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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – Black Bolt Vol. 1, Hard Time

Volume 1 of Black Bolt’s solo series, subtitled Hard Time, is out.  Writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Christian Ward fulfilled the promise of the first issue (which I looked at previously) and more.  Ward says a lot about who gets put in prison and why, while not ignoring the kickass fights and teleporting dogs we all crave.

Who is Black Bolt?  Why should I care?

It’s funny, despite the fact that Marvel’s been pushing them for the past few years, AND there was a TV show (which wasn’t great) out this year, AND they are an original creation of Jack Kirby, the Inhumans still feel like a group people don’t know much about.  I think it’s because Terrigenesis is being used in place of “I hit puberty and got my mutant powers” for how to power up new teen heroes.  Everybody’s familiar with a few Inhumans, like Ms. Marvel or Moon Girl, but mostly ignore the Royal Family.

Black Bolt, the silent king of the Inhumans, can speak and shatter mountains.  His voice is a weapon so powerful that he had to be trained from birth to stay perfectly silent (he’s great at parties).  Both his status as king and his necessary silence keep him at arm’s length from most people beyond his immediate family.  This has left Blackagar Boltagon (yeah, that’s his name) as a bit of a blank slate, compared to other heroes who have been around this long.

Doing Hard Time

This series sees Bolt trapped in a crazy prison, his brother Maximus the Mad managing to switch places with him.  He hears a voice, a demand, “NAME YOUR CRIMES!  REPENT YOUR CRIMES!”  He dies, is reborn, and eventually frees himself.  Black Bolt meets his captor and speaks…but nothing happens.  He dies again, and that’s when thing really start.  The other prisoners convince him to work with them on an escape, and it’s a great cast of characters.  The most notable is long-time henchman Carl “Crusher” Creel.  He serves as a sharp contrast to the noble, remote Black Bolt.  My favorite addition to the Marvel universe might be Raava the Unskrulled, a Skrull space pirate who never learned to shapeshift, because she wants her enemies to die seeing her true face.  The book is a great balance between philosophical discussions and butt kicking.

That ART

Christian Ward’s art is gorgeous, from the inky depths of space to bright shocks of color when Black Bolt uses his power, it looks AMAZING.  This might be my favorite comic art since I first encountered David Aja’s work on Hawkguy.  Matt Fraction is actually where I first learned of Ward’s art, in their fever-dream gender-swapped Odyssey comic ODY-C.  I am so glad he’s getting mainstream work, and I sure hope it continues.

Conclusion

If you’re not afraid to think about what we do to criminals and poor people in our world in between all the smashing and crushing, check out Black Bolt: Hard Time.

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Books Review

Book Review – Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis, by Andy Weir, starts out as a bit of a heist book.  Set in the first city on the Moon, Artemis follows Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara as she navigates her life as a porter, her sideline as a smuggler of contraband, and her disapproving father.  One of Jazz’s smuggling clients offers her a sabotage job with a huge payday, but as you might expect, it goes sideways in a hurry.  She gets caught between the Moon’s government and the mob in the midst of a conspiracy that has implications all the way back to Earth.

Quick Review

I enjoyed this book.  I haven’t read The Martian, but I enjoyed the movie (it is one of my son’s favorites).  Jazz is perhaps not as likable as Mark Watney, but there’s still plenty of plausible space science (and space welding, which at least one of my followers will enjoy) and intrigue to go around.  Artemis is a quick read that should satisfy people who can deal with Jazz’s smart-ass-ness and enjoyed The Martian.  Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy.

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Books Review

Book Review – Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines

Terminal Alliance (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse), by Jim C. Hines, takes a futuristic zombie-esque apocalypse and wonders – what happens if someone comes along and fixes it?  Humanity was turned into mindless, shambling monsters, but the Krakau (a squidlike alien race) decides to help fix us.  Eh, more or less.

The story follows a human nicknamed “Mops” and her motley band of space janitors as they get caught up in all manner of mischief.  And might just uncover the galaxy’s biggest conspiracy.  It’s all played for fun, and it’s nice having humans NOT as the leaders of whatever galactic alliance for a change.  We’re the big dumb muscle.

Terminal Alliance knows the score when it comes to sci-fi tropes and does enough to play with them to make it different.  Think Scalzi’s Redshirts, but not quite that obvious.  That makes it a fun palate-cleanser between bloody thousand page epics.  Recommended.

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Console Games PC Games

RIP Marvel Heroes

It’s funny, I am both sad that Marvel Heroes Omega is gone, and completely unsurprised by it.  MH has long been my most played game on Steam, and thoroughly scratched my Diablo itch by providing fun Action RPG gameplay in a non-obnoxious free to play model.  The writing was on the wall when David Brevik left Gazillion, and the slow decline of the game accelerated greatly in the past few weeks.

I’ve talked about Marvel Heroes before, and since that post I’ve added a few hundred more hours, though none in the past few months.  There are a few reasons I stopped playing, the biggest being the “Omega” rebranding.  That’s when Gazillion decided to redo most of the key systems in the game, in a lame cashgrab attempt at console ports.  For someone who had played the PC version off and on since the open beta, the abrupt shift in focus and controller-friendly control changes were annoying.  To top it off, the new Gaz CEO has a history of sexual harrassment so that’s another reason for Disney/Marvel to yank the license.

Marvel Heroes was a ton of fun the past few years.  Weekly events, a fair amount of content, tons of characters that played fairly different.  And characters from all aspects of the Marvel U.  You could have Rocket Raccoon standing next to Luke Cage and Doctor Doom.  The art improved immensely over the years.  The devs were responsive, and even though there were issues, it was clear they cared about making a great game.  Here’s hoping that the talent cut loose find jobs.

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Books Review

Book Review – The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The First Law Trilogy is another series I’m late to, but I enjoyed The Blade Itself quite a bit!  This is not my first Joe Abercrombie, having checked out Half a King previously.  Abercrombie’s books tend to the ‘grimdark’ side of epic fantasy, and this is no exception.

The cast of characters

Much like A Song of Ice and Fire, the book follows several key characters through seemingly unconnected storylines.  Logen Ninefingers, a barbarian in exile from the far north.  He falls in with the wizard Bayaz, who may or may not be the legendary First of the Magi.  Captain Jezal dan Luthar would like nothing more than to fence and drink, but also gets swept up in the intrigues that are afoot.  Finally, Sand dan Glokta used to be a hero of the Union.  Crippled after a stint in the Empire’s prisons, he now spends his days torturing confessions out of the Union’s enemies (and friends) in the Inquisition.

The Blade Itself

The story takes a long time to really get started.  It’s a common complaint and I have to agree.  That being said, there was enough character building going on that I did want to keep going.  Just not at my normal ‘a book every other day’ rate. By the end, though, I was definitely wanting to find out what happened next.  I wish there was more of an ending and less of a “to be continued” feel, but I get that it can be tough to do.

If you are looking for another series to start while GRRM averages approximately a word per day on the next ASoIaF book, this is a solid starting point.  You can find it at Amazon, with a preview in the window below.  Let me know what you think!

 

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TV

How The Inhumans Should’ve Started

The first three episodes of The Inhumans have aired (the fourth is tonight), and they are…not great.  I’m no pessimist, and I’ll probably keep watching, but I have a LOT of thoughts on what went wrong, and how it could’ve been fixed.

Why Inhumans couldn’t be a movie

I actually agree with Marvel that The Inhumans shouldn’t be a movie.  They already caught lightning in a bottle with Guardians of the Galaxy.  Taking a group nobody knows and making them a huge hit may not have worked again.  Plus, you’ve already introduced the idea of Inhumans on TV via Agents of SHIELD.  Why give up that synergy?  It’s one place where Marvel could look to DC for inspiration.  A lot of the fun with the DC TV universe right now is how they can intermingle at will.  Wally West can pop in on Legends of Tomorrow, Felicity can slide into The Flash.  Use that.

Rushed it

“…”  -Black Bolt’s best line of the series

It seems clear to me that the background strive between Marvel’s TV and movie arm had a huge negative effect on The Inhumans.  What we ended up with was a movie-length story stretched to fit 8 TV episodes.  We have no reason to care about the Royal Family.  You can’t even tell whether or not Maximus is in the wrong.  That might work as an action movie where you just keep up a breakneck pace, but for 8 TV hours, nope.

Should’ve been SHIELD

If it were me, I would’ve gone ahead and made this part of Agents of SHIELD.  They had some great success with story arcs last season, and that could’ve worked well here.  You can even start building things the same way.  Triton comes to Earth to rescue an Inhuman, but instead of finding some babe in the woods, it’s Daisy.  I mean, it’s unclear how many times Black Bolt has sent people to Earth to rescue Nuhumans.  Has he really never encountered someone aware of the whole Inhuman society that happened?  How did he find out about Nuhumans, period? Those things break down the more you think about them.  If you bring SHIELD into the mix, you can build from a stronger base.  Maybe the Royal Family team with Coulson/Daisy to help the Nuhumans escape from a shadowy organization that’s hunting them.  You can then build Maximus’s betrayal out over the whole episode arc.  It would also give you time to show just WHY Black Bolt’s rule is a good one.  Because brutal caste systems aren’t usually something we’re supposed to root for.

Marvel missed big with The Inhumans.  On the plus side, the characters exist now in the MCU (albeit the TV branch).  Even if their show is cancelled, there’s no reason they can’t appear further.  In the mean time, read Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s Black Bolt series.

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Review TV

Pilot Season – The Gifted

The Gifted is a new X-Men-adjacent show on Fox, which I will explain momentarily, and it’s pretty awesome.  It’s almost too bad for Marvel that The Inhumans release around the same time, because it’s not even a contest as to which is better.

“Adjacent”

The first question with most comic book adaptations nowadays is what does it connect to.  The short answer so far for The Gifted is, nothing really.  It exists in an alternate universe where “something” has happened that has caused both the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to disappear.  The rest of the mutants are just trying to stay alive, with the government actively hunting down any mutant that uses their powers and “threatens public safety”.  More than any property since X-Men: The Animated Series, they truly show a world where mutants are hated and feared.

The Story

The Gifted follows Reed and Kate Strucker, and their mutant children Andy and Lauren.  After an event that outs Andy and Lauren as mutants (Lauren knew and had been hiding her abilities), the family has to go on the run.  A major complicating factor is the fact that Reed is a prosecutor that focuses on mutant cases.  That doesn’t exactly make him a trusted figure in the mutant community.

What Works

They have a great set of actors, save maybe for the young man playing Andy (Percy Hynes White).  However, he’s got time to grow into the role.  Stephen Moyer (late of True Blood) and Amy Acker (Angel, Person of Interest) are very good as the parents, expertly showing the stress and conflict of people who had been comfortable in a life, now thrust into something very different.  The mutants are solid so far, with a mix of new characters for the show and familiar faces from the comics.  This includes Emma Dumont as Lorna Dane/Polaris, Jamie Chung as Clarice Ferguson/Blink, and Blair Redford as John Proudstar/Thunderbird.

What Doesn’t

Like I said, not sold on Andy but there’s time to grow.  Lorna’s story leans heavily on prison cliches but I’m still interested to see what happens.

Where We Go From Here

The next episode has already aired, and continues the solid presentation of this version of the X-Men universe.  They’ve nailed ‘hated and feared’ much better than the movies, and The Gifted should continue being more accessible than Legion.  I’m all in.

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Review TV

Pilot Season – The Inhumans

I’ve watched the two episodes of Marvel’s new show, The Inhumans, and I’m reminded very strongly of season one of Agents of SHIELD.  With a little of the lackluster parts of Iron Fist thrown in for good measure.  It’s not great, but there is the tiniest of hope in me still that it can get there.

The Basics

Inhumans, in case you aren’t a comics fan or caught up on Agents of SHIELD, are humans who are descended from ancestors who were experimented on by the Kree long ago.  When exposed to a material called Terrigen, they mutat–*Fox kicks in the door*–er, transform in some way.  Some gain cool powers, some might just get a minor change, like a tail or cat ears.  The Inhuman royal family lives on the moon in the city of Attilan, where a rigid caste system somehow keeps the population limited…?  It’s honestly a bit unclear.

The Family

You have Black Bolt, the silent King, who has a voice that can shatter mountains, and Queen Medusa, whose can control her long super-strong hair.  Medusa’s sister, Crystal, can control the four classical elements (earth, fire, water, air).  Gorgon has hooves.  Karnak sees the flaw in all things – he’s one of my favorite Inhumans.  Triton is the acquatic member of the family.  Maximus is Black Bolt’s brother, and seems so far to have no powers from his Terrigenesis (though if they follow the comics that may not be the case).  He thinks the Inhumans belong on Earth.

What Works

They do the best they can with the costumes.  Like most shows, they don’t like covering the heads of anyone expected to emote, and that’s going to be double for Black Bolt, who can’t speak without destroying people.  I’m curious about where they are going with this, which is enough to get me watching the next episode.  I like Ken Leung as Karnak, and Iwan Rheon is good as Maximus.

What Doesn’t

The CGI is lacking for sure.  They seem to have improved Medusa’s hair somewhat, but then they work around that anyway.  Lockjaw is cute but never seems to inhabit the scene, and he’s sidelined too.  A lot of the rest of the acting is subpar, though the dialogue given to them doesn’t help.  My hope is that it improves as you get past the pilot but it’s a Scott Buck show.  There was a lot of exposition to get through, but it’s done as just static infodumps.  Even those would be okay, but the dialogue is clunky.

Where We Go From Here

I was able to make it through the early bits of Agents of SHIELD because I liked some of the characters, and was curious about the mystery of Coulson’s return.  There’s less of an “in” here because you haven’t met any of these people before.  It’s a short season so I’m probably in for the rest (especially with a Kevin Tanchareon-directed episode coming up) but I wouldn’t blame anybody who bailed.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Death Note (Netflix)

Oof, where to begin?  I come to Netflix’s adaptation of the Death Note manga not from any sort of fandom.  It’s one I was dimly aware of, but haven’t read or watched any of the anime.  I was interested mostly because of the “Willem Dafoe voicing a death god” angle.  Having watched it now, I don’t feel it was a complete waste of time but it wasn’t exactly a paragon of entertainment.

The elephant in the room

This movie is based on the Japanese manga of the same name, and when you take media from another culture and adapt it, you’ve got to be extra careful.  I’m not against adaptations like that, some great material has come about from doing just that.  However, there has to be a reason you made that move.  There’s a great example in the Hollywood Reporter story about Death Note by Rebecca Sun.  The Departed may be a remake of Infernal Affairs, but the cultural differences are a tool used in the story.  It’s different because of who it’s about.  Here, they made Light white but it doesn’t matter to the story.  Beyond seeing the Space Needle, there’s no way to tell this is even an American city, let alone Seattle.  If you’re going to change the culture the movie is steeped in, make it matter.

The rest of the story

For the movie itself, there were a few good performances mixed with some not-so-good.  I liked Lakeith Stanfield as L, and Shea Whigham fills the cop-dad role well.  And yeah, Willem Dafoe, awesome.  Unfortunately, Nat Wolff and Margaret Qualley as Light and Mia fail to carry the movie.  Uneven performances combined with odd directing choices (see below) means you end up laughing at a scene that was not supposed to be funny a few too many times.

Yikes.  Light is supposed to be a genius, but beyond a little cleverness with the ending, it’s mostly lip service.  Mia is annoying as heck, and I definitely don’t see why this guy would want her to stick around.

Is it the worst thing on Netflix?  No, they keep letting Adam Sandler make movies.  But I’d have to get pretty far down the my list to think about re-watching, which is not a good sign (I re-watch stuff all the time despite the list).  Maybe just read the manga or watch the anime instead (which you can currently see on Netflix also).

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Review TV

TV Review – Amazon’s The Tick Season One

I mentioned this when I talked about the pilot episode, that it amazes me that The Tick keeps getting chances.  The latest show, on Amazon, is the third time the hero has appeared on our screens.  Not bad for a hero that was created a mascot for a comic book shop.  The comics that came from that, and the original 3 seasons of cartoons on Fox helped launch creator Ben Edlund’s career.  He’s written, produced and directed some of nerd-dom’s favorite projects, including Supernatural, Angel, Firefly, the Venture Brothers and more.

Branding is power.  – The Terror

This version of The Tick is a bit darker and dare I say grittier than the previous televised versions, while at the same time skewering dark and gritty comic shows.  The Tick himself doesn’t know who exactly he is, other than being The Tick.  Arthur, too, has some mental issues stemming from a traumatic childhood.  He saw The Terror kill both his father and his favorite heroes.  So yeah, pretty dark, but don’t worry – there’s plenty of the trademark humor to be had.  They even manage to make product placement funny, with the The Terror intoning “Alexa, play ominous music!” at one point.  They parody Superman and the Punisher (who’s been a frequent target of Edlund’s in the previous Tick incarnations), and there’s even a giant naked guy just wandering around.  Ms. Lint, one of the primary villains, still lives with her ex and the relationship definitely recalls the American Maid/Die Fledermaus interplay.

If there’s a negative, it’s that the humor may not be for everyone.  The show definitely leans into the absurdist nature of universes populated by talking super-dogs and hundred year old villains.  It’s also a bit jarring to see the level of violence in a show about The Tick.  The suit looks terrible in the pilot episode, but that was fixed for the rest of the series (and doesn’t pass uncommented).

I had some trepidation about this but by the end I was fully on board.  Peter Serafinowicz is a great Tick, Griffin Newman and Valorie Curry work well as Arthur and Dot, and the rest of the ensemble do their part.

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Review TV

TV Review – The Defenders

With only 8 episodes, I was able to make it through The Defenders over the weekend, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It’s not perfect, and does run into some of the same problems as the previous Netflix shows.  Despite that, there are plenty of really enjoyable bits.

The basics behind The Defenders

The Defenders brings together all the principal players from the Netflix Marvel shows to take on the Hand once and for all.  But it takes some time to do so, starting out by giving us a glimpse of where each character is at the start.  Matt (Daredevil) is trying to live a non-super life, doing pro bono work.  Jessica Jones is avoiding work altogether despite Marcus and Trish trying to get her back in the game.  They are unsuccessful until she gets a strange call after turning down what she thinks is a typical cheating husband job.  Luke Cage is sprung from prison legally, thanks in part to Foggy Nelson.  Danny Rand is hunting the Hand across the globe, but is told they are up to shenanigans in New York.  This sets all our heroes on the path to their first meetings.

What works

We’ve been waiting forever to see some of these characters meet, and for the most part, it’s great fun.  Finally, there are people who roll their eyes at all of Danny’s “I’ve got to focus my chi, brah” antics.  Jessica’s double-takes every time Matt is in costume are worth it, too.  The action is a lot better than in Iron Fist.  Sigourney Weaver is a boss.  Claire is so good it hurts.  The combat, for the most part, works and showcases the different fighting styles.

What doesn’t

There’s a bit of shoehorning as far as “let’s have these characters meet to set up the future”.  There’s a severe lack of ninjas thanks to the updated origin of the Hand.  (vague spoiler) They sort of repeat the surprise villain death that happened in Luke Cage (end vague spoiler).  While I love the interplay between all the characters, they sit and talk just a hair too much.  While the fight scenes are better in general, they are poorly lit.

What’s next

I won’t spoil things, but there’s a pretty huge Daredevil-related cliffhanger, and the show leaves the rest of the Defenders in a much different place.  I feel like we got a worthy finish to what was started way back in Daredevil’s first season, and hopefully the forthcoming seasons can build on it in an interesting way.  If you’d like to know more about what may be coming, try these books:

 

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Spider-Man: Homecoming

*some spoilers, but seriously I’m like the last person to see this*

I really loved Spider-Man: Homecoming, though I can see why there were a few people who didn’t.  It’s not what you expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not exactly.  Sure, it’s a superhero story, there’s Iron Man flying around, supervillains with crazy weapons, the usual.  But it is counter-balanced by teen drama (and comedy) which is a bit of a shift compared to the rest of the MCU.  I thought it was a solid balance, and very entertaining, even if it won’t supplant my top MCU movies (which are, in no particular order, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Winter Soldier, and Civil War).

The other thing which bothers a certain subset of fans is changes from the source.  Whether it’s Ned basically being Ganke, or hot Aunt May, or “MJ”, they’ll find something to complain about.  I’ve said it before, an adaptation HAS TO change things to be interesting.  Sure, there’s a balancing act where if you go too far, you don’t recognize how one connects to the other but we’re nowhere near that line here.  Peter still got bit by a radioactive spider, he lost Uncle Ben, he’s got the ol’ Parker luck.  The words may not have been said directly in this or Civil War but Peter is absolutely living by “With Great Power comes Great Responsibility”.  Tony Stark was quite different from RDJr, but it worked out for everyone.  Peter Quill didn’t stand out at all until they ported in James Gunn’s version to the comics.

Okay, to the rest of the movie.  I loved Michael Keaton as Toomes/The Vulture.  I found myself both feeling sorry for him (seriously, Tony Stark fucks up EVERYTHING), and recoiling from a legitimately scary villain.  The scene when Peter goes to pick Liz up for the prom, and the car ride was tense.  I can hear Zendaya’s MJ calling Parker ‘Tiger’, easily.  I love Marisa Tomei, and you can’t help but laugh at the mom jeans and ugly glasses they try to use to make her seem old and unattractive.  Laura Harrier, Jacob Batalon, and the other “kids” did a solid job as well.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is great if you like your MCU mixed up with a coming-of-age tale.  There’s superheroics, teen angst, marriage proposals, and goofy public service announcements.  And Peter, maybe learn to lock your door.