With the launch of the ninth console generation coming in just two more weeks, the excitement that is being felt within gaming circles is palpable. All of the next gen console preorders were sold out within minutes of them going live, and for those lucky few who managed to secure their orders, the week of November 9th will be a busy one. As has been the case for nearly two decades now, the big two competitors will be Sony and Microsoft, pitting their flagship consoles (The Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X respectively) against each other, in a battle for the domination of the holiday market. However, in this generation, Microsoft has introduced a wrinkle into the traditional two console battle; a smaller, less powerful, but more cost efficient console known as the Xbox Series S, which is retailing for $200 less than its aforementioned competitors. 

The backlash to this announcement was sudden and harsh in the gaming community, with many expressing their belief that this console would be holding technological progress back so that Microsoft could enforce parity with the more powerful Series X. Others were confused, wondering why this console, barely an upgrade on current generation hardware, would need to exist at all. Suffice it to say, the general reaction to the announcement of the Series S has ranged from vitriolic to apathetic. However, for my money, this is the console I’m currently most excited about. 

I think that the Series S has the potential to serve a number of underappreciated, niche audiences, but for now I want to focus on a couple of key factors that I think will give the system a place in the new generation. To begin, consider the world that these consoles will be launching in. It’s one in which many people, especially in the West (one of the largest markets in this industry) are facing unemployment, eviction, and a loss of healthcare. While it is much too late to be pushing back the release of these consoles, both companies are being forced to market them as luxury products in a time where many don’t even know where their next paycheck is going to come from. By offering a much lower price point (almost half of the $500 price tag on the Series X and PS5), Microsoft is providing people with a way to enter into the next generation without bankrupting themselves on a flagship console. 

This ties in with a broader approach to the new generation that Microsoft is attempting, which is to get people invested in the Xbox ecosystem at any cost. According to a rumor floating around the internet, the company is taking a big hit on the production costs for these units, especially on the Series S. This indicates that they think the trade off is worth it in order to have an Xbox console be the one that occupies the most homes by Christmas. While there is a conversation to be had about corporate consolidation and the dangers of monopolies in any industry (especially given how large Microsoft has grown over the last two years), this means that there is a huge market that will be invested in the new generation that might otherwise have been ignored for several years. By extension, that means huge growth for an industry that will inevitably be hit hard by current events.

This should be reason enough for the existence of the Series S, but there are other factors that will contribute to its success. The price point at which it is launching is low enough to compete with the current consoles, despite the increase in power. This means that when current hardware inevitably breaks, it will be roughly the same price to upgrade to a newer generation, which will mean new sources of revenue for Microsoft. This, combined with their commitment to backwards compatibility with old tech and games, means that there will be more people than ever invested in the newer generation, and that’s something that anyone with even a passing interest in the industry, or medium, should be excited about. After all, what purpose is there in trying to exclude others from an industry that is making such strides towards inclusivity? There’s room for the Series S in this medium, and there’s room for new competition too.

In a massive stroke of luck that seems uncharacteristic for this year, I managed to secure pre-orders for two consoles over the last few months, and this last week, I’ve put in time with both the Playstation 5 and the Xbox Series S. While it’s likely to be a few more months until people who missed out on pre-orders can get their hands on either of these new machines, we now have a very good idea of what the next 6-8 years of console gaming are going to look like. There are things to be excited about, things to be cautiously optimistic about, and things to be just plain old cautious about. So, without any further preamble, let’s take a look at what the ninth generation of consoles has to offer. 

First Impressions

What immediately struck me in the months leading to these console launches is that this generation seemed much more focused on the experience of the consumer than the last one was. I’m sure many people still remember the infamous reveal of the Xbox One, and this time around, there was nothing so blatantly anti-consumer as that. Instead, we got two vastly different approaches to the way in which each console was advertised; with Microsoft, it was all about getting people invested in a familiar and increasingly ubiquitous Xbox ecosystem at any cost, while Sony went for a more traditional focus on more powerful hardware and a ton of exclusive games. Both approaches had merit, and both offered a particular experience for the consumer. I got my Xbox Series S so that I could continue to play all the games I’ve spent the last 12 years accumulating on a more powerful machine, not so that I could play the newest and shiniest games on the market. To that point, I haven’t been disappointed in the slightest. It feels like an iterative upgrade on the Xbox One, and for the price point of the Series S, that’s a great value to me. On the flip side, I got a PS5 to be my flagship console for the remainder of the generation, giving me a way to play new releases over the next few years the way they were intended to be played, and I haven’t been disappointed with it either. The technology, which we’ll get into soon, is genuinely  impressive, and I’ve had a blast diving into the launch games for it. 

Unfortunately, the lack of launch games is the biggest issue with the new consoles. Microsoft made the questionable choice to advertise the fact that there would be no exclusives to the Series X/S for a few years, and many of the games that Sony was promising were delayed until 2021. As a result, neither console has a particularly robust launch lineup, and much of what I’ve been playing on them since I finished the Demon’s Souls Remake are last-gen games. Granted, this isn’t a terrible thing; on the contrary, I love that both consoles have a way to access a back catalogue of games for a small subscription fee. It negates that ancient problem of unpacking your new console, finishing whatever game you got with it, then allowing it to gather dust while you wait to expand your library. However, there’s only so many times I can play Fallout 4 and Bloodborne, and unless you’re looking to play Demon’s Souls (a remake of a game that’s over a decade old) or replace a previous generation console with a new model, there’s no real reason to buy any of the new boxes yet. 

The Technology

Something that’s really stuck out in this generation is that it seems as though the obsession with realistic graphics is finally over. Make no mistake, the games on the PS5 look fantastic and are incredibly detailed, but I think the general public has stopped being impressed by games trying to visually emulate real life, and the main innovations in the new consoles reflect that shift. From the marketing to the games themselves, it seems that Sony was less interested in showcasing the graphical power of their games, and more on how the PS5 would impact the experience of playing them. The SSD has enabled lightning fast loading times, and while that may not be a feature that’s immediately apparent to a spectator, it has completely changed the way I play. As I went through Demon’s Souls, I stared at the iconic “You Died” screen countless times, and more than once I caught myself reaching for my phone while I waited to respawn. It never took more than a second and a half. In fact, I was usually back to gameplay before I could even reach over to my phone. As someone who’s a big fan of Bethesda and From Software games, I’ve had to contend with some truly egregious load times over the years, and with their elimination, I can already tell I’m going to have trouble ever going back to old consoles. Even from the PS5 home screen, it takes less than ten seconds from the point in which I open the game to the point of having control of my character. Longtime PC players will talk about how they’ve had these kinds of load times for years, but having it on something as accessible and budget friendly as a console is going to fundamentally change game design in the coming years. 

Another huge innovation is the DualSense controller for the PS5, and it is something that Sony has boasted about to no end. To their credit, it is incredibly impressive technology, and despite my reservations about how it would actually feel to use, I was more than impressed. The adaptive triggers feel really satisfying to use, the haptic feedback was used to great effect in the handful of games I played, and from an ergonomic perspective, the design is the best that Playstation has ever had. It also feels a lot sturdier than the Dualshock 4, and given that it’s an expensive replacement, that’s reassuring. With all this being said, my biggest concern is still very much alive; outside of first party Sony exclusives, how many games will actually utilize these features? Even in Demon’s Souls, a game which you’d think could find all sorts of use for something like the adaptive triggers, the only controller function that it took advantage of was the haptic feedback. It’s really cool tech, and I’d love to see it put to good use, but only time will tell if it actually will. 

You might notice this section has been largely focused on the PS5, and that’s not an accident. The Series X, which I was not able (or particularly interested) to get my hands on seems to be largely the same in terms of performance to the PS5, and it’s good to see that they can keep parity with each other, but it lacks the big controller innovations that have defined the the move from PS4 to PS5. On the other hand, the Series S doesn’t have 4k support, a disc drive, or a few other key features of its stablemates, but for the functions I need it to serve, it serves them admirably. The one big new feature is the ability to have multiple games open at once, something that I’ve taken huge advantage of, as I tend to get bored of some games quickly. It’s nice to be able to switch between games in seconds, and while the PS5  doesn’t have the feature (at the time of writing at least), load times are so quick that it barely makes a difference.

As for the new Xbox controller, it’s more of the same, and that’s also not a terrible thing to my mind. As far as I’m concerned, the Xbox One had the best standard controller design of all time, and the Series S/X controller is almost identical, albeit with a better d-pad, more texture on the grips and triggers, and with a dedicated share button. There isn’t anything that will blow your mind like with the Dualsense, it’s just an all around well designed controller with few bells or whistles. 

And yes, 60 FPS seems to be the standard for everything I’ve played.

The Console War


Even when the consoles had just been revealed over the summer, people on the internet were declaring which side had won the console war for this generation. As always, this idea of some great battle of the brands is ludicrous; at best, it promotes unquestioning loyalty to a brand and corporation, and ultimately just serves to deepen divisions in the community. That being said, despite having owned and played primarily on an Xbox One last generation, I think in hindsight most people will recognize that the PS4 was the better piece of hardware. In this generation though, I think both sides have pretty equal footing, they just both serve very different spaces in the market. While Xbox tries to make gaming more inclusive and accessible to everyone through services like Games Pass and products like their accessible controller, Sony has pushed the technology for playing games farther than we could have imagined it would go this generation. Which one you want to play on will depend entirely on what you’re looking for in gaming, and that’s great. There will be a lot of healthy competition over the next few years, and I can’t wait to see what kind of innovations that competition will give rise to. For now though, I have both consoles sitting on my entertainment stand, and I think they’ve both done enough to earn their space there.

Chapter VI – Forethought

In the Data Storage vault, Dr. Manning, Dr. Osborne, and Dr. Stone were crouched beneath desks as the marine continued to fire on the teleporting intruders.

“You’re sure that they’re coming?” Diane asks.

“All I could find out is that the station computer registered the arrival of the rescue team” Louis replies.

“Aren’t we able to monitor their progress?” she presses.

“I tried, I don’t have high enough authorization” he explains.

“We can’t tell if they’re in trouble?” Hugo asks.

“No, we can’t”

“This is bad! We’re stuck in here and the reactor is going to leak in a few hours, and finding a functional escape pod could take longer than we’d like” Hugo laments.

Shots continued to ring out as more aliens appeared from flashes of green energy. The Major’s pistol ammunition was soon spent as the flashes of portal energy began to ramp up. He drops the useless pistol. Looking away from the intruders only for a moment as he bent to reach for the chain-gun, he lifts the weapon as his eyes fell upon a sizeable mob of demons. The barrels of his chain-gun were turning. He fired a long stream, decimating the hoard, then rapidly shooting small bursts on each target as it teleported into the sealed chamber. Beads of sweat began to spill from his brow as he swung the armament from target to target. Blooms of erupting gore cascades through the air, the stench of death was overwhelming. Major Daniels let out an enraged chord when he saw the demons spawning ever faster.

Location: Phobos, Alpha Labs Division, Level 2 of Sector-D, Bio-Medical Laboratory R7

The lab was dark and silent with a large and spotless interior. Three examination tables filled the centre of the room, a wheeled scanning apparatus rests nearby, a pair of tall medical cabinets were against the walls. A sealed door led to a short junction ending in a secured observation room. Metallic tiles line the walls and floors of the modestly sized room, the ceiling was dotted with small lamps, and held a robotic arm. The walls housed a pair of monitors displaying the words “System Failure.” A large capsule sat in the centre of the room. A harshly emotionless voice of the Artificially Intelligent Automated Command System boomed.

“Subject stasis revival is now complete. Scanning”

The diagnosis system silently checks the subject’s vitals.

“Subject stasis: good Stasis procedure: successful. Pod opening”

A hermetic seal is released and a curtain of smokey condensed air drifts from the seam. The robotic arm came to life and locked into a port on the surface of the pod and lifts the lid away. He was wearing a special suit designed for subjects of artificial hibernation. He wakes from stasis, lifts himself from the capsule and examines his surroundings. Red lighting illuminated the room, emergency notifications scrolled across the wall-mounted monitors, he hears a distant station notification.

“Alarm: Critical. Reactor failure” it wailed.

The stasis pod dominated the room, it was sapphire, framed with chrome lining and had rounded edges. Thick tubes and cables converged on the pod leading from outside the walls. The marine could recall most of his memories, but couldn’t come up with his name, or any identity, nor could he recall how he came to be placed in the pod. Through an adjacent passage he sees a suit of space marine armour lying on the shelves of a wide open security locker. He walks over to it and picks up the helmet, he found it strikingly familiar. He examines the call number but finds that it had been removed, only the scratches from a crude grinding job remained. The marine takes the armour and slips it on, hiding behind was a pistol and magazine. He picks it up and looks it over, more waves of familiarity washed over him. This was his pistol, he was sure of it, but again, the sidearm’s serial number had been ground away.

The marine walks through the bio-med lab and into the adjoining hallway, where he stumbled upon what would be the first of many gruesome scenes. A trio of scientists were lying dead in pools of blood, huge claw wounds marred their still flesh. One scientist had been torn in half, the head and shoulders were lying at the far end of the short hall, the lower half rested on the floor beside the marine’s feet. Another scientist with a critical spinal injury was twitching horribly. Splashes of blood coated the walls and floor of the beige coloured hall. A over-turned sample cart sat nearby, its contents spilled upon the ground. The sounds of grunting and heavy-footed stomping in the distance was quickly noticed. Without any idea what he would encounter, the marine heads toward the sector’s main corridor.

On the CSV Navigator, the surviving top-level researchers from the doomed Demios base had rendezvoused with Dr. Allan Mason who was also roped into their secret mission. He was previously on a separate medical escape pod with Dr. Leonard Philips. The four of them were in a luxurious Spec-5 vessel in the Navigator’s hangar bay parked on a plasma docking field, they had little trouble obtaining it from the crew. Nexson was programming the auto-pilot while others performed equipment checks for a fifth time or explored the cramped cabin.

“Okay, the auto-map looks good. We’re locked in” Nexson announces.
“Undock vessel and fire maneuvering thrusters” Dr. Banks commands.

The ship’s clamps unlock and the thrusters lift the vessel above the plasma surface. Warning lights blazed as the ship slowly moves toward the widening airlock doors. It reaches open space and the main propulsion sails it into the star speckled darkness.

Another year has flown by and like always, it’s time to reflect back on the stand out films and comics that came out. 2016 was one of the worst years for films but 2017 ended up being one of the strongest in quite a while. There was no shortage of interesting and exciting films, with some of them meeting expectations and others underwhelming.

The comic book world continued to produce quality stories, but they weren’t quite as good as last years batch of comics. Stay tuned for the list of the best comics of 2017! Nevertheless, there is plenty to talk about and recommend. Without further ado, let’s get right to it and dive in to the Best Films of 2017!

 

10. Dunkirk

People always seem to flock to the theaters whenever Christopher Nolan directs a new film. Whatever your opinion of his work, there’s no denying his singular and creative vision. He almost never repeats himself and he always tries to do something different with each new movie. Dunkirk had a lot of fanfare going in. It’s Nolan’s most simple film, from a story point of view. At it’s core, it’s about survival and everyday heroism. The goal is to make the viewer feel as if they are there, evading the bullets and struggling for breath. At this, the film succeeds in spades.

It’s failings lie in a lack of characterization that leads to the plot, ironically feeling TOO simple. It’s very difficult to care about the characters portrayed in Dunkirk. You might root for them, but it’s hard to care about them. Nolan does play with some interesting time changes, going from the past to the present but it still isn’t enough to elevate the film any further up this list. Still, I’ve never seen a war movie filmed quite like Dunkirk. For it’s innovation and ambition, Dunkirk deserves to be on this list.

 

9. Justice League

Justice League is a film that got a very bad rap and could not recover. Rotten Tomatoes were key in the bad press for Justice League. It did not deserve to be destroyed as harshly as it was. How can Justice League have a score of rotten and Spider-Man 3 have one of fresh!? Either way, it’s important to watch this movie and FORM your own opinion. Is it perfect? Not by a long shot but could you enjoy it? I’d say yes. I know I sure did.

The film greatly improves and undoes some of the damage Batman vs Superman did. Both Batman and Superman, are much better portrayed in this film. Superman especially. Batman actually feels more like the Batman from the Justice League comics, not EXACTLY the same but closer than I expected. Wonder Woman was strong and Cyborg turned out to be the best new character in the film. Aquaman was okay. He wasn’t MY Aquaman but he didn’t offend me either. Flash was probably the weakest and most annoying and yet, I saw his function in the film.

The villain was formidable, but forgettable. The story is a riff on Avengers. Just another alien invasion yada yada, but was it ever fun and entertaining. I may be a bit biased as I am a huge Justice League fan but I actually went in HATING the trailers but came out pleasantly surprised.

 

8. The Founder

This smaller scale film deserves more attention. Its got a great cast of actors who are led by another great performance from Michael Keaton. Keaton plays Ray Kroc, the man responsible for the mega success of McDonald’s. The movie shows just how he came to get control of an idea that was never really his to begin with. Kroc is portrayed as both someone to be admired and someone to be hated. Everyone knows McDonald’s and chances are you’ve eaten there at some point in your life. McDonald’s has always been the most popular and cheapest fast food joint while not always being the healthiest and most respected of them all. The film gives unique insight as to why that might be through the examination of the characters.

Keaton was snubbed at the Golden Globes but may very well get some attention from the Oscars. At the end of the day, The Founder is a movie that is enlightening and informative as it is entertaining and should be watched by anyone with even a remote interest of how the McDonald empire came to be.

7. Wonder Woman

DC was in dire need of a hit after the critical bashing of Batman vs Superman and Suicide Squad. Thankfully, Wonder Woman ended up being that hit and even exceeded expectations. Before Star Wars: The Last Jedi took over, Wonder Woman was the highest grossing movie of the year. It seemed to connect with both critics and fans, which is very rare for a DC film. The hype was strong with this one and for good reason. Was it the best movie of the year or the best comic movie of all time?… No. Not at all, but the movie did a lot of things right. Wonder Woman felt like she was supposed to. They didn’t shy away from what makes her the hero she is. Gal Gadot greatly improved her acting and gave Wonder Woman an undeniable charm. She still isn’t the BEST actress but kudos must be given for her performance in the movie. The supporting cast was excellent, led by Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor.

The villain (Ares) should’ve been better and the CGI heavy third act hold back the movie from being a truly excellent film. Still, it was great fun and it honored a character that deserved to have a quality film. After all, Wonder Woman is arguably the biggest female superhero of all time.

6. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Fans finally got to see Spidey in the MCU thanks to Civil War, and now they got to see him in his own film set in the same universe as Thor, Iron Man in co. Iron Man is even in the film. Many times, having a film tied too much to continuity is a bad thing but it works here. The nods to Avengers actually enrich the plot and it’s main villain. That’s right, Marvel actually had a good villain in one of their movies. Michael Keaton plays the Vulture and really made him relatable while still being a credible threat.

Tom Holland plays a younger Spider-Man, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t good. He has a good balance between humor, seriousness and earnestness. The movie has a lot of humor but it didn’t distract. The serious moments were treated with seriousness, meaning you never lost the drama and you always felt the stakes. Spider-Man also had a great character arc. You saw him grow throughout the whole film.

It also paid tribute to the comics with several homages. The movie actually replicates a rather famous scene from Amazing Spider-Man #33. It’s these little touches and more that add to the quality of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Making it dare I say, the best Spider-Man movie of all time?

5. Baby Driver

Baby Driver’s conception came from the unique mind of Edgar Wright, who brought us such films as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of The Dead. It took a lot of his effort, time and money to get this movie done, and the end product showed. Baby Driver may seem oddly similar to 2011’s Driver but it’s execution is much different. It’s certainly a much more hopeful film and has it’s own style. Perhaps not as unique looking as Driver but unique all the same.

The characters really drive this film, no pun intended. Each of them feel interesting and the actors portraying them only make them more mesmerizing. Jaime Foxx steals the movie with his portrayal of the insane Bats. Talk about an appropriate name. The music in the film is really what sets it apart. It’s not just thrown in there as background music. It’s directly tied into the narrative of the film and actually quite necessary. It even has a satisfying and less predictable ending. Baby Driver was a refreshing change of pace from the saturated CGI driven movies that dominate the box office. I urge you to check this out if you enjoy good dialogue, music, cinematography, acting and overall fun.

4. Blade Runner: 2049 & It

 

 

It turned out to be to difficult to choose between these two great films. One an exceptional sequel, and the other a very pleasant surprise.

Blade Runner is a very worthy sequel to the original Blade Runner. More than 30 years later, Harrison Ford reprises his role as Deckard but it’s Ryan Gosling who leads this film. The striking visuals and cinematography ranks right up there with the best films of the year ut above al, the most impressive thing about the film is the story. It’s an engaging and cerebral plot, which forces you to pay attention and think. It had been quite some time since I was as mentally stimulated. Perhaps a bit overlong on time for some people but, I fel that the length was justified.

It was the remake of the classic 90’s film starring Tim Curry, and it improves on nearly everything from the original. Tim Curry is still an inch better as Pennywise the clown. The remake greatly improved the characterization of it’s main cast and executed the story far better than the original. The cast of kids really did a good job. It felt like an R rated Spielberg movie. If you liked Stranger Things it’s a strong possibility that you will enjoy It. Ironically It was a surprise commercial hit while Blade Runner: 2049 under preformed.

3. Logan

Logan was my favorite film of the year for a long time, and it still may very well be. The top three are easily interchangeable in their ranking. I wrote a longer in depth review of Logan early in March which you can read for further analysis.

Logan is Hugh Jackman’s last stint as Wolverine. It’s a gut wrenching, emotionally charged performance that is easily his finest of the whole series of X-Men films. Keep in mind that Hugh Jackman has been Wolverine for more than 15 years!

Logan treats the source material with plenty of maturity, choosing to focus on a small cast and repercussions of a lifetime of violence. It felt more like a western in the vein of Unforgiven rather than another entry in the X-Men cinematic universe. Logan is not just a great comic book film, it’s a great film period.

2. The Shape of Water

Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, may very well be his most impressive film to date. Del Toro states that it’s his most personal film that he’s most proud of. The film has been a critical success throughout the year. Getting attention at various film fests and taking in 7 Golden Globe nominations along the way.

At first glance it’s a tough sell for many movie goers. After all, we are talking about a mute woman in love with a lizard/aquatic monster. Look past your initial trepidation and you will appreciate a truly beautiful film.The Shape of Water is a very original take on the familiar tale of love & loss. Don’t be fooled, the film does have a hopeful message despite some of the tragic nature of the story. The visuals are fantastic and really take you back to America during the height of the cold war. The entire cast is outstanding, with Sally Hawkins leading the way as Elisa, a mute woman that works in a secret government laboratory where she meets the “monster”. She communicates throughout the whole film in American Sign Language. Hawkins went through careful research for her role, making sure she could accurately portray someone who only spoke Sign Language, and it shows.

Michael Shannon played the main antagonist in the film and you WILL hate him, he’s that good. Kudos must be given to Doug Jones for portraying the creature with humanity and making you care about him. The script is phenomenal, especially the dialogue but all these things have to be credited to the director Guillermo Del Toro. Without his hand at the wheel, the film would not be what it is.

1. War For The Planet of The Apes

The Planet of The Apes trilogy has to be given its due as arguably the most constant trilogy of all time. There really isn’t a weak entry in the series. Dawn of The Planet of The Apes blew my mind and set the bar high for the sequel. Like The Shape of Water, War For The Planet of The Apes is more than what it appears to be at first glance. Yes, there are Apes riding on horses and wielding machine guns but that’s not what should define your opinion of the film. There’s a deep story there with relevant and timely themes. It is determined to have a message and not just be an action movie with no brains. If you look carefully, you will find a lot of subtle commentary on various social issues that still exist today. It’s daring portrayal of the apes should also be commended. Most of Apes rely heavily on using Sign Language and physical acting to communicate their thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Any Serkis must be given credit for the incredible acting he continues to deliver as Caesar. I am continually surprised as to how much he conveys through his CGI characters. War For The Planet of The Apes can be bleak but it’s a rewarding and unforgettable viewing experience that is a fitting end to a fantastic trilogy.

There you have it! let’s hope that 2018 shapes up to be as good a year as 2017.

 

 

 

Today we examine the beauty of the single issue, but for DC comics. If you enjoyed my last article exploring some of Marvel’s best one shots, then I hope you stick around for this entry. DC has no shortage of excellent one shots as well.

Much like Marvel, I’m sure I forgot to add, or simply haven’t read many other great single issues that are out there, so don’t be mad if I miss a few of your favorites.

This list will be focusing on stories that do not require a vast amount of background to be ale to enjoy. That’s what makes the one shot so easy and accessible to read. Let’s proceed.

 

Sandman Mystery Theatre: by Matt Wagner, Stephen T. Seagle & various artists

Many fans, and perhaps non fans, are aware of Neil Gaiman’s critically  lauded series, Sandman. Too many people are not as aware of the other Sandman series that was going on for much of the same time, Sandman Mystery Theatre. It ran for 70 issues and had a small, but devoted fan base.

The series is a period piece set mainly during the depression era . It follows the exploits of Wesley Dodds, the golden age Sandman. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman had nothing to do with this version. Gaiman touched on the golden age Sandman briefly, but that’s about it. Wesley Dodds was just a mild mannered detective with a costume and a gas gun, very pulpy. The stories were always praised for its historical accuracy, mature tone and compelling characters. It’s exploration of relationships was rather interesting and unique as well.

This annual is a perfect mix of everything that made this series so good, and it’s all done on one issue. It’s about a mysterious central park attacker that is on the loose and terrorizing the citizens of New York. The other problem is that this mugger bares a striking resemblance to Sandman. Sandman is forced to try and stop this attacker while evading capture from the police himself.

It’s a great mystery story that really knows how to keep the audience engaged. It’s also notable for having a few recognizable guest artists for this issue, like Alex Ross! If you want to sink your teeth into a really good noir styled mystery, check this out. You just might crave more and jump into the actual series.

 

 

Green Lantern: Larfleeze Christmas Special: by Geoff Johns, Brett Booth & Art Baltazar

If you want something that’s a little lighter in tone than try this out. It’s one of the funniest comics I’ve ever read. It centers mostly around the Orange Lantern, Larfleeze. ( Orange Lantern’s are powered by avarice.) Larfleeze is essentially a powerful alien hoarder. He wants anything and everything, so when Christmas comes rolling around, he’s intrigued. Naturally, Larfleeze attempts to take Christmas for himself no matter what. Green Lantern must intervene and hilarity ensues thereafter. The art is dynamic and matches the chaotic tone of the comic. Not only is it funny, but it’s also endearing at times. Geoff Johns makes you care about this selfish pain in the ass of an alien. You just want to see more of him and that’s a credit to the writing.

It even comes with a recipe to bake Larfleeze cookies! My girlfriend was kind enough to try the recipe out, which put a smile on my nerdy face. Yum yum, nothing like frosty orange colored cookies.

 

 

Gotham Knights # 32- by Devin Grayson & Roger Robinson

Honestly Batman could have his own one shots list but for now, here we are. Gotham Knights # 32 is a less well known issue that really deserves more attention. This issue happens to be Devin Grayson’s last issue on the series, and it’s quite a nice send off. It really encapsulates what makes Batman who he is. Not a flashy issue, the aptly titled ” 24/7″ is just a day in the life for Bruce Wayne and Batman. In the morning Bruce Wayne takes meetings, attends dedication ceremonies, visits a friend in the hospital and has dinner with the Foxes. Bruce manages to squeeze every minute of time from these endeavors to do some good, however small it may be.

When night falls, Batman takes part in a more direct approach. He stops crimes, saves lives, keeps an eye on Robin and visits Barbara. There’s more, but you get the idea.

For me, this issue shines a light on two very important aspects of Batman/Bruce Wayne, which are his obsessively dogged determination and his unyielding desire to help people. In many ways these are the things that make Batman so special. It’s that, coupled with the fact that he’s only a man, not Superman or Green Lantern or even Spider-man. He has to work twice as hard as them and still have enough juice left in the tank to get it all done and make it to the next day and do it all again. But the Batman will never quit or complain will he?

Look out for this wonderfully character driven issue of our favorite Dark Knight.

 

 

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year 4 Annual #1- by Tom Taylor & Bruno Redondo

Injustice takes place in an alternate reality where Superman has snapped and become a tyrant. Batman, and a small group of resistance fighters attempt to fight his tyranny and take back the world. During Superman’s quest for power he creates a super-max prison where he has imprisoned every super villain you can name. Superman has also imprisoned anybody who stands against him, like the Green Lantern Corps.

This annual marks the return of fan favorite writer, Tom Taylor’s to the series he started, and boy does he deliver. It’s a story about escaping the super-max prison, while also serving as an excellent character piece. The character on full display in this issue is Plastic Man. That’s right, Plastic Man. Usually considered the butt end of many jokes and mostly forgotten over the years, Plastic Man has not had many “great” or defining stories. He’s always been thrown in for laughs, not much else. That all changes in this thrilling tale about a father trying to save his son.  Plastic Man surfaces so that he can help bust his son out the super-max prison and start a new life away from the madness around him.

The story moves so fast, simply because you can’t wait to see what happens next. The emotional component proved to be the most surprising thing throughout this issue. I really felt for Plastic Man and actually rooted for him more than ever. How many times can you say that about Plastic Man?

it’s an awesome comic that is definitely the highlight of a rather mediocre for Injustice: Year 4 . Seek it out.

 

 

Action Comics # 775 – by Joe Kelly & various artists

 

This issue gives us the Superman we all know and love, for better or for worse. There was a DC animated movie that was based on this issue titled “Superman vs The Elite”, which I’ve always said is the perfect movie for any Superman hater to watch. The same goes for this issue. It’s won a few awards and has been loved by many fans over the years that it was first published.

One of the best things about the comic is that it touches on many of the things Superman haters gripe most about, Superman’s unwillingness to kill. In the issue, a new superhero team called The Elite show up to Metropolis very much willing to kill bad guys and clean up the world. At first they try to get Superman on board but eventually they give him an ultimatum. ” Do it our way or be destroyed.” The funny thing is that most of the public like The Elite and even agree with their harsher stance on criminals.

This leads to many more questions like, is Superman relevant? Does the world need heroes like this? It packs a punch and does not shy away from the hard truth. Superman is faced with the decision of succumbing to public pressure and opinion or doing the right thing and staying true to himself. I love this comic because it paints the picture as to why Superman exists and what he really represents, not only in the world of the DC universe, but what he represents to the society we live in today. A society that is maybe, a bit to eager for bloodshed. A bit too quick to anger and ultimately, too quick to hate.

Superman is meant to embody an ideal and NOT succumb to the anger and fear many of us could have. This is what this comic illustrates so eloquently. Superman fans and non-fans, I urge you to read this. Just trying out this one issue may give you a respect and understanding  of the character, and above all, the importance of having a Superman in a world full of antiheroes.

 

 

Nightwing (vol 2) # 25 – by Chuck Dixon & Scott McDaniel

This comic has the distinction of being ranked #67 in Wizard Magazine’s list of “100 Best Single Issue Comics Since You Were Born”. It’s a thoughtful and touching issue about legacy and brotherhood. The simple premise of this story finds Nightwing and Robin( Tim Drake) on a night out training. They go through this self made gauntlet evading obstacles, fighting crime and bonding together.

Sharing a few personal stories ends up leading to several nice moments and one big revelation. They are able to trust each other and open up in a way that they can’t with Batman. Nightwing certainly takes a big brother role in this story. He gives Robin advice and listens to Robin without needing to judge him. It’s really a treat to read these two characters just being human and dare I say, normal but without being boring, that’s the beauty of this issue. It marries text and visual well enough to really showcase what the comic medium can do when it’s at it’s best. It’s a bit of a search to find this issue but well worth it.

 

 

Final Crisis: Requiem #1 – by Peter Tomasi & Doug Mahnke

There’s two things here that are important to note. I love Martian Manhunter and he loves Oreo cookies. For those unaware, Martian Manhunter was killed off rather unceremoniously in the pages of the major event series,” Final Crisis”.

This comic book acts as a eulogy for one of the most beloved members of the Justice League. it’s really a heartfelt sendoff that really makes you feel the grief that all the characters feel for their fallen friend. Far too many times the superheroes of these stories never get to deal with death. Not really anyway. They don’t have time to mourn, reminisce or have a ceremonies for their fallen brothers and sisters in arms. Sometimes they don’t even have a body to bury at all. That’s why it’s so refreshing to read an entire issue of superheroes going through the grieving process because, let’s not forget that superheroes are ultimately people too. And we as people, will encounter death and we’ll need to deal with it too. I’m not saying that the magnitude of loss will be the same in the real world… No, not at all. I’m just saying that seeing these characters go through these complex emotions humanizes them and allows them to relate to us just a bit more. It may even help some readers cope with things, even just a bit, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone deals with loss differently, which the comic touches on too. It’s a nice script with some solid and emotive art to boot.

The ending is my favorite part. Read it and you’ll find out why.

 

Batman Adventures ( vol 2) # 17 – by Ty Templeton & Rick Burchett

Batman Adventures #17 is a comic that has had plenty of accolades and awards thrown it’s way. It’s a fantastic issue that addresses something that hasn’t been explored too often in the Batman mythos. What happened to Joe Chill?

Joe Chill is responsible for the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, the defining moment of Batman. This makes Joe Chill almost as important a villain as The Joker or Two Face, now just imagine a reunion between he and Batman? It’s an issue done by the creative team of Templeton & Burchett, who had been putting out quality work on Batman Adventures for a number of years already. Many fans and critics have said it’s one of the best Batman comic series of all time, and it’s hard to argue with that once you see the quality of this issue. It’s got a hell of a story and it doesn’t skimp out characterization either. It gives us a rare look at things from the view point of Joe Chill.

The story begins with Chill in the present day. He’s worn down and constantly lives in fear and regret. Fear of ever being discovered as the murderer of billionaire Bruce Wayne’s parents, and in regret of not having finished the job on Wayne himself. He can’t sleep, and it’s even gotten so bad that Chill sees Bruce Wayne’s face everywhere, on everyone. Things get worse when a detective from the GCPD, decides to reopen the Wayne’s unsolved murder case.  The story only gets better from there. If that’s not enough to hook you in I don’t know what is.

It’s a masterclass in storytelling, short form or otherwise. The story is tight tight tight. Every page has a purpose and every moment ties into the next moment. It’s truly a great issue with a great payoff. There are times where you might find yourself turning pages and gasping, and then smiling quickly afterwards. We all know how Bruce Wayne dealt with his parents murder, so it was intriguing to see what life has been like for the man who actually committed the crime. Complex themes of guilt, remorse and trauma are explored in a comic that was supposed to be dismissed as a kiddie comic. That’s perspective for you.

 

 

Nightwing ( vol 2.)  Annual #2 – by Marc Andreyko & Joe Bennett

Nightwing makes another appearance on my list, this time with Batgirl by his side. To be honest it’s a story about her as much as it is about him. This annual tells that tale of Nightwing and Batgirl’s rather complicated romantic relationship over the years.

The comic starts with Nightwing injured and lying in bed with Barbara Gordon at his bedside. She tends to his wounds and lets him know that he’s been in a coma for weeks. The comic then jumps from the past to the present.

We see Dick and Barbara’s rather embarrassing first encounter.( A rather awkward and hilarious way to meet) We see their first date, the reason they broke up and even the moment in time where Dick finds out that Barbara has been paralyzed. It’s equal parts sad, funny and charming. It’s even fairly romantic, but not in a sappy way. Marc Andreyko really writes the hell out of these two characters. He manages to give them a chemistry that practically leaps off the page. He also does such a masterful job of weaving the convoluted comics history of these two characters. Joe Bennett is no slouch. His artwork keeps right up with the quality of the writing.

I remember I picked this up on a whim and started reading it on the subway ride home. Before I knew it, I was completely focused in on the story and was hoping I wouldn’t get home before finishing it.

Everyone has either been, or knows someone who has been in a complicated relationship like Dick and Barbara’s. Again, moments and themes like these manage to humanize the characters and make us care and relate to them more. I found the ending surprisingly mature and realistic, for a comic especially. It’s certainly my favorite Nightwing issue of all time. Track it down.

 

 

Brave & The Bold ( vol 2.) #33 – by J. Michael Straczynski & Cliff Chiang

We end the list with, probably my favorite issue out of the bunch. It’s a story titled ” Ladies Night” and it tells the story of Wonder Woman and Zatanna deciding to take Batgirl out for one night of pure fun.

From the beginning of the story we see that doing this for Batgirl is important to both Wonder Woman and Zatanna, we find out why later. Batgirl takes some convincing, but ultimately gives in. The result is a carefree night on the town for 3 women that don’t often get that luxury. It’s really great to see these three iconic superheroes just kickback and have fun like regular women. On the surface it’s just a fun story but by the end it’s so much more than that. It’s a tale of sorrow, trauma, acceptance, consequences and most importantly friendship. Saying anything more about the story directly is a disservice to it. The art is just as good as the script. I’ve never seen Cliff Chiang eclipse the work he did on this issue. His run on Wonder Woman comes close, but this issue still reigns supreme for me.

Much like a suggestion I made on the Marvel list of one shots, if you read just one issue of all the issues on this list, make it this one. Tracking it down for a decent price will be a task, let me tell you, so I would suggest to pick up the trade.( Team-Ups of the Brave & the Bold) It’s totally worth it, plus you get a lot of other quality stories in there as well.

That does it for my DC one shot recommendations. Stay tuned for more in the future!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It took a long time but Marvel’s sorcerer supreme finally got his own movie. As you may or may not have expected, the fanfare going into this movie was decent at best and tepid at worst. Still, this being a Marvel movie, it made a killing at the box office. I’ve always been a fan of he chracter, Doctor Strange. I wouldn’t call him an A list hero but he certainly stood out as being original. Having Steve Ditko as his first artist gave Doctor Strange his unique psychedelic look that would become somewhat of a trademark. The movie offers this and a whole lot more in terms of its visual aesthetic. Let’s take a closer look…

doctor-strange-poster

Story:

The plot unfolds in typical Marvel form. A reluctant hero who needs to learn the error of his ways so he may join in the battle of good vs evil and become… ” the one.”  It’s sort of like Iron Man, except with a whole lot of magic. Now, I don’t want to diminish this because while it is a common road to take, the route is quite stellar. The execution proved to be masterful because it took the familiar and made it feel fresh even if it wasn’t remotely so. Now, I’ve said before that there are almost no original ideas left, and that’s okay. It’s all in the execution.

Not once did I feel bored or taken out of this movie. Instead, I was hooked in and eager to see how things would unfold, almost as if it was the first time I had ever seen a movie of this nature, and that’s a testament to the writing. There are several clever story points within the main story that help to add to that uniqueness. The climax of the movie has a particularly smart moment that gives us a great example of attention to detail in a script. Obviously the spectacular visuals are a large reason why the film is as entertaining as it is but the strong characters, sharp dialogue and general inventiveness make the story as strong as it is.

Action:

Excellent. Some of the most eye catching action scenes I’ve seen in a superhero movie in a long time. I worried that having a bunch of mystics fight each other might translate as boring on screen but my fears were squashed within the first 5 minutes of the movie. Things unfold like a James Bond film with mind ending magic in it, really setting the tone for the action to come. Any mystical movie that proceeds Doctor Strange will have a lot to live up to in the action department. It is reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Inception but even more crazy.

Villain:

As a fan, I was hoping that Dormamu would end up being the main baddie in this movie( SPOILERS) and he sort of is but instead we get Kaecilius, whom I knew nothing about prior to this movie. Kaecilius serves his purpose and is helped by the caliber of Mads Mikkelsen’s acting, yet he falls into the long list of Marvel’s underwhelming villain’s list. He’s not terribly interesting, and the parts of him that are interesting aren’t explored enough. I did find his motivations to be satisfying, so there’s that.

Acting:

Outstanding. One of the best ensemble casts Marvel ever put together. Everyone was good, and each had their moment to shine. I must admit I had my doubts about Benedict Cumberbatch playing the titular hero but I was thankfully wrong, he was wonderful. He plays Strange like a lite version of his Sherlock Holmes. You might say that it’s easier to like him here. Benedict Cumberbatch looks the part and acts the part, what more can you ask for as a fan or moviegoer.

I would’ve liked to have seen more from Rachel McAdams’s character, Dr. Christine Palmer. She essentially plays his love interest but McAdams makes the most of the role. Ditto for Mads Mikkelsen. Tilda Swinton really works as The Ancient One. She already has a unique look to her and that really helps for this role, but more importantly than that was that I believed her in the role. Benedict Wong provides an enjoyable take on the stalwart Wong from the Doctor Strange comics but my favorite of the cast had to be Chiwetel Ejiofor’s portrayal of another classic Doctor Strange character, Baron Mordo. I found him to e utterly compelling to watch. The scenes between he and Cumberbatch really stand out for me.  I look forward to see what Marvel does with him( SPOILERS) because for those unfamiliar, Baron Mordo is one of Doctor Strange’s greatest adversaries.

chi

Conclusion:

At this point I am still leaning on the idea that superhero fatigue has hit but Marvel continues to put out quality work, it’s only fair to recognize it. It’s one of it’s strongest entries to date. Far better than Ant-man, Iron Man 2 & 3, Thor 2 and more memorable than Avengers 2. I was entertained and invested from the beginning to the end, there’s no other way to put it. I appreciated that while it had humor, it didn’t rely on it. Doctor Strange is a serious character that should treated as such, and he was.

I keep wondering when there will be fatigue from the audience out there but if Marvel continues it’s dedication to quality I can’t see their reign ending anytime soon. It’s a fun movie that’s beautiful to look at and it should be seen on the big screen.

 

 

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to watch the animated version of The Killing Joke on the big screen. There was a lot of hype surrounding this movie. What, if anything would they omit? What would they add? Most Importantly, would it live up to the quality of it’s comic book predecessor? Let’s dive in and find out.

Story:

Right off the bat I was pleased that the animation on display was reminiscent of Bruce Timm’s classic style, albeit with a modern edge. Now on to the story. The interesting thing about this adaptation is that it begins with a totally new storyline that focuses heavily on Batgirl. I know a lot of Killing Joke purists will have their strong views on this but it wasn’t too bad. I say this because it wasn’t without it’s flaws either.

Without giving away too much, the ” prologue” focuses on seeing Barbara Gordon in action as Batgirl. It also gives us a taste of the true nature of Batman and Batgirl’s relationship. The entire segment lasts about 20 mins or so. It’s very well done, production wise. It’s well paced with snappy dialogue and entertaining action, but the whole thing seems out of place to me. As a standalone prologue, I suppose it works, but as part of the movie itself I found it weird. It’s very Batgirl heavy and the things move at break neck speed. Once the more familiar aspects of The Killing Joke begin the pace slows down.

The plot, for anyone who hasn’t read the comic or seen the movie is basically a character study of The Joker and loose origin story for him. It touches on Batman’s psyche and relationship as well but it’s very much Joker centric.

Joker wants to prove that anyone, no matter how ordinary or good they are, can succumb to maddness if they have enough terrible ordeals in one day. Therefore, anyone can be like the Joker. This is something he seems dead set on proving to Batman and Jim Gordon, and he goes far to do it. Barbera Gordon/ Batgirl becomes a consequence of his horrific plan. It’s a disturbing story but the movie didn’t present it too graphically, so I give them kudos for it. As dark as it is, I was engaged throughout. There’s some great monologues in the movie. When heard on screen, The Joker’s word take on a diff rent meaning as opposed to reading them. It was an interesting experience. Ultimately I’m not sure if the comic lends itself for a cinematic translation but it is very well done nonetheless. Much like most of Alan Moore’s stuff, it works best in it’s comic book format. The movie tends to follow the comic beat for beat and thus provides a faithful adaptation, which is a good thing if you’re a fan of the comic as I am. The Batgirl story in the beginning seems to be the dividing point for many. More on that later.

The Animation/ Action:

The animation is stellar throughout the picture. The subtle expressions on Joker’s face are a treat to behold. He looks genuinely creepy on several occasions. Brian Bolland’s art was done as faithfully as possible while still remaining it’s own thing but the key moments were unmistakably Bolland’s art. The fluid animation and colors really impressed me. Again, it was a welcome come back to the Bruce Timm animaiton style!

Batman-The-Killing-Joke-trailer-1

There is quite a bit of action on display, much more than the original source material provided. It’s quite good but not the best I’ve seen from DC animated movies. To be fair the movie is not really about the action but I expected a few more exciting action sequences. I will say that the Batgirl story did deliver more on that side of things.

The Voice Acting:

Outstanding. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil deliver as they always seem to do. Tara Strong more than holds her own among these giants. I felt she provided some excellent emotinal moments. Perhaps, some of the best in the movie. For my money, Mark Hamil stole the show. He provided the best performance of the character since his days on the Animated series. He gets every beat right and speaks every line with conviction. The Joker’s flashback sequences really showcased how diverse a range he has. I got shivers a few times I heard he spout off some of the dialogue from the original comic, great stuff. As good as Kevin Conroy was, I was hoping that a little bit more emotion would come through, not a lot just…A tiny bit more. Still the moment those two come together, everything works.

 

Conclusion:

The Killing Joke film is a faithful adaptation that only helps to honor the material but doesn’t surpass it. Ultimately the comic book version can’t be touched and it works best in that format. Fans of the comic will appreciate more than the first time watcher. What about the Batgirl story addition? Well, I liked it quite a lot. On it’s own it’s great, but as part of the main story it doesn’t completely work.

Does it really add anything to the Killing Joke? For me, not really, but it doesn’t take away from the story either. For the most part The Killing Joke story is an examination of The Joker and the nature of his insanity. Batman is big part of this because of the history between the two. the story tries to briefly hold up a mirror and show how similar and dissimilar they both are. What the Batgirl story does for the audience is showcase Barbara Gordon as her own person and not simply a victim of The Joker, and while that is incredibly important it feels a bit forced. Perhaps the story was done to appease the growing number of fans over the years that often complain about this story’s treatment of Batgirl, with the very argument being that she is nothing more than a victim of the Joker. For a long time I could never see it that way but DC has always gone back to that moment time and time again. It makes you wonder why they continue to bring Barbara Gordon back to that horrible time.

Victims only get on with their life if they move forward and get stronger from their ordeal, which she did. But we have been reminded of that moment in Batgirl’s life many times in many different stories far to often. That is problematic, but not totally unjustified either. It was a deeply traumatic event for Barbara Gordon/Batgirl so why shouldn’t it have left a scar on her? A scar so deep that it reverberates in her whole world, including the people around her.  Batman’s traumatic past is touched on over and over. The night of the his parents murder has left an undeniable scar on him that has clearly never healed. I know, I know… Batman wasn’t the direct receipt of the crime and Barbara Gordon was. Also, Batman was never physically incapacitated after the event. He was fully abled to exact his own form of justice. But I hate the implication that once Barbera lost the use of her legs she became less of a hero or a person. For those that don’t know… She got on with her life and even went on to become Oracle. She became an integral member of the crime fighting team, The Birds Of Prey. She also became the eyes and ears for Batman, saving his ass on many occasions.

Some fans often complain about why Joker had to do this to Barbera Gordon? You hear that he went too far., that DC went too far in allowing Alan Moore to write this. Maybe they did.

Maybe they did go to a grim place that was so dark it shouldn’t of happened, but it did. That argument could lead to a further argument in regard to the direction that comics took in the late 80’s and beyond. It might mean you disapprove, which is fine. But if you continued to read on, than you must accept the fact the this is where comics went. Once DC decided to cross that dark territory no one can really be surprised about what a character like the Joker has done or will do. Over the years the Joker has become a deranged psychopath who has zero regard for the well being of anyone. He scarcely has regard for his own well being. He’s a cold blooded sadistic murderer, do you expect a murderer to be nice? If not, then why be enraged when said murderer kill’s and maims? And it’s not like Barbara was the only victim in the Joker’s wake. Jason Todd( the 2nd Robin) shared an even grislier fate. He was beat with a crowbar within an inch of his life only to be blown to bits shortly after, and that event certainly defined him. For a long long time Jason Todd was not able to enact his own justice until, of course, he was. But even after coming back from the dead, the scars of that moment remained.

At the end of the day you can’t please everyone but I think it’s best to look at both sides of an argument objectively and as fairly as possible. Perhaps this version of the Joker is not YOUR joker. Perhaps the joker you grew up with is more in line with the easier to root for version in Batman the animated series or the even goofier version of the 1966 Batman TV show. Maybe you like your Joker a bit over the top, but just menacing enough. In that case, Jack Nicholson’s version might be right up your alley. Or maybe you like your Joker  grounded and a lot scarier, in which case Heath Ledger’s version is the one to go with.The one thing that they have in common is that they all have the same spirit, just done a different way. Everyone’s tastes and opinions are their own and we’re all entitled to them. The point is that Joker, like Batman, can be done in a multitude of ways. It’s very hard to have a definitive version that will please everybody so I try to remember that whenever I see any interpretation done on screen or on paper. I found something to like from all the versions of the Joker I just mentioned and the version in the Killing Joke comic or movie fits into my spectrum of what the Joker is and should be. He can be cruel, sadistic and violent but he can also be complex, engaging and even sympathetic. A lot of fans might call that wrong, I just call it a good character.

Much like Tony Soprano or Walter White, you’re not supposed to love them or even like them, they just are who they are and you kick yourselves for having developed a connection with them as you watch them do something that makes you hate them. It’s almost a betrayal to see such a thing because, let’s face it, a lot of people like the Joker. How many people weren’t rooting for him just a little bit in Heath Ledger’s Dark Knight? It just that when they go too far into a place that a we can’t follow, it offends and disappointing us. Make no mistake, the signs are there and the Joker is many things but a good person ain’t one of them.

Does what happened to Barbara offend me? No, does it anger me? Yes, I care for the character immensely. I don’t believe that The Killing Joke dismisses her worth as a chracter, that’s for sure. Fans may have an argument against that and they may have a point but I don’t let that moment define her as a victim, a defining moment, yes but not THE defining moment.

Barbara Gordon has been retconned and will have the chance to purge whatever baggage there may be left from the Killing Joke. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s what she deserves. A hero is someone who rises up against all obstacles to do right by others in times of need. That’s Barbara Gordon to me. before the Killing Joke or after, during the New 52 or DC rebirth, that’s who she is.

barb

 

Who’s seen the newest trailer for Final Fantasy XV?

“Get hype” is what I’d like to say but if I were to summarize the premise so far—four guys “bro-ad” (bro + road) trip it up to have the lead character, Noctis, reclaim his rightful throne.

Yeah. Not intrigued in any way.

There is a certain allure when it comes to an all male cast and it does reflect Japanese culture to an extent. After all, there IS a market for all-male ensembles, whether yaoi driven or not…

But the absence of a permanent female character, not to mention the fact that Noctis is the only character the player can control… I don’t know, for me, these are all, as Liz Lemon would say:

FF XV Liz Lemon

The trailer does offer one saving dealmaker—Florence + The Machine’s “Stand By Me”.

I have such a soft spot for video game theme songs. Their inclusion always leads me to wonder, “Why was this song included to represent the game? What are the themes that we can infer from the story? Does the song reflect the game’s voice well?” In asking these questions, if the theme song is great enough, I make it a point to give the game in question a shot.

Looking back at the previous titles in the franchise, I am reminded of how theme songs can really alter how one might perceive the game.

SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING WILL CONTAIN SEVERAL FINAL FANTASY SPOILERS. SPECIFIC GAME SPOILERS WILL APPEAR ONLY UNDER THE CORRESPONDING HEADING, BUT READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

 

VIII- Eyes on Me (Faye Wong)

The theme song that started it all.

I suppose one could argue that VII’s One Winged Angel was the franchise’s first theme song but it wasn’t marketed as such. VII also had the un/fortunate distinction of being the bridge between the SNES Final Fantasies and the PSX’s so naturally, the RPG theme song trend was just in the process of catching fire.

VIII is the installment most associated with a love theme but I feel like, for an effective love story to occur, plenty of obstacles have to be in place that would divert the relationship’s trajectory.

For VIII’s leads, Squall and Rinoa, the path was as straight as the guy I was hitting on last night. Am I projecting? Absolutely, but the point still stands.

Faye Wong’s Eyes on Me was particularly interesting because the song did not reflect the ho-hum relationship between Squall and Rinoa, but rather it reflected Julia Heartilly’s feelings toward the games’ secondary protagonist, Laguna Loire.

Julia never consummated whatever it was she had with Laguna and the two proceeded with their diverged paths with feelings more bitter than sweet. This is VIII’s TRUE love story—more interesting and more relatable than the Rinoall that was shoved down our throats.

Eyes on Me, in effect, allowed me to appreciate a different side to an otherwise mediocre and plot-convoluted game.

 

IX- Melodies of Life (Emiko Shiratori)

I. Love. THIS SONG!

The melody is quite basic but the words carry with it life’s fragility. That even though those whom we love are gone, we find ways to honour their memory, unafraid that one day, we too shall join them along all the others that have come before.

In the game, Garnet has known the song since infancy, ignorant of its origins. It is only when the party hears Eiko singing the tune that we come to know its cultural significance to the near-extinct Madain Sari Summoners. In that instant, Garnet—who’s struggled to craft her identity—and Eiko—who puts on a tough façade to conceal her solitude—come full circle with their inner demons. Garnet discovers purpose; Eiko discovers she is no longer alone.

And the ladies move forward to honour the Summoners that met a genocidal end, saving the world together from the villainous bra-wearing Kuja.

 

X- Suteki Da Ne (RIKKI/Susan Calloway)

Looking at the lyrics, I would say this song reflects the dynamic between Yuna and Tidus, not to mention it also gives hints to the spatial distance between them by the game’s conclusion.

One caveat: I’ve never bothered to give Final Fantasy X a chance beyond the early hours. I have copies of the game for sure (both the original PS2 AND the rereleased HD international version) but I haven’t committed to the experience.

 

Maybe Suteki Da Ne just sucks. Maybe FFX just sucks. Maybe both.

Quick, someone convince me otherwise.

 

X2- Real Emotion (Koda Kumi/Jade Villalon)

My experience with X-2 quite was quite distinct. I remember being very excited at the prospect of having an all-female party in an FF game.

So I watched the opening scene where our heroines infiltrate an arena (yep sounds intriguing so far)…

… just so Yuna (an impostress) can perform a J-pop song to a roaring crowd, complete with synchronized choreography?

*blink blink*

“What can I do for you,” Yuna asks in Real Emotion.

My response? “You can shut right up”. So I turned off the PS2 and never touched Final Fantasy X-2 ever again.

 

XII- Kiss Me Goodbye (Angela Aki)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sADTVKs1ng

This song takes me back. My opinion, hands down, the best theme song Final Fantasy’s produced yet and consequently, the best game in the post-VII era.

The political backstory that did not revolve around the lead, the stage set in Ivalice—the same world found in Final Fantasy Tactics, and a rambunctious cast made XII stand out.

Although, let’s be honest. I would’ve liked the cast to look more diverse and not straight out of a WWII Aryan propaganda.

Still, Kiss Me Goodbye was the cherry on top of a wonderful experience and it not only conveyed Princess Ashe’s feelings toward her late betrothed, but it perfectly summed up how Vaan and co. went their separate ways in the epilogue.

Angela Aki, however, made this song so much more relatable beyond the game itself. Listen to the powerful lyrics found both in the English and Japanese versions.

 

XIII- My Hands (Leona Lewis)

As much as I loved My Hands—having been a fan of Leona Lewis since her X-Factor UK days—the song simply does not mesh well with the game’s message. Sure, it can probably be related to Vanille and Fang’s pseudo-sacrifice but neither one really developed a deep relationship with the other characters to merit a song about them. Another possibility concerns Sazh, Snow, and Lightning’s feelings toward their crystallized loved ones, but we know they reanimate by the time the song plays.

The message is clear—the song’s subject has lost a loved one and is reminiscing their time together, all the while showing substantial progress in adjusting with their life.

The game on the other hand, in its purest form, deals with the drama of being “branded by fate”. Do you accept it… or fight it, knowing that it will happen regardless?

So you see… A disconnect.

[I’m not going to bother commenting on Kimi Ga Iru Kara, the Japanese theme for the game.]

 

XIII-2- New World (Charice)

Staring the stars, feeling the winds every time

I cannot stop thinking of you

Since you’ve been gone away from here.

I kid you not. These are the opening lyrics to XIII-2’s theme.

To be fair, one can easily see why this song was chosen, with the new world borne in Final Fantasy XIII’s wake. But with lyrics as shown above combined with the terrible reviews, I left the game in my brother’s bookshelf, hopeful that it won’t be I who shall be tainted by its lingering putridity.

What is it with these dash-2 installments that just suck?

 

Hoping to Stand By Final Fantasy

Notably absent are the theme songs for the online Final Fantasies. I hold my hands up; never bothered with either of those.

But a conventional plot is essential to decipher a theme song’s meaning as well as the reasons for its inclusion.

Whether XV will have an enticing storyline or not remains to be seen. For now, as much as I see one red flag after another with the overall XV experience, Florence + the Machine’s involvement is enough to have me “stand by” behind it, so to speak.

And I think that’s a testament to the power of theme songs… at least for me.

I just hope Florence Welch’s rendition of Stand By Me wasn’t included to simply recycle the components in the same-titled 1986 film.

Four bros? Coming of age? An adventurous trip?

Hello-hi?!?!

Aaah, Daredevil, the devil in Hell’s Kitchen.

When Stan Lee and Bill Everett co-created Matt Murdock, I’m sure the duo took everything they knew about Satan and injected him with a crap load of irony. Thus, Daredevil was born; a Catholic, blind vigilante who struggles to spare the villains that enforce the namesake of Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan—a cyclical cauldron of chaotic feasting and suffering.

The imagery that the DD universe evokes is one straight out of good conventional storytelling, where expectations are demonized, inverted to illustrate the gray.

For the hardcore losers-slash-fans of the Netflix series such as I, you’ve probably already binged-watched the second season… and been exposed to the following promotional adverts.

Daredevil St Sebastian Daredevil Punisher Daredevil Karen Page

From TL to B: Daredevil advert/Peter Paul Rubens’ St. Sebastian (1614), Punisher advert/ Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath (c. 1610), Karen Page advert/ Caravaggio’s St. Jerome Writing (c. 1605-1606)

As you can see and as better dissected elsewhere, these adverts are straight out of some of the Baroque period’s most famous oeuvres. Characterized by the use of oil, the exposure to dark and religious themes, and a pregnancy of details, it seems that Baroque art is well-suited to the TV show’s voice.

SPOILER DISCLAIMER: YOU’LL NEED TO HAVE SEEN DAREDEVIL SEASON 2 IN ITS ENTIRETY TO PROCEED.

The imagery here is poignant and reveals A LOT in terms of what these characters will be doing and how they will be developed in the second season.

Matthew (Charlie Cox) remains a vigilante pariah due in part to his concealment of secrets, much in the same vein as St. Sebastian had been tied to a tree and shot with arrows for concealing his faith from the Roman army. Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) evolves from assistant to a rising journalist, devoting herself to the pursuit of truth, just as St. Jerome had devoted himself to the spread of God’s word via his Biblical translations. Newcomer Frank Castle/Punisher (Jon Bernthal) is depicted as David, triumphant over Daredevil-Goliath. No doubt this is a reflection of their ideological disconnect—one sends evildoers to prison to offer a second chance, the other sends them to the nether realm of finality with unadulterated contempt.

I’ve researched the Internet for about 2.2 minutes to see if anyone else has discovered from what artwork Foggy’s and Elektra’s posters are supposed to be derived.

Cuz, you know. Main characters, duh!

Then I got bored and decided to just make sense of them myself.

 

Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson)

Daredevil Foggy Daredevil Matthew inspiration

Keeping in tune with the Caravaggio theme, the first piece of art that comes to mind is The Inspiration of Saint Matthew (1602).

Except Foggy doesn’t really move on to be a devoted gospelist or anything similar. Which brings me to consider options from the Dutch Golden Age.

 

 

 

 

 

Girl with a Pearl Earring (Johannes Vermeer, 1665)

Step aside, ScarJo! Since the Dutch Golden Age was characterized by a degree of secularity, still life images, and landscapes, this banality reflects how Foggy may be perceived in relation to his hot, blind friend.

But that was so season 1.

 

 

Daredevil Foggy Daredevil The Art of Painting

The Art of Painting (Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665-68)

What, another woman? If Karen can be represented by a man, it stands to reason that Foggy can be represented by the reverse.

At first glance, the muse in the painting might seem similar to the woman with the jumbo pearl earrings. Armed with a book and trumpet, the muse is what drives the artist… an inspirer, a supporter, a poet whose weapon is her words. All these reflect who Foggy is to Matt Murdock.

Were we to reexamine Foggy’s promotional poster, however, we shall see that the negative space is almost empty compared to the muse’s surroundings. There is no artist to inspire nor to support; only a newspaper in the foreground that reads, “The Devil in Hell’s Kitchen.”

Season 2 Foggy Nelson comes to realize his internal worth, independent of whatever contributions Matt Murdock might have shared to define Foggy’s identity. The men do not end their friendship but they do drift apart. Foggy crafts his own story and to him, Matt eventually becomes an afterthought as old as the newspaper of yesterday.

 

Elektra Natchios (Élodie Yung)

Small wonder I couldn’t find any interpretations on Elektra’s character poster. It doesn’t seem as dynamic and full as your typical 16th-18th century painting. The best I can offer are those characterized under Spanish Baroque.

Daredevil Elektra Daredevil Immaculate Tiepolo Daredevil Immaculate Murillo Daredevil Immaculate de Ribera

These three paintings by Tiepolo (1767-1768), Murillo (1678), and de Ribera (1635) are all dubbed, (The) Immaculate Conception. Believe me, there are more under the same title but they all maintain recurring ideas and symbolism.

I know what you’re thinking. The parallel between Elektra and the Virgin Mary’s conception might seem really out of left field… but as pretentious over analyses might provide, the puzzle pieces are there waiting to be connected.

In all three Spanish paintings, Mary stands above the world, surrounded by babies beneath her and behind. She is the mother of man, free from original sin, and a figure of praise and adoration.

As we learn from the second season’s conclusion, Elektra is more than an assassin of the Chaste. She is, in fact, the true weapon of the Yamanote—The Hand Ninjas that have been since antiquity. Elektra is the Black Sky, the clan’s figure of praise and adoration.

But how are the dead gentlemen surrounding Elektra significant? Were they ordinary goons, they wouldn’t be. But as members of The Hand, they mirror the babies in the Conception as lifeless worshippers of their patron figure.

How am I sure they’re of The Hand? Asian, HELLO?!

While Mary is the giver of life and the mother of man, Elektra is the palm that links The Hand’s fingers, the sickle-bearing harbinger of death.

Daredevil Judith

Personally, I wish Elektra’s poster resembled the image on the left more …

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1598-1599)

I feel like this better encapsulates Elektra’s most memorable scenes. Not to mention, it is consistent with the Caravaggio schema.

Plus, let’s face it. If there’s anything really out of left field, it’s the Black Sky bit.

 

 

 

Going for Baroque

Okay, so I don’t claim to be an art historian bombarding you with readings that may not even make a lick of sense. But the motivation behind my analyses stems from a dissatisfaction with the advertising inconsistencies. Why have there been Baroqueian allusions to the characters of Daredevil, Punisher, and the ever-annoying Karen Page (not to mention, the references to Michelangelo on two other posters) and not Elektra or Foggy?

Moreover, there really is something to be said about Daredevil’s overall sensibility. The Christianity-based inverted imagery sets the show apart from its contemporaries, Marvel production or otherwise. I’m not religious by any means, but any experience that helps add depth to a show—that gives teasers to what might be expected of a particular character—helps the audience become more than just an audience.

They become participants.

And this effect is something, I feel, is worth going for broke.

I must admit that initially I had reservations about Jessica Jones. It didn’t seem like the logical follow up to Daredevil. I mean, Daredevil is a premier character with a storied history who deserved a quality movie or TV show. Jessica Jones just didn’t have the grandeur behind her name to get me excited. I admit only being aware of a handful of important comic stories featuring her.

After watching the trailer I was more on board with the whole thing, and even more so, after positive word of mouth began to head my way.

Well, I watched it, and it was damn good. How good? Let’s dive in to find out.

The Pros:

The story itself is good, but not terribly original. It contains classic troupes that have been done before. A loner detective with a knack for finding trouble opens up a P.I. firm while battling her demons and trying to right her wrongs. Pretty much the makings of any Noir story. Add super powers and throw the characters in to the Marvel universe you get something a little different that works.

What makes it work so well is the execution. It could have easily felt stale but it didn’t. This is actually in part, due to the relative anonymity of the source material. We want to see what Jessica Jones can do. What are the limits of her powers? How did she get them? What misdeeds has she done? And the question that soon enters everyone’s minds… Just who is Killgrave?

The thirst for answers, in many ways drives the show. It doesn’t hurt that the writing( Particularity the dialogue) is quite good. It feels as real without being too dour. In true Marvel form, there is humor. But I found it to be thrown in at the right times. Like Daredevil, This show had more dramatic weight than most of the films. I felt for most of the characters and, I connected to Jessica Jones struggles a bit more than usual.

jess1

The look of it was reminiscent of Daredevil but not quite as innovative. Nevertheless, the production was of a high quality. The acting was, a general positive for the show. Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones was excellent. I’d seen a bit of her work before. She was always good, but nothing outstanding. She usually played to her strengths, nothing more. As Jessica Jones, Ritter is forced to push her self past her comfort zone and showcase a more varied skill set. For the most part, she succeeds. Playing a bitchy, yet cool woman is where she is most comfortable, but I enjoyed, and bought it when she went to different emotional places.

Her supporting cast was mostly strong as well. We’ll get to the weaknesses in the cast later. Luke Cage, played by Michael Colter was very good. He certainly nailed the look of Luke Cage. I would say that he also had his comfort zone and excelled more when he was in it. A bit underutilized but since he’s getting his own show, I can’t nitpick. Trish Walker, played by Rachel Taylor was a solid support for Krysten Ritter’s Jessica. She added just enough without taking away from the lead. Carrie Ann Moss makes a refreshing comeback, playing defense attorney, Jeri Hogarth. It was good to see her again, even if it was playing a cold calculating bitch, which she did very well by the way.

Lastly, we get to the best part of the show… The villain. Killgrave, played by David Tennan. phenomenal across the board. I’d say the best villain Marvel has brought to life on the small or big screen. I have to say that when it comes to TV, Marvel seems to execute it’s villains much better. If you look at Kingpin or Kilgrave, one thing is clear. They’re threatening and they don’t mess around.  Personally when I watch Avengers I don’t find Loki threatening at all. Same goes for a throw away villain like say,  Yellow Jacket. So there’s that.

kill1

With Killgrave you get a guy who can get you to do anything he wants with simply the sound of his voice. Imagine that power. Sounds like fun doesn’t it? What harmless, yet selfish things could we do with that? Give those powers to a deranged sociopath and you get a whole new perspective on just how much a power like that can corrupt someone.  Credit to the writers for putting it out there, but even more credit to David Tennant for bringing Killgrave’s evil ways to life.

He plays him with so much charm and wit that it’s almost impossible not to root for him, at first. That quickly changes once the mysteries begin to unfold and his true nature becomes more apparent. One thing that’s for sure is that your attention is on him whenever Tennant shares a scene with someone. You can help but ask to ask yourselves questions about him. What makes him tick? What will he do? How far can he truly go?  He ends up makes the unlikable likable as much as he can. So much so, that you may even end up hating what he stands for ,but not hating him. Or maybe his powers of persuasion even worked on me!

The show can get quite gory at times which might sound like a complaint, but it’s not. On the contrary, I think the gore was key in showing the severity of what Killgrave could do and what it really means to have such power. It shows us why the trauma for many of his victims is as scarring as it is. That is, if they live to tell about it.

The Cons:

While, the meat of the story was good the rest suffered at times. There were definitely a few plot holes and character moments that just didn’t jive with me. This series really could have done without needing to make it 13 episodes. It dragged at various points in the middle and was clearly stalling things so they could get to episodes 12 and 13. The subplots that  were shoehorned in slowed things down and were, frankly uninteresting. Even ( SPOILERS) Jessica’s eventual immunity to Killgrave’s mind control seemed rather convenient and lame to me. Although for the most part, I was willing to overlook it.

Some things did seem repetitive and eventually became pointless. For example, Jessica’s crass attitude and constant disregard for D.A. Jerri Hogarth’s time. I found it hard to swallow that Jessica could just burst into a lawyer’s office and start making demands. Especially a lawyer that is her client. Minor but still…

As I mentioned before, most of the supporting cast was good but I have a bone to pick with a few of them. Will Simpson, played by Will Traval is one of those low points for me. Perhaps, even the biggest low point. He plays a cop who becomes one of Killgrave’s mind controlled slaves. He is sent to kill Trish Walker but fails in doing so. Jessica manages to save him as well. Done, right?

Wrong. He pops up again and again, for reasons that are about as flimsy as a straw. It doesn’t help matters that the actor playing Simpson isn’t very good.  This is especially apparent whenever he shares a scene with Trish Walker, played by Rachel Taylor. Not good. Not good at all. Both actors benefit greatly from Krysten Ritter acting in the majority of scenes with them. Going back to Simpson… His motivations are all over the map. His story line even seems to contradict itself at times. At one point he laments how he could not forgive himself from trying to harm another person and the next he murders an innocent man in cold blood! The worst part is that that death had no point to it either. When you get to it, you’ll see what I mean.

Another annoying character was Jessica’s irksome neighbors upstairs. Creepy brother and sister that just grate on you to no end. The less said about them the better. I also wasn’t particularity fond of Malcolm( Jessica’s junkie “friend”) but as the series wore on I came to like him more.

People tend to say that the show’s finale was anti climatic but I didn’t find this to be true. I thought it was a tense and appropriate end to the story.

In conclusion, a solid show. Not as good as Daredevil ,but high quality nonetheless.I look forward to see what Marvel does as a follow up to Killgrave. I think that it’s going to be very tough to replace such a memorable villain. The journey to find out should be interesting. Go watch Jessica Jones season 1 and share your thoughts!