Archive for February, 2010

Friday Night Fights: Sucker Punch!

Wow, has this seemed like a rougher-than-average week. I’ve been feeling like I needed the weekend to start sometime around Tuesday, so this absolutely feels like it’s long overdue. So let’s get right to it — time to get our weekend started right — with FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes from the second volume of 2005’s DC: The New Frontier by the astonishingly awesome Darwyn Cooke with Dave Stewart. Superman heads out to confront the island-sized monstrosity called the Centre and finds an unwelcoming committee just waiting for him to drop his guard…

I’ve recommended this comic to y’all before — and if you don’t have it, you really, really should go get it. It’s fantastically beautiful all the way through.

Hope y’all have a great weekend, and I’ll see y’all Monday…

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All You Zombies

Green Arrow #30

Okay, I got this for the “Blackest Night” crossover and for that cool inversion of the famous “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” cover from the ’70s. Green Arrow has been taken over by a Black Lantern ring because he once died and was brought back to life. While his zombie-side tries and fails to kill Hal Jordan, Black Canary, Connor Hawke, and Mia Dearden, the real Oliver Queen ends up watching it all from the inside, mostly helplessly.

Verdict: Thumbs down. At least Ollie wasn’t as uselessly dull as Wonder Woman when she got take over by the black ring in the “Blackest Night: Wonder Woman” miniseries, but it’s still not a very interesting story. I dig the artwork by the awesomely-named Diogenes Neves, though…

Batman and Robin #9

And speaking of zombies, this issue had several resurrected dead people, and it isn’t even part of the “Blackest Night” stuff at all.

We start out with Batwoman, who is, um, dead. She was injured terribly in the cave-in from last issue, but ultimately, it was a suicide, assisted by Dick Grayson. The plan: Batman, the Knight, and the Squire will dig out the buried Lazarus Pit again, and then dunk Batwoman back in it. Meanwhile, the resurrected clone of Bruce Wayne has traveled to Gotham City, where he’s trying to kill Alfred Pennyworth and Damian Wayne, still recovering from spinal replacement surgery. The Batman clone is starting to rot from within pretty quickly, but he’s still got plenty of time to commit low-IQ mayhem. Back in England, Batwoman is successfully revived, but will she and Batman be able to make it back to America in time to save Damian from being thrown off the top of Wayne Tower?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nicely claustrophobic action — can Damian even survive fighting a zombie clone Batman when he’s wearing a neck brace? Great personality work, too. Batwoman’s father has his first meeting with Batman and looks entirely delighted, and it’s great fun read dialogue between the Knight and the Squire. And there are a couple hilarious keeping-the-secret-identity-secret moments — Damian’s mock-innocent “Who ARE all these terrible people?” and the not-heterosexual Batwoman just flat-out flirting with Dick Grayson, partly for the sake of her secret ID, and partly because Dick is, frankly, such an over-confident dork.

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All the Colors of the Rainbow

Blackest Night #7

Nekron is putting his final gambits into place, and the various representatives of the Lantern Corps are not working together well. Specifically, Lex Luthor, weilding an Orange Lantern ring, has decided that his greed entitles him to all the other power rings. He manages to take Scarecrow’s yellow ring and tries to take Mera’s red one, but before he can do that, the full populations of all seven Lantern Corps finally arrive at Earth. But Nekron reveals his ace-in-the-hole when he kills one of the Guardians. That enables him to summon from inside the Earth a glowing white entity called simply “The Entity” — the embodiment of all life in the universe. And if Nekron call kill the Entity, guess what happens to everyone else?

Verdict: Thumbs up. More chaos, more hitting. Scarecrow and Luthor get some brief moments to shine, but at this point, it’s nearly all boiled down to just the Green Lanterns and the other Emotional Colors of the Universe. That’s not a bad thing, because the story is still rocking, and it’s still managing to get a few good shock moments out there, including a completely unexpected cliffhanger.

The Incredible Hercules #141

I really hate to say it, but it appears this is the final issue of this wonderful series. As it starts, Typhon has succeeded in almost all of his objectives. He’s killed Hera, he kills Zeus, and he’s about to use the power of Continuum to strip the universe clean of all life. Athena manages to return from the dead and re-curses Delphyne Gorgon with her snake-headed appearance. Hercules goes off to confront Typhon after telling Amadeus Cho to quit worrying about him all the time. There’s a terrific battle, and Herc almost has the ancient Titan on the ropes, but Typon wears a magic chestplate that drives all attacks on it back on the attacker — and that’s enough to almost take Hercules out of the fight. Does Hercules have a chance of defeating Typhon? Can he stop Continuum from destroying the universe? Or is there one more betrayal on the way?

Verdict: Thumbs up. And thumbs down, too. On one hand, it’s a great story, and a better ending than I was expecting from this storyarc. But on the other, I’m so tired of seeing great comic series like this get cancelled. This one has had a great run, and has profited from a lot of wildly unexpected success — but it should’ve lasted a heck of a lot longer.

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Fun, Fun, Fun

Everyone pay attention — these were the two comics that gave me the most joy last week.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #14

After a short intro where Batman and Plastic Man defeat the Scarecrow with the power of terror and good acting, we get to our main story — the Huntress calls Batman to help her corral a lunatic crook named Mr. Camera. His gimmick: he has a camera on his head. Batman thinks Huntress wants him around because it’s Valentine’s Day and she’s got the hots for him. She eventually heads home while he tracks Mr. Camera to his hideout — and discovers that Huntress is in more danger than he suspected!

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very nice story, but I must admit, it was the little details in here that really made it fun for me, particularly the revelation that Bruce Wayne participated in theater in high school and college, and the amusingly long list of all the things his “theme villains” have been obsessed with. I really wish we could see a story featuring the wheatcakey villainy of the Griddler…

Power Girl #9

After chasing down the person she thinks is trying to blackmail her (not only is it apparently not him, but she also ends up dropping her bathtowel in front of one of her neighbors), Power Girl heads to work and the bank. Unfortunately, Satanna, the Ultra-Humanite’s ex-girlfriend, is attacking PeeGee’s bank with her highly-destructive genetically-engineered animal army. The animals aren’t too much trouble, but Satanna shows up with a couple of specialized weapons — an oversized sonic hammer that’s actually able to knock the stuffing out of Karen, and a nasty chunk of nanotech that can do a heck of a lot worse…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Things get pretty serious towards the end, but still, this is the best mainstream-superhero humor comic that DC is producing. And again, the fun is in the little details, whether that includes the usual shenanigans of Power Girl’s horrible, horrible cat, Dr. Mid-Nite’s pet owl watching a TV show about mice, PeeGee throwing a subway pervert off the train, or all the outstanding facial expressions and body language. As always, the writing by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti is great, and Amanda Conner’s artwork is amazingly fun and appealing and charismatic.

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Failed Champions

Champions Online

You may remember I gave the “Champions Online” MMORPG a kinda-sorta-review back in December. I couldn’t really give it a proper review then, because my old computer wouldn’t have been able to run it. However, I did pick up a more advanced computer since Christmas, and I decided to give Cryptic’s newest superhero game a shot.

So what’s the gimmick? As we’ve said before, it’s an MMO, like World of Warcraft or Everquest, but instead of a fantasy hero, you play a superhero. It’s based on the old Champions pen-and-paper roleplaying game, so some of the people you can meet include big-time Champions superheroes like Defender, Ironclad, and Sapphire, as well as villains like Grond, Menton, Foxbat, and Dr. Destroyer. You travel all over the world — Millennium City, Canada, the American Southwest, even the moon and an underwater city.

The game was produced by Cryptic Studios — the same people who developed “City of Heroes,” the current big-dawg on the superhero MMO scene. They’ve tried to design “Champions Online” as a combination of a traditional MMORPG and a fast-and-furious action game. You can’t just target an enemy and start button-mashing to get your powers to take him out — you’ve got to be prepared to block attacks or you’ll be kissing pavement.

Verdict: Thumbs down. But I’m gonna work my way around to explainin’ this to ya.

First, there were a lot of things I liked.

The character creation system is great. I’ve played “City of Heroes” for years, and I’m well-used to having a wide variety of costume options to choose from, so I can create anything from a massive, musclebound alien monster to a high-tech battlesuit to a tiny pixie-winged elf to a trenchcoated private eye and everything in between. And the character creation system in “Champions Online” completely blows the one in “City of Heroes” away. Yes, they have a lot of similar costume pieces — capes, spandex, suits, battle armor, and all that — but Champions has two unique elements that put them over the top.

First, while CoH will let you do a little alteration of your body type — height, shoulders, chest, waist, hips, and leg length — Champions has options for changing almost everything. At one point, I was working on a new character that was a dinosauroid alien, and I wanted to make sure he’d look freaky. So I made him as skinny as I could, shrank his leg length to the minimum, stretched his arms as far as I could, and enlarged his hands and feet, to make sure his claws would be scary looking. Another was going to be a part-time bodybuilder — I increased her muscle definition, broadened her shoulders, narrowed her hips, and made her arms and legs thicker.

And second, Champions lets you change the way your character stands. That doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it is a big thing. You can make your strong-jawed hero stand heroically. You can make your sword-slinging sex-kitten pop star stand differently than your magic-wielding under-confident librarian. You can make your werewolf character stand hunched-over, and he’ll run on all fours. I’ve been dreaming of something like that for CoH for years, and nothing has come of it.

What else works well? When you level up and select new powers, you can test them out first, and if you don’t like them, you can pick different powers. And you’re not stuck with a single set of powers. You can start out with fire blast powers, level up, add some ice blast powers, level up some more, pick out some gadgeteer powers, et cetera.

And you can take travel powers as soon as you get finished with the game’s tutorial. There’s quite a variety of travel powers, too — from traditional ones like flight, superspeed, and super-leaping to more unusual ones like tunneling, high-tech flying disks, swinglines, ice surfing, and flying around on chunks of concrete. And I really loved the animation of the super-leaping power — super-leaping in CoH is effortless, flawless, and graceful, and I love it. Super-leaping in Champions is sprawling, flailing, and looks like you jumped so hard, you’re about to lose control any second. Each leap is so powerful, you crack the ground when you land. And I love it even more.

So far, it sounds like I loved it, doesn’t it?

Here’s what I didn’t like.

For all those character creation options, you only get eight character slots. Total. You can purchase four more, but that’s it. It’s nuts to give people that many costume options, make it insanely fun to build and outfit new characters, offer so many different kinds of superpowers, and then put such an extreme limit on how many characters you can create. It’s cruel, frustrating, and just generally no fun.

And the tutorial goes on forever. In CoH, you can finish the tutorial in 10-15 minutes, maybe even five minutes, if you know what you’re doing. In Champions, it can easily take over an hour. Sure, in that hour, you’ll go from Level 1 to Level 5. But it’s still just the tutorial. There’s no reason for a tutorial to take that long to complete.

And when you finish the tutorial, you don’t start out in futuristic, awesome Millennium City. You get sent to either the desert to fight irradiated mutants, or the arctic to fight ice demons and zombies. And I didn’t want to get stuck in the boondocks. I wanted to hang out in that gorgeous city with the huge holograms everywhere. I figure I was going to be stuck out in the wilderness until Level 15, and that’s a really long time to be forced to hang out in a boring setting with no cool scenery.

And then there was gameplay. If you’re not used to console gaming, you may have some trouble with gameplay. I never once managed to block an attack successfully — I just wasn’t used to hitting that one extra key to execute my block, so I got smacked around a lot. Luckily, you heal fast, even from very low health — unless you get stuck fighting a boss. And you really can’t avoid the bosses — you often need to fight them to complete your missions, and the only way you can beat a boss is if he’s two levels below you or you’re very lucky.

The missions and quests are a big problem — specifically, they’re almost all hunt missions. Go hunt ice demons. Go hunt zombies. Go rescue people who are guarded by mutants. Go hunt one of the really tough bosses who can kill you with one shot. Hunt missions are boring. Insanely, fantastically boring. And apparently, this isn’t just a problem on the low levels, but all the way to the level cap. Hunt missions, hunt missions, hunt missions.

In the end, the fun is vastly outmatched by the no-fun. And while I’ll miss getting to leap all over the place with my awesome-looking superheroes, I won’t miss watching them get beat down like a punk every time they try to fight a bad guy.

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Flash Lightning

Blackest Night: The Flash #3

We got a lot of stuff happening in this one. Barry Allen has been chosen as a temporary member of the Blue Lantern Corps, and he’s busy fighting off the Black Lanterns, particularly Eobard Thawne, better known as Professor Zoom. But Zoom is a bit of a special case — he’s currently dead, but at some point in the future, he’ll be brought back to life. In fact, the revived Zoom was recently imprisoned in Iron Heights Prison by the Flash — so there are two Professor Zooms right now — one alive and in prison, and one dead and a zombie. Meanwhile, Wally West is trying to save Bart Allen — Kid Flash was forcibly inducted into the Black Lanterns by Nekron, and the longer he wears the black ring, the closer he gets to dying for real. Can the Flash save Kid Flash, or is it already too late?

Meanwhile, Captain Cold and the Rogues have invaded Iron Heights on the trail of the Black Lantern Rogues. Unfortunately, it’s a bit hard for a bunch of supervillains to kill off the unkillable zombies — until all the zombies get entranced by something inside Professor Zoom’s cell. And while they’re all gawking at Zoom and the glowing symbol for DC’s upcoming “Brightest Day” series that’s appeared over him, Captain Cold manages to flash-freeze everything in the prison. But there’s still one loose end — Owen Mercer, the son of the original Captain Boomerang, had captured his father’s zombie and was sacrificing low-rent supervillains to him in the belief that he’d be able to come back to life if he ate enough people. How are the Rogues going to deal with something like that?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I gotta admit, I kinda prefer Barry wearing his blue costume — it makes it a lot easier to tell the difference between him and Wally, whose outfits are almost identical. Not overjoyed with the resolution of the Captain Boomerang situation, but I was intrigued by the little clue about “Brightest Day”…

Joe the Barbarian #2

Joe is a kid with Type-1 diabetes who is in big trouble — he’s going into diabetic shock and hallucinating. He has to get to the kitchen on the other end of his very large house, and his journey isn’t made a bit easier by his hallucinations — or are they hallucinations at all? We start out with Joe meeting up with his action figures, who see him as a prophesied savior. Jean-Luc Picard gives him his phaser. Batman and Snake Eyes salute him. Joe makes his way across the bizarrely transformed landscape of his attic bedroom, strewn with giant Legos and joysticks, with evil soldiers killing Care Bears and Buzz Lightyears. He saves his pet rat, now turned into a mighty rat-warrior named Chakk. He gets orders from a bolt of lightning that resolves itself into the godlike Lord Arc. But can the blessings of Lord Arc and the assistance of Chakk help Joe when Sir Ulrik the Unspeakable attacks with his Deathcoats and King Draka’s buccaneers?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Grant Morrison’s story is beautifully head-trippy — I really don’t care if it’s all real or not, ’cause the hallucinations are just that cool. And Sean Murphy’s artwork is just glorious, switching from Joe’s mundane house to the apocalyptic wasteland of his fantasy world. This one is vast fun — check it out.

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Friday Night Fights: Plastic Punishment!

Well, it’s the end of another week, and that means it’s time to get the weekend started the same way our ancestors have been doing for generations — with a little of the ol’ ultraviolence and… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s fight comes all the way from November 1948’s Plastic Man #14 and the story “A Hard Guy Called Concrete” by the great Jack Cole with Alex Kotzky on inks. This is not an issue I own, but I was able to read the entire story over on the Cole’s Comics blog — mad kudos to Paul Tumey for keeping Cole’s amazing artwork out there in the public eye.

Anyway, tonight’s painfest is all about Eel O’Brien vs. a concrete-skinned mafia boss called Concrete Cargill:






And a short note from SpaceBooger, the guy in charge of every week’s Friday Night Fights — he wants more people to vote for their choices for the best fights of the week. He even made a graphic to help remind you:


So go vote for your favorite fights, and have a wonderful weekend!

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Dark vs. Light

Green Lantern #51

Hal Jordan has allowed himself to be possessed by Parallax again, to give everyone a chance to take out the Black Lantern version of the Spectre. Parallax dives down into the Spectre’s giant body to track down the real Spectre hidden within and imprisoned by the real Black Lantern ring. He severs the ring’s connection to the Spectre, freeing the Spirit of God’s Vengeance, but Parallax isn’t ready to give up Hal’s body yet, and he wants to try to kill the Spectre once and for all. Atrocitus briefly inducts the Spectre into the Red Lantern Corps before the Spectre and Carol Ferris break Hal free of Parallax. So in a straight up battle between the Spirit of God’s Vengeance and Nekron, the undead god behind the entire Blackest Night, the contest has to go to the dude in the green cape who works for God, right? Right?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Plenty of fun stuff here, great battles, all the stuff we’ve been accustomed to in the main “Blackest Night” books — and best of all is Doug Mahnke’s incredible, beautiful, disgusting artwork. From Parallax’s tour around the zombie Spectre’s rotting innards to Lex Luthor and Larfleez battling over the Orange Lantern to Parallax tearing the Spectre’s face off to Black Hand’s entirely unwholesome expression of pure bliss, this is a work of absolute magnificance.

Tiny Titans #25

And on the other end of the spectrum, we have the awesomely happy “Tiny Titans.” DC’s busiest writer, Geoff Johns, shares writing duties on this one and even makes a guest appearance inside. It’s the first appearance of Conner Kent as Superboy in the TinyTitansverse, as well as Match, Conner’s stinky bizarro-clone. I was also fairly gleeful to see another new addition to the cast — Stargirl from the various JSA comics.

Maybe this means we’ll start seeing some of the other JSA kids hanging around the treehouse, too.

Anyway, Speedy trades in a bunch of old junk at the pawn shop for a wad of bubble gum, and when Starfire and Stargirl pick up a bunch of multi-colored rings to share with their friends, they all get a big surprise:

The whole spectrum of power ring corps, all rendered in Tiny Titans awesomeness. I kinda saw that coming, but I also kinda didn’t see it coming, and that makes the whole thing even cooler.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fun, fun, fun stuff. It’s great for kids, and it’s great for grownups, too. If you’re not picking this one up, you should be.

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Tripping the Light Fantastic

Daytripper #3

Seven years have passed since the events from the last issue, and Brás de Oliva Domingos’ relationship with Olinda has irretrievably soured. He goes through a few weeks of miserable loneliness, his friend Jorge and his father both trying to give him pep talks, before he finally runs into a girl he feels an instant attraction for while at the grocery. He starts to go on with his life, then decides he must at least try to meet her. And then something unexpected happens.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon are turning out a fascinating series. The artwork is outstanding, the writing is fantastic, and the mystery behind the entire series is getting more and more interesting with every issue.

Secret Six #18

The Secret Six and the Suicide Squad are under attack at Belle Reve Prison by a squadron of Black Lantern zombies consisting of dead prisoners and dead Suicide Squad members. They all run for the Six’s headquarters, which Amanda Waller has put the torch to. Of course, the zombies follow, and another big fight erupts. Knowing they need something to even the odds, Waller has Nightshade teleport her back to Belle Reve to pick up a remote-controlled Manhunter robot. But can even it turn the tide?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great action and great characterization, even among all the zombie-fighting. And there’s a genuine shocker ending you’ll have to see to disbelieve.

The Unwritten #10

Tom Taylor, Lizzie Hexam, and Richard Savoy have escaped from prison — and possibly landed somewhere much worse — Nazi Germany. On the bright side, it’s some sort of hologram of Nazi Germany — no one can see them or touch them. Nevertheless, something has clearly gone bad wrong somewhere, and everyone is hopelessly lost. Back in the real world, Governor Chadron has taken on his new role as the vampire Count Ambrosio and is willing to do anything to get his claws on Tommy again. Back in the Germany hologram, Lizzie tries to contact her patrons, and Tom and Savoy meet Joseph Goebbels, the Nazis’ head propagandist — and he can see Tom and Savoy just fine. And if he can see them, is there anything else he can do to them?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A big crazy scene-shift, so there’s some story derailment, since we don’t yet know what the Germany hallucination is about. But the ongoing mystery is getting more interesting, and Tom’s complete inexperience with this stuff means he’s in severe danger.

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Geek Girls Triumphant

Well, the crazy wild news on the general geekery front is all about, believe it or not, Barbie. Mattel had an online vote recently to determine what Barbie’s newest “career” would be — and the vote went pretty overwhelmingly for “computer engineer.” They unveiled the new doll yesterday:

I’ve heard a few positive and negative reviews so far. First, a lot of people are jazzed because it’s a nice little shot of respect for a career that doesn’t often get a lot of respect. It’s also seen as something that could encourage more girls to pursue computer careers.

What are the complaints? I’ve read some folks who feel there should be a bit more nod to computer geekery — one person I read suggested that the new Barbie’s clothing choices should come from someplace like ThinkGeek. It’s not a bad complaint, but I’d just recently read about a study that found that women who were exposed to the more geek-oriented stereotypes about computer sciences were much less interested in computer careers than those who weren’t. So maybe a less-geeky Barbie would actually be more encouraging than an especially geeky one…

Another complaint had to do with that laptop. Glittery pink? Really? I don’t know anyone who owns a pink laptop, or who would want to own a pink laptop. It’s one of those dumb marketing things you see from time to time — “Oh, girls like pink stuff, right? Let’s sell a pink laptop and the little ladies will buy ’em!” That kind of thinking gets companies selling pink power tools, pink handguns, pink musical instruments. And most people, male or female, don’t want that stuff. They look freakin’ ridiculous, and who wants to look that goofy?

And the other complaint I heard was about the glasses. Part of it is just: Why buy into the “nerds wear glasses” stereotype? There are plenty of computer folks out there who don’t wear glasses, or who wear contact lenses. On the other hand, it’s been a while since anyone really believed the “guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses” bulldada, so it’s not exactly a bad thing either.

So what do you think? Good news for geek girls, or bad news for everyone?

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