Thursday, April 30, 2009

Buy Pile Report

Y'all ready for some overly emotional writing?

If you didn't navigate away from this page after reading "Y'all," then you're in the right mindset for my current sappy state.

I don't think I've smiled so much while reading any comic book as much as I smiled while reading Justice Society of America #26. Not laughed, mind you, or cheered, just smiled. I didn't smile so much while reading "X-Men #30" (Scott and Jean's wedding), and I didn't smile so much for any of the vaunted "Justice League International" issues. Heck, I didn't even smile so much while reading my "Kool-Aid Man vs. Scorch" comic book I got free with my Kool-Aid points. Sitting at my desk in the office, I realized about six pages into this issue that I was smiling like a moron and had to make a conscious effort to stop.

So why was that? Because in his decade or so working with the team, Geoff Johns has succeeded in not only displaying this superhero team as a family, but he also welcomed readers into that family. Maybe it's just that I've re-read the entire run over the past few days so everything is so fresh in my mind, but Stargirl's birthday party in the pages of this issue was truly a fantastic family going away party. Yes, Matt Sturges and Bill Willingham will be taking over the reins shortly, but this issue is the end of an era.

So yes, I grinned throughout this entire family party. From Starman's choice of presents to Mystery Men buying ice cream. From Ted Grant's revelation to Stargirl's "teacher" photo. Given the situation, I even grinned while everyone took a trip to the dentist. I can only imagine the conversation between Johns and artist Dale Eaglesham when discussing that page.

And there are just so many little touches throughout this book. Yes, in that second to last panel, Starman's fourth-wall breaker steals the show. But also in there you can see Tommy Bronson helping out a homeless man, Damage and Atom Smasher talking like brothers, Doc Mid-nite and Mr. Terriffic comparing calculator-looking things and Hourman and Liberty Belle looking at a snowboard shop (remember issue #8?).

JSA #26 was everything anyone could ask for in a finale book, and I strongly urge any fans of the characters to pick it up and read it, possibly more than once. Heck, I bought three just for the interconnecting covers.

OK, the mushy stuff is over, I promise, especially since Legion of Three Worlds #4 was wall-to-wall action. Yes, Starman is also in this issue. And yes, he did get a Gold Star. But this book is not only a clinic in how to write a great superhero event, but also a clinic in how to draw one. George Perez is at top of his game here. In a story with, literally, too many heroes and villains to count, Perez makes each action sequence in this book as clear as day. I would say this is an especially impressive feat, given that many characters have two other legion counterparts walking around, making the clarity of who's who even harder.

Geoff Johns' story is pretty darned mind-blowing to match the art. That's not to say it's perfect, far from it, but there is enough going on here to keep anybody's interest. On the plus side, we get a somewhat intelligent and believable explanation for Bart Allen's "Resurrection," as well as a strong explanation for what Starman's been up to and how you-know-who (should I spoil it? Nah.) show's up at the end. There are even some great teamwork moments featuring Sun Boy and great Brainiac-5 conversations.

But there are definite question marks with the script, as well. For one, whatever happened to that "We need to redeem" Superboy Prime stuff? For two, there's a revelation about Time Trapper in this issue that I, for the life of me, cannot see even Johns making it believable. And my biggest question mark with this series is, for as much as Johns professes his love for all things Legion, this mini is dominated by characters out of the past and characters that, essentially, Johns breathed life into himself. Maybe this series is a little heavy on guest stars?

Despite those qualms, this is still one incrediblly action-packed event book the likes of which "Final Crisis" wishes it could have been. Or rather, we wish "Final Crisis" could have been, namely thanks to the clarity of art.

Which brings me to the one Marvel book I read this week, my ongoing headache, Uncanny X-Men #509. How horrible is Greg Land's art here? I would almost encourage you all to buy this book only to see for yourselves how bad it is. For one, as always with his books, all women look the same, and all with the same smile. Way too many smiling people in general. But the biggest problem is with the action sequences of the book, which FINALLY tried to cash in on writer Matt Fraction's long-term plans with his team of Badgirls.

For as much as I haven't liked Fraction's direction, he at least tries to make things happen here as his team invades the X-Men home, presumably in an effort to kidnap and possess Emma Frost. The only problem is Land's art makes none of this clear. In one scene, Cyclops Northstar and Dazzler are sitting in a living room ready for the attack. In the next panel, Martinique just says "Cyclops, Northstar and Dazzler are going down." What? When did that happen? In one panel Nightcrawler and Colossus enter the fray. In the next panel Spiral moves her sword (with no one else in the panel, mind you) and all of a sudden BOTH X-Men are on the ground. It's bad enough this storyline has made no sense whatsoever, but the art has just made this book atrocious.

Which sounds a whole lot like the name of a Red Lantern. He was nowhere near the fray in Green Lantern #40, but who needs him with Larfleeze (a.k.a. Agent Orange) around to entertain? On the same day that I got to peek at "Blackest Night #0" and became very scared DC is going to blow this whole Black Lantern thing with WAAAAAY too many characters coming back from the dead, Larfleeze restored my faith in DC and Johns. Mr. Orange is the biggest badass since Tim Roth.

This issue not only teaches us more about the Orange Lanterns (or should I say Lantern, singular, since it seems Larfleeze is the only living one left), and shows off more of their Me-First attitude, but it also further tells the tale of the fall of the Guardians. We see both dissension among the little blue ranks and dissension among the Green Lanterns (and not only from the humans, for a change), which makes me very curious to see where that avenue will lead us. All in all, a good read.

Finally, Superman #687 returned us to that holding pattern James Robinson seems to love lately. What happens in this one, you ask? Well ... umm ... Mon-El and the Science police fight a villain and ... umm ... some bad guys watch and ... umm ... Parasite lurks around. Is that it, Mr. Robinson? In the fallout from "New Krypton," Robinson's work has far and away been the weakest, mostly because he's not taking us anywhere. In the same month that Sterling Gates fleshes out Supergirl's resolve and gives us Superwoman's identity, James Robinson gives us a fight with a villain. In the same month that Greg Rucka gave us a near-battled to the death between Chris Kent and his mother, James Robinson gives us yet more shadowy characters watching computer screens.

"Superman" has not worked for me since Robinson took over, beginning with a horrible four-issue long fight with Atlas and now with three different good characters to choose from with Guardian, Mon-El and Steel, Robinson just keeps setting the table without ever serving a course. Well James, we're hungry. And right now the only thing saving your job as cook is the fact that your patrons are already well fed from the other chefs in your kitchen sneaking us snacks.

Wow, that wasn't a half bad metaphor. I think I'm going to have to end on a high note. Goodnight, everybody!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This week's comic book expectations

While Marvel again floods the shelves with "Dark Reign" material, DC pulls out some heavy-hitters this week. Check it all out at THIS LINK.

And, as is often the case when DC has a big week, we have plenty of Geoff Johns' work to choose from, including a landmark book, Justice Society of America #26, Johns' final issue with the team after writing (or co-writing) the JSA for a decade. I've actually been re-reading Johns' entire run with the team over the last few days, from "The Return of Hawkman" to "Black Reign" to "Thy Kingdom Come." In the next couple of days I will have a post dedicated to dissecting the lengthy run and reliving some of the more memorable moments. But for now, all you really need to know is if you've enjoyed any part of Johns' time with the team, you may want to check out this one-and-done story titled (and I love the title), "Black Adam Ruined My Birthday."

Don't let the title fool you, though, this issue seems like it will be all about retrospection (is that a word?) and relationships. Simply, this issue is a birthday party for the character nearest and dearest to Johns' heart, Stargirl, which means it will double as Johns' and artist Dale Eaglesham's personal going away party. Which means lots of memories, lots of jokes, lots of heart, and yes, lots of sappy dialogue. But, given the family-based makeup of this team, isn't it only a fitting farewell to the decade-long era?

Believe it or not, though, that JSA title may end up being only the third-best of Johns' books this week. We also will see the long-awaited (and awaited and awaited) Legion of Three Worlds #4. Remember when this mini began as a "Final Crisis" tie-in?!? Regardless of the wait, this is still one book all DC fans should pick up. Yes, Superboy Prime is still running rampant in the 31st century. Yes, Bart Allen has been resurrected to spook the brat. Yes, the three legions are together, making for some great dialogue. But the biggest reason for picking this book up could be the return of one CONNER KENT. It hasn't been expressly stated by any means, but all the clues point toward Con-El making an appearance here.

And then, we also have the only top-flight monthly issue of the week, Green Lantern #40, continuing the "Agent Orange" storyline. I, for one, cannot wait to learn more about the Orange Lanterns ... or is it Lantern, singular? So far there is no evidence that Agent Orange himself is not the be-all and end-all wielder of the Orange Light. What we do know is an Orange Lantern can possess anybody they've killed, turning them into Orange Lanterns. So are all the other Orange Lanterns simply powerful ghosts? And, if so, does that mean Hal Jordan will have to die in order to wield that Orange Light and fulfill that White Lantern prophecy? We'll see...

By the way, I am loving the new Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man in the World" commercials. One just came on. "He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels."

Where was I? Oh yeah, DC's big week. The week rounds out with Wonder Woman #31, Superman #687, Battle for the Cowl: The Underground, and Trinity #48, which is still going full speed despite only a handful of issues left.

As I said earlier, Marvel is mostly still putting its eggs into the "Dark Reign" basket, led this week by Dark Reign: The Cabal #1, a set of five quick stories looking at each individual member of Norman Osbourne's little troop, Namor, Doctor Doom, Emma Frost, The Hood and Loki. It will be interesting to see if Marvel's team of writers handle these characters properly, especially since each of their individual involvements have been so suspect. Doesn't Doctor Doom seem to arrogant to bother with all this? Shouldn't Loki not be so concerned with the human race? And since when does Namor care SO MUCH about the surface world? This issue can potentially go a long way in silencing us skeptical readers. Or, it can just be a waste of time one-shot tie-in.

Speaking of "The Cabal" (I hate that word almost as much as "Illuminati"), they're also scheduled to make an appearance in Dark Avengers #4, which promises to have both additions and subtractions to its team. Again, in order for this event in general to work for me, I really need to believe in the reasons why this "Cabal" is together. So, again, I am hoping when the group confronts Osbourne about their concerns here, it is a little more convincing than we've seen in the past.

Other "Dark Reign" titles this week include Ms. Marvel #38, Thunderbolts #131 and War Machine #5.

I'm off to watch basketball and read the last of Johns' JSA books so that I can get on that retrospective post. You keep doin' what'chu doin.'

Sunday, April 26, 2009

This week's video game releases

The big release this week? "Velvet Assassin." I cannot wait to get my hands on this one. Check out the full list of releases HERE.

As long as I get some time with it this week, I will have a full review for you all. I know you've been missing the reviews of late. Well I assure you more are on the way now that things are starting to slow down here at PoJo central.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Buy Pile Report

It was a pretty deep week for "Dark Reign" titles over at Marvel. However, if you're like me and looking to steer as far clear of that fiasco as possible, this week turned out to be slower than one might have expected.

To be honest, and I know I may get a little heat for this as a Geoff Johns/DC fanboy (yes, he didn't write the book but he's had a big hand in it), was Supergirl #40. The ONLY criticism that can be made of this book is that the Supergirl we saw for the 30 issues or so before Johns and writer Sterling Gates got their hands on her could never be as intelligent or responsible as the Supergirl we've seen since, and at no time has the "Maid of Might" been more impressive than in this issue.

That's not to say that Kara wasn't herself in this issue, either. Rest assured, those of you who remember the early 1980s, Supergirl is in no way becoming a cookie-cutter female version of Superman. In trying to solve the mystery of "Who is Superwoman?" Kara nearly jumps to conclusions condemning her best friend, becomes overly emotional dealing with issues surrounding her father's murder, and carelessly falls into a trap Kal-El would never have stumbled into. But, in a brilliantly choreographed fight sequence with the father-murdering Reactron, Gates not only illustrates Kara's non-powered ingenuity ("I trained with Batman. With the Amazons. I know first level *indecipherable kryptonian fighting style*. Just because I can't use heat vision doesn't mean I'm helpless."), but writes an inner monologue spot-on with how a character like Supergirl would think.

And yes, at issue's end, as predicted, we do learn who Superwoman is, and it's a bit of a jaw-dropper -- if only in that Gates has plenty of explaining to do. But even without the big reveal, this singular issue is proof of why all DC fans and especially all Superman-family fans should have "Supergirl" in their buy pile each month.

Much less impressive was Justice League of America #32. I know I've been hard on Dwayne McDuffie in the past, and I'm sorry it has to continue, but this issue felt to me a bit like I was reading about that false Justice League that appeared briefly during "52." And, come to think of it, didn't Firestorm lead that "League?" Half this issue is spent watching Firestorm, John Stewart, Zantanna, Vixen and Dr. Light discuss staying together as the JLA. All I could think the entire time was, "DC wants us to read about these guys?" I have no interest in the new Firestorm. I have very little interest in Vixen. And since when is Dr. Light such a superhero? Don't get me wrong, the Justice League International teams had very few A+ heroes, but they had A+ personalities and characters. I just don't buy this team as a book worth reading, even when Black Canary, who I love, eventually comes back into the fold.

The problem is, DC is just biding its time before infusing this team full of the Milestone characters who were recently reintroduced. And therein lies the true flaw: I get the feeling DC has no intentions in the near future of trying to return the Justice League of America to its rightful place atop their mountain of titles. It seems like DC is content to keep forcing the JLA to be the book where every single big event can have a tie-in issue, or editorial can use the book for such wastes of time as this Milestone stuff. And there I cannot even blame McDuffie, because I know when given the opportunity to use the pieces he wants to use, he can deliver an adequate if not hokey superhero product. But I just don't see that happening in the near future, as we can see from this Starbreaker junk crammed into the end of this book. Such a shame.

Lastly from DC, Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum was at once entirely irrelevant and fantastic. In the long run, after reading the end of this one-shot, I am sure the resolutions reached here will have very little ramifications on the Batman Universe. That said, David Hine pulls off a beautiful narrative dissecting what the asylum's original intentions were, what the asylum had become and why it must be changed to go forward. A good deal of time is spent detailing how the more notable inmates harped on Jeremiah Arkham's own mental weaknesses, but equal time was given to a side of the asylum we rarely -- if ever -- have seen before: the truly non-violent inmates who just need help.

A small touch that I felt worked very well here was that apparently in Arkham, solitary confinement serves the opposite purpose of what it would anywhere else. Here, solitary is given to the peaceful inmates who need to be protected from the masses. And using that as a jumping off point, Hine turns what could have been the same old "jailer gets consumed by the darkness"-type story into a sweet tale of a doctor just looking to help. I highly recommend this story, but I admit, it will be as irrelevant as all the other "Battle of the Cowl" one-shots soon enough.

Over on the Marvel side of things I only picked up two books, both of them mutant related. One, X-Force #14, is the third part of the "Messiah War" crossover with "Cable." And while I do once again praise the writing team of Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost and Duane Swierczynski ("Cable" writer) for a strong next installment in a brilliant series, I've promoted that event enough already in this space for you to know you should be reading it. Instead, I want to talk about Astonishing X-Men #29.

It's been a long time since writer Warren Ellis and illustrator Simone Bianchi put out an issue of this series. In that time, the pair learned NOTHING of the characters they are writing. Emma Frost is a helpless damzel. Cyclops is an unthinking, unfeeling, impotent leader without real planning abilities, overly concerned with codenames. And did I mention this story still defies all the laws of Marvel Universe physics?

Entirely too much of this book is spent watching the X-Men listen to themselves speak. And I'm not one against wordy comic books, but when characters open their mouths, it has to mean something. This is just one long waterfall of exposition, cascading onto our ears as if it's supposed to mean something. Apparently, the story is Forge was "probing the multiverse" (which doesn't exist in Marvel, looking for alternate-reality mutants (who apparently popped into existence just because Hope Summers was born), pissed them off just because he was looking for them enough to attack the Earth, so his solution wasn't to alert anyone else, it was to start trying to make his own brand of mutants, who hated him for it. All makes sense, right?

And excuse me, but when the hell did Forge go crazy, anyway? According to Wolverine, "This guy from Georgia who ran with the CIA, he once called Forge Crazier'n a run-over dog, and that was twenty years ago." First off, Forge has always been one of the best minds in the X-Men's arsenal. Second off, after all the contact the X-Men have had with Forge -- Storm especially -- they need Wolverine to spout off this little story?

"Astonishing X-Men" has quickly descended into unknown levels of the most horrible X-Men stories ever. And Simone Bianchi's art still pisses me off.

Argh. Just talking about how Ellis and Bianchi have ruined what Joss Whedon and John Cassady started has be in a huff. I'm off to watch tonight's episode of "Scrubs." Maybe Zach Braff acting like an idiot for the 100th time can calm me down. It always has in the past.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

This week's comic book expectations

If you're a Marvel fan, and a fan of the "Dark Reign" initiative in particular, this is the week for you. If you've other interests... well... it's not soooooo bad. Check out the full release list at THIS LINK.

Three of Marvel's four mainstream "Avengers" titles are in play this week ("Dark Avengers" being the exception), and the one I'm most hopeful for is Mighty Avengers #24, which features one piece of the fallout from the Scarlet Witch's return that I've been itching to see -- Quicksilver is looking to confront his sister. Remember, this isn't just the story of a brother/sister reunion, Quicksilver was the architect of the "House of M," taking advantage of a mentally ill and imprisoned Scarlet Witch in order to create his utopia. In turn, as part of her "no more mutants" edict, Quicksilver was robbed of his speed and subsequently traveled down a very dark path to desolation. These two have plenty to discuss, and I trust writer Dan Slott to handle it adequately.

On a side note, "House of M" was handled HORRIBLY. For as good an idea it was, the execution was over-decompressed garbage. But all was forgiven with that one fantastic scene in which Magneto bursts onto the scene to confront Quicksilver saying "What have you done in my name, boy?!?" CLASSIC Magneto in a horrible mini-series.

New Avengers #52 will likely hold its own as well, continuing the search for a new sorcerer supreme... if you can call what last issue did as "starting" the search. I am hoping the Scarlet Witch's reappearance coinciding with this storyline is just a red herring, but who can tell at this point. What I do wonder is how this group of Avengers would ever be able to defeat the mystical villains harassing Doc Strange. But I guess they'll Deus Ex their way out of it.

Avengers: The Initiative #23 is also a big issue if you've been reading the series... which I must confess I haven't... as the deeper effects of "Dark Reign" finally hit the team and force a issue to be titled "Disassembled" ... which, by the way, is my least favorite Marvel term. Can they possibly label any more books "Disassembled?"

Other "Dark Reign" books this week include Dark Reign: Elektra #2, Skrull Kill Krew #1 and Incredible Hercules #128.

From the file of "where the heck have you been?" comes Astonishing X-Men #29. Frankly, I'd forgotten this piece of junk was still going on. Remember waaaay back months ago when Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi were spinning a tale called "Ghost Box" to follow up Joss Whedon and John Cassady's fantastic run to open the "Astonishing" series? Come on, you must remember it. It was the storyline that included those two incredibly overpriced tie-in issues that had almost nothing to do with the main story? Yeah, that's the one. Well, it's still going on, crappy art and all. Just to refresh your memory, the X-Men found a "ghost box," they don't know really what purpose it serves, but they found a secret hideout in China where the Chinese X-Men presumably lived. Oh, and they are now under attack in a big way. All caught up? Good. I'm unfortunately going to be picking this up, since I don't have it in me to drop a series mid-storyline, but I encourage you all to just look away.

Much better this week is X-Force #14, continuing the "Messiah War" storyline. This crossover event with "Cable" has EVERYTHING you could ask for in a big event, from snappy writing to a strong team-up (Cable + X-Force + an even more insane future Deadpool = gold) to intriguing villains. And is often the case as one issue ends and another begins, when we left our heroes they were just about to be surrounded by Stryfe's forces with a rumble to ensue. Yes, I said Stryfe, that's the villain we're dealing with here, in addition to an increasingly desperate and ruthless Bishop. Now are you interested?

DC's offerings this week are much less exciting, but there are some bright spots. For one, Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum may be the only one of the "Battle for the Cowl" one-shot tie-ins worth buying when all is said and done. While all the other issues were pretty self-explanatory (Really, didn't everyone see that "Commissioner Gordon" storyline coming?), I am intrigued by this Arkham issue, which promises to tell the tale of the Asylum's proprietor, Jeremiah Arkham. Sure, this issue could become a snooze-fest, but the idea that this issue may just redefine how the Asylum stands in Batman comics for years to come does have me curious.

But speaking of Batman, another from the file of "where the heck have you been?" is Detective Comics #583, the second of Neil Gaiman's two-issue "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" story. The good news is, after a couple of months of delay, this issue, which promises to examine the history of Bruce Wayne's relationships, is finally on the shelves this week. The bad news? After reading that irrelevant hot-air-filled first issue, does anyone care that much?

Believe it or not, I saved the best DC issue of the week for last. And, believe it or not, that issue is Supergirl #40. Can you believe we're living in a world where "Supergirl" is headlining an (admittedly slow) week? The mystery surrounding Superwoman takes centerstage in this issue, and it seems like we may even learn the villain's identity by the final page of this one. Meanwhile, Lois Lane is doing that investigative reporter thing she's so good at, following the clues left by Agent Liberty's death. This book has become 100% girl power in a very strong way, between Supergirl's new direction, Lois Lane's increased involvement and Lana Lang's role to play in the Superman Universe, all aspects that DC has lacked in recent years.

Soliciting thoughts

A couple of thoughts worth sharing after looking at Marvel's and DC's July Solicitations over the last two days.

Marvel's can be reached HERE. And all I want to know is, how is it that Marvel just happens to be hitting #600s in four of their top titles at the same time, all coinciding with their big "70th Anniversary?"

I mean honestly, I cannot stand it when series need to un-number their titles in the first place to produce false #1 issues and "new-reader friendly" numbering in the first place — I can stand it even less when the company just happens to bring back the old numbering when the series is about the hit a milestone. And this time around, with "Thor" (last month), "Amazing Spider-man," "Captain America" and "Incredible Hulk" all hitting the magic #600 all at once, it feels especially cheap.

I don't have the time or desire to go through counting each and every book that might have fallen under these re-numbered titles' banners, but I highly doubt that all of them should be hitting this "milestone" all at once. I smell some bad math here, and it's name is Joe Quesada. And while I find this act to be reprehensible and detrimental to the comic industry in general, cheapening comic milestones overall, you have to be impressed with how Marvel knows how to make a buck.

DC's solicitations can be found HERE. Two thoughts — and no, none of them are shock at just how many "Blackest Night" issues there will be, since everyone knew DC is looking for this event to be their big comeback.

1) How badass is that "Green Lantern Corps. #38" cover with Kilowog? I want to blow that image up and wallpaper my room with it. I'm no fan of Patrick Gleason's art, but — DAMN!

2) Keith Giffen is coming on to write "Booster Gold #22." Now, when Geoff Johns said he was leaving "Booster," I got very worried for the fate of one of my top-ten favorite DC heroes of all time and probably top-five of my childhood. Then, Dan Jurgens, the creator of the character, was announced as the series' next writer, and the peasants rejoiced.

But this... Jurgens may have created Booster, but Keith Giffen is the man who made him a legend. Giffen took Jurgens' initial framework of a quintessentially-1980s hero and built upon it into the most lovable screwup in comic book history (or #1 and 1A with Ted Kord, but I tend to think of Booster as the much bigger screwup). To have Giffen back writing Michael Carter is a moment of pure nostalgic joy.

With all the many "Blackest Night," post-"Battle for the Cowl" and "World Without a Superman" books coming out in July, I am anticipating Giffen on "Booster" as much as any of them.

P.S. ... is ANYONE interested in ANY of the "Final Crisis" minis?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Game along with the Geek: X-Blades Finished

This post has been a long time coming, so I apologize. I actually polished off "X-Blades" a week and a half ago, and a combination of things (including laziness, I must admit) have kept me from it.

But not anymore. DUN DUN DUUUUUN!

Remember when I said I had like 25% of the game left to go? Well, it was more like 10%. The bad news is, that's not the bad news. As I said in the last post, this game REALLY amped up the action in the later levels. While I still had that same problem of getting burnt out after an hour or so, just because of how intense and never-ending the action was, I must say I enjoyed this game very much right until the end.

And at the end, "X-Blades" lost me in a BIG way. For starters, the final fight pales in comparison to other much tougher boss battles throughout your quest. Battling Super Shredder -- er -- I mean your blue-haired friend gone bad, it's a one-on-one sort of deal, winner take all. 'Ole Shredder can freeze you pretty instantly, run super-duper fast and randomly with a flick of his wrist cause spikes to pop out of the floor to impale you. Oh, and in addition to being so fast, he's also impervious to your titular X-Blades.

Sounds bitchin', eh?

Well, several factors made this fight pretty weak.

1) After several in-depth fights in which you need to go through several steps just in order to get a slim window of hurting the boss, this fight is a straight-forward doge-and-punch ... only in this case it's not dodge-and-punch, it's a dodge-and-magic.

2) Which brings up the second problem — where those previous fights required some thought and a combination of several different magic spells, this Shredder boy is a being composed of Dark Magic ... I think it's pretty obvious which spell you have to cast again and again and again and again. Really, if you have the teleport spell to create some space to cast offensive spells, this fight is a breeze.

3) And if the fight is not a breeze, it's OK anyway since the game's health mechanics kind of backfire here. Throughout the game I liked the aspect in "X-Blades" of having to use your currency to purchase health. It's like saying "Sure you can stink at this game if you have the cash." But when you know you won't have to fight at all or need your currency after this last battle, there is nothing stopping you from just healing yourself and your rage meter over and over again.

So yes, I won this last fight with ease. Unfortunately, things going downhill don't tend to slow down. All along I knew there were two different endings to get. Frankly, after learning every "light" spell I could, I thought I would be getting a hero's ending.

I did not.

Instead, I cried while this blue-haired boy died in my arms. Uplifting way to beat a game, huh?

Pissed and confused, I went online and looked up what one has to do to earn this good ending. As it turns out, you are not allowed to purchase a single dark spell when you have the opportunity to at the beginning of the game. Meaning, after the first two hours or so, you're either screwed without hope for reprieve or you're made in the shade.

I'm all for alternate endings, but this one felt awfully like a sneak attack to me. And that's why I am posting THIS LINK for all of you similarly pissed off gamers. It's the YouTube video of the "good" ending, so that you all don't have to play through this one again if you don't want to.

Although, I think I might play this one again. Though "X-Blades" took some time to really find a rhythm and get its bearings, the second half of the game is as good as any hack-and-slash as I've played in a very long time.

I encourage you all to give it a shot and meet me back here soon for Gaming Along with "Ninja Blades."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Buy Pile Report

In a slow week, there were three top-flight titles to pick up. The only question was, would they be good enough to carry us through?

Green Lantern Corps #35 sure as shoot was up to snuff. Since "Sinestro Corps. War" began, the status quo in the GL Universe has been clear. "GL" and "GL Corps." were to be separate but equal storylines, with "GL" concerning mainly Hal Jordan and "GL Corps." concerning the bulk of the Ring-Slingers. And while both books have been unquestionably strong, it has always seemed like the bigger developments in the grand scheme of things have occurred in Geoff Johns' Hal Jordan book. That is, until this issue.

If I didn't know better, I would think the "War of Light" was breaking out early in this issue, the third part of the "Emerald Eclipse" storyline. I don't want to wreck the surprises for you, but all it takes to imagine the carnage are these two situations coming together at the same time: A rampaging Red Lantern in the OA Prison and EVERY confiscated Yellow Ring busting free to look for their owners. The mayhem got going in a hurry, and thankfully we still have a good deal of action left waiting for us next month.

If that wasn't enough, half of this book was spent with Sodam Yat and Arisa flying to the Sinestro Corps-infested Daxam. Personally, I've never been sold on Sodam Yat. He's always been one of those guys to me that, we keep getting told how important a character he is, yet we've rarely been shown why. Well here we get some interesting character moments with him, both when discussing lethal force and lecturing his fellow Daxamites, and learned a lot about the background of where he comes from. Frankly after reading this issue, I'm a little bit worried about what side he's going to be fighting for in the future.

Action Comics #876 was far less complex, but nonetheless fantastic. Here, we get one big fight scene (surprising, since we know this story will be 12 issues and only 12 issues), but along the way you learn everything you need to if you were still wondering whether Ursa and Zod had any common decency in the least. I was a little worried about this issue when I saw the issue's narrator would be Ursa herself, but it worked very well here, especially since the other pivotal character in this book, Chris, had his story told expertly by artists Eddy Barrows and Sidney Teles.

Where we hear everything going on in Ursa's head, this issue really shows the emotions of the moment on Chris' face. And, come on, for a kid who is apparently growing constantly and was born in the Phantom Zone, did he really need the trauma of fighting to the death with his birth mother? Plus, call me an old-school comics cheeseball, but can you get any more iconic than this exchange:

Thara: Kill her, she'll never stop chasing us.
Chris: Superman wouldn't.
Thara: Superman isn't here.
Chris: All the more reason.

BAM! I am a BIG fan of Chris, all thanks to Greg Rucka. Now let's just hope he stays alive through this whole deal.

Two for two! But did Captain America #49 make this week's top titles a clean sweep? Not quite...

Ed Brubaker's latest tale was not horrible by any stretch of the imagination. It just wasn't quite up to the standard he has established for this series. And a standalone issue spent entirely with the mostly retired and recovering Sharon Carter was a bit too much of a departure from the full speed ahead momentum the series had going for it. Maybe that's unfair to say, especially since I admit a step back from all the action is well-timed at this point. The bigger problem was that I felt the issue was a little long-winded, and could have had a little more plot interjected to keep the pace moving more than it did.

But I suppose I should take a step back myself and explain. This issue catches us up with Sharon, who still doesn't remember everything that went on. Throughout the issue Brubaker uses an ongoing metaphor to Alzheimer's patients, each living in a prison of their own memory's limitations. Frankly, I felt the metaphor was a bit of a reach. To get back to that bigger problem I mentioned above, I think the flaw here was dramatic irony. WE knew everything that has transpired, even if Sharon had not, making the big reveal at the end -- Sharon realizes she was pregnant -- fall very flat. Heck, I forgot she didn't remember the pregnancy.

Oh well, don't be sad. Two out of Three ain't bad. And with that, a slow week ends.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

This week's comic book expectations

Slow week this time out, folks. Don't shoot the messenger. HERE'S the link to the full list.

There are SOME upsides to the week, though, namely Captain America #49, which begins a new story arc which will bring Sharon Carter back into the fold. Personally, I applaud Ed Brubaker for taking a step away from Agent 13 for a while. I know it must have been tough to hold off from mining the further story of Sharon's memories and current state after shooting Steve Rogers, but by completely removing her from the title for a while it has really allowed the book to take on the new Bucky-centric identity with no ghosts of Steve Rogers' world lying around. After this past three-issue arc, I feel that, more than ever, James Barnes owns this book ... which means it's the perfect time to bring back Sharon and jump into the deep end. I, for one, cannot wait to see where she will fit into this new Captain America world.

From there Marvel simply has BUNCHES of X-Men titles, the best of which will likely be X-Men: Legacy #223, the penultimate chapter of the current Rogue/Mystique/Professor X vs. Danger in the Outback story, which has been surprisingly good so far. Normally I could give a damn about Rogue and Gambit and their constant whining, but the interaction between Mystique and Rogue is conjuring memories of Rogue's glory days struggling with Carol Danvers, only with a more mature feel from the character. And can you really argue with the promise of a Danger vs. Xavier throwdown?!? Sure, it's likely to have a weak, mushy cop-out ending, but I can dream, can't I?

Also from the Merry Mutants is X-Factor #42, Uncanny X-Men #508, Rampaging Wolverine #1 and Wolverine Noir #1. I don't expect much from any of them, and especially not the two Wolverine titles. For one, I'm VERY sick of this "Noir" stuff. For two, "Rampaging" is a one-shot in black and white because it's "Too Hot for Color to Handle!" Ugh. Give me color, thank you.

And did I mention that EVERY Marvel book has a Wolverine-centric cover variant? We really needed this much Logan? All this over exposure really makes me hate the character.

DC has two books worth looking out for, including Green Lantern Corps. #35 (and two years ago, did anyone think this book could headline a week?!?), which is fighting a war on two fronts in this one. On the one hand, Sodam Yat is about to go mano-a-mano with Mongol. On the other hand, a Red Lantern is running loose in the OA prison. No good can come of any of this for the boys in green.

And finally, Action Comics #876 continues the story of Chris and Thara under attack in the Fortress of Solitude. And really, if you were trying to take out Kryptonian sleeper cells, would you really hide out in the world's most well-known hide out to Kryptonians? They all know their boy Kal lives there! Hopefully this week we get to learn more about Chris' aging problems, but I'm willing to bet we'll have to wait for the annual to find out all we want to know.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Buy Pile Report

Oh, rarest of rare days, how I've missed you. Yes, today I picked up five titles (six if you count finally picking up last week's Irredeemable #1), and each book failed to disappoint. I don't care that this week was a lighter than average week in terms of quantity -- how often can you honestly say $20 spent at the comic shop was solid all the way through?

I began my day with the book I'd been waiting months for (yes, months, since the solicitation for this was that good), Green Lantern #39, the debut of the "Agent Orange" arc. And while I expected the Orange Lanterns to be very different in a goofy way, Geoff Johns succeeded in creating yet another well-defined and, frankly, slightly freighting Corps. The Orange Lanterns are some powerful suckas. And did I see that right -- did Mr. King Orange transport his power through his mark?

If I had one nitpick with Geoff Johns' tale, however, it would be the characterization of the Guardians. I mean, I know they have been cruising for a bruising with some horrible decisions of late, but here they made just downright fanatical decisions, between their torture of Hal Jordan and knee-jerk venture into the Vega System. It reminds me to the "X-Men" books from a couple of years ago when EVERYTHING Professor X did turned out to be in some way evil. It felt like overkill then, it feels like overkill now. I get it, the Guardians are doing everything they can to avoid facing the writing on the wall. That doesn't mean we have to be hit over the head with it in such a way as their blind interrogation of Hal. Still, great start to the arc.

Next, I went over to Gotham City for Batman: Battle of the Cowl #2, where it's quickly becoming clear writer Tony Daniel is not exactly going for the shocking conclusion. And really, would we want it that way? Personally, I love Tim Drake's character and his growth since Batman first began his fall -- but he's just not old enough or big enough for the Cape and Cowl. Dick Grayson is the only logical choice, so I am more than happy enough to let this series show his decision to step into the Pointy Ears.

In the meantime, we're getting some good badass Jason Todd action. Remember all that waffling on Jason's character? Is he a villain? Is he an anti-hero? Is he a universe-warping all-around great guy? Yes, "Countdown" sucked. Well, I have a feeling he's not coming back from all the shit he's pulling here, and it's pretty fun to watch. The only real problem I'm having with this mini is that I sincerely doubt Tony Daniel is planning on wrapping up this Black Mask stuff in one issue, meaning DC is looking for us to buy many more issues in the future.

Superman: World of Krypton #2 was likewise strong, but in a VERY different way. Writers James Robinson and Greg Rucka are moving this story along very carefully, doing their best to illustrate the social structure of Krypton while reflecting Kal-El's part in it -- and as far as I'm concerned, it worked beautifully here. While I do feel like the K-People (that's my new synonym for Kryptonians) came off looking awfully ruthless here, you have to love the subtle places where Superman's more gentle approach is making it's mark. There's a fantastic dichotomy here between how Kal handled the Thought-Beast situation and how Zod wants to handle a hostage situation, all narrated by Superman's Lieutenant Officer: "(The Thought-Beasts are) us. They're extinct. They just don't know it yet..." You can nitpick at this series' slow pace, but I for one am loving it.

Booster Gold #19 and Trinity #45 were both pretty good, but I'd rather close this post with a week-old revelation: Mark Waid's Irredeemable #1 was pretty darned good and only seems like it will get better. Maybe I just love stories with flawed heroes. Or, maybe Waid pulled no punches in showing exactly how much damage a rogue hero can do when he's pissed off. Frying a colleague, his wife and two kids. Lobotomizing a sidekick to protect secrets. Hunting former teammates like dogs. And, as I said, the best part is, this issue just makes you want to know more about the universe. What happened to make Plutonian flip out? Who are his former teammates and what could they have possibly done to piss off the big man? And, my personal favorite question which I am willing to wait as long as Waid makes me -- what happens when he does, eventually, ask to be redeemed? I can see this series going a long, long way.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

This week's comic expectations

Well folks, it's going to be a good week to be a DC fan, and for Marvel ... well ... you might find something you like, since all sorts of niche books are on the way. Check out the full list of releases HERE.

But before we get to Marvel's grab bag, we start with DC's A+ titles.

Without question, the most anticipated book of the week is Green Lantern #39, the first part of the four-issue "Agent Orange" arc introducing — who else — the Orange Lanterns of Avarice. Geoff Johns has said time and time again the Oranges are his favorite Corps to write, so I for one am looking forward to what role these selfish bastards will play as we chart a course toward "Blackest Night." And remember, our buddy Hal Jordan, having already wielded the power of yellow and red, was just bonded to the power of blue hope. How will this change Mr. 2814?

Without question, the second most anticipated book of the week is Superman: World of New Krypton #2. Clark — excuse me — Kal-El is now entrenched in his new Kryptonian life as a member of General Zod's army. Frankly, I don't have a clue as to where this series is headed (you know, other than a meeting with the Green Lanterns in issue #4), and I think that's one of the things I am really excited about. How often do publishers ruin our surprises with over-hype and solicitations? Here, all I know is Kal is stuck looking like a traitor to Earth, looking like a traitor who cannot be trusted by the Kryptonians, and currently he's going to have to take orders from someone he hates. I love it!

Without question, the third most... OK, I'll stop it already with this ranking anticipation crap. The point is, Batman: Battle for the Cowl #2 is out this week, and here's hoping we actually get some story development out of this one because the debut issue didn't give us much other than less respect for Damien. In all seriousness, I am expecting the pedal to the metal here, if only because this isn't some long, drawn out event. After this issue, we have the conclusion and that's all folks. So, is Dick going to start acting Batty? Is Tim going to start acting like 'ole pointy ears? Is Damien going to start acting like himself? And who the heck is that impostor Batman, anyway?

From there, we go over to Marvel, which while is bereft of the top-flight titles this week, the "House of Ideas" have more than enough mini-series for you to enjoy.

There are the first issues you may be interested in: All-New Savage She-Hulk #1 of 4, Daredevil Noir #1 of 4, Dark Reign: Hawkeye #1 of 5, Deadpool: Suicide Kings #1 of 5, Marvel Zombies 4 #1 of 4, War of Kings: Ascension #1 of 4, plus the non-mini-series debuts of Marvel Apes: Amazing Spider-Monkey #1, Exiles #1 and Wolverine Weapon X #1.

Of the minis, I'd say you "Dark Reign" followers should definitely take a look at the Bullseye ... er... I mean, "Hawkeye"-staring series, and for the rest of you, Deadpool is always a blast, so I may check his mini out.

"Daredevil Noir" is your first sign that Marvel's "Noir" series has already jumped the shark. How much more "Noir" can you get than Daredevil himself? We need to re-imagine a street-level guy without many powers into another street-level guy without powers?

And, of course, if you're buying any of the "Marvel Zombie" or "Marvel Apes" junk, you are part of the problem.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Game along with the Geek: X-Blades 3rd post

It's not really fair to call this this "third day" with "X-Blades" post, since I've had to play it so sporadically, but this is the third post, for those of you still trying to "Game along" with this very tardy Geek.

Coincidentally, since this is the third post, after last night I would say I am about 75% done with the game. And actually, this third quarter of play was the most fun. Remember last post when I was talking about a one-hour of play limitation? Last night I played for a good hour and a half without realizing it, and only stopped when I noticed it was 4:30 a.m. and the alarm was set for 8.

Why was this third quarter of the game that much better, you ask? Good question. Believe it or not, this late in the game, "X-Blades" is suddenly NOT so repetitive. No longer is is simply "hack-slash-earthquake spell-hack-slash." Beginning with — again, ironically — that dark elemental I left off with after last post, the game really forces you to develop a variety of magics.

How will you be able to develop so many spells with costs so high, you ask? Another good question. Unlike our own current sad economic state, the economy in "X-Blades'" third quarter is BOOMING. Somehow, all those same villains you've been killing for so long are suddenly giving off an abundant amount of souls. After carefully using my funds for most of the game, I am suddenly buying every spell in sight, and I still have over a million more souls to spend.

And that's important, since those insanely long battles with hordes and hordes of demons have become just a little more cerebral in this section of the game. Fireball, Lightball and Ice Arrow spells are no longer interchangeable, you'll need to use specific spells to beat some people.

And my personal favorite new spell is the "Through Strike," which is simply the teleportation spell, only you attack while moving through space. I've been button mashing on that spell like crazy in melees, since it not only hurts demons but it also makes it tougher to hit you — especially those annoying sorcerer poe things flying around.

But at no time are your spells more important than when fighting this new blue wolf. Not only will you need to use the power of ice, fire and light before you can get some shots in on the wolf, but sometimes he is protected by, and connected to, 50 or so demons that you will need to freeze with your wide-ranging ice spell and then kill with earthquake before you can hurt him. While I'm sure part of this battle can be fought using those cheap special spell blades, there is still a tremendous emphasis on your projectile spells. So learn them!

And finally, as it turns out, the wolf is not the biggest of the big baddies in this game after all, it's your blue-haired friend who, empowered by the dark side (thank you Anakin), suddenly looks like the Shredder. All he needed was to say "Tonight I dine on Turtle Soup."

So, I would have to say I still have a quarter of this game to go, as I am about to go hunt down the Shredder inside a castle, but I have to tell you folks, this game has definitely taken it up a notch.

I still don't get the need for the assless chaps.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Buy Pile Report

It's that time on Wednesday night, time for my reviews.

Review #1: "Fletch Lives" is just as good as the original "Fletch."

Wait... you wanted comic books? Well it just so happens Chevy Chase is my superhero, so deal with it. Oh well, there's always Flash: Rebirth #1. Did it live up to the expectations? Ehh.

For as unbiased as us newspaper types are supposed to be, I do think of myself as a DC fan. More than that, I am a Geoff Johns fan. Still, this first issue of the new era in scarlet speeding had an incredibly mixed tone. On the one hand, yes, I am intrigued by the mystery set up in this first issue dealing with Barry Allen's return and the speed force. On the other hand, I felt like Johns spent the bulk of this issue defending his desire to bring Allen back from the dead. We listen to countless heroes wax poetic about what Allen meant to them. We listen to Hal Jordan give us a speech on why Wally West and Bart Allen are both ill-equipped to be the Flash at the time being. We even got Kid Flash (of all people) serving as the voice of the dissenting younger generation who grew up with Wally. The whole thing just felt forced.

And for as badly as Johns wants to convince us all that Barry Allen is, in fact, the Bee's Knees, he's not very likable here! Don't get me wrong, I know the character, I can see Barry Allen acting like this, and I don't doubt Johns' ability to write him perfectly -- but you're going to convince an era who grew up with wise-cracking Wally and bad-news Bart to get behind a brooding vanilla hero? Hopefully the fans come back for issue number two, but given how quick kids are to judge nowadays, I wouldn't be surprised if Allen's characterization here was enough to turn people off.

Oh, and what was with the overly-dramatic look back at Barry's Dad? I'm praying Johns doesn't try to cram that into Allen's story somehow. As far as I'm concerned, it would come off feeling very forced. Like, just as forced as this whole issue. Oh well, at least Ethan Van Sciver's work here -- his layouts especially -- are worth the price of admission on its own. I say stick with this book for the whole six-issue run before judging. For now, though, I did expect better from this first issue.

The book that surpassed all of my expectations this week was Cable #13, the second part of "Messiah War," crossing over with "X-Force." Remember back when Marvel was hyping "Messiah Complex," it was dubbed as a return to the good 'ole 1990's X-Men events? And remember how disappointing "Messiah Complex" was? Well the first two issues of "Messiah War" indicate the event is shaping up to be that return to glory we've been waiting for. There's nothing to dislike in this issue. From Deadpool's flashbacks tying together the previous issues of "Cable," to Hope Summers' confusion and X-23's subsequent caring, to the villainous plot-twist, this issue has the perfect balance of humor, exposition and heart. And frankly, as a fan of the character, I am very interested to see how X-23's relationship with Hope develops. Clearly here, she feels a kinship with a fellow mutant that was also set on a powerful path without a choice. And while I'm not so nuts about the concept that Stryfe and Bishop alone could take down Apocalypse, I am willing to ignore it given the quality this crossover has delivered so far.

I was similarly pleased by War of Kings #2. Yesterday, I predicted a scaled-back issue allowing for exposition and relief after the bombastic opening issue. Well, I got it half right. We do get to take that step back for about 2/3rds of the issue, and along with way get a great scene with Crystal appeasing the Kree people, a scene which gets Crystal's characterization right for the first time in a long while. However, we do also get to watch the Empire Strike Back. ... OK, I would probably call the Shi'ar the Empire, so I guess that metaphor doesn't apply here. The point is, the Inhumans, powered by Maximus' inventions, kick some serious tail here. This issue is worth purchasing if only to see the Chous Sentries. Think a mix between Sentinals and Unicron -- you know, the planet-eater from "Transformers: The Movie" -- each with the power of Black Bolt's voice. Needless to say, Vulcan is once again pissed, leading us to next month's issue #3.

Finally, Justice Society of America #25 wraps up the Black Adam arc in typically-spectacular fashion. Once again, we get much more of the JSA's guest stars than the JSA in this one, but I can forgive it given the strength of this story, featuring a major shift in the Marvel family status quo. Major Spoilers coming, by the way...

Major Spoilers still coming. Don't say I didn't warn you...

You sure you want to read this?

OK, here goes: The Wizard Shazam is freed, Billy and Mary are stripped of their powers, Black Adam and Isis are encased in stone, and SOME STRANGE EVIL FIGURE shot out of the sky to provide a little intrigue for, presumably, whenever co-writer Jerry Ordway's Marvel Family book gets off the ground.

I also particularly liked Johns' and Ordway's choice of narrators for this issue, Atom Smasher, if only because after he's acquired such a bad wrap in the DCU, it was good to show him from such a human angle. After all, as this ending showed, he's going to be around for the foreseeable future.

Overall, it was a great day if I do say so myself. Now go away so I can go watch "Fletch" again.