The Magnificent Seven

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This remake of a great movie that itself was a remake of an all-time great movie is not in the same league as its predecessors. It doesn’t seem likely to be remembered this time next year, let alone in a decade or two. Still, it delivers enough on its premise and its stars are charismatic enough to carry it through.

The plot of this film is likely known to everyone considering heading to the cinema to see it. An impoverished town is menaced by a bandit, so they take all that they have to hire some fighters to save them from this menace. This changes some things up from the original Magnificent Seven, such as the bandit actually being an unscrupulous robber baron. Other than that, though, it plays out just as you’d expect.

There have been changes to the make-up of the heroes. This Magnificent Seven unobtrusively features a diverse cast of gunslingers. Denzel Washington plays Sam Chisolm, the first of the gunmen recruited by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett). He is soon joined by Chris Pratt’s Faraday, a gambling, drunken trickster, as well as duo played by Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Lee. They are soon joined by a Mexican outlaw, an mountain man and a lone Comanche. Each gun fighters has their role and quirks and while none are particularly well-developed as characters they do work as delivery methods for the shoot outs. While Denzel is Denzel, Chris Pratt does his “Harrison Ford, but goofier” thing and Ethan Hawke creates as tortured soul in his character, the most entertaining is Vincent D’Onofrio as the mountain man Jack Horne. He rumbles around scenes, using his size and power in a fight while reciting Bible verses in his high pitched wheeze of a voice. It is always unexpected and amusing.

The Magnificent Seven nails a tone that is serious without being too heavy and humorous without being too light. That is apparent in its two leads, Washington and Pratt. Pratt brings the same energy he had in Jurassic World and Guardians and the Galaxy. That contrasts but doesn’t clash with the more somber Washington who is a deadly serious man on a mission. The rest fit in somewhere between those two, often managing to do a little of both. The villain, played by Peter Sarsgaard, is given too much time for it to be okay for him to be as vague as he is. He believes he has the God given right to take what he wants, but he is given no real motivation.

There are some great shots of western scenery, and the shoot outs are largely intelligible if not especially impressive. It is a movie that is competently made, but not flashy or especially memorable.

The Magnificent Seven is an unusual specimen these days, a straight western. There is no twist to it; it is just a shoot up between obvious bad guys and obvious good guys. That simplicity is one of the films greatest strengths. It is a simple tale told well, with a cast that is worth coming to see. It will likely be little remembered, though it will be remembered fondly.

***

Top 10 Superheroes

Thanks to a persistent request and enough desire to do it anyway, here are my Top 10 Favorite Superheroes. It is an eclectic group, split pretty evenly between Marvel and DC as well as between men and women. I think it’s a good list, and if you disagree you are objectively wrong.

10: Wolverine –

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I got into comics though the 90’s X-Men cartoon and I think it is impossible to come out of that show not loving Wolverine.  It also helped that he was short like me. Most of his solo comics have not been especially good, but his time with X-Men has featured quite a few memorable stories. He is kind of the prototype for all the crappy 90’s anti-heroes, but none of them ever did it as well as it was done with Wolverine.

9: Wildcat –

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He is almost as much of a joke character as a real superhero, but Wildcat is still one of my favorites. He is in some ways the JSA’s Wolverine, except not as useful. He has no powers, other than sometimes having 9 cat lives, he’s just an old boxer who dresses like a cat and beats up crooks. He is also the heart and soul of the team. In most DC continuities, he’s also responsible for training many other heroes. He’s taught Batman, Black Canary and Catwoman how to box. He did something similar in his sporadic appearances an Arrow. When the JSA’s adventures get big, I always like seeing how the largely normal Wildcat deals with things.

8: She-Hulk –

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I’m not sure what She-Hulk has been up to lately, but I really fell in love with this character during Dan Slott’s run with her in the early 00’s. She is one of the fun Marvel characters, like a version of Deadpool that isn’t completely obnoxious. She is capable of 4th wall breaking hijinks as well as more serious superhero stuff. She is just a lot of fun.

7: Superman – The original and still best. There is something more pure about the best Superman stories than with most other superheroes. I don’t think this pick needs any justification, other than that every year I think I like him more.

6: Captain Marvel Carol Danvers –

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I have less of a reason for liking this character than most. I read her last mediocre run as Ms Marvel in the middle 00s and it was fine. The more recent stuff with her as Captain Marvel was simply great. There is something about brash, no-nonsense superheroines that really appeals to me.

5: Power Girl –

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See above about this sort of superheroine. The stuff starring her by Palmiotti, Gray & Conner, her own series and her Harley Quinn mini, has been inspired stuff. She is DC’s answer in a lot of ways to both She-Hulk and Captain Marvel.

4: Mr. Miracle & Big Barda –

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I am cheating a bit here, but this pair almost always operates as a pair and they are really only interesting to me as a pair.  I’ve written about them before, but these two are great. They make a great couple that is physically an inversion of the usual gender roles, but they spend a lot of their time trying to conform to those roles anyway. It also helps that most of the appearances I’ve read of them, the original Jack Kirby stuff and their appearance in the JLI, have all been very good comics. Also, it is great that Mr. Miracle’s power set is largely non-combative.

3: Stargirl –

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From her own short lived series to her appearances in JSA, Stargirl has long been a favorite of mine. She is that teenage superhero Spider-Man riff, but with some of DC’s special legacy baggage. Being the young hero who ended up with the old guys instead of the Teen Titans made her seem special. Plus, she has the added benefit of just being a lot of fun.

2: Hercules –

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There is something really enjoyable to me about a hero that treats superheroing like fun. That is Marvel’s Hercules. He is a big goofy Thor. Every adventure with him feels like half a party, but his best stories also have strong character moments.

1: Green Lantern Guy Gardner –

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The one requirement to be a Green Lantern is to have no fear. Guy lives up to that by being kind of a douche. He is also a surprisingly complex character, a hero who has to put up this brash front rather than admit he feels inadequate.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions

When Nintendo announced that they were partnering with Atlus to create a crossover between Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei I don’t think anyone expected it turn out like Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. Maybe some of the details were easy to guess; I wasn’t surprised that it essentially plays like a Persona game, but the end result is something that has little in common with either of its inspirations. There are certainly elements of both that remain, but Tokyo Mirage Sessions is very much its own game. TMS is a game that takes it theme and commits to it whole heartedly.

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This is a game about idols, there is no getting away from that. There are numerous musical numbers that pop up as party members put out singles and perform in concerts. The whole game is awash in pastels, all sky blue and pink. The character’s home lives are never even mentioned, they all work for a talent agency that doubles as a cover for their monster fighting, and spend their time training for various artistic endeavors. It is as far away as possible from SMT’s post-apocalypse or Fire Emblem’s fantasy medieval battlefields. Yet, despite being nothing like them, it does feel a bit like the progeny of both series.

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The party in TMS is made up of aspiring or active performers. Some are pop star-esque idols, others are actors on teen TV shows and some do it all. Their artistic abilities and aspirations also give them the power to be Mirage Masters, people able to harness the powers of martial spirits from another realm to fight back against the mysterious entities that are stealing people’s “performa,” the essence of their talent and artistry. It is nonsense, but Tokyo Mirage Sessions commits to this conceit with an admirable completeness. Everything revolves around it. As the characters grow stronger in battle their musical skills grow stronger, which in turn makes them stronger in battle. It is a cycle, everything feeds into everything else. Crazily enough, if one is willing to buy into this central conceit, then everything kind of works.

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Battles, which take place in an arena and are themed to look like performances, play out much like the PS2 Persona games. Four characters in the party each have an array of skills that are mostly from the SMT series, with a few Fire Emblem themed ones tossed in. Like the Persona games, there is a great emphasis on hitting enemies’ weaknesses. In this game, doing so trigger a session attack, where the other party members take turns jumping in to continue the assault. Eventually even inactive party members start to join in the fray, creating cascading sessions of 6 or even more attacks every time a weakness is hit. Each party member has certain skills that can be powered up with random “ad-lib” performances, which turn the games many musical numbers into more powerful attacks. Soon multiple characters work together in duets that combine two characters for an attack that extends the session. It eventually makes hitting those weaknesses almost essential to effectively fighting through the dungeons.

Those dungeons are right out of SMT games. They are some effective and sprawling puzzle dungeons. Each one has a trick. One had the player avoid camera’s that snap a photo and send the player back to the start, another is set on the back lot of a movie shoot. Each has its own tricks and themes and none are a pushover. Since the bulk of the player’s time is spent in the dungeons, they needed to be good and they are.

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Going into the game, I was afraid that the theme and cast would be suffocating, but Atlus, who did the heavy lifting on this game, and the localization team did a wonderful job creating a group that is largely enjoyable. They don’t break far from anime tropes for characters: there’s a taciturn loner, an earnest yet slightly inept romantic interest, and a boozy female authority figure, but they are portrayed in such a way as to make them charming instead of grating. Touma, the player character’s best friend, really wants to be a Power Rangers like hero. He tries to live up to a heroic ideal in his real life. There isn’t much complicated about him, but he is generally positive and enjoyable. Other than protagonist Itsuki, the bland everyman that rallies the others around him, Tsubasa is the center of the game. It is her quest to become an Idol, despite her nervousness and fear of the spotlight that continually pushes things forward. It is what gets her and Itsuki drawn into this drama and her rise and success keeps bringing the team in conflict with the dark forces working behind the scenes. If he character didn’t work the whole thing would fall apart. Luckily, she is one of the games strength. TMS does a great job of building that character throughout, as she conceivably grows as a performer and a character. I don’t even have time to get into Barry Goodman, who might be the most scathing take on a Western anime fan I’ve ever seen.

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Spending so much time with the characters helps disguise how small this game actually is. It is only six dungeons and one hub area. There are a handful of other areas, one screen each, but outside of the dungeons the game is actually tiny. It is like the game wants to pass itself off as a sprawling JRPG experience, but to do so it has to patch over its budget roots. It doesn’t make much of a difference while playing, but thinking back on it makes it clear how limited the game is. Maybe limited is the wrong word; focused us more appropriate.

If the battle system comes out of SMT, where does Fire Emblem fit in? In the Mirages, the spirits that help the party fight their evil counterparts. The Mirages are all slightly reimagined Fire Emblem characters, mostly from the first game or Awakening. They act like the Personas out of that series. The main plot is about the Fire Emblem characters getting stuck in the real world. It is nonsense, but it kind of works.

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There are some problems with this game. By the end battles can become tedious as the increasingly complex attack sessions take longer and longer to play out. It feels like it goes on about one dungeon too long. Outside of each character’s trio of sidequests, there isn’t much else to do but fight through the dungeons. Still, I think I love this game. It is not subject matter I tend to like, but Tokyo Mirage Sessions makes it all feel refreshing. It is probably the best console JRPG since Persona 4. It is light, a piece of fluff, but also a fully realized experience that doesn’t get made all the often anymore.

25 Years 25 Games 15: Space Megaforce

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The SNES was not the go to system for shoot ’em ups. It had its fair share, UN Squadron is a personal favorite, but the system wasn’t really known for blazing fast action games. The lack is mostly due to the SNES’s tendency to bog down when more than five or six sprites appeared on the screen. See Gradius III for a prime example. The other shoot ’em ups on the system are what makes Space Megaforce so astounding.

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I don’t know that Space Megaforce is a great game. It is too hard for me, which isn’t really a point against it considering my limited shmup skills, but it is a barrier to my ability to enjoy and judge the game. It is, however, quite an achievement, running as fast and as smooth as it does on the SNES. Space Megaforce, which is the terrible American title of Super Aleste, is an SNES shmup with no, or little, slowdown. It is hectic and challenging and most of all fast. It is unlike any other game on the system. Space Megaforce was made by Compile, a company known for its excellent shooters and Puyo Puyo before it died and was reborn as Compile Heart, which is known for churning out terrible JRPGs. Whatever wizardry Compile employed to get Space Megaforce to run as smoothly as it does has, as far as I know, never been replicated.

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Its power up system manages to be robust without being as punishing as something like Gradius. In Gradius, your ship eventually becomes a tornado of destruction filling the screen with projectiles, but when you die it takes forever to build that power back up. It is almost easier to just restart and build up you power during the easier first level than to try to rebuild in the middle of a more difficult section. Space Megaforce does not give the player the same breadth of options as that game, but it is easier to keep going after a death. There are 8 or so weapons, all of which can be powered up by grabbing more of the same power ups. All of them have multiple fire patterns as well. Getting killed sucks, it always does, but you can grab on power up and be back in some form of business.

There are flaws, the biggest I encountered being the uneven length of the stages. Some stages seem endless, just super long and repetitive. The challenge is as much in endurance as it is in skill. Some are short, ephemeral bursts. I don’t know that either choice is wrong, though those long stages are not to my preference, but a middle ground would have worked better. The more I think about it the less sure I am that the stages were excessively long, but they certainly felt that way, which is as big of a problem.

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Space Megaforce is pretty great. It is a stellar example of a genre that wasn’t really the SNES’s forte that somehow just ignores the weaknesses of the system to give a fast, twitchy experience.

Fire Emblem Fates: Revelation

I’ve written about Fire Emblem Fates’ other two paths already and felt like now, before the fall 3DS rush starts – Ace Attorney 6, Dragon Quest VII, River City Tokyo Rumble and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse are all due before the end of September – was the best time to finally get to the third and final FE Fates path, Revelation. I sped through it only about a week or so. It does everything the middle path of Fates’ side choosing main game should do, yet I don’t know that I like it very much.

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How Nintendo and Intelligent Systems differentiated the Birthright and Conquest paths was effective from a gameplay standpoint. The classes and weapons were all different and with a few exceptions so were all of the characters. They aren’t quite separate games, even ignoring the identical first five chapters, but they are very different experiences. Revelation takes those two sets and mashes them together. It doesn’t pare them down to an interesting mix of both casts; it is the entirety of both casts made available. That means that no one’s favorite character is left out, but it also means that you get more than twice as many characters as you could possibly use. It really compounds a problem that both of the first two paths had: the glut of royal characters. When each half of the cast gives you four royal siblings and map tend to allow 10-14 characters to be deployed, that only leaves up to five other characters to be deployed, assuming that you are using all of both of your families. Which is tempting to do, since those siblings tend to be some of your best characters. And that’s without even getting into the second generation.

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Actually, let’s get into that second generation of characters. In Fire Emblem Awakening, the children of you characters coming back in time to stop a dreadful event was the entire conceit of the game. It gave an end goal to the supports, which had been a big draw in the GBA games and were gutted in the GC/Wii ones, with each pairing producing an offspring that could join your army. It worked in that game because that game was designed for it. They kept the mechanic in Fates, but it lacks the conceit. They come up with some half explained reason for the children, who haven’t been born yet, to grow up somewhere where time passes differently and they grow to adulthood in no time, but it is unsatisfying. It feels like it was kept because it was a popular feature and not because it has any place in the game. It feels like an afterthought; the child characters, as fun as some of them are, do not have a role to play in this story.

The cast is a big reason why Revelation only works as a second or third path. There are so many characters that few have a chance to make much of an impression. But holdover feelings from the first time through game give the player a reason to try and use them.

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My hope was that the big cast would give reason for big maps. Let the player deploy twenty or more characters and fill the screen with enemies on a truly massive battle. That is not the path that Revelation takes. Instead, each and every single map is a gimmick map. I don’t mind gimmick maps, they can be a fun alternative to the normal ones. Elements like environmental hazards, fog of war or shifting terrain make for a good change of pace. In Revelation, they are the pace. There are no normal maps, except maybe the last one; every last one has some sort of twist. It isn’t fun, it is exhausting. I eventually had to switch over to classic mode, since there were too many variables for me to keep track of.

They are actually pretty finely crafted stages, for the most part. It is just that the rules continually change. Classic Mode, which I am glad exists for people who don’t want the same Fire Emblem experience that I want, feels like a cheat to me, but I also found it necessary. Losing the penalty for a character dying fundamentally changes how I play the game, shifting from my usual cautiously aggressive tactics to ones that are downright reckless.

The story is the story that both of the previous paths made obvious was out there. Both of those games danced around a central problem while solving ones that seemed much less pressing. This one has the player’s avatar deal directly with the mysterious entity that has been manipulating both countries. It doesn’t flesh out the conflict that greatly, keeping things more personal than political, but it works.

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Fire Emblem Fates Revelation is a mixed bag. It is altogether too much of a good thing. Its solution to every problem is more. More characters, more stuff going on in the maps, more supports. Like eating too much candy, you kind of love it even as it makes you queasy. Fire Emblem Fates is a monumental trilogy that I loved even while I wished that they pared it down somewhat.

Sully Review

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While everyone involved does a good job, Sully is a movie trying to do too much with too little. The scenes of the crash, ahem, forced water landing are exhilarating. As long as it is about the plane and its abbreviated flight the movie astonishes. But that takes all of four minutes. The rescue afterward, in real time, took another twenty five. That gives the movie about thirty downright excellent, dramatic minutes. Unfortunately, Sully sort of flails to fill the other hour of its run time.

Chelsey Sullenberger, as played by Tom Hanks, is a quietly competent man. Hanks brings his usual warmth to the role, making Sully really feel like a man who was just doing his job even if he was doing it extremely well. The movie shows him plagued by doubts about his decision to land the plane in the Hudson, especially after the investigators contend that he could have returned to the runway, and shows him uncomfortable with all of the media attention, but that is rather thin gruel as far as drama goes. The recurring nightmares of the plane crashing in the city, with echoes of the 9/11 attacks, are visually effective at first, but soon overkill that exist just to keep the potential tragedy in mind.

Those four minutes of flight and forced landing are played over and again, from many perspectives. Each time it is enthralling, even though the viewer knows how things turn out. This is a movie about a tragedy that wasn’t; where everyone comes together and saves the day. It is heartwarming, but since the film starts after everyone has been saved it isn’t as dramatic as it could have been. The film occasionally tries to build up stuff around that, giving some lip service to introducing the passengers and giving Sully some things at home to worry about, but those don’t amount to much in the grand scheme.

The main conflict comes from the NTSB investigation, who suggests that Sully could have gotten the plane back to LaGuardia. Eastwood sets them up as comically combative with Sully and Skiles, the co-pilot, seemingly determined to prove that the crash was due to pilot error. That sparks lingering doubt in Sully’s mind, even as everyone continues to treat him as a hero. At least it does until he figures out why the simulations are wrong.

Other than Hanks as Sully, the rest of the cast is also solid. Aaron Eckhart is delightful as the somewhat more boisterous copilot, eager to step up and give the retorts that Sully isn’t interested in. Sam Huntington has a few great moments as the Air Traffic Controller trying to lead them back to a runway, who is despondent after Sully says they are going into the river.

Again, the crash and rescue are amazing bits of filmmaking, but the investigation stuff seems to be there to pad the movie out to its full length and to give voice to some off putting anti-intellectualism. There are hints of a how dare they attitude when it comes to questioning this movies hero, even if they are just doing their job in trying to determine why an airplane ended up in the river. Still, Sully manages to tell its story in an economical ninety or so minutes. When it’s good, Sully is very very good and when it isn’t good, it still really isn’t bad. It is worth seeing just for Tom Hanks or Eckhart’s mustache.

****

What I Read August 2016

Only three books this month, though it was a rather busy month. I also finished up some comics reading, getting through some old newspaper strips and one of the collections I picked up a Planet Comic-con Kansas City earlier this summer. Even though I fell short of my monthly goal, I am more than satisfied with what I read this month. Also, I have enough half-finished books that I should more than make up for it in September.

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Agatha Christie

This is a book that gets two reactions: one knowing the twist and one not knowing. I didn’t get to experience that first one. I’m not too upset, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is famous and famous for its twist, that I have been spoiled on it in the 90 years since the book was published is no surprise. However, that kept me from reading it with truly fresh eyes. I read it knowing the outcome, so I spent my time looking for the real clues and seeing if Christie played fair. As far as I can tell, she did. Still, the revelation lacks some of the impact it might have had if I came into it blind. The retired Hercule Poirot comes out of retirement to investigate a murder is a small village. He meets with the townsfolk and aided by the town doctor looks into the murder of one Roger Ackroyd. He does the usual things, checking the alibis and opinions of the possible suspects before the surprising revelation the murderer. Even being spoiled about the culprit I enjoyed this quite a bit. Christie earned her reputation.

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The Bishop’s Heir

Katherine Kurtz

I picked up a handful of Kurtz’s Deryni books a long time ago at a college library sale, but the first one I tried didn’t immediately grab me, so I sold them to a used book store when I was clearing out some space. Since then I have read more about the series, so when another opportunity to pick some of them up for cheap presented itself I took it. The first one I read, The Bishop’s Heir is the first part of her third trilogy of Deryni books. It has young king Kelson Haldane dealing with a rift in the church and a political uprising.

Kurtz’s prose can be workmanlike and the world of this book is very close to the real world with just a splash of magic. It feels very much like the precursor to stuff like A Song of Ice and Fire. It also does little to ease new readers in; which is only a problem because the cover says book one. Still, once you get in the groove, the book works. Kelson is young and still unsure at times, wanting to be a good king but not blind to the harsh realities that he faces. The plot seems surprisingly light considering how complete this one book is. It is not structured like the usual fantasy book, being much more political than action oriented. The big piece of the plot happens early, and the last two thirds or so are merely dealing with the fallout from that encounter. By the end, was fully drawn in. It isn’t really great work, but it is very readable historical fantasy.

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The Garden of Stones

Mark T Barnes

I listened to this book as an audiobook rather than read it, so I can’t guarantee my thoughts on it are the same that they would be had I read it normally. The Garden of Stones makes itself hard to like early on, has a solid middle portion before falling apart again at the end. It spends almost the whole first half introducing so many characters and concepts it is hard to keep them straight. Especially since they are all made up words. That is the part that I think the audiobook suffers in comparison to the real thing. Still, having all of these fake words showing up frequently, and then characters with unusual names that then have nicknames, sometimes multiple, makes it hard for a reader to find their footing. By the time the players and their relationships are clear, the book starts to be fun.

The Garden of Stones has three primary characters: the power mad Corajidin who wants to seize power in the Shrian Federation, the warrior-mage Indris opposed to him, and Mari, Corajidin’s daughter who is caught between family and what she believes is right. The three of them and their compatriots plot and scheme in a tense political situation the Corajidin has engineered to his own benefit. That’s all well and good for a while, but things go a bit off at the end. Mostly from a pacing point of view. The book alternates between those three POV characters, but they seem to get to the climactic moments out of order. Important events happen off page because none of those three characters are there, and the order that the chapters fall removes a lot of the possible tension. By the time it’s over you start to wonder about the timing of things, as events don’t quite fit together smoothly.

I’ve read a lot of people compare this book to Erikson’s Malazan books, which isn’t far off. But that comparison fits into me not really enjoying this book; I don’t much care for the Malazan series either. They are both dense with world building, but I find them both lacking in most other respects.

Comics

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The Complete Peanuts 1957-58

This is the forth volume of Fantagraphics complete Peanuts, and it is good. Peanuts is great. I don’t really know what else to say. It is almost always funny and is just often enough poignant. In this early volume Schulz is still fleshing out his cast, with Linus getting the bulk of the focus. Good, good stuff.

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Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Vol 2

As a showcase for Alex Raymond’s art this is wonderful. I really wish I could track down volume 1, but the story is so episodic that it hardly matters. Flash and Dale and Zarkov move from one adventure to next at breakneck speed. They visit the various realms of Mongo, fight with the royalty and Ming the Merciless and eventually conquer. It is worth reading if only for Raymond’s art, which is exquisite.

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Godland Celestial Edition Volume 1

Joe Casey & Tom Scioli

I was gifted Scioli’s American Barbarian and fell in love with it, so when I happened upon a couple of volumes of Godland, a series with his art, on sale at the KC Comic-con, I snatched them up. The first volume, unfortunately, was a huge disappointment. Like Scioli’s art, the story of Godland is very Kirby inspired, taking from his Fantastic Four collaborations with Stan Lee and his later 4th World stuff from DC. Not that Godland isn’t entirely original, it is, but is desperately tries to ape the tone of those works. In many ways it succeeds, but there is something about it that just end up feeling off.

Godland tells the story of Adam Archer, an astronaut that gained cosmic powers on an ill-fated expedition to Mars. He uses those powers to be a superhero back on Earth, fighting enemies like Friedrich Nickelhead, who looks like Destro from GI Joe, and Basil Cronus, a junkie who carries his own head around in a jar. The design of all the characters found in this first volume is nearly perfect and the plots themselves are exactly the sort of thing I was expecting, but the dialogue kills it for me. The whole thing feels slathered in a sort of glib irony – maybe an attempt to ape Stan Lee of the 60’s – that undercuts any true feelings the story could invoke. It constantly pushes the reader away, seemingly wanting them to laugh at the book and find the whole thing ridiculous. It is ridiculous, but if the book is so desperate to undercut itself why does it exist in the first place. American Barbarian was similar in many ways, but it presented itself more earnestly even when being ridiculous. Joe Casey seems desperate to make sure that readers know that he knows how ridiculous this whole thing is, and that knowing tinge is off putting.

Now Playing August 2016

Beaten

Illusion of Gaia – see post here

Shin Nekketsu Kouha – see post here.

Bravely Second – see post here.

Ninja Smasher – This is a neat little metroidvania game for the 3DS I picked up last month. The central mechanic of the game is that every time you hit an enemy with your attack it allows you to jump again, meaning that you can fly through areas slashing enemies and leaping to the next one. It is fun, for a while. The game takes about three hours to complete, but it starts to lose its luster about an hour in. The levels aren’t that interesting and the bosses are just damage sponges. You get your four bucks worth, but that’s about it.

Pokémon Alpha Sapphire – I am on the record as loving the Pokémon series. Black & White, Black & White 2, X & Y: the three previous versions of Pokémon were all a ton of fun. The only generation of Pokémon that didn’t really do it for me was the third, Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald. I played them, but I usually gave up about halfway or so through the game. When the inevitable remake happened, I was eager to fully experience the game. But that just didn’t happen. I ended up skipping the games when they were first released, only getting it a half a year later during a surprise sale on the game. Then I played it. Pokémon Alpha Sapphire is likely the best rendition of the Pokémon formula. It does nearly everything well. Still, I found myself utterly disinterested in the experience. Part of it was the lack of newness; there are no new Pokémon in Alpha Sapphire, nothing this game does that other Pokémon games don’t also do. The bigger part is that I have never really enjoyed this setting. The routes are laid out in unintuitive and frustrating ways, there is too much surfing and an overreliance on field HM’s altogether. I know a lot of people that love this game, both the original and the remake. No matter how many times I try, I just can’t get into this particular version of a series that I like. Now that I’ve beaten the game, I don’t feel a particular need to do so.

Ongoing

Space MegaForce – I’ve played a couple of stages of this SNES shooter and it is fast. I haven’t played enough to form much more of an impression than that, but that is impressive enough so far.

Super Mario RPG – please understand.

Fire Emblem Fates Revelations – I’m pressing through this third path of Nintendo and Intelligent System’s excellent strategy game, but it isn’t really doing it for me early on. There are just too many gimmick maps. There is a teleporter map, a windy and a map filled with ice all to start things off. Those gimmick maps are fine, but they are best when they are used to offset regular stages. I hope there is more to this than just these bullshit stages because I really want a solid wrap up to this game’s story.

Monster Hunter Generations

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Maybe it is just that I had my fill of MH4U and wasn’t ready for more Monster Hunter, but so far I have been unable to really get into this game. There is a lot I like about it in theory, from its monster list to some quality of life changes made to this version from MH4U, but none of that has really helped me find the desire to sink my teeth into it and really play. Of course, my problems might all stem from forcing myself to change my weapon. In previous MH games I have used the hammer. I’d try out others; I tended to use a light bowgun quite a bit online, but primarily I stuck with the slow but powerful hammer. This time I wanted a different experience, so I’ve used the lance, gunlance, and sword & shield. None of those weapons feel as natural to me as the hammer does though. When I get back to this, likely after I finish Fire Emblem, I think I’ll switch back to my trusty favorite.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions –

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I am still pushing through this game and still greatly enjoying it. It is a long game and I haven’t had the time I’ve wanted to get this game beaten. TMS is pretty perfectly paced throughout the first two thirds. Each new dungeon adds a new character or concept, but it doesn’t feel like those things were artificially kept from the player but that the abilities of the party are growing. That is one of Tokyo Mirage Sessions overriding themes; it is about growth. Each of you party member’s grows individually as an entertainer and they grow as a team. That growth is reflected in their ever increasing combat abilities. I hope the game is able to stick the landing.

Upcoming

Secret of Evermore – As soon as I clear out Super Mario RPG and Space Megaforce I am on to this.

Legend of the Mystical Ninja – I’ve got this downloaded to my WiiU, ready to go as soon I have time. This is a game I have played before, but only enough to know that I want the full experience.

Skyblazer – This is more wishful thinking that anything else, but if I get done with the four other SNES games on this list, Skyblazer is up next.

Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice – We appear to be missing out on anther Ace Attorney spin-off, but I am not going to complain about the Ace Attorney games we are getting. I can’t resist this series.

Dragon Quest VII – I got the PS1 version of this game three or four years ago, shortly before the 3DS remake was announced. I held off playing it, thinking this would come over. Then it didn’t. I held off until close to a year ago, but soon after I started it was announced that the 3DS game was getting an American release. I am so ready to play this damn game.

What I Watched August 2016

Movies

Crimson Peak – I skipped this movie last year because it was advertised as a horror movie. It isn’t; it is a gothic romance. There are some horror elements, but it is more slightly spooky than in any way scary. I loved it. The performances by Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska are all excellent. It also looks great, with Del Toro’s usual mastery of effects. This is everything I could have wanted it to be. I have learned my lesson about missing out on Del Toro movies. *****

Transporter Refueled – This movie shows just how much Jason Statham brings to the table. Ed Skrein is fine, but he lacks Statham’s charm and presence. This movie is fine, but it isn’t anything more than a competent action also ran. **

Blitz – This is Jason Statham doing more with less. There isn’t a lot original or great here, but Statham makes it just enjoyable enough to watch. **1/2

Suicide Squad – See Review here ***1/2

Star Trek (2009) – I picked this up out of the $4 bin at Wal-Mart after seeing Star Trek Beyond. I remembered it being a lot of fun and it is. The movie is very much about establishing the new cast as these characters, leaving little room for anything else. Still, like most JJ Abrams movies it is slick and enjoyable, even if it is a little shallow. ****

Cinderella – This is the Kenneth Branagh directed live action version of Disney’s animated movie. After seeing this and the Jungle Book, maybe these just aren’t for me. I never really like Disney’s Cinderella, and this version keeps all of the things I didn’t enjoy, such as the talking animals. It certainly looks great. **1/2

The Little Prince – This is two completely different movies smashed together. There are the amazing stop motion scenes out of The Little Prince, and then there is the thoroughly adequate CG animated movie filled in around it. I would rather this was just a straight adaptation of The Little Prince in the style of the scenes already in this movie, but what is here is disappointingly fine. ***

Hellboy – I didn’t much like this movie when I first saw it years ago. I don’t know what was wrong with me. It is a little slow to get going, spending a lot of time on the origin of Hellboy and setting up how the BRPD operates, but once it gets going it becomes a delight. ****

Back to the Future Part 2 – I know I’ve written about this movie before. It is great. *****

The Princess Bride – I know I’ve written about this movie before. It is great. *****

The Battered Bastards of Baseball – This documentary about Portland’s short lived independent minor league baseball team is a lot of fun. It’s got underdog stories galore and manages to be both sad and heartwarming. ****

Batman v Superman Ultimate Cut – Earlier this year I came away from BvS mildly positive about it. Still, I wasn’t rushing out to get the Blu-Ray and see it again, only this time 30 minutes longer. Still, I happened to see the Ultimate Cut and I am glad I did. The thirty minutes of added in fixes almost all of the movie’s plot problems. It actually lets the viewer into Superman’s head, so they can see how he came to goaded into this fight instead of just seeing Batman’s near deranged fury that got him there. It more strongly establishes Lex Luthor’s hand in setting all of it up. Why this stuff was cut instead of shortening the last fight scene or taking out some of the Easter eggs I’ll never know, but this three hour long version is a nearly great movie. ****

Blade 2 – Yeah, after watching Crimson Peak I went a little Del Toro crazy. This has some very Del Toro feeling moments, but it doesn’t quite work for me. I like a lot of the elements of this movie, like the vampire hunters – the hunters that are vampires – teaming up with Blade and some of the action scenes are great, but it moves to the end without doing much to play with the toys it painstakingly show off early. Still, it is reasonably entertaining. ***

Pacific Rim – This is another Del Toro movie with a lot of set up, but this time I find all of that interesting. I am already sold by the time it moves to the big battle scenes. I get the feeling that this is something of a love it or hate it movie, and I definitely fall on the love it side. It does a better job than most big action movies of establishing its world, even if that does come some at the expense of establishing its characters. *****

Kubo and the Two Strings – see review here. ****1/2

Before We Go – Chris Evans and Alice Eve are entertaining actors, but this movie is a slightly pleasant bit of nothing. **

The Lone Ranger – How is the train scene at the end of this movie so ridiculously good when the rest of the movie is so damn tepid? That scene is amazing, with the energy of the first Pirates movie, but the rest of the movie is just … there. **1/2

Hellboy II: The Golden Army – Much like the first Hellboy movie, but this one doesn’t need to spend the time on the set up, it just gets right to the action. Del Toro really outdoes himself with the action set piece and strange creatures here. All of the characters are just on point from the start and the team feels more natural than they did the first time. This movie is just a blast from start to finish. *****

Hot Fuzz – Still one of my favorite all time movies. There is never a bad time to put this on. *****

Sahara – Ughh, this is a mess. I think it was supposed to be fun, but it just misses the mark all over the place. It is an uncomfortable combination of other action movie ideas that just doesn’t work on its own. It is like a Bond movie where Bond has no mission or reason to be there. Also, it is just kind of dumb. *1/2

Jane Got a Gun – There is a good movie here somewhere, but it didn’t quite end up on the screen. The characters don’t connect to each other in what should be a very personal story. It hurts that the way it is told, mostly through flaashbacks, robs most of the emotional moments of their possible impact. **1/2

TV

Doctor Thorne – A reasonably well made adaptation of not especially well known 19th century novel. It isn’t great; it is not the sort of show to garner effusive praise. But it is a solid exercise that fans of the genre will enjoy. I certainly don’t regret seeing it. How’s that for a ringing endorsement? Honestly, though, it’s pretty good.

Poirot Series 12 – The second to last handful of Poirot mystery adaptations. They are still well made, though I don’t know that I like all the adaptation choices on the stories I know. This is still really good stuff, I hope to finish the series up next month.

Home Movies Season 4 – This isn’t the best season of this amazing show, but I really like the journey that Brendan goes on through this season. It is Brendan, at least somewhat, moving away from making movies. He is still working on them, but he is often distracted or disinterested. As much as I wish we had gotten more of this great show, the last season does a great job of tying things up and ending.

Marco Polo Season 2 – This show has a good cast, great production values and a fertile subject matter but doesn’t manage to tell a satisfying story with any of it. It has become clear that the title character is the least interesting part of the proceedings, but the show only rarely manages to capitalize on the dramatic potential of Kublai or his sons. Some parts, like Hundred Eyes, are great on their own but don’t really fit in with the rest of the show. I hope it gets a third season, but I hope that season is dramatically improved in the writing.

Stranger Things – I initially dismissed this due to my apathy toward anything horror related, but consistent good reviews got me to try it out and I am glad I did. It is a wonderful synthesis of all the things I love from the 80’s, but isn’t just that. It works with similar themes and subject and aesthetics to stuff like ET and It, but it is definitely its own show. Unlike most of its inspirations, Stranger Things has a lot of space to work with, which allows it to build more fully formed characters than that stuff. It gets to develop two sets of kids and several adults, leaving room for a handful of intriguing tertiary characters. It does a great job of slowly building tension but never feeling like it is wasting the viewer’s time. I have nothing but praise for this show.

DC Rebirth Month 3

Three months in and DC is still rolling out Rebirth titles. I think returns are diminishing, if only because DC has gotten past their bread and butter titles and are now into some of their more niche stuff. Still, while I could have easily passed on most of this month’s books, it did feature what may be the most successful Rebirth issue to come out thus far. Hopefully next months, which look to be more to my taste, will be all be like that.

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Deathstroke Rebirth – The big draw here is Christopher Priest returning to DC Comics, now writing the adventures of DC’s best mercenary most famous for his inability to stop a group of teenagers. This rebirth issue kind of goes all over the place; with flashbacks to Slade with his kids as well him meeting with a client and couple of targets. It sets up Deathstroke as a real bastard, but a bastard that does care about some things. The preponderance of flashbacks and quick transitions leaves this issue feeling a little muddled, as though the creative team is trying to do much in the space allotted. The art by Carlo Pagulayan is nice enough, clean and clear but not far off the DC house style. The idea of family permeates the book, with Slade and his two sons being prominent, and what read like a fake out to me at the end when Slade rescues someone. It is a perfectly fine comic that gives the series a lot of ground that it could possibly explore.

Priest, Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, Jeromy Cox

6/10

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Red Hood & The Outlaws Rebirth – I don’t know how Scott Lobdell still has a Red Hood book to write, but here is his third crack at it. While they are in the title, there is not so much as a mention of The Outlaws, this is a retelling of Jason Todd’s origin and a set up for his ongoing. It shows his recruitment, some training and his death at the hands of the Joker. Interspersed with that is him doing something that gets him a lot of credit with the villains in Gotham, with the intent of going undercover with them. Not a terrible set up for a book, though the dialogue and captions only ever rise to the level of being serviceable. Dexter Soy’s art is dark and scratchy, perfect at times for a Batman book, but not really my thing overall. This book was better than I expected, but only because I expected to hate it. It isn’t bad enough to hate, it’s just there. It really hurts this book that Nightwing is doing a similar plot and doing it better.

Scott Lobdell, Dexter Soy, Veronica Gandini

5/10

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Suicide Squad Rebirth – This one was a bit of a surprise. DC has really struggled to get the Suicide Squad right since they brought it back with the New 52. Here, other than the built in parts that I will never like, it manages to work really well. The book pares things down to just three squad members: Captain Boomerang, Harley Quinn and Deadshot. They are ruthless and irreverent. They have a high stakes but fairly perfunctory mission that perfectly illustrates what the team is. Mixed with that is Amanda Waller’s attempts to keep the team going, by bringing in someone the government can trust to be the field leader, which means the return of Rick Flagg. Waller spends the issue both talking up Flagg, to let the reader know who he is, and trying to sell Task Force X to him. This one issue doesn’t give a lot of room to flesh out characters, but it does give a good idea of what the five central ones are all about. I expected to hate the art, but Philip Tan’s usual second rate Jim Lee impression here is a first rate Jim Lee impression. Lee will be doing the art of the main book, and Williams wrote this to that style’s strengths. It is quippy and violent and dark and funny, but it also seems like it might have some thought going on behind it. It is pretty much everything one would want the Suicide Squad to be.

Rob Williams, Philip Tan, Jonathan Glapion, Scott Hanna, Sandu Florea, Alex Sinclair

7/10

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Supergirl Rebirth – This book was great. It starts with clean, expressive art from Emanuela Lupacchino. Her stuff has always looked good, like the Supergirl run that closed out the last volume of this title. It is just so great. The story kind of moves things for Supergirl to be closer to the TV show, but not exactly the same and in a way that makes sense in the comics. This Kara is only 16, so the DEO hooks her up with a new set of parents: The Danvers. Same set up as the show, though no sister was mentioned in this issue. The issue itself is has Supergirl take a rocket ride to the sun to regain her powers at the same time that a Kryptonian Werewolf attacks the DEO. The way that Supergirl deals with the threat is perfect. As far as taking a character and giving her a new status quo, Supergirl Rebirth is about perfect. The Danvers are great, it brings in Agent Chase as the head of the DEO and is just an all around good time. If the main book keeps this tone and expands on this set up it will be a treat.

Steve Orlando, Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, Michael Atiyeh

9/10

Those are the Rebirth books for the month, minus Blue Beetle which will be in my next month’s box. Outside of the actual Rebirth titles, though, there were some new books that didn’t start with a special but with an actual #1. I’ve got some quick reviews for them here.

  • All-Star Batman 1 – A lateral move for Scott Snyder, who follows up his well-loved Batman run with new project All-Star Batman. This book has been sold on the idea that it is going to be spending a lot of time with the classic rogues gallery, who aside from Joker were largely absent from Snyder’s Batman run. This first issue was a lot of fun.
  • Batgirl 1– Also kind of spinning out of the Birds of Prey Rebirth, Batgirl has the titular character leave the Burnside neighborhood of Gotham, where her recent status quo was centered, to do some globetrotting training. Hope Larson shows a strong understanding of the character here and Raphael Albuquerque is always good; this is an absolute delight.
  • Harley Quinn 1 – Did you like the previous Harley Quinn series? Then you are in luck, because this is a new #1 because that’s what comics do, not because there is anything new here. I don’t mean to be harsh, I actually quite like Palmiotti & Conner’s work with the character, though I prefer the stuff when Harley has to share the focus (I love Harley Quinn & Power Girl). This is just more of good stuff we were already getting.
  • Superwoman 1 – This spins out of the Superman stuff, obviously. It is a well-executed comic, Phil Jimenez’s is great and the writing is good, but it feels a little like a cruel trick thanks to how DC sold the book. I don’t know how I feel about this book yet.

Last and probably least, I thought I would include a list of the titles I am sticking with three months into this little endeavor. The price has got me really thinning my list, and for once I feel like DC is putting out more good books than I care to read, instead of me buying a few mediocre titles for the writer or artist. Right now my pull list has Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Detective Comics for the books shipping twice monthly, with Nightwing being the most recent unfortunate casualty. As for the once a month titles, I am sticking with Batgirl, Supergirl, New Superman and, for now, Batgirl and Birds of Prey. That last one is likely the next to be gone, especially once some of my Marvel books come back from Civil War 2. Come back next month as I take a look at Batman Beyond Rebirth, Cyborg Rebirth, Teen Titans Rebirth and catch up with Blue Beetle Rebirth, as well as a handful of other fresh starts.