Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Meet My New Son!

Meet Clarkson!
He wasn't due until May 7th, but Samii's water broke early (last Friday) and due to concerns about the risk of infection her labor was induced yesterday evening. Therefore, we have now given birth to our first son! At 8:14 AM today, 2/28/17, our 4 pound and 2.3 ounce baby was born! I would like to introduce everyone to our son, Clarkson Joseph Raymond Bitterbaum. He has two middle-names because he clearly gave us the trouble of at least two babies!

As he is officially premature he will have to live at the NICU for some weeks--anywhere between 4-10. We are allowed to visit anytime and stay as long as we want however, and can bring guests to meet him too. We are sad he can't go home with us when Samii is discharged but know that he is getting great care. He is breathing great with assistance from a machine to make sure he has no problems and other than some bruising to his right arm when he was delivered all is well.

I am so excited to officially be a Father now and hope to be a good Dad. I look forward to updating everyone about Clarkson in-between my usual posts where I praise/insult popular culture.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Al Ewing is a Great Writer, As His, "Contest of Champions," and First Volume of, "Ultimates," Prove

A Talented Guy
If you check my blog for posts that mention Al Ewing you will find I almost always have positive things to say about him. The guy is just quite frankly a great writer, and when he's on a book I at least know I don't have to doubt if it will be entertaining. Two of his more recent works that show this are the sadly short-lived, "Contest of Champions," and a book that actually tied-in a bit with the previous but also is a great series all it's own, his first volume of, "Ultimates." Both are books that when you consider their background have the deck stacked against them, but somehow Ewing takes a potential, "Junk hand," and makes a Royal Flush, if I may use Poker metaphors. Let's discuss his books.

Contest of Champions Issues #1-#10
I was given as a present from my wife a trade paperback containing the first six issues of this series and managed to find the other #7-#10 at a comic shop. I wanted to read this because I heard it was really good and a bit like Marvel's old, "Exiles," series with a twist. You see, in, "Exiles," a bunch of characters from various Marvel dimensions had to travel to assorted worlds, with this book everyone from different worlds is brought to one place: Battleworld. Yes, even though Doctor Doom's Battleworld was thought to be destroyed at the end of the most recent, "Secret Wars," it seems it lived on. That already sounds a bit confusing but here comes the best/worst part--this comic is basically just meant to be a video-game tie-in.

That's right, this comic draws from the free-to-play (but full of stuff you can buy) digital game found smart-phones of the same name, "Contest of Champions." Now, comics that relate to video-games are a times good, and possibly even great (the early, "Injustice," comics are awesome), but usually when a comic draws from a game it isn't too much of a stretch to say people probably expect very little. Almost as if Ewing knows people aren't that concerned about his comic, he goes and just gives us something incredibly fun. Ewing makes it so that some multi-dimensional characters are fighting for power and using heroes from various Marvel Universes. This brings us characters from the ,"Regular," Marvel-U as well as known entities (The Punisher from the 2099 comics, Maestro, etc.) and some characters completely made-up for the comic. I'm a sucker for alternate-universe tales so I already am interested, but Ewing just makes things even better.
I always love a good alternate-universe team!
Throughout this series Ewing has some heroes from various dimensions engage in action-packed fights, give us humor, and brings in the latest iteration of The Ultimates as he's doing that book too. We get to see our heroes if they were further corrupted, our villains if they were better people, and then it all suddenly ends with the book's cancellation at issue #10. It's depressing because this title is just so darn fun, but I guess that's the way the cookie/universe crumbles.  At least another one of Ewing's great books is continuing (albeit with a recent relaunch).

Ultimates Volume 1/Issues #1-#6
Having the name, "Ultimates," in a Marvel book carries a surprising amount of baggage. You see, back in the days where Marvel had the ,"Ultimate," Universe that world's version of the Avengers was called, "The Ultimates," and had an incredibly popular comic written by Mark Millar and drawn by Bryan Hitch. After that the name kept getting re-used for other concepts set in the Ultimate Universe, but after it ended during the, "Secret Wars," (there's that event again!) the whole place ceased to exist with the characters that mattered (e.g. Miles Morales) simply being carried-over to the regular Marvel Universe. What to do with the name, "Ultimates," then? How about making a team that handles threats to our dimension in what is both clearly a need for Marvel to keep the, "Ultimates," trademark active, but also a bit of a knowing wink to fans who consider how this team basically saves Universes but inadvertently  draws their name from a team that came from one that no longer exists?

This iteration of, "Ultimates," is still ongoing, but did have a re-launch after, "Civil War II," and now is, "Ultimates²," because somehow adding a, "Squared/²," to your logo makes more sense than simply using a 2. Anyways, after Marvel rebooted everything post, "Secret Wars," a lot of questions about continuity and the Marvel Universe itself were left dangling. The team in the Ultimates aims to address that and basically without Ewing I doubt anyone would have brought back-up how time was broken in, "Age of Ulton," and realities in general are pretty messed-up lately due to Marvel's constant events/how the Universe keeps changing (if we're giving an in-story reason).
Having a team set-out to correct a broken universes and time-lines isn't only deliciously meta, it also results in a great story as Ewing arguably explores the very foundations of the concepts that make-up the Marvel Universe and the characters within it, whilst also turning them on their head, with one incredibly cool example being his taking of the infamous Galactus and having the team change his powers from destructive to restorative--that is, instead of eating planetary energy he now grants planet's life.

The, "Ultimates," that Ewing gives us are fun, smart, and has stuff I love like weird science as well as explosive action (and Kenneth Rocafort's artwork is awesome on the book too). I am eager to pick up the second volume of this first, "Ultimates," series and then pick up, "Ultimates²," even if it has a weird title that is a pain to type because I keep having to remember the ALT-code for it (you hold ALT and type 0178 on the number-pad, in case you're wondering).

Stellar Series
These two titles by Al Ewing both are just plain awesome and I give both titles I've read 5 out of 5 stars with no hesitation. I am excited to see what other works Ewing has in store for us and to read even more of his, "Ultimates." If you haven't read anything by Ewing yet I encourage you to correct that mistake immediately, and perhaps to do so with one of these stellar series!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rant-Reviews--Discussing Comics in Numerical Order Again, Now with a Zero Issue!

Counting Again
Remember that time I reviewed a first issue, second issue, third issue, and fourth issue of some different comics? Yeah, that was fun. Let's do it again, but this time just to keep things fresh we'll throw in a zero issue!

Start The Numbers!
Vampirella #0
I haven't ever read too much Vampirella-related comics in the past, but have enjoyed what I've tried. When I heard a writer with some stellar comics under his belt, Paul Cornell, was doing a new take on the character that wasn't a reboot, but a bit of a fresh start, I was intrigued. I then saw that the debut #0 issue was just a 25-cents, literally a quarter (and sales tax depending on your state), and I knew I wanted to give it a try! This clearly is more of a prologue as we are told its the future, but only get a few hints of that. Then, some people revive Vampirella in an underground tomb because she needs to save the world from itself, or something, and that's about it. It's a fast read and the book ends as she escapes her former resting place to go into the new world. If I had paid $2.99 or $3.99 for this I maybe would have felt a little short-changed, but for just a quarter this is a great intro to the comic, and the way it acknowledges how Vampirella's twisty history may have truths as well as lies is clever too. This makes me interested in trying the next issue for sure, but it better reveal more or I'll be a bit perturbed!
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Crypt of Screams #1
I've of course enjoyed reading a number of works by Mike Wolfer and have interviewed him on various occasions for the blog. He's a great guy and as this first issue of, "Crypt of Screams," shows, a stellar creator as well. Drawing inspiration from the old horror comics of the past, he writes and illustrates the stories in this one-man anthology (with assists by other creators on tones and lettering). Thanks to getting funded via a Kickstarter, Wolfer was able to take this series to American Mythology Productions, a newer publisher who has put out other titles by Wolfer and will be putting out new works by him in the future too! Within this first issue with have three tales, with two clearly being full-on horror the last being a bit more of a sci-fi comic but still quite intense. 

The comics are in black-and-white but this is not at all to their detriment, as Wolfer masterfully plays with bright-and-dark, as his first story, Speed Demon," casts creepy shadows between bursts of light and fire in its tale of a horse-race in the Wild West that features a supernatural twist. The middle story, "The Pond," is a lot quieter and mellow, and seems to be heading in a pleasant and sweet direction before some really depressing and horrific reveals at the end of the yarn--with Wolfer again, "Staging," everything fantastically with the black, white, and gray tones. "Burn Out," features a human fighting some gigantic monsters that have demolished his home city in the far-flung future of 1998 as envisioned by the 1970's (the comic jokingly acknowledges that 1998 has come-and-gone, of course). It's quite action-packed and good fun. I loved this first issue and find that Wolfer as always is killing it (pun intended) with his spooky tales. I know this book is more of an occasional release as opposed to being on a set schedule like some of his other titles, but if upcoming issues are as good as this one a little waiting won't hurt me!
5 out of 5 stars.

Dollface #2
I discussed the first issue in some reviews not too long ago, and liked it enough I came back for the 2nd! This issue unfortunately drags a bit more, spending most of its time filling us in on the history of Dollface. It still has plenty of cool fighting, T&A, fun artwork, and other stuff people expect from Dan Mendoza (the creator of, "Zombie Tramp," a character who is in this book too). It just was a bit duller than the first issue in my opinion, and the ending was sudden not in a cliff-hanger way but a, "Oh, the issue is done now?" kind of style. So, this wasn't as good as the first issue, as I stated, but still was a decent read. If you love Mendoza and his works you'll adore this comic, but if you're not a die-hard fan of his stuff your mileage may vary.
3 out of 5 stars.

Motor Crush #3
The plot in this book could suck and I'd still enjoy it because the art-team of Babs Tarr and Cameron Stewart make comics so pretty and luscious in their design and colors the art practically melts off the page with its delicious glow. However, with Brendan Fletcher also being on the team (he writes, and they contributed to the story too) the story ain't bad at all either. Set in the near future and featuring a protagonist named Domino Swift who I at first found dull but have been more and more intrigued by with each issue, this book is a fantastic blend of motorbike racing, mafia intrigue, and an ongoing mystery about just what makes Swift so special (because clearly something is going on with her).

While Swift has turned out to actually be quite interesting, arguably the most fascinating character is the world everyone lives in. It's a futuristic place full of neat technology, strange drugs, and is drenched in bright and beautiful colors thanks to the stellar art team. It's a bit like if the design sensibilities of a high-octane action-manga had a baby with a 1980's racing movie and the main character were a queer woman of color who is as good at kicking ass and taking names as she is at driving absurdly fast. If that description doesn't found like a great comic I am unsure what would sound fun to you, so give it a try!
4 out of 5 stars.

Doom Patrol #4
Gerard Way is someone who doesn't get mad at comparisons of him to Grant Morrison, he actually welcomes them. From his earlier, "Umbrella Academy," stuff I adored to now being the curator of DC's Young Animal line of comics and writing what is arguably the flagship book, "Doom Patrol," the man clearly has the storytelling sensibilities of Morrison and flexes his raconteur muscles expertly. The Doom Patrol is of course a property that has been around for a long time, but ever since Morrison wrote it in the days of the 1980's almost any attempt to follow-up on his work has failed to varying degrees. So, if you can't beat Morrison's style, why not join it? Seriously, if Morrison did what many people think is the best-ever, "Doom Patrol," then get the man often compared to Morrison to do his own take that is both fresh but builds on the old stuff! DC did that, and Hell if it hasn't been working from its wild first issue to the delayed-but-finally out, #4.

With Nick Derrington supplying amazing artwork as a perfect compliment to Way's writing, this is one stellar comic. Whether he's drawing a quiet moment of good ol' Niles Caulder sitting around, or drawing otherworldly villains trying to harvest the constructs of, "Danny," to make cheap meat (I told you this was weird), everything just flows perfectly, and art this is good easily excuses the delays the fourth issue faced. Derrington's drawing and Way's writing creates a comic that is for sure confusing, weird, and otherwise strange, but then again what else would you expect from the person who arguably comes closest to being Grant Morrison in masterful writing ability without actually, you know, being Grant Morrison? This isn't to say Way lacks original ideas, because he is overflowing with them, it's just that when the most popular version of the Doom Patrol was written by Morrison and you take over and write it in that style that comparisons will be invited--and it is a great thing these comparisons are glowing! Clearly I love this book, and I only hope future issues don't face too many delays.
5 out of 5 stars.

Counting Concluded
Well, I counted to four again, but this time I reviewed five books thanks to a handy zero issue. As my reviews illustrate, there are some good reads out there and a wide array of genres to read for sure. I hope you enjoyed my latest counting exercise and will join me in doing another one sometime!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Two Random Trade Paperback Reviews Featuring Female Wolverines, Grizzlysharks, and a Seabear

Strange Humans and Creatures=Good Fun!
Sometimes I'll just read something because I either hear it is good, or it looks weird and fun. In the case of the two books I'm reviewing here both of those things occurred, and thankfully I was quite pleased with the titles!

All-New Wolverine Volume 1: The Four Sisters
This picks-up with Laura Kinney/X-23 as the new Wolverine, and pleasingly doesn't require too much continuity-knowledge of old or new to enjoy. I say that because there is a lot to unpack here taking into account our heroine, Laura, has had her own comic series about how she's a female clone of Wolverine (don't ask) is apparently dating the brought-into-the-present-from-the-past version of Angel, and it is mentioned how Wolverine of course died not too long ago. Again, the book could easily collapse under all this continuity but thankfully says, "There is a lot of back-story, but we will tell you just enough that you can enjoy this book, and if you want to know more feel free to go read past stuff."

I shouldn't be surprised this book is as fun as it is considering I loved when writer Tom Taylor was on the earlier issues/"Years," of the, "Injustice," prequel comic. His talent continues to shine on this book as it discusses Laura/X-23/Wolverine/shehasmanynames fighting to save some flawed clones of her own that are being hunted by an evil corporation (you don't find many good or even benign corporations these days in popular culture).
This first volume collects the initial six issues of the series and it all flows very well, with various guest appearances (Doctor Strange, The Wasp) making sense as opposed to feeling especially forced. It is a great read and balances drama, humor, and action superbly. Again, Tom Taylor know what he's doing. Apparently the 2nd volume shoe-horns in that annoying, "Civil War II," event, but still is enjoyable for the most part. After loving this first volume I'll be sure to try and check it out as well!

Grizzlyshark Volume 1
This book collects all three issues of the insanely violent, silly, and otherwise delightful, "Grizzlyshark," comic. The idea of the comic is that we have a shark, who survives on the land. As with regular sharks he can smell blood from miles away, and the comic consists of him eating a number of people before it becoming apparent there are in fact many grizzlysharks and they all are quite hungry. As if things couldn't get any weirder, in the 3rd issue we get to witness as a grizzlyshark fights a seabear. Yes, this comic is utterly absurd and its knows it.

The idea of grizzlysharks and seabears is so over-the-top you either have to play it completely straight or go all-out with being silly. This books takes the latter approach and has such wild things as a man with half his torso eaten managing to keep fighting the shark, a feral and cannibalistic baby, plus as I mentioned, freaking sharks that live on land and a bear that lives in the water! It is a concept as dumb as it is genius and the book manages to make it work wonderfully.
The third issues/chapter delivers what this cover promises!
This first volume of, "Grizzlyshark," is stupendous and I hope creators Ryan Ottley and Ivan Plascencia continue to give us more magically twisted yarns about these creatures. In the meantime, I'll be careful not to cut myself in the water or on land (so nowhere, basically)!
5 out of 5 stars.

Randomly Good Times

As my two 5-star reviews illustrate, I enjoy having fun, and there is clearly nothing wrong with some random reading to have the good times I like.

Monday, February 20, 2017

I Attended A Concert Featuring Ben Folds Plus the Saint Louis Symphony and Orchestra Yesterday; It Was Fun!

As my title states, yesterday I went to a concert where Ben Folds performed a number of songs while the Saint Louis Symphony and Orchestra accompanied him. My wife and I went (she is a big fan of his) and I found it to be a fun time! As I enjoy classical music a good deal I especially liked it when Mr. Folds did two movements from a Concerto he made a few years ago.

Also, there was a, "Rock that Bitch!" moment, which is how audience members will often yell that phrase at a concert and Mr. Folds in response creates a short song on-the-spot. It is always incredibly impressive to watch someone create a piece of music live, and Mr. Folds did it expertly, assigning various keys and chords to the Symphony and Orchestra before creating a delightfully ominous short piece that had the sound of a Frankenstein's Monster rampaging around the countryside with its low bass sounds and sliding-Xylophones.

It also was especially touching towards the end when he made a speech--which he announced he would be doing with, "I'm gonna make a speech!" Mr. Folds talked briefly about how the Arts are an important part of civilization and that throughout history a city having a Symphony and Orchestra was considered the greatest example of civilization. Mr. Folds discussed how funding the Arts is incredibly important and that, "If you're a fan of civilization, which I am, we need to make sure we support the arts," which resulted the audience laughing and then clapping in agreement.

I enjoyed watching Ben Folds performing with the Saint Louis Symphony and Orchestra, as his performance had material that appealed to pop, rock, and classical-music fans. While I was a little sad he didn't do the hilarious, "Rockin' the Suburbs," song I like, the whole thing was otherwise a good time!

Friday, February 17, 2017

One Sentence Summaries About Various Comic Publishers AKA I'm Being a Huge Smart-Ass Today

This Will Be Fun!
I've done one-sentence summaries of comics, music, etc. How about for fun I do some summaries describing a bunch of the comic-book publishers we know and love/hate? This will either be hilarious or just piss everyone off. Maybe both.

Summary Time!
At this point it is constant dull events and reboots with thankfully some fun lesser-known titles .

I had to admit I was wrong when Rebirth turned out to be legitimately great and boosted sales immensely.

Vertigo (An imprint of DC)
Does this even still exist outside of some reprints?

Home of the literary and high-brow comics that gather immense acclaim.

Eros (an imprint of Fantagraphics)
Home of the hardcore porn comics that bring-in enough money to keep publishing the high-brow comics.

Avatar Press
Used to do mostly ultraviolent and silly bad-girl-art comics, now does ultraviolent and clever comics.

Boundless (An imprint of Avatar Press)
The publisher for if you miss the bad-girl comics from the old Avatar and love you some guilty-pleasure cheesecake mixed with surprisingly solid storytelling.

Image Comics
Slowly taking over the market with a stellar assortment of books and turning, "The big 2," into more-so, "The big 3."

A mixture of off-kilter titles and huge licensed properties ("My Little Pony") seems to working great for them, but all I really want is some new, "Popbot."

Top Shelf Comix (Now an imprint of IDW)
I've always thought of Top Shelf Comix as a quirkier version of Fantagraphics, which may or may not be accurate, but that's how I see it.

Dark Horse Comics
A solid  publisher that has had to really struggle for relevance since losing some major IPs like, "Star Wars."

Drawn and Quarterly
You read this because you think Fantagraphics is still too mainstream and/or like the creators who seem to only release their stuff through D&Q.

Alternative Comics
You read this because you think Drawn and Quarterly also is still too mainstream (and because there are some good books too, of course).

Birdcage Bottom Books
You read this because you also think even Alternative comics are too mainstream a publisher--and again, because this publisher has some great books.

Bluewater Comics/Stormfront Comics/Storm
Not so much a publisher as a physical manifestation of the question, "How could you make a company that just puts out absolute garbage, treats creators horribly, and doesn't think to use Google to make sure one of its name-change ideas isn't also the name of a popular Neo-Nazi website?"

This smaller-press publisher puts out some of the weirdest books around, and I mean that in a good way!

Aspen Comics
They've published that, "Fathom," comic, but otherwise I haven't really read them enough to form a solid opinion.

Puts out a variety of stuff, but 99% of people know them for those, "Grim Fairy Tales," that feature super-sexualized covers and apparently legitimately good stories.

Publish more graphic novels and picture-books as opposed to single-issue comics, but still deserve mention because much of what they create is so darn good.

Broadsword Comics
A small company that focuses mainly on their book, "Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose," which I always enjoy reading.

Amigo Comics
A good company if you like, fantasy, horror, and sci-fi.

Started out doing strange little stories and the occasional media property, but have grown into an absolute powerhouse of solid titles

Dynamite Entertainment
A publisher who puts out an interesting mish-mash of licensed properties, original stuff, and whatever Alex Ross feels like drawing this month.

Black Mask
Besides being plagued by awful publishing delays on a number of their books they always are releasing some really good and edgy stuff.

Action Lab/Danger ZoneEntertainment
A publisher of fun kids comics who also puts-out super-sexual comics featuring a, "Zombie Tramp," because variety is the spice of life.

A little publisher with some quality stuff.

Scout Comics
A smaller and newer publisher that inexplicably has a number of their titles getting quite, "Hot," in the marketplace.

Bongo Comics
This is the publisher you read if you want comics about, "The Simpsons," "Futurama," or good ol' Spongebob.

Oni Press
Has been around for awhile, has some big-name titles, but also puts out an interesting assortment of strange stuff.

Devil's Due/1First Comics
A reborn-publisher/merger that puts out a few cool titles.

Aftershock Comix
A  relatively fresh publisher who has had some big hits that have gotten a lot of attention.

They went against common-sense and brought back a bunch of mostly-forgotten 1990's comics (and some new stuff) to a great deal of success--it probably helps their stuff is all quite good!

Summaries Done!
I have now summarized all the publishers that immediately came to my mind and hope you enjoyed reading my brief thoughts about each of them.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Joy and Misery of Violent Heroes: Musings on Steve Orlando's, "Midnighter," Versus Daniel Way's, "Thunderbolts."

Joy, Pain, or Joy in Pain?
Superhero comics often trade in stories of violence. Not always, but a good deal of the time someone is getting punched, shot, stabbed, or otherwise smacked-around. One thing I've noticed though is that depending on the character's being featured (and of course who the writer is) that the tone of this violence can vary immensely. There is a big difference between when Deadpool is joyously shooting-up goons or the Punisher is doing it with his usual grim determination, to give one example. I read the latest, "Midnighter," books and it made me think about some comics I read long ago that are also about people with powers, but very different tonally--"Thunderbolts," when Daniel Way was writing it. Now I shall discuss these two different books that very clearly display this idea of how we react and consider violence can really vary.
Gleefully Attacking Evil
I liked reading the 1st and 2nd volume of Midnighter's somewhat short-lived series (it went a total of 12 issues). The book happily is kinda continuing with the, "Midnighter and Apollo," mini-series currently being released, but I haven't read it yet. While the character of Midnighter has for sure had a hard life of being experimented on (he doesn't even know who he truly is) and otherwise mistreated, he doesn't let it get him down. He's designed to be the perfect fighting machine who can see everyone's moves multiple steps in advance and he likes fighting. He gets a kick out of beating-up bad guys and then going home with a good guy (Midnighter is openly gay, and also takes immense pleasure from fighting homophobes).

The 1st volume of Midnighter is cheekily titled, "Out," and the 2nd volume of Midnighter is even more tongue-in-cheek with the label, "Hard," and follows our hero as he does what I just described, beating up bad guys and sleeping with good guys. In his effort to help the innocent, our hero fights a ton of people and kills many of them without a second's hesitation. We aren't necessarily supposed to support this as a reader, but it is for sure made quite clear anyone Midnighter kills is very evil, so he never feels bad either. When it turns out someone he thought he had a connection with and who was maybe going to be a potential boyfriend was in fact a villain named Prometheus the whole time in the first volume, Midnighter doesn't let it get him down. Even when Prometheus taunts Midnighter with the possibility of learning who he really is our protagonist states that he knows exactly who he is. It's self-assured and a very positive statement of individuality .
In the 2nd volume our hero continues to fight more villains, including the Suicide Squad and a DC-Universe version of Henry Bendix (he was a hero-then-villain from the pre-folded-into-DC days of Wildstorm, Google it). He then gets back together with Apollo (they had broken-up when the series began) and its a very peppy and positive comic...that also is full of Midnighter brutally murdering bad guys. Oh, the book also throws in two stand-alone tales from when, "Midnighter," had his own comic set in the previously-mentioned Wildstorm Universe and one is an especially fun story by Brian K. Vaughn that takes place backwards (the first page is the end, and the last page is the start). There currently is an aforementioned, "Midnighter and Apollo," mini-series going on and Steve Orlando is writing a number of titles for DC including a new, "Justice League of America," so the publisher clearly knows the man has talent.

Bad People Doing Bad Things
When it was coming out a number of years ago I talked about how I liked the critically-maligned run of Daniel Way on, "Thunderbolts," that later had some other writers come on board and lighten the tone until the book was repeatedly re-launched as Marvel of course loves to do. The biggest complaint people seemed to have was that all the heroes on this team of Thunderbolts seemed angry, dour, and otherwise unhappy except for Deadpool who injected a bit of enthusiasm into the story and was clearly there to provide at least a modicum of comic-relief. I didn't get the hatred for the series during the time when Way was doing it, because I could clearly see he was giving us a book about bad people doing bad things--but not because they liked it, it was because they felt they had to.

In the first volume collection of Way's run, titled, "No Quarter," this team made-up of folk like the Red Hulk (AKA General Thunderbolt Ross), the Punisher, Deadpool, Elektra, and other heroes known for their violence and sorrow (Deadpool may be really funny, but does have some depressing history without a doubt) goes around killing people they think are even worse than them in order to keep the World safe. They take no pleasure from doing so (besides the aforementioned outlier Deadpool), but know it must be done. These are, "Heroes," in the loosest sense of the word and while they are committing just as much violence as our previously discussed Midnighter they clearly approach it from a much different perspective. The whole thing is depressing, nasty, and shows violence as something sad and horrific.
After the first volume of Way's time on, "Thunderbolts," and as he continued to write the book for a big longer the characters continue to behave awfully toward others and each other, but it always is shown as something sad and terrible--ain't nobody cracking a smile while killing people the same way Midnighter does, regardless of how bad the people getting hurt are--then as I mentioned other writers came and super-lightened the tone. Still, under Way's penmanship there's no joy in the pain here.

Context Is Key
I suppose when it comes to our superhero stories and the tone they strike about violence context is key. "Midnighter," is full of violence, but carries with it a certain pep and whimsy, with it clear our hero is someone violent, but he's not dour and sad about it, so why should you, the reader be? Yeah, Midnighter faces some struggles, but he's still an optimist at the end of the day. On the flip-side of this coin, we have a squad of grim-faced killers who know they do something very gruesome--destruction of life--very well. These books who how the violent heroes we read about can be full of joy or overflowing with misery--it just depends on how the story is presented. I personally find all this fascinating to consider. I hope you do too, or I just wasted our time with this whole post. If you're simply bored or scratching your head after reading this, um...sorry?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

It Had Been a While Since a Game Legitimately Scared Me, Then I Played, "Resident Evil VII!"

I don't get startled or scared too easily. I've watched a number of horror films from the old classics, to the gore-lacking PG-13 ones full of ghosts/haunted objects, and the gore-heavy torture-porn types.
The last movie that ever made me genuinely scared and unsettled was probably, "The Sixth Sense," which is funny as I don't even believe in ghosts and it isn't necessarily meant to be a, "True," horror-film. As for a video-game actually scaring me? God, it's been forever.

I mean, sometimes a game will make you jump when you think you've cleared a room of enemies and suddenly another one jumps out behind some cover to shoot at you, but that isn't actually scary, that's just unexpected. One of the few times a game maybe got me feeling, "Scared," would be, "Vampire: The Masquerade--Bloodlines." There is a quest where you go into a haunted hotel and the whole thing just drips with unease. There are eerily quiet moments followed by spooky sounds, and sometimes the hints of terror are more scary than any real threats--like when you find an old newspaper discussing how a decapitated head was found in a laundry machine and suddenly you hear something bumping around in a nearby clothes-dryer...only to discover it is just a basketball (if I remember correctly). That game came out in something like 2004 though, so clearly games don't scare me much. Then I went to my library to get a copy of, "Resident Evil VII," which I played for three hours last night and shit got real.
I am someone who usually doesn't mind spoilers so I've already read-up on much of the plot twists-and-turns in the latest, "Resident Evil, "game. Therefore, I know how/if this game relates to other ones in the series and what kind of threats players go-up against. I played some previous entries in the series (the earlier games, mostly) and never found them especially frightening as well. Hence, despite reading online about how this latest game will make you scream, cry, or otherwise poop your pants with fear, I wasn't especially worried. I booted the game up and began playing.

For those of you who don't want to have too much spoiled, I won't discuss any late game aspects I already saw online, and won't even say too much plot-wise about the three hours of, "Resident Evil VII," I've played so far. I will tell you that to the game's credit it cleverly takes its time to build dread before you even begin fighting against anything. For a good hour you're just exploring this creepy abandoned guest-house, studying the rotting debris and torn-up furniture. You play a man named Ethan who got an email from his wife who has been missing for three years, Mia, saying to come get her at a creepy farm down in Louisiana owned by a family known as the Bakers. Because horror-genres require people to slightly moronic Ethan goes to find Mia with nary any back-up. If I may spoil one thing, the first living-person you actually find is a locked-up Mia stuck in a cell. She's happy to see you, but clearly a bit messed-up from being trapped in a basement for quite some time. You work at escaping with her and then suddenly something goes wrong.
Mia seems to disappear and when you go looking for her in the house suddenly a terrifying monster-woman attacks you. I won't lie, when I opened a door in the game and looked-down the stars to see this creature crawling-up at me I loudly went, "Oh fuck no!" It turns out this is in fact Mia, who is fighting something evil within her, and alternates between looking normal and talking sweetly or trying to literally tear you apart with a chainsaw she finds. As soon as I got my hands on a weapon I fought against her tooth-and-nail, feeling accomplished when she went down before a large man suddenly stepped out of the shadows, said, "Welcome to the family," and punched me out.

I/Ethan awake at a dinner table with the aforementioned Bakers. They clearly are not, "Right," and as soon as  I'm able to try and escape I do so. At this point Mr. Baker then started chasing me through the house, jokingly mocking me in the process of trying to murder me. Around this time I realized just how slow controlling Ethan felt, and that the first-person perspective new to the Resident Evil series works wonders in makings things that much more scary. I eventually managed to hide from Mr. Baker, saved the game, and turned the PS4 off for the night as it was about time to watch, "The Mick." Upon my doing so I breathed a sigh of relief and realized the whole time I was playing the game I had either been tensed-up waiting for awful things to jump out at me, or feverishly running away/vainly trying to fight against the evil things I was worried about.
A game had actually made me feel scared, with the uncomfortable pit in your stomach, hairs on end, and otherwise off-kilter feeling. I was surprised by this--especially as I had already looked-up a number of things about the game and still found myself terrified! I haven't played a ton of, "Resident Evil VII," but what I have played was impressive. I look forward to being scared even more when I play the game further before I have to return it to the library!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day!

Regardless of how you celebrate it (if you even do), if you celebrate it alone or with others, heck, even if you just use it as an excuse to eat lots of candy, I want to wish you a happy Valentine's Day. It may somewhat commercialize the concept of love, but it also is a good way to encourage us to think about the person (or people) we truly love and care about. Anyways, I hope your Valentine's Day is joyous!

Monday, February 13, 2017

I Read a Fitness Magazine's Article About How to Get, "Ripped," Like a Superhero And It Was Interesting

Once upon a time my wife signed-up to get free magazines that interested her and somehow a fitness one started coming called, "Muscle and Fitness." All the other magazines she actually wanted quit being mailed once they wanted money and we said no, but the fitness magazine never asked us for anything so it just keeps coming every month, sometimes twice in a month. As I generally only prefer to run if something is chasing me and will admit I struggle with not eating all the bad-but-delicious-things I usually just ignore the fitness magazines. However, this month one came that actually caught my eye. Observe:
That is a cover-story about how to get fit like Hugh Jackman/Wolverine AKA probably one of the best super-hero actors ever besides Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. After flipping through countless pages advertising supplements, vitamins, and a Valentine's Day-themed article about foods that boost your sex-drive but are also healthy (so apparently chocolate is a no-go), I got to the main piece. It isn't actually an interview with anyone, but in fact is a fitness regimen that draws from celebrity trainer Ron Matthews, who apparently gets many actors in shape that play superheroes. There are various pages with different exercises to help you gain, "Strength like the Hulk," "Agility like Spider-Man," "Speed like Quicksilver," as well as, "Recover like Wolverine," from a stressful workout, and because the mind is important too, have, "Focus like Professor X."

I am happy to be living in a world where super-heroes have gained enough popular acceptance and love that a fitness magazine makes workout themed for them. Now, I fully doubt that by doing a, "Snatch-Grip Deadlift," I'll get as strong as the Hulk or that doing a, "Butterfly Situp," will allow me to run like Quicksilver, but I appreciate the encouragement. The weird thing about the article is that it gives some surprisingly nerdy details about the heroes, stuff that you don't just know from watching the movies, but things that would require a bit of internet-digging or familiarity with the comics to know. For example, the fact that Quicksilver can make mini-cyclones from his speed, that Wolverine was born in Alberta, or that Bruce Banner's actual first name is Robert. Either somebody spent some hours on Wikipedia or, "Muscle and Fitness," has a resident comic-nerd.
In closing, I'm not making fun of the fact, "Muscle and Fitness," did a piece on superheroes, although it is kind of funny to think half the heroes they talk about got their powers through chemical and/or biological enhancement or some just have a genetic factor (e.g. they are mutants). Yes, I'm not making fun of it because I am pleased that comic-book culture has seeped into stuff like a fitness magazine, and that it has some strangely specific and accurate facts about the heroes. Plus, I guess there is cross-over potential with pieces like the one this magazine did. After all, it got me to actually open an issue and look at it for a bit.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Marvel's "Secret Empire" Doesn't Interest Me. Like, At All.

I saw the announcements about it, and all I could do was shrug. Marvel is doing another event--which is fine, they've done some good ones--but this just seems dull. Dubbed, "Secret Empire," I commented on the website run by my chums, "Comics Heating Up," about this, saying:
I’ve seen online a lot of talk about how this book is supposedly a political allegory–with the funny thing being people both left-wing and right-wing have claimed it proves their points. Any clever political allegories aside, I haven’t actually seen anyone excited for this event ITSELF, just people saying how, “Captain America is secretly a Hydra agent now,” is either ingenious or horrifically stupid. I myself think it was an odd thing to do–even with the excuse of it being a cosmic cube–and frankly haven’t read any solo-comics featuring Captain America since Ed Brubaker’s time on the book. This is my long-winded way of asking, is anyone actually interested in the event, or just how it proves their political point (with again, the irony being I’ve seen liberal and conservative people saying it is for or against them).
So yeah, is anyone excited for this? It is funny, because I love some of Nick Spencer's writing, ("The Fix," is stellar) but his, "Captain America," sounds like it has been one hot mess. Also, apparently even though it theoretically has generated headlines and sales, after this politically-charged, "Secret Empire," it seems Marvel may try and go back to a more, "Meat and Potatoes," strategy of shifting far away from politics, political allegories, etc. Whether this is because they don't want to alienate too many fans by appearing too liberal/conservative or if the the vaguely-crazy-yet-slightly-plausible theories are true about how Marvel CEO and former recluse Ike Pearlmutter doesn't want to do anything too edgy to upset his good chum President Trump, things will be getting less politicky (if that's a word). I dunno, I'm just going to keep reading the awesome Marvel comics that thankfully seem to be avoiding most events and hopefully don't get cancelled anytime soon, e.g. stuff like, "Moon Knight," "Unbeatable Squirrel Girl," and so forth.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Pre-Release Review: God Country #2

Readers may recall I recently discussed, "God Country #1," in a review-segment and quite liked it. As a fan of Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw I try to follow their work and news about them. Therefore, when Donny Cates offered via Twitter to send-out digital copies of the 2nd issue of, "God Country," to reviewers ahead of its release next week, February 15th, I eagerly jumped-on the chance to read the next chapter in this intriguing story and review it.

With the scene-setting of the 1st issue complete this one moves more into explaining just what exactly is going on, and sets-up what is sure to be a violent conflict. Last issue Roy Quinlan and his wife Janey witnessed as a demon came to their house in Texas via a mystical tornado and almost killed them before Roy's Father, Emmett, dispatched the demon with assistance from a sword that had arrived too. Emmett had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease but now that he has this sword suddenly remembers everything--good and bad. Us readers learn the sword's name--Valofax, and see it has immense power at the start of the issue as it rebuilds the ruined-house. All good news so far, right?
Well, a God named Aristus arrives to angrily request if he can have the sword back, and he and Emmett converse about the sword and how it will surely bring trouble and strife, but as long as Emmett has it he can remember everything (and is super-powerful, so that's cool). It becomes apparent the God respects Emmett's decision to keep the sword, but the end of the issue it is shown some fellow Gods probably won't approve.

I've given you a bit of a summary of the comic, but you truly have to read it to enjoy watching the bits of story I've described play-out. Cates' plotting continues to be careful in its measured balance of quiet sorrow (Emmett thinking-back over the past as his memory slipped away is touchingly painful) and a good helping of humor too--Emmett doesn't suffer fools lightly! Shaw's artwork is absolutely astonishing as it has always been too, with his human-figures looking great and his landscapes being absolutely jaw-dropping. Just observe this page where Emmett tells the God how he is visiting the, "Realm," of Texas:
Shaw's people stand-out and the land is superbly detailed, with thanks owed as well to colorist Jason Wordie for how it looks beautifully bathed in the sunset's orange hue. The whole book masterfully balances natural beauty with the supernatural like this, and its a treat for the eyes.

Were I to take issue with this book, it would be that in my previous review I said how things were slow to start before a lot of action at the end of #1. In this issue #2 we mostly have a lot of conversing and explaining, which is perfectly fine but I've got to be honest and admit I'm just itching to see Emmett use that sword in order to carve-up some otherworldly threats. Still, the build-up to this issue's climax makes it very clear trouble will soon be coming Emmett's way so I doubt there will be too much of a further wait before Valofax get used.

With this second issue of, "God Country," Donny Cates gives-us humor, sadness, and a heaping dose of suspense for the trouble coming Emmett's way. Artist Geoff Shaw just keeps proving this issue why I've continued to love his work since I first saw it on, "Buzzkill," some years ago, and as a team these two are dependably awesome entertainers. "God Country," #2 may be a quieter issue, but that doesn't mean it's boring or slow. I'm chomping at the bit already for issue #3 and can't wait to see what awaits Emmett Quinlan in upcoming issues. If you haven't been reading, "God Country," I would recommend you do so and pick up this issue a week from today on February 15th--I know I'll be grabbing a copy!
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Journalistic Integrity Disclosure:
A digital copy of the second issue of, "God Country," was provided to me for the purposes of review. No other incentive was given or offered, I don't have any financial stake in Image Comics, etc. etc.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Image Comics, Planned Parenthood, and Why Most Entertainment is Inherently Political

Just recently it was announced Image would do special variant-covers in honor of Women's History Month in March with 100% of the proceeds to assist a non-profit that has been around for many years and does a ton to help women and frankly anyone who needs assistance. That organization is Planned Parenthood and because they don't lie to people about abortions (unlike awful and misleadingly named, "Pregnancy Crisis Centers,") and even are willing to perform abortions, some comic fans absolutely lost their shit (as the comment-section on some webpages discussing the news have illustrated). People saw this and started-up with stating the usual slander about PP that we too often have to witness, and said that annoying refrain of, "How dare they try and put politics into my entertainment!" If you want to be entertained without any kind of political message and complain about it if there is something political, I have my own message for you: Shut the fuck up.

Most entertainment is inherently political. Entertainment almost always has a message, and if you really think comic-books are exempt from that you must not read many comic books because going as far back as one of the earliest popular comics--The Yellow Kid--that was extremely political. Seeing stores whine about publishers, "Making a political message in my entertainment," or fans complaining that a store dare show political news because they want to read comics and relax free of political aspects is one of the most idiotic things I've heard.
I'm not even just talking about independent or smaller-scale publishers, the big companies like Marvel and DC dive head-first into politics constantly in their comics, movies, or television shows! Have you not read the recent event comic, "Civil War II," or seen the movie that drew from the first, "Civil War," comic? Do you not realize Batman and his authoritarian justice or Superman and the question of a, "Check," for his incredible power is political? Do you really think you can bitch and moan about all these, "Politics suddenly in my comics," when it has been happening since before you were born? Again, and with the utmost kindness in my voice, I ask you to shut the fuck up.

It is possible to consume entertainment with little-to-no message, but to act like your chosen form of fun is somehow rarely political is just stupid. People almost always put messages into entertainment, be it a film about a hot-button issue, a show that addresses a controversial topic, or an athlete making a statement. To think you can, "Keep the politics out of my _____," is just ignorant. Even if we at times consider our entertainment a form of escapism, that supposed escape often mirrors or expresses some very real messages.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

I Didn't Watch the Super Bowl Today

At the time of my posting this the Super Bowl is still going on, I believe, with the Atlanta Falcons running roughshod over the New England Patriots. I did not watch the Super Bowl today, however. I was simply just really busy and by the time I got home it was already near the end of half-time. I kind of want to see how badly the Patriots did because I don't like their cheating team, plus I want to see the advertisements already getting tweeted about (I hear Lady Gaga was entertaining as well). For that reason I'll probably watch my DVR of the game tomorrow and fast-forward through the duller bits of game-play as I've fully admitted to not being a big sports person at all besides enjoying hockey a decent amount. So yeah, if you wanted my thoughts on the Super Bowl, there you go.

Update 2 hours-ish later:
Annnnd the Patriots apparently came back from seemingly certain defeat and won. That sucks.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Discussion of Assorted New-ish Albums

Beats, Melodies, Magic!
I love listening to music and have been trying to talk about it more off-and-on with the blog here. There are some albums that have been in my musical-rotation lately that I felt like discussing. Note that these aren't really reviews, because I'm not going to assign my usual star rating. Think of this more as my sharing of some casual thoughts.

"Passion, Pain &Demon Slayin,'" by Kid Cudi
Kid Cudi rarely makes things easy. By that I mean his music generally isn't simple little pop-jams with catchy beats and hooks. No, Cudi likes to make epic, in-depth sonic-experiences, and despite some previous albums struggling to live-up to his earlier works, this latest LP contains some good--if not always amazing--stuff. "XXL," calls it a, "Return to form," for Cudi, and that descriptor fits pretty well. It isn't a masterpiece, but it definitely is listenable and something I enjoyed. Plus, Andre 3000 stops by for a bit at times on the album and that's always a treat for his somewhat-retired genius to spread some love(a number of other talents appear too, from Travis $cott to Willow Smith, of all people). As I stated though, Cudi rarely makes things easy, and this album drags a bit while achieving its 90-ish minutes worth of content.

Cudi could have kept the good stuff like album-opener, "Frequency," or, "Rose Golden," and easily shortened or cut completely some other material like, "Swim in the Light." Cudi arguably doesn't want to make things easy though, so I would imagine he likely doesn't care if his music is at times challenging, or difficult. I mean, there still are a number of wonderful moments inserted within the irritation so maybe he does know what he's doing after all, long run-time or not.

"Blank Face," by Schoolboy Q
I liked, "Blank Face," and how it often had a drugged-out and spacey vibe. A lot of the time tracks seemed to trip-up and spill over one another, with sluggish beats and Q's rhymes working well in Unison. One song that exemplifies this is, "THat Part," which also features Kanye West and over some ominous instrumentals builds up a delicious uncomfortable tension. That said, my favorite track on the album actually breaks-out of the usual motif. "Blank Face," is both also the album's name and incredibly engaging to listen to. Throughout Anderson Paak's guest-appearance full of piano-accompanied crooning we get a surreal mish-mash of the earlier hazy sound as it meets-up with a more organic sonic experience. It's a good album and hearing that a follow-up is being made for release this year gets me excited!

"Awaken, My Love!" by Childish Gambino
If you want to talk about a shift in musical styles I'll tell you to just look at what Childish Gambino AKA Donald Glover has presented us with on, "Awaken my Love!" No longer rapping at all, instead Glover has made a fascinating funk-rock-jazz fusion album that at some points sounds straight-out of the George Clinton-era ("Boogieman") and then swerves into grimy pop-rock ("California"). It's wild to think the man behind a catchy-but-formulaic rap song like, "3005," now has evolved  to give us something as indelible as album-opener, "Me and Your Mama." At times a song will feel like it's dragging a bit ("Zombies," gets old), but then something intriguingly bizarre like, "Redbone," will come on and my attention is fully-grabbed again. With his sound morphing so much lately I'm not sure where exactly Glover is going next musically, but I'm eager to find out.

"Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight," by Travi$ Scott
Besides being a mouthful, that album title is very weird and hard to decipher. I've previously discussed how Travis Scott has the ability to give us songs with surreal sounds that just absorb a listener in. His rapping abilities have been questioned repeatedly, and even if his guest lyricists outshine him often, Scott gives us some quality songs on this LP. I think Scott's best instrument is arguably his voice--not his raps, but his voice itself. With its moans, growls, and hums, Scott creates a sound from his vocal chords that often matches perfectly with the dreamy and/or nightmarish soundscapes his songs cook-up.

Plus, with a guest-list as good as the ones he gets, Scott doesn't even have to try and do too much heavy-lifting lyrically. Just have Andre 3000 stop by ("The Ends), throw Kendrick Lamar on an awesome track ("Goosebumps"), and let Young Thug do his trademark weird sing-song style too ("Pick Up the Phone") and you're guaranteed at least enough ingenious material you can get away with a few less-impressive songs ("Coordinate" feels like it drags on forever). Oh, and just as $cott was on Cudi's latest album, Cudi returns the favor and gives us some magic on, "Through the Late Night." Although, whereas the earlier-discussed Cudi has guests sometimes, Scott really does feel like he's depending on them. Even if with all these amazing guests Scott doesn't have to try too hard lyrically, it is nice to see him keep developing as a rapper--albeit slowly. Still, with his sounds, his vocal instrumentation, and some amazing guests, Scott without question gives us an album worth listening to.


I often seem to complain to friends, family, and anyone who will listen that a lot of today's quote un quote, "New music," isn't as good as stuff from either before I was born or when I was growing up. I know that's a normal thing for people to always think the stuff of, "Today," isn't as good as what we liked in the past, but even if I fall into the mental trap often there clearly is a lot of newer stuff that ain't too bad.