Thursday, December 26, 2013

Doctor Who, 2013 Christmas Special - The Time Of The Doctor


Excellent.  Matt Smith is given a worthy send-off and Steven Moffat manages to tidy up all the loose ends regarding The Eleventh Doctor's era.  Pity Jenna Coleman is given so little to do and so much of the action occurs off-camera.  Then again, this is very much Matt Smith's show.  And it is a good one.



A mysterious message broadcast across all of time and space brings about the gathering of the worst beings the universe has to offer around a mysterious planet.  Weeping Angels.  Sontarans.  Cybermen.  Even The Daleks!  And The Doctor, of course, because The Doctor always turns up wherever trouble is brewing.  Taking just enough time to snatch Clara away from an increasingly awkward Christmas dinner, The Doctor is soon on his way to the source of the signal - a crack in the wall of a bell-tower in a town called Christmas where no one can tell a lie.  The Doctor quickly learns the source of the message as well as the name of the mystery planet.  Trenzalore.  The planet where he is destined to fight his final battle!


* Like Peter Davison, Matt Smith may have delivered his greatest performance as The Doctor in his final episode.  Simply put, Matt Smith nails every aspect of The Doctor's personality here.  I've never been the biggest fan of Smith's take on The Doctor but even I'm going to miss him after this episode.

* Steven Moffat's scripts can be hit or miss at times.  This one was definitely a hit.  As near as I can tell based on one viewing, every single plot thread involving The Siege of Trenzalore and all the prophecies regarding the Eleventh Doctor have been resolved.  Fans may debate how much of this The Grand Moff had planned in advance but I think everything - even the mystery of Gallifrey from the 50th Anniversary special - is addressed.  And yes Virginia, they figure out a way to give The Doctor a whole new regeneration cycle without any hand-waving or jiggery-pokerey.  It's all there in the Classic Series, clear as crystal. 

* The story itself is a truly fitting end to The Eleventh Doctor's story.  Smith's Doctor took great joy in the lives of ordinary people, loved children and dreamed about what it would be like for him to have an ordinary life with a real job somewhere.  How fitting then that he should finally - in a way - be granted that wish as he becomes the protector of Christmas.

* There's a lot of death and rebirth imagery throughout the episode and its very powerful symbolically.  I won't go into all of it here but there's a thesis paper out there for the Anglophile willing to compare/contrast this episode, Terry Pratchett's Hogfather and the wholesale mythology of Father Christmas and Odin.


* Granting that her actions save the day, Jenna Coleman isn't really given much to do.  She's great with what she does get but it seems like she's barely in the episode.

* Fans who dislike the idea of The Doctor as a romantic figure will find little to like in the character of Tasha Lem - Mother Superior of the Papal Mainframe and even I - who don't mind the idea of The Doctor snogging - thought this was a bit gratuitous after Queen Elizabeth and River Song.

* It's rather depressing - after what we saw of Clara's childhood and upbringing and how amazing her parents were in The Rings of Akhaten - to see her family reduced to sitcom fodder here.  Who the heck is the woman haranguing Clara about not having a boyfriend, anyway?  Step-mother?  I don't think they ever said.

Grand as it is, Moffat does violate the "show, don't tell" rule regarding television and we are told about The Doctor's grand battles against all of his enemies without being shown much of them.  We see a bit but we might have seen more.

Likewise, while I'm always glad to see more of Karen Gillan (minds out of the gutter, people!), it does seem kinda insulting to Clara that The Doctor drifts off thinking about The Girl Who Waited as his final thought without then turning to The Impossible Girl and the last face this face will see.


A fitting Christmas special and a fitting end to The Eleventh Hour.  Goodbye, Raggedy Man.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Red Sonja #6 - A Review

In these days when the latest comics' news flashes are presented on the front page of USA Today's Entertainment section one day before the comics are released, it is rare for a book to surprise me.  The new Red Sonja series has done that consistently.  And the sixth issue, concluding the Queen of Plagues storyline, has proven particularly astonishing. 

Artist Walter Geovani is an underrated treasure.  I greatly enjoyed Geovani's work on previous Red Sonja books and wished he'd be given a lengthier engagement on the series than he'd had previously.  As in previous issues, Geovani continues to show why he is one of the best sword-and-sorcery artists in the business today.   

Gail Simone's script reveals a number of surprising twists in this final chapter.  Miraculously not a one of them feels tacked-on or added just for the sake of shock value.  Longtime fans of Simone's oeuvre may be surprised to see how straight the queen of comic-book comedy plays things here.  This issue is all action with nary a bit of  snark or sarcasm.  What won't surprise anyone is how good the final product is. 

Nice Little Present for Fans of Sherlock

SOURCE: BBC YouTube Channel.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Conan And The People Of The Black Circle #3 - A Review

The third part of Conan And The People Of The Black Circle possesses problems that were less obvious in the first two chapters, if not completely absent.  Writer Fred Van Lente's decision to remove much of Howard's original narration - while helping to speed certain scenes in the earlier part of the story - proves something of a hindrance in these later chapters where Conan finally begins to face the titular Black Circle of wizards.  Here, Howard's description of the spells and devices used against Conan and his fellow warriors would add to the artwork rather than distracting from it, as it is often unclear precisely what is happening.    

This might not be so bad were Ariel Olivetti a good visual storyteller.  Alas, Olivetti is a great artist but there is very little sense of flow and continuity between his painted panels.  Indeed, there is one sequence in the climax of the book where the heroine is naked before the villain and then suddenly fully dressed the next time we see her but a few seconds later!

All in all, this isn't the worst adaptation of Robert E. Howard's work but it's also not a good one.  It seems to have been rushed to completion in its final hours.  I'll probably pick up the final issue for the sake of completeness but I can't say this series holds any attraction save for the most devout of Conan fans.

Batman #26 - A Review

I may stand alone in feeling somewhat cheated by Batman: Zero Year so far.  Don't get me wrong - it's a fine story!  I'll not deny that!  Yet it is a far cry from what I expected when Scott Snyder spoke of his renvisioning of The Riddler (one of my favorite Batman baddies) and his first major joust with The Dark Knight.

The Riddler's role in Dark City thus far has been a supportive one.  True, The Riddler's presence looms ever-large in the background, with everyone's favorite genius having cut the power to much of Gotham City as the hurricane of the century closes in on Gotham's shoreline.  Yet most of the action of this issue is concerned with a new villain called Doctor Death, who is nowhere near as interesting as Edward Nygma despite a truly gruesome gimmick. 

Despite this, Snyder does find ways to keep things interesting.  Perhaps the biggest change in this retelling of the Batman origin is a novel twist - that Bruce Wayne might not trust the police of Gotham City, disbelieving the idea of any honest cops like Jim Gordon existing.  Given Bruce's background, it makes sense that he might have issues with authority and it answers the question oft-asked since the Silver Age - why didn't Bruce Wayne try to become a police officer or some other kind of lawman?

Greg Capullo and Danny Miki do their usual stellar job on the artwork.  Capullo was born to draw Batman and his character designs, while differing from the classic characters in some degree (i.e. Bruce Wayne with a Marine-issue hair-cut and The Riddler with mutton-chops) are memorable and unique.  Likewise, Danny Miki bucks the trend so common among Batman inkers of slathering shadows on every page, limiting his inks to astonishing effect.

Batgirl #26 - A Review

There is little I can say about Batgirl #26 that I have not said before in earlier reviews of this series.  I could talk at length about how writer Gail Simone has built the current storyline to a glorious climax that has seen Barbara Gordon hunted by her own father and now leaves her as his only hope of surviving an attack by four metahuman assassins, who all have their own bones to pick with Batgirl.  But that would just be recalling the plot and would tell you little about the series itself.

I will say this.  If you enjoy stories of a smart, canny heroine who is able to overcome tremendous odds through her courage and intelligence, you will enjoy Batgirl.  This issue does a fine job of showing how Barbara Gordon is far more than just a distaff Dark Knight.  She is a character unto herself and a great heroine.

Batgirl is blessed with an equally amazing art team.  Daniel Sampere is one of the most underrated pencilers working in the industry today, by my reckoning.  Sampere's style is detail-oriented without being overly complex.  The inks of Jonathan Glapion perfectly enhance Sampere's pencils, creating just the right amount of shadow to evoke the proper dark mood for the proceedings.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword #6 - A Review

I'm several weeks overdue in covering this book, which I only discovered had come out by chance.  However, since the comic itself has not had a new issue come out for over a year, I feel little guilt over being late in covering it.  In any case, it has proven worth the wait.

Curiously, Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword seems to be migrating further away from its apparent purpose - anthologizing comics based around Robert E. Howard's less famous creations.  Yet of this issue's five stories, three are devoted to Conan the Cimmerian!  Still, one can't complain.  Even the weakest story in this volume is better than the current Conan the Barbarian comic and all of the stories contained within this volume feature top-tier talent.

Two stories continue on from the last issue.  One is the tale of Bran Mak Morn - Howard's Pictish hero.  This story by Ian Edgington sees the chieftain fighting a battle of wills against a shaman who disapproves of Bran Mak Morn's efforts to cease his peoples' barbarous practices of human sacrifice.  It is a bold tale, skillfully retold with amazing art by Richard Pace.    

The other continuing story centers upon the origins of Dark Agnes - a red-haired swordswoman who had as much a hand in inspiring Red Sonja as Robert E. Howard's historical heroine Red Sonya of Rogatino.  Fans of Gail Simone's Red Sonja book would do well to pick-up this issue and Issue #5, for Dark Agnes's adventures will hold similar appeal.  The artwork by Aaron McConnell proves a skillful substitution for last issue's Dark Agnes artist, Francesco Francavilla.

The remaining three stories are equally appealing.  The issue's opening tale - Sargasso of Sand - centers upon Conan's misadventures as he gets lost in the desert and is confronted by a mad captain who seeks to make his ship sail upon the sand itself.  John Jackson Miller's script is a humorous one and the artwork by Phillip Tan lives up to his usual high standard.  

The second Conan tale - Demons of the Summit -  is a fairly standard tale.  Barbarian meets girl.  Barbarian loses girl.  Barbarian kills monsters and wizards to get the girl.  Despite being formulaic, the tale is well-told and greatly enhanced by the excellent artwork of Tony De Zuniga.

The final story of the issue - Child of Sorcery - proves to be the issue's best.  Small wonder given that it is based on a story by Birds of Prey author Christy Marx with a script by legendary comics writer Roy Thomas!  Though this story also details Conan's efforts to save a woman from enslavement and defilement, the heroine is no helpless prize to be won.  The artwork by Ernie Chan is reminiscent of the classic Marvel Conan comics for all the right reasons.

In short, this book is a must read for all fans of fantasy in general and Robert E. Howard in particular.

Thoughts on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

A year ago, I said that the biggest problem with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was that it was too much of a good thing.  Having just seen The Desolation of Smaug, I think the same may be said of this middle chapter of The Hobbit trilogy.  Minus the phrase "of a good thing."

Much has been made of how Peter Jackson had originally planed to split The Hobbit into two films and was asked by his studio to expand it into three parts.  This necessitated scouring the Tolkien oeuvre for more material to adapt, writing new scenes, and bringing the actors back to film said scenes.  Even had the actors and Jackson himself not been vocal about which material had been added into the film as envisioned, it would be obvious to most of the audience.  The sad fact is that the added material sticks out like a sore thumb and it distracts away from the brunt of the film.

Understand this - The Desolation of Smaug is enjoyable to watch.  That does not mean that it is a good movie.  A good story has a definitive beginning, middle and an end.  Even if it is part of a larger story, that should hold true.  In Smaug's case, it doesn't.  The opening flashback scene in Bree feels tacked on and unnecessary.  The ending comes in the middle of what should be the climax.  The love triangle seems particularly pointless.  And Legolas the parkouring ninja is just annoying.

Yet all of these scenes are worth suffering through for the great moments.  The dwarves' escape from Mirkwood.  Gandalf confronting The Necromancer.  And every damn scene between Bilbo and Smaug.  If you enjoyed the first movie, you'll probably enjoy this one as well, though there will be points where you'll be shaking your head and wondering if certain things were really needed.

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks - A Book Review

Coal Hill School. 1963. About 700 years (relative time, of course) after he left it, The Doctor returns with his newest companion, Ace, to take care of some unfinished business. Before he left Earth with his granddaughter and two of her teachers, The Doctor left something behind - a powerful Time Lord artifact known as The Hand of Omega, which holds the power the power to move the stars themselves.

Such power does not exist with notice and it has, much to The Doctor's chagrin, been noticed. Two rival factions of his greatest enemies - The Daleks - are even now taking root in the area around Coal Hill School. One has taken over the school itself and its headmaster. The other has recruited the aid of a neo-Nazi businessman. Both will stop at nothing to retrieve The Hand of Omega and, with it, the secrets of controlled time travel!

Can The Doctor recover The Hand before the Daleks get their plungers on it? If so, can he stop them from destroying London and The Earth in the process?  Time will tell.  It always does.

The television episode Remembrance of the Daleks is held as one of the best episodes of the Classic Doctor Who Series and is considered by many to be the best Seventh Doctor story of all.  The novelization - written by series writer Ben Aaronovitch - enjoys a similar reputation.  It was one of the first of the Target line of Doctor Who novels to be written with older readers in mind, making it a spiritual precursor to the Virgin New Adventures book-line.

As Aaronovitch notes in his introduction to this reprint edition, one can't take a television script and just add in "he said" or "she said" to turn it into a novel.  At the very least, HE couldn't do that.  Depth has been added to many of the characters in this novel version of Remembrance of the Daleks.  At the very least, they've been giving more detailing if not actual depth of character.

Perhaps the best example of this is the relationship between Ace and Mike - an army sergeant with secret ties to the neo-Nazi group aiding the Imperial faction of Daleks.  There is a hint of romance between the two characters before Mike's true colors are revealed and Ace turns on him.  Ace turning violently upon a racist is hardly surprising but the novel gives her a personal reason for loathing racists beyond culture shock.  Mike is likewise made into a more sympathetic figure, being painted not as a truly hateful man but a decent bloke who is led astray by a hate-monger, who plays on his fears of bad things happening to his friends and family.

Curiously, the only character who doesn't benefit from this increased depth is The Doctor himself.  Apart from one scene where The Doctor wonders why The Earth can't seem to go one day without it needing him to save it, we never really get into The Doctor's head at all and very little of his dialogue is offset with adjectives to describe how he says things.  This makes sense given that The Doctor's thoughts and actions for much of this episode are meant to be a mystery to everyone.  Still, this lack of perspective causes many of the best scenes in the television episode to fall flat in the novel.  Many readers will be left with a greater appreciation of how much depth Sylvester McCoy gave The Doctor through pure physicality.

My advice?  Treat this novel like the extras on a DVD.  Watch the classic episode and then read this book.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Night In Owl's Head: First Impressions of Shroud of The Avatar

In March 2013, legendary game designer Richard Garriott (a.k.a. Lord British) announced his intent to create a new computer RPG that would be a spiritual successor to his classic Ultima series.  In keeping with his reputation as a trendsetter, Garriott decided to crowd-source the game on Kickstarter and offer all manner of benefits to those who helped fund the project.  The fundraising effort reached its goal within ten days and nearly doubled that goal within a month!

One of the benefits promised to contributors was alpha and beta access to the game before it went live.  This would allow investors to see the game world as it was built from the ground up and make suggestions as to how it might be improved.  And thanks to Lord British's generosity in not requiring a non-disclosure agreement, I am free to give you a glimpse of New Britannia.

For many gamers, Shroud of The Avatar will feel like coming home.  There's not much content in this first pre-alpha release of the game.. There's no combat nor is there any crafting.  But what content there is will feel welcoming and familiar to fans of Lord British's Ultima.

The classic interface from Ultima has returned, with a paper doll that handles your character's immediate inventory, such as weapons and clothing.  Up to six bags can be slotted to make organizing your belongings easier, with the possibility of smaller bags within those bags.  So you can put a spell component pouch inside your backpack and rest assured everything will remain as you organized it.

Yes, I'm stuffing a fountain in my backpack! What of it?!

In this first pre-alpha version of the SotA, there is precious little to do but wander the town of Owl's Head, talk to the NPCs, take what few items are not nailed down and decorate a home. Yet this too will seem familiar to fans of Ultima. There are no repeatable conversation trees nor helpful exclamation points over the heads of peasants who will pay for some passing ruffian to rid their cellar of rats. No, if you want information from an NPC you must find the right words to get them to open up. The classic 'name' and 'job' keywords are good starts and lead to other topics of conversation, which are highlighted in white..

Every tavern has one... drunk guy who is drowning his sorrows over something you can help with. 

The one woman in the tavern won't talk to me? I play these games to escape from reality!

Shroud of The Avatar already promises to be revolutionary in one particular respect - game-play options.  Although only a single-player mode is available at present, the ultimate goal is for the game to allow single-player, multi-player and MMORPG modes.  So if you wish to play the game solo, as in the original Ultima games, you can.  If you wish to venture out into the wide world ala Ultima On-Line, you can do that too.  Or if you'd rather just open up a smaller realm for you and a few friends, ala Minecraft, you'll be able to do that as well.

No matter what your play style, so far it seems that Shroud of The Avatar is living up to its goals of providing role-players of all stripes with something they'll enjoy.  Should you wish to join the fun, it is not too late to make a $45 pledge and get in on the action.  I think you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 2, Episode 9 - Three Ghosts

For a summary of the episode guide layout & categories, click here.



With Ollie still recovering from his injuries at the hands of Brother Cyrus and an accidental injection of blood thickener, he might be forgiven for forgetting that it's almost Christmas.  As Roy Harper searches for answers in the mysterious murder of a local artist and Ollie continues his hunt for the people building an army of super-strong soldiers, The Arrow will be visited by three spirits - ghosts from his past with messages about his future.  Is Ollie going mad?  Or merely taking his first difficult steps out of the darkness and into a brighter future?

On the island, Oliver, Sara and Shado are at the mercy of Professor Ivo and Ollie will be forced to make a sadistic choice between both of the women he's loved.


Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
(the appearance of three ghosts inspire a man to change his ways at Christmas time), Green Arrow: Year One (The Island sequences), Green Arrow: Quiver (Slade's line about Oliver looking like he saw a ghost is virtually identical to a running gag line about various people seeing a back-from-the-dead Oliver Queen), Green Arrow: The Archer's Quest (Barry Allen makes Oliver Queen - and the rest of the Justice League - costumes made of compressed fabric) and The Flash: Rebirth (more references to the Geoff Johns revamp of Barry Allen's origin story).


Barry seems to forget about his boss's threats regarding his job from last episode, staying in Starling City for at least two more days to help out around the Arrow Cave.


We've seen Stephen Amell and Caity Lotz show their acting chops playing three or four variants of the same person on this show.  Manu Bennett can now be added to the list of  actors on this show who have accomplished this feat.  This episode sees him playing the tough-guy mask Slade Wilson wears on the island, the vulnerable man who fell in love with Shado, the ghost of Oliver's memories of Slade and - finally - the modern Slade, still alive and well and holding a grudge.


The whole of the scene with Ollie fighting Slade's ghost in the Arrowcave.  Writing .  Music.  Performances.  Cinematography.  Lighting.  Everything is perfect.

While I generally like Geoff Johns' writing, I haven't always liked how he's portrayed Oliver Queen in the comics.  And yet this episode - co-written by Johns and series writer Ben Sokolowski  - prefectly captures three essential points to Oliver's character in the lessons he is taught by his ghosts.  Shado tells Oliver that he should fight to protect the living - not to honor the fallen.  Slade tells Oliver that the real reason he fights is to atone for his own sins.  Finally, Tommy reminds Oliver that sometimes you fight because someone has to fight back.


Barry suggests Oliver wear a mask made of compressible micro-fabric.  This is the same material in the comics that Barry eventually uses to create his costume as The Flash, folding it up inside a ring to be easily retrieved when he needs to change.

In the story Green Arrow: The Archer's Quest, it is revealed that Barry made costumes of the same compressible micro-fabric material for his teammates in The Justice League before it was pointed out that only a person with super-speed could effectively utilize such a ring.

Cyrus Gold was the name of the man who - in the Golden Age Green Lantern comics - became the zombie villain Solomon Grundy.  Though the exact details of what sort of man he was differ from retelling to retelling, most of them agree Cyrus Gold was not a nice man.  The best story refers to him as a gentleman of ill repute and the worst of them identify him as a miser and a pedophile!  Rising form the dead as a zombie with no memory of who he was, Gold was dubbed Solomon Grundy after the nursery rhyme character since the only thing he could recall of his past was being born on a Monday

The founder of STAR Labs is identified as Harrison Wells.  In the comics, the founder of STAR Labs was named Garrison Slate.

Quentin Lance's former partner is named Lucas Hilton.  This is also the name of a cop character created by Arrow Executive Producer and comics writer Andrew Kreisberg , during his run on the Green Arrow/Black Canary comic.

Slade's line about Ollie seeing a ghost is very similar to a line repeated in Green Arrow: Quiver.  In that story,  Oliver Queen comes back from the dead and says that line to people who are astonished to see him.

The Asian reporter covering the particle accelerator story in Central City is named Linda Park.  This is a reference to a reporter from The Flash comics, who eventually married Wally West - a.k.a. The original Kid Flash and Barry Allen's successor as The Flash.

In the original The Flash comic, Barry Allen gained super-speed powers after being thrown through a shelf full of chemicals while being struck by lightning.  It is unknown what role the multifunctional particle accelerator has, if any in his origin in the Arrow universe.  However, it did appear that Barry was already moving faster than his surroundings immediately before the lightning strike. 


Barry determines that Ollie was injected with a coagulate which causes his blood to become unnaturally thick.  He treats this by injecting Ollie with rat poison.  Most rat poisons are anti-coagulates that kill rodents by thinning their blood over an extended period.  While the same base chemicals are used in drugs to treat overly-thick blood, it should be noted that most doctors do not recommend taking rat poison as an alternative to prescribed medication.

Barry is able to recreate a fingerprint by adding a gel-based polymer to the residual oils from Brother Cyrus' skin from where he grabbed Ollie's neck and cut the skin.

Oliver says the reason he doesn't wear a mask is that it won't conform perfectly to his face and would hinder his ability to aim while on the run.

Barry suggests Oliver look into a mask made of compressible micro-fabric to hide his identity, saying that green grease-paint isn't very effective at hiding his identity.  By episode's end, he has made such a mask for Oliver. 

Dialogue Triumphs

(Looking at the arrow in Roy's leg)
Ollie: (gripping the arrow with both hands) Roy?  This is going to hurt.
Roy: My anger's dulling the pain.

(As Ollie is working out and trying to shoot a bouncing tennis ball, his arrow is caught by Slade)
What's the matter, kid?  You look like you've seen a ghost.

You're not a hero. Or a friend. Or a brother. You are nothing. 
(Ollie turns away from him)
Do not turn your back on me!  Not again!
You're gone.
Wherever I am... it's time you joined me!

I know I called you a murderer but you are not.  You are a hero.  You beat the island.  You beat my father.  So fight, Oliver.  Get up and fight back! 

(When explaining to Brother Blood why he does not want The Arrow killed)
Death would be a release from this life and his sentence has yet to be carried out.  I'm going to tear everything he cares about away from him.  Destroy those who choose to follow him.  Corrupt those he loves. Once he has lost everyone and everything he values, I will drive an arrow through his eye.


Shado is confirmed to be dead.

Slade is confirmed to be alive and holding a grudge against Oliver.

Felicity refers to when Moira shot Oliver and he turned to her for help (114) and when he revealed his identity to Diggle in order to save his life (103), while arguing with Oliver about her revealing his secret identity to Barry Allen.

Moira decorates the house for Christmas alone, saying she won't be throwing a big party this year, referring to the disappointing turn out for the party in 208.

Ollie hallucinates Shado twice - once while he's on the table being treated by Barry and later as he's walking down the halls of Queen Manor alone.  She asks him to give up being The Arrow before everyone around him dies.

Diggle confirms that Ollie prefers to be called The Arrow now.

Barry mentions The Arrow's battles with The Dollmaker (203), Count Vertigo (207), Dodger (115) and The Huntress (117).

Blood sends Laurel flowers and asks her to go Christmas shopping with him.

Oliver still addresses Quentin Lance as 'Detective' as The Arrow.

Ivo kills Shado after Oliver throws himself between Ivo and Sara, after Ivo trains his gun on her.

Laurel discovers that all the blood donors at Blood's drives were required to take a psychological evaluation by the Langford Institute.

Felicity is Jewish.

Felicity and Barry go out to eat together at the Big Belly Burger - not seen since last season.

Ollie hallucinates Slade twice - once on the rooftop of SCPD headquarters while talking to Quentin Lance - the other in the Arrowcave.  Slade tells Oliver that he became The Arrow to atone for his own sins - not make up for his father's mistakes.

Oliver finally tells Diggle and Felicity about Shado.  He tells Diggle about Slade Wilson. 

Diggle admits to seeing the ghosts of soldier friends who he outlived. 

Roy discovers that Max's file photo is stamped with the word Mirakuru - the Japanese name for the Miracle/Miraclo drug. This name will be used henceforth.

Oliver kills Cyrus Gold after triggering an explosion, which sprays more Mirakuru on Gold while collapsing a ceiling on him.  The smart money is we have not seen the last of him.

Ollie hallucinates Tommy during his fight with Brother Blood and Cyrus Gold.  Tommy tells Oliver that Tommy was wrong to call him a murderer and that he is a hero.

Oliver is able to save Roy's life by performing CPR on him after he apparently dies from taking Mirakuru.  He then returns Roy to Thea's room at Queen Manor.  Roy's memory of the event is fuzzy and there's no indication he knows Ollie is The Arrow.

Blood formally announces his run for mayor.

The "friend" who gave Blood the Mirakuru sample is revealed to be Slade Wilson.

Thanks to the Mirakuru, Roy's injuries from last week have healed completely.  It remains to be seen if Roy has gained enhanced strength and reflexes from the injection as well.

Sara lies to protect Ollie when Slade discovers Shado's death.  Slade asks who killed her.  Ollie is about to say "I did" when Sara cuts him off and says "Ivo".

Barry has a bulletin board filled with materials regarding his mother's murder.

Barry Allen is struck by lightning and thrown through a rack of chemicals.

Barry makes Oliver a green mask that Felicity says makes him look like a hero.

The Fridge Factor

Pretty much the entire female cast is sidelined for this episode.  Shado and Sara are girl hostages, with Shado being fridged to give Ollie and Slade angst.  Thea and Sin are mostly there to fuss over Roy when he's wounded.  Moira is decorating the Queen household for Christmas in solitude.  Laurel is only there to cry over her father and to further advance Roy's mission.  You know things are bad when lab-rat Felicity proactive female character in the episode and even she spends most of the episode fawning over how awesome Barry and Ollie are.

The Winick Factor

Ollie's defending The Arrow's shooting Roy as a means of keeping him safe is lame even by Ollie's low standards for unbelievable lies.

The Bottom Line

Ignoring the shabby treatment of the female cast, it's a damn good episode, a fitting set-up for The Flash TV series and a fine way to mark the midway point of the season.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Arrow - Season 2, Episode 9 - Three Ghosts - Live Tweet Commentary

A live-tweet commentary on Three Ghosts before writing the latest entry for the Arrow Episode Guide.

Word of warning - this DOES have SPOILERS!  So don't read this until you've seen the episode! aaa

0:02 -  Did they REALLY need that dart to knock Barry out?

0:03 - Spinny cam is giving me vertigo. Oh the irony that Count Vertigo is dead now!  

0:06 - You know, if this were regular DCU, I would dearly love to see Ollie give Barry a good ass-kicking. 

0:08 - "My anger is dulling the pain." Yeah. That's Roy alright.

0:09 - Oh, I would love to hear Diggle's end of that conversation.

0:13 - Dammit... my DVR blacked out twice between Cyrus and Blood talking.  

0:17 - Compressible micro-fabric. NICE!  

0:18 - Huh? Who is that woman? Oh wait... Laurel? That's right. Is she still in this show?

0:19- Heh. They actually quote the Solomon Grundy poem!

0:21 - ... damn! If this is how it actually.... damn.

0:24 -
Sure. Remind me of my dead best friend. Twist that knife a bit more, Laurel.   

0:26 - Shouldn't Barry be rushing to get to work? No pun intended? Did we totally forget that? 

0:27 - And there's this week's reference to the particle accelerator.

0:28 - Well, there goes the fan theory that Barry is Jewish. 

0:29 -  Oh! They totally stole that line from !

0:32 - So Oliver thinks Slade is dead... which makes it hard for him to become Deathstroke... or DOES IT?!    

0:36 -
Oliver has psychological problems.  Yeah - that took a genius to figure out.  Barry's not quick on the uptake. 

0:37 - As per usual. 

"So fight, Oliver.  Get up and fight back!"  As sure a mission statement for  as ever there was. 

0:49 -
Part of me wanted Roy to mutter "You shot me, you a-hole!"

0:53 - Oh damn..   

0:55 - Oh damn... so she really DOES die here?  

0:57 - Nice little Archer's quest reference.   

0:59 - That was awesome. Just plain perfect. Well done and everyone else among the  

Agents of SHIELD, Episode 10 - Not Quite Live Commentary

No Live Commentary this week, as I was kept late by work responsibilities.  So here's the archive of all the sarcasm and commentary I watched the show on DVR.

0:01: Wow.  An action sequence right at the start.  That's novel.

Sorry, @AgentsofSHIELD.  Centipede doesn't sound as threatening as HYDRA.  

0:12: Ah, the old "He's standing behind me, isn't he?" gag. 

0:15: Oh, Fitz you jealous little boy, you...

And finally, after ten episodes, we finally get to hear about the cellist! 

This is a good scene but that's some of the worst green-screen I've ever seen. 

0:18:What the - are they actually building on a previous episode's plot point?

0:19: And an actual answer to a mystery?  This is almost like a Joss Whedon show...

0:28: Peterson is just what this series needs - a likeable character without a mysterious backstory.

0:39: She really seems to want to meet The Clairvoyant?  Is he Benedict Cumberbatch?

0:50: Kidnapped loved ones. Power and Responsibility.  Now THIS feels like a Marvel Comic!   

0:56: Wow.  Didn't see that coming.  For real.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Conan And The People Of The Black Circle #2 - A Review

The People of the Black Circle
is one of Robert E. Howard's most unusual Conan stories.  While Conan was always an anti-hero at best under his creator's pen, Black Circle is one of the few stories where we see Conan in a truly villainous role, kidnapping a princess in order to ransom her against the lives of the bandits he is currently leading.  It is also unusual in that Howard devoted just as much of the story towards the actions of Khemsa - an acolyte sorcerer in the service of the titular Black Circle - as he does Conan's exploits.


Fred Van Lente's dialogue borrows heavily from the original Howard script.  Virtually all of the text is presented as it was in the original story, with Van Lente's main contributions being to edit certain sections that would add little to an illustrated adaptation.  He also adapts several internal monologues into actual dialogues between the characters.
The artwork by Ariel Olivetti is skillfully painted, though overly bright compared to most Conan comics.  A good deal of the definition is lost due to Olivetti's palette choices as is most of the subtle line-work.  It would have been better had this book been published in an over-sized volume rather than a comic-book sized one, so the details would be more easily visible.  This is a minor quibble and the book still looks good, though the reader may have to squint at some panels to see everything.

Doctor Who: Fear Of The Dark - A Book Review

The planet Akoshemon is widely regarded as the most wretched hive of scum and villainy the universe has ever produced.  Even now, generations after the planet and its people fell, it is viewed with hostility and suspicion - even by those who do not believe the old legends of an ancient evil living in the heart of the Akoshemon system.  The planet itself is a polluted wreck and its location on the edge of the universe makes it impractical for exploration.  Which makes it a prime target for Jyl Stoker and her band of mineral pirates.

Of course The Doctor has little interest in minerals or pirates.  His concern lies with a telepathic force that is attacking his companion Nyssa.  His attempts to track the assailant lead him to the moon of Akoshemon, where Stoker and her crew have just uncovered a hidden underground laboratory.  But there is more beneath the surface than old labs and strange tombs.  And in the heart of a dark world, The Doctor will have to confront more than an ancient evil beyond even his understanding - he must also confront his own fears.

In may ways, Fear Of The Dark perfectly captures the essence of the Fifth Doctor era.  The problem is that it captured the essence of a mediocre episode of said era.  Author Trevor Baxendale has some incredibly good ideas but fails to fully realize most of them.

The base concept of the villain is a prime example of this.  The menace The Doctor faces is Lovcraftian in nature, lacking form and existing only as malevolent, possessive thought. Baxendale slowly builds the horror of the story, portraying The Doctor's out of character behavior as a result of subtle psionic manipulation.  The idea that The Doctor - never cowardly and never cruel - could be so easily turned by this menace is truly horrific.  And yet the other-worldly menace - when finally revealed after over 200 pages of subtle manipulation - monologues like The Master at his hammiest! 

Another problem is the supporting cast.  Baxendale is capable of creating interesting character concepts that defy the standard cliches of science-fiction.  And yet, as soon as we feel some emotional attachment to a character, they are killed off before anything can be done with them.  Vexingly, it is the dullest characters with the least definition who survive the longest.  Some cite The Fifth Doctor's tenure as the bloodiest in the show's history in terms of supporting character deaths and this novel does little to prove them wrong.

In the end, Fear Of The Dark is not a bad story but it hasn't aged particularly well.  The Impossible Planet & The Satan Pit presented the same basic plot more effectively.  And it may be difficult for modern science-fiction readers to read about the cigar-chomping, tough-as-nails but still model-gorgeous Jyl Stoker without thinking of Katee Sackhoff.  Fifth Doctor fans will probably enjoy it but other Whovians can safely skip this one. 

Green Arrow #26 - A Review

Dubbed The Outsiders War - Book One: Return To The Island, Green Arrow #26 is a perfect entry point for new readers, despite its intimidating subtitle.  Those who only know Oliver Queen from the TV series Arrow may be confused that Oliver's support team consists of two computer nerds named Fyff and Naomi or by the revelation that Shado is older than Oliver and the mother of his half-sister.  Thankfully, the opening pages bring the reader up to speed on recent events with great efficiency before moving on to the action.  

Author Jeff Lemire has taken Green Arrow in directions not seen since the days of Mike Grell in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  There is a mystic quality to the character now, as we find Oliver is the last scion of a warrior clan bound to the power of The Arrow, pitted against other clans devoted to other weapons.  The presentation is reminiscent of Frank Miller's work on Daredevil and proves a welcome and unique change to this series after several false-starts following The New 52 revamp. 

The art by Andrea Sorrentino is, in a word, astonishing.  Sorrentino crams an amazing amount of detail into every single panel, without things becoming muddied or overshadowed.  Praise must also be paid to colorist Marcelo Maiolo, who alternates the color palettes between panels, using muted hues throughout for atmosphere, save for the action shots which are given brighter, more vibrant colors.

Bottom Line?  This is a great book and if you're any kind of comics fan, you should be reading it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Doctor Who #16 (IDW Vol. 3) - A Review

Doctor Who #16 proves a worthy conclusion to the Dead Man's Hand storyline.  More, it proves to be a fitting capstone for the IDW Doctor Who series.  We don't know who might pick up the license to publish more Doctor Who comics in the future but we can only hope they will prove to be as good as the IDW series was 90% of the time.

Tony Lee's script brings everything to a satisfying and logical conclusion - no easy task in a story involving Oscar Wilde in the American Old West, an alien invasion, Calamity Jane, Thomas Edison and the stone-skinned zombie of Wild Bill Hickok!  The only real flaw with the story is that Clara is given surprisingly little to do in the final battle save offer moral support.  Indeed, Clara spent most of this storyline on the sidelines and its' a bit jarring given what we've seen The Impossible Girl do in the past.  

Mike Collins' artwork continues to be serviceable but hardly outstanding.  Collins is a fair caricaturist in his close-ups but he becomes sloppy in the middle and far distances.  Heavy inking also contributes to the overall loss of fine detail throughout the book.  Despite this, the book is still an enjoyable read.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Earth 2 #18 - A Review

Tom Taylor hit the ground running with Earth 2 last month and - much like The Flash - he hasn't stopped for a moment since.  Half of this issue centers around a running battle between The Flash and Superman, who has been revealed as being alive and well but - unfortunately - now in the thrall of Darkseid.  The other half of the issue centers upon a new Batman and his efforts to free a number of metahuman captives who have been held in stasis by The World Army for several years. 

Tom Taylor was the perfect choice to take over this series after James Robinson's departure.  As fans of Injustice: Gods Among Us can vouch, Taylor is incredibly skilled at taking the base concept of a character and finding new things to do with them.  It's hard to say which concepts in this issue came directly from Taylor and how many of them may have been bequeathed to him from Robinson's playbook  In the end, it doesn't matter.  All of these ideas grab the reader immediately and I can't wait to see more of Aquawoman, the new Red Tornado (i.e. Lois Lane's personality in a robot body) and Accountable - a teenage Jimmy Olsen who has the power to control the flow of electronic information..

The artwork of Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott continues to wow me.  I'm hard pressed to pick a favorite artist but Nicola Scott is easily one of my top-five and probably the most criminally underrated artist working today.  How she and Trevor Scott haven't gotten an Eisner nomination for their work on this book is beyond me.

If you're a DC Comics fan who rues the New 52, there's a home for you on Earth 2.  Despite the dark setting, there is a sense of hope and creativity in this series that most recent DC Comics books lack.  All this and a good story and good artwork too!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 2, Episode 8 - The Scientist

For a summary of the episode guide layout & categories, click here.


With his mother free from jail, Oliver Queen is quick to try and reintroduce Moira to both her company and high society... despite Isabel Rochev's vocal objections to both.  He soon finds himself distracted as Queen Consolidate is robber by a burglar capable of breaking down reinforced titanium doors with his bare hands.

Enter Barry Allen - a crime scene investigator with the Central City Police Department.  Allen claims he's working on a similar case involving a super-strong burglar.  But is the young police officer hiding something besides his obsession with the Starling City Vigilante?  If so, he's not alone.  For Oliver Queen knows something about people with powers beyond those of mortal men.. and he's fought them before!

At the same time, Roy Harper launches an investigation into the disappearance of one of Sin's friends in The Glades.  The trail leads to a dead body bleeding from the eyes - something that Roy finds far more interesting than The Arrow.

On the island, our heroes are in a race against time and Ivo's men, as they hunt for the submarine containing the Mirakuru drug that is Slade's only chance of survival.


The Flash: Rebirth (Barry Allen's origin in Arrow corresponds to his back-story in this book - no surprise as both were written by Geoff Johns), JLA: Year One (Oliver as the first active superhero, working as Green Arrow for over a year before the emergence of The Flash and Black Canary), Green Arrow: Year One (the island sequences), Marv Wolfman's Teen Titans (Brother Blood, his cult, and the story of how Slade Wilson got super powers ) and J.T. Krul's Green Arrow run (the drama between Moira Queen and Isabel Rochev).


Felicity's red dress with the cleavage window in the first part of the show seems decidedly unprofessional.

How did Merlyn's actions with The Undertaking violate Ra's Al Ghul's code of honor?  Ra's isn't exactly afraid of causing collateral damage and killing millions, as fans of the comics and even Batman Begins know.  503 dead shouldn't even ping on Ra's personal radar.  (Perhaps Ra's objected to the use of an earthquake machine that might cause untold environmental damage or to Merlyn taking such actions over a personal vendetta?)

Was it really necessary to knock Barry out with a blow dart at the train station?  If they're going to expose Ollie's secret identity to Barry anyway, surely Diggle and Felicity could have just talked to him?


Grant Gustin plays Barry Allen somewhat more like Peter Parker than the Barry Allen from the comics.  Since Barry Allen from the comics is notoriously dull and free of personality, this is an improvement.  There is a shy likeability to Gustin's portrayal - a sophomoric eagerness that immediately endears him to the viewer.  We can see why The CW is confident to give him his own series.

Susanna Thompson has been given surprisingly little to do this season.  She honestly doesn't get much in this episode either, but she steals every scene she is in - from her first cool encounter with Isabel Rochev to her final confrontation with Merlyn at the episode end.  Her name dropping of Ra's Al Ghul is easily the best moment in an episode full of great moments. 


The thunder-rolls and lightning-strikes throughout the episode are a nice touch.

The musical theme for Barry is a good one.  Light and playful - a nice contrast to the more somber yet bombastic theme that follows Oliver around.


Two more references to the STAR Labs particle accelerator in Central City - another TV news broadcast and the cover of the Science Showcase magazine Barry uses to shield himself from the rain when we first see him.

The magazine itself is a fast reference to The Flash, as Barry Allen first appeared in Showcase #4 and was created as a means of teaching real science facts to comic readers in the 1950s.

Barry always running late is a running gag from the comics.

Barry's background here - becoming obsessed with crime scene analysis after his mother was murdered by a mysterious killer with super-speed and his father was framed for the crime - is consistent with his background as presented in The Flash: Rebirth.

Barry's straightening the rack of dangerous chemicals in the Queen Consolidated lab during a storm is a reference to how Barry Allen originally gained his super-speed powers in the comics.  Originally he was struck by lightning and thrown through a rack of chemicals.      

The tenseness between Moira and Isabel Rochev may be a hint that Isabel was the woman Robert Queen cheated on Moira with.  This would fit with the character of Isabel Rochev from the Green Arrow comics by J.T. Krul, who had an affair with Oliver's father, thought herself in love with him and then became obsessed with taking everything associated with his name as her own.

As in the comics, Barry is an even worse liar than Ollie.

At this point in the show, Barry is only a lab assistant - not a fully-fledged CSI officer.

This is the second episode this season to not feature Laurel in any capacity.


Barry notes it takes 1250 foot-pounds of torque to crush a person's neck.  As noted, this is impossible for a normal person to do one-handed.

Centrifuges are used to separate the component parts of something by accelerating it at high speeds in a circle.  They are commonly used in blood tests.

Barry notes that The Arrow uses carbon-shafts for his arrows and that a aluminum-carbon composite would offer better penetration.

Ketamine is the sedative Brother Blood is using to create his soldiersFelicity notes that it's a common surgical anesthetic derived from hydrochloric salt.

Felicity figures out that, based on the way one of Ollie's arrows is bent, that the muscle density of the thief is at least 120 pounds per cubic feet.  That is almost the same density of common concrete. 

Dialogue Triumphs

Felicity: You look fabulous!  Really!  Better than ever!  Did you do something to your hair?
Moira: Yes.  I shampooed it without eight women and a guard watching.

(After finding out the vehicle used by their burglar was just used to rob a blood bank)
Diggle: Super strength?  Likes blood?  Please don't tell me we're starting to believe in vampires.

Brother Blood:
Blood provides life.  Blood provides power.  And with power, there's no limit to what I can do.

(After Ollie exposes the truth about who Barry is and dismisses him)
He did lie about who he really was.
Felicity: Then what do we do every day?

(Upon examining the nearly empty party)
Moira: I guess these days I only draw a crowd is when I'm on trial for murder. 
Thea: Mom, you don't have to -
Moira: We have guests.  However few of them there are.
(She puts on a smile and enters the room)

(In the alley behind the Verdant club)
The Arrow: What?
Roy: I need your help. A friend of mine's friend... Well, the cops think he ODed but we think he was murdered.
The Arrow: Why?
Roy: Well, he wasn't an addict for starters and this (holds up photo of Max) This doesn't look like any OD I've ever seen.
The Arrow: Stay away from that.
Roy: You know something? 
(The Arrow says nothing)
Roy: What happened to him?  You're the one who told me to be your eyes and ears on the street and you know what?  That is NOT good enough anymore!
The Arrow: Fine.  Then we're done altogether.
(The Arrow turns around to leave)
Roy: I don't need you! 
(The Arrow stops dead)
Roy: I have friends that can help me.  You can't stop us.
The Arrow: (whispered)  I can slow you down.
(Ollie turns around and shoots Roy in the lower leg)

(Merlyn enters Moira's room)
Moira: And I thought it couldn't hurt to add extra security guards.
Merlyn: It hurt them. (throws their guns to the floor) Badly.  Have you prepared Thea?
Moira: No.  You will not go near Thea.  You will not speak to her.  And you will never set foot in this house again.
Merlyn: I set you free, Moira!  Your life belongs to me.
Moira: I am through being afraid of you.
Merlyn: (laughs) You think you can stop me?  Even The Vigilante couldn't kill me.
Moira: No, he couldn't.  But I know someone who can.  Ra's Al Ghul.
Merlyn: How do you know that name?
Moira: Well, I didn't.  Until you mentioned Nanda Parbat.  The League of Assassins - however twisted their aims - believes very deeply in a code of honor.  Your Undertaking betrayed that code.
Merlyn: You told Ra's I'm still alive?!
Moira: He was so grateful to hear it.  Because he so very much wants to kill you himself.  So my advice to you, Malcolm?  Run.


Officer Lance quips, when asking what might have been stolen from the Queen Consolidated lab, if they had a spare earthquake machine lying around.

Shado finds out about Oliver's relationship with Sara. 

Sin is seen for the first time since 204.

Thea does an about-face on Roy playing vigilante and indeed goes along for the ride this time.

Ollie opens up to Diggle and Felicity about his experiences on the island during his second year, telling them about Mirakuru and how it enhances the strength, reflexes and endurance of those who took it and survived. 

Ollie says that Ivo is dead and that everyone who took the serum on the island is dead, the last of whom he burned personally.  He says he has fought people on the Mirakuru formula and won before.

Ollie notes the Mirakuru formula requires three components to be created - a centrifuge, blood and a strong sedative.

Roy notes that Max disappeared the same day as a blood drive.  He, Sin and Thea are spotted and followed by Officer Daily - Brother Blood's minion in the police department we've seen in the previous few episodes.

Later, Daily seems to recognize Roy and Sin as they are poking around the scene where Max's body was found.

Oliver injects Slade with Mirakuru, despite not having a sedative ready.  This causes Slade to bleed from the eyes and apparently kills him.

Moira has the means to contact Ra's Al Ghul.

By the episode's end, Ollie has been injected with Blood's Mirakuru formula and Barry has been told that Oliver Queen is The Arrow. 

The Bottom Line

A solid introduction to Barry Allen as a character and a solid episode of Arrow on its own.  The flashback sequences and present-day scenes merge together incredibly well, building off one another.  Despite learning more of Ollie's past on the island in this episode than we have ever learned in previous episodes, there are still many mysteries yet to come.  A welcome return to form after last week.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

First Thoughts On Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

SOURCE: Meet Wonder Woman! Gal Gadot lassos role in 'Batman vs. Superman'

It's not Megan Fox!

She isn't a name actress.

Israeli actress.  She's not Greek but will definitely come off as suitably not-American.

Accent may freak out middle Americans who think of Wonder Woman as an American heroine.

Served in Israeli military and is a former beauty pageant contestant, suggesting proper poise as both princess and warrior.

She looks more like a runway model than a fitness model.

She has time to hit the weights and build some muscle.

It sucks that Wonder Woman's first film appearance will be as as supporting character to Superman and Batman.

We don't know how big her role in the film is.  This could be a quick cameo building to a solo picture.

Isn't that what they told Scarlett Johansson about Iron Man 2?

Doctor Who: Last Of The Gaderene - A Book Review

Declared redundant after an unfortunate round of budget cuts, the aerodrome in Culverton was quick to find new life.  Bought up by the mysterious Legion International, the company's Miss Bliss promises a new era of prosperity for the quiet village. And who knows?  Perhaps someday they shall have an international airport to rival Heathrow!

Retired Wing Commander Alex Whistler is suspicious of Legion International and doubly suspicious of Miss Bliss.  And that was before he saw soldiers clad in black uniforms and too-wide smiles stomping around the town!  Thankfully, Whistler is not without friends and one of them is Brigadier Alister Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart of UNIT.

In short order, The Doctor and his assistant Jo Grant are on their way to Culverton, little knowing what oddities await them.  For sinister forces plot the invasion and colonization of the Earth and they've sought the aid of a familiar foe of The Doctor.  The last of the Gaderene are on their way... and even The Doctor may not be able to stop their arrival.

Mark Gatiss perfectly captures the Third Doctor era of Doctor Who for good and for ill.  Last Of The Gaderene is a ripping yarn but not a particularly deep one.  Like many Third Doctor stories, it is high on action and low on emotional depth.  There's no real surprises and only newbies to the series will fail to guess who The Gaderene's ally on Earth is long before they are revealed. 

It's somewhat vexing as one feels Gatiss could have done so much more with this story.  Numerous minor characters are introduced only to have their stories cut short as their bodies are taken over by The Gaderene.  Only Wing Commander Whistler is given any true definition and even he seems like the stock Action Grandfather figure so common to the Doctor Who stories of the day.. 

One wonders if Gatiss intended to write more but was forced to cut his story short.  Numerous passages hint at things to come that never arrive, such as Jo's worries that The Doctor will soon abandon her now that his TARDIS is fully functional.  Likewise, The Doctor briefly considers the conflict between his new-found wanderlust and his desire for the companionship of his friends at UNIT but nothing comes of these thoughts.

That being said, Last Of The Gaderene is enjoyable for what it is and well worth reading if you're a Third Doctor fan.  Or indeed any kind of Doctor fan.   

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Disaster Artist - A Book Review

If you haven't seen The Room, you're fortunate.  It is not so much a film as it is an experience and it is not a pleasant experience.  While not quite as cringe-inducing as The Human Centipede or its' sequels, The Room is equally uncomfortable to watch.  To watch The Room is to stare into the heart of madness itself - a chaotic, Lovecraftian madness that goes by the name of Tommy Wiseau.

Wiseau is a man who - had he not been born - would have to be created by Sacha Baron Cohen.  The kindest adjective that might be applied to Wiseau is eccentric.  Independently wealthy through mysterious circumstances, Wiseau has been notoriously evasive about his origins since achieving infamy through his film.  The Disaster Artist does not make Wiseau's past any clearer but it does explain his motivations somewhat.

Co-written by Greg Sestero, who played Mark in The Room in addition to serving (unwillingly) as the movie's Line Producer, The Disaster Artist alternates between two points-in-time.  Told in alternating chapters, half the book is devoted towards the downward spiral that was the making of The Room.  The other half is devoted towards detailing Sestero's life as a young actor in Southern California and how he befriended Wiseau.

Cult film fans will doubtlessly be interested in reading about Wiseau's process or lack thereof.  There is all manner of trivia regarding the shoot, like how Wiseau constructed a roof-top set with green-screen backgrounds in a parking lot rather than using an actual rooftop.  Despite this, the alternating chapters about Wiseau the man and his friendship with Sestero offer far more insight into Wiseau The Artist than anything else.

Sestero and co-author Tom Bissell paint Wiseau as an overgrown man-child - a poor little rich boy who never learned how to make friends and tried to buy the life he wanted.  This seems as likely an explanation as any for many scenes in The Room that serve no purpose other than to establish Tommy's character Johnny as a popular, well-respected man - i.e. the sort of man Wiseau wishes he was but is incapable of being due to his crippling insecurities and control issues.

There lies the grand irony of this book.  By exposing Wiseau at his most inhuman, Sestero inspires sympathy for the devil.  Wiseau's antics on the set inspire pity rather than outrage as one senses he really doesn't know any better.  Likewise, Sestero himself manages not to come off as a back-stabbing opportunist even as he lays his relationship with Wiseau bare.  He is quick to praise Wiseau for his generosity and notes that Tommy gave him the emotional support Sestero's family didn't as he was trying to make it, thus taking the edge off when he tells tales of Wiseau's legendary miserliness on the set and his numerous breakdowns off of it.

While it's not worth reading more than once, The Disaster Artist is worth picking up at the library.  It has a lot to offer whether you're a fan of cult cinema, an aspiring actor interesting in reading about another actor's attempts to make it or the sort of person who slows down to look at the car crashes on the side of the freeway.  Aficionados of The Room may be disappointed there is less about the film than there is about the people behind it but they can easily skip half the book if it bothers them that much. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Doctor Who #14 & #15 (IDW Vol. 3) - A Review

I somehow managed to miss Doctor Who #14 last month and didn't realize it until I saw #15 in the shop this past weekend.  Thankfully, the matter was easily rectified and I was able to get caught up on what happened after what was - if  memory serves me correctly - a most enjoyable set-up.

The Doctor and Clara find themselves in Deadwood at the same time that Oscar Wilde is conducting his famous North American tour.  Strangely enough, stone-skinned masked men are gunning down the people of Deadwood without guns - including one that Calamity Jane swears is the long-dead Wild Bill Hickok himself!  Naturally The Doctor is all too willing to throw on a Stetson and play Marshall but could there be more going on than even he suspects?  Almost certainly...

Tony Lee depicts Smith's Doctor as a delightfully dorky man-of-action.  Things go a bit far in one scene where The Doctor ponders whether or not he prefers being ignored or having people try to kill him but for the most part Lee perfectly captures Smith's manic energy.  Indeed, the only major flaw with Lee's script is that he may be trying to do too much with this story. 

Teaming The Doctor with one historical figure would be story enough.  Here he is teamed with four of them, ignoring the people of Deadwood itself!  There are also multiple villains in play but the readers are unlikely to complain even when the historical bits get a bit cumbersome.  The best sequence of the book, bar none, involves all the incarnations of The Doctor getting involved in a psychic legal defense of The Doctor's life. 

Mike Collins' artwork is oddly uneven in both issues.  He fares well enough in the close-ups and does a decent enough job depicting the various Doctors as well as the historical figures involved.  Yet some panels are over-inked and Collins' artwork loses all detail in the middle and far distance.  This leads to some oddities and inconsistencies in the artwork but nothing that distracts overly much from the final package.

Hawkeye #14 - A Review

There comes a time with some forms of revolutionary art where one ponders just how revolutionary said art truly is.  You find yourself second-guessing your first impressions, wondering if a unique method of storytelling was merely a mask for the artist's unwillingness to tell a story conventionally.  You start to seriously examine whether or not the artist is taking their work seriously or if they are, in the words of Mel Brooks, "just jerking off."

With Hawkeye #14, it is now clear - Matt Fraction is just jerking off.

Fraction's story here does not read like a comic book.  It reads like a section of a spec script for a movie or the script for a television pilot.  Taken on its own terms as a single comic story, one might guess after reading this issue that that Fraction decided to make a grab for some of that Netflix money and is trying to build the case for a Kate Bishop as Hawkeye series.

It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, save for two problems.  The first is that Kate is REALLY lousy at her job as a solo hero for hire under Fraction's pen.  When acting as Clint Barton's foil, she is a match for Madame Masque.  Left to her own devices, she can barely manage a campy drug dealer.

The second problem is that Fraction's acknowledgement of his own cliches in the script - while making Kate Bishop seem a perfect role for Ellen Page - does little to excite the reader.  Hell, Kate even complains about never getting to use a bow anymore and it's a legitimate complaint.  I can't remember the last time we saw either Hawkeye using their bow to help people in this series!

If Fraction is writing a film script, Annie Wu is drawing the storyboards.  The artwork of this issue fails to be anything more than inoffensive.  It gets the job done but it's fairly pedestrian and there aren't any sequences in the book that really stand out as exciting or memorable.  Then again, I suppose Wu can't be blamed for not depicting any dynamic moments when Fraction's script is so lacking in action and filled with endless scenes of talking heads.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Agents of SHIELD, Episode 9 - Live Commentary

Here's the archive of all the sarcasm and commentary I made on Twitter as the show played.

0:01: Labratory Accident Kills 4 - how often is THAT a headline in the Marvel Universe? 

0:01: Not , but an incredible simulation!

0:04:  Particle accelerator?  Am I watching #Arrow by accident?

0:04:  Magnets, yo!  How do they work?  

You get more with a tranq gun and a kind word than just a kind word.  

  I'm sure they rushed this episode with the particle accelerator so they could say ripped them off.

0:16: Is it just me, or do the walls of the cell look like old-school TARDIS panelling? 

0:18: Sadly, there will be some explanation for this that does not require a phone call to #DrStrange. 

0:24: You know what the fans really want to see? Simmons using the same hologram interface Tony Stark did!  

0:27: I wonder how frequently The Bus crashing is going to be a thing? 

0:34: ! It's like with... uh... er... it's like X-Files!  

0:36: Oh - put the believer in the light and the Atheist in the dark.  THAT'S subtle!   

0:40: If that room is so dang secure & protective how come their voices carry through it so easily?

0:41: The walls are made of Vibranium and allow sound to pass through them.  

0:57: Yeah...  really not digging this episode.

Red Sonja #5 - A Review

Red Sonja #5 continues Gail Simone's redefinition of the legend of the She Devil of Hyrkania.  This chapter sees Sonja newly retrieved from exile with a promise of a cure for the illness that plagues her.  By the issue's end, she will once again face her former friend and fellow survivor of the arenas of Zamora - Dark Annisia!

The script features much of Simone's famous humor, such as Sonja's bodyguards continuing their efforts to create impressive titles for their mistress.  Yet there are also many mysteries that push the plot forward, continuing to hold the readers' interest despite this issue largely being set-up for the conclusion of the first story arc.  The final page offers a surprising revelation that demands an interesting explanation next month.

Walter Geovani's art continues to impress.  I felt he was one of the most underrated artists to work on the previous Red Sonja title.  It is good to see him sitting on the monthly title on a regular basis.  Hopefully this partnership will continue for a long time to come. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Conan The Barbarian #22 - A Review

Conan The Barbarian #22 proves that any work - no matter how good - can be completely destroyed in translation by unskilled adapters.  If it weren't for the fact that this is the final arc on this book for this creative team, I'd consider dropping the title completely.  As it is, this issue inspired nothing within me save a desire to reread the old Roy Thomas Conan comics to see it retold properly.

Brian Wood does not adapt Robert E. Howard's original text - he butchers it, like Conan chopping his way through a horde of Stygians!  While the dialogue in this book does capture the basic gist of Howard's original story, much of the original passionate dialogue is gone.  For instance, Conan's famed musings on the nature of reality and how it matters little if life is an illusion so long as he is part of that illusion is cut completely.  Curiously the only text Wood leaves intact is the written descriptions of things that could be more clearly conveyed in the artwork.

Then again - considering artist Riccardo Burchielli - Wood may well have good reason to trust the text over the art.  Burchielli is not a bad artist but his sense of cinematography is odd.  Many is the conversation where we cannot see the characters talking, being instead treated to a far-shot of the ship or the surrounding environment.  When the characters do appear, they are often turned away from the reader - the better for Belit to flash her half-bared backside to the reader!

Five Ways The Doctor Can Survive If Matt Smith Is Really The Thirteenth Regeneration

WARNING: This article is highly speculative and dependent on some recent news and continuity. Do not read it if you have yet to see The Day Of The Doctor and wish to avoid SPOILERS!

SOURCE: The Mirror

Granting that The Mirror is not the most reputable source, the question raised by this article is a valid one.  And the math - by the reckoning of most Whovians - does add up.  If John Hurt's Doctor came between Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston and the David Tennant Doctor did burn the energy for a regeneration during Journey's End then Matt Smith would indeed be The Doctor's Thirteenth incarnation.

So how can Peter Capaldi become The Doctor in The Time Of The Doctor then?  Of course we knew they'd find some way around the rules regarding Time Lord regeneration... but how?  With that in mind, here's five work-arounds I've come up with that would solve the problem.

1. The thirteen regeneration limit is a legal one.

While the mythology is firm on Time Lords being limited to a dozen regenerations, there is much to suggest the limit is a legal one controlled by The Time Lords rather than a physical one.  The High Council of The Time Lords offered The Master a new set of regenerations for his aid during The Five Doctors.  Further, The Trial of a Time Lord suggested it was legally possible for one Time Lord to sign their remaining regenerations over to another, as The Valeyard attempted to force The Sixth Doctor to do.

Therefore, with no Time Lords around to enforce their own limits, there's nothing to actually stop The Doctor from going on... assuming he found some way of absorbing the energy for a few more regenerations somewhere on his journeys.  One way this could have happened...

2. River's sacrifice in Let's Kill Hitler didn't just save his life - it gave him more lives.

It was said that River sacrificed all her regenerations to save The Doctor from the poison that killed his ability to regenerate.  What if she wound up doing a bit more than that?

3. As a result of The Night Of The Doctor, The Doctor's regeneration clock "reset".

In The Night Of The Doctor, we learn that the Paul McGann Doctor was left near-death following a spaceship crash onto the planet Karn - home of the Sisterhood of Karn, who protect the Sacred Flame that grants them (and The Time Lords) eternal life.  They prepared several elixirs for him that would allow him to decide what he would become when he regenerated.  Perhaps the elixir also gave him an entirely new set of regenerations?

4. The regeneration triggered by The Sisterhood of Karn was a 1-Up.

Another possibility is that the elixir The Sisterhood of Karn gave The Doctor functioned like an extra-life in a video game as well as a trigger for his next regeneration.  That would give him one extra life, which could become the Peter Capaldi Doctor.

5. "Maybe even the universe can't bear to be without the Doctor."

In The Curse of The Fatal Death, The Doctor was somehow able to regenerate after his apparent death from an energy blast that destroyed his ability to regenerate.  No explanation was given, save for the above phrase from his companion.  Granting that The Curse of The Fatal Death was a spoof episode, it was also written by Steven Moffat and that scene was played completely straight.

Are any of these guesses close?  Time will tell.  It always does.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Austin Comic Con - Part Three

Sailor Moon

Chell from Portal.

Captain Marvel, Bullseye and Elektra.

The Green Hornet and Kato.

The Fourth Doctor and Link.

Classic Star Trek crew.

Hit Girl.

Nightwing and Harley Quinn. He was much more excited about meeting Green Arrow than she was.
He also lamented that everyone kept calling him Batman. I was one of the few who recognized him!

Speaking of Harley, here's a nice dress inspired by Harley Quinn.

Steampunk Poison Ivy, The Greatest American Hero as a baby, Darth Vader as a Tween Girl and Grifter.
Somewhere, someone just had an idea on how to make this into a fan-fiction story.

I shall pose for your picture, for Doom likes the cut of your green cowl.
Then Doom will return to his quest for an ultra-rare Doctor Hooves variant figure!
It shall be mine! So swears Doom!

Ariel - here seen with a newly working pair of legs - was working at the booth for Silver Leaf Costumes.

No, Babydoll! Watch out for No Face!