Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Watch Dogs" Initial Impressions on a Playstation 3

Getting Cracking at Hacking
I have the Target edition of "Watch Dogs". It comes with an extra outfit.
My fiancé, Samii, bought me "Watch Dogs" yesterday for my birthday (I turned 26th on the 27th) and I have already played it extensively. As I don't have a Playstation 4 or the funds to go out and get one I enjoyed "Watch Dogs" on my Playstation 3. One thing I've found remarkable is that there are basically very-little-to-no reviews for "Watch Dogs" I've been able to find for PS3 or the Xbox 360 (I saw ONE review on a French website for the PS3 which I had to have Google poorly translate for me). Considering how many of us have the "older" consoles I find this odd, so I thought I would share my initial impressions of "Watch Dogs" with the added aspect that I'm playing it on PS3.

"Watch Dogs" Thoughts

These are perfectly fine. Samii commented (she was watching me play) that even with this being on a PS3 the graphics looked quite good, especially at night with the rain coming down and creating a somber mood. As many have commented online, the graphics on a Playstation 4 don't even come close to the images from the debut trailer back in 2012, but I think things look good enough to maybe not impress, but at least be solid.

Gameplay, On Foot
This is highly enjoyable and well-done. From the shooting mechanics working solidly to hacking being easy and quite fun, "Watch Dogs" plays excellently on foot. It is a lot like your "Grand Theft Auto" or "Saints Row" games, with the big addition of hacking giving everything an air of futuristic magic. Whereas in previous games most pedestrians were random screen-filler, here they all have an interesting little fact about them, with some even providing side-mission opportunities through careful listening-in on their phone calls or viewing their texts. The ways the world can be manipulated are fascinating too and introduce some fun elements to the game that are quite creative and elevate it above being a simple clone of other open-world adventures.

Gameplay, Driving
I read online how people were saying that "Watch Dogs'" cars handled in an "arcadey" fashion before I started playing the game, and that is a perfect way to describe it. Now, I'm not upset that in the game "Watch Dogs" once you start driving the cars don't handle that realistically, it just is a bit of a tonal shift to go from this serious semi-realistic game to feeling like I'm playing a modern-day "Cruis'n USA" with hacking thrown-in. Still, driving gets the job done even if it feels a bit floaty and as if the cars don't have much weight or heft.

Shooting digital aliens is more fun than bouncing on hard-to-hit flowers.
This game is loaded with things to do, maybe too much. There is the main story, the Digital Trips (why do people say they love the flower-bouncing? I hated that), the alternate reality games, Fixer missions, stopping random crimes, and about fifty other things you can wander off and do (Try singing "Do you want to climb a CTOS tower" in the same vein of Frozen's "Do you Want to Build a Snowman", anyone watching you play will crack up). The good thing is that you of course can skip any of these optional activities, but with all the little extra things you can unlock from doing them, it is a pretty good idea to engage in at least some of the optional stuff. 

I can't yet comment on this because Uplay was being a pain in the tuckus for me and I couldn't get anything working that involved other players--be it the "invasions" or a simple race. Heck, I can't even get the CTOS mobile app to cooperate for me! I suppose this is just some post-launch issues that hopefully will get worked out as I really would like to try hacking a live person.

The Story
I haven't played a ton of "Watch Dogs" yet so I feel making a judgement on the main story may be premature. With that said, Aiden seems like a cranky sad-sack who is a bit of a loser. Thankfully, the supporting cast is at least somewhat interesting, with Jordi being a hoot in all his sociopathic glory and Aiden's sister coming off as just the right mixture of sympathetic and unable to understand why Aiden behaves the way he does (namely, going off and causing trouble).

Loading Screens
This is probably the biggest problem with playing "Watch Dogs" on the Playstation 3. Sometimes it can take the game quite awhile to load after I fail a mission and it's taking me back the most recent checkpoint, or if I'm engaging in fast-travel. It isn't utterly horrendous though so I'm not torn-up about it.

Closing Thoughts

"Watch Dogs" has so far proven to be greatly enjoyable and I'm pleased to have a copy all my own. While the game may take a bit longer to load and not render shadows and such as well as the Playstation 4, I would say the differences are probably minimal enough that if you own a PS3 or Xbox 360 you don't need to rush out and buy the newest generation of consoles in order to fully enjoy "Watch Dogs".

You ought to play a copy on whatever console you have for sure...unless its a Wii-U, in which case you're stuck waiting awhile (if the game actually does come out for the Wii-U in the Fall). Anyways, "Watch Dogs" is fun and I look forward to spending more time with it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My Birthday

Today is my birthday. In honor of that I will now share an image of what has to be the ugliest clip-art birthday-cake ever...
Cheers to another year.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Interview Time: Mike Wolfer

About Mike Wolfer
I've been a fan of Mike Wolfer for some time now and when I saw he had an already-successful Kickstarter for his comic "Ragdoll" that finishes May 30th (Find it here and pledge!) I knew I had to do two things:

1. Become a backer so I could get the comic and the awesome stretch-goal bonsues
2.  Interview Mike Wolfer about Ragdoll so that I could discuss his past projects I've enjoyed and help spread the word about "Ragdoll"

Read below to learn more about Mike's past work, his current Kickstarter, and see his announcement for the next "Ragdoll" project titled, "Ragdoll: Orgy of the Vampires".

The Interview
1. For those of my readers who don’t know who you are, please share a little about yourself, such as how you got into comics, what you've done in the past, and what you’re currently working on.

The quick career recap is I started in comics in 1987, self-publishing DAIKAZU and WIDOW. When Avatar Press launched in 1996, they acquired WIDOW (and me) as one of their first published titles, and over the years with Avatar, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a slew of books, mostly in the realm of horror. Some of my more notable works has been writing/illustrating Warren Ellis’ GRAVEL and Garth Ennis
 STITCHED, co-writing LADY DEATH with Brian Pulido, and writing, illustrating or both on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and FRIDAY THE 13THI've also had the opportunity to work with Alan Moore on YUGGOTH CREATURES and George R.R. Martin on SKIN TRADE. Currently, I’m writing and drawing a 6-issue arc of CROSSED: BADLANDS, and have just begun writing a new series for Zenescope Entertainment titled INFERNO: RINGS OF HELL.

2. Right now you are doing an already-successfully-funded Kickstarter for “Ragdoll”. Can you share a little bit about what makes the character of Ragdoll special to you and made you want to engage in a Kickstarter campaign for it?

RAGDOLL is something which has been near and dear to my heart for many, many years. It’s one of those books that I was able to pour my heart into, because it was created solely to please me. It’s everything I would ever want to do in a comic, and I was fortunate enough to have the backing of Avatar Press to do just that: Anything I wanted. I grew up reading Warren Mags (EERIE, CREEPY, VAMPIRELLA) and loving all of the Gothic horror films from Hammer Studios, so RAGDOLL is a culmination of all of those early influences, from the 18th Century setting of the story, to the fully gray-toned ink washes on the pages. It’s everything I loved as a kid. As for the Kickstarter, I've been wanting to see how viable that system is for someone like me, to see if it would be possible to publish more personal works on the side, outside of my company work. So far, we’re off to a great start, so I think I’ll be doing more Kickstarter-funded projects in the future.

3. It is interesting to see that Ragdoll was originally in an Avatar anthology comic known as “Raw Media Quarterly” and existed as more of an X-rated comic, yet your Kickstarter is going to remove the completely-graphic sexuality and instead go for more of a “Hard R” rating, as I've seen you describe it. Are you changing the format slightly because you think Ragdoll can stand on its own as a story without as much as the sex, and what makes you feel that way?

Yeah- The deal with that is it was a commissioned series for an adults only comic, so each 10-12 page chapter that saw print in each issue of RMQ had to have the prerequisite, explicit sex scenes. I think that I made it work, even though it kind of messed with the flow of the narrative, but that was the nature of the job, so I don’t have a problem with it. But very few people saw or have even heard of RAGDOLL, and I've always thought that was a shame, because I think it is one of my strongest stories, and one of the most interesting characters I've ever created. So now, 15 years later, I’m bringing her back, but I've retooled the story to take out the “X” material, which subsequently makes the story flow so much better and provided me the opportunity to add new pages of art, and make tweaks to the old art that I wasn't satisfied with. And the whole thing has been rewritten, and has been newly re-lettered by Natalie Jane. Still, it’s a pretty sexy story, and there are a lot of adult situations inherent in the tale. That hasn't changed. All I've done is taken out the in-your-face close-up shots.

4. I read a collection of your “Razor X” series you did for Avatar that originally appeared in “Threshold” and then was collected in various formats. It was extremely sexually charged to say the least (such as when that man had his penis cut off) but not necessarily pornographic. Is that basically the same sort of thing you’re going for with “Ragdoll”?

As far as the actual depictions, what’s drawn on the page, yes. But as for the story itself, nope, absolutely not. “Razor X” was designed as a total shock piece; it was meant to push everything right up to the edge, but not over it, and was really just straight-up exploitation. And I had a great time doing it, don’t get me wrong. But RAGDOLL is different, and has been from the start. It’s always been a multi-tiered character study, with all kinds of subtle statements, most importantly in support of feminism. But you know, everyone will see something different in it, and some of the more minute details might get lost, but it’s a dense read, and if you pay close attention, you’re going to see a specific agenda that goes deeper than the graphic violence and nudity.
5. What are the benefits of doing a Kickstarter as opposed to other more traditional methods? What are the downsides?

Don’t jinx me! So far, there have been no downsides! Ha! The benefits are as I mentioned earlier: This is giving me a chance to do whatever I’d like to do, and to do it specifically for my fans. Because of their backing of the project, they’re allowing me to create something specifically for them, and it’s been just incredible to know that I have that kind of support and interest in my work. What some people don’t understand is that just because you work for a publisher, they’re not going to just unleash you on whatever title you want to do. They’re not going to publish just anything. So while I've worked on several awesome projects for Avatar Press, it’s still not like doing a creator-owned book; they assign me something and I give it my all. But I have all kinds of personal series pitches which I have plotted out, and unfortunately they just don’t fit with Avatar’s line, or they don’t think there would be enough following (sales) for it to be a successful company release. With self-publishing, the overhead is much lower, and Kickstarter will hopefully allow me to get some of those creator-owned projects into print, which publishers have been leery about committing to.

6. You recently illustrated the adaptation of a George RR Martin story about werewolves titled “Skin Trade”. I enjoyed it quite a lot, but found it odd that it seemed so perfectly set up to have another mini-series and yet one still hasn't been announced. Is there possibly more “Skin Trade” in the works, and would you be the illustrator again?

I haven’t heard anything like that, and actually, I think that the deal with George for that property was just the adaptation of the short story. But you’re right- There are all kinds of directions that could take if there was a sequel!

7. I’m a big fan of the character of William Gravel, having read his adventures in various mini-series written by Warren Ellis and illustrated most of the time by you, and the new one written just by you. His earlier adventures had you as the illustrator most of the time, but I believe I recall you saying you often had plot input too. How is it different to now be exclusively writing about Gravel in his newest ongoing but not drawing it too?

I’m a big fan of Gravel, too! Yeah, you’re right- With the third black and white series, STRANGE KILLINGS, Warren had me “choreograph” some of the action sequences, and he figured that since I created them, I might as well write the corresponding dialog. And that continued on to where he would just supply me with detailed plots for each issue, along with some very specific dialog, and I would do the rest. I do miss drawing the book, but it’s been really fun working with other artists, to see their interpretations of the characters and action, and I've been pleasantly surprised the whole time.

8. What do you think makes Gravel such a good character that you and Warren have been able to tell so many stories with him? His personality, his mostly-mysterious origins, the way the magic he uses isn't cute and fluffy but raw and brutal?

I think you just hit the nail on the head. It’s not what people were expecting, and with each story we try to maintain that flow, and those expectations of “anything can happen.” I think you’ll see that very clearly with the concluding issue of GRAVEL: COMBAT MAGICIAN (#4)… Anything can happen!

9. I have to admit I have never read “Stitched”. I know it starts as a movie and then continued into a comic, and I haven’t seen the movie and fear I would be lost if I just picked up the trades. Is this the case, or would I be fine? Where could I and my readers acquire a copy of the movie?

Dude… You are absolutely missing it! STITCHED has been one of the greatest storytelling experiences of my career, and that’s backed up by incredible reviews. I did the art for the first arc, written by Garth, then I took over as writer and Fernando Furukawa was the artist on arcs 2 and 3. You wouldn't be missing a thing. Garth wrote a screenplay for a full-length movie, the adaptation of which is in issues #1-7 of the series. The short film which Garth directed is only the first 15 minutes of that screenplay, and it’s what we see in issue #1. I think you can find the DVD on eBay, or from Comic Cavalcade. I’d urge you to seek out the trades, because it was another of the things I wrote where readers were taken totally off-guard by the direction of the book. They were expecting a war story, and got solid, straight-up horror.

10. Your character “Widow” has appeared with various publishers, with her most recently having been at Avatar with series such as “Widow X” (which I would love to read but have had difficulty finding fairly-priced issues of). Can you share a little bit about the history of this character?

WIDOW began as a fluke in my self-publishing days, just a change of pace from my giant monster extravaganza, DAIKAZU. I was only going to do a little, three-issue series, then get back to the kaiju. But something about the character clicked, sales were great, and that’s all I did for probably the next 6 years. Other publishers were seeing that success and wanted to incorporate the title into their own comic lines, so I took the series to London Night Studios for a bit, then back to my own Ground Zero Comics, then over to Avatar Press, where she’s been ever since. The character was in hiatus for many, many years, but fans have continually asked for her return, so I was happily able to use her as a supporting character in WAR GODDESS, published by Avatar’s sister company, Boundless Comics. I’d say that WIDOW was what put me on the map, I guess you could say, and I really would like to do something else new with her. And you know, with Kickstarter, you never know what can happen!

11. Who is a creator you haven’t worked with (as either a writer or an artist) whom you would like to collaborate with?

Well, if it’s a “wish list,” I’d say Berni Wrightson, Richard Corben, or Carlos Magno. I've always been much more of a follower of artists than of writers, I guess.

12. What upcoming projects do you have that you can share some information with us about? You’ve made it no secret that with the already-happening success of your Kickstarter for “Ragdoll” a volume 2 might be on the way.

Right now, the only solid things on my agenda are arcs on Avatar’s CROSSED: BADLANDS and Zenescope’s INFERNO, but there will probably be more for both publishers. As for self-publishing, yes, I absolutely intend on doing a RAGDOLL sequel, RAGDOLL: ORGY OF THE VAMPIRES (that’s an exclusive for you, by the way). That Kickstarter will run a bit differently as the current one, because for Volume 1, the art is completed, so I’m going to press very shortly after the campaign ends. For Volume 2, there will be more like a 4 month wait time, while I draw the book and get it printed. But hopefully, it will all be worth the wait, and I’m very anxious to hear what people who follow my work think about the first installment.

13. Can you share a bit more about "Ragdoll: Orgy of the Vampires" and how it will continue the story started in this current Kickstarted volume, or will it be its own new story?

RAGDOLL: ORGY OF THE VAMPIRES will be an all-new tale, and a direct sequel to THE CURSE OF RAGDOLL. With each successive chapter, I'll do a "The Story So Far" recap for new readers, but I'm plotting Ragdoll's tale as one continuing story, and small plot details which might seem innocuous upon the first read will sometimes have major impacts on later stories. As readers will see in THE CURSE OF RAGDOLL, I've laid the groundwork for the sequel, and in fact, that's the reason why one of my Stretch Goal art prints is "The Vampiress." But I don't want to say too much and spoil any surprises!

Thanks for answering these questions, Mike!
Sure thing, and thanks for the promo push- I really appreciate it!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I've Pretty Much Quit DC

And So it (Mostly) Ends.

So, I've pretty much quit DC comics. I wasn't reading that much of their stuff, but now I've dropped everything except for the monthly "Batman" comic and "Injustice: Year Two" as of "Forever Evil #7" coming out yesterday and being the last DC event I plan to purchase for a long time. It is funny to think I'm doing this as it was only in 2011 that I wrote my half-joking and half-serious "break-up" letter to Marvel about how I would be reading less of them in favor of DC with its re-launch. How the times have changed.

Whereas I once thought Marvel wasn't being particularly creative or experimental, they now have a variety of interesting titles with unique artwork and storytelling that may not always succeed, but at least are being put out to test the waters for interest. Meanwhile, DC's comics mostly have a somewhat bland, same-y feel, and approach having cancelled 52 series overall since the reboot. While both companies may have exhausted me with their events (AKA eventitis), at least when it comes to individual books there are still some (albeit few and fewer) single comic-books from Marvel I quite enjoy; meanwhile with DC I was hesitant to get too attached to any title for fear it soon would be gone; at least Marvel seems to give their comics a little time to find a readership or at least wrap-up a story-line before giving a title the ax.
One of the two DC series I'm still reading.

I didn't cut "Batman" or "Injustice: Year Two" from my reading because I have overall enjoyed Snyder and Capullo's title more than most DC books (that are still around, at least), finding it occasionally will do something incredibly creative or clever that makes me just not want to stop checking it out. Also, it helps that it is one of the few DC books that has had a mostly-unchanged creative team unlike almost any of their other books. I'm still reading "Injustice" because the 1st "season" was very good and this 2nd one is great too, giving us the kind of interesting story-telling and characterization that the other DC books seem to be severely lacking. Plus, the fact that "Injustice" is in its own universe set in the continuity of the popular video-game means I don't have to to buy anything but it now (having already played the game) to get a good story, so that's snazzy too.

I am by no means reading a ton of Marvel comics, but there are at least some I eagerly look forward to, such as the Ellis-written "Moon Knight", "Loki: Agent of Asgard", and any form of "X-Factor" written by Peter David is always a treat. I am actually reading more comics by companies other than the "Big Two", because frankly it seems that is where much of the creativity, good stories, and great artwork I desire is easier to find. There are always books I want to check out by other publishers, and I can't even read them all due to my ever-smaller budget for comics--meaning I have to be quite picky about what I read--but at least with folk like Image, Boom!, IDW, Oni, Avatar, or Dark Horse (and so forth) there is stuff I want to read.

I guess the reason I've basically quit DC is due to a variety of factors, such as being tired of the bland nature of the stories and art, being exhausted of having series I actually like ending suddenly, and having zero interest in their weekly comics or future events. I hear about all the trouble between DC editorial and their creators, and wonder what would happen if DC maybe took a more hands-off approach to more of their creative teams as Marvel seems somewhat more willing to do, along with many of the other smaller publishers who don't hesitate to give creators mostly free-reign to do whatever they want.

Perhaps when a time comes that DC puts out more stuff I'm interested in (and I have more funds) I'll start picking up other DC titles. For now though, I'm basically done with much of company except for the fun alternate-universe shenanigans of "Injustice" and the creativity of "Batman"--as long as it doesn't start getting interrupted by the other titles or the weekly with cross-overs. Oh, and I'll read "The Multiversity" when it starts coming out because that looks awesome, but other than that and maybe a cool Vertigo debut here-and-there I anticipate little that will interest me.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Film Friday: Godzilla--And I'm Aware It Is Saturday, But I'm Still Calling It "Film Friday"

Go, Go, Godzilla!
I saw one of the Thursday-night showings of "Godzilla" because instead of making people wait until Midnight as some film-releases do, I was able to go at the quite-reasonable time of 7:00 PM. I was too busy Friday to write about the movie, but now shall tell you my opinion while trying to not spoil too much--although if you can't stand to have anything revealed, maybe wait to read my review after you see the movie and then decide if you agree with my thoughts. Before we talk about what "Godzilla" is (besides being a good movie) lets talk about what it is not.

What "Godzilla" Is Not...

"Godzilla" is not just about Godzilla.
Godzilla is an important character in the movie but we never get a good look at him until about the first hour has passed. This film is also about other parasitic monster-giants known as Mutos that are wrecking everything, and the philosophical question of if we as humanity have brought such destruction upon ourselves due to it being revealed just how these creatures gain their strength (hint: It relates to our love of atomic weapons).

"Godzilla" is not constant action.
While the last 30 minutes or so of this 2-hour flick are loaded with awesome scenes of monster-fighting, building-collapsing, and explosions, much of the film is in fact a slow-burn. We will at times get the build-up to a big fight, but then only glimpse it being shown as a news report on television. No, much of the movie spends time focusing on the characters and how they attempt to control the force of nature that is Godzilla and the Mutos he fights. Some folk who go into the movie expecting a little more than action will be surprised to see this film actually is often quiet and thoughtful, at least until towards the end when all the anticipation the audience will feel explodes into a gorgeous ballet of destruction.

"Godzilla" is not a movie starring Bryan Cranston, or even necessarily Godzilla.
Despite appearing prominently in all the trailers for the movie, Cranston is barely in it at all, appearing on-screen maybe 15 minutes at the most throughout the film, with this truly being a case where the trailers basically showed every scene he appears in. There is nothing wrong with Cranston having a smaller role, but it just feels like the previews were deceiving when it is actually Cranston's character's son played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson whom is main focus of the film (along with his family)

Taylor-Johnson is heavily involved in dealing with Godzilla and the Mutos with his family serving as an emotional anchor to motivate him, and is probably the most interesting character in the movie besides Godzilla, who is expertly portrayed as not either a hero or villain, but a force of nature.

What "Godzilla" Is

"Godzilla" is fun.
Even though the movie may tackle moral issues such as war, humanity's treatment of nature, and all that, this is still first and foremost a fun movie. The action is spectacular, the characters are interesting, and when I first heard Godzilla's roar I got a rush of euphoria from witnessing a character I loved watching the movies of as a child (ignoring that 1998 abomination) that can not be equaled by too much in life.

"Godzilla" is gorgeous.
The set-pieces in the movie are astonishing. Watching as a Muto and/or Godzilla tear a city apart and then witnessing the aftermath results in some jaw-dropping imagery that is just incredible to look at. Seeing various familiar cities with these giant creatures rampaging around is just expertly done.

Godzilla is actually kind of optimistic.
Despite all the death and destruction, "Godzilla" actually has many elements that make it a feel-good movie in the end. While many movies portray the military as evil and secretive, in "Godzilla" they tell the populace the truth about the monsters in an effort to save lives relatively early on, and even when trying to destroy the monsters there is always talk about and an awareness of trying to help keep civilians safe and alive. Considering how so many movies often show the government and army as being as bad as or worse then the things attacking us, it is kind of refreshing to have a film that shows our armed forces doing what we actually expect them to do, protect people.

Also, the movie makes it apparent that Godzilla may be terrifying in appearance, and not really care much about people, but through his process of fighting the Mutos is in fact a hero--albeit a misunderstood one. Godzilla arriving to inadvertently save the day gets across the message that even if humanity messes up and causes monsters like the Muto to attack us, we at least have help in the form of Godzilla to allow us to survive our mistakes and learn from them.
"Godzilla" is a great movie.
I want to be sure I get across that if there is one thing to take away from this review, it is that "Godzilla" is a really good film. Yes, sometimes the slow-burn nature can make it seem a little sluggish, but the expert balancing of character development and drama with monster-fights and explosions results in a flick that I can say without hesitation is the kind of "Godzilla" movie that both pays respect to the character and his legacy, but also feels fresh and creative.

In Closing
I had pretty high hopes for this newest iteration of "Godzilla". I wanted a movie that wasn't just mindless action, but remembered that at its heart "Godzilla" is a story about the hubris of man's atomic weaponry, and of course enjoying epic destruction. This movie has both those important elements of providing both fun and food for thought, while also spoiling us with gorgeous special-effects. "Godzilla" isn't a perfect movie, but it is one I can happily award a rating of...
4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Reviews of Two Graphic Novels With "Dark" in Their Title, One Dark Fantasy and the Other Sci-Fi

"Beautiful Darkness" And "Darklight"
I've recently read two original graphic novels. One is the originally-French and translated into English "Beautiful Darkness", a dark fantasy about magical creatures who find the real world is not that wonderful a place at all, and "Darklight" is a science-fiction story about the end of the Universe and the attempts made by humanity and two other alien races to prevent it. Both stories were good but I preferred one over the other.

Within "Beautiful Darkness" a fairy-like race appears to live in the imagination of a young girl, but once she dies they find themselves living outside her body in a forest, surrounded by creatures that have little-to-no-qualms about eating the pixies whilst they also squabble among themselves to increasingly violent degrees. If "Beautiful Darkness" is like a Grimm Fairy Tale meets "Lord of the Flies", "Darklight" is your usual somewhat generic science-fiction story laid out in comic form, but with enough interesting and unique aspects to rise above being a solid but unassuming piece of fiction--with thanks due to a few clever ideas and the solid art of Piotr Kowalski. Let's delve into a more detailed review of both, starting with "Beautiful Darkness".

"Beautiful Darkness", emphasis on the "Dark"
"Beautiful Darkness" was originally written in French by Fabien Vehlmann and illustrated by the duo known as "Kerascoet. Adapted into English by Helge Dascher and John Kadlecek, this story follows various characters at times, but I would say the main character (or at least the person who gets the most attention) is the princess Aurora. A kind person, Aurora seems a bit too wrapped-up in wanting to live a fairy-tale life that she doesn't quite realize such a happy option no longer exists until much later in the story when things have gone from bad to worse, to an absolute worst.

The happy colony of pixies seems to have lived in the imagination of a young girl who suddenly dies (with it never made clear exactly how, but hints are given) and find themselves thrust out of her mind into the real world. Whilst using the objects she was carrying for shelter along with her decomposing corpse (I told you this was dark), the pixies slowly go from mostly happy-go-lucky creatures to murderous monsters at a rate just slow enough you never feel there was a jolt from "nice" to "evil" in the characters so much a slow descent into brutality.
The mouse is one of the few things not trying to kill the pixies, instead  wanting to be their friend.
Therefore, you know things aren't going to end well for him.
The pixies try to make friends with the forest creatures but discover most of said animals would rather eat them, and it is telling that the one forest animal who seems to genuinely want to be friends with the Pixies--a mouse in a dapper outfit who only can screech but has an intelligence hidden by his lack of verbosity--finds himself brutally murdered eventually by the very pixies he tried to befriend. As I've said though, the only thing worse than the animals of the forest are the pixies themselves. It isn't surprising that the ones who seem to have more genuine kindness to them die out before the conniving and arguably sociopath-like members of their "tribe".

Aurora seems to be the only pixie who lives long that wants to be "good" but as the story wears on even that hope disappears as all she holds dear either turns on her or dies to the point she becomes bitter and vengeful. This isn't necessarily Aurora's story however as much as an indictment of how we as a people claim to grasp to our forms of culture and civility, but know full well that if the "magic" of life were to disappear we would probably become little more than monstrous animals, hence my earlier reference this story evoking feelings of "Lord of the Flies" at various points.
The cute pixies mixed with the harsh world creates a fascinating look.
What really helps sell this point of reality intruding into happy fantasy is the artwork, which has the surreal quality of looking like a beautifully-done children's story meets a horror-comic thanks to the weird mixture of cute and otherworldly pixies encountering realistically drawn forest animals along with their living in and around a somewhat disgustingly-detailed corpse. With the writing and its slow-ish descent into violent misery from otherwordly-joy and the art's wonderful accompaniment in such tonal-shifting, the result is a story that is as twisted as it is good-looking.

As "Beautiful Darkness" delivers to us a cautionary tale of how no matter how good life is things can go wrong, it also provides a feast for the eyes with its odd mish-mash of the cute and grotesque. This is definitely a bizarre story, and something I would highly recommend to fans of dark fantasy or anyone who likes their fairy-tales with a heaping serving of uncomfortable brutality. "Beautiful Darkness" is without a doubt a quality story and worth checking out. Therefore, I award it a very-high rating of...
4.5 out of 5 stars.

"Darklight" AKA Sci-Fi Tropes Slightly Rising Above Cliché Just Enough To Remain Interesting

"Darklight" has many aspects that make it appear to be a mostly bland genre piece of sci-fi literature. It has a dying Universe, alien races that normally don't get along banding together in an effort to save us all, a space-ship made-up of humans along with these alien races, and of course there are lots of flashy space-battles. The biggest thing working against "Darklight"  is that our protagonist is so dull I can't even remember his name (I just looked it up, he's named "Rhodes". He basically operates as little more than a cipher for all the other characters who are much more interesting to able to express themselves counter-to. This allows us to understand more about the two alien races, the Luminids and Duron, but results in our protagonist being little more than a brick-wall who delivers the occasional bit of exposition.

Up until towards the end of the book we don't really understand much about Rhodes or his motivations, and he really is just a dull entity in a book made-up of much more interesting characters. That's what really saves the book from being a dull piece of standard sci-fi though, the other characters. Reading about the Duron and Luminids in a prologue illustrates how they are very interesting and thought-out races, with complex histories that would make fascinating comics all their own. The Duron character we meet on the ship, Cora, is an interesting individual who has a mixture of pride for her people, and conflicting emotions due to developing a romance with a human. I especially found the Luminids and the character on the ship who is one of them, Andros, to be especially intriguing.
While Andros is a fascinating character, the captain (Rhodes) is a total bore.
The Luminids operate as a sort of hive-mind that provides a sense of unity to every individual Luminid who makes it up, Andros had to leave that to join the ship and his mixture of anger at that along with a robot-like obsession with logic makes for an interesting individual as over the course of the story Andros starts to realize that maybe it is better to be an individual and not completely happy as opposed to lacking a mind of his own and experiencing constant joy. It is no stretch to say Andros and his people were the most enjoyable aspect of "Darklight" for me. Writer Chad Kultgen turns in these solid writings about characters, but it is artist Piotr Kowalski who really brings his "A-game" to the proceedings.

Kowalski has been providing excellent art on the comic "Sex" with Joe Casey, and his style is so uniquely bizarre that it suits a story about space quite well. His European-influenced style creates comics that despite the somewhat generic story-telling look wonderfully unique and independent-styled. The plot may resemble that of a big-budget and somewhat-dumb space opera, but Kowalski provides the kind of drawing that gives it a look of a small art-house film that happens to have some pretty impressive special effects.
The Duron are often imposing.
Kowalski gives the Duron an imposing look and the Luminid a design that is both at once famillair in body-shape yet clearly quite foreign in all other aspects of appearance. Elements of the story that would maybe feel pretty dry with a lesser illustrator pop off the page with Kowalski's skillful work. It really is impressive stuff and that makes it all the more depressing that other than in a few elements (such as the intriguing nature of the Luminids) that the writing can't measure up to the beautiful art.

Despite a story that I find a bit lacking, there are elements to the tale of "Darklight" that rescue it from being a simple re-tread of sci-fi story-elements, and Kowalski's impressive art gives the story a feeling of legitimacy that it maybe doesn't earn, but sure at least appears to be deserving of receiving (thanks to the gorgeous art). With these pros and cons in mind, I can say that "Darklight" is overall a bit above average, but I can't help but wonder if a slightly better tale would have taken this from a graphic novel I consider "good" to one that could have been "great". With all of this considered, I give "Darklight" a fair rating of...
3 out of 5 stars.

The Stories We Tell
Stories rarely turn out the ways the characters within them expect.
Having reviewed both "Beautiful Darkness" and "Darklight" now it can be seen that regardless of genre sometimes a story can put a unique spin on older ideas (the grown-up fairy tale of "Beautiful Darkness") or suffer from being influenced a bit too much by previous works but still supply enough intriguing concepts to be worthwhile (as "Darklight" does). Both books provide beautiful art and Drawn & Quarterly and Archaia should be proud of publishing such good-looking material (with D&Q putting out "Beautiful Darkness" and Archaia releasing "Darklight).

I enjoyed both stories, but clearly liked "Beautiful Darkness" more--but not in a way that  discounts "Darklight" so much as shows that it is always good to read a wide range of material, as I could just as easily read a fantasy story I find lacking and a sci-fi yarn that I consider incredible. With that in mind, I propose you check out both books as regardless of what you think of the stories you'll love the art, and depending on your tastes you may prefer "Darlight" over "Beautiful Darkness" for all that I know. After all, I'm just some chump on the internet telling you what I think, and at the end of the day its more important what you think...right?

Friday, May 9, 2014

I Love "Hearthstone"--A Very Positive Review

Wonderful Fun

Far in the past of this blog I would talk about "World of Warcraft" as I was an avid player of the game. Sometime after trying out the expansion "Cataclysm" however I found myself tired of the series, and quit. I still don't have a particularly strong urge to go back to "WOW", but have found a new obsession that utilizes some characters and concepts from the title to create an incredibly addictive digital card game. Yes, I'm  talking about "Hearthstone".

Currently available on both computer and iPad, "Hearthstone" could best be described as a simpler version of "Magic: The Gathering"--at least that is what some people have told me as I've never actually played "Magic". Also, while its set in the world of "WOW" you don't need to have played it to understand the game, you just might get some references if you have tried "WOW" before. Basically, players have a deck of cards they've created, and takes turns drawing these cards, either casting spells that could help them (or hinder their opponent) along with laying down "minion" cards that can attack other minions or the main opponent. The goal is to get your opponent's health down to zero at which point you win the match. It sounds simple and that's because it actually isn't too tricky to learn if you put a little time into it, but when it comes to fully understanding all the cards and how to create the best deck possible, be prepared to spend hours playing matches and tweaking your deck.

A handy chart of the game-screen from
One wonderful thing about "Hearthstone" is that it is free-to-play, and by that I mean truly free-to-play. You could never spend any real money on the title, only using the standard cards that come with various characters or which they unlock, along with using gold you earn in quests to play in the "Arena" and win more card packs to expand your collection. If you want to have a ton of cards to choose from early on, you can of course lay down some scratch and enjoy seeing what cards you get in various packs, but it is by no means mandatory to gain enjoyment from the game--with many players actually showing on various websites how their totally "free-to-play" decks can decimate people who may have shelled out money and gotten some powerful cards.

One reason "Hearthstone" is so fun regardless of if you spend money or not is that the developer behind it (Activison-Blizzard) works to keep everything balanced, but still have a challenge be provided to players. Plus, its also fun because nothing beats the excitement of playing a match against someone else, not doing the best, but then suddenly everything seems to go your way and you win thanks to a mixture of luck and your skill.

A lot of internet-chatter has involved the hunter character in "Hearthstone".
Namely, if some of his cards are too powerful.
"Hearthstone" is also enjoyable because it is very sociable. While in the matches you may be limited to a few set phrases (unless you add the person as a friend, at which point you can chat freely), but outside of the game itself people are always discussing the "meta-game" online--by which I mean folk chatting about the best decks, their favorite characters to play as, and all that. Getting to show-off your deck on a website and hearing other folks' thoughts is always neat, and can help you to become a better player. I didn't realize some of the tricks I could do with my cards until I read various pieces of great advice, and seeing such an active community for the game is just great.

I don't really have any complaints about the game other than the usual ones players have about certain cards maybe being over-powered, but that is something that gets tweaked by the developer too. All I can really do is recommend you play "Hearthstone" because I'm all but sure you'll love it. Plus, even if you don't like it, you got to do it for free! Oh, and if you do like it, maybe spend some money on card packs, I know Activison-Blizzard could use more money lately, because even if this game is a hit their "World of Warcraft" numbers keep slipping lower. Anyways, because I love "Hearthstone" so much that I'm apparently regularly mumbling about it in my sleep (according to my lady), I hereby award the game a fantastic:
5 out of 5 stars.

P.S. If you play "Hearthstone" and want to add me as a chum you can find me on there as "Chitters#1783".

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Defense of "Age of Ultron"

Note: This is an older article about the "Age of Ultron" comic mini-series. For my thoughts on the movie go to this more recent post.
Court is in Session
Yesterday the trade paperback for "Age of Ultron" came out, collecting the series along with an extra tie-in issue. A hardcover came out previously with all of the less-important tie-in issues, but having read a variety of those I would argue a person could just read the main series and be fine. The thing about "Age of Ultron" I want to talk about though is a lot of people really don't like it, but I have a secret that I've hinted at on the blog--and that is how I actually am quite fond of this series.

Sure, I've said I "kind of liked it", or "didn't hate it", but I never fully came out and said, "You know what, I really enjoyed 'Age of Ultron' despite its flaws." Well, I'm tired of living in this closet so I felt it was time I officially "come-out" and declare that I am a "Friend of Ultron" as we colloquially call ourselves.

I'm being cute with my metaphors, but the fact still stands I truly did find "Age of Ultron" to be one of the few more-recent event-comics I liked (with "Inifnity" not being bad, and "Flashpoint" being another solid alternate-world tale), but with so many people against it I thought perhaps I should lay out my own defense of the series, making some points about why "Age of Ultron" gets more hate than it deserves, especially seeing as how it does a lot of things just as good as, or better than other event comics.

The Defense Has the Floor
Little did we suspect this history behind this Ultron head.
Defense 1: It cleverly already told us the ending well in advance
If you read the Bendis-written (note, the same person behind "Age of Ultron") and Maleev-drawn "Moon Knight" series that ran for twelve issues you know that it it wasn't too amazing, but was a solid  title. You also know a big plot point was Moon Knight finding an Ultron head and the resulting trouble that occurred because of it. The series ended saying how we could see more of Moon Knight in the upcoming "Age of Ultron" mini-series, but once we read it something quite clever was apparent--Moon Knight actually picked up the head of Ultron that disappeared at the end of the mini-series. In an astonishingly clever little twist then we actually we reading an epilogue to "Age of Ultron" that we didn't fully realize tied-in to it until after the event itself.

Some people thought this was stupid, but to them I point out that Grant Morrison basically did the same thing with his "Seven Soldiers of Victory" series of comics, with many characters from that having story-lines or plot-points that weren't as obviously important until "Final Crisis" came about some time later--and folk gave Morrison "mad props" for it, as the kids today say. Why it is cool when Morrison does this but lame when Bendis does I'm not sure, but I thought it was neat.

The "time is alive" speech.
Defense 2: It acknowledged the Marvel Universe's issues with time-travel
The Marvel Universe has had a complicated history with time-travel. Depending on who is writing a series, or what kind of time-travel technology is being used differing theories have existed. Some argue that if a hero goes into the past and changes it, that just creates a separate time-line and the hero will simply return to their time. Other's have made it so that heroes can go back in time and actually change things, or go to the future, learn what went wrong, and return back to their present to make sure they don't make their mistake, thus preventing one kind of future. It's been messy, and "Age of Ultron" tackled that problem head-on.

At first "Age of Ultron" seemed like it would have the standard plot-point of the heroes trying to fix the past (in this case Wolverine and Sue Storm killing Hank Pym so as to prevent Ultron from being created), returning to the present, seeing things are worse, and then undoing what they changed because they see they just made things awful. That's fine, but a bit clichéd. However, something amazing happens when the alternate-present Tony Stark points out that all this constant meddling with time is in fact hurting it, because time is something that is alive in a way just like us, and with much more mucking-about it could be broken. Wolverine and Sue Storm of course don't listen, and that's when the shit hits the fan, as it were.

Our heroes screw around with time some more, and just when it seems the day is saved, time-and-space begins to freak out, messing with our Universe in a way that sends some entities away (such as Galactus going to the Ultimate Universe), brings in characters from entirely different comic-Universes (providing a clever excuse for Marvel to bring Angela to their comics from the "Spawn"-line), and results in the rest of the Galaxy being pretty mad at Earth (providing some context for "Infinity" and the earlier events of the "Guardians of the Galaxy comic, which also incorporated the just-mentioned Angela). I can get annoyed when it seems like an event just sets up other events, but "Age of Ultron" set up major plot-points in general comics and helped kick-start multiple events--in this case Galactus causing trouble in "Cataclysm" and some of the rumblings of what would lead to "Infinity".

They broke time and Universe!
Defense 3: Its flaws actually have an excuse
Look, I'll admit that "Infinity" was arguably much more well-written than "Age of Ultron". It was intricately plotted, with multiple story-lines happening within the series along with the tie-in issues that found interesting ways to incorporate their conflicts into "Infinity" (such as "New Avengers" using it to further their whole story-line with alternate-earth's coming into contact and destroying one another). The thing is, "Age of Ultron" may not have been planned out as well, but its problems actually make it kind of appealing in a weird way. Yeah, certain mysteries pop-up and aren't acknowledged, such as a clear answer of what Ultron actually did to "win", what happened to a group of heroes who went into a future ruled by Ultron, or a variety of other questions.

The thing is, I don't actually mind not having these things answered, because while usually this would be a sign of sloppy writing by Bendis (and possibly still is), the fact that time and space have become broken support the idea that certain things are "out-of-whack". Plot elements such as these maybe weren't forgotten so much as the breaking of the Universe made them a moot point with the formation of so many other conflicts. Almost all stories have continuity problems, "Age of Ultron" actually has a pretty good excuse for its own.

You've gotta love heroes in an alternate-world
Defense 4: Who doesn't (usually) love a good alternate-world/future yarn?
I love alternate-world stories in my super-hero comics. I thought "Flashpoint" sounded dumb at first, but once I read it and fell into its fascinating world I really liked the comic and some of its tie-ins. "Age of Ultron" is basically one big "What If?", showing us a potential future with Ultron taking over, another time-line with what would have happened if  there wasn't an Ultron, and a finale that actually permanently impacted another popular alternate-Universe (The Ultimate Line). Sometimes stories about alternate worlds or futures can be lame, but when done well I--and it seems many others--seem to greatly enjoy them. I mean, alternate-world stories are popular enough DC is doing their big "Future's End" story that kind of is ripping off "Age of Ultron" (although "Age of Ultron" ripped-off a lot of sci-fi concepts anyways), so Marvel must have done something right.

It may be morbid with all the death and destruction, but the action is fun.
Defense 5: It's exciting and mostly self-contained (until the end).
For my final defense I simply offer the argument that while other events may be dramatic or "important" in that comic-line's Universe, "Age of Ultron" was just simply really good fun and mostly self-contained. It was a clever idea portrayed interestingly across multiple time-lines, and between the action and often-good art it was an enjoyable read. Some events are so busy trying to be "World-changing" like with the new DC series "Future's End" (which is in an alternate future impacted by events in a nearer-future and the present, I dunno, I'm skipping it because I have eventitis now), or show us how things will "Never be the same" they forget that an event could just be a fun thing that perhaps has consequences, but doesn't have to bill itself as so world-changing that all the comics a company puts out have to tie-in with it.

While the end of "Age of Ultron" resulted in some big changes in a many comics, when the event itself was going on it was pretty self-contained, with some tie-in comics but still being completely understandable if you were to just read the event itself. My other beef with the aforementioned "Future's End" is that it is not only a long-running weekly-series, but will have a whole month of comics that tie-in with it come September--that is just too much for most folks' pocketbooks. "Age of Ultron" was by comparison a relatively brisk 10 issues that came out at quite a good pace in this day and age of major comics seeming to be horribly delayed (with the caveat that while the issues came out fast when the event started, there were horrid delays in it launching). Still, once the comic started it was good, fast, and fun with you not having to buy any other comics than the event itself until it ended and all results of "Age of Ultron" could be followed in the bunch of comics that came in its wake.

The Defense Rests
Even if it is not based on the comic,
Marvel Studios liked the title and possibly some of it's ideas enough to use it/them.
"Age of Ultron" is clearly not perfect. It has flaws, but it also works at being a fun title with some clever plot-elements and story-telling devices I often enjoy such as alternate futures and presents. Many liked to insult "Age of Ultron" and call it names, pointing out its faults while ignoring its successes. I don't mind those people though, because while they may have a point, I still really enjoyed "Age of Ultron". It holds a special little place in my heart for things it seems nobody likes but me, resting there with purposely-burnt scrambled eggs and the movie "Joe Dirt".

Hate away on "Age of Ultron" all you want, but I hope my list of defenses at least gave you a temporary pause in your barrage of insults. Plus, I think we can all at least agree no matter what that "Age of Ultron" was better than "Fear Itself", another widely-reviled Marvel event. Now that was a piece of least that's what I'll say until I see someone else post a big defense of it, considering how basically any event has some fan out there, somewhere--and I'm the one for "Age of Ultron" and won't apologize for it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review of "Angelica Tomorrow"--A Comic by David Liss and Allen Byrns

Those of you who have enjoyed my site for awhile are probably familiar with friend of the blog, David Liss. I've interviewed him before about prose-writing and "Black Panther" back when he was doing that title for Marvel and I was enjoying it a bunch. A bit ago I made a post when he and publisher 215 Ink made an announcement about a new comic in the works from Liss and artist Allen Byrns, "Angelica Tomorrow". First coming out digitally and then in Trade Paperback, I wasn't sure what to expect from this comic but thought it sounded intriguing in its description of a "slice-of-life" tale meeting-up with something killer-robot-esque. I figured I would check it out when it debuted.

Well, I've now read the first issue and I can say that I did indeed quite like "Angelica Tomorrow". Liss provides us with a narrator in the form of George Williams, a high-school student who used to have it all before a car accident left him paralyzed, bitter, and often drunk thanks to booze acquired from the older brother of one of his only two friends.

Things don't end well for the police-officer.
Out drinking one evening with his friends, once they take off George witnesses some kind of plane crash, with a responding officer arriving on the scene and then being hideously murdered by some sort of female-appearing robot. Before it can kill George however it finds itself reverting to a "base personality" as it calls it, and becomes a much friendlier and somewhat amnesiac version of itself. The lack-of-memory aspect isn't too annoying, because Angelica knows she is some kind of robot-cyborg, she just isn't sure where she came from and how dangerous she possibly is.

This results in the rest of the story, with its interestingly weird mixture of  themes. It has the usual overtones of a high-school tale, featuring George just trying to suffer his way through classes, but incorporated into this is the story of a dangerous human-machine hybird that currently seems to be in a less aggressive-mode, but who knows for how long? It really does result in a sort of "Ghost World" meets "The Terminator" feeling as it had been described to me before reading it.

Why George doesn't try to escape from Angelica is briefly addressed.
The varying tones actually works out well, but the major question remains, why doesn't George just try to get as far away as possible from this machine-human hybrid knowing what it is capable of? The story slightly addresses this, saying that George is basically so lonely and without anything to care about that having anything be "his" in a sense is enough to give him a reason to live, even if that aforementioned reason to live might end up murdering him.

The other thing that nagged at me is how this first issue already starts to tell us some facts about Angelica, with a scene between a scientist and NSA agent arriving into town with plans to search for her/it. I actually liked there being some more mystery to just what Angelica is and where she comes from, so having the story reveal this early on that she's basically a failed experiment removes some of the mystery and makes this a standard, "Science and the Government went too far and look what it wrought!"-type of Frankenstein's monster brought about by mans and woman's hubris.

The story could have waited longer to introduce the Government-element.
The art is quite good, giving off a strong Ben Templesmith-type vibe. It is both at once moody and oppressive, giving us a good feeling of the hopelessness Ben feels. The way Angelica is drawn and colored as a bright and happy standout in a world of dark and moody colors helps to express how this android is both at once extremely pleasant and friendly, but with that scary edge of turning back into a monster at any moment.

The minimalist and eerie style of the artwork goes with the story well when things are gruesome (such as when Angelica is at first a violent killing-machine), but feels a bit tonally-off during the quiet nicer scenes of bonding between Angelica and  George. Then again, with the story having such different tones that somehow work together I'm not sure how exactly there could have been an art-style to suit all the potential moods. Therefore, it is at least good that Byrn's style works so well for the more alarming and scary scenes.

All-in-all I would say this is a very strong start with only a little that bothered me, such as the too-soon introduction of the scientist and NSA agent, but there was much I enjoyed such as the artwork and good chemistry between George and Angelica that shows an interesting mixture of friendship, flirtation, and fear (on George's part, at the thought that Angelica could turn violent again at any moment).

I would definitely recommend checking this out if you enjoy quirky or scary stories, or tales that merge both genres expertly. You can find yourself a copy of the debut issue of the digital-first "Angelica Tomorrow" on Comixology, right here and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
4 out of 5 stars.

Note: A digital copy of "Angelica Tomorrow" was provided to me by David Liss for review purposes.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Just to Remind You, Free Comic Book Day is Tomorrow

In case for some reason you forgot/didn't know, the ever-snazzy Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) is tomorrow. There are bound to be some great free comics and less than enjoyable ones, but overall it is always fun to go down to the comic shop and pick up some free stuff--and perhaps buy something too as often stores have good sales. Should you want a list of what titles will be available tomorrow, check out this website.

Please note that each store decides what they order, so some titles may not be at your local comic shop if the store didn't want them/think people would take them. Also, remember that stores have to pay for these comics even if you don't, so always express appreciation to a shop for participating in FCBD and maybe buy something too.

Have fun tomorrow, ya hear?