Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tales from the Dollar Bin: X-Force #1

I've created a new segment that should serve to entertain and inform. I hope to do it somewhat-regularly. Now I shall debut it with the description I will always have to kick it off.

There are comics which are worth incredible sums of money, but so many of the most interesting, tragic, or just downright weird can be found for a simple dollar or less in a  store's "dollar bin". There, comics that never gained much popularity can be found alongside those that sold so much as for a copy to be worthless. "Tales From the Dollar Bin" aims to explore these comics, be they a single issue or an entire run of a series. From the great to the miserable, some of the best treasures and worst nightmares can be found in those infamous boxes. Let's have a "tale" now..
The Twisted Saga of "X-Force #1"

It is no secret that I basically now don't care for Rob Liefeld as he went from a mediocre artist who at least seemed like a really nice guy, to a complete and utter jerk. He used to be quite the hot property though, and this dollar comic I found attests to that.

The first-ever issue of X-Force (in their own self-titled comic, at least) is the 2nd best-selling comic ever, behind the first issue of X-Men back when it was re-released in the 1990's. This comic came out during the speculation-craze when people were buying poly-bagged comics with all kinds of extras (trading cards, shiny covers, etc.) and storing them away unread in the hopes they would someday be worth something. Considering how many copies this comic sold it should come as no surprise that even still in its original plastic bag with the trading card it is basically worthless despite the label on the plastic packaging declaring it a, "collector's item." The fact that there are people who spent so much money out there on comics such as these and then went broke when the market crashed makes the whole thing as fascinating as it is sad.
The comic speculation market, seconds before the bubble popping
At the store where I acquired this first issue of "X-Force" there were four total copies of just the first issue, still sealed in the original packaging along with a few "loose" copies. This got me thinking how all the way back in 1991 someone could have bought this comic, and kept it sealed-shut in the hopes it would someday be worth big bucks. As time went on and the comic-market basically crashed they probably cursed this comic, glared at it with rage, but somewhere deep within their heart hoped it would be worth at least some money at some point, keeping it encased within its plastic prison, never to be read, with only a trading card packed by its side to keep it company.

Maybe one day our theoretical person just gave up, sold all their comics in bulk--the valuable and worthless--and the store where I bought this got a few of the copies, didn't even bother to open them, slapped a "$1.00" sticker on the copies, and shoved the four sealed-up issues of "X-Force" into their dollar bin never to be seen again until someone with a passing interest in curiosities such as these (me) bought one.

How is the comic itself though? Well, its a 90's-era Liefeld "X-Force" comic, that's all you really need to know. It's classic over-the-top Liefeld and otherwise is unremarkable other than how the comic itself kind of stands for everything that went wrong with comics back then--the mindless buying of multiple issues, gimmicks, and the inevitable bursting of the speculation bubble. I mean, the cover seriously declares itself a special collectible twice with the labels on the poly-bag, is that not absurd?
It's 2013 and we're still doing this poly-bag nonsense?
In some ways a comic such as this can serve as a warning to the comics of today. We have poly-bagging making a return with the occasional "big-deal" comic having the wrapper, often to obscure the cover which inevitably gives away a major plot point (that everyone knows anyway thanks to the internet). A mere week ago "Age of Ultron #10" had a little black poly-bag to hide away any secrets within the comic. This of course also served to theoretically make it more valuable to anyone who leaves their comic sealed shut within the plastic, never to be read and enjoyed, but instead treated as some sort of investment in the future.

The Story Comes to its End
I've always felt if you're buying new comics in the simple hope they'll go up in value you're doing comics as a hobby wrong. Go ahead and buy old ones that have some worth and maybe sell them, but if you truly believe that snatching up a hundred copies of some new series or big event's conclusion will make you rich, well, you're living in a fantasy land (although, to be fair, anyone who did pick up a bunch of "Walking Dead"  #1's probably is living the high life right now).

In the end, whether that first issue of a comic turns out to be worth thousands, or barely a dollar, is purely up to the desires of the market and a healthy helping of sheer chance. Only the passage of time will determine if something becomes worth a lot of scratch, or just another...tale from the dollar bin!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Flashback Friday-- "Osborn" and "Skrull Kill Krew"

Space-Aliens and Madmen.
The Kill Krew's "Dark Reign" mini-series.
There was a time where Norman Osborn was basically the boss of the Marvel Universe and life sucked for almost anyone who considered themselves a super-hero. It was called, "Dark Reign," and it spun out of the "Secret Invasion" event. Despite not actually being a mini-series or such, it was a pseudo-event that occurred in a variety of ongoing comics and had some mini-series that examined what this upside-down world was like. I'll be talking in-depth about one of those mini's which was known as "Skrull Kill Krew". But first, let's talk about the comic I'm discussing today.

Osborn's "Dark Reign" ended with the horrendous "Siege" mini-series that I hated more than any Marvel event I'd read (at least until "Fear Itself" which I literally gave-up on). However, one good thing to come from "Siege" was a superb mini-series by Kelly Sue Deconnick titled simply, "Osborn". It is no secret that I loved Osborn as early as its 2nd issue and was such a fan I went on to interview Kelly Sue Deconnick about it and her other works.

My favorite of the "Osborn" covers.
 Later on, Brian Micheal Bendis would have a mini cross-over between two Avengers books he was writing where Osborn tried break out of Prison and take over America again only for the Avengers to stop him because his plan was incredibly stupid--an odd counter to the behavior of the clever and calculating Osborn seen in Deconnick's series. I'm talking about quite recent events and the point of this post is to flash-back, so let's start doing so by discussing the Skrull Kill Krew--but not the Dark Reign one. No, first we're going to go back to those magical days of Crystal Pepsi and "The Spice Girls" known as the 1990's. God help us all.

From the Origins of the Kill Krew to the Modern-Day
Back before Grant Morrison started hating Mark Millar's guts for reasons we still aren't aware of (and it is their own business anyways, so I shan't pry) they collaborated on a mini-series known as the--you guessed it--"Skrull Kill Krew" It took the story-line of how back in the olden days of comics the Fantastic Four had tricked some Skrulls into thinking they were cows, and this series had the idea that one of those Skrull-cows accidentally was slaughtered and people ate its meat. The resulted in most dying, but a few gaining the shape-shifting abilities of Skrulls...while also still suffering from the fact they were dying, and being really mad about it.
It was a pretty wacky series and ended with the Krew basically going off never to be seen again, at least until  "Secret Invasion" when writer Dan Slott brought them back in the "Avengers Initiative" comic to help fight against all the Skrulls they so desperately hated. Upon their return they were given their own mini-series that took place in the aftermath of "Secret Invasion" and dealt with their being funded by Osborn's new organization, "H.A.M.M.E.R." to keep doing what they did best, kill Skrulls.

Let's Discuss The Actual Mini-Series
You're all caught-up so now I'll tell you about the "Dark Reign"-related mini-series itself and why I liked it a great amount.

Basically, I enjoyed the newest incarnation of "Skrull Kill Krew" because it was wacky while also at times being surprisingly deep in its asking questions of morality and just what made Skrulls count as "evil" compared to the fact that the Krew was working for the most villainous man around, Norman Osborn. Between breaking up a human-cow fetish club run by Skrulls who were actually killing the humans that liked pretending to be cows (I told you it was silly), learning they were genetically basically Skrulls due to their illness mutating, and starting to realize that while there are evil Skrulls, some were in fact born on Earth and had no desire to cause trouble, the Krew eventually figures out they want to in fact protect the good Skrulls.

The Krew warns Osborn to leave native-born Skrulls alone, and then ride off into the sunset once more to not been seen for another decade or so, I suppose. In the end, an enjoyable time is had by the reader, and a quality book is done.

Now, "Osborn"
The Krew's warning to Osborn was kind of pointless, because it was within the span of a few months that he found himself ousted from power and locked up far from the public. I guess Bendis was already concocting plans for Osborn as he did his big attempt at a coup in the pages of "Avengers" and "New Avengers" a year and some months later, but before that happened Marvel must have wanted to keep the character in the public's eye because they gave Deconnick the opportunity to write this mini.

Osborn delivers some killer lines.
One of the reasons I enjoyed "Osborn" so much was that Deconnick masterfully wrote dialogue, with Osborn having some of the best quotes I'd seen from the character in years. Plus, his fellow prisoners that we meet are all intriguing, be they a surreal space-alien, a monstrous spider-God, or a woman who has genetically altered herself into a killing machine. I also deserves mention that artist Emma Rios turns in some beautiful pages that will astound anyone reading this comic.

The ending to "Osborn" itself was slightly disappointing because it just put him back in prison system he had worked so hard to get out of over the course of the mini, but set things in place for when Bendis used the character again by introducing some of the characters Osborn would work with and having the public be somewhat on his side due to his pointing out in this series how he was basically being held without trial--something the government can't do to an American citizen (but seems to have no trouble doing with foreign folk we think may be terrorists, but that's a whole different rant).

"Osborn" is a stellar mini-series that a lot of people may have missed out on because by the time it occurred they were sick of the character from all of his "Dark Reign" appearances. It's a shame if people didn't read it though, because this is just a fantastic collected five issues that ranks among some of my favorite comic-works.

To Be Seen Again?
As I said earlier, after their mini-series the Skrull Kill Krew seemed to just disappear again, with us readers now having to wait for some other writer to have enough of a fondness for the characters (or excuse to use them) for another appearance to occur. Norman Osborn is of course such a ubiquitous character due to his close ties with Spider-Man that he'll most likely never disappear for long, but after his mini and brief attempt at a power-grab in Bendis' comics, Osborn has been surprisingly quiet--though he is beginning to pop-up more and more in the series, "Superior Spider-Man".

I suppose the moral of this post is that when a character (or characters) has enough popularity or writers who are fans, it is only a matter of time until said character/s have an appearance in our comics. This is a positive thing when you get really good comics such as the two mini-series I've just discussed, but it goes without saying that for every "Osborn" or "Skrull Kill Krew" we get there are plenty of awful things that are put out too. That's just the way of comics, movies, and any form of media, though. Anyways, these comics were superb and I give them these ratings:
Dark Reign: Skrull Kill Krew: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Osborn: 5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

This Looks Potentially Interesting--"Shahrazad"

I got a press release from Big Dog Ink about a new comic called "Sharazad" that included some art, and while I get a variety of press releases from people this was one of those rare ones that caught my eye for more than a cursory glance. Loosely based on the famous tale of the Queen who kept telling her husband tales every night so he wouldn't kill her as he did most brides (Arabian Nights/One Thousand and One Nights), this upcoming release from Big Dog Ink concerns that character and all of her crazy adventures that she told her husband about in that famous story.

It's an interesting concept for sure as you don't see Arabic folk-tales used as much today in modern culture as you do the classic European ones (Hell, the Brothers Grimm would have made a fortune had they come up with their stories today and trademarked them). It has the requisite cheescake-images that Big Dog Ink tends to do, along with some other genuinely cool images. Here's a quick image that is pretty good-looking of Sharazad and some friends traversing the wilderness back in the ancient past:

The scientist in me will let it slide that a mammal of that size didn't exist when dinosaurs were around because that is one lushly illustrated page. Even if the women are a bit absurdly proportioned that is still one beautiful picture.

I have no clue if this book will be awesome, suck, or land somewhere in-between on the quality scale, but I have liked other Big Dog Ink projects and would find it encouraging for a story less Euro-history-centric to gain popularity, so it would be nice if this were both good and became popular. Anyways, if you want to learn more I'd recommend reading this interview with one of Big Dog Ink's head-folk, Tom Hutchinson about the book, and you could of course always visit the Big Dog Ink website and look around. Here's hoping the book turns out well and I like it when the full first issue is released.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Genius" Original Graphic Novel Review

When I was going through Previews some months ago I saw that the publisher First Second had a book coming out that looked quite intriguing. The name of the book was simply the word "Genius", which didn't give me too much to go on, but I then saw that Steven T. Seagle was the writer and as I quite enjoyed his writing on the enjoyably-weird comic, "American Virgin," I knew this was bound to be good. Therefore, I acquired a copy, gave this a read and did in fact like it quite a bit.

 "Genius" is about a man named Theodore/Ted who is basically just that, a genius, but struggling at his job where everyone is super-intelligent (he's a quantum physicist) and has to crank out cool projects or face being fired. He does have a nice family consisting of a wife, a teenage son, and a young girl, but Ted finds it difficult to communicate with his family sometimes. The other complicating thing is how his Father-in-law lives with them, and despite being physically weak and not completely "all there" he does have a secret, one that could potentially be very useful to Ted.

Things aren't going the best at work for Ted.
Francis (the Father-in-law) was a bodyguard to Albert Einstein back in the days of World War II and claims that Einstein had a discovery so big, so earth-shattering, that he never wrote it down and told only one soul so that it wouldn't eat him up inside. As you've probably guessed, if Francis knows about this secret he's the one who was given it. Therefore, throughout the book we see Ted struggling at everyday life, and having even more trouble trying to get Francis to tell him the secret--if there even really is one beyond Einstein telling Francis about an affair or something simple like that.

One of the main reasons I enjoyed "Genius" was because Ted is a very empathetic character--if not without his flaws. Through us seeing his daily trials and sharing in his surreal dreams of wondering just what the big secret could be the reader really grows to care about our protagonist and his family.

Another thing I really liked about "Genius" is something I have not even discussed yet, the art. Provided by Teddy Kristiansen, "Genius" has an ethereal painterly look which compliments the more abstract parts of the book (when Ted dreams, or shows us concepts in science) beautifully. When we're in the "real-world" there is a bit more of a harder-looking edge to the art, with penciling being apparent, but it doesn't look too different from the more out-there segments of the book (which is good in that it looks nice, but bad in that sometimes it is hard to tell what's real and what is in Ted's imagination).
Ted dreams and imagines speaking with Einstein throughout the book.
My biggest criticism of the book besides the beautiful art sometimes being a bit confusing would be how the story handles Ted's daughter. Cece is a minimal presence in the book which is a bit saddening as it subtly hints that she too may have genius qualities during a drive with her father where she tells him about being teased for high test scores, but then that whole scene which could have led to an interesting subplot basically gets dropped until getting mentioned once more briefly at the end. Perhaps Seagle wasn't planning to elaborate on Cece's intelligence and just have the book indicate she's "got some smarts" but I was hoping maybe we could see Ted bond with his daughter over their shared intelligence--perhaps there could have been less plot with Ted's son and more his daughter. Still, these are mild complaints in the face of a quality piece.

To finish out my thoughts, "Genius" is a very enjoyable comic (original graphic novel, if you want to be fancy) that fleshes out its main character expertly even if it struggles in figuring out what to do with some of the secondary characters, either featuring them too much or too little. It also carries gorgeous art that gives everything an other-worldly feeling and makes even the dryer parts of the book interesting--such as when physics or other complicated things are discussed (I myself am terrible at math, so the fact I could follow along means they wrote this well). I would say Genius is definitely worth a read and would recommend you buy a copy or borrow/steal one from a friend. Look for it on shelves once it is officially released on July 9th.
4 out of 5 stars.

A copy of "Genius" was provided to me by First Second Books for review purposes

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Puts a Smile on Your Face--Lisa Hanawalt's "My Dirty, Dumb Eyes"

Funny and Well-Illustrated
"My Dirty, Dumb Eyes" is a collection of various works by Lisa Hanawalt that have appeared in comics, magazines, the internet, and so forth. Her style of illustrating can vary from quite cartoonish to borderline hyper-realistic, but throughout all of her works there is a constant theme of absurdity that keeps things really fun. Whether having anthropomorphic animals describe their hobby of making clay fingers, telling us about the time she went to a toy convention, or doing illustrated reviews of movies, Hanawalt consistently keeps things really light-hearted, and often very funny.
Hanawalt imagines if Ryan Gosling's character in "Drive" were  a chimp.
A big selling point is Hanawalt's excellent art. Through her drawing she imparts a humorous view on life that carries a delightful optimism. Whether describing surreal sex-fantasies inspired by movies, or portraying the insane driving of a cat-creature, the pencil-work and coloring create a thing of sheer beauty.

If I were to have complaints, it would be that some of the pieces in the book are less interesting or funny than others. The strip, "Therapy" with Deer Dog and Pancakey goes absolutely nowhere and "Extra Egg Room" seems to have an idea of a story before just kind of ending. Still, most of the various segments are consistently entertaining so a "miss" is more a rare occurrence than common one.

Overall, "My Dirty, Dumb Eyes" is a read I would highly recommend to anyone with a good sense of humor, fans of alternative comics, or connoisseurs of great art. Hanawalt's skill at illustration compliments her rambunctious jokes perfectly and folk owe it to themselves to check this book and her other works out.
4.5 out of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Xbox One Reverses its Rules About Basically Everything.

Now this is interesting.

Remember how mad everyone (myself included) was about Xbox One and its absurd rules? Well, Microsoft realized they could very well release a bomb and have done a complete and utter turnaround about almost everything. Folk are humorously calling this the Xbox One-80. Seriously.

No longer will you have to check in daily to some Microsoft server, used games can now be shared, and Kinect 2.0 is still required (so it isn't all good news, I guess). I suppose the lesson in all this is that if enough people get together and protest something, companies may very well listen. In other words the very thing our parents didn't want us to think happens came true--we complained enough about something until we got what we wanted. So, yah! Even if some people want to claim this is bad for some inexplicable reason. Anyways, there is your good news to finish out the day.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Melancholic Humor of Nathan Bulmer and Noah Van Sciver

Funny, In A Really Depressing Way
Somewhat recently I was introduced to the work of Nathan Bulmer, and for some time I have known about and read various works by Noah Van Sciver. Both men are pretty known in the independent-comics scene (though what truly entails "independent comics" is an argument people are always eager to have) and both make comics that can be quite funny, if also horribly sad.

Nathan Bulmer
Bulmer's comic-books are titled "Eat More Bikes" and he works in the format of a four-panel grid, and through this method he tells his jokes that can vary from seeming like a small little story, to a simple pun with a punchline in the last panel. One common theme is that many of his comics are hilarious, but also carry a twinge a sadness. Often there will be comics (he makes them daily) that deal with death, sadness, misery, and the like. True, sometimes you get really cute comics like this one...
...but a fair amount of the time his comics are quite cynical in their outlook on life. This is a trend I noticed in Bulmer's online strips and in the assorted mini-comics of his I've picked up over time.

Noah Van Sciver
Van Sciver has been involved with comics, doing his own thing for some time now. Many of his works are sad, and not even all of the ones with a miserable tone have a joke. "Dueling" is a comic by him about two men who did just what the titles says, dueled, and despite having many chances to not try to kill each other, they ended up shooting their guns, with one man winning. He didn't really win though, as the narrator (a man regaling a youth with the story) tells us, instead realizing he was now little more than a murderer before taking his own life. Its abysmally dark stuff.
Some of Van Sciver's depressing comics are very funny though, even if your'e sobbing while you are laughing. I read Van Sciver's "1999" and didn't realize the whole comic was slowly setting up one cruel punchline.

"1999" is about a man named Mark who works in a sub shop, and who wonders if the world may very well end with the arrival of the year 2000 (you may remember how worried we all were about Y2K and such). A new employee named Nora appears at the shop and she and Mark beomce fast friends. Upon her reveal that she's in an open marriage, she and Mark begin having sex on the job. They chat about everything from their dreams in life to their actual nightmares (one scary one is that they suddenly lose all their teeth), and all is good. However, Mark develops strong feelings for Nora soon enough and it turns out she isn't in an open marriage, she's just cheating.

Everything gets worse from there on out. Mark ends up losing his job, and on New Years Eve stabs himself in a bar with his own pen. All of the sudden things look up however when at the hospital Nora arrives and tells Mark she actually wants to be with him and loves him...and then all his teeth fall out because its clear he's just dreaming that she actually came to visit. Now that's a punchline.

Smiling Through the Tears

Both Bulmer and Van Sciver find a way to show how even the saddest aspects of life can be made humorous through either silliness to defuse all the misery(Bulmer in most of his comics) or by taking something really depressing and making a twisted joke out of it (Van Sciver in "1999"). Life at times can be really disheartening, but perhaps even in the darkest of moments we can find a little light in the form of humor.

The point of this post is, if you aren't reading Bulmer's stuff you really should be (visit his site which links to his books and comic-a-day blog), and Van Sciver has an assortment of quality works himself too which you can see some of at this site. Both men illustrate how even in misery there can be humor, and I like that.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Film Friday--"Man of Steel"

Opening Credits
I saw "Man of Steel" today, and as it is mandatory for a comic-reader who also watches movies to review these things, I shall do so now. Note, there will be SPOILERS but I'm not really revealing much, and I won't describe the overall plot of the movie so much as bits that stuck with me.

Quite Good, but not Great
"Man of Steel" is a movie that has some delightful moments, but then it will drag along. This results in a film that starts out extremely promising with its mixture of action and quiet scenes (especially the flashbacks I'll discuss a bit more shortly), but towards the end becomes such non-stop action you just kind of find your senses overstimulated to the point you walk out drained.
Superman ain't playing when it comes to dealing with Zod.
After an incredibly weird opening on Krypton with strange technology and dragons (seriously) we shift to the good stuff with the drifter-style Clark Kent going around, having flashbacks to his interesting childhood, and occasionally rescuing some people. The movie peaked for me during a genuinely eerie scene where General Zod broadcasts a message to all of Earth about how he is seeking out Kal-El. It is foreboding, with a strange grainy-look, and I liked it a lot. 

Then, the movie spends the last hour with 50 of those minutes or so showing basically nothing but fights. Superman fighting Zod's minions, followed by Superman punching Zod, then combating a big machine that could destroy earth, and finally fighting Zod some more. The special effects for the fights are just glorious, but as I said, you get bored with the non-stop brawls.

Adams injects some much needed humanity into the super-heroic action.
I did enjoy the early parts of the movie, and even some later bits, mainly because Henry Cavill as Clark Kent really has chemistry with Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Plus I like that Lois helps Clark a lot and isn't just a damsel-in-distress. The end of this film also sets up future installments perfectly, with us not seeing Clark don the glasses and start working at the Daily Planet until right before the credits roll--so perhaps the next movie will have more human moments interspersed with the action. 

Speaking of the human moments, the bits with a young Clark Kent are probably the best parts of the movie, especially thanks to Kevin Costner as Clark's adoptive father--he absolutely rocks the screen. They are emotional, sweet, and really grab you.
"Man of Steel" is a quite good movie, just not a great one. I would of course recommend you see it if you're a fan of Superman or comic-book movies, but just don't expect something absolutely amazing. Therefore, taking into the account the fun I had, mixed with the aspects that bugged me, I would give this movie:
3 out of 5 stars.

Quite A Good Read, The Westwood Witches #1

Amigo comics is a new publisher who've got a few comics coming out. I reviewed their first issue of "Rogues" and found it enjoyable but not overly amazing. When I heard about "The Westwood Witches" I decided I would pick up the first issue, and I'm glad I did as this was quite the stellar comic.

Things start out pretty silly, a man is caught by some witches, and sacrificed to them to call forth a demon. It all reads as quite absurd even if the art by Abel Garcia is good, but then its revealed that the purple-prose we've been reading, is in fact all a fictional story written by our main character, Jack Kurtzberg. It seems he once wrote a  demonic romance-novel as a joke more than anything else, but high-school girls around the nation fell in love with it to a point it became a bestseller with a movie-version on the way. Now, Jack has to write more trashy horror-erotica or his newly plush life will be no more. This little twist at the start of the book was quite cleverly-meta in its commenting on how crappy fiction can become a big seller (not that I'm naming any names...Twilight), and from there on things only get more interesting.
The start of the comic seems silly on purpose.
Jack and his wife move back out to his childhood home of Westwood in the hopes it gets his creative juices flowing again, and we see through a couple of scenes that Jack's neighbors clearly aren't all they seem, and something definitely is amiss. Jack is too busy trying to write his book and keep his wife happy with their newly pampered-life that he doesn't notice that while his new neighbors seem nice, the women are quite clearly...witches. Yes, that makes this sound like the cliche, "Man meets the very monsters he writes about," story, but trust me when I tell you that through El Torres writing you really get a feel for Jack, and the ending of the book makes it clear that it isn't necessarily just witches Jack has to worry about, but even more twisted and demonic creatures.
Jack struggles to write more trashy stories.
"The Westwood Witches" is expertly written, and the art by Abel Garcia impresses throughout the whole book with its mixture of the realistic and ethereal both drawn beautifully. I would definitely recommend people check out this book, and if Amigo's good start with title is an indicator of future books from them, they will definitely be a new publisher to watch.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

For The First Time In A Long While, A Company Clearly "Won" E3.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo or, "E3," is an event that has occurred for many years, growing and shrinking in size at various points in time. This year's event is all but over, and some interesting things actually happened. You see, usually most of the big entertainment companies do a presentation about their games, people applaud politely, and nothing much of note happens except for maybe the rare neat game reveal (the announcement of Watch Dogs last year was quite snazzy). Plus, it's an industry-only event, so unless you work in video-games in some capacity, are a celebrity of a sort, or very wealthy, the odds are you can't get in. Therefore, all the video-game websites follow the news, and nothing too shocking happens, with a lack in any "winner" or "loser" for sure--at least since 2006 when Sony had a terrible press conference.

This year things were different though.

Going into E3 Microsoft clearly had the deck stacked against them. Everyone was mad about the various rumors regarding what was true and what wasn't true about the Xbox One. A bit before E3 Microsoft spelled things out, and folk just got more upset. It didn't help that during E3 Microsoft basically gave off the image of, "We know what's best for you, so shut-up and buy our basically un-resellable games and creepy 1984-styled Kinect that comes with the Xbox One." Clearly, they didn't make things better.
"You're going to hate me by the end of E3."
If you didn't like the whole deal with having to connect to the internet every 24 hours Microsoft was happy to tell you to just buy an Xbox 360 and quit bitching. They also assured us that all the stupidity of their rules about game-sharing or re-selling was in our best interest, and again, shut up and buy our system because we said so and we're awesome. Sony all but had the conference handed to them on a silver platter if they did a few things right, and boy they did.

You know how Microsoft makes it so you have to connect online every 24 hours? The PlayStation 4 does not make you do that. The 500 dollar price tag for the Xbox One that was just announced? The PS4 is a hundred cheaper at 400 bucks. Oh, and game sharing? Allow me to show you this instructional video about how you will be able share your PlayStation 4 games:

Yup, you hand your buddy the game, that's it. The one thing that wasn't good news with the PS4 is that to game online with multi-player you will need to have PlayStation Plus--but even that isn't too negative as "free to play" online games lack that requirement (Microsoft still will make folk pay for multi-player even if a game itself is "free to play". While that above video is Sony trolling Microsoft at the most epic level, it is also quite funny and true. You can rent games with the PS4, buy used games with the PS4, and basically do everything consoles have ever allowed you to do, only this time folk are cheering about it because someone (Microsoft) went and tried to screw things up. Now, according to an Amazon poll, video-game players prefer the PS4 to Xbox by a margin of 94% for PS4 and 6% for Xbox One. Yikes.
Sony got folk literally chanting their name with this slide.
E3 could not have gone better for Sony, and probably was as worse as possible for Microsoft. There are still those out there saying the Xbox One is going to be great, and would probably call me a Sony fan-boy or such. To them I simply say: My friend, are you thinking at all logically?

 I want a console that lets me sell my games when I'm done with them, and if it costs companies too much to make such big games that doing so is wrong, maybe they shouldn't spend so damn much (other people agree). After all, those independent developers Microsoft is shutting out tend to make some very good games on a lower budget, so not every release has a to be a multi-million dollar expenditure that results in games costing more and more. Movies cost a ton of money to make, and I can still sell my DVDs after I'm done with them, so don't try that argument.

Also, this generation of Kinect was pretty terrible, so I don't care that for an extra 100 dollars I get a mandatory camera that could always be watching me. Lastly, I don't think having to always connect to the internet anytime it has been 24 hours benefits me in any way. Therefore, I can say that yes, Sony totally won E3 this year, and Microsoft lost, hard. It is a simple fact, and it goes without saying I want to buy a PS4 at some point and have basically zero plans to get an Xbox One.

In closing, this was a great time to be Sony and a bad time to be Microsoft. Who knows how things will actually shake out, but I know where I'm placing my bets when these two companies' consoles start their metaphorical brawl in the marketplace.

Oh, and Nintendo was at E3 too apparently--screaming for someone to pay attention to the Wii U--but at this point it is just getting sad.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Mini-Run Review, Young Avengers #1-#5

There is a panel from Young Avengers #4 that sums up how great this comic is, and how much it knows it. The scene is one character making a reference to an old movie, but twisting it into something new and even better:
Yes, "Come with me if you want to be awesome," is a wonderful way of putting it, and within that one panel a lot of how Kireon Gillen's best writing is made finds itself shown.

You see, Kireon Gillen has written a great many comics, with many of them being quite stellar, but it was quite possibly one of his first works, "Phonogram: Rue Britannia," and its sequel, "Phonogram: The Singles Club," that rank among his finest pieces. It took Gillen's familiarity with and love of popular culture (mainly music) and created a world where music itself was a magical element that people could wield. It had these amazing original ideas that built off of people's familiarity with music, 90's rock music in particular, and was both not too heavy-handed in its utilization of pop-culture, but created a perfect balance of newness and things we know and love. Gillen is sort of doing the same thing with Young Avengers but in a different way.
The Young Avengers talk about "Game of Thrones"
Everyone in Young Avengers are characters a lot of people who read comics know. Heck, some were in the previous versions of the Young Avengers! You have Kate Bishop, the female Hawkeye, the kid-version of Loki that Gillen wrote during his much loved run on, "Journey Into Mystery," Wiccan/Billy Kaplan, a boy with magical powers, Hulking/Teddy Altman, Wiccan's boyfriend and a half-kee-half-skrull alien, Miss America/Amanda Chavez whom was first met in Joe Casey's stellar, "Vengeance," and lastly my personal favorite, Marvel Boy/Noh-Varr (his publication history is complicated to say the least, but let's just say this incarnation of him is on par with his first appearance when Morrison introduced him). Gillen takes our familiarity with these heroes and subverts it into something that has their personalities and takes into account their past, but makes something altogether new and delightful. Kind of like taking an old Terminator quote and changing it into something different.

Perhaps one reason this series has reminded me of Phonogram other than its methodology is that the art is provided by none other than Gillen's collaborator on those books, Jaime Mckelvie. All of those factors make this feel like a third-helping of Phonogram, just with super-powers instead of magic-music. Plus, there is a scene where Marvel Boy talks about how much he loves earth-music in the first issue too, as if the comic is giving us a little wink.
I've said how the start of this series is great so far, but I haven't actually told you about the plot at all, have I? Basically, it starts out with some seemingly disjointed events occurring, with the major one being how because Teddy misses his mother (she died during Marvel's "Secret Invasion" event) Billy uses his powers to find a dimension just like ours but with the exception he grabs her into our world before she dies. As the shocking end of the first issue reveals though, Teddy's mom isn't really his mother, but this multi-dimensional parasite that everyone has to get together to fight. I'm summing it up in a manner that makes it all sound pretty basic, but trust me when I tell you the comic shows all of this story and the action wonderfully, be it through Gillen's master-scripting or Mckelvie's amazing artwork.

Regardless of how much you do or do not know about the Marvel Universe, you can read "Young Avengers" and still understand everything that is going on, while also enjoying the stellar artwork. Between the clever-but-not-overdone use of popular culture, great writing that makes us care about the characters, and good ol' super-heroics, this incarnation of "Young Avengers" is spectacular. Don't let the fact this is another of half-a-dozen or so "Avengers" comics make you scared to pick this up, the series stands very well on its own, independent of any current or past comics. Folk should definitely make sure to get back-issues of this comic or the trade which will collect these first five issues along with a little prologue story that happened in a comic called "Marvel NOW Point One" which wasn't too good except for the Young Avengers bit. Really, read this! Now, I will leave you with another amazing page from issue #1 that takes place right after that quiet scene with Kate and Marvel Boy talking about music:
Yeah, this comic is definitely rated:
5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Links and Commentary, From Me, To You, Because That's What the People Need

Hey, you. Yeah, you right there. 
You know what you need? What, cheaper car insurance? Guess again. A healthier diet? Maybe, but that's not it either. Give up guessing, because I'm just gonna tell you, you need some links! Why do you need various internet stories that aren't written by me but which I feel are worth looking at?, "Because I said so," a valid answer? If it is, then that's why. Now enjoy these articles with my bit of commentary attached to them!

Here are the Links!
Awesome artist Jock is going to do a Wolverine story in one of the character's comics with a really strange future-plot that is out of continuity (thereby allowing him to do whatever he wants)? I'm in, I'm so in.

I've already expressed disappointment with the Xbox One, but to be fair I was negative when all that bad stuff happened to be little more than rumors. Well, now its been confirmed what is true, and I can say with 99% certainty I have no plans of ever getting an Xbox One. Why? Perhaps because as this article says, it is one big gift to video-game publishers. I have to connect to the internet at least every 24 hours, with my occasionally-spotty internet? Plus, publishers can make it so I can't resell a game (and you know most of them probably will do that)? Yeah, I'm not down with that at all, and that's just two problems, although at least the new Kinect turned out to not be as creepy as was initially feared (watching, always watching). As I've said, assuming Sony doesn't royally screw things up too, I'll be getting a PlayStation 4--of course, not right away, I'll probably give it a year to get the bugs worked out and for a price drop to occur, I'm thrifty like that.

Apparently our US Government could be spying on us. I mean, this wasn't exactly news when we learned Bush was doing it, but seeing as how Obama criticized him for domestic-surveillance of this sort isn't it a tad hypocritical he now is just saying, "Hey, don't worry about it, I promise this is just to stop terrorists!" Yeah, I feel reaaalllll safe.

After  something as depressing as the Xbox One and the Government potentially spying on us I think we need something cute to help us feel better. Here is a picture of a turtle with a crocheted outfit that makes him look like Bowser.

An Avengers team led by Luke Cage (which has sort of happened before) and with a majority of characters who aren't white males but in fact people of color or women? That sounds quite awesome. The only problem is the horrendous Greg Land is doing the art, but I guess nothing can be perfect. Now if Marvel just actually had any black folk writing for them maybe we could be even more positive.

It's interesting to think how less than two decades ago the idea of Sega having their games on any console other than their own was outlandish. Now you've got a temple-run styled Sonic game for i-devices and the indie-gaming darling Ouya will have the blue hedgehog's adventures too. I still remember the joy I felt playing my Dreamcast and all its superb games. God, I feel old now.

Paul Jenkins does not have very good things to say about DC and their treatment of creators. Plus he has some problems with Marvel, but he seems not as upset with them as he is understanding. I've enjoyed some of his past stuff and am liking "Deathmatch" so I wish him well in his new exclusivity contract with BOOM.

I think I should be embarrassed that I've started watching "The Real Housewives of Orange County"  recently (nothing else was on TV except for a marathon of it and now I'm intrguied). However, I felt it was better to admit it in public rather than hide it with shame as I did back when I occasionally would watch, "The Real Housewives of Atlanta". I mean, its not as bad as "Princesses: Long Island" which just had its series premiere Sunday...and which I also plan to continue watching. Yeah, you probably think I'm a terrible person for loving trashy television, I know.

I've been playing "State of Decay" a lot since it came out Wednesday, and enjoy it quite a bit. I hadn't turned my Xbox 360 on in awhile so it was good to see it still runs  I should post a review perhaps, but until then this review by Joystiq summarizes both the good and bad in the game pretty well, even if I think they rate it a bit harsher than needed. By the way, the game is download-only so if you have one of those aforementioned folk with spotty internet service be warned. On the plus side, it is just 20 dollars so give the limited-time trial a go and if you like it I'd say its worth the purchase.

Oh, and lastly, DC announced how they apparently are doing something called "Villains Month (which is sorely lacking in a needed apostrophe)" where their comics will be "taken over" by various bad-guys in the DC universe. This is all being done as what appear to be one-shots that will relate to some mini-series called, "Forever Evil". I'll probably formulate a response to the whole thing when there is more information about it from DC besides, "Look at all these books with villains, isn't that cool?"

Those Were the Links!
You should feel quite inundated with news about politics, video-games, comics, and  junk-T.V. Oh, plus I had that cute picture of a turtle all dressed-up. My point basically is that there is a lot going on in the world, and it can be hard to keep up with it. The key is to just try to read as much as possible so you can be at least moderately informed on the planet's going-ons. After all, ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power...or something like that.

Another Warren Ellis Project I Won't Get To Read Anytime Soon

Warren Ellis has a variety of projects I'm waiting for him to finish. There are things he says are basically dead -in-the-water such as Desolation Jones, but then there are comics by him that supposedly will someday be finished, such as Doktor Sleepless, Anna Mercury, Fell, and etc. Interestingly, the latest thing by Ellis to be delayed is not a comic, but a piece of prose work. Plus, this time it isn't his fault per se.
Cancelled/Delayed, for now.
 Yes, "Dead Pig Collector" is on hold due to issues between Ellis and his (former) publisher. I was upset to hear Warren Ellis terminated his relationship with Mulholland Books for currently-undisclosed reasons as the man makes such good stuff. Whatever issues he was having I wish him well and hope his latest project that they were going to publish digitally and possibly physically (I think) sees release sometime soon.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Good News, Comics Alliance has been Resurrected!

Just a short while ago in April I mourned the sudden and untimely death of Comics Alliance. Well, in a joyous turn of events the website is back! Another company called "Townsquare Media" has bought ownership of CA and it has returned this week with what I think is all of the original folk who were there when it was shut down. Regular posting has resumed, as can be seen by going to the site itself, and all is well. I'm pleased to get this good news and wish Comics Alliance many more wonderful years!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Michael Deforge is a Genius--Lose #2, #3, and #4 Overview

Every once in awhile Michael Deforge comes out with a new issue of his comic "Lose". As I'd been seeing his stuff in various articles or indie comics, when I saw a comic shop had three issues of his series, I eagerly snatched them up.

Deforge often receives accolades from folk, so my saying he creates masterworks is just another drop in the bucket of praise. Part of the reason I enjoy his work so much is that is drips with imagination and creativity--something at times lacking in the comic industry, it can feel like.
Lose #2 cover.
The 2nd issue of "Lose" has the majority of its pages dedicated to a tale that is both extremely creepy and a little sweet--the title is, "It's Chip." It is about a boy named Chip who is picked on by everyone from bullies to his own brother. He meets a decapitated horse head with these weird spiders living around it and develops a strange bond.
The spiders, meanwhile, start spraying people with a dangerous chemical that horribly hurts them and over a period of a few days spider-eggs enter the water supply the entire world comes to fiery end, but Chip at least makes a friend. As I said, quite imaginative and creepy.
Lose #3 cover.
Lose #3 features the comic, "Dog 2070," where a dog named Stephen who is divorced from his wife, Linda, struggles in life and basically comes off as a very depressed and lonely individual. It is kind of like those melancholy movies or independent comics about a loser who overcomes the trials of life, except in this case the main character stays a loser...and it's a dog who lives in some surreal junkyard world instead of a human.
The tale both at once seems grounded with its everyday miseries Stephen faces (divorce, unable to relate to his kids), and fantastical with the idea there are dogs in some garbage-filled place, that also inexplicably can glide, but generally don't due to its risks. This is one of my favorite stories due to its interesting mixture of ideas, but saying which Deforge comic is your favorite can be hard because it is like trying to pick the "best" thing in a big group of "awesome".
Lose #4 cover.
Lose #4 has a trio of long-ish stories, each more out-there than the last. "Someone I Know," is about a weird club full of leather and studs, that somehow enter into your body and...well, it was probably the weakest Deforge story for me (albeit still neat) in that it has his creativity but the story seems unsure where it wants to go before puttering out. I like that the main character is named David though.
A quite weird story then starts that is about, "Canadian Royalty," and how their bodies are morphed and strange outfits put on them to give them an otherworldly and alien appearance. It is extremely bizarre and also quite clever in its way of mocking people's tendency to obsess over celebrities. As far as I know, because Canada is under British rule they don't actually have royalty, but it's fascinating to imagine a culture with such strange outfits and customs.
The last longer story is in fact probably the strangest. Titled, "The Sixties," it is about a world where this kind of illness called, "Stacyface" causes everyone to have the face of a girl who was apparently named Stacy. Not every living thing has this problem, but most of the particular region our main character, Diane, lives in seems to suffer from it as apparently it can be contracted somehow--making others very nervous around its sufferers. The comic follows the aforementioned girl named Diane as she mulls about thinking on how life pretty much sucks with "Stacyface" causing everyone to look the same. She wishes she were around in the 1960s before Stacyface became a thing in her town. I really liked this story but it was quite short, I wish it had been longer and fleshed-out more of just what "Stacyface" is and how it has impacted life.

Overall, the 3rd issue is probably my favorite (thanks to "Dog 2070"), with the 2nd and 4th both being equally enjoyable too. Deforge is incredibly talented and I am eager to get a copy of the latest issue of "Lose" that just came out. I eagerly recommend reading Deforge's stuff to anyone who wants something out-there. Seriously though, anyone who likes comics and enjoys creative stuff should read this series.
Lose #2: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Lose #3: 5 out of 5 stars.
Lose #4: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Check out more of Deforge here.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

"Don't Starve" Review--Who Knew Foraging Could Be So Fun?

I had heard buzz of a game called, "Don't Starve" that sounded pretty fun. There was a beta going on anyone who bought the game could be a part of, but I was busy with finishing school and such so I waited until its full release to snag a copy via the ever-useful service.

"Don't Starve" is a game where your character is thrust into the wilderness and it then is up to you to figure out how to, well, not starve. You can look up handy guides on the internet about what to do and how to craft items but I find it is most fun if you muddle through the game blindly for at least your first few attempts at not dying. I say "attempts" because you will most assuredly die. It may be from a group of spiders whose nest you got to close too, it could be from an enraged herd of beefalo, or you simply might just forget about that whole, "not starving," goal, but you will die--you kind of have to advance in the game.
Spiders, among the most annoying enemy of any game.
Death is necessary in the game because while you can save as you go along, once your character dies, that's it. You read right, you spend all this time trying to build a life for Wilson (or whomever you play as), maybe establish a little farm, knit together a winter hat, and then you die and there is no going back to the game. This is what many gamers call a "roguelike". It means you have permanent death and every time you boot up a new game the world is completely different and random--as happens in "Don't Starve". The good news, at least, is that the more you play and the more days you live before your untimely death, the more experience you gain. This experience unlocks a small number of other characters you can play as who each have their own helpful attributes (Wilson grows a beard that helps keep him warm in the winter, Willow can magically start fires, and so forth). The point isn't so much to unlock these characters, though, it is to get better at surviving every time you play the game.

There is an "adventure" mode you can find that has missions, so-to-speak, in that you have to survive within increasingly hostile worlds. I find the real fun is in the main game however, booting up a new level, exploring, gathering, and seeing what fun things you can find.
Some farmland, a friendly pigman nearby and beefalo roaming in the distance, all is well, for  now.
The game is not without some flaws, so it is worth touching upon those. The biggest problem with the game is that it can get repetitive. When you first start a new world there is a good chunk of time spent just doing the same thing you do every game to establish a "foundation" of sorts for your character to survive. You need to find some initial materials, gather food, hunt animals, and basically do the same thing every game for at least 10-30 minutes until you can go around exploring and attempt to find other interesting and new stuff. Also, sometimes the game's logic is a bit weird. For example, if you burn down a tree you get charcoal, but if you burn down a sapling it gives you ashes...huh? Other than those quibbles however this is quite the fun adventure.

From when you first enter a new wilderness, to when food starts to run low and winter arrives making survival all that much harder, "Don't Starve" is a hoot of a game to play. It is not easy and won't hold your hand because the whole point of it is to make you die--maybe not right away, but soon enough. Over time, once you figure out how to best keep the night's darkness at bay, make friends with the pig-men, and maybe even go into adventure mode, things get simplier, but never easy enough that you can forget about the game's titular goal and make sure you "Don't Starve". If you like games about survival, or difficult challenges that you're prepared to keep attempting over-and-over just to last one extra day against the wild, "Don't Starve" is definitely a game worth playing. Check out the website here to learn more and perhaps grab a copy via GOG, Steam, or the site itself.
4.5 out of 5 stars.