Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sin City: Vol. 1 - The Hard Goodbye - A No Flying No Tights Review

SOURCE: Sin City, Vol. 1: The Hard Goodbye

It starts, as it usually does, with a gorgeous dame.

Marv’s not the sharpest knife in the back but even he’s smart enough to know there’s no way a woman like that would take a guy like him back to her room unless she wanted something. The smart bets are on “Protection” or “A Patsy”. But with those angelic looks Marv doesn’t much care as long as “Goldie” is willing to deliver the pleasures she promises.

A few hours later, Marv wakes up to the sound of sirens…next to the stone-cold body of his golden goddess. With the town’s corrupt cops on his heels, Marv goes on the run only to find that there are professional hit-men gunning for him too. And then there’s the matter of a woman who is the spitting image of Goldie trying to kill him. Driven by equal parts rage and a crude honor that demands Goldie’s death be avenged since he failed to keep her alive, Marv’s search for answers will take him all across the town they call Sin City – from the darkest alleyways to the private estate of one of the city’s most prominent families.

It would be easy to call Sin City Frank Miller’s tribute to the Film Noir genre. Certainly Miller’s art in this volume is heavily dependent on the same stylistic considerations as the old movies, where black contrasted heavily against pure white backgrounds. And as in those movies, the stark black-and-white visuals depict a world full of moral gray areas. It is a place where dark shadows conceal darker motivations and the only heroes are flawed men who cling to what slim scraps of their souls they can manage to grasp.

But this beast defies such easy classification and this series owes as much to the Exploitation genre as it does Film Noir. Sin City is packed full of beautiful babes, rough-featured men and more over-the-top cartoon violence than a Tom & Jerry marathon. It is not deep. It is not subtle. But, to those with the right mind set to enjoy this sort of thing, it is not without its’ charms.

A large part of this charm is due to Marv – a unique character who defies many of the conventions of the Film Noir hero. By way of a for instance, while Marv does possess the same rude charisma and rough ethics of Sam Spade, Marv is no detective. When he needs an answer, he’ll beat it out of whatever unfortunate soul gets in his way. Marv’s methods are crude but efficient and it’s hard not to laugh a little bit at his antics as he begins “questioning” suspects.

I think it would be fair to call Sin City a high-quality guilty-pleasure book. It’s not great art by most definitions but it is well-crafted for what it is – a kick-ass action movie on paper. Miller’s art and writing is an acquired taste, but he’s never been in better form.

On the off chance that there is someone reading this review that is unfamiliar with Frank Miller’s writing in general, the Sin City series in specific, or the 2005 Robert Rodriguez film which was based upon this series, let me say this clearly: This book is very much an adult graphic novel in every sense of the phrase. With numerous scenes of bloody violence, detailed nudity and multiple affronts to basic human decency, this book earns its 16+ rating.

Sin City, vol. 1: The Hard Goodbye
by Frank Miller
ISBN: 1593072937
Dark Horse Comics, 2005
Publisher Age Rating: 16+

Green Lantern #6 - A Review

Continuing the respective stories of Hal Jordan and Thal Sinestro, Green Lantern #6 shows two men trying to move on from their old lives but finding difficulty in escaping their past. In the case of Hal Jordan - who recently lost his position as a Green Lantern - this manifests in his seeking out danger and trying to help people, all while insisting to long-time love-interest Carol Ferris that he doesn't miss being a superhero at all.

Sinestro, by contrast, is tying up loose ends and tracking down Lyssa Drak - one of the last remaining members of his Sinestro Corps. He seeks the unlikely aid of Starstorm - a light-manipulating hero from a distant planet, whom he apparently fought several times in the distant past and eventually defeated soundly. But Starstorm is a broken man and only willing to take up his old role after much prodding and threatening.

As before, Sinestro's story is the most interesting of the two. It occurs to me that for all of the build-up Sinestro has gotten as an intergalactic menace, we've seen very little of him fighting cosmic heroes in the past apart from The Green Lantern Corps. It's an interesting conceit to see that there were other heroes on other worlds who fought Sinestro and declared him their nemesis but it makes perfect sense given his activities even before building The Sinestro Corps. Another point of interest is the latest prophetic vision (there's been a lot of these in Green Lantern, of late) which hints at just what is coming for Sinestro and the Green Lanterns as a whole.

Fill in artist Mike Choi is competent but I find his Human figures to look far stranger than his aliens - like a strange imitation of Frank Quietly. Hal Jordan looks a young boy! Sinestro looks odd in a few panels but generally fares better. It isn't bad but I'll be glad to have Ivan Reis back

Overall, this is a decent issue but it's a poor point for jumping on. Wait for the first Post-New52 Green Lantern collection in a few months or check your local comic book shop or e-store for the back-issues.

52 Catch-Up: Mister Terrific #1-6

Every comic book fan has at least one title that they loved that somehow got passed by the rest of the comics-reading world. Maybe it was centered upon an obscure older character, like Ka-Zar. Maybe it was based around a new character elevated by a recent mini-series, like Blue Beetle. Maybe it was the pet project of a newbie writer that editorial ultimately lacked the confidence to see through to the end, like Agent X. Whatever the case, we all wind up with a simmering resent me of the great mass of comic readers - the slack-jawed yokels whose refusal to read anything without a Bat-Logo or an X-Man headlining it has trapped the comic book industry in a vast malaise for decades, crushing all innovation. For me, that book is Mister Terrific.

Let me say at the start that I do not believe that Mister Terrific failed to find an audience because its' main protagonist is a black man. I do believe that Mister Terrific failed to find an audience because it is a smart book by a smart writer that refused to talk down to its' audience. It centers upon Michael Holt - Doctor of Many Things, Olympic Gold Medal winner, third smartest man in the world, head of a high-tech company and a snappy dresser. Driven to near-suicidal depression following the death of his wife, he had a vision which inspired him to use his fortune and his talents to help people. As an activist and businessman, he tries to make the world a better place. But when bad people use science for wicked ends, Michael Holt becomes Mister Terrific.

Eric Wallace is a writer for Eureka and it showed. Every issue was as full of high-concepts and technobabble as your average Doctor Who episode. Indeed, the first issue made a Doctor Who reference and Mister Terrific himself travels through an extra-dimensional space, though he never got around to traveling in time and he looked more like The Silver Surfer than Tom Baker as he traveled.

That may be a piece of the puzzle. At its' heart, Mister Terrific wasn't really a super hero book - it was a science hero book. Michael Holt is cut from the same mold as Tony Stark but unlike the infamous Iron Man, Michael would rather use his brains to help people than play dress-up with the rest of the costume set. He also takes his responsibilities as a businessman a lot more seriously than Tony Stark and his motivations for going after the telepathic villain Brainstorm - whom he contested with in the first three issues - are more about the attack on his business and his personal feelings of violation at being telepathically controlled than they are about any sense of justice.

Maybe that's the problem? Michael Holt does heroic things but he only does them because of obligation. Logically, he deduces what the right thing is to do. Emotionally, he's trying to do something to make his dead wife proud of him. There's no real drive for him to do the right thing for the sake of being the right thing. I personally find this conflict fascinating but I know some people who would be turned off by that.

Or maybe it was the artwork? I thought Gianluca Gugliotta was a good fit for this book after the first issue but as time went on, his human figures became more and more alien-looking with elongated necks and odd expressions. Ironically, this became clearer in the two-part storyline in Issues #4-5, where Michael Holt is held captive on an alien slave galley and must fight his way to freedom.

Incidentally, did you know that this storyline featured a controversial element which used a hermaphroditic alien as a metaphor for all GLBT acceptance? No? Well, I'm not surprised. Because Eric Wallace made it a part of the storyline and didn't feel the need to make a big deal about it, unlike some writers who love to toot their own horn about every single relevant story they write. And it was all the better for being a surprise and only being a part of the story.

Issue #6 was the first issue I felt really fell flat. Wallace's script was strong as ever and The Tomorrow Thief was an interesting take on the standard phasing-burglar bad guy. But as stretched-out and sloppy as Gugilotta's pencils became, Oliver Nome's pencils were blocky and restrained. Whereas Gugilotta's necks were freakishly long, Nome's men lacked them completely.

I don't know why Mister Terrific got canceled. All I know is that it was probably too good for the teaming masses of comic book readers and that I will miss it. So long, Michael. Maybe they'll let you team up with Green Arrow sometime down the line.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Skyrim: A Journal of War - Chapter Twenty Six - A Change Is As Good As A Rest


So. You're back.
Me: Afraid so.
Delvin: Hmm. So did you finish that job we discussed?
Me: Are you kidding? I've finished every job we've discussed in the past three weeks! I've fiddled with every ledger number! Filched every shiny bauble! Dealt with that bandit camp full of scabs trying to start their own Guild. Recovered that stolen silver mold for that smith you wanted brought in as a fence. Planted illegal drugs on the Captain of The Dainty Sload. I even brought you the Right Eye of the Falmer! I swear, I planted evidence in the same household twice at one point.
Delvin: Which household was that then?
Me: Battle-Born Manor in Whiterun.
Delvin: ... wait. We're planting evidence there? Didn't I just send you to go talk to them about doing them a favor?
Me: Yeah. I mean, it seemed weird after I planted evidence to frame them of wrong-doing. And to get sent back again after I helped them out. But, hey... if you want to go second-guessing Vex on the Shill jobs...
Delvin: Nah, nah, nah. So you helped them out? Before framing them? Again.
Me: Yeah. They just needed someone to break into Dragonsreach Dungeon and change some records so they could sneak a friend of theirs out of prison before the guards realized he was due for execution in Solitude.
Delvin: Wow. Breaking into a prison. Now that IS impressive. I can't imagine how you pulled that one off.
Me: Well, it wasn't easy...


Jarl Balgruff: Hail to you Dragonborn and Thane of Whiterun! Still doing good to help my people, I trust?
Me: Yea, though my journeys have taken me far, my heart (and most of my stuff) remains in Whiterun.
Jarl Balgruff: Good to hear!
Me: Uh-huh. Listen, Jarl. I have reason to believe that there's some problems with the books in your prison. Could you arrange for me to have full, undisturbed access to the records for an hour or so?
Jarl Balgruff: Bah! There is no need! Your glory and name are known to all of my guards. I'm sure you can just walk in there and there will be no trouble.
Me: Seriously?! It's that easy?!
Jarl Balgruff: Yes! You are our Thane! Why wouldn't we trust you?
Me: Ah, well thank you. Thank you very much, Jarl. Sorry to have troubled you.


... and then after I swilled down the Invisiblity potion and back-stabbed the third of the half-dragon/half-werewolf guards...
I think I've heard enough.
But I hadn't gotten to the best part yet!
I'm sure. But truth be told, we were just distracting you while the rest of the boys were getting things set up.
Set-up? For what?
For your crowning, of course.

Me: Crowning?
Well, that may be a bit formal a word for it. But yes. We're making you the Guild Master.
Me: I thought we already agreed I was Guild Master?
Brynjold: No, Karliah and I agreed you SHOULD be Guildmaster. We had to convince Vex and Delvin that we were right first.
Delvin: Yeah. The past three weeks of busting your balls for The Guild proved that you're committed to seeing us succeed. More than the rest of us.
Me: Yeah, I can't help but notice how I never see any of you leaving the sewers...
Vex: We wouldn't be very good Master Thieves if you ever saw us leaving anywhere, would we?
Me: ... touche.
Brynjolf: Well, my friend... the time's come to make it official. It's time to become Guild Master.

Brynjolf: *whispered* Is that everyone?
Vex: *whispered* Yes.
Delvin: *whispered* Get on with it.
Brynjolf: Fine. *clears throat* Look, I've never been any good at these things, so I'm going to keep this short.


Brynjolf: Not THAT short!
Thief #1: Awww!
Brynjolf: Anyway... this man came to us a stranger. Now, I am proud to call him friend and the finest of all thieves. We have met and agreed - he should be our leader. Being The Guild Master isn't just a matter of getting a cut of everyone else's takings...
Me: *whispered* It isn't? Can I back out now?
Vex: Shh!
Brynjolf: ... it is about maintaining order among this undisciplined band of cut-throats we call a guild. Everyone is in agreement. So I don't think there's anything else I can do but name you Guild Master and wish you long life and good fortune. So there. You're the boss. Now everyone else get back to work!
Me: That's it?
Brynjolf: Yep. Sorry if you were expecting something bigger but in case you haven't noticed, we're not much for throwing money around down here.
Me: But I had a speech all prepared!
Brynjolf: And I'm sure it was a good one. But you've got bigger things to worry about, don't you?
Me: Noi-jii-tat, you're right! I have to get back to this whole Dragonborn thing!
Brynjolf: Huh? No, I meant you needed to get to work sitting at the big desk scowling at everyone and pinching pennies.
Me: I'd love to pinch Penny, but I AM a married man! And I really should go save the world.
Brynjolf: But... why? Don't you want to live the easy life here?
Me: Of course, I do! But if I don't go do something about the dragons, we're not going to have anyone or anything to rob on account of them being smoking piles of ash!
Brynjolf: What's keeping you? Go! Go!

52 Catch-Up: Resurrection Man #1 - 6

The original Resurrection Man series was a lost treasure of DC Comics. When I heard that a new Resurrection Man series would be part of the New 52 I was both excited and fearful - Excited because I was glad to see such a wonderful concept being revived and given a second chance and fearful because I was certain the series would be one of the first to be canceled. But somehow, Mitch Shelley has beaten the odds and remains to fight another day. For now.

The first issue seemed to have changed very little of the base concept of the original series. Mitch Shelley is a man with a unique gift, even in a world where magical is real and men fly. Not only is Mitch immortal, being continually resurrected no matter how serious his injuries but every time he comes back to life he is reborn with a unique superpower. He is continually pursued by two assassins known as The Body Doubles - a pair of women as dangerous as they are beautiful.

The first issue only revealed one major change from the original series but it was a big one - in addition to The Body Doubles, the forces of Heaven and Hell are hunting after Mitch as well. Why? Good question. But they want Mitch bad enough to risk attacking him overtly on an airplane and to send formless demons and angels who look like Lady Gaga after him.

The reason why I feared this book was an early cancellation risk is because good as it is, this is a very quirky book. There's a lot of high-concept ideas apart from the main theme of the book.

One of the cooler concepts is the introduction of The Transhuman - a retired super-villain who lived in the same rest home as Mitch's dad, who quickly comes to Mitch's defense when The Body Doubles show up looking for him. The true story behind his origin however, is worth of its' own series.

As the series has continued, we've gotten more and more hints as to just how things are different in the New DC Universe, making things new again for old fans. For instance, The Body Doubles have healing factors now - a change that has made them more formidable adversaries and taken them further away from the Danger Girl parodies they eventually devolved into once the original Resurrection Man series ended. Issue #5 also offers us a flashback sequence, which suggest a much deeper connection between all the characters this time around.

Issue #6 is a solid stand-alone issue and a good jumping on point if you can't get the first five issues. In it, Mitch finds himself confined within Arkham Asylum. Naturally they don't believe his story about having superpowers, keep him so doped up he can't use his current power set to escape and are quick to stop any of his attempts to kill himself or goad another inmate or guard into doing the job for him. It's a glorious bit of dark comedy but also a suspenseful thriller.

Every issue so far has been gloriously illustrated by Fernando Dagnino. I can't say enough good things about Dagnino's style, so I shan't bother. Just look at the page scans above and revel in their splendor. And once you're done with that, head to your local comic bookstore and pick up the back issues of this series. You'll be glad you did!

Monday, February 27, 2012

I feel a great disturbance in The Force, as if millions of fangirls suddenly cried out in anger...

SOURCE: Star Wars Kinect Wants to Help Us Discover the Slave Leia in All of Us



Yes. Seriously. Watch the video footage, beginning at 4:30 and weep.

*face palms*

Do I even need to begin to explain everything that is wrong with this? Probably not. But beacuse my OCD demands it...

1. Was there really a huge demand for a Star Wars themed DDR rip-off? Or was it added because some marketing weasel thought that only boys would be interested in a light saber dueling/pod-racing game and they needed to add something girly like a dance game?

2. If that's the case, why set it in Jabba's Palace with dancing slave girls? Granting that was the location with the most prominent musical numbers in the whole trilogy, why couldn't it be set at the dance club from Episode 2? It would make just as much sense and the people there WANT to be dancing.

3. Does anyone really think this is a fun basis for a family game? Dance well for your giant slug overlord or Jabba will straight up murder you?

4. She just undoes her own chain collar? Just like that? Then why the hell isn't she escaping unless she... oh gods, are they implying that Leia WANTS to be there?!?

I need a shower.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cult Film Fanatics: Sky Captain and Birdemic

SOURCE: Cult Film Fanatics: Sky Captain and Birdemic

Ever wonder what I sound like? I recently sat in on an episode of the Cult Film Fanatics podcast - now hosted by United States of Geekdom! Give it a listen and marvel at my command of useless trivia regarding Birdemic!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

52 Catch-Up: Demon Knights #1-6

Distilled to its' essence, Demon Knights is a simple but classic story - the righteous few standing against the corrupt many. We have seen this story repeated in our history, from the Battle of Thermopylae to the Battle of the Alamo. We have seen it in our films, from The Seven Samurai to the first Conan The Barbarian movie. We've even seen it in comedies like Blazing Saddles and The Three Amigos!

Cornell's brilliance as a storyteller lies in two things he has done to set this story apart from all those fine tales of courage in the face of overwhelming odds. First, he has set it in the Dark Ages of the DC Universe - a period that had scant little development even before the New 52 event reset the universe. There is little for fans to complain about regarding this story contradicting previous versions of what few established characters we see here. Time changes much, after all. The other thing Cornell has done is place the focus of this series firmly upon his unique characters. We are too busy learning about the fascinating cast to notice that we've heard this story before.

The Magnificent Seven Demon Knights, who come to the defense of a small village that lies in the path of the wicked Questing Queen and her lover the wizard Mordru (yes, THAT Mordru) are...

Sir Jason O’ The Blood - one of the few knights to survive the fall of Camelot, he gained immortality when Merlin - in his last act before disappearing - bound Jason's soul to that of his pet demon, Etrigan. The two can switch places between Hell and Earth with the use of an incantation, but neither has knowledge of the other one's activities while they are waiting in Hell.

Madame Xanadu - one of the wise women who came for King Arthur after the fall of Camelot, she was banished from Avalon after she attempted to thwart prophecy and retrieve Excalibur after it was returned to the Lady of the Lake. At present, she is "keeping company" with both Sir Jason and Etrigan but her real loyalties are unclear.

Vandal Savage - portrayed here as one part Conan and one part Brian Blessed, this warrior was granted immortality after exposure to a strange meteorite back when he was a caveman. With years of experience in killing people in very creative ways, no system of morality to speak of and a regeneration ability that allows him to heal any injury eventually, he is a fearsome opponent.

The Shining Knight - a young woman in the garb of a knight, Sir Ystin claims to be a man, to have been saved by Merlin himself to find a mystic grail and to have fought at the fall of Camelot, though neither Sir Jason nor Madame Xanadu have any knowledge of him/her. Strangely, Sir Ystin also speaks ancient Welsh and rides a winged horse named Vanguard.

Al Jabr - best described as a per-Renaissance Mister Terrific, Al Jabr is (in no particular order) a brilliant tactician, a master swordsman, a great inventor, a devout Muslim and just plain awesome. He believes that there is no magic - only knowledge that has yet to be fully understood. Yet for all his wisdom, even he is hard pressed to explain some of the abilities of his unwitting comrades and the evils they face.

Exoristos - an Amazon who was apparently exiled from Themyscira for unspecified crimes. She is ferocious in battle and outspoken in her belief that women are just as capable as men, though still naive and inexperienced in the ways of Man's World.

The Horsewoman - perhaps the most mysterious member of the team. A skilled archer, she also seems to have some mystic kinship with horses in general and have some sort of ability that allows her (and her horse, Breaker) the power of free movement past nearly any obstacle.

Cornell's characters are well portrayed by a glorious art team. Diogenese Neves, most recently of Green Arrow, was the perfect choice to illustrate this series having extensive experience in accurately depicting medieval weaponry and costumes. Neves puts lots of little details into every page, with scenes in the background adding to the epic scope of the book. Neves is also uniquely skilled in depicting the grotesque, from his gargoyle-like Etrigan to the disturbing images of a baby being warped by dark magics as part of one of Mordru's spells and a priest having his face severely burned. Inker Oclair Albert also deserves praise for knowing when to tread lightly on defining Neves' pencils and when to pour on the shadow for effect.

They say it is a gifted storyteller who can tell you a story you've heard before and make it seem new. If that's the case then Paul Cornell has once again proven himself a gifted storyteller. For it was only upon rereading Demon Knights for the third time that I recognized his sources. And yet, though the base element of this tale is common, Cornell has worked his unique alchemy to make it into a rich and unique series, equaled only in its' skilful writing by the amazing artwork of Diogenese Neves. There is no reason for anyone to be missing out on this book. No one.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

52 Catch-Up: Green Lantern #1-5

One of the few books that did not start over from scratch with the New 52 (writer Geoff Johns having already virtually rebooted the Green Lantern mythos with his Secret Origins and Rebirth stories several years earlier), Green Lantern is ultimately the tale of the redemption of two heroes - Hal Jordan and Thal Sinestro.

Despite spinning out of the events of the War Of The Green Lanterns storyline, this book was still written to be accessible to new readers - a wise choice given the chance that several new readers might be picked up from last summer's Green Lantern movie. Johns was quick to establish the status quo without going into any great detail. As the first issue opens, Hal Jordan, considered by many to be the greatest of Green Lanterns, has been stripped of his power ring and sent home to Earth. At the same time, Thal Sinestro (Hal's former mentor and nemesis) has been reinstated as a Green Lantern after one of their rings latched onto his hand and defied all attempts to remove it. The rest of the issue focuses upon both men finding difficulty in reassuming their old roles - Hal finding it difficult to go back to being a civilian and Sinestro discovering that the fear-empowered Corps that bears his name has begun looting and pillaging the homeworld he had ordered them to protect.

Realizing that even he cannot take on the entire Sinestro Corps and not trusting The Guardians or any other Green Lanterns to be willing to help him, Sinestro turns to the one person he can trust - Hal Jordan! Of course Hal is just as unwilling to help Sinestro... at first. But Sinestro knows he's holding all the cards and that he can give Hal the one thing he wants most - a chance to be a hero again. Sinestro also knows that for all his faults, Hal won't stand idly by and let innocent people be hurt, even if it means working with his greatest enemy. Besides, it doesn't hurt that he still has all the power in the relationship... literally.

Geoff Johns has been writing both these characters for a while now and while many have objected to Sinestro being slowly turned into an Anti-Hero rather than the villain he's always been portrayed as in the past, I've found the development to be quite welcome and refreshing. A good villain, no matter how base and greedy their motivations, should consider themselves the hero of their own stories. Johns' Sinestro - much like Odysseus - is an intelligent man brought low by his pride and a series of bad choices made for all the right reasons.

To give one example of this complexity, consider the scene where Hal breaks ranks to deal with a collapsing bridge shortly after being given his powered-down ring. There is no small irony that, in his attempts to show Hal Jordan how incomplete his education as a Green Lantern was and prove himself superior to his old student, Sinestro himself learns a great deal. In his attempts to show Hal that the ring is capable of directly manipulating the environment without an extensive construct - willing the bridge back to wholeness - Sinestro is confronted with something he has not experienced in some time and is ill equipped to process - gratitude.

The action of the story is good but at its' heart, this 5-issue storyline is ultimately a character study of two rivals and how they have far more in common then they would ever care to admit. At one point, The Guardians comment that Hal Jordan's problem is that he's all drive and no foresight and Thal Sinestro is all drive but no altruism. Some might condense this further and say Hal Jordan is all action and no thought and Thal Sinestro is all thought with no action. But this would be inaccurate, as this story shows with Hal suggesting a rather cunning plan at the 11th Hour and Sinestro being the one to charge mindless into action at the sight of an endangered child.

Ironically, considering their differing personalities, both men are also terrible at considering the consequences of their actions. Hal is a good man but he is prone to selfishness and short-term thinking. Sinestro, by contrast, considers every potential outcome in perusing his ends but is ill-equipped to deal with the unexpected. Also, Sinestro only views his efforts in military terms, thinking only of objectives achieved and not the ultimate goals of those objectives.

This point is driven home when Sinestro is confronted by Arsona - a police office on his world who helped him with bringing down the corrupt government that he eventually replaced as supreme ruler in an effort to bring order to his homeworld. To say that Arsona regrets her past actions is putting it mildly and when Sinestro tries to justify his actions by pointing out that he was only trying to make things better, Arsona lets him know that his intentions don't matter given all the harm he's cause directly and indirectly.

All of this is beautifully illustrated by longtime Green Lantern artist Doug Mahnke. Mahnk is a whiz at all the things a Green Lantern artist should be good at - interesting constructs, exotic aliens and distinct character designs. Attention must also be paid to the two inkers, Keith Champagne and Christian Alamy, whose skillful shading defines Mankhe's pencils. The colors by David Baron are also noteworthy, with light seemingly pouring out of the page from around Champagne and Alamy's inks.

In short, if you aren't a Green Lantern fan but are curious about what is fast becoming DC's biggest franchise behind The Bat Family Books, you should give Green Lantern a try.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Five Things I Most Want To See in Future Skyrim DLC

1. Better Interaction With Spouses

Over the past three months, I've played a lot of Skyrim. I've played through several of the major storylines with a variety of characters and married a number of NPCs. And having done this, I've come to one conclusion - my first wife spoiled me.

As those of you reading my Skyrim War Journal know, my first character got married to Mjoll The Lioness - protector of Riften and all-around ass-kicker. Originally I did marry her just because I was interested to see what would happen if you paired up an obvious thief and scoundrel with a woman who has devoted herself to destroying The Thieves Guild. Not much, it turns out. But Mjoll turned out to be everything I've ever looked for in a woman - kind, giving, supportive of my actions even when she didn't agree with them and willing to wear whatever sexy but impractical outfits I give her.

So cold... so, very, very cold...

Maybe it's the Conan in me, but that was exactly what I imagined when I heard that Skyrim would allow you to marry NPCs. I want a partner who will share my adventures with me - not some drudge who hangs around my home, cooking and cleaning. That's what I have a housecarl for!

She IS sworn to carry your burdens. As she will remind you constantly.

I'm not saying that every NPC spouse should be retroactively changed into a valkyrie in training. But it would be nice to see some of the more interesting NPCs be allowed to develop their dreams and careers alongside you. Ysolda from Whiterun, for instance, gives up on her dreams of becoming a caravan merchant pretty quickly after you get her a mammoth tusk and propose. Why not have her hit the road with you, helping to gather interesting items and giving you an indirect bonus on haggling when she's by your side as you sell off your loot? And that's just one example! I'm sure you can think of others.

2. Cleaning Up Riften and Taking Down Maven Black-Briar

Is there any NPC in all of Skyrim more loathed than Maven Black-Briar?

Besides Lydia!

She doesn't like you either and she's not subtle about it.

But in all seriousness, I was stunned to discover that while you have the option of joining The Dark Brotherhood or bringing them down, there is no such option for The Thieves Guild or the Black-Briar family that backs them. Further exploration alongside Mjoll revealed that there's not really much you can do to help the city in general. Hell, depending on how the Civil War plays out, Maven could well become Jarl of The Rift and wind up officially ruling the city she already owns in all but name.

If you're the idealistic sort, this stinks. And even if you're playing a dodgy rogue, like me, it stinks because Maven treats your guild like her own personal army. And even if you become the head of the Thieves Guild AND the chosen of Nocturnal, you're still at Maven's mercy.

So where does it go from here?

If you're part of the The Legion or are Thane of Riften, you could be summoned to go and help Maven deal with the forces that are slandering her good name and bring them to "justice". If you're part of the Thieves Guild, you are reminded of how Maven basically owns you and how it is in your best interest to protect her interests. And so you'll be sent out to do various dirty deeds to silence or discredit the people trying to clean up Riften.

Or, you fall in with Mjoll and some of the other honest people trying to make Riften a better place and you work along with them, working to expose Maven's true colors to either the Jarl or (if Maven is Jarl), the presumed High King in waiting. Lots of potential for good missions there on both sides of the coin.

3. A Moot... And A Chance At The Jagged Crown?

The Civil War storyline - regardless of what side you choose - ends with the question of who will be made High King of Skyrim open. If the Rebellion wins, it is all but assumed that Jarl Ulfric will take the crown eventually. If the Empire wins, it is all but assumed that Jarl Elisf - who took her husband's title of Jarl after his death - will be taking the High King title as well.

But why not you?

As Mel Brooks said, "It's Good Ta Be Da King!"

Those who know their Elder Scolls history, know that the first Emperor was also a Dragonborn, who united a troubled people after a number of great trials. Well, what have you been doing ever since you came to Skyim? Of course becoming High King could put a crimp in your adventuring but if being a Thane has taught us anything, it's how to pass off your chores onto underlings. Besides, I rather like the idea of the High King of Skyrim taking a break from his ruling to go run errands for a local peasant. Someone has to help harvest that cabbage, after all.

4. Become a Bard... For Real.

Unlike most gamers, I have a fondness for bards. I like bard songs. I like the bard class in D&D. And I was excited when I heard that Skyrim would include bards and a Bard's College. What a pity that - like most arts degrees - being a graduate of the Bard's College doesn't really give you anything useful.

I studied four years and went 40,000 gold in debt for THIS?!?!

I want to be able to stop in at the local taverns and sing for my supper. I want to play the lutes and drums I occasionally stumble across in my travels! I want beautiful women to swoon at my name and bold men to nod in respect as I honor them with a song. At the very least I want people to pass me a few coins for drinking money while I'm hanging around the pubs!

And how about giving us some more songs, while you're at it? I'm getting sick of hearing "The Age of Aggression" and "Ragnar The Red"!

5. To Morrowind!

It's only a model.

As one very clever game hacker discovered
, the land masses for Morrowind and Cyrodil - the settings of the third and fourth Elder Scrolls games respectively - have been built in (if not completely rendered) into Skyrim. Apparently there's also a gateway leading in the direction of Hammerfell. Were these included as a sign of things to come? Perhaps. But of all those options, I think I'd like a chance to explore Morrowind the best.

Why? Well, apart from a good deal of curiosity as to just how bad things have gotten in the last 200 years (the information gained in-game is not positive, to put it mildly), I can see the conflict in Morrowind providing the greatest opportunity for an exciting but conflicted adventure similar to the storylines Skyrim has offered so far.

Will you join with the Dark Elf resistance that is trying to retake their ancestral homelands back from the Argonian invaders? Or will you support the new Argonian regime, believing that their invasion of Morrowind is just desserts given how long the Dark Elf society profited on a slave-trade that primarily preyed upon the lizard-like Argonians? Will you attempt to broker a peace between both sides in the interest of bringing both parties back into the Empire? Or will you wage war to claim both nations in the name of the newly reunified Skyrim?

Lots of options, here. Lots of drama...

What do you all think? What stories and features would you like to see?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Conan The Barbarian (2012) #1 - A Review

Continuing on from where Roy Thomas's 12-issue Conan: Road Of Kings mini-series ended, this latest Conan The Barbarian book starts in the the thick of it. As the book opens, Conan is rushing for the docks of Messentia with the guards in hot pursuit. Just barely making the leap onto a departing boat, Conan explains to all assembled just why he was in search a hurry to get out of town.

Luckily the ship's master, a merchant named Tito, proves to be no friend of the corrupt courts of Messentia and is all too glad to have an experienced swordsman on his ship given the recent troubles with raiders. One group of reavers in particular, led by the pirate queen Belit, has become particularly infamous. But while Conan is quick to pledge his sword in defense of his new friend, a part of him cannot help but wonder about this woman who sounds as fierce and dangerous as Conan himself...

Following Roy Thomas, who first adapted Robert E. Howard's Conan for comic books almost 40 years ago, would be a hard act for any writer to follow but Brian Wood proves to be up to the task. Wood is a wonderful adapter, thus far showing a perfect sense of when to quote from the original text and when to paraphrase or add a little of his own material. A prime example of this comes early on, as Wood captures the essence of Howard's original prose while still condensing it into language that will fit more easily among the illustrations.

I am glad to see that this scene remained intact, for this scene - to my mind at least - shows more of Conan's true character than any other scene in the Howard canon. Far from being the mindless brute he is so frequently portrayed as, Conan does have a certain wit about him and proves to be no mean storyteller, quickly winning over the sailors whose ship he has hastily boarded through sheer charisma. Conan is not one to waste words when action is needed but he can wax eloquently when necessary.

Later, we see see one of Wood's additions to the story, which I approve of as it makes a good deal of sense. As Tito tells Conan of the Belit, we see how Conan's mind wanders. Tito speaks of the evil that this dangerous she-devil has wrought upon the peaceable sailors but all Conan can think of is how much she sounds like the warrior women of his own people's legends. It's been long-established that Conan - while not being particularly picky about whom he shares a bed with - has always had a particular affection for women who share his own sense of adventure and that he always dreamed of a woman who had steel under her silken skin. Not only does this make Conan a more realistic hero (what young man DOESN'T think of his dream woman at least once a day?) but I believe it also will serve to make his later efforts to romance Belit somewhat less sudden. Those of you who have read the original story know what I mean.

The artwork by Becky Cloonan is equally praiseworthy. Cloonan stands among that rare group of artists who managed to design a Conan who does not appear boorish, brainless or bull-necked. Howard most often described Conan in comparison to great cats - tigers and panthers - a man as fast as he is strong, yet most Conan artists draw Cimmeria's favorite son as a mass of muscle. That is not the case here. Cloonan's Conan looks lean, cunning and wolfish.

Her Belit, from what little we have seen so far, looks equally formidable - looking like a goddess with ivory limbs and hair black as a Stygian night yet capable of handling herself in a fight. Colorist Dave Stewart, too, deserves praise for his choice of pallete. The day scenes, night scenes and dream sequences all have their own unique color schemes, which helps to subtly move the story along.

If you have not been fortunate enough to experience the adventures of Conan of Cimmeria yet, now is the perfect time to jump on board and set sail for high adventure!

Friday, February 17, 2012

52 Catch-Up: Action Comics #1-6

If Action Comics can be said to have a constant in the New 52, it is that one never knows quite what to expect. This should, paradoxically, be expected given that Grant Morrison's writing - particularly his writing of Superman - usually encourages us to expect the unexpected yet leaves us gaping slack-jawed at the wonders on every page. Exceptionalism has become the norm. Thankfully though we expect much we're rarely disappointed. How could we be with the likes of Rags Morales and Andy Kubert lending their pencils to Morrison's prose?

The first issue serves as a prime example of the paradoxes Morrison frequently puts into his writing. In taking Superman back to his Great Depression era roots as a rabble-rousing champion of the common man, Morrison has given us the perfect hero for the era of the Occupy Movement and the 99%ers. No more The Big Blue Boy Scout, this Superman will gleefully dangle a corrupt businessman over a ledge to put the fear of God into a worshiper of Mammon. Despite this, he is still recognizable as our Superman - faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap reasonably tall buildings in a single bound.

It is said that a great storyteller can tell you the same story more than once but make it just as enthralling as the first time you heard it. Morrison accomplishes this feat with apparent ease. All the elements of the Superman origin we've heard time and time again are contained with these opening issues. But with a tweak here and a stitch there, Morrison manages to make this classic tale seem new again. And yet, Morrison still finds the time to throw in his own little additions to the Superman mythos.

Case in point - in Issue 2, Superman is captured by Lex Luthor - a scientific genius and freelancer who is currently in the employ of the US Government. For reasons that are explained hilariously later, they believe that Superman is a shape-shifting alien and that the body of a deformed calf is a deceased member of Superman's species in its' true form.

This is a moment of high comedy but it also reveals something of the characters involved. Namely...

1) Lex Luthor does not like being laughed at or being made to look the fool.
2) Superman has brains to match his strength, proving to be no mean tactician and to be knowledgeable enough about science to figure out how his various vision powers work.

I also have to give Morrison props for his logical expansion of Superman's powers here. Morrison did a lot to improve Aquaman's stock during his run on JLA, postulating that anyone capable of controlling fish brains would also be capable of wrecking havoc on the parts of the human brain responsible for controlling balance. Here, if we can assume Superman's heat vision is based on focused microwave emissions, he should also be able to scramble electronics the same way a radio jammer does.

This trend continues into Issue 3, where Morrison looks a bit more closely into the life of Clark Kent. Here we find that Clark is just as much the altruistic hero as Superman, using his limited power as a journalist and blogger to try and expose corruption in the local government and big business to the point where he's harassed by the police on a regular basis.

Issue 3 also gives us a closer look at Clark's friendship with Jimmy Olsen, who works for a rival paper along with Lois Lane. Oddly, out of all of the supporting cast, it is Lois and Jimmy who get the least development time. Then again, as the most well developed members of the supporting cast (and, arguably, the best known supporting comic book characters of all time) one could argue they need the least amount of page time. Suffice it to say, Lois is as ornery, independent and all-around awesome as ever. And Jimmy? Still everyone's pal.

Issue 4 gives us the greatest number of cast expansions, providing us our first glimpse of John Henry Irons as Steel, John Corben's transformation into a heartless robot man (he has yet to take the name Metallo) and an oddly familiar alien robot stealing away part of Metropolis for his collection of bottled cities. The issue also brings us our first back-up story, written by Sholly Fisch who gives us an in-depth look at John Henry Irons even as he depicts, in detail, the battle in which "Steel" saves Superman from John Corben.

If this seems somewhat familiar, you may be thinking of the episode of Superman: The Animated Series, in which Steel premiere episode pitted him against Metallo to save Superman's life. There are some differences here, though, as John Henry Irons didn't originally work for Lex Luthor, though his strong ethics do cause him to resign his job and to use the technology he designed to help undo the damage he caused.

Issue 5 shifts gears completely, giving us another retelling of just how a young Kal-El was sent from Krypton to Earth. Little seems to have changed from the recent retelling of this story in Geoff Johns' Superman: Secret Origin, save that The Kents were just barely able to get away from the spaceship crash-site with the baby, never mind carry the rocket off unnoticed.

This sets up a call back to issue 3 and a tangential storyline, where we learn the history of the rocket after it was discovered by Clark Kent, who had no idea as to his alien origins until then. This issue also gives us another Sholly Fisch back-up story, in which we see the early life of Jonathan and Martha Kent and learn of their struggles to have a baby up until their one-in-a-million-encounter with a child from the stars. This is another story that has been told before, but Fisch manages to make it fresh, making Martha and Jonathan into realistic and sympathetic people. Of particulate note is a scene in which they visit their pastor, who tells them that he is certain that God would not deny two loving people like them a child and that He must have big plans for them.

Issue 6 continues right on from where Issue 5 left off, as we jump forward a little bit in time. And yet, we don't. The action here focuses upon a future Superman, who has traveled back to his first year as Superman with some of his friends from the Legion of Superheroes in tow, in order to stop the Anti-Superman Army of his time from traveling back in time to steal the Kryptonite-powered core of the spaceship that brought him to Earth.

Yeah. You can tell Grant Morrison used to be a Doctor Who writer, can't you?

Fisch's back-up story this time is another fine character piece, this time centering on Clark Kent examining the house he grew up in one last time before leaving Smallville for college. There's a few details here that will be of note to Superman scholars who like to know how every incarnation of Superman is different, like the fact that Pete Ross is aware of Clark's "special gifts" in this reality.

Action Comics is a must-read title for all fans of comics in general and Superman in particular. Though there's nothing really new here, Morrison and Fisch have found a way to make these stories seem new in the telling. And the artwork is amazing, with top-notch teams working on both parts of the book every month. Rags Morales, Andy Kubert, Brad Walker & ChrissCross are all masters of the genre. If you aren't reading this one already, you are missing out.