Years Past the Hype

Possibly the third worst problem with video games, besides the vile adherents to a certain hashtag and the constant shuttering of mid-range developers, is the constant cycle to hype, blacklash and disappearance that games go through. Before they are released, most games are hyped to all hell, even those that have no business generating such excitement. It is expertly manufactured, but false anyway. After their release, games tend to be broke down. Maybe they didn’t live up to that prerelease hype; that certainly happens. Just as often, the tearing down is done by the developers themselves once they start the process of hyping their next game. A couple of years after their release most games then lie forgotten, never entering into current discussions. A select few retain some mind share, the rare few the combination of popular, profitable and good enough to leave their mark on the landscape, are constant used as benchmarks to compare everything else to. It is strange. I can’t think if any books being sold by putting down the ones that came before it. Movies sometimes pride themselves on being bigger and better than the previous one, but usually tacitly selling the notion that the previous film was already very good. Only video games try to show their worth by detailing how their predecessors were crap. It boils down to the video game industry’s focus on the now, or maybe on the near future. No one seems interested in what came before, only in what is coming next.

I am increasingly less concerned with what is coming next, because so little of what gets covered interests me at all. What are the big games expected this fall? The only ones I know of are Legend of Zelda for WiiU and I have an outside hope of seeing Persona 5, both of which I wouldn’t be surprised to see slip into next year. There are other games, yes, but I have yet to see a game that makes me want to drop any amount of money on a PS4 or XBone and it seems more likely every day that there won’t be any. (I’ll want to play FFXV eventually) And every day I am more okay with that. Despite lackluster sales, the WiiU is kicking a whole lot of ass in terms of games. Anything else I could theoretically get on my PC. When nothing being hyped is at all interesting to me it becomes all the easier to just check out. Honestly, this isn’t a new thing for me. I was pretty current for a lot of the PS2 generation, but the most recent generation was too expensive for me to hop on right away. I was still at least somewhat checked in at that point; I actually did want the games coming out. I looked with longing with at pictures of The Last Remnant, Valkyria Chronicles or Metal Gear Solid 4, but satisfied myself with Mario Galaxy and Etrian Odyssey.


Now that I am playing a lot of PS3 games, I am finding that my experience with them does not match their reputation. Disconnected from the hype that preceded their release, I’m not comparing the game to what was promised before it came out. There is just the game. Did Final Fantasy XIII have a highly trouble development cycle and come out as something of a mess? Yes, yes it did. But playing it years later I wasn’t judging it against what I expected it to be. I find I have a lot better experience with games without expectations.

Recently, I’ve been playing Dragon Age 2. I had planned to take a break from Bioware games after finishing Baldur’s Gate, but when I fired up my PS3, for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to start back with Yakuza 4. Instead, I pulled DA2 off the shelf, actually thinking it was the first but not realizing my brother had taken it. It is certainly a Bioware game. My first thoughts were that games have come a long way aurally and visually since Bladur’s Gate, but they haven’t done much on the gameplay side. Look at how far we’ve stayed. The more I played, the more the game’s specific faults and strengths were apparent.

Dragon Age 2 is a small game. There is no getting around that. It isn’t short; I’m nearing the end and likely nearing thirty hours played. It would take at least one more play through to see the bulk of what the game has to offer. But it is small, just one not especially large town and a handful of repeated dungeons to quest in. It is also a good looking game. That likely has to do with how small it is. The game can look good when it only has to render so much.


The game’s biggest problem is that every quest essentially ends the same way. The player can make decisions, but the end result is the same: a fight. Nine times out of ten, no matter what choices you make during a quest you are still going to have to fight the same battle at the end of it. The big conflict in Kirkwall is the tension between the Templars and the Mages. The game is constantly coming back to that conflict and forcing the player to choose a side, but in the short term the choice don’t matter, because the quests tend to play out the same whether you back the Templars or the Mages. Really, the gameplay is mostly just a simplified version of what was found in Baldur’s Gate. There is a clear line from that first game, to Knights of the Old Republic to this. This plays like Baldur’s Gate designed to be played with a controller instead of a keyboard. In practice, it works out like a slightly inferior version of what was found in Final Fantasy XII.

Really, it does a lot of good things on the story telling side, ludonarrative dissonance aside. It sets up a take within a tale, removing the player another step back from the action. You are not necessarily playing the through the events of the game, you are playing though dwarven rascal Varric’s version of what happened. The player makes the choices, but there is another level of separation between the player and the protagonist. It is not the protagonist telling their own story. This is all second hand. Honestly, while there are some foibles, the story is rock solid, one extraordinary individual’s rise from disaster to greatness. Sure, the limpness of The Champion’s family members is a disappointment, but the character the game lets you build and his or her companions are quite good. My character, a female rouge, sided strongly with the Mages, backing her sister at every opportunity. She forged a strong connection with the wayward young elf mage Merrill, especially after her sister was taken to join the circle, fell in love with fellow rogue Isabel and even formed a mutual respect Aveline, the straight-laced guard captain.


Dragon Age 2 is an interesting game. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, because its reputation is that it was something of a mess. It isn’t as epic as other Bioware games, but in place of that epicness the game has an intimacy. This is a small story, and it mostly makes good use of it limited scope.  The only big fly in the ointment there is that movement through the town is not seemless, instead kicking the player back out to a map, making the already small world seem less real. The meta-fictional aspect of it all being Varric’s tale he is telling is really neat in theory, but I don’t think it is used as well as it could be. The game doesn’t make quite enough use of the unreliable narrator. Honestly, I liked the how small the game was, it really kept things focused. It isn’t the bloated mess that many western RPGs turn out to be.  My opinion seems to be opposed to many people who played the game when it was new, when its size was in direct contrast to its more loved predecessor. Removed from prerelease expectation, I have found it to be a fun experience.

JSA Reread Part 8: Our Worlds at War

This is not a huge entry in the series, covering just an inconsequential event tie-in and a fairly slight two part story.  Those two issues, while not particularly important in themselves, do set into motion some much larger events to come.  The standard in comics, really.

JSA: Our Worlds at War 1

JSA Our Worlds at War 01

Johns, Saltares and Kryssing

Our Worlds at War was a crossover primarily centered on Superman and his ancillary characters. Villain Imperiex is trying to destroy the universe and trigger a new big bang to fix imperfections in the universe. He intends for Earth to be the epicenter of his recreation of the universe. President Lex Luthor (strange times) rallies the heroes of Earth to fight him, and Brainiac, off and save Earth and the universe.

JSA Our Worlds at War 02

This issue is far from essential to the run. It does have some interesting things going on, but it is really just fluff. It takes the legacy approach of the title and mixes it with the society. Basically every old or named for an old hero that is not on another team is called into action with the JSA. People like Iron Monroe and the Freedom Fighters. It also has the first JSA appearance of Power Girl. She immediately adds some pep to the team, another character that is just abrasive enough to cause some waves.

JSA Our Worlds at War 03

The JSA and about three or four more teams worth of characters are given the mission of going into space and stopping Imperiex’s Jupiter sized ship. When the get there, they find that the ship is powered by the planet Daxam, whose inhabitants have Superman like powers. So they split into several teams. The most powerful members cause a distraction while the unpowered characters go to shut down the ship and the Freedom Fighters attempt to free Daxam. Lastly, the magical characters try to find a way to send Daxam back where it belongs.

JSA Our Worlds at War 04

There really isn’t much more to say than they succeed. It does play up some ongoing character stuff. Atom Smasher doesn’t like having a former villain in Black Adam on the team. Hawkman is chasing after Hawkgirl like she was in heat. Dr. Mid-Nite and Black Canary are dating. There is another appearance by Nemesis. It is a fine tie in issue, but that is all it really is. The art is no great shakes either, but the sheer number of characters around in most issues makes it hard to judge the artist too harshly for it. This could not have been an easy book to draw. It does reinforce that the JSA are the keepers of superhero legacy. The opening pages are all the heroes introducing themselves and saying who they are carrying on for, or maybe just who they stole their name from.


JSA 26 Who Do You Trust

JSA 26-1

Johns, Morales and Bair

This issue, another sort of breather that is credited to Johns only, starts with Atom Smasher challenging Black Adam to an arm wrestling match. Smasher doesn’t like having Black Adam on the team, despite his approval from the senior members of the team. He doesn’t think villains are capable of reforming. Black Adam doesn’t consider himself a villain and doesn’t think he needs reformation. Atom Smasher is still a little lost from way back in issue #15 when he killed Extant. There to cheer Atom Smasher on is Star Spangled Kid. Those two are in some ways the heart of the book, Star being the good student and Atom the wayward one.

JSA 26-2

Elsewhere, Sand is showing the new curator, Alex Montez, around the museum area of the Brownstone. He is the brother of Yolanda Montez, who for a time was the second Wildcat, though she was unfortunately killed. Still, there is no piece of history from these characters that Johns won’t incorporate into the title. Alex is something of a legacy to. A crash in the conference room sends them running to find that Atom and Adam have smashed the table. After Sand gives them a dressing down, Star goes to show Hawkgirl the pictures of her new baby sister while Sand and Alex continue with the tour.

They find Wildcat and Hawkman retrieve Hawkman’s mace and chatting about Hawkgirl. Wildcat rushed to catch up with Alex. Sand pulls Hawkman aside and offers him the chairmanship of the JSA. Hawkman declines, telling Sand he’s doing a great job before flying away.

In the infirmary, Dr. Fate is again trying to rouse his comatose wife. When he fails, he retreats to his Tower to research a method of freeing her from Mordu’s curse. After he leaves, Dr. Mid-Nite has a talk with Sentinel about his recent physical. He is in suspiciously perfect health and Terrific and Mid-Nite think that his body is now composed entirely of the Green Flame that gives him his powers.

Star is with Hawkgirl, showing her the pictures of her new baby sister, when Hawkman flies up to the window with flowers for Hawkgirl. He won’t stop pushing her about beginning or continuing their relationship. Really, Hawkman comes off as a huge dick. Which makes sense for Hawkman. Meanwhile, Black Adam and Atom Smasher have finished cleaning up the table when Adam makes a comment about it being a poor use of their powers. They start to argue again, only for it to be broken up this time by the big red cheese himself, Captain Marvel.

JSA 26-3

Sand finishes with Alex, only to find Hawkgirl crying in her room. He tries to council her. Hawkgirl is in the strange position of being both the continuation of a legacy and the originator of it. She is both Kendra Saunders, Hawkgirl’s cousin and Hawkgirl reborn. All she really wants is for Hawkman to leave her alone and let her sort out her feelings. Outside, Hawkman is flying around trying to figure out how to make her comfortable when he flies to her window again (flying in her window whenever feels like is probably a bad way to go about that) only to see her kissing Sand.

JSA 26-4

That is where the issue ends, with Hawkman staring in shock at Hawkgirl and Sand kissing. While this story plays out pretty quickly, it never really feels right. Hawkman is consistently a jerk, but here he is just an ass, jumping to conclusions and getting jealous for no damn reason. He is the only one that comes out looking bad in this and the only one that does suffer some adverse consequences from it. The bigger story in this issue is the Atom vs Adam stuff. Johns lays it on thick, but these two have a very good reason to be fighting. Letting Black Adam, who shows no remorse for his misdeeds because he doesn’t consider them his, on to the team does not gel with Atom Smasher increasingly hardline take dealing with villains. He saw first-hand what happens when villains are allowed to go free.


JSA 27 Thunderstruck

JSA 27-1

Johns, Morales, and Bair

This issue starts right off the last one, with Hawkman seeing Sand and Hawkgirl kissing. It then shows the reactions inside, where Sand pushes Hawkgirl away. She was kissing Sand because she was looking to be in a relationship with anybody but Hawkman, who is pressuring her to get together again. Sand comforts her and agrees to tell Hawkman to back off.

After a quick interlude with Captain Marvel and Black Adam, where Atom Smasher punches Black Adam through the roof, Mr. Terrific and Dr. Mid-Nite prove their hypothesis about Sentinel just as the alarm, trigger by Black Adam’s forcible ejection, goes off. They rush to confront the problem. The all get to the Aviary to find Atom Smasher blaming himself, rightly, for causing trouble with Black Adam as the former villain and Captain Marvel, who is trying to calm him down, fight in the sky. Atom Smasher knows he messed up, that is what he does. He is possible the most earnest member of the team, he is a superhero because he wants nothing more than to help people. Not that the others don’t, but he is the one who grew up specifically wanting to be a superhero. After what he did to Extant, he’s forced to actually examine what it means to him to be a hero. He overreacts to Black Adam’s comment about getting glory for doing good mostly because he doesn’t want to think about whether there is any truth to it. He doesn’t want to accept that someone like Black Adam could reform because he didn’t give Extant the chance to do so. Maybe causing his death was not the right move, maybe Atom Smasher messed up and that is the last thing he wants to do as a superhero.

JSA 27-2

They all fight with Black Adam for a few pages before Hawkman shows back, drops his mace in the middle of the scrum and declares the fight over. Completely ignore Sand, the team leader recall, Hawkman takes control of the situation and takes Captain Marvel and Black Adam into the meeting room. It turns out that Captain Marvel was actually there to vouch for Black Adam and declare him worthy of receiving a second chance. After he leaves, Sand storms into the room. He confronts Hawkman about whether he wants to lead the team or not, but the rest of the team bursts in and demands they take a vote on the matter. After the votes a quickly tallied, the new chairman is neither Sand nor Hawkman, but Mr. Terrific.

JSA 27-3

Really, this is mostly a blow to Sand. Hawkman is not a huge player in this book, he was generally busy in his own Johns written book at the time, but until now Sand had been one of the biggest players in this title. A lot of that was due to him being the leader of the team; he was the team’s center. He fit in between the old hands, like Sentinel and Flash, and with the new guns like Star Spangled Kid and Hawkgirl. Now, he is just another cog in the machine. He is not going to leave the team, at least not for a good long time, but he is no longer as front and center as he has been. Mr. Terrific, though, now gets pushed up to the top rung. He is the team’s center.

So Star and Wildcat run out to get some pizza for the team and the others all congratulate Mr. Terrific, one of his T-Sphere’s flies in erratically. But It is not one of his, and it teleports all the team members present (Terrific, Mid-Nite, Sand, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Atom Smasher and Black Adam) away. The sphere flies away to a woman, Roulette, in an elegant dress and a massive tattoo up her side, who says it is time to place bets. Her limo is licensed in Nevada and it is clear that they are to be used in some sort of gambling scheme.

JSA 27-4

This issue is rather slight. Much of its real estate is taken up with a pointless fight with Black Adam. Still, some momentous things do happen, from Black Adam’s acceptance on the team to Mr. Terrific becoming team leader. It isn’t bad, but it really feels like more could have been done with the 22 pages of this issue. The fight with Black Adam is neither visually interesting nor is it narratively important. We already know that he is tough and that he has a temper, the big brawl is unnecessary. Still, it works as a slow paced stop after the epic heights of The Return of Hawkman.

Next time: Roulette.

2nd Quest: Skyward Sword

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword currently holds that place in the series of disappointing recent game. Every game that has come out since Ocarina of Time has been there at one point or another and the only one likely to avoid it is A Link Between Worlds, unless there is a sudden flood of backlash for it being too like A Link to the Past, a truly crazy complaint. Playing it recently and thinking about in the context of the rest of the series, maybe Skyward Sword does deserve to be where it is. Wind Waker didn’t when it was hated for its beautiful cartoony graphics. Twilight Princess didn’t when it was hated for being too like Ocarina and having half-baked Wii remote waggle features. But Skyward Sword kind of does. That is not to say that I think Skyward Sword is a bad game, though I know many who would make that argument. I actually enjoy it more than the majority of the series 3D entries and more than all but one of the handheld games. However, looking strictly at how Skyward Sword plays it is hard to get around that fact that while it may be a very good game, it is not a very good Zelda game.


Skyward Sword undoubtedly does some things badly or perhaps more accurately doesn’t do them at all. Unlike most of the rest of the series, Skyward Sword’s world is not connected. There is the Sky, where Link lives. It covers the whole of the area, but it is also completely separate from the rest of the game. Then there are the three areas beneath the clouds, which are again completely separate zones. In practice, this isn’t much different from most of the 3D Zeldas. Most of those games’ areas are discreet from each other as well. They, though, have the illusion of being connected. The hub of Hyrule field in Ocarina of Time really helps make the rest of the world feel as though it is all one place, but really it is not much more connected than Skyward’s Sword over world. That illusion, though, matters. That the world of Ocarina feels whole matters, as does the fact that Skyward Sword’s doesn’t.

It is also stiflingly linear. It is a timid game, afraid that the player will go the wrong way or get lost and is absolutely desperate to prevent that. That is how the game ends up with Fi, a good idea of a character that is completely tiresome in practice. She constantly interrupts play to remind players of every simple thing. Constant, unhelpful interruptions. The one time that the game allows the player to choose their path it is hampered by the only game breaking bug in a Nintendo game that I can recall. Linearity is not itself a bad thing, but it flies in the face of pretty much every other game in the series.

SS Lizalfos

Those are problems, especially for a Zelda game. Fortunately, the game does pretty much everything else excellently. Skyloft, Link and Zelda’s floating home, is the most alive Zelda town in the series to date. It is not a particularly big town, but the characters are all pretty well drawn. Zelda side characters vary from fun but underutilized to horrifying monstrosities, but the residents of Skyloft manage to avoid those pitfalls. They can certainly be weird, it wouldn’t be Zelda if they weren’t, but almost all of them have little quests that fill out their characters. The supporting character highlight is Groose, the single best such character in the series. Yes, better than Midna or Impa or King of Red Lions. Groose is amazing. NAd while he initially feels like a villain, he actually goes through some true character growth by the end of the game. All around, Skyward Sword has the best storytelling in the series. Maybe it is because Twilight Princess, which also had a cinematic feel, hewed so closely to Zelda traditions while Skyward Sword is something more original. While it feels less real than most worlds in the series, Skyloft does feel more alive; it is a strange combination.

The dungeons are excellent as well. That is the part of the game where Fi actually shuts up, not constantly reminding players of their goals or repeating instructions on how to use the delving skill. The dungeons are both inventive and really well designed. They are generally challenging, even the first one is no cakewalk. What really adds to the great dungeons are the dense outside areas. The almost feel like dungeons themselves. Of course, that creates its own problem. It all the areas are like dungeons then the whole game is work. There are no cushy areas to just charge through, ignoring your surroundings. Every step through the world is a fight. It is often fun, but it can be tiresome. It throws off the rhythm of the game. Instead of more adventurey areas followed by intense dungeons, it is all intensity. The outside areas are more adventurey, but they are still difficult. I can’t say any part of the game is a breeze.


The biggest reason for that is the game’s crowning, though often derided, achievement: the sword fighting. It is not quite perfect; there are some kinks in the system. For the most part, however, it works wonderfully if the player takes the time to learn how it works. Flailing quickly and wildly about the screen is not the answer. The combat is more deliberately paced. You must read the opponents cues, much like something out of Punch Out!!, and attack at the open areas. Every enemy is now an obstacle, not something that a quick flick of Link’s sword can eliminate. Again, it makes even the easier areas a bit of a chore at times, but the when facing one of the more in depth fights, like those with Ghirahim, the sword fighting absolutely sings. It makes the game.


I haven’t yet mentioned the graphics and sound, which are amazing. There are lots of alternate uses for items, including fun stuff like bomb bowling. The upgrade system is not exactly an achievement, but it is inessential and harmless. The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword does a lot of things well, but those are not things that the series traditionally focuses on. It is just a kind of weird game. The freedom of exploration or at least the illusion of freedom, which best games in the series excel at, is not a part of this game. It is a fairly linear string of puzzles and dungeons to clear. Skyward Sword is a great game; I can say that without reservation. But it really isn’t a good Zelda game. It feels like a strange offshoot, not a main entry. Maybe it is a misstep for the series, but it is still an excellent game in its own right.

Embers Falling on Dry Grass

Wheel of Time Reread Book 11 Knife of Dreams


I haven’t touched a Wheel of Time book since about five days after A Memory of Light was released. After I finished reading that, I put the series down and have barely looked at it since. Honestly, I haven’t read much fantasy since then, or at least not from that branch of the genre. Sure, I’ve read Curse of Chalion and Words of Radiance, among scant others, since then but it wasn’t until very recently that I have truly gotten back into things. Coming back to the series, a series I doubt I’d went a year without reading a least a couple of the books in more than a decade, is a little strange, especially one that is now finished after years spent speculating about what was to come next. It is comfortable, familiar, but also melancholy. Before, all of these characters were full of potential. Anything could happen in the next book. Now, that potential is gone, there is the reality of what happened at the end of the series. It doesn’t really make the books any less enjoyable; it merely makes reading them a somewhat different experience.

Knife of Dreams was the last book that Jordan completed and is a return to form after a trio or so of books that seem to have, in some ways, gotten away from him. Each of Books 7-10 are important chapters in the series, but none of them were as complete of works as the preceding six books were. After splitting the Gordian knot that was Crossroads of Twilight, Knife of Dreams hits the ground running. Characters that were mired in interminable storylines start to finally move forward. Path of Daggers, Winter’s Heart and Crossroads of Twilight were largely middles, with few resolutions. Knife of Dreams contains those endings. I’ve titled this post after the title of the prologue, “Embers Falling on Dry Grass”, one of Jordan’s great turns in the chapter titles. It is clearly evocative of what is going on, not just in the title but in this whole volume. The little sparks are finding the fuel to turn into great fires. The idea of Tarmon Gaidon, the last battle, has been paramount to the series all the way through. It has always been coming. But until Knife of Dreams it never felt truly close. In this book there is the constant feeling that events are spiraling increasingly out of control. The anarchy has spread beyond just Rand’s doing. The endgame is upon the world.

What is most exciting is that from the first scene things are happening. Only a fool would argue that nothing happens in the previous books, but little of what does is definitive. Outside of some really big things, like cleansing the taint, it all feels like maneuvering and small potatoes. Here, the book opens with Galad, a longtime character that was all potential and no action, finally getting involved. He challenges and beats the Whitecloak leader Valda to a duel for the rape and murder of his mother, not knowing that he is only half right. Then it jumps to Ituralde, a name that has been around forever but wasn’t seen until book 10 (I think) who springs his trap on the Seanchan, setting up raids in numerous places across hundreds of miles, living up to his reputation as a great general. The prologue also refreshes the situations with the Seanchan leaders, the Aes Sedai Black Ajah hunters and Egwene after being captured by the Tower Aes Sedai. It immediately tosses a lot of balls in the air which are followed up in the first few chapters by adding more. Perrin is moving in on the Shaido as Faile attempts to escape, Mat continues his journey northward, away from the Seanchan. And Rand is trying to make a deal with the Seanchan.

While it doesn’t exclude others entirely, Knife of Dreams in many ways pulls things back to its trio of male heroes, Rand, Mat and Perrin. Rand’s part in this book is smaller than the others, but no less momentous. He is further breaking down from the strain, the effects of the taint and his own hang ups. More and more, the Lews Therin voice in his mind is gaining power. Set in motion in his few appearances in Crossroads of Twilight, Rand meets with the Daughter of the Nine Moons, who readers know is currently with Mat. It turns out this Daughter of the Nine Moons is the Forsaken Semirhage. In the ensuing conflict Rand loses a hand. That loss furthers some of Rand’s mythological allusions, specifically his connection to the Norse God of War Tyr, who sacrificed his own hand to subdue the wolf Fenrir. It is not really a turning point for Rand, just another step in the gradual wearing down he faces in the back half of the series. Since Lord of Chaos, in each battle Rand seems to lose another piece of himself, though usually not quite as literally as here.

Mat, meanwhile, is still in his escape from the Seanchan, as well as in the middle of his courtship of Tuon. Tuon is a fun character, coming from a completely foreign culture that the completely unself-conscious Mat cannot understand. The Seanchan are one of Jordan’s greatest creations in this series, a wrench in the works and a completely vile foreign power coming in to mess things up. Their whole empire is built on almost fetishized slavery and rituals of order. Slavery for the Seanchan can be a hereditary condition or a punishment for failure or the natural state for anyone capable of channeling. The channelers are brainwashed and convinced that they are no better than animals, that they are dangerous if not leashed. It is disgusting. Then there are several other types of slavery, from hereditary servant to the Imperial family’s personal guard. Seanchan society is a nightmare. Yet Tuon, the person responsible for leading these people, comes off as entertaining.  Likeable, even.  A lot of that, though, falls to Mat, who makes any other character entertaining. Exploring the differences of high and low society with Mat and Elayne was a lot of fun a few books ago, but it is taken to an even greater extreme here. Tuon is interested in Mat thanks to prophesies, the same reason he believes he must wed her, but Mat doesn’t know that. He has accepted that they will be married and is just trying to get to know her. She is doing the same thing with him. This is one of the most fun storylines in the whole series, with Mat getting to play many roles. He is, as always, the fool. Here he is trying to herd cats with his uneasy alliance of soldiers, willing captives and Aes Sedai. Once they leave the traveling show and meet with The Band, Mat must plays the general, leading a short brilliant campaign against the Seanchan to clear the way out of Altara to Andor. Having Tuon realize that she has only seen one small side of him once they meet back up with The Band is another great moment. It is always fun to see the protagonist though other’s eyes and Tuon’s growing realizations about Mat are incredibly well done. The whole arc here is entertaining, ending with Mat and Tuon finally married, but separated.

Then there is Perrin, who as of the last book has finally cast off the axe and chosen the Hammer, forges together an alliance with the Seanchan and the Prophet’s forces to save Faile. Perrin realize how gross the Seanchan are, but he is single minded enough to not care if it helps him get his wife back. For all of Perrin’s lack of faith in himself as a leader, he has a way of binding people to him and building something. That is what Perrin is; he is the builder to Rand’s destroyer. His interactions with General Tylee of the Seanchan is the first large scale piece or cooperation between the Seanchan and the rest of the world. Egeanin working with Elayne and Nynaeve was a blip and Mat and Tuon barely count. It also shows the decadence of the Shaido. Always considered a little lesser than the other Aiel, here they have completely failed. They are shown to be largely drunk and indolent. Even those who seem to keep the Aiel ways, like Therava, are just as interested as the rest in indulging their baser desires, it just that Therava’s appetites are less immediately apparent. This storyline for Perrin, essential to his and Faile’s growth as it is, is never truly a good one. It takes way too long and is too disconnected to everything else.

Lastly, Knife of Dreams also finally finishes the interminable Andor civil war. In her own courageous yet thoughtless way, Elayne bumbles into decisive victory. I know she is a character that many do not enjoy, but I am not among them. Elayne is what she is and, unlike many others, never really learns her lessons. From the start of the series to the end, she does grow. She changes from a spoiled princess to a competent, yet still spoiled, Queen. She does become a better leader and a better politician, but she never loses the recklessness that makes her infuriating and enjoyable. Really, even her growth as a leader is mostly just her putting the lesson’s she’s learned to good use. This volume has Elayne simultaneously at her best and her worst. While she skillfully conducts the war, she also completely bungles searching out the Back Ajah Aes Sedai, getting several of her allies killed. It is the third long running plotline, along with Perrin’s and Mat’s, that Jordan finally brings to close in this book.

The relatively focused nature of Knife of Dreams makes it probably the best book in the second half of this series. The somewhat muddled nature of the previous four volumes has been wiped away. The Wheel of Time, from this book, is a boulder rolling downhill. With the end more clearly in sight, things begin to accelerate. Like the title of the prologue suggests, small sparks have started a fire that will not be put out.

Jupiter Ascending


Like the disappointing Seventh Son, Jupiter Ascending looked like it could have been just the sort of movie I love: cheesy, fun impossible adventure. It seemed to fit right into the mold of beloved (at least by me) films like Star Wars, Flash Gordon and John Carter. In some ways it is. In the moments when Jupiter Ascending shines it does so with a brilliance that is hard to match. No idea seems to have been excised. Space battles, palaces on gas giants, immortal humans and genetic farms; everything is thrown in in a jumble. It makes for a movie that is occasionally beautiful, occasionally terrific and almost always a little muddled.

While the Wachowski’s certainly deserve their reputation for making stylish movies with deeper themes than your average blockbuster, I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed more than one of their films before this. I liked the original Matrix; it is amazing. However, its sequels, Reloaded and Rejected Revolutions, left me cold. Hell, not just cold, angry. They are among the worst movies I’ve ever paid money to see in a theater. After V for Vendetta was simply not for me I kind of checked out on them. (I really should see both Cloud Atlas and Speed Racer at some point) Still, even in the movies I didn’t like their actions scenes were entertaining and coherent. Plus, that engaging style had clearly not abandoned them. Despite my misgivings, I was plenty excited for Jupiter Ascending. It just looked so weird, so out there that couldn’t help but be intrigued.

In many ways it lives up to that. It follows poor Russian immigrant Jupiter Jones who finds out that she shares her genetic code with a Space Queen of some sort and finds herself entangled with the murderous heirs of a space empire and protected only by Kaine, a former soldier with some dog DNA spliced in with his. She must navigate complicated family drama and figure out how to save Earth, which it turns out is little more than a gene farm.

The action scenes are great, kinetic but also highly readable. The numerous weird and wonderful things put on the screen are beautiful, reminiscent of Star Wars in their variety and imaginativeness. Channing Tatum’s Kaine is an excellent hero, and Sean Bean is fun as the conflicted Stinger. The highlight is Eddie Redmayne as the villain Balem, who seems almost perpetually overcome with ennui, except for when he bursts out with uncontrollable rage. He makes for an enjoyably hateable villain. Mila Kunis, while adding almost nothing to the action parts, is largely enjoyable as Jupiter, who despite being the focus of the plot is shockingly passive. Like the viewer, she is given no clue as to what is really going on and spends her time listening to other people explain things or being saved by Kaine. I really did by the romance between those two characters, but otherwise she is given little to do.

Really, that lack of explanation is the real flaw here. Some details are eventually eked out, but for most of the movies runtime what exactly is going on is hidden from the viewer. Titus, one of the fighting Abraxas siblings, apparently plans to marry then murder Jupiter. Why is never made a particularly clear. Exactly how power family Abraxas is is never made clear. How the government of this space empire is set up is not clear. Nothing, outside of the two brothers wanting Jupiter dead because she is messing up their inheritance is made clear. While the everything else is beautiful in its excess, the plot lacks the clear through line of something like Flash Gordon or Star Wars. It doesn’t help that movie spends a lot of time on asides that don’t seem to add anything at all. There is a Gilliam-esque scene dealing with space bureaucracy that, while amusing, seems to be from another movie entirely.

As unfortunate as some of Jupiter Ascending’s missteps are, though, I can’t bring myself to dislike it. Seeing Tatum fight a space dragon while flying around on rocket boots is just too entertaining. Or watching Redmayne pulled along on a chariot with a living woman’s torso for a masthead. Or seeing Mila Kunis fall from so many high places, only to be saved at the last minute. It is highly entertaining, but the plot is way too overstuffed to be called genuinely good. Jupiter Ascending is full of great ideas, but they do not come together to form a cohesive whole.


JSA Reread Part 7: The Return of Hawkman

This time, it is the four issues that make up the Return of Hawkman storyline, including Issue 22’s prelude. This is one of the better arcs on the series.

JSA 22: Lost Friends


Goyer, Johns, Morales, Bair and Buzz

This issue, which really should have been its own entry with the previous one, has an excellent gimmick. The top half of each page, with art from Morales and Bair, continues the story in the present, with Sand and Hawkgirl trying to get to the bottom of what exactly is going on with her. The bottom half of each page, drawn by Buzz, stays in ancient Egypt with Flash. While the two stories do deal with at least tangentially the same subject, the Hawks and their history, they aren’t overtly connected. Still, it is a pretty neat little trick that makes for a memorable issue.

The top half starts with Sand tracking down Speed Saunders, Hawkgirl’s grandfather and the former Hawkgirl’s cousin. A quick note about Speed Saunders: he was one of the original detectives from Detective Comics, before Batman and other superheroes crowded them out. After that his disappeared pretty much entirely until he was dusted off and rectonned into being related to the former Hawkgirl. He tells Sand the story of Kendra Saunders. At the age of 17 she attempted suicide. After rushing her to the hospital, she was pronounced dead, only to start breathing again ten minutes later. At first, Speed is over joyed, but he notices that Kendra’s eyes have turned from green to brown, the same as his cousin Shiera’s. He didn’t tell anyone, but he arranged for her to join the JSA because he knew that if Shiera was back, then Carter couldn’t be far behind. John’s “fixing” of the Hawk characters is a great triumph, but the storyline is supposed to be a great romance and instead feels more than a little creepy. It is acknowledged in the story and pointed out more firmly in Hawkman’s series, not to mention in the Geoff John’s penned “” episode of JLU, but it is still played as some tome spanning love story that just doesn’t ring true. The big cog in the works is the Kendra/Shiera split. Is Hawkgirl his niece (by marriage) or his wife reborn? It is a strange question.


On the bottom half of these pages, Flash is told the story of how the first Thanagarian ship crashed in Egypt. The pilot was dying, but she told them of someone called Synn and of the existence of Nth metal, which is what gives the Hawks their powers and powers the Thanagarian ships. So they took the ship back to their palace and retrieved the Nth metal from it. With it he crafts Hawk shaped medallions, which Khufu discovers gives him the power of flight. Nabu also prophesied a problem on Thanagar that they would need to face in the future and has them use the rest of the Nth metal to create the Claw of Horus.


Back on top, Kendra is still talking with Zauriel from last issue. He suggests that she is Shiera and her memories are returning because her soul mate is returning, which you know from the title of this post is true. She leaves Zauriel, taking off on her own. With Sand, he asks Speed where she might have gone. At his suggestion, the whole team, Black Adam included, finds her weeping at the grave of her parents. She lashes out at them and attempts to run away again. As Black Adam attempts to stop her she flashes down to her bones, not unlike when Sinestro from Green Lantern would transport himself to the Anti-Matter Dimension, and teleports away.


As the time tries to track where Hawkgirl was off to, Flash, sufficiently healed and with the help of Teth Adam, reverses the sun that transported him to the past in the first place. He crashes into Black Adam just after Hawkgirl has disappeared, just in time to tell them that Hawkman is coming back. The issue ends with Hawkgirl on Thanagar, which is of course where she went. Robed men call her Savior and shows her the planet.


Outside of the neat trick of the top page, bottom page split, this issue is just a focusing of the previous, cutting it down to just Sand, Hawkgirl and Flash. Truly, the most interesting part is the past. Normally, the legacy and history of the JSA is an immediate thing. Each member is either an original hero or a descendant of one. The ancient Egypt parts take that to its furthest conclusion. Not only has the JSA been there since the rise of superheroes, the precursors to the JSA have been around since the origins of civilization. Much like the first trip to the past in issue 6, it is a place and time the series continually comes back to. This time it wasn’t much of a story. Luckily, the story it is leading into is a very good one.

JSA 23: Ascension


Goyer, Johns, Sadowski, Bair

We start with Kendra on Thanagar. The planet is currently under the thumb of Onimar Synn, who is an Inhumi, an Eater of Souls. He has taken control of most of the planet. As the priests who summoned her explain things they are attacked by Dark Wingmen, corrupted Thanagarians. Kendra grabs the weapons they have available, and using Shiera’s memories she fights back against them. They nab one of the good guys and the rest flee with Kendra before Synn shows up himself.


It then cuts to Dr. Fate and Dr. Mid-Nite looking over the comatose body of Fate’s wife. Mid-Nite is telling Fate what he can do for her, but Fate doesn’t like the medical explanation and wants to pursue a magical means to helping her. Fate starts to threaten him, but Sand walks in looking for help with Kendra and puts a stop to it. As they leave, her EKG monitor spells out ‘help me’ but it is not seen by the rest of the group. This plot, believed to be Mordru’s by Dr. Fate, is a long running, slow moving one.

In the meeting room, Sand outlines who they are taking to Thanagar to save Hawkgirl. It works as an update and roll call for the massive team. Sentinel is still injured, Wildcat and Black Canary are in Europe, looking for the Council from the annual and Geomancer’s attack of the team, Dr. Mid-Nite is going to stay to help with Fate’s wife and Star Spangled Kid is with her mother, who just went into labor. Luckily, Atom Smasher is back. Black Adam wants to go along and at the behest of Flash, who saw him in the past, he is allowed to join them. That still leaves them with the problem of how to get across space. But Dr. Fate has a plan for that.


Back with Hawkgirl, she is being lead to the headquarters of the resistance. Synn has taken over the capitol city and taken every bit of Nth metal for himself, aided by his two heralds Phade and Crypt. It cuts to Synn, who is torturing the kidnapped guy from the start. He villain monologues about how he’s going to destroy the planet, and then kills the guy. They take him to make him into one of the zombie Dark Wingmen.


The head Thanagarian, Zith Tarak, then tells Hawkgirl a truncated history of the planet and of Nth metal. Nth metal is made of an element that is unique to Thanagar and is “psycho-receptive,” meaning that it retains some of the memories of those it comes in contact with. That is how Hawkman and Hawkgirl can be continually reincarnated and how they have knowledge of Thanagar that they shouldn’t have. It is pure comic book hokum, but it is effective at slicing through the complicated sludge that had built up around the characters. He then explains why they went to all the trouble to transport her there. At the Well of Souls she should be able to pull back Hawkman, the prophesied savior of their planet.


The rest of the team uses Dr Fate’s magic and the extradimensional properties of Fate’s Tower to transport themselves to where Hawkgirl is. As they arrive, Hawkgirl reaches down in the well and pulls out Carter Hall, Hawkman. That is what this issue was all about, taking the team to Thanagar and laying the rest of the ground work for the return of Hawkman.

JSA 24 : Icarus Fell


Goyer, Johns, Sadowski and Bair

It starts with Hawkman meeting the team, who arrived just as he came out of the well. Hawkman now has memories of all his previous lives, so he knows all the members of the team, including Black Adam, except Mr. Terrific, who appeared after he died. Even more touching than his reunion with Hawkgirl is his with Dr. Fate since, as I’m sure you remember, Hector Hall, Carter and Shiera’s son, is the currently wearing the helmet. Everyone gets caught up quickly, with Flash handing Hawkman the Claw of Horus just as a ton of Dark Wingmen attack.


He then shows what the Claw does; it renders Nth metal inert, causing the first wave of Dark Wingmen to fall out of the sky. The rest of the team jumps into action. While they fight, the dialogue also hits the big characterization points. Black Adam and Atom Smasher don’t get along, Hawkman is just assuming that he and Hawkgirl are going to pick up right where they left off, etc. Things are going okay until Phade and Crypt, Synn’s two lieutenant’s show up. Phade immediately severs Dr. Fate’s vocal cords, rendering him powerless, unable to cast his spells. Atom Smasher goes after Crypt, who swallows him up.


Synn then makes his presence known, using his ill-defined Nth metal powers to take away Flash’s anti-friction aura. Without out that he runs fast enough to tear himself apart. He also reduces Sand to sand thanks to his silicon instead of carbon state. He then launches Black Adam into space with a backhand. Finally, he reverse Hawkman’s trick on him and renders the Hawk’s Nth metal inert. Basically, he single handedly tears the team apart.

The team is captured and in their prison awaiting execution, Mr. Terrific science babbles about the powers of Nth metal, which are basically whatever they are needed to be. As they try to assess their situation, Synn comes and takes away Hawkman and Hawkgirl, leaving only Mr. Terrific and the depowered Dr. Fate and Flash.


Synn does a pretty great monologue to the Hawks as he prepares to make them walk the plank off the floating city. He is not a complex villain. As call himself a pervert and a sadist. He just wants to do evil for the fun of it. He is just your run of the mill Space-Hitler. He is at least somewhat intelligent, though. Not wanting to make a martyr of the Hawks, he is going to execute them like he has so many others, anonymously by dropping them from the city. No great show, no fanfare. And the issue ends with the Hawks plummeting from the city.


This issue is mostly a fight scene. It is the middle issue of a three issue arc. Things have to look bad before the good guys can triumph, so the fight effectively deconstructs the team. Once Hawkman gets his short reunion with his old teammates, it moves right to the action. Like most of this series, it is really well done and a ton of fun.

JSA 25: Seven Devils


Goyer, Johns, Sadowski, Bair Meikis, Neary and Leigh

This is the final, double sized issue of The Return of Hawkman. Last time left the team scattered and beaten, with Hawkman and Hawkgirl plummeting from the flying city of Thalrassa to certain death when they hit the surface.

Hawkman doesn’t give up, though. He breaks free from the ropes that are tying the two of them together and dives purposefully at a group of flying Dark Wingmen. In mid fall, he manages to knock out then break the neck of a one of the fliers before stealing his wings and managing to catch Hawkgirl just before she lands on a pile of bones. It is a really neat sequence, that does its job of showing just how cool Hawkman should be, even if it does it at the slight expense of Hawkgirl, who just passively falls to her death.


Of course, after being cool for a couple of pages, Hawkman goes right back to being creepy, telling Kendra how like her old self she is, despite the fact that she still thinks of herself as Kendra and not Shiera. It is a weird situation, no doubt, but Hawkman seems determined to force the issue. Of course, to him she is the same person as not just his wife but his wife over many lifetimes. It is going to be weird. Back in the prison, Mr. Terrific is looking for a way out. Flash can tell something is wrong with Terrific, who tells him it is that he is having a hard time buying reincarnation stuff since he doesn’t believe in souls. He hasn’t believed in any sort of higher power since his wife was killed by a drunk driver. Flash tries to comfort him, telling him about how he lost a child years ago and ending with the thought that no matter what anyone believes, they are a team and are in this together. So they will have to get out together.

Back with Synn, Zith Tarak is now the receptacle for his monologues. He is going to use his Nth metal powers to turn the whole planet into zombies like the Dark Wingmen. He then going to use them to conquer other planets until he has conquered the whole galaxy. You know your usual Space-Hitler stuff. As he talks, a Sand storm starts raging. In the middle of the storm, the Hawks steal some uniforms from Dark Wingmen and then fly back to the city.


In the prison, Mr. Terrific finally finds a weak point in the walls and Flash vibrates through it, despite the great pains it causes with friction burns. D. Fate quickly subdues the guard and they make their escape. Outside, the growing Sand storm allows Hawkman and Hawkgirl to take out Phade and get close to Synn. His raging at them about his power is cut short by the return of Black Adam.


As Black Adam tangles with Synn, the team regroups, catching each other up until the sand storm eventually coalesces into Sand, having pulled himself back together atom by atom. Crypt springs into action, only for Atom Smasher to tear him apart from the inside. Black Adam is having trouble with Synn, but the rest of the team arrives just as Synn gets the upper hand. Seeing the JSA in front of him again, he pulls all the Nth metal around them to him, making him a giant made of stone. Atom Smasher attempts to grow to match his size, while the rest of the team scatters and gives Black Adam his second awesome moment of the issue.


One of the things this title is great about is that no matter how big and unwieldy the team gets, every character gets their moments and rarely do they feel forced. Atom Smasher get his as he grows to giant size and punches Synn’s rock head off. Of course, he just reforms it and lays Atom Smasher out, but it was still a good spot for him. The real stars of this issue are the Hawks though, who defeat Synn by wresting control of the Nth metal from him with the power of their love and cause Synn to explode.


After Kendra again rebuffs Carter’s advances, the grateful Thanagarians transport the team back to the Brownstone, where Carter is overwhelmed to find out the team is now based out of a museum. In the Golden Age, Carter Halls day job was as a museum curator, that is how he came to possess the ancient Egyptian hawk relics that let him fly. The issue ends with the four remaining Golden Age JSAers: Wildcat, Green Lantern, Flash and Hawkman, wondering about the teams place in the world. Completely devoid of subtlety, they make their case for the JSA. They lay it all out, how they are the heroes that inspired the other heroes, that is why so many of them took their names; why there are so many Flashes and Green Lanterns. While the Justice League and Teen Titans are the famous heroes for civilians, the JSA are the heroes the other heroes look up to.


With that, Sand leads them back inside for a team photo. The Return of Hawkman pays off a lot of the early groundwork of this series, though mostly just that of Hawkgirl. It is also just a damn fine comic book punch up. And while the JSA never has a completely stable roster, but this does add another major player to the team. The first two years of JSA were largely very good, but a lot of it was spent getting characters where they needed to be. I would say that the Return of Hawkman is the first great JSA story.

Next time: Our Worlds at War


Top 5 TV Themes

Another one of my Top 5 Lists that I’ve got sitting on my computer.  I figured I toss this one on here.  My 5 favorite TV theme songs, almost all of which

5: Pokemon – It is simultaneously ridiculous and epic.  There are tons of cartoons with this sort of earnestly goofy theme songs, and though Pokemon is a little later than the ones I really grew up on (originally this spot was for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I changed it at the last minute after trolling youtube for a little bit) I still think it is the best example of the form.

4: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – I really wanted one of the story themes on this list and choosing it was hard. My initial instinct was the corny Gilligan’s Island theme, but Fresh Prince’s is just so much more enjoyable.

3: Malcolm in the Middle – The theme here works much like one of the old ballad themes, like Fresh Prince’s, but it captures less of a story and more perfectly compresses the tone of the show into the song. Malcolm is all about pointless rebellion, about fighting authority no matter where it comes from. The theme shows that perfectly.

2: Cheers – Yeah, this is pretty much perfect. I’m not even that big a fan of the show, it is just hard to beat this song.

1: Magnum PI – It has no words and it doesn’t need them. It is just the best.  There is nothing here that 5 year old (or 25 year old) didn’t want to be.

Seventh Son Review


I grew up on fantasy movies. Movies like Legend, Willow, Conan the Barbarian or The Princess Bride. Not all of them are great, or even good movies, but I loved them all the same. Swords and sorcery was my jam. When I see something like Seventh Son in theaters, something that appears to be something of a throwback, I can’t help but get a little excited. Even though I had no expectation that Seventh Son would be a good movie, I did hope it would be a fun one. Even that hope was dashed. Seventh Son hovers uncomfortable between misplaced gravitas and campy fun. Its humorlessness and weightlessness dim its slight charms. Still, just enough fun shines through that I can’t be disappointed to have seen it.

The movie opens with Sir Gregory trapping a woman, Mother Malkin the witch, down a hole, then her escaping when the moon turns red. When Gregory, the Spook, a man who hunts witches and other such beings, loses his apprentice in another confrontation with her, he must seek out another one. Since only the seventh son of a seventh son can become a Spook, his options are limited. And he must train this new apprentice fast, since if they can’t defeat Mother Malkin before the Blood Moon is full then she will conquer the land. It should be a simple quest, but it gets rather muddled.

The sole reason to watch this film is Jeff Bridges. His Sir Gregory manages to be both off putting and charming, some ungodly mix of Gandalf and The Dude that sounds like Sean Connery. He drinks and struts and quips his way through every scene, while leading man Ben Barnes’ Tom takes everything so seriously. Really, his over serious romance with the ambiguously allied Alice is the unbeating heart at the center of this movie. Julianne Moore comes close to matching Bridges weird energy, but her underbaked but interestingly designed allies don’t have much to work with.

The real problem with Seventh Son is that no matter what fantastic thing is happening on screen, it manages to make it feel dull. One can becomes deadened to CGI effects, but Seventh Son’s are more than fine. But the fight scenes lack rhythm and weight. They just sort of happen. When a fight scene bogs down, then a convenient cliff is found for everyone to leap or fall off of, though this rarely results in any great harm. Moments that should be full of emotion are instead completely devoid of it. When a character’s loved one dies, you expect an emotional reaction, not just a cold acceptance of the fact of their death. Discovering a betrayal results in a few seconds of confusion. Somehow it makes an aerial battle between two dragons boring.

The film also lacks a comprehensible sense of geography. The bulk of the action takes place in misty green mountains, on the rocky crags and mirrored lakes. But they visit a city that is emebeded into the wall of a desert mesa. Yet this city seems to somehow be the one closest to the rest of the action. They ride horse a lot, but never seen to actually go anywhere. There is no progression to their travels.

Despite all the problems, Bridges almost carries Seventh Son to being worth watching. He clashes with everyone else in the movie, save Moore, but his take is much more entertaining than theirs. If his oddball charm had been complimented by something, anything exciting then I think I could recommend this as a piece of entertaining trash, something like Dragonheart’s enjoyable badness. There just isn’t enough joy to be had here. It squanders whatever charms it might have had and results in a movie that, while not as brain dead stupid as many blockbusters, is unfortunately dull.


What I Watched in January 2015

Here is my monthly catalogue of all the things I watched in the last month, adding to the ones I already do for video games and books.  Now if I could only come up with catchy title for it, but catchy titles aren’t a strength of mine. I’m also going to start giving star ratings (1-5) to all the movies I see. If I get really ambitious, I might make an index of every movie I watch with that star rating.  That seems like a lot of work though, so it might not happen.


Gremlins – This movie truly frightened me as a child. It doesn’t anymore.  It is still amusing, and the theme song is excellent.  It really holds up well.  [***1/2]

The Whole Nine Yards – This was a favorite of mine from High School, it was one of the first DVD’s I ever purchased.  It is still pretty good. Bruce Willis is charming and Matthew Perry is really on.  It feels just a little underbaked at times, but otherwise is a solid action comedy. [***]

Stealing Harvard – Another old favorite that I still think is pretty good.  It is lightweight and amusing, full of laughs but not stupid or mean-spirited.  Really, just an altogether pleasant comedy. [***]

Patriot Games – A decent enough action thriller starring Harrison Ford.  It is the first of his two Jack Ryan movies and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t blow me away.  Really, Harrison Ford can carry almost any film, as long as he seems to care. (Not caring is how I excuse him being just as terrible as everything else in Cowboys vs Aliens) [***]

Goodfellas – This is movie exposes the lie of gangsters being somehow honorable.  It is also just incredibly well made and acted.  A great film.  [*****]

The Wolf of Wall Street – This follows the same formula as Goodfellas, but with Wall Streeters instead of gangsters.  They are equally contemptible.  It is mostly DiCaprio’s character doing drugs and ripping off everyone he can.  He is the scum of the earth and this is an extensive cataloguing of all his crimes and excesses.  It is gross, but hard to look away from. [*****]

Pitch Perfect – This had been highly recommended to me by several people, but I never really made an effort to watch it.  I finally caught it on TV a few weeks ago and it did delight.  It is just genuinely enjoyable sports movie where the sport in question is a capella singing.  There are some rough moments, like a gross out vomit bit that seemed really out of place and an odd undercutting of the competition that the whole thing is about at the end, but for the most part it is a really funny movie.  [****]

The Man With the Iron Fists – Good lord, I made a mistake not watching this sooner.  It is nuts, a weird take on a martial arts movie with all kinds of amazing weirdness.  Like Russell Crowe playing a man named Jack Knife who wields a knife/gun weapon.  I don’t know that this movie is strictly good, but I do know that I enjoyed the crap out of it. [****]

The Quiet Man – There are some old fashioned gender politics on display here, but otherwise it is just a genuinely enjoyable romance.  It works entirely on the interplay between John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.  Wayne is a former boxer who moves to Ireland to escape a tragedy and falls in love with a spinster.  It is simple, but enjoyable.  [****]

Adventures in Babysitting – Another artifact from my childhood. I’m not sure this one holds up as well as Gremlins, but my crush on Elisabeth Shue certainly has.  This is not quite the classic that something like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  is, but it is still enjoyable.  [***1/2]

American Sniperreview here.  [****1/2]

The Thief and the Cobbler – This is a goddamned crime.  I am speaking specifically of the version of this movie available on Netflix, with terrible voiceovers and songs overtop some truly remarkable animation.  It is painful to watch; the whole story of this film is painful.  This is worth watching, but I recommend watching it on mute.  [*1/2]

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – This movie is horrible.  Tons of excess gore, jokes that never land and some of the stupidest plotting I’ve ever seen.  I had some hope for it when I saw the cast.  No movie with these people in it should be this bad.  Especially wasted were Peter Stormare and Famke Janssen.  Really, this movie is just a waste. [*]


Galavant – I am baffled by the existence of this show and more than a little annoyed at how it ended.  Galavant is a musical fairy tale miniseries.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was different from most of what’s on television and largely charming.  By the time it ended I was looking forward to it by the time the weekend rolled around.  Many of the jokes didn’t land, and the songs and guest stars were hit or miss, but the central cast was good and there is something good here.  The standout was Timothy Omundson as the contemptible and inept King Richard. He may be awful, but he grows on you.  Too bad they chose to end things on a cliffhanger, a cliffhanger that will never be resolved unless

Psych Season 8 – I already wrote about this, but it is a marginally competent season of TV, with exaggerated highs and lows.

30 Rock – The more I watch this show, the more I think it is one of the best comedies to ever air.  It occasionally nears Arrested Development levels of nested jokes, but is never quite as impenetrable as that show.  Great, great stuff.

Malcolm Season 2 – Yup, this show is still great. Season 2 was not really the show’s high point, Malcolm still feels really young and some of the other characters haven’t found their niche yet.  Still, this is good TV.

Death Comes to Pemberley – A surprisingly enjoyable follow up to Pride and Prejudice.  It is a murder mystery using those famous characters.  While it is far from essential, it is enjoyable.

Mad Men Seasons 3-6 – I want to write up something big about how great this show is, but I don’t think I have a firm enough grasp to do so.  Especially because of how fast I rushed through all of this show.  If you don’t know about how great Mad Men is, you owe it to yourself to watch it.  It is perfect.  I guess I can go over my favorite character, Pete Campbell.  Favorite might be the wrong word; I kind of hate that little bastard.  But I love to hate him.  He is just so presumptuous and entitled.  He expects to get everything.   He wants it all given to him.  Not that he won’t work hard, he just expects that work to be rewarded immediately.  Even when he does something nice it is always just a lead in for him to get something.  Unlike some of the other characters, he is good at his job and does work hard, but he is just such a little punk about I can’t help but hate him.  The highlight of the show is when Pryce, the English accountant, calls him a “grimy little pimp” and then beats the crap out of him.  It is just too perfect.

Fawlty Towers – Perfect farce.  I can’t imagine a better take on the sitcom than this.  It is a perfect 12 episodes of Cleese’s Fawlty causing himself ludicrous problems.

Cowboy Bebop – I found the complete series on DVD for right around 25 dollars and snatched it up.  It is still the best anime. There really isn’t a stinker in the whole bunch of episodes, and all the characters are well developed without resorting to the bald-faced reliance on character tropes that seems to doom most anime.  I am really glad to own it all.

What I Read in January 2015

This is a heck of a start to the year. After coming up short most of last year, I hit the ground in 2015 running. I read 7 books in January and left another couple half finished, so I should be up around five again for February.  I am getting back into fantasy in a big way, at least during the early part of this year.  I never really stopped reading fantasy, but I got a double handful of new books in the genre for Christmas so they’re there.  And I’ve noticed that I’ve only read a narrow sliver of the genre, maybe a wider study would be helpful.


Guardians of the West

David Eddings

This is boilerplate fantasy.  Other than some sub-sitcom level Battle of the Sexes “comedy” there is nothing to separate it from the hordes of other Tolkien imitators.  The occasional spark of a fresh idea or interesting development is quickly wiped away to go back to the same thing everyone has read a hundred times.

Maybe my opinion would be different if I had read the previous books in this series. However, this book bills itself as a part one, so it should be readable on its own.  There is just not enough here to be recommendable. The occasionally interesting characters are hamstrung by the books rather rigid view of gender roles and the plot meanders around in neutral for more than half of the page count before finally finding some forward momentum just as the book ends.


The Soprano Sorceress

LE Modesitt Jr.

With this Modesitt Jr is writing feminist fantasy.   It is a great antidote to how male dominated the genre usually is.  The protagonist, Anna Marshall, is transported from modern day Iowa to the magical land of Erde.  Once there she finds that her singing ability translates into magical power.  The place she arrives in is threatened by the evil dark monks and she is recruited to help fight them.  While she does do that, she spends most of her time fighting the backwards and sexist attitudes of her allies.

For the most part the book works, but it doesn’t quite gel into something better than good.  Seeing a woman with power destroying stupid conventions is entertaining, but her obstacles don’t stay in her way for that long.  Anna encounters a problem and then simply solves it.  While she is constantly fighting, she gets rid of her problems a bit too easily; most of them seem no more difficult than swatting a mosquito.  The straw chauvinist stuff works really well, many of the attitudes come from conventions of the fantasy genre, but the central conflict doesn’t make the reader feel its weight.  Bad things are happening, but the bad guys are never anything but stock evil figures.  It is disappointing.  Still, it is a largely enjoyable book all the same.


And Then There Were None

Agatha Christie

This book certainly lives up to its reputation.  It is riveting.  As well-known as it is, I had not been spoiled, so I got to read the whole mystery fresh.  It does a marvelous job of keeping readers on their toes.

And Then There Were None starts with ten people arriving at an island house expecting to be at a dinner party thrown by an old friend, only to find out that it was all a set up to get them there.  Then they are accused of murder by a record and people start dying.  There is no detective, just ten strangers trying to guess which of them the murderer is.  It is tense and thrilling as one by one they are knocked off.  I haven’t read a ton of Agatha Christie (though I did get a couple of collections for Christmas so that should change) but this is the best so far.


The Domino Pattern

Timothy Zahn

I bought this thanks to an interesting blurb and my memories of reading Zahn’s Star Wars books.  While this isn’t the first book in this series, it is easy enough for a new reader to pick it up and not miss much.  Frank Compton works security for the Quadrail, an interstellar train system, along with his assistant Bayta.  Following up on whatever happened in the previous book, they take an express train that won’t stop for six weeks.  Once their trip gets going, passengers start dying.  Frank suspects poison, which should be impossible because passengers are screened for that before they get on the train.  He has to get to the bottom of things before everyone panics or they reach their destination and the culprit escapes.

The Domino Pattern is not great, but it is a fun mix of science fiction and mystery.  Zahn keeps things moving, with entertaining if not especially vivid characters and an exciting non-stop plot.  It is a fine example of genre fiction.


The Nine Tailors

Dorothy Sayers

While I’ve read most of Sayers’ Wimsey books by now, this is the only one I knew anything about before I started reading them, thanks to Edmund Wilson‘s fatuous essay “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Akroyd” which savaged it.  The reality, though, is that The Nine Tailors is a really good mystery.  There are a lot of strange things going on and none of them are truly red herrings, everything is connected, it is just hard to see how it all connects until the end.

The Nine Tailors starts with Lord Wimsey’s care breaking down in a small town and while it gets fixed he helps out ringing the church bells, known as the nine tailors.  While there he hears about a case of stolen jewels from 20 years previous.  The culprits were caught, but the jewels were never recovered.  A few months later he is called back when an extra body is found in a grave during a burial.  As usual, everything unwinds through Lord Peter’s investigation.  I don’t want to spoil it, but it does feature a rather novel manner of death.


The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist Volume 1

Michael Chabon and others

This more interesting in theory than in practice and it is pretty interesting on its own merits.  The Escapist is the hero the main characters of Chabon’s excellent novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, created, their rival to Superman in the early days of comic book heroes.  This collection of comics, with some written parts, creates a fake history of that character. He is mentioned in the book, but the book is about cousins Kavalier and Clay.  Here Chabon and an all-star collection of comic book talent create those fictional adventures, sampling from many different eras of comic book history. It does a great job weaving these characters into a plausible history.

It helps that the stories themselves are largely really good.  Generally they involve The Escapist using his escape artist powers to foil bad guys.  It goes from the bare bones early days, moves on to goofy a goofy Silver Age version.  Then there is a manga version.  All of them are recognizably the same character, but all from different of comic books and they accurately reflect those eras. It helps that creators from those eras are here to add the lie.  Gene Colan, Howard Chaykin and Jim Starlin all contribute pages.  It looks good and tells some very good stories. This is worth it just based on the merits of the creative teams alone, the added meta-fictional element just make it all the more interesting.  I hope to be able to track down the other two volumes soon. This is really good.


Swords And Deviltry

Fritz Leiber

I had heard a lot about Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, but to start this volume did not live up to the hype.  The first two stories, The Snow Women and The Unholy Grail, are origins for those two characters and are simply not that interesting.  In the first, young northern barbarian Fafhrd stains against his domineering mother and wishfully controlling young lover, while falling in with a cunning dancer.  The other has a young wizard’s apprentice Mouse trying to get revenge for the murder of his master.  I am going to assume that though these are the first stories in the chronology of the series, they were not the first stories that these characters appeared in.  While they do a good job of illustrating each character, otherwise there is little about either story than generic swords and sorcery adventures.

However, the third story in the collection, Ill Met in Lankhmar, is excellent.  The two characters meet up while shaking down some member of the thieves’ guild.  After a night of drinking in celebration, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are goaded into taking on the whole guild.  So they sneak in and things go badly.  For everybody.  The third story is also where the quality of the writing really picks up.  The first is filled to the brim with reminders the ice and snow, mostly using variations on those two words over and over.  The third story, though, is when the darkly humorous tone really shines through.  At least it does right up until the story shifts from comedy to tragedy right around the middle. Leiber really lets the reader feel the rage and despair of his characters.  This series reputation for somewhat more human pulp adventures is well founded.  If the rest of the series is closer to the Ill Met in Lankhmar than the first two stories, then I can’t wait to get to the rest of them.