Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Batman Eternal #3 - A Review

At this moment in time, there seems little point in my maintaining any aura of mystery in discussing Batman Eternal.  The story is moving at a quickening pace and many things I thought would be a drawn-out mysteries have been quickly exposed and revealed.  Suffice it to say, this comic is one for the ages and will be held up as one of the greatest Batman stories of all time.

So what can I say?  How about that this comic formally introduces Stephanie Brown into the New 52 universe?  Or that, while she's not yet The Spoiler - much less Batgirl - she quickly proves that she is no passive damsel in distress while still coming off convincingly as a terrified teenage girl, who just learned that her father is a supervillain involved in a plot to bring down the society of Gotham City.  

What can I say about the splendor that is Jason Fabok's artwork?  I can say that I think his design for The Penguin is the greatest I've ever seen - a character who is grotesque yet not so distorted as to seem a more fitting enemy for Dick Tracy than Batman.  I could easily see Alfred Molina playing this Penguin.

What else can I say?  This is a great book and you should be reading it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Invaders #4 - A Review

Invaders #4 is best summarized by two words - complex simplicity.  This may seem like a paradoxical concept and yet it perfectly describes the artwork of Steve Pugh.  Like a crafted gem, Pugh's work is multi-faceted and full of hidden details while still possessing a smooth, polished look.

The script by James Robinson is similarly detailed while still seeming to be a straight forward tale of alien invaders (in this case, the Kree army) and the advanced technology that allows them to control gods.  But there are several layers to the action and a few skillful misdirections.  Indeed, I think Robinson may have even taken a subtle dig at his own propensity for long monologues and scenes of characters talking to one another about philosophy with Bucky's complaints about getting bored with the discussion of the sins of mankind.

Bottom Line: Invaders may not be the most daring title of the Marvel NOW! line up but it doesn't have to be.  It remains what it is - a solid action series that also offers a look back at Marvel's long-neglected past.

Justice League United #0 - A Review

I'd abandoned all the Justice League titles several months ago when it became clear during Trinity War that I would be expected to read them all if I were to make heads or tails of just one.  Throw in the fact that the entire line became part of the much-lamented Forever Evil mini-series and I felt little need to keep going.  Given the mess that story-line has made of the New 52 universe, it would take a lot to get me to wade back into that swamp again. "A lot", in this case, equaling one of my favorite writers working with some of my favorite characters to create Justice League United.

After an opening flash-forward showcasing the titular team in action, we cut to three days earlier.  The story truly begins with anthropologist Adam Strange approaching Stargirl and Animal Man (during a personal appearance at a comic convention) with evidence that aliens are abducting people - including his research assistant Alanna.  The two are eager to help but prove out-classed and out-gunned when armed aliens show up with homicide on their mind.  Thankfully, Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter respond to Stargirl's request for back-up.  Two interludes round out the issue - one giving us our first glimpse of new heroine Equinox and another revealing the fate of the alien's captives and how Hawkman is among them.

Jeff Lemire's grasp of the characters and gift for drama dresses up an otherwise drab premise for a superhero team's formation.  We've seen this scenario before - a big crisis forces a group of otherwise unrelated heroes together, uniting them when they realize how badly said alliance is needed - but Lemire makes it seem new by playing the characters off one another masterfully.  Green Arrow and Animal Man keep the proceedings from getting too dark and this new take on Adam Strange is a gripping one.  What little we see of Equinox seems promising as well.    

The artwork is more problematic.  Mike McKone is not a bad artist but he does a poor job of hiding his shortcuts.  There are a few obviously recycled panels and the thick inking on some of the character outlines leaves them looking like they should be in a coloring book rather than a comic book.  Even the usually stellar colorist Marcelo Maiolo seems to be off his game, with the Caucasian members of the cast being as white as the snow they are walking through.  Despite this, Justice League United looks to be an enjoyable series worth picking up.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 2, Episode 20 - Seeing Red

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


Hallucinating due to the Mirakuru in his veins, Roy Harper escapes from the Arrow Cave and goes on a rampage.  As Ollie and Sara argue about whether or not it is still possible to save him, Ollie must contend with further turmoil at home as the relationship between himself, Thea and their mother continues to deteriorate, even as Moira Queen becomes poised to become the next mayor of Starling City.

In the flashbacks, we see an incident in the Queen Family home seven years earlier and learn just how far Moira would go to protect her children even then, as Ollie comes to her with disturbing news.  He got a girl pregnant... and it wasn't his girlfriend, Laurel!


Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters (the scene of Ollie and Sara in bed discussing their relationship), Green Arrow: Where Angels Fear To Tread (the idea of Ollie unknowingly fathering an illegitimate child while in college).  And while not based on any particular story, the whole episode has the feeling of a Mike Grell Green Arrow comic as we see Ollie benefiting secretly from people he's helped in the past as The Arrow (the doctor who treats Ollie's injuries) in a manner not dissimilar to an urban Robin Hood.  There's also the reoccurring themes of trust broken and lies told by those closest to us to protect us.


In the flashback, Laurel says "Good night." to Moira as she's leaving the Queen Mansion, when daylight is still clearly coming in through the windows.

Why hasn't Thea asked why this Slade Wilson guy was so invested in telling her "the truth" in the first place?

Where was Diggle when The Queen family limo was attacked?


Susanna Thompson is given a great episode to go out on, delivering a number of great speeches in both the modern and flashback scenes.


There's some very nice orchestral music throughout the episode.


This is not the first time that Oliver Queen has fathered a child out of wedlock.  During Mike Grell's run on Green Arrow, Ollie was raped by the assassin Shado, who later gave birth to a son.

Later, during the Chuck Dixon run, it was revealed that Oliver sired another son - Connor Hawke - with a girl he knew back in his hippie college student days named Sandra "Moonday" Hawke.  Connor become the second Green Arrow after Ollie's death.

Finally, there's a long-running theory - first proposed by Green Arrow expert Scott McCullar - that Cissie King (a.k.a. the heroine Arrowette) and daughter of former Green Arrow sidekick Bonnie King (a.k.a. Miss Arrowette) was Oliver Queen's illegitimate daughter.

We do not find out the name of the woman Ollie impregnated nor the gender of their child, so there's a fair chance the unnamed woman could be either Sandra Hawke or Bonnie King.  Given that reference is made to her returning to college in Central City, it seems more likely that it is Sandra Hawke.

Sara's leaving Ollie, claiming Ollie deserves someone better than her, is similar to arguments why Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance couldn't make a relationship work in the comics, with the genders flipped.


Ollie uses three tranquilizer-dart arrows to bring Roy down.

Dialogue Triumphs

(Ollie in Sara are in bed together, kissing one another softly)
Sara: Do you think Roy's okay?
Ollie: Please tell me that you're not thinking about Roy right now.  We're finally alone.  In a very nice hotel room.
Sara: A hotel room that you couldn't afford.
Ollie: I have something of a history with the manager.
Sara: Mmmm... I can only imagine.
(Ollie glances around the room)
Ollie: I think I trashed this specific room once.  When favors run out, we should think about getting a more permanent place.
Sara: ... we?
Ollie: Well... you're probably getting tired of staying with Laurel.  And we can't sleep in the foundry now that Roy's there.  So..
Sara:  But I mean... "we"... are you asking me to move in with you?
(Ollie answers this by kissing her.  Suddenly, his phone starts ringing)
Sara: Your phone's ringing.
Ollie: I know.
(The two go back to kissing.  Sara's phone starts ringing)
Sara: Okay, BOTH our phones are ringing.  That's nothing good.

Ollie: Mom, I know a little something about... sacrificing the people closest to me for the good of this city.  That's what you need to do now.
Moira: ... I know.
Ollie: Good.
Moira: Oliver... I KNOW.
(Ollie stops dead in his tracks.)
Moira: (quieter) I know.
(Ollie turns around.)
Moira:  I've known... since last year, I suppose.  The night of The Undertaking everything became so clear.  That 's pretty much the night I stopped sleeping.
Ollie: Before you say anything else...
Moira: There's nothing else to say.  Nothing I need to say.  Except I could not be more proud.

Woman: I'm not looking for money.
Moira: Of course not.
(Moira hands the woman a check.)
Woman: I told you I don't want money.
Moira: And I'm telling you that this is my first grandchild.  And I want to make certain that he or she has a bright future.  Please.
Woman: (looking at the check) ... this is a million dollars!
Moira: I want to make certain my son has a bright future as well.  That money is yours once you tell Oliver that you've lost the baby.
Woman: ... what?!
Moira: And another million when you return to Central City, never to speak to him again.  Can I offer you some advice, one mother to another?  When it comes to your children, there is no action that is inconceivable.  There is no decision that is impossible.  You do what you must to provide the life that they need and I think that two million dollars is sufficient to provide the life that both our children need.   Don't you?

Sara: I would have killed him.  I was ready to.  He'd be dead right now if you hadn't stopped me.
Ollie: But he's not.  That's all that matters.
Sara: That's not true.  I WANTED to kill Roy.  Because that's what I do.  That's who I am. Because I spent six years in the darkness.  And I looked into the eyes of The Devil.  And I gave him my soul.
Ollie: I can help you get it back.
Sara: No, you deserve someone better.  Someone who can harness that light that's still inside of you.  But I'm not that person.  And I never will be.
Ollie: Sara... don't.
Sara: I'm sorry.  I just care about you too much to be with you.

And the whole scene with Slade's sadistic choice between Moira and Thea.  But especially the final lines...

Slade: (To Moira) You possess true courage.  I am truly sorry... you did not pass that on to your son.


As the episode opens, we find out that STAR Labs is still working on the Mirakuru antidote, after Felicity gave Caitlin Snow a sample of the drug in 219.

We also find out that Isabel Rochev's death hasn't made the papers.  We know that's because she isn't really dead thanks to an emergency blood transfusion from Slade Wilson, but Diggle thought he killed Rochev in 219.

The on-line newspaper Felicity is reading in the opening scene has headlines regarding Moira Queen's lead waning and a series of controversial court room reforms being pursued - perhaps in response to the DA's office rehiring a lawyer with a history of drug abuse who was about to be disbarred to an assistant district attorney's post?  Or due to a recently fired assistant D.A. cutting a deal with a mob boss to lure out a violent vigilante that got several people killed (217)?  Or due to both of the aforementioned lawyers illegally withholding evidence from the defense in a capital murder trial (207)?

Another mention of The Big Belly Burger - The DCU's favorite fast-food franchise and - in Starling City - the burger bar run by Diggle's sister-in-law/ex-girlfriend.

Diggle says that Roy was more out of control than Slade was at Oliver's house, referring to 215.

Moira's campaign manager makes reference to Thea's kidnapping in 218.

Sara is still employed as a bartender at Verdant - a job she was hired for in 214.

Sin does not wear make-up.

Ollie is given treatment at Glades Memorial Hospital.  The doctor who treats him makes reference to the Triads stealing medicine meant for the hospital (202) and wondering how he could thank The Arrow for stopping them.  He gives Ollie a brace and some painkillers, noting that Ollie will be able to walk but it will still hurt.

Ollie refers to Helena Bertinelli and Sara not killing her (217).

Sara says the only way to disable a person on Mirakuru is with a head-shot.

Sin tells Thea about how Roy was injected with something that is messing with his head.

We see that Roy has hallucinations of Thea telling him to kill her, similar to how Slade Wilson has visions of Shado telling him to kill Ollie.

Ollie tries to write off his limp as being the result of a motorcycle accident.  Moira calls him on this, saying it is his second accident in as many weeks, referring to Ollie's injury in 219 following Slade Wilson's attack on The Arrow Cave.

Moira reveals that she has known about Ollie being The Arrow since 123.

Moira offers the girl Ollie impregnated two million dollars if she'll tell Ollie that she lot the baby and go back to Central City, never speaking to Ollie ever again afterward.

Ollie makes use of Sara's Tibetan Pit Viper venom (first seen in 212) to keep Roy sedated.

Sara dumps Ollie, saying she doesn't deserve him.  She says her goodbyes to Sin and says she is "going to see an old friend".

Moira is about to tell Thea and Oliver that Malcolm Merlyn is still alive when their car is hit.  The rumors of Merlyn's death being greatly exaggerated was revealed in 208.

Slade sets up a sadistic choice, trying to force Ollie to choose between his sister and his mother, mirroring Ivo's actions in 209.

The Fridge Factor

Sin is imperiled to drive home how much Roy has changed.  Thea is imperiled to give Ollie more angst.  And Moira gets fridged to give Ollie even more angst.

The Bottom Line

A powerful episode with a number of honestly shocking and surprising moments.  Definitely one of the best episodes of the season.  Possibly the best one yet!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Arrow - Season 2, Episode 20 - Seeing Red - Live Tweet Commentary

A live-tweet commentary on Seeing Red 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!

0:01 - "I don't think there's a force on Earth that can make you a bad person!" - FORESHADOWING ALERT!

0:04 - This scene with Ollie and Sara in bed is VERY Mike Grell'a Green Arrow.

0:06 - Oh thank god... for a second I didn't think this was a flashback.

0:08 - ... oh shit.!

0:13 - Calling it now - Slade injects Felicity with Mirakuru and she turns EVIL! He already dropped hints about corrupting her.

0:18 -This will not end well...

0:21 -You know Ollie, maybe unmasking isn't a good idea given how many non-mentor reasons Roy has to hate you.

0:26 - More vintage Mike Grell Green Arrow there... Ollie getting favors for helping people. Urban Robin Hood and such.

0:33 - So Mirakuru turns you into a misogynist dude bro? That explains a lot.

0:35 - ... oh crap.

0:37 - ... oh hell. Just... wow.

0:39 - I realize I'm not saying a lot about the episode. That's because... oh damn, there's so little I can say.

0:42 - All the best episodes in Season 2 had very little of Laurel in them. I do not believe this to be a coincidence.

0:46 - One thought occurs - why hasn't Thea questioned why this Slade Wilson guy cared so much about telling her the truth?

0:49 - ... BULLSHIT!

0:52 - Hate to say this, but I did see that coming the minute they all sat down in one car together. Only question is whodunit.

0:55 - Very heavy Mike Grell influence to the story this week. Not specific story lines but the themes are very Grellian.

0:59 - "One more person must die before this can end."  Please say it's Laurel. Because I can totally get behind that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Batman Eternal #2 - A Review

I've complained in previous reviews of the main Batman series that Scott Snyder seemed to be have been taking his sweet time in telling his stories since City of Owls.  Zero Year in particular seemed to have been drawn out, with the promise of a revamped and deadlier Riddler being held ever out of reach until recently.  Well, I can make no such complaints about Batman: Eternal.  

The first issue kicked things off with a bang and this issue continues the trend, as Batman mobilizes his allies in the wake of a major disaster in Gotham City.  A disaster which Jim Gordon seems to have caused but nobody in the Bat Family or the GCPD can honestly believe he is responsible for.  There's a lot of good character moments throughout the book and we know what villain is responsible for Gordon's fall by the issue's end.  I won't spoil it here but it was an honest surprise and a true indication of how things have changed for Gotham City in the New 52 universe.

The artwork is uniformly excellent.  Jason Fabok's matches Bryan Hitch for the ability to fit amazing amounts of detail into a panel but I think Fabok's line-work is neater and more precise.  The inks are surprisingly sparse for a Batman comic and colorist Brad Anderson highlights the artwork with multiple shades of black and grey.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Doctor Who: Only Human - A Book Review

When the TARDIS' disturbance alarm goes off, The Doctor is quick to investigate.  With Rose Tyler and Captain Jack Harkness in tow, The Doctor travels to modern day London, where a young Neanderthal man named Das has suddenly appeared some twenty-eight thousand years after humanity wiped out his species.  Unfortunately, due to the cheap and nasty method of time travel responsible, The Doctor cannot take Das home since he is so chronologically unstable that another trip through time will vaporize him.

As Captain Jack sets about the difficult task of acclimating Das to the culture of the early 21st century, The Doctor and Rose follow the trail back to the dawn of humanity.  It is there they find a hidden colony of humans - all of them with movie-star good looks and glazed, emotionless expressions.  They also find Chantal Osterberg, whose plans for humanity can't be properly called "mad" as she has eradicated madness along with all of the other deviant mental states, such as depression, anger and unhappiness.

Can our heroes save the human race from extinction?  Yes, but not unless The Doctor becomes the God of the Horses, Rose introduces manicures to humanity several thousand years early and Captain Jack manages to explain that Mrs. Slocombe from Are You Being Served is not real to a crisp-addicted caveman.

Gareth Roberts has fast become one of my favorite Doctor Who writers, not only for his wit but for his versatility.  Even if you don't enjoy the multiple media of Doctor Who, you've likely chuckled at his work in episodes such as The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and The Wasp.  He's written novels, audio plays, a stage-play and comics as well as episodes of the show and proven equally capable of writing in all mediums skillfully.

Reading Only Human, one wishes that Roberts had been on the writing team for Series One.  This would have been a great story to see adapted into a shooting script.  Roberts does a grand job of capturing the essence of the characters and one wishes we could have seen Christopher Eccleston trying to be sarcastic towards a villain who has chemically removed his ability to be sarcastic.

Despite that, I can't help but think perhaps it is best that this story stayed a novel, as the greatest moments of the book involve elements that would not translate well to other media.  For example, rather than writing out the action of Jack and Das' misadventures in modern London, Roberts' relates these events to us through the personal diaries of both men.  Roberts also avoids the easy jokes one might expect from a film like Encino Man and derives just as much humor from Jack's frustration at being stuck in such a primitive (from his perspective) and boring point in time as he does from Das' failure to grasp basic concepts such as lying and fiction.  One wonders how much of this sequence and the base idea of a time-traveler trying to acclimate to an ordinary existence inspired Roberts' later work on The Lodger.

If this book has a flaw, it is that the character moments and comedy are far more riveting than the actual plot.  The story is fairly standard stuff for Doctor Who and the villain is ultimately a bargain basement Davros.  But readers are likely to forgive this since Roberts disguises the drab plot with such glorious moments as Captain Jack streaking to provide "one of the biggest distractions you'll ever see", the swear-filter on the TARDIS translator causing a group of primeval humans to sound like the cast of EastEnders and the revelation that psychic paper also works on animals.

Bottom Line: Only Human perfectly captures the feeling of a Ninth Doctor era story.  If you like New Who, you'll love it.

Batman #30 - A Review

Batman #30 is simultaneously the final act of Zero Year and part one of Savage City.  We finally learn the meaning of the title Zero Year, as The Riddler - now firmly in charge of Gotham City - elected to establish a new calendar when he took over.  It remains to be seen how this will affect Julian Day but I'd just love it if The Calendar Man wound up saving the day instead of Batman, as he fights for the concept of time itself!  This is probably why I review comics instead of writing them.

I appreciate Scott Snyder's attempts to turn The Riddler into a more credible villain but what The Riddler has accomplished here strains credibility.  At least, that's what I thought until Eddie showed his face on the jumbotron in Gotham's equivalent of Times Sqare and Snyder reveals that while the stakes of the game may have been raised, Riddler is still the same know-it-all who has to prove he's smarter than everyone else.  What makes this story so revolutionary is that - for the first time in a long while - you actually believe Edward Nygma is as smart as he thinks he is.  And perhaps even more astonishingly, Batman has actually lost a battle to him.  Twice even!

I hate to dismiss the awesome artwork of Greg Capullo and Danny Miki by describing their work on this issue as "up to their usual standard" or some equally humdrum phrase.  And yet, that sentence - while dull - would be accurate.  Capullo and Miki consistently bring their A-game to this title and it is one of the best looking books on the shop stands as a result.

Sheena #1 (Moonstone Books 2014) - A Review

Moonstone Books' Sheena #1 is a good comic but a bad first issue.  This is because, in all the ways that matter, this isn't a first issue but a continuation of the 2007 Sheena series printed by Devil's Due Publishing.  Reinvented for the modern day by Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. de Souza, this series established The Queen Of The Jungle as Rachael Caldwell - an heiress thought lost in the Amazon as an infant, who was raised by friendly natives and taught the ways of the animals.   Now, having been reunited with her robber-baron grandfather, Rachael plays at being a vapid party girl by day while spending her nights protecting the rain-forests as Sheena.

This is briefly explained at the start of this issue but precious little else is.  It seems to have been assumed that anyone reading this book will already be familiar with the DDP Sheena series, which is a bad assumption after several years of inactivity and never a good idea for a first issue.  We do get glimpses of Sheena's supporting cast - shaman Don Felipe, environmentalist Bob Kellerman and bodyguard Martin Ransome - but only Kellerman is identified directly by name.  In fact, Martin Ransome's name is not mentioned once in the whole issue!

The artwork by Jake Minor is equally problematic.  Minor is a good artist but I don't believe him to be the right artist for this story.  Minor's style is bold and exaggerated in a way that is reminiscent of Will Eisner's The Spirit.  This would be a fine thing were the script written on the same light-hearted level as Eisner's The Spirit but this book has several bloody moments (including one man taking an arrow through the neck and another man being devoured by piranhas) that are graphic enough to push this book into T+ (16 and Up) territory.  These scenes, as rendered by Minor, look goofy rather than horrifying.

Despite these problems, I enjoyed Sheena #1 immensely.  More care could have been taken to reintroduce the supporting cast but Sheena herself is explained well enough.  More importantly, Sheena is depicted as a capable heroine.  And while I may take issue with certain scenes looking odd, Minor's action sequences are well-choreographed.  There is enough right with this book for me to recommend it, provided you pick up a copy of the first two DDP Sheena collections along with this first issue.    

Friday, April 18, 2014

Doctor Who: Players - A Book Review

1915.  Major Winston Churchill is attacked by renegades in No Man's Land.  After the death of his driver and bodyguard, The Major thinks he's found salvation twice - once when he is rescued by a funny little man named Dr. John Smith and once again when they find a nearby chateau at which to take refuge.  Pity the chateau is owned by hostile nobles ready to hand Major Churchill over to The Kaiser!

1899.  The height of the Boer War.  A young war correspondent named Winston Churchill is on a military patrol stopped by a rockslide on the train tracks.  It seems a routine delay until a sniper in the hills tries to take-out the young writer.  Only the timely arrival of The Doctor and his companion Peri Brown saves Churchill's life, though it also sees the three of them locked away in a South African prison...

His interest piqued after recalling the tale of how his second incarnation met Winston Churchill, The Doctor concludes that some unseen player is trying to kill the great leader at a young age to alter the course of history.  With Peri Brown in tow, The Doctor journeys to 1936 at the height of The Abdication Crisis and assumes the identity of Ambassador John Smith.  It will take all of The Doctor's cunning to ensure Winston Churchill's survival as well as his own, as unseen hands pave the path for an alliance between the empire of King Edward VIII and Adolph Hitler!  

I've heard a number of criticisms leveled at Terrance Dicks as a writer.  He's incredibly dull.  He writes women badly and depends too heavily on rape threats and cliched peril whenever a female companion gets captured.  He writes every Doctor exactly the same, regardless of incarnation.  I've even heard differing opinions that he depends too much on the continuity of the show in his writing and that he ignores it completely!

None of those complaints seem evident to me in Players, though it must be admitted that the concept of some unknown figure meddling with the time-stream is perhaps the closest thing to a stock-plot one can find in Doctor Who.  The titular Players, however, are unique in that they seem to have no motivation past seeing what changes they can cause through the most simple and basic of manipulations.  True, this is reminiscent of The Meddling Monk, but his schemes were not so subtle as what we see the Players attempt.

I don't think the female characters are treated badly at all in this story. Indeed, I thought Peri better acquitted herself as a companion in this story than she ever did in any of the episodes  where she was paired up with The Sixth Doctor.  No bouncy California girls in this story.  This is the Peri who starred down The Master and told him that she could shout just as loud as he could!  

Terrance isn't as overly-demonstrative in his depiction of the various quirks of different versions of The Doctor as some writers.  Yet I do think Dicks does a fair job of putting a few fine details in the text, here and there.  For instance, his Second Doctor rubs his hands together when he is working out a problem and responds to veiled threats from villainous captors with a polite, clownish enthusiasm that belies his strong mind.  And his Sixth Doctor has a fondness for bad puns, a snarky wit and a habit of playing at pretending he is someone he isn't.

Dicks does lean heavily on the continuity of the show but not at the expense of the story.  The 1915 flashback scene is based on Dicks' story The War Games but no familiarity with that episode is required to enjoy the sequence.  More often than not these references are just in-jokes to amuse the devout fan or, failing that, Dicks himself.  One of the better ones involves Pinkerton detective Tom Dekker (a character from Dicks' novel Blood Harvest) who notes that he once knew a Doc Smith who hung out with a girl named Ace back in Chicago. When Peri asks if there's a chance that might be a future incarnation, The Doctor bristles and says that he doubts his future includes "being a 'funny little guy' running a speakeasy in Chicago during Prohibition!'

The most amazing aspect of this story is that Dicks does a fair job of making as educational as it is thrilling.  As an American, I'm largely unfamiliar with Winston Churchill's life before the second World War.  Dicks plays up the adventurous aspects of Churchill's youth, going out of his way to tie The Doctor into real events such as Churchill's escape from a Boer prison in 1899.  It must be said that the exposition The Doctor must recite doesn't seem quite so forced as Peri, being an American, is as equally unfamiliar with The Boer War and The Abdication Crisis as the average American reader.  Dicks also does an effective job of playing off the real-world events and playing up how very fortunate we were not to have wound up with an English King who was friendly to the Nazi regime.

Bottom Line: Players is a grand game from start to finish.  Highly recommended for all Doctor Who fans.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Concise Response To Anyone Who Thinks Rape Threats Are An Appropriate Response To Anything

SOURCE: IN YOUR FACE JAM: Anatomy Of A Bad Reaction 

SOURCE: Fake Geek Guys: A Message to Men About Sexual Harassment 

I have little time and even less patience to deal with this issue.  I think Brett White and Andy Khouri did a fine job discussing this issue and the most recent scandal in the above-linked articles.  But because dealing with this problem is the responsibility of all men of conscience, I decided I should offer my own thoughts, however briefly.

Here then is my statement to anyone who thinks that a disagreement over anything - much less comic books - is justification for a rape threat.


Thank you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 2, Episode 19 - The Man Under The Hood

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


What remains of Team Arrow launches a daring midnight raid to destroy Queen Consolidated's Applied Science building.  It's a small victory and a Pyrrhic one, as Deathstroke seeks other means to create his army of Mirakuru-infused soldiers from a STAR Labs holding facility.  At the same time, Ollie tries to make amends with Thea - not only to save their relationship but what remains of the Queen family fortune.  And all the while Laurel Lance weighs the knowledge she has been given and ponders what she will do know that she knows Oliver Queen is The Arrow.

In the flashbacks, Ivo bargains for a quick death as he offers Ollie what he wants most - a cure for Mirakuru.


Green Arrow: Year One (the island sequences), Dennis O'Neil's Justice League of America #75 (the idea of Ollie losing his company and fortune to a corrupt business partner), Green Arrow: Into The Woods (Isbela Rochev taking over Oliver Queen's company and her motivations for doing so) and countless Batman comics where Commission Gordon is given a chance to learn Batman's secret identity but refuses to do so.


Something occurred to me with this episode - where is Walter Steele in all of this?  Granting that he's now working for a bank instead of Queen Consolidated, you'd think he'd be involved in trying to stop Isabel Rochev's takeover and help save the Queen Trust Fund if only for the sake of his step-kids.  There may not be much he can do but you'd think he'd merit a mention!

Felicity and Diggle say they went to Roy's apartment and found it cleaned out.  What happened to the house Roy was living in back in Season One?  (Possibly destroyed during the Earthquake and he moved into an apartment afterward?)

Ivo claims he was able to create a cure for the effects of Mirakuru... despite never having access to the original formula.

Kate Spencer says it best when she warns Laurel to be careful in her continued attempts to blackmail her "because it will not always be this easy."  Laurel should not have any leverage over her father's case, much less any leverage period as a rookie assistant D.A. with only a few months experience with most of that under a recently fired/disgraced assistant D.A. who willingly withheld evidence from the defense during a major murder trial!  That's ignoring the completely legitimate issues that caused Laurel to be fired only a few months earlier regarding her substance abuse problems and her discredited claims that a popular Mayoral candidate was a murderer.  It should be ludicrously easy for Kate Spencer to paint Laurel as a classic disgruntled employee attempting to abuse her position at best and a drug-crazed lunatic at worst.


Willa Holland knocks it out of the park with her speech about how betrayed she feels.

Summer Glau is genuinely creepy as Isabel Rochev here, letting her mask crack for a moment as she reveals the obsessive woman who is determined to take everything she thought her "true love" wanted her to have.  The whole scene prompts memories of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.

And yet it is Paul Blackthorne who steals the show with his brief turn delivering "The Commissioner Gordon speech" about why he doesn't want to know who The Arrow is and his importance as a symbol.


The opening heist scene as Team Arrow blows up Queen Consolidated's Applied Sciences building is well-played on all fronts.  Ditto Deathstroke's assault on the Arrow Cave before the first commercial break.

The lighting/make-up during the flashback scenes with Ollie talking to Ivo leave him looking like The Starling City vigilante from Season One.

The music as Ollie goes to stop Slade from giving his blood to his minions is particularly haunting, sounding like a combination of broken machinery and an out-of-sync heartbeat.


The Robert Queen/Isabel Rochev affair mirrors Green Arrow: Into The Woods.  In that story, Isabel Rochev was a slave in a Siberian diamond mind owned by Queen Industries, who caught the eye of Robert Queen while on a business trip.  Somehow, she got it into her head that Robert Queen loved her and intended to leave his wife and son to make her "his queen".

Caitlin and Cisco - the two STAR Lab employees doing inventory when Deathstroke raids their warehouse - are Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon - two characters who will be reoccurring figures on the upcoming The Flash TV series.  Their names correspond to the secret identities of the super-villain Killer Frost and the superhero Vibe.  Indeed, Cisco actually asks if Caitlin is "getting a bad vibe" off of something at one point.

As Caitlin and Cisco are fleeing Slade, Caitlin unlocks the cage containing equipment that used to belong to a Dr. Arthur Light, whom she describes as "a psycho" who was fired from STAR Labs two years earlier.  This is a reference to the supervillain Dr. Light, who used light-based technology to commit his crimes.  Like Deathstroke, Dr. Light was a frequent foe of both the Teen Titans and Green Arrow.

Cisco attacks Deathstroke with a gun that seems to unleash some kind of sonic blast.  This could be the catalyst for his own future superpowers.

Reference is made to an Iris who has been visiting Barry Allen while he was in his coma.  This is a reference to Iris West - Barry Allen's on-again/off-again girlfriend in the comics and future wife in some stories.

The director of STAR Labs is Dr. Harrison Wells.  This is close to Garrison Slate - the founder of STAR Labs in the comics.

Another reference to Bludhaven - apparently Roy went there after leaving Starling City.


Felicity makes use of William Tockman's Skeleton Key.

Slade steals an experimental bio-transfuser from STAR Labs.  It can deliver blood from one single subject into multiple subjects at once.  It requires a massive amount of power, making it possible to track it by looking for an appropriate power spike.  

Ollie uses an explosive arrow in his fight with Slade.

Ivo says he was never able to replicate the formula for Mirakuru but he was able to create a "cure" to counteract and reverse the physiological effects of the drug.

Dialogue Triumphs

Anatoly: They say living well is the best revenge. *chuckles*  I prefer torture.

Thea: I tried to kiss my half-brother before my real father killed him!  That's how screwed up I am!  And you know the sad part?  I was actually starting to be in a good place.  I had the club.  I had Roy.  I had a brother who wasn't lying to me.  And for the first time in my crazy life, everything didn't seem so completely and totally messed up.  I thought I was going to be okay... I'm so stupid!
Ollie: You're not stupid...
Thea: No, what I am is the daughter of two mass-murderers.  Not one, but two!  So let's face it, Ollie... I was never going to be okay.  It's not in my genes.

Quentin:  There was a time I would have thrown in my badge to find out his name.  You know that.  But then I realized I didn't care who he was.  In fact, I didn't even want to know who he was.
Laurel: Why not?!
Quentin: Because I knew if I knew who he really was that he would become a person.  Maybe he's got family.  Friends.  People that care about him.  Some other life.  And then he couldn't be what I needed to him to be. What this city needs him to be.  See, The Arrow... the man...The man under the hood isn't important.  Can you imagine what it's like to be him?  What he has to live with day in, day out?  What that's got to be like?  The least I can do is sit here and do a little bit of time for him.

Ollie: Thea, whatever dad's faults were... he loved us.  All of us.  Because we were his family.  You were his daughter and some stupid blood test wasn't going to change that.  He chose us.  He chose you.  He made a decision to be your father even though he didn't have to be.  So what does that tell you?
Thea: It tells me that he was a liar.  Just like both of you.

Dialogue Disasters

The first scene in the Arrow Cave features some of the most painfully rendered exposition in the history of the show, as Ollie, Felicity, Sara and Diggle all tell each other precisely why they just did what they did in the opening scene.

Kate Spencer
: How's your father?
Laurel: He'll be better once you drop all charges and sign his release papers.
Kate Spencer: He is facing eighteen months!
Laurel: Yes, but he is not going to stay here another day unless you want me to resign and embark on an exciting new career as a criminal defense attorney, whose sole ambition will be to sue the district attorney's office for wrongful arrest and reckless endangerment!
Kate Spencer: Your father will be released on his own recognizance within the hour.  And reinstated tomorrow.


Felicity makes reference to William Tockman from 214.  She also makes use of one of his devices to break into the Queen Consolidated Applied Sciences building.

Felicity notes the Queen Consolidated Applied Science Building is the same building where they met Barry Allen in 208.

The doctor who treats Sara at the hospital following Slade's attack notes the last time he saw someone with that many scars, he was examining an Iraq war veteran.

Thea makes reference to how she almost kissed Tommy Merlyn while drunk in 106.

Felicity knows Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon as Barry Allen was moved to STAR Labs in Central City after his condition deteriorated.

Reference is made to Barry's semi-girlfriend, Iris West.  Felicity was not aware of Iris' existence.

Isbael Rochev was trained in combat by Slade Wilson.

Isabel Rochev confirms that she had an affair with Robert Queen but claims to have been his soul-mate.  She further claims that the only thing that stopped him from running away with her was Thea breaking her arm after falling off a horse the day they were going to fly off together.  The incident apparently changed Robert Queen's mind and he fired Rochev the next day and never spoke to her again.

Rochev also confirms that Robert Queen knew about Moira's affair with Malcolm Merlyn and that Thea was not his daughter but he ultimately decided it didn't matter.

Quentin Lance is attacked in prison by a convict he helped collar.  Laurel is able to parley with the D.A. to get the charges against him dismissed and arrange for him to be reinstated to the SCPD.

Roy Harper's fate is revealed.  Slade and Rochev captured him at a shelter in Bludhaven and used him to start transfusing Mirakuru-infused blood to his soldiers.  He is saved by Ollie and Diggle but is left incredibly weak.

Slade is fast enough to parry arrows with a katana.

Diggle shows up in time to save Ollie from being shot by Rochev, downing her with his own gun.  This leads Slade to give Rochev a transfusion of his own Mirakuru-infused blood at the episode's end.

Ollie steals a Mirakuru vial from Slade to use to create Ivo's cure for Roy.  He confesses to the rest of Team Arrow that he didn't mention the cure before because he was ashamed to admit it existed because he chose to kill Slade rather than try to cure him five years earlier.

On the island, Ollie killed Ivo so that Sara didn't have to.

Felicity takes the Mirakuru sample to Cisco and Caitlin.  

The Fridge Factor

Laurel's extrapolating Sara's secret identity after all this time does little but make her look like an even bigger idiot than she's been all season since it took a doctor telling Laurel about all her sister's scars to let her put two and two together, even after being told Ollie's secret identity.

The Bottom Line

The episode starts strongly and then limps towards the finish line.  The action sequences are strong but Laurel's subplot drains the episode of much of its momentum.  Every time things with Slade and Rochev start to heat up, we cut back to Laurel very slowly figuring things out or very slowly figuring out what she's going to do.  The introduction of Cisco Ramon and Caitlin Snow also distracts away from what should be a gripping climax heading into the season finale.  In the end, this episode attempts too much and succeeds at too little.    

Arrow - Season 2, Episode 19 - The Man Under The Hood - Live Tweet Commentary

A live-tweet commentary on The Man Under the Hood 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!

0:03 - Oh damn... everyone in the field and in action. Nice start!

0:06 - Nothing like starting the episode off with a bang.

0:10 - Ah. So they ARE sticking to Rochev's origin from the comics.

0:11 - DAMN good fight scene!

0:17 - Dunno if Laurel just doesn't believe it or she's getting evidence. Either way, I really don't care.

0:18 - Nice performance here by Willa Holland.

0:21 - Cisco... is that Vibe?

0:23 - what the.... WHY WAS LAUREL SITTING THERE?!?!

0:24 - So... lab tech named Caitlin... Fairchild?

0:31 - ... how can you make a cure for something you never had the chance to study in the first place?

0:33 - Okay... Summer Glau is going full-blown Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction here.

0:36 - Ugh.  If she kisses him, I am going to wretch.

0:42 - ... how the hell is Laurel able to make threats like that? She has no leverage! Seriously! NONE!

0:45 - Oh hell... didn't see that coming!

0:46 - Great performance from Paul Blackthorne, delivering the Commission Gordon speech. Bravo!

0:51 - Explosive Arrow FTW!

0:55 -Okay... so why didn't you mention this cure earlier when Roy was going crazy? Ollie, you freaking JACKASS!

0:59 - Well... that happened.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Batman Eternal #1 - A Review

I will say this for the writing team of Batman Eternal - they do not do things by halves.  There was a hint of this in the preview for this series, which depicted Harper Row (a supporting character from Scott Snyder's Batman) as a masked crime-fighter working alongside Batman, Selina Kyle as the new kingpin of the Gotham underworld and - in a shocking twist that saw fans across the Internet cheering - Stephanie Brown as The Spoiler.  And then we have this first issue, which opens with Gotham City in flames and Bruce Wayne all but crucified on the broken remains of the Bat-Signal.

Okay, book.  You have my attention.

We move past this scene set in a vague future, heading back to "Now".  It is here that we are introduced to Jason Bard - a good cop hired into Gotham by Commissioner Jim Gordon, who is unable to meet Bard for his first day at work as he is busily chasing down the mad scientist Professor Pyg alongside the Batman.  The action sequences there are thrilling but the true focus of the story is upon Bard, who is quickly introduced to just how bad Gotham City is and why Jim Gordon was so anxious to get an honest man like Bard into a command position in the GCPD.  By issue's end, we see a major change to the status quo of things in Gotham City and our first sign that someone is out to bring down Batman, one ally at a time.

Jason Fabok's artwork is as enthralling as the script.  I greatly enjoyed his work on Batman Annual #1 and the pencils and inks here are of similar high quality.  The figures are all clear and uniquely designed, with even the scenes of characters just talking to one another being well-blocked and far from static scenes of talking heads.

This book is a promising first issue.  I'm not sure yet if I'll stick around for the whole year-long saga, but it has my attention.  For now.

Batgirl #30 - A Review

By all rights, I should not have enjoyed Batgirl #30 as much as I did.  It isn't a superhero story but a horror story - probably my least favorite genre in all of fiction.  It's a diversion from the on-going story of this series, doing nothing to move any of the subplots forward.  Much of Batgirl's internal monologue is focused upon her feelings regarding Dick Grayson's apparent death in a recent crossover event I care nothing about.  And this version of Barbara Gordon - while undeniably sounding like Barbara Gordon throughout - nevertheless thinks about a lot of things I can't imagine Barbara Gordon ever thinking about, such as why she might be jealous of the Robins' having a closer relationship to Batman than she does.

And yet, somehow, Marguerite Bennett's script works.  This issue is a distraction, yes, but it is an entertaining one.  The story is a horror movie on paper - with Batgirl stepping in to rescue a group of college students who accidentally summoned the Gotham equivalent of Bloody Mary - but Barbara recognizes it as such and defies the conventions, remaining confident and poised throughout.  You don't question for a moment that while Barbara is loathe to believe in the supernatural, she still read something about evil spirits at some point and remembers what herbs in a standard spice rack could be used to banish a ghost... just in case.

The artwork by guest artist Robert Gill is similarly different from that of the usual creative team but equally enjoyable.  Gill has a clear, bright style that seems at odds with the dark world of Gotham City. Yet that clarity only serves to emphasize the darkness of the Midnight Man and the swarms of bats, bugs and other vermin that fall under his command as the issue progresses.  Gill proves that you don't have to drown a page in ink to evoke a horrific aura.

Bottom Line - this book is different from what I expect in a Batgirl comic, but it isn't bad by a long-shot!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Green Arrow #30 - A Review

Writing reviews of Green Arrow is becoming increasingly difficult for me.  I am running out of unique ways to say "This is a great book and you should be reading it!" every month.  There is so much to praise and yet I feel as if I am repeating myself, when I point out little touches like how Jeff Lemire recaps the story so far at the start of each issue, on the off-chance there might be some new reader jumping into the series with this particular story.

This is a nice touch yet an odd one for what is the penultimate chapter of the current storyline.  There's a lot of things going on in this issue and most of them are dependent on some knowledge about things that aren't covered in the summary, like how Green Arrow's fellow JLA member Katana is also a part of one of the new clans of Outsiders (The Sword Clan, obviously) and who the cavalry who show up to aid Ollie in his battle are.  Lemire's secondary subplot - involving the on-going gang war in Seattle while Ollie is occupied - feels like an unwelcome distraction from the action of the issue.

The action is heavy in this issue and Andrea Sorrentino captures it all perfectly.  For what my money is worth, Sorrentino is a highly underrated artist and his kinetic style is a good fit for Lemire's scripts.  Colorist Marcelo Maiolo further enhances the artwork with muted palettes contrasted by single panels rendered in monochrome, save for a single dominant color.

Red Sonja #8 - A Review

Were there any doubts left that Gail Simone was dragging the She Devil With A Sword into a new era, they were eliminated with this issue.  There was some thinking that last issue - which had Sonja suggesting she was open to a threesome with two limber-looking swamp-dwellers - was a joke of some kind.  But it's no joke.  This issue confirms that this Sonja has no oath of chastity and is as direct in her romantic dealings as she is in battle.

This is a radical change to say the least!  It is also a welcome one.  While Sonja's infamous oath may have been born of classical literature and the women warriors of myth who required a man prove himself before being able to bed her there is still a serious disconnect between Sonja's status as a feminist icon in the modern day and the idea that her life (romantic and otherwise) is beholden to a war goddess' whims.  In this respect Simone's take on Red Sonja is far closer to the ideals of Robert E. Howard than any other writer to handle the character.

This is ironic because many fans of the Hyborian oeuvre are likely to dismiss Simone's story out of hand given the basic plot of the current storyline, in which Sonja has been recruited by a Stygian priest to recruit six of the greatest artisans in the land so that he may throw the ultimate celebration before his foretold death.  Howard purists may wail that Stygia is an insular country and that an obvious foreigner like Sonja would never be allowed within its borders, let alone allowed to traipse about it on so trivial a quest as finding six artisans.  These people miss the larger point - that Sonja is a heroine very much in the mold of Howard's other heroes and - much like Conan - has little use for gods and priests.

Artist Walter Geovani proves a perfect partner in crime for Simone's work.  I was wowed by Geovani's previous work on Red Sonja before the recent reboot and had hoped he might be given more regular work with the character.  I don't know which god heard my wish and granted it so I shall thank them all on Sonja's behalf.  Because the gods know she'll never do it. :)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Earth 2 #22 - A Review

The cover of Earth 2 #22 is somewhat misleading.  Based on it, one might conclude this issue would feature Green Lantern fighting hordes of Parademons.  In truth, Green Lantern does appear briefly at the start of the issue but only to confirm that - despite all appearances to the contrary several months ago - he is still alive and well.

The main focus of this issue is on Lois Lane (restored to life in a robot body known as The Red Tornado) and the Kryptonian Val-Zod.  An agoraphobic raised in a space capsule and imprisoned underground, Val is an innocent who has just been exposed to the outside world for the first time and is only now beginning to show signs of the powers that Kryptonians display under Earth's yellow sun.  There is a magical sequence where Lois tries to teach Val how to fly which evokes memories of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder.  This sort of sequence is the bread and butter of writer Tom Taylor, who has made this book his own following James Robinson's departure from this title.

The artwork by Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott is as amazing as the story.  I've said repeatedly that The Scotts are one of the most underrated art teams in the business and I will stand by that statement.  It is a crime they have not been nominated for an Eisner for their work on this title.

Midkemia: The Chronicles of Pug - A Review

Last year, Raymond E. Feist brought his Riftwar Cycle to a close with Magician's End.  In my review of that work, I noted that the book was disappointing only in being the final tale in a grand saga I first started reading as a teenager and that its only flaws lay in it not quite covering every detail of that saga in its final summation.  By contrast, Midkemia: The Chronicles of Pug is a disappointment on nearly every front.

Co-authored with Stephen Abrams (the game-master who created much of the world of Midkemia for a home-brewed RPG campaign that Feist later utilized for his books), I would like to say that the book tries too hard to be too much.  I would LIKE to say that but the truth is that - as with many of Feist's later novels - it feels like the bare minimum of effort was put into this book's creation.

It is true that this book attempts to be both an atlas and travel guide for the world of Midkemia as well as a history of the world as seen through the eyes of the sorcerer Pug of Crydee.  But the flaws with this book have nothing to do with it overreaching its goal and everything to do with sloppy editing.

A prime example of this slapdash editing can be found in the List of Characters at the start of the book.  For some strange reason, a listing is given for a son of Arutha conDoin who never existed (Lyam II) and the name of one of the most prominent heroes in the series - Erik von Darkmoor - is mispelled Eiek von Darkmoor.  A more disturbing problem is that few of Feist's female protagonists are mentioned in this list of important characters, particularly heroines from his later novels like Sandreena the Knight of Dala and the spymaster Lady Francizeka.  Yet both of these heroines are notable enough to have pictures devoted towards them... though Francizeka's name is misspelled Franziska!

I could go on at length about the number of continuity errors and spelling mistakes in the text and how the maps themselves are inaccurate. One map, for instance, depicts the city of Port Vykor (or Port Vikor, depending on which map you look at) as existing some fifty years before it was founded.  Another map is said to be a gift from Earl Vandros who was, at the time that map was said to have been made, a Duke.

Even Pug's recounting of his own life is filled with errors to a degree that cannot be written off as the fault of memory over the years or Pug being an unreliable narrator.  Indeed, Feist plays with this concept a bit, starting chapters with Pug chiding himself for not discussing some detail in the previous chapter which he really should have mentioned before.  Feist further expands these sections with notes by Pug's son Magnus, who adds his own thoughts on his father's state of mind at the time each chapter was written.

The most vexing thing about this narrative is that Pug avoids offering any personal insights into many of the events he discusses and writes, to borrow a phrase from the first Raymond E. Feist novel I ever read, "with all the passion of a scribe doing year-end tax tallies."  He avoids discussing personal matters in his recanting of the history of his world, leaving Magnus to chime in about how certain events occurred after certain characters died and how upset he recalls his father being at those times.

The aforementioned artwork of the book is another sore point.  Described on the dust jacket as "thirty pieces of specially commissioned artwork that bring key moments in the Chaoswar Saga to vivid life", the artwork is comprised of a series of poorly Photoshopped images of actors in Renn Fest clothing inserted into generic fantasy backgrounds.  One wishes they had used Smithmicro Poser or a similar program instead of live actors so there would be a chance of the characters matching their descriptions in the book.

For instance, here is the sole image we have for the sorcerer Macros The Black, described within Pug's recollection in this book as "... grey-haired at the temples with otherwise long, dark locks... with deep, dark eyes as he held a sturdy oak staff."

No long locks.  No oak staff.  And those familiar with this scene in Magician will recall that Macros never worked overt magic during the scene depicted.  The other images are similarly confounding, with a generic mountain-based castle being given as an example of the fortress city of Amengar from A Darkness At Sethanon and the one scene depicting a dark elf showing a ebony-skinned, white-haired figure like Drizzt Do'Urden when Feist's "mordehel" look just like their pale-skinned, good-hearted "eldehel" cousins but with mad eyes.  The selection of scenes depicted defies logic as well, favoring landscape depictions of certain areas rather than action-filled close-ups.

The only thing that redeems this book is when Feist and Abrams cease giving us the Cliff Notes version of The Riftwar Legacy and let loose details of other stories we did not see in the earlier novels.  Chief among these are an opening section where Pug talks about his life before the events of the first novel and a later one where he discusses the events that were going to make up Feist's unwritten novel Return Of The Buccaneer.  There are also some sections where Pug breaks his narrative to turn the history over to figures who were there for events he did not participate in, such as Admiral Amos Trask's recounting of the events of The King's Buccaneer.

In the end, there is little to recommend Midkemia: The Chronicles of Pug to even the most devout fans of Feist's work.  The chronicles themselves offer no new insights on the series and there is very little information on the lands depicted in the maps of the atlas.  Throw in some poor artwork and poorer editing and I have no qualms about saying you should pick this book up at the library rather than purchasing it for yourself, if you truly must see it for yourself.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Red Sonja And Cub - A Review

For good or ill, we come to expect certain things of certain artists.  When I see Neil Gaiman's name on a book, I expect something magical and unusual.  When I see Gail Simone's name on a book, I expect to see humor as well as some great action sequences.  And when I see Jim Zub's name on a book, I expect hilarity and high adventure.

Red Sonja and Cub has half of that.

Zub may be thought of by many as a comedic writer but this issue shows he is capable of writing high fantasy played completely straight.  His writing is mirrored in intensity by artist Jonathan Lau, whose kinetic style proves a perfect complement to Zub's script.  The blood flows freely and dramatically throughout the story's many action sequences, as Sonja struggles to deliver a child bride unharmed to her groom in order to secure the peace between two warring families.

 I came into this book expecting comedic sword-and-sorcery akin to what you'd see in Skullkickers.  What I got was Red Sonja ala Kurosawa.  And this is not a bad thing.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - A Spoiler Free Review And Some Thematic Ramblings


It is good! In fact, I think it's a better film than The Avengers. It should definitely be seen on the big screen, if possible. And you don't have to have seen the first Captain America movie or The Avengers to enjoy it.


Despite being loosely based on the Captain America comics by Ed Brubaker baring the same name, The Winter Soldier features very little of that mysterious figure.  In many ways the movie isn't even about the character of Captain America!  Indeed, this movie made me consider how little character there is to the Captain America we see on screen and how that is the only real flaw with this film.

Now don't think for a moment I'm disrespecting Steve Rogers!  I'm just saying that most of the writers who have handled the character over the years have not made a distinction between Captain America as a symbol and the man under the mask.  Thankfully, Captain America is one of the few characters I can think of who can be written as a symbol and still be a compelling presence.  But take away the suit and what is left of Steve Rogers?

It's a fair question and it is one that Iron Man 3 addressed (successfully, in my opinion) in regards to Tony Stark.  This question is briefly addressed in the movie when Steve briefly ponders what he would do with his life if he were to quit SHIELD.  And he doesn't have an answer!  It isn't something that occurred to him until someone points out that he doesn't have to stay in service with an employer he disagrees with, as Steve vents over his concerns that SHIELD has become obsessed with achieving security by sacrificing freedom.

That conflict - Freedom Versus Security - is the emotional center of the film and Rogers' internal conflict is never referenced again.  It is Rogers' purpose in this story to exist as Captain America: The Symbol rather than as Steve Rogers: The Man.  Given that, I can understand why Chris Evans has announced his intention to retire from acting once his obligations to play Captain America are met.  Playing Steve Rogers is a blast, I'm sure, but it isn't much of a challenge.

It should be noted that Evans gets some great moments early on as we see how Steve Rogers is adjusting to the modern world and find out, in most respects, he isn't.  Sure, he's surfing the Internet and compiling a list of pop-culture he needs to catch up on... but there's really nothing that defines his life and who he is apart from his work.  Those concerns are quickly shelved as we get on with the plot of the movie but those same conflicts - Freedom vs. Security and who you are under your mask - is explored more fully in the film's real hero - Black Widow.

Yes, you read that right.  Black Widow is the main hero of this movie, at least in terms of which characters undergo a hero's journey and actually change as a result of the events of the story.  Black Widow is shaped as she considers the question of what is more valuable - Freedom or Security - and how like Steve, there is no real "her" outside of her work.  The difference is, in Natasha's case, that her lack of self seems to have been an intentional choice and she is fully aware that there isn't anyone under her mask.

Natasha also - in contrast to Steve - is changed by the conflict between idealism and reality.  In fact - and I say this knowing full well I will draw fire from ever Whedonite out there - this movie does a far better job of establishing Black Widow as a character than The Avengers did.  And Scarlett Johansson rocks the role.  For that matter, Nick Fury develops as a character as the story progresses and Samuel L. Jackson gets what is easily the best action scene in the movie.

Steve Rogers doesn't really change.  Then again, the movie doesn't really need to have Steve Rogers undergo another hero's journey.  He's already a hero.  And part of the hero's journey requires the hero pass on what he has learned.  In that case, Steve Rogers exists to be the catalyst of change in others rather than changing himself.

That being said, the movie works as a straight action film and a political thriller.  The performances are all grand and there's a lot of nods to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the previous movies.  Yet this movie is still accessible to any new viewers who might not have seen the earlier films.  A Captain America display in The Smithsonian Museum provides all the exposition you need as well as one of the few moments that hints at any depth to Steve Rogers' character.

Bottom Line: See This Movie!

Friday, April 4, 2014

See Me At G33K3 Con This Weekend!

I'm one of the guests of honor this week at G33K3 (pronounced Geeky) - a new all-interests geek convention being held in McKinney Texas.  I'll be giving a lecture on the history of American Comics at 4 pm on Saturday in the Workshop Room.

Admission is $10 per day, $25 for the whole weekend and there's a lot of fun stuff going on including cosplay events, lots of game demonstrations for International Tabletop Day and a lot of other cool stuff that is described right here.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 2, Episode 18 - Deathstroke

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


Slade Wilson has made his first strike against Oliver Queen, kidnapping Thea Queen on the eve of Moira Queen's first debate with Sebastian Blood.  Within a span of 24 hours, Oliver Queen will come to realize just how far Slade Wilson has gone in the name of revenge and who his worst enemy truly is.

In the island flashbacks, Sara prepares a deadly trap for Slade as the two agree to make an exchange of Oliver for the one man who can fix The Amazo's engines.


Green Arrow: Year One (the island sequences), Dennis O'Neil's Justice League of America #75 (the idea of Ollie losing his company to a corrupt business partner), Green Arrow: Into The Woods (Isbela Rochev taking over Oliver Queen's company) and numerous stories by too many writers to list that explore the idea that Oliver Queen is his own worst enemy.


There is one stunning shot before the final commercial break, where The Arrow stands in the warehouse where he thought Thea was being held.  We see him from above standing in the light - a perfect circle witha  brighter circle in the middle... and Arrow standing right on the edge of the bullseye.


What little we learn of Deathstroke's healing factor in this episode matches up with the character in the comcis quite well.  In the comics, Slade Wilson has been able to heal from most injuries - up to and including being impaled through the chest on his own sword - far faster than a normal human.  This ability is limited, however, as it could not save Slade's eye when he was shot in the face nor has it proven capable - in various Elseworlds and alternate future stories - of regrowing severed limbs.

This is not the first time Oliver Queen has lost his business to a corrupt business partner.  In Dennis O'Neil's legendary Justice League run, Oliver Queen lost his company to a business partner named John DeLeon.

In J.T. Krul's Green Arrow run, Oliver Queen's company - long out of his hands - was taken over by the comic universe's version of Isabel Rochev.

Isabell Rochev's unspoken motivation for helping Slade is cryptically expressed as "The sins of the father are the sins of the son."  In J.T. Krul's Green Arrow run, Isabel Rochev has an affair with Oliver's father and became obsessed with taking over his company and property, seeing herself as Robert's rightful "queen".

Quentin Lance's full name is Quentin Larry Lance.  The character in the comics he was based on was originally just named Larry Lance.

Dialogue Triumphs

It would be embarrassing for us both if you couldn't at least appear to be my son tonight.
Ollie: I've gotten pretty good at pretending to be someone I'm not.  I learned it from you.

Diggle: We're going to find her Roy.  We're going to get her back.  She's a tough girl.
Roy: If she's even alive when we find her.
Diggle: You can't think like that.
Roy: I can't stop thinking like that.

Oliver: They're calling you Deathstroke.
Slade: It's a bit flamboyant.  I like it.
Oliver: How did you get off the island?
Slade: THAT is your first question?
Oliver: Well, you've made it pretty clear you aren't going to tell me where my sister is, so yeah - that's my first question.
Slade: I swam.

(As Slade is being released by the police)
Lt. Pike: You should know Officer Lance is facing some very serious charges.
Slade: Well, don't pursue them on my behalf. *looking at Oliver* I'm not one to hold a grudge.

Sara:  Alright, let's all just calm down here.  Slade outplayed us.  It happens.
Roy: It only happened because the police let Slade go.  AFTER we turned him in, because Oliver told us to.
Diggle: What were we supposed to do?
Roy: You're Special Forces.  She's an international assassin.  You'd think between the three of us we could have gotten answers out of Slade ourselves instead of turning him in to the police.  And here's what really sick - is that we didn't even question him because HE said it was the right thing to do.  Just like he said that I needed to break up with Thea, one week after telling me that it wasn't safe for me to leave her alone!
Sara: Wait - do you think it's Oliver's fault that Slade took Thea?
Roy: I think it was his fault that I wasn't there to stop Slade.
Sara: And I think you're just blaming Oliver because you lost Slade.
Roy: Well, of course you'd take his side.  You're screwing him.

Moira: I've told you that these lies were to keep our family safe.  To keep us all together.  But that was the biggest lie of all   And I told it to you.  To Thea.  To myself.  Because I was too weak to face any kind of truth.
Ollie: What's happening now isn't your fault.
Moira: From the moment your children are born you worry what the world might do to them.  But you never stop to think what you might do to them.  That we could be our own worst enemy.

Roy: (to Oliver) I believed in you.  There's nothing left for me here.

Thea: How could you not tell me Malcolm Merlyn was my father?  I believed in you!
Ollie: We were trying to keep you safe.
Thea: Do you have any idea who you sound like?  *glaring at Moira* You sound like her.

Ollie: Roy was right. At every turn I've made the wrong decision.  With him.  With the company.  And now Thea.  I was so focused on what Slade might do to me that it never even occurred to me what I could do to myself.  I am my own worst enemy.
Diggle: That's Slade talking, Oliver.  Don't let him in your head.
Ollie: I can't keep him out of my head, Diggle!  I can't stop him from doing anything!
Felicity: Yes, you can.
Ollie: What makes you so sure?
Diggle: Because you're not alone, man.  Now what, boss?
Ollie: Now we fight back.

Slade: Don't worry.  I'm not here to harm you.
Laurel: Go to hell!
Slade: All in good time, I'm sure.  But before then, I've come to Starling City to see Oliver Queen suffer.
Laurel: Oliver... what?  Why?
Slade: Because he's not the man you think he is.
Laurel: And how would you know that?!
Slade: Because I know Oliver Queen is... The Arrow.

Dialogue Disasters

Not really dialogue as such, but Katie Cassidy's expression at the end of the episode is less "I've just found out my ex-boyfriend is a violent vigilante" and more "This burrito is escaping my stomach and I need to find a bathroom NOW!"


Sara makes a mixture using Tibetian Pit Viper venom to knock Slade out - presumably a weaker version of the poison used in 213.

Anatoly Knyazev is confirmed to be an ex-KGB agent.

Slade apparently escaped the island by swimming.

Somehow, Slade is able to scramble Felicity's tracking signal and lose multiple physical tails.

It is unclear precisely how but Slade Wilson uncovered the truth of Thea Queen's parentage.  He reveals said truth - that she is Malcolm Merlyn's biological daughter - to Thea before releasing her.

Thea loved coloring and drew on the walls.  Moira could never be angry at her, though.

Isabel Rochev takes control of Queen Consolidated.  She is revealed to be working with Slade Wilson and to be fully aware that Oliver Queen is The Arrow.  She tells Ollie she thinks its sad he doesn't know her reasons for helping Slade before cryptically adding "The Sins of the Father are the Sins of the Son".

Iron Heights reopened the wing damaged during the earthquake at the end of Season One.  Slade hijacked the bus carrying the inmates to be held there and has apparently recruited them for his army.

Roy is seen watching Thea leave the police station.  His car is then seen leaving the Starling City limits.  It is unclear if Thea is with Roy or not.

At the end of the episode, Quentin Lance is arrested on multiple charges of aiding and abetting a felon after he proves unable to lead his superior to The Arrow.

The Fridge Factor

Granting that Thea is upset, you'd still think she'd have more common sense than to get into a car with a strange man she's only met once before, who just happens to be driving past in the worst part of town.

Laurel is a little too quick in opening her door without seeing who is there first.  Particularly given how many times she's been attacked in her apartment or been kidnapped over the past year...

The Winick Factor

Apart from calling the police to try and expose Slade Wilson to the world, Ollie doesn't do one thing right in this episode.  And even that was all according to Slade's plan!

The Bottom Line

Practically perfect in every way.  There's a number of glorious fake-outs and honest surprises with not one note wrongly played.  Possibly the best episode of the series to date.

Arrow - Season 2, Episode 18 - Deathstroke - Live Tweet Commentary

A live-tweet commentary on Deathstroke 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!

0:03 -  Haven't seen Brother Blood in a while...

0:06 - And there's Rochev.  Wow, we're getting all the villains this week! 

0:07 - "I've gotten pretty good at pretending to be someone I'm not.  I learned it from you." BUUUUURN!

0:14 -  
Oh, Ollie, Ollie, Ollie... so NOT a good idea.

0:16 - "When did you become so scary?" Sara is FIERCE! 

0:17 - Okay.  Did not see that coming. 

0:24 -  So why didn't the eye regenerate?

0:26 - "I'm not one to hold a grudge." Hee hee. 

0:27 - Digg, Felicity and Roy get to do something!

0:28 -  And there's Canary on a bike!

0:29 - Okay... curious how Slade is going to get out of this if Thea lives. 

0:30 - Ah.  THAT'S how. 

0:33 - Roy has a point.

0:36 - Moira's speech resonates with a classic Green Arrow theme - that Ollie is his own worst enemy in many ways.

0:38 - DAMN!

0:39 -  Okay, I was in love with Caity Lotz before but... DAMN!

0:40 - Okay.  Saw Rochev's betrayal coming.  Didn't see her being part of a bigger plan. 

0:49 - Nice artistry.  The bulls-eye of light with Ollie standing in the center. 

0:53 - and another honest surprise.

0:55 - So Roy is leaving town... 

0:59 - Damn.  And damn again, I say...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Serenity: Leaves On The Wind #3 - A Review

There is a certain futility to my reviewing Serenity: Leaves On The Wind.  This series is directly aimed at the obsessive army of fans known as Browncoats and while it is possible for those unfamiliar with the world of Joss Whedon's Serenity to read this book, it isn't recommended they do so.  As such, it hardly seems worth my time to cover this book as those familiar with the show are likely to buy this book regardless of my comments and those who aren't fans of the show won't bother with it.

That is why this month I've elected to aim this review at that small portion of Firefly fans who - for whatever reason - don't read comics and can't be arsed to give a comic book based on a show they like a chance.  Maybe they think it can't be as good because Joss' brother Zack wrote it.  Maybe they just don't like comics.  It doesn't matter.  All that matters is that there are two moments in this book that I think will make every Browncoat say "I have to read this book just to see how THAT happened!"  With that in mind, I leave you with these two scenes.

1. Jayne Cobb trying - honestly trying - to play the sensitive caring man role.

2. Kaylee shows just how much the past few years have changed her.

Legends Of Red Sonja #5 - A Review

Legends of Red Sonja #5 ends this wonderful mini-series on a high note.  It is notable that there hasn't truly been a bad story in this anthology (no surprise given the talent involved) but there have been several stories that weren't really about Red Sonja.

The first tale in this issue is a prime example of this, being focused upon one of the mercenaries tracking down our favorite fire-haired amazon.  Written by Attack Of The Show host Blair Butler, The Pazyryk delivers a lot of action but isn't truly a legend of Red Sonja.  Sure, she shows up at the end to dispatch the titular warrior, but the tale isn't really hers.

Ironically, the same can't be said of the second chapter in this volume - The Play's The Thing.  Scripted by Captain Marvel writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, Sonja doesn't appear in this story but it is definitely about her.  The humor is heavy in this tale where a group of players describe their encounter with the She Devil of Hyrkania to villains by putting on a show!

All of this is ably illustrated by some equally talented artists.  Leaving Megapolis artist Jim Calafiore does a truly epic job on The Pazyryk.  Valentine De Landro's sketchy style leaves The Play's The Thing fittingly looking like a painted woodcut.  And Jack Jadson - one of the finest sword and sorcery artists in the business - brings everything to an epic conclusion along with Gail Simone in the final pages.