Captain America Review

The last of this summer’s superhero movies is its best. I know I was unreserved in my praise for Thor, but Captain America noses it out to be the best superhero movie in a summer of very good superhero movies. (Even the low man on the list Green Lantern isn’t outright terrible.) Captain America is a snappy as Iron Man but with an added dash of war movie and Indiana Jones adventure. It is a fun and exhilarating ride with even a hint of tragedy.
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My own Star Trek

Putting my Netflix account to good use, I’ve started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. Despite TNG running during my formative years and my being one nerdy son of a bitch, I have never really watched it. Sure I’ve caught a few reruns and learned the basics of the shows premise and cast through cultural osmosis, but before it came to Netflix I knew next nothing about not only TNG but of Star Trek in general.

As a video game playing, anime watching, comic book reading sci-fi and fantasy fan, Star Trek was the one kind of geekery I’ve managed to avoid. It wasn’t a conscious avoidance, just happenstance and a general lack of interest in what I considered a boring series, at least compared to Star Wars. When I was in college, I would occasionally watch late night reruns of the Original Series, but other that for some campy amusement it didn’t grab me. The pop-y, loud 2009 movie got my attention. I didn’t run out to find other Star Trek related media, but I put it on my list of things to eventually check out. It wasn’t until Star Trek came to Netflix that I decided there was no time like the present to watch it.

So far, I’ve watched the first season and about half of the second season. I was told my numerous people to skip most of the first two seasons and start with Season 3. Screw that though, I’m going to watch it all.

I’m not sure I’d have missed anything if I had skipped the first season. It does have Tasha Yar, but it might have been better off without seeing her. She was not a terrible character (and honestly, who shines in Season 1?) but she never gets to develop past one note. Her end makes all the screen time she got through-out the season seem pointless. Mostly season 1 is just mediocre sci-fi. Season 2, through the first 10 or so episodes, has been a bit better. There have definitely been some clunkers, (The Outrageous Okona, The Child) but the only real problem is the wretched Dr. Pulaski. She is a terrible, hateful person. Watching her delight in reminding Data that he is not human is uncomfortable.

In general, I am liking the show. I will keep watching a few episodes a night until I finish the series, and from there I don’t know. I might watch Deep Space 9, I might watch Voyager, and I might go back and watch the original series. Or I might watch something else entirely. I see Angry Beavers is also on Netflix now.

What’s so funny?

Lately I’ve been spending entirely too much time reading newspaper comic strips. As far as vices go it is among the worst, I know. As a warning to other who might be tempted the follow this road, I am going the explain how my predicament came to be, a roadmap of my dissolution.

It started innocently enough. All I was doing was reading Chris Sims’ FunkyWatch on ComicAlliance. Every month he catalogues his experiences gazing into the abyss that is Funky Winkerbean, and its related title Crankshaft. The comic is the bleakest of bleak outlooks that only manages to be funny when being deconstructed by someone else.

That led to me reading Comics Curmudgeon, a blog by Josh Fruhlinger that takes Sims Funky based approach and applies to all the comics in the paper. Of course, the relationship is the other way around, as the Comics Curmudgeon has been around years longer than FunkyWatch and Sims admits to being inspired by the blog in his column. Fruhlinger will comment on almost any strip, but his primary focus is on the soap strips. I don’t care about those, but his insights are amusing at the very least. Plus, you’ll never look at Marmaduke the same way after being forced to realize that he is a human devouring hell beast that has enslaved that poor family. Unfortunately, Fruhlinger also introduced me to these two Luann songs, so I can never forgive him.

This inevitably lead to me buying a Kansas City Star most days and reading the “funnies” as they are sometimes called. It is addicting, like thirty or so thirty second sitcoms everyday. I like Dustin, as I’m easily able to see myself in the underemployed main character, and Cul de Sac, which is just freakily amusing. I also have a soft spot for Blondie, despite the fact that it is rarely funny. I like the weird juxtaposition of some of the archaic elements of the strip with modern technology.

I also get too much enjoyment out of Seanbaby’s occasional eviscerating of Family Circus. Of course, I’m sure he would admit that Family Circus is an easy target, but that doesn’t make his rewrites not funny.

I’ve also bought a collection of wonderful Calvin and Hobbes stuff. It is the essential Calvin and Hobbes and the only problem I have with it is that it is not the complete Calvin and Hobbes. Seriously, Calvin and Hobbes is the best.

Lastly, since I had the revelation that is Flash Gordon, I’ve found a website that has archived tons of old comic strips, including the old Flash Gordon stuff. The site is far from comprehensive and they charge a miniscule fee for copies of the strips, but it is a relatively easy way to read some old-fashioned comic goodness. The Flash Gordon strips are wonderful. Exactly like the movie in a terribly awesome way.

Doctor, We have to Operate!

I’m seeing a trend in gaming of fewer and fewer games being released that I actually care about. The does not mean I don’t still play video games, though, because I totally do. Lately I’ve been playing Trauma Team, the latest and perhaps last entry in Atlus’s Trauma Center series. So far, I’ve cleared what feels like about half of the game. I like it. It is very “anime” in a not terribly good way, but it’s largely enjoyable

The Trauma Center games were part of that all too brief time period when the new control options provided by the DS and Wii resulted in a flood of new kinds of games and new takes on old kinds of games. The Trauma Center games were similar in some ways to the mini-game collections that have clogged up the Wii’s library, but filtered through old arcade sensibilities. You play as a doctor and each medical procedure is a simple action using the DS stylus or the Wii remote. The presentation of the small, bite-sized actions is what set Trauma Center apart, with numerous small parts connected in one large operation. It did a great job of approximating the feeling of actually operating. (I assume, since I’m no doctor.)

Despite some mechanical similarities to mini-game fests, Trauma Center played more like an old-school arcade game. The games emphasized playing for score and they were hard, brutally so in the way that quarter hungry from the 80’s were. It really gets that one more try mentality down. You always want to try the next operation or retry the last one for a better score.

Thinking about it now, it greatly resembles Guitar Hero. They both have non-traditional controls, prominent scoring and essential non-violent game play. Sadly, Guitar Hero was a phenomenon and Trauma Center barely a blip. Maybe that just proves that Rock stars are inherently cooler than Doctors are. Of course, even Guitar Hero seems to have run its course now. The all too brief days of non-violent games has already ended, if it ever existed. Now it is back to all violence all the time.

Trauma Team feels like the last gasp of the series. The previous games’ uber-difficulty has been neutered, hidden away in bonus difficulties safe from casual eyes. I can’t fault them for that, the earlier games bordered on sadistic. There are new diagnosis and forensics modes have no pressure and no score, playing like somewhat less charming Phoenix Wright cases. A worthy evolution of the hospital milieu or a betrayal of the arcade-ish roots? I side with the former but there is a certain case for the latter, slim though it is.

The story side has always been where the games shined or faltered. Trauma Team claims to turn the focus away from the sci-fi super viruses of previous games, but I’m not sure it fulfills this even in the time I’ve been playing. The cast includes a superhero doctor, ninja doctor and Vader-masked convict doctor, as well as an annoying robot buddy for the grizzled Dr. House stand-in. It doesn’t border on ridiculous, it choke slams ridiculous off a skyscraper. But I like it and I’m scared I won’t get to play any more games like this for a long time.

Winnie the Pooh Review

The most delightful and entertaining movie of the summer, so far, is Winnie the Pooh. It has, of course, been mostly overlooked. In part because it opened against the juggernaut that is the final Harry Potter film. The target demographics don’t quite overlap as they might have 7 Harry Potter’s ago, but then again; what demographic does Harry Potter not cover. Another reason for Winnie the Pooh’s lack of attention is sadly that it is a traditional, 2-D animated film, a creature that has not quite been driven to extinction in US cinemas but is certainly in the endangered species list. The decreasing frequency and increasing irrelevance of animated movies saddens me, and occasionally causes me to champion movies that aren’t actually very good just because I want more traditionally animated films (Hello, The Princess and the Frog). This is not the case with Winnie the Pooh. The characters that have charmed people for 80 or so years are captured here as well as they ever have been on film. Winnie the Pooh is a perfect children’s movie, and like the best children’s movies is not just for kids, but is enjoyable by all. Continue reading

Video Game Archaeology 3: Tsugunai: Atonement

Tsugunai: Atonement is probably one of newest games that will be covered here on Video Game Archaeology. The goal here is to explore forgotten, old games and Tsugunai only barely qualifies as old. Ten years was my intended cut off point and Tsugunai is not quite there. However, Tsugunai meets the other criteria, that the game be forgotten or at least not well known, no question. Even though it is only from the last console generation, Tsugunai: Atonement seems to have been well and truly forgotten.
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Quick Comic Reviews

Now that I’ve started getting my comic books from an online service and get a shipment every other week, I’ve decided to do biweekly short comic reviews. I’ll be writing some brief thoughts on a handful of comics every other week or so. I won’t be reviewing all that I read, just the ones I feel like I have something to say about.

  • Flashpoint 3, Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert

With this issue, Flashpoint goes from being merely slow to being pointless. Last issues (hilarious) cliffhanger is quickly ignored and the plot moves on, but Flash and friends haven’t really done anything yet. This sort of slow build could be effective, but this is only a 5 issue series and we’ve already burned through three of them. I also take offense to the idea that Superman would be a hero no matter what. I would be fine if he didn’t return after this issues cliffhanger. ** (2 stars)

  • Green Lantern 67, Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke

The War of the Green Lanterns finally concludes. This crossover has been plagued with shipping problems and I’ll need to go back and reread the whole thing to really rate it. This issue was big on noise but short on sense. As is the way with Johns’ Green Lantern stories, it all comes down to Hal and Sinestro. It is suitably explosive, but the logic behind most of it is either not explained or nonexistent. *** (3 stars)

  • Green Lantern Corps 61, Tony Bedard and Daniel Hor

A fallout issue that follows up on the crossover that just ended. Most of the Lanterns who got their rings from the corrupted Mogo give them up, but one feels that she belongs in the Corps. So she and John Stewart go to her sector and try to stop a war. In general, this is the kind of story I want to see from Green Lantern Corps, highlighting a new/unknown member while still being about the main characters. Unfortunately, this is not a particularly good example of how to do that, unlike last months Emerald Warriors, which was perfect. *** (3 stars)

  • Birds of Prey 14, Marc Andreyko and Billy Tucci and Adriana Melo

Marc Andreyko comes on for two issues between Simone leaving and DC blowing the whole thing up. I like the concept of this story, exploring the WWII origins of some of the Birds characters that is really unexamined. Unfortunately, the art, as it has done for most of this series, hampers the writing. Not the Billy Tucci pages, those are good. But Adriana Melo is not great (weird faces) and her style clashes horribly with Tucci’s. **½ (2 ½ stars)

  • Detective Comics 879, Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla

Snyder’s excellent run on this title continues. Francavilla’s art is stupendous. Excellent use of color, with red and green tinting everything. There is a lot of good in this issue, but some stuff is unwanted. Like the opposite surprising appearance of the Joker and James Jr.’s goofy plan. Of course complaining about the Joker being in a Batman story is also really dumb. **** (4 stars)

  • Batgirl 23, Brian Q Miller and Pere Perez

Brian Q Miller’s excellent 2 years of Batgirl comes to end, part 1. As usual, this issue is great. It does feel like this is a larger story crammed into less space than would be desirable, but the snappy dialogue and excellent characterization are still in full effect. I am really going to miss this book. Month in month out this is one of DC’s best. **** (4 stars)

  • Superboy 9, Jeff Lemire and Pier Gallo

Superboy under Jeff Lemire has also been one of DC’s best books. Much like Batgirl, this issue seem to be trying to compress a longer story into the issue left before the relaunch, with longer building subplots abruptly coming to a head. Very good, if rushed. ***½ (3 ½ stars)

  • Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown 2, Jeff Lemire and Ibraim Roberson and Alex Massacci

While most of the Flashpoint tie-ins haven’t been very good, Frankenstein has been a welcome exception. This issue is not quite as good as the last one, but when you open with Frankenstein killing Hitler there is nowhere to go but down. Still, this is good stuff, though the art suffers in spots. **** (4 stars)

  • FF 6, Jonathan Hickman and Greg Tocchini

On the first page of this comic is a cast list. None of those characters appear. This issue exists to explain who Black Bolt is and bring him back to life. Presumably, this is a necessary step for later parts of this story, but it still makes for a disappointing issue. ** (2 stars)

  • American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest 2, Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy

I was going to criticize this issue for being too slow, then I realized that was dumb, just because this issue doesn’t get to any actual vampire fighting. However, the heroes survive a plane crash and infiltrate a castle full of Nazi vampires. And it is drawn by Sean Murphy, who is really good at drawing. Best of all, I don’t see this mini-series getting anything but better. **** (4 stars)

Even Quicker Reviews

  • Secret Seven 2 *1/2  This is not good.
  • Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager 2 ***½  This is good.
  • Citizen Cold 2 **  I like Kolins’ art, but his writing is stodgy.
  • Booster Gold 46 **½ Jurgens has left Booster a little fun.
  • Batman: Knight of Vengeance 2 ***½  Crazy, and good.
  • Emperor Aquaman 2 **½  Yawn.
  • World of Flashpoint 2 **½  Guy Gardner is an Australian Buddhist
  • Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt 3 **½ I like the characters because no one else does.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 Review

After 10 years of being the dominant pop culture phenomenon, Harry Potter seems poised to finally fade into the background with the release of the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. It is not going to disappear, not with the theme park and whatever is going on with Rowling’s new pottermore website, but with no significant new content on the horizon, Potter’s popularity will certainly diminish. Luckily, for Potter fans, Deathly Hallows Part 2 ends the series with a suitable bang. Continue reading

Always Sunny Season 1 Episode 2

Charlie wants an Abortion

Episode 2 of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia decides to hit a controversial topic that was ignored in the first episode: Abortion. Of course, instead of taking a firm stand one way or the other, though the anti-abortion people come off worse, the show uses the subject to mock the characters not the debate. Continue reading