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Comics

Marvel Joins Amazon Prime Reading

Just a head’s up for anybody who likes to get their money’s worth out of their Amazon Prime subscription, Marvel is now partnered with Amazon to have their comics show up there (as well as some selections in Kindle Unlimited and Comixology Unlimited).  Those are cool if you already pay the extra subscription fee for either service, but even if you don’t, there’s some very good stuff to check out in Prime Reading.  Here’s my favorites:

Star Wars, Volume 1 and Darth Vader, Volume 1:  When Marvel got the license to publish Star Wars comics, they went big.  Assigning some of their best writers and artists (Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron, Salvador Larroca, John Cassaday, Adi Granov, and others).  These comics both follow on straight out of A New Hope, and they go a long way to re-establishing Darth Vader as the pre-eminent menace in that galaxy far, far away.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 1:  If you haven’t read this yet, there’s no excuse.  Kamala Khan matters more than ever in our current political climate, a daughter of Muslim immigrants who fights crime not because of some great tragedy, but was inspired by other heroism in the world.  And the story is a ton of fun, to boot.  G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona made a great creative team (along with Stephen Wacker and Sana Amanat editing and helping to create the character).

Hawkeye, Volume 1:  I’ve evangelized this series before, so hopefully you’ve already read it, but here’s yet another chance.

There’s also some Iron Fist, Deadpool, the first volume of Alias (Jessica Jones), and a few other solid comics.  If you are already subscribed to Amazon Prime, there’s no reason not to use Prime Reading.

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Comics Review

What’s New on Marvel Unlimited – May 22 to May 28, 2016

Every week, Marvel adds new comics to their Marvel Unlimited service. Sometimes it’s new stuff – most series they publish get issues added about 6 months after they are released in shops – and others it’s older comics. But there’s always something interesting and I will point them out weekly.

Starting thing this week is the new Ms. Marvel #1.  Kamala has everything she ever wanted (mostly).  She’s an awesome superhero, an Avenger even, hanging with the likes of Tony Stark, Miles Morales, and Sam Alexander.  But Kamala learns that once you go public, you’re no longer in control of your image.  And sometimes that shady real estate developer using your face to pave over your neighborhood just might be hiding something more sinister.  G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Ian Herring are your creators.

Next up is Star Wars: Vader Down #1.  If the prequels’ take on Lord Vader depressed you, this should cheer you up.  THIS is the Darth Vader who stomps onto Rebel ships and chokes the life out of anyone in his way.  Just check this out.  Jason Aaron, Mike Deodato and Frank Martin Jr creating based on an overall story arc by Aaron and Kieron Gillen.

VaderDown1

Lastly, you have Spider-Woman #1, starring Jessica Drew…pregnant??  It’s a cliched twist I admit, but it’s handled in a fun way here.  I definitely want to see what’s coming next.  Dennis Hopeless, Javier Rodriguez, Alvaro Lopez.

Other comics of note:

  • Star-Lord #1 – go back and see how young Peter Quill lied, cheated, and stole his way into space.
  • This week’s 90s nostalgia is thanks to a bunch of X-Factor issues getting added.
  • The Astonishing Ant-Man #2 for more Scott Lang adventures
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Comics Review

Our Free Comic Book Day 2015 Haul!

Above you can see the picks both me and my kids picked out for Free Comic Book Day 2015!  I didn’t get to get out early so I missed a couple of the free books I wanted (the Dark Horse sampler with the Avatar: The Last Airbender comic, and Terrible Lizard) but we still got a bunch of cool stuff.  Some favorites:

  • Cleopatra in Space:  I *love* the art in this, and I can tell my daughters are going to enjoy it.  I see buying all the books.
  • The Invincible Iron Man War Machine collection:  My son’s pick (I think Age of Ultron affected this one), and a huge nostalgia bomb for me as I collected every one of these issues when I was a teenager.
  • Infinity Gauntlet/Planet Hulk #1:  These were both $1 reprints and my son really seemed to enjoy them.
  • Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman:  My girls both pegged on this one, as the cover art pulled them in.  Two stories, with one featuring interior art from Mike Maihack, of the above Cleopatra in Space.  Just a ton of fun.
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4:  What can I say, Doreen reminds me of my Mattie and my wife reading the dialogue out loud to us was hilarious.

I think we’ll have to go back to the shop again sooner this time.  I was very happy to see lots of young women and girls out, and my daughters definitely liked seeing a wider selection of stuff with girls/women on the cover.  They both pointed out stuff like She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel while also picking up things like Dan Slott/Humberto Ramos’s The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1.  All in all, I call that a successful day out.

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Books Review

Book Review – Star Wars: A New Dawn

Are you watching the new Star Wars cartoon, Rebels?  Do you want to know more about Kanan?  Well, it takes quite a while to get interesting, but A New Dawn is your jam.  There’s insight into Kanan (then under his real name) and his training as a Padawan before Order 66, the first meeting with Hera, and a cyborg efficiency expert as the villain.  Okay, only some of those things are cool.  At the end of the day, that’s what keeps this book from getting out of mediocrity – John Jackson Miller seems convinced that all of the particular world he’s built and the political junk between the villain and the guy trying to take over his position are much more interesting than finding out more about a hidden potential Jedi.  Still, enjoyable enough.  Thanks to NetGalley for the chance to read it.

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Books

Book Review: Star Wars – Tarkin

Remember how strange it was in Ocean’s Twelve when it was revealed that Danny and the boys had won because they had outsmarted the bad guys off-screen? Yeah, pretty much what you have here.  We begin Tarkin, by James Luceno, with an attack on a station Moff Tarkin is familiar with, so Palpatine (now the Emperor as the book is set not long after Episode 3) sends Tarkin and Vader to go check out what happened.  BUT!  It turns out it was a ploy to get Tarkin out there, as Rebels steal his badass stealth ship to go rampaging.  It’s up to Tarkin and Vader to get it back.

Unfortunately, ‘getting it back’ mostly involves Tarkin being outsmarted at every turn, and Vader mostly being there as a threatening presence.  How many of you buy a book about the bad guys on the threat that Vader might force-choke a dude?  Tarkin spends most of the book getting outsmarted and relaying to Vader barely-related stories from his childhood, until the end when it’s revealed that no, I meant to lose all along.  He and Palpatine had a plan to ferret out some traitors in their midst and deal a blow to the barely-formed Rebel Alliance.  But we are really only told about this as an after-the-fact taunt.

Tarkin is really hard to justify.  Grand Moff Tarkin was a great villain in part because of the mystery.  We have the amazing Peter Cushing on screen for a few minutes, he orders a Princess tortured, snarks at Lord Vader, and blows up a whole damn planet because it makes a good example.  If you are removing the air of mystery surrounding a character like that, you would do well to make them a heck of a lot more interesting than this.  As always, thanks to NetGalley for the chance to check this out.

Amazon link: Tarkin: Star Wars

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Books Review

Book Review – Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves

As soon as I heard James S. A. Corey (the Sci-fi pen name for writers Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) had signed on to write a Star Wars novel, I was all in. Even better was the fact that most SW novels get put on Netgalley so I can read them early review them for you.  This is actually the second of three books in the ‘Empire and Rebellion’ series (though they are not interconnected), which has books that follow each of the three primary protagonists of the original trilogy in a new story set during the Rebellion.  The first, Razor’s Edge, focused on Princess Leia.  Honor Among Thieves is all about Han.

The first thing I’d point out is the only thing you need to know about the Star Wars universe to enjoy this book is just the original trilogy.  That’s great, as some of the other books are deep into the Expanded Universe nerdery (and much of that may be getting swept aside as Disney tries to make it one big happy universe).

This story follows Han and Chewie after the destruction of the first Death Star, as they try and reconcile being scoundrels who dislike any and all governments with working for the Rebels, whose stated goal is to replace the Empire with a new Republic.  I really enjoyed Han’s internal struggle – he likes and trusts Leia and Luke, but doesn’t (yet) want to join the team.  This plays well against the new hero we meet in Scarlet Hark.  Han and Chewie go on a simple mission to extract the Rebel spy, but thing don’t go exactly according to plan.  But hey, do they ever?  What it kicks off is a race between the Rebels and the Empire for a long-lost superweapon that adds a very Indiana Jones feel to the Star Wars universe.  The use of Leia and Scarlet as a choice between the independent life of a smuggler and the legitimate government agent works well to build the character of Han into the man we know later in Return of the Jedi as well as in Zahn’s books.  If I had any complaints – and they’d be very minor – it’s that the plot contrivance of a superweapon created by a long-lost race seems a bit played, but it didn’t take my enjoyment away at all from the rest.  There’s a few EU lore bits that stuck out as being off, such as a Noghri appearing (and Han knowing what it was) but again, doesn’t cause a problem for the story.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in what happened during the Rebel years, or who enjoys Corey’s Expanse series.  Honor Among Thieves will be on sale 3/4.

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Books Review

Book Review – Maul: Lockdown

It was with some trepidation that I started this latest Star Wars novel, Maul: Lockdown.  Kindly provided via NetGalley, it had several warning signs.  First, it’s about a prequel trilogy character, one that barely qualified AS a character.  Maul was red and black, and had a saber-staff.  He got killed by Obi-Wan, which has to be kind of embarrassing, honestly.  This had “retroactive badass” written all over it.  That’s my term for a character that’s a throwaway or unimportant who later (in subsequent movies or ‘Expanded Universe’ stuff) gets turned into the most awesomest guy EVAR.  Boba Fett is your poster child.  The second knock against the book is the author, Joe Schreiber – his catalog is mostly supernatural horror, of the Eli Roth variety.  The third knock was the completely unoriginal ‘prison/gladiator fighting ring’ plot.

There are some positives here though.  The story does move at a solid clip, and the fights are the well-described brutality one might imagine of a prison fighting ring.  Maul is sent to the prison to find an arms dealer who has been hiding there for years, and has a secondary mission of acquiring a weapon that Palpatine will use for his own nefarious purposes.  The ending feels very abrupt, with things that seemed important earlier sort of glossed over.  I kept trying to page past the end for more but there was none.

Maul: Lockdown wasn’t terrible by Star Wars EU novel standards, and if you are more of a horror fan it may be worth your time.  For everyone else, it’s probably a pass.  Here’s the link to check it out.

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Console Games Featured PC Games

Vintage Gaming – Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast

First person shooters were huge for me when I was younger, despite the fact I wasn’t very good at them.  That meant FPS’s that still had a single player story were much loved and more likely to be bought.  Jedi Outcast was the second ‘Jedi Knight’ game but the third game starring Kyle Katarn, one of my favorite ‘Expanded Universe’ Star Wars characters.  In Dark Forces, we learn that Katarn was instrumental in the theft of the original Death Star plans delivered to Princess Leia.  In Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, Katarn learns of his Force sensitivity and defeats a Dark Jedi who killed his father.

The Kyle Katarn we see in JK2 is an older man who has set aside his Jedi ways and is trying to just live his mercenary life, having been scarred by very nearly turning to the Dark Side.  However, things go wrong when he encounters a Dark Jedi and is soundly defeated – and his partner presumed murdered – when investigating odd Imperial activity relating to Jedi history.  He takes up his lightsaber once more find the culprits.

The game used a modified Quake III: Team Arena engine which looked plenty good for the time, and performed well.  All of the typical Force powers are there, including lightning and grip (choke), and if there’s one problem, it’s that you don’t have the powers and your saber right off the bat due to the story.  Which is a great story, by the way, with the expected cameos (including Billy Dee Williams as Lando).

The other side of this is the multiplayer.  It was pretty popular for it’s time, I had a great time playing JK2 with friends and at LAN parties, and still install it for nostalgia’s sake every once in a while.  I keep it unpatched so I can use the ridiculously fun if overpowered Force grip power to grab dudes and toss them off ledges.  The bots are fun to play against and can have dynamic difficulty (so you don’t constantly pwn them).  Very handy if you don’t have enough people looking to play.  A nice touch with that is each bot plays differently – the Lando bot doesn’t use the Force, for example, but is deadly with the other weapons.  Which are fun Star Wars-ized versions of your typical FPS weapons.  Each has an alt-fire mode to add a little more depth.

But really, if you are playing this or any of the other Jedi Knight games (which will be covered too, all are awesome), you want to fight with a lightsaber.  You will not be disappointed with JK2 for this, as it kicks ass.  3 different combat styles, each with different special moves, combined with the ability to throw your saber, saber clashes and more really make the lightsaber combat sing.  Another nice touch is the ability to challenge another player to single combat, allowing you to duel your opponent without taking any damage from (or doing damage to) everyone else in the level.

Look, this is one game I could go on and on about (500 words and counting!) but I say, let’s play it.  SO, I am going to get my JK2 server up and running, maybe tonight, and I challenge anyone who wants to be destroyed beat the snot out of me to dig out their copy and have a go.  I’ll update the post with the server IP when I get it going.

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Books Review

Book Review – Kenobi (Star Wars)

Got this one as a review copy from NetGalley, and it’s a bit better than the last one (Crucible).  It’s about, as you might guess, Obi-Wan Kenobi, as he tries to watch over the infant Luke.  It’s framed by Obi-Wan’s attempts to recreate the meditation Yoda showed him in order to speak to Qui-Gon.  The rest of the story plays out much like a western, with the Sandpeople taking the role of the (possibly not so) evil Indians, the black-hatted head of the local militia/neighborhood watch/cattle baron trying to wipe them out, and the simple, honest townsfolk caught in the middle.  There’s even a potential love interest for our Jedi Master taking the Miss Kitty spot, though not in a space bordello.

That woman is the real driving force of the story – Annileen runs the general store/saloon in these parts, having taken it over when her husband passed.  Both she and her daughter take a shine to the mysterious stranger, moreso when he time and again steps in to try and smooth over an argument or defuse a dangerous situation.  The resolution of the main plot gets a little jumbly and scattered, but the story is worth reading if you like Obi-Wan, and want to learn about what he did to keep busy after setting up shop to watch Luke.  John Jackson Miller does a solid job making the idea of people living on Tatooine make sense.  The book is out today, if it sounds like something you’d enjoy.  It’s one of the better SW EU books I’ve read recently.

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Books Review

Book Review: Crucible (Star Wars)

I am quite out of date with the Star Wars ‘Expanded Universe’ stuff, as I’ve mostly kept to Timothy Zahn and a few other notable books after being burned by KJA.  But I was cruising NetGalley for books to review, and they had a couple of Star Wars books in the mix.  This, Crucible was the first.  I’d like to tell you what it was about, but I’ll be damned if I can really tell you, despite reading it over the course of a week.  Something about mining, and hidden bases, and a way to empower anyone with the Force.  It almost felt like someone took elements from other Star Wars content (the hidden base sounds a lot like where Daala’s fleet hid in KJA’s books, the Crucible itself could be heavily inspired by the Valley of the Jedi in the Jedi Knight PC games, etc.) and mashed them together.

Even that, in and of itself, wouldn’t be a problem, but none of the writing seized my attention.  Things happened, but none of it felt particularly important.  Much of it also didn’t feel true to the characters as we know them.  The Star Wars universe should feel vibrant, energetic – Space Opera! – but if you made this book into a movie, I’d feel like every bit would be gray and brown.  It’s too bad;  Troy Denning has written a lot of books in various shared universes (Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun and Planescape along with Star Wars) but I’d avoid this one.

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PC Games Review

Get to know an MMO – Star Wars: The Old Republic

A continuing series where I look at current MMO games from a Free to Play perspective (as I’m too much of a cheapskate to pay for a monthly fee unless the game is REALLY good).

I wanted to try this as soon as I’d heard of it – a new Star Wars game from Bioware?  Great!  I was disappointed when I saw it was a MMO, but if anyone would get some benefit of the doubt, it’s them.  I gave it a shot in the beta, and it was pretty darn fun.  I couldn’t justify a subscription as I always feel like I don’t have enough time to play that would justify it.  Now that it’s ‘free’ to play, well, here I am.

Just as during the beta, the most impressive part of TOR is the story – expansive, detailed, worthy of the Star Wars name.  Just what you’d expect from Bioware.  It doesn’t stray too far from the usual MMO combat, but it looks great.  The right touches are there from the source material, all the right races, and a deeper look at much of it.  If you consume the ‘Expanded Universe’ books and comics, you’ll be at an advantage.  One other nice touch is your companion – they have their own stories, can sometimes be romanced if you’re into that sort of thing, and can cover some of the gaps in your own abilities.  Beyond that, the game seems pretty similar to others of it’s type, just really well done.

“Free” to Play Annoyance Factor:  High.  Look, it’s not completely the game’s fault.  I think any MMO that didn’t have a free to play model in place day one will have these annoyances, but it’s still worth pointing out.  What do you keep away from the FTP folks?  How obvious will it be after the change?  Unfortunately for The Old Republic, it’s pretty damn obvious.  I played a Jedi, and I got my lightsaber after the climactic battle that ends your training.  I got a rare hilt in the loot drop, but guess what?  Can’t use rare gear unless you subscribe, or buy an ‘authorization’.  So just put that on the shelf as a souvenir, I guess.  There are whole rows of vendors in some areas that are for real money stuff (or at least, I couldn’t figure out how I’d use them).  This link shows you all of the restrictions FTP players face.  I understand they need to have compelling reasons for people to subscribe, but it gets annoying to get hit over the head with it so often.

Despite all of that, the game is quite a bit of fun.  I actually considered subscribing after playing it again for this post, but ultimately decided it still wouldn’t be of use to me.  Even though I really wanted to pimp out my lightsaber.

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Books Review

Book Review – Spiral, a Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith Comic

I have a review copy of the trade paperback collection of the five part Spiral series, which is a Star Wars comic set in the Old Republic era.  This means that the Sith are still an entire empire of their own, though the ‘Lost Tribe of the Sith’ are actually a splinter group stranded on a planet with no means of travel or communication off-world.  Got all that?  Yeah, me neither.  What it means is lightsabers and Force powers all over the place.  Can’t be all bad.

In fact, if there’s one problem I had with it, it’s that everybody’s a ‘bad guy’.  Sith all over the damn place.  I have a hard time playing evil characters in games, and a hard time rooting for them in books.  Also, the EU’s tough red-headed Jedi woman role is already filled, even if Mara Jade isn’t born for several thousand more years.  Seems derivative.  Anyway, it was entertaining enough to read despite the issues, which may be specific to me.  I wanted to know what happened, even if it ended up being just the slightly less evil guys that won out.