Friday, November 30, 2012

Lord of the Whinge: Annual Mockery

It's one of my winter traditions to watch the extended edition of the Lord of the Rings movies when there's first sticking snow on the ground. It's one of the ways that I trick myself into looking forward to winter, and it's awesome that this year it's right in time for the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (in theaters December 15).

Now that I've seen the movies a billion times, the joy of watching them has devolved into pitiless mockery of the characters and actors I hate to love and love to hate. Here are the characters/performances I won't miss watching The Hobbit.

Aragorn
With time, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn finally grew on me. Originally I hated his whiny, nasaly, annoying voice ("You cannot wield it!"), but the moment I always fall back in love with him? Return of the King: Elrond arrives at camp before the battle at Minas Tirith to present reforged blade, and Aragorn just WHIPS that sucker out. Like a boss. Nay! Like a king. He shouldn't skipped the song at his coronation though; Billy Boyd's Pippin is a hard act to follow.

Frodo
Elijah Wood is the worst fake giggler ever. But the scene that really kills me is when Shelob pokes him in the gut. There's a close up of Frodo frothing at the mouth, and all I can think about when I watch it is how much I want to punch him. Sorry, I've always hated Elijah Wood.


Eowyn
She's the most badly adapted character -- more of a hodge podge, really -- but Miranda Otto's Eowyn is comically bad for about 90% of her screen time. I will blame the extended editions for some of this, as a couple of the extra scenes are pointless besides adding to the incredibly awkward and (seriously, girl, duh) one-sided romance with Aragorn. Leave the love triangle to Twlight, and Eowyn can have her forced consolation romance with Faramir. (Had they ever even met?)

She's whiny, petulant, and -- and I know this is mean -- has the biggest forehead in the world, but she is awesome for four words in the whole trilogy: "I am no man." I just can't understand why someone with hair that long would braid it or throw it up into a pony before going to war. The best thing going for Eowyn is her foxy brother Eomer. I guess dirty horselords do it for me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thursday Morning Superhero

Thursday morning is upon us and it is time for another recap of what comics I read this week.  That's right, it is time for Thursday Morning Superhero! My budget limited me from picking up some great comics this week, but I am quite pleased with my haul.  No real bad book in the bunch.

Pick of the Week:
 Chew #30 - Issue 30 of Chew is a landmark issue for multiple reasons.  It marks the half-way point in the series and the conclusion of the current Space Cakes arc.  This is a tough review to write because this issue features some of the humor that has sustained this excellent book, but also featured a very rare and dark moment that truly saddened me.  I can't say this book has evoked this type of emotion before, but I think it is testament to the characters and the world Layman has created.  I actually care about Tony Chu and his rag tag gang.  It appears that the path laid out ahead for Tony is going to be a rough one.  This book also featured a poster of a toilet seat at a hospital.  That is all.

Runner-up:

Uncanny Avengers #2 - Captain America and crew are still trying to deal with the aftermath of Avengers vs. X-men.  Cap wants to put together a new team that will have a strong mutant leader in an attempt to ease tensions on the homefront.  Meanwhile, Rogue, the Scarlett Witch and Professor X's body have been captured by Red Skull.  This book started a little slow, but I love me some Red Skull and his latest scheme didn't disappoint.  Really enjoying this series and can't wait for more Red Skull.

The Not so Good:
 Nowhere Men #1 - While this comic has me intrigued, I felt the story bounced around a bit too much for a first issue.  World Corp. is a group of four top scientists who are working on some pretty scary stuff, but I don't know what the true focus of the book will be.  It seems to be filled with good characters and an interesting premise, but it felt flat and didn't hook me.  This is one I will keep my eye on for future issues, but only if I hear good things.

The Rest:
FF #1 -Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four are leaving this dimension for a quest and need to find replacements to oversee FF for four minutes in their absence in case something happens.  She-hulk, Medusa, and Ms. Thing are quick to join, but Ant Man isn't so sure.  Interspersed with the kids' opinion about what FF is, Matt Fraction has a good balance of humor that keeps the pacing of the story fresh.  Something tells me that the four minutes with this crew in charge may be quite eventful.

Morning Glories #23 - More secrets are revealed about Morning Glories Academy and there are some hints about Hunter's origin.  Nick Spencer's world has grown a bit confusing with all of the flashbacks and the secrecy around MGA.  I am a happy reader as this book inspires me to reread this series from the beginning to see when the seeds were planted that lead to the payoffs in this issue.

Bedlam #2 - This issue continues the dark journey that was laid out in issue one.  We learn a little more about Mister Red, but there is a lot of mystery and intrigue surrounding this serial killer.  The police have their plan, but the demented mind of this killer keeps things very fresh and interesting.  If this series continues down the path that Spencer has laid out thus far, it will quickly become one of my favorite series. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Microreview [film]: Earth vs. the Flying Saucers



The Meat

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is one of the quintessential 50s sci-fi films, with stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen, lots of military stock footage, and a Cold War-zeitgeist plot about satellites. It was also the most prominent inspiration for Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!

I'm not sure the ins and outs of the plot are the most important aspects of the movie, but for what it's worth, Hugh Marlowe (who was also in The Day the Earth Stood Still) plays a scientist who begins seeing flying saucers, but can't prove it. Eventually, after the aliens blow up a Naval ship and all of the satellites the U.S. has launched into orbit, the aliens make contact with Marlowe, blow up a military base, and take a General prisoner to extract all of his knowledge about Earth. Ultimately, it's up to Marlowe to figure out how to stop these intergalactic oppressors.

The acting is pretty wooden and the plot kind of a mess, but what elevates this movie above so many others are the visual effects by Ray Harryhausen. The images of flying saucers crashing into the Washington Monument and Capital Dome are emblematic of the 50s sci-fi genre as a whole, and show up in every documentary I've seen about the era.

The Math

Objective Quality: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for Harryhausen's stop-motion animation; +1 for its place in the 50s sci-fi canon

Penalties: -1 for Hugh Marlowe -- who apparently had the hairiest back ever -- taking a bathing-suit clad stroll into the sunset with Janet Taylor at the end.

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

IN-DEPTH: Black Ops 2 Multiplayer

Whenever the new Call of Duty comes out, pretty much all other gaming ends for a while. And I don't pussyfoot around with no campaign mode either. That's the salad, and I want the steak. So now that I've been eating red meat for for a couple weeks, I feel like I can share some preliminary impressions, with an emphasis on how the game stacks up to previous iterations of the series.



CREATE-A-CLASS

The first thing you'll notice about Black Ops 2 are the changes to the loadout screen. The overall presentation is a big improvement over Modern 3, as well as the original Black Ops--everything on one page, clearly and concisely presented.

Most of the classic perks, equipment and weapon attachments are back, as are the weapons themselves. One of the idiosyncrasies of the series, of course, is that the weapons you remember keep getting renamed, so that a Type-25 in one installment isn't the same as a Type-25 in the next. But if you've been playing COD for a while, you're used to the options by now--for assault rifles, a choice between weaker automatic spray, a stronger and more accurate 3-round burst and an even stronger and more accurate single-fire round. Each has its advantages, as do the various weapon classes, but there seems to be more balance this time around. I've used assault rifles, submachine guns (SMG), light machine guns (LMG), shotguns and sniper rifles so far, and found all of them to be deadly if used correctly.

Source: http://d1vr6n66ssr06c.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Class-SwiftSilent-630x414.png

Some of the new weapon attachments are really cool as well. The Target Sensor is essentially a reflex sight that puts a little red arrow over enemies who don't have the Cold Blooded perk activated. I started using this on the SWAT-556 as soon as I could, and pretty much never use anything else on a given weapon once I've got it unlocked. The Laser Sight is another good one, especially if you like to run-and-gun without aiming down the sight. Most people seem to be using this with shotguns, though in my experience it works well with SMGs too. Then there's the MMS, a millimeter scanner that allows you to detect enemies through walls (again, without Cold Blooded active). I haven't messed with it too much, to be honest, but it seems well-suited to an LMG with the Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) attachment activated.

There's a new twist to picking and choosing all these various items: instead of being boxed in to 2 weapon classes, 1 weapon attachment each, 3 perks (1 per category) and 2 sets of equipment, you can now pick any 10 items you want. Sure, if you want 2 perks from the same category, you'll need to use up one of your slots on a "wildcard" just to get the option, but the customizability of loadouts has increased exponentially. Here's one loadout that's worked pretty well well for me:

Primary: SWAT-556 (3-round burst assault rifle)
Attachments: Target Sensor (see above), Quickdraw Handle (for faster aiming)
Secondary: MP7 (rapid-fire SMG)
Attachments: Reflex Sight (improves accuracy)
Equiment 1: Bouncing Betty (a type of landmine, for guarding the entrance to an area or booby-trapping a flag)
Equipment 2: Flashbang grenade (stuns enemies)
Perk 1: Blind Eye (makes you blind to NPC aircraft)
Perk 2: Cold Blooded (makes you blind to targeting mechanisms and radar)
Perk 3: N/A
Wildcard: Primary Gunfighter (allows 2 primary weapons)

This loadout that gives you a lot of flexibility. If you want to hunker down and defend an area, the SWAT-556 provides a good distance game, and a lot of accuracy at medium range. Add the bouncing betty, and you can hole up for a nice long while. But if find yourself in the kind of twitchy, tight quarters gunfight that made up a good 90% of interactions in Modern 3, you can just switch to the MP7 and saturate the area with gunfire. The two stealth perks also give you a modicum of protection from enemy aircraft and targeting sights like the Target Sensor and MMS. The main disadvantage of this loadout is exposure to explosives. If you find yourself in one of those games where the grenades are flying and every building is mined, but there are relatively few aircraft, you might consider modifying the loadout by replacing the perks with Flak Jacket (less explosive damage from frag grenades, semtex, C4, claymores and bouncing betties) and Tactical Mask (less disorientation from flash and concussion grenades, as well as shock charges).

There are literally hundreds of other combinations that are just as effective as these, and some that are more specialized to specific map types. I generally like to do variations on a single loadout, but I know people--some much better at the game than me--who regularly switch between vastly different loadouts. And that's what's so brilliant about the new schema: you can approach the game in many more ways than you ever could before.

SCORESTREAKS

Yes, you read that right. Killstreaks are out; scorestreaks are in. This is another change that kinda sorta makes you wonder why no one thought of it earlier. A common problem with Modern 3, Black Ops 1 and Modern 2 was the predilection of many players for farming kills over achieving objectives. I mean, what's the point of Capture the Flag if no one cares about the flag? Right? Well, there was a reason why this happened: you only earned killstreak rewards if you, well, got got enough kills in a row. Whether those kills served a purpose, like capturing or defending an objective, made no difference. Now, though, taking a flag in Domination, or nailing someone trying to take it from you, earn you more progress towards those rewards than a single kill unrelated to the objectives at hand. The result, when playing one of the objective-based modes, is a more focused game marked by better use of tactics and more memorable events.

The rewards themselves are largely familiar, though there are some cool new ones, like the 3-bomb Lightning Strike and the absurdly overpowered minigun you get with the Death Machine reward. Unlike past iterations, though, you get less in the way of points for the damage your scorestreak reward nets you. In Modern 2, for example, you could set things up so you had a Sentry Gun, a Pavelow and a Nuke. If you placed the Sentry Gun in the right spot, you'd get the Pavelow quickly, and then a game-ending Nuke was a genuine possibility. Now you'll get some points, but you have comparably more work to do if you want to get to the real biggie rewards at the end of the chain. The game loses a bit of cheap fun in the process, but it also loses a lot of aggravating cheapness, so it's a net win. Oh, and UAVs get you assist points, which makes them a lot more fun to deploy.  The one disappointment, for me, was that Treyarch got rid of the Recon Drone from Modern 3, which was probably the only thing about Modern 3 that I unambiguously loved. Oh well.

Source: http://www.xboxrepublika.com

MODES

...and now we get to a snag. The modes are, for the most part, the same ones you've been playing since 2009. Sure you get Modern 3's Kill Confirmed, but Drop Zone--Modern 3's fan-created, Care Package-laden version of King of the Hill--now lacks the Care Packages that actually made it worth playing. And it's called Hardpoint, but who cares about that. Bring back the Care Packages!

There's also League Play and some other stuff that seems sort of superfluous and unexciting to me. This is an area for either Infinity Ward or Treyarch to fix up in future installments.

GAMEPLAY MECHANICS

If you are coming from Modern 3, the change in hit detection will be jarring at first. The pace is slower and more deliberate, which means some firefights can stretch on for what seem like miniature eternities. Not Halo-length eternities, but eternities when compared to the nanosecond-long firefights of Modern 3. You could tell me you prefer Modern 3's twitchy twitchiness, and I'd acknowledge that all opinions are valid, but then I'd ask if you need a cold compress and some chicken soup. This is just...so...much...better. Rly.


At the same time, some guns take fewer shots than others, so you will need to adjust your tactics based on the loadouts you encounter. See someone coming with a shotgun and laser sight? Keep your distance. Find yourself in a sniper's line of vision? Duck and come up on him or her close quarters. There are a lot of rock/paper/scissors moments, but you often have time to think while you're in them, and a crucial difference with Modern 3 is that, this time around, smart play can often trump quicker reflexes.

Oh, and if you're like me, you'll also be happy to know that the cheapest cheapness of Modern 3, the ubiquitous quick-scoper, has become an endangered species. You'll still encounter one from time to time, but these are like the golden gunners from Black Ops 1: individuals of great skill who are to be respected, not a new generation of n00btubers minus the absurdist sense of humor.

MAPS

All that is well and good, but at the end of the day, a multiplayer FPS is only as good as the maps it provides. In Modern 3, the maps were small, claustrophobic rat mazes with lots of tight corridors and few defensive positions. Combined with the twitchy gameplay and generous hit detection, the result was a game that privileged run-and-gun to the detriment of anything else. There were few, if any, snipe spots and almost no tactical battles to speak of.

As far as design decisions go, it was kind of baffling, as the maps in both Modern 2 and Black Ops 1 had balance to them. So what happened? I don't pretend to know, but I'd guess marketing focus groups were involved, and possibly a misguided attempt to draw sharp distinctions with competitor Battlefield 3 (where maps were excessively large). Whatever the cause, the big question for me with Black Ops 2 was whether the game would continue going in that direction or pivot back to earlier iterations in the series.

Luckily the maps in Black Ops 2 are a huge improvement over Modern 3. It starts with the return of Nuketown, arguably the best small-scale map the series has ever produced--despite its small size, there are numerous points of interest and a good balance between corridors, open spaces and defensible positions. Hijacked is similar: small in size but still amenable to a range of play styles. Express is a small, weirdly-designed map located on a bullet train platform. It can be disorienting at first, but really works when you get used to it.

The best maps, though, are bigger. I fell in love with Cargo, a complex arrangement of containers in a shipyard that lends itself well to sniping and defensive play, but always gives offensive-minded players multiple ways to outflank defenders at any point in the map, and generally rewards smart play. Standoff is another exquisitely balanced map, and full of possibilities. Yemen has numerous vantage points from which you can guard points of interest or corridors, making it the ultimate anti-Modern 3 map. And finally, there's Turbine, a long and narrow map that recalls the look and feel of Afghan from Modern 2.

Standoff is full of interesting landmarks, as you can see
A few of the maps do follow the Modern 3 model: Aftermath (which takes place in a post-nuclear Los Angeles), Carrier (on an aircraft carrier), Slums (in Panama) and Raid (in a Hollywood Hills mansion) are all twitchy, run-and-gun affairs. I don't love these, but I can tolerate them as long as they're a change of pace, rather than the entire game experience. Actually, Slums is pretty fun. The rest of the maps--Drone, Overflow, Plaza and Meltdown--are solid, if unspectacular. Nothing wrong with them, per se, it's just that they don't stand out as especially good or bad.

While I would have preferred it if all the maps were like Cargo and Nuketown, that probably would have alienated the run-and-gun crowd. One lesson I learned with both Modern 3 and Battlefield 3 was that overspecialization when it comes to maps can be a real drag on long-term enjoyment--variety being the spice of life and so on. That's why, when taken together, I'd argue the variety of map types in Black Ops 2--and variety of terrain within the maps--means that you're getting the best, most complete set of out-of-the-box maps since Modern 2.


MISCELLANY

There are still areas for improvement. As mentioned above, I'm not sure why they took the Care Packages away from Drop Zone. And despite the overall quality of the maps, the game could have used a couple really big ones--Array and Discovery from the first Black Ops spring to mind.

Then here are unwanted changed--from my perspective, at least--to the prestige system. Whereas in previous installments, entering Prestige Mode meant giving up everything you'd unlocked, now you can keep all your tokens but just choose to reassign them. Sounds fine on paper, but here's why it's a bad idea. As in all competitive multiplayer games, some individuals are just much better than others. Prestige mode was a leveler of sorts, periodically enticing skilled players to forego their preferred loadouts and start fresh. Sure they'd quickly unlock all that stuff again, but along the way they would have to play against less skilled players who nevertheless had an advantage in gear and perks. I think you can still do it this way, but now you have a "choice." Not all choices lead to better outcomes.

One last thing. Black Ops 2 represents a return to form for the series, and pushes it forward in some significant, if incremental ways. Of that there can be no doubt. But as one friend said to me: "we've basically been playing the same game since 2007." At some point, new maps, better textures and incremental changes to gameplay aren't going to justify plopping down yet another $60 come November-time. I fear we've come to that impasse. With the improvements on display here, and the poor quality of the last version of Modern, I may skip next year's release unless it does something really new and really cool. (That, of course, would come with big risks--namely, that the "really new" might really turn off the core audience, so don't expect that to happen).

The series would probably be better served by a 2-year development cycle at this point, with developers Treyarch and Infinity Ward releasing additional map packs over a 24-month, rather than 12-month, period. The economics of the industry probably won't allow it, granted, but if it doesn't happen, more and more fans, like me, may just go this route unilaterally.

BONUS VIDEOS

For your viewing enjoyment, here are some video guides to my favorite maps:

Cargo


Standoff


Nuketown 2025


THE MATH

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for a variety of map types marked by varied terrain; +1 for the new "pick 10 system" and the opportunities it creates; +1 for turning killstreaks into scorestreaks and instantly making objective modes more fun

Penalties: -1 for the fact that "a variety of map types marked by varied terrain" should be an expectation, not a bonus; -1 for unwanted changes to Drop Zone/Hardpoint and the prestige system.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10. "Very high quality/standout in its category."

Explanation of our non-inflated scoring system here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Microreview [comics]: West Coast Blues



West Coast Blues (Fantagraphics) is a comic that I should have loved. Artist Jacques Tardi’s adaption of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel Le petit bleu de la côte ouest has the right elements: it’s black and white, it’s noir, it’s French. Nevertheless, I did not like West Coast Blues

Actually, I simply didn't like it very much. I read it, and I didn't suffer because of it. But I was never too interested in the plot or drawn into the characters' struggles. And I never really wanted anyone to get shot – though I didn't mind seeing it happen.

George Gerfaut is pursued by two hit men after he plays Good Samaritan to one of their victims. He goes on the lamb, abandoning his career and his family for refuge in the French Alps. As things tend to happen in crime fiction, his past catches up with him. So he has to shoot people.West Coast Blues is true to this basic film noir premise of man-pursued-by-unknown-forces. But the story does not develop much beyond this setup. There’s too much fleeing, too much hiding, punctuated by instances of violence.

Jacques Tardi’s artwork stands up better than does the book's plot. Tardi’s black-and-white cartooning – evocative of both Hergé and Robert Crumb – never goes too noir, relying instead on a more subdued and clear treatment of light and dark. But there’s just not a lot here for Tardi to work with. 

Even the book's violent encounters – nine in 74 pages – were boring, with the notable exception of the gas station scene (pp. 34-38 for those playing along at home). Tardi gets some penalties on the violence count. His depictions of shootouts, beatings, and throat cutting were often too cartoony. When using such a relatively unrealistic style, it can be difficult to effectively depict violence that causes your reader to empathize with the pain and mortality of protagonists, to be thrilled or horrified by instances of violence in the story. Cartoon violence often evokes silliness instead. (For more proof supporting this hypothesis see every issue of Usagi Yojimbo.)

The story may have simply become lost in translation, though editor Kim Thompson in fact does a wonderful job translating West Coast Blues with a very American voice. The problem may lie with Jean-Patrick Manchette’s original work – which I have not read. Or the problem may be that Jacques Tardi’s adaption itself failed. We may never know.

All in all, West Coast Blues is not one of Tardi’s best work and certainly not among the best crime comics. Now, on to Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot


The Math

Objective Score: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for Tardi’s artwork; +1 for being French

Penalties: -1 for being boring; -1 for being French

Nerd Coefficient: 5/10 – "Problematic, but has redeeming qualities"

[For more on non-inflation see here.]

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mister Torque's Campaign of Carnage

MORE Borderlands 2 DLC!


I know you guys may be getting tired of hearing about Borderlands, but that's too bad because I just can't stop playing it! The second downloadable content (DLC) add-on takes you to The Badass Crater of Badassitude in search of a second vault. The slightly insane Dr. Tannis swears that there is another vault at the bottom of the crater and that, this time, it's really full of loot and not a monster bent on your total annihilation. Upon your arrival to the crater, you are greeted by Mr. Torque, an obvious and wonderful homage to the late, great Macho Man Randy Savage. I can only hope that he's got a supportive girlfriend like Miss Elizabeth. 


The only difference between the two is that Mr. Torque has had an automatic censor implanted in his voice box so he is unable to curse, which he does profusely anyway while being automatically bleeped. "But that's half my vocabulary," complains the steroid-stuffed narrator/guide and he's not far off. This guy makes the Dude look like an 8-year-old choir boy. 


The Grift

When you arrive in the Badass Crater of Badassitude, you are immediately sent to the Torque Arena to face off against a host of enemies. In order to enter, you need a sponsor. Another character that would feel right at home in the WWE named Piston volunteers, although, just as with Captain Scarlett, you are quickly made aware that he intends to betray you. Unlike Scarlett, he doesn't wait for you to complete several menial tasks for him first. Immediately after your initial bout, he drugs and kidnaps your character. That's when the real story begins. In order to continue fighting, you have to obtain another sponsor. Unfortunately a real piece of work named Pyro Pete has kidnapped your potential help and you must free her to continue to rise in the ranks of the Torque Arena. 


Yes, your new sponsor is the buxom and quite overtly sexual Moxxi. Turns out she's still mad that Handsome Jack took away her Underdome fighting arena (from Borderlands 1) and she wants to replace it with the Torque Arena, with your help, of course. I won't get too much further into the story because it's really fantastic and you'll want to experience it for yourself. Suffice it to say this is some of the best DLC that Gearbox has produced for Borderlands. It holds up against Dr. Ned and the Claptrap Robolution quite well. 

Don't Hate the Non-Player Characters, Hate the Game!


There is a nice melange of characters in the story, both old and new. Tiny Tina helps you out with some training. How can a girl that small help train a fighter, you ask? Her answer is, "First you'll be like, 'How?' Then you'll be like, 'POW!!!' Let's do this shizz." In one of the more humorous twists, Tina's training involves eating lots and lots of chocolate chip cookies. Sadly, after the training regimen is finished, she realizes to her complete and utter disgust that the cookies were really oatmeal raisin. "Wait a minute," she pauses as the realization overtakes her, "Those are raisins! WHY?! Why do bad things happen to good people?!" She then sends you back to destroy all the cookie dispensers so no one will fall victim to those evil semi-healthy cookies again. 


Your nemesis in this little excursion through Pandora is an equally roided-out bundle of rage named Piston. He has less than 1% body fat and 13 pectoral muscles, or so he claims. Whoever did the voice work for Piston was fantastic. I hated this guy the entire game and it was a pleasure matched by very few games' evil nemeses to take him down. "My pecs are laughing at you right now (Girlish laugh). Hear that?" He's a conglomerate of all the meat-head jock jerks you've ever known and they nailed the caricature to a 'T'.


Another one of my faves from this chapter of Borderlands 2 was Motor Momma, a 600-pound (at least) lesbian cannibal biker chick. She and Moxxi had a fling back in the day until she ate some of Moxxi's other girlfriends. I guess that's where Moxxi draws the proverbial line when it comes to ethics. There are also some old favorites that make an appearance including the ever-popular white trash gear-head Scooter. All in all, Mr. Torque's Campaign of Carnage is chock full of memorable and hilarious characters that will have you dying for a second playthrough as soon as you finish the first. 

Best...Side...Mission...EVER!!!

I don't want to give away too much, but I simply can't help but tell you about my favorite side mission in this entire game, Captain Scarlett and main quest included. A character named Buff Gamer (unlike your skinny Nerds of a Feather reviewer Brad) has given a game called Diamond Mercenaries 2 a 6 out of 10 in his ECHOnet review. Unfortunately for Buff, it happens to be one of Mr. Torque's favorite titles and he sends you out to take revenge on the unsuspecting reviewer for his poor ranking of the Macho Man's version of Modern Warfare. I couldn't help but get a strange chill up my spine when I realized the meta aspects involved in a game reviewer (me) playing a game where he has to kill another game reviewer (Buff) over a poor review. I probably won't ever review a WWE game just in case one of those roid-balls gets upset and comes after me in similar fashion. 

Oooh, Yeah!


The Campaign of Carnage adds several new elements. There are races, with and without other challengers attacking you. There are biker bandits riding Harley's with sidecars that don't seem to care whether you're similarly mobile. They come in gangs and they'll attack you whether you're riding in an Outrunner or not. There are new weapon vending machines that take only Torque Tokens and carry only very powerful weaponry. All in all, this was significantly harder than the rest of the game. I'm not sure if it was a leveling issue, but I died easily 5 times more often in Mr. Torque than either the main quest or Captain Scarlett DLC. It's challenging. It's hilarious. It's got several vast new maps. It's what we've come to expect from Gearbox and 2K: DLC that's actually worth the money!


After recently watching Rocky, I couldn't stop laughing at Tiny Tina's quest titled Eat Cookies and Crap Thunder! I kept hearing it over and over in my head, but in Burgess Meredith's voice. Borderlands may not have the best graphics. It may not have the voice acting of a Bethesda or Bioware game. It may not have the realism of Modern Warfare. What it does have in spades is creativity, wit, humor, and an addictive, original spin that matches first-person shooter and role playing game without slacking on either; things that are sorely lacking in many of today's more popular titles. Thank you, Gearbox, for this truly unique game. 

I promise I'll review something else next week that's totally unrelated to Borderlands. I swear!

The Math

Objective score: 9/10

Bonus points: +1 for giving us what we expect from Borderlands DLC. Video game mastery.

Penalties: -0.5 for being pretty difficult. It was a real stretch for me to get through this thing in time for my review. I appreciate a good challenge as much as the next gamer, but when you're literally dying every 10 seconds at some points, it's a bit much. 

Nerd Coefficient: 9.5/10 VERY high quality. A standout in its category. 





Friday, November 23, 2012

Thursday Morning Superhero

I know that it is Friday, but we decided to give everyone a chance to give thanks for comics for a full day before diving into this week's offerings.  Hopefully you aren't caught up in too much Black Friday madness to sit back and enjoy some good comics.  I also encourage everyone to hit up their local comic book store for their Black Friday deals.  I play on hitting mine up to see what trades they have marked down.

Pick of the Week:
Fables #123 - Bill Willingham crafts the thoughtful conclusion to his two-part side story The Destiny Game.  In this stand alone story between main arcs Willingham demonstrates why he is the master of non-superhero comics.  Bigby's tale of correcting his fate is brought to an epic conclusion that is befitting the true beast he is.  It is easy to forget the terrible past that once haunted this beloved character, and asides like this really portray the complex characters that Willingham has created in his Fables world.  If you haven't been reading this then you owe it to yourself to start at issue #1 and enjoy the over 100 issues of comic mastery.

Runner-up:
Daredevil #20 - Mark Waid's Eisner winning run on Daredevil continues to dazzle.  Daredevil finally learns who has been causing him to question his sanity, only to be trapped by the Spot separated from his own head.  We learn that the Spot has been involved in assisting terrorist organizations, smuggling drugs and human trafficking.  Not only does Daredevil need to thwart the Spot for these crimes and free the hundreds of other captives who are separated from their heads, but he needs to know who hired the Spot for the job on him.  This arc concludes next issue and I am looking forward to it.

The Not So Good: 
Clone #1 - A new offering from Robert Kirman's Skybound label, I had high expectations for Clone.  Dr. Luke Taylor is coming to grips with his own runaway father as his wife is expecting their daughter to be born soon.  Come to learn the reason he didn't have a father is that he is a clone, and for some reason, other clones are being murdered.  His wife is abducted and he has a lot of questions.  Intriguing premise, but the story felt very generic and I never really took to it.  If I hear good things about subsequent issues I might be back for more.

The Rest:
Deadpool #2 - While lacking the charm of the first issue, this one still delivers some good laughs courtesy of zombie former presidents.  Theodore Roosevelt uppercuts a bear at the zoo, Kennedy is still a womanizer and has quite the mouth on him, and Deadpool is helped by the ghost of Benjamin Franklin.  As I stated in my review of the first issue, with Brain Posehn and Gerry Duggan at the helm, Deadpool is in good hands.  I think what I love best is that mixed in with the innuendo, the crass jokes, and the cheap laughs are some really intelligent gaffes.  Good combo of truly low brow and high brow humor.

Captain America #1 - Rick Remender has the daunting task of following up Ed Brubaker on Captain America.  Remender delivers a solid first issue, giving fans a little bit of Steve Rogers childhood and introduces the villain of the first arc.  Arnim Zola has abducted Captain America in the hopes of utilizing his DNA to aid in the creation of his own super soldier son.  With a decent twist at the end it appears that Cap may be in good hands.

Hawkeye #4 - Matt Fraction continues his enjoyable run with Hawkeye in part one of two in a short story involving a tape that compromises Clint Barton as an Avenger.  In this issue Fraction continues his light hearted approach as we enjoy Barton as a cabbie in Madripoor, and learn of an unfortunate hiding place of his Avengers Amex Black credit card. This is a fun book worth checking out.

Judge Dredd #1 - If you are looking for a toungue in cheek comic based in the Judge Dredd universe then this is your title.  While it was nothing ground breaking, it was appropriate to its subject and proved to be a decent book.  Don't think I will continue it, but not unhappy to have read issue #1.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

In Honor of Turkey Day, 12 Classic Nerds/Feather Reviews/Articles

Films:

1. Birdemic: Shock and Terror (Vance) [Bonus coverage: is this the worst film ever made?]

2. Princess Mononoke (Jemmy)

3. Valhalla Rising (The G)

Books:

1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (The G)

2. Pavane by Keith Roberts (Vance).

3. At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson (Jemmy)

Comics:

1. Rachel Rising by Terry Moore (Philippe)

2. Saga by Vaughan/Staples (Mike)

3. Habibi by Craig Thompson (Guest reviewer: Rob K)

Games:

1. Alan Wake by Remedy (Brad)

2. "The Future of DnD" (Molly)

3. "When This Baby Hits 88 Miles per Hour..." (Mike)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Microreview [Comics]: Black Lung



The Meat

A teacher gets shanghaied by pirates, becoming an unwilling witness to the depths of human depravity and brutality on the high seas. Were it not for his literacy and a psychopathic guardian angel, things would have been much worse for the old fop. Things still went real bad, though. That’s what happens when you hang out with pirates.

A pirate comic? By gar it’s been a while.

Yes, but this is a pirate comic from Fantagraphics. And writer-artist Chris Wright (Inkweed) seems like the kind of creator with pretensions. Arty pretensions – pretensions that Fantagraphics often likes to indulge. Don't misunderstand me: Fantagraphics has put out wonderful books. In fact, some of the best comics ever. But they have also produced smug, pointless comics, books that are little more than the masturbatory scribbling of self-indulgent artistes. And they burned me too often in my twenties.

So I didn’t entirely expect to enjoy Black Lung as much as I did.  Then somewhere around page five I realized that there’s an actual story in Black Lung, a human story. Granted, despicable and truly damaged humans. Pirate humans. But humans none the less.

Chris Wright’s story is bleak and brutally violent. There are few redeeming characters in Black Lung, just your everyday, run-of-the-mill collection of wharf rat gangsters, mad priests, syphilitic first mates with penchants for finger removal, and the good Captain Brahm – a man whose sole goal in life is to commit enough violence so that he’ll be damned to hell, and thus rejoined with his heathen, whore of a wife.

Eschewing the easier path of gore and glorification, Wright portrays this violent world in a detached, realist manner. There’s no glory, simply blood lust. No bravery, only brutality. Wright seeks to understand his characters, allowing them explore and explain their violent behavior. For some, it’s necessity. For others, motives are purely mercenary. Some just like to kill. Wright does not shy away from exploring the drives and doubts of his characters  – who are, after all, murderous, scheming pirates.

The subtlety of Wright’s story and lyricism of his dialog is contrasted by his surprisingly mesmerizing artwork. Surprising, because I did not expect to be drawn in by what appears on the surface to be intentionally ugly cartooning. Wright’s often grotesque characterizations fall somewhere between Lewis Trondheim and Klasky-Csupo. His figures are neither anthropomorphic nor humanistic. Some resemble furry animals, others ugly humans, and still others look more like an amoeba than a mammal. Quite often, they look like muppets. Terrifying muppets. Pirate muppets.

Wright’s genius is further evident in his ability to use these aberrant cartoonish characterizations to convey human emotion, particularly terror. Wright’s portrayal of violence is stark and chilling – despite or perhaps because of his singular style. His artwork expertly combines contrasting elements, frantic inking, and subtly detailed backgrounds to create a unique visual and unexpectedly unsettling experience. 

Black Lung worked on all counts. Plus, pirates.


The Math

Objective Score: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for pirates

Penalties: None. Damn the rules.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 "Very high quality/standout in its category"

[Check my math here, nerdlinger.]

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Microreview [book]: Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan [Orbit, 2011]



The Meat

Some reviews are harder to write than others. For the first 300 or so pages of Theft of Swords, I was sure I knew what I would write, and that much of it would be critical. But then an odd thing happened: the book changed. It changed so much, and was so successful in its new direction, that I realized a rethink was in order.

Here's why: Theft of Swords isn't actually the first entry in the broader Riyria Chronicles, but the first two collected in one volume. Both The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha were originally self-published. Apparently these, and their sequels, sold over 90,000 copies, leading to requests for translations and renewed interest from the New York publishing houses. A contract with leading SF/F imprint Orbit Books resulted.

So what does all this tell us, potentially? Well, for one thing it shows that self-publishing can be a viable platform from which to launch a career. Maybe not for everyone, or even for most would-be authors, but in some cases it clearly is. Hopefully Sullivan will sit down with us someday and tell us how he did it. The way in which Sullivan grows as a writer from The Crown Conspiracy to Avempartha also suggest that self-publishing could be an audition of sorts, and some publishers at least may follow Orbit's lead, letting authors with not-yet-realized potential hone their skills in the self-publishing arena before committing a deal to them. More than anything, though, the marked improvement from the first to the second installment really drove home the point that you shouldn't really judge a book until you've read the whole thing.

Theft of Swords takes place in a more traditional fantasy world than we typically find these days. There are elves, dwarves, wizards, gods and prophecies, and there are clear "good guys" and "bad guys." But Sullivan adds some neat wrinkles to the Tolkienic formula. The elves and dwarves are real, but mostly offstage. There's only one wizard left, but he's 900 years old and has no hands. And it's an open question as to whether the gods are real or just mythological. As in GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire, the metaphysical and mythical exists as a backdrop that slowly reveals itself to be more real than we might first think, given the limited knowledge and experiences of our narrators. This is something I liked from the get-go.

Sullivan also introduces us to three political factions: the Royalists, who like the status quo; the Nationalists, who want some form of popular sovereignty; and the Imperialists, who want a return to the glory-days of yesteryear. The idea is interesting, but falters in execution. The Nationalists (when they are mentioned at all) are just too good--and this despite a clear lesson from real world history that nationalism is Janus-faced. The Royalists, for that matter, are just too fair-minded--though we know that power corrupts and hereditary rulers are often arbitrary and cruel. And why are they so sympathetic to the Nationalists?! After all, we know from our own history that nothing strikes fear into the hearts of the privileged like regular folks calling for a bigger slice of the pie. The Imperialists, and the Church of Nyphron that supports them, on the other hand, are just too blatantly evil. Throwing a bit more gray and nuance into the pot would have added, rather than taken away, from the effectiveness of the setup. Hopefully that comes later in the series.

Action centers on two rogues: master sword fighter Hadrian Blackwater and master thief Royce Melborne. At first glance they seem like Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser clones, but Sullivan does a good job differentiating them from their antecedents, and in the process has created two very likable, relatable protagonists. And in the wizard Esrahaddon, Sullivan has his Gandalf (though thankfully the character is nothing like Gandalf).

Unfortunately, The Crown Conspiracy is beset with problems that limited my ability to enjoy the things it does well. The plot itself isn't bad--master thieves framed for a crime they didn't commit, end up major players in a conspiracy to steal the crown from its rightful heir. But the mechanisms that move the plot forward are either too convenient or just plain inexplicable. What's more, the "evil" characters have a tendency to launch into Legion of Doom-style soliloquies where they reveal the supreme evilness of their dastardly plans. Finally, there's an unfortunate tendency to world-build through infodumps that read like encyclopedia entries and shatter any suspension of disbelief you might have built up in the preceding pages.

A part of me considered stopping there, but I'm really glad I didn't. The thing is, as much as all this bothered me, I still saw a lot of potential in the characters and the world of the Riyria Chronicles. With Avempartha, Sullivan begins to realize that potential. I attribute a good portion of the improvement to a shift in focus from epic fantasy on a grand scale to more intimate sword & sorcery, which the characters are better suited to. But there's also markedly better writing as well. There are still a few too many infodumps early on, but after the first couple chapters they've pretty much disappeared altogether. Exposition is done through perspective, which is not only more pleasant to read, but helps flesh out the unique perspectives of the characters as well. There are some major reveals, and Sullivan is clever in how he handles them. The baddies still feel the need to shout about their badness a bit too much, but we begin to see a more complex morality at work, particularly with regards human-elvish relations. I found this very compelling, and look forward to seeing how Sullivan fleshes it out in subsequent volumes.

While Avempartha doesn't reach the literary heights of Wolfe or Sapkowski, it does present the reader with an engaging and fun take on the Tolkienic tradition, and can be quite thought-provoking at times as well. I was left eager to see how things play out in the next volume, Rise of Empire, and that's a good measure of success in a fantasy series.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for a compelling core set of characters; +1 for the successful turn to sword & sorcery in Avempartha; +1 for a very smart way of incorporating elves and dwarves into a post-Tolkein fantasy

Penalties: -1 for excessive infodumping; -1 for problematic plot twist mechanisms in The Crown Conspiracy; -1 for "have I told you that I am evil?"

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10

Monday, November 19, 2012

Microreview [film]: Venus in Furs


The Meat

Not to be confused with the 19th century novel, the Velvet Underground song, or any of the other three or four other movies with the same title, this Venus in Furs is a surreal 1969 Euro-pop sexploitation movie from prolific exploitation director Jesus (or Jess) Franco. The film of his with the most name recognition is maybe Vampyros Lesbos. This one stars former teen idol heartthrob James Darren (about as far here from Gidget as you can get), the gorgeous Maria Rohm, and Klaus Kinski, also long of the exploitation film scene.

James Darren plays Jimmy, a down-on-his-luck jazz musician who finds a dead, naked girl washed up on the beach while he's trying to get away for a bit and get his head straight. Clearly, finding a dead hottie won't really help in that department, but things get even worse when he returns to Rio to get back into playing music and starts seeing her walking around in the living, breathing flesh. It turns out this is Wanda (Rohm), who was a naive innocent who fell into the hands of bloodthirsty sex deviants. They killed her, dumped her body, and somehow now Wanda is back and hungry for revenge. And also sex with Jimmy, but nothing serious, which gets him all tied up in knots inside.

I think. I mean, it's complicated. But I think that's about right. If you're in the mood for it, this is a pretty engaging movie, despite its many oddities and inscrutable elements. Make no mistake, no matter how into it you are, there are going to be moments where you're scratching your head and wondering if you missed something, but you probably didn't. If you're into abstract, this very 1960s erotic/horrific tone poem has its rewards. Not the least of which is the very catchy theme song, which is sung throughout.

The Math

Objective Quality: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for Maria Rohm; +1 for the pervasive, expressionistic atmosphere throughout

Penalties: -1 for the unnecessary and cliched twist at the very end of the film.

Cult Movie Coefficient: 6/10. Still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore.

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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty


Borderlands 2 Downloadable Content

Anyone that played the first Borderlands is aware of the amount and quality of their downloadable content (DLC) including The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, and Claptrap's New Robot Revolution. With this knowledge in hand, I decided to buy the Season Pass to Borderlands 2 which gives me access to all four planned pieces of DLC for the price of three. The first piece of DLC for the second iteration of Borderlands didn't disappoint. 

Pirates? In the Desert?! Come On!


Yes, there are pirates in the desert, at least in Gearbox's world of Pandora. There are references to the gaming area where Captain Scarlett's action takes place having once been an ocean, but that body of water is long gone. However, there are remnants of those bygone salad days in the town's name, Oasis. Today, it's nothing but sand and rocks as far as the eye can see. Upon arriving in Oasis (you can fast travel there once your character has hit level 15 or higher), you are tasked by an androgynous local named Shade - who looks suspiciously like Hunter S. Thompson - with clearing the town of pirates. Once that mission is completed, you are introduced to the sea dog namesake of this DLC. This particular pirate happens to be named Captain Scarlett and she needs your help to track down the long-deceased Captain Blade's lost treasure. This is somewhat akin to the main story of Borderlands 1 where a vault of unspeakable amounts of treasure are hidden with the small difference of this loot being closer to One Eyed Willy's secret stash than of a bunch of alien Goonies. Did I say Goonies? I meant goodies. My bad ;)



Where's the Sarlacc Pit? 

Captain Scarlett offers you two options, fight each other for all of the treasure or work together and split it 50/50. While her motives appear to be on the up-and-up in the beginning, she drops hints throughout the missions that she fully intends to kill you and keep all the treasure for herself, but not until "later," whenever that may be.


In order to get around Oasis and the surrounding areas, Gearbox created an extremely fun new mode of transportation that will remind anyone - except my ex-girlfriend Dana who never saw Star Wars - of Jabba the Hutt's smaller form of desert transportation. In this game they are called sand skiffs, which may very well be what they were called in Return of the Jedi, too. I guess we'll find out if Disney brings a lawsuit against 2K and Gearbox in the next few months. In order to get a working sand skiff, you must scour the town of Oasis for parts that are being held by a gruesome group of corpses that Shade has set up to appear alive using rope and implanted speakers on their bodies. He/she uses these speakers to have schizophrenic conversations with the deceased former Oasis residents where both sides of dialogue are performed by Shade, albeit very poorly. My only complaint about the sand skiff is that it isn't available from the Catch-A-Ride stations in the rest of the game. These things were pure joy to control and they react just as I'd expect a hovercraft to drive.

The Meat and Potatoes


Once you've completed the opening missions - meeting the corpses in Oasis and putting together a working sand skiff - you're off to meet the infamous Captain Scarlett. Somewhat similar to your search for the pieces of the Vault key for Dr. Tannis in Borderlands 1, Captain Scarlett sends you out on several missions to retrieve three pieces of Captain Blade's magic compass. She already has one piece. Once this collection is complete, the reconstructed compass should lead you and Scarlett right to Blade's treasure. That is, if one of you doesn't kill the other first. 


The first piece of the compass is held by a pirate named Sandman. He and Scarlett used to be compatriots until she tried to stab him in the back, literally. He shot her in the leg and the whole thing turned ugly, but at least she learned a valuable lesson from the experience. "That's when I learned to never turn your back on your friends, until you're sure you've got the upper hand." This is the first of Scarlett's many hints that she means to do you harm before the treasure is finally procured. It's only a matter of time before she tries the same trick on you that she did on Sandman. The only question is when? 

I won't bore you with the rest of the story, or ruin it for those who still plan to play Scarlett's Booty. Suffice it to say that this is a quality add-on to the Borderlands 2 main story, complete with a healthy dose of nerd-centric humor, gratuitous violence, and memorably odd characters. 

How Does Captain Scarlett Stack Up?


When comparing Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty to previous Borderlands DLC, I'd place it smack dab in the middle. It's slightly better than The Secret Armory of General Knoxx and considerably better than Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot, but not quite in the same league with Claptrap Revolution or The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned. If you're a die-hard Borderlands fan who made it through two playthroughs with one or more characters, then you should probably pick this up (as if you haven't already). If you're more of a casual Borderlander who only wants to focus on the main game and prefers not to spend an extra ten bucks for what, in reality, is just more Borderlands with a few new characters and one new ride, then you might wait and see how the next three pieces of DLC are rated and only play the best. Just as with Fallout, some of the Borderlands DLC you can't live without, others you could probably sleep well at night without playing. Personally, I fall into the former category and think that there couldn't be enough Borderlands add-ons in the universe to keep me content. However, Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty is fun, but not the unforgettable experience of Zombie Island or Claptrap Revolution. Take that for what it's worth and make your purchase decisions accordingly. 


The Math

Objective Score: 8/10

Bonus Points: +1 for the simple fact that it's more Borderlands. Gearbox has a stellar record of producing DLC that's actually worth the money and Captain Scarlett is no different. Both in terms of total gameplay time and quality of content, this doesn't raise the bar, but it certainly meets the high expectations Gearbox and 2K have set for themselves with previous DLC.

Penalties: -1 for not necessarily breaking any new ground. While The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned and Claptrap Revolution both felt like completely different story lines, this one would have fit as a side quest within the original disc's contents. I'm not saying it isn't worth the money, just that it doesn't feel like an entirely new world as the aforementioned DLC managed to do. 

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday Morning Superhero

 Feel free to call me out for not picking a book that was not as good, but this week in comics was simply too good to be true.  This week included The Walking Dead, Saga, Punk Rock Jesus, Mind MGMT, and the return of Locke and Key.  Throw that in with another installment of Batman from Scott Snyder and a new X-Men book headed by Brian Michael Bendis and you can't go wrong.  I really struggled narrowing it down to the top two books this week.  I feel good in my selection, but you could make an argument for any of this week's releases.  Hit me up at @newhousebailey on Twitter if you want to chime in with your take.

Pick of the Week:

Locke and Key: Omega #1 - This week is bittersweet for many Locke and Key fans, including myself.  If you have read any of the interviews with Joe Hill about this chapter in the story, then you know that even he doesn't know how things will end.  This unknown is both terrifying and exciting at the same time.  The book starts out with Bode, under control of Dodge, securing the shadow key before heading down into the cave.  Meanwhile, Scot Kavanaugh embarks on a senior project making a film about reflection.  Kinsey, even though she isn't a senior, and Tyler participate and shed even more light on their past and the events that have transpired to this point.  The juxtaposition of the sheer terror of a Dodge possessed Bode threatening to open the black door and the seniors preparing for an end of the year party really put the reader in an awkward position.  On one side it is refreshing to see the Locke children begin to come to grips with their haunting past and seem to reach a point of peace and happiness that hasn't been seen in the book.  On the other side, the ultimate destruction of everything is imminent and it doesn't appear that much will stand in Dodge's way.  The final panel is a chilling image of just how dire the situation is.  I sure hope that issue #2 comes out quick!  Time for another re-read of the entire series!  This issue also featured some fun cameos from both Joe Hill and Gabe Rodriguez.


Saga #7 - I struggle when I try to convey how brilliant this book is.  The humor and heart that Brian K. Vaughan is able to impart in his books is astounding.  This issue opens with an awkward confrontation between Alana and Marko's parents that ends with Alana left humiliated in a towel alone with her father-in-law. Marko and his mother leave the spaceship to save Izabel (who was banished by Marko's mother) and we learn a jaw-dropping secret about Marko's father.  I don't think I will ever have the ability to state how beautiful, funny, and suspense filled this book is.  Coupled with Fiona Staple's art, this is one of the must have titles of the year.


The Rest:

All-New X-men #1 - Brian Michael Bendis has been tasked with tackling the X-Men arc following the aftermath of the Phoenix incident.  With the rebirth of mutant-kind from Phoenix, Scott Summers, Magneto and Emma Frost are rounding up new mutants before the human authorities can get their hands on them.  The one downside, his exploits are being televised and there is concern this will impact human-mutant relations.  Hank McCoy is afraid that his next mutation is going to kill him and he wants to complete one more good deed before he dies.  This deed, travel back in time and bring the Scott Summers of the original X-Men to the present day for a pep talk with his new self.  Intriguing story line and solid first issue.  I'm in.

Batman #14 - As long as Scott Snyder is writing Batman I will be reading it.  The Court of Owls was amazing and Death in the Family is off to a fast and furious start.  Batman finally learns that Alfred is kidnapped, Commissioner Gordon is poisoned, and the Joker has vowed to kill the rest of the family using Batman himself.  This is going to be one hell of a ride.

Hoax Hunters #5 - As someone new to this title I found this book very enjoyable.  A simple, but fun story that introduces the reader to the Hoax Hunters world and what it entails.  We are provided the story of the Jersey Devil and how the Hoax Hunters team not only successfully swept that under the rug, but provided some back story on how Jack Lawson was really part of this team before he knew it.  Seems like a great starting point for new readers like myself.

Punk Rock Jesus #5 - With only one more issue left to go in Sean Murphy's epic tale of the second coming of Jesus, J2 is reunited with Thomas and the two begin to plot how to take down Slate and his cronies.   J2 and his punk band, the Flak Jackets won a Nobel Peace prize for their efforts furthering science and helping the poor.  Through a chilling flashback we learn why Thomas left the IRA and has such a soft spot for children.  This issue ends with the Flak Jackets embarking on a final show at Jerusalem.  Can't wait to see how this one ends!

Walking Dead #104 - Wow does Kirkman know how to keep the reader hooked.  Negan and his men drive triumphantly home and Rick is left with his group disappointed in his apparent surrender.  I don't know if anyone is as disappointed as Carl who attempts to take things into his own hands.  One thing is clear, this current arc is not going to end pretty. 

Mind MGMT #0 -In this one-shot, we are treated to Meru's investigation of Mind Management and we learn about past agents spanning all the way back to World War I.  There are whispers of Henry and the usual Mind Management psychic techniques.  Not my favorite issue of the bunch, but a fun issue nonetheless.  Matt Kindt continues to deliver a physical comic that is worth your money.  The watercolor format is simply stunning.  I can't wait for arc #2.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

We Rank 'Em: Best/Worst James Bond Villain Schemes

I think most fans of the franchise will agree that for the scheme of a James Bond villain to be truly excellent, it must also be totally insane. Pinky, the Brain, Dr. Evil, and Doofenshmirtz all owe their raison d'etre to this particular loop and swirl in the James Bond signature. Some of the less-memorable Bond villains are just your run-of-the-mill megalomaniacal low-lives -- your drug dealers, your assassins, your circus...troupe...somethings? -- but the best of the bunch are dangerous, bizarre men with unreasonable resources and legions of people who inexplicably do their bidding.
Here at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together, we like things that come in sixes, and if they don't come in sixes, we jam that haxagonal peg into whatever round hole we see fit and call it a day. With that in mind, I give you the six Best/Worst/Most Insane/Totally Awesome schemes for world domination from the James Bond movies.

And yes, you may be pondering what I'm pondering, but nylons chafe me so...

6. From Russia With Love
There's nothing particularly outlandish about the scheming going on in this the second of the James Bond films, because they hadn't really hit their stride and figured out the formula yet. But after James Bond killed Dr. No in the first movie, Dr. No's cronies in evil cabal SPECTRE decide that Bond must be killed and embarrassed. They want to do this by secretly filming Bond shagging a Russian spy, and making plans to release the fabled Bond Sex Tape. The irony, of course, is that Bond has throughout the series shagged more Russian spies than are are -istans in the former Soviet bloc. It would be like someone trying to discredit me by leaking a video of me typing this blog post.

5. Tomorrow Never Dies
In this movie, a thinly veiled Rupert Murdoch (called Eliot Carver) wants to start a war so that his media empire can drum up better ratings. This is actually not so crazy, since The Spanish-American War was brought to us by William Randolph Hearst, who was then himself thinly veiled in a movie.

4. You Only Live Twice
Ernest Stavro Blofeld, you nut. Bond's arch-nemesis throughout the late 1960s, this bald, facially scarred criminal mastermind ran SPECTRE and dreamed up great ideas like capturing U.S. and Soviet satellites and stashing them away in the volcano where he lives and works. Yep, volcano. As it turns out, Dr. Evil only had to be exaggerated ever so slightly to turn Blofeld into a comedy character. After capturing the satellites, Blofeld was going to make sure each side blamed the other for his shenanigans, therefore creating a power vacuum into which SPECTRE could step.



3. Moonraker/On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Both of these movies involve elaborate and nonsensical plans to create super-diseases that the Bond villains (Hugo Drax and Blofeld again, respectively) develop, before leveraging their potentially genocidal capabilities to extort what they want from the British government. What's great about Bond is that in his world, the British government is still a world power. That may be one of the nuttier fixations of the Bond villains as a therapy group.

2. A View to a Kill
Max Zorin sure has a sufficiently dumb plan for world domination, unfortunately he's not so creative. His plan is pretty much the same as Lex Luthor's from Richard Donner's Superman. He wants to set off some bombs in California in order to cause a bunch of earthquakes, thus dominating the burgeoning tech industry in Silicon Valley. In many Bond films, the villains plan on detonating nukes, but in this movie, the nukes are only a means to a larger end, the finger-flick in a giant Pacific Rim game of Mousetrap.

1. Goldfinger
The accepted wisdom is still that Goldfinger remains the most iconic of the James Bond movies, and the villain's plot for world domination is no less iconic. Auric Goldfinger wants to gas all of the guards at Fort Knox and detonate an atomic bomb inside the vaults in order to irradiate the United States' gold supply, making it worthless and rendering his own cache of the sparkly stuff more valuable. What Goldfinger didn't take into account though, apart from James Bind's infallibility, is that if you dangle enough gold in front of people, they don't care if it's poisoned, cursed, wrenched from a dead man's grasp, whatever, they'll take it.