Batman: The Animated Series and I, Twenty-Five Years Later

I was a bit too young to watch the Batman animated series as a kid, specifically on a regular basis. During it’s early years, anyway, I missed a lot of the show while it was airing. It wasn’t until its later Fox Kids years that I started catching the show after school.

6batmantaliaI remember seeing those episodes as a kid and them seeming so epic. There wasn’t a lot like it, until Gargoyles, that felt like an adult show I was getting away with watching. Those later episodes introduced me to Ra’s al Ghul and the forbidden romance between Batman and Talia, Killer Croc’s inability to reform and the Riddler’s obsessions. I still wasn’t able to watch the show on regular basis, but I knew it was out there and was telling stories that were cooler than any of the other shows I had been following. Images like Ra’s hand reaching out of the Lazarus Pit, Babydoll shooting a shattered mirror or that kiss between Batman and Talia have stuck with me for years.

When Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was released on VHS, my mom rented a copy for me. I don’t know how it all worked out but I ended up watching it alone one night when everyone was asleep. At the time, I couldn’t have been much older than seven and I knew instantly that I was getting away with something.

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As people were dying, kissing and dealing with these huge issues on screen, I kept checking to make sure no one was coming. If my mom saw a mobster getting crushed underneath a tombstone, that tape was going back to the video store pronto. When the Joker was on screen, it was terrifying but thrilling. The clown was killing people! Everything about that movie felt dangerous and it was an eyeopener for my young self. It might be one of the best movie experiences I’ve ever had.

Years later, when the show moved to the WB and became an after school block with the Superman animated series, it became something I watched religiously. That block became a refuge for me. I looked forward to getting to it on time after another terrible school day and it lasted until my parents came home and life became slightly less ideal.

pan12That rebooted version of the show, with it’s updated animation style, was the coolest show in the world for me. It introduced me to Nightwing, a Robin that I was actually jealous of and a Batgirl I would follow to the ends of the earth. Episodes like “Over the Edge”, “Mad Love”, “Growing Pains” and “Joker’s Millions” left huge impressions on me and influenced my view on all the characters. When I started reading Batman comics, starting with No Man’s Land, I was confused by any differences between the elements of the show and what was on paper. But, without the animated series, I would have never picked up the comic.

Batman Beyond and the Justice League series really deserve their own blog, as well as the Superman show. They all became important to me at different times in my life and kept the continuity started by the Batman animated series alive, as well as the character of Batman himself.

batman-the-animated-series-3I was finally able to watch all the episodes I had missed when the series was released onto DVD. Those collections were wonderful and I’ve watched through them multiple times, always excited to restart the series. It’s the easiest show in the world to binge because it’s quality is so high and the characters are so compelling. It’s also one of the few shows I watched as a kid that stands up to watching as an adult. This anniversary has given me the bug again but it’s not something I’ll fight. The show is a treasure to Batman fans. It introduced me to so much of that world and influenced my tastes in huge ways. No other Batman series has topped it in quality, even though Batman: Brave and the Bold found it’s own identity and works on it’s on level. Only Batman Begins has ever come close to being such a faithful adaptation. Twenty-five years later and the original 90s show still has all the vitality of a much younger series. It’s timeless, it’s iconic, it’s Batman.

Stream Recap – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

5_brothers_a_tale_of_two_sonsIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons during the opening. I looked dated and the opening cinematic didn’t do anything for me emotionally.

Once I was in control of the brothers, moving each along with their individual joysticks, things started to look up. It took me forever to wrap my head around the younger brother being the right sticks. I guess my brain thought the older brother is the main brother and the main brother should be on the right. It was an interesting process to remind myself that the younger brother is the main character and that I associate important characters with my right side. Co-op single player is a strange concept. It’s almost as if the concept of switching between characters in Donkey Kong Country was the precursor to something like Brothers.

brothers-a-tale-of-two-sons-freeThe game finally clicked with me just as I was getting to the end of the starting village. It had an autumn vibe about its atmosphere and the town was alive and unconcerned with me. The game started to feel crisp, moody and dangerous. If this town, that these two boys have grown up in, seem indifferent to me, then how is the rest of the world going to treat me?

The graphics really are fantastic. I know the game is old and that the style is much older, but it set a beautiful tone. It had character and mood and, yes, it looked like a game from the first X-Box but it was polished. Honestly, it reminded me, visually, of the first Fable game. I never played much of that series but I’ve always found the borderline cartoon aesthetic to be attractive. Brothers has that going for it and works for every part of the game.

screenshot-brothers-a-tale-of-two-sons-bridgeIt makes the game feel like an actual fable, like an older story that’s been told before. The things the brothers fight against and stumble upon are dark and seem like they’re trying to teach us something. Like, don’t save people because they might try to eat you and leave the corpses of giants alone.

The game reminded me of Limbo in all the right ways, though, of course, with color. The puzzles weren’t as crunchy as that game, but they were more satisfying than something like Braid. Braid‘s puzzles were the difficult that made me feel dumb but Limbo and Brothers have puzzles that make me feel smart. And a giant spider indifferent to my youth.

I like playing games like Brothers because it reminds me of the core of gaming. The sense of exploration but danger as well as the idea that you could make a full game based on a single concept. It could be that your whole game is boss fights like in Shadow of the Colossus or that you’re a car that plays soccer in Rocket League. I like playing games that don’t have to have the most complicated system in the world or tell their stories with endless cut-scenes. Brothers was immersive and its challenges were fun and interesting and, in the end, it was satisfying. I didn’t need more after the three hours of game provided. It told the story and showed the game-play it had prepared. It’s a game I plan to buy for all my friends this Christmas and maybe replay someday. It was great, to say the least.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: mini movie review

Seems like my problems with the book weren’t fixed with the movie…

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Okay, so… it’s a The Fault in Our Stars pretext, but with an indie spin, and a guy who likes to make parodies of old films?

I knew that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl would have the potential to be either stunning or awkwardly terrible.

And unfortunately, it leaned towards the more disappointing end of the spectrum.

So Greg thinks he’s the coolest outsider of all time, and incredibly absurd and funny. He and Earl like to make parodies of old movies together- Gone with My Wind, A Sockwork Orange, Death in Tennis… and then Rachel is diagnosed with leukaemia. Greg’s mom forces him to go hang out with her.

They become friends, are kind of in love, and then Earl and Greg decide to make a film for Rachel, and it is such a bad film that it changes their lives…

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Here are things…

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JRPGs are Cozy Games

trailsinthesky-1313771692I’ve been streaming The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky and a friend of mine and I have been chatting about Japanese role-playing games and our history with them. One thing that came up is that JRPGs have put us to sleep. I’ve fallen asleep playing them, my friend has fallen asleep playing them and we’ve both fallen asleep watching the other one play them.

Does this mean I find JRPGs to be boring? Not at all! The Final Fantasy series is one of my favorites, with Final Fantasy VI being one my favorite stories of all time. That’s to say nothing of Xenosaga, which had cut-scenes that could last almost an hour long and still held my attention. If Persona 5 was on the PC, I’d be playing it NOW. I love that genre of video games.

But, how many other games could I say put me to sleep. It doesn’t happen when I’m in a computer chair, but that’s because I only play JRPG’s on a couch. They’re long commitments and I need to be comfortable. With a pillow. Low lighting. Oh, I get it now.

68-fddugfqI think JRPGs tend to feel like books. This is especially true with older games that don’t have voice acting and require a huge amount of reading. But, because of the pacing of the conversations, they don’t feel like thrillers or action-packed books. Instead, I might say, they’re more like a dense fantasy book with lots of world building. A book that, if read too long, will start to make my eyes close, even though I’m invested in everything on the page (or screen).

They’re comfortable. Cozy, even. Something like The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a pleasant game, that’s fun and exciting at times, but for the most part, feels like the video game equivalent of a quilt. It’s the town music of these games, these gentle tunes that make you feel at home, sleeping under a sunbeam. It’s the ridiculously superfluous mini-games like playing cards or fishing.

9570000It’s the turn based fighting. You can be in the middle of a fight with a gross looking monster, but it doesn’t move forward until you issue a command. And while most battle music tries to be exciting or intense, there’s always that one track that’s a bit more relaxing than the rest. No, I’m not going to fall asleep during a boss battle or fight for my life, but a few mutated rats that just need one fireball? Yeah, I might be dozing off for a minute.

None of this is a complaint. I actually think it’s a great example of why so many people like JRPGs. They can be exciting but still are slowed down. No matter how busy the world is, or your work day, Final Fantasy IX is going to move at a relaxing pace. These aren’t action games that require every mental facet to be focused and alert. They’re photo albums or puzzles that you’re putting together as your head gets heavy.

Of course, this isn’t true for every game. As I said, voice acting changes the dynamic from book to movie (or anime) and some games are “louder” than others, such as Persona 5. But, they still have peaceful moments, long sessions of silence. I like it. In the book world, you might hear the term “cozy mysteries” and I think JRPGs are the “cozy” genre of gaming. It makes me excited to get back into those types of games, because I wouldn’t mind things moving a bit slower in my life.

You can watch me play cozy and slightly less-cozy games live at my Twitch channel!

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All the Books Show: Episode 105 – Total Eclipse of All the Books

This episode is kind of a blur because I spent so much time trying to stare into the sun. My recommendation for 2024? Don’t stare into the sun.

My other recommendations? Well, you’ll just have to listen, won’t you!

4760230But, on a serious note, we do another Lonely Hearts Book Club. This time, it’s a visit with an old friend, Robert Campbell and his Jimmy Flannery books. This one seems even stranger than his previous ones, and the writing of Jimmy and the hundreds of names he’s been called makes my head spin.

I don’t get these books and but I especially don’t get this one. Or how their are more than twenty published. Twenty! That’s almost half as many Animorph books!

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Stream Recap – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

middle-earth-shadow-of-mordorIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was just what the elven doctor ordered. I’ve been playing games like Far Cry  and Return to Castle Wolfenstein looking for some satisfying action and leaving unhappy. But Shadow of Mordor knew what I needed and delivered in spades.

What I needed was a game that made me feel like I was good at what I did. I needed a game that rubbed my shoulders and said, “You’re doing great, buddy.” I would play Shadow of Mordor and feel bad for the orcs I would happen upon, because I was death and they were not ready to die.

The action in the game is so beautifully fluid that I rarely ever saw pixels splash against each other. Every attack or block I commanded seemed like it was planned by the programmers and myself from the start. I actually found the combat to be better implemented than Batman: Arkham Asylum. Which explains why I never got tired of it.

shadow-of-mordor-3The highly praised Nemesis system held up to it’s reputation. However, I couldn’t get myself to exploit it like some people. The idea that I could let myself die and then get stronger orcs to fight, thus granting me better rewards, seemed to go against everything I believed in as a gamer. So, I didn’t have many returning foes. I fought to the death, but not to die. When I did die, I was happy to see the orc get promoted, but I couldn’t willing lose to them. Luckily, more often, the orcs I was fighting would retreat and that’s how my relationship with them grew. I liked seeing an old face who had escaped my wrath more than that of one who had killed me.

The story, however, did not impress me. Talion isn’t much of a charismatic lead. Ratbag, the orc you team up with, was such a fun character that when he was replaced with a boring hunter halfway through the game, I was almost angry. There was melodrama, but never compelling drama. The music sounded like the Lord of the Rings films, but never as memorable. But, that’s fine, because it was the combat and stealth that made the game such a joy to play and I’d rather it that way than reversed.

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I think I lost steam during the second half, when the new map was introduced. By that point, I had already cleared all the artifacts and glyphs and outcast missions from the first map and seeing them all over again, albeit in a new area, left me feeling exhausted. Plus, I was too strong to die often enough for the orcs to leave an impression and that second half felt lonelier. Even with branding, I wasn’t experiencing the personality the game had during the first half. And the less said about the end is still more than was put into the game.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a great time that ran out of steam near the end. If I were to ever replay it, I can’t imagine I would chase the collectibles again, nor tackle the second map. But, my first playthrough was a great time and fully recharged me in a way other games haven’t in a while. I was excited to start each session and shoot beehives on unsuspecting orcs. I was excited to free slaves and unlocked new abilities. It’s a great game and I’m glad to have tackled it.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Book Review – The Fifth Season

19161852I did not like this book. I know I’m in the minority here. That’s fine. I hope, if you read it, you loved The Fifth Season. But, I did not love the book. I just wanted it to end.

I wanted to like this book, though! I was excited to read it. I finally finished the last book I had to read for work and book clubs and ect, and The Fifth Season was the first “just for me” book I’ve read in a while. Unfortunately, very early on, I knew I wasn’t enjoying it. But, since it’s a Hugo winner, I wanted to finish the whole thing and nothing is worse than not wanting to read the next eighty percent of a book.

I didn’t care about the three protagonists or about their connection to each other. I figured out how they were related very early on and I don’t mean that as a brag. I have to believe author N.K. Jemisin meant for the reader to know. I suppose, I most liked the child Damaya but her story ends before the others. Actually, I think the stories are told the way they are because doing so the normal way would have proven to be too dull and unfocused for even those that enjoyed this novel.

I didn’t like the world, either. I found it boring, despite how well it was thought out. Again, I’m in the minority here. Going to Goodreads, there’s nothing but five star reviews of this book, with people singing Jemisin’s praises. People did like the world here. They did like the characters. It makes me think I’m doing something wrong, actually. Like, maybe, I don’t know how to read words anymore?

A big issue, for me, was the lack of plot. I never felt like there was momentum to the story or any goal trying to be achieved. Too be fair, I don’t think Jemisin meant for this to be a plot heavy book. I think this book is character study and world tour. But, again, I didn’t care for either. Maybe, if there was a villain for me to invest in or plot to follow, I would have become more interested. It was not be.

While reading The Fifth Season, I kept thinking of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. Both Mistborn and The Fifth Season take pride in their world building, elemental magic and no nonsense characters. But, Mistborn had a plot and it’s characters were likable. There was a sense of purpose. The Fifth Season‘s purpose seems to be about being the most poetic fantasy book of it’s time. Unfortunately, I hate poetry.

I must sound like the worst type of reader in the world. But, I can’t lie. This book felt like a waste of my time and I don’t want to read the sequel. I was distressed to learn that I’m going to have to if I want to keep up with Hugo winners. There was a mercy back when Ancillary Justice‘s sequel didn’t win but now my hands are tied. I did like the second Mistborn book more than the first, so maybe there’s hope for me now. But, I won’t hold my breath. Jemisin’s style is too repetitive, too meandering for my taste. I just hope my next “just for me” book is a good time because between this and work, reading is starting to feel like a slog.

All the Books Show: Episode 104 – Hugo Awards 2017

It’s that time of year again! Where Nic and I talk about the Hugo Award winners! I guess it’s a seasonal thing. Maybe, even, a fifth season of sorts.

It’s nothing like a fifth season.

26228034We talk about the Hugo Awards, looking at the winners of most categories. Nic was correct in the movie, so he has that to boast about now. I was surprised by the winner of Best Novel, but that’s because I didn’t like the first book in the series and I didn’t expect a sequel to take home the top award. It’s happened before, yes, but it’s not super common. N.K. Jemisin joins a very short list of authors who won two years in a row. Congratulations N.K. Jemisin! I wish I liked your book!

I tried to stay out of the politics of this year’s award and after the winners were announced, I went back to see if there were any. It seems like most of the shouting has died down. I hope it’s for the better. The Sad and Angry Puppies made something I thought was fun not fun. But, now, I think there’s a bit too much “We shut them the hell up!” from the other side. I just want science fiction and fantasy to be fun for everyone involved. I hope we can just move on and enjoy good writing and interesting ideas.

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

The Death of Long Form Storytelling in Comics

26030872I 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.

439383-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_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 WomanThe 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.

51FM5Cut0PL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_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.

1157943-av1Maybe 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.

Batman and Harley Quinn – A Review

batman-harley-quinn-2dI haven’t written about a DC Animated Movie in a while. I liked Batman: Assault on ArkhamJustice 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.

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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.

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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.