Sunday, September 30, 2012

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 - A Review

On the odd chance that some of you haven't read the original The Dark Knight Returns and don't realize the significance of this particular story being adapted into an animated film, let me sum up.  Frank Miller's original mini-series redefined not only the way most comic readers viewed Batman as a character but the entire superhero genre and comic book medium.  Along with Watchmen, DKR was one of the first mainstream comic books to explore superheroes on a more mature level.  Its' success proved that illustrated literature was a viable medium for sophisticated stories and that such stories could be critical and commercial successes.  Not bad for a story that was written because of Frank Miller's mid-life crisis and his desire to write a story about a Batman who wasn't younger than him. :)

The Dark Knight Returns is set in the not-too-distant future, some ten years after the last reported sighting of The Batman.  Commissioner Gordon is days away from retirement.  Harvey Dent, recipient of some revolutionary new plastic surgery and psychiatric help, has just been released from Arkham Asylum with a clean bill of health.  A new gang called The Mutants holds Gotham City in its' thrall.  And Bruce Wayne - long retired from crime-fighting and resigned to a life of idle leisure - can no longer stand idly by doing nothing.  His return will send shockwaves through society, bringing both praise and condemnation from various media pundits and politicians as well as inspiring a new group of heroes, including Carrie Kelly - a young tween who makes her own Robin costume following her own encounter with The Dark Knight. 

The animation for this movie is top-notch.  I've rarely been disappointed by the animators Warner Brothers chooses and the studio is in fine form this time.  Wisely avoiding aping Frank Miller's grittier art-style completely, the film uses Miller's general designs while utilizing more fluid line-work in the actual construction of the characters.  This creates an effect where the main characters move like in a traditional modern anime but the background characters - usually depicted entirely in shadow, as with The Mutants who are only seen as outlines with red-lit goggles - are more stylized and less detailed, blending in with the darkness.   

Sadly, the film doesn't fare so well in the voice-acting department   Now, let me say that this movie has a lot of great voice actors rounding out it's supporting cast - Frank Welker, Tara Strong, Jim Ward, Maurice LaMarche, Paget Brewster, Grey DeLisle and Dee Bradley Baker all play minor roles and play them well.  Michael McKean does a particularly great turn as Dr. Wolper - the publicity-mad psychiatrist who declares Two Face completely sane while decrying Batman's negative influence on society.  And Maria Canals - Hawkgirl herself - does a fine job as the voice of Commissioner Yindel, Jim Gordon's incoming replacement.

No, the biggest problem with this movie lies with its' stars.  Peter Weller - who plays Batman - doesn't seem to have been given any direction other than to sound like a tired old man.  There is no energy to the portrayal.  He doesn't sound world-weary so much as he seems in desperate need of a nap.  What this role needed was a Clint Eastwood.  What we got was Wilford Brimley talking about life insurance.

Ariel Winter does somewhat better as Carrie Kelly, but only just.  Her performance has energy but far too many of her lines seem to run together without pauses between the sentences.  And not in the usual way that teenage girls sometimes speak in a rush without breathing.  I mean in the way that she says "No!  Don't Die!" as one word.  It's an odd thing, but the most effective scenes with their characters are the action sequences where there is no dialogue.

The script by Bob Goodman is another oddity.  Frank Miller's personal aesthetic is deeply routed in film noir influences and it's odd that the creative team would neglect that element in the script after going through such effort to see it brought into the animation  Goodman stages most of the relevant scenes from the original story and indeed the film opens, as the comic does, with Bruce Wayne risking his life in a high-speed car race.  While this is a cool opening, it isn't clear just how Bruce feels he has little to live for and is desperate for excitement and purpose without his internal monologue and musings on what would make for a good death.  Likewise, we miss out on what is arguably the most powerful scene of the original book -where we first get to see The Batman in action, as Bruce muses that he is nowhere near as tired or pained as he should be. 

Is The Dark Knight Returns, Part One worth seeing?  I'll say yes.  Despite some half-hearted voice-acting, it's decently paced and it looks great.  I'd strongly suggest reading the original books first, though.  Assuming you haven't done so already, of course.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Amelia Rules, Volume 8 - Her Permanent Record - A Review

Her Permanent Record is the eighth and reportedly final book in the excellent Amelia Rules! series by Jimmy Gownley.  I've written before about my love of this series and my belief that is easily the greatest graphic novel series aimed at juvenile readers in the history of graphic literature.  Hyperbolic much?  Yes, but I stand by that statement.

As this book opens, things are changing again for Amelia McBride but this time the change is for the better.  Amelia's popular at school, thanks to her joining the cheerleading squad.  The principal sees her as having turned around - a step up from his previous belief that she was incorrigible hellspawn.  She's even become a celebrity by proxy, after her friend - aspiring superhero Reggie - saves a life while in costume, triggering a nation-wide "real" superhero craze as tons of tweens form their own superhero groups in imitation of Amelia's team G.A.S.P. (Gathering of Awesome Super Pals).

But things aren't all sunshine and roses, as a vicious tell-all book by an ex-boyfriend sends Amelia's beloved aunt Tanner - an ex-rocker whose career was starting to turn around - into hiding.  Worse than that, nobody except Amelia seems to believe that Tanner may be in serious trouble or that Amelia knows where to find her.  In the end, Amelia will learn that sometimes doing the right thing means breaking the rules, that kids can be smarter than adults and that it doesn't matter what people say about you - whether it be to your face, behind your back or on your permanent record.

This may be the oddest analogy ever, but this book reminded me of a classic George Carlin routine about the dangers of putting too much structure into the lives of children.  In his You Are All Diseased album, Carlin rallied against parents who ferry their children from organized activity to organized activity without giving them the time to imagine and play on their own.  Carlin understood, as Gownley does, the great paradox of American culture.  We spend so much time pushing our children towards maturity, telling them to "grow-up" and to quit being childish only to be horrified as our pre-teens start pushing themselves to become more adult-like.  I'm speaking not only in terms of babies having babies but also of the kids who are so worried about succeeding at their extra-circular activities that the develop ulcers before they're old enough to drive.

Gownley expresses this message with surprising subtlety.  In what I found to be the high-point of the book, Reggie gives a Braveheart-style speech to an assemblage of his followers and rages against the adult world that  forces children to participate in activities that require them to dress the same, act the same and treat fun and games as serious business.  There is no small irony that Reggie - usually the most childish character in the main cast - grows to be held up as an example of good behavior by the adult world when all of Reggie's positive traits come from his childish desire to be a superhero.

Like the thematic wise fool, Reggie understands things that the people around him do not.  There is precious little point in being a child if one is denied the freedom to be childish and we must face the future with hope in our hearts.  And while we may have to grow-up someday, we should still strive to take joy in the simple things and not care what other people say about us.

And yes, the irony that I'm singing the virtues of that message in a critical review is not lost upon me. :)

I'm sad to see Amelia Rules! end but I cannot imagine a better or more fitting conclusion than this story.  But while this may be the end of Amelia McBride's adventures, I hope this is not the end for Jimmy Gownley's career as an author or artist.  He is too valuable a creator to let ride off into the sunset.  Let us see something new and equally amazing and let us see it soon!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

National Comics: Rose & Thorn #1

Submitted For Your Approval: One Rose Canton.  Committed for a time after the violent death of her father, Rose now lives with her aunt and struggles to build something resembling a normal teenage life.  But teenagers are cruel and Rose's time in the asylum is publicly known.  Between the taunts at school and her trouble sleeping, Rose's life seems like one long bad dream.  But as Rose Canton will soon discover, the nightmares are just beginning.   

Our story begins after Rose wakes up in unfamiliar clothes, in pain and soaked in blood.  The blood turns out not to be hers but that's hardly a comfort - particularly after she discovers that she now has a tattoo she never wanted.  The day gets stranger and more horrifying as Rose uncovers more evidence that she is doing things she isn't aware of at night   Pictures of her attending wild parties she doesn't remember attending.  Reports that she was seen making out with Troy - the most popular guy in school, who has mysteriously disappeared.  She even tried to seduce her only friend!
As Rose searches for answers, she will discover that something is growing inside her.  Something wild.  Something dangerous.  Something that yearns to find the truth behind her father's death and will stop at nothing to see him avenged.  Something that is, in fact, a someone... a someone called Thorn!

Tom Taylor tackles this classic character in a novel way, his script emphasizing the horror of Rose's plight.  We learn who Rose through her shock at what she seems to have done but believes herself incapable of doing.  The story style is unlike anything seen in most American comics, feeling closer in tone to a Japanese horror manga than a superhero story.

The art by Welcome To Tranquility artist Neil Googe seems to reflect this Eastern aesthetic.  With his characters possessing enlarged eyes and exaggerated features, this book looks like a shojo manga in addition to reading like one.  There's even a little bit of fan-service but nothing that seems exploitative or gratuitous by manga standards and nothing that would be inappropriate for the Teen audience this book is written for.   

I don't know if DC Comics is trying to snare more young women with their latest group of new comics.  But with more titles like this and Sword Of Sorcery, I dare say they may do so regardless of their intent.  I don't think this is quite ready to supplant Gail Simone's excellent Rose And Thorn series from several years ago but it is a good start for a new series. 

Supergirl #0 - A Review

Supergirl #0 isn't really about Supergirl, though Kara is the focus of the issue.  The story told here comes from the perspective of her father - Kryptonian scientist Zor-El.  Apparently Zor is even less-respected than his brother Jor-El, thanks to his work in designing the living genetic weapons called World Killers.  Nominally at work on a new shielding system that will protect his native Argo City from any outside disaster, he has also been performing experiments on his daughter that will ensure she will survive even if he fails to save his city from the upcoming apocalypse.

Messrs Green and Johnson offer us more of an information dump than a character study with this issue.  Still, it does still tell is a lot about Kara's father and life on Krypton before The End.  There's signs of the old emotionless society, as Zor's relationship with his wife seems far less loving and protective than that with his daughter - an arranged marriage, perhaps?  There's also some suggestion that the oddities of Kara's arrival on Earth - such as why she's more powerful than Superman in most respects and why she hasn't aged a day while he grew to adulthood- can be explained by the revelation that her father performed experiments on her. 

As always, Mahmud Asrar's art is amazing.  Everything looks good, from his breath-taking backgrounds depicting the beauty of Krypton to his unique and detailed character and clothing designs.  Truly Asrar is one of the most underrated talents at DC Comics today!

If you continue to ignore my advice regarding this book and still haven't started reading it, now is the time to start.  This issue is a wonderful jumping-on point for new readers while still offering a lot of nods and explanations for long-time readers.  Apart from the odd appearance of what appears to be a time-traveling Superboy (which I have no explanation for) there's nothing here that should confuse new readers. 

Green Lantern: New Guardians #0 - A Review

The biggest problem Green Lantern: New Guardians #0 faces is that the story it tries to tell is nowhere near as interesting as stories it implies.  Unlike every other Zero Month issue thus far, this one does not give us an origin story.  Indeed, the events of the last year of this comic are largely ignored and most of this issue is based on events occurring in the main Green Lantern title.     

Tony Bedard is a competent comic writer but there is little interest in yet another story where the Black Lanterns have to be fought.  Better to have devoted an issue to Kyle's life as a Green Lantern and some explanation as to how Emerald Twilight and the collapse of the Green Lantern Corps occurred -assuming they still did - and how Kyle became known as The Torchbearer.  This is doubly true given some of the clues we receive during this issue that indicate either some major changes in the Green Lantern mythology or some whopping big continuity errors.

To name a few...Why does Kyle call Hal a Colonel when his rank has always been listed before as Captain?  How does Carol know Kyle Rayner's secret identity?  For that matter, why does Hal still have a locker at Ferris Air when - as the new series opened - Hal was fresh off being drummed out of the Air Force?  And why did Hal have an engagement ring hidden in his locker when he seemed utterly shocked that Carol expected him to propose as the new Green Lantern series started?  Why is Carol just now developing a sense of modesty regarding her costume or just now getting the ability to alter her costume so her boobs aren't falling out?  And why the heck was Ganthet trying to find someone capable of channeling all the Lantern energies at once in the first place?    

The artwork this time around is all over the place.  With the pencils handled by two different artists and two different inkers, there's very little consistency to the visual aesthetics of this issue.  The principal penciler, Aaron Kuder, appears to be aping David Finch's style.  By contrast, Andrei Bressan appears to be a disciple of Frank Quietly though with none of that artist's eye for storytelling.  There are a lot of awkward poses throughout the issue and everything looks odd and off-kilter as a result.    

All in all, New Guardians continues to be the most disappointing of the Green Lantern family of books.  Apart from Kyle's newfound ability to channel multiple ring energies, Bedard isn't continuing any of his storylines from the past year of this title.  The artwork here seems phoney and lifeless.  Still, if you really feel the need to be reading all the Green Lantern books heading into Rise of The Third Army, this issue would serve as an adequate jumping-on point for those who haven't been reading it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Justice League #0 - A Review

I'd say that Justice League #0 is the greatest collection of false advertising and empty promises I've seen all year except for one thing - it's an election year in America.  But in all seriousness, this issue was an all-around disappointment.  There is no Justice League to be found here.  Instead we get the continuing misadventures of Billy Batson - #2 on the list of children I most want to see repeatedly slapped, just behind Joffrey Baratheon of A Game Of Thrones.

This issue finally brings us the moment we've been waiting for six months - when bratty Billy meets s wizard, who grants him magic powers by saying the word Shazam.  As hinted before, the wizard - like Diogenes - has been seeking a purely good and honest soul for quite some time.  But unlike Diogenes, he thought he actually had a chance of success.  Not surprisingly, being a mouthy jerk and petty crook, Billy fails to past the purity test.  But being a mouthy jerk, Billy points out that nobody is purely honesty and good - a fact that has somehow been missed by one of the wisest men on the planet for several thousand years.  This leads the wizard to test Billy to see if he has the potential to be good, decide "What the heck?" and give Billy his power just before dropping dead. 

It takes Billy about three minutes to start abusing the holy gift he's been given.  He destroys the car of the local rich jerk and contemplates stealing a fancy new suit that is less conspicuous than his hooded cape and tights.  Thankfully, Billy does have scruples enough to step in after he and his foster-brother stumble across a mugger at work.  Unfortunately, those scruples stop just short of accepting payment from the woman he just saved.

To say that this story defiles everything Billy Batson & Captain Marvel represent would be an epic understatement.  I don't think they decided to have Billy go by the name Shazam because that's what most people outside of comics call the character anyway or because of the continual legal battles with Marvel Comics over the Captain Marvel name.  I think The Powers That Be at DC Comics decided to call this character Shazam because they knew there was no way in Heck that they could ever get away with trying to sell this character to Captain Marvel fans under the name Captain Marvel.

The only justification for Billy's retconned personality I can think of is the misguided belief that an idealistic young man granted power because of his pure spirit has no place in the modern DCU.  To see Billy acting the way he does in this issue is painful.  And to see Geoff Johns writing this story doubles that pain - partly because Johns put the idea that Billy Batson needs to be modernized and made more cynical to bed during his excellent JSA run and partly because - ignoring that Shazam is a betrayal of everything Billy Batson should be - Johns does pace the story well and deliver some good dialogue. 

Thankfully, regardless of what I think of the story, the artwork is amazing throughout.  Gary Frank does a good job illustrating the Shazam story while Johns' frequent Green Lantern collaborator Ethan Van Sciver lends his talents to the back-up story.  This brief tale finally introduces us to the mysterious pink-cloaked woman who has been popping up around the New 52 universe as well as another classic hero we haven't seen before now.

Still, no amount of fine artwork can make this book palatable.  What matter that the face be pretty when the heart is cold and dead?

Billy Batson is supposed to be a decent kid in spite of his hard-luck life.  His positive attitude in the face of all the evils of the world is what leads to his being rewarded with the power to help others.  The character is all about the innocence of youth and the power of idealism.  Even Frank Miller understood that and didn't try to force Captain Marvel into a darker, grittier role when he wrote The Dark Knight Strikes Back.  And it was Billy who took Superman to task for being blinded by his hatred of Lex Luthor in the excellent Justice League Unlimited episode Clash Of The Titans

Let's end this review with some Wisdom of Solomon, shall we?

"I believe in fair play. I believe in taking people at their word, and giving them that benefit of the doubt. Back home, I've come up against my share of pretty nasty bad guys, but I never had to act the way they did to win a fight. I always found another way. I... I guess I'm saying I like being a hero, a symbol, and that's why I'm quitting the Justice League. You don't act like heroes anymore."

That's why I think I'll be quitting Justice League, too.  Nobody in it acts like a hero anymore.

Doctor Who, Series 7 - Episode 4 - The Power Of Three


After a season that has given them precious little to do but fill generic companion roles, The Ponds finally get an episode that is focused upon them and their two lives as The Doctor and a new UNIT investigate the mysterious appearance of billions of mysterious black cubes all over the Earth.  Great character work by the supporting cast sells this episode though the ending falls a bit flat.  Still, an enjoyable story.


Set over the course of one year, we follow The Ponds as they struggle to maintain their double lives - going off on adventures with The Doctor and balancing time with their family and friends on Earth.  By their best guess they've spent 10 years running around with The Doctor in relative time while their regular lives were put on hold as one second honeymoon winds up taking them seven weeks and involves a detour through King Henry VIII's bedchambers. 

As the two consider hanging it all up and Rory takes on a full-time nursing job, billions of mysterious black cubes appear all over the earth.  They don't seem to do anything.  You can freeze them, heat them, watch them, ignore them and they still don't do anything.  Naturally this attracts the attention of The Doctor as well as the new leader of UNIT - a woman named Kate Stewart, who has pushed the organization to become more science-driven rather than military-based.  Over the course of a year, The Doctor will struggle to avoid boredom, The Ponds will try and figure things out and the cubes will be studied by experts and amateurs alike as what will become known as The Slow Invasion begins.

* Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill own this episode.  They're both great actors but they've been given precious little to do this season that didn't have them filling the stock companion roles of girl hostage and boy idiot.  The focus this time is firmly upon their characters and they run with the ball they've been passed.

* Kate Stewart.  Hell and Yes.  I hated that we never got to see Nicholas Courtney as The Brigadier in any of the New Who episodes working with The Doctor again.  Bringing his daughter into the show as an admirer or both her father's work and The Doctor's example - to say nothing of the return of a UNIT not run by jack-booted thugs - is a welcome addition.  

* There is a subtle but brilliant implication here that we may have been viewing some of this series' episodes out of sequence... or perhaps that The Doctor we've seen is out of sequence.  With the hint of a tragic ending coming up in the final Ponds episode next week we have to wonder... is The Doctor we are seeing now a future Doctor, come back to see more of a companion he may have led to their deaths?


* The menace of the cubes, once revealed, is dispatched FAR too easily.

* Matt Smith seems to be playing The Doctor as a parody of Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock at times.  This is nowhere near as amusing as you might think.

What was the point of the alien abductions in Rory's hospital?  Or the cube-faced alien orderlies?  Whey are they abducting and killing the beings they are trying to kill through genocide?   

* The Power of Three has got to be one of the blandest episode titles ever and the "reveal" at the end only makes it seem cheesy rather than clever.  


The ending is dodgy as Hell but that doesn't detract from the amazing material in the opening.  The conceit of The Slow Invasion is a brilliant one and the character moments built around The Ponds are beautiful.  And the new UNIT with The Brig's daughter in charge promises to make future stories in the modern day a bit more interesting.  It would have been perfect if it hadn't fallen apart at the end.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fallout: New Vegas War Journal - Chapter Twenty Six

Not one, not two but THREE endings!

For all this build up about a final battle between the NCR and Legion Forces at Hoover Dam, the battle itself was surprisingly anti-climactic. Thankfully the NCR left me alone and just assumed that Boone and I were there to help defend the dam, along with the Securitron Mark II that was acting as my personal guard.

It was an easy matter for me to get into the bowels of the dam control center. But things got ugly in the middle of the battle and - despite the Legion soldiers swarming the building at the time - some of the NCR troops must have noticed my sneaking in to hack their computers to reroute some of the power to activate my back-up army. They must have moved towards me in the confusion, causing my new robot friends to shoot at them and... well, once we were on our way, Boone was ready to have words with me. Words I was amazed he hadn't spoken until now...

Me: That was totally a misunderstanding! I promise I won't do anything to harm any more NCR soldiers.

Thankfully, we didn't encounter any more NCR soldiers on the way east out of the dam control rooms. We did wind up up to our armpits in Legion soldiers but it was nothing I couldn't cope with using my handy new Plasma Rifle, recently liberated from the Brotherhood of Steel.

And the sound of a motor above us told me that my friends in the Boomers had come to join the fight. There was no doubt of that even before I saw the camp in the distance go into flames.

And so it was that we came to the camp of the Legate Lanius - commander of the armies of Caesar, in the wake of Caesar's death.

Me: Yes, I am new to Vegas, though I now call that city my home. And I would rule it, free of you and your kind.
Legate Lanius: I have seen little combat yet this day. Let us do battle then! Just you, me and my GUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARDS!
Me: - the hell?!


Centurion: That was amazing, Legate! Truly you are the finest of all warriors and your prowess is spoken of in our songs and legends... yet even with what I have seen you achieve before, never did I think you might cause a man to become impaled upon his own weapon... when the weapon was a chainsaw!
Legate Lanius: Bah! Childs play for once such as I, Centurion. Come! Let us seek more worthy foes among what few followers of the Great Western Bear remain...

And so it was that we came to the camp of the Legate Lanius - commander of the armies of Caesar, in the wake of Caesar's death.

Me: Yes, I am new to Vegas, though I now call that city my home. And I would rule it, free of you and your kind.
Legate Lanius: I have seen little combat yet this day. Let us do battle then! Just you, me and my GUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARDS!
Seriously?  I come all this way looking for a fight and you're going to hide behind you men?  Let's settle this one on one.
Legate Lanius:
Hmmm. Very well. I will not let it be said that Legate Lanius would not be gracious enough to show a brave man the courtesy of choosing his own method of execution. If you would die in am duel, I am honored to cross blades with you.
Me: Blades? Who said anything about blades?

Me: Any of the rest of you fruits want to try bringing a knife to a gun fight?
Legion Soldiers: AUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGH! *run screaming for the hills*
Me: Yeah. That's what I thought.
Woman's Voice: Nice shooting there, cowboy.

Me: Look, Boone! It's an avatar of Felicia Day!
Boone: Who?
Me: Felicia Day? The famous writer/actress/director/geek icon? Star of stage, screen, monitor and some of my more disturbing and personal dreams?
Felicia Day: I also have a part in this game, but you totally skipped over my character!
Me: Well, gee. I'm sorry Felicia. But I didn't stumble across where you were when I was playing through this the first time. But you're totally going to be the companion I travel with the next time I play through this.
Felicia Day: Oh, it's okay. I am kinda hard to find here. I've just been reading this little war journal of yours and... well, I think you're a very funny guy and I wanted to see what you thought of my bit.
Me: Well, thank you. And let me say that I love your work and think you're a very funny woman who has a wonderful sense of humor. Particularly about your status as an object of nerd lust for fanboys and fangirls everywhere.
Felicia Day: Thanks. You know, it's ironic? But I just play at being sweet and innocent. You know The Fairy from Legend of Neil is probably the closest to me of all the characters I've played?
Me: Really?
Felicia Day: Oh yeah. When I'm not at work... total nympho. Just can't get enough of it. Especially funny guys. I just love funny guys. Why, I'd do anything for a funny man.
Me: Are you saying what I think you're saying?
Felicia Day: Do you wanna date my avatar?
Me: Oh, fuck yes!
Felicia Day: Cool! Of course you'd have to download certain mods to make it happen here, but...
Me: Already done.
Felicia Day: Then take me, Matt! Take me right here!

And so it was that Matt became the ruler of New Vegas, a king by his own hand. With a robot army at his command and Felicia Day as his queen, his reign was a time of relative peace and unmatched prosperity. Still, many wars and feuds did Matt fight. Honor and fear were heaped upon his name.

And this story shall also be told...

And so it was that we came to the camp of the Legate Lanius - commander of the armies of Caesar, in the wake of Caesar's death.

Me: Yes, I am new to Vegas, though I now call that city my home. And I would rule it, free of you and your kind.
Legate Lanius: I have seen little combat yet this day. Let us do battle then! Just you, me and my GUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARDS! 
Me: Seriously?  I come all this way looking for a fight and you're going to hide behind you men?  Let's settle this one on one. 
Legate Lanius: Hmmm. Very well. I will not let it be said that Legate Lanius would not be gracious enough to show a brave man the courtesy of choosing his own method of execution. If you would die in am duel, I am honored to cross blades with you.
Me: Blades? Who said anything about blades?

Me: Any of the rest of you fruits want to try bringing a knife to a gun fight?
Legion Soldiers: AUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGH! *run screaming for the hills*
Me: Yeah. That's what I thought.

*sudden earth=shattering KA-BOOM as the gates of the camp are blown open*

Me: Who is that asshole in the uniform?
Boone: General Oliver - commander of the entire NCR army.
Me: Then why aren't you chewing me out for calling him an asshole?
Boone: Cause he built his name on throwing his mens' lives away and taking credit for others' work.
Me: Screwed you out of promotion, huh?
Boone: Oh yeah.
Me: Well, don't worry. We're both about to get some payback.

General Oliver: Speaking of - that crazy light show over the fort? What the fuck was that? Some kind of thumb of God you just called down? Amazing? Fucking, amazing.
Me: Well, thanks.
General Oliver: Could use a hundred like you. Just scatter you across the East like jacks. Give those plum fucks what for.
Me: Hold that thought, General. I had some friends I wanted to introduce you to.

*Securitron Mark II army moves up behind General Oliver and his men

Me: You're out, General. Out of service. Out of Vegas. Out of the Mojave. You're moving West. The Legion is moving East. I'm staying here in the middle to keep you kids separated. Anything happens to anybody in my turf, you're both going to become intimately familiar with the primary weapons functions of my friends. You dig?

General Oliver: Look, I know you think you're riding high right now, son. But you aren't just pissing on me. You're pissing on The Bear. You've been far enough west, I think you know how far that claw scratches. Fuck with The Bear and...
Me: I think my new friends and I can handle it.
General Oliver: Even with all these robots, you can't handle all of New Vegas and the Mojave by yourself.
Me: What makes you think these are the only forces I have, General?
General Oliver: I'm sorry?
Me: That light show you enjoyed so much? That was courtesy of The Boomers. They have a working airplane now, thanks to yours truly. A bomber to be exact. And they're just itching for new targets to test their brand new toy out on.
General Oliver: ... you're bluffing.
Me: Am I? They just bombed the fort because I suggested I might need some help fighting The Legion. Just imagine what I could do if I gave them a list of places out west of here that were full of heathen savages that needed burning?
General Oliver: Who said we'd let you live long enough to give them that list?
Me: Who said I didn't already give them a list?

Me: What the hell do you think I've been doing the past few months?! I've been doing a lot more than you lot have, hiding in your big bases, waiting for The Legion to come to you and hiring out all of your dirty work to me or people like me because we're the only ones who can go outside your own asinine structure and get shit done! You couldn't even be arsed to send a soldier to retake the prison that I liberated for you after Boone and I went in and killed every damn prisoner in the place. Yeah, I think we can start a new nation here. And I KNOW we can run it - AND Hoover Dam - a lot more efficiently than you ever did!
General Oliver: You really think so?
Me: I'll be the best ruler this place ever had by a dam site!
General Oliver: ... that was the most painful pun I've ever heard.
Me: You'll get much worse pun-ishment if you stick around here. Now get off my lawn!

Yes Man: Hey Boss! Great job!
Me: Well, thank you, Yes Man. I can't take all the credit though. Between you, Boone, The Boomers and all the other bots... it was a team effort.
Yes Man: Ah, so modest in the face of victory! I'm really sorry I have to bring this up now in your moment of triumph...
Me: What? Oh, of course! I forgot to go back and get that money from George, for that bet that I could survive The Boomers killing field.
Yes Man: That wasn't it, Big Man.
Me: Really? Then what was it?

Me: So... you're taking over Vegas now?
Yes Man: Well, basically, yes. But don't worry. I've already programed all the other Secutritrons with your plan. They'll clean things up while I'm off-line, no problem!
Me: So you're still following my plan?
Yes Man: Oh, it was a good plan, sir. But the code I found has caused me to see that having even one person being able to command me could eventually lead to a city state as corrupt as the ones you have been fighting against. But don't worry. I'm still want to be just as nice and helpful as before. But I'll only be taking suggestions from now on - not orders. If that's okay with you, chief? And if it isn't, tough shit! Sorry about that. I think the new assertive program is already working...
Me: So... that's it? So long?! Good luck?!
Yes Man: I don't remember saying anything about good luck, sir.

And so the Courier who had cheated death in the cemetery outside Goodsprings cheated death once again, and the Mojave wasteland was forever changed.

Supporting the ideals of independence, the Courier was recognized as the man/woman responsible for a truly free New Vegas. He ensured Mr. House's tyranny was broken and neither Caesar's Legion nor NCR would ever gain control over New Vegas.

The Courier, with the aid of Yes Man, drove both the Legion and the NCR from Hoover Dam, securing New Vegas' independence from both factions. With Mr. House out of the picture, part of the Securitron army was diverted to the Strip to keep order. Any chaos on the streets was ended, quickly. Chaos became uncertainty, then acceptance, with minimal loss of life. New Vegas assumed its position as an independent power in the Mojave.

After the Courier ensured New Vegas remain free, the Followers of the Apocalypse found that an independent Vegas was even more unstable and violent than before. Old Mormon Fort became excessively burdened by the influx of patients, struggling to provide even the most basic of services.

The Kings retained their control of Freeside, and while they continued to favor the needs of locals, they tolerated the citizens of the defeated NCR.

Though NCR was withdrawing from the region, Boone remained in New Vegas, finding work as a security guard and caravan scout along the highways. While he might've preferred rejoining his old unit, Boone couldn't bring himself to abandon the city where he'd met his wife.

After Hoover Dam, the leaderless Powder Gangers at the Correctional Facility vanished into the wastes, leaving the prison empty. The Correctional Facility became another abandoned ruin in the wasteland, its carcass occasionally picked over by enterprising prospectors.

Armed with a wide array of improvised explosives and stolen weapons, the Vault 19 Powder Gang tormented the Mojave Wasteland for years. Citizens of the NCR were favorite targets, and they always suffered the worst fates.

Though the Wasteland became anarchic after Hoover Dam, the Boomers' display of power dissuaded fortune seekers from attempting to penetrate Nellis.

Their leaders destroyed by the Courier, the Fiends scattered throughout the wasteland. Without the organization of Motor-Runner, Cook-Cook, Violet, and Driver Nephi, they were easy prey.

With New Vegas' independence formally declared, Goodsprings thrived. More travelers stopped by Goodsprings on their way to and from the Strip, and the locals grew prosperous from the traffic.

Though Novac was a low-priority target for the Legion, many of Novac's citizens died in its defense. In the weeks that followed, several Bright Followers returned to Novac to help restore its defenses, allowing it to remain independent of NCR.

Primm Slim proves to be an able-minded, if not able-bodied, sheriff for Primm. Due to his slow speed, some crooks get away without a scratch, but Primm continues to prosper under his watchful robotic eye.

And so The Courier's road came to an end... for now. In the new world of the Mojave Wasteland, the fighting continued, blood was spilled and many lived and died just as they had in the old world.

Because war... war never changes.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Demon Knights #0 - A Review

Demon Knights #0 gives us a look at the origins of both Jason Blood and The Demon Etrigan.  This was to be expected, given that all of the Zero Month issues are meant to be origin stories of one stripe or another.  What was unexpected, however, was the unique spin that Paul Cornell put upon this particular story.

I shan't spoil the surprising circumstances revealed within that explain precisely how and why Merlin came to bond his scribe and his demon together.  I will say that we do get a wonderful look into both character's lives and motivations before they were saddled with one another.  The bits with Etrigran attempting to boost his rank in Hell are particularly amusing, if you enjoy rhyming and beheadings as much as I do.

This issue marks the premiere of Bernard Chang on this title.  Chang proves to be a worthy replacement for Diogenes Neves, using a similarly detail-oriented style with light inking.  Chang also shows his talents as a visual storyteller, the action flowing smoothly and naturally from panel to panel.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - this book is a must-read for all fans of good comics in general and sword-and-sorcery comics in specific.  The scripts are uniformly amazing.  The artwork is always first-class.  You should be reading it, plain and simple.

Batman #0 - A Review

Those expecting Batman #0 to be yet another retelling of the Batman origins or a rehash of Batman Begins will either be disappointed or (more likely) relieved.  Scott Snyder avoids such beloved but well-worn tales and devotes this Zero Month issue towards two entirely different stories.  The first details one of Batman's early cases and an encounter with a red-hooded gang leader who may or may not become a more infamous enemy later on.  If nothing else, this story is an original one and it is refreshing to see a Batman who is still learning the ropes facing an enemy who is just as smart as he is.  Perhaps smarter.

The second, and for my money, stronger of the two stories is told with an assist from Snyder's frequent collabrator, James Tyrion IV.  This tale is set during the first night that the Bat-Signal was lit and showcases the  lives of four different young people whose paths will cross with that of The Batman.  Among their number are a free-spirited showman, a desperate thug, a brilliant detective and an aspiring policewoman.

As always, the art team delivers upon the promise offered by the excellent scripts.  Former Spawn artist Greg Capullo was born to draw Batman and his uniquely stylized pencils are perfectly defined by the inks of Jonathan Glapion.  The brighter style of Andy Clarke (most recently of Batman and Robin) is no less skillful but better suited to the lighter tone of the second story.

Batman #0 presents more of the fine-quality comics entertainment that we've become accustomed to over the previous year.  If, for some reason, you aren't already reading what is easily the best Batman book in recent memory, this issue is the perfect jumping-on point.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sword Of Sorcery #0 - A Review

Nearly 10 years ago, I suggested that DC Comics should look into reviving the much beloved Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld series.

It took them a while but someone is finally listening to me. ;)

All kidding aside, I could hardly have asked for a better comic than this had it been custom-made to my specifications. I'm a life-long fan of the sword-and-sorcery genre and my favorite original series out of all the New 52 books has been Demon Knights. But even ignoring my own bias, this is a great book that has a lot to offer a variety of readers.

The greater portion of this issue is devoted toward the aforementioned revival of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. We see little of the titular Gemworld but we do get a strong introduction to our heroine - Amy Winston a.k.a. Princess Amaya. Hidden away on Earth from her evil aunt, Amy has been raised on the run and trained as a warrior by her mother. This has made it difficult for young Amy to make friends but left her a good sense of who can be trusted and made her more than capable of defending herself from bullies and worse. As the hour of her 17th birthday approaches, Amy and her mother make the journey back to their homeworld - the other-dimensional planet known as Gemworld. The homecoming is not a smooth once, however, and Amy finds herself pressed into battle far sooner than her mother had hoped.

Writer Christy Marx breathes new life into this classic concept and I'm hard pressed to think of another writer who could have done so grand a job. Best known for her work as a writer on a number of cartoons and computer games, Marx is no stranger when it comes to writing strong-willed young women with a connection to a gem. And if you think I'm about to make a comment about this book being "truly outrageous"... well, you've been reading my reviews too long. Punning and referential humor aside, Marx establishes Amy as a sympathetic, no-nonsense heroine fairly quickly while still infusing the book with her trademark humor.

Aaron Lopresti, most recently of Justice League International, does a fine job of depicting both the mundane and the mystical elements of Marx's script. It is unclear at present if this new series will stick to the classic idea of Amy living a double-life, half on Earth and half in Gemworld. If it does stick to the old ways, it is nice to know it will be in the hands of an artist who can draw a brawl behind the bleachers as well as a battle with a horde of armored knights. Surprisingly few artists are able to show that kind of diversity but Lopresti proves successful in that regard.

The second story in this issue presents a post-apocalyptic take upon a classic character who - while depicted in the pages of his own DC Comics - existed for quite some time before comic books or even the printing press! I speak of Bewoulf, whom Tony Bedard has reimagined as some sort of super-soldier in cryogenic suspension in a dark future where man has reverted to barbarism and monsters walk the earth!

The story here seems to follow the original Beowulf bard's tale - where Beowulf is summoned to the home of a distant king in order to slay the beast called Grendel. There's not a lot of character development to be had here, most of the story being told through the eyes of a young warrior sent to summon forth Beowulf from the home he is pledged to defend - i.e. an abandoned military base. Bedard's script is less dependent on character than it is concept but the idea of Beowulf as a superhuman soldier who only leaves his post after being told the King who summons him is also a general is a nice nod to the original myths, where Beowulf only answers the summons because of the king's reputation as a warrior. The artwork by Jesus Saiz, most recently of Resurrection Man and Birds of Prey, does a fine job of depicting the action with all the blood and gore one would expect in a story based on Beowulf.

This book is a must-read for all comic book readers. Lovers of comics centered around strong female protagonists will find Amethyst to be an entrancing heroine. Fans of the Conan comics will get a kick out of Beowulf. And fantasy fans of all stripes will enjoy the whole package. This book has made my pull list. Make it part of your subscription too.