Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Weekly Comics - January 28th, 2009

Avengers The Initiative #21 (Not wild to see Clor back, and Ramos's art is a weird fit, but... Gage is doing cool stuff with B- and C-listers, including the team that makes a surprise last-page appearance, and fitting together puzzle pieces to make Dark Reign make more sense overall)

Captain America #46 (The new adversary isn't that compelling, but the action/espionage vibe of the book remains strong, even in the weaker issues)

Incredible Hercules #125 (Alternate world stuff is always fun, Incredible Hercules is always fun, Salva Espin is a pretty damn good artist and this was another great issue of one of Marvel's best books)

Nova #21 (Solicits and covers revealed the big surprise, but it's still an interesting story... and it's especially interesting that Richard Rider *does* seem to be a bit erratic, and he might not be the hero of his own story at the moment)

Presidents of the United States TP (I usually don't mention trades in these things, but I got this and read it and it's flat-out cool. Neat little historical tidbits about the Presidents alongside portraits by Templesmith, it's bite-sized history and pretty art all together)

The Umbrella Academy #3 (Spectacularly cool and weird, beautifully drawn, I love this book)

Usagi Yojimbo #117 (Starting a new story, with new allies, a new villain, some old friends and a new magical macguffin. I've enjoyed the one-offs, but a new ongoing seems like just the thing right now.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

It's Still Weird...

I'm still trying to get used to seeing the President speak and not cringing. Even more, I'm still trying to get used to feeling not embarrassed or terrified, but inspired and hopeful.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Weekly Comics - January 21, 2009

Guardians of the Galaxy #9 (Great use of Jack Flag, good to see Star-Lord again, and I love the last page capper.)

Mighty Avengers #21 (Slott has some really good ideas, like Jarvis as heart of the Avengers, and I like the unusual makeup of the team (except Hulk - does that trick ever work?), but I hate that Hank Pym is on a recursive redemption arc because of one badly-written story that should have been retconned out long ago, I'm bored stiff by the choice of villain and I think Khoi Pham's art is severely uneven. Sadly, my mixed reaction *still* means this was my favorite Avengers title in years, save the not-really Avengers Initiative.)

Mysterius the Unfathomable #1 (Lots of fun, beautifully illustrated, kind of like Doctor Who if he were a magician instead of a Time Lord)

Street Fighter Legends Chun Li #1 (Surprisingly fun, great car chase sequence, nice to see a Street Fighter comic that isn't another rehash of the origins of Ken, Ryu, Sagat and Bison)

Thunderbolts #128 (Fantastic issue, nice use of Obama, *great* fun seeing Norman Osborn as scheming, capable villain and I love the new Thunderbolts team - maybe better than the latter half of Ellis's run.)

Tiny Titans #12 (Amusing as always, and Darkseid the lunch lady/temporary principal was worth the price of admission all by itself)

Uncanny X-Men Annual #2 (Well, I don't really think Fraction captured early Emma Frost, I don't particularly like the Namor/Frost relationship, I don't like the retconning, I don't like her being in the Dark Reign cabal and I wasn't wild about the art. Other than that, not too bad. Which is to say: Blech. Hope we won't be getting more of this kind of thing now that Frost has been brought into the Marvel Universe more, but I'm afraid we will)

X-Men Legacy #220 (Really enjoyed this, actually. I'm a fan of Rogue, but she hasn't been used well in the last, uh, 15 years or so, and this was a step in the right direction. Also like the Xavier/Gambit interaction, and while I'm not thrilled to see the villain who showed up at the end, I like Carey's take on her/it thus far.)

Is TV Dying?

Inspired by Heather Massey's "Are Comic Books Dying?" post:

I don't know if you guys have noticed, but it seems to me like there are a whole lot of ways to watch television these days. You can buy it on your XBox, on iTunes, on-demand through your cable box, you can watch a lot of it (legally) for free on sites like Hulu or almost all of it (illegally) via Bit Torrent. And lots of folks are skipping past commercials using DVR, and lots of folks are not even watching episodes anymore, they're just "waiting for the DVDs."

These people are killing the industry, right? "Waiting for the DVDs" just tells the people making TV programs that you don't care about their shows, and if your favorite shows get canceled, it's all your fault. Also, Best Buy, that chain of specialty stores that sells DVDs and TVs, is almost certain to go out of business because their product mix is changing, and they're probably too dumb to adjust.

Ridiculous, right? Is there anyone out there who really believes that television (the medium, not the current industry as it stands) is going to go away? Does anyone really believe that the network/cable structure, despite undergoing huge upheavals in advertising streams, programming and other long-held business models, are going to vanish or go into bankruptcy in the next five years or so?

Then why is everyone so willing to believe it about comics? I've been a comics reader for 25 years, I've worked in comics retail for about 9 (1 in college, 8 more recently) and for as long as I've been keeping up with comics culture on the Internet, there have been people loudly predicting the death of: A) the direct market B) independent comics and C) the comics medium as a whole. That, btw, was about 15 years ago. The direct market is still here. The comics medium is sure as hell here. The independent comics? Weakened, but still here. Look at the graphic novel side of the independent comics scene and they're flourishing, especially compared to about 10 years ago.

There are many challenges. The increasingly visible $4 price point is a huge looming problem, yes. The difficulty in selling independent comics that aren't graphic novels (I refuse to call them "pamphlets" or "floppies" because unlike so many, I don't have an active disdain for that format) is a big problem as well. And what the future holds as far as digital comics is a big question mark as well.

But any halfway decent shop is already doing a fair amount of business in graphic novels, original and collected both. Any intelligent shop-owner is thinking every day about digital format, price increases and the diversity of the product and how their store can deal with the changes. This notion that the specialty market, or worse, the entire medium, is some kind of outmoded dinosaur ignores two important things:

1. Comic Book Store owners aren't, as a rule, entirely dim. Some may be, but anyone who has been able to keep their store open and profitable has probably already survived the harsher culling of the market in the '90s, or is well aware of the pitfalls of retailing at the very least, since they all probably existed when they opened their store.

2. Comic books, and the direct market, have been around for quite some time now, and every year, people are loudly predicting its death. Every year, they're wrong.

There seems to be an industry-wide inferiority complex combined with some strange sort of self-directed schadenfreude wherein everyone must constantly expect disaster. Price increases have happened before. Webcomics have been around for quite some time. Graphic novels have been around even longer. Digital comics, I'll grant you, are a newer wrinkle, but as has been pointed out (and ignored) ad infinitum, there is a big difference in mediums between comic books and music, where you can make a strong argument that digital distribution quickly and radically changed how the medium reached its customers, to the arguable detriment of the industry.

Jesus. How the fuck did I become the optimist in this particular room?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What The Inauguration Means To Me

Talking Points Memo has asked folks to email them their thoughts on the inauguration and what it means to them. But rather than do that, I figured, "Hey, I have a blog! Why don't I write stuff there?"

I like to think myself a cynic, but compared to some of my friends (Hi, Nate!) I'm a starry-eyed optimist. And the truth is, Barack Obama really gets to that optimistic side of me. I teared up watching U2 singing at an over-produced concert in Washington, D.C., being broadcast on HBO.

And here's the thing: It's not what the inauguration means to me, really. It's what I think it means for my kids. For six years, ever since we knew Katy was coming, I've been watching as the world got worse and worse. As the Bush Administration made America less and less a country I wanted to be a part of, much less bequeath to my child in the future. It seemed like the American dream of leaving a country where my child could do better than I had was not going to be possible. Worse, it seemed like even a modified, scaled-down version of the dream, leaving America as good as it was when I was growing up, wasn't going to be possible.

Sunday night, as Katy was watching part of the pre-Inaugural celebration with me, and Martin Luther King III came out, she told me about Martin Luther King Jr., who they had been learning about in school. I got the five-year-old version of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. And Katy gets it, better than I did at her age... they described it in kid terms, but she knows that he "fought with words, not fists" and she knows that Rosa Parks "got arrested because she wouldn't give up her seat to a white man," but as a five-year-old, the significance of these things doesn't quite sink in. But perhaps more importantly, when we talked about judging people based on who they are, not the color of their skin? She honestly had trouble comprehending what I was talking about. My kid's pretty smart, but this whole notion of judging someone based on their skin color? She doesn't get it. Racism is a completely foreign concept to her.

Now I know part of that is a childish innocence, but I also know that because of the powerful message that Barack Obama's inauguration sends out, that more and more kids are going to see that the racists are the minority. They're the crazy ones.

And that's what Barack Obama's inauguration means to me. When I was in the minority who didn't want George W. Bush as President in 2000, and even worse, in 2004, I started to feel like my country had gone completely insane. Suddenly the majority were the crazy ones. (In the spirit of unity that Obama is trying to encourage, I apologize for any offense this gives my Republican readers (Hi, Chris!), but in the spirit of honesty, voting for Bush in 2004, especially in hindsight, has got to be categorized at the least as foolish act, right?) But now, though there are plenty of crazies out there trying to recruit for their white supremacist movements, trying to enforce their religious beliefs on the whole world or just trying to make a buck by playing to our own worst natures, the majority is on the side of hope. The large majority has a favorable opinion of our new President, most have realistic expectations about what he can accomplish but also hope that he can accomplish unrealistic goals.

And for every annoyance, both minor (emailer tech issues) and major (Diamond deciding to try and strangle the indie comics market), that has occurred in the last few days, I can't help but find a smile on my face. Because for the first time in eight years, it feels like sanity, intelligence and hope has won out over insanity, ignorance and self-interest.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Does anyone else feel like throwing a *huuuuge* goddamn party on Tuesday? Like fireworks and music and people drunkenly shouting "I love you, man!" at everyone in sight?

Is it just me?

Seriously, inauguration fever and optimism is so prevalent in me right now that there's only a tiny amount of bitter hatred wishing 24-7 that Dick Cheney will keel over dead, and only a tiny bit of joyous spite in remembering that Bush is gone, gone, gone.

Edit: Nope. Not just me.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Late Breaking Appreciation

Everyone else is probably over the plane in the Hudson River story at this point, but I've started reading more about it, and...

Wow. It was a near-miss. This could so easily have been a tragedy, killing people on the plane and on the ground, causing all kinds of havoc and destruction. And the reason it didn't is mostly down to one man, the pilot, Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, who made the decision to put down in the Hudson and got everybody rescued.

Every day, every hour, I read stories about people making bad decisions. It's rare to read about someone who made the exact right one, and in so doing saved countless lives.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blogroll Addition: Robot Viking

So I've added another new feed to the Blogroll: Robot Viking

Why? Well, it's from one of the contributors to io9, which is an awesome sci-fi (or science-fiction, if you're some kind of high-strung wanker who gets bent out of shape by the abbreviation sci-fi) website that not only features the latest home of Graeme McMillan (one of the best writers on the Internet) but some great commentary, snark, funny and quirky weird from a pretty solid staff. The gaming columns were always few and far between, but I always enjoyed them, and now Ed Grabianowski (yeah, I copied and pasted that last name) has set up his own blog devoted entirely to pen-and-paper role-playing, miniatures and other games. Which is not only half my business, it's also a good chunk of how I spend my hobby time.

Also, Robot Viking is an awesome name. Check it out!

Shrieking, Mocking Triumphant Laughter

Imagine Bill Hicks at his most manic, gleeful, "fuck you" laughter.

Some of you may recall me working myself into a bit of a froth over Bush's veto of the expansion of SCHIP, the child healthcare plan.

As annoying as that was, it also means I take special glee in this, from CNN:

House passes expansion of children's health program

See, Bush is on his way out, so he can't wave his magic veto wand at the bill again. Hell, he's so impotent at this point, he can't even fill up a press conference.

No, the bill that he (and other Republicans, including John McCain) shot down, the bill that provides expanded health care for American children? It's headed to President Obama's desk.


I hope it's the first in a long line of "Fuck Yous" that the Democrats have planned for Bush and his administration. Certainly the "Tomnibus" bill was a similar thing of beauty, as Harry Reid shows signs of a spine and cleverness that I was beginning to think the Democrats lacked, even when they're the majority party.

Weekly Comics - January 14th, 2009

BPRD Black Goddess #1 (Kicking off the next story arc, with some great Lobster Johnson flashbacks, more build-up of the big bad and a quieter, investigative issue of the book. With the usual stunning artwork)

Fables #80 (It's getting darker again, and I do enjoy reading it, but I have to admit, the end with the Adversary still feels like the end of the series to me)

GI Joe #1 (A strong opener, with some particularly nice work redefining Scarlett and Duke, a nifty update of Dial-Tone, a fantastic looking new version of The Pit and Cobra not as known entity but spooky bad guy being built up in the background. IDW's relaunch strategy is paying off so far for this longtime diehard GI Joe fan)

Walking Dead #57 (Missed this one last week, but it's another harrowing, undeniably compelling issue of one of the darkest comics I read)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Left 4 Dead: Lessons Learned

I've been wanting to break out the Left 4 Dead videogame I got for Christmas, but haven't been sure I wanted to play single-player. So I've been waiting for a couple of friends on XBox Live to start playing so I could join them in a game. I've previously played the game demo, once single-player and once multi-player, and found it to be a lot of fun.

A little background: I don't do first-person shooters. Not because I don't want to, but because playing most of them for as little as 10 minutes makes me extremely physically ill. For some miraculous reason, however, the zombie shooter that I desperately wanted to play, Left 4 Dead, is something I can play without my stomach rebelling. But I still lack the ingrained first person shooter awareness/tactics skillset that most gamers have honed to a fine edge.

Tonight, as I was about to watch an episode of Burn Notice Season One and then head to bed to do some reading, I saw that Marc Bernardin was online, and his game was listed as "Joinable." So I figured, what the hell and joined in, to find that Marc (a fine writer whose comic books included Highwaymen, a personal favorite of mine) was playing with John Rogers (a fine writer whose Blue Beetle comic was also quite good, and who has a terrific blog as well). I'd be intimidated trying to hold a conversation with these two guys, but killing zombies beside them? That I figured I could handle.

Except that every time the scores posted, I was the lowest man on the totem pole. By a lot. Even below the NPC player run by the computer. I know for a fact that I shot Marc twice with an automatic weapon when trying to kill zombies. I know that when I was trying to apply a medpack to a badly-wounded John, I couldn't figure it out, and wound up half-starting and half-starting healing on myself three times instead of just giving up, shooting and preventing him from taking any further damage. I know that during the grand rescue at the end, I couldn't find the airlift, and I wound up dying alongside the NPC. Which, honestly, was probably what I deserved.

So I played a little solo game tonight, to get more used to the controls, and I'll probably keep at that for a little while. Left 4 Dead is a really fun game, with a great creepy zombie vibe mixed in with a healthy appreciation for automatic weapons fire and classic FPS carnage. Watching the zombies swarm on a pipe bomb was a treat, learning to patiently take headshots was a lot of fun and there are all kinds of scary/cool moments, and I've only played two sections of one scenario and three sections of another one.

I'll definitely be playing more, and definitely hope to play multiplayer (which the game seems particularly geared for) after I've learned to be slightly less awful at it. Marc, if you're reading this, sorry I shot you repeatedly with an automatic weapon. But there were zombies all around us and I panicked.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

24: It's Back And...

I'm bored. I gave up on 24 before the end of last season. At least, I think I did, as I have only vague memories of it, but I may have watched through to the end. Who knows... it was all so long ago, and had long past the point of stupid.

Understand, I loved 24 at the outset. I was willing to roll with the ridiculous amnesiac plot in the first season, I have a certain fondness for the Kim/Cougar second season bit (if only for the running gags, and for Johnny Drama as survivalist nut who's hard up for a date) and I thought the show picked up again in its fourth and/or fourth season (like I said, they all kind of blend together for me at this point). I didn't even mind the obvious right-wing wet dream that the show represented. Hell, West Wing was a liberal wet dream, so if I don't have any problem with that, I really shouldn't have a problem with 24.

But the new season takes an entertaining, dumb-but-fun action show with right-wing tendencies and turns it into a polemic about how useless the UN is, how right the U.S. is to unilaterally invade a country, how important torture is and how any senator questioning someone about using torture is clearly the bad guy in the room. It also saddles us with the same tropes of moles, overly convoluted sinister plots and various other credibility-straining plot and character developments, which would be OK if they were at least *new* credibility-straining plot and character developments. Worst of all, perhaps, is that after giving Tony Almeida (second best character on the show after Jack) a pointless bitch death in the prior season, they bring him back with a half-assed explanation and use him for either a dumb role (if he's what he appears to be in the first two episodes) or something we've seen plenty before (if in fact he's deep undercover).

I'd say more, but Alan Sepinwall pretty much nails it.

Life's too short, and there's too much good TV (Battlestar Galactica, Burn Notice, new 30 Rock/Office/Chuck) on the way in a few weeks to waste precious hours on this. I'll check back in if I hear it gets better, but I don't expect that to happen.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Blogroll Addition: Colleen Coover

Colleen Coover, super-talented artist of Small Favors, Banana Sundays, X-Men First Class shorts and tons more, has a blog. As an enormous fan of Coover's stuff, I am adding this blog to my blogroll.

Here is the kickass sketch of Batgirl Colleen did for my daughter, just one of the many reasons why I love her art.

Oh, incidentally, her husband Paul Tobin is a heck of a writer, too. He's doing some really fun stuff on Marvel Adventures and elsewhere right now.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

GoodReads: RASL

Rasl Volume 1: The Drift Rasl Volume 1: The Drift by Jeff Smith

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Jeff Smith returns to long-form comics after the success of Scholastic's Color Editions of Bone, with something quite different. It's a sci-fi noir tale, incorporating elements of Meso-American folklore, quantum physics and dimension travel and good old fashioned bad guys with guns. His protagonist is a hard-drinking art thief with a taste for the ladies, and the ability to travel dimensions to steal alternate world art.

With only three issues collected in this first collection, there's still a lot to be explored with RASL, and I suspect that we'll only know the true success/failure when we see the whole story completed. But Smith is clearly showing off his storytelling and art chops here, and if I were a betting man, I'd bet on this being another classic from one of the best cartoonists working in the medium.

The artwork is phenomenal. Smith's Bone was full of fantastic backdrops and characters, but RASL is set (more or less) in the real world, and a sleazy version of it, with back alleys, bars, etc. He's perfect at capturing this run-down world the hero has let himself fall into, and his character expressions and flawless action storytelling, displayed in Bone, are even more honed here.

The collection is oversized, which is great, because it really shows off the art. I continue to live in hope of a super-giant hardcover collection when it's all finished, at the enormous size that Smith printed his test run of the teaser comic in 2007, but if this is the best we get, it's still pretty good.

Fantastic stuff, and I'm completely enthralled and impressed so far.

View all my reviews.

GoodReads: Beyond! HC

Beyond! HC (Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars) Beyond! HC by Dwayne McDuffie

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of those forgotten gems of recent years, as Dwayne McDuffie takes a crew of B- and C-listers (including newcomers like Gravity and The Hood), drops them onto an alien planet in an updated spin on Secret Wars and serves up plenty of fun character interaction and a twisty, interesting plot.

I wasn't thrilled by what McDuffie did with one of the main characters, but he fixed it in his brief Fantastic Four run (which I'd also buy in hardcover, if Marvel did one), but I loved his use of the '90s Deathlok. I also liked his work on Al Kraven, which is to say I was able to read the book without constantly wishing that the character would be stabbed in the eyes. One up on his original creator, Ron Zimmerman, on that score.

In addition, this was one of my favorite projects by artist Scott Kolins, who had a great take on the science-gadgety Dr. Hank Pym, the Mike Norton-designed Gravity and Deathlok, among others.

View all my reviews.

Weekly Comics - January 7, 2008

Not a *ton* of comics this week, but a few good ones:

Hellboy The Wild Hunt #2 (Hellboy fights giants, Fegredo rocks the art, and there's a backup about the origin of Koschei the Deathless with Guy Davis art. Nice.)
Marvel Zombies 3 #4 (Solid ending, and though I'm hoping there won't be a Marvel Zombies 4, this was a pretty good read overall)
RASL Vol 1 TP (Love that it's oversized, wish it was as gigantic as that preview issue from San Diego. But so far, this is a great new book from Jeff Smith)
Secret Invasion War of Kings (I have to admit, this was a pretty cool use of the Inhumans, and a good way to make them a major player in the space wars that Abnett & Lanning have been writing since Conquest)
X-Men Noir #2 (The second issue was not as strong as the first, and it's leaning more into that "What If?" territory, but it's still a decent read)

XBox Thoughts: Ticket To Ride 1910

I still haven't cracked open my Left 4 Dead (because I know once I do it will consume me for hours), but I did download a couple things for the XBox in the last couple days.

I downloaded the Roy Orbison pack for Rock Band 2. Haven't played it yet, but figure I will either in the next couple of days or on my usual Saturday night online game with friends.

I also downloaded the 1910 expansion for the online Ticket To Ride game, which was 400 gamer points (about $5) and it was totally worth it. It adds on three new game modes, with a Globetrotter card (most routes connected) to replace or augment the Longest Route rule, and there's also a Big Cities variant where all the destinations connect through one of the "big" cities. These are minor tweaks, not unlike the Carcassonne King & Baron expansion, but like that expansion, they add a lot to the game without making the game play overly complex.

In short, definitely recommended.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

More GoodReads reviews: Avengers Assemble and more

Avengers Assemble, Vol. 1 Avengers Assemble, Vol. 1 by Kurt Busiek

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
There are some elements of cheesiness, and a '70s/'80s throwback style, that are occasionally stumbling blocks for the Busiek/Perez (and later Busiek/Davis and Busiek/other artists) new millennial run of Avengers.

However, as someone whose definitive Avengers was the Roger Stern/John Buscema era, who still thinks Mark Gruenwald wrote the definitive Captain America, who would hold up the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition as one of the best comics Marvel ever published? Well, that's me, and that means this stuff was pretty much up my alley. Certainly more than the all-new, all-different (and sadly, all-so-much-better-selling) New Avengers Marvel is currently peddling.

I've got my problems with this run, including the awful new characters of Triathlon and Silverclaw, the obsession with "fixing" Hank Pym and any use of Morgana Le Fay, who was interesting in the Arthurian myths but sucks as a supervillain (no matter what universe she's in). But it's also got gorgeous art, makes use of the classic Avengers while also trying to move things forward a bit (true, Busiek's version of New Warriors' Justice and Firestar is a bit grating to long-time fans, but at least he tried to move them up to the big leagues) and is generally solid slam-bang superhero action.

View all my reviews.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Jekyll Thoughts

Interesting how important a good ending can be, and how destructive a weak one can be.

Because earlier this week, I was delighted to discover that Jekyll, a BBC miniseries written by Steven Moffat, was on Netflix Play Instantly, and I started watching it on my XBox 360. I watched the first two episodes and was instantly impressed, and began loudly talking it up to everyone I knew.

Tonight I watched the last three episodes in rapid succession and, while there's still a lot to like, the desire to have a "twist" ending threw the more carefully considered explanations that had been doled out completely out the window. Were this a series, I probably wouldn't have minded, because they could probably write their way out of the problems raised by a couple of the big last-minute reveals. But as a miniseries, it's a thoroughly unsatisfying ending that mostly left me thinking "But now the whole thing doesn't make any sense!"

At any rate, still very watchable, and probably even worth watching, if you can escape the irritation that will come with the nonsensical shock ending, but... there are a *ton* of unanswered questions now, and it seems likely those answers are never forthcoming (since there apparently won't be a second series), and that's annoying.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

GoodReads Review: Warhammer Dark Heresy RPG

Dark Heresy RPG: Core Rulebook (Dark Heresy) Dark Heresy RPG: Core Rulebook by Owen Barnes

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a pretty spectacularly good game. The Warhammer 40K universe has always interested me, spending hundreds of dollars on miniatures I don't have the talent, time or patience to paint... less so. So a role-playing game was perfect for me, and having played it, I can say that the system is pretty clear, perfect for evoking the bordering-on-parody but still effective darkness of the dark future of the Warhammer universe.

The game uses "careers" which are essentially classes, and it's a little more rigid than I like in that respect, more akin to D&D 1.0 and 2.0 than the more current stuff, but it also really helps to establish the flavor of the world, and even a bare-bones, rules-only character is going to have some flavor built in as a result.

The book itself is gorgeous, full-color with terrific artwork and a pretty strong layout. It could have used a better index and a lot better organization, particularly in terms of cross-indexing rules with one another, and it takes a lot of page-flipping during the game and a *lot* of familiarity before it's as comfortable as a game rulebook should be, but it's beautiful to look at and generally well-written, if not terribly well-organized.

There's also a ton of good material about the world here, and it's a must-read for those who are interested in the world, even if you'd never play a single session of the game.

View all my reviews.

New Year's Resolution #4: Read More

I already read a lot, but it's mostly comics and graphic novels. And then, mostly new comics and graphic novels. I just counted, and I've got a stack of well over 50 (maybe closer to 75-100) graphic novels sitting on my bedside table/headboard bookshelf. Some of them have been there for two to three years, waiting to be read. With the flow of comp copies mercifully over, I'm not facing the Sisyphean task of reading while more keeps flowing in, so my goal this year, in addition to whatever other comics and graphic novel reading I've been doing, is to read one, preferably two, graphic novels off that stack each week.

In addition, I read only a few novels in 2008. Audacity of Hope, three of the George R.R. Martin Song of Ice & Fire novels, a few others. This year, my goal is to read at least one novel a month, preferably two. I've got a stack of about six sitting on my bedside table, ranging from Stephen Colbert's book to Obama's Dreams of My Father to Rucka's latest novel (Patriot Acts) to the second Harry Dresden book to the James Ellroy classic Black Dahlia. I'll definitely read the last available Martin book, Feast For Crows, in January. And then I'll try to tackle more.

I'd like to read some more non-fiction as well. There are three or four books from authors who have been on The Daily Show that I've put on my to-read list, but I haven't even bought them yet because I've got such a backlog.

I also started doing a little more on the site Goodreads beyond just signing up whenever a friend emailed me about it. I'm slowly entering the books I've read and hope to read, and once that's done I think I'll go, alphabetically and methodically, through the graphic novel collection and put that in. So there will probably be some graphic novel short reviews as I do that. What can I say, I'm an organizer by nature, and have just a touch of OCD in me.

Friday, January 02, 2009

2008: The Year in Review

It seems like, from looking around online, most people had either an apocalyptically bad 2008 or one that was extremely up and down. By contrast, 2008 was a pretty good year to me, with some extremely nerve-wracking developments in the last couple months. Most of which sorted themselves out before 2009 actually arrived, so hopefully that's not an indication of the year to come.

It was a pretty shitty year for deaths. We lost Gary Gygax, Rory Root and George Carlin, among others. There were also a couple deaths in the family, folks who I had met only once or twice and didn't know well, but I liked them, and they had kids, so that was a bit of sadness. On the upside, we also lost Jesse Helms. Next year, I would like a better shitheel to decent person death ratio, but experience has shown that such a thing never really works out.

Much of my year was given over to following the political race, first Obama/Clinton and then Obama/McCain. It was a frustrating series of months, but the end result was that we got the President I wanted for the first time in 8 years.

I also fell completely in love with XBox 360 in general and Rock Band in particular in 2008. I got both as Christmas presents in late 2007, and now I just can't imagine not having them. Rock Band 2 came out and improved on Rock Band, which I already thought was a pretty perfect game, and with several of my friends picking up Rock Band 2 and XBox 360s, suddenly I'm able to do a lot of gaming with friends without a lot of arranging of schedules and such. I'm also loving the ability to play electronic versions of some boardgames, like Carcassonne, Catan and Ticket to Ride, and I'm looking forward to diving into Left 4 Dead, which I got for Christmas this year. Oh, and the XBox Experience update that allows you to view Netflix on-demand is way cool as well.

I was pretty happy with summer movies this year. Back in April, I was anticipating 13 summer movies, and of those, four were great, two were decent, two were disappointing and five I avoided seeing, and that generally seems to have been the right decision. Speed Racer was great (I have no idea what movie the critics saw), The Dark Knight was fantastic (and I was a doubter on Batman Begins), Iron Man was the best comic book movie there has ever been and Wall*E was as great as Pixar always is. I found Hulk to be pretty watchable, if not great, and I even liked the first half of Wanted, when I finally saw it on DVD. Sure, Hellboy II was underwhelming, and Indiana Jones blew chunks, but I mostly expected that. I haven't seen Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, Get Smart, X-Files or The Happening, but except for the first two, I don't have any plans to see them, as I've heard generally awful things from friends who have.

Year two of Rogues Gallery went pretty well. We had our anniversary party in January, and that was a lot of fun. Around Christmas, we had a new image designed by Chad Thomas of Santa and our mascot, Maximillian Larch, which we loved, and it was a huge hit with our customers as well. We gave out about 500 magnets with the image over the course of the holiday shopping season, as well as buttons, and used it on our holiday gift certificates. We had several other big events this year as well. Free Comic Book Day was a lot of fun, with Scott Kolins in to do some signing and sketching. We had Matt Sturges in to sign on the release day of House of Mystery #1. And we ran two Comic Book Trivia events this year, one in April and one in October. Plans are to do the same thing next year, if interest merits it, as they're always a lot of fun.

We participated in Free RPG Day for the first time this year, and that was a little more low-key than Free Comic Book Day, but still a pretty good day and a good chance to show our gaming customers a little love. We also had a midnight release party for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, which was a huge success in our store, and became a favorite of many of us at the store as well. I started running a new 4th Edition D&D game, and I'm loving it so far.

Went to the San Diego Con this year, as always, and got to meet cartoonists Jason Horn and Dean Trippe, who crashed with me at the hotel for a couple nights. I was already a fan of Dean's work, and I became a fan of Jason's. I had a lot of fun at San Diego, but given the expense and hassle of arranging the whole thing, I'm giving serious thoughts to skipping it this year. Although if Don MacPherson does finally manage to make plans and go, I have to go, as that's a "solar eclipse" type thing that I'd hate to miss. So Don, keep me informed on travel plans.

Looking back over what I've blog-posted this year, it seems to me like I had a better 2008 than most, despite the economy tanking in the tail end of it. There were illnesses for me, Suzanne and the kids, there were definitely worrisome days and nights, but overall, everybody was healthy and happy, and remains so going into 2009.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

R.I.P. Donald Westlake

Man, it's not even fully 2009 yet, and already we've lost somebody?

Donald Westlake, AKA Richard Stark, died of a heart attack on New Year's Eve. I haven't read much of Westlake's output, but I've read most if not all of his work as Stark. The guy was 75, which is not a bad run, but still... a shame to lose him.

Best of 2008: Television

Favorite New Show: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (FOX)
Really, it's not even fair to have this category this year, what with the writer's strike and the supremely awful crop of new shows that premiered this year. Last year was disappointing as well, but it gave us Chuck, Burn Notice and Pushing Daisies. This year? The only other new shows that are even on my list are two cartoons, Spectacular Spider-Man and Batman Brave and the Bold. Both great in their category, but not really competing with Sarah Connor, which started off as a mildly forgetabble but entertaining hour of sci-fi/action TV and slowly developed a reasonably complex set of time-traveling protagonists and antagonists, each with their own agenda, all the while deepening the main characters, especially Sarah Connor herself, the surprisingly good Brian Austin Greene as Derek Reese and Summer Glau's female terminator Cameron.

Favorite Spy Action Show: Chuck (NBC)
OK, I might be cheating by putting this category in, but really... neither Burn Notice nor Chuck belong fully in comedy or drama. Burn Notice came on strong in its second season, and I definitely think that anyone enjoying one should be enjoying the other. But Chuck was such a huge jump-up from, again, mildly diverting entertainment to really engaging characters and the perfect mix of pop-culture references, spy action and goofy self-awareness. It might not hurt that the pop-culture timing of Chuck seems to be exactly keyed in to my '80s era, with heavy references to Die Hard, Back to the Future and other geek staples. Leverage, the new show from John Rogers and company, would probably fit in this category as well, but I haven't gotten around to watching it yet. The reviews I've read seem to indicate it'll be a distant third to Chuck and Burn Notice anyway, at least for now.

Best Comedy: The Office (NBC)
In my heart, I really want to give this to 30 Rock, but as far as being consistently funny, The Office wins. It also has managed to do the drama/comedy blend that shows like Cheers, Friends and others tried for and often missed, winding up maudlin and not funny as a result. The Michael/Holly relationship was hilarious, fun, uplifting and ultimately heart-breaking, and the Jim/Pam stuff is probably my favorite relationship ever in a comedy, including such gems as the Sam/Diane romance from Cheers and the Dave/Lisa relationship on Newsradio. OK, maybe Tobias and Lindsay Funke from Arrested Development were more fun, but that's a totally different kind of relationship. Which is not to say that 30 Rock hasn't been terrific in its second and third seasons. How I Met Your Mother on CBS has been more spotty, but it still has episodes of great humor, and really, it's hard to go wrong with a comedy ensemble that includes Alyson Hanigan, Jason Segel and especially Neil Patrick Harris. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia started out its season really strong, but it kind of fell apart midseason and never really regained the funny. There were funny moments, but after the first couple hilarious episodes, it was merely OK this season. Finally, it's weird to put it in the comedy category but it doesn't really belong in the drama, but Pushing Daisies was a really good show, heartwarming and funny and clever. Unfortunately, it's quirkiness also meant its inevitable doom, and I confess that being robbed of any resolution of the various relationships on the show, including whether or not Emerson Codd will ever find his daughter, has left me lukewarm on the whole thing. I still have three episodes left on my DVR to watch, and I haven't been pulled back yet because I know there's no resolution there.

Favorite Drama: Lost (ABC)
There was a fair amount of competition for me in this category. Not in terms of numbers, because I don't watch the overwhelming majority of drama on TV, which usually breaks down to cop shows, lawyer shows and doctor shows (and I've had my fill of all three), but in terms of quality. Battlestar Galactica is, to my mind, still stumbling to the finish line. For every brilliant episode they had, there were two or three that I found almost unwatchable. And I'm not entirely convinced by the over-arcing story they're telling. Unlike Lost, it's a lot easier to tell the creators are making up the big story as they go along. Lost, however, definitely *is* being made up as it goes along, but it's being told better, and so it doesn't feel quite as forced, even if it is at times more convoluted. And the moment-to-moment action and suspense on Lost is terrific, perhaps because the stakes are smaller than on Galactica. On Lost, the worst things are happening to a relatively small group of castaways. On Battlestar Galactica, the fate of the entire human (and Cylon) races are at stake. Weirdly, the events on Lost feel more important despite the smaller stakes, while Galactica, being viewed through a prism of just a few people, feels smaller, like it only impacts the dozen characters we see.

But... two other dramas ended this year. The Wire and The Shield. The Wire might be better than Lost, except that I watched all of it, seasons one through five, for the first time, and it just doesn't seem fair to stack five seasons of a show up against one season of any others. The Shield ended well, but had a bit of rough going in the early part of the final season. But both are must-watches, and have probably spoiled me for ever watching any more cop shows. I hear good things about Life, but honestly... after The Shield and The Wire, plus a few years of NYPD Blue and Law & Order, I can't imagine it will offer up anything so new and different as to add something new to the genre for me.

Favorite Cartoon: Spectacular Spider-Man (FOX)
This one was easy. I love the new Batman Brave and the Bold, it's fun and full of guest stars and looks great, but Spectacular Spider-Man is to Spider-Man what the Dini/Timm animated series was to Batman. It's absolutely definitive, and gets the character better than 90% of the folks who have ever written the comic. Which is fairly impressive. Like the Batman Animated series, it incorporates elements from various different visions to create a perfect fusion of what the character should be. It's taking way too long to get a season one DVD set, and I'm really anxious for a second season, although I have no idea when that's coming.

New Year's Resolution #2: Blog Update

Well, it's less a resolution and more of a housecleaning kind of thing. But here's the notable stuff:

1. No more monthly blog update postings. At least for now. I'll still update the top comics, graphic novels and TV sidebars, but posting about it was kind of silly.

2. I changed out my gigantic list of categorized links for a blogroll, which will be easier to maintain.

I had all these grand plans for doing a "comics day" and a "TV day" and a "Book day" and posting about whatever on certain days, but... not right now. I've just quit comic book reviewing for good, cold turkey, no more, for the first time in a loooong time, and I now have only one monthly deadline for writing. And that feels pretty good. So I'm not in any hurry to replace it with a new routine here.

Also on the resolution/accomplishment front:

1. Took down the Christmas lights today. Which is a notable improvement for how long it took me to take down last year's Christmas lights. Those I took down... uh, also today. So yeah.

2. Eating healthier - Today I've had takeout chinese, a hot dog, a helping of bread pudding, two Cokes, some chex mix made with bacon grease... and a cookie. So that one's blown already.

Weekly Comics - December 24th & January 5th

Week of January 2nd (if Diamond were delivering as scheduled - instead it's December 5th for me and much of Texas)
Avengers Initiative #20 (Curious to see the fallout from Secret Invasion for this book... weirdly, it's a book that benefits from crossovers rather than being muddled by them)
Captain America #45 (Brubaker's new story arc is not as grandiose (yet) as his previous one, but in every other respect, it's as good as Cap has been under his watch)
Guardians Of Galaxy #8 (Digging the new line-up, and this remains one of my favorite books at Marvel)
Incognito #1 (New crime/superhero noir from Brubaker and Phillips... cool)
Incredible Hercules #124 (The battle vs the amazons has been a pretty good story so far)
War Machine #1 (Only mild interest due to the '90s-style premise, but I like the character, I like the writer and I like the artist, so I have to give it a shot)

Week of December 24th
Gigantic #2 (Beautiful artwork, and an interesting story with giant robots and plenty of action)
Nova #20 (A really good issue with Nova talking with old friends, as the Nova Corps storyline continues to build)
Umbrella Academy Dallas #2 (Bizarre story, gorgeous artwork, fun to read and sure to read even better in trade)
Usagi Yojimbo #116 (A Gen solo story which is one of my favorite issues of an already-impressive year for Usagi)
Warhammer 40k Defenders Of Ultramar #1 (New Warhammer 40K focusing on Space Marines)
Warhammer Crown Of Destruction #3 (Kieron Gillen's Warhammer fantasy series featuring the Skaven continues)