Friday, January 31, 2014

Earth 2 Annual #2 - A Review

Earth 2 Annual #2 reveals the background of the second man in this world to call himself Batman.  There is little more I can say than that without giving away the whole game and I refuse to do that.  Suffice it to say, this issue is a must-read for all fans of the Batman mythos.  

It spoils little to say that most of the story is told in flashback and centers upon Bruce Wayne investigating the murder of the man who killed his parents and the deaths of several other figures in the Gotham Mafia, who died under similar circumstances.  It also ties into the past of Bruce Wayne's father and how his own heroism came to influence his life and the life of his son.  I don't know if Tom Taylor was intentionally paying homage to the classicUntold Legend of Batman but this story explores similar themes.

I despaired when I saw that the artist on this issue was Robson Rocha, whsoe artwork drove me off of World's Finest.  For whatever reason, Robson's inability to keep facial shapes consistent from panel to panel seems less pronounced in this issue.  Perhaps this is due to inker Scott Hanna, who does far more to define Rocha's pencils than Wayne Facher ever did?  Either way, the final work is competent but not particularly exciting.  But neither  is it poor enough to make me not recommend this book. 

Conan And The People Of The Black Circle #4 - A Review

The final issue of this adaptation of Robert E. Howard's People of the Black Circle proves to be as problematic as the previous chapters.  Unlike most of other writers to handle the Conan comics since Dark Horse took over the license, Fred Van Lente liberally removed whole scenes from the original Howard stories in his adaptations.  He also cuts much of the original Howard narration, trusting the art to tell the story.

This might not be a problem if artist Ariel Olivetti were a better visual storyteller.  He's a fine painter but there's very little sense of story from panel to panel.  His choice of expression for some of the characters is also questionable, particularly in the case of our heroine who smiles vapidly when she is meant to be arguing with Conan!

In the end, People of the Black Circle will only be of interest to Conan completists.  And even they might rather skip this story than being subjected to a half-hearted adaptation.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 2, Episode 12 - Tremors

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


As Laurel Lance continues to sink deeper into an alcohol-fueled downward spiral and Moira Queen considers a run for office as Mayor against Sebastian Blood, Oliver Queen busies himself with the training of Roy Harper.  But Roy is itching for a chance to prove himself in the field and he is quickly given his chance as Bronze Tiger is sprung from jail to retrieve a dangerous device - the prototype of the machine that Malcolm Merlyn used to destroy The Glades!  With the city endangered once again, can Roy finally learn the focus and control needed to harness his super strength?  And how far will Ollie go to gain Roy's trust?

In the island flashbacks, Ollie and Sara race against time to stop Slade from using Eddie Fyers' last missile launcher to destroy Professor Ivo's ship.


Green Arrow: Year One
(The Island sequences), Green Arrow:Quiver (Roy's flashback regarding how Oliver trained him to be patient) and John Ostrander's Suicide Squad.


How the heck does Roy track down where Bronze Tiger and Armitage are meeting? 


The fights between Arrow and Bronze Tiger are well choreographed.


The arms dealer who hires Bronze Tiger  to steal the prototype earthquake generator is named Milo Armitage.  This is also the name of a villainous arms-dealer from the original Green Arrow comics - one who was the step-father of the second Green Arrow, Connor Hawke.

Milo Armitage warns Bronze Tiger to stay out of Markovia in the immediate future.  Markovia is a fictional European country in the DC Universe.  It is primarily known as the home nation of the earth-manipulating superhero Geo-Force.  Curiously, the Earthquake machine was officially referred to in Episode 121 as "The Markov Device."

The "squad" Amanda Waller offers Bronze Tiger a chance to join is a reference to The Suicide Squad.  The Suicide Squad was a comic series built around the idea of the federal government offering time off the sentences of super-criminals who agreed to work dangerous missions on their behalf..

The population of Starling City is approximately 600,000.

Dialogue Triumphs

(disbelievingly) You hacked into a prison system network?
Is that judgement I'm hearing?

(After being told her name-being well known could help her become Mayor)
Charles Manson is rather well known and no one is going to vote for him.

You cannot bring Thea into this.
But how am I supposed to lie to her and protect her at the same time?  How do you do it?  How do you keep secrets from the people in your life?
By remembering it's the only way to keep them safe.
Roy: No. Keeping them safe is what keeps them safe.

Thea: (To Moira)
Can I make a suggestion?  Instead of punishing yourself because you think you destroyed the city, how about you start by saving it? 

Roy: (looking at the unmasked Ollie) 
.... yeah.  Yeah.
Last year you saved my lifeI don't mean from the guy who kidnapped me, I mean you... you saved me.  You gave me a purpose.
(Roy offers Ollie his hand.  Ollie shakes it.)
We're just getting started.

Amanda Waller:
I have an offer for you.  A way to work off your sentence.  As it turns out, I have need of someone with your... singular qualifications.
Bronze Tiger:
For what?
Amanda Waller:
For a unit I'm putting together.
Bronze Tiger:
What type of... unit?
Amanda Waller:
Actually... it's more of a squad.

Is this the part where you kill me because I know your secret?
Ollie: You actually think that I'd kill my sister's boyfriend?!
Well, you DID shoot me in the leg.

So does this group have a name?  Team Arrow or something?
We don't call ourselves that.
I do.  Occasionally.


Bronze Tiger was first seen in episode 202 and has apparently been in prison since then.

Ollie has Roy slap water to learn control, just as Shado had him slap water in 119.

Ollie confirms that he put an arrow into Slade's eye and that Slade eventually learned the truth of how Ollie was indirectly responsible for Shado's death from someone besides Ollie.

Joanna De La Vega - Laurel's co-worker from CNRI - appears for the first time since 123.  She has apparently helped start a new law firm since that time but lacks the pull to get Laurel a job there.

Laurel is informed that disbarment procedures have officially begun regarding her conduct.

Roy is now strong enough he can break a gun with his foot.

We see a mysterious man slipping something into Laurel's drink at Verdant as Thea calls her a cab.

Roy refers to the events of 118.

Walter Steele is aware that Thea is Malcolm Merlyn's biological daughter.  Apart from him, the only one who knows besides Moira and Malcolm is Moira's ob/gyn.

Amanda Waller, last seen in 206, approaches Ben Turner about joining her Suicide Squad.

Sara Lance comes back to Starling City to check up on Laurel after Ollie calls her. 

The Fridge Factor

More of Laurel playing the victim who needs to be saved from herself.  Ho-hum.

The Bottom Line

This is a very busy episode but its largely an enjoyable one.  The focus on Roy pushes his story arc into a whole new place but all of the supporting cast get some time to shine, from Moira's new role as aspiring Mayor to Quentin's quiet desperation to get his daughter some professional help.  As usual, the bits dealing with Laurel's addiction issues are the weakest but at least it seems they are finally bringing said arc to an end.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Invaders #1 - A Review

Most of what I know about the Golden Age of Comics came about because of one writer - James Robinson.  It was his work on Starman, JSA and the mini-series The Golden Age that fueled my interest in the superheroes who started it all.  Curiously that interest never extended too far into the Marvel Universe, as Marvel - at least during the time I was first getting into comics - showed little interest in exploring its own history. 

With that in mind, I decided to give Invaders #1 a shot based on the fact that James Robinson was writing it and that the series was about Marvel Comics' first superhero team.  I expected a charming retro series.  What I got was quite different but enjoyable. 

The action of this issue is firmly set in the modern day, centering primarily upon Jim Hammond a.k.a.the original Human Torch.  He's trying to live an ordinary life in small town America but his new life quickly goes up in flames as he is attacked by a member of the alien Kree.  It seems that Hammond had one of three pieces of a device of unspeakable power but he has no memory of this.  More disturbingly, the attack brings back another memory of his adventures during World War II that suggests that his mind has been tampered with and his memories altered.

Robinson's script does a fine job of both establishing Jim Hammond as a likeable protagonist and providing a backstory for those like myself who are unfamiliar with the details of just who all The Invaders are and what they're up to in the modern day.  The artwork by Steve Pugh is of similar high quality, with character designs that are highly detailed yet simply rendered.  Pugh is also a wonderful visual storyteller, whose panels flow evenly and naturally.

Legends of Red Sonja #3 - A Review

Legends of Red Sonja continues to be one of the best bargains for your comics-buying dollar.  This third issue offers up a trio of stories, all dealing with the theme of vengeance.  The first story details the background of another member of  The Grey Riders - a mercenary band devoted toward hunting down and killing the heroine Red Sonja for one reason or another.

This story by Leah Moore is fairly standard stuff but it is still entertaining, centering upon Sonja as she is forced to save another adventurer from his own stupidity.  The artwork by Tula Lotay has a rough and dirty look to it that suits a story set in a necromancer's lair filled with zombies.

The second story is reportedly the first fiction published by Earth 2 artist Nicola Scott.  This story tells the tale of a witch with a grudge of her own against Red Sonja - one that makes her all too happy to deliver aid unto The Grey Riders.  Scott proves to be as skillful a writer as she is an artist.  And as in the previous chapter, Doug Holgate's artwork - while not the sort of style one usually sees in a sword and sorcery title- is appropriate to the story at hand.  

The third and final chapter of this issue is probably the best of a good bunch.  Written by Rhianna Pratchett (writer of the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot) this amusing story gives us yet another origin story for Red Sonja's famous chainmail bikini.  Gerd - the armorer who tells the tale - is a real hoot and I hope she shows up again in the regular Red Sonja title.  The artwork by Naniiebim has an aspect that puts me in the mind of medieval woodcuts.  This seems appropriate for a story that is light on action but high on humor.

Bottom Line: If you're a Red Sonja fan, you'll love this book.  If you aren't a Red Sonja fan, this book will make you into one!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Batman #27 - A Review

Batman #27 continues the on-going epic that is Batman: Zero Year.  The Riddler - in his first public caper - has knocked out all the power in Gotham City in the wake of an oncoming hurricane.  The corrupt police commissioner is more interested in hunting down the vigilante Batman than dealing with the current crisis and a message from The Riddler implying that Batman is his disgruntled ex-partner in crime offers all the excuse he needs to send the SWAT teams after Batman in-force.  Luckily, there's one cop in Gotham who believes in what Batman is trying to do... but can Bruce Wayne bring himself to trust anyone else in his war on crime?

Scott Snyder's script has a lot of great character moments.  The flashback where Jim Gordon recounts precisely how he came to decide to stand against the corruption in his own department because of a young Bruce Wayne is a powerful one.  As is a scene where Alfred speaks to his fears that Bruce's quest will devour him if he tries to bear the weight of the world on his shoulders alone. 

Good as this is, the script is not flawless.  The action of the issue falls a bit flat in the end and for a storyline that is meant to be all about The Riddler there's been very little of the Question Mark Criminal.  We see the effects of his actions and are told about what he's doing but see nothing of Mr. Nygma himself.  It's also worth noting that we've yet to see any riddles in all of this.

Thankfully, Greg Capullo and Danny Miki's artwork is as good as ever.  Capullo's pencils are crisp and clear and the man is a great visual storyteller.  Miki's inks enhance without enveloping and - unlike many Batman comics in the past - do not drown the original pencils in darkness.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Conan The Barbarian #24 - A Review

It would be fair to say that I haven't been enjoying the monthly Conan The Barbarian title of late. Indeed, Dark Horse Comics's adaptation of the final portions of Robert E. Howard's Queen of the Black Coast left me feeling largely bored.  That has changed with Conan The Barbarian #24.  Now I am royally cheesed that I spent money on this final story arc.

The artwork by Riccardo Burchielli has gone to hell in a hand-basket.  Whereas in previous months the pencils were competent, Burchielli's figures this month are so misshapen and over-detailed as to defy all the laws of basic aesthetics.  His hyenas look less like slathering hell-hounds and more like a watercolor of a dog where the colors ran and mixed together into a brown misshaped mess. 

Bad as the artwork is, I still find it preferable to the story.  I said several months ago that Brian Wood's scripts butchered the original Howard text like Conan himself slashing through a horde of Stygians.  I was too kind, for the term butchery implies some level of skill and precision. 

What Brian Wood has done here is hack work.  For he is a hack of the highest order.  A butcher would have cut apart Howard's original text willy-nilly.  Wood has completely missed the point of the story, removing the teeth and claws from one of Howard's most powerful and memorable heroines!  No more does Belit defy death itself to save her beloved with a spectral attack on the same beast that killed her..  Now she just appears before Conan - a vision of loveliness to inspire him, with no sword in hand nor fight in her eyes.

This comic sucks.  It holds no value save offering further proof of Brain Wood's misogyny.  Please read the original story or Roy Thomas' much better comic book adaptation.  Avoid this, whatever you do! 

HelioCon 2014

I hadn't heard of HelioCon 2014 until about two weeks ago.  Terry Parr of ShoNuff Studios told me about it, knowing that I was a big fan of one of the guests of honor - Linkara of Atop The Fourth Wall.  On the odd chance there's someone out there who is a fan of my work who doesn't know who Linkara is, let me say that in the professional field of comic book criticism he is one of the best and certainly one of the most famous critics out there.  He also lives a goodly distance from Texas, so I was surprised to hear about him doing a convention in DFW, much less a first-year one.

HelioCon was held at the MCL Grand Theater in the hart of downtown Lewisville, Texas.  The entrance was easily identified thanks to a conveniently parked TARDIS, which I believe is fast becoming the standard symbol for "Nerds Welcome Here" around world.

Linkara was the first of several guests to host a Q&A that day.  As is his custom at conventions, he did a live version of his show before taking questions from the fans.  Since he usually posts his con-shows on-line, I won't say anything about the show except that it was hilarious.  I'll post a link to it as soon as he has it up for viewing.

One mark of quality for a convention is a good games area and HelioCon had that.  No surprise given that the games area was run by the wonderful people at Roll2Play.   

The staff of HelioCon were also top-notch and you never had to look far to see them all hard at work.  As far as I know, this red-shirt staff member survived until the end of the Con.

No matter how may times I see a TARDIS dress at a convention, it never gets old.  I thought this gentleman was in the male equivalent of a TARDIS outfit but now that I look at it, I realize my mistake.  Anyone know what character he is?

There's no mistaking this dangerous customer.  That's an Orc.  Whether he's a Pathfinder Orc, a World of Warcraft Orc or an oversized Reaper miniature is a subject of some debate.  I wasn't brave enough to ask.

All in all, it was a fun day and I will definitely be back for the next HelioCon.  And now, some quick shout outs to some awesome people I met and hung out with as the day progressed.

* Sarah at Boomerang Comics, with whom I spent a goodly amount of time speaking about Green Arrow.

* Tony Franklin and Michelle Millette, whose comic Chantilly Mace I will be reviewing sometime soon.

* The Jedi Cole and his wife Cat, whom will be doing many awesome things at All-Con 2014.

* Halo and Terry from ShoNuff Studios, for getting me to Lewisville today in the first place.

* David Doub of Dusk Comics. For listening. I'll be reviewing one of his books shortly soon too.

* Kristen McGuire, who I didn't get to talk to because her table was swamped whenever I got near.

* Linkara, for being as cool as I hoped and for giving me an awesome picture to close with.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Thoughts on Shroud of the Avatar - Release 2

The second Alpha-release of Richard Garriot's Shroud of the Avatar went live this weekend, offering a look at more features of the eventual game release.  So what amazing options did this release unveil?  First, a whole host of new character creation options!

Yes, no longer are you limited to playing a clean-cut Ben Affleck look-alike.  Now you can change your face, hair-style, add facial hair and even be slightly overweight!

A fat guy with dreadlocks and a goatee - just like my graduation picture!

There are a few more items laying around that you can play with and wield.  There's rugs and tapestries and other decorations for your home, but nothing world-breaking and certainly nothing as exciting as running around wearing the Cloak of Lord British while wielding the Hoe of Prosperity.

Truly, there is no better way to go into battle.

This brings us to the second innovation added with this release - jumping!

Since you can't buy things in the marketplace yet, I spent a lot of time jumping over cows.

The third and final add-on with this release is the addition of a crafting system. There is a crafting shop in the heart of Owl's Head, free for all to use with a plentiful collection of tools and resources for you to use.

Unfortunately, the crafting system is not as intuitive as it first seems.  Items are created by placing them upon a crafting station and - once you have the materials needed to craft something - hitting the CRAFT button once it lights up.  The problem is that you have to have the amounts to craft something precisely right and I had to hunt for the instructions on how to reduce the pile of 20 pieces of coal  to just one piece so I could use one piece of coal and one iron nugget to forge an iron bar... assuming you have the right smelting tools selected.

This makes crafting into an incredibly involved and - in my opinion - tedious process.  There is no option for quickly mass producing items such as Iron Ingots once you learn the recipe.  You have to keep placing EVERY individual item on the table.  This means that it can take 10 minutes for you to craft an iron longsword, even if you know what you are doing, as you have to smelt the ingots used to forge the iron bars needed to mix with a sword blank to smelt a blade.  Then you have to use the smithing station to forge a hilt.  Then you have to forge the whole thing into one sword...

This may be fun for people who enjoy crafting in games but its definitely not my cup of tea.  Still, it seems like a good system for those who enjoy that sort of thing.  More, an in-game recipe book keeps track of your discoveries, so even if you must follow every step again and again repeatedly, at least you don't have to keep notes outside of the game.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Doctor Who: Touched By An Angel - A Book Review

In 2003, Rebecca Whitaker died in a traffic accident.  Eight years later, her husband Mark is still grieving and unable to move on with his life.  Then one day he receives a battered old envelope.  An envelope that is addressed to him in his own handwriting!

He has a chance encounter with The Doctor and The Ponds before he has the chance to open it.  The Doctor says that Mark has somehow gained the attention of something called a Weeping Angel.  This means little to Mark until he is touched by a scary statue and suddenly finds himself back in 1994.  It is here that Mark opens the envelope and finds several thousand pounds in cash as well as a numbered list - also in his own handwriting - of things he must be sure to do over the next decade. 

Once he's tracked Mark down again, The Doctor begrudgingly agrees to let Mark remain in the past since the consequences of him not following the instructions on the list could be even more dangerous than not returning Mark to 2003.  But what the The Doctor doesn't know - because the list told Mark not to show it to anyone else - is that the instructions from Mark's future self ended with a simple message.

"You can save her.   Just as I did."

I greatly enjoyed Johnathan Morris' Festival of Death so I thought I might give one of his other Doctor Who novels a try.  I'm glad I did, because Touched By An Angel is easily the equal of Festival of Death in quality.  Indeed, in some respects it is even better thanks to three elements - the clever use of The Weeping Angels, the humor and the wonderful supporting cast.

Morris introduces a new wrinkle to The Weeping Angels with this story - the idea that there are different species of Angel that feed on different sorts of energies.  In this case, the Weeping Angels in this story grow stronger by absorbing the energy generated by paradoxes.  This adds a whole new wrinkle to the usual Weeping Angels story, as The Doctor and The Ponds have to not only avoid turning their backs on The Angels but also in preventing Mark from accidentally altering his own time line and "ringing the dinner gong".

One of the aspects I enjoy most about Morris' writing is his use of humor.  In Festival of Death, he did a fair job of aping the style and cadence of Douglas Adams.  There is very little of that in Touched By An Angel but there are still some funny farcical moments.  The best of these involves an increasingly annoyed Doctor finding himself accidentally interfering with Mark and Rebecca's wedding day while trying to avert a paradox yet slowly digging himself in deeper the more he tries not to get involved. 

What really sells this story, however, is the wonderful supporting cast.  We see all of Rebecca and Mark's relationship play out over the years and Morris does a great job in making us care about them as people.  Indeed, the reader will sympathize with Mark's dilemma and the increasingly destructive actions he takes as he gets closer to his chance to save the woman he loves, in spite of the damage he might cause.  As Rory notes at one point, he'd be doing the exact same thing if he were in Mark's place.

If this novel has a weak spot, it is that Amy - like in many of the Series Six stories - has very little to do.  There's little sign of the Scottish spitfire we're used to, apart from Amy's scorning The Doctor's suggestion that she should do what her husband says when Rory pleads caution.  Still, Rory is in fine form, kvetching as he winds up spending a good deal of the story waiting on Amy and The Doctor (as usual) and you'll likely hear Matt Smith's voice as you read The Doctor's dialogue.

Bottom Line: If you like good Doctor Who stories, you'll love Touched By An Angel

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 2, Episode 11 - Blind Spot

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


After Maya Resik dies shortly after her visit to St. Walker Hospital, Laurel Lance becomes convinced that Sebastian Blood is not all he seems to be.  Naturally her boss at the District Attorney's office is reluctant to go after the beloved mayoral candidate, leaving Laurel without any options or allies... except, perhaps, for The Arrow.

At the same time, Roy Harper turns to Sin to help him in understanding the strange super-human abilities he seems to have developed since his abduction by Brother Blood.  The two decide to make a go of it as vigilantes without The Arrow's guidance but quickly find that there's a flip-side to Roy's new powers.

In the island flashbacks, Sara Lance considers Ivo's offer of rescue in exchange for the Mirakuru.  Never mind that Slade Wilson has disappeared into the jungle with the only sample and that Ollie is understandably reluctant to make a deal with Shado's murderer.


Green Arrow: Year One
(the island scenes), Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters (refers to a serial killer called The Slasher who prays on prostitutes) and Judd Winick's Green Arrow/Black Canary (some resemblance between how Connor Hawke developed super-powers after being abductedby a super-villain mad-scientist and what is happening to Roy).


The whole sequence at the Starling City Archives reeks of contrivance.  Why is it necessary to pull a heist in the middle of the night when surely, as an assistant DA Laurel, would have the ability to access to city legal records during the day?  Why do the police send a fully armored SWAT team out to respond to a routine burglary?  Could they have gotten a SWAT team out there that quickly?  Why would a public facility like the city archives have private security guards rather than police protection?  What are the odds that said security guards are good enough with computers to thwart a hacker of Felicity's skill?  And finally, if the Starling City Archives are as secure as we're told, why do the main archive rooms have have big plate-glass windows painted with the building's name on the upper floor of the building?


Every moment Manu Bennett is on-screen as Slade Wilson is heavenly.


The Starling Slasher - the bad guy Sin picks to be Roy's first target - is likely a reference to The Seattle Slasher - a serial killer who was Oliver Queen's first target after moving to Seattle in the graphic novel Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters.  Ignoring the similar names, both killers targeted prostitutes and used knives.

There are some superficial similarities between Roy Harper's character arc here and that of Connor Hawke - the second Green Arrow - in Judd Winick's run on Green Arrow/Black Canary.  Both storylines saw a young hero being kidnapped by a super-villain who used them as a subject for medical experimentation that left them with enhanced strength and healing abilities. 

According to the police file on his murder, Sebastian Blood's father was named Sebastian Sangre.  Sangre is the Spanish word for blood.


Felicity has software on her rig that can act as a vocal polygraph but it requires a true statement to calibrate itself.

The prescription Laurel stole from her father is some kind of azepine-based drug - most likely a pain killer..

Dialogue Triumphs

The Arrow:
What color are your shoes?!

(Regarding Sebastian Blood)
Felicity, he's dedicated his life - risked his life - to help the people of The Glades and in his spare time he's a murder trying to create an army of living weapons?
You're a personal bodyguard who fights crime at night with his billionaire boss.   Not a lot of people show their real face in public.

Not everybody's what they seem.

You certainly know how to talk yourself out of a victory.
Ollie: It's a gift.

Your incompetence has now cost four lives, Alderman.  Fail me again and yours will be the fifth!

The Arrow:
I can teach you.  To control your new ability.  And to control yourself.  Let me help you.
Roy: When do we start?

Dialogue Disasters

The entire sequence between Sebastian Blood and his mother at the start is incredibly hokey.

Laurel begging her father for help in the police interrogation room.  Katie Cassidy hams it up horribly and Paul Blackthorne looks less like he's putting up a tough front and more counting the seconds until he can get off camera.


Adam Hunt refuses to investigate Blood, referring to his reputation already having been hurt thanks to his being exposed to Vertigo on live TV (207). 

Ollie thanks Roy for saving his mom, referring to the events of 210.

When accused of being late for their appointment, The Arrow tells Laurel he was checking around the building for a hidden SWAT team, referring to Laurel's ambush in 203.

Laurel makes reference to Cyrus Gold killing four cops (209).

Roy is now strong enough to break industrial building stones with one punch and to rip a car door off of its hinges.

The Fridge Factor

The whole subplot regarding Laurel's drug abuse comes to its inevitable conclusion only to be just as quickly swept under the rug.  And a good thing too as any viewer sympathy for Laurel as a character has likely disappeared along with her career prospects by the episode's end.  It's notable that the villains didn't have to do a thing to frame Laurel - just expose her very real crimes.  Hell, if it weren't for Slade's nebulous master plan to make Ollie's life hell, Blood wouldn't have had to have bothered with trying to kill Laurel and having Officer Daly take the fall for it.  She'd be completely discredited as a witness and disgraced in everyone's eyes... and rightly so! 

The Bottom Line

As in State vs. Queen earlier this season, the last ten minutes of this episode salvage an otherwise uninspired script.  The island sequences are a distraction and serve little purpose apart from giving Sara the thematic line of the episode.  The bits with Roy trying to use his powers to help people are interesting but all too brief.  Everything with Laurel is agonizing to watch since any sympathy the viewer might have for her is obliterated by the fact that she's actually guilty of the crimes she is accused of that force her out of her job.  And yet, to see Manu Bennett kicking ass and taking names in the Deathstroke armor and The Arrow officially taking Roy Harper on as his apprentice... it just manages to make up for everything that came before it.  Barely.   

Monday, January 20, 2014

Batgirl #27 - A Review And A Musing On Everything Wrong With DC Comics Today

Batgirl #27 veers away from the on-going saga of Barbara Gordon's personal problems and into the strange reality of Gothtopia.  Gothtopia, we are informed in an opening blurb, is a version of Gotham City which is the safest and happiest city in America.  A place where the sun is always shining, the air smells like warm root beer and the towels are oh-so fluffy! 

Yet even a place such as this needs vigilante superheroes... for some reason. So Barbara Gordon still fights crime in the world of Gothtopia but she does so under the name Bluebelle instead of Batgirl...despite her costume still having a bat on the chest and not a hint of blue.  Perhaps that's a nod to Mystery Men?

Gail Simone's script runs riot with the basic idea of a kinder, gentler Gotham.  Fans of the on-going series will be treated to a truly twisted version of Barbara Gordon's world, where her family life is happy, her boyfriend unhospitalized and her worst enemy is her best friend.  The villain - an ice cream company executive tormented by visions of the Gotham City we're more familiar with - is also an interesting exercise in building on the base concept of this world.

Robert Gill - best known for his work on various Grimm Fairy Tales comics - does a fair turn on the artwork.  Gill's style is light and sketchy, perfectly capturing the airy, bright attitude of Gothtopia.  His inks are limited to basic outlining, further adding to the cheery mystique.  Ironically, this appearance is completely at odds with the incredibly dark story which further enhances the emotional conflict between the Gotham we know and the Gotham before us. 

In the end, Batgirl #27 is an amusing diversion but it is still a diversion.  While I enjoyed this comic, it also serves to highlight my biggest problem with DC Comics today.  With some exceptions, it is all but impossible to enjoy just one title.  You have to read an entire line of comics to get the whole story - not just for special events but for basic month-to-month stories.  And the on-going stories of an individual title are too often subverted for the needs of a crossover. 

The drive to promote whole lines over individual books drove me off of Supergirl when it became more firmly tied to the Superman books and everything became about H'El on Earth rather than the story of a teenage girl coming to terms with life on a strange new world.  It drove me off of Constantine because I wanted to read about a magical con-man trying to bring down world-conquering threats with stealth and guile - not three months of tie-ins to Forever Evil and The Trinity War!  It drove me off of Green Lantern Corps when I could no longer read a simple ensemble space cop book without also being required to read Red Lanterns or New Guardians despite my having no interest in The Red Lanterns or Kyle Rayner: Great White Hope!  And it may yet drive me off of the Batman books I am still reading if the trend remains for Zero Year and Gothtopia and other diversionary storylines to dominate the entire Batman family of books.

In short: DC Comics - please let your writers write stories instead of storylines!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 2, Episode 10 - Blast Radius

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


Five weeks have passed since The Arrow's altercation with a mysterious man in a skull mask and Roy Harper's exposure to Mirakuru.  As Oliver Queen scours the city looking for any clue to this mysterious new enemy and Roy copes with changes he can't begin to explain, a mad bomber begins to attack government offices around Starling City.

Sebastian Blood is determined to prove he is unafraid of any terrorist and plans to hold a unity rally, come Hell or High Water.  His courage has won him much public support - even the support of Oliver Queen and his family.  But there is one person who thinks Blood has something to hide... Laurel Lance!


Green Arrow: Year One (The Island sequences), Green Arrow: The Wonder Year (Oliver Queen befriends a politician while working to protect him as Green Arrow) and the Marv Woflman/George Perez run of Teen Titans (details involving Brother Blood's past).


The chase scene with Arrow perusing Shrapnel's van is one of the best bits of stunt work in the show's history.


In the comics, Shrapnel was a super-villain made of living organic metal.  He could blow himself up and reconstitute himself at-will, essential being a living bomb.  Unlike the political zealot we see on Arrow, the comics version of Shrapnel was a mercenary/assassin motivated by money rather than any kind of political or philosophical ideals. 

is addressed as Mr. Scheffer by the woman who buys a train set from him.  This corresponds to Shrapnel's real name in the comics - Mark Scheffer.  

Shrapnel was the first super-villain Green Arrow fought in his own comic, following Mike Grell's departure from the series and DC Comics' decision to move Green Arrow back into the DC Universe at large after several years of basically existing apart from it.  I wrote a review of this story, which you can read here.

Sebastian Blood's aunt is being held at Saint Walker hospital.  In the DC Comics Universe, Saint Walker is the name adopted by Bro'Dee Walker - an alien who became the first Blue Lantern.

For the record, there is no Catholic saint named Walker.

The name given for Sebastian Blood's aunt is Maya Resik.  This is very close to Anna Resik - the first Mother Mayhem.  Mother Mayhem is a title given to the consort of Brother Blood, who is meant to give birth to the next Brother Blood, according to the traditions of The Church of Blood in the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans comics.

According to the bill Laurel finds on Sebastian's desk, one of the US ZIP Codes for Starling City is 98114.  In the real world, this ZIP Code is for Seattle, Washington - Green Arrow's home during the Mike Grell run on Green Arrow as well as his hometown in the New 52 DC Universe.

Shrapnel is identified as being a frequent poster on the web forums for an anti-government group called The Movement.  In the New 52 DC Universe, The Movement is a group of super-powered teenagers who use their abilities to fight corrupt government officials in the town of Coral City. 

One detail we learn of Sebastian Blood's background in this episode meshes fairly well with Brother Blood in the comics - he killed his own father.  In the comics, it was a tradition in the Church of Blood that their leader could only take command by an act of patricide. 


The Arrow uses both an explosive arrow and a bola arrow while chasing down an informant in the opening sequence.

The residue gathered by the police after Shrapnel's first bombing contains traces of nitroglycerin.  Quentin Lance says this indicates someone with some explosives training rather than an amateur.

Felicity says that Shrapnel's detonators operate on a cellular frequency past the 3800 MHz range approved for standard cellular transmissions.

Shrapnel makes use of grenades - both explosive and smoke - in his escape from the scene of the second bombing.  He is also capable of scrambling his cellular signals once he realizes how The Arrow is tracking him.   

Shrapnel claims to have planted fifty pounds of RDX explosives at the Unity Rally.  RDX is an abbreviation for Research Department Explosive, referring to an explosive nitroamine widely used in military and industrial applications.  It is one of the most powerful military-grade explosives in existence. 

Dialogue Triumphs

Speaking of which, how's Roy?
Handsome.  Brooding.  The usual.  Why is my boyfriend such a topic of interest?
Well Thea, his idol put an arrow in him.  I just... wanted to make sure there weren't any lingering issues
Oh my God!  Now that I think about it, he did something completely out of character this morning...
... he showed up to work on time!

(To Ollie)
Laurel: Sometimes I feel like I don't know the real Sebastian.  He reminds me a little of you that way.

Shrapnel: Freedom?  Liberty?  Justice?  Long have the people of this city suffered under the shackles of a corrupt government.  Slaves to self-interested politicians and their lobbyist puppeteers.  I declare war on them all.

(As Arrow corners him and draws an arrow)
Drop the bow!  I've got charges planted all over Starling!  I drop this stick they all blow! 
(The Arrow doesn't move)
Did you just hear what I said?
(Arrow jerks the bow a little to the right, shooting an arrow to cut the wire to Shrapnel's detonator.  Shrapnel glances down in disbelief and looks up just in time to get punched in the face.)


A news report informs us that the explosion at STAR Labs in Central City did not cause any damage nor did it release any radiation (209).

Barry Allen was reportedly discovered in a coma.  Felicity went to be with him and has spent much of the past five weeks away from Starling City, much to Oliver's annoyance (209).

Laurel is still popping pills and has started stealing painkillers from her father to get her fix.

Laurel investigated Cyrus Gold and notes that he was determined to have killed at least four police officers.  She also notes Sebastian Blood's connection to the Langford Institute, which burned down under mysterious circumstances (209).

Over the past five weeks, Oliver has apparently befriended Sebastian Blood and he trusts the man enough to hold a fundraiser for him at Verdant.

Blood calls himself a child of Starling City and notes his background as an orphan.  When pressed on this by Laurel, he claims that he entered foster care after his drunken and abusive father was shot and killed by his mother, after a young Sebastian tried to stop him from hurting her.  He claims Cyrus Gold was a preacher at the orphanage he grew up in and that he was the first person who could get him to speak following his witnessing his mother killing his father.

Laurel discovers that Sebastian Blood is paying the medical bills for a woman named Maya Resik.  Quentin investigates this lead and determines that Resik is Blood's aunt and that she's been in psychiatric care for years - hence why Blood became a ward of the state despite having a living relative.

Diggle is capable of using Felicity's computers to hack into the police and fire radio bands for Starling City, but he's not comfortable with computers nor is he as fast at it as Felicity.

Shrapnel publishes a 300 page manifesto after his first bombing.  Diggle notes that nothing was stolen from the site of the bombing, suggesting Shrapnel to be an idealistic terrorist rather than a thief.

Roy says he hasn't been sleeping much since he was kidnapped by Brother Blood's men.  He exhibits signs of super-strength (catching a collapsing lighting-tower before it can hit Moira Queen) and healing a wound deep enough to require stitches in a matter of days with no visible scars.  Thea notices both of these events by the end of the episode.

Quentin Lance asks The Arrow for the phone records of every cop in his preceinct in exchange for giving the Arrow a sample of the residue found after the first Shrapnel bombing.  He believes "the man in the skull mask" has a plant inside the police and thinks the phone records are the best lead they have to finding him

Shrapnel works at a souvenir shop, which he has wired with RDX and laser trip-wires.

Oliver's skill as an archer is such that he can shoot a grenade in mid-flight and cut the wire on a detonator at point-blank range.

Diggle is shot in the shoulder while trying to stop Shrapnel but is on the road to recover by episode's end.

By the end of the episode, it is revealed that the "crazy aunt" Sebastian Blood has been paying to have treated is actually his mother and she claims that Sebastian killed his own father.  This fact is discovered by Laurel, who travels to the Saint Walker hospital to visit with Blood's aunt.

Slade gives Ollie Shado's hood after they bury her.

Sara notes that she read the report on the effects Mirakuru had on those who were injected with it, saying it warped either their bones or their minds, changing them into someone else.

Slade is now strong enough to pick up Oliver, by the neck, one-handed.

At the episode's end, Slade disappears with the Mirakuru supplies as Ivo threatens Sara and Ollie not with death but with life as his guinea pigs if they don't hand over the Mirakuru. 

The Fridge Factor

After half a season of Laurel being the damsel-in-distress and the bad example, it's nice to see her old spirit returned as she investigates Sebastian Blood.

The Bottom Line

In many ways, this episode is a step backwards, being reminiscent of other villain-of-the-week episodes that had little baring on the ultimate plot of the series during Season One.  In nearly every other respect, however, this episode is a giant step forward as virtually every subplot on the show gets some forward momentum, from Ollie's relationship with Felicity to Roy's suddenly developing superpowers.  Best of all, Laurel is acting like her old self once again and has her own storyline instead of being a supporting player to everyone else on the show.  And while Shrapnel is a cardboard cut-out villain, Sean Maher does a great job with what he has to work with.  It isn't a great episode but it is a good one.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Girl of Steel - A Fan Film Review

Recently, I had a chance to watch a short Man Of Steel inspired fan-film - Girl of Steel.

How was it?  To sum it up in three words, professional but disappointing.

The technical execution of this film is quite good.  Indeed, it is one of the better directed fan films I've seen and the editing used for the limited special effects during the action sequences is good.  The performances are also interesting, though the script thus far doesn't give us much in the way of characterization past Kara being reluctant to get involved with helping people on a grand scale.

The biggest problem with this movie is the concept itself.  The basic idea of Kara being a reluctant hero holds promise (Indeed, the current New 52 series started strongly with the same base concept) but we're given no reason for why she is reluctant to display her powers.  A greater problem is the fact that Kara's reluctance is immediately forgotten when she is introduced to Jay Garrick, who coolly tells her to just call him "Flash".  There may be some other reason for Kara's decision.  Yet as it is it presented here, it seems like Kara's entire thought process is "Oh, I get to hang out with this cute guy?  Sure, I'll join your team!"

You can view the film for yourselves here.

Green Arrow #27 - A Review

With Green Arrow #27, Jeff Lemire continues to expand the mythos of the New 52 in unexpected and enjoyable directions.  Perhaps the biggest surprise in this issue is a brief interlude where the mysterious Magus who has been manipulating things around Oliver Queen pays a visit to the hero Katana.  It spoils little to guess that she too has connections to Lemire's Outsiders - a mysterious cabal of warriors with connections to Oliver's family - but what this has to do with the ongoing story is still a mystery.

Fans of the show Arrow will find themselves on familiar territory, as this issue makes use of a number of flashbacks to depict Oliver's time shipwrecked on the island.  And yet things are completely different, for it seems that the accident that left Oliver Queen stranded in this reality was no accident.  Everyone - be they long-time Arrowhead or Green-horn - will be kept guessing by the issue's ending.

As uusal, Andrea Sorrentino's artwork astounds.  This issue features a number of two-page spreads reminiscent of Osamu Tesuka's early action manga in how the action is depicted through a number of framed close-ups.  The effect is rather like looking at still shots on a roll of movie film, yet much more dynamic.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Doctor Who: EarthWorld - A Book Review

Anji Kapoor has just had the worst week of her life, having lost her boyfriend Dave to alien invaders. 

This week is not looking any better.

Trapped on board the TARDIS, The Doctor was trying to get Anji home.  The problem is The Doctor isn't feeling quite himself and is incapable of operating his sonic screwdriver much less piloting the TARDIS.  Fitz, The Doctor's companion, is in a similarly useless state of mind. 

Perhaps this is why they wind up somewhere far away from Anji's office in modern London.  Someplace with robot dinosaurs, poorly researched exhibits inspired by "real Earth history", a trio of psychotic preteen princesses running the show and a group of teenage terrorists trying to shut the thing down.  Only one thing is certain - Anji will never complain about reporting to her office on Monday morning again!  Assuming she lives...

One wonders if they could have chosen a more accessible Eighth Doctor story for inclusion in this collection.  EarthWorld is not a bad story but it is largely dependent upon the reader being familiar with a number of earlier stories.  Writer Jacqueline Rayner gamely tries to explain things in both the introduction to this reprint volume and throughout the novel, yet it is still too much for a neophyte Whovian to cope with.

Anji is perhaps the best example of this.  Rayner makes use of a neat literary device by having Anji write e-mails to her deceased Dave in the midst of all the chaos that is occurring around her.  While this does an effective job of building sympathy for Anj and giving the reader insight into her mind, it gives the reader surprisingly little detail about Dave and the circumstances of his death, presuming the reader has already read the previous novels in the series.

The subplot involving The Doctor's other companion Fitz suffers from similar problems.  Without giving too much of the game away, Fitz undergoes an identity crisis that mirrors The Doctor's current troubles with amnesia while simultaneously conflicting with them.  Whereas The Doctor cannot remember, Fitz cannot forget.  Of the two companions, Fitz's conflict is definitely the more interesting and his plight is a more sympathetic one.  Yet Fitz's problems are even more dependent on an encyclopedic knowledge of Fitz's actions in the stories leading up to this one!

Thankfully, the final execution rises far above the rote plot.  The story moves at a brisk pace, managing to reach the conclusion before the reader is likely to notice just how thin everything is.  All in all, I'd say EarthWorld is worth reading but it might be best read as part of the whole of the Eighth Doctor Adventures than as one part of the 50th Anniversary Reprints series. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Two #1 - A Review

Every issue of Injustice: Gods Among Us seems determined to drag me into the realm of nostalgia.  The series' Annual some two months ago made me long for the days when Harley Quinn and Lobo were zany characters.  This first issue of the new Year Two series reminded me of every great comic with Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance written as a loving couple. 

It's clear from the first half of this issue that Tom Taylor has a great fondness for both Ollie and Dinah.  Thankfully for we readers, he has an equally great affinity for writing both characters.  If this series comes to a close, I hope that strings may be pulled in the New 52 universe so that Taylor might write a Green Arrow/Black Canary series worthy of the name.  Actually, scratch that - make it Black Canary/Green Arrow.  This is the 21st century, after all.

I shall say nothing about the second half of this issue.  There's something incredible I would rather not spoil.  Suffice it to say, Dinah Lance has not been so well written since the last time Gail Simone's Birds of Prey.

Bruno Redondo joins Tom Taylor in returning to this series and his artwork looks better than ever.  This is not to say that it looked bad before but I think new inker Julien Hugonnard-Bert has a better understanding of how to use shadows sparingly than other inkers who have handled Redondo's work in the past.  The artwork of this book is as bright and cheerful as its script in the early scenes and appropriately ominous in the second half.

Bottom Line: a great book is back and it should be on the reading list of every fan of fun, quality comics. 

Green Arrow: Cross Roads Reading Guide

For those who wish to read the whole of my thoughts on Green Arrow: Cross Roads in order, here is a helpful reading guide.

Green Arrow #81 - Seattle: In which Green Arrow fights Shrapnel, Nuklon and... Barbie?

Green Arrow #82 - San Francisco: In which Green Arrow is trapped in a bad Lifetime TV movie.

Green Arrow #83 -
Los Angeles: Green Arrow and Huntress vs. Jenny Craig

Green Arrow #84/85 -
Las Vegas: Green Arrow teams with Deathstroke.  No.  Really.

Green Arrow #86 -
Dallas: The one where Green Arrow sleeps with Catwoman.

Green Arrow #87 - New Orleans: Big Easy.  Hard Read.

Green Arrow #88 - New York City: Featuring The Justice League.  But not really.

Green Arrow #89 -
Gotham: Green Arrow agrees to help Anarky destroy a gun factory.

Green Arrow #90 -
Run, Ollie, Run.  Run, Ollie, Run.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Off Target: Green Arrow (Vol. 2) #90

I decided to start this year off with some unfinished business.

It's been nearly a year since I last looked at Cross Roads - a mini-series that is, for my money, the worst series of books to star Green Arrow ever created.  Written by a number of authors between the time when Mike Grell ended his legendary run on the series and Chuck Dixon officially took over as writer, Cross Roads depicted an emotionally distraught Oliver Queen leaving Seattle to wander America seeking new purpose.  

In previous installments, we saw Oliver Queen team up with Huntress to bring down an evil diet company, recover Incan artifacts with Catwoman in Dallas and blow up a gun factory with Anarky for no adequately explained reason.  But I've saved the best for last, kids.  And for once I make that statement without sarcasm.

Cheer up, Ollie. This issue isn't really that bad!

The issue opens with a fairly standard scene - Green Arrow saving a woman and her child from an apparent mugging/attempted rape.  The criminal is subdued and Ollie checks on the victims to make sure they're okay.  Unfortunately, it turns out the crook is down but not out and he makes a break for it. 

Astute readers will notice one thing immediately about this issue - there is no dialogue!  No caption boxes.  No thought balloons.  Not even so much as a BAM or POW to denote the action!  Well, at least there isn't any dialogue until the very end but we'll get to that.  And for those of you thinking that my reason for saying this issue is "not bad" is because we're not treated to more of Kevin Dooley's dialogue... well, that's a fair cop.  But credit being given where credit is due, the idea to do this issue without any sound cues is an effective one as you'll shortly see.

It's at this point that the narrative splits into two tracks.  One on the top of the page and the other on the bottom.  One showing Ollie catching the crook by the ankle and slowing him down as he runs off, with the other showing Ollie being one step behind in his pursuit as the crook breaks for the roof.  Most of the comic continues in this way, showing the differing action sequences as Ollie tracks the crook on the ground or chases him across the rooftops.

You film geeks are probably thinking the same thing I did - isn't this is a total rip off of Run Lola Run - the 1998 German film that won a boat-load of awards?  It would seem so, as both the movie and this comic deal with depicting how events might have played out differently because of one small change.  Yet this comic came out in 1994, several years before Run Lola Run!

Naturally one of the paths does not end well for Ollie and there is a striking image where Green Arrow stares down at his own dead body.  I'd share it with you but my image host insists it is too graphic to post.  So much for DC Comics' efforts to make this book lighten up, eh?

So what's going on that Ollie can be seeing rather direct visions of his own death?  Well, this comic - in addition to being the final part of Cross Roads - was also a tie-in to a company-wide event called Zero Hour.  I'll spare you the details, but basically Zero Hour dealt with the tiime-ine of the DC Comics Universe becoming unstable and people from various alternate realities appearing at random.

And so it is that Ollie is interrupted in his being freaked out by the arrival an old friend...

The Men's Room at the Hall of Justice is flooded and I know you have a Plunger Arrow.

Actually, we don't find out why Batman came to seek Green Arrow's help in this issue.  Naturally, it does get covered in Zero Hour but I shan't spoil that here.  Suffice it to say Oliver Queen winds up having an important part in the whole thing and it is actually pretty awesome.  And if you don't believe me, just consider this - a big crisis that is shaking the whole universe apart and it's freaking BATMAN who goes out in person to ask Green Arrow for help.

Something to think about the next time someone tells you how useless Green Arrow is. :)

Honestly, this comic isn't bad.  It's not great but it's pretty good at accomplishing what it set out to do.  The action is well paced and Eduardo Barreto did a great job illustrating it. Really, as far as tie-in comics go, it is one of the better ones I've seen. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reflections on New Years Day 2014

I hate New Years Day.

There's a lot of reasons for it but the chief one is that it was Her birthday and, as such, the day reminds me of Her.

Her.  The One that got away.  The One I let go.  The One I lost but never stopped loving.

The one who - prophetically - said She was the Rose Tyler to my Doctor long before anyone would know how tragic a comparison that would be.

This year it's hitting me harder than usual because of the burglary. 

Anytime you have something stolen, it steals more than the thing itself.  It steals your peace of mind.  It steals your illusions of safety.  And in some cases it even steals memories.

I don't care about most of what was taken.  It's just stuff and stuff can be replaced.  But to carry some of it out, they took a backpack.  And though they left behind the books I had in that backpack, there was one thing they didn't leave behind.  A little black bag with a little blue bag inside it that held all of the dice I use in my gaming.

The blue bag was velvet.  Part of a collection of random things She sent me during our first Christmas together as boyfriend and girlfriend.  She had just moved back in with Her parents to start going through chemotherapy for the bone cancer She'd been diagnosed with.  It was meant to hold wine bottles but I didn't drink wine, so I used it to hold my gamer dice.

Even after the break-up, I still kept my dice in that bag.  Even after it started sprouting holes, I used it.  And when my friends made me a new dice bag, I put Her bag inside of it.  I never let go of it because She had held it once.  In a weird way I thought of it as a token, like a sash or a scarf a lady might give her champion as a symbol of her love.

One more lost bit of the past.  One more reminder of the future that could never be.

I'm not one to wallow in the past or get maudlin.  But this break-in  - so close to Her day - couldn't help but remind me of another day.  Another burglary.  And the day when the ring I'd bought to give Her when next we met in person was taken. 

One more lost bit of the past.  One more reminder of the future that could never be.

Now, there is no Her.  There is no Us.  And I doubt She'd recognize the Me I am now.

But I still love Her.  And I always will.

Happy Birthday, Sierra Thomas.  Wherever you are.  I think you’re going to have a great year.


I thank you all for letting me take this space to vent.  I promise I'll have some happier things about comics or TV shows to say the next time I write here.