water-bottle or bag of candy in your pocket may not raise eyebrows, but if you're sneaking a full meal into a convention the odds are you will be caught and your stuff will be confiscated. Nobody likes paying the higher-prices for food at conventions, but it is just a way of life. So again, as with the movie theater or anywhere else you might be able sneak-in a small treat, don't be that person who pulls a full pizza out of their backpack as it just makes you look bad.

If You Want a Picture of/Signature from Someone Famous, Be Prepared to Pay
You've waited in line for what feels like forever and now you're finally up at the table of your favorite celebrity. You're excited to take a photo of them and get their signature but suddenly you notice that stuff costs money. Please don't be surprised, because many of these celebrities make a fair amount of their living charging for signatures and photos, so please don't be that person who whines and asks if they can just get a "quick" photo with a celebrity for free. The only time I saw any celebrity come close to allowing this was Henry Winkler (AKA the Fonz) charging for photos with him, but allowing people to take photos of him for free, and that was an exception to how stuff normally goes.

Want to Take a Photo of Someone/Something? Always Get Permission
Besides celebrities who charge for photos (as just mentioned), everyone else is fair game, right? Wrong. Perhaps you see a guy or gal in a really cool cosplay outfit, or you want to text your friend a picture of a rare comic for sale and see if they want you to get it for them, that is all understandable. Still, whatever the case, before you take a picture of someone or something specific (just taking a big photo of the event-floor shouldn't cause a ruckus) make sure you get permission. Just because a man or lady is dressed-up in cosplay that doesn't always mean they want you taking pictures of them, and sometimes retailers could take offense to your photographing their items, assuming you might be a competitor looking to undercut their prices. That sounds crazy until the first time you're accused of such a thing. Basically, just ask and normally people will say taking a photo is fine.

Don't Bring 50 Copies of Something for a Creator to Sign
I get it, you're excited to meet the writer/artist of a comic you love, and for a small fee or even for no price at all they'll be happy to sign that comic you brought with you. What's that, you brought another 49 copies of the exact same comic or other things they've done? Well, now you're turned from a fan into a nuisance. The creator will be all-but-positive you're just getting them to sign stuff for you to sell, and everyone waiting behind you is going to lose their patience by comic number 30 or so. Don't be that guy/girl whom everyone hates.

Be Polite
This should go without saying, but sometimes people forget it:  Manners matter. When you're at the convention you shouldn't shove people out of your way, but instead say a simple, "Excuse me." Should there be a creator who has art you find you less-than like, you should just say something nice like, "Very interesting, but it's not for me," as opposed to, "This sucks, how do you manage to do this for a living?" Being polite is very underrated, and often appreciated.

Hopefully More Prepared

Now you are hopefully more prepared for the upcoming Wizard World or any other convention you'll be attending in the near future. Should you be going to Wizard World Saint Louis keep an eye out for me, and I'll see you the first weekend in April!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Time: "The Disaster Artist" AKA That Book About the Making of the Movie "The Room"

What is "The Room"?
"The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made" is the full title of this book chronicling the making of "The Room". Some readers may be asking, "What is the room?" Well, not too long ago I tried to explain to my girlfriend what "The Room" was about and I kind of failed miserably. For those of you not familiar with what may be the worst movie ever that is somehow also great, I will try again to describe it...

"The Room" is so wonderful because it is so wrong. Directed, written, produced, (and so forth) by Tommy Wiseau, "The Room" is just a gigantic mess. The acting is stilted and forced, Tommy Wiseau who in addition to all his other work plays the main character, "Johnny" is often almost impossible to understand with his unclear accent--which to this day is still unknown in origin by anyone. The cinematography is done with little-to-no concern for framing, or maintaining a continuity in scenes, and it is just horrendous...yet glorious.
Author Greg Sestero as "Mark" with Tommy Wiseau ("Johnny") in the background.
Then we have the plot, as it were. The story, which is supposed to basically be about a man (Johnny) eventually discovering his fiance (Lisa) is having an affair with his best friend (Mark), at times fades away so that various random story-elements can appear and then vanish as quickly as they happened. A sub-plot about a character's Mother having cancer is brought up and then promptly forgotten. A story-beat involving a drug dealer who wants his money back occurs and then is never spoken of again despite its lack of resolution. And the sex scenes, dear God, the gratuitous and extremely un-arousing sex-scenes!

"The Room" is a movie that is hard to describe because it is like seeing the most gruesome yet beautiful car-crash ever, and just staring at it for an hour and a half. When I first heard about "The Room" and was intrigued enough to seek it out, I found something just incredible. Other people feel the same way as the film has gained a big cult following full of midnight screenings where people yell at the screen, throw spoons (its an in-joke), and otherwise treat it sort of like a modern-day "Rocky Horror Picture Show" although I would argue "Rocky Horror" isn't actually flat-out horrible in the way "The Room" is.

The Book
Some of the cast of "The Room" in a moment without over-acting.
With my affinity for "The Room" clearly established, when I heard how a book would be coming out about the making of the movie written by Greg Sestero (AKA Mark) with assistance by Tom Bissell, I was very interested. I finally got my hands on a copy of the book not too long ago and read-through it quite fast--not because it is boring or a short-read, but because I was so entranced by the insanity of the story I couldn't stop wanting to learn more.

"The Disaster Artist" has an interesting structure in that up until about the end of the end of the book the chapters alternate between telling about the production process of "The Room" from start-to-finish, and sharing with us just how Greg came to meet Tommy and eventually witness the birth of Tommy's idea for "The Room". Seeing as how funny the actual film is, it is not surprising that "The Disaster Artist" at times is laugh-out-loud hilarious in discussing how if we think the movie "The Room" is a mess we should have been there for the debacle that was the actual filming of the flick. The thing is though, the book also at times is incredibly saddening too.
This was the actual "theatrical" poster.
I use quotes because the movie's first run was two weeks in length.
Greg admits in the book how he was at a low enough point in his life he probably needed a friend as badly as the incredibly-weird Tommy did when they met, with the ups-and-down that occurred as Greg's life at times changed for the better or worse often straining the relationship between Tommy and himself. Throughout the book it is made clear how Tommy Wiseau may be a man with a big-ego, incredible optimism, and silly personality, but a lot of that is to hide away the fact that Tommy is in many ways very lonely and sad--resulting in there often being friction at the times it seems Greg doesn't need Tommy as a friend as much as Tommy needs Greg. Those occasions when Greg is briefly able to pierce through Tommy's emotional armor and bring about rage, sadness, or any kind of honesty elicit an equal amount of sympathy and concern. Greg does not sugarcoat how his relationship with Tommy wasn't always a happy-go-lucky friendship, but sometimes full of pettiness, anger, and crying.

"The Disaster Artist" shows us how "The Room" is not just a movie that was poorly done, it shows us a man desperate to be in control and construct his own fantasy world where he is beloved and the only purely-good person in a story where his fiance cheats on him with his own best friend. That seems to happen because even in this world created by Tommy things go sour, but at least his character Johnny has some aspect of the American dream that it is made clear Tommy so desperately wants in his otherwise quiet and lonely life. When seeing the movie we don't realize just how much of Tommy was put into the character of Johnny, but the book makes it so clear--Tommy is a man with much money (we never know exactly how he came into such wealth) but little else, and Johnny is a man with all that "else" the man playing him wishes so badly he had--friends, love, a happy life.
While the book is by Sestero, much time is spent talking about Tommy Wiseau
 Despite this being a book by Greg Sestero and from his point-of-view, this is in the end a story all about Tommy Wiseau, the man, the mystery, the person behind a film so awful it becomes a masterpiece. This book is engrossing in how it can at times be incredibly funny and heartbreaking all at once. Sestero had an assistant-writer in the form of Tom Bissell, so I can't say for sure how much more one did than the other, but the stories are clearly all Greg's experiences and whatever Bissell does to make the story flow smoothly results in a fascinating book.

I love the movie "The Room", always wondered how it got made and suspected there was something to Tommy beyond his quirky appearance and behavior. "The Disaster Artist" helps illustrate the crazy way "The Room" came into existence, along with the good times and bad times the author had with the ever-enigmatic Tommy Wiseau. Should you be a fan of "The Room" this is basically required read for you, and if you just have wondered how bad movies can get made, this also will be helpful. I really loved this book, and between its humor, sadness, and all the questions that seem to swirl around Tommy Wiseau, I bet you'll find this to be a great read too.
5 out of 5 stars.

Side Note: If you're really curious about why folk throw spoons at the screen, it is because in the movie you at times see picture frames with nothing more than spoons in the photos--something Greg explains in the book being due to the set needing picture frames so Johnny and Lisa's house looks lived-in, but not having any images to replace the stock photos of spoons with.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Comics' Press Divide

I think there is a comics' press divide. This isn't startling news at all for most people, but hear me out about why I think it is just getting starker and more dramatic as opposed to something joyous like the internet bringing us all together.

You've got your mainstream comic-news--from the ones that basically are mouthpieces for big companies (Newsarama) to those report a lot of mainstream-news and just a little independent stuff besides the big companies such as Image and Dark Horse (CBRComic's Alliance are an example). I'm talking the really-small indies getting less coverage as opposed to my next example.

We've also got the really independent-focused stuff that barely goes near anything featuring capes and super-powers unless it is a particularly interesting book from a big publisher that still isn't part of the Big 2 (Marvel and DC)--unless of course the goal is to mock said comic, then have at it. The Comics Journal is a big example of this with its increasingly narrow focus on books that many comic-readers who only do the Big 2 have never heard of.

There are sites that walk the line between big-companies and tiny-press. Bleeding Cool makes its bread-and-butter on rumors and scuttlebutt but will have articles about the smaller-press books and even lesser-known book within the bigger companies too. The Comics Reporter basically just talks about anything of any interest that happens in comics because I think writer Tom Spurgeon is half-computer with all the content he always is putting up. Plus, many blog-writers can do whatever they want and talk about big books one post and small ones another; after all, as just a single person or a few people do them it is easy to post whatever is wanted (Caleb on "Everyday is Like Wednesday" is a good example of someone who writes about anything, and does it well)--that is different from these big sites though.

I suppose what I'm getting at is that while we all know there seems to be this huge divide in comics between those who like more mainstream-titles and the folk who only enjoy the really small-press stuff, there are plenty of people who enjoy both kinds of work, be they super-heroes from Marvel and DC, bigger-name titles from Image, IDW, or Dark Hourse, or really small-press books that are harder to find and hear about. That makes it all the more sad that the websites that do this reporting still seem to be in their own little group of only talking about particular comics and dismissing all others. One reason I really like Bleeding Cool is probably because it loves all comics, and discusses everything from the huge blockbuster to a small indie-title with the same enthusiasm or disdain depending on the quality of the book.

Maybe I'm not the one to talk about this, seeing as there is much time I spend discussing more mainstream titles or books that may be from slightly-smaller publishers, but which are still relatively-well known. I like to think I do cover some slightly lesser-known books too, and enjoy everything from the most mainstream title to something done by the tiniest indie, because good comics are enjoyable no matter how big or small a name made them.

I guess I don't have much point to this article besides saying that maybe the comics' press should try to diversify more. It can only encourage people to broaden their horizons and develop a taste for a whole new book they maybe wouldn't have heard of if a website had passed-over discussing it. Variety is the spice of life, you know.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Television Tuesday--"Modern Family"

I didn't start watching "Modern Family" regularly until recently. I had seen the occasional episode and found it funny, but on Black Friday of last year there were a bunch of seasons of the show on sale for incredibly cheap, so I bought them to enjoy with my girlfriend--whom had expressed a fondness for the show in the past also.

Having now seen all of the first four seasons and most of what has been coming out this fifth one, I can say that "Modern Family" is indeed a funny show, at times even an genius one. That makes it all the harder how sometimes there are those miserable episodes that just don't impress--but at least the quality ones are stellar.
Phil Dunphy is probably my favorite character on the show.
I've often read on the internet that a lot of people feel "Modern Family" was best in its 1st and maybe 2nd season and then went downhill. I disagree. I actually feel the show didn't start hitting its stride until around season 3 which has a lot of episodes I enjoyed, and the 4th was quite the hoot too. As I said earlier though, sometimes there will be episodes that just drag, often because they focus-in on the characters that are less interesting than others. For example, I love Phil and Claire Dunhpy, but their daughters and the usual cliche trials and  tribulations they go through as growing teenagers can just be a yawn. Luke is hilarious though, for sure. Still, I find the show is best when it is setting up a massive gag that pays off at the end, such as one of my favorite episodes where everything leads up to a amazingly funny and accurate "Godfather" homage.

"Modern Family" is a great show, even if it sometimes will drag a bit. I differ from many in thinking that it becomes its best around the 3rd season and has been maintaining that stride to current day, but you can always start from the beginning of the series if you haven't viewed it and want to see for yourself who is right. With its mixture of the occasional 5-star episode, and a bit more 3-star ones than I would like, I would say Modern Family still manages a very impressive 4 out of 5 stars from me.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I'm Engaged!

I just thought I would tell all my readers, that my girlfriend whom I mention sometimes, Samii, and I are now engaged! I proposed earlier today and she said yes! While we will of course be celebrating this engagement which I timed to coincide with her Spring Break so we can enjoy relaxing, I do have a couple articles already cued up to post during the next number of days so don't worry about having to go a week or two without my trademark rambling.

UPDATE: This accidentally posted as if it were put-up on Thursday the 13th when actually I wrote it on Sunday the 16th. I've fixed it now.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bits of News and Commentary For Your Brain

Interesting things are happening in the world. We should discuss them...
When I first head this news about Netflix making a deal with Comcast to improve streaming (something that can now be done due to how net neutrality as we knew it is dead), it made me worry. I of course want those who use Comcast to get good picture-quality, but when companies start making deals like this I wonder how it will affect various websites and online game-playing services, as this article discusses. I'm just concerned we will enter an era where big companies can have their websites operate quickly and everyone without mega-bucks will find their websites (or even blogs like my own) crawling along at dial-up speeds no matter how powerful someone's internet is.

I absolutely love the work of Ashley Wood. Therefore, when I heard he and T.P. Louise were going to be doing a new comic with/for IDW called, "The Beautiful War" I knew I would be reading it before even having a clue what the comic was about. Oh, and the article mentions a book coming out in June by Wood that you just know is going to rock too.

I love movies, so it was saddening to read today that one of the most ubiquitous voices we would hear when it came time to see the movie-previews and trailers has passed from cancer. Hal Douglas is a man whose face you may have never seen, but whose voice you undoubtedly have heard many, many times. Anytime I see a preview in the future I'll probably imagine it is his voice narrating the action--that is how ingrained he is in my head when it comes to trailers.

The first official photo from the new show featuring John Constantine
There are numerous times I don't think it is necessary to have the horrible habit that is smoking in a movie or television show, but when it comes to John Constantine the fact that he smokes is so ingrained in the character it would be odd to have a television show where he doesn't ever light-up. I can see how it even serves the plot with the 1st-season cliffhanger being him learning he has lung-cancer or something, just as happened in the comic (and was a plot-point in the terrible movie we shall not speak of again).

At the time that plane flying from Malaysia disappeared I thought that it would either land shortly someplace due to a hi-jacking, or sadly be found as wreckage somewhere. Then the plane wasn't found, and people still have no clue what happened to it. It is very weird stuff.

Everyone likes to talk about how the Wii U is an immense failure and dead-in-the-water. This pleasant article points out there are things to like about the machine, but it is suffering problems that if not fixed in 2014, could in fact spell its doom. Then again, some say the mystery device Nintendo is working on for healthy lifestyles or such is a way to slowly phase out the Wii U, so who knows?

He may refuse to do any press-interactions,
but Steve Ditko still has that interesting-style to his art.
I myself am kind of burnt-out on Kickstater lately with all the scandals (John Campbell's project has become a mess full of awful behavior), or just how delayed it often seems projects often get--or just fall apart completely leaving people without their money or rewards. That said, it still can be a good way for someone to get their work out there, and if you are a person like the reclusive Steve Ditko, who still has a fervent fan-base but does little press for his small comic-projects, then Kickstarter can be a great idea. I wonder just how much he will raise in the end.

This article by The AV Club came out almost a month ago but I finally got around to reading it. It points out how currently many Marvel comics have fascinating and varied art-styles. I would agree. As an article on Comics Alliance pointed out way back in November, it sort-of feels like DC has a house-style to their comics, but Marvel does not--and that results in a much richer experience for readers at the former company as opposed to the other. I may be highly critical of the ever-increasing comic-price many comics have, but at least it seems Marvel with their "Marvel NOW" initiative is trying new and interesting things--as opposed to DC, which is trying things that seem utterly bonkers (see my article about the insanity of 3 weekly titles for an example) while having relatively dull art and stories.

Lastly, this is why we can't have nice things, due to stunts like this. Yes, that viral-video everyone loved of various strangers meeting for the first time and then kissing has turned out to be little more than an ad for a clothing company. We can add this to the list of internet-video hoaxes (Hello, twerking-fail) and now be getting to a point where we feel we can't believe anything on the internet...which I guess is at least better than believing everything on the internet?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Rant-Reviews On DC and Image Comics Because Why Would You Want To Go Outside In The Warm Weather?

The weather is actually getting nicer finally, here in Saint Louis and much of the nation. Therefore, let us celebrate this warming-up by staying indoor and reading some more comics. It makes perfect sense to me, at least...

Elephantmen #54/#4
This is the fifty-fourth entry in this series, but for some reason as of issue #51 they have been doing a subtle kind-of renumbering, mainly as a way to draw in new readers. Another way to make this new-reader friendly is it seems a lot of the plot has been stripped down, with instead of us focusing on the big cast of this series and all they have gone through up to issue #50, the focus has turned to a detective and how he is working with the Elephantman character (who is actually a Hippo) named Hip Flask. That continues in this issue and things are continuously getting weirder.

Between it appearing that the evil MAPPO is more alive and well than anyone ever suspected, and a hallucination that actually may more-so be a ghost, Elephantmen remains intriguing even all these issues since it first started. While these new issues have definitely been more new-reader friendly, this one starts to make it apparent that past events haven't been forgotten with certain characters being mentioned or starting to pop up--making it evident that an over-arching plot about MAPPO and all the trouble they cause still is in play. Elephantmen is always a solid read and this issue continues that trend.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Wake #6
Now this is interesting. As was briefly hinted-at during the first five issues of "The Wake" we now are in a flooded world, something that came about due to the events of the first half of the book. It is interesting to see the focus go from a small underwater research station set in 2014 to two hundred years later in this post-apocalypse-styled kind of world.. It definitely is creative and between Scott Snyder's good writing and Sean Murphy's ever-incredible artwork, this is a solid book that has gotten even better thanks to growing from a small-scale horror-ish story to a globe-spanning science-fiction epic. Cool stuff.
4 out of 5 stars.

Revenge #1
I greatly enjoyed Jonathan Ross' "America's Got Powers", and figured "Revenge" was worth checking out. Well, this comic is quite different from "Powers" or his other work I've read some of, "Turf". This is a super-violent and hyper-sexual comic loaded with blood, nudity, and just enough heart to not be completely devoid of soul. Basically our protagonist, Frank Griffin, is an aging movie star who has a new hit movie on his hands and the desire to keep looking young-enough to still get work. This leads to some questionable surgery down in Mexico that turns out to all be a plot to ruin him financially and cause him a lot of physical pain too. It's a perfectly fine comic if not amazing, but should you enjoy gore and topless women with a hint of soul thanks to Griffin not being that bad a guy, then this is a good comic to check out.
3 out of 5 stars.

Forever Evil #6
Throughout its running I have found "Forever Evil" to be perfectly decent. I haven't read the stand-alone mini-series that tie-in with the event much at all, but have been following Justice League as it ties-in, which seems kind of like mandatory reading to fully understand what is going on (kind of like how during "Blackest Night" you really needed to be reading the "Green Lantern" book too). Even though I haven't read much tie-ins, I 'm still able to follow along easily, and have found "Forever Evil" to be that sort of story that is perfectly decent without ever truly great throughout basically every issue. It has some impressive set-piece moments, a startling death (or potential death) here-and-there, a few kind-of shocking occurrences, and while some people hate David Finch's art, I've found it serviceable and generally solid.

This is just a comic that excels at being "good enough" and not much more. It also is odd (and potentially good for folks' pocketbooks) that so few comics seem to be really tying-in with this series. You have the big Villain's Month event, the Justice League books, Suicide Squad, the stand-alone titles...and that's it, I think. It is still plenty of comics I'm not bothering to read, but it doesn't seem like the deluge that accompanies some events. How was this issue itself though? Again, perfectly serviceable, although I doubt a certain characters apparent death is for real, and that ending is a bit odd with--Spoiler Warning--it turning out the hooded man is Alexander Luthor, a reverse-version-sorta of Shazam? Okay, that's different.
3 out of 5 stars.

Monday, March 10, 2014

I Feel Like This Comic Was Made Just For Me--"Moon Knight" #1

Warren Ellis is one of my favorite writers. Moon Knight is one of my favorite characters. When I heard that the former would be writing the adventures of the latter I thought that perhaps I had won a metaphysical lottery where something improbable somehow comes about through magic/happenstance/God.

So, yeah, A Warren Ellis' Moon Knight comic, that faint sound you may hear in the distance is me still squealing with glee at the initial news and having now finished this first issue.
I haven't read a Moon Knight comic this good since the early Doug Moench stuff and that amazing Huston-written 13th issue of "Moon Knight" back when he wrote it and then Benson took over. This is Moon Knight written properly--not as an ersatz Batman, but a person who is quite possibly utterly insane but dedicated to fighting crime when not combating his own psychological ailments. Warren Ellis takes Marc Spector and between the present-day and a very-revealing flashback uses all of Moon Knight's history--even the somewhat wonky Bendis stuff--and lets it all play a part in forming the strange entity that is the hero who calls himself Moon Knight.

Spector is written as both highly-intelligent (which he is) and with that hint of being just-quite unbalanced and therefore having that dangerous edge (which he definitely has in excess). In this issue Moon Knight--or "Mr. Knight" as he has to be called because "Moon Knight" is a dangerous vigilante, but the police can work with "Mr. Knight" as he is simply a concerned citizen--helps solve a murder mystery and prevents any future murders from happening with his particularly violent brand of justice. Without spoiling too much I will say we clearly are back to a Moon Knight who doesn't hesitate to kill (as depending on whom is writing him he either doesn't flinch at the idea, or tries his hardest to not kill-ify folk).
Shalvey knows how to set-up a page.
What takes this comic from just being an amazing Moon Knight comic to being a piece of mastery are the contributions of artist Declan Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire. I don't normally point out a colorist's work, but Bellaire does something ingenious in that everything besides Moon Knight is a muted color, but Marc Spector's alter-ego is a blinding white that stands out from the page in a marvelous fashion. Shalvey also does some amazing work, giving us high-tech limos, creative gadgets, hideous monsters, and clever page design to tie all those elements together.

All this "Marvel Now" business that Marvel has been doing has produced some stinkers, but also seems to be in the process of bringing us incredible comics that feature characters that normally are B-list at best in the eyes of most folk, but through great writers and tremendous artists make for superb comics. This series coming into existence is like some fever dream of mine that I would have never dared to imagine actually coming true. Ellis writing and someone superb like Shalvey on art--with this amazing colorist named Bellaire too? It is incredible, and I really hope enough people buy and support this comic to keep it going for a long, long time--at least as long as it is this good.
5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Rant-Reviews--Marvel Comics That Make an Effort

Effort Versus Barely Trying
There are some Marvel comics out there that feel like they are phoning it in, so to speak (Bendis' X-Men comics, for one example). It's just the usual bit of drama, a dash of action, some angry dialogue, a sampling of fighting, and so forth. Then we have the Marvel comics that seem to actually be making an effort. You know, they've got a solid story, great dialogue, well-done action and fighting that actually looks like fighting instead of character's just posing at each other, as awesome-writer Abhay noted DC and Marvel comics are wont to do. These Marvel comics I'm going to discuss are the ones that actually make an effort, and even if they don't fully succeed at least they are trying, so that counts for something.

"A" for Effort Comics, and Sometimes an "A" Overall Too!
Daredevil #36
Since he started his run of Daredevil with the assistance of various wonderful artists, Mark Waid has set out to make this a Daredevil comic very unlike the previous ones--you know, since Frank Miller made it seem the only way to do a Daredevil series was to have it be as grim as the reaper (yah, puns!). Waid gave us a Matt Murdock who despite all his struggles wants to be happy, and in this issue Waid removes that one last thing holding Murdock down--his non-secret "secret" identity. Ever since Bendis did the comic (and did a great job, even if it was the usual dark and depressing stuff) everyone has known Matt Murdock is Daredevil but been unable to prove it. Well, in this issue Murdock openly declares, under oath, he is in fact Daredevil. It's a big turn in the character's story and precipitates him moving out to California as he will be doing in the next issue...which is actually #1 as they are re-launching the series and charging an extra dollar for it (now it'll be $3.99).

While I've greatly enjoyed this series, I feel this 36th issue is a good stopping point for me as I've continuously been cutting  back on comics, as I've told you all often, and the book starting with a new first issue and costing more money just has me thinking perhaps it makes more sense to flip through the trade paperbacks of this now. Be that as it may, this was a great series, with Mark Waid making that ever-important effort to bring us a Daredevil we hadn't seen in a long time--a fun one.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Origin II #3
Kieron Gillen has the unenviable task of following up on "Origin", the comic that told us once and for all just where Wolverine came from. This 2nd series has been interesting and is clearly trying to fill in more of the story too, it just is having a little trouble getting everything to click into place. We're meeting characters such as Sabertooth (when he was just "Creed") and other interesting folk...but the comic has a few things that bother me. Gillen wants to jam Mister Sinister into the story and while it makes sense from a continuity standpoint (Sinister has been around forever), it just feels odd to have this story set far in the past with a character I can't help but think of with a big elaborate cape and super-hero costume--even if he is dressed down for this series.

 I also was worried about Creed's inclusion in the comic, but that actually works pretty well. Gillen is clearly trying very hard to make a quality story here, even if it is stumbling in parts. I feel if he can work out the kinks and have me get over the usage of Mister Sinister this may turn out to be quite a winning series. We will see though.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Hawkeye #15
Even though issue #16 came out first a few weeks ago, because of the way different characters have different stories happening in each issue it didn't horribly destroy the momentum this comic has had--and boy what momentum it is! Nobody expected a comic about a secondary-character like Hawkeye whom has failed to carry his own comic to be as good as, and successful as, this series has been. Issue #15 doesn't change any of that, continuing the matching of Fraction's stellar writing with David Aja's killer art.

This has been one of the best comics coming out for awhile, and it is always encouraging to see it continue being great. I just wonder how everything will work when collected if Marvel has to pull more release-order shenanigans and put out issue #18 before #17 now to give Aja more time to illustrate. The only thing that I'm really concerned about in this issue is if Clint and his brother Barney are going to be okay after the shocking end of this comic.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Mighty Avengers #7
While Al Ewing had been doing wonderful writing on this comic, Greg Land seemed to be putting forth little effort in his work for the series (he is just so mediocre). Well thankfully, as of issue #6 we haven't had Land doing any interior art, so now the story-telling is mostly matched in quality by the drawing. I say "mostly" because sometimes things can still look a little rough or hard-to-follow, but overall this is some quality comic-booking. This issue is snazzy in that at the end it starts to hint at how various plot-points will be coming together and shows us that all the little things are working in a tapestry to create a big mystery. Ewing supplies some great story-telling with a dash of humor and this is basically now the only book with "Avengers" in the title I'm reading...although I will be checking out "Avengers Undercover" when that comes out.
4 out of 5 stars. 

All-New X-Factor #3
The only vaguely X-team-related comic I'm reading, I clearly am already a fan of this series because it is a comic written by Peter David, and it involves a team with the title "X-Factor". This team may not be the same incredible group as the last iteration of the series had (and which I often expressed great love for), but still make for a quality comic, with David's trademark wit and interesting plot-reveals, of which there is one big one this issue about where a character's allegiances may lie.

I'm still not sure if the company X-Factor is working for, Serval, is evil, good, or something in-between, but that is just one of the many questions I imagine David will reveal to us as the comic goes on. This is already a great series with only three issues out so far, and a great issue on its own merit too. I look forward to a hopefully long run of this series.
4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Jerry's Journal Volume 2" Review AKA The Angriest Bird I Know

Back some time ago I reviewed a copy of the first volume of "Jerry's Journal", an independent comic by Neil Fitzpatrick. I enjoyed the dichotomy between the lovely artwork with an cute bird named Jerry and the horribly depressing and cynical things he said/felt. 

Upon running into Fitzpatrick at another comic convention I picked up a copy of the 2nd volume in our titular character's adventures into depression, and while Jerry may be miserable his negative outlook does make for a greatly entertaining comic.
Jerry at times ponders the big thoughts.
This volume of Jerry's adventures is even more interesting than the last book, because while it opens with the usual assortment of fun strips full of self-loathing, Fitzpatrick notes at the start of the book that during his time making these strips he had what apparently was a bad relationship (it isn't made quite clear what happened), that results in Jerry's comics morphing from usual one-and-done strips into what feels like a long treatise on love, hate, loneliness, and confusion.

Jerry is not a likable character. He is mad, and the only thing he seems to hate more than other people is himself. Reading the comics with Jerry ranting and raving about how someone hurt him is equal parts sad, funny, and pitiful. You feel bad for Jerry, but he also is clearly so mired in his own self-righteous anger he doesn't see that maybe he is a bit at fault for whatever hurt him so badly too. It is kind of like having a friend who tells you about a break-up and it is of course all from the friend's point of view, but you can just tell from how they tell you things they clearly made their own mistakes too, but don't want to admit it.
This volume's shift from casual dark-humor to pitch-black jokes about a broken-heart results in a comic that is incredibly interesting thanks to the stark contrast between this adorable-looking bird and his rage that leaves you feeling both bad for him and thinking he should just get over himself.

How much of the comics were Fitzpatrick himself working through anger and coming to terms with whatever happened in his life, and how much is simply Jerry being his usual self is unclear, but there is definitely a palpable rage behind the seemingly innocent illustrations a reader picks up on that feels so raw that Jerry's Journal goes from just being a fun-if-depressing-comic to a peek into someone's uncaged emotions, all illustrated to the tune of a pleasant-looking cartoon bird.
The only thing Jerry hates more than other people is himself.
I greatly enjoyed "Jerry's Journal Volume 2", liking it even more than the first entry in the series thanks to it developing what isn't a story-line necessarily, but a plot expressed through emotions. Neil Fitzpatrick can be found at his website, Neil Jam, and I would encourage you to check his stuff out.
4.5 out of 5 stars

Note: A review copy of this book was provided by the creator but all my reviews are, as always, objective and sometimes brutal