Friday, July 31, 2009

Marvel's Blackest Night

Not a dream! Not an illusion! The Dead Shall Rise!

Oh wait...

Get a load of THIS LINK to a Newsarama interview announcing "Necrosha," a crossover between "X-Force," "New Mutants" and "X-Men: Legacy" in which X-Villain Selene uses the Transmode virus to reanimate the corpses of plenty of dead mutants, namely those in Genosha.

Yes, a 2009 event in which The Dead Shall Rise.

I'll spare you a diatribe on cheap knock-offs. That should be obvious.

My indignation is directed at Newsarama itself, a site I frequent as much as most of the rest of you... 10 questions were asked in that interview. Zero included the words "Blackest Night." One question involves the words "the skies over mutant-kind seem to be getting darker and darker..." as if this was all obviously an original idea.

Well I'm calling you out, Newsarama and namely interviewer Steve Ekstrom, from one Journalist to another, you just made yourself look like a shill.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The wrong and right ways to have downloadable content

My love for all things "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" is no secret. I've been playing the series since long before it was named for el Tigre, and I'll probably keep buying the games every year until the sport of golf is done away with to make room for Blernsball. Heck, I bought my Xbox 360 a week after learning just how well the system's controller and "Tiger Woods" fit together.

So, it should come as no surprise that I've purchased all three of the downloadable courses EA Sports has offered since releasing "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10" on June 8.

However, am I the only one angry to have had to spend over $21 in new courses already, just under two months since the game's initial release?

Don't get me wrong, all three courses are wonderful — and the fantasy course "The Predator" is devilishly challenging. But, my question is, why couldn't those courses have been included in the initial game? Heck, one course was released on the same day as the game!

Downloadable content should not be content that could have been in the game in the first place, it should be content developed in the months following the game's release in order to keep gamers playing long after they conquered all there is to conquer.

Instead, this feels as though EA intentionally left out content in a mad grab for our cash after the initial $60. What's to stop next year's game from including only two or three courses with the option to download any of another dozen for $7.50 a pop?

This greed is even more glaring after reading THIS PRESS RELEASE I had in my inbox when I walked into the office yesterday. 2K Sports will be releasing downloadable content for "NBA 2K10" called "Draft Combine" a month before the game's release for $5 (or 400 Microsoft Points).

I'm loving this idea. Heck, I've always been a "NBA Live" fan, but this content alone has me thinking of changing teams. In preparation for the main game's release, "Draft Combine" will let you begin the process of creating a player and navigating the pre-draft activities necessary for a created player's success.

And yes, for those of you that cannot see the difference, "Draft Combine" does seem to be something that can (and likely will) be included in the main "NBA 2K10." But by releasing it early, it gives gamers the opportunity to whet their basketball appetites and really get their hands dirty in a way that far surpasses most demos. If you're going to make downloadable content available so early in a game's lifetime, this is the way to do it.

I applaud 2K Sports' idea here and hope to see more ideas of its ilk (maybe an "NFL Head Coach"-style download before next year's "Madden?") in the near future. In the meantime, I'll still be paying those greedy prices for fresh golf courses.

So Spidey can't get a divorce but he can...

One of the horribly bad choices that led to the train wreck that was Spider-man's "One More Day," was Marvel's notion that Spider-man and Mary Jane getting a divorce would make him a horrible role model for children.

In fact, the whole idea behind getting rid of Peter's relationship with MJ was to de-age the character to better embody a heroic role-model who young readers can relate to.

So why, then, do I see THIS happening on the fourth page of "Amazing Spider-man #601?"

That's right, according to Marvel, divorce is morally wrong, but drunken sex out of wedlock (and, given Peter's state in this page, likely unprotected sex) is A-OK!

Is that really the image you want our younger readers to be relating to, Marvel? Let's take our hero out of a stable, healthy relationship with the woman he loves and turn him into a Spider-Ho. Good call. No, really, good call.

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Well, to paraphrase Kirsten Dunst, Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges brought it.

Geez, how old is that movie? I feel old. Where was I? Oh yes...

Right now, it feels a bit impossible that anyone could surpass Geoff Johns' ability to write the Justice Society. Still, the first issue under new writers Willingham and Sturges, Justice Society of America #29, sure packed a lot of punch into one issue.

I think the biggest compliment I can pay the pair is it didn't take more than a dozen pages for me to completely forget I was ever worried about how this large group of characters would be portrayed under new scribes. Sure, the voices are somewhat different (how could they not be?), but this is not a Matt Fraction/"Uncanny X-Men" situation. Willingham and Sturges are authentically adding their own flavor to the characters' pre-exisisting personalities, and as a result, I felt right at home as a reader within those first dozen pages.

I also have to applaud the writers on their decision not to spend this entire issue being over indulgent and harping on the idea of this issue marking a new beginning. Willingham and Sturges jump right out of the box with storyline without even mentioning a staus quo.

The storyline itself, however, did not seem like anything special -- and I do use the word "seem" intentionally. Step One: The JSA encounters a mystery. Step Two: The JSA is sidetracked by a group of B-list villains. Step Three: Those B-listers overwhelm the heroes in order to set up the come-from-behind victory in a few issues. We've seen this all before, right?

I'm guessing wrong.

I trust Willingham and Sturges enough that what we read here is not simply the old hat bad guys vs. good guys storyline, and I think the events of the last few pages should prove that. I'll hold off on truly judging this storyline until the arc is complete.

All in all, this first issue for the JSA's new writers made me a very relieved fan.

The rest of the week's books were not as successful.

Just hours after discussing with a friend about how James Robinson has yet to do anything I can appreciate since returning to comics, I read his Superman #690, a book which felt more like one of those 99-cent teaser comics before big events than an actual issue of a story. Contained between the covers are five vignettes, none of which truly advance anyone's story, just sort of give you the impression that there may be a story there in the future.

Let's list them, shall we?

1 - Atlas, who had already kicked Steel's rear last issue, kicked his rear again.
2 - Guardian paired Gotham's own detective Harper as Jonathan Kent's teammate.
3 - Zatara (where the hell did he come from?!?) meets Mark Merlin, who wants his help in finding Prince Ra Man.
4 - Guardian and Dr. Light flirt a little.
5 - Ganglios stops Sodam Yat from meeting Mon-El, in a move which basically just saves continuity after the two met for the first time already 1,000 years in the future in "Legion of Three Worlds."

That's all, folks! James Robinson! Come on, man!

Equally disappointing was Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #3, not for a lack of quality but a lack of value. This book is $3.99, yet only contains a Kilowog backup story, an Arisa backup story, and a "Director's Commentary" of "Blackest Night #0, which would have been interesting had ANYTHING of interest been said. No third story, and no story on a member of a non-emerald corps.

Though as I said, those two backup stories we got, both written by Peter Tomasi, were very very good. The first focuses on Kilowog's first days in the corps, showing how 'wog's drill sergeant treated him, how 'wog first stepped into a leadership role and even how 'wog met Sinestro. The story is strong, poignant, humorous (we learn where the word "poozer" comes from!) and I am now in love with Chris Samnee's simple and straight art.

Arisa's story is more of an origin and a showcase of her personality for any younger readers who don't know her or understand why she holds a special place in longtime fans' hearts. We see her boundless energy, her passion for the corps, her early training at home and her personality during her first encounter with -- who else -- Kilowog. And did I mention I am now in love with Mike Mayhew's pencils and Andy Troy's colors?

Another plus is, given the amount of death and personal connections in these stories, you can be sure they will be pertinent to that little zombie tale we're all reading.

Heck, maybe this book is worth four bucks?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This week's comic book expectations

I had a conversation today with the girlfriend about how I could actually see myself souring on comic books in the relative near future. The details are not important, I'm sure on a boring rainy day I can fully explain my position in this space. But, I'll tell you two reasons right now. For one, the numbers 3.99 are certainly involved. The name Joe Quesada is also in that mix.

I'm harsh on Joey Q sometimes, it's true. So before I say what I'm about to, I'll preface it by saying I believe Marvel's head honcho is THE SMARTEST man in comics. The man sees where to make a buck and buys a house there.

But, I'm simply not interested in anything Marvel is doing anymore. Inside the stories, it's all just become too convoluted and political with stories like "Dark Reign," and outside the stories, the refusal to actually fully develop a good storyline instead of hastily moving on to the next big event has made me realize nothing Marvel does anymore will hold any weight.

Why do I bring this up now? Because, after looking at this week's offerings, I realized that I will not be buying ANY Marvel books this week. It's a bit of a sobering thought for a man who owns a reproduction of nearly every issue of both "Uncanny X-Men" and "Fantastic Four." Check out the full list of releases at THIS LINK.

So what does Marvel have this week, anyway? Well, eight of their 19 new books are "Dark Reign"-related. You heard me, eight. Exactly zero of them seem worth reading. Among the worst of the drivel is Dark Reign: The Goblin Legacy, which is simply a modern reproduction of Norman Osborne's 1966 unmasking, and Dark X-Men: The Beginning #2, which is a collection of three back-up stories focused on individual members of the ever-so interesting Dark X-Men.

Please folks, Marvel has made it abundantly clear that sales = quality in their eyes. Start voting with your wallets and say no to this "Dark Reign" junk, not to mention other horrible material out this week like Ultimatum #5 and Marvel Zombies 4 #4.

Meanwhile, this won't be DC's strongest week either, but there are a few books out to keep fans happy. Justice Society of America #29 gets my nod as the most anticipated book out this week, marking the debut of new co-writers Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges of "Fables" and "Jack of Fables" fame. The pair have a lot to live up to as departing writer Geoff Johns' stellar work took the JSA back to the bigtime for the first time in decades, and the biggest question I have is whether or not Willingham and Sturges will be able to write each character as we've come to know and love them. Remember, Johns not only created many of these characters, but he also redefined most of the old guard for a new generation. For all intents and purposes, Johns' voice is all we've known of many of these guys. I am just hopeful this first arc will be able to adequately explain why we're getting this team split for the launch of "JSA All-Stars" (see previous post for more).

I am also looking forward to Len Wein's Justice League of America #35, which is to feature new Batman Dick Grayson's first appearance in the book. Of course, Dick has just been announced as one of the new members of the team when James Robinson takes over the franchise, so it will be interesting to see how he comes into the fold and how he interacts with the team, especially given their relative weak state at the moment.

Other DC books to keep on the radar include Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #3 and Superman #690.

Later folks, I'm off to Xbox land to tee off some more Tiger Woods golf on the new "Predator" course. More on that to come.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

DC's Comic Con News

Obviously, my responsibilities here (not to mention my budget) at the Journal are keeping me from attending San Diego Comic Con. Thanks to the magic of the Interwebs, though, we're all able to follow along from the comfort of our own homes (or, office, as my case is).

Three major DC Universe revelations have already been unveiled, two of which just happened today in the past hour or so.

1) JSA All-Stars.

In response to the problem of too many good characters in the Justice Society, new writers Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges have opted to split the team in half with most of the older heroes in the "Justice Society of America" book and most of the younger characters, including Magog and Power Girl, in "JSA All-Stars."

As any regular reader of this space will tell you, the JSA has always been one of my favorite teams to read, and in recent years my favorite book period. So, the idea of twice as much JSA each month is obviously appealing. And I do trust Willingham and Sturges to know what they're doing and where they're directing this franchise. Still, I have two thoughts...

The JSA's real problems over the years has been finding enough new, fresh villains and obstacles to overcome and finding enough time to provide each character with good individual moments. It would seem then, that the way to fix this problem while still doubling the JSA each month, would be to relaunch a "JSA: Classified"-type book of singular character stories, only this time the book would be consistently handled by Sturges and Willingham, not a rotating carousel of B-list talent. Splitting the enormous team into two squads is only going to double the number of good threats needed without giving individual characters that much more spotlight.

Also, though, isn't the idea behind the JSA, since David Goyer and James Robinson relaunched the team a decade ago, older heroes helping team younger heroes how to go about becoming better heroes? Isn't the father-knows-best aspect of Jay Garrick and Alan Scott in relation to Jakeem Thunder and Maxine Hunkel what makes this team unique? Without that constant youth vs. experience interaction, are we just going to be left with one generic team of older heroes and one generic team of younger heroes?

Still, I'll trust Willingham and Sturges on this one that they know what they're doing.

2) James Robinson's new Justice League.

In the image above, you will see three of the characters James Robinson said will join his Justice League when he takes over the team's flagship title, while most of the characters will remain a mystery for now. In case you don't recognize the faces, we're talking about a Justice League featuring Mon-El, Donna Troy, Dick Grayson and Hal Jordan (Congorilla was not shown in the image but he will, unfortunately, be on the team as well).

I've got to say, I haven't been this excited about the team since Brad Meltzer left "Justice League" two and a half years ago. I also don't think I have ever been this excited about a solicited Justice League roster (since I was a little too you to know what a solicitation was when "Justice League International" hit the stands). I've never been one that has needed DC's "Big Three" in every book — in fact, I'm a little sick of just how important we're constantly told they are. So, I'm a fan of unorthodox JLA rosters, as long as the character interactions seem promising (Dwayne McDuffie's Vixen, Dr. Light, Firestorm roster would not be what I consider interesting!). I cannot wait to see how grown up Dick and grown up Donna help Hal lead this team.

3) Sterling Gates' Kid Flash.

Quietly today at the "DCU Live" panel, Geoff Johns announced "Supergirl" writer Sterling Gates will be writing a "Kid Flash" ongoing, which will be working in concert with Johns' own "Flash" ongoing, as Johns builds his huge "Flash" storyline just like he did with "Green Lantern" and "Sinestro Corps"/"Blackest Night."

There are absolutely no details about this "Kid Flash" series yet. As I said, the announcement was quiet. Still, I can guarantee right now, with 100% certainty, that if you are going to read "Flash," you're also going to want to be reading "Kid Flash."

For one, Bart Allen is a FANTASTIC character, someone with a personality that can easily carry his own book. For two, Sterling Gates has done some strong work on "Supergirl," a series which was an absolute train wreck for years before his arrival. For three, if this book is being billed as the equivalent companion piece that "Green Lantern Corps" is, you can be sure that Johns is going to help provide Gates' books with more than enough story points that spill over from one book to the other, just as Johns and Peter Tomasi do for the Ringslingers of OA.

Regardless of what we learn the rest of the weekend, these three revelations have made me one happy DCU fan.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Legion of Three Worlds' ending

I wanted to wait a bit before discussing the ending to Geoff Johns' "Legion of Three Worlds." But then I took a look at some message boards out there and realized the cat is definitely out of the bag.

So, here's your spoiler warning...

The fight is resolved, in as I said last night a very deus ex way, by tricking Superboy Prime into sending himself back to Earth-Prime, which Brainiac-5 (the classic B-5) deduced was back in existence due to the Threeboot Legion's Element Lad's ability to create Kryptonite that could hurt SB-Prime. SB-Prime then returns to his home where his parents and girlfriend Lori have been reading about his dirty deeds in the comic books their universe gets, and he promptly retires to his basement as a pariah to read comics and post his thoughts on messageboards.

Now, I've read messageboards regarding this ending and have found there are two groups of you out there: Those who dislike the ending and those who love the ending, claiming the only way to dislike the ending is if you take personal offense as a fanboy to SB-Prime's portrayal as a fanboy.

Clearly, this is not true, as people have all sorts of reasons for not liking an ending. So before you write off these opinions as just another fanboy, take a moment to listen to these two reasons I am disappointed in Johns' conclusion.

1) While I don't take exception with SB-Prime's character as a fanboy by any means, his actions in the final pages of this book turned him into a truly one-trick pony in my eyes. I've been one of those over the last few years defending the character because, frankly, I appreciate a good headcase. With the exception of a few horrible appearances in "Countdown," Johns has been taking great care to present SB-Prime in a manner befitting of his character.

I mean, the poor kid saw all of his dreams come true and his world erased in the blink of an eye. I could buy his growth toward resentment, especially given Alexander Luthor's voice in his head. I could buy that resentment and desperation for home turning into hatred for the world's heroes, and I could even buy the idea that he truly believed killing all of this goodness in the world would, in his mind, lead to his finding a way home...

But he's finally home now. And when he saw the horror on his girlfriend's face and the fear coming from his parents, I wanted to see that character arc paid off. I wanted to see SB-Prime have a moment of clarity in which all of his evil deeds suddenly become real and come crashing down on to his shoulders. I wanted to see him instantly have the irresistible urge to repent, as his parents' eyes serve as the mirror he never had to look at himself in before.

It would have all accomplished the original goal Superman set forth in the series — to redeem SB-Prime.

Instead, Johns took that golden opportunity and used it for a two-dimensional jab at fanboy nation. For however true his jab is, it still will have forever cheapened SB-Prime's character and ruined what could have been the perfect ending.

2) I'm not so fond of Earth-Prime in the first place. I was alright with it as a dead idea, and alright with it as the origin story for SB-Prime, but I don't want to see it back in existence, namely because the thought of a New-Earth/Earth-Prime crossover is cringe-worthy.

I'm also not the biggest fan of over-meta textual stories. They have their place, and used sparingly they can be a very effective story-telling tool. Heck, I'll read anything with Deadpool in it, and "Animal Man" was obviously a classic. But I fear the headaches that could result from an entire story of series that takes place on Earth-Prime, where meta could happen every other panel. And frankly, since not only SB-Prime but also Threeboot Legion are to be in Earth-Prime now, it seems that story is only a matter of time.

Overall, this has been one strong series and it's only made me itch for an ongoing Legion monthly that much more. But Johns could certainly have handled SB-Prime's conclusion better.

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For any of you fellow old-school comic fans wondering why big event tie-ins just don't work like they used to, you're apparently not going to be disappointed with Geoff Johns' "Blackest Night." In recent years, big events have had one of two problems: 1) The event's main book is almost worthless without tie-ins to fill in the meat of the story or 2) The tie-ins are worthless filler themselves.

Enter Green Lantern #44, the first true tie-in for "Blackest Night." (Sure, the "Tales of the Corps." series is already out, but that's less tie-in than it is a collection of backstories.) This issue picks up with Hal Jordan and Barry Allen right where Johns left off in "Blackest Night #1," alone in a graveyard and confronted by J'onn J'onzz. The story then strives to achieve just two goals -- detail the fight between the three friends and dive into some detailed character work -- all while neatly wrapping up at the end of the fight so as to pick up easily in "Blackest Night #2" next month. There is very little "Blackest Night" critical information shared in these pages, and at the same time, no reader can deny the quality of the book or it's worth as a tie-in. In structure alone, Johns should be applauded.

But, as I said, there is a detailed storyline here to go with all of that structurally-perfect writing, and most of it should make any DC-junkie want to cheer. There are just so many moments here that Johns pulls off. Barry and Hal discussing how Clark Kent pulls off his secret identity, which, of course, leads into a discussion of how Lois Lane could fall for such a geek. J'onn saying "I'm as powerful as Superman. Why does everyone forget that?" And did I mention the fight itself is pretty darned well orchestrated? After watching how Johns utilized J'onn's many powers, I am wondering who this character has been so under-used over the years.

For those of you keeping score, here is what we did learn in the grand scheme of "Blackest Night:" 1) The black goo associated with the Black Lanterns and Scar coagulates like blood (and again, kudos to Johns for having Barry, of all people, to be the one that uncovers this). 2) BL J'onn seemed to try to elicit specific emotions from his prey, presumably to make their hearts more ripe to excavate. 3) Scar says he and the BLs are trying to bring order to the universe -- the original goal of the Guardians in the first place.

This is a must-read comic as far as I am concerned, but not necessarily necessary if you are looking to read "Blackest Night" and still save money. That's the beauty of it.

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #2 was far from the same beauty, especially with that $3.99 price tag. Here, we get two very generic stories about two lanterns (Bleez of the Red Lanterns and Blume of the Orange Lanterns) sandwiching a tale featuring Carol Ferris. Of the three, Ferris' story is the only one which comes close to carrying its weight, as we are essentially given a quick flashback of her life, detailing all the many times she has been willing to sacrifice her own happiness for others. Predictably, it all leads to her becoming a Star Sapphire, in fact one which has the potential to become one of their best, but the interesting part is seeing that she is doing so almost souly to help keep Hal Jordan safe. The whole tale was satisfying in the least.

Not to make this an all-Johns Buy Pile Report, but I would be remiss if I did not mention Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #5, finally the conclusion of the Legion vs. Superboy Prime tale. Frankly, though, while I enjoyed the series up until this point, I think all the delays really took a toll on my reading this final part. I'll likely need to go back and re-read the whole set before I can truly judge this conclusion, because I found myself just trudging through this issue awaiting its climax. Unfortunately, there is a whole lot of Deus Ex going on with the conclusion, and even more of Johns just trying to be cute. While I won't ruin anything in specific, I will say the conclusion bothered me enough that I'm going to have to make a post on its own once I give you all a little more of a chance to read it for yourselves.

That's it for now, though. I am off to bed. Or, maybe to watch "Watchmen" again. Could go either way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

This week's comic expectations

It's a big week for comic books. For one, "Watchmen" is out today, and there's a copy at Wal-Mart in Fishkill just sitting on the shelf waiting for me to pick it up when I get out of the office tonight. For two, obviously, San Diego Comic Con is this week.

Unfortunately, the slate of new comics on the shelves Wednesday is slightly underwhelming. There are several exceptions though... Check out the full list at THIS LINK.

The biggest book of the week is, almost unarguably, is Geoff Johns' Green Lantern #44, the first official "Blackest Night" tie-in for the Emerald Army's flagship book. This issues mixes the old with the new, and both storylines are guaranteed gold. First, if you've read "Blackest Night #1" (and if not, why the heck not?!?), you know a certain Red-Planet Black Lantern just tracked down Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. We'll see the continuation of that skirmish in these pages. Second, if you're a regular reader of the GL books (and if not, why the heck not?!?), you know Sinestro is pretty peeved that Mongol went and took over his spot as Sinestro Corps leader. We'll see the beginning of that skirmish in these pages. Need I say more?

A second "Blackest Night" book, Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #2, is less of a sure-fire hit. Last week's first issue, featuring three vignettes on different ring-slingers across the spectrum, was a mixed bag. The story on Saint Walker was great. The tale from Mongol's youth was anything but. And the Indigo Tribe's debut story was just plain intriguing. This week we'll get three more stories. While it's unknown which stories will be told this week and which in issue #3, among the remaining storylines solicited by DC are a spotlight on Carol Ferris and an origin tale for Kilowog, both of which should interest any Corps fan.

Another Johns book certain to draw interest is Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #5. Yes, after a year of waiting, we finally have a full five issues of this story which was dubiously and only tacitly linked with last year's big DC event. Just to remind you all, since it's been two months since issue #4, the Three Legion of Superheroes teams, along with Superman, Superboy and Kid Flash, are still fighting Superboy Prime and Time Trapper's Evil legion ... and oh, by the way, Time Trapper was just revealed to be Superboy Prime all grown up.

Unfortunately, the impact and value of this truly well-done series will be lost forever given all the delays, but two key points will still need to be resolved here: 1) Will Superman succeed in his original plan of "redeeming" Superboy Prime in this series? 2) How will the end of this story filter into next month's "Adventure Comics #1"? Really, this second point had suddenly become just as important as anything else regarding this series, given the vague nature of the Legion of Superheroes' co-features in "Adventure Comics," and even the vague link upcoming between the Legion and Connor Kent.

Also of note from DC this week is a double dose of girl power (ugh, I cannot believe I just used that cliche), Supergirl #43 and Power Girl #3.

The biggest book of the week from Marvel is X-Force #17. Yes, that includes Amazing Spider-man #600 and Incredible Hulk #600. I've gone into great detail on how irrelevant I feel Marvel has made "ASM" ... and "Incredible Hulk" is just plain horrible. This week's "X-Force" is the first since the conclusion of "Messiah War," and if you remember back to before Cyclops sent Wolverine and company into the future, the Leper Queen was in the process of offing several of X-Force's friends. Here, we'll get to see who lives and who dies and just how pissed our merry murderous mutants are at Cyclops for sending them on their trip.

Unfortunately, there isn't too much else from Marvel to speak of. Invincible Iron Man #14 kicks off the second half of the "World's Most Wanted" storyline, but is a story centered around Tony being too sick to handle his duties as Iron Man compelling in the least after all these times it's happened? Guardians of the Galaxy #16 is another loose tie-in with "War of Kings," and Avengers: The Initiative #26 is the first featuring Camp Hammond's new role as "reforming" villains. That's about it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

This week's video game releases

Click HERE for a list of this week's (or do I mean WEAK) video game releases. All you really need to know is this week on Xbox Live " 'Splosion Man" is out.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Buy Pile Report: Cap

OK, so this week's Buy Pile Report is kind of odd, I admit it. For all the good good "Blackest Night" stuff, check out the previous post. There isn't much else to really bring attention to, with one main exception.

So, to sum things up quickly, Dark Avengers #7 was the third part of the "Utopia" crossover, with very little story advancement except for some painful times for Hank McCoy, Action Comics #879 continued to inch the story along, with yet another issue packed with fighting, and JSA vs. Kobra #2 featured more of the Justice Society chasing its own tail (although I have to say, I am really liking the potential of this six-part mini).

The only non-"Blackest Night" book this week that really deserves much coverage is Captain America #601 -- and that's NOT a good thing. I had hoped that, since "Captain America Reborn" was going to last a few months, we would get one or two more good story arcs featuring Captain Bucky before Steve Rogers returned to the scene and took back his series. What I read in this book dashed those hopes faster than you can say Pietro Maximoff.

I should have known immediately what kind of trouble I was in for when I read the disclaimer of "This story takes place during Civil War and before Captain America #25." Still, I was hoping Ed Brubaker had chosen to hold this hidden story for the right time, for right after we learn more about how Cap was, in fact, still alive. I was hoping this story was all part of Brubaker's master plan.

Not so.

Instead, what we got was a flashback story of Bucky telling Nick Fury about a time when he and Cap had to stop an outbreak of Vampires -- yes, Vampires -- in Nazi Germany. Apparently "Twilight" fever really has hit everywhere. The moral to this whole story was that killing a child Vampire scarred Bucky.

What was truly ridiculous (you know, other than the storyline) was that this issue, which began as a flashback to "Civil War," flashed back to World War II, and then flashed back within that flashback when Steve told a story. Three layers of flashbacks to tell a Vampire story!!!

So, apparently us readers are going to have to put up with crap like this until "Captain America Reborn" is finished. As if it wasn't bad enough that Marvel seems to be snatching Captain Bucky away from us before his prime, Marvel is now going to forcefeed crappy flashback comics on us until Steve Rogers is star-spangled again.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. Ugh.

'Blackest Night' is here!

So, I'm back from the beautifully gorgeous U.S. Virgin Islands just in time for what I've been really looking forward to this summer — "Blackest Night!" Screw vacation, give me zombies any day of the week!

I'll get to more of an explanation for where I've been and why I abandoned you for so long, but for now I just got finished reading the first three parts of "Blackest Night" (including last week's Green Lantern #43, which I only just saw today, but not including the Free Comic Book Day issue), so we're all about zombies in this post.

Amazingly, when I start to think about this event's debut issues, I think less about action (though there was a good deal of it) and more about what we learned. First and foremost, Blackest Night #1 not only taught us the general demeanor of the zombie lanterns, but also the identities of many.

And yes, there are spoilers coming, so please put on your spoiler earmuffs if you don't want to learn a thing or two...

One of the most interesting parts of these issues is hearing (or reading, as the case may be) the Black Lanterns (or BLs from now on) speak. Not once did we get a zombie yelling "BRAINS!" Instead, we found out that these BLs have carried over their personalities from their previous, more warm-blooded lives. On the one hand, it was pretty creepy watching Ralph and Sue Dibney interact with each other and act with the same attitude they've always had, and yet, they were bashing their friend's head in. On the other hand, was there any real difference between how they acted here and just another "hero falls under evil mind control" storyline? I suppose the main difference is the emotional weight. This is definitely a "wait and see" sticking point for me.

This also begs the question of why their personality would carry over, and yet the BLs are still looking to kill their best friends. But, I trust we'll get a good answer to that question soon enough.

Writer Geoff Johns (I cannot believe I got so far into this post without mentioning his name) also gave us a quick example of the strange rhythm we are to expect in this event — Heroes fight BLs; BLs kill heroes; Heroes receive BL rings. It will just be interesting to see just how many of our beloved heroes become zombified before the tide turns to the side of good.

On a related note, I really enjoyed the splash page showing all of the newly-minted BLs on OA, each one a character we watched die during the past two very bloody years of "Green Lantern" comics. Nothing like a giant "War of Light" to provide zombie fodder.

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #1 also taught us a good deal, with three standalone stories, the first of which was a fantastic Johns-penned origin story of Saint Walker, worth the price of admission on its own. The second story? Not so much. Watching Mongol run around killing things as a young boy is not my idea of necessary, and really the only thing I was left wondering was just how much of a role does Mongol play in this storyline with Sinestro looking to take back leadership of his Corps. Maybe he becomes a BL himself?

The third story, though, is where the intrigue begins — a story introducing the Indigo Tribe. We get to watch the compassionate bunch in action for the first time. The only problem is, Johns intentionally keeps us all pretty much in the dark by making their language indecipherable and failing to narrate anything. So we're left with Rags Morales' art to show us that the Indigo Tribes' staffs seem to inhale the light of other lanterns and then use that power against them. As far as compassion goes, we watch the Indigo leader put a Green Lantern out of his critically-injured misery by suffocating him, and scare a Yellow Lantern away instead of pursue him for nearly murdering a GL. Interesting stuff.

Finally (actually it was chronologically first), Green Lantern #43 gave us a whole lot more information on one of our story's main antagonists, Black Hand. However, I don't know what you all thought of this issue last week (I was without Internet for seven days, so checking reviews on an issue was not first on my to-do list), but this origin story fell a little flat to me. Don't get me wrong, aspects of the story were downright awesome, like the fact that BH's original costume was made from a body bag and that Johns insinuates BH's first kiss was with a corpse. It was the crescendo that falls flat for me. The best Johns could think of was BH killing his family? That's sort of played-out as far as villain origin stories go.

And, unfortunately, for as much as I enjoyed all of the information Johns dropped on us this week, the first issue of "Blackest Night" fell a bit flat for me too — and probably because my expectations were so high.

See? I bet you thought a formal review wasn't on its way!

The main device Johns uses to bring us readers into the story — a day in which all of the heroes across the planet are gathering to honor their fallen — felt a bit too close to the debut of "Flash: Rebirth," in which Johns began the story gathering heroes into parties everywhere to celebrate Barry Allen. I don't know if we was looking for that symmetry or not, but it came off as unoriginal to me, not clever.

Further, I could not help but compare this first issue to the feeling I remember while reading "Sinestro Corps War #1," which left my jaw on the floor with amazement and possibilities. Here, it was impossible for Johns to floor us with his ideas because all he really did was run through a list of every dead character over the last 20 years, and insinuated that all would be back as BLs. Well ... we've been compiling that same list for the last two years since "Blackest Night" was officially announced, so this issue felt more like a formality instead of a revelation. Learning about Black Lantern Ralph Dibney did not have the saw shock as Yellow Lantern Superboy Prime.

That said, this series definitely leaves the reader with the feeling that the action will be cranked up to 11 in a very short time, so it still managed to hit its goal of getting this reader anxious for more. I just can't wait to see what happens when BL Ted Kord and BL Maxwell Lord team up!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Housekeeping: This week's games and comics

Hey kids, I'm hoping to get on here one more time before taking my vacation with a review of the game I've spent my nights playing lately, "Prototype," but just in case I have no more time to spend with you all for a little while, I figured you would need next week's news.

First off, your link for this week's new video games is HERE. Not much to speak of here, other than "The Bigs 2."

Second, your link to this week's new comic releases is HERE. Books to be excited about include "Green Lantern #43" (The direct prologue to "Blackest Night"!) and "Wednesday Comics #1" (if only for curiosity's sake).

So yeah, either you'll be hearing about "Prototype" on Sunday or after a week of my vacation. I would tell you where I am heading, but I just know you all would try and follow. Frankly, a guy can only sign so many autographs. And only be so delusional.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Early thoughts on 'Worms Armageddon 2'

If you're a loyal reader of this space, then you likely know of my decade-long love of the "Worms" series, namely of the two-dimensional variety.

You likely also know that I've been counting down the days until today for a few weeks, the day "Worms Armageddon 2" hit Xbox Live — a game which not only promised to bring the game back to its glory days but also fix the bugs from the first "Worms" on Xbox Live.

And though I only had a couple of hours to play this sequel before coming into the office, I'm actually already ready to FAIL this game.

Yes, it's given me a pain in my stomach just to admit the sad truth, but the fact is, not too much is improved whatsoever from the first edition of "Worms" on Xbox Live, unless I am somehow missing something big. And keep in mind, this is not a review, just my early impressions.

Let's go over the additions, shall we?

* There is the capacity for all your favorite old weapons, like the concrete donkey and armageddon. However, many you have to earn before you can use and there appears to be NO WAY to change the pre-game settings to different weapon-sets or crate rates.

* You can now rack up points by playing the game, and these points can buy the aforementioned weapons or maps or gravestones.

* You can play Forts!

* Maps are now very vertical, probably twice as tall as they were formally, which likely will help me out if ever I can find a way to play with my beloved MAD COWS.

However, those vertical maps lead me to the biggest flaw in "Worms Armageddon 2," which was also the biggest flaw in the first Xbox Live "Worms" — Ninja Rope is darned near impossible to use skillfully. Again, maybe I just need to spend more time getting a feel for it, but I just don't feel like the controller offers nearly as much delicate feel as a keyboard does. And since the maps are so vertical, roping is that much more important.

Believe it or not, also, on top of decreased mobility with rope, the game also has decreased mobility with — GULP — jumping! Yes, due to the fact that jumping forward is one press of the "X" button and back-flipping is two presses of the "X" button, I found myself committing suicide many times simply because of the game's poor recognition of my commands.

Another major problem I have with this new game which was also formerly present is the fact that you can only have four worms on a team! What's the problem with eight on eight? Is the Xbox Live capabilities really that much weaker than computer games from 10 years ago?

And finally, there is NO WORMNET. I'm looking for a lobby for joining games. I'm looking to be able to host games and set my own game settings. I'm looking for big six-player brawls.

There just isn't enough here that improves upon the Horrible first effort for "Worms" on Xbox Live.

I'm going to play this a little more and hope that it grows on me, if only for pure love for the series, but it looks to me like tonight I start counting my lucky stars that "Worms Armageddon 2" is also slated for a PC release in the coming months.