Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Good Independent Comic--Dash #1

I'm hoping to post one of my "rant-review" segments where I do a bunch of capsule reviews of comics, but I am a bit behind on some of the more "mainstream" series I'm reading I instead have lately been checking out more and more independent and smaller-press stuff. Perhaps I'll get some rant-reviews up of those even, but for now I thought I would point out one smaller-press comic I read and especially quite enjoyed. It is titled "Dash" and contains story elements I often quite like, namely noir-type stuff, but with a twist.

Dash Malone is a private investigator in 1940's Los Angeles. He hasn't gotten a case in awhile until the start of the comic when a woman named Zita Makara has come to his office hoping for help exchanging, "A large sum of money," for an item she insists Dash will find of little importance. Zita attempts to use her sex appeal to get Dash to take the case, but that is where one of the first interesting elements of the story come into play that make it more than your usual "old-timey detective tale." Namely, Dash Malone is gay, and only sort-of in the closet with it clear some know about his background (especially on the police force, interestingly) but many more people who don't. He of course realizes Zita's request sounds fishy, but as he really needs some income he decides to sleep on it.

Zita really wants Dash to take her case.
From this point the comic spends much of its time introducing the other various characters that will play a role in the story, such as Dash's assistant Cindy, his one friend on the police force, Sal, and his secret-lover Johnny Plinketts--or "Plink", for short. We actually meet both Sal and Plink at the same time, as Dash and Plink find their romantic meet-up in the park interrupted by Sal--who chides them that if it were any other cop they could be going to prison for, "Public Sodomy." Sal also mentions a strange series of murders going on near the park, a plot element I didn't realize would become as important as it does.

After we start getting feel for the characters the plot advances some more, with Dash trying to get in contact with Zita (whom he learns works at the museum giving tours of the Egyptian exhibit), but finding it increasingly difficult to locate her. Then the issue comes to its cliffhanger that involves a character Dash knows becoming another victim of the mysterious murderer, with it actually surprising me a bit which character is affected. This twist, which I won't fully spoil so as to encourage you to pick-up the comic, makes it clear future issues will have Dash trying to figure out who is behind the murders and how it relates to the people he knows and has recently met.

Dash and his lover "Plink".
I greatly enjoyed "Dash". As I mentioned I love noir-type stories and a good detective yarn always gets my attention. When I first heard about "Dash" being a mystery story and then learned that it also incorporated the intriguing element of the main character being a gay man in a time being gay was especially dangerous, I knew it was a comic I wanted to read! Writer Dave Ebersole gives us a suspenseful story and artist Delia Gable provides artwork that is appropriately moody, with muted colors and a slight feeling of unease that compliments the events of the story perfectly.

The aforementioned Northwest Press is behind this comic, and is a publisher that focuses on putting out, "The best lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender comics collections and graphic novels," and, "Celebrating the LGBT comic's community." This first issue of "Dash" definitely is a great comic and one a person can enjoy regardless of their sexuality--although it is of course encouraging to see more diversity in comics. As Northwest Press is a smaller publisher your local comic shop may not carry "Dash", so if you want a physical or digital copy you can check it out on their website here. I would recommend you do!
4 out of 5 stars.

Note: A digital review copy of "Dash" was provided at my request.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Marvel and Jack Kirby's Family Actually Have Settled?

In news that I did not see coming, Marvel Comics and the family of Jack Kirby have actually settled their long-running dispute over the copyright of characters he created. It was thought the U.S. Supreme Court might take the case up on Monday and that it could heavily impact copyright law in our nation. I guess Marvel thought their odds were bad enough that finally settling was a better option than going to court. We don't yet know what the settlement was, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were some huge number like a billion dollars.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My Thoughts on the Game "Destiny"

This isn't a review of "Destiny" even though I will give a "score" in a sense of rating how much fun I had during my playing-time. I say that because while over the past week I played the game a great deal as a rental from Redbox on my PS3, I didn't get far enough to feel I experienced everything. Don't get me wrong, I did a lot; I went to every story-mission planet in the game except Mars (which is towards the end) and played a variety of matches in the, "Crucible," where people can fight other players. All that said, I didn't hit the technically highest level of 20, and have only played as the "Hunter" class. Therefore, I don't think I can truly "review" Destiny, but I can offer my thoughts on it, as many have been doing lately.

"Destiny" is a first-person shooter with a bunch of RPG elements, and it is online. It's quite the mish-mash of genres and to the credit of developer Bungie it mostly works well. That is the basic way to define the game, but what is "Destiny" in a broader sense? To answer that I would say that "Destiny" is fun, good-looking, and encourages socialization. "Destiny" is also at times dull, repetitive, and very lonely. While I would often love looking at the beautiful rusting buildings and barren lands on various planets, I would get tired of seeing the exact ones for mission-after-mission as I kept going into the same buildings to shoot the same enemies.

I would get a thrill from scoring a perfect head-shot on an alien, or using my throwing-knife against a robotic "Vex" and hearing a satisfying "thunk" as it slammed into them, but on the other hand I would grow tired of countless waves of the same-looking aliens or Vex appearing in front of me and doing little besides charging or occasionally moving sideways until I shot them. Plus, those times I was in areas where I would have to start over if I died got pretty annoying around the 3rd time I lost 20 minutes of progress because an enemy got off a lucky shot or two. That made me a little enraged.

One big missed opportunity is the story. "Destiny" will at times have cut-scenes you can't skip where it gives off the impression that it is telling a grand space-opera of a story, when really the game is at best putting on airs. It opens promisingly enough with talk of a "Traveler" and a "Darkness" but soon melts away into nonsense, serving as little more than exposition to give you an excuse to go somewhere, shoot some stuff, scan an item, shoot more stuff, and get a last-second info-dump of useless story before getting kicked back out into orbit to decide on another mission. It's kind of sad really, because there is some great voice-talent on deck (Peter Dinklage serves as your "Ghost", a floating robot companion) but it all seems wasted on a story that appears as if it has a decent idea but does almost nothing useful with it. Clearly you aren't playing the game for the story then, but the adventures you can go on and the friends you can make. Therefore, you would think making friends is easy considering this is an online game, right? Well, you would be sort of correct.

"Destiny" will at times facilitate you meeting other players and forming "Fireteams" which are basically the "Parties" of other online games. You and two other people can create one and go run missions together. It is fun to meet other people, but the game is very weird in that for regular missions it won't help match you with folk, instead making you do the work of making friends in the main-city of the game, or when you run into the occasional stranger out in the main game-world. This is bizarre as the game will at other times helpfully assign you a team should you choose to do a "Strike" mission, which is basically like the dungeons of fantasy games where you fight through some weaker foes before facing a super-powerful "boss" character. Why "Destiny" chooses to be helpful for Strikes yet otherwise leaves you hanging is a good metaphor for much of the game, because as "Destiny" gives it also can taketh away.

What I mean by my previous statement is that "Destiny" can be really stingy with giving you good "Loot". As a lower level player I'll steadily level-up, but oftentimes find a small amount of items "drop" when I'm running missions that can result in my being level 15 but having level 10 gear--which doesn't sound too horrible until you think about how I'm facing enemies that are also level 15 and designed to fight players who are equipped for such an encounter.

Someone has reached level 30,
thanks to good item drops and a lot of playing.
Apparently things only get worse once you hit level 20, because to level-up further you need "Rare" and "Legendary" gear, which contains "light" and makes you a greater level than 20. These items can be extremely hard to come by or earn enough in-game money to purchase. Hence, when doing a super-hard Strike doesn't even guarantee you any reward at all, I imagine that is frustrating. This has resulted in players doing things such as taking advantage of a bug that allows them to enjoy a, "Loot Cave," which sounds a little like cheating, but I can understand people going there when they have a choice between playing difficult missions for hours and getting nothing, or mindless shooting aliens at a cave for a bit and having a somewhat decent chance of getting some sweet gear. Although now as of today the loot cave is no more, so there goes that option. I mean, most online games guarantee you some kind of reward when you play the hard stuff, and while "Destiny" is working on getting better at doing such, it isn't quite there.

It is interesting to note how "Destiny" can be so tight-fisted with rewards, because as if the game would realize when I was about to quit in rage it would suddenly provide me with a kickin' pulse rifle, or a beautiful-looking and wonderfully stat-heavy helmet. Perhaps this mixture of anger and joy simply illustrates "Destiny" has a good grasp of a punishment-reward system, in that I am punished with repetitive missions and enemies but, "Thrown a bone," in the form of some awesome equipment just often enough to want to keep playing. That's the crux of it really, "Destiny" makes you mad and bores you, but then chooses sometimes to give you something really useful or show-off a gorgeous landscape and makes you want to keep playing to see what's next, even if it will be 3 hours of monotony before a blast of joy.

"Destiny" is a game that is gorgeous even if you're playing on a PS3 as I did, but it also gets old traipsing around the same places countless times. "Destiny" is a game that is fun with others, but will often have you by yourself. "Destiny" is a game that can feel rewarding but much of the time has you annoyed, and all of that sums up "Destiny" well. It is a game which you can describe as, "It's good, but..." because no matter what kind thing you have  to say about the game, there usually is a caveat to follow-up with. All of that said, if you approach "Destiny" not expecting something utterly amazing as all the pre-game hype built it up to be and you go in knowing you'll need to be patient with all the boring stuff to enjoy the exciting parts, then you will have fun. Should you expect a constant stream of rewards, excitement, and new environs to explore every mission you'll find yourself cursing the game relentlessly.

I truly did have a great deal of fun while renting "Destiny" and will probably buy it when the price drops or I make enough money to buy a PS4 and transfer my save over (a nice feature) as I am still an extremely poor AmeriCorps VISTA. I had avoided reading much about "Destiny" compared to many others who had gotten so excited for the game that nothing could have met their expectations; that is probably why I had the degree of fun I did, and why I would indeed recommend you check "Destiny" out if you want to have an interesting and enjoyable experience. Plus, Bungie has made it clear they plan to keep adding things to the game (some stuff for free and others costing money) so I bet in a few months or a year "Destiny" will be a bit different than it is now, and quite possibly even better.

The only thing I am mostly sure of is that the story will probably still be atrocious in the future; that's a case of needing to not just throw the baby out with the bathwater, but it being a good idea to dump the bath too. Maybe keep Peter Dinklage around if a sequel is made, because even if people have been making fun of his subpar job in the game I thought he did good work with what he had. That's "Destiny" at its core really, doing a good job with what it has, but nothing amazing.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Music Videos Have Made a Bit of a Quiet Comeback

MTV is "Music Television" in the same way TLC is "The Learning Channel".
I was sitting and thinking, as I am prone to do sometimes, and came to an interesting realization--it seems music videos have made a bit of a comeback. Just think about how back in the late 1980's and during the 1990's you would have stations such as MTV, VH1, BET, and so forth playing music videos all the time. However after some years they started playing them less in favor of other programs...then only at late hours of the day or during their video count-down shows...and then basically never.

I did a report for a college class back in the mid-2000's where we evaluated a particular health-message in various forms of media. One of the forms of media we were supposed to evaluate was the music video. My professor said for the next year he was probably going to drop music videos from the project because they just seemed to never be broadcast anymore, and at that time I agreed. Then something interesting happened, YouTube became really popular (and watching music videos on iTunes, or other websites, but mainly it was YouTube).

These days you still will almost never find music videos on basic cable channels. However, if you go onto the internet and search for a song that is quite popular the odds are not too shabby it will have a music video. Sure, these music videos may not have the insane production values that some contained back in the 1990's when videos were in their heyday (Michael Jackson spent literally millions on his, for one example), but they exist. Whether it is an extremely mediocre pop-rapper declaring how she is fancy, or Snoop Dogg and Jason Derulo--excuse me--"Jasoooon Derullloooo", informing women with large bottoms they need to wiggle, new songs are indeed getting music videos.

I honestly would not have predicted this happening; I thought music videos were going to go the way of VHS tapes and Surge--namely, old ones would still be around getting dusty and spoiled, but new ones would not be produced. However, just like Surge, music-videos now are making a comeback thanks to the internet. This isn't a loud and outrageous return, but a quiet one that nonetheless is occurring. Perhaps this is because we as human beings like to have both visual and auditory stimulation, so it makes sense that music videos would refuse to go away. After all, why would we want to strain our imagination and think of imagery for a song when we can just log onto the web and see some (he asked slightly sarcastically)?
We've always desired something to "see" with what we hear.
I suppose music videos evolving into a form of internet-entertainment is another example of a form of media staying alive by keeping current with technology. Being able to digitally-download video-games is another example, with computer-gamers barely buying discs now, and consoles starting to have more and more digital purchases (downloadable content, anyone?). The only thing that annoys me about these internet music-videos now is that sometimes artists will have their video with one website or service exclusively. Therefore, if you want to see the newest video of Popstar A, you have to go onto Streaming Service 2, which may be annoying if you only ever use Streaming Service 1--e.g. why the Hell would you put your music video on Yahoo when everyone uses YouTube? Still, that is a somewhat minor complaint overall and probably won't ruin internet music videos or anything major.

While I once thought music videos were doomed they have now risen from the ashes of cable television like the veritable phoenix of legends. It has been truly interesting to see this form of media that I thought was petering out come roaring back--albeit in a quiet-ish roar, if such a metaphor makes any sense. I can only wonder what other seemingly antiquated form of media or technology will suddenly be given new life thanks to the creativity of others. I really am curious what could get updated next. Maybe the watch? Nah, who would do that?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

An Assortment of Interesting Links

What Time Is It?
There are always fascinating things happening in the world, so we shall link to some of them with a bit of my commentary included.

Why, It's Link Time!
This article about the history of Wonder Woman, feminism, and equality between the sexes is a fascinating read. It's a bit lengthy but tells more about Wonder Woman in a span of some paragraphs than other books I've read about the character have been able to.

I've been renting for the PS3 (thank you Redbox!) what is arguably the biggest game release of the year, "Destiny." I've enjoyed it, but at the same time felt weirdly let-down despite wanting to keep playing. Various reviews have expressed the same opinion, but this article of thoughts summarizes things amazingly.

I can't help myself--clearly--which is why I did another post about open carry and gun control that got a lot of views, was linked to by angry open carry groups, and received attention but interestingly less comments. I sometimes wonder how proponents of Open Carry can twist reality to fit their perception, and this article does a good job explaining the secret. Namely, just refuse to accept reality.

Alan Moore will be writing a comic set in the Avatar Press' "Crossed" universe, but 100 years after all the initial mayhem, as this article announces. For those who don't know, "Crossed" is about a mystery virus/plague that reduces people to near-mindless monsters that kill and violate anything they can. It started some years ago under the pen of Garth Ennis and has expanded into various mini-series and ongoing-series. I like a variety of his work and am intrigued to witness how Moore will script what is basically a post-post-apocalypse tale set in such a demented world. Regardless of if the comic turns out great or horrible, it will without a doubt be interesting.

People have started intentionally breeding cats with a genetic disorder that gives them weirdly scraggly fur, kind of like a wolf--hence their nickname of, "Werewolf cats." Known as the new breed, Lykoi,  this article goes into a discussion about the complex ethics of how selective breeding of our pets has resulted in animals that may look neat, but are by no means healthy. Basically, we've hi-jacked evolution and instead of natural selection we are getting breeder-selection. I was most struck at the end of the article when it pointed out we get upset about genetically-modified foods, but have been doing it to our animal compatriots for a great deal of history.

Scotland may separate from the UK and become its own entirely independent country. It will be interesting to see what happens, and one could indeed wonder how this could impact the U.S. and other nations, as this article discusses.

Lastly, you may have heard the relatively under-reported news (I'm being silly, in case you can't tell) about how the iPhone 6 will be coming out soon in two versions, a big one and an even bigger one. I actually like the size of my 4S a great deal and think I'll take advantage of how the iPhone 5S should be cheaper with this new version coming out. A slightly larger 5S sounds better than a huge 6 or 6 Plus (as I believe the gigantic one is called). This article says how the new phones are a big deal, but I'll just be happy with an iPhone that actually fit easily in my pocket.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

More Thoughts on Race and "Open Carry"

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Hearthstone: Curse of Naxxramas" Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 4, 2014

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

If You'll Allow Me To Explain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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