Thursday, December 29, 2016

Join Me At Marvelous Nerd Year's Eve! (Dec. 29 - Jan. 1)


I can now officially announce that I will be part of Marvelous Nerd Year's Eve - a convention that will be held in Sheraton Dallas in downtown Dallas. As the name implies, the event will be taking place New Year's Eve weekend and the event will feature a number of special events and celebrity guests... including the final convention appearance of Stan Lee outside of his own personal convention in California.

Now, that's a much bigger deal than my presenting a few classes on comic book history. But as long as you're there, you can still meet me at the following panels.


FRIDAY - DECEMBER 30

1 PM - 
And An Emerald Archer Shall Lead Them: The Bronze Age of Comics.

4 PM - It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's The Golden Age of Comics!


SATURDAY - DECEMBER 31

3 PM - Science, Censorship And The Silver Age of Comics

5 PM - Start of Darkness: The Dark Age of Comics


All of these panels will be on the third floor of the convention center, in the Houston C room. I look forward to seeing you all there!

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor: Year Three #1 - An Advanced Review/Preview

In another time... another world... they were heroes. Saviors of the Universe. Now, one of them is a homeless bum named Smithy with no memory of who he was. One of them is trapped in a hellish existence as a waitress. And one of them has started having their alone time with their girlfriend interrupted by a talking dog...


CLICK ON THE PICTURE BELOW TO SEE THE FULL TWO-PAGE SPREAD.


All good things must come to an end and it seems that time has come for Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor. While Nick Abadzis' story hooks are as strong as ever, they're not strong enough to overcome the horrible artwork by Valeria Favoccia. Ignoring her sloppiness, the awkward panel flow and the glaring neon shades with which she colors her art, her style is too cute for the dark tone of Abadzis' tale. The sections penciled by Giorgia Sposito are far superior, yet serve as a sad reminder of how good this book was during Year Two.

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor: Year Three #1 releases on January 11, 2017. 
 Ask for it at your local comic shop or purchase it on Comixology.com.

Future Quest #8 - A Review

The cosmic horror known as Omnikron has made its first full manifestation on Earth! As Birdman and the new Mightor do battle with the beast and The Impossibles do what they can to prevent others from being absorbed by it, Dr. Zinn and Dr. Quest agree to work together to stop the menace. Unfortunately, Zinn's partners in F.E.A.R. have other ideas...


The artwork in this issue looks fantastic. Ariel Olivetti's art is reminiscent of the work of Alex Ross. Both feature a similar clarity of design and a capacity to make simple, cartoonish characters look epic in scope.


Jeff Parker's story continues to amaze and inspire with every passing issue. The various players are starting to come together and it is only a matter of time before they are all working together in one epic team-up. If what has come so far is any indication, that will be a great and glorious moment!

Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad #2 - A Review

Cornered by The Justice League while in the middle of a mission, The Suicide Squad have only two choices - get blown up by The Wall or hold on long enough for Rick Flagg to air-lift them out of there. It's not much of a chance but there is one thing The Suicide Squad has that The Justice League doesn't - nothing to lose for trying.


This issue is much more in line with what I expected from this series when I first heard of the concept - mindless action with an emphasis on the 'mindless' aspect of the action. Most of battles here are anti-climactic, though there are a few amusing moments such as Aquaman's fight with Killer Croc.

Unfortunately, most of the Justice League members here seem horribly out of character, with an unusually vicious Batman telling Deadshot he'll never be more than a common killer and a horrifically judgmental Wonder Woman telling Harley Quinn that she could never be friends with a deranged killer. This is ignoring the continuity problems I've heard about from other reviewers, such as Batman's commendation of Deadshot ringing false given a recent storyline when Batman tried to offer a group of criminals - including Floyd Lawton - a shot at redemption as part of his team!


At least the artwork looks good, but that's damning with faint praise. Tony S. Daniel, Sandu Florea and Alex Sinclair do a fantastic job depicting the spectacle of battle. Shame there's not much more to this comic than that. I'm uncertain at this point if I'll bother picking up Issue 3, despite the strong first issue.

Starman Plays Skyrim Special Edition - Part 18

In which we burglarize the Goldenglow Estate, burn things, get to know the rest of our fellow thieves and discover a rather odd lighting bug in the Thieves' gymnasium.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Titans #6 - A Review

In order to save his friends and the woman he loves, Wally West had to run faster than he had ever run before. That action trapped him in The Speed Force - just as the mad mage Abra Kadabra had planned! Now, as the Titans battle Kadabra, Wally must face the battle of his afterlife to escape the perfect world The Speed Force has created for him...


Dan Abnett's conclusion to Titans' opening arc proves as thrilling as one could hope. The ending is a tad predictable even without Abnett's foreshadowing in earlier issues. Nevertheless, this critic found the conclusion enjoyable and uplifting in a way few modern comics dare to dream of being.


The art team continues to impress in their efforts to bring Abnett's scripts to life. Every page of this issue is filled with intricate, eye-catching artwork that dazzles the readers with its quality craftsmanship. Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse are a team worthy of The Titans themselves!

Clean Room #15 - A Review

I was happy to see Clean Room #15 on the solicitations for this week. Of course I'm always pleased when Clean Room comes out but after the cliff-hanger ending of Issue #14 two weeks ago, I was particularly anxious to see how things would continue. Imagine my surprise then that Clean Room #15 is an interlude, focused not upon our usual protagonist but on a woman named Mary who - much like Chloe Pierce - is plagued by disturbing visions of a dead loved one.


Gail Simone's story this time gives us a different view of Astrid Mueller's organization but the writing is as engaging as ever. The change in the point-of-view is further enhanced by the contributions of guest-artist Sanya Anwar. While as talented as Walter Geovani and Jon Davis-Hunt, Anwar presents the story in a style that sports a different aesthetic, marking this story as something notably unique but equally enjoyable. Quinton Winter further alters the visual flow, taking over the coloring duties and instituting a subtle palette shift as Astrid's organization moves into Mary's life.

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor: Year Two #17 - A Review

The impossible has come to pass as Sutekh - the self-proclaimed god of destruction - has been reborn! Worse yet, he's backed by a plethora of other cosmically-empowered beings - all of whom have a grudge against The Doctor!  With the fate of all existence at stake, can The Doctor and his companions save the day?!


Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor: Year Two #17 brings this volume of The Doctor's adventures to a fitting conclusion. Nick Abadzis has outdone himself, crafting a narrative as rich as any devised by Robert Holmes in his prime. The outstanding artwork of Giorgia Sposito and Arianna Florean perfectly brings Abadzis script to life. If you're any kind of Doctor Who fan or a lover of quality comics, you should be reading this series!

Starman Plays The Pandora Directive (Blvd. of Broken Dreams) - Part 5

In which we further annoy our neighbors, read the paper, crank call a reporter and then finally get around to doing some real detective work.

Apparently Tex is now evil and lazy.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Injustice: Ground Zero #13 - A Review

As Batman and his allies from another world plot against The Tyrant Superman, Harley Quinn finds herself shut-off from helping out. Again! Thankfully, after a little prompting from her loyal henchmen, she knows just what to do to help The Insurgency - Kill The Joker from the other world! Now she just has to find him...


Christopher Sebela takes over writing and plotting duties with this issue, to no apparent change apart from slightly more scenes recapturing the story of the Injustice: Gods Among Us game. These scenes are well handled and it's a treat listening to Harley's commentary on the other heroes' battle. Still, the best bits are the original material focused on what Harley Quinn was up to outside of the action of the game.


Tom Derenick is one of my favorite artists and this issue is a good example of why that is so. Derenick is a great visual storyteller, who fits an amazing amount of detail into every panel he draws. Sometimes those panels are obscured by the inks but the darker aesthetic suits this story well. And J. Nanjan continues to rock on the colors.

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor: Year Two #13 - An Advanced Review/Preview

The year is 1695 and a Darkness rules France. Literal Darkness, as it happens - an alien intelligence of living shadow. The Doctor and a feisty lady he had occasion to meet - the hard-drinking, sword-fighting, opera-singing Julie D'Aubigny - have made haste to warn The King of the plot against him. Unfortunately, The King has already been given over to The Darkness...





Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor: Year Two #13 proves a worthy conclusion to a fantastic story-line. Those fans who were left wanting more by this year's Christmas special and the long wait for Series Ten will find this book the perfect thing to satisfy their cravings. Robbie Morrison weaves a wonderful tale that is well matched by the artwork of Mariano Lacustra, Fer Centurion and Hernan Cabera.

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor: Year Two #13 releases January 4, 2017. 
Ask for it at your local comic shop or purchase it on Comixology.com.

Starman Plays Skyrim Special Edition - Part 17

In which I pick apart Aerin's questionable story about saving Mjoll, collect protection money and, having been officially inducted into the Thieves Guild, get to know some of my fellow rogues and scoundrels.


Monday, December 26, 2016

Starman Plays The Pandora Directive (Blvd. of Broken Dreams) - Part 4

In which, having finally assembled a threatening note to our sexy new client correctly, we completely forget about helping her in order to explore an abandoned cabin, pester a local street preacher and dig around a series of abandoned buildings on Chandler Avenue.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Lucifer #13 - A Review

This festive week brings us a rare gift - a Christmas comic starring The Devil himself! Lucifer #13 features two different stories by two different creative teams. Both are set during the holiday season and concern themselves with the themes of Justice and gift-giving. Of course The Devil will have his due...


Krampusnacht centers upon two thieves who steal more than they bargained for, using the annual Running Of The Krampuses in Los Angeles as cover for their robbery. The story by Holly Black is engaging and Marco Rudy's artwork is simply gorgeous. It suffers slightly, however, in that Lucifer is a mere observer of the action in this case and The Lightbringer is always at his best as an active character. Taken on its own terms, however, it is solid enough and quite enjoyable regardless.


Secret Santa has Lucifer firmly set in the center stage, stuck with the rare dilemma of having to retrieve a gift at the last minute as part of his bar's Secret Santa gift exchange and the less rare dilemma of someone trying to raise a little Hell in his bar. Richard Kadrey's script delivers a wonderful mix of action and dark comedy. The art of Ben Templesmith proves a perfect pairing to this hilarious holiday story.

Green Arrow #13 - A Review

Let us start this review by appreciating the irony of Black Canary telling someone that yelling at people is no way to convince them you're a hero.


Thank you.

Emerald Outlaw continues with an unseen enemy killing Green Arrow's harshest critics and framing Seattle's favorite hero for the crimes. Things heat up further as a new gang called The Vice Squad - which is made up of least one corrupt cop - begin playing judge, jury and executioner in the streets of Seattle.


As I've noted before, no writer has ever truly explored the idea of Green Arrow as an honest outlaw. J.T. Krul's brief run during the Brightest Day story-line played with the concept a bit but it lacked an honest punch as Oliver Queen still had his fortune and most of his superhero friends to fall back on in a tight spot.

In the reality of Rebirth, however, the concept has weight. Here, Green Arrow is barely acknowledged by the established superhero community and can't call up Batman to get brave and bold. In this Benjamin Percy has truly turned Oliver Queen into a modern-day Robin Hood.

Forget the tree-house in the woods and his band of Merry Men! Green Arrow is as dependent on his lady fair as Robin was and he puts just as much store in disguises. This adds a mythic element of fun to the proceedings, though one wonders how a world-famous rock-star like Black Canary can possibly go undercover as a cop! Then again, it's not like most men look at her face.


While both of the artists working upon this bi-monthly series are talented, I must confess a preference for the work of Otto Schmidt. There is a gritty wildness to Schmidt's style that seems a perfect fit for the world of Green Arrow and Percy's scripts. It proves equally well-suited to depicting the shadowy urban jungle of Seattle and the deep forests around Mount Rainier.

Starman Plays The Pandora Directive (Blvd. of Broken Dreams) - Part 3

In which we finally get our dream date with Chelsee only to flush it all down the drain, get so stinking drunk we turn away the advances of a hot blonde willing to do anything for protection and somehow wind up with yet another case to solve.

(Trigger warning - this is really sleazy and kinda uncomfortable to watch given how accustom we are to Chris Jones playing the hero. Seriously, it's like David Tennant as Killgrave in here.)




Thursday, December 22, 2016

Starman Plays Skyrim Special Edition - Part 16

In which, having finally arrived in Riften, we take our first steps toward joining the Thieves' Guild and go on to blow any possible chance with the woman of our dreams because of our wanting to join the Thieves'Guild. Or do we?


Aquaman #13 - A Review

NEMO's attacks on The United States and Atlantis continue. Aquaman has evidence of their attempts to start a war between the two nations but still needs the final bit of proof - an actual NEMO soldier who can prove the existence of the secret group. Now, as his allies in the Justice League move to convince the American government that Atlantis is innocent of the attacks on them, Aquaman must fight to protect his people.


Dan Abnett moves the story of The Deluge through its various subplots like a master plate-spinner. There's a lot going on, with a combination of political drama, war thriller and superheroics making up the action of this issue. Despite the different genres and tones involved, the story is fact-paced and not a bit of it feels unnecessary or drawn out.


The artwork proves equally energetic and exciting. Scot Eaton, Wayne Faucher and Gabe Eltaeb are to be commended for their seamless workmanship on this series. This is one of the best-looking books on the stands today!

Pathfinder: Worldscape #3 - A Review

Kyra is a priestess of Sarenrae - goddess of light and healing. Separated from her companions and trapped in the prison plane known as The Worldscape, she has taken refugee in the city of Shareen - a dark and wicked place in need of Sarenrae's light. Yet when an act of compassion brings Kyra to the attentions of The Tharns - death priests aligned with the evil ruler of Shareen - the priestess will win the aid of another hero - John Carter, Warlord of Mars!


The artwork for this issue suits the grim and gritty setting well. Artist Jonathan Lau does a fantastic job layering each panel, with thin inks barely outlining the characters and thicker inks crafting defining shadows. This enables colorist Omi Remlante to finish the art with similarly varied palettes.
What truly sells this issue, however, is writer Erik Mona's command of the characters and his brilliant ideas for playing the heroes of different settings off of one another. The issue's best sequence sees the inquisitive Kyra asking John Carter about the gods of his world.  It's an interesting point, not often examined in this kind of crossover, that the gods of worlds like Golarion offer continual evidence of their existence compared to the indifferent gods of Hyboria. I also love how this fact is more disturbing to the faithful than the faithless. John Carter doesn't put much store in gods or priests of any kind, but the practical warrior knows good souls and good things when he sees them. It is ironic then that Kyra winds up seeking an affirmation of her faith in the face of True Darkness from the humanist.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Starman Plays The Pandora Directive (Blvd. of Broken Dreams) - Part 2

In which we take a break from solving our case to steal money from orphans, delay paying our debts and insult our neighbors. Because we are Eeeeeevil!



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Injustice: Ground Zero #12 - A Review

Things were looking bad for Harley and her gang when Black Adam showed up. Then Billy Batson got his gag off and transformed into Shazam! Will The Big Red Cheese be ready to forgive and forget his alter ego's kidnapping at the hands of The Bombshell Buffoon? Or has Harley just traded one world of hurt for another?


It's a fact few people remember these days, but originally Captain Marvel was an independent personality from Billy Batson. In modern times, the magic of Shazam usually transforms Billy into an idealized adult version of himself but originally the two just traded places.

I mention this because I know Geoff Johns played with the difficulties posed by Billy Batson perusing young love in the pages of JSA (Jay Garrick caught the glances exchanged between Shazam and Stargirl and put two and two together.) Yet to the best of my knowledge this is the first time anyone has played with the idea of Captain Marvel looking for love independent of his alter ego.

Okay, calling what exists between Harley and Shazam "love" is a bit of a stretch. Yet the relationship between them  s an amusing and surprisingly sweet one. And kudos to Brian Buccellato and Christopher Sebela for finally establishing that Harley Quinn - for all her other sins - isn't a pedophile by clarifying that - in this world at least - Captain Marvel and Billy are different people. I also like the reasoning Shazam gives for staying on Team Superman in spite of his misgivings over The Regime's mission.


As great as all the artists on Injustice: Ground Zero have been, I think this particular pairing of creative talents may be the best overall. Granting, I'm a bit biased, having been a fan of Daniel Sampere since his work on Batgirl, yet there's a clarity to his character designs that appears smooth and streamlined even in scenes where the line work should clutter the finished art, as in the scenes of Harley and Shazam chatting in the rain, Juan Albarran's inks and J. Nanjan's colors partner up to provide the perfect finish to an amazing issue.

Starman Plays Skyrim Special Edition - Part 15

Having been chased off The Road To Riften and in danger of becoming a vampire, we swim for Riften! Once we arrive, we meet our future wife and her sidekick, Captain Nice Guy, before getting to know the local healer and barkeep.


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Monday, December 19, 2016

Starman Plays The Pandora Directive (Blvd. of Broken Dreams) - Part 1

In which Tex gets a new case, scores a date with dream-girl Chelsee and pays his rent... but in a much more sleazy and/or violent fashion than you'd expect as we begin the transformation into Evil Tex!


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Detective Comics #946 - A Review

As Batman confronts The First Victim, the rest of his team are having their own encounters with the rest of the new gang called The Victim Syndicate.  Batwoman goes head-on with Mister Noxious and Madame Crow as Clayface faces his own villainous past and the woman he wronged, who was transformed into Mudface. Meanwhile, Stephanie has her own surprising encounter with a familiar face in The Belfry.


I regret that I don't have a scanner large enough to capture the glorious two page spreads that depict most of the action in this issue. Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Julio Ferreira and Adriano Lucas are crafting pure magic together with their work on this series. Coupled with some fantastic character moments, as written by James Tynion IV, this is easily the strongest Batman book on the stands.

Clean Room #14 - A Review

Journalist Chloe Pierce had set out to destroy self-help guru Astrid Mueller. That was before Chloe discovered the true purpose of Mueller's empire and the existence of the alien entities that sought mankind's destruction. Now Mueller is trying to recruit Pierce as her second-in-command, bringing Chloe in to confront Mueller's entity-possessed niece. The arrival of one of Mueller's stalkers only complicates matters...


Just when I thought Clean Room couldn't get any more disturbing, Gail Simone has topped herself. Walter Geovani - Simone's partner on her recent Red Sonja run - proves a perfect replacement for the series' original artist, Jon Davis-Hunt. Geovani and colorist Quinton Winter prove quite the dynamic duo when it comes to bringing Simone's scripts to life. If you're any kind of horror fan - even if you don't like comics - you should give Clean Room a try.

The Flash #12 - A Review

Trapped in The Shadowlands, The Flash and Kid Flash find themselves in even direr straits when the denizens of the realm of fear and nightmare corrupt Iris West and abduct The Shade! The Fastest Man Alive and Fastest Boy Alive will have to reestablish some level of trust and learn some new tricks if they are to prove faster than... The Speed of Dark!


As a fan of The Shade and Hope O'Dare from James Robinson's Starman, I'm pleased by Joshua Williamson's take on the characters from that series. I wish we'd had more time with Hope O'Dare when she wasn't playing the shadow-controlled femme fatale but then I'd also love to see a series devoted to Shade and Hope traveling the world together. Still, the Shade/Hope relationship proves an interesting counterpoint to the Flash/Iris one and I'm anxious to see where that goes. Particularly since Barry doesn't seem all that concerned about the missing Dr. Meena anymore!

The artwork remains as impressive as in the earlier chapters. This issue featured two colorists, but you'd never know it the way Ivan Plascencia and Christopher Sotomayor match one another's work. Again, I must note the novel touch of using purples instead of blues and blacks to mark the shadows, giving Davide Gianfelice's artwork a brighter, more dynamic appearance than one would expect in a story set in The Shadowlands.


Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #15 - A Review

Taskmaster is on the loose and taking on all of the heroes in New York City - including The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl!

This is not their story.

This is the story of what Mew - Squirrel Girls roommate Nancy's cat - does while an epic battle between Earth's Mightest Heroes and Villainy's Greatest Copycat occurs in the background.

(Oh, admit it - you hipsters would eat this up if Matt Fraction did it in Hawkeye!)


The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is one of the best books to come out each month. That said, I think this issue may have set a new gold standard. The script by Ryan North offers a different kind of humor than we normally see on this title, more dependent on visual gags than the usual witty dialogue. Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi produce their usual stellar work on the main story, with Michael Cho providing the pictures for the Super-Villain Guide Cards and Zac Gorman, drawing the comic-strip-style sequences in which Mew dreams her wordless cat dreams. If you like comics that are just plain fun, you should be reading this!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Starman Plays The Pandora Directive (Lombard Street) - Part 15

THE EPIC CONCLUSION! Will Tex get the girl? Will he uncover the secrets of the ancient astronauts? Will he understand them even if he does - the girl or the secrets? Will we finally get to hear some Richie Havens music? And why am I asking you?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Starman Plays Skyrim Special Edition - Part 14

We're off on The Road To Riften this time. Along the way, we'll encounter a dragon, a guard tower taken over by bandits, a wholly different group of bandits posing as Imperial soldiers and deal with a perfectly wholesome skooma den being trashed by crazed vampire hunters who are really sensitive about being shot, for some reason...


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Starman Plays The Pandora Directive (Lombard Street) - Part 14

In which we explore the ruins of an ancient temple whose builders were so devout to their sky gods that they made simply going down the hall to the bathroom an ordeal requiring solving two puzzles and traversing a lava maze.

TRIGGER WARNING: Contains Gratuitous Editing For Time and Benny Hill Music.


Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #8 - An Advanced Review/Preview

Things have grown even more dire for The Doctor's friends back in the 1970s. (Or was it the 1980s?) A plague of giant monsters have England under siege but The Brigadier is nearly powerless to act thanks to the political interference of an insufferable nobleman. Worse yet, UNIT is on the brink of being taken-over by the for-profit mercenary group Albion and being exposed to the world by a quisling UNIT officer!




The writing continues to be the strongest aspect of Titan Comics' Ninth Doctor series. Cavan Scott perfectly captures the spirit of the Ninth Doctor era and blends it perfectly with the aesthetic of the Third Doctor UNIT days, crafting one heck of a ripping yarn! As a Doctor Who fan who counts the Christopher Eccleston and Jon Pertwee incarnations among my top five favorite Doctors (don't ask me to decide where to count them, though!), I loved seeing the classic UNIT team in action alongside Scott's original characters Sgt. Osgood and Lt. Mishra, who are as rich and well-developed as Harry "The Imbecile" Sullivan and Sgt. Benton. And there's something magical about how The Brigadier quietly notes the change in his old friend and how he acts like an officer rather than a scientist now.

Unfortunately, artist Adriana Melo returned this month, delivering her worst outing yet. Previously, Melo's work on this title has been over-inked, sloppy and rushed. Her work for this issue goes beyond that, producing panels which look as if a layer of ink was hurriedly applied to a rough pencil sketch. I know Melo is capable of producing quality work (you can see quite a lot of it on her website) but it seems the rigors of a monthly comic may be beyond her talents.

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #8 releases on December 21st, 2016.
Ask for it at your local comic shop or purchase it on Comixology.com.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Injustice: Ground Zero #11 - A Review

No sooner is Harley free of The Batcave with a "recovered" Batmobile, then she has to head back. Batman and the Justice League of a parallel Earth are there, unaware that they're walking into the ambush Harley just evaded! Unfortunately, Black Adam has just arrived on the scene and seen the very conspicuous Batmobile in the streets of Gotham...


The artwork in this issue is fantastic. Marco Santucci crafts a dark, moody atmosphere befitting the Gotham City setting and the Gothic aura of the abandoned Wayne Manor. This aesthetic is further aided by J. Nanjan's wonderful colors.


The use of humor continues to be the best quality of this series' writing. Strangely, considering the focus on Harley Quinn, nearly half of this issue centers upon Batman and The Justice League. There is humor here as well, yet the characters are written as true to form as Harley and Black Adam in their fight scene. And Christopher Sebela crafts what may be the single greatest summation of Harley Quinn's character with this line - "I think I need my head examined sometimes. Then I remember how fun it is to be this kind of crazy."

Starman Plays Skyrim Special Edition - Part 13

In which we explore the rest of the now wightless barrow outside of Ivarstead.

Monday, December 12, 2016

All-New Wolverine #15 - A Review

The people who created X-23 want her back, but the young woman cloned from Wolverine will not give up her life as Laura Kinney without a fight. With SHIELD now on the hunt following Laura's killing the inhabitants of a small town (an accident caused by the release of the trigger scent that makes Laura go berserk), Laura and her adopted sister Gabby have taken refuge on a pirate ship bound for Madripoor. They hope to find Laura's former masters there but can they truly trust the people giving them transport?

Artist Djibril Morissette-Phan takes over the art duties on this series with this issue. For the most part, the artwork is competently crafted though hardly outstanding. There is not a lot of variety in Morissette-Phan's expressions and the design for Gabby here is probably the least subtle ever in depicting her light facial scars. They seem anything but light here.

For the most part, this issue is one extended action sequence. It serves its purpose well enough but it still seems sort of flat compared to previous issues which had a bit more nuance. There is some of the humor that sets your average Tom Taylor story apart from the common clay of comic books, yet this issue is perhaps the most straight-forward Wolverine-style story since the series began. It isn't bad but it's far and away from what the readers have come to expect.

Aquaman #12 - A Review

Having taken over control of the secretive group NEMO, Black Manta has launched a false-flag war, using stolen Atlantean technology on American targets. Now Aquaman must fight a war on two fronts, protecting both his home nations from each other while simultaneously searching for proof of NEMO's existence and intentions.


Dan Abnett has a long history writing military fiction. It's not a genre I've ever felt much affinity for but Abnett does a fantastic job of drawing on that experience with this story. This issue feels less like an Aquaman comic and more like The West Wing mixed with The Last Ship. Yet the story is still engaging and it's an interesting change of pace to see how a military conflict would work in the science-fiction setting of the DC Universe mixed with the usual superheroic action.

Abnett's script requires an artist of diverse talents and Philippe Briones proves worthy of the challenge. The battles in this issue depict traditional military aircraft, the sci-fi ships of Atlantis and a number of giant Godzilla-style monsters. Briones depicts them all expertly and Gabe Eltaeb's colors finish the artwork perfectly.

Starman Plays The Pandora Directive (Lombard Street) - Part 13

In which we discover and decrypt the final piece of The Pandora Device, uncover the secret within Thomas Malloy's work and face certain temptation at the soft, sensuous hands of Regan.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Starman Plays The Pandora Directive (Lombard Street) - Part 12

In which a dated gag is suddenly funny and depressing at the same time.  After that, we use an anagram to find a hidden message, crank call a UFO expert who apparently has the worst short term memory ever and then burglarize his apartment only to spend a lot of time standing in the scene of the crime solving yet another puzzle box.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Legends of Tomorrow: Season 2, Episode 8 - The Chicago Way

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



Plot


The Legends follow the trail of a Time Aberration to Chicago in 1927, not knowing they've been set-up by Eobard Thawne, Damien Darhk and the latest member of their team - Malcolm Merlyn! When Stein is placed in danger, Sara must choose between saving his life and completing the mission. At the same time, Mick Rory is confronted by an old friend who questions his recent life choices.


Influences

The 1987 film The Untouchables (inspiration for title, general aesthetic and numerous references)


Goofs

This episode is set in October of 1927. While Elliot Ness was a special agent for the Treasury based in Chicago at that time, he did not begin working for the Prohibition Bureau of The Justice Department until 1928.

While this can be blamed purely upon the desire to tell a good story and basing this episode off of an infamously inaccurate film adaptation of a historically inaccurate book, the truth is that Elliot Ness had nothing to do with busting Al Capone on tax evasion charges.  Ness and his Untouchables were assigned to hound Capone's businesses that violated Prohibition while other agents looked into Capone's taxes. It was an investigation headed by U.S. Attorney George E.Q. Johnson and IRS agent Frank Wilson which led to Capone's downfall.


Performances

The episode MVPs are Caity Lotz and Victor Garber, as their respective shoes from the first part of the season wind up on the other foot, with Stein now pleading that it can't hurt to change the past and Sara as the voice of reason for history being preserved. Garber also has a good, if brief, turn playing the disguised Thawne.

There's also a nice bit of non-verbal acting on Franz Drameh's part as Jax seems to realize something is off about Stein upon his return... like the absence of their usual connection.


Artistry

The writing of this episode is brilliant. Not only is there a lot of witty dialogue but the role-reversal between Stein and Sara is brilliantly played with.

Props to the costume designers for some truly elegant work on the period costumes.

The choreography of the Sara/Merlyn fight is great.


Trivia Of Tomorrow

Amaya reads the opening narration at the start of this episode.

The title of this episode was taken from a line from the 1987 film The Untouchables, which was about legendary lawman Elliot Ness and the hand-picked team he used to take on gangster Al Capone.

The quote is "You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's The Chicago Way!" This also seems to describe the cut-throat tactics employed by the villains in this episode.

There's several other references to The Untouchables, including Ray's comment that Elliot Ness looks nothing like Kevin Costner (who played Ellot Ness), Nate introducing Ray as his associate Bob DeNiro while impersonating Ness (actor Robert DeNiro was also in the movie) and Ray doing a Sean Connery impression while paraphrasing the famous line about bringing a knife to a gun fight.

Also referred to as The Holy Lance, Holy Spear, Lance Of Longinus and Spear of Longinus, The Spear of Destiny is - as Thawne says - the spear that was used to pierce the side of Jesus Christ during the crucifixion. Many holy sites claim to have the Spear of Destiny in the real world and a number of legends - comparable to those regarding The Holy Grail - have sprung up around the spear and it's mystic powers. One of the more popular legends is that Adolf Hitler was obsessed with the spear and started World War II in an effort to reclaim it.

In the DC Comics Universe, this was literally true and Hitler's possession of the spear prevented the Allies-aligned superheroes from being able to take action against him, due to the spear's power giving Hitler the ability to control the mind of anyone who stood against him.


Technobabble

Elliot Ness is underwater long enough to develop hypoxia - tissue damage caused by a lack of oxygen. Gideon is advanced enough to treat this, but it does take long enough that Nate has to impersonate Elliot Ness.

The slang term speakeasy referring to an illegal bar came about because one had to "speak easy" in order to learn the location of such an establishment and remain quiet inside of one so as not to attract attention.

Thawne uses some kind of futuristic technology to torture Stein and take on his appearance. This device apparently works on a molecular level, actually changing Thawne into Stein physically.

The Spear of Destiny is the spear that was used to pierce the side of Christ during The Crucifixion. According to Thawne, The Spear can be used to rewrite reality.


Dialogue Triumphs

(Al Capone and some of his men emerge from a warehouse on a Chicago dock.)
Darhk:
Mr. Capone?
(Capone and his men turn to see Damien Darhk and Eobard Thawne, in his Reverse Flash costume.)
Darhk: It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance.
Capone: I canceled tickets to the opera 'cause I heard there were new players in town. No one told me it was Halloween.
(Capone's men laugh. Thawne and Darhk chuckle a bit too, agreeably.)
Thawne:
Well, it's more like... Christmas.
Darhk: (To Thawne) That's - I like that. It's very good. (To Capone) See, my associate and I have come with a proposition. We've seen how you run your empire and we're impressed. But there's room for improvement.
Thawne: We'd like to offer our services.
Capone: I got a better idea. How about I show you how things are done in my town?
(Capone's men raise their guns. Both Darhk and Thawne sigh. Clearly they saw this coming but hoped to avoid what must come next.)
Darhk: You or me?
Thawne: Ohhhhhhh....  I've got-
(Red lighting rips between Capone's men as Thawne briefly disappears. Capone's men also disappear, one by one. Thawne reappears where he was standing a second later.)
Thawne: -this.
(Capone looks around, playing it cool but clearly surprised.)
Darhk: By now you've probably surmised that my friend and I aren't from around here.
Capone: What do you freaks want?
Darhk: To help! I thought I made - (To Thawne) Did I not make that perfectly clear?
Thawne: New enemies are coming to Chicago and they will endanger your enterprises.
Capone: And you're saying you two can help me out?
(A third man emerges stealthily from the shadows.)
Merlyn: Actually, there's three of us. Pleasure to meet you. My name is Malcolm Merlyn.

Stein: I've always wanted to visit The Roaring Twenties, right in the middle of Prohibition!
Rory: That means no drinking. That's not good.
Nate: Well, actually under Capone Chicago was a hotbed of vice. There was illegal drinking. Gambling. Prostitution.
Rory: Well then! Let's fire up a tub and get there.

Snart: Oh, how the mighty have fallen!
(Rory chokes on his beer as he looks up to see Snart standing in the doorway of the med-bay.)
Rory: Leonard! (shaking his head) I must be losing my mind
Snart: Of course you are. Why else would you still be here, taking orders like a well-trained puppy? You're not right in the head, Mick! That's why I'm here. To set you straight.
(Snart crosses the doorway and disappears. Rory begins chugging down the rest of his beer.)

(Nate and Ray are arguing over who should be taking the lead in planning in Sara's absence.)
Rory:
Enough! If you want to nail Capone and Rex's killer, we can't do it by playing a boy scout or a historian or a policeman. We do this my way! Like a criminal!

Merlyn: It's been a long time, Sara. You look good for someone who's come back from the dead.
Sara: Why am I not surprised that you and Damien Darhk would find each other?
Stein: What do you want with us?
Merlyn: You have something we need. And while my partners think I'm a fool for trying, I would like to broker a deal with you. You have in your possession an amulet. Give it to me and I will give you nine years of your life back.
Sara: What are you talking about?
Merlyn: Oh, maybe Oliver didn't tell you, but I was the one who arranged to blow up The Queen's Gambit. That was the day everything changed for you, Sara. Hundreds of dominoes tumbling... Dr. Ivo... Slade Wilson... The League of Assassins. Losing your sister?
Sara: And you losing your son.
Merlyn: We both get clean slates.
Stein: Why don't you just ask your speedster friend to take you back in time?
Sara: Because Malcolm's just his errand boy, sent to retrieve the amulet. Why is it so important?
Merlyn: What does it matter? I'm giving you and your sister a chance to live normal lives. To go back - maybe go to college? Meet a nice boy - or a girl - and settle down.
Sara: No thank you. I was never meant for those things. And I know that now. And besides, you can't just go back and change things like that.
Merlyn: (laughing) Why not?
Sara: Because Time is sacred. And it can't be changed to suit any one person's desire without harming the lives of countless others.
Merlyn: But you wouldn't remember any of this, would you? You would be blissfully unaware of time travel. Of loss. Of heartbreak. You'd be happy. And isn't that what matters most in the end?
(Merlyn starts to walk off.)
Sara:
Hey Malcolm?
(Merlyn freezes.)
Sara: I'll take a nightmare that's real over a dream that's a lie.

Stein: I have a daughter.
Sara: A what?!
Stein: A full-grown human progeny, who I never even knew I had. This beautiful, brilliant-
Sara: And not real!
Stein: At first, no. But then I remembered! I remembered the countless nights I spent pacing the neighborhood, trying to get her to sleep. The- the- way my heart melted the first time she smiled at me. (chuckling) The distress she caused her kindergarten teacher when she insisted on singing the periodic table instead of the alphabet! I remembered all of it!
Sara: But none of that happened to you.
Stein: But the memories are real. They are a part of me now. She is a part of me now. And I love her.

Thawne: I'm not going to lie to you. This - um - little toy usually leaves the subject... well, dead. But I've adjusted it so that you should only feel a little bit of pain. In theory.

(After Amaya calls Rory over the comms)
Snart:
 Awww. sounds like a sweet little angel, whispering in your ear. Problem is angels always want you to do the right thing and doing the right thing gets you killed. I should know. You wanna stay alive? Best listen to the devil.

Snart: What's next, Mick? Long walks on the beach - just the two of you?
Rory: For a figment of my imagination, you're really beginning to be a pain in my ass.
Snart: Look, I get it. She's easy on the eyes... tough in the fight.
Rory: She's just a friend. The only friend I have. Since my last friend blew himself up.
Snart: Care for a little advice?
Rory: From a dead guy? No.
Snart: Don't let the new girl rope you into her death wish. This whole 'sacrificing yourself for your friends' thing isn't as fun as it sounds. Trust me.

(Jax knocks Thawne off his feet with a blast of the speedster gun.)
Thawne: My speedster weapon! Impressive!
(In the blink of an eye, Thawne is back up, Jax is disarmed, and Thawne is strangling him with one hand.)
Thawne: Unfortunately, for you, the effects are only temporary.
Jax: What did you do with Stein?!
Thawne: Oh, I wouldn't waste my energy worrying about him right now.
Jax: Whatever you're gonna do, do it now!
Thawne: In a rush to die, are we?
Jax: (choking) I wasn't talking to you.
(A second too late, Thawne sees a shrunken Ray Palmer jumping off of Jax's shoulder and growing rapidly larger, hitting Thawne with the full force of his weight.)

Ray: (Sean Connery voice) Isn't that just like a thug? Brings a Tommy gun to an ion blaster fight?

(Merlyn is rifling through Rip's study. Sara drops down silently from a duct above him. Merlyn smirks, still somehow sensing her presence.)
Merlyn: The League taught you well. But unless you hand over the amulet, I'm going to have to teach you a few new lessons.
Sara: Those who cannot do, teach.

Amaya: You were right. The bad guys really do have more fun.
(Amaya kisses Mick on the cheek.)
Amaya: Not that you're a bad guy.
(Amaya leaves the room as Snart appears.)
Snart: I hope it was worth it. All this for a kiss on the cheek and a cheap bottle of booze. That speedster could have killed you, Mick. What then?
Rory: I'd be dead like you.


Dialogue Disasters

Ray: You know, if this is the week the Feds get Capone's ledger, why does it take four more years for them to take him down?
Nate: Because it's the federal government.


Continuity

Jax refers to 203 and how a training accident in the cargo bay damaged the ship.

Jax was an only child.

Amaya read her mother's old magazines as a girl and dreamed of Chicago during the 1920s.

Nate notes that The Chicago Police Department of the 1920s was probably the most corrupt in history.

According to Gideon, in the altered timeline where Elliot Ness died, Al Capone became Mayor of Chicago. He spent October 24, 1931 - the day he was supposed to go to jail for tax evasion - kicking off Oktoberfest.

According to Nate, Shipping Dock 39 was where Capone disposed of people he wanted to get rid of with "Cement Shoes". It became known as Cadaver's Cove.

Amaya wanted to be a cop as a young girl.

Mick begins to have hallucinations of Snart mocking his efforts to befriend Amaya and reform himself.

Jax tells the rest of the team about the secret armory he and Stein found in 203 and how it contains a special gun that can stop a speedster.

Merlyn refers to the events depicted in Season 2 of Arrow and how Sara Lance's life was changed by his blowing up The Queen's Gambit nine years earlier.

Sara learns about Lily Stein.

Thawne uses the device he used to become Harrison Wells in F117 to impersonate Stein.

Nate notes that Al Capone is very organized and has neat handwriting.

Ray does a decent Sean Connery impression.

Thawne refers to killing Rex Tyler in 202.

Thawne claims to have invented thea anti-speedster gun Jax and Amaya use against him.

Thawne abandons the fight with Amaya after an alarm on his watch goes off.

Sara agrees to trade the amulet for Martin Stein's life.

Amaya stole a bottle of booze from Al Capone's warehouse as a gift for Mick.

The two amulets Thawne was seeking are really part of one amulet. Together, they create a portable planetarium of sorts which Thawne calls a compass.

Thawne tells Merlyn and Darhk about the legend of The Spear of Destiny and how the first step to finding it is Captain Rip Hunter.

The final scene shows a film director in 1967 Los Angeles who looks a lot like Rip Hunter, only he has an American accent.


Location

Chicago - October 17, 1927
Los Angeles - 1967.


The Bottom Line

A worthy mid-season finale that answers just enough questions to satisfy yet creates enough new mysteries to keep us drooling for the next two months. January 24th can't come fast enough.

Starman Plays Skyrim Special Edition - Part 12

In which we begin our training with the Greybeards of High Hrothgar - a process that involves a lot of shouting at old men and knocking them down. We then return to Ivarstead to investigate rumors of a haunted barrow...


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 5, Episode 9 - What We Leave Behind

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




Plot

When Curtis is attacked in his secret identity, it becomes clear that Prometheus has identified all the members of Team Arrow. Little do they realize this is the work of  Artemis, who has turned traitor in order to avenge her parents on the man she still blames for their deaths - Oliver Queen!  Meanwhile, Felicity and Detective Baldwin discover a clue to Prometheus' identity in Oliver's past... but will the revelation come soon enough to save them?


Influences

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (superhero team brought down by a traitorous new recruit) and the many pharmaceutical scandals involving Martin Shkreli.


Performances

The ensemble all do a great job here. Probably the best moment, however, is the group hug at the end where we see just how close this ensemble has become over the past eight episodes.


Artistry

The script for the episode is brilliant, with a lot of quotable dialogue and powerful scenes.

The special effects in the scene in which Prometheus splits one of Green Arrow's arrows with a throwing star are brilliantly executed, as are the slow-motion effects used for the flip Prometheus does.

The shot of Green Arrow silhouetted against the fire in the third segment is a great one.

The editing, direction and cinematography for the sequence in which Oliver is made to retrace his steps from four years early to confront Prometheus are astonishing. Ditto the fight between the two which follows.


Trivia

Artemis' betrayal of Team Arrow resembles that of Terra betraying The Teen Titans in the classic story The Judas Contract.

Justin Claybourne seems to have been inspired by real-world pharmaceutical company executive Martin Shkreli. Shkreli achieved infamy in 2014 after his company acquired the rights to Thiola - a drug used to treat the rare disease cystinuria. Patients with the disease need to take 10-15 of the pill daily. Originally, the pills were sold for $1.50 each. Shkreli hiked the price to $30 a pill.

After being fired by the company he worked for, Shkreli founded his own pharmaceutical corporation in 2015 and did the same thing again, hiking up the price on drug Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill.

It should be noted that Martin Shkreli has never released a viral weapon in order to increase his company's profits. Few would be surprised, however, if he did.


Technobabble

Prometheus injected Curtis with a drug called Dycloseral, which is used to treat tuberculosis.

Rory uses a DNA sequencer to analyze the bone fragments and ashes they found among Prometheus' belongings.



Dialogue Triumphs

(Artemis walks in on Prometheus, who is sharpening a sword.)
Artemis: I brought what you asked for. Addresses are on the back.
(Prometheus gets up and approaches Artemis. He takes the objects she holds and moves to a wall where a pyramid of photos is set up with Oliver Queen at the top and the rest of Team Arrow under him. He adds the photos to the pyramid, with Quentin Lance, Thea Queen, John Diggle and Felicity Smoak on the first level and the rest of Team Arrow under them.)
Artemis: I took those last two myself.
(Prometheus says nothing as he returns to his table.)
Artemis: What? That's it? We had a deal. I get you the intel. I get to be there when you take him down.
Prometheus: You think you can make demands of me?
Artemis: No. No, of course not. I know he's your kill... but I want to watch him die.
Prometheus: You haven't been listening. I'm not going to kill him.
(Prometheus throws a knife, which goes into the eye of the picture of Oliver Queen on the wall.)
Prometheus: I'm going to make him wish he was dead.

(After Thea is rather standoffish to Susan Williams.)
Ollie: She's... I mean,  she's just being... protective.
Susan: Well, to be fair I didn't make the best first impression.
Ollie: Well, I, of all people, understand that doing your job means pissing people off. It just means you're doing it well.

Rene: (Looking at John Jr.) Cute kid.
John: Yeah. He gets it from his mom.
Rene: I figured.
(John gives Rene a smirk. Rene returns it and nods as if to say, "Just messing with you.")
Rene: Must be uh... weird finding out about Flashpoint?
John: Yeah. I'm still not sure how I feel about that, man. I should be used to all the unusual things around here. Especially after last week, but... I could never imagine a daughter.
(John Jr. says something and starts to open one of his presents. Both men watch him.)
Rene: Being a father is the best thing in the world. Especially around the holidays.

(Ollie describes how Justin Claybourne has hiked the price on a vital medication in a time of medical emergency.)
John: Well, it's disgusting, but not illegal.
Ollie: (slammnig his book on the table-top) Claybourne is on The List. I'm not worried about illegal.
John: Just because your father wrote down his name?!
Ollie: My father explained this list. These are terrible people.
John: How would you know that? I thought he was dead?
Ollie: I am going to make sure that Claybourne isn't gouging people.
John: And what if he refuses to cooperate?
Ollie: You ask that like he has a choice.

Rory: You think Prometheus is Justin Claybourne?
Rene: Is that possible?!
Felicity: Well, in our town people who are dead turn out to be secretly alive almost every Wednesday.

(Artemis has just shot the gun from Wild Dog's hand.)
Green Arrow: Evelyn... why?
Artemis: Because you're not a hero. You're a fraud. This city needs to be saved from you!

(After Felicity gives them both a long, complicated and rushed explanation of how to use a DNA sequencer.)
Rory: Did you get all that?
Rene: You're the smart one, remember?

The Hood: Justin Claybourne - you have failed this city!
Claybourne: I - I think you got the wrong guy, pal. My company makes drugs that help people.
The Hood: Not the people in Lamb Valley.
Claybourne: That's not my problem some people can't afford it...
The Hood: It is now!
(The Hood forces Claybourne over a table and picks up a lit welding torch, holding it near Claybourne's face.)
The Hood: Your days of holding this city's health hostage are over! Do you understand me?!
Claybourne: Okay! Okay! Yes!
(The Hood allows Claybourne to stand.)
The Hood: You have until 11 PM tomorrow to make this right/
Claybourne: What happens if I don't?
(The Hood spins around and shoots Claybourne in the leg with an arrow. Claybourne falls to the ground screaming.)
The Hood: I'll aim higher.

(Ollie had just discovered that Justin Claybourne created an outbreak in order to sell his drugs.)
Ollie: He created the marketplace, Diggle. And he didn't care who died in the process.
John: And now you're going to kill him?
Ollie: How can you read what's in that folder and have a problem with that?
John: Have you thought about the ramifications of your actions? Of actually crossing names off your list? Of being judge, jury and executioner?
Ollie: Men like Claybourne buy judges! They buy juries! The law doesn't apply to them!
John: I'm not saying that you don't do some good...
Ollie: So what are you saying?
John: What I'm saying is that one day your actions may have some unintended consequences.

Thea: There's two types of every legacy. Two versions of what we leave behind. There's the good and then the bad. You just have a really lousy habit of focusing only on the bad.

Claybourne: You gonna tell me again I failed this city?
The Hood: You infected the people of Lamb Valley to turn a profit!
Claybourne: You want to make a city great again? This is how - with business, money.
The Hood: You are sentencing innocent families... children to death.
Claybourne: Nobody cares about those people. They're a blight... And I'm just thinning the herd.
The Hood: So am I.
(The Hood shoots Claybourne, sending his body flying into a swimming pool as a bell tolls in the distance.)

Prometheus: Did you hesitate at all when you killed him? Or was he just another name you crossed off your list?
Green Arrow: If you want revenge, I'm right here.
Prometheus: This is about so much more than revenge...

Prometheus: You're not a hero. You're a killer. And I'm going to show them that. I'm going to show them how everything you touch dies.

(Oliver has just confessed to the rest of Team Arrow that he killed Billy Malone.)
Felicity: (speaking firmly, steeling herself through her tears) This was Prometheus. This was all him.
Ollie: He's trying to prove to me that everyone I - I - I come in contact with...everyone close to me dies. And he's right! And... I think that, uh...  I think that all of you should get as far away from me as you possibly can.
(Everyone looks at one another as John moves to Ollie and puts a hand on his shoulder.)
John: Oliver, we are exactly where we are supposed to be.
(John hugs Oliver as Thea puts a hand on John's back while hugging Felicity with one arm as Rory, Rene and Curtis move in for a group hug.)


Continuity

Thea refers to the events of 308 (her and Ollie agreeing not to talk about the aliens anymore) and 109 (Moira Queen's amazing Christmas parties).

Curtis has been claiming that he and Felicity are working on a tech start-up together to excuse his late nights to his husband.

It is suggested, but not confirmed, that Wild Dog has children.

Ollie's favorite Christmas movie is Die Hard. His second favorite is It's A Wonderful Life.

In his first year back in Star City, The Hood targeted a man named Justin Claybourne. Claybourne was the head of a pharmaceutical company who hiked the price on a drug used to treat tuberculosis.

Oliver later learned that Claybourne was working with The AK Desmond Group - a black-market firm that developed biological weapons. Under Claybourne's direction, they released a weaponized strand of tuberculosis with the intent on causing an increased demand for the drugs he made.

There is some suggestion that Claybourne was a racist/classist who hoped to kill poor minorities with his actions.

Prometheus kept bone fragments and crematory ashes among his belongings in the old Claybourne building. Analysis later determines that they belonged to Justin Claybourne.

Neither Rory nor Rene knows how to run a DNA sequencer. Rory is able to figure it out, however.

Billy Malone is able to send Felicity a photo of a baby boy he finds in the Claybourne building before he is abducted by Prometheus.

Oliver authorizes a "shoot to kill" order for the SCPD regarding Prometheus, at Adrian Chase's urging.

Felicity identifies the baby picture as that of Justin Claybourne's illegitimate son, whose picture showed up in the court records of Claybourne's divorce. It is suggested - but not confirmed - that Prometheus is this illegitimate son.

Oliver recognizes the flip that Prometheus did as a maneuver that was taught to him by a woman in Russia in five years earlier. This suggests that Prometheus has spent four years seeking out the same people who trained Oliver Queen in order to match him.

Oliver once tried to land a helicopter on the grounds at the US Open to help Tommy impress Maria Sharapova. This caused Robert Queen to blow a huge acquisitions deal because he had to leave to bail Ollie out of prison. Thea recalls this as being the most disappointed their father ever was in Oliver.

The red pen which Oliver recalled during their first date (in 301) Felicity chewing on when they first met (in 103) makes an appearance in both the modern day and the flashback.

Felicity tracked the AK Desmond Group to 1853 West Maple Street. - the 30th Floor four years earlier. It is here that Oliver discovers Prometheus' lair in the modern day.

Oliver accidentally kills Billy Malone, who is set up as a target by Prometheus.

Oliver tells the rest of Team Arrow the truth about how he killed Billy. Felicity says that she blames Prometheus - not him.  To a person, the team refuse to abandon Oliver.

Curtis' husband Paul leaves him.

John Diggle is lured into an ambush at an ARGUS safe-house and facing off against a SWAT team as the episode ends.

Oliver goes to Susan Williams apartment and vents to her about being told that he causes everyone around him to die.

The camera lingers on Susan William deliberately selecting a certain bottle from her liquor collection after she prepares a drink for Oliver. This suggests that she may have given him a doctored drink.

When Oliver returns to The Bunker, he sees Laurel Lance.


Untelevised Adventures

The flashbacks in this episode depict an unseen adventure from Season One, where Oliver went after a corrupt pharmaceutical CEO named Justin Claybourne.


The Bottom Line

A solid stopping point for the season.  The action sequences are fantastic and the performances are wonderful across the board. The only real flaw is that the subplots involving Billy Malone's relationship with Felicity and Paul dumping Curtis seem somewhat forced into the narrative since we've had almost no time to recognize Billy as a presence (much less as a character) in the past eight episodes and this is the first sign we've seen of Curtis' night-life affecting his marriage all season.

Starman Plays The Pandora Directive (Lombard Street) - Part 11

Now free to explore the ruins of Roswell without fear of being sucked dry by some alien entitty (and not in the fun way!), we must first repair a toy drone before shuffling around the random crap in a government storage locker in order to retrieve the power cell we need for The Pandora Device.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Flash Episode Guide: Season 3, Episode 9 - The Present

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




Plot

It's the holiday season but Cisco is in a funk, seeing visions of his brother as he remembers the one time they truly bonded on a Christmas Eve past. Barry is in a similarly dark mood, unable to relax enough to enjoy his and Iris' first Christmas together as a couple with Savitar and Alchemy on the loose. It doesn't help when he and Joe learns about HR training Wally to use his newfound speed powers. A trip to Earth Three to ask Jay Garrick for his help may be just the thing to clear Barry's head, assuming he can survive an encounter with The Trickster of Earth Three. .


Influences

A Christmas Carol (the reoccurring theme of ghostly visitors mixed with visions of the past and future), the film Raiders Of The Lost Ark (The general pulp vibe of the opening, the box holding The Philosopher's Stone resembles The Ark Of The Covenant, Cisco name drops Indiana Jones), the Harry Potter books (the idea of The Philosopher's Stone being used to bring the dead back to life mirrors The Resurrection Stone) and The Flash comics of Mark Waid (character of Savitar, description of how Savitar was defeated in the future matches how he was defeated in the comics.) and Geoff Johns (mention of the villain Plunder).


Goofs

While the effort to tie The Philosopher's Stone into Hindu mythology is admirable, The Brahmastra is probably the worst artifact to parallel to The Philosopher's Stone. While being the signature weapon of Brahma - the god of creation - the Barahmastra could only be used to destroy and was meant to be used only as a last resort as it would completely annihilate the enemy it was used against. Worse yet, it was said that the use of the Barahmastra would blight the land in which it was used and cause infertility in the people and plants of the surrounding region.

How can there be Speed Force myths, legends and rumors about Savitar if Barry is the first speedster to encounter him, as Jay Garrick claims?

For that matter, how can Jay know that Savitar travels around and sends a herald to prepare the way for him to challenge other speedsters he sees as a threat to his power if no other speedster has seen Savitar before Barry?

It seems a bit odd that Joe's girlfriend's daughter isn't spending Christmas with her mom.


Performances


Mark Hamill's brief cameo as The Trickster of Earth Three is a delight.

The chemistry between Danielle Panabaker and Carlos Valdes is particular fine in this episode, as Caitlin and Cisco bond over their mutual losses and Caitlin talks Cisco down off an emotional ledge.


Artistry


The special effects during the fight between Jay Garrick and Savitar.


Flash Facts


It is revealed in this episode that Julian Albert's real name is J. Albert Desmond. In the original comics, Albert Desmond was the name of the first Doctor Alchemy.

Like Julian Albert, Albert Desmond in the comics was not responsible for his actions as Doctor Alchemy. The difference is that Albert Desmond suffered from disassociative identity disorder and had an evil alternate personality who became Doctor Alchemy. Julian Albert, it is revealed, has been possessed by Savitar.

Cisco discover's Julian Albert's old college paper tying the legends of The Philosopher's Stone into the Hindu legends of The Brahmastra. In Hindu mythology, The Brahmastra is the signature weapon of the god of creation, Brahma. Described as a single projectile charged with all the power in the universe, The Brahmastra was meant only to be used as a last resort as it could utterly destroy an enemy, body and soul.

The Earth 3 version of The Trickster resembles a combination of two other comedic DC Comics super-villains - Batman baddie The Joker and Superman villain The Prankster. Like The Joker, he resembles a clown and has a primarily purple color scheme. Like The Prankster, he is an overweight older gentleman in a garish suit and a comically over-sized flower on his coat lapel.. The Prankster in the comics favored green checks, however, while The Earth Three Tricksters favors purple pinstripes. Both should be arrested for crimes of fashion.

It should be noted, because someone will complain if we don't, that Trickster actor Mark Hamill is considered the definitive voice-actor for The Joker.

Savitar manipulated both Julian and Cisco with images of dead loved ones and promises that The Philosopher's Stone could raise to dead. This is similar to a magical item from The Harry Potter books called The Resurrection Stone, which could summon back the spirits of the deceased albeit in a limited and temporary fashion.

Savitar says that he is seeking revenge on Barry now because of how Barry's future self trapped Savitar in eternity. This sounds similar to how Savitar was defeated in the original Flash Comics, where Wally West tricked Savitar into running so quickly that he was absorbed into The Speed Force.

Jay Garrick suggests that Barry can use his powers to siphon off Jay's speed to accelerate himself fast enough to throw The Philosopher's Stone into The Speed Force. Draining speed from other speedsters to act as a turbo boost to his own velocity is a common trick used by The Wally West version of The Flash in Mark Waid's comics.

In the future, Barry Allen overhears a TV report on the trial of a villain named Plunder a.k.a. Jared Morillo coming to a close. In the original comics, Plunder was an assassin whose real name was Jared Morillo. Strangely enough, Plunder was an alternate Earth doppelganger of a friend of Wally West's, who was an honest cop in the Central City Police Department during Geoff Johns' run on The Flash. Plunder had no powers, but was an expert marksman and tracker.

In the future, Barry finds himself standing on Infantino Street. This is a nod to artist Carmine Infantino, who co-created Barry Allen and drew a number of classic Flash comics, including The Flash Of Two Worlds story where Jay Garrick and Barry Allen first teamed up. He also co-created the character of Doctor Alchemy.

Stylistically, the story of this episode has a lot in common with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. There's the Christmas-time setting of course, and several characters in need of Christmas cheer (Barry, Cisco and Caitlin). There's the appearances of ghosts spurring the characters to action. Cisco dismisses the vision of his brother as a hallucination in much the same way Scrooge dismissed Jacob Marley. And Barry's speech at the end with Jay Garrick where he tearfully asks if the future he saw can be changed mirror Scrooge's plea to The Ghost of Christmas Future, "Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?"


Technobabble


Cisco describes the Brahmastra as "a legendary ancient Hindu weapon." He also says it was capable of creating metahumans.

Dr. Alchemy attempts to use The Schults Building as a refractor to restore all the metahumans created in The Flashpoint Reality at once.

Cisco says the box holding The Philosopher's Stone is nothing and does not scientifically exist. He says that he ran it through an MRI, x-ray scanner, mass spectrometer and photon shifter and did not get a single reading off of it.

Barry theorizes that there is no alchemy based on the idea that Savitar and Alchemy had the same voice. Based on the idea that Julian is being used as a mouthpiece in much the same way that poltergeist requires a medium to manifest. Cisco comes up with a way to synch Julian's brain to The Philosopher's Stone so they can speak to Savitar directly.

Jay Garrick describes The Speed Force as "eternity itself... an endless void of time and energy."

Cisco says The Philosopher's Stone is full of gravimetric force.

Jay Garrick says that Barry can siphon off his speed and combine it with his own to throw The Philosopher's Stone into The Speed Force. The feedback from the explosion this causes knocks Barry five months into his own future.

Jay Garrick says that just as there are infinite Earths in the multiverse, there are infinite possibilities to the future.


Dialogue Triumphs

(Caitlin enters Cisco's lab to find him holding the open box. Blue light pours from it.)
Caitlin: Cisco?! Cisco, you have to close the box.
(Cisco turns around to look at "Dante". He sees him, smiles vacantly and turns back to Caitlin.)
Cisco: I'm going to save Dante.
Caitlin: That's not Dante! It's Savitar! Please! He's using your memories against you!
"Dante": You're a good brother, Cisco.
Caitlin: Cisco, we're running out of time. Please, just hand me the box...
(Cisco holds the box in his left hand and raises his right, like he's aiming a Vibe blast.)
Cisco:
I can't lose him again.... I will NOT lose my brother again!
Caitlin: Cisco... Dante is gone. I'm so sorry but there is nothing you can do about it. But there are people that you can save right now. If you don't close that box, Barry and Wally will die!
(Cut to Wally and Barry, being thrown around like ragdolls by Savitar.)
(Cut back to Cisco and Caitlin. Cisco is turned to face "Dante".)

"Dante": If you do, then we can't be together.
Caitlin: Cisco, listen to me!
(Cisco looks at Caitlin as she gives him a pleading look only to glance back at the box.)
(Cut to Wally and Barry, both on the ground, as Savitar extends his wrist-daggers and drags them along the stone walls of the room, shooting out sparks as he does so.)
"Dante":
Don't.
Cisco: (whispering) Lo siento, hermano.
(Cisco closes the box. In the other room, Savitar disappears.)
Barry: Thanks.
Wally: Are you kidding? That was awesome!

Joe: Hey. You put my son's life in danger. Again.
HR: And he saved Barry's life!
(Wally shakes his head and leaves the room.)
HR: Joe, why... why do you think I help Wally? Because I'm selfish? I get something? I don't get anything out of it. I help Wally 'cause the kid is special! He's extraordinary! His powers are extraordinary! I get it, I.. I'm not his dad and I don't have the same safety concerns as you, of course not... but one thing I do know- the longer you deny someone their potential, the more they're going to look for it elsewhere.

Savitar: None of you are on your knees. It's a smart move to bow before a deity.
Barry: You're not God.
Savitar: To be a god, you just have to make people believe you are.
Iris: No one believes in you.
Savitar: You should, Iris. I hold the power of life and death over all of you.
Caitlin: How do you know so much about us?
Savitar: I know you, Caitlin. Cisco. Joe. Wally.The fake Wells. I know your fears and I know your weaknesses. I know you better than you know yourselves. I know your destinies. One shall betray you. One shall fall. One will suffer a fate far worse than death. This is the knowledge I have for you about your everlasting damnation.
Barry: Who are you?
Savitar: I am the future, Flash.
Barry: What do you want from us?
Savitar: Everything! Everything you took from me, I'm want it back!  And I'm going to take it back! Then, I will destroy you!
Barry: Then why haven't you, already? If you're all-powerful, then why don't you just go ahead and kill us all now and be done with it? Because you can't.
Savitar: You did this to me! You trapped me in eternity. Your future self. You did this to me, Barry! And now the age of my revenge rises. My freedom is at hand. You will feel my wrath! The wrath of Savtiar!

Barry: I've never run to the future. I've traveled to the past but I always came back to the present. I saw myself. And Iris. And Savitar... he killed her. That's five months from now. Is that actually going to happen?
Jay: ... I don't know.
Barry: You don't -
Jay: You shouldn't have seen that.
Barry: This - this doesn't make sense, we - we just got rid of The Philosopher's Stone! I mean, Savitar shouldn't have even been there! Oh my God...this is where the newspaper in the time vault changed. The byline... this is why it's not Iris. This... Iris didn't write that story anymore eight years from now because... she's dead.
Jay: Barry...
Barry: I just watched her die! I saw myself try to save her, but I wasn't fast enough. Jay, tell me that this isn't my destiny.
Jay: What you saw was one possibility of the future. What may be or what may not.
Barry: Okay. Then I can stop this from happening. I can run back there-
Jay: You can't go back there! Not again! Not ever!
Barry: All right. Then I'll figure out exactly how it happened. How we wind up on that street. And I'll just make sure that we don't go there. I mean, if we don't go there-
Jay: Barry! This is why speedsters don't travel to the future. Nobody should know this much about their own. Just as there are infinite Earths in the multiverse, there are infinite possibilities to the future. It's always bending. Always changing. Every decision you make creates another alternative.
Barry: I won't let Iris die.
Jay: The future isn't written yet. And it might not even turn out to be what you saw. You need to focus on the here and now. You have to live your life.

(Everyone stops to listen to the carolers, who are singing in the rain.)
HR: (chuckling drunkenly) Caroling in the rain... that sucks!
(Caitlin walks off to one side and slips off her power-blocking bracelet. Cisco turns around and notices.)
Cisco: Hey! What are you doing?
Caitlin: It's okay -  I've got this. We may not be able to have a perfect Christmas but we can have a white one.
(Caitlin sticks a hand toward the partially cracked window and the rain slowly turns into snow.)


Continuity

It is revealed that Julian Albert used his family fortune to lead an expedition to search for The Philosopher's Stone in India in the summer of 2012. In December 2012, he found it and fell under the influence of Savitar, though he had no memory of this and suffered black-outs for the next few years.

Earth 19 celebrates Christmas in the same fashion as Earth One, according to HR.

Julian Albert attended Oxford University and wrote a dissertation on The Philosopher's Stone.

According to Julian, The Philosopher's Stone was the first object in recorded history that bestowed super powers on people. He also notes that Savitar was said to be the first metahuman to gain speed powers.

Earth Three apparently has blimps as a commonplace means of transportation.

There's a Trickster on Earth Three. Though not identified by name, he resembles James Jesse from Earth One.

Jay Garrick has heard stories about Savitar on Earth Three. He claims Barry is the first speedster to have seen him.

The stories say that Savitar was the first man given speed powers. Over time, he became the god of motion. Before Savitar visits an Earth, he sends a predecessor to prepare the way for his arrival. Upon arrival, he battles any speedster he sees as a threat to his power. Jay learned this through "Speed Force myths, legends and rumors."

HR says "Run, Wallace, Run!' while training Wally, in the same way other Wells have said "Run, Barry, Run!"

While no exact speed is given, Wally is confirmed to be faster at this point in his time as a speedster than Barry was.

Cisco recalls one Christmas Eve he spent with his brother sharing a bottle of whiskey. He says it was the only time they ever really felt like brothers.

Caitlin recalls the last Christmas she spent with her father - they sat inside and watched old movies during a blizzard.

According to Iris, four colleagues of Julian's died on his expedition to find The Philosopher's Stone.

Jay Garrick never had a sidekick in all his years as The Flash on Earth Three.

Barry reveals his secret identity to Julian Albert.

Julian Albert had a sister named Emma who died when he was 20. Visions of her telling him about The Philosopher's Stone having the power to bring her back from the dead inspired his quest to locate it.

Wally West is able to see Savitar.

Savitar apparently has powers of telepathy and illusion projection, even when The Philosopher's Stone is contained within its box. This is how he was able to send Julian an image of his dead sister and Cisco an image of his dead brother.

It is clear, based on Caitlin's reaction when Cisco opens the box, that she does not see the ghostly Dante that Cisco does.

Savitar delivers three prophecies about the people assembled in the room. "One shall betray you. One shall fall. One will suffer a fate far worse than death."

The camera focuses on Wally when betrayal is mentioned. Cisco is shown when it is said one will fall. Caitlin is shown when Savitar says one will suffer a fate worse than death.

Five months in the future, Barry hears a news report about a criminal named Plunder a.k.a. Jared Morillo - whose trial on charges of theft and assault just ended.

Five months in the future, Barry sees Savitar kill Iris West.

Jay Garrick returns to Earth Three before the Christmas party starts.

Caitlin invites Julian Albert to the West family Christmas gathering. He says he prefers to spend Christmas alone, but does eventually show up for the party.

Joe West and Cecile Horton finally kiss.

Wally is given a gift of a yellow Kid Flash costume like what he wore in The Flashpoint universe.

Julian Albert gets Barry his job with the CCPD back.

Caitlin uses her powers to turn the rain over The West House into snow.

Barry signs the lease on a house for himself and Iris as her Christmas present.


Location

The Indus Valley - December 2012.
Central City on Earth Three - December 2016.
Central City on Earth One - May 2017.


The Bottom Line

A solid and satisfying mid-season finale that - for once - answers more questions than it raises and doesn't leave our heroes looking like complete idiots.

Injustice: Ground Zero #10 - A Review

As Batman leads a group of Justice League members from another world to recover a weapon they can use against they tyrant Superman from the ruins of Wayne Manor, Harley Quinn leads her own team to break into The Bat-Cave. Their mission? Steal the Batmobile back for Batman. Unfortunately, Damian Wayne is standing in their way.


Jheremy Rappack - who had previously worked on the original Injustice comic - returns to handle the pencils and inks on this issue. Rappack proves a good choice, his gritty style and thick inks suiting the setting of a dark, underground complex. My only complaint - and it is a small one - is that Harley with a white-eye mask just looks strange to me.  Mark Roberts joins J. Nanjan on the color-art duties but you'd never know that two colorists were at work on this title, so seamless is the transition between their respective pages.


Again I must praise Chris Sebela's writing of Harley Quinn. She is silly, yes, but there is a brilliance behind the comedy, such as how she psychoanalyzes Damian Wayne as they are fighting and works that into her taunts to put him off-guard. It's a nice, subtle touch and part of why I enjoy this series so much. (Hey! That rhymed!)

Starman Plays Skyrim Special Edition - Part 11

In which we fight our first free-range dragon, have problems in securing Ysolda her dream job thanks to a pesky assassination-thwarting rail and (finally) begin climbing the 7,000 steps to High Hrothgar!


Monday, December 5, 2016

Starman Plays The Pandora Directive (Lombard Street) - Part 10

In which we break into the secret UFO research base under Roswell and go on a bug hunt to capture the alien entity that forced the base to be evacuated years ago.  Game over, man? Not if Tex is uncharacteristically clever and tech-savvy.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Starman Plays The Pandora Directive (Lombard Street) - Part 9

In which we break into AUTOTECH again and seek out conspiracy theorist Archie Ellis (a.k.a. a poor man's Jim J. Bullock.)


Conan The Slayer #5 - An Preview/Review

Hunting the treacherous kin-slayer Kyrylo, Conan stands ready to defend Taraslan - rightful ruler of the Kozaki clan that saved his life. But Kyrylo and his demonic patron are not defeated yet. Soon, the Cimmerian and his comrades in arms will find themselves facing undead monsters both physical and ghostly in their quest for justice!









Conan The Slayer is easily the best Conan comic in recent memory. Cullen Bunn's scripts perfectly capture the spirit of the weird horror integral to Robert E. Howard's original stories. The artwork by Sergio Davila proves a worthy match to Cullen's prose. And the color art by Michael Atiyeh seems to both glow and shade the finished art of the spectral monstrosities at the center of this issue's action perfectly.