Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Television Tuesday--This 18th Season of "Big Brother" Has Been Great Thanks to Some Incredible Personalities

Big Brother Season 18
I've written extensively about the reality-television program, "Big Brother," on the blog, usually making at least one post per season. We are now in the 18th season and after an incredibly mellow and admittedly dull 17th season I had concerns we were in for another far too laid-back Summer. Thankfully, there are players this time who are either fascinatingly good or hilariously bad to the degree that this season has been saved from monotony by a few key folk. The cast/"house-guests," are always important, because the whole point of, "Big Brother," is that a group of people are stuck in a house removed from society, and have to pick each other off one-by-one in hopes of being the last man/woman standing and getting 500,000 dollars. In the process of slowly kicking people out the houseguests play games where the winner has extra power to influence who goes home and all the off-time mixed with being stuck together results in delightful social mayhem--at least in theory. As I said, last season featured a house that was a bit disappointingly calm, and almost as if CBS was worried about this they brought back some former players to compete, but happily a few key people (all new) have kept things worth-watching this time. Let's discuss some.

The People Keeping Things Interesting
For the first number of weeks there was the usual feeling-out of everyone and quick dismissal of the most annoying house-guests (self-proclaimed, "Messiah," of the house-guests Jozea was quick to be booted much to his oblivious surprise) and then a routine started-up where it looked like the guys would slowly pick-off all the women, with a man named Paulie leading them. The younger-brother of season 16's runner-up, Cody, Paulie seemed like an okay guy and pretty smart planner at first. However, in the recent weeks he did the one thing winners of, "Big Brother," never do: He ran his dumb mouth.  Paulie began getting into squabbles with everyone in the house enough that folk started talking about him, and realized he was not-so-secretly trying to run the game. This resulted in Paulie getting nominated to go home and he continued his evolution from solid player to mean person to his final state: Crying and angry mess.

It was a fascinating change in personality as Paulie realized he was screwed-over by the very people that he had been taking advantage of. When he got sent to the jury house (a place where players of the game who got relatively far are put to vote on the eventual winner when two people are left) it was a wonderful moment of catharsis as the three women he had all played a part in getting there absolutely gave him a verbal lashing and ripped his ego apart, with spurned showmance (show-romance) Zakiyah taking great pleasure in repeatedly calling Paulie, "A little bitch." Paulie is stuck there in the jury house now and his family is embarrassed enough by all this they put out a statement blaming CBS for making Paulie look bad. The thing is, not too long ago Cody was a contestant and all of us viewers liked him, so I think this is more an issue of, "Hey, you can't look bad if you keep your mouth shut," than it is CBS actively trying to hurt the image of a person and make them be hated by America (he's not hated as much as Aaryn in Season 15, but that would be hard feat to pull-off). Still, while Paulie was a part of, "Big Brother," he was at least entertaining, especially when things started going down-hill for him.
Talk about a surprise. Victor at first glance appeared to be a boorish fool, a muscle-bound dummy whose personality upset many and resulted in his being the 3rd person sent home. Done deal, right? Well, there was a surprise competition where the first five house-guests could, "Battle back," to re-enter the house, and Victor won a match against the 2nd, 4th, and 5th person evicted to earn the right to re-enter the fabled, "Big Brother," household. That itself is pretty impressive, but once back he started playing a whole lot smarter, carefully making alliances with arguably the best player in the house, Paul (more on him in a minute) and actually proving he is amazing at competitions as he had stated before quickly going home--repeatedly winning positions of power in the house via both physical and mental competitions (he ain't just a muscular dumb-ass after all).

It looked like Victor's triumphant return would face another ending, however, with some other house-guests unfortunately gaining power who wanted Victor out and a swing-vote successfully finding him evicted again last week. However, there was yet another competition where jurors could compete to re-enter the house, and 15 minutes later he was back fighting for the chance to become a resident for an unprecedented third time. On Sunday  viewers saw that Victor did not win the entire competition, but he did indeed beat all the other jurors--or as the house-guest James put it on the live internet-feeds, "Is this guy the Terminator?" Victor is the kind of player you have to look out for--able to evolve his game when things aren't working-out, and a competition beast who has the sheer determination to keep coming back--even though he's been evicted twice! Should the house-guests get even another hint of solid shot to take Victor out they probably ought to jump on it, because if this guy makes it to the final two all he has to do is say to the jurors, "I got kicked-out twice and somehow made it this far," and he'll win the money.
Not to be confused with Paulie, Paul started out the game seeming like an abrasive loud-mouth. The thing is, he has really, really grown on me to the point he is my favorite player. I don't know if it is sense of humor, the fact he has been at risk of being evicted multiple times but always finds a way to survive in the game, or just his luxurious beard, but Paul is awesome. He will at times get into squabbles with house-guests, and is prone to changing alliances at the drop of a hat, but part of, "Big Brother," is being willing to see which way the wind is blowing in terms of friendships or alliances, and bend that way as hard as you can, because the people who don't bend often break. Speaking of, "Friendship," the fact that such a word has become his catch-phrase is very humorous too.

Paul isn't the perfect player of, "Big Brother," because he does draw attention to himself (many winners often coasted by quietly until toward the end when they struck), but his ability to navigate socially between all the various shifting alliances, and his skills at winning a variety of competitions has endeared him to me and made me truly hope Paul wins, because besides Victor there ain't anybody too interesting still playing.

Where are the Women?
You may have noticed I didn't list any women. The reason for that is the majority this season either were gone early (Bronte), stereotypical crying messes (Da'Vonne was a returning-player and got further than last time, but still bombed, Tiffany was always tearing-up and left early, Michelle does nothing but cry and occasionally gets so upset it makes her vomit) or attached themselves to a male player they've relied on to take them further in the game. There ain't nothing wrong with a good old fashioned showmance, but it just looks regressive if you're a woman in this game relying on a man to help you hopefully win. Bridgette was a bit of a lovesick puppy for returning-alum Frank (folk in the house dismissively called her his ,"Cabbage-patch kid), but once he left she did finally start to show some tenacity and backbone...but then got evicted, so that ruined any potential there.

Right now the only ladies left in the house are the always-sobbing wreck Michelle, returning alum-Nicole who has hooked-up with Corey (who is in fact a musclebound dummy), and Natalie who admits she isn't the smartest tool in the shed, but is quite nice...and really dependent on another past-season returner, self-described, "Asian redneck," James. It has been years since a woman won, "Big Brother," heck, it hasn't ever happened during the time I've watched the show, and I doubt it is going to happen this season. It is sad to think this is yet another Summer  where the guys overshadowed the gals, but it indeed occurred once more.

Good Fun
The apparently-mandatory picture of everyone in their bathing suits.
This season hasn't been as wild as past ones I've witnessed, but it has been enough fun that my wife and I sprung for the streaming-service known as, "CBS All Access," to watch what the house-guests are up to between shows (plus I can watch other CBS programs anytime without ads, I guess). I already know what Wednesday holds and hope that when the time to vote on who goes home arrives Thursday it is in fact Michelle--who was nominated with Paul on Sunday--that leaves. Some exciting people have kept the show fresh and as we get closer to the home-stretch I'm eager to see who makes it to the end. I really hope it is Paul or Victor, but not Paul and Victor because then I bet Victor will win, and at the end of the day Paul is my favorite.

Monday, August 29, 2016

"Titanfall 2" Tech-Test Impressions

I never played the first, "Titanfall," due to not having an Xbox One, but instead owning a Playstation 4 (and a computer not nearly powerful enough to play the original game). That made me kind of sad as I heard many good things. Therefore, when I heard about the tech-test for, "Titanfall 2," (they called it, "Pre-Alpha," but it worked well enough I don't know why they didn't just say, "Beta," like other free demo-weekends) I was eager to jump on the opportunity to play it. I got in a little bit of playing during the weekend of August 19th-21st and really spent a decent-chunk of time trying it out last weekend, the 26th-28th. Considering how the game was quite limited in what was available, I think it says a lot I enjoyed playing it as much as I did, and that I am really eager to jump-in again as soon as possible (the game officially comes out October 28th).

The main, "Hook," to the, "Titanfall," series is the interesting mixture of play-styles the game contains and how they mesh together. You start out a match as a pilot and have the ability to move extremely fast and in a manner that I would describe as absurdly nimble--at least once you get a hang of movement. You can slide around with great speed, run on walls, and (if you pick the skill) use a grappling hook to swing around as well. It feels overwhelming at first, as players hop and skip about, but before too long I was pulling-off crazy maneuvers like the best of them. The other way of playing that makes things even more interesting is the inclusion of huge piloted mechs called, "Titans." Called down by players, you can get inside your suit of destruction and suddenly go from a small and quick-moving human to a hulking piece of machinery that doesn't gracefully run so much as stomp around and crush all below. It's all good however, because the ability of humans to dart about and fire guns that hurt titans keeps things from feeling too one-sided. Also, you can actually hop out of your titan and have it follow you around and protect you whilst you take advantage of your out-of-mech speed. I personally loved being able to have my huge robotic sidekick distract enemies and draw their fire whilst I sniped them off from a nearby hiding-place.
The ways you have your pilots and titans fight vary from the usual, "Stay in this place and claim the location for you team," kind of match to more interesting, "Bounty," modes that involve both teams of human players fighting against AI enemies as well as each other. Also, the full game is supposed to have single-player options, more match-types, an even greater variety of ways to deck out your pilots in useful gear, and additional titans (this test only had two to choose from). Still, even with the limited choices I had a really, really fun time--which is interesting as the internet was full of people decrying how this test was making the sequel look awful compared to the first game. Maybe the difference is how I am new to the series? After all, another person who never played the original game loved what they saw as much as I did.

All-in-all, the free tech test was of high enough quality it has got me excited for the official release of, "Titanfall 2," and showed the developers how things should function when the game comes out. I'd say that means the two weekends were a success.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

My Favorite Jack Kirby Quote

The Full Version of "Comics Will Break Your Heart"
Jack Kirby would have been 99 today. I thought about that during these last 23 hours. Putting aside any debate about who deserves what credit when it comes to Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Kirby, no one can deny the man was a genius. That quote often is a bit truncated though, because the full quote comes from when Kirby warned someone to stay out of the field, "Kid, you're one of the best. But put your work in galleries. Don't do comics. Comics will break your heart." As someone who was so horribly mistreated by the comic-book industry his words have the sting of a person who was done wrong and is mad, but the statement also carries an immense sadness. After all, he is saying that he truly did give his heart to the field, only to have it eventually spurned. We owe more to Kirby than he ever received while alive. I hope whatever settlement his family was able to reach with Marvel in regards to some of the respect and money he should have been given allowed his spirit/soul/essence some extra bit of peace.

Three Comic-Related Kickstarter Campaigns That Are Worth Your Support: Tarot, Hard Code, and Big Ol Box of Stuff

Three Cool Kickstaters

I'll discuss Kickstarter on the site sometimes, be it to spotlight neat looking things or complain about Kickstarter campaigns that strike me as lame. Today I'd like to cover three that I thought appear to be worth backing.

The Campaigns
Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose: Issue #100 Extended Edition
I know what you might be thinking--"David, didn't you just rip Avatar Press a new one for doing a Kickstarter? Isn't this a publisher too?" To your question I respond, yes, I did really criticize Avatar Press (out of love, because they are a great publisher, after all), but I feel Broadsword Comics (the publisher of, "Tarot,") is not in the wrong here. Broadsword is a much smaller company--basically consisting solely of husband and wife team Jim Balent and Holly Golightly--and while a publisher like Avatar undoubtedly is flush with funds to make their next, "Uber," mini-series and seems to be offering little more than variant covers, I can understand if Jim and Holly want to make a special edition of the big 100th issue of, "Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose," and see if fans are interested. Plus, this isn't just some variant covers, this is a big extended book full of extras and other interesting stuff die-hard fans of, "Tarot," are bound to enjoy.

Should someone really enjoy this series I imagine they would eagerly jump on the opportunity to buy a special edition of the 100th issue available exclusively through Kickstarter, and Jim and Holly are doing this to make sure that regular fans can get the normal 100th issue for a reasonable price while us big fans can have an extra-big one. As a person who greatly enjoys this comic I'm excited for this huge anniversary and would say this is a Kickstarter worth checking out. Give it a gander here.

The Hard Code 1 & 2
"The Hard Code," is a comic that had a small release of the first issue and is in the process of getting the second issue lettered. Is from writer Ramon Gil with art by none other than Trevor Von Eeden. I've enjoyed Von Eeden's work whenever I've seen his older or newer stuff, and the story-line sounds interesting with its allegory of a world where humans and androids are fighting over rights (considering what's going on all over the U.S. and world currently with various people being denied basic human dignities it is quite topical). I'm always a sucker for a good science-fiction story so this looks right up my alley with its mixture of futurism, current-event metaphors, and stellar artwork.

I'll see many promising Kickstarter campaigns that never, "Deliver the goods," but this one clearly outlines in the video how money shall be spent and Gil has had successful Kickstarter campaigns before, so that inspires confidence as well. The pledge levels are really reasonable too, with print copies of issue #1 and #2 available for just a $10.00 pledge and $3.00 shipping (so $13.00 total, not bad at all)! Check out the campaign and pledge here!

Big ol Box of Stuff Needs Your Help
I of course love subscription boxes and Big Ol Box of Stuff--BoBos for short--is one that has been around for a bit over a year. One thing that has bugged me with various sub-boxes is that sometimes they will have one two great items, but then lame filler/fluff stuff. Plus, there is always the concern of a box containing an item that in theory is cool, but could be related to something I have zero interest towards (like the time I got a t-shirt that tied-in with, "Game of Thrones," and people said how great it was but all I could do was shrug). For those reasons what BoBos does struck me as genius. You fill-out a questionnaire with a wide range of your interests and get a box tailored to what you would like--including a variety of comic-related options! This is a stupendous concept and they have been doing pretty well, which leads to the question of why they would need a Kickstarter campaign.

Well, in a very well-produced video that I enjoyed watching, the folk behind BoBos (which is mostly a family-operation that works impressively hard to satisfy their hundreds of subscribers) it is explained clearly and concisely how with the funds from this Kickstarter campaign they will be able to increase their inventory. That way they will be able to make their business run even more smoothly and efficiently, thereby ensuring the continued success of BoBos. That this box has already been around for over a year and is not facing an imminent risk of shutting down as opposed to just needing more funds to function makes me think this Kickstarter should deliver the goods. Give them your support here.

In Closing

There are many upon many Kickstarter campaigns going on at one time, that is obvious. Without a doubt plenty more Kickstarters worth your attention are going on too, but I just wanted to put a spotlight on these as they caught my eye and--most importantly of all--appear as if they will fulfill their promises (always a concern after all the stories of successfully-funded campaigns that never delivered the goods). Kickstarter continues to be a fascinating platform and through its ups and downs I am always fascinated by what the people who utilize it create for us.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Marvel Collector Corps Spider-Man/August 2016 Video-Review AKA My First-Ever Unboxing Video!

With the encouragement of my good chums at Comics Heating Up as well as support from my awesome friends on the forums at My Subscription Addiction, I have gone and made my first-ever unboxing video. I've gone through bits and spurts where I was getting many subscription boxes or very few, and right now the only one I am regularly getting for myself is, "Marvel Collector Corps." I received August 2016 box--which features Spider-Man--earlier this week and after re-discovering how tricky video-editing can be I finally have the video up on the internet for all to enjoy! Here is is below:

Feel free to share this or comment and if it seems folk liked my unboxing video I'll work at doing more in the future!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Andre 3000 and Avatar Press AKA One Thing On the Internet Made Me Very Happy Today and One Thing Made Me Really Annoyed

Mixed Emotions
Today on the internet I witnessed one thing that made me very happy and one thing that made me really annoyed. Let's start with the happy thing...

Andre 3000 Is a Lyrical God
I've never made it a secret OutKast is my favorite band ever and that I feel Andre Benjamin AKA Andre 3000 is the greatest rapper alive--even if lately he rarely releases any work. This relates to how Frank Ocean's new album, "Blonde," is currently on the Apple Music that some people use and in two weeks will be available on more digital platforms. These two facts relate because I've heard, " Blonde," is really good, but what gets me extremely intrigued is that Andre 3000 pops-up for a brief track where he spits an incredible verse and then disappears to (I assume) return to his self-imposed exile, because damn-it we don't deserve someone as incredible as Mr. Benjamin! In about a minute he touches on everything from police brutality against black youth to controversies over rappers possibly having ghostwriters (*cough* rumors about Drake *cough*), and more.

It is a piece of majesty and I'll link to this article that has a YouTube clip of the song, but I won't bother embedding the track as currently Apple is hard at work issuing take-down notices to anyone listing the tracks from, "Blonde." They gotta get their money's worth from that two-week exclusivity deal don'tcha know! Just hearing those bars makes me start wishing for a new OutKast album even harder. Someday it could happen, maybe.

Avatar Press and an Unneeded Kickstarter Campaign
I greatly love much of what Avatar Press puts out, and immensely enjoy reading Bleeding Cool which is a gossip and news website owned by Avatar Press. In fact, I've talked with Bleeding Cool recently, sending a message asking if it would ever be possible to have the honor of writing something for them. I would be overjoyed to do so, but if this statement of immense annoyance with Avatar Press rubs them the wrong way...oh well because my number one goal with my blog is always to speak my mind. Right now my mind is feeling really perturbed that Avatar Press is doing something I've discussed as being quite irritating, that being their running an unneeded Kickstarter campaign.

I was a big fan of, "Uber," when it was coming out and ended on its shocking cliff-hanger of super-powered Nazis preparing to invade America. That issue came out some time ago and I was wondering when the new arc would start. Well, I got my answer today when a press-mailing from Avatar Press to me announced how a Kickstarter to fund the latest arc had just begun and could be found at this link. One question: Are we fucking serious here? I understand a publisher running a Kickstarter campaign if they're smaller and want to do something special that won't be found in comic-shops, or if they are in deep trouble and seriously need the funds to survive--remember the big Fantagraphics one? That said, this is in the realm of when Archie Comics did their re-launch Kickstarter that was quickly scuttled due to fan outcry. It is wholly unnecessary because we are talking about a big company that could easily fund and release this comic. I could maybe, maybe excuse this if it were a completely new series/reboot/relaunch that faces a modicum of doubt regarding if people want to buy and read it. This isn't such a case however, because, "Uber," was a smash-hit and any sort of follow-up to the initial series is bound to get plenty of fans excited. This isn't Avatar Press' small imprint Boundless trying to get some old series relaunched, this is a big-deal comic.
I'm honestly not that angry, just (as I said) irritated and also significantly disappointed. Also, don't get me wrong, the artwork looks incredible and Kieron Gillen is an amazing writer with a great story in, "Uber," that I'm excited to see the conclusion of. I'm just really turned-off by the whole way Avatar Press is going about making and releasing the comic.

What a Day, and it's Barely Lunchtime!
Between getting to listen to the first Andre 3000 verse in quite some time today and learning of an unnecessary Kickstarter campaign I've already had quite the day and it is barely past noon. Who knows what the rest of the day could hold?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Book Time: "From Scratch: Inside the Food Network"

I recently finished reading a book about the history of The Food Network, expertly written by Allen Salkin. By no means a watered-down, "Offical," history endorsed by the network, they gave Allen lots of access to their talent and plenty of people spoke with him, but the author had final say over what went in the book; this gives us a very full picture of The Food Network, including its flaws. It also makes for a fantastic piece of reading.

I found, "From Scratch," especially interesting in the earlier chapters and the closing ones. The incredible way in which the early network skated-by with a shoestring budget and New York City offices in a neighborhood where cooking talent would be mistaken for being one of the prostitutes milling around outside reads like an unbelievable tale of people struggling against all odds. The earlier pioneers of the network really did have the deck stacked against them too. The idea of a channel that had nothing but food--24 hours a day no less--seemed ludicrous. Once things got going well and the network started discovering talent everything becamse pretty stable and at this point the book is interesting but lacks much, "Oomph." That is, until the later chapters when shows start getting cancelled and scandals begin breaking out (Robert Irvine's exaggerated past, claims that Guy Fieri were homophobic that turned out to be lies spouted by an angry fired show-manager, Paula Deen and the diabetes outrage followed by the racism rumor that was oh-too-true a few years later). The most fascinating part of the book is without a doubt the chefs themselves, however.
Food Network Stars Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay.
The personalities of the people who have worked at Food Network are startling in how varied they can be. There are many talents. We have Rachael Ray who through her incredible work ethic and natural charisma was already a television natural,  Ina Garten, who the book basically confirms is maybe not as horrible a person as she has at times been made out to be, but by no means is especially pleasant. The aforementioned Guy Fieri and his unrelenting enthusiasm is covered, and countless other people pop-up in the book too. However, the person I found by far the most interesting from reading about them has to be Bobby Flay.

A natural born hustler and gambler, Bobby Flay went from getting in fights with his street gang to being a master chef, but always kept his eye on the ball, as it were. From the earliest days of Food Network realizing that the shows could help him promote his restaurant, to always listening closely when told something new was being looked for, and then coming back with the very thing that was needed, Bobby's ability to pivot and evolve as needed basically has kept him eternally successful--with another famous chef's inability to change to continue appealing to viewers being a big part of the book--that chef being Emeril Lagasse.
Emeril Lagasse
Besides Flay, Emeril Lagasse is probably the biggest name to have graced Food Network in its earlier days (Guy Fieri and Rachael Ray are of course hugely popular, but didn't play a role till much later). For a great deal of time Lagasse was Food Network, and while the chapters of the book take us from the past to the present, the preface cleverly opens in media res as it were, at the wrap-party for the chef's self-titled and once massively-popular prime-time show. The book discusses his defeated feelings and wondering how it all worked out the way it did, before taking us back in time and then onward as Emeril and his own history forms a bit of a narrative backbone to the book.

We witness as Emeril's rise to fame occurs in synchronicity with Food Network and its immense successes...at least  up until toward those closing chapters where we arrive at the earlier-discussed wrap party and find Emeril mostly discarded by the network. After all, he was costing so much and nowadays Food Network has grown to the point it doesn't need Emeril or anyone to be the spine that holds all the parts together--it has enough talent to chew-up and spit-out for years (and admittedly does so, with plenty of potentially promising talents maybe being ignored since the mid-2000's when some of the last breakout stars occurred and the channel was then able to quit taking risks on unknown names who are now mega-celebrities).
Allen Salkin, the author.
"From Scratch," is a fascinating read in its discussion of all the people who worked behind the scenes at Food Network or in front of the camera. From its early days where it was made fun of for being too fancy to later on when people said it was like, "The Walmart of food-shows," it has always had those criticizing it for its flaws, but considering it is now worth billions there clearly are many people who have love for the channel  (and it's spin-off briefly discussed in the book, The Cooking Channel).

Having weathered its own rocky start, multiple ownership changes, and controversies that afflicted its stars, The Food Network is an example of what determination, skill, and an admittedly large dose of luck can result in. Salkin weaves a fascinating story even if it gets a bit slower after the initial mayhem of the network's debut settles and before the wild controversies and scandals erupt. Regardless of a quieter center the book is still a stellar piece of non-fiction, and mandatory reading for anyone interested in the history of this channel that has brought many hours upon hours of entertainment. Now I just wonder what a book about the next couple decades of the network will look like.
5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Rant-Reviews: A Hodge-Podge of Comics

Scattered Assortment
I have no particular theme today for these reviews, it is just a random assortment of stuff I've read lately and felt like discussing.

Throw it in the Melting-Pot of Entertainment!

Deathstroke: Rebirth #1
Christopher Priest is a writer who does not get nearly enough credit as he deserves. He has written a ton of stellar books before at times stepping-away from comics to pursue other interests when he gets fed-up with the industry B.S. He's back with DC however now though, and writing about Deathstroke, a random character but one that he tackles handling with his usual craft. I am overjoyed to see him writing a character I generally have had no interest in, because that means he'll be able to use his skill and talent to show me why I should give even a solitary damn about Deathstroke. This issue seems to serve as a prologue of sorts to the main series, being one of the, "Rebirth," one-shots DC is apparently doing--I'm not sure exactly how that all works as this is seriously the only DC book I'm reading now and that is solely down to how I love Priest's work.

It's a great issue, if a tad confusing for someone who knows absolutely nothing about Deathstroke (real name Slade Wilson) or his past. We have flashbacks with when he was still simply a man named Salde, moments in the present where he embarks on various violent missions, and a bunch of mysteries that Priest expertly sets-up about just who certain people are and why Slade seems to care about them--despite the fact he normally doesn't care about anyone but himself. Priest works in a number of jokes, political observations, and basically does in 20-ish pages what most writers can't even do over an entire story-arc: Gives me information about a character, tells me his motivation, shows me an exciting story with this character, and leaves me wanting more. I already said I'm not reading any other of DC's, "Rebirth," books, but this is one I will undoubtedly be picking-up into the foreseeable future.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Trees #14
I don't know if this comic comes out sporadically as I feel it does, but between the breaks during arcs and then sensation of it popping-up only every two or three months thereafter, I have a sensation as if this comic has a somewhat unreliable release pattern. That's annoying as I have been quite liking, "Trees," since it finally made things interestingly dangerous at the conclusion of the first arc--when it became apparent the mysterious alien monoliths were possibly sending out destructive signals via weird black roses. It is all drawn in a wonderfully creepy manner by artist Jason Howard, whose artwork is just at home during scenes of violent action or moments of quiet contemplation (such as when a character eyes the roses with suspicion). The ominous appearance of the roses during this arc in various locations has served as a delightfully eerie foreshadowing of trouble to come, and is complimented well by the assorted political intrigue and futurism that fills the book--which is to be expected when you have a writer such as Warren Ellis doing the story. This is the end of the 2nd arc and Lord only knows when the 3rd one will begin. I don't really mind waiting, however, because this is a solid read anytime an issue eventually comes out.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Paybacks #1
This series is a sort-of sequel to the phenomenal, "Buzzkill," that features the same creative team as that book and a few of the same characters; it also started out at Dark Horse before suddenly ending with its 4th issue and now resuming with a brand-new #1 over at Heavy Metal (the people who put out that big comic-magazine Grant Morrison took over). Considering when we last saw the team were on part 4 of what I recall to be a 5-part arc  I was curious what this re-launch with a new publisher would do in terms of storytelling. When, "The Paybacks," first launched you needn't have read, "Buzzkill," to enjoy the book but could understand some of the references if you had. Now the question becomes if you need to have read, "The Paybacks," at Dark Horse to have a clue what is going on in, "The Paybacks," at Heavy Metal--plus one has to consider if the comic is even good as well. So, is the book possible to follow going in fresh? Kind of. Also, is the book good? Yes, for sure.

New readers are without question going to find themselves overwhelmed and confused, but anyone who was already following this comic is going to be able to pick things up without any problem and continue to enjoy this stellar read. I wouldn't recommend going into this, "Blind," as it were, but would recommend reading the comic for sure after you check out the previous issues of, "The Paybacks," and read, "Buzzkill," too because it is an awesome book.
4 out of 5 stars.

Lady Killer 2 #1
Joelle Jones returns with her wild tale of a peppy 1950's housewife named Josie who was a trained killer for a mysterious company that may or may not have been evil (it probably was), but left it at the conclusion of the last mini-series. She's running her own murder-for-hire business now and the comic continues its jarring mixture of hideous violence and faux-nostalgia for a, "Better time," that the comic actually points out was full of sexism and a myriad of issues. The humor isn't just dark, it is absolutely pitch-black (putting body parts in leftover Tupperware containers from a party, for example), and Jones is as great an illustrator as she is a writer. Fantastically twisted and monstrous stuff.
5 out of 5 stars.

Mockingbird #5
Another comic about a woman who kicks-butts for a shadowy agency, but in this comic written by Chelsea Cain, we finally get some answers after that bizarre first issue that showed us glimpses of the aftermath following issues #2-#4 and now takes us back to the end that we saw in the beginning and oh dear my brain hurts now. Cleverly confusing set-up of the debut-arc aside, this is a great end to the arc, full of the usual humor Cain has brought during the comic as well as a lesson in the biologic history of viruses and a twist-ending I honestly didn't predict. I believe the sixth issue is out today. I'll be sure to read it after this great opening-arc.
5 out of 5 stars.

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #99
The issue of a comic that occurs before a big event faces an unenviable job. It can either be wholly removed from the big issue that follows it and tell its own story or work to help set-up the big-deal issue after it and basically get zero thanks for its hard work. If it stands alone it is simply a good comic that most people ignore/forget about and if it sets-up the exciting issue following it everyone just talks about how great that issue was and ignores/forgets all the effort the prologue did. Therefore, no matter what the issue #99 of a series does it probably faces the depressing fate of being ignored/forgotten, and that would be shame if that happens with this issue of, "Tarot," because while the exciting big-deal 100th issue is next, this comic's portrayal of events serving as the follow-up to the big wedding between Tarot and Jon is a great piece of entertainment and contains a huge cliff-hanger.

If I may spoil the book, it covers Tarot going to a party within another realm full of faeries in honor of her upcoming wedding. Once there she reminisces about the past with friends and it seems like we will be getting a quiet filler-issue. However, things get very interesting when a shadowy cloaked figure and his/her snake accomplice attack Tarot and via the snake's venomous bites incapacitate our heroine and replace her with a doppelganger who no doubt will be getting up to nefarious deeds. We end this issue on the morning of Tarot's wedding to her beloved, Jon, and are shown that the evil copy is clearly still in place. The importance this 99th issue therefore plays in setting-up the 100th issue results in a book that thankfully won't be forgotten or ignored by fans, as it is clearly a key element in what I imagine will be a huge conflict when the series hits the triple-digits shortly. It's a great read and I tip my hat to the creative team of Jim Balent and Holly Golightly for crafting yet another stupendous issue of, "Tarot."
5 out of 5 stars.

A Medley of Good Stuff
I hope you enjoyed reading about the various comics as much as I did reading them!

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Quick Rant About The Gabby Douglas Olympic, "Scandal," AKA How Can Anyone Dare Call Her Unpatriotic? UPDATED With More Idiocy Thanks to Ryan Lochte

I'm Pissed at All the Haters
How dare any of you question her patriotism.
As my header says, I'm pissed, and I'll tell you why. Arguably one of the most patriotic  things someone can do for their nation outside of military service is representing their country in the Olympics. The tens of thousands of hours spent practicing and perfecting your sport so that you can be among the best-of-the-best is a level of commitment that boggles my mind as someone who considers giving-up and ordering pizza when I can't get a can-opener to work. To win a gold medal at the Olympics even once is amazing, to win it multiple times is an astounding accomplishment. Gabrielle, "Gabby," Douglas won Gold multiple times in 2012 and has won it in 2016. She did it for our nation, making us proud, and people dare criticize her and call her names like, "Crabby Gabby," because of what? This:
That is Gabby Douglas and her teammates while the United States National Anthem played after they won gold. She didn't cover her heart, and the internet lost its utter mind. She even apologized and said no disrespect was intended, but of course all the misogynists and racists have come out of the woodwork to harass her despite the fact that she proved she's more patriotic than all of them combined the moment she even walked into an Olympic arena to compete. Meanwhile, Michael Phelps laughs during the National Anthem and once he explains it everyone forgives him--no disrespect to Phelps intended, I am proud of the dolphin-man, I just want to prove a point.

How dare anyone question the patriotism of an individual who works hard enough to earn a spot in the Olympics representing their country, never-mind even uttering a harsh word when they go on on to win a gold medal! Seriously, what did she ever do to deserve being bullied? It makes me sick and I'm glad that for all the unwarranted flack she has received even more love and support has been directed her way too. I'm proud of all Olympians who represent their countries, whether they win a medal or not--by simply being in the Olympics you have already proven so much. In closing, shut-up Gabby Douglas haters, no one wants to hear from you. Unless you have a tip on how to open this can of beans, because I'm seriously starving.

Update 8/21/16
"Yeah, I'm an asshole."
Now I can be even more pissed. Why, you may ask? Well, a man in his 30's who lied about being robbed, vandalized a gas station, and urinated on said gas station's walls has had people defending him with B.S. statements like, "Boys will be boys." Yes, Olympic swimmer and failed reality T.V. star Ryan Lochte committed crimes, lied about them, and now is surprised it is all coming back to bite him on the ass. A living, breathing portrayal of the definition of, "Frat-boy douche," Lochte is an example of who we do not want representing our country in the Olympics. Meanwhile Gabby Douglas still gets harassed whilst some people criticize Lochte, but far too many people (i.e. even one person) defend him.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Flashback Friday--Batman: Black and White Volume 2

I've always enjoyed the, "Batman: Back and White," comics when they occur. Besides the fact that Batman's adventures just feel right in the stark lack-of-color-scheme, the out-of-continuity tales generally impress. The stories can vary in tone from dark and dreary to fun and peppy, and they seem to attract some of the best creators, with the table of contents for this book being a veritable who's-who of immense talent. You've got folk such as Alex Ross, Gene Ha,  Dave Gibbons, Kyle Baker and Jim Lee to name artwork alone, Warren Ellis and John Arcudi contribute writing, and even more great comic-makers such as, Howard Chaykin, John Byrne, Gene Colan, Chris Claremont, etc. etc. are in these pages. Seriously, this book is jam-packed with amazing creators all who were making some great stuff years ago (and many still are making stellar works) when these comics came out and then became collected in this trade paperback of goodness.

Not every story is a winner, of course. Some are a bit heavy-handed in plot and sometimes the artwork leaves a bit to be desired, but so much is so good that you can't really complain. I mean, we get lovely Paul Pope artwork on one page and hilarious Paul Dini-yarns on another! Writing royalty such as Harlan Ellison provide a story and Tim Sale's always-great work appears too. There just is so much incredible wisdom, skill, and generally amazing stuff this book is a pleasure to read whether you're someone who recognizes all these creators or a complete newbie to comics who just enjoys great Batman works. These definitely are the kinds of comics you want to flashback to.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Review and Overview of the Storybook, "Derrick and the Dinosaurs"

I met Dan Killeen at the first-ever Saint Louis Comic-Con a couple months ago and picked-up his storybook, "Derrick and Dinosaurs," because as someone who loves good artwork and dinosaurs it sounded right up my alley. A book geared toward smaller children, there still is plenty of fun jokes and neat references to local Saint Louis landmarks that grown-folk will enjoy the book too--I know I did!

The story centers on a young boy named Derrick who has an obsession with dinosaurs that doesn't just border on unhealthy, it crosses that line and eagerly stomps on it while yelling, "Rawr!" You see, Derrick decorates his room with dinosaurs, only plays with dinosaur toys, exclusively eats cupcakes and drinks root beer (as he heard dinosaurs like those food items), interrupts his classroom with dinosaur-yells, and otherwise behaves in a manner that upsets everyone around him. It all comes to a head when Derrick gets suspended from school for his behavior (on the day of the big field-trip downtown, no less) and is forced to put all his dinosaur-items in the basement until he can learn to behave while the rest of his classmates and sister, Becky, get to have fun on a field trip.
However, a twist of fate occurs in Derrick's favor when the mayor of the city comes on all the channels to announce a local emergency. Apparently ship-loads of dinosaurs are coming down the river from Dinosaur Island with the intent to land upon the shores of downtown. The mayor describes how the populace is utterly helpless against this threat and basically tells everyone to go hide. Putting aside how it is amazing that a mayor so eager to give-up ever got elected, the town clearly faces a major threat from these dinosaurs. Derrick realizes probably only he can save the day and despite his parents warning him it will be dangerous, they give him permission to run downtown in an attempt to corral the attacking-dinos. At this point in the story I decided that Derrick's parents either really believe in their son, or wouldn't mind if Derrick's sister became an only child.

Derrick arrives downtown and upon letting-out the most impressive, "Rawr," the dinosaurs have ever heard, advises them to quit causing trouble at once. The dinosaurs convince Derrick to join  them in causing a little bit of a ruckus however and they go around the city stomping on cars, invading baseball stadiums, chomping on cupcakes, guzzling root beer, and otherwise behaving in the manner you normally expect tourists to act but extra-worse.

Eventually upon being scolded Derrick tricks the dinosaurs into leaving town on their boats and the mayor gives Derrick the key to the city when it is discussed how without Derrick he probably wouldn't have been reelected due to all the destruction--regardless of your party affiliation I think we can all agree this mayor was one ineffectual politician and shouldn't be in power, but so goes politics. Everything ends well with Derrick realizing he's happy as a boy who loves dinosaurs, and that he doesn't actually need to be a dinosaur to find joy. He's allowed to put all his stuff back in his room and the story concludes on that positive note--at least as long as the dinosaurs never return or develop a taste for human flesh.

Kileen's artwork is wonderful, looking unique but at the same time giving off a bit of a vibe of, "Calvin and Hobbes," meets, "Peanuts," via the manner in which the human characters and dinosaurs are drawn. There is a nicely light and fanciful feel to the dinosaurs, with their love of cupcakes and root beer being a fun creative touch. I also like that the book acknowledges how even if Derrick eventually saves the day he isn't perfect--after all, for awhile he excitedly joins the dinosaurs in wreaking mayhem to a delightfully comedic effect.
"Derrick and the Dinosaurs," is a book I greatly enjoyed and imagine any parent would have a great time reading with their child as well. You can learn more about Dan at his website and find the Amazon link for the book here.I look forward to reading other works by Dan Killeen and encourage you to check his stuff out as well!
5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Release and Review Process for, "No Man's Sky," is One Big Mess

There is a game that people are very excited for known as, "No Man's Sky," developed by Hello Games. It has been in development for years, slowly building up anticipation. Fandom is at a fever-pitch for this new title to come out and (if I'm reading things right) it will either:

A. Be like the coming of a Messiah onto our planet to save us all and unite the world in joy.


B. Be a huge disappointment that results in people losing their faith in all of humanity and being reduced to sobbing naked in the streets.

I sound like I'm joking, but the hype-train has seriously been in overdrive for, "No Man's Sky," to the point that when a reporter simply reported (you know, what you do for your job) how the game would be delayed fans flew off the handle and threatened his life...until the developer confirmed that report was true and fans flew off the handle again and threatened the developers' lives--which makes no sense, why do you threaten to kill the people making the game you claim to be so excited for? Logic people, use your logic.
The game is supposed to come tomorrow now, and as we sit on the eve of its release people are talking more about a new mess that has developed than their excitement for the game itself. The problem lies in that the developers did not want to give-out review copies of the game to people as they had a big day-one patch that they felt altered the game enough that it shouldn't be reviewed until such a patch was in place. Putting aside how generally when reviewers have to wait until a game comes out to review it that is a big red flag, a whole separate issue has made this a hilarious debacle. You see, some stores already had copies of, "No Man's Sky," and were breaking the rules and selling it to people. The first person to make a big fuss out of this was a man who claimed he bought the game for the tidy sum of 1,300-ish dollars and began posting videos of himself playing the game. This made fans froth at the mouth with jealousy and the developer freak-out to the point that the man in question posting the videos admitted he felt bad and took them off Youtube...but enough people have copied the videos they persist on websites like Pornhub (it's a long story).

Now, as the release creeps ever closer many individuals and video-game websites actually resorted to going to stores breaking the street-date so that they could finally play the damn thing and begin forming some concrete opinions. Yes, websites like Polygon and Kotaku resorted to buying copies of the game that technically shouldn't be out yet because the developer itself wouldn't give them copies--ignoring the fact that the cat is out of the bag and people are in fact playing, "No Man's Sky," as we speak. It is the most idiotic series of events possible and has overshadowed much of the excitement for a game that I will fully admit I am excited for, but am trying to also make sure I keep realistic expectations about. As I understand it the press finally got review copies today, so there's your bandage over a bullet-wound.
I do kind of get it. I mean, the developers want reviewers to experience the, "True," game so they felt like holding-off on giving people review copies until the patch was done--with day-one patches being a pretty common thing nowadays. They even are wiping the servers so that any progress the early-players have made is erased. Still, if people can grab a copy of the game you can't really stop them from playing it and reviewing it. Once that shit is shipped what happens next is for the most part out of your hands. With a game this absurdly hyped someone is going to break the rules and sell it early, and after that many other people are going to do so too. It is going to happen, and the people at Hello Games have done a terrible job of handling this series of events.

Honestly, I just want, "No Man's Sky," to be a rip-roaring space adventure game where  I can enjoy landing on a planet, exploring, and flying off into space to discover more neat stuff. I am positive tons of people are going to feel let-down because the degree of excitement and hope is off the charts. Plus, this fiasco of copies leaking and reviewers being denied copies has dominated the coverage even more now than the game itself. Once, "No Man's Sky," is actually officially released tomorrow however we all can start forming our own opinions and hopefully this wreck of a release will fade into being a footnote in the history of the game.

Friday, August 5, 2016

I Read The First Volume of, "Attack on Titan," and Wasn't Especially Impressed

That Was Okay, I Guess

I got from my library the first volume of, "Attack on Titan," and having read it I think I can conclude that most manga just isn't for me if lacks the words, "Akira," or, "Shin-chan," in the title. It is a perfectly acceptable and quick read--at least once I get past my initial adjustment period of reading a page right-to-left, has solid artwork, and the sci-fi concept of a massive walled-in city trying to keep huge humanoid monsters out is moderately intriguing. That said, I just wasn't too interested while reading this first volume and upon completing it did not feel as if I needed to rush-out and get the 2nd entry from my library (which, much props to it, has like the first 10 of the series readily available).

I've been told that once the story really gets going and you notice allegories to the present-day in it the book becomes an even better read, but as it stands I'm not too interested in trying to read more. I generally enjoy anime, so perhaps any versions of, "Attack on Titan," in that vein will impress me more. As it stands though, the manga did not especially capture my attention, imagination, or excitement.
2 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Why Aren't More People Reading and Talking About the New, "Nighthawk," Comic?

Seriously, why are people not discussing this? I mean, I found the first issue decent but felt it could do more. Then, lo and behold, a superb second issue and equally stellar third come out. I will admit I understand this version of Nighthawk has a lot of baggage. First he was a Marvel Max character (in, "Supreme Power,") then via, "Secret Wars," he was brought into the Marvel Universe with a bunch of other survivors of alternate realities who currently have a really sub-par comic known as, "Squadron Supreme." So yes, there is a lot going on with the character of Nighthawk, but the great thing with this comic is you really, really, don't need to know any of that.

In this comic it is laid-out that Nighthawk is a crime fighter who is like Batman, but if Batman were eternally pissed-off because his parents were targeted by murderous racists. Besides that the rest is ancillary to the greatness of the, "Nighthawk," comic outside of when one character mentions how in his other team-focused comic he killed Namor. He's a billionaire in Chicago who protects the innocent via brutal means but with the twist that the establishment really hates him (unlike Batman who in most comics has a begrudging degree of respect with police, politicians, and so forth), so it isn't too imposing a comic to get into--please don't worry.
The comic, "Nighthawk," has amazing writing by David Walker and beautiful artwork by Ramon Villalobos  (who absolutely killed-it on the Secret Wars-related X-Men mini-series, "E is for Extinction,") and is jam-packed with action, tense plot, and all kinds of political commentary. Kudos to Marvel for allowing this creative team the editorial freedom to have Nighthawk going up against a corrupt businessman who talks just like Donald Trump and literally says how he wants to, "Make America Great Again," in-between disparaging minorities. Nighthawk also beats-up corrupt cops who brutalize black citizens and otherwise is the kind of hero that would make Fox News froth at the mouth.

The thing is, Nighthawk doesn't hate cops, he just hates corrupt, terrible, and racist people. He works with someone on the police force who realizes that our hero wants to do more good than bad. Plus, Nighthawk may be a more extreme Batman in that he won't hesitate to kill people, but he doesn't always purposely want to harm others, he just is willing to go farther in his goal of protecting the innocent (with the comic itself admitting he is maybe already going too far). this idea is further expressed by how there is a serial killer who is targeting exclusively white victims that had a history of hurting or killing anyone of color--and Nighthawk is worried that a serial killer on the loose in this manner doesn't upset him as much as it should.
It just astonishes me that sometimes people say they want more, "Mature," super-hero comics that discuss grown-up issues, and here is one from a huge publisher getting far too little attention. It talks about racism, police brutality, gentrification, how our legal system is broken and mistreats people of color, and as I mentioned, looks really really good thanks to Villalobos. I am excited for when issue #4 comes out later this month and plan to continue following the comic closely--it is too good a read to miss out on!
5 out of 5 stars (for issues #2 and #3).