Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Microreview [film]: Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story

The Meat

On the Friday before Halloween, I can only imagine the difficulty the programming folks at TCM had in selecting their TCM Underground feature. The last hundred years are littered with worthy candidates, many of which we've reviewed here at Nerds of a Feather. But they did something interesting, and this is why they get paid the big bucks (if in big bucks they are in fact paid): they selected Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, a documentary about the Hitchcock of B-movies.

I love William Castle, but it turns out I didn't know very much about him. The documentary itself is - as TCM pointed out themselves - little more than a feature-length DVD special feature...let's just say it's not exactly hard-hitting. But in the case of a man who attached joy buzzers to the bottom of movie theater seats and took out insurance policies against people dying of fright during his tongue-in-cheek horror movies, I think such a treatment of the man's life is very much appropriate. It's a celebration, and a well deserved one, at that.

Castle produced and/or directed movies such as The House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, 13 Ghosts, and, ultimately, Rosemary's Baby. In the tradition of the men who built Hollywood in the first place and founded the studios Thierry years earlier, he was orphaned as a child a d found his way into the picture business on the strength of chutzpah and not knowing enough to know what he didn't know. He crossed paths with Orson Welles in New York, became a contract director under the legendarily terrifying Harry Cohn, and in his heyday took an approach to promoting his films that Alfred Hitchcock became envious of and eventually copied, in his own signature way. Castle made a celebrity of himself when directors were largely unknown to the general public, and innovated gimmicks for his films that have become the stuff of legend. But he was also a man driven by fear, who felt he was only as good as the box office on his last picture, an unfortunate and heartbreaking realization about a man who inspired and accomplish so much and so many. But that's show biz, folks.

The Math

Objective Quality: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for the interviewees, who include John Waters, Roger Corman, among Landis, and Forrest J. Ackerman; +1 for legitimate insight into the man and his career; +1 for managing to capture the fun and joy of experiencing these movies - whether in a 1950s movie house, on late-night TV, home video, or otherwise.

Penalties: -1 for the poor green screen work on many of the interviewees

Cult Movie Coefficient: 8/10. Well worth your time and attention.

[See explanation of our non-inflated scores here.]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween ComicFest

If this time of year wasn't good enough, with the candy, the jack-o-lanterns, corn mazes, and The Great Pumpkin, we now have Halloween ComicFest!  Diamond Comic Distributors and the good folks behind the Comic Shop Locator Service teamed with multiple publishers to bring us Halloween ComicFest.  So in addition to dressing up in costume, getting and giving candy, and scaring resident children, we now get free comics. 

On top of that they are hosting the Greatest Costume Contest ever and are giving away over 500 prizes in an online costume contest on their website.  Visit to find a participating store near you and to vote for me as Axe Cop in the Indy category!

Once you find a participating store in your area here are some of the free books that you can get your hands on.  There are four full-size comics and 11 mini-comics for you to try to get a hold of.  My five-year old son is most excited about Cow Boy, Johnny Boo, and Axe Cop.  With a great selection of comics for all ages, this is one event I hope becomes an annual tradition.

Full Size Comics

Batman Adventures/Scooby Doo Flip Book #1 - DC Comics
"Just in time for Halloween, it's a FREE all-ages flip-book comic reprinting classic BATMAN and SCOOBY-DOO tales! In his side of the comic, The Dark Knight meets Gotham City's new vigilante, the Cavalier, and battles the evil of Ra's Al Ghul in stories from BATMAN ADVENTURES #1 and #4. And in the other side, the Mystery Inc. Gang tries to get to the bottom of "The Costume Caper," in a story from SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU? #2" 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 Halloween Edition - IDW
Special reprint of the first issue in the ongoing series. 

Marvel Universe: Avengers and Spider-man - Marvel Comics
"Celebrate Halloween with two thrilling tales featuring everyone's favorite Wall-Crawler and the Earth's Mightiest Heroes! It can't get any better than free Spider-Man and Avengers comics, so don't forget to stop into your local comic shop and pick up a copy!"

Jack Davis' Tales from the Crypt - Fantagraphics
"Heh, heh! Got a real chiller-diller this time fiends! Join me, The Crypt-Keeper, your host of howls, along with Jack Davis and Al Feldstein as we creep our way through four spine-tingling, hair-standing, blood-curdling tales of terror from the vaults of EC Comics! We'll scare you silly! Trick or treat? Treat!!" 


Axe Cop Halloween 2012 - Dark Horse

Ghost Busters: Time Scare Halloween 2012 - IDW
"First time in print! A long-dead gangster is terrorizing Times Square, wreaking horrific havoc on a building that once housed a spirited speakeasy. But the place is now a toy store, and when the ghostly gangster starts shooting ectoplasmic bullets at terrified patrons, the Ghosbusters - Egon, Ray, Peter, and Winston - are called in to nab the speakeasy spook! Written by Brian Lynch (Angel, Spike, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and illustrated Marcelo Mueller (Lady Death, Aliens), Ghostbusters: Time Scare! serves as a hauntingly hilarious gateway into IDW's smash-hit line of Ghostbusters comics" 

Zombie Kids Diaries Halloween 2012 - Antarctic Press
"In the madness of the Zombie Apocalypse, amid the throngs of living dead and terrified victims, the Littlest Zombie roams. He's just an inquisitive chap filled with curiosity about the world on fire around him. Pushed around by his fellow undead (who always get to the brains first), and positively frowned upon by the remaining living citizens, the poor little guy just wants a friend. And maybe something to chew on. Like your face" 

Strawberry Shortcake/Scouts Flipbook - Diamond Publications
"Our 2012 Halloween mini-comic flip-book features 3 short stories! One side features the boys of the Weasel Troop in a SCOUTS! short story, "Meet the Pets". And the flip-side features the stories from our wildly successful STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE comic, "Custard & Cake" and "A Little Kitchen Help"! This sweet treat is sure to please boys, girls, AND their parents!"

 Cow Boy: Hallow's Eve - Archaia
"All y'all step right up for the showdown of their century: Cow Boy vs. Billy the Kid! From the acclaimed team of Nate Cosby (Jim Henson's The Storyteller, Pigs) and Eisner-nominated Chris Eliopoulos (Franklin Richards, Misery Loves Sherman) comes an all-new Cow Boy yarn from Archaia Entertainment, just in time for Halloween, and for free!" 

New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes - Red Circle Comics
"Red Circle Comics proudly presents the next generation of super heroes: The New Crusaders! From the ashes of the past, a new generation must rise! Get acquainted with the most exciting group of young super heroes that comic books have to offer in this free introduction. Get The New Crusaders!" 

Adventure Time - Kaboom!
"It's ADVENTURE TIME! Join Finn the Human, Jake the Dog, and Princess Bubblegum for all-new adventures through The Land of Ooo. The top-rated Cartoon Network show now has its own comic book! With the show exploding in the ratings, garnering rave online reviews, major cosplay at the San Diego Comic-Con, and huge displays dominating the New York Comic Con, it's clear fandom is obsessed and 2012 is the Year of Adventure Time! Don't miss out on this new phenomenon!"

Spacehawk - Fantagraphics
"Blast off into outer space with Basil Wolverton's weird and otherworldly SPACEHAWK! Two tense and terrific tales of terrible adventure and tumult from comics' Golden Age! You ain't seen nothing like this!"

Ernest and Rebecca: The Haunted House - Papercutz
"Papercutz presents a special Ernest & Rebecca minicomic for Halloween! Rebecca is a vivacious 6 1/2 year-old girl whose best friend happens to be a germ named Ernest. He's not only her best friend- he's also her partner in mischief, adventure companion, and confidant. An inseparable duo, the zany adventures of these two continue to delight in this award-winning series from Papercutz."

Johnny Boo and Harold Tricky Treaters - Top Shelf 
"Johnny Boo is the best little ghost in the world. Don't believe it? Just ask him! What wacky Halloween adventure are he and Squiggle up to now? Plus: meet Harold, the star of Upside Down: A Vampire Tale. He's a friendly vampire kid who loves candy, so trick-or-treating is just about his favorite thing in the world! Tricky Treaters is a blast for all ages: a great introduction to James Kochalka's hit series Johnny Boo and Jess Smart Smiley's delightful debut Upside Down! Grab this free mini-comic and spook yourself silly!"

Little Miss Daredevil: The Incredible Race! - Viz Media
"From Viz Media. Little Miss Daredevil is competing in the Incredible Race, and she's in it to win it! Whether scaling to the top of Mount Dillydale or taking a wrong turn and rocketing into outer space, no thrill's too thrilling for Little Miss D!"

Monday, October 29, 2012

Microreview [book]: Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

Blood of Elves, by Andrzej Sapkowski [Orbit 2009]

The Meat

I reviewed the first witcher book, The Last Wish, not too long ago. Suffice to say, I really, really liked it. The characters were memorable, the prose was far more sophisticated than in most fantasy, and the world Sapokowski created was deeply compelling. I loved almost everything about it, from the sharp dialogue to the complex and multifaceted treatments of racism, sexism, colonialism and other socio-political issues that affect us in the real world. And I particularly appreciated the way the book managed to operate simultaneously as serious fantasy and as a tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of genre's tropes and cliches. All of that returns, and is explored in greater detail, with Blood of Elves, the first of a five novel witcher sequence published by Orbit.

Action starts in the wake of a failed Nilfgaardian invasion of the northern kingdoms. Though turned back at the Battle of Sodden, Nilfgaard has managed to conquer the southern Kingdom of Cintra, as well as several of its neighbors. Unfortunately for the Emperor and his cronies, the princess Ciri has escaped. Geralt, who the girl was promised to in the short story "A Question of Price" (from The Last Wish), finds her and brings her to the castle Kaer Morhen, where he begins training her as a witcher. As the book unfolds, it becomes clear that there's much more to this girl than meets the eye, though it isn't exactly clear what--even the by end of the book. Nevertheless, many important people are interested in her, from the Emperor of Nilfgaard and his wizard crony Rience, to the various kings of the North.

The book is hard to put down, but unlike with George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, it's not because of the plot. That actually meanders a bit, which might make more sense in the context of the finished series, but with only one novel (so far) to judge, occasionally drags. In fact my biggest complaint is that Sapkowski dwells on small things, and largely glosses over major plot points. This is probably exacerbated by the decision by Orbit not to publish Sapkowski's second short story collection, Sword of Destiny, which includes some key background information and introduces several major characters. Action can be stilted as a result, and when the book is over, you are left a bit unsatisfied, craving more Geralt, Yennifer, Dandelion, Ciri and Triss.

That, of course, is in part because the characters are just ridiculously good. Geralt, who superficially looks like an Elric clone (and Michael Moorcock sure thinks he is), is actually one of the most fully realized protagonists in fantasy--and with apologies to Mr. Moorcock, I think he's much more interesting than Elric. He's powerful, yes, but reluctant to use his power in a way that might play into the world's terrible, yet for us familiar, politics. He'd like nothing more than to opt-out completely, and go about his business killing monsters for coin, but he cannot, and is inevitably dragged into affairs of war and peace. He's quiet, yet thoughtful; violent yet only hesitantly so; hard yet evidences a greater capacity for empathy than anyone else in his world.

The powerful enchantresses he is romantically involved with, Yennefer of Vengerberg and Triss Merigold, are no less compelling. Any scene with Yennefer is pure gold. She's prideful, antagonistic and fierce; yet, beneath the hard exterior, undoubtedly caring and sympathetic--exactly the kind of complex, independent female character that male writers often have trouble writing. Her tortured relationship with Geralt is one for the ages, and works because she is his equal in every way. The letter she writes to Geralt may be the single greatest moment in the book--dripping with sarcasm, it perfectly encapsulates Sapkowski's gift for tragicomedy.

Cosplay Yennefer of Vengerberg

The backdrop to Blood of Elves, of course, is a distinctly sociopolitical tragedy. As the kingdoms of the north fight off the Empire of Nilfgaard, the remnants of their own conquered populations--elves, dwarves, gnomes and dryads--live on the margins of society as second-class citizens, or in small, impoverished enclaves where humans would't even bother settling. If this sounds familiar, it should--the plight of the native peoples of the Americas come to mind, as do those of other conquered peoples from modern Asia and Africa to medieval Europe and the ancient Middle East. Yet Sapkowski is subtle enough to add complexity to the picture. The threat posed by Nilfgaard isn't too different from the threat once posed by humans to the non-humans of the north--yet even the realization of this doesn't lead the kings to better treatment of their non-human subjects. The opposite, in fact.

On the other side of the coin, the non-human resistance group, the Scoia'tael, may be the pawns of decidedly unsympathetic Nilfgaard, and their acts of violence--often against civilians--provoke reprisals against innocent elves, dwarves and other non-humans. We are, like Geralt, meant to understand and sympathize with their plight, but grow deeply uncomfortable with their chosen methods. We see this kind of tragedy play out on the news regularly, but eading it in a fantasy context actually made me reexamine a lot of assumptions I'd held. That's literature at its best.

The bottom line is, if you like your fantasy brainy and character-driven, Blood of Elves is a must.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for the most compelling cast of characters you could imagine in a fantasy novel; +1 for the powerful, complex mediations on political morality--way more sophisticated than this genre is used to.

Penalties: -1 for an odd structure that, while not taking away from your enjoyment of the book, leaves you a bit unsatisfied at the end; -1 for too much attention spent on trivial matters, and not enough on major plot points.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Classics: Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!


No, ladies, this isn't my phone number. It's the cheat code to skip all other fighters and go directly to Mike Tyson. I didn't look it up. I didn't have it written down somewhere. I still, at 35, have that code memorized from the weeks I spent on this game. Most everybody remembers the code to Contra. I can actually hear many of you right now saying, "Up, up, down, down, left, right," et cetera, as you read this. A much smaller portion of the gaming population remembers the code to Iron Mike. It's one of those cheat codes that actually does you more harm than good. Now that it's entered, you have about 35 seconds of gameplay left before you have to restart. Some "cheat." I'm sure there are suicide codes in some of today's Rated M games, but do any of them have the violent outcome AND star power of good old 007-373-5963? I doubt it. 

The Contenders

What made this game great wasn't Tyson's endorsement. If anything, Crazy Mike's appearance made the game worse by creating a nearly unbeatable boss at the end. I've spoken to people that claim they took down the champion, but I never did so myself. What made this game so great was the cast of characters that made up the yellow brick road leading to Mike Tyson. Even my girlfriend could make it through Glass Joe and Don Flamenco. Where the game started to pick up in level of difficulty was King Hippo. This enemy required that the player know a specific series of well-timed button mashes in order to knock him out. For those who haven't played in a while, you had to wait until his hands were raised, then punch him in the mouth. This caused his pants to fall off, for some reason, allowing you to repeatedly punch the band-aid covered injury to his monstrous gut. Repeat the formula several times and you were moving on up. 

The next enemy to test your mettle was Piston Honda. He was an Asian that was just positive you'd insulted his culture for some reason. Honda didn't present much of a challenge, either. He did a dance around the ring that, if capped off by an uppercut by you, would drop like a sack of puppies...cute! After Piston Honda came the real challenges. Bald Bull showed up twice in this game.

Without a well-timed left on his third hop, you were dropped. He re-appeared later in the game with a shortened and more difficult charge, but the skill required to win was the same. It's all about timing. If you get it right, you move on. Get it wrong? Well, I guess you're fighting Bald Bull again (or throwing your controller across the room like me). Finally, after fighting your way through about a dozen enemies, some tough, some clearly made for children, you hit the really tough guys at the end. Soda Popinski, Von Kaiser, and my personal favorite, Super Macho Man! There were rumors this was an homage to Randy Savage, but I don't see it. What do you think?

I spent days, if not weeks of my life playing this 8-bit piece of gold. Even though I was never able to topple the mountain that was Mike Tyson - he's more of an unbalanced hill now - I still played this game more than anything this side of Zelda and Mario. If I had an hour to kill, I would play my way through to Tyson and enjoy every minute of it. Although I never mastered the final boss, I was able to take down every other challenger they threw at me. I get a big smile on my face whenever this game is even mentioned. I actually scream like a little girl when someone pulls out the original Nintendo and pops it in, as my friend Matt did this past weekend. This one is a classic of gaming and will always remain so. If you still have your 8-bit Nintendo and a copy of Mike Tyson, I highly recommend you give it another playthrough in the near future. Even if you can't beat Tyson, as I can't, it's still tons of fun trying to recall the timing on all those fighters that used to be as familiar as the back of your hand. 

The Math:
Objective score: 7/10

Bonus points: +2 for being Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!! Need I say more?

Penalties: -1 for making Iron Mike so difficult. I broke at least  one controller due to this overpowered boss. 

Nerd coefficiant: 8/10 Well worth your time and attention.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Surprise, Surprise!

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know by now that Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is one of my favorite novels. It's a vast, sprawling yet meticulously constructed homage to genre fiction that, incidentally, manages to faithfully and smartly tie five of my favorite sub-genres of literature (historical travelogues, conspiracy noir, psychological thriller, dystopian SF and post-apocalyptic fiction) plus one more (historical narrative told through letters) into a coherent and profound rumination on the universality of human nature.

When I first heard that the Wachowskis, who produced such cinematic gems as Speed Racer and The Matrix: Revolutions, were adapting the book into a feature-length film, my emotions ranged from schadenfreude to abject horror. This was bound to fail, right?

Right! Here's what Rex Reed of the New York Observer has to say about the Cloud Atlas film:

Almost three hours long, a lugubrious sludge of mud soup called Cloud Atlas deserves a limp nod for pure guts, I suppose, but what I’d really like to do is burn it. Based on a genre-switching, era-hopping, style-abusing, tempo-thumping novel by David Mitchell that everyone has always labeled “unfilmable,” the labyrinthine, ridiculously bloated—$100-million, anybody?—head-scratcher of a movie is the mess that proves it.

Phew! Well, how about good ol' David Edelstein

The cinematography is indifferent, and the editing too on the nose, but it’s the acting that’s the shocker. The cast comes off like a third-rate stock company on the matinee after the night on which everyone got bombed on mescal (and possibly mescaline).
Pow! Let's check in on Christy Lemire of the Associated Press:

Maybe if you're 20 years old and high in your dorm room with your friends, the platitudes presented in "Cloud Atlas" might seem profound.

Biff!  Okay, okay...let's check in with at least one positive reviewer, Variety's Peter Debruge:

No less exciting is the way "Cloud Atlas" challenges its actors to portray characters outside their race or gender. For instance Hugo Weaving plays villains in nearly every age, ranging from a heartless Korean consumerist to a Nurse Ratched-like ward master. Indeed, the filmmakers put the lie to the notion that casting -- an inherently discriminatory art -- cannot be adapted to a more enlightened standard of performance over mere appearance, reminding us why the craft is rightfully called "acting.

Hmm...okay, fine...that is cool. Unfortunately:

Every major male character in the Korea story is played by non-Asian actors in really bad yellowface make-up.

ZOMG! I don't care what point you were trying to make, Wachowskis--this really isn't okay. And besdes, next time, could you try to push the envelope with a film that isn't a wretched adaptation of an "unfilmable" novel that just so happens to be one of my personal favorites? Please note, I'll be watching to make sure you don't get your hands on 2666.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday Morning Superhero

We are another week closer to Halloween Comic Fest and just saw another solid week of comics. Ed Brubaker gives us his last issue of Captain America, Mind MGMT concluded its first arc with style, Marvel released a one shot entitled A Babies vs. X-Babies, and the Court of Owls continues in Talon #1.  Please hit me up on twitter as well at @newhousebailey.

Pick of the Week:

Captain America #19 – Ed Brubaker concludes his epic run of Captain America by wrapping everything up in one pretty package. Brubaker’s run was what got me hooked on Captain America and this issue is a great example of why. The ending is fitting, tight, and emotional. The flashbacks we see show the tremendous amount of respect Brubaker has for Captain America, which was demonstrated month after month with him at the helm. Recapping the past, bringing in the present, and ending with an open door for the next creator, Brubaker’s legacy with Captain America will be difficult to top. Thanks for the stories Ed!


Mind MGMT #6 – Matt Kindt wrapped up his first arc of Mind MGMT with a great twist that has me poised for its continuation. We learn more about Meru and Henry’s past and the great power that the immortals possess. Kindt has been praised for his book being a work of art and it is well deserved. The care and attention that he puts in his book, from the design seeming to be a Mind MGMT file, the watercolor art, and the snippets at the end that show other Mind MGMT agents, make this well worth the $3.99 it costs each week.

The Not as Good:

Bravest Warriors #1 – Pendleton Ward of Adventure Time fame launched a new series with Kaboom! in Bravest Warriors #1. I am guessing I will take some flack for this, but as much as I want to get into Pendleton’s creations I just can’t. I love his character design and style, but this book fell flat in delivering. The humor seemed too grown-up for kids and too kiddy for grown-ups. I want to partake in the joy that he brings so many, but I simply don’t get it.   I would love for someone to comment on what I am missing.

The Rest:

Fables #122 – The Cubs in Toyland arc ended last issue and Bill Willingham and the Fables crew decided to begin a 2-part story featuring the Big Bad Wolf before his entry into the mundy world. This is a great book for non-Fables readers to give what has been one of my favorite series a chance.

A Babies vs. X-Babies – In a most bizarre idea, Marvel somehow green-lit this spin-off of Avengers vs. X-men that is light and full of fun. I had no expectations in picking this book up, but Skottie Young really comes through with a fun book that has some memorable images of your favorite superheroes batting it out as babies. I am guessing this won’t be any Eisner material, but it was definitely a good time.

Talon #1 – The Court of Owls story in the New 52 Batman was one of the most enjoyable arcs I have read featuring Batman in a while. The first issue starts off with a bang as Calvin Rose, former Court of Owls assassin, returns to Gotham in the wake of their near demise from Batman. This is his one chance to finally take down the Court and earn his freedom. He encounters help from a mysterious figure who is seemingly going to assist him in this task. I think that there will be a lot of good action in this title. I am in for the next issue.

What I should have read:

Punisher: War Zone #1 – It sounds like this mini-series started off on the right foot with some interesting interaction between the large cast of characters. There is tension between the Punisher and Spider-man in what appears to be a character driven series.

FF #23 – Hickman was able to bring all of the characters full circle in a fitting conclusion to the series that may leave some in tears. It seems that he also was able to reach a conclusion that truly closes the door and leaves fans pleased and appreciative with the care he gave the series.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Microreview [comics]: The Strain Volume 1 TPB

The Meat

I feel like a hack. I’m reviewing the comic adaptation of a novel I have neither read nor will likely read. After all, it’s a vampire novel. As a teen I read a few vampire books – this was Anne Rice's early nineties – but I never developed a love for the sub-genre. And visionary director Guillermo del Toro isn’t going to change that. (Though I’d watch another vampire film of his. Cronos, anybody?)

But I did read horror comics, including vampire comics. In fact, the first horror comic I read was Blood of Dracula. So I suppose my review has some validity – this is Dark Horse' comic adaptation of The Strain. I may not be a hack.

Hacks also get paid.

The Strain, co-written by del Toro and Chuck Hogan (The Prince of Thieves) is a typical vampire story – so it’s hard to fault David Lapham (Stray Bullets) for his adaptation of it. In fact, I am fairly certain the novel is a modern retelling of Dracula, at least the first few issues read like it. If so, del Toro and Lapham get some points. Our Dracula’s transatlantic crossing takes on very modern, post 9/11 trappings, while our Van Helsing begins his career as a vampire-killer while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp.

The Strain eventually employs many post-Dracula vampire gimmicks as well. There are ancient vampires, there’s a truce, there’s a vampire breaking a truce. Potential vampire apocalypse! You lose points for such standard lore, especially if you’re Guillermo del Toro. And there’s a potential for a divorced-dad-just-wants-to-see-his-kid subplot that could end up really pissing me off.

The vampires themselves were a bit distracting. The long tongues – think a tentacle with a talon on the end –  looked a bit silly. I’m all for non-sexy vampires – you can always go Nosferatu rather than Dracula, sometimes even pulling off something interesting. But, The Strain adds a long list of non-scary non-sexy vampires, a list that includes Eddie Murphy’s Vampire from Brooklyn.

Mike Huddleston’s artwork – though too often looking unfinished – and Dan Jackson’s moody colors are well-suited for a vampire book, just maybe not this one. It goes back to the tongue. I suppose Huddleston deserves some blame for it, unless he’s following from del Toro’s description. Since I don’t plan on reading the book, how could I possibly know this?

Ultimately, I was disappointed with the first five issues of the book. While there were a few intriguing elements – particularly using in the post 9/11 security environment as a setup – The Strain is frustrating because of who is involved in its making: del Toro and David Lapham. The involvement of these two, on the other hand, does mean that there may be a lot more story here, a story worth our reading.

Either way, it doesn't want to make me read the novel. But I may continue reading the comic.

Update: Apparently FX is producing The Strain a pilot. Still doesn’t mean I’ll read the novel.

The Math:
Objective score: 5/10

Bonus points: +1 for del Toro's and Lapham's involvement

Penalties: -1 for del Toro's and Lapham's involvement 

Nerd coefficiant: 5/10

[Need to see how we do things scientifically? Here's our formula.]

Paul Kincaid's Latest

My intention this week was to survey the responses to Paul Kincaid's LARB article and to our subsequent interview with him (part 1 and part 2). As it happens, Paul has beaten me to the punch, and done so with characteristic sophistication. His blog post is, of course, much more far-ranging than the simple roundup I had planned, and goes way beyond the confines of the LARB article or our interview. Here's a small taste so you can see how good it is:
Similarly, casting a story forward into the future or outward to a different world is enough to make the story science fiction, but science need not be central to either. Where is the science in The Martian Chronicles or Dhalgren or Stranger in a Strange Land or The War of the Worlds? Science fiction is comfortable with a scientific worldview, tends to espouse a rationalist perspective, deals with the knowable. So in the sense that ‘science’ is derived from the Latin for ‘to know’, science clearly has a place within the structure and intent of science fiction; but science as an enterprise, as a set of procedures, has at best a tangential relationship with science fiction.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

We Rank 'Em: The Roger Corman-Vincent Price Poe Movies

From 1960-1965, Roger Corman released eight films that were billed as being based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe (we'll come to the "billed as" part later). All but one of them starred Vincent Price. Taken together, they represent arguably the high-water mark of Corman's directorial work, they cemented Vincent Price's status as a horror icon, and helped establish the screenwriting career of the unbelievably influential Richard Matheson.

I confess that ranking these movies proved much harder than I anticipated, since I love all of them, and each for different reasons. But I nevertheless persevered, for the sake of our faithful Nerds of a Feather readers...

Bonus: An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe
Not officially part of the canon, since Corman didn't direct it, this is a collection of staged recitations of Poe short stories performed by Vincent Price. The second part of the Midnite Movies double feature on the Tomb of Ligeia disc from MGM, this collection showcases a series of remarkable performances by Vincent Price, and I don't believe it's very widely known, even among Price fans. Pieces include The Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado.

7. Tomb of Ligeia
Ligeia has some of my favorite locations from the series, including the crumbling stone cemetery where Price buries his beloved bride at the beginning of the film. It inflates to feature length some of the situations that fueled either subplots or shorter segments in other Corman anthology films, and combines elements of several Poe stores under a single title. The result is enjoyable and atmospheric, but maybe not as memorable on the whole as the other films in the series.

6. The Pit and the Pendulum
Stephen King will disagree with me for not putting this one higher on the list, but while The Pit and the Pendulum pioneered many of the stylistic traits that would become synonymous with the series, the later films used them to more mature effect. The vividly saturated camera filters and bizarre angles helped define the rest of the series, and gave one of Poe's best-loved stories a tangential, but emotionally consistent treatment.

5. Tales of Terror
An anthology film that features three segments culled from possibly a half-dozen Poe stories, this movie straddles the line between outright Gothic horror and comedy. Other films in the series would commit to one or the other and do each better, but the wine-tasting competition between Vincent Price's effete and refined wine connoisseur and Peter Lorre's town drunk is unbelievably winning and plain fun. Basil Rathbone's appearance as an unscrupulous medium/psychiatrist is also noteworthy and sets up a fantastically...drippy...climax.

4. The Raven
Outright comedy, The Raven pits Vincent Price, who dabbles in white magic, against mighty sorcerer Boris Karloff, who began the evening by turning Peter Lorre into a raven. A young Jack Nicholson's appearance as Peter Lorre's son should give aspiring actors everywhere hope, because Jack is one of the greatest screen actors of all time, but man, he's not very good in this. This is a legitimately funny movie, and come on - it stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Jack Nicholson. What's not to love?

3. House of Usher
The one that started it all. A bleached-blonde Vincent Price is a sight to behold, but still, and after I-don't-know-how-many viewings, I'm not sure if it's a good sight or not. Premature burials, centuries-old tombs, a family curse, possible incest, this lurid adaptation is straight from the Gothic horror playbook and would've made Matthew Lewis himself proud. And when the house starts coming down, matte paintings and miniatures or not, it's pretty awesome.

2. The Haunted Palace
One annoying feature of the Corman-Poe movies was their habit of splashing non-sequitur lines of Poe's stories or poetry on the beginning and/or end of the movies a propos of nothing...certainly not anything we've just seen onscreen. But here The Haunted Palace really takes the cake, since it's not even based on anything Poe ever wrote, and divorced of their original context, the lines of Poe that are slapped onto it almost literally have no meaning at all. Of the films in the series, this is probably the most faithful adaptation, but it's an adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft, which is one of Lovecraft's best novellas. The movie is a wonder of art direction, has some memorably eerie scenes of mutant townspeople, and a nice dual performance by Price.

1. The Masque of the Red Death
Here, Vincent Price is his most vile and gleefully evil, the colors are the most saturated, the camera effects the most extreme, and the actual emotional content of the film the most engaging. Most of these films are like windows into Grand Guignol dysfunction, which is lurid fun. But Masque of the Red Death has a real sense of good and evil, right and wrong, and characters who have to make choices between the two. If these films are guilty pleasures for me (which they aren't really, since I don't feel guilty for liking them, in all their mustache-twirling archly villainous glory), this one makes the strongest argument for simply being a good movie.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Microreview [Comics] - Cow Boy

The Meat

Boyd Linney is a ten year old bounty hunter who is traversing the wild west with only his horse for a companion and his trusty gun by his side.  After a rough childhood, he is determined to round up his entire family of outlaws and collect the ransom.

Cow Boy draws on nostalgic comics including Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes.  The book remains light and fun despite numerous shootouts straight out of a spaghetti western.  Boyd is the emotional glue that holds this story together.  Flashbacks provide context to why he is driven to bring his family to justice and moments when he is alone at night with his horse we are reminded that he is only a child who has a lot on his plate to deal with.

Nate Cosby hooks you from the first chapter in which Boyd rounds up his own father to collect his first ransom.  The dialog between father and son first humanizes Boys and reveals the tragic hero that this young 10-year old is.  Cosby's ability to write emotionally charged scenes while keeping it light and entertaining for adults and children is remarkable. 

Through the artwork of Chris Eliopoulos, we are able to see the grit and determination this Cow Boy has.  Boyd's facial expressions are true to nature and reminded me of my own children if I imagined them in his boots.  Eliopoulos captures the over-dramatic nature of children, puts together fun shootouts, and constructs moments when you want to jump in the page and comfort Boyd with a big hug. 

Is this a Back to the Future Easter egg in Cow Boy?
This book is not only a book I love, but a book my son loves.  There are few better moments as a parent then you have your child excited about reading.  A book like Cow Boy, which delivers on both the graphic and story elements, is what I seek out as a father.  It is often the first comic I suggest to any parent looking to involve their children in this medium.  Not because it is a book that children will love, but it is one that parents will enjoy as well.

If you don't believe me you can try reading it yourself for free at  If you want to read more for free before buying this great book, then you can pick up their Hallow's Eve mini comic next Wednesday if your local comic book store is participating in Halloween Comic Fest.  Click here to find a participating location.

The Math

Objective Quality: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for Boyd's gun, which looks like a child's stick horse.  +1 for the short stories between chapters

Penalties: -1 for the book ending too soon.  I would have loved a few more chapters of side stories mixed in

Comic Coefficient: 9/10 very high quality/standout in its category.

[See explanation of our non-inflated scores here.]

Saturday, October 20, 2012

INTERVIEW with Jeff Salyards

Jeff Salyards, an up-and-coming sword and sorcery fantasy author from the Chicagoland area, recently “sat down” to have an interview with us at the Nerds of a Feather home office. For those of you who are unfamiliar with his work, Salyards recently published his debut novel, Scourge of the Betrayer, with Night Shade Books. Scourge is the first book of the series Bloodsounder's Arc, and sets the stage for a riveting series that fans of dark, gritty fantasy (a la Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch, to name a few) will no doubt enjoy. Check out our review of Scourge here. Enjoy our interview with Jeff!

When did you first get into fantasy? And what book(s) introduced you to the genre?

I don’t remember ever NOT being into fantasy. I know that sounds trite, or maybe evasive, or tritely evasive. But I’ve loved the genre for so long—books, films, comics, D&D, etc.— it’s really difficult to pinpoint exactly what books drew me in.

My cousin Richard also shared an early love of all things fantasy. And I’ll always remember he had this huge box of Edgar Burroughs and Robert Howard paperbacks from a used book store, or garage sale, or maybe pilfered from the library. And we’d each pick one up and read all night long, well past the third or fourth time my uncle called lights out before just giving up because it least we were reading and not playing Atari or drums or making pipe bombs.

And my cousin and I would wake up groggy the next day, and immediately start chattering about the wild adventures Conan or Tarzan or John Carter of Mars got themselves into. So that is probably one of my early forays that really hooked me for good. Sure, there was The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and Narnia, and those might have even come earlier—but that shared reading with my cousin will always stand out.

What do you look for in a good fantasy novel?

I love character-driven fantasy. As much as I appreciate intricate plotting or cool magic systems, deep world building or some crazy linguist who invented a brand new language, what usually draws me into any book and keeps me there are fascinating characters who behave plausibly, have depth, and really feel real.

Stories depend on great characters and their tensions, desires, fears, dreams, ideologies, jealousies, lusts and the ways they bump into other characters with competing or alternate agendas. So for me, it has to start there. I’ve read some books that have breakneck plots that can be kind of thrilling, but if the characters are flat or rote, it just ends up being an airplane read, literary junk food. This holds true for all novels in my mind, but it’s just as important, if not more so, in fantasy.

Fantasy novels that have wonderful worlds, are really plotted nicely, and have what should be a pretty compelling storyline can still bomb for me if the characters are poorly drawn, predictable, or derivative. Of course, if all those characters do is sit around and talk, waiting for Frodo or Godot and aren’t involved in a good story, it won’t matter how well rendered they are. 

What inspired you to write Scourge of the Betrayer?

Grief. In the original version (that got revised significantly, so you don’t see as much evidence of it in the final manuscript that my agent and publisher picked up), Braylar narrated a back story that involved him and his sister as members of a tribe on the hinterlands on the Syldoon Empire. This story covered a stretch when Braylar was a boy, before being taken by the Syldoon, and he witnessed his father’s murder. This informed a good chunk of both the back story narrative as well as some of the present narrative (that ultimately made upScourge).

I’m not big on theme- or idea-driven books, as they often come across as lifeless of pedantic. And I didn’t want Braylar or any other character to wallow in it—this wasn’t going to be a meditation on the topic—but in fantasy, especially military or action-oriented, the losses sometimes don’t get explored as deeply as they should.

So, there were other things that inspired me that featured more prominently in the book as it evolved, but that initial impulse to write about a characters who have lost something or someone still bleeds over into the book, around the edges mostly, but still pretty visible.

But I’ve lost a fair number of people in my life, and watched others lose those dear to them as well, and so wanted to feature grief in a real and substantial way, to have characters wrestle with it.

I love Braylar's flail. What inspired you to have your protagonist wield a flail?

Once I decided there was going to be a cursed weapon in the book, I knew it had to be anything except a sword. Not that there’s anything wrong with swords, but they’ve pretty much been done to death. Throughout history and across cultures, for too many reasons to unravel, they’ve become iconic, taking on all kinds of cultural significance, given names, passed down over generations, housing relics in the pommel, all that good stuff. And that’s bled over into fantasy beyond counting. Shoot, even Luke and Thundarr have energy “swords.” They’re pretty ubiquitous.

So I wanted to pick a weapon that doesn’t get a lot of love. That cut swords immediately (pardon the pun), and axes and bows to a lesser degree. So I considered polearms, but I wanted a weapon Braylar could take anywhere, as he pretty much had to. (Cursed weapons really can be inconvenient like that). So it had to be a sidearm of some sort. Weapons like maces, clubs, warhammers, falchions (a sort of a sword/axe hybrid, so still out), flails, more exotic weapons that you often see in Asian or Asian-inspired milieus, and the like.

But flails jumped out right away, especially for Bloodsounder, for a couple of reasons. They are pretty vicious, and they are inherently difficult to use properly, even with a modest chain so the flail heads can’t smash your hands. I played with a replica some, to get used to the mechanics, and still almost killed myself, even going half speed. Given that Bloodsounder poses some serious challenges and dangers to Braylar, this seemed an appropriate choice for the weapon.

Also, it adds some extra nuance when planning out the fight choreography, as it obviously wouldn’t operate much like swords, axes, maces, etc.

Scourge featured wonderfully compelling character design. Each of your three main characters (Arki, Lloi, and Braylar), are all haunted in some way by their past. To what extent do you view haunted pasts as critical in character building?

I’m not sure haunted pasts are critical, but they can certainly give you a lot of material to work with for generating drama and conflict. I think it’s all in how it’s handled, really. A haunted past done well can add an element of mystery, as the reader puzzles out the hows and whys, or danger, if whatever damaged the character so deeply is still present.

But it can also lead to drawn-out flashbacks, one-note music, or angsty hand-wringing if done poorly, where the character is such a total product of whatever it is that’s doing the haunting, so consumed by it, that he or she becomes a dull, melodramatic, hot mess that never rises above that awful, tragic, or painful thing in the past and still felt so sharply in the present. I’m all for messy and painful backstory as it can give characters depth, heart, and motivation. And as I mentioned, I knew some of my characters were going to deal with grief, particularly Braylar, and that’s haunting 101. But it’s a tricky balance—coming up with the right haunting thing that doesn’t slip over into schlock or become overwrought.

So, having three characters with dicey pasts in Scourge was probably not a real smart idea, now that I think about it. It could have easily been overkill. But the fact that you found them compelling means I didn’t totally botch it. So that’s cool.

Thus far, magic and mysticism have taken back stage in your series. I assume magic will play a greater role in the upcoming sequel to Scourge. How do you approach magic in your world? Do you see it as a largely explainable phenomenon (like a technology or a system that has consistent rules), or is magic a largely unexplainable, mystic force?

The mystical elements will increasingly play a more important role as the series progresses, though compared to a log of high fantasy novels, Bloodsounder’s Arc will always be fairly low-magic. I really tried to create an almost historical-fiction feel to the story, where the grit, grime, humanity, and character relationships take center stage, and the magical things are extremely rare, and also dangerous, to the point that most people stay clear as much as possible, and most people who demonstrate any aptitude for harnessing anything mystical are persecuted or killed.

In the sequels, it will become obvious that there are systems in place for harnessing some of this magic—the Memoridons in particular, have some “infrastructure” for the memory magic that they control, able to utilize it for interrogation, intelligence gathering, even using it offensively and defensively. So in that sense, there are some defined approaches to engineering and controlling it. But the sequels will also demonstrate that the Memoridons, even with all their tradition and shared knowledge and precision, can’t fully account for what they’re working with, and are operating under some pretty dangerous illusions about just how far their knowledge goes.

One of the messages I took away from Scourge was that of the complexity of morality. Nobody you write about is innocent. And in some cases, moral decisions could even lead to disastrous results. This seems to be in line with the gritty turn in fantasy. I would love to hear your thoughts on the increasingly gritty, complex morality found in recent fantasy novels. 

I love characters that are complex, and that includes those who justify their questionable actions, who rationalize rotten behavior, who are sometimes rigid or selfish or mercenary, provided they’re interesting enough to keep my attention. Villains who are mustache twirling, cackling caricatures or simply exist as an over-the-top evil foil to the heroes are dull. And to me, so are heroes that are identifiable from page one as “good guys”, complete with magic circles protecting them.

In real life, even tyrants often have good reasons (in their minds, at least, and be careful how loudly you question otherwise) for what they do. And the most selfless teacher or nurse on the planet can still have deep issues, desperate anxieties, or wacky compulsions that seem to work at cross purposes against them. And characters in a book should be no different.

So, writers like George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Mark Lawrence, Richard K. Morgan, K.J. Parker, Scott R.R. Bakker and others have really done a masterful job focusing on characters that challenge expectations, resist fitting into preconceived notions of “hero,” “villain,” or even “antihero”. Martin takes someone like Jaime Lannister—who does some pretty despicable things by almost any metric early on in the series—and then, if not redeems him, certainly humanizes him and intentionally complicates reader judgment.

Mark Lawrence’s series is driven by Jorg, a character who is as far from noble as they come (well, except in the literal sense), and does some pretty awful stuff as well. And yet, even if he alienates some folks, most readers and critics find him infinitely compelling.

If you come into these books looking for a traditional hero to latch onto, you might walk away frustrated. And while there’s always the danger of going nihilistic or having so many morally ambiguous characters that there isn’t much to distinguish them, I think a lot of recent fantasy authors are aiming to create characters that challenge expectations, and that exhibit a lot of the complex and sometimes really confusing or contradictory traits that flesh and blood folks do.

What are the biggest challenges you have found in completing your debut novel? And what have you taken away from working through it?

Besides finishing you mean? (Insert laugh track here). Really, finishing and then and only then—because I lack anything resembling foresight—realizing during the agent hunt that I was going to need to do some significant revision if I was serious about getting the thing published by going the traditional route.

Some debut authors can still snag agents and publishers with pretty long manuscripts, and maybe I could have if that had been the only reservation some agents had. But a fair number noted other reservations when they gave feedback.

Having spent so long on the book, my first and second impulses were to ignore them and press on. And who knows, maybe we’d still be having this interview about a published book. But I kind of doubt it. Deep down, I knew the feedback was pretty solid. I think writers can get into awful fixes when they try to please everyone, or even a large number of someones with varying opinions about the work. But if you hear a refrain in the criticism, it might do to pay heed and at least closely reevaluate to see if there’s something to it.

In this case, there were large chunks of the book that were far too cutesy in terms of format and style, with Arki recording the back story as Braylar narrated, only I was trying to mimic what it would be like for a scribe to scribble away during an interview like that. So I left all of Arki’s observations, asides, and questions off the page during those segments, so the reader only had Braylar’s responses to go on to puzzle out what the full conversation might have resembled. Which, while intriguing maybe, seemed to cause a lot of head scratching and frustration as folks wondered why I had these wacky po-mo exchanges in an otherwise fairly straightforward fantasy novel.

So, listening was the toughest part, and actually revising accordingly the second toughest. Both were awful.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?

With three kids under the age of six at home, I scrape together time to write whenever I can, so it isn’t consistent enough to really develop any serious rituals. The one thing that comes close is I often, but not always, listen to a movie soundtrack or instrumental music to get the blood pumping as I set down to write—usually something Conan the Barbarian, Flesh + Blood, The Thirteenth Warrior, Last of the Mohicans, The Last Temptation of Christ.

Oh, and I dress in the Donnie Darko bunny costume while writing. If you consider that “quirky.”

What advice do you have for aspiring young authors?

Do as I say, not as I do. Seriously, I am no role model. Which is bad, since I have kids. But on the writing front, I’d suggest writing every day, even if it’s crap or comes haltingly, or you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels and unlikely to create anything worthwhile. Maybe especially then. Because when you start justifying doing something other than writing, it becomes even easier to do it again. And again. And days, weeks, or lifetimes go by without accomplishing much. So write. If not daily, consistently.

Join a workshop or writer’s group of some kind. You can learn a lot about the craft, develop a good antennae for parsing out critique of your work and figuring out how to improve it, and hone your own skills at analyzing the nuts and bolts in someone else’s work, which can be really instructive in its own right, and teach you how to direct those skills at your writing if/when you no longer belong to a writer’s group.

Read. A lot. Stuff in your chosen genre, sure, but outside it as well. Really outside, if you have the time and inclination. While you don’t have to slavishly read every new book that comes out in your genre, it’s good to know not just the seminal works, but what’s shaking now. Who are the new writers who are pushing boundaries or trying different things (or who might have just published a book on the very same topic you were thinking about, that no-good rat bastard!)? And in other genres, there’s always an opportunity to learn some new tricks, to see how another writer deftly handles a problem that frequently riddles your own work, or who could put on a clinic about characterization, or authentic-sounding dialogue, or tight plotting, or cohesive argument, anything else at all. I’m frequently amazed and humbled and inspired when I read, and I think you can find that in any kind of writing—fiction of all stripes, ditto for non-fiction, plays, blogs, screenplays, articles/essays, whatever.

One final question: Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies, Aliens, or Robots?

Are we talking which I would like to read about? Write about? Have erotic relations with? Invite to a dinner party with Eleanor of Aquitane, Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, Maya Angelou, and Kurt Cobain? So many fun directions I could go here!

All five of those get tons of love in movies, TV, and books. Like, gratuitous, serious PDA love that’s a little much, really. Not that there aren’t new ways to spin or present them, to arrive at an interesting twist or take, but people are so fascinated by these stories, they seem to come in waves, and result in a glut of all-too-similar treatments.

So maybe my dinner with famous historic figures and monsters and aliens isn’t the worst idea!

Thank you for the interview! We look forward to your next book!

Great Games You Never Played: Blur

Blur? Never heard of it.

Blur was a relatively ignored game, selling only 31,000 units in its first week. Compare that to the 6 million units that Grand Theft Auto IV moved and you get some idea as to how few people actually played this gem. That said, it got pretty good reviews that resulted in a score of 82 on Unfortunately, that didn't seem to do much for sales of the game, which is too bad because it's a whole lot of fun!

Make a career of it!

Career mode forces you to earn "bulbs" in order to level up. A first place finish in a race gets you five bulbs, second four, third three, and fourth gets you nada. Collecting bulbs opens up new cars, tracks, and NPC opponents. There are four types of race in Career mode.

Checkpoint is a single car time trial. You have to make it through various checkpoints before time runs out or the game is over. There are no NPCs coming after you, but the tracks themselves are difficult enough to make this a challenge. Some are paved roads while others are off-road dirt tracks where you'd much rather be in the Range Rover than a Toyota Supra or BMW.

Destruction is a timed race where the objective is to destroy as many NPCs as you can before time runs out. As you pass various checkpoints, time is added to the clock, but this race doesn't have a finish in the traditional sense of the word. It always ends when the clock hits 0:00. Depending on how much damage you've caused, you might get five bulbs or you could have to start over.

Race is just what it sounds like. You versus twenty NPCs. Activision Blizzard did a good job with the AI in this instance. These guys are ruthless and very good at driving their cars. Even on the Easy setting, coming in third or better is a significant challenge. I can't tell you how many times I fought and clawed my way to first place, only to be hit by a power-up mere feet from the finish line, resulting in a fourth place finish or worse.

Finally, there's One-on-One. This is essentially the same as a boss fight. You have to earn your way to these races by gaining enough bulbs in the lower races to open them up. Once you've done what's necessary to get to the race, you have to go head-to-head with the most talented NPCs in the game and their cars are souped-up beyond the norm. However, if you manage to beat them, you get to keep their car in your garage and use it in future races.

Where Blur really shines

Multiplayer mode is where this game really earns your money. Over XBox Live, you can take part in 20-player head-to-head races. You can play in "Friends Only" mode with just six or seven people if you like, but it's a lot more fun to take a party into a race against other folks. With 20 cars on the track at once the game becomes a total attack on the senses. Power-ups are constantly flying and no one stays in first place for long. Modern Warfare and Halo are quality multiplayer games, but they can't compare to the intensity and carnage that Blur brings in a 20-person race. It can get a little aggravating at times, but that's all part of the fun. You can go from first to last in a matter of seconds, and vice versa. Although the career is enjoyable, I really fell in love with Blur because of the multiplayer aspect. For one thing, very few games support this number of players in one game space. It doesn't have the technical reality of Forza or Gran Turismo, but it's not supposed to. This game is about taking regular old car races and adding some unrealistic, yet extra-tasty spice. 

Mario Kart with a Dodge Viper?

Blur is essentially the perfect mix of Burnout and Mario Kart. It uses real-world tracks and cars, but has power-up attacks that are identical to Mario Kart in everything but name. Here are the power-ups from Blur:

In order, Shock is fairly close to the blue turtle shell from Mario Kart. It attacks whatever car is in the lead with lightning bolts from the sky that both damage and slow the leader. Like Mario Kart's lightning, it also can take down multiple enemies at once. Cars in the front of the pack are all at risk from the electric strikes. Mine is like the banana peel, dropped from your car to attack anyone coming up from behind. Barge is the only one that doesn't have a direct parallel to Mario Kart. It sends out an EMP in all directions, damaging any rivals in close proximity. Bolt is the green turtle shells. You even get three of them, just like it's Nintendo ancestor. Shunt is the same as the red turtle shell, seeking out the car immediately in front of you and hitting them, HARD. Nitro is the mushroom, giving a short boost of speed. Shield is similar to Starman in that it makes you invincible to attack. However, running into enemies while it is active doesn't do damage like its Mario counterpart. Finally, there's Repair. Unlike Mario Kart, your car can eventually be wrecked in Blur. Being wrecked is about the same as falling off the side in Mario. You come to a complete stop and it takes several seconds to re-enter the race. Tougher cars like SUVs and vans can take more punishment than smaller, faster vehicles,  but they can all be wrecked with enough damage. One of the main differences between the two games is the ability to stockpile power-ups in Blur. You can carry up to three at a time. You can also dump undesirable power-ups if you don't need them, but be careful where you let them go because racers behind you can pick them up and nail you with what used to be your own weapon.

When it comes down to it, Blur didn't break any new ground. You'll find most of the same cars in racing games with more realistic driving, tracks, tech specs, etc. What it did was to take the best components of several other games and mush them together into an intensely enjoyable and totally unique gaming experience. If you're a fan of racing games, I highly recommend you go to Gamestop and pick up a copy for twenty bucks. It's well worth it. 

The Math

Objective score: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for stealing from the right games. You can't go wrong copying Mario Kart or Burnout if you do it right, which they did.

Penalties: -1 for not having any Porsches or Ferraris. I love the Audi R8 as much as the next guy, but any self-respecting racing game has got to have the old standards of supercars. Blur has a nice mix, but unfortunately these two makes didn't "make" it into the game. (I'm sorry. I'm so very, very sorry. Call the pun police!)

Nerd coefficient: 8/10. "Well worth your time and attention."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thursday Morning Superhero

Marvel Now! Point One launched yet Hawkeye managed to steal its thunder this week and Sixth Gun and Walking Dead continue to dazzle.  I say it week after week, but it truly is a good time to be reading comics.  Without further ado here is this week’s Thursday Morning Superhero.  As always, hit me up at @newhousebailey with any comments or suggestions.

Pick of the Week:
Hawkeye #3 – Yeah Bro, if you are looking for a book that is simply a pleasure to read, filled with top-notch action sequences, humor, and is just plain fun to read then you need to be reading Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye.  The premise for this issue is that Clint Barton has done nine stupid things today.  He takes you through them, not in sequential order, while the final chase scene is taking place.  Throughout the day you learn about his trick arrows (putty arrow, boomerang arrow, net arrow, etc.), his attempt to get organized, and his current tryst.   This issue makes a great one-shot that is just flat out entertaining.  You will not be disappointed to picked this one up. Bro.

Sixth Gun #26 – Hot off of a new deal with NBC, the Sixth Gun continues to deliver.  Drake and Becky attempt to take on the Wendigo, the creature that has them trapped in a mysterious snow storm and Gord, Kirby and the mummy Asher pursue the two for their own personal reasons.  The Sword of Abraham complicates things for the trio in pursuit of the gun and we learn from a flashback the type of devious creature the Wendigo truly is.  Cullen Bunn continues to deliver in one of the best books on the market today.

The Not as Good:
Marvel Zombies Halloween #1 – The original Marvel Zombies was an enjoyable concept mixed with humor and gore.  It was light, and an interesting twist to the Marvel Universe.  At this point the series feels like a gimmick that has stopped working.  While not terrible and without merit, I just don’t think we need to continue to go down this road.

The Rest:
The Walking Dead #103 – In what was an incredibly strong week for comics, this issue was just edged out of the top 2.  We finally meet the devious Negan and his bat Lucille and Rick begins his plan of pretending to throw in the towel with the Saviors to save everyone and learn their secrets.  Not the most exciting issue to date, but Kirkman is still putting out a phenomenal book and this issue featured the best final line in a comic for the week.

Marvel Now! Point One – Marvel’s latest attempt to draw in new readers featured a preview issue that introduces readers to some new titles on the horizon.  Of the six titles previewed in this issue, I am most intrigued by FF featuring Ant Man, Young Avengers and Cable and X-Force.  From what this book lays out, Marvel has some promising titles on the horizon.

Daredevil #19 – Foggy is still convinced that Daredevil isn’t right in the head so he finally seeks some help.  We learn that someone is causing Murdock to have the hallucinations that have severed his relationship with Foggy.  Foggy spills the beans to Kirsten McDuffie about Matt’s instability, and she has no choice but to use her resources to bring Murdock in.  On top of that, Daredevil realizes who is the culprit behind everything and seeks to stop him.   We learn that the Spot is back and has Daredevil in a rather compromising position at the conclusion of this issue.  Waid continues to demonstrate why he won the Eisner for this series.

Lookouts #2 – Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade continue their new comic with the second tale about a boy scout like tribe set in a fantasy world.  The humor and art have a very Penny Arcade feel which isn’t a bad thing.  The comic is light, humorous and may provide some depth later on.  Not my favorite book out there, but one that I enjoyed.

Peanuts #3 – When Kaboom! got the Peanuts license I was pretty excited.  Their Muppets is one of my favorites for kids and they have captured the spirit of the Charlie Brown I grew up with.  Lucy is still bossy, Linus is still four steps ahead of everyone else and Charlie Brown is still a loveable blockhead.  If you are a Peanuts fan you will enjoy this book.

What I should have read:
Saucer Country #8 – @Kristroffrable turned me on to this series, but sadly I haven’t started it yet. I picked up the first two issues on ComiXology and plan to read it, but haven’t started this tale of a presidential candidate with claims of alien abduction.  A new story arc begins this week in what, I have been told, is a great book.

Chew #29 – I decided to move to trades with Chew and should have probably stuck with single issues.  John Layman has introduced comic readers to an incredible world that everyone should read.  This week’s issue starts to conclude the Space Cakes story arc as this series begins to reach its final conclusion.