Reading Some Comics: Queen Crab and The Ray

Since I started reading comics again four or five years ago, the writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray has become one of my favorites. I have enjoyed nearly everything of theirs that I’ve read, from Power Girl to Freedom Fighters to Jonah Hex. A week or so ago I got a couple comics by them. Or at least one written by the pair of them and one that was a Palmiotti solo project. The first is the Ray, written by Gray and Palmiotti with by Jamal Igle and Rich Perrotta, is a classic superhero story with modern sensibilities. The second, Queen Crab written by Palmiotti with art by Artiz Eiguren, nearly defies description. They are both good books, though they are very different.

In some ways the Ray, the last issue of which came out a few weeks ago, is a very traditional superhero comic. It has all the pieces of the basic superhero story, but with some progressive touches. The Ray is a comic that features a very ethnically diverse cast, but it doesn’t do so in a pandering, distasteful way. Lucian Gates, the new Ray, is a Korean American but this isn’t a story about an Asian superhero, this is a story of a superhero who happens to be Asian. His friends and family are from a variety of backgrounds, but for the most point that is never the point of their character, just a simple fact.

That supporting cast is one of the things this book does so well. In many superhero books nowadays the heroes life out of the costume is disappearing, but the life Lucien Gates takes prominence. The comic introduces his supportive if not particularly helpful adoptive hippy parents, his best friend Darius and his girlfriend Chanti. As much as the book is about Lucien learning how to deal with his new powers, it is about how they affect his relationships. The slightly different focus makes this book very refreshing.

The other refreshing thing about The Ray is its more light-hearted tone. Since Ray is a hero with light based powers, his adventures tend to be very light. He mostly deals with personal trouble and big monsters. In contrast to the usual superhero book, The Ray is fun. At least until issue 3, when it all goes horribly wrong. The big change in the tone of the book in that issue is especially jarring. Going from fun and light to dark and terrible feels wrong. It works, at least in light of the ending. The big villain of the book has the powers to make his imagination real. After (spoilers!) fails to defeat him and Chanti shoots him, Lucien uses hypnosis to make him fix the past.

In all, The Ray is a fun new superhero. One that I am not especially hopeful of seeing around much in the future. But this story at least does a good job of setting up the hero’s status quo for what could be an entertaining ongoing, even if this is all we ever see from him.

Queen Crab is certainly a strange comic. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. It definitely has some elements of horror, but I wouldn’t call it a horror comic. I guess it is a surreal character study. However you would classify this book, it is certainly interesting and even very good, I would say.

Queen Crab is about Ginger Drake, a woman who gets thrown overboard by her husband on their honeymoon cruise. Only instead of drowning, she wakes up on the beach with crab pincers in place of arms. It is a set-up that could be used for a horror story, especially if the story were told from the point of view of Murray, Ginger’s new husband. It would be a story of a man’s sins coming back to haunt him, a monster in place of his murdered wife. But this isn’t Murray’s story, its Ginger’s and she isn’t a monster. No Queen Crab is a story about a woman, about a terrible event that forever changes her life.

Really, Ginger’s life is kind of a mess at the start of the book. She is cheating on her fiancé, her fiancé is cheating on her and she is being sexually harassed by her boss. Ginger mostly accepts her life as good enough, that it is as good as it gets. Though she does seem to hope that her marriage to Murray will be an improvement. Though as the plot set up indicates, it isn’t. After her transformation (caution: spoilers ahead!) Ginger does get revenge on Murray, but that is far from the end of the story. Were this the simple horror story it appears to be, that would likely be the end of it. She got her revenge, but the monster must be killed. Instead, she leaves her old life behind and goes to build a new one. Ginger didn’t come back for revenge. At least not wholly. I’ve probably given too much away already, but it really is an intriguing read. It is strange, it is different, but it is also thought provoking.

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Video Game Archaeology: Dino City

It is time for more Video Game Archaeology! Video Game Archaeology is my monthly exploration of an artifact video game found during my excavations of various bargain bins and yard sales; an examination of a game cast off and long forgotten. This month’s game is Dino City from Irem for the SNES.

This game was given to me as part of a Holiday gift exchange with the intention of me covering it here.  One look at what is quite possibly the best boxart ever and I knew that I had to play this game. Dino City is possibly the least known game that I’ve covered for VGA.  The internet at large seems to have little to no recollection of it.  There are a few videos on youtube, but that is about all.  The few people that do remember this game seem to like it quite a bit and wikipedia tells me that it got fairly good reviews back in the day.  However, I have no idea why.  This is a pokey, awkward and too hard platformer with little in the way of personality.  I’m being kind of harsh, it wasn’t terrible, but neither was Dino City actually any good.

Dino City is loosely based on the straight to VHS movie Adventures in Dinosaur City.  I actually saw this movie, and if my 20 year old memories are to be believed it was not too bad.  I suspect that my memories are suspect, though.  The plot is that young Timmy and his friend Jamie try to watch TV on one of Timmy’s Dad’s experiments, who I guess is some sort of scientist possibly the mad sort, and get sucked into some sort of dinosaur land.  There they team up with some Dinosaurs to fight evil Neanderthals.  And to get back home, I guess.  This is a platformer, there really isn’t a lot of story.  The game was developed by Irem, famous mostly for R-Type and other shooters.  They also developed one of my favorite games, Steambot Chronicles for the PS2.  Honestly though, much of their output, especially on consoles, is rather mediocre.  For every R-Type, there is a Deadly Towers or Spelunker.  Still, they are at least competent creators of video games with some classics to their name.

The player can choose from either Timmy riding Rex the T-Rex or Jamie riding Tops the Protoceratops.  There is actually significant differences between the two, as Rex can only punch while Tops throws some sort of darts or something.  There is no advantage to Rex, Tops is better, as he seems to do as much damage as well as have enough range that the won’t constantly be being hit.  Which brings me to my first big problem with this game. Many enemies take two or three hits to kill, which is just unfeasible with Rex’s tiny punching range.  You can jump on enemies a la Mario, but that still takes several hits to kill them.  This leads to the player character taking plenty of extra hits.  At least the developers compensated for this, in the early levels I played at least, by leaving plenty of life refilling hearts around.  This is certainly less of a problem with Tops, since most enemies can be dealt with from a distance.  It is a completely different game depending on which dino you choose, and Tops is the right choice.  I couldn’t even hurt the fist boss with Rex, but I didn’t have much of a problem with Tops.

Another place where the game falters are the controls.  They often feel sloppy.  Your character doesn’t quite move like you would expect him to move.  Everything seems to happen in slow motion.  Maybe I am just lamenting a lack of Mario-esque momentum, but Mario is the gold standard for the genre.  But while I played, it just felt right.  It wasn’t helped by the way too high (read: cheap) difficulty.  It might be a mindset thing.  I expected it play like a Mario game, which are usually designed to allow players to build momentum and sprint through levels, but Dino City has a slowed, more precise pace.  I didn’t like it.

Dino City is actually pretty solid on the presentation side.  The graphics, while not mind blowing, are pretty good.  Especially some of the changing backgrounds, like the sunset in the third stage.  The sprites are big and colorful, just as you would expect from an SNES game.  And the music is not too bad either.  There are some decent tunes, but again, nothing much better than good.

I guess I can see some nostalgic love for this game from people who played it new, but it hasn’t stood the test of time too well.  It is hard in the least fun ways, having enemies that take forever to dispatch and tiny platforms with imprecise controls.  Really, it is the cheap difficulty that really sinks it.  Still, I would say it is worthy of remembrance for the majestic box art alone.  It is likely a game that is better than the movie it is based on, but we needn’t set the bar that low for our entertainment.

images taken from the vgmuseum.

Some Thoughts on Peyton and Being a Fan

When I heard the news that Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos, my first thought was “I guess I’m a Broncos fan now.”  This was immediately followed by an overwhelming feeling of revulsion.  I’m not a Broncos fan.  I can never be a Broncos fan.  Though I am no longer a Chiefs fan as I was in my youth, some of the old prejudices are still there, and I have no desire to change them.

It did get me thinking about what kind of fan I am.  I am sure many would all me fickle, as I have changed teams in several sports, some more than once.  I don’t think I am, though.  I have been a fan of the Missouri Tigers (I don’t want to talk about that) for more than ten years.  No matter how many times I get my heart torn out, I always come back.  Maybe the shift to the SEC, a move I am not a huge fan of, will change that but I doubt it.  Even if I stay away for the next year or two, I’ll be back loving every win and dying with every loss.  But as a professional sports fan, I haven’t really had a team I stuck with yet.

Take the NFL.  I was a Chiefs fan as a kid, won over by the combination of proximity, I grew up about 75 miles from KC, and the fact that I first became aware of football about the time they signed Joe Montana.  Sure, my dad would grouse about how they were using him incorrectly, but he was already a legend.  Every Sunday after Church we got to watch Joe Montana play football.  Then Montana retired, and I was still a big Chiefs fan.  They had Neil Smith and Derrick Thomas, who cared about QB Steve Bono.  It wasn’t until years later that I lost faith in Arrowhead.  That was the QB controversy between stat machine and choker Elvis Grbac and gutsy winner Rich Gannon.  When Gannon played the Chiefs won.  That was all that mattered to me.  When the Chiefs decided to go with Grbac over Gannon for the future, I was outraged.  When Gannon signed with the Raiders, I gleefully rooted for the Raiders.  At least for the next 5 or 6 years. Rich Gannon was my favorite player for a long time.  When his glory years in Oakland ended, I realized that I was never really a Raiders fan; I was a Rich Gannon fan and a disgruntled Chiefs fan.  After Gannon was done with the Raiders, I didn’t really want to go back to being a Chiefs fan.  The divorce was final, at least in my 13 year old mind.

So I looked around the league.  I still hated most of the Chiefs rivals, the Chargers and Broncos, and was at best indifferent to the Raiders.  Outside of that, I hated the New England Patriots for their absolutely fraudulent victory over Oakland in the 2001 playoffs (the tuck rule).  The closest thing NE had to a rival was the Indianapolis Colts, a team I already kind of liked since I had lots of family in Indy who were fans.  So I started watching Colts games and soon realized I had found my team.  I loved Peyton Manning, as well as the rest of the team.  For most of the last 10 years I have been a big Colts fan.  But this off-season they blew up the entire organization.

Assuming Peyton plays at anywhere near his old level for the next few years, they really cocked it up.  Peyton, though probably diminished from his best, is still a top 5 QB.  Sure the Colts can draft Andrew Luck with the first pick, but how many sure thing first picks have not turned out as well as expected?  Almost all of them.  Manning has been a glorious exception.  At best I would say the Colts have a 50/50 chance of Luck being a success.  And I like Andrew Luck and expect him to be a good player, but I liked Joey Harrington and David Carr.  Look at what Washington had to give up to get the 2nd pick and imagine what the Colts could have got for the first pick.  They could have rebuilt without losing Manning and since they had Manning would have remained a viable threat in the AFC.  Colts owner Jim Irsay said it wasn’t about the money, which everyone knows is complete bullshit.  The money is the only reason to get rid of him.  With Manning I would have expected the Colts to win at least 10 games, without him I’d be surprised by 6 wins.

Conversely John Elway, as much as I hate old horseface, was kind of brilliant this off-season.  Landing Peyton not only got him a hall of famer with presumably several years of life left in him, it also let him extricate himself and his team from the Tim Tebow mess.  As I said when he was drafted, I really want to be a fan of Tim Tebow.  Last season was magical.  But he is not ready to be a full-time NFL starter.  He has guts and determination and those intangibles that scouts are always talking about before the draft, but he doesn’t currently have the throwing skills necessary to play the position in the NFL.  Not that I do not believe that he can learn those skills. He has the talent and the work ethic.  His stats weren’t too much worse than Steve Young’s were early in his career.   However, if I was an NFL general manager, I would not want to be putting all my faith in a QB who often can’t make basic throws.  Tebow still needs time to develop.  Last year he seemingly played on a lark, an attempt by Elway and Coach John Fox to prove he wasn’t ready, only to have it blow up in their faces.  The only way Elway could not go forward with Tebow, a player he had no faith in, was to bring in someone whom no one could object to being placed above him.  Peyton Manning was Elway’s only hope.  Now he’s the Broncos QB and Elway has shipped Tebow to New York to be someone else’s gamble.  And the Broncos are better for it.

Back to me, I’m still a Colts fan.  It isn’t the organization that I fell in love with, but they are still my team.  I am prepared to face years of mediocrity if this Luck gamble doesn’t work out, but I’m sticking with my team.  I’m also still a Peyton Manning fan.  If he play against the Colts, I’m not sure who I’ll root for.  Probably the Colts, because I still hate the Broncos.

SMT Devil Survivor, with no “witty” title

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor is a game that, on paper at least, I should really enjoy.  I like strategy RPGs, I like Shin Megami Tensei and its rock/paper/scissors-esque battle system, and I like games with branching paths and different endings.  However, despite being made up almost entirely of things I like, Devil Survivor ended up being much more frustrating than fun.

It took me a while to figure out just why that is. It wasn’t because it is difficult.  I’ve played harder games than Devil Survivor, and though it was far from easy, Devil Survivor was far from too hard.  Actually, the difficulty is just about right.  It wasn’t the at times off putting character designs and characters.  Yeah, Yuzu’s boobs are weird and she’s kind of annoying, but for the most part the story stuff is pretty good.  After beating the game (taking Amane’s route out of necessity rather than choice) and thinking on it for a while I’ve realized what the problem it.  Devil Survivor needs a map.

I don’t mean an explorable map, like DQ VIII and nearly every other classic RPG.  That is not part of the game for a reason; it simply does not fit with what the game is doing.  I don’t necessarily mean a true map.  I just want some way of navigating the various game systems. I want a map of map of each character’s progress, some way of charting my progress towards the various endings.  Chrono Trigger had multiple endings, but its endings are dependent on big obvious things.  It is never hard to tell what ending you are going to get.  I don’t mind making tough decisions with real impact in games like this, I just want to know that I’m making such a decision.  With Devil Survivor, I really never knew where I stood.  I decided early on which ending I wanted to get: Atsuro’s.  I kissed his ass for four or so days in the game, only to get to Day 7 and realize that somehow I failed to unlock his ending.  I only had Amane’s and Yuzu’s endings to choose from. It was frustrating, and that frustration could have easily been avoided with a touch of transparency on the game’s part letting me know how about my progress.

It is not just in the story mechanics that need a map.  Even though Devil Survivor has the SMT series’ usual collection of demons, it lack the usual compendium.  The player can’t catalog and buy back old demons.  That makes the fusing process a constant move forward.  It doesn’t make it impossible to repeat specific builds, it doesn’t really even make it harder to do so, it merely makes it a longer more tedious process to do so.  Also, you can’t just look through a list for the demons with the right attributes for a tough battle, you have to get lucky with the auction house or fusing.  Just as with the story, Devil Survivor’s party building mechanics drops the player into the wilderness with no way to find their way around.  And for me at least, that is a big problem.

I love maps.  I doubt I would have enjoyed Super Metroid or Ocarina of Time without them.  I loved drawing maps in the Etrian Odyssey series.  Those are literal maps, sure, but the concept is the same.  I like to see where I have been and plan out where I am going.  Radiant Historia uses a timeline so the player knows where and when they are in the game’s time traveling, reality switching story.  Throughout almost all of Devil Survivor, I felt lost and I hated it. Which is sad, because otherwise it is a really good game.

Comic Reviews for Early March

I have some more comics this week. Most of DC’s best stuff hits early in the month, so I have a load of good stuff from that company.

Action Comics 7
Morrison moves back to his Brainiac/Superman introduction story and it is a strong as it has been since the first issue. This young Superman is brash and a bit reckless, but he is still the character readers have loved for 80 years. Morrison’s take on Brainiac is as brilliant as one would expect. After a few months of great back-ups, this one is completely pointless. This title still feels like the deleted scenes from All-Star Superman, but even a pale shadow of the greatest Superman story is still pretty good. A-

Animal Man 7
Lemire is working wonders on this title, and doing it in a way completely different from the previous well-loved take on this character. Animal Man is somehow a family horror comic. The horror is never far from the front of this comic, only ever a few pages away, but there is still tons of true family moments, this has some nice ones between Buddy and his son Cliff. This issue is still in cool down mode after the frightful first arc, but it is no less entertaining. A

Kirby Genesis: Captain Victory 4
After last issue’s surprise attack, this issue of Captain Victory follows his aquatic lieutenant Orca as he tries to raise their ship from the ocean it crashed into. It is also an origin story for the character. There really isn’t much surprising or original, except for a micro-troop attack, in this issue but it was well executed. Still, it is largely enjoyable. C+

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. 7
What a difference an inker can make. Not a good one in this case. No offense meant to Walden Wong, but he smoothes Ponticelli’s scratchy lines, making for a comic less appealing looking than either Ponticelli’s usual look or something more traditional. The story is still the same outrageous fun that its been from the start. The only problem is that the threat doesn’t really feel threatening, not after what Frank and the gang have dealt with. A-

Green Arrow 7
The addition of Ann Nocenti to this comic immediately elevates it to being worth reading. While I don’t think this issue is especially good, but it is interesting and intelligently written. The art isn’t quite as good, but I don’t hate it. New villains Skylark could go either way, but at least they are something fairly new and original. This isn’t the best start, but it is good enough to get me back for the next issue. C

Huntress 6
This was a 5 issue mini that went on for an issue too long. There is nothing really wrong with this comic, but there is really nothing too it. Huntress’s mission was wrapped up last issue and there aren’t really any loose ends. This is mostly a twenty page prologue for the upcoming Worlds’ Finest comic. Fortunately, this comic looks good enough that is still is a largely pleasant read. C-

Justice League International 7
Eughh. After six issues of turgid team building, Jurgens decides to blow it all up. Even Lopresti’s art can’t save this mess. Though there are a few moments that are redeeming, like Guy’s worrying over the injured Ice, but mostly is it a lot of death and destruction for no reason effectively erasing all the character work over the last six issues. I tried, I really did, but I’m done with this. I just can’t. D

OMAC 7
Didio and Giffen’s romp through the Kirby created portion of the DC Universe, this time with a loose take on the Kamandi mythos. It is pure comics magic, even if the overall story is barely anything. It is sad that next issue is the last of this. Giffen’s art is very Kirby like, though it is not just a pastiche. This is the kind of story that only happens in comics, with talking Zoo animals and evil underground factories. Good stuff. B+

Saga 1
There is a lot of buzz about this comic right now, and I don’t really have anything to add. It is good. Not quite great I don’t think, but its well written with nice art. A good start to this magical sci-fi story. B

The Shade 6
In some cases I would be annoyed with a comic where the main character even admits that the current story has little to do with the main story. But the current side story in The Shade is so good that I can’t feel bad about it. Shade and his vampire daughter are still trying to track down the Inquisitor, La Sangre’s arch nemesis, in Barcelona. Robinson introduces more foreign superheroes and quickly and effectively sets up La Sangre’s status quo. Plus great art by Javier Pulido. I love this comic. A+

Swamp Thing 7
This vegetarian counterpart to Animal Man is still almost as good as that title. After nearly 7 full issues, Swamp Thing finally appears. Paquette’s art is amazing, as always, and Snyder is working his usual magic. Underneath all the creepiness, there is something of a love story brewing. Another one of DC’s best titles. B

John Carter of Mars

John Carter is almost a new addition into the pantheon of great Sci-fi movies, but ultimately it is too flawed to be considered with the absolute greats, like Empire Strikes Back and Blade Runner. John Carter is still very good and highly entertaining. Based loosely on the first two books of a series by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan), the tales of John Carter’s adventures on Mars have been delighting people for more than a century. The film version is not without its compromises, including the very title of the film, but it does a great job of conveying the look and feel of Barsoom on the big screen.

To start with, John Carter is definitely a flawed film. The plot often feels rushed, a result of not just fleshing out the events of the somewhat sparse first novel but also weaving in some elements from the second one. This movie is packed with things happening, leaving it little time to breathe or to linger on any of them. The changes to the plot are largely good ones, reading the books I never got the feeling that Burroughs put much thought into what came next so there are places in the books and especially places between books that don’t quite gel. John Carter is in some ways a better telling than the original, but it is certainly not a concise telling. The jumpiness of the plot undercuts any tension or weight much of the narrative could have had, leaving John Carter feeling slightly empty.

However, the character do a lot to make up for the plot’s shortcomings. John Carter is a world weary, sarcastic hero in the vein of Indiana Jones, though nowhere near that entertaining. His eventual love interest Deja Thoris is one of the most legitimately interesting female leads in an action movie. She manages to avoid “strong female character territory,” instead coming off as a true person, albeit one of the strange world that is this films Mars. She is a scientist warrior princess but not out of some contrivance to make her seem as awesome as John Carter, but because as a Princess she was trained to fight and choose to learn. She doesn’t just fall for John Carter, using her expertise to help him, she deceives him and tricks him, trying to convince or force him to help her. John Carter may be the main character, but Deja has goals as well, and is largely smart about pursuing them. The villains are not so fleshed out, Sab Than is just a thug and the other is his manipulator.

The green skinned, four armed Tharks are some of the best uses of CGI characters I’ve ever seen. Possibly it is director Andrew Stanton’s background in animation showing through, but even though they could not pass as real, they do seem alive. The way they move, their facial expressions, the Tharks almost steal the whole movie. Woola, Carter’s alien dog thing, does steal large parts of it. He runs around like a playful cartoon character, zipping along at his master’s heels. Though the CGI in this movie is not the best I have seen, it is probably the most believable. Because it doesn’t ask the viewer to believe these things are actually real, just that they are alive.

That goal is helped by the healthy dose of humor running through the film. John Carter is an outlandish adventure, playing it absolutely straight would be unbearable. So Carter treats his adventure’s with more than a touch of be comical disbelief. The movie is not a comedy, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is very similar in tone to the Star Wars movies. It can be and is serious during the important scenes, but the heaviness of the later scenes is contrasted with the lightness of his early adventures.

In all, John Carter is a good movie. Its not mind blowing, in the 100 years it took John Carter to get to movie screens, much of it was stolen by other films. There is nothing here we have never seen before, but for the most part John Carter is a very well but together collection of now familiar elements. If you like sci-fi, and maybe felt disappointed in the Star Wars prequels, I can’t recommend this enough.

What I Read in February

February was a short month, but I still managed to read five books, though two of them were part of my Wheel of Time Reread, so I’ve only got three books to discuss today. Still, that puts me at 9 new books for the year so far, slightly ahead of the pace I need to set to reach 50 for the year. On with reviews.

Swords of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs

I’ve nearly finished making my way through Burrough’s Barsoom books. Here he returns to his original hero, though he again shakes up the plot a little from the usual formula. The first half of Swords of Mars tries to be a spy thriller, with some success. It works at first, with John Carter rather easily infiltrating into criminal society in Zodanga, the city he helped destroy in A Princess of Mars. There he tries to investigate a group of assassins that are troubling Helium. But before he has to actually make any tough choices to keep he his cover, at all times he manages to hold to his morals despite the situation, Carter hears of a plot to kidnap Deja Thoris and rushes to save her. To do so he steals the mind controlled space ship of mad scientist Fal Silvas and even though he is too late to keep them from stealing Deja, he chases them to the moon called Thuria. Where he meets a few moon races and saves the day.

The two halves of this book do not fit together particularly well, but neither is bad per se. I think the imaginative sci-fi at the end is more fitting that the toothless spy at the start, but in all it is another solid entry in the Barsoom series.

The Great Hunt
Robert Jordan

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson

I’m not really sure I get the phenomenon this book is causing. I guess its not the first time the public has went nuts over a mediocre or bad book, I remember the love for The Da Vinci Code, let alone pure garbage like Twilight. Not that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is on that level, it is better than those books. However, it sits more in the good line rather than the great.

I see no reason to go over the plot, I’m sure everyone who cares knows it. The only thing I took away from this, other than a decent mystery thriller, is that the most everyone who populates this novel is almost completely emotionally dead. They do things not because they enjoy them, but because they half always done them. Blomkvist and his partner have sex no because they have any passion, but relationship or not, they have been having sex since college. I am always conscious of the fact that this is a translated work, and some of the specific word choices are subject to the whims of someone other than the writer, but a lot of the characterization falls flat for me. Luckily the pace is snappy enough that it doesn’t really linger on any of the misses or too easy moments. This is a good read, but it is far from mind blowing.

The Dragon Reborn
Robert Jordan

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
Susan Cain

Quiet is an exploration of the perceptions of introversion and extroversion in our society, as well as how that compares to other cultures in other parts of the world. The main thrust of the book is that in America we tend to favor the loud over the smart, often to our detriment. Not that being loud is necessarily bad, but that it isn’t actually indicative of being right. Also, that such an emphasis on talking often makes quieter people feel like they are somehow broken and that really shouldn’t be the case.

While some of the research, or lack thereof since there are a few spots were the author admits that no one has studied the basis for a point she is making, makes some of Cain’s points seem a little dubious, as someone who is pretty solidly in the introvert camp this is a very freeing book. If anything just knowing that preferring to be alone isn’t indicative of some sort disorder is a relief. The most important thing to take away from this book is that introvert/extrovert is not a good/bad dichotomy. Being an introvert should not make one feel inferior to their louder, more gregarious compatriots. What is important is knowing who you are and making that work for you. Quiet is an interesting, thought provoking read that I would recommend to anyone.

That is all for this month, I should have more than this next month, since as of right now I’ve already read five books in March, though another one or two will probably be Wheel of Time books.

The Sword in the Stone

Wheel of Time Book 3: The Dragon Reborn.

Before I start going over The Dragon Reborn, I have to be upfront about something. This book is my absolute favorite book. Not just in the series, but period, out of all the books I like this one the best. So if I get to gushing outrageously, you know the reason why.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that for a book titled The Dragon Reborn, the character that the title refers to appears very little. Rand dominated the first two books of the series, clearly establishing himself as the series true protagonist. However, that put his growth as a character pretty far ahead of most of the cast. At the end of the last book, he accepted his role, he now only needs to actualize it. So that leaves page time for the rest of cast to grow and develop, especially Perrin and Mat.

Mat is the breakout character of this book. In the first two volumes, Mat has been little more than a nuisance. An amusing nuisance, but as much a hindrance as a help. Yes, it was mostly due to the Shadar Logoth dagger he picked up, but picking up daggers from Shadar Logoth is just the kind of problem he causes. Elayne, Nynaeve and Egwene, affectionately or derivatively referred to as the Supergirls, also get much more than their brief chapters from The Great Hunt, getting out and getting involved as much as the guys. Lastly, Perrin takes over as the primary star of the this book, and his personal difficulties that will rage for the rest of the series are clearly outlined. So basically everybody but Rand gets some significant page time.

We start with Rand and his allies hiding in the mountains, waiting. Rand is impatient, but he doesn’t really know where to go and he doesn’t want to leave his friends. Moiraine is waiting to try to turn the situation in Almoth to hers, and Rand’s, favor. As well and Moiraine and Suian played Rand at the start of the last book, she fails pretty herd here. Moiraine still thinks she is in control. And if she would have just shared her plan with Rand, let Rand think it was at least partly his decision, then he would have likely followed her. The Aes Sedai’s habit of secrecy really hinders her plan. So after some Trollocs attack, and Rand almost loses control he leaves, sneaking away in the night to what he believes he must to become the Dragon Reborn. After the first five or so chapters, it is exit Rand for the bulk of the book. From here on there are just a few fireside snippets and the last chapters.

So Perrin, Loial, Lan and Moiraine chase after him. Perrin takes center stage. He is much more laid back than Rand, but no more eager to be under Moiraine’s control the he was. But he knows the she knows more than he does, that he can use her help. Especially due to his wolfbrother nature. His worries over that are exacerbated when they encounter a man with similar powers who has given in entirely to the wolves. That is Perrin’s struggle for most of the rest of the series, his fear that if he uses his wolf powers he will lose his humanity. We also see the effects of a Ta’veren on the world, with chance skewing wildly in the towns that Rand has visited. Soon, they stop in a town that has seen plenty of excitement, what with hunters of the horn and Aiel. The Aiel War, which took place almost 20 years before the series, is the inciting incident for many events of the series. And things such as the hatred the general WoT populace has for the Aiel. Which is why they put a captured Aiel in a cage. Perrin saves him because Perrin isn’t a horrible human being, and cares more for what is right than what people will think of him. Saving Gaul, the Aiel, also catches the eye of Faile, a hunter for the horn. Pretty quickly she worms her way into the group and into Perrin’s thoughts. Their tumultuous relationship is the other side of Perrin’s future worries. Now that Perrin is set, the book moves to the other half of the group from Emond’s Field.

The girls and Mat are headed back to Tar Valon for learning and healing respectively. The girls are simultaneously punished and elevated. They are thrust right into the web of mistrust and deceit that is Aes Sedai politics. Their plight also shows just how precarious the plans of Suian and Moiraine, the only confirmed good guy Aes Sedai, are. Whitecloaks are at the gates, the Black Ajah has revealed themselves and Suian can only trust three half-trained girls. It seems like a really dumb idea, but laid out like Suian lays it out it makes sense, if only because no Aes Sedai would willing give up information for nothing. The only people that Suian can be absolutely sure aren’t Darkfriends are the ones that were almost killed by them. So now, Elayne, Nynaeve and Egwene play Nancy Drew to try to figure out where the Black Sisters went and what they are up to.

While the girls are ostensibly being taught, it has never been clear to me exactly what the Aes Sedai know how to do. I would guess there is a significantly longer list of weaves that they no longer know than ones they are shown still knowing. Of course, we don’t see the girls doing much learning, because that would be boring, so instead we only see the aftermath of lessons and important meetings. I like how they take the Amyrlin’s lack of direction as license to do whatever they want in tracking down the Black Ajah. Despite already being caught unawares once, they are jumping headlong in once again. Also, as the book goes on the power dynamics of the trio start to shift. Nynaeve is no longer above the other two, and they start to realize that. Plus, Nynaeve is far from the best leader.

Mat, meanwhile, gets his first POV chapters. And finally, readers can find out exactly what he is up to. From the first moment we are in Mat’s head the book becomes about twice as entertaining. Jordan outdoes himself with Mat. He is the perfect rascal. He hates boundaries, hates being confined. As soon as he thinks someone is trapping him in, he starts looking for ways to get around it. Which gets him into trouble, like how he is more susceptible to Lanfear’s promises of power than Rand or Perrin. Though to Mat’s credit, he knows enough not to out and out trust her. But it also earns him some respect from the Amyrlin. She knows she can’t get far bullshitting Mat, so she is honest with him, at least as honest as an Aes Sedai can be. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mat’s duel with Galad and Gawyn, which is one of the truly great moments in the series, moments that this book has more than its fair share of.

Poor Suian, her carefully laid plots go awry because she was forced to rely mostly on Two Rivers folk, and they help each other out. She needed, or thought she needed, Mat kept in the tower, but in order for the girls to accomplish much they had to have her notes of authority. How could she have foreseen them giving one to Mat, allowing him to escape Tar Valon? In a truly unfortunate way, the Two Rivers folk are largely responsible for her fall from being Amyrlin.

We get a few chapters of the great Mat/Thom duo. Thom playing straight man to Mat’s foolish antics is just about the perfect pairing. I think Thom sees a young version of himself in Mat, and can’t help but be caught up with the exuberant youngster. We also start to get an idea of just how much trouble the world is in, with every country seemingly controlled by a member of the now freed Forsaken. There is Rahvin in Caemlyn and Sammael in Illian and Be’lal in Tear. In just the first couple of books, the world got a whole lot more dangerous, and they were running for their lives to start with.

So with Rand sidelined, we see the rest of the cast evolve or at least learn more about them. Mat absolutely will not be forced, but given the choice he will usually do the right thing and he sticks by his friends. He rushes after the girls once he finds out they are in trouble, no matter who or what else might be after them. Perrin, always careful for fear of hurting someone, is greatly troubled by his powers and hesitant to use them, even to the point of endangering everything. And the girls are prodigies, but reckless. They know no fear, but need to learn caution. No of their obstacles are as dangerous or as life shattering as Rand’s, but in The Dragon Reborn they all truly begin the road to facing them.

One last note on Moiraine. Though she bungles handling Rand at the start of the book, it is clear that while she was gone in The Great Hunt she upped her game. Coming face to face with the Forsaken and realizing she was not up to that challenge I think forced her to reevaluate her plans. But being gone from the group allowed them to assert their independence from her, meaning that she still loses. At least until she can reassess again.

In the end, all roads lead to Tear, to the Stone of Tear specifically. That is where the girls are lured, that is where Perrin and Moiraine follow Rand. That is where the Aiel were headed. Amazing that the fortress had stood untaken for centuries, only to be breached about a dozen times on one night. Also, because I am apparently incredibly dense, I read this book about 4 times before I realized the Callandor is the Sword in the Stone from King Arthur. The last few scenes in Tear are truly great because so much is happening at once. The Aiel are attacking, Rand is having a showdown with Ishamael, Moiraine takes out Be’lal, Mat and Juilin are freeing Egwene and the rest and Perrin is fighting to save Faile from the Black Ajah’s trap. It is a breathtaking finish that puts quite an exclamation point on the end of the first part of the Wheel of Time. After this book, Rand is the Dragon Reborn, mo more hiding or doubts. In some ways it is the point where the series really gets going.

Despite or even because of Rand’s absence from the bulk of this book it is one of the best. While the scope of this series was large from the start, by leaving Rand out for a book, Jordan really emphasizes the importance of the supporting cast. When friends of mine pick up the Wheel of Time for the first time, I always tell them that the need to at least read through the Dragon Reborn. If they don’t care for it then they should stop. I’ve had a few only decide to stick with the series because they went ahead and read the third volume. It is not only incredibly good, but it also really brings the world to life more than the previous two books. I absolutely love it.

The DCnU after 6

It has now been six months since the DC relaunch, time enough for the shock and the new car smell to wear off, time to get enough issues out to really assess the quality of all of the books. At this point I am relatively satisfied with DC’s offerings. Some of the books have been disappointing, but those books have been offset by a similar number of positive surprises. Because I hate myself, I guess, I … acquired … and read the first six issues of every single one of the New 52. Then I rated them from best to worst. Actually, I’m going to go over them in the opposite order.

52) Hawk and Dove: This series is a mess. I don’t know what hold Leifeld has over DC that they keep giving him books not just to draw but to write, but they really need to put a stop to it. This is an incoherent, ugly comic with absolutely nothing to recommend about it. The original writer Sterling Gates ducked out early, and it only got worse from its miserable first issue.

51)Batman: The Dark Knight: There are two legitimately good Batman books in the relaunch and even the pedestrian Detective Comics is much better than this pile. It seems to be an artist showcase for David Finch, which is baffling because his art is aggressively terrible. He is also writing, or co-writing later, and the story is a muddle. Avoid.

50) The Savage Hawkman: I’ll give the Savage Hawkman credit for at least having interesting, if not especially good, art. But the story is a jumbled mess and Hawkman is still as big a mess as ever. Continue reading

Ignoring the Backlog

Sorry about how dead its been around here lately. There were some changes to my work schedule and some rethinking of my writing priorities has left me with less time and drive to write. The time part of the problem was unfortunate and unavoidable and really shouldn’t be a problem anymore. The loss of motivation is harder to shake. Near the end of last year I realized that writing on this blog was feeling more like a chore and less like a hobby. SO I tried to shake thing s up at the start of the year. Unfortunately, my planned changes actually made writing seem more like a chore.

This whole thing has been part of a more general malaise I’ve been in for the last month and a half. I’ve felt no desire to read or play video games, let alone write about what I’ve been reading and playing. Finishing a book I wasn’t quite liking and starting one I do like, along with taking a short break period, has helped me get back into reading. My indifference to videos games has two root causes I think. The first and most easily fixed is that I didn’t like the games I was playing. Coming on the heels of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Donkey Kong Country Returns any game is going to seem weak. Going from those new classics to middling slogs like Glory of Heracles and Lost in Shadow is just asking to hate video games. (Its not that those 2 games are particularly bad games, just games that are much longer than they are interesting.) But I’ve since put those games aside, soon I’ll find something I actually like.

The second problem I’m having is one I’ve caused myself, a mindset that keeps me coming back to games that I have long since stopped liking. I caught myself up in what I am calling backlog syndrome. Backlog syndrome causes players to play crappy games just because they already paid money for them, and playing a game they’ve already beaten would be wasting their time. I got into that mentality with he help of the really cool website backloggery.com, which allows you to compile a list of all of your video games by system and my how much progress you’ve made in them. At fist this site was a big help to me. A few years ago, while I was buying games all the time, I found myself barely playing them and spending most of my time replaying a few favorites, like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 6 and Ocarina of Time. But once I saw how many games I had bought and played little if any, I decided to slow my purchasing until I had played most of the games I had already purchased. For a few years the goal of beating all the games I own kept me playing new and interesting games that I probably wouldn’t have had time for otherwise.

Now, however, I have all but run out of games to beat. The few that I have left are left because they are terrible. Or are fine but for some reason I just don’t like them. I do have a couple of supposed classics sitting untouched on my shelf, Super Mario Sunshine and SMT Nocturne for example, but I’ve found myself spending too much time lately trying to push through drek.

So I am trying to break out of this backlog eliminating mindset that I’ve been in for so long. I am no longer going to pay attention to what I “need” to beat. I have no more goals of cleaning out my backlog. In what is probably not a revelation to anyone else, I am going to play what I want to play just because I want to play. Since I’ve made this decision I have felt a weight lift from my shoulders. Not a particularly heavy weight, but there is a definite difference. Playing video games no longer feels like a chore. I’m still playing new games on my DS, games that I would be playing anyway but now the motivation is just to play games, not to tick off a mark on a checklist of games I’ve played. And I’ve stared replaying Chrono Cross, a favorite of mine from a decade ago that I’ve felt a hankering to revisit. Hopefully this keeps me playing happily for some time.