A-Force or A-Farce?

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A-Force #1

In the world created after the Marvel multiverse has been destroyed, the nation of Arcadia is a paradise, patrolled by scads of heroes, nearly all of whom are women, including She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Dazzler, Medusa, America Chavez, Pixie, Spider-Woman, Nico Minoru, Lady Loki, Storm, and more. But all is not perfect in Arcadia, after an unexpected attack from a flying megalodon shark, Ms. America gets honked off and throws it over the horizon — and breaking one of Victor von Doom’s laws — nothing passes the borders between the nations. The law is enforced by the Thors, and not even Sheriff Stephen Strange or Baroness She-Hulk herself can win her any leniency. The Thors take her away to an eternal prison, and She-Hulk decides to find out who’s hiding out in the ocean throwing giant sharks at everyone.

Verdict: I hate to say it, but thumbs down. The major problem is that this is built around a summer crossover with a lot of weird, un-superheroey rules built into it. When you’ve got a world ruled by Dr. Doom, who has the powers of a god, and everyone’s fine with that, that’s a problem. When there’s a whole enforcement arm of the global Doom-worshiping government that’s composed of a whole bunch of different versions of Thor, and they’re really nothing more than Doom’s puppets, that’s a problem. When you’ve got that many awesome characters on the cover, but most of them don’t appear inside the issue, and the one character who does something really unquestionably awesome is banished before the last page, that’s a problem. This book can be turned around, but it’ll have to break free from the summer crossover prison it’s trapped in.

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Sensation Comics #10

In our first story, Wonder Woman helps defend a pop star from a deranged fan who’s angry that the innocent teenybopper he obsessed over in his youth has dared to grow up. But who’s the stalker, and who’s sabotaging the star’s tour? In our second story, Diana fights a dragon with a personal connection to the Amazons and to Wonder Woman’s mother.

Verdict: Thumbs down. In the first story, the bad guy was telegraphed way too early on, and like some of the in-story media commenters, I questioned why on earth one of the most powerful people on the planet was going to all this trouble to babysit a pop star. In the second story, I wasn’t real happy with the extremely high civilian casualties. That may be okay for DC’s grimdark New 52, but a lot of the stories in this series have been more all-ages-friendly.

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Lumberjanes #14

The Lumberjanes are trying to earn a badge for basic wilderness survival — but they’re just no good at basic things like setting up tents or remembering to pack the can opener. How will they ever survive the snowstorm? Wait, why is there a snowstorm in the middle of the summer?! What are the monsters that attack everyone? Can the campers find Jen after she’s separated from the group? And who is the mysterious and vaguely ominous Abigail who rescues her?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fantastic art and writing. We get a story that’s simultaneously hilarious and genuinely frightening and unnerving. If you aren’t reading this, you really need to get with the program.

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Quacked Skull

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Howard the Duck #3

Howard just barely made it back to Earth with the doohickey he was hired to steal from the Black Cat — and he immediately gets robbed and pistol-whipped — by Aunt May?! And the flipped-out dude who hired him is seriously ticked-off at the delays in getting his necklace back! He and Tara set out to track down Aunt May — Howard’s style of investigation involves running around a duck pond naked so the old folks feeding the waterfowl will think he’s a regular duck. When they find Aunt May, she remembers nothing about robbing them but agrees to help them investigate. After trailing an old coot who stole someone’s purse, they discover who is the ringmaster of scheme. Can they defeat him? And can they defeat the villain who’s playing them all for suckers?

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, a very silly story. Howard crawling around the pond without any clothes is dang hilarious, and the running gag of Spider-Man thinking he’s failed to save someone and then breaking down into an emotional basket case is still funny.

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Captain Marvel #15

Carol has returned home to Earth only to learn that her longtime friend and mentor Tracy Burke died just a week ago of cancer. The rest of the issue focuses on Tracy’s will and Carol’s reflection on her life, her relationship with her partner Teddy, and her posthumous attempt to get Carol to move on with her life.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A wonderfully illustrated, wonderfully written study on death and mourning. The post-story note focusing on writer Kelly Sue DeConnick’s memories of her own late Aunt Polly just boosts the coolness of this issue.

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Gorilla My Dreams

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Astro City #23

Meet Sticks. He’s from a secret civilization of intelligent gorillas hidden in Antarctica. This is his first time in the big city, and he’s got his heart set on being a drummer in a rock band. Gorilla Mountain isn’t a very cool place — they’re obsessed with the purity of their culture, and the only job is serving in the military. Some of the younger gorillas have managed to pick up radio signals and discovered music. After getting busted several times for playing his own homemade drum kit, Sticks managed to fake a jet-pack malfunction and made his way to Astro City. But there’s this funny thing about being a talking, military-trained gorilla in Astro City — everyone either wants to kidnap you to turn you into a drone in their criminal organization, or they want to induct you into their superteam. Can’t a gorilla rock out with his pals without everyone wanting him to be a super-soldier?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Absolutely colossal fun. Sticks is a fantastic character — the type of guy who could easily carry his own graphic novel, not just a two-issue storyarc. But if there’s one thing “Astro City” does exceptionally well, it’s giving us amazing characters we wish we could see way more often.

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Ms. Marvel #15

Well, the charade is over — Kamran may be cute and lovable and an Inhuman like Kamala, but he’s also allied himself with a bunch of supervillain Inhumans instead of the good guys. She manages to signal Bruno with her cell phone, and he tears off to try to get to New Attilan. Meanwhile, Kamala is doing everything she can to escape from the bad guys and periodically drop a little smackdown on them. Can she escape from Kamran and the other villains?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A wonderful issue — a little fighting, a little running, a little betrayal, a lot of standing-up-for-yourself, and a nice dose of minor cliffhanger toward the end. Does Kamala know another Inhuman?

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Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #8

So apparently, the multiverse is being destroyed. I know, that’s usually DC’s deal, but this time, Marvel is doing it. Essentially, everytime two alternate earth’s collide, both of those universes wink out of existence. (This is all leading into the new “Secret Wars” crossovers.)

At the beginning of the issue, Steve Rogers reveals to the Mighty Avengers that Earth-616 has just 178 days left before it’s destroyed. And beyond a little exposition about the Illuminati, the rest of the issue is a slow countdown as the world comes to terms with the looming end of everything, and the Mighty Avengers help Rogers work to defeat the Illuminati’s plans and figure out a better solution.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nice demonstration of the tension of knowing that the end of the world is months or weeks away. We already know this is the next-to-the-last issue of this series — I hope they get a good send-off. And I hope we get to see all of these characters a bit more often and a bit more prominently.

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Skin Deep

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Harrow County #1

Come on, now, with a cover like that, there’s really no chance I’d be able to resist this new horror comic by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook, right?

After the citizens of Harrow County capture and prepare to destroy a formerly helpful witch who’d turned to dark forces to increase her power, she pronounces a curse upon them — even while she burns from a noose, she promises to return someday and see all the townspeople again. Years later, we meet up with Emmy, a country girl about to turn 18. Even with her father’s livestock dying mysteriously around them, she’s got a way with animals, sometimes bringing them from the brink of death. She feels stifled inside her home but gets a greater sense of freedom from the woods outside her house, even though she fears the old rotten tree not far from her window. And sometimes, she sees haints out in the woods, and she wonders what they have in store for her.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A wonderfully slow but creepy story, alongside glorious art that mixes the beauty of nature with the monsters hiding in the dark. This first issue promises some epic horror — get on board early.

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Injection #1

And another new horror series, this time by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire, the creative team behind the amazing first set of issues of the recent “Moon Knight” relaunch.

We start off with Professor Maria Killbride, a patient at grim Sawlung Hospital, a woman with a cane and a overpowering with for a sandwich. The company she used to work for is calling her back into action to investigate a missing persons case, whether she wants to or not. The former members of her team haven’t quite landed in insane asylums yet, but they’re not the people they used to be — Brigid Roth is unhappily running high-end tech support, while Robin Morel has tapped into powers he’s not even sure he wants to deal with. And Maria finds herself exploring a very large space that shouldn’t be there at all.

Verdict: Thumbs up, at least for now. It seems interesting, but I can’t say I can really tell you what’s going on. But it is a first issue, after all, and sometimes, these take a little time to get cycled up to top speed.

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Lady Killer #5

Josie has a plan to deal with the Company targeting her for elimination, with the help of fellow assassins Ruby and Reinhardt. But does Josie have a chance to prevail against the deadliest killers on the Company’s payroll?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great art and story, lots of bloodshed, lots of keen ’60s flavor. And it’s even left open at the end for a sequel…

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Who’s that Squirrel?

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #5

While Doreen’s roommate Nancy is being held hostage inside the Statue of Liberty, she and her fellow hostages end up telling stories about Squirrel Girl. As one does, of course. But everyone else has some weird ideas about Squirrel Girl. Someone tells a tale about her adventures in World War II as Captain America’s sidekick. (This story also includes the character find of 2015: Bass Lass, a woman wearing a fish mask.) Other stories assume she’s a time traveler (with lots of historical Squirrel Girls as helpers) and confuse her with Spider-Man.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s an excellently funny story, with a ton of great gags. Bass Lass is just the high point of the story, and there are lots of other great characters and jokes. If you haven’t been reading this before — well, you’re crazy. But this is an excellent point to jump onto the bandwagon.

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Spider-Gwen #4

Gwen Stacy has an encounter with some close family friends — and two people she dreads dealing with the most — Ben and May Parker. Their nephew Peter had once experimented on himself to turn himself into a monster called the Lizard, and in the ensuing battle between the Lizard and Spider-Woman, Peter had died. The public and the media blamed her for his death — and every time Gwen sees Ben and May, it’s a reminder of what she still thinks of as her greatest failure. But do Ben and May blame Spider-Woman — and by extension, Gwen? Or are they able to forgive?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice low-key story — but a wonderfully tense one, too. Gwen is on eggshells the entire time she’s in the Parkers’ home — a very realistic reaction. In our more familiar Marvel Universe, Peter Parker didn’t have to worry about such a guilt-inducing situation, since her father had already died…

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Party Hard

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The Wicked + the Divine #10

With her new powers as the triple goddess Urdr, Cassandra manages to uncover who tried to kill Luci at her high-rise apartment in the first issue — it was a couple of god fanboys, as everyone had started to suspect. Meanwhile, Baphomet has decided to kill all three of Urdr’s bodies during the Ragnarock music festival because he hopes he’ll be able to absorb the years still allotted to her so he can live longer. The attempt at deicide fails when the Morrigan interferes. Ananke is prepared to kill Baphomet, but Morrigan whisks him away to the underground. But the chaos has already pushed the crowds at the festival into a riot — Urdr moves to quash it by broadcasting her message of endless nihilism — but her bleak sermon just makes them love her even more. And Baphomet is still plotting to kill one of the gods…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Beautiful art, as always. More of a transition story after the shock revelations of the previous issue — it feels like we’re working our way toward some sort of climax.

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Rat God #4

The clean-cut but still terribly rodent-like Mr. Peck wants Clark to kill his father, the leader of the town’s cult. Clark hilariously claims to be “a completely nonviolent person” after killing three of the town thugs. To get Clark’s cooperation, Peck offers to give him his beloved Kito, now strangely passive. Gharlena, the simple-minded innkeeper’s daughter, wants Clark for herself and is very upset by his continued rejections. Peck escorts Clark to a grand masked ball put on by the cult, where all manner of drunken and creepy misbehavior goes on — but someone already knows about their schemes.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Gloriously detailed and creeptastic artwork by Richard Corben. A fun penultimate chapter — can everything get wrapped up nicely in the next issue? Will Clark get what he wants? Or will Clark get what he deserves?

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Love, Superhero Style

We got another giant buttload of Convergence comics this week, and once again, I’m going to try to get all of these cleared out of the way quickly.

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Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle #2

The rotten-as-snot Flashpoint versions of Hawkman and Hawkgirl are in Gotham City, looking forward to killing Nightwing. But Dick Grayson isn’t all that easy to kill, and Barbara Gordon’s awfully, awfully smart. And they both have some really great friends. Can an acrobat and a paralyzed hacker beat up a couple maniacal winged fascists and still find true love?

The backup story is the first glimpse we get of the new “Midnighter” series.

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Convergence: Superman #2

While Superman battles the Flashpoint versions of Cyborg, Captain Thunder, and Abin Sur, the skinny Flashpoint Superman kidnaps the pregnant Lois Lane. He takes her to the Flashpoint Batman’s Batcave, hoping Dr. Thomas Wayne can help deliver her baby. Will Lois’s baby be delivered safely?

The backup story is the first glimpse we get of the new “Doomed” series.

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Convergence: The Question #2

Renee Montoya, along with the Huntress and Batwoman, are trying to find Two-Face. Harvey Dent desperately wants to die, and since he’s not able to commit suicide as long as his coin keeps coming up heads over and over, he’s decided to track down the Harvey Dent of another dimension and get him to commit murder on his behalf.

The backup story is the first glimpse we get of the new “Starfire” series.

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Convergence: Speed Force #2

Wally West has to battle the seriously psycho Flashpoint Wonder Woman and her Amazons, while Fastback, from the Amazing Zoo Crew, tries to defend Jai and Iris West. Can the Flash handle a foe who’s almost as fast as he is and a much more deadly combatant? And will the loveable cartoon turtle survive?!

The backup story is the first glimpse we get of the new “Green Arrow” series.

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Convergence: Batgirl #2

It’s Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain, and Tim Drake vs. the Flashpoint versions of Gorilla Grodd and Catman!

The backup story is the first glimpse we get of the new “Prez” series.

Verdicts: We had some good stuff and some bad stuff. Let’s unpack this thang.

First of all, the Batgirl story is the one I was looking forward to the most, and it was just not good. While I liked the fact that she solved the issue’s dilemma through brainpower, the rest of it was not worth the paper. Confusing, badly illustrated, not well written, poor characterization. Of all the characters here, Steph probably needed closure the least — the end of her regular series was actually very well done and emotionally affecting. I would’ve enjoyed this one more if we’d gone with a good ending for Cass, instead of a tacked-on romance between Steph and Tim.

The rest were much better. The Nightwing/Oracle story was probably the best, but it was written by Gail Simone about some of her favorite characters, so that was certainly to be expected. The romance subplot didn’t feel tacked-on — in fact, it was at least, if not more important than, the entire battle against the Hawks.

Superman’s story was fine, but it was stronger as a combination of a great Lois Lane story and a nice story about the more hard-edged Flashpoint Batman finding something he was willing to care about.

The Question’s story was great just because it’s wonderful to see Greg Rucka and Cully Hamner working on these characters again.

Flash’s story was alright, but not all that spectacular. I was just glad to see Flashback survived — I take it the Zoo Crew has been taking it on the chin in the other Convergence books.

Of the sneak-peeks we get of the new series… not a lot of them really appeal to me. I’d had high hopes for the Prez and Starfire series, and they just don’t look very interesting. The Doomed series looks somewhat interesting — I knew nothing about it before — but it still stinks like ’90s Image to me…

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Masters of the Multiverse

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The Multiversity #2

It’s the final battle for the survival of the multiverse! The magical heroes of Earth-13 tear through Vampire Sivana and his minions — and convert the vampire superheroes into coffee addicts. The Western heroes of Earth-18 plug Psycho Sivana. And the rest of the multiverse’s heroes — in their own universes and in the House of Heroes — struggle against the forces of the Gentry. Can anyone survive the incredible power of the corrupted Nix Uotan, the Superjudge? Which hero will survive his decapitation? Can an army of superheroes prevail against the end of all that is?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s not perfect, but it’s Grant Morrison writing about cosmic crises and the concept of superheroism overcoming evil, so it’s still pretty dang good. Ivan Reis does a great job with the artwork. And it’s fantastic to get to see these characters again — the horror heroes of Earth-13 need at least a full miniseries of their own, and I’d deeply missed this version of Captain Carrot (It looks like the Zoo Crew is getting predictably mishandled in the Convergence series), and as always, I look forward to a future version of DC Comics that will bring that series back and finally do it justice.

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Daredevil #15

Plainclothes Matt Murdock and the Owl’s daughter are working to free the Owl from the Shroud’s clutches — but the Shroud has figured out how to use the Owl’s ability to tap into all electronic communications against them. He starts by tracking them through San Francisco through people’s cell phones, then reveals that Foggy Nelson is alive, then starts revealing all of his legal clients’ secrets. Before long, the police are after him, and he’s faced with the question of having to go into hiding permanently — or turn to his most hated foe for help.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great art, great story. Always raising the bar on the pressure going on here, and the cliffhanger is pretty dang sweet.

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Loop the Loop

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Silver Surfer #11

This is one of the best designed comics of the year, and it’s a near certain bet that it’ll be nominated for oh-so-many awards. Most of the story is actually set up like a Moebius strip — we follow the Surfer’s story to its end, then it literally flips around, upside down, and starts over from a new perspective and new point-of-view character, then it flips around twice more. It’s an astonishing feat of storytelling and graphic design.

Our plot: The Silver Surfer is escorting a makeshift fleet of billions of aliens, all of whom have lost their homeworlds, thanks to Norrin Radd guiding Galactus to their homes. But another set of aliens opposes them, fearing that they’re an invasion force. And when they can’t defeat the Surfer, they unleash a doomsday weapon that sticks everyone involved into a time loop. Can the Silver Surfer break free and save those he’s promised to protect?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Again, an absolutely astounding comic book. It’s an amazing and fun read, and y’all better get your hands on it before everyone starts giving it trophies.

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Bitch Planet #4

Kamau Kogo has to put together a team of her fellow prisoners — all women hated and feared by the patriarchal government of Earth — to compete in the futuristic — and all-male — sport of Megaton. While she’s putting together her list of potential players, she’s invited to take a shower with a couple other inmates — the guards can’t follow them into the showers, so they’re free to warn her that the authorities are setting her team up to be murdered. Can she field a team that can win? And can she use the shower’s secret peephole to snare a mole on the inside?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great story, great art. Love the background on the Megaton game. If you’re queasy about nudity and sexual situations in comics, well, this one has a heck of a lot of nudity and sexual situations. Consider this one Rated M for Mature — and then you mature readers should go read it.

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Converging Plastic

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Convergence: Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters #1

The Convergence crossover bounces over to Earth-X, home of the Golden Age Freedom Fighters — Uncle Sam, the Ray, the Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, Black Condor, and Doll-Man — and in this continuity, their leader Plastic Man. The Nazis have taken over the world, while the Freedom Fighters try to liberate America. They successfully lure the Nazi’s pet supervillain, the Silver Ghost, to New York City — just in time for the Dome to appear and cut off everyone’s powers. The team is eventually betrayed by, of all people, Woozy Winks, but before their execution, the Dome finally comes down and everyone gets their powers back.

Verdict: I think I’ll give this one a thumbs up. Plastic Man isn’t a constant comedian — but when he was introduced in the Golden Age, he was generally the straight man for other people’s comedy. We don’t get a lot of character work with the Freedom Fighters, but what we see seems okay.

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Convergence: Shazam! #1

Oooo, classic Captain Marvel? Written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Doc Shaner? Yes, I will sign up for that.

For whatever reason, the Dome over Fawcett City hasn’t been dropped yet, and the Marvels still don’t have their powers. Bulletman and Bulletgirl are still around to help, luckily, but after Billy Batson, Mary Batson, and Freddy Freeman follow Uncle Dudley and WHIZ station owner Sterling Morris after they’re acting shady, they discover that the Monster Society of Evil is still in operation, with Mr. Atom and King Kull working on deadly machines while Dr. Sivana and Ibac have been disguised as Dudley and Mr. Morris. Tawney shows up to help, but the villains still seem to have the upper hand — until the Dome finally comes down, and the heroes get their powers back! But now someone else is attacking the city…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Once again, while the Rebooted DCU can’t figure out how to make a Captain Marvel who isn’t a raging douchebag, the Elseworlds stories — like this one and the tale a few months ago from Multiversity — show that Captain Marvel is still relevant and cool and fun. Jeff Parker’s story is pretty near perfect, and Doc Shaner’s art is a beautiful blend of Golden Age style and modern technique.

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Convergence: Booster Gold #1

Booster Gold is being held captive but is rescued by Skeets and Rip Hunter, who reveal that Booster is Rip’s father — no, wait, a Booster from another universe is Rip’s father, actually. Booster was being held prisoner in Skartaris — and in fact, just about every time traveler around was also being held captive there, too. They rescue the older Booster, the one who’s Rip’s father, along with Booster’s sister Michelle, the superheroine Goldstar. The older Booster is dying because he’s been exposed to too much chronal energy, and he now randomly teleports from one domed city to the next. The next time he teleports, the others track him to the city holding the 31st century’s Legion of Super-Heroes. Can they rescue Booster, or is it already too late?

Verdict: Thumbs down. The story is chaotic and confusing, and it isn’t helped by two Booster Golds who look almost identical.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Wow, here’s hoping for a fast recovery for awesome artist and awesome person Ty Templeton.
  • A phone game that lets you see your own home as a haunted house? Please no. I already have too much trouble falling asleep.
  • It turns out some of the “looting” photos you’re seeing are faked and likely posted by racist whites trying to make black people in Baltimore look bad.

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