I just finished reading the third volume of Jason Aaron’s Doctor Strange series and, so far, so good. Chris Bachalo’s art is a great fit for a Doctor Strange comic and he and Aaron made a good team while working on Wolverine and the X-Men a few years back.
But, what surprises me the most about this Doctor Strange comic is that we’re three volumes in and a fourth is on it’s way in October. While reading the first trade paperback, I assumed Aaron would be around for a least a second volume. After all, most series at least last for twelve issues to get that one-two-punch setup of two single volumes of trade paperback and, then, the later released “definitive” single edition.
Three volumes, though? With a fourth on the way? What’s with this extended storytelling? Who does Aaron think he is? Chris Claremont? (Chris Claremont is a comic book writer who wrote X-Men comics for seventeen years straight. You can get the joke now.)
Of course, I don’t really think of four volumes as an extended run but it’s not far off. Twelve issues seems to be the magic number for most series before they get the reboot and a new first issue. I’m sure that helps sales, as most people would be more willing to pick up a first issue rather than a thirty-second. But, I’ve begun to have setup fatigue.
See, with every first or second issue, we need a setup. The writers have to explain why this new series is different than the previous series, even if it’s just one Hulk book from the next. Yes, last year’s Uncanny X-Men was about our heroes on the run in Antarctica, so we needed to reboot the series so we could place our heroes on the run in London. It’s different. And we have to spend forty four pages explaining why it’s different.
With DC Comic’s Rebirth event, it hit me harder than ever before. Wonder Woman: The Lies was fine and entertaining, but I’ve read so many first volumes and origin stories of Wonder Woman that I just couldn’t care anymore. The same thing goes for the new Justice League comic. Instead of a new story, I have to read six more issues of introductory action and be reminded who these characters are again and why Batman chooses to fight crime dressed as bat.
Team book, like the X-Men and Justice League, are the worst for this because each incarnation of the team has to have a reason to exist and a new lineup of heroes. I can’t count how many X-Men comics I’ve read that are just characters walking down halls, welcoming back Iceman for whatever new direction they’re going with. But, solo heroes still get annoying, with constant first issues of Batgirl leaping from buildings, talking about how much she loves being a hero. All reminder, no momentum.
What happens, with this setup fatigue, is I stop caring and I don’t let myself get invested. It’s partly because these stories have little overlap and almost none of them carry over. Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men comes back to mind because that lasted for a while, filling up eight volumes. That’s one heck of a run in these days. But, as soon as the series was over, almost all the work that he was doing with Wolverine as a character was ignored. Series that run for less time are even worse investments. Iron Man is obsessed with rebuilding his company’s name in one series, two months later he couldn’t care less in the reboot. Why should I care for one setup when the other is one the way?
What we lose is a sense of purpose, that these stories matter. Villains no longer have plans, they simply attack because it can fill two issues with action. Subplots are largely ignored. Not to keep singing the praises of Wolverine and the X-Men, but over the course of that series, Jason Aaron was able to tell lots of small stories throughout. There was a time, such as with Chris Claremont’s X-Men run, where you could have Mastermind working in the background for a year and still not reveal is full plan to drive Jean Grey insane.
Maybe superhero comics aren’t going to be that type of story anymore. Brian K. Vaughan rarely writes comics that don’t last ten trade paperbacks. Fables, by Bill Willingham, lasted for twenty two volumes and spin-off titles. Sure, Scott Snyder wrote on the New 52’s Batman for the whole run, but he’s also been writing American Vampire for years.
Times have changed and I don’t mean to sound like I want “the good old days” back (I least hate thinking I sound old). I just want good stories. Comics are episodic with many having no end in sight. But, when we’re constantly starting over, that lack of ending is getting exhausting. It has to do with the fact many comics used to run hundreds of issues, so we just went along for the ride. Imagine going on a road trip for two days and how enjoyable it could be with no traffic and some great music. Now, imagine being on that road trip and the driver keeps stopping the car every hour, turns around and goes back twenty minutes and pick a new route. You have to repeat the music too. Also, I think he keeps slamming on the brakes for no reason. Dad’s are the worst.
I haven’t written about a DC Animated Movie in a while. I liked Batman: Assault on Arkham, Justice League Dark and the second half of Batman: The Killing Joke. But everything else has left little impression on me. I miss the days of adaptations that brought different styles to each film, like All Star Superman or Wonder Woman. The new continuity driven films are stuck with boring stories and uninspired voice casting.
Considering my disdain for the Suicide Squad’s take on Harley Quinn, I wasn’t surprised by my lack of interest in this new entry. But, when I looked up pictures of Batman and Harley Quinn, I found myself getting excited. It looks like the WB years of The Batman Animated Series! They got Kevin Conroy back as Batman and they brought Loren Lester out of mothballs to play Nightwing! Wow! And Bruce Timm is involved? I’m back in, baby!
The biggest mistake I made with that excitement was actually seeing the movie. I should have watched my dvds of the animated series or read a new Batman comic. Instead, I drove ninety minutes to the nearest theater showing the movie and saw what poison (ivy) can do to nostalgia.
Batman and Harley Quinn doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes, it’s trying to be call back to the great, genre-defining show of the 90s. Sometimes, it’s wants to be the Adam West Batman show with the old cartoon’s setting. Sometimes, it wants to be a comedy. Sometimes, it wants to be a lost episode of Justice League Unlimited. Most times, it’s just bad.
As a comedy, it falls so flat you’d have to think it’s intentionally not being funny. Barely any jokes land and the ones that do are stretched out too far. Melissa Rauch plays Harley Quinn almost as a parody of the Arleen Sorkin. It’s a DOA portrayal, living in the same space of the original character but not breathing the same air. I’d be willing to accept it’s not Rauch’s fault though, as the writing is lazy throughout the whole movie.
Really, Batman and Harley Quinn is a shadow the 90s show, taking the goodwill from the past twenty years and punishing us for it. It makes me wonder if Bruce Timm isn’t as talented as I thought he was. Maybe, he needed all those other writers and artist to keep him from raveling in his inherent tackiness.
We spend far too long in a dive bar with a bunch of extras, watching two twins sing “Don’t Pour Your Love” on stage, only for Harley to then do the same thing with “Hanging On the Telephone“. And, both songs are played in their entirety, because this movie is looking to waste as much time as possible.
The animation looks cheap throughout and closeups are worse. It really does look like a lazy episode of a cartoon from twenty years ago, if that was it’s intention, I don’t know what was. The ending is a dud, but, by then, what was I expecting? The whole affair can’t decided if it’s for adults or kids and is never fun for either. Considering that the 90s show did the whole thing better with “Harlequinade”, it’s hard to understand why anyone thought this movie needed to happen. There were no extra scripts lying around?
Look, if this is canon, I won’t accept it. I’m going to be unreasonable about this for the rest of my life. I’ve long ago said goodbye to the DC Animated Universe of old and I don’t need more of it in my life. Batman and Harley Quinn made sure of that by being the Superman: Braniac Attacks of it’s series. I won’t mourn again.
This week on the show, we talk about the man who makes teenagers cry and experience the “feels”, John Green!
Also, I hate ” the feels” as a phrase. If I was being harsh, and I am, it’s a lazy way to ignore real emotions that can make experiences deeper. Where the Wild Things Are didn’t give me “the feels”. It made me sad and melancholy and reminded me of making mistakes as a kid and thinking they’re the end of the world.
None of that ranting is about John Green, though! We talk all of his books, Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, Help! I Have Too Many Katherine’s and I Don’t Know What to Do With Them All!, and the rest. We have our own music master, Ben, on the show to help us through the books Nic and I haven’t read. It’s a good episode. And not just because it’s my birthday episode.
We also talk about how Ruth Ware’s new book can’t be as successful as the terrible Woman in Cabin 10. People had to get wise, right? Nic and Ben also review The Dark Tower, which I haven’t seen, but from all accounts sounds pretty embarrassing. And the trailers made it look like a bad 90s action flick, like The Last Action Hero. It should be easy, a dark western with some magic and maybe some horror. But the first book, The Gunslinger was underwhelming and I couldn’t finish the second one. I guess some ideas are too good for the world.
See you next week, podcats!
The core concept of a dinosaur theme park that goes haywire has been done twice now. Both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World have done that story. Jurassic Park saw the park never open, while Jurassic World showed us why that was probably a good thing. Both are fantastic, the first being my favorite movie of all the time.
The problem is that you can’t open the park again. After two failed attempts, no one would go to that park again. It would stretch the disbelief a little too far. The Lost World: Jurassic Park came up with a good reason to get people back on the island, the idea that companies would try to pillage the remaining dinosaurs for profit or that our human curosity would be too much to not study them. Jurassic Park III, well, it’s certainly a movie, isn’t it?
I think that third film showed the problem with having a remote location to keep the dinosaurs locked away. I could watch people trapped on a dinosaur island every day for the rest of my life and never get bored, but you start running out of reasons to get them there. How many helicopters/planes/ships can crash with a crew of interesting characters who have skills able to keep them alive from Velociraptors? Five? Eighteen? It’s a finite number, I’m sure.
So, I think, you have two options. One is to set up permit residence on the island. Come up with a reason people are living on that island, despite the dinosaurs. That’s hard, because something has to go wrong, otherwise we’re watching Dinotopia, which would be my jam as well, but that’s it’s own franchise. In Jurassic Park, people have to get eaten. It’s important. To me.
The second option, which I would have never thought I’d be down for, is to let the dinosaurs loose in the world. And that’s what Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom sounds like it’s setting up, even if the “world” is just mainland military bases and neighboring towns. But, from there, the skies the limit!
What I’ve been thinking is that, maybe, it’s time for the franchise to shake up the status quo. When Rise of the Planet of the Apes was releases, it presented the apes that gain intelligence as a localized occurrence in the here-and-now. In order for it to be conceivable that the planet could become theirs, there needed to be another force to lower the human population and even the playing field. The Simian Virus in that rebooted series shrunk the human population, creating a dystopia where a few hundred intelligent apes were dangerous and becoming the dominate species.
Jurassic World introduced us to the idea of extreme genetic manipulation with dinosaurs, creating the Indominus Rex. In the sequel, it sounds like humans, specifically the movie universe’s now seemingly evil company InGen, aren’t done messing with DNA. What if, in doing so, they ended up creating a virus like that in the new Planet of the Apes films. What if humanity is no longer plentiful and dinosaurs roam the earth?
I love that idea.
To be fair, I probably love that idea because it’s not unlike Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. You’d have a reason why a T-Rex could be loose in suburbia and we couldn’t stop it. Sure, those humans that are still alive have weapons, but the world doesn’t work the same way anymore. And humans are panicky primates. If you have an assault rifle and a Spinosaurus started charging at you, I’d be surprised if you didn’t start running, fully loaded gun and all.
How far should this world go? Makeshift cars akin to Mad Max? The toys alone would be fantastic! Domesticated dinosaurs? We’ve seen trained raptors, so why not? InGen could still be around, maybe as a paramilitary force keeping most people under their charge. Sure, that would start to turn them into the Umbrella Corporation from the Resident Evil movies, but even bad movies can have decent ideas.
Yes, doing any of this would change the franchise forever. But, with a title like Jurassic World, the concept of going expansion is set. And change is good. It’s chaotic, it’s evolution. The plots would be forced to deal with the human characters and their motivations, while still including the prehistoric carnage these movies have always been so good at delivering. We’ve had four (and probably five) movies set in a slightly grounded dinosaur populated universe. Let’s go big.
In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.
Since Return to Castle Wolfenstein didn’t scratch that first-person shooter itch I had, I decided to keep going through my collection of unplayed games. Since I’ve been working through these chronologically, 2004’s Far Cry was up next. It’s another game I bought for less than five dollars during a sale, and one I missed when it was first released. And I had a vague memory of there being dinosaurs in the game. There wasn’t.
All I wanted was a fast paced shooter with some run and gun action. That shouldn’t be so hard to find! But Far Cry was not the game to satisfy that desire. As I would find out, the game wants me to stealth most of the time, to sneak and avoid danger. Sure, the stealth elements aren’t great and it still puts road blocks full of enemies in my way, but the game wants what it wants.
I was also unaware that the game was considered harder than normal back in the day, so when I chose “challenging” as my difficulty, I was pretty confident in my skills. Unfortunately, doing so severely ruined my fun. While I got away with quick saving my way to victory in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, there was no such ability in Far Cry. Instead, I was stuck dying and reloading checkpoints, creating a Sisyphus-like experience for myself. It was hard and, because of my difficulty selection which can’t be changed, it stayed that way.
Now, I doubt I would have lowered the difficulty in the first place, as that would have felt like defeat after playing a few hours on one setting. And, I was completing levels, despite the challenge. But, the problem was, the challenge wasn’t satisfying. It was frustrating to have to replay the same mission over and over again, especially for a game of this length. The gun play isn’t always satisfying, the enemies seem to have perfect aim and their bullets can go through walls like paper. There were times when I would just and sit and stare, having no clue how to avoid being shot and killed.
For some, that difficulty would be welcomed. While I was streaming, I was visited by a few players who had beaten Far Cry on the highest setting, “realistic”, and I can’t imagine doing the same thing. The brutality of it all would have destroyed me. Every now and then, I feel embarrassed by my skills. When other players brag about a pistol-only play through or max difficulty settings, I just nod and accept I’m not that good. With Far Cry, I felt like there was some bad game design working against me as well. I can accept I’m no good at game, but it’s harder to accept being bad at a game with some obvious flaws.
To be fair, the game is still pretty for its age. And there were moments when I felt like Rambo and a sniping machine. But most times, I just wanted to be done. I just wanted to be able to blow some stuff up and move forward. I never felt like I had momentum. The vehicles felt like a punishment. The mutants that show up start feeling like Doom clones. And the shotgun never felt hefty. A bad shotgun is one thing I can’t forgive.
And the voice acting? Ouch.
Will I keep going with this series? I doubt it. I’m not the biggest fan of open-world/sandbox games because they lack the direction I need to stay invested. I’ve heard good things about Far Cry 3 but there’s plenty of games for me to play that I think I will enjoy. I experienced the same issue with Hitman: Blood Money. About halfway through, I realized I wasn’t enjoying the game and that I didn’t care what the end looked like. That’s not a knock on that game because I just don’t like that sort of challenge. Stealth-ing is all stress with no relief and very little inertia. For some, that’s fine. For me, it gets old real fast.
Despite it’s faults and my lack of skill, I did finish Far Cry. I felt more relief than excitement, but I can say I powered through it. But, I’d rather find a game I enjoy next time.
In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.
Firewatch came to my attention because I pay even a little bit of attention to the world of video games. It looked beautiful, but not photo-realistic. I always appreciate graphics with character, like most of Blizzard’s games. Firewatch is colorful and it stands out. It’s not a brown wasteland or grey war zone, it’s a forest with personality. Even just a few screenshots are so eye catching that it was no surprise that the game ended up in my wishlist.
I’ve heard the game called a walking simulator and, if so, it’s the first one of those that I’ve played. But it doesn’t seem any less complicated than Telltale’s The Walking Dead. If this had come out years ago, we’d be calling it a point and click adventure game. Except, it’s short enough to play in an afternoon and it doesn’t break my brain with puzzles that only The Riddler would find fun.
I played the game over the course of two days with my wife, Kendra. She’s one of those weird people who is perfectly happy to watch someone else play a game. I don’t know if it’s conditioning from being a sister to a gamer or just a Totoro like spirit. Because of her enjoyment of watching there are some games she requires her presence. Bioshock Infinite will be one of those, as will The Wolf Among Us. I think she found the trailer for Firewatch interesting, because it was added to the list.
So, the first day we played, everything went fine. Easy streamy, lemon squeezy. The second day… well, I’m an idiot. I had the mics muted the whole session. Which is too bad! Because, near the end of the game, the music gets nice and atmospheric and I started singing a great song. Kendra would tell you that the song was just me saying the words “fire” and “watch” over and over again, but there’s no video proof of that! This is a case of the Tenecious D’s “Tribute”!
But, that’s okay, because we both liked the game. Not the ending so much, but the whole experience was fun. It was stressful at times, funny and just a new type of game for us. The story was depressing at times, which is why you sometimes need someone there to lighten the mood. But the excellent voice acting really did take this game up from just being scenic to actually being immersive.
Also, I like shorter games. I don’t need them all to be four hours like Firewatch but gone are the days when I want all my games to be fifty hours or more. I liked Xenosaga lasting eighty hours because I was fifteen and all I did was game. Now that I’m older and have less time to play a game taking a weekend isn’t the worst thing in the world. And something the length of Firewatch or Limbo can really leave a strong impression. Especially compared to the opposite situation, like when I was praying that Fallout 3 would just end.
In conclusion, the stream might not have worked out because I’m a dope but the game is a good time. I recommend it easily, especially if you’re looking for something different or to play in front of someone who just likes watching. I might even revisit it someday and it won’t be a crazy commitment to do so. Plus, you can take pictures of trees!
My wife reviews The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney! I don’t have to read it now!
I have been on a murder mystery kick lately and for some reason have no desire to pick up anything else. I heard about “The Girl Before” by J.P. Delaney from one of my favorite podcasts All the Books. The hosts found it hilarious that the book was about a “sadistic architect” who takes control of a girl living in a house he built. They joked about it so much I decided to give it a read.
Each chapter of the book jumps between the accounts of Emma (the girl before?) and Jane (the girl now). I thought this would get confusing at first but its not too hard to distinguish the two. Both girls are “damaged” in some way when they begin living in the house at One Folgate Streeet and as the book progresses each of their pasts is unraveled. Emma recently experienced a burglary at her…
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Free Fire is an intense scene of an action movie, stretched out to ninety minutes. It’s a shootout that takes place entirely in an abandoned warehouse, between different and splitting parties. By extending that premise to a whole movie, director Ben Wheatley explores the fun you can have with a limited scope. Unfortunately, he also discovers the problems you can run into when your concept isn’t backed up by writing or imagination.
It’s the 1970s and we meet a whole bunch of gun traffickers looking to close a deal. Of course, things go wrong, bullets start flying and not everyone is going to make it out alive. That’s the premise and I’m not too sure Wheatley thought more beyond that. The movie feels trapped in the warehouse and not in a good or suspenseful way. There’s just not a lot to do or see once the killing starts.
The action in the movie never rises above fine. Guns fire and shoot people but that’s it. There’s never a great, inventive moment of violence. Yes, the movie is low budget but other cheap action films have found ways to impress. Because the shootout keeps the characters grounded and seeking cover, it’s all very impersonal. When one character shoots another, it doesn’t feel connected. If the gun play was there to simply move the plot along, that would be easy to deal with, but when the whole concept of the movie is based around bullets going everywhere, it wouldn’t hurt for a little style. Heck, most of the movie’s posters have more style! Even the seventies setting is really only there for costumes and lack of cellphones.
The dialog never does more than it needs to do. The only reason characters come across as likable is because we have some fun actors on hand. Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy are the straight men of the assemble, playing relatively grounded characters. Sharlto Copley brings his unique brand of insanity and detachment to the screen. He’s not a fantastic character, but Copley injects the role with much needed uniqueness. Armie Hammer, for the first time in his career, impressed me. He plays Copley’s bodyguard and he’s a character with skill and poise. In a movie set in the 1970’s, Hammer is the only one looking to have fun with the decade. His character might be the only stylistic choice with any impact. If he could play more roles like that, I might not think of him as the blandest face in film.
Free Fire is adequate. It’s an easy, uninspired way to pass an afternoon. But it’s not going down as a classic. Maybe a curiosity, or an example of how far you can stretch an idea without bringing real life to it. Free Fire isn’t as stylistic as Smokin’ Aces and the characters aren’t as “out of this world” as that film either. Free Fire isn’t as clever as Reservoir Dogs, the movie it’s most likely trying to ape. The dialog isn’t as biting and it’s missing a soundtrack to breathe life into the the void. In a world where John Wick is the standard for brutality, Free Fire comes across as rather toothless. The characters take hits, but when they start dragging themselves along the floor, the movies slows down with them. There’s a twist here or there, but nothing that affects the plot or how you feel about the characters.
I think given a better director, Free Fire could have been a new classic. The ingredients are all there, but most people can make cornbread if they follow the directions. What Free Fire needed was funny, clever dialog between more unique characters in between interesting gun play. If you’re staring at a TV and Free Fire is on, I’d say let it play. But it’s not something you need to seek out. Watch John Wick: Chapter 2 or Hardcore Henry instead. They bring new life into all that killing.