Saturday, December 31, 2011

Nujabes Spiritual State

I remember being blown away by the soundtrack for the anime Samurai Champloo…the show was great but the funky music is what pushed me to seek out the musicians. One of them, Japanese producer Jun Seba AKA Nujabes really stuck out with his classical yet new era style and harmonious sound. Not just in his mixing of traditional Japanese instruments but also in his approach to each song as a meal he fed to your ears.

Nujabes was one of the most influential artists I had ever listened to. His untimely death was a loss to those who really loved his ability. While he wasn’t able to finish his last studio album what was completed was released, and it’s a beautiful farewell to an inspiring musician.

Like his work in the past Spiritual State is a fusion of instrumental hip-hop and jazz -- having a downtempo sometimes somber yet an inviting and uplifting sound. The cool combination of piano, saxophone, and jazz flute mix well with the simplistic but rhythmic beats Nujabes produces.

Spiritual State does dabble in the “traditional” hip-hop flavor. Much like his previous albums Pase Rock, and Substantial lend their lyrical talents to a few of the tracks. The poetic flows of Pase and Substantial compliment Jun Seba’s production as if they were made for each other.

Nujabes was the producer I couldn’t get out of my head in college; he not only changed my musical tastes but how I decided to see the world. I’ve never felt more relaxed and at peace with everything then when I listen to his compositions. It’s not just the tone but also the feeling of the melody growing and as the music swells you get wrapped into each song.

An experimental musical mastermind that will be missed dearly: Spiritual State makes me miss times past and makes me look towards the future with hope -- I rank Nujabes among my favorite artists in any medium or form. It’s sad he’s gone but he didn’t leave without making his mark and I’ll always love the music he’s left behind.

Although not easy to come by I suggest seeking out Nujabes other works including my favorite album Departure from the Samurai Champloo official soundtrack. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Animal Man 1 – 4

Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Travel Foreman

On a long hiatus from comics I decided to go with a non-superhero affair. Yes, Animal Man does have inhuman abilities…but from everything I’d been hearing the New 52 Animal Man is a strange trip. I’m laughing now because you’ll never find somebody who reads Animal Man and says, “Yeah I’ve heard that story before.”

Animal Man is surreal creepiness in print. The art may make a person vomit. The color palette and use of said spectrum is minimalistic and beautiful. The actual visual direction is where someone may turn their nose at Animal Man. It’s hard to go a mere two panels without seeing something that looks like a Google search for car crash photos. Grotesque images, blood and exposed organs cover pages like sauce on spaghetti.

It’s most certainly a jump into the abyss of a creative human mind. And mean that in a good way. There’s nothing I can recollect that quite compares to Animal Man artistically; it’s some of the most disturbing physical shots of anything I’ve seen in any medium. Yet it serves to tell the story: it’s not for shock value.

Buddy Baker as the titular character of Animal Man doesn’t know how he obtained his bond with the beast kingdom. Punching criminals in the face was Buddy’s early years. Turning to acting, and even becoming an animal rights activist is his current life. Even without full knowledge or understanding of his ability to copy the innate attributes of any animal, he settles down and starts a family and just tries to live a normal life.

What follows in the first four issues of Animal Man is an Alice in Wonderland like tale – just with a lot of exposed human intestines. From Animal Man’s eyes bleeding profusely, to his daughter using necromancy and sheltering animals raised from their very graves, nothing is ever a non-surprising moment.

Animal Man isn’t for everybody and I honestly don’t have negative or overwhelmingly positive feelings either. The tale to this point has stretched out into another ethereal plan of existence where Animal learns that a war is coming. He’s tasked with protecting “The Red”, a secluded area of existence, from “The Rot” or the infestation that seeks to devour and corrupt. What?

Not that the story is too heady, but it’s out there, really out there -- In some other atmosphere of human consciousness. Or, it’s just difficult to wrap ones head around what Jeff Lemire is going for. Is Animal Man a good story or so off-putting that it will turn people away? I don’t even have an answer myself. It’s an interesting first four trades, nothing is cliché or contrived, it’s all creative. And for that Animal Man is one of the more exceptional new comics from the New 52 DC run.

More than worth a passing glance, Animal Man is among the most unique comics you’ll ever come upon. It’s no bread and butter, man wearing tights and punching goons adventure. Reading Animal Man is like riding in a really nice car…actually, I can’t make any type of analogy that makes any sense to this warped narrative!

Those feeling DC has fallen into a stale rut since launching its new line (I personally only like a handful of the New 52) Animal Man may be the thing that makes you realize why you read these things in the first place…that or you’ll be very uncomfortable reading and looking at each page. Either way Animal Man elicits an aura of imagination and I can’t help but applaud Jeff Lemire – even if I think he was on something while writing this!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Luther Season 2

BBC series Luther Season 2 review

Spanning only four episodes in length – but never feeling short – the second season of the BBC crime drama Luther is overwrought. A condensed season is more than enough to wet the appetite, and then satiate the hunger by the end. While the first two episodes may not have the intensity of the latter, a tense knotted feeling in your gut still permeates each hour-long showing.

How Luther wiggles his way free from consequences from the end of the first season isn’t a focus. We are thrust into a new Bureau (if it’s called such a thing in Britain) and DCI John Luther is once again faced with serial killers and maniacs.

It goes much further. Yes there is a psychopath on the loose; John still has demons (in the form of people he’s helped or hurt in the passed) that constantly haunt him.

It’s the strange pairing of John’s life and his job that guides things forward. Luther’s darker past creeps back to look him in the eyes and ask for help. And Luther, just being a simple man (a brilliant man in many respects) tries to do the right thing…he just gets caught in the wrong places.

The series feels strangely like a film, a long film -- but no less griping. Not every scene is going to steal your breath away. There’s a somber tone drizzled on top that wasn’t there in the first season.

There is a small feeling that no matter how muddy John Luther tends to get himself, he’ll come clean in the end. And while not formulaic, patterns can be inferred upon would a third season be in the works. That doesn’t mean the show struggles to surprise. Far from it. It’s actually quite difficult to see the bread trail leading to our destination.

The show isn’t about who the murderer is. It’s, “how do we get him?” And the finale isn’t’ expected. Really, how each installment could end isn’t evident. One aspect that helps the second season is the audience being more involved in how Luther problem solves. He still thinks internally, and then shows the audience after the fact. It’s less understated this time around, making Luther feel less like a crime stopping savant.

Both the first and second seasons are exceedingly well crafted. It’s not completely without flaws. But they’re so minuscule that I have a hard time giving any examples. 

Luther doesn’t fall into a stale pit of procedural repetition like today’s crime series’. Clocking in at only ten episodes in total, things aren’t drawn out. Events happen, people die, and it needs to stop now. It’s not an ongoing Looney Toon world where there’s dozens of killers – and by keeping things centered on two killers (maybe three if you want to split hairs) an easily digestible pace is formed: where you never feel like things are going to fast for you to either understand or care about.

Idris Elba is becoming an actor I want to see play in everything. He lives in the role, and his emotions are so seeable on his face it’s difficult to not care about him. The spontaneity to how he handles a conversation and his charisma stand out among the others, who in their own right are very good.

It’s also a testament to each writer and script artist. Luther’s mind is like a black hole: you have no idea what’s on the other side, he just reaches out and immediately says or does what he pulls out. How he’ll fair in the end is the real mystery. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mass Effect Invasion #2

Story: Mac Walters
Art: Omar Francia
Script: John Jackson Miller

The war for Omega rages on: Aria T’Loak, de-facto ruler of Omega, teams with the vaunted pro-human organization Cerberus to stop an experiment gone wrong – something Cerberus has done on more than one occasion.

Dark Horse’s Mass Effect four-issue comic is meant to bridge some gaps in between Mass Effect’s 2 and 3 respectively. Telling the fall of Omega, the seedy, lawless space station. It’s more or less a side story that will have larger face value upon Mass Effect 3’s release next year, one would think.

Mass Effect Invasion seems to serve mostly as a companion piece to Mass Effect 3…nothing else can explain the obscenely predictable story. Personally I question the infatuation with Aria T’Loak as a character. Of all the people in the Mass Effect universe to focus on it seems odd that Aria has become a poster for spinoffs. Outside of her constant scowling what is here actual personality? Why her?

It makes following Mass Effect Invasion entirely dependent on your love for the video game franchise. As a standalone comic, it’s flat.

At some point Aria shoots a, that happens.

You do get a few squeezings of things to come. The first two issues just don’t piece together a strong emotional resonance. Why should I care about Omega being taken over? And the betrayal that is so transparent from the start is almost laughably strung out. Cerberus wants Omega. If Aria were so smart she’d see all this as a ruse to get her away from her beloved home.

Everything just feels so stale. From the static art: visuals that just show people standing around with no semblance of any artistic angle to liven up the panel. And dialogue that’s like reading the nutritional facts on a cereal box – I strain my brain trying to figure out the logic for why this, of all the many interconnected stories that could be thrown in between Mass Effect 2 and 3, needed to be told?

I may hold some reserved feelings about the potential ending to his 4-issue comic run: in that I think readers may be surprised when we come to the eventual climax. To this point each panel is dull and the trade as a whole is bland -- Mass Effect, as a series is full of classic Sci-Fi space exploration that keeps you on your toes and eager for more; Mass Effect Invasion is just…blah!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Skyrim: The Quest for More Time

I was asked once if I could have any power or fantastical ability, what would I choose? I gave some stupid answer like teleportation, merely for convenience sake. The real answer is I wish I didn’t have to sleep! November has been a deadly month for my body. I go to bed, and then head to work. It’s the life many lead. But November happened and it hit me like a punch from Shaq.

Fall is the biggest gaming season of the year. Uh, I’m tired just talking about it. Yeah things started slow with Batman: Arkham City. I remember those days, when I could just play one game at a time. That was a great era. Now I’m trying to find time to play four different games at once. That’s not including Zelda Skyward Sword – which, despite my hatred for Twilight Princess, I feel obligated to get. Just give me a break.

Regardless, I traipse across the frozen mountains of Skyrim in search of dragons, which will most likely roast my flesh off. I can’t say I’ve gotten a bead on these aerial flying beast’s. I get cooked in my armor before I can sling an arrow from my bow. It would be nice if I could throw my sword at a dragon once my magic and arrows are depleted. Instead most fights devolve into me running like a moron while those scaly bastards flame broil my butt cheeks.

Wolves fall quickly...

My constant time spent at the death screen aside I’m thoroughly enjoying Bethesda latest life suck. The visual miscues have been noted on the Xbox 360 version, and a patch is coming…as of right this moment the game looks pretty disgusting. Humans still look more akin to Mr. Potato Head than they do actual Homo sapiens. That’s my major gripe – people have mashed faces like those putty guys from Power Rangers -- because everything else really is a leap past what we saw from Oblivion some five years ago.

Having the choice to have a fire spell in one hand and a mace in the other turns the fighting into a layer cake of deliciousness. Unfortunately swords and other weaponry twang off shields and enemy armor with a loose weightlessness that doesn’t feel quite right. Countering that is the addition of perks that augment your attacks to make battles more cinematic. With certain perks you can slow time while using a bow, blast hordes with a combination spell (that looks like you’re shooting a Hadouken), and critical finishes where you may stab right through a foe.

...but Frost Trolls will rip your flesh off with a sneeze. 

I haven’t gotten much time in the world of Skyrim but that hasn’t stopped me from walking everywhere and chatting with locals. Bethesda creates worlds that seem lived in. Most people you meet have a house and go through a daily routine…and yes you can rob them blind in their sleep: I do it all the time.

I still can’t get away from the cold grip of Modern Warfare 3. Assassins Creed Revelations, Zelda and so many other games are yelling at me to join the party. Alas my life is filled with other things. Here’s hoping I actually get some time to myself…that will happen when hell freezes over and I can toast marshmallows on the sun!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer review

Call of Duty was the addiction. Sure I played Halo, but it wasn’t always fun. Call of Duty – even in the worst of times – is still a fantastic shooter, and just a stellar multiplayer game. I can’t describe it. A feeling of utter elation, like teaching a sibling how to ride a bike. A kind of wonder washes over you and the only thing that matters is who’s in front of your iron sights.

Has it always been this way? No. Modern Warfare 3 is the first to capture the feeling of the original; the gun-on-gun, watch your corners action is back. Matches are fast paced, but not chaotic like Modern Warfare 2. Activision went back to basics – yes choppers and airstrikes are alive and well – it’s a finer tuned game than either Black Ops or Modern Warfare 3, as I’ll explain.

Bullets would spray from all angels. Where? Just run, it doesn’t matter. Here comes a chopper, then an AC130…then a Nuke! It was all too common to get vaporized off the face of the earth in MW2. Killstreaks are weaker overall, as is explosive damage. Air support can be easily shot down by anyone. A team can’t just dominate the air to win a match; they actually have to out shoot the opposition. It’s far more about you, and your gun, not an AI controlled assist that gets your kills for you.

Complaining gets you nowhere…actually you get something: a bullet between the teeth. I say this because there’s an underlying layer of skill that’s mandatory to be successful with Modern Warfare 3. Campers, you don’t have as many places to hide. Now you have to be faster than the next guy, and the next after that. I actually feel like people are better than me because they have more expertise. Not because they sit in a corner and pick off people as they walk passed.

Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer games are tightrope artists for how they balanced the competitive aspect of multiplayer. No one gun outclasses another; there’s no all-in-one perk that makes you omnipotent. From rank 1 to 80 you are giving the tools, but it takes practice and experience to become better: something that wasn’t always the case in previous titles.  The playing field is level, and so are the multiplayer maps.

Add proficiencies to strengthen your weapon.  

Each map was just large for reasons I’ve never known in MW2. Maps are smaller, corridors tighter, bottlenecks are abundant, buildings are open; overall matches just flow better because everybody is out running around as opposed to roasting marshmallows at a camp site.

Killstreaks have been appended into what’s called Strike packages. Each of the three: Assault, Support, and Specialist play vastly different. Assault is the standard: get kills to earn choppers and air support. Run Assault if all you care about is racking up high body counts by staying alive. Support is all for the betterment of the team: it’s all about revealing the enemy and not me, myself, and I. Then Specialist gives you rewards in the form of perks. Each 2 kills gives you a perk of your choosing up until eights kills when you get them all!

Breaking the Killstreak reward system into these Strike packages is Call of Duty’s way of adding a class system without restricting people to a designated load out. And it really has changed the faced of the game.

The customization isn’t cosmetic like Black Ops. As you level each gun you use gains experience too. As you gain xp for each kill with your gun you gain Proficiencies. Each Proficiency gives a bonus to the base attributes such as reduced recoil or extended range. Your weapon now feels like an extension of your own being.

The old modes you know and love are still intact. And a new one called Kill Confirmed (each kill produces a dog tag which must be grabbed for the kill to count) and hardcore mode is still just as great as ever.

Spec Ops Survival really keeps you on your toes. 

The amount of features that Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 has etched onto its disc is staggering. I haven’t even mentioned the Spec Ops modes. Spec Ops makes it’s return. The two-player mode has you playing out set missions or this time around surviving waves of enemies. Survival Mode has you facing increasingly harder enemies in a nonstop killing spree. Your heart races when you’re trying to buy ammo, set down claymores, and just try and find your teammate who’s bleeding on the ground. It’s an anxiety filled test of endurance.

Playing alone isn’t why one should play Modern Warfare 3. Gaming with friends and family and bragging about it is why we play. Few things are more satisfying than reaching a double-digit Killstreak, keeping it going, and the thrill of shooting that last guy and seeing the words “AC130” pop up. It may not be perfect, and months from now it may be broken but at this moment Modern Warfare 3 is -- for your hard earned dollar – the best 60 bucks you can spend this year.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Modern Warfare 3 Singleplayer Review

In such a short amount of time Call of Duty has dominated the First Person Shooter landscape. Instead of waiting years for a new installment, the die-hard fans get their mitts on each new COD a mere 11 months after the previous. Does Modern Warfare 3 carry a bandolier full of progress…or have the early signs of fatigue been set in motion?

That’s a good question: one that has two parts. And instead of reviewing the game as a standard title, I’m breaking it into a singelplayer and multiplayer centered synapses. I will take some time to come to a firm conclusion on how truly different – if at all – multiplayer has become since we last threw down on the battlefield. Honestly it may take months for a definitive conclusion on how solid the online component is. We press on nonetheless.

Modern Warfare 3’s solo missions – sorry for those hoping for co-op, sadly it’s not here – focus on the ludicrously convulsed plot of Modern Warfare 2…that’s not fare, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Modern Warfare 2’s story was half written on a dirty napkin. Just, don’t get your hopes up, please.  When it comes to narrative Call of Duty finds ways to make Howard the Duck a nuanced piece of cinema.

Through roughly sixteen campaign scenarios you’ll become so desensitized by the sheer carnage coming from all angles you might need to bang your head on a wall to knock yourself back to reality. It’s utterly amazing how many times something goes boom! There’s an explosion crammed into ever orifice of this one here.

If Battlefield 3 is a gourmet pizza with subtle flavors and only a few ingredients than Modern Warfare 3 is a supreme with extra toppings…too bad it wasn’t cooked all the way through.

You just can’t digest this much action into the eyeholes quickly enough Infinity Ward. The “S” hitting the “F” dial is at maximum, rarely do you get a reprieve from the onslaught of cars blowing up or someone screaming “RPGGGGG!” It’s all too much.

Call of Duty 4 – the first to take Call of Duty to the modern war zone – had a simple story. Through twists and retreads what has come before now seems novelty. The plot of COD: Modern Warfare 3 is handled thrown audio logs throughout loading screens between missions. Tell me why a cutscene with actual characters conversing, can’t suffice? Sometimes I don’t even know who’s talking…yes we know who Prices is but Call for Duty jumps from one man to the next faster than a single MILF at a bar.

I struggle to find a reason why someone would shell out 60 hard-earned dollars just for the singelplayer alone.  There are people picking it out for just that. And if you really, really liked Modern Warfare 2 than you’ll get something out of this. The rest of us who are nauseous from the screen shaking and have perfuse bleeding from our ears, by credits end, could have done without a very overbearing solo game.

Singelplayer is just an appetizer though (one that you’d probably send back), and competitive multiplayer the main course. And while I’ve only had a few hours of play it looks like the tried-and-true COD formula is still intact. It’s the finer details that need to be analyzed before any of us have an opinion about the online battle-royal. Until such a time, have fun; don’t let the singelplayer taint the entire experience. Much more is in store. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Detective Comics #1, 2, and 3

Detective Comics is gruesome. The first issue gives into Joker’s sadistic side: the serial killer clown whom stabs, and stabs, and stabs. Detective Comics #1 is dark visually and tonally. The final panel left me a little more than queasy too. Not for the faint, but I feel this series show’s early shades of greatness.

Tony Salvador Daniel covers both the art and writing, and captures the Dark Knight’s persona fiercely. Batman is a dominating figure, one not to be taken lightly. The cops hate him; only Gordon is on his side. The vigilante Batman is a more fitting, albeit non traditional environment. One that makes Gotham a hostile place even for Batman himself.

The focus, for issue #1, is really on the forever nemeses’ Batman and Joker. Tied at the hit these men are, but Joker is still a step ahead. What’s his plan; can Batman even comprehend his mad mind? Batman is just as confused as the audience is. The more Bat’s has to think, the more the reader becomes bonded to the narrative. The first issue is shadowy and paints a Mona Lisa like picture...only her face is removed.

Chills run down my spine as I flip through the pages of Detective Comics #2. Tony Salvador Daniel’s tale has my stomach in knots. Detective Comics is in a whole different area of madness. The villains are prosperously deviant. The imagery is downright disturbing. And I’m literally uncomfortable looking upon some of the panels.

Detective Comics is mercilessly tugging at my heart. These are rough reads in some areas. Once again the last panel is so gut wrenching and brutal. I struggle to find the path Tony S. Daniel is paving for us. Put I’m following along. Willingly.

The Dollmaker enters as a soon to be revered villain. If he survives Tony S. Daniel’s story arc I’d say the Dollmaker has made himself a name in the Batman bad-guy library. Detective Comics #3 has Batman face to mutilated face with this new foe: One that rips the organs from his victims and transplants them onto others.

Dollmaker and his patchwork family have Batman on his heels. I’m aghast to see the great detective Batman completely out of the loop. Even in a situation of obvious double-crossing. The potentially grizzly fate of Batman may have come at the hands of a mere child!

Detective Comics is unapologetically repugnant – leaving your skin clamming like a good horror flick. And I couldn’t stop reading! The visuals mesh so well with the writing, it’s a creepy medley. One that can’t be missed by those looking for the best out of the “New 52” run.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Do You Remember: Beast Wars?

Hope you’re a fan of silver back gorillas fighting raptors? For my money, the most underappreciated science fiction series. Beast Wars, for a 5 year span dominated my little child mind. For those unfamiliar, Beast Wars was the spiritual successor to Transformers. Even that’s not entirely true, as the Transformers’ canon wasn’t thrown into the show until about half way through the first season. Even on the Beast Wars DVD’s the series’ creators spoke about how they tried to create an interesting story first, then interject the Transformers mythos afterwards.

What took shape was a Sci-Fi adventure series – a war between the Maximals and Decepticons, or the accentors of the original Transformers. Optimus Primal (as he was called) was the descendent of Optimus Prime. How the entire show strung together actual Transformers history was pretty impressive. Obviously the name implies a distinct difference…

No cars here, just robots turning into spiders and tigers: yes, instead of vehicles, animal forms were the preferred disguises. Optimus was a gorilla, Megatron a T-Rex, and at one point there was a half rat half hot-rod hybrid.

Give Beast Wars credit it was a deep story. Not only did it deal with very social relevant themes but also each episode had a dramatic effect on me as a kid. Things like loss, love, betrayal, friendship, righteousness, sacrifice: all were common messages throughout the 3 season run of Beast Wars.

This was war; no humans getting in the way, just machines shooting rockets at each other. The way a man likes it. Even now I think the show looks damn good. Sure Cheetor looks like a cheetah with Down syndrome, and Rattrap frequently changes sizes from scene to scene. It was still a technologically advanced show. Beast Wars was an entirely Computer Generated animated series. One of only two at the time (Reboot being the other), it was like a video game TV show.

What they were able to do back then was amazing. Toy Story was only a year old when Beast Wars starting airing – there’s no doubt it was expensive to produce, but the overwhelmingly positive reception the show received led to it staying on the air for 3 years.    

Largely forgotten by even the hardcore Transformers crowd. Beast Wars deserves a second run, perhaps a remake, I’d be all for it. Don’t right it off just because the subtitle says Transformers; Beast Wars stood on it’s own as a well-realized adventure. With a stellar first two seasons (the third seems desperate to sell toys by introducing new characters each episode), an early but unique animated style, and great action scenes, what was there not to love? Beast Wars was pure 90’s gold.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Batman: Year One Animated Film

We know Batman’s origin; you don’t need to be a nerd to know Bruce Wayne became Batman after his parent’s were murdered. How you tell that tale, and how believable it can be are two entirely different ideas. And how did Commissioner Gordon become Batman’s most trusted ally?

Batman: Year One relights the old Caped Crusader origin story in a way that gives new meaning to Batman and Gordon. Based on the comic by the same name – Batman: Year One is among the most revered graphic novels in DC’s library. How I felt about Batman’s birth can be found here. Summarize it to say: Batman: Year One is about two very human men trying to clean up a city on the brink of madness.

Having a running time of just over an hour – we spend less time waiting around and more time seeing development. Bruce doesn’t take long to don the suit. And Gordon lays his fist into those who have gone to the dark side of the police force. I think that’s where the animated movie shines best, in capturing the same pace of the comic. Structured by monthly increments we are only shown the major details, small facts are left out. This format keeps a tight hold on your attention because things shift so quickly.

On the other hand, the tone feels off. That may be attributed to the animation itself. The source material felt very gritty and raw, and the artistic style of the ‘80s emulated that. The visual style of the comic is without question very appropriate to the tale as a whole. The biggest problem with some of these animated film adaptations is the art doesn’t complement the narrative. It’s not distracting, but keeping the artistic design, as close to the original would have served the film better.

Beat for beat this retelling really does follow the trade. Any differences are likely unnoticeable, and even the largely superfluous Catwoman origin – the weakest part of Year One -- was thrown in.

It was no leap of faith for DC to produce an animated film version of one of the Dark Knight’s greatest moments. I still feel a little jaded. As this movie does suffer from what I call the “Watchmen dilemma”: In other words, “Since I’ve seen the movie, why read the comic?” And yeah, there is something to that. But the film still feels like a piece, more of an assist to the original graphic novel and not a complete story by itself.

I do urge those interested in Batman: Year One the animated film to see the collected trade of the same name first. And yes how Batman became Batman actually holds together well in today’s convoluted comic realm. The movie may not be perfect, but it will keep you entertained. I still maintain the opinion that Batman: Year One is the definitive origin story, the first and perhaps last you need to read or in this case, watch. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mass Effect Invasion #1

Writer: Mac Walters
Script: John Jackson Miller
Art: Omar Francia

Critical about the prior Mass Effect comic books – most notably my distain for the so-called Illusive Man origin story – I have a mental hurdle to cross when reading Mass Effect Invasion. This new four-part run from Dark Horse is a side story taking place around the events of Mass Effect 3 the game. Cerberus is experimenting with Reaper tech beyond the Omega 4 Relay. Unfortunately Cerberus is once again behind a huge mess and the rest of the galaxy has to suffer the consequences.

Aria T’Loak, ruler of Omega, reached an agreement with Cerberus: Omega is a one stop supply hub for all Cerberus’ vessel traveling through the Omega 4 Relay – a once hostile Reaper owned part of space. A staunch businesswoman…business-alien? Aria wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity for profit. And she could regulate traffic at will. No One can enter or leave Omega without her permission…until things instantly take a turn for the worse.

Cerberus is always one to tamper with new technology in the hopes of harnessing it for the better of the human race. But they frequently over-step their limits. Adjutants, or reanimated corpses are running loose on Omega. The Reaper tech has given these alien zombies the power to withstand ammunitions fire; only a biotic user (Something Aria is more than proficient in) can dispatch the indoctrinated menace.

Probably a really bad way to start a day for this guy.

Mass Effect Invasion is laden with Mass Effect lore. It’s far too difficult for someone to pick this single issue up and understand the faintest thing about the universe Bioware has created. Such a barrier to entry makes this a tough sell to the non committed, or those not absolutely crazy about the Mass Effect franchise.

Lead writer on Mass Effect 2 and 3, Mac Walters devised this tale. And I’m not entirely sure his form of story telling translates to this medium. I’m a big fan of short, concise lines of dialogue in comics. It sounds nitpicky but Walters just uses too many words. Keep it simple, down to only the important stuff -- Although, the task of actually framing the dialogue may have lied with scripter John Jackson Miller. I especially find it a detractor when a character can say a whole speech during an action scene. It’s not realistic, and it kind of pulls me out of the frantic moment.

I’ll be pretty mum on the visuals. Mass Effect Invasion is a bland looking trade. It’s not that the alien races look drastically different from their video game counterparts…they just look very ugly. The proportions of each person from panel to panel are so odd looking. Aria looks so different from one scene to the next. It’s a mess.

Nonetheless Mass Effect Invasion #1 leaves on an interesting note. And it needed too. Once again I can only see the hardcore Mass Effect heads digesting this comic series. I’m not looking forward to the next issue, but Mac Walters may surprise me yet. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Batman Arkham City Review

This game has no right being this good. None. Super-hero licensed games are garbage. Batman Arkham Asylum changed that. So why am I so shocked at how mind blowingly good Batman Arkham City is? I have to invent a new word just to relate my love for this masterpiece!

Arkham City follows shortly after the events of Arkham Asylum. Arkham has moved into a sectioned off area on the outskirts of Gotham City. Former warden, now mayor, Quincy Sharp put maniacal genius Hugo Strange in charge of running the makeshift prison. If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for disaster, how about all of Gotham’s most nefarious criminals all packed together in Arkham, and they pretty much run the joint.

Arkham City is a ticking time bomb. Regardless, Batman enters to take down Hugo Strange…and of course Joker plays a huge role. Didn’t see that coming.

Gotham. Gotham is Batman’s city. His playground. Gliding from rooftops and taking down criminals in the dead of night makes you feel truly like the Dark Knight. You are Batman. No game has ever made me feel more like the leading role than Arkham City. Developer, Rocksteady, has achieved something special here.

Under the impression the previous game was so good because of its linearity and focus on interiors; I was skeptical if another Batman game – open world Batman game -- would flourish and outshine Asylum. We have a perfect example here of never speaking to soon, Arkham City is open to your leisure but I never felt overwhelmed or unfocused on the main story.

How you stalk crime in the night and make a quick getaway is ingenious too. Batman moves with the most intricate animations you’ll see in gaming. Grappling from one ledge to the next is easy and intuitive, and once you get the Grapnel Boost upgrade you can glide from one end of Arkham City to the next without touching the ground. Just like Assassin’s Creed, when you are on the top of buildings you own them you’re a god.

The combat on the mean streets of Gotham is satisfying from hour one. It’s all about timing your attacks and landing hits and chaining between enemies. This “ping-ponging” from one attacker to the next gives you the feeling of empowerment, and the difficulty comes from trying to sustain a constant combo to take down Joker or Two-Face’s men quicker. It’s a perfect system, one that’s simple to learn but exceedingly difficult to master.

The criminals control Arkham City. Joker, Penguin, Two-Face: all have their men holding sections of Old Gotham. The story isn’t as simple as liberating one crime lord from his pedestal, Batman is faced with many challenges along the way. And there is a ton to do outside of the story. The main plot is only about 10 hours in length – don’t let that scare you, as it doesn’t seem short at all. And the many Riddler trophies, Side Missions and Challenge Rooms will keep you occupied if you’re trying to get the most for your dollar.

Batman is known for his gadgets and not only do you start with the majority of your arsenal from Arkham Asylum the weapons you get throughout the game are even better. There are little touches of Zelda sprinkled in Arkham City: for each area that you’re unable to access, the Caped Crusader will later get some kind of mechanism that allows him to pass.

It’s far easier to use the entire Bat arsenal in combat now. A couple taps of the left trigger sends out three Batarangs. Almost everything in Bat’s utility belt can be quick launched in a fight to give you that extra edge. And when you’re using each gadget in conjunction with the plethora of moves Batman has it’s a beautiful bone-snapping sonata.

Periodically you also jump to Catwoman to fill out some gaps in the story. Most of this is largely superfluous and Catwoman isn’t nearly as thrilling to play as Batman…she’s got the looks, but not the moves. And the end of the game feels a little stale in Selina’s shoes. It’s a marginal gripe, but her inclusion didn’t add or take away enough to leave too much of an impact.

Batman Arkham City tops the list of best action games ever. I shouldn’t need to convince someone to like Batman just to play the game. Yes there is a lot more to get out of a game like this if you’re already a fan. I still think the fight mechanic; awesome traversal system and tightly paced story would be just as good had this not been a Batman game at all.

Batman Arkham City stands tall at the precipice of licensed comic games. Nothing comes close. Not even the original. It may be premature, but Batman Arkham City is game of the year. Be Batman. Wipe the scum from Gotham. Just get this game! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #3 Review

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sara Pichelli
Colorist: Justin Ponsor

Ultimate Spider-Man #3 follows both Miles and Ganke as they’ve both come to the realization that Miles is Spider-Man. And what should he do? I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take Bendis to get Miles into the suit and start crawling on rooftops. I think the answer is: when he’s ready. This is a slow burn and Miles actually taking Peter’s place seems to be a drawn out effort -- In a good way.

Miles is strongly reluctant to take on the burden of inhuman abilities, but his friend Ganke thinks it’s the coolest thing ever. Having super-power seems equivalent to being a disease-carrying monster. Miles knows he will be segregated like he has the Black Plague, so he’s having an anxiety attack trying to figure out what’s happening. He just wants a normal life, which sadly he will never have.

It’s almost like Miles is going through puberty…only this may be a lot more drastic than a simple deepening on the voice. Ganke takes is all in stride and he reacts like the reader: that being Spider-Man would be amazing. Is it really?

Miles doesn’t want the responsibility anymore than Peter did. Yet when a gift – or curse – is thrust upon you, and it allows you to save lives, your normal life ends. Miles will have to juggle his time spent at school and his new powers, a direct similarity to a young Peter Parker. Sure it’s familiar, but Spider-Man relating to the common man defines him.

Miles will be compared to Peter forever. And we still don’t have a firm grasp on Miles as an individual. Saving a lady from a burning building one time isn’t enough, Miles, this is your career now, can you handle it?