Friday, December 23, 2016

Season Updates

In the real world, I've been out of employment for five months. Part of a small layoff at my old job at a company I'd been at for nineteen years. 

I have recently found new employment in a contract position with Medline. Pay is great but no benefits. 

It's also a bit out of the way compared to my old job. Instead of fifteen minutes, it's roughly an hour there and another hour back. 

My initial work was Monday-Friday doing the regular training and learning bits. During this time I've had to create documentation because for many things, it was all hand delivered. Always a poor way to handle issues. 

This relying on subject matter experts though isn't a new thing. It was a common sight at the old job too. Only a handful of people knowing how to do a thing without it being documented.

With me on board, there are two other new hires. We've all been doing our share of recording things.

And it's not that current employees are unfriendly. No, they are relatively so. But they're not teachers. When they go to show you how something is done, it's zip zip zip. No screenshots, no written documentation, no waiting while you write things down because they are handling vital issues, so it makes thing difficult to ensure that you've got every step necessary down. 

This makes things a bit more challenging then they need to be.

There are some things documented. The documentation in those areas is very handy. Well written and generous use of screen shots. 

But sometimes it's wrong. And it's copy protected so we can't update it. So you wind up making a copy of it for your personal use and anytime the correct file does get changed, you're now out of synch. Minor things but telling things.

The job uses PL/SQL, and it's been a challenge to take my MS Access skills to this field. Fortunately, I've always studied SQL because there are some things in MS Access that you still need SQL to do. And I've always been interested in "big data" and databases in general. It's a good way to organize things.

So long story short, I've been busy with a new job.

I'm still reading comics, still reading books. Lately, those books have veered away from fiction and into non-fiction. Some interesting results there. Did see Rogue One and will definitely have to post about that soon.

Anyway, I hope the holidays are treating everyone well and that everyone is ready for 2017 to be a better year than 2016. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Thor: Thunder In Her Veins

I read my comics in digital format for the most part. I buy comics when they are on sale.  Getting a comic for $2.99 seems a good deal to me! 
Let me start with the art. Great stuff. It's not the best I've ever seen Thor. I've been reading comics since the late 70s. I've seen George Perez, Walter Simonson, John Buscema, John Bryne. Art is subjective and this may be some people's personal interpretation. It's fun stuff, and I like it. 

Next, let me talk about the writing. There are crisp bits that stand out. The whole title "Thunder in Her Veins" is a play off of the situation the Thor finds herself in. See Thor is Jane Foster. 
Jane has a long history with Thor. A former love interest, a former nurse, a former doctor, and now a cancer patient. She is not doing well. But the writing. "The flesh is weak but the thunder is strong" is solid. 

The whole cancer thing? This aspect of the character bores me to tears. It bores me for the same reason the "Odinson" losing an arm bores me. It bores me for the same reason anytime Vision is physically destroyed. Anytime Wolverine is injured. It's meaningless. 
She has cancer because she chooses to have cancer. That's it. In a world of gods and magic and various cures for anything, for Jane to have cancer is a weak plot device.
Thankfully the series doesn't use it too much. In most of the collection, Jane is Thor.
The series works the war of the Asgard mythology worlds. The dark elves, the light elves, the trolls, the fire giants, the frost giants and of course, Asgard.
In the middle of all this? The new and the hunted Thor.  
Outside of Jane's cancer, the 'boring' stuff continues to be the choice of characters. Cul the 'Serpent' wasn't that interesting when a whole event was dedicated to him. Here he comes off as more boring if possible. More useless. If he's pulling Odin's strings, it'll be even more worthless and wasted. His whole "Corps" of the hammer using individuals who look like Thor wannabes from the late 80's metal hair band even worse.

Odin being an ass in and of itself continues to be annoying. It's not that he should "NEVER" be such, it's just it's been done so many times. Do we really need it again? 
Now Thor being a legacy character has a lot of history. This, however, is an interesting mix as there is Jane's personal history, and then the history of the 'Odinson.' Sometimes they correlate in interesting ways. 
For example, one of the Odinson's oldest foes is his adopted brother Loki. Jane has suffered many times at the hands of Loki since she was Thor's love interest.
So when the two meet?
 It doesn't go well.
This is a recurring theme for the new Thor. Acting out with initial violence or being perceived to do such.
In an interesting twist on things, Loki, in part due to his popularity in the Avenger's movie and of course, his role in the Thor movie, and in the first resurrection of Thor back into the Marvel universe in the first place, Loki has gone through MANY changes.

He's been Loki: Agent of Asgard . He's been Kid Loki, a member of the Young Avengers.  He's been good, bad, and everything between.

One of the most interesting takes, though, is when the new Thor meets this version of Loki.

This is a version that does surprisingly well in this new battle between Thor and Loki.

The top notch art and the solid storytelling make it a fight worth remembering and one that would be hard to beat if this collection didn't quickly surpass it.

So another one of those classic fights, "Thor vs. Odin" right up to bat! And man, I love that bottom panel. Captures the energy just right.

And this full splash page? Another great example of why I'm enjoying the art in this collection. You can feel the blows!

Thor vs Odin is often a one sided fight. It's usually one that Thor quickly loses. But the 'new' hammer seems to have several tricks of its own. I'm almost wondering if the hammer is possessed by 'the real' Odin and that it's moving on it's own ways and methods.

And regarding Loki and character growth? Who knows what games he's playing. He's written remarkably well here. The complexity hinted at in the blow.

I can get why some people don't like "Thor" as a woman without a name change but peeps, I tell you, you're missing some great classic comics. Solid art, solid writing, and while I'm not a huge fan of everything, there's more than enough to get me waiting for the next collection.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

My Hero Academia Vol 1

I like Super Heroes.

I like anime.

So a series about a preteen in a world of superheroes where something like 80% of the population has a super ability and he does not, but he wants to be an actual hero comes out, I'm interested.

So +Hulu has My Hero Academia season one available to stream.

And hey, Amazon had the first volume of the Manga on sale.

So for those who are curious, the manga and the anime follow each other pretty closely.

It also ties into the recent posts of legacy, of passing down values or taking values and bringing them to a new generation.

Midoriya is a youth in a world of 'quirks.' These 'quirks' tend to fall into the useful to the useless. They are similar to 'mutant' abilities in the Marvel Universe but are often highly augmented by technology. Much like the other series, Bunny & Tiger, there are heroes who do it for the money, those who do it for the popularity, and those, like All Might, the blonde United States Hero, the most powerful of them all, who does it because it's the right thing to do.

Now the thing about 'quirks' is like in DC or Marvel, there's the technology factor. When you get super smart people, for example, you get technology that goes way beyond anything available in the 'real' world. This means cloning, genetic modification, etc... So there's a bit of that going on as well.

Midoriya though, has no quirk. This is devastating for him because he grew up watching All Might and had a serious case of hero worship. Of doing the right thing. Of being an actual hero, not for the money, not for the popularity, not for the arrogant righteousness of it, but to help others.

Despite not having a quirk, and being teased relentlessly by former friend Bakugo, a youth with an impressive quirk who himself dreams of being a big hero, mainly for the popularity, to set new roads and records for himself, Midoryia keeps dreaming. He takes notes. He observes how super hero fights go, how tactics work.

And then he gets to met All Might. It's amusing to note that even the character recognizes that All Might is "drawn in a totally different style," a less than sublet nod to western comics.

Midoryia flat out asks All Might if he can be a hero. All Might tells him to not become a super hero but rather, become a police man or something that does help people.

And then he surprises All Might with his bravery and his actions, going to save Bakugo from a super villain.

All Might decides that Midoriya will be his pupil and that thanks to All Might's own unique quirk, "All For One", a quirk that can be passed down to others, Midoriya is back in action and has the potential to be one of the greatest heroes of all.

All Might does this because he is in Japan originally to find an appropriate heir. In a previous battle, All Might was badly injured and cannot stay in his quirk form for long and his powers are fading. His nonquirk form is less than flattering.

Midoriya, by being like All Might, inspired by All Might indeed, is just the type of hero that All Might is looking for. Even without quirks, with no thought to his own safety, Midoriya charged in to save someone else's life.

This impresses All Might.

And as a reader, I was impressed by how All Might works with Midoriya. How he gives him a plan to let Midoriya accept the All For One power without it destroying him. How he works with him in almost all things. It's great to see an actual mentor-apprentice relationship where

My Hero Academia is a fun title that like it's characters, has it's share of quirks. For example, if Midoriya never wept again, I'd be impressed. The kid has more tears than Steven from Steven Universe, which is damn impressive.

The art is solid. The storytelling solid. There are elements going on in the background that are building up. If you have Hulu, check it out, otherwise check out the manga it's based on. Fun stuff.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Creed (2015)

Lately, it seems I've been on passing the torch theme.

In Kevin Smith's Green Hornet, it's from father to son.

In Project Superpowers, it's the same characters taken out of commission magically and brought to the present day where they are sorely needed.

In Creed, it's the illegitimate son of professional boxer Apollo Creed coming of age and seeking out a mentor who knew his father in a way that only professional fighters would as Adonis Johnson Creed gains tutelage under the skillful hands and eyes of none other than Rocky Balboa, whom Creed affectionately calls "Unc."

The young Creed does a great job of being both outcast and silver spoon child. His youth finds him in a prison center for children separated from others for his continuous fighting. In walks Mary Anne, wife of Apollo Creed, and offers to take in the youth.

For those, like me, who've forgotten, Mary Anne is Apollo's wife. Adonis is not her son. It turns out Apollo had an affair and this son was born after Apollo died.

Mary Anne raises Johnson in style, providing him with a good life. Life much better than Rocky himself enjoyed at the end due to those issues he suffered in Rocky V. Still, Johnson isn't happy with a desk job and spends time fighting in Mexico where his record is 15-0 with those 15 victories being knockouts.

Quitting his day job, he seeks out Rocky for "real" mentoring. Rocky's reluctance to enter the ring in any guise again quickly folds under the determination and spirit he sees in Johnson. Soon the two are working as one with Johnson gaining greater skill under his teacher's watchful eye.

The impressive thing here is how Stallone pushes himself into the background. If you've seen Stallone's other recent movies, you know that despite his age, he's in fantastic shape. In Creed, there's none of that. He's well hidden and concealed behind layers and layers of clothes. This allows actor Michael B. Jordan to shine as Creed.

After bonding with the training, the opportunity comes for young Creed to start his professional career. Boxing is, after all, a business. Adonis claims another KO victory. This prompts more attention onto him, especially when people learn that he is the son of Apollo Creed. He'd been fighting under Adonis Johnson up to that point.

His "rival" in this instance has some build up. One of the professionals that Adonis fought early in the film laid him out soundly. That professional in turn was knocked out at a weight in by the fighter that now Creed has the opportunity to fight: Pretty Colan.

I've mentioned before how showcasing the strength of an enemy can be done by destroying a formerly shown strong rival to the hero? Yeah, hook, line, and sinker here. Colan's so strong he breaks the other guy's jaw at a weigh in. Scary right?

But Colan is going to jail for gun possession. To earn extra money, a fight with a "Creed", even if he is young and untested in the professional ring, is seen as a sure thing.

And this leads into more training!

Now on some levels, there are obvious callbacks to the original Rocky movie. The unknown against the great champ. The theme of "going the distance." The idea of mentors and their values. The numerous training montages. These are all solid devices.

But the film goes a little further in character development. Adonis is no Rocky. He's had a different life. While there has been the struggle, especially in acceptance of never getting to talk to his real father, he later young life was a breeze in comparison. His training under the legendary Rocky is no small thing either.

But the film pushes further. Rocky becomes a sort of father figure for young Creed. But is also diagnosed with Cancer and after seeing the treatments fail to help his wife, Rocky declines them, prepared for death.

Adonis and Rocky decide they will fight together! It's an interesting choice as they don't shy too much from the effects of chemo and the damage it causes to both the physical aspects of a person, or the appetites of a person. Especially telling when it's an Italian who's been shown to enjoy eating rich food.

Creed has some technical bits that were off when I viewed it. The use of Green Screen is blatantly obvious in the last fight where the two boxers are clearly the only thing in the actual room and everything else has been added afterward.

But that's a minor complaint in all. I suspect as the screens get better, especially with Ultra Definition or HD 4 or whatever professionals are calling it now, those flaws in old movies will only be more obvious. It'll be like watching DVDs of old 50's horror movies and laughing at how obvious it all seems.

I'm not a sports fan but Creed is a worthy addition to the Rocky series and sets up things to move forward with or without Rocky as a contributing cast member. If you've enjoyed the original Rocky and the recent version of it where Rocky is older but still fighting, Creed is in that vein.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Project Superpowers

Project Superpowers is a collection that updates numerous super heroes from an older time and generation to the "now". It's renown for it's covers provided by Alex Ross, whose painted realistic style is highly appealing to many fans.

Jim Krueger and Alex Ross worked on the storyline. The interior illustrations are provided by Doug Klauba and Stephen Sadowski in the initial issue, while Carlos Paul takes over for the rest of the series.

Project Superpowers is an interesting take on the super hero world. Unlike say, Marvel or DC, as it's a separate setting, it doesn't have to worry about setting continuity. It doesn't have to worry about looking like "the real world."

And it doesn't.

While there are superficial resemblances, wars are fought by animated undead soldiers. Some of the most popular and powerful people of the time, are actually robots. A whole city is coopted by a mystic and his connection to nature that allows him to turn the city into a new green paradise that the Swamp Thing could only dream about.

All told, it does the job well. It manages to modernize the heros through the use of Pandora's Chest. See, there were rumors that evil would be captured in the chest, but only if you captured the good with it.

So one of the heroes "nobly" captures all of his friends and comrades into the "Chest". Not everyone went into the chest. Some are assumed dead. In the time between the "chest" and the current era, other heroes have risen using technology.

Skip decades ahead to the modern times where hey, the world is still filled with evil and there are still bad things happening.

So the chest is opened again and those who emerge from it,  do so in different locations with different abilities in this modern world.

It's a good "time skip" cheat that works here because this is it's own setting. Doing something like this with save, all the popular characters of a particular setting might reek or bad plotting in a larger or more involved setting.

If you're a fan of Alex Ross, the series is worth looking over just for the covers. If you're a fan of the Golden Age Heroes, many of those that are in the public domain make their modern entrance here. It's a fun done in one style story that can provide a lot of ideas on how to bring characters from the past into the current setting.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Kevin Smith's Green Hornet

One thing you can say about Dynamite is that they're not afraid to try different things in their story line. Kevin Smith's Green Hornet, also known as Green Hornet Legacy, is proof of that.

First, it makes the Green Hornet story a multi-generational one. It takes the hero out of his pulp legacy era. The original Green Hornet, Britt Reid Sr, makes a major crime bust destroying the last of the "big gangs" that inhabited the city. Britt decides to settle down with his wife and young son and continue working at the paper.

His son, Britt Reid Jr., spoiled and wanting nothing, does nothing with his life. Britt Reid would be suffering from what Malcolm Gladwell would call the bottom of the reversed U-shaped effect of parenting in David Vs Goliath.

Until an aging politician on the outs makes a deal with the devil resulting in a new villain, the Black Hornet, emerging and killing Britt Reid Sr.

Motivated unto action, at last, Britt Reid Jr becomes... yeah, the Green Hornet.

The original Kato has a daughter, Mulan. She not only becomes the new Kato,  but she also becomes the new driver of the Black Beauty. Her design and introduction has fans and haters.

The introduction of a female minority lesbian character should be all thumbs up to some, but then, of course, it's a comic book so...

The new duo then goes on to fight crime much as the original pair.

Sounds simple enough right?

But Kevin makes it a little more intelligent than that.

The 'villains' of the piece, Oni Juuma and his son, Hirohito Juuma, play up many of the traditional roles against trope. The attack against the original Green Hornet? The introduction of the Black Hornet? The "criminal" elements put into place?

All if it merely a sideshow for the capture of a powerful military weapon to be sold on the black market. The whole elaborate "revenge" bit only done ot get attention. To have people looking at one place instead of another.

Now Kevin does fall into a bit of a rut in the magical thinking routine. When Oni Juuma at the end notes his rage at having his deal fall apart because the Green Hornet has cost him millions, it harkens back to Austin Powers.

In Austin Powers, there's a scene where a newly awoken Dr. Evil demands "one million dollars" only to learn his corporation makes over nine billion dollars a year.

While the military jet and it's value and indeed impressive, Hirohito is the head of a game company that just made over three hundred million dollars and is set to produce another game which would probably go even further. So... if it's ALL about the money, all about the sleight of hand to get the money, why bother with the jet in the first place?

There's also a distinct lack of mothers. While Reid Jr does have a mother, she makes a handful of appearances and dies offstage of cancer. The Black Hornet? Kato? Wives or mothers? What? Nah. Skip all that.

Kevin's might be a little aware of it, though. After all, Hirohito, the son, the one who goes out as "The Black Hornet" is more about the "personal" satisfaction bit. How the Green Hornet took from him, from his family, and how that needs avenging.  The clash of emotional carthasis versus the need for cash is powerful.

Kevin Smith's original run of the Green Hornet is great. It's complete in it's telling. If you're looking to see examples of how pulp heroes of yesteryear can change to modern times, you could do worse than Kevin Smith's Green Hornet.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Samurai Trilogy (1954-1956)

With the  Criterion Collection leaving Hulu, I wanted to get a last peak (on the streaming service at least) of the Samurai Trilogy. Based on the samurai Musashi the trilogy follows the samurai from his youth as a glory hungry strong man to a wandering ronin committed to mastering the soul of a samurai itself.

The first movie, Musashi Miyamoto, is in its way, the first steps of the "origin" story. As a young man, Takezo is strong and dreams of acknowledgment by his peers in the village. He is proud, headstrong, and known as the "wild one" by his family. He talks his friend Matahachi into going with him into "the Great Battle."

His side loses.

Takezo and Matahachi recover with the aid of a widow and her daughter. Romantic inclinations don't work as anticipated and the widow takes off with her daughter and Matahachi.

Takezo goes through a long route of pain and suffering to let Matahachi's mother and betrothed know that Matahachi is alive but will not be coming back. This leads to Otsu, the former betrothed, falling in love with Takezo.

The problem is that to get to the mother and Otsu; Takezo did numerous illegal things of which he eventually is held accountable for. This results in him spending three years in a castle against his will in what would be a flashback scene today, because, at the end of that time, Takezo is now Musashi and is ready to walk the warrior's road on training.

The second movie, Duel at Ichijoji Temple, follows Musashi as he becomes more refined. At first, a monk sees him in a duel and notes that Musashi is "too strong." While we see Musashi's work, Sasaki Kojiro is also introduced. Another noted samurai, another noted sword saint. Their paths follow separate but similar roads.

Musashi's testing of his mettle leads him against the Yoshioka school. The students there seek to protect their master, to ensure the good name of the school. It goes badly for them. Musashi cuts through their ranks until the ending where the leader of the Yoshioka school, Seijuro, manages to meet Musashi for their agreed upon duel.

Mushashi easily overcomes Seijuro but leaves him alive, recalling the earlier observations about being "too strong".

When we get to the third movie, Duel at Ganryu Island, Musashi is a changed man. Still a slave to his passion for sword mastery but no longer interested in the material wealth or the social status aspect of that mastery. Meanwhile, Sasaki Kojiro has risen in the social sphere and his own swordwork remains peerless.

Which leads to a final confrontation with Musashi.

The movies today would be different in numerous ways. First, the action sequences would be far more bloody. Part of the "entertainment" value of these old films for me is watching all of the people "killed" and falling dead while the blows that struck them such clearly didn't touch.

Another thing that would be different is the dialogue. For a three movie set, there is surprisingly little dialog.

If you're a fan of the actor Toshiro Mifune, no study of the actor is complete without this old classic. If you're a fan of Usagi Yojimbo, you'll note some familiar names like the squire Jotaro, or the themes of wandering ronin testing their skills against an established school. You'll note the treatment of a samurai's sword as if it were the samurai's soul.

The Samurai Trilogy isn't the best set of films in the genre. It's not going to surpass Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, or numerous others. But it is a solid gem of the genre and it's also an excellent showcase of how films were made at the time.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Stagecoach (1939)

Continuing my Criterion Collection viewing before they leave +Hulu , next up was Stagecoach. It's not a movie I would have picked originally as while I do enjoy westerns, my enjoyment of the Criterion Collection is usually through their Samurai films.

But I'd heard rave reviews for years about Stagecoach and decided to pop it in.

What a rewarding experience.

First, if you're a young person, you should occasionally throw on an old movie, and I don't mean from the 80s, I mean from the 50s, 40s 30s or earlier. You should do this just to see what life was like in the days and times. The vernacular, the clothing, the attitudes, no matter what the people on stage are trying to portray, are the elements of the time the films were made.

Stagecoach provides the viewer with a brief meeting with nine individuals and their travels aboard a stagecoach. Each one with their own motivations for being on it. Each time they board it, they are in a dangerous territory and the resources protecting them grow fainter and fainter until they are all alone.

There is a lot going on and most of the characters get several moments to shine.

Much of it would still be relevant in today's society. For example, When Doc Boone tells Peacock that he served as a doctor in the Union Army during the "War of the Rebellion," Hatfield quickly uses a Southern term, the "War for the Southern Confederacy." The "wounds" of the war were still relatively fresh when this movie was made. You look around today and it seems nothing has changed.

The banker, Henry Gatewood, tells everyone how everything should be done. Loud and boisterous in demeanor acting as if his words were the words of the people. Until it's revealed that he's a thief, and unlike modern bankers, goes to jail. Well, I suppose modern bankers who, like he did, steal from the bank, would still go to jail... It's a huge flag of the hypocrisy of "I'm better than  you." even though, you know, he's not.

Another citizen, Dallas, is a prostitute who's been driven out of the city by a collection of righteous women under the organization "Law and Order League". So smug and satisfied with themselves that they can't wait for her to leave. 

The culture clashes abound as Dallas finds some sympathy with Ringo, played by a very young John Wayne here. As an escaped outlaw, Ringo's use for social classes is negligible. He treats everyone like people, responding to aggression with aggression for example.

And there are other bits. For example, Geronimo. His name holds sway over the entire trip like a powerful harbinger of terror. His mere name alone enough to cause men to tremble.

The variety of nationalities is present too, as when in one town, a Mexican is married to a Native American and notes that it's safer for him than for the others as he's already in the "family". Doesn't work out too well for him when his wife leaves and takes his possessions, including his prized horse who, it turns out, he loves and values more than his wife!

With the tricks of the trade in filming today, Stagecoach is ripe for a modern day remake. A full-color version that could capture the rocky plains, that could capture the rocky buttes , the isolation between towns and that last seat clenching battle as the Apaches and the Stagecoach riders fight tooth and nail against one another for survival.

Stagecoach has a variety of great characters that make great models. It has a variety of great scenery that can be inspiring. It has cultures clashing and numerous viewpoints coming together and falling apart in waves with no clear resolution.

Catch it before it leaves Hulu or on Blu-ray.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Cronos (1993)

With the Criterion Collection leaving +Hulu soon, I'm catching up on movies I haven't seen in years or haven't seen at all.

Cronos, a film by Guillermo del Toro, better known for Hellboy and other "weirdness", was next on that list.

Short review? Set in the modern era, an old man, Jesus Gris, in charge of a shop buys an old statue that contains an odd device. The device belonged to an ancient alchemist who'd crafted the device to grant eternal life. Unfortunately for the alchemist, that didn't include being crushed and vital organs pierced! Hence the alchemist items wind up for sale and this statue winds up in the old man's shop.

The story follows what happens when someone else seeks out the item and what happens when you play with ancient secrets without the instructions. It's not Guillermo's strongest work but it's a solid film and is worth viewing.

For role playing games, it brought to mind two bits.

1) Jane Stop This Crazy Thing! Jesus initial exposure to the device was accidental. Future exposures were deliberate. He does this without knowing what exactly he's doing and he suffers quite a bit for it. In post-apocalyptic settings or fantasy settings with their share of weird technology, don't be afraid to throw negative side effects into the game when players don't' bother trying to learn how to use an item.

2)Origin of the Species: The villain of the piece, the recluse and wealthy De La Guardia, notes how wonderful insects are. How versatile they are. He compares the miracles of Jesus to those of insects. But the device itself? The one crafted by the alchemist? Well, it grants you immortality, aging wise at least, by forcing the immortal to drink human blood.

It's a wonderful play off of the vampire origin and could be a fantastic way to do things in a role playing game. Forget getting bit by a vampire. Forget necromancers and their rites. It's a bug. A huge weird bug that lives in symbiosis with the user.

Keep an open mind when you're watching movies, reading books, looking at comics, and listening to others. Inspiration for thing different strikes when you least expect it.

For those readers with Hulu, any recommendations on the Criterion Collection? Any favorites? Any to avoid at all costs?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Seventh Seal (1957)

The Criterion Collection is leaving +Hulu . The Halloween season is upon us.

So The Seventh Seal seemed an appropriate movie.

For those who've never seen it, you should. Highly recommended.

It's one of Ingmar Berman's masterpieces. A crusader, Antonius Block, returning home from 10 years of war in the Crusades, during the time of the Black Death, is weary of spirit and sees a personification of Death who has come for him. Here we see perhaps the first use of Death playing a game to delay the inevitable.

This methodology was put to great comedic effect in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. I'd forgotten when I saw Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, that they cribbed even the look of Death from The Seventh Seal.

As a personification, Death here is, well, mild. He knows he has all the time in the world. He plays with Antonius and is in turned "played" by the crusader, but the viewer never knows if those plays by Antonius are successful or just Death allowing them to appear such.

As a personification, it could be "higher" than the Gods in a standard fantasy campaign. It doesn't need to be malicious like Bhaal or other Death Gods tend to be in the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk. It's just something that happens.

Antonius Block is an interesting character if one were to look for inspiration for role-playing traits and motivations.

The later leads into the former.

Antonius is tired of NOT hearing God. He's always questioning. He's always seeking that big truth. He seeks it from Death, who remains silent on the matter. He seeks it from the Church, which provides no answers. He seeks it from fellow pilgrims and travelers. He is always questioning the overall purpose and arc of life itself, of his life itself. This questioning provides a tragic frame to Antonius, much like Warlock from Marvel Comics or Elric, seeking to fight his nature but being trapped in the world, must eventually yield to it.

His squire, Jons, is a man of the real world. He knows what life is and it's not happy. Described as a nihilist, he nonetheless isn't evil. He saves a woman from being raped and killed for example. He sees evil being done and would rise against it to another woman condemned to die as a witch. He merely sees things the way he thinks they are and is frank about it. This stoic nature makes him a great contrast to his seeking master.

There's also the setting. The Black Plague is everywhere. People die from it frequently. It's referenced as the end of the world. It sets the stage for a death that cannot be reasoned with. Cannot be bargained with. A death that strikes noble knight and lowly leper with equal ease.

Then there's the background of where the knight's coming from, the Crusades and 10 years of war. During the trip back to the knight's manor, Jon finds the priest who convinced his master to go to the Crusades in the middle of stealing from the dead and about to rape and murder a servant girl. Jon is not happy. His master's demeanor changed by the horrors of war and he lets the fallen priest know, should they meet again, Jon will mark the priest so others know what a liar and fiend he is.

These huge events, the Black Plague, and the Crusade, showcase how vast and uncaring the world is. There can be several things going on in your campaign at the same time and they should all have an impact to those that must experience them.

There is no raising one's hands and begging enough. There is no exception for already having suffered from one calamity. There is just life and the events that must be endured.

This is a movie I could watch again and again. The black and white filming, the nature of the questor and his stoic squire, the background characters, the threat of plague, the damnation of a man spent 10 years in war... it's all powerful stuff and well told.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Scanners (1981)

I found out that the Criterion Collection. is leaving +Hulu.

It's also almost Halloween.

That means time to watch some appropriate holiday movies.

One of my favorites, one I saw in the theaters as a preteen at 10, was Scanners.

Scanners offer a lot to both Game Masters and Players.

For Game Masters

1. Plot Twists: Some of these are cliche, but they are cliche for a reason. That reason? Sometimes they work. For example, imagine having a mentor for your character that turns out is his father? Imagine an arch enemy that is your brother! What a shocker!

2. Organizations: The bit in the movie that quickly gets overlooked, is that the "Scanner" program was designed as a weapon program and during it's initial viewing many high-end buyers, six individuals killed, one quite spectacularly.

In almost any modern day setting, that would cause quite a stir. In the modern Marvel Universe setting, or any role playing super hero game using the modern setting, there would be a quick search into the matter.

How did this happen? What's the origin point? Are there more of them?

For Players

1. Character Outlook: When first found, the protagonist is living in the street. Unable to fend for himself. His powers are too strong and they cannot be shut off. Typical telepathic problem. But there are other "Scanners" and one of them, after trying to kill his family, has been "rehabilitated by art".

The art this scanner creates is dark and disturbing, often dealing with multiple entities around the skull or with thoughts exploding out of the brain.

What is the mind status of a non-normal character? If you're in a Dungeons and Dragons setting and are a psion, how do you perceive the world about you? Even if you're a lowly fighter, is it more of a Jason Bourne thing where as soon as you enter the room you've objectified everything into ways on escape or ways to kill?

2. Limitations: When first introduced, the protagonist HAS to have a drug to suppress his powers. This leaves him vulnerable. In some game systems like Champions and GURPS, you would buy advantages and disadvantages to represent this about your character. In other games, it becomes a GM ruling. What about limitations makes characters more interesting? It makes them vulnerable.

Even Superman has weaknesses after all.

Scanners isn't high art but as one oDavid Cronenberg's early films, 1981, it is worth watching.

3. Unlikley Powers: There's a scene in the movie where the hero of the movie connects his brain to the
"nervous system" of a computer. Well before hacking was a thing. But how would ESP or
telepathy in the normal sense of the word allow that to work? The Game Master or Player could
easily rationalize it that the powers Scanners have isn't based on telepathy. It's based on control
of reality and that their true limitations are that they only do what they do, because that is the
traditional use of their powers. Only when pushed or when something out of the range becomes
needed, do those powers actually come to a head. The old marvel character, Phoenix, after all,
could control reality with her powers.

For others looking at the Criterion Collection leaving, what movies do you recommend? I've
got the Samurai films on lockdown but am fortunate enough to own most in DVD/Blu-Ray format.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Monster of Frankenstein

Marvel Comics has done more than super heroes for decades. The Monster of Frankenstein takes the old legendary monster and his creator's tale and brings it into the Marvel Universe. This collection includes issues #1-#18 of Monster of Frankenstein, Giant Sized Werewolf by Night #2, the Frankenstein portions of Monsters Unleashed #2, #4-#10, Legion of Monsters #1, and even Marvel Team Up #36-#37.

That's a lot of Monster.

At first, this is done in an independent fashion. The tale starts with a search for the Monster. As the search is conducted, the leader is telling the "original" tale from the novels with a few tweaks here and there.

But this being a monstrous tale, it's also a tale of tragedy and death follows where the monster walks leaving him the only one of the original issues alive.

At the end of that, the Monster is alive and aware but is still out of time. During that period, he fights Dracula, among others, and encounters hatred in many forms. His appearance causes those about him to be frightened.

Interestingly enough, this take of the Monster is intelligent. He can initially speak, but after battling a vampire minion of Dracula and loses his voice for several issues. Probably an homage to the old movies.

In many ways, it's very much a Silver Surfer tale if the Surfer was prone to bursts of murderous rage that was actually carried out. When John Buscema takes over some of the penciling, it's even more mirrored.

This collection includes all of the comics, several of the horror magazines with fantastic black and white artwork. It is during the black and white period, that Frankenstein is pulled into the "modern" era.

Much like Captain America, the Monster goes into a state of suspended animation and can bypass decades at a time.

And the art? On those magazines? No one can say they're not getting their money worth when they can see those pencils and ink work of John.

Most of those told tales, though are self-contained. They don't "hit" the Marvel Universe properly until we get an encounter with "Werewolf By Night"

That's an old take of a classic where the traditional "monsters" wind up meeting and fighting each other.

But that was still a 'corner' of the Marvel Universe, it's not until we get a few issues of Marvel Team Up, an old title from Marvel where Spider-Man would monthly meet different heroes, that we see the Monster in full in the setting, done up by Sal Buscema no less.

Marvel and DC have both had their use of the Monster and while I think lately DC has done a better job with the character, this collection, at least now, was a very reasonable $3.99 and for me, the black and white artwork alone was enough reason to put down the money.

In this Halloween season, The Monster of Frankenstein makes for appropriate reading.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser by Joe Bonadonna

Mad Shadows, The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, is a collection of short stories, told in chronogical order, of the adventurer Dorgo. He is known as a Dowser for the stick he carries.

In short, if you're looking for a mix of "old school" fantasy writing with a dash of noir thrown in, Mad Shadows is a great fit for you. While I was reading through it, I kept thinking how sword and sorcery it was, without being a Conan pastiche.

After I had finished, looking over the afterword, it was cinched. The author is a fan of other authors like Raymond Chandler and David C Smith. The latter might be unknown to audiences of 2016, but when I was growing up, he wrote blood-soaked tales of barbarians. Sadly, Oron and other tales are not available in Kindle format (yet) so I'll have to hunt down some works next time I'm at the half-priced books.

The author describes his style of writing as gothic noir. Fits well enough in a fantasy world where magic is a thing but isn't magic of the high or epic nature you'd see in say, The Wheel of Time or a Forgotten Realms novel.

The world Dorgo inhabits is a bit of Thieves World in that his city is "the city" in a way. It's a corrupt place where officers try to guard the inhabitants against bad things, but there are so many bad things that they are often forced to seek specialized help, such as Dorgo himself.

The people of Dorgo's world range from a variety of human ethnic nationalities to minotaurs, cyclops, fauns and others, but no elves who are seen as mystical. Now that later part may just be language as just because we haven't seen any elves in this volume, there are no elves in the setting at all.

Dorgo is a bit of a hard luck loser regarding his character. It's not that he's incompetent but unlike many modern heroes, he lacks the ultra competency in one field that allows them to dominate. He's a former mercenary in an army, and while he can hold his own with a sword, he's not a devastating swordsman.

He's not a magician or priest, but his dowser rod allows him to identify things of a magical or mystical nature. His upbringing in a church-sponsored orphanage gives him knowledge of the religious realm.

In terms of this being "old school", In The Vale of the Black Diamond could be a Conan tale.

There is a quest for a fantastic item.

The item is in a lost or forgotten part of the world.

The flora and fauna of this type of the world are alien and otherworldly.

The item is a power source for an ancient alien race beyond human keen.

The alien race is monstrous and has breed it's own slave race, one which rebels against its master.

Almost all of those who go on the expedition perish horribly.

Now Dorgo himself isn't Conan and suffers many a beat down in the tale. In a true Conan tale, EVERYONE but Conan would die. In some instances, the alien race would've been beaten down by cruel humans whose stolen their magics for their own. But you get the picture. The nuts and bolts of a Robert E Howard story are there just with different lens and it works fantastically.

This volume collects six short tales. If you've picked it up and enjoyed it, which was your favorite tale? Hit me up with a comment.

If you're a fan of that older school of writing and want to see some new tales, or at least some old tales with new characters and settings, Mad Shadows should be on your list.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Thor: The Goddess of Thunder

Thor: The Goddess of Thunder, collects the first five issues of the new female Thor. I'm one of those readers who tends to buy comics electronically when they're on sale. This volume was on sale recently for $3.99. I've heard a lot of the grumbling about it and figured for that price it was worth a look.

Depending on how long you've been a reader, how old you are, and a host of other things, you may hate the whole concept or sit back and enjoy the ride. I'm a tiny bit of the former and a lot of the later.

The whole thing starts off from a few years ago with the forgettable Original Sin. That was where Nick Fury had all the secrets of the Watcher and he acted as "The Man on the Wall" to protect Earth from aliens. A huge retcon.

But Whatever...

During that time, Nick said something to Thor that made him unworthy to hold his hammer. Some time later, the new series, The Goddess of Thunder, kicks up with Thor being unable to lift his hammer. Leaving it on the Moon where it last was.

The author sets up the return of Odin who immediately is portrayed in a negative fashion in several ways. His general rudeness, his hostility towards his wife, and his bringing of the fold of his previously unknown brother, the Serpent, into the ranks of power, make him instantly unlikeable.

Remember, the Serpent is from another older storyline, Fear Itself,  where this previously unknown brother actually KILLED Thor. So yeah, the whole bit there stinks. I kept expecting the Guardians from Green Lantern to show up and be like, "Damn Odin, you make us look good!"

Seriously, Odin is just unlikable here. The only good thing? When he talks to the birds. "I should have baked you into a pie" he pipes at them in one scene.

So Odin is angered that Thor can't lift the hammer and decides to show his son how it's done. In theory, this should work perfectly.

At 44, I've been reading Thor since the late 70s when comics were like a quarter. As I grew older, we got to see Odin do all sorts of things. One of those bits was in the famous Walter Simonson run. Beta Ray Bill has taken the hammer of Thor and been transported to Asgard. Beta Ray Bill is unphased by this and attacks the All-Father with the hammer!

The All-Father catches it.

But hey, it's comics, right? The enchantment could have changed. After all, Thor bound some of his life  force into it with Doctor Strange's help at one point no?

 So what happens when Odin goes to pick up this "new" hammer? Not much.

In terms of the new hero being called Thor?

I see it more of a title at this point than anything else. She wouldn't be the first person called Thor that wasn't the Odinson, she won't be the last person called Thor. After all, we've seen a Thor from the future who wields the hammer.

But not everyone sees it that way. The Absorbing Man probably speaks for more than one person when he battles against the new Thor.

I think the authors enjoyed 'baiting' what they considered trolls but I get the issue. Even with the new star of Iron Man, she's not called Iron Man. But again, it's best to think of "Thor" as a title.

One of the things that may annoy some? The hammer shows itself to have better grace, finesses and well, power under the new Thor than under the Odinson!

Some may see this as nonsense!

But it's actually part of a long established bit to showcase how powerful a character is.

Happens all the time.

If you've read anime or manga, check out Dragonball. Remember when Demon King Piccolo was a top tier villain? Then when it was Piccolo that was a top tier villain? Then it was Vegeta? And every time a new enemy shows up, they usually wind up putting the beat down on one of those old top tier characters.

Marvel used to do this by taking out someone like the Wrecking Crew of the U-Foes and showing how dangerous some new character was. God, they need people to develop some new enemies for the heroes to fight.

Anyway, some people don't like the hammer showing more power for the new Thor, but to me, it's a device well worn and used in many forms of media.

I'm actually more upset by Thor losing his arm. Not being able to wield his favorite hammer, Thor picks up his Celestial killing battle ax (introduced in Uncanny Avengers first run!) and the first thing he does is get his arm cut off.

Odin has the dwarves forge him an arm out of black uru.

This bugs me for a number of reasons.

First, you don't have the luxury of saying, "Well, it's Marvel Earth, but it's still Earth, they can't just regrow his arm!"

It's Asgard! Super science would regrow that, or Odin could just sigh and do it.

But instead, we have to get this stupid thing.

Hey, Odin, why not Tell Thor, "Hey, remember when after your whole Disassembled thing you came back and were smart enough to wear armor? Yeah, since you don't have the hammer, maybe you do that again? Or did you like it so much when Hela gave you that curse and you were forced into sending your soul into the Destroyer that we eventually go that route again?" Mind you we got some cool designs out of it in terms of Thor's armor but man...

How about, "Thor, I love thee, but thou are as smart as a jack ass. I have had this armor of black uru forged to protect thy remaining limbs."

In terms of the new Thor's action sequences, her integrity, her dedication to the cause? The 'readability' of it?

Thumbs up.

Her battling against the Ice Giants, her vocabulary, which is cribbed from Thor's old methodology of speaking, her working with Frigga? Her fight against the Odinson?

All thumbs up.

In terms of Odin, Thor, and the whole "men evil" vibe, or at least "men stupid" vibe? I'm hoping it's lazy writing and Marvel comics is like, "Oh man, it was the Serpent controlling Odin all this time!"

If the other volumes go on sale I'll gladly check them out but as currently, I'm just a poor boy from a poor family, I'll be reading other comics that hit the sales rack.

How about everyone else? Like it? Hate it? Want to see something else? Looking forward to seeing the Odinson in his own split off title where he hunts down the Ultimate Thor's hammer?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Ragnarok: Last God Standing by Walter Simonson

Walter Simonson is probably best known for his work on Marvel Comic's character, Thor. His tales epic in scope and size.

So imagine what happens when he does his own series based on Norse myths? You get Ragnarok and in this collection, Last God Standing, collecting issues 1-6, you get a Thor after Ragnarok, an undead Thunder God. One whose hammer still has power but is designed more like the mythological version with the short handle.

Yes, Thor as an undead god of Thunder. With Walter's traditional touches. He brings the character to life as few could.

In this tale, someone wants Thor gone and sends a dark elf assassin to do the job. It's a nice touch as the dark elves have a long a tradition in Norse mythology. Her comments to others remind me of what an adventurer would be like.

That in and of itself could almost be the start of half of Dungeons and Dragons games the way people online talk.

And Thor himself? Still a god of action.

Walter's art does a fantastic job of selling this new world and this new mythological vision. We see Thor awaken and learn how to deal with this new world. Not as strong as he once was, not as wise as Odin, we see Thor trying to piece together the bits of the new world from what remains of the old world.

One of the most powerful bits to me? When Thor finds the old Well and its seer, Mimir. Like Odin, Thor must sacrifice an eye for knowledge. But after the well is drained? There are two eyes left in it. One Thor's freshly sacrificed eye, the other? The original eye of Odin. Thor places it into his skull to gain his father's knowledge. It's a powerful sight and touching at the same time.

Thor's tragedy here is lain at the reader's feet with every step Thor takes in this new world. When he visits Asgard and sees his dead wife and children? When he uses a Fire Giant's essence to set aflame old Asgard as a proper monument to their time? It shows the weight and cost of Thor's sleep.

But Thor is not the only inhabitant in the world. The Dark Elf assassin had a husband who seeks to finish her work and the hunt is on. Gifted with a cursed sword that must draw blood, Regn and his daughter, Drifa, seek out the Thunder God to bring him down.

This collection ends with Thor in the ruins of Asgard and Regn and Drifa seeking him out with a cursed sword.

In addition to the comics, this collection includes the full covers as well as sketches. Walt's sketches in various degrees of completion. It's a wonder to see the art unfold from one stage to the other.

Right now Last God Standing is part of the IDW sale and is going for $3.99.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Iron Fist: The Return Of K'un Lun

Iron Fist: The Return Of K'un Lun is one of those collections that brings together a lot of mini-series that Iron Fist starred in during the 90's.

Best to remember it was the 90s and later eh?

Lots of lines. Lots of detail. Lots of word dialog boxes. This is taken from the initial story arc where things had to be dark! Dark I say!

It features the first return of Davos, the Steel Serpent. It's a fairly standard no-brainer but it could also be looked at as a herald for future plot lines.

See, last time we saw the Steel Serpent, he was consumed by the Iron Fist, dissipated into the ether. But not so! Instead, he was pulled into "the anomaly," a gem found in K'un Lun. In that Gem, he learned various martial art moves from numerous Iron Fists that were already in the gem. So Danny is apparently not the only Iron Fist there ever was...

After those two issues, we get a three issue limited series that features the return of Danny's 'sister' and some action with the plant men. This is probably the best of the books in here in that the story, written by Dan Jurgen, is fair and the art is solid.  We even get to see Scimitar make an appearance and while it's not spectacular or anything, the fact that the writer even knew enough about Iron Fist to drag him out of retirement is impressive.

After that, we get the title story, it's Iron Fist and Wolverine, which spreads out to the Avengers, various X-Men, and more in The Return of K'un Lun.

The story is decent.

The art? Man, terrible. I'm not an artist. I could draw better than some of the work featured in these issues.

This isn't even the worst of the offenders. Just one I picked at random. Marvel and DC need to start their liberal arts college so that they have a great pool of talent to draw from. Either that of pay more. Something. Ugh.

The story revolves around Iron Fist being captured and his power, the Iron Fist, stripped away from him (again). This time by a youth known as Junzo Muto. In this storyline, he's the leader of the Hand. He's a phenomenal martial artist who easily bests Iron Fist, and apparently took on Night Thrasher and the New Warriors back in the day.

The weird thing is, on the side, I'm thinking, Junzo? Who is this? The Hand has made numerous appearances since this series came out but the kid was nowhere to be seen. It's like Marvel forgot how bad the storyline was and let it go.

Anyway, Junzo was going to merge K'un Lun right atop of Japan's capital city, and use it to take over the world! He gets stopped and manages to escape and even does so with the Iron Fist. From what I've read in other sources, Iron Fist managed to get his abilities back in an issue of the Black Panther, not included in this collection.


The book wraps up with Breathless, another limited series with an okay storyline and even worse art.


I got nothing. Iron Fist runs through many bad guys until he winds up murdering the head of a cult because he can't let him get away to kill again. During the battles, his biggest fight up to that point is probably against "Karen" who fights Iron Fist in a custom that is almost exactly identical to Psylocke's.

All in all, a rather poor collection. Great for completist and those who want to catch up on all things Iron Fist. Story wise better than art wise.

Am I missing something in my assessment? Have others read this and been blown away by its quality and I'm missing some key elements? Have there been some other apperances by the leader of the Hand that qualifies his abscence since these issues? Hit me up with some comments.