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