Monday, May 13, 2013

Funny Pages

Hey folks. It's been a while between reviews. Had a bit of a tough time getting to my LCS. It's
amazing how much can accumulate when you don't go to the comic store in 3 weeks.

Age of Ultron 7

I have to say I am burnt out with crossovers. It's every few months and the change in status quo has been exhausting. Starting with 2005’s House of M, then Civil War, Secret Invasion, Siege, Fear Itself, Avengers vs. X-Men, and that's not including the X-Men crossovers, Hulk, Spider-Man, I could unfortunately keep going. With Age of Ultron Marvel is essentially rehashing the Age of Apocalypse story of by having a major character be murdered in the past, dramatically altering the present. Unlike Age of Apocalypse which took us to the this drastically different world very early in the story Age of Ultron took 3/4’s of the story just to get to the same point.

Brian Michael Bendis is taking too long to tell the story. While decompressed storytelling works in a title like Ultimate Spider-Man or All New X-Men, it doesn't in a mini-series. Even a mini-series that is ten issues long. Once again we drag on in the Savage Land just like in Bendis’ previous crossover Secret Invasion. This kills the momentum of the story. What should have taken half an issue to one at the most took 5. Now in issue 7 we are going to be rushing through what should have been the main focus of the book in just 3 issues.

There are two artists on this issue Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco. Neither of whom seem to be putting forth much of an effort. They had a tough act to follow after Bryan Hitch’s go in the first half of the series (not that his work was flawless). With this book having been pushed back months Marvel lost Hitch on art duties Marvel used Pacheco to do the art that takes place in the past and Peterson for the present. That idea would work for artists who’s work blended well together but these artist’s styles don't jive and do not compliment.

Overall this series feels unnecessary. Marvel is only six months in to the Marvel Now status quo and they're already trying to mess with it. I personally don't want them to. There's supposed to be big changes at the end of this series. The introduction of former Spawn character Angela being brought into the Marvel U (it's a whole legal clusterfuck that ended with Neil Gaiman gaining rights to the character), and the rumored death of Wolverine (Marvel mandated a while back that they were going to kill a major character a year. It seems its the ol’ Canucklehead’s turn. Now this is comics we are talking about and everyone Marvel killed off had remarkable recoveries (Spider-Man is now a ghost haunting Doctor Octopus who is now inside Peter’s body. That sound was your brain melting. The Winter Soldier had faked his death. Human Torch was resurrected by Annihilius only to be killed and resurrected over and over again for the villains amusement.) so really take that last bit with a grain of salt.

Either way this book is a pale imitation of a series that came before it. It's poorly executed and not really needed.


Adventures of Superman 1

Perhaps the most controversial book of the year, not because of the content, but because of whom was supposed to be the writer of the first issue of this anthology book. Novelist Orson Scott Card was slated to write this premier issue. Card who is known primarily for the Ender’s Game series, the writer is also known for his extreme stance on homosexuality and gay marriage. Due to Superman fan backlash (I myself having signed a petition) Card was fired from the book. Writer Jeff Parker and artist Chris Samnee’s issue was bumped from issue two to one. That issue was fantastic. The creative team delivered a simple and straight forward fun Superman story.

Parker's writing is fun and can almost be considered all-ages (the bad guy being a former meth addict maybe not so child friendly). You get a nice one and done of a Lex Luthor experiment gone amok.
Samnee is a hell of a work horse. He's delivering Daredevil every month, as well as having recently completed a Rocketeer mini, and now this. His art is fantastic. His Superman looks classic and familiar.

The first issue of Adventures of Superman delivers a Superman that is missing in the New 52. Not only is he in the classic strongman suit but Superman is acting how Superman should act. The New  52 is hellbent on giving us a different Superman when they should be giving us exactly this. A Superman that everyone can enjoy.


Thor God of Thunder 8

God Damn (pardon the pun), I love this book. I had thought J. Michael Strazynski’s run on Thor was my favorite on Thor, but Jason Aaron came along and kicked Strazynski square in the Norn Stones. This books is like an 80’a metal band, a Frank Frazetta picture, and Star Wars had a humpimg pile and turned it up to 11. Gone is the stoic Stan Lee Thor, this Thor is a hard drinkin’, bar fightin’, wench plowin’ God of Thunder!

Continuing Aaron’s Godbomb story we find three different  Thor's from past, present, and future coming together to fight Gor the God Butcherer. We get a glimpse of Thor’s future with the introduction of his grand-daughters in a fight to destroy a bomb that will kill every God in the Universe.

Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina have an amazing chemistry as penciller and colourist respectively. Esad occasionally has some awkward faces but he still delivers art that puts a lot of other artists to shame. He captures the truly epic scope of Aaron’s script. I couldn't imagine another artist doing this book.
Aaron and Ribic are delivering a new kick ass version of Thor that seems doesn't detract from what came before and makes me constantly excited for this book to come out.


Batman 20

I love Batman. In theory. He's one of the characters that epitomize mainstream comics. Instantly recognizable by non-comic readers. Some of the best comics of all time have been Batman comics. The Dark Knight Returns. Arkham Asylum. Year One. He's iconic. And old. 70+. It's with that age it gets hard to write Batman. Sure you've got those great stories, but you’ve also got a tonne of dreck. And for that reason I think I've had a hard time getting into Batman. Don't get me wrong. I'm a continuity nerd. I grew up on X-Men and there's continuity there that would make your eyes bleed. But there are so many Batman stories, if you're a new reader, where the bloody hell do you begin? Take for example Batman in Dc’s New 52 universe. Batman in this new mythos has only been active for 5 years. He in that time has had 4 Robin’s. Nearly one a year. He still died and came back after fighting Darkseid. He has still had a son (who’s backstory has been changed so that he was a test tube baby who’s growth was artificially accelerated) and that son has recently died. That being said the only beacon of light in the dark Gotham underbelly seems to come with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman. The book has been telling some great decompressed stories about the Dark Knight that while they take place in the New 52 the can exist purely on their own of that continuity. Starting with Court of Owl, and continuing on with the recent Death of the Family. Issues 19 and 20 took a bit of a breather from the long form 6-10 issue arcs and instead focused on a 2 issue story about the villain Clayface.

Greg Capullo many will recognize for his years and years as penciller on Image’s Spawn. Capullo’s art has taken quantum leaps since his time on Todd McFarlane’s creation. He's done all but two issues of the series and each issue has been fantastic. Issue 20 keeps with the level of excellence he has set for himself. Inker Danny Miki came on last issue, taking over for Jonathan Glapion. Miki’s inks tend to be thinner and scratchier than the thicker more fluid line of Glapion. That's not to say Miki is bad, I just find Glapion a better fit with Capullo.

Scott Snyder writes a smart Batman who always has every angle figured out, down to a special mask that has Bruce Wayne DNA (a little too convenient cop out, but still believable when it comes to Batman being Batman). What Snyder best of all is humanize the man behind the cowl. Delivering one of the most poignant moments since the death of Damian.

As cliché as it sounds if you read only one Bat book, it should be Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman.


~ Nick Ardill

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Once Burned twice noticed...

I have an on again/off again relationship with Burn Notice.  I am a male, and when men reach certain points in their lives something happens.  We start really getting in to movies about Tall Ships, we start really getting in to TV Shows about spies, and we start reading Tom Clancey books.  I've passed check points one and two but not three.  Burn Notice is (or was) my answer to the spy thing.  It's sort of realistic portrayal of being a black books operative was interesting. 

The thing is the first two or three seasons had some compelling aspects but the last two seasons have basically boiled down to Michael loves Fiona (the most unconvincing "Irish" person you could find, I mean you got a British actor that's not the same as an Irish one and why not get one who could at least do an Irish accent, I don't care if she was on an episode of 90210 and don't get me started on her shoes!)  So he doesn't want ANYTHING to happen to her, but he needs to resolve this problem.  All the time Fiona (and Sam and Jessie and his mom) implore him to "Do the right thing" what that means I have no freaking clue AND rehash the "we don't leave anyone behind" mantra.  So he has a choice, let a friend/family member die or get arrested or what ever OR he can throw himself on his knife and sacrifice his desire for the rest. 

At the end of this season, like the end of previous seasons we see Michael once again having sacrificed himself for the lives of the others.  What would have happened if he didn't was pretty clear either life in prison or death.  No ifs ands or buts, pretty clear which Fiona indicated earlier was "unacceptable" how did he do it?  "Struck a deal" but what was the alternative?  The thing is if this happened once that'd be one thing but literally it's a loop the exact same narrative on a seasonal cycle and it's frankly stale.  My guess is he's working on a new black book operation for the CIA with the "Gang" as the operatives to bring down Ansel's organization because we're going to find out it's a Hydra-esque organization so he's back with The Agency and that's going to be our next cycle.  But here's the thing.  That's the cycle from two seasons ago, and last season was a repeat of season 1 and 2's narrative. 

They've run out of stories to tell and they need to end it.  It's just getting old, and they never told us what happened to Sugar.  I mean come on, we all love that adorable scamp of a third rate drug dealer with a heart of cocaine.  You don't just drop a secondary character has been disappeared by a rogue CIA agency when Micheal is CONSTANTANTLY reminding us of the "guilt" he feels for hurting people in his wake and then do NOTHING about it as that's entirely incongruous with his character to date (my guess is they either forgot and it was sloppy story telling or they'll fold him in to the team next season either way I'm only 40% sure I'll be back to find out).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Funny Pages

Hey gang. It's gonna be a little mix of last weeks books and this weeks books for this round of reviews.

Guardians of the Galaxy 1

Okay so this is the first issue. For real this time. Seriously. Ignore the 0.1 issue that came out last month. Well don't ignore it, but don't think of that as the first issue. This is the first issue. Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven bring us the real first issue of Guardians of the Galaxy an it's kind of just meh.
Star-lord Peter Quill is back from the Cancerverse. How? Don't know. They really don't say. Other than a quick mention in the first few pages that Quill fought Thanos, the Annihilation mini isn't really touched upon. Now Star-lord is on a mission to protect earth from his father and a coalition of alien races that have declared that earth is off limits and on its own. A move that apparently puts earth in prime position to be invaded. Star-lord gathers up the old gang, consisting of Gammora, Drax, Groot, and my personal fave Rocket Raccoon. Oh Iron Man is there too. Why? Cross polination would be my best guess. Together they’re going to keep earth safe from the dangers of Aliens like the Badoon, or Thanos, or any other number of Jim Starlin era space based baddie. It's an interesting idea and I'm curious to see here Bendis takes it, but it doesn't strike the same resonance as the last volume of Guardian. Gone is the slightly wacky feel to the book, such as Cosmo the telepathic Russian space dog. Also gone is Star-lord’s kick ass costume. Replaced by a rather simple costume that doesn't have the same umph as the prior masked almost WWI German suit.
Bendis-speak is in full swing here. It tends to stick out like a sore thumb amongst this cast. In all honestly I feel that Bendis isn't suited for this type of story. He's a ground level writer. He can’t seem to make the big concept work in most cases.  Even when he was on Avengers his best stories tended to be a little more down to earth.
Steve McNiven’s art is passable. He's not delivering his worst like in the mini-series Nemesis he did with Mark Millar, but he isn't delivering his A game art like Civil War (coincidentally also with Mark Millar).
Marvel is pushing their cosmic titles in a big way. With a Guardians of the Galaxy movie coming out next year I see why they're pushing a more mainstream version of the book. That would be all right for the casual reader. But for those who have been with Guardians of the Galaxy or the characters involved for a while, it does fall a little short.


East of West 1

Is it a western? Is it science fiction? Is it a story about the apocalypse? Yes. Yes it is. This is an alternate history tale with cowboys, indians, chairman Mao, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta bring their genre bending tale of the Horseman Death as he cuts a bloody path across an America unlike we’ve ever seen.
With this issue Hickman is really laying out the world which the story takes place. But in typical Hickman fashion he isn't exactly laying all his cards on the table. The story opens with three of the four horsemen waking as children, short their fellow rider Death. The story then skips to some exposition about a very different United States and a very different civil war. Jump again to the missing Death in a very different form as his brethren. A cowboy clad all in white aiming to kill the president of the United States.
Nick Dragotta shows a very different side of his art compared to his most recent FF work. Jumping from epic vistas and landscapes, to very brutal but intimate moment of the white rider. His work seems to be a lot more polished here. Not that his FF run was bad in anyway but the art seems to be a little tighter than previously.
Hickman’s work tends to be head trippy and not for a casual reader. Pax Romana, Red Mass for Mars, even his Fantastic Four run is an investment in time but always works out and is worth the read.


All New X-Men 10

When All New X-Men was announced I (along with a lot of other X-fans) had some concerns. It had some major strikes against it. Brian Michael Bendis’s Avengers  had become somewhat stale. He had done too many Avengers titles for too long, and later issues had really shown that the joy was gone. I didn't really want to see that brought to an X book. The title was spinning out of the somewhat mediocre Avengers vs. X-Men. I was also nervous this new X-Men book was going to affect Jason Aaron’s fantastic Wolverine and the X-Men. But what worried me the most about All New X-Men was the overall premise. Modern day Beast goes back in time and brings the original teenage X-Men back to the future (and yes there have been several references to the movie over the series). But Bendis surprised me. He surprised the hell out of me.
He took what could have been an awful mess of a book and made it work. As I stated earlier with Guardians of the Galaxy, Bendis works on a street level with his characters. He doesn't do well with the big concept stories. But he nailed it in All New X-Men.
This issue focuses on Mystique, Sabertooth, and the newly freed from prison Lady Mastermind robbing a bank truck. Bendis is building to a major showdown between Mystique’s crew and the original 5 heroes. And when it goes down it'll be good. Meanwhile over at The Jean Grey School modern Cyclops shows up to try to recruit from Wolverine’s school. The exchange between sides does get a little Bendis-y dialogue wise but doesn't get too hampered. We get an interesting exchange between young and old Cyclops. And we are left with a cliffhanger that has left me curious in a way that I haven't felt about a next issue in a long while.
Now Stuart Immonen. Oh my god on a scooter Stuart Immonen. This man is one of the best artists working in the industry. His art in this issue is phenomenal. He had a short break with David Marquez capably filling in. But man is it good to see him back in these pages.
I absolutely love Wolverine and the X-Men and didn't want All New X-Men to come along and futz Wolverine’s title up. Thankfully both titles work well off each other. Toss in Bendis’ sister book Uncanny X-Men and the X Universe is in the best shape it's been in years.


Abe Sapien Dark and Terrible 1

For an Abe Sapien book there is surprisingly little Abe Sapien in this book. This book goes a long way to introduce the reader to where we are in the Hellboy/BPRD Universe. Recapping the problems plaguing the Earth. What's happened to Abe to bring us to this point. This may be an attempt to draw in a new reader but with a lot of BPRD books or various titles within the  Hellboy universe but they may end up feeling like their drowning in information. There's a lot to know with these comics. They are all tied to each other. It can be argued that Hellboy continuity is as vast and extensive as say the Star Wars universe.
Abe Sapien is somewhat of a fan favorite but unfortunately I'm not one of them. I've never liked him as much as I have the ironically down to earth Hellboy, or the impressionable Roger the Homunculus, or even the ghostly Johann Krauss. This first issue doesn't do much to change that. Even in recent months where Abe has changed and evolved and there is a mystery as to why, I find myself not all that concerned.
The writers Mike Mignola, and Scott Allie, as well as artist Simon Fiumara do a capable job. The book isn't bad. It's just nothing really remarkable. And where the Hellboy universe is right now they need to do more than just kind of coast. This being the first issue in a new ongoing they are obviously going to be moving to something big but to grab you and keep you they need to make more of an impact coming out of the gate.


~ Nick

Monday, April 1, 2013

BioShock Infinite – Washed in the blood of the lamb

I will try to keep this review of the game as spoiler free as possible, but there may be plot points divulged that may take away from the surprises so if you want to enter this untouched I’ll say in short this is a game that must be played.  Now for the longer version, if you have ever studied quantum physics or read any Robert Heinlein books like The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, or The Number of the Beast you’ll be familiar with the literary conceit used to drive the story of BioShock Infinite forward.  BioShock like Assasin’s Creed has taken core scientific and philosophical facts and reshaped them in to marvelous fiction, where Assasin’s Creed makes a J.J. Abrams bombast BioShock creates a more nuanced Nolanesque experience.  In this case, Quantum Mechanics (also known as Quantum Physics or Quantum Theory) started to coagulate in to the branch of physics today with Max Planck’s quantum hypothesis in 1900 and the philosophical interpretations by Niles Bohr regarding causality.  Quantum physics has long been a device in the sci-fi genre to allow for the use of alternate realities or dimensions.  In this case, we’re taking science and twisting it a touch to make it fit the reality and allow for a deep story and unlike Heinlein’s twisted time travel/dimension hopping stories of men going back in time to have sex with their mothers to get them pregnant with themselves, or uncomfortably sexually liberated family units traveling in flying cars we’re given something meatier and more compelling.

For the purposes of this review I’m going to break the content in to three sections, the first is technological focusing on the code behind the game’s visuals and sound, the second component will be mechanical discussing the gameplay elements, and the final component will be artistic and wrapped up with a summary concluding my thoughts on the work, given BioShock’s legacy and the importance people may place on the story that way you can skip the last portion if you’re afraid of spoilers (anything mentioned up until now can be gleaned from trailers so no need to apologize yet).

At the end of a console generation we are reaching the limits of hardware on the two consoles but that doesn’t prevent a compelling experience.  The visuals for the game, on all three platforms, are impressive.  It’s quite easy to make a game that’s full of shadows and darkness and imparts an emotional weight but when using light it is a much more difficult medium.  Like watercolours a lot of people paint in it, but few do it well.  The setting of Columbia as the city in the clouds means you will by necessity be creating a setting full of light and sunshine, the temptation is to just crank the bloom up to 100 and go from there but that wasn’t done here.  The use of light is handled amazingly, like BioShock the Irrational Games team relied on the workhorse Unreal Engine (this time the Unreal 3 engine) tweaking and modifying it. 

Due to its setting they went with a stylized design that gave them maximum flexibility.  There are far more realistic looking games even using the same engine but the fluidity and lighting effects would probably not have been possible if they had strived for that degree of visual detail.  The use of diffuse lighting, haze and the prudent use of bloom create a stunning and smooth running experience.  The water and lighting techniques are stunning compared to the first BioShock which in comparison looks flat but between platforms you can see truly see the differences, the lack of aliasing on the Xbox makes for a “jaggy” experience which is to be expected, the PlayStation 3 while better for the “jaggies” and has a more realistic lighting experience than the 360 neither can hold a candle to the atmospheric quality of the PC.  That all being said, not a one of them is so far to make it a bad experience on any platform, all three are visually compelling and hold their own.  With no multiplayer component it’s a safe bet to purchase this for your favourite platform of choice.

Now, the Mechanics are a different story.  The gameplay mechanics of BioShock and in this case BioShock Infinite’s spiritual grandparents System Shock and System Shock 2, System Shock 2’s complex and deep leveling system created an experience where you felt you had real control over your character and through this franchise an immersion in to the environment.  BioShock (the first) gave you plasmids and weapon customization but it felt like that depth from its predecessor was a mere puddle compared to the ocean of options available.  BioShock Infinite attempts to resolve this, while removing the hacking component which felt out of place in the Diselpunk world of BioShock and would seem even more ridiculous in the Steampunk setting of Columbia Elizabeth is used to take care of these chores but in its place Vigors (the Plasmids of this game) and guns are much more customizable than their predecessors in the first two BioShock games.  Given your ability swap between two vigors to create “Combo” effects it makes for an interesting and fun mechanic.  Though still lacking the depth of System Shock it’s still a fun experience and it’s recommended you spend those Silver Eagles to power up your abilities as soon as possible since they and your tweaked out guns will be needed.

The only real problem I found is one of accuracy, being primarily a PC gamer I’m used to the mouse and keyboard accuracy but even compared to other FPS games on the consoles BioShock has always been “drifty” and that’s still the case here, if you value accuracy not play on the consoles.  That being said the “snap aim” feature that’s a mainstay of modern console shooters is here.  For those unfamiliar, get nearly on target; click the “aim” button.  This will snap to iron sights or targeting scope and then quickly pop off your shot.  You have about a half second or so where you’ll be snapped to right on target, with a hand cannon properly supplemented this can mean a one shot kill.  Even with this help it's still very tricky especially when you're trying to use the "sky-lines" a series of roller coasters that you can skim along adding an interesting layer to combat. The good thing is, with Elizabeth scrounging for ammo in the background I rarely found myself in need.  Even in the most intense firefights I only needed to switch out weapons from my favourite pairings (hand cannon and shotgun for high power and room clearing capability or hand cannon and pistol for high power and rapid accurate fire).  You’ll find your magic combo but once I got my hands on that hand cannon I was pretty much set for the game.

On the topic of Elizabeth, thankfully there was mechanic built in where you were required to protect her.  She didn’t take damage and took care of herself, in fact during the heat of combat she will scour the battlefield and when you are running low on health, ammo or salts (the “mana” for your vigors) toss you a refill.  While this is great, and her ability to pick locks removes the annoying and distracting hacking elements it does also at times take some of the challenge out of the game.  Having played on Normal this may be less of an issue in harder play throughs or 1999 mode (the souped up super hard mode which from what I understand changes baseline health, ammo distribution and gives you less flexibility with your vigors so choose wisely).

Now, the story, as mentioned previously the BioShock series is known for its compelling source material.  In the first two stories you were dealing with Objectivism and Rand’s philosophical hypocrisy.  Interestingly the game was released at the same time as the rise of the Tea Party who make Rand their godhead.  This game on the other hand makes a study of American Exceptionalism, a political philosophy that places America as a “unique” country.  One of the first “modern” nations and due to its foundation on the basis of liberty and democracy places it in a role as an “evangelist” this is then tied to sibling philosophies of Manifest Destiny (the belief that America should “spread through the New World” and was the battle cry of the Jacksonian Democrats.  Combined with the Evangelical movement and it’s early days at the turn of the century it is a compelling back drop which also paints an ugly picture of those Jacksonian Democrats and the realities of the time, let’s just say if you were a Jew, Black, Asian or Irish Columbia would not have been a happy place for you.  The thing is, in 1912, these were the realities of the time.  You are Booker Dewitt, a veteran of the battle of Wounded Knee one of the more shameful chapters of American history.  You have fallen on bad times and you’re a man on a mission.  “Give us the girl, and wipe away the debt” is your mantra. 

It starts as a pretty straight forward “Recue the princess” plot… just you’re a gambling debt laden former Pinkerton detective/thug who’s trying to just get out from under whatever he’s under.  You find yourself in this Rockwell painting of a world but there’s puss under the surface of this shiny wound.  The Vox Populi are a workers movement, unlike the first BioShock which used Communism/Big Government as the boogieman Andrew Ryan was fighting Vox Populi are a group who’s goals seem noble enough.  Equality and fairness, but in fact are a segment of the Anarchist movement which was thriving and a major source of labour strife during the early part of the 20th century.  And this is where the BioShock games truly thrive; who could have thought a videogame could use American Exceptionalism, the Anarchist Movement, Quantum Physics, and Pinkerton detectives to tell a story let alone one with echos of current American politics in the same way the original BioShock.  This is what art and storytelling in gaming should strive towards, social commentary of a truly literate and meaningful way.

As the story unfolds, you build a rapport with Booker.  His running commentary gives us something we didn’t have in previous BioShock entries, a sense of character to our avatar.  Not just a running death machine that lets out a few grunts but someone we can sympathise with who doesn’t seem to quite know what he’s there for other than to get the girl and get to New York.  Soon after entering Columbia you notice it’s not like elsewhere in the world.  Vigors grant people exceptional power and upon meeting the young woman Elizabeth you find she has an even more exceptional power.  One to open “tears” in the fabric of space/time and if you pay attention to when you first meet her in combination with an earlier Barbershop song you’ll see one of the interesting clues, it’s almost like a Discworld gag about how some things just drift through the multiverse.  One of the first tears opened is to Paris, but a Paris with an interesting Cinema sign that any Star Wars fan worth their salts will immediately know is not quite right.

The story progresses with you and Elizabeth slowly forming a partnership, then a friendship, and finally a genuine affection for one another.  In a touching moment you even take the time to sing together if you pick up the guitar at the right time.  This makes her more than a plot element or a pet used to fetch health and bullets but a character you genuinely care for.  By the beginning of the third act I was truly desperate to save her, but I also was starting to see the patterns and I knew where this story was going but I had to continue it was that compelling because I wanted it to not be true.  Like the film 12 Monkeys I knew how this was going to end but I had to see it through to see if there would be some kind of last minute twist but mainly because I loved these characters so much I was there with them for the ride.  Whilst not as bleak as 12 Monkeys it’s pretty darn tragic at times and really has a gravitas few other games come close to.  The conclusion is a satisfying (if philosophically loaded) one that may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it was like a Joss Whedon story it’s one that the players need, not the one they want and for an industry that’s build on sequels it was a pretty ballsy decision for the development team to make in how they ended it..  That being said how they will fold in the pending DLC is beyond me.  Messing with this story at this point would seem disrespectful but the lucky thing is when it comes to the multiverse and quantum mechanics there are always more dimensions to explore.  Let’s just hope it shies away from the ridiculous Evil George Washington that Assasin’s Creed 3 went for and does something more meaningful.

In conclusion, visually compelling and while not the most mechanically sound this is a game worth
owning and even more importantly worth playing more than once.  There are layers plummed, there are echos of some of the finest sci-fi ever written with characters that are interesting and nuanced and you can even feel pity for and find yourself sympathising with people even as you hate them for what they’ve done.  Added to this are your own pair of cats who walk through walls, just of a very Cheshire nature a compelling mix of story, gameplay and art that makes every second a pleasure.  One recommendation though, when you do play it makes sure to sit through the credits.  There are more than a few treats to behold for the ear and the eye.  And any game where you get to watch a Gatling gun wielding robot Lincoln fight a Gatling gun wielding robot Washington is too cool for school.

~ Matt Ardill

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bioshock: Infinite - First Impressions

Hey all, so last night I went to the launch event for Bioshock: Infinite, my impressions and photos of that will come tomorrow (power went down and been a crazy day at work so not been able to post what I wanted) but I did play for about half an hour last night and here are my first impressions (as written at the behest of a friend Jason).

After the obligatory 20 minutes running updates and registering DLC codes (one of which I'm not even sure if it worked at all since I can't see how to link the Facebook account to the DLC in game but I'll deal with that tomorrow) I got in to the game. Even before starting the game, the title screen which randomly plays a song showed what I'm in store for, the first song ...was Saint James Infirmary Blues. Second was another period song, they are on their game here (and I can't wait to listen to the sound track tomorrow).

Immediately on starting I'm struck by the protagonist Booker Dewitt, in Bioshock you are silent but for the introduction and when you transform later in the game. There is no dialogue from your nameless character.  Bioshock 2 is much the same but with Infinite there's an internal monologue and you very quickly build a rapport with the character. This is a brilliant stroke that at once makes it more personal (the silent protagonist is an artifact of technology that some turned in to a style choice).

We have another cryptic and imagery laden introduction sequence that is far more interactive than the first two games. We move through the environment and learn the basics of this world we have been thrust in to. Where The first two dealt with Libertarianism, Objectivism and Communism this deals with Exceptionalism of America and the Evangelical faiths. There is a distinct parallel between Comstock's faith and that of the Mormons the real life American born religion. It's interesting if it's simply something I'm interested to see if it's intentional or me just reading in at an early time int he story but one thing is for sure the use of era religious music is a great touch. The original Will The Circle Be Unbroken prior to the Carter family's rewrite of the tune was a nice touch (despite the uneducated internet rabble-rouser complaints about the removal of God it was a return to ORIGINAL period version).

After leaving the starting area I'm greeted with an amazing spectacle, they are certainly pushing the consoles to their limit. I wish I had got it on PC but c'est la vie, it's still stunning on the PS3. Having seen all versions now it's clear the PC is the best platform by far but the PS3 outstrips the Xbox for this.  The flare and lighting engine is clearly more powerful on the PS3 but of course this and the water effects (as well as aliasing) are far superior on the PC.  Where Bioshock and Bioshock 2 were set in the Stygian abyss of the oceanic trenches, this is set in the glorious heavens and where the first two painted in desolation and shadow, darkness and death this game pains in beauty and light, glory and life. It's stunning, the city is vibrant with citizens going about their daily lives not splicers immediately intent on killing you. The city teems with people living their day and the light, the glorious light, it's truly amazing how they've used the soft glow and the defuse lighting to create a truly magical realm. Once again the setting is the "third character" in the room but this time they are a welcoming one (at least at this point) who quite soon it's made obvious holds a dark side. A simple flash forward/back which I think we'll see more about soon showed us an ominous portent.

Okay, for a quick "first impression" it's a bit long but I was truly stunned. I got to the fair and didn't start using the "Vigours" (Plasmids of this game) yet but hopefully have some time tomorrow (edit: nope I didn't). All I know is I'm going to have to caffine it up Tuesday (edit: yes I did) that's for sure. I think this is my next play to completion game. Absolutely outstanding, even after 30 minutes I know everyone should pick this up.

~ Matt Ardill

Funny Pages

It's an all cosmic comic review this week. With Jedi, Aliens, Space Babies, and Space Raccoons. Yeah. You read that right. Rocket Raccoon, bitches.

Star Wars Legacy 1

The temptation to start this review with "A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away..." was really tempting, but my better judgement prevailed. The second series to carry the "Legacy" title, I found this new series an easier read than the first volume. Gabriel Hardman and Corrina Bechko take us 140 years after the battle of Yavin. It's a period of peace and rebuilding after years of war. A new Imperial Triumvirate rules the galaxy in hopes of preventing the mistakes of the Republic and the Empire from repeating. The Jedi are no longer the galactic peace keepers they once were. The Sith are all but gone. A new order of Imperial Knights sits as a balance between the light and the dark. Anya Solo (Han and Leia’s great great granddaughter) is a junk salvager on a planet near the galactic rim. A less than glamorous life for an ancestor of the the heroes of the Rebellion. Anya needs a ticket off the rock she's on, and may have found it when she stumbles across a lightsaber with no Jedi or Knight to claim it. But this simple Lightsaber may have pulled Anya into a galactic conspiracy beyond her reckoning. As with most bad things in the Star Wars universe there's Sith behind it. What the dark side’s motives and goals are aren't entirely clear yet but with Hardman and Bechko at the helm you know it's going to be good. Hardman (a Hollywood storyboard artist who has worked on such films as Dark Knight Rises, and Inception) and Bechko (Hardman’s wife) are also currently working on a series of Planet of the Apes books for IDW, and if Star Wars Legacy is half as good as what they've delivered for the Chimpanzees, we’re in for on hell of a ride.
One issue in and the book feels way more accessible than Legacy volume 1. You can tell Anya is a Solo. Shooting first. Not wanting to know the odds. And having a plucky alien sidekick. She's a much more like able character than the drug addled, angst ridden Cade Skywalker, in Ostrander’s Legacy run.
While this isn't the Luke, Leia, Han era it still feels like Star Wars and is definitely worth checking out.


Saga 11

Saga is always good. That isn't an exaggeration. That isn't fanboy hyperbole. 11 issues in and it's never faltered one bit. Saga is a hard book to categorize cause its a space opera, with aliens, people with tv’s for heads, space babies. It's a fantasy, with magic, ghosts, and sword fighting. But most of all it's a story about family. A family that is trying to make it in a universe that is very literally trying to kill them. Alana and Marko are aliens from two very different species who have a newborn daughter Hazel. Their races have been at war for longer than either races can remember. So long in fact that neither side can remember why they went to war in the first place. All either side knows is that they hate each other. So much so that they're willing to kill a halfbreed baby simply for the reason that it exists.
In the short time Hazel has been alive (over the course of 11 issues) she has got a  nanny who just happens to be a ghost, traveled through space in a rocket ship made out of a tree, and escaped from a space baby who hatched out of a planet.
Brian K. Vaughan pulls a bait and switch this issue. Last issue readers freaked out (I mean FREAKED) out over the supposed death of Lying Cat, but readers can breath easy, he didn't die in the vacuum of space. No instead we see the tragic death of Marko’s father, Hazel’s grandfather, Barr.
The issue starts with a fairly graphic (well graphic to most comics) sex scene, that really sums up Marko and Alana's relationship really well. Plus we see Hazel’s conception. How often can you say that? But from there the book goes to a very different place. When Barr dies the issue takes a drastic tonal shift. Diagnosed with a terminal disease Barr sacrifices the remaining time he has to save his family and newborn grandchild. A grandchild he really should hate. A warrior of some great renown on his home planet, Barr should despise the half-breed Hazel the way all the others hunting her should. But he doesn't. He loves her. Loves her like a grandfather should.
Few comics are written so well. Few comics can pull of such a heart wrenchingly good issue. To see Marko’s pain at the loss of his father is one of the saddest things I've read in a comic. His flashback to a childhood memory of his father teaching him how to ride a giant grass hopper (that doesn't take away from the moment at all) encapsulates the relationship between this father and son. Whether there will be repercussion from Marko pushing Alana away at the time of Barr’s death remains to be seen. Knowing Vaughan there will be consequences to Marko’s dismissal of his wife. But for now we leave the family one member short as they drift through space, their pursuers far behind them. For now.


Nova 2

To say that Nova writer Jeph Loeb is a polarizing creator in the world of comics would be a bit of an understatement. The man has had a prolific career in the medium. Having written such timeless stories as Batman Long Halloween, and Superman For All Seasons, but he has also been responsible for such abominations as Ultimates 3, Ultimatum, and let us not forget (as much as we'd love to try) making Wolverine and Sabertooth evolved from a species of cat people. Now Nova is certainly not classic like Spider-Man Blue, but it definitely isn't the abortion that was Ultimates 3 (incestuous Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in particular). Nova falls somewhere in the middle. It's fun. Really really fun. It's a kid who gets super powers and gets to fly into space. Who hasn't wanted to be that kid? Loeb is able to give this newest Nova, Sam Alexander (previous Nova Richard Ryder still AWOL in the Cancerverse) a sense of wonder and delight as he learns to fly, blast off like a "human rocket" and see the universe. There is more to the story but not a lot more to be honest. Loeb is building to something, but we’re kind of in the same boat as Sam in we’re not really sure what. Sam’s drunk father was a former member of a special group of Nova Corp officers who were on a secret mission. Something went wrong and now it's up to young Sam to  It's a similar story in a way to what Loeb did with Teen Wolf (yes Jeph Loeb wrote THAT Teen Wolf. Although I'm not sure about Teen Wolf Too), and if you don't know what I'm talking about, watch it for sheer 80's goodness.
Ed McGuinness has been Loeb's artist of choice on his last few projects and they work incredibly well. McGuinness’ (as much as I'd hate to say) cartoonier style fits this type of story more so than on  the other Loeb/McGuinness projects, like Hulk, or Avengers X-Sanction (still a terrible title).
If the book is able to stay light and fun as it has these first two issues, and it continues to have cameos from my favorite Guardian of the Galaxy, Rocket Raccoon, I will be sticking around on this book. Well as long as the new Nova doesn't end up punching the Watcher in the face (yeah that happened in Loeb's Red Hulk run).


~Nick Ardill

Monday, March 18, 2013

Funny Pages

Starting today we'll be posting weekliy comic reviews from resident comic book officionado Nick Ardill.  Enjoy! ~m

Batman and Robin 18

Batman and Robin 18 is one of those rare comics that does everything right. A perfect blend of writing, art, and coloring. Dealing with the fallout of last month's Batman Inc. that saw the brutal death of ten year old Robin at the hands of his homicidal rapidly-aged clone (don't ask). This issue finds a broken Bruce and Alfred as they mourn. One silently the other not so much.

Writer Peter J. Tomasi manages to do in a completely silent issue what most writers fail with a fully scripted book. Giving us insight to what made the 10 year old who he was. Through Batman's eye's we see Damian's love of his of bat-hound Titus (gotta love the golden age references), his artistic side and the sketches of his grandparents that he never met, and his connections to the greater DCU with a list of movie recommendations by Superman (On the Waterfront, and Rebel Without a Cause topping the list. But really Clark, would it kill you to toss in a Young Frankenstein or Blazing Saddles?). Batman relives small moments of their day to day lives as the Dynamic Duo, from sliding down the batpole to swinging through the spires of Gotham City. Ultimately the Dark Knight finds himself alone with nothing but his rage and sadness as a father who lost his son.

The art in this book is brilliant. Penciller Patrick Gleason, inker Mick Gray, and colorist John Kalisz captured magic. I can't compliment them enough. Be it Gleason's pencils or Kalisz's color's everything just works.

When Damian Wayne debuted 7 years ago in Grant Morrison's Batman run he was a spoiled, entitled, sociopath vying for the cape and cowl that he felt was his birthright. But Peter Tomasi took the young Robin and turned him into a character you cared for and mourned. A little boy who only wanted his approval and really to have a place in the world. Given the current state of death in comics and the character's family's history with Lazarus Pits it remains to be seen whether this death will be a lasting one. For now we mourn the death of the Boy Wonder.


Wolverine and the X-Men 26

It's The Logan boys at it again. Nothing like a good ol' brother vs. brother smack down (sorry Matt).  Wolverine against his half-brother Dog Logan.

Through some time traveling shenanigans Wolverine's older brother finds himself in the 21st century, and it really isn't a happy reunion. Building on threads he started in his Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine writer Jason Aaron shows us what Dog has been up to in between the Origin mini-series and now. We see why Dog hates his little brother so much and the lengths he's willing to go to put Wolverine in his place. We see nothing of Logan’s student who as of last issue were having a bit of trouble fighting of some seriously cheesed of dinosaurs, and instead see Dog’s life as he has no place in his world and no real purpose. I mean the poor guy is named Dog and he can't even fit into an actual pack of dogs. I mean that's just gotta sit wrong. It isn't until he finds some diamonds that allow him to jump forward and backwards through time (really just go read Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine, it's absolutely worth it) does Dog Logan really learn what it is to have purpose. Granted that purpose is to kick the crap out of his brother and steal all of his students. But we've all been there, right? (Again, sorry Matt)

Really a 19th century time traveling fur trader fighting a metal clawed mutant in a land of dinosaurs would be silly to most but Aaron makes it work. The book constantly juggles the dark and serious with the silly and absurd. Wolverine and the X-Men is one of those books that is consistently good. Hardly in its 26 issues has there been a bad issue (with the exception of the Frankenstein circus of the Damned storyline. But Aaron gets a pass due to his level of work beforehand). I've been on this book since the beginning, every month anticipating what Aaron is going to do Wolverine and his group of offbeat students. Rarely do I see what's coming next, and that's rare in a mainstream comic book.


Sledgehammer 44 1

I have to preface this review with a bit of a disclaimer: I am a Mike Mignola apologist. I'm a huge Mignola-verse fan. Be it Hellboy, BPRD, Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson, Baltimore (which may or may not fall in the Mignola universe depending on who you ask. I lean towards the no side) love them all. Now we get Sledgehammer, Mike Mignola's Iron Man-esque World War II Nazi Smasher. Co-written by John Arcudi and illustrated by John Arcudi this book delivers little explanation of who Sledgehammer is or where he's from and choose to drop the reader right in the thick of it. The book focuses more on the soldiers who are there to support Sledgehammer in his mission rather than the metal hero himself.

Artist Jason Latour pulls double duty between this book and Marvel's Winter Soldier but the art never suffers between the two. Latour gives this book a raw dirty feel that looks almost like TinTin if it were drawn in a bomb shelter during the Blitz. His use of sound effects integrated with the art itself is a tough trick to pull off, many artists have a difficult time with it, but Latour does it masterfully.
This book has a lot of the things that I find makes a comic awesome. Crazy supernatural super science. World War II. Giant Nazi Robots.

If there is one downside about the book is that it like most Mignola books it works better in trade than it does in single issue. I tend to double dip when it comes to Hellboy and the gang, single issues then trade (and on the rare occasion triple dip. Have you seen those amazing oversized Hellboy hardcovers?!?). This story feels like it will be phenomenal when it's collected in one volume. Until then we’ll just have to take it bit by bit.

Now some Mignola-philes will recognize Sledgehammer's armor as the vril armor from Lobster Johnson Iron Prometheus so it will be interesting to see how the armor went from that series to this. I do really hope Sledgehammer gets a Lobster Johnson “the claw” like catchphrase... “look out Hitler. I'm a about to put the Hammer down”... Maybe not... Maybe not so good.


~ Nick