Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 29!!


This week I brought home an exciting mix of stuff, seriously, this Haul contains just about everything.  Kicking things off is Fortune and Glory, created by Jason C. Hill and published by Flying Frog Productions.  I've wanted this game for quite a while and finally managed to get my hands on it.  The game casts players as one of several pulp characters.  The object of the game is to track down and acquire artifacts faster than your opponents.  Although it has a steep learning curve Fortune and Glory has something to offer almost any type of player, featuring competitive, team, cooperative, and even solo game types.  And you get to beat up Nazis or Mobsters, what's not to love?

Next is Dying Light, developed by Techland and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.  Improvised weapons, parkour, and zombies; that just about sums it up.  Dying Light features zombies that, during the day are slow and easy to deal with but at night become much more formidable enemies.  Players have to use a combination of salvaged weapons, traps, and the environment to survive the hordes of zombies sent their way.

Antoine Fuqua reunited with his Training Day star to bring us 2014's The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington.  Although every Fuqua movie couldn't be called a classic they are generally pretty entertaining.  Denzel has seemed to get a little too comfortable playing the same two or three characters over and over, but the trailers for this one make it look like that's exactly what the role calls for.

Finally, on to the comics.  The pull list was a little light this week, but there's always something to get.  Batman #38 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia, and Tomb Raider #12 by Rhianna Pratchett, Gail Simone and Nicolas Daniel Selma round out this week's Haul.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Constantine: Season 1, Episode 11


Constantine
Episode Title: "A Whole World Out There”
Channel: NBC
Director: Tom Wright
Writers: Davita Scarlett and Sneha Koorse
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: January 30, 2015

It's a solo John episode this week. I prefer the team all together, and the excuses for them being separated are getting a little thin. I'm not sure if it might be better at this point to just ignore Zed and Chas when they're not around. Silence might be better than the flimsy ways the writers have explained their absences. The solitude does allow the audience a peak behind the curtain; John's facade is stripped away and we get to see a man that is deeply troubled by the decisions he's been forced to make. His brash and confident demeanor is normally enough to make the viewer forget that although he's been making the tough decisions, they're still tough and he still feels them.

Bringing Jeremy Davies back as Richie was a great decision. So far, of the characters that have been introduced previously in single episodes, he's been my favorite character, and the one most able to complement John. Their back and forth bickering perfectly reflects the way that two old friends, who've been through a lot, interact with each other. One moment that really stuck out to me was during an argument on a college campus; Richie is talking about the sacrifices that John has made, and his reaction to them. Matt Ryan captures the facial expressions during that exchange very well, there's pain and sadness reflected in his face, without overdoing either. The well concealed vulnerabilities that John exhibits are what make the character so strong, yet relatable.

The case itself revolved around a group of students that had discovered how to spiritually leave their bodies and enter another plane of existence created by a deranged killer, Jacob Shaw. This was unfortunately where the episode began to fall apart. I don't know if it was because the writers borrowed from so many other horror stories, Nightmare on Elm Street being the foremost example, or if something important was left behind in editing, but the conflict and resolution seemed like a cornucopia of half-formed concepts. One bit of good news is that the pace slowed down a little bit when John and Richie enter the dreamscape, allowing for a couple of suspenseful minutes. Blood and gore aren't the only ways to be scary, and those tense minutes felt like a decent horror flick. The conclusion felt 'off'. After being told that in his world Shaw was God, Richie somehow wrests control away from the villain and wills him gone, with barely an explanation as to how he managed it. The attempt to tease the audience with Richie staying behind in the dream world was a bit weak, we all know by now, that is no where near a violent enough end for one of John's friends.

My main gripe with this episode? There are two episodes left, and we still have next to no information regarding the Rising Darkness. The previews for next week show a continuation of the present arc, and not a flashback as I had been half expecting, but that still doesn't leave us much time to make significant progress regarding the story before the finale. I'm afraid that the penultimate episode is going to be of the 'information dump' variety.

Conclusion: Richie's return hit all the right notes as far as the character interaction goes, but the story itself felt weak. The weak villain, and even weaker explanation of John and Richie's victory over him, kept the story side of the episode from being as successful as the character side. The superb acting of both Ryan and Davies couldn't make me ignore the scripts faults

Rating: 6.75/10

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 11


Arrow
Episode Title: “Midnight City”
Channel: CW
Director: Nick Copus
Writers: Wendy Mericle and Ben Sokolowski
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: January 28, 2015

This week's Arrow continued to chronicle the struggles of Team Arrow regarding their attempts to continue Oliver's work without him. The newest crime boss in Starling City, Brick, is making his play for power; this time kidnapping several city officials and threatening their lives if the police presence in the Glades isn't withdrawn. Meanwhile, Oliver is convalescing in a cabin tended to by Maseo and Tatsu.

The crisis in Starling City has reached new heights, the newest threat to the city has escalated quickly and it wasn't long before the remaining members of Oliver's team, along with Laurel as the Canary, decided to take action. I'm actually really liking the way the team is functioning without Oliver. Roy is becoming more comfortable with taking the lead in the field. Harper has been an underutilized character this season, so seeing him with something meaningful to do is an improvement. Laurel's first few appearances as the Canary have not gone well for her. I'm glad that she hasn't been thrown into the fight and shown that she's somehow become a fighter of the caliber of the rest of the team. Besides the physical abuse that she's received she was also confronted with the consequences of her failures. At the moment that she's at her lowest Felicity comes into play to remind her that although their mission comes with a huge price to pay it's something that has to be done. Diggle and Roy's moment over drinks after a long day served to show that everyone that Oliver has left behind are finally coming to grips with his absence.

The one major negative I saw in the scenes from Starling City involved Laurel's interactions with her father. I know that she's convinced that learning of Sara's death would kill her father, but the way in which she's deceiving him is sure to have dire ramifications going forward. When the ruse is is revealed it seems like it is going to do irreparable harm to their relationship. That's a moment that I'm dreading.

Thea has refused to flee Starling with Malcolm Merlyn; setting up and inevitable confrontation between them and Ra's al Ghul. A seemingly useless plot point from much earlier in the season finally showed some purpose when it was revealed that the new DJ at Verdant is at the very least a League of Assassin's informant, or possibly a member himself. Maseo's role in the current plans of the League is a little unclear but we've been led to believe that he's somehow spearheading the League's eventual confrontation with Merlyn. Between his actions regarding Oliver and his involvement with whatever is in store for Merlyn I found myself wondering; could he be setting Ra's up for a fight with Oliver and Merlyn fighting side by side. I think it's possible that whatever caused the separation between Maseo and Tatsu was the result of something Ra's did. Maseo's insistence that he return to the League may be the result of his desire for revenge. It's just a crazy theory, but you never know.

That brings us to Oliver and his recovery. The words “Lazarus Pit” haven't been uttered yet, to my disappointment. There's no other way to explain Oliver's recovery, I refuse to accept that some penicillin tea somehow saved him from his wounds and the elements. The flashbacks in this episode served to highlight the dramatic change in Maseo and Tatsu's relationship. While nothing notable was discovered this week during those flashback they have the feeling that they're setting the audience up for tragedy.

Conclusion: I actually could have done with less Oliver this week, as the more compelling moments of “Midnight City” revolved around his friends and the way they're coping/carrying on following his death. Laurel's blunders during her first forays as a vigilante are also managing to soften the disbelief I had feared would surround her shouldering of the Canary mantle.

Rating: 7.5/10

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 11


The Flash
Episode Title: “The Sound and the Fury”
Channel: CW
Director: John F. Showalter
Writers: Alison Schapker and Brooke Eikmeier
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: January 27, 2015

“The Sound and the Fury” was Harrison Wells' episode, which means the audience got more insight into the most mysterious of the show's characters. When he's attacked at his home we finally see him use some speed. Although we've assumed it for a while, its the first visual confirmation that Wells is a speedster of some sort. I'm not prepared to jump on any of the bandwagons concerning Wells' identity, but the show finally mentioning the Speed Force means that he could be one of any number of characters. I have a feeling that the most obvious answers will turn out to be incorrect, so instead of pondering it too hard I'm going to sit back and enjoy the ride.

The best parts of the episode were those involving Wells and his relationships with Barry, Caitlin and Cisco. It's beginning to seem that he actually considers them his friends instead of his subordinates. Of course, that might not be the case at all. They could be instrumental in whatever event he's trying to bring about, so he sees the necessity in keeping them around and happy. After having just earned back their trust a revelation like that could conceivably devastate the team.

This week's villain, the Pied Piper, was a bit of a mixed bag. There was definitely more back story present than usual for the villains on The Flash, but that's due to his prominence in the events leading up to the accident at S.T.A.R. Labs and his role in upcoming episodes. While I liked the portrayal of the villain I can't help but feel that the writing let the character down. The best villains are those that the viewer can at some level sympathize with. That's why villains are so often bullied, wrongly accused, or suffering from some sort of affliction; they weren't really bad guys before they were dealt a bad hand. The audience can at that point understand where the villain is coming from, even if they don't agree with his methods. Unfortunately for Hartley Rathaway, aka the Pied Piper, there were precious few of those sympathy building scenes. Even before his descent into evil he was a huge douche, there was no sign of a single redeeming quality in his persona. By the time his trouble with his family, and that he lost his hearing in the particle accelerator explosion, is revealed the character is already too insufferable for me to empathize with him.

Another item of note is that Joe's distrust of Harrison Wells has grown to the point that he's asked Eddie to begin an investigation into the doctor. Eddie's involvement seems sure to lead to some important reveals regarding who exactly, is who. Iris' new job feels like a holding pattern while the writers figure out what exactly to do with the character. I hope something meaningful can come from it, but from the brief glimpses we saw it seems like a pretty standard “gets a job due to seemingly inside info, gets no respect, and has to figure out how to be taken seriously,” story line. Lets hope for a curve ball because I've already seen that story.

Conclusion: Due to the failure of the script to elicit much sympathy from the audience on behalf of the Piper “The Sound and the Fury” was not as successful as it could have been. The insights into Dr. Wells help to offset that shortcoming somewhat, even if they raised more questions than they answered.

Rating: 7.25/10

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 13


Gotham
Episode Title: “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon”
Channel: Fox
Director: Wendy Stanzler
Writer: Megan Mostyn-Brown
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: January 26, 2015

I hate writing reviews like this one. Gotham has consisted of several ups and downs in its short history, and I've tried to give the writers the benefit of the doubt. It takes some time for a show to find its identity, to find the right balance between the larger story arc and the cases in between. Finding the sweet spot as far as how many individual character arcs you can fit into one episode must be difficult, and Gotham is operating with a very high number of concurrent stories to juggle. “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” is an example of most of the things wrong with the series so far.

Present in the episode are: Gordon's investigation into another member of the GCPD, Fish Mooney's plight at the hands of Don Falcone, Penguin's ascension as a major player in the underworld, Bruce's search for Selina and the knowledge of his parents' murders, and Nygma's ongoing infatuation with Ms. Kringle. It's just too much, there isn't enough time to focus on so many different things. An episode that is only 42 minutes long cannot tell a self contained episodic story and move the serial plot along with so much time devoted to things that don't matter at the moment. The latter two plot points fall into this category.

While I'm glad that Bruce now has a reason to resume his own investigation into the murder of his parents the setup for it should have been withheld until his investigation plays a bigger part in an episode. Combine those scenes with the scenes in which the audience is still getting bludgeoned by how weird and creepy Edward Nygma is and you have a major chunk of time that could have been more effectively used elsewhere. Lets leave Nygma alone for a while, the show already has plenty of villains to go around; there's no purpose in continuing those scenes. A large percentage of the audience must know how he's going to end up, and the ones that don't must see these scenes largely as filler.

A huge missed opportunity in “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” revolves around the capture of Fish Mooney. I think it's safe to say that we all knew that Fish wasn't going to be thwarted quite so easily, she wasn't going anywhere during so inconsequential an episode as this random midseason dud. As her character is not protected by years and years of comic book stories she represents too ripe a possibility for surprising the audience. As one of the few characters on the show that the writers have complete control over she doesn't have to fit some preconceived role reinforced by decades of previous stories. During the whole of her captivity I expected her to take matters into her own hands, hatch an escape plan, and deal with her torturer in most brutal fashion. Instead she's rescued by Butch, wasting the chance to really see her cut loose. The only positive item of note in her story this week is the revelation that she and Harvey may have a closer relationship than we had suspected.

The presence of Gertrude Kapelput, the Penguin's mother, in nearly all of his scenes made them borderline unwatchable for me. Add to that a very strange “getting drunk” montage straight out of an 80s flick and you've got a sequences that had me begging for a commercial break. For a character that had previously been one of my favorites this was tragic misstep. His scenes with Fish near the end were sullied by a new level of overcooked acting from Jada Pinkett Smith as she decided to up the corny factor in her expressions and delivery

Gordon's storyline involved him investigating something he'd been told to leave alone, rampant corruption throughout the law enforcement community, scenes in which we see that none of the other cops really have his back, and Captain Essen being the one to step up and take his side. Ultimately, after wasting a chance to change the show by leaving Arkham Asylum behind, Jim's role this week was to do almost nothing we hadn't already seen from him. The one bright spot involved his appeal to Cobblepot for help in his investigation. Upon receiving the Penguin's assistance Gordon is shown dealing with the fallout of his agreement. Did he take the only option available to him, and if so does this signify that Gordon has accepted that he's going to need to choose between the various evils in Gotham to achieve that best possible outcome?

Conclusion: “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” tried to do too much and through its lack of focus managed to do nothing well. Between unnecessary scenes and a blatant rehash of themes previously presented to the audience nothing here felt new or important.

Rating: 5.5/10

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Constantine: Season 1, Episode 10


Constantine
Episode Title: "Quid Pro Quo”
Channel: NBC
Director: Mary Harron
Writer: Brian Anthony
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: January 23, 2015

In “Quid Pro Quo” we finally get some background information on Chas and his relationship with Constantine. After Chas' daughter's soul is stolen just prior to his visit the team gets together to get it back. It was odd placement for this kind of episode in the season; the finale is right around the corner and I was really hoping to get more information on the Rising Darkness. Instead we get a standalone episode that really tried to delve into the Chas character. Unfortunately, it was lacking the extra emotional impact that a family member in danger should have imparted on the audience, mainly due to the fact that this was also our introduction to the characters. If there had been more than a passing reference to Chas' daughter previously it would have helped greatly; instead she seemed more like any other random victim.

The most successful moments of “Quid Pro Quo” were the scenes setting up and dealing with the aftermath of Chas' immortality. We discover that he's not really immortal, he's become the vessel for 47 other souls as a result of a jokingly cast spell from John and a subsequent tragedy. Chas, knowing that he survived something that so many others didn't, dedicates his life to making sure that his extra chances don't go to waste. The audience sees the strain that this put on his marriage, with his wife Renee unable to accept the amount of time he spent away from home they eventually split. It seemed like an overreaction from her, but I suppose the writers needed to create conflict somehow and the easiest way to do that is to make sure that no one has a happy home life.

The antagonist in this week's episode was none other than Felix Faust. It seems strange that a fairly well known character in the DC universe would be dispatched over the course of one episode. With a chunk of the episode being devoted to the pursuit of a demon that had been tampering with Faust's plans there was little time to develop the character. In the end the demon-hunt doesn't even matter, Felix changes the terms of their agreement. I would have preferred seeing more evidence of how bad a guy Faust was. Yes, the audience saw more victims being taken to the hospital, but there was very little first hand information to convince the audience that he deserved his grisly end. I like to see my evil bad guys being really, really evil.

Ultimately Chas outwits the sorcerer, and does so just in time for his ex-wife to see him make the sacrifice. While I liked seeing Chas take things into his own hands it left John sitting quietly on the sidelines for the majority of the episode, especially the conclusion. This is something that I don't mind in small doses, but it's a fine line to walk between giving the side characters compelling stories and making sure the focus is on the main character.

Conclusion: “Quid Pro Quo” does a good job of explaining some of the complicated history surrounding John and Chas. The case itself could have used more setup to make me care about the newly introduced characters. Without that setup it seemed less like a family crisis and more like the monster of the week episodes that we've already seen.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 28!!


There's lots of new stuff this week!  In movie news, I've picked up Automata starring Antonio Banderas, Frank starring Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Scoot McNairy, Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel starring Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton and a host of other major names, and Luc Besson's Lucy starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman.  Basically there's a little something for everyone there.

In the world of comics is was also a busy week.  Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1952 #2 by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Alex Maleev, and Dave Stewart, Intersect #3 by Ray Fawkes, The Kitchen #3 by Ollie Masters, Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire, Moon Knight #11 by Brian Wood, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire, Rocket Raccoon #7 by Skottie Young, Filipe Andrade and Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and finally The Wicked + The Divine #7 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 10


Arrow
Episode Title: “Left Behind”
Channel: CW
Director: Glen Winter
Writers: Marc Guggenheim and Erik Oleson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: January 21, 2015

After the cliffhanger Arrow left for the audience in “The Climb” I was very excited for the third season to resume. We all knew going into it that Oliver's death would be anything but final, but that the immediate effect on those that care about him would be profound. It is in that area that “Left Behind” was most successful. With Oliver temporarily out of the picture this episode placed much more emphasis on his supporting cast. Both Diggle and Roy took center stage as they strived to continue the Arrow's work in his absence. Seeing those two do something was a treat as they've taken a back seat in season three.

The writers also did a great job with Felicity's character this week. They abandoned her usual quirkiness to allow her to really demonstrate the loss that she's feeling. Her best moments were those during which she shared the screen with Ray Palmer; his plan to become a hero striking very close to her heart. Brandon Routh played his part extremely well, displaying his seemingly limitless exuberance all the way up to the moment that Felicity began harping on his past and motivations. Then we got to see a side of the man that the we hadn't before, a steely determination that is enough to make one believe that he might just succeed.

Malcolm Merlyn popped in and out of the episode, seemingly at random to provide Team Arrow with theories regarding, and eventually proof of Oliver's death. The most obvious purpose of those scenes was to maintain the mystery surrounding the visitor to Oliver's final resting place until late in the episode. The effort was largely waste as it was easy to guess who that visitor was fairly early. Related to that in a way were the Hong Kong flashbacks present throughout “Left Behind.” It's good to see that the flashbacks are finally serving a purpose; most of the Hong Kong material thus far has been unremarkable. That could not be said of the scenes this week. Besides allowing the audience to experience at least a little Oliver screen time, the flashbacks also set up his eventual return. Even if the reveal at the end was not very shocking.

Vinnie Jones' introduction as the would be crime boss Brick was quite entertaining. He has the presence required to make me believe he could lead a bunch of criminals, and the physicality to make me believe the could hold his own in a fight. I'll be more than happy to see him stick around for a while and serve as Team Arrow's nemesis while they wait for Ollie's inevitable return. The other major reveal involved Laurel donning the Canary costume and going after her first bad guys. I'm still not sure that I can buy her as vigilante, and the one-liner they wrote for her was horrible, but I'm willing to give it some time to develop.

Conclusion: “Left Behind” was a satisfying follow up to Arrow's mid season finale. The emotional toll Oliver's death is taking on those that love him was well displayed. It's also very nice to see something actually coming of the Hong Kong scenes after they had seemed to tread water for so long. I'm actually hoping that Oliver is away from Starling for a while, allowing the rest of his team to shine for a while.

Rating: 7.75/10

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 10


The Flash
Episode Title: “Revenge of the Rogues”
Channel: CW
Director: Nick Copus
Writers: Kai Yu Wu and Geoff Johns
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: January 20, 2015

The Flash is finally back from its winter break! After the events of the mid-season finale we all knew that the Flash's world was going to change, and “Revenge of the Rogues” does a great job of giving us our first glimpses of what to expect. The most noticeable change in Barry comes from the realization that he is not the fastest man alive. This knowledge drives him to remedy that as soon as possible, by pushing himself in training for more than he has in the past. Dr. Wells plays a large part in Barry's decision to focus on his training instead of his day to day hero-ing and when a threat rises in Central City, Joe immediately questions Barry's reluctance to enter the fray. The dynamic between those three characters will be fun to watch unfold, Joe is trying to get Barry to be the hero he claimed he wanted to be early on, and Dr. Wells is grooming him for some unknown future events. Ultimately Barry decides that the two missions can coexist and he enters the fray.

This week saw the return of Captain Cold, and this time he brought a friend, as Dominic Purcell reunites with his Prison Break co-star to assume the role of Heat Wave. I know we're watching a television show based on a comic book, but the performances from both men seemed to be a little overcooked for me. Hopefully they'll tone down the camp in future appearances. When the confrontation between the villains and Barry finally arrives it was a little underwhelming. I'm all of any reason whatsoever to include a Ghostbusters reference, but the handling of the showdown left a lot to be desired. I know that there isn't much conflict at all if Barry just takes both guys out at the speed of sound, but it was tough to suspend disbelief enough to buy the necessity of the 'crossing the streams' resolution. It seems as if some mechanic could have been added to the script to make this the only viable way to defeat the villainous duo. Camp and the shaky mechanics behind the final fight aside, I'm glad the writers are experimenting with the idea of recurring villains, something comic fans have seen for years. An interesting side effect of the battle between Captain Cold, Heatwave, and the Flash is that now the citizens Central City knows the scarlet speedster exists. Their collective reactions to his successes and failures will add a new dynamic to the show.

The emotional moments in this episode really hit the mark. Barry and Joe's moments were again the cream of the crop. With Iris moving in with Eddie, Joe was preparing to live the life of a bachelor and it's decided that it would be good for both Barry and Joe if Barry moved back in. The casual, non-crime fighting moments between these two characters are so fun and genuine that any excuse to get more of them is an exciting prospect. After Barry revealed his feelings to Iris their relationship has become strained, but at the end of the episode it looked like they were both willing to move forward and attempt to repair the damage. The audience was also treated to a little more information regarding Firestorm. The way this information was revealed was more organic than in the previous episode, as Caitlin's foray out of S.T.A.R. Labs was necessary for her capture, and the initiation of the showdown. She might as well be revealing some pertinent information while she does it. Cisco also had what I felt were his best moments in the series so far, attempting to repair relations between the labs and the police, gaining their trust, and eventually their respect.

Conclusion: While not as strong as “The Man in the Yellow Suit,” this episode served as a great way to kick off the second half of the season. If some of the corniness of the villains can be shed things look good going forward. Barry's uncertainty concerning what he should be doing next feels genuine and his emotional moments with his friends and family served as highlights of the episode.

Rating: 7.75/10


Gotham: Season 1, Episode 12


Gotham
Episode Title: “What the Little Bird Told Him”
Channel: Fox
Director: Eagle Egilsson
Writer: Ben Edlund
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: January 19, 2015

The one thing this episode got right was the focus. Instead of trying to weave three or four stories into one block of time the majority of the episode focused on two story lines. That is of course if you discount the scene involving Barbara returning home to her parents. That probably should have been left off completely, as Barbara has become so unlikable I think it would be best if the audience were allowed to forget about her for a while. This would allow the writers to figure out some way to make her more tolerable. Her painfully awkward reunion with her parents and their level of strangeness only served to cause a stutter in the narrative, instead of making me care at all about them.

Early on the audience is led to believe that Fish's plan is finally coming to fruition. She's prepared to make her move and make herself the head of the crime families of Gotham. She has an agent in place that's trusted enough by her target to take him out with little to no suspicion from the Don. When Fish's plan is revealed to be forcing Falcone out of Gotham instead of eliminating him it feels like a huge let down. After all the vitriol she's spewed behind his back she decides to offer him exile instead of death. It's just not the kind of resolution I can believe coming from Fish. After all of her machinations she'd never leave an enemy alive and able to exact revenge. When Falcone is informed of the plan by The Penguin he takes the fight to Fish and demonstrates first hand the weakness in Fish's plan, as he does personally what she was so unwilling to do by proxy. The threat posed by Liza is ended by the Don himself, although inexplicably he allows Fish to live. That decision seems to have been made by the writers simply to keep Jada Pinkett-Smith around for a while longer.

The excitement from last week over the prospect of a recurring villain in the character of Jack Gruber dissipated quickly this week. Gruber is out for revenge against the man he believes sold him out years ago, Don Maroni. His methods are so haphazard that after his initial strike it became apparent that he was no kind of threat. He killed people he didn't need to, and left alive those that were supposedly his targets. To make matters worse he is ultimately thwarted by a glass of water. While humorous, there could be no more ignoble an end than that for a villain. Since the Electrocutioner had been developed far more than any other villain thus far, barring the crime families, I had expected a far greater pay off. This doesn't even take into account the 'investigation' that surrounded his case; it wasn't so much an investigation as a series of coincidences that filled in all the blanks. It felt like very lazy writing.

Bruce and Alfred were missing in action again, which I think is a good thing. When they do appear again it may be with significant growth in their relationship and Bruce's skills, without forcing five minute tidbits into already overflowing episodes. Also the writers' fascination with reminding everyone who Nygma will become is trying my patience. It's time to allow him to fade into the background until there's something worthwhile for him to do.

Conclusion: The two stories covered in “What the Little Bird Told Him” and their resolutions did not leave behind a feeling of satisfaction. Supposedly ruthless people making boneheaded decisions is not good drama, it's just bad writing. While the primary focus of the episode on two stories was a good plan; the peripheral events detracted from what was already a weak episode.

Rating: 6/10

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 27!!


The Haul this week is all comics, as I haven't decided what to read next book-wise.  There's Constantine #21 by Ray Fawkes, Jeremy Haun and Richard and Tanya Horie, Hexed #6 by Michael Alan Nelson, Dan Mora and Gabriel Cassata, Rat Queens, Special: Braga #1, by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tess Fowler, S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 by Mark Waid, Carlos Pacheco, Mariano Taibo, and Dono Almara, and Supreme Blue Rose #6 by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay.

Constantine: Season 1, Episode 9


Constantine
Episode Title: "The Saint of Last Resorts, Part 2”
Channel: NBC
Director: Romeo Tirone
Writer: Mark Verheiden
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: January 16, 2015

Constantine returned from a month long hiatus with the conclusion of a two parter. This episode picked up exactly where the first part left off, with John shot and the newly introduced Invunche preparing to make a meal of him. As a last resort John allows the demon lord Pazuzu to possess is body. The demon heals his body and the countdown begins; how long can John remain John before the demon takes complete control and wreaks havoc?

I was a little disappointed that his episode didn't reveal more about the Rising Darkness. The previous episode had finally gotten the ball rolling regarding the major arcs that the audience had previously only had glimpses of. Besides the Rising Darkness, Zed's past had finally caught up with her. She had been captured and was in transit back to her father, for whatever insidious purpose he might have. All the work of the proceeding episode was undone in mere minutes as Zed escaped and jumped back into the fray to rescue Constantine. So instead of learning anymore, it revealed the purpose of the previous events to be for a cliffhanger's sake only.

Putting that disappointment to the side, “The Saint of Last Resorts, Part 2” delivered on every other level. Firstly, this episode felt very focused, and didn't suffer from the pacing issues that some of the others have. The entire team was together, with the addition of Anne Marie, and the interplay between the characters hit all the right notes. The dialogue was deadly serious when it needed to be, and managed to lighten the mood just enough when necessary. The real highlight of the episode though was Matt Ryan's performance. He didn't hold anything back as he raged, literally foamed at the mouth, and writhed as his friends tried to save him from the demon's grasp.

There was one odd decision, from a storytelling perspective that left me scratching my head. The audience is briefly introduced to a man named Vicente, who is revealed to be the tempter; the serpent from the garden of Eden. One would imagine that an entity with that kind of resume would have the potential to really make some waves at some point. Instead, no sooner is it revealed exactly who the character is, he is dispatched with what seemed like casual ease. I believe that we'll see him again, the opportunities that the character presents are too interesting for him to go out so quietly

Conclusion: Although “The Saint of Last Resorts, Part 2” didn't pick up the main story arc threads that had been present in the previous part it did manage to tell a very compelling story. Getting more insight into the Anne Marie character and watching Matt Ryan got all out during his possession scenes were aided by much improved pacing to deliver a great episode.

Rating: 8.25/10

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Taint in the Blood by S. M. Stirling


A Taint in the Blood
Shadowspawn #1
Publisher: Penguin Books USA as Roc (2010)
Author: S. M. Stirling
Genre: Urban, Fantasy, Horror
Pages: 502
Price: $9.99

Aeons ago, Homo nocturnus ruled the Earth. Possessing extraordinary powers, they were the source of all manner of myths and legends. Though their numbers have been greatly reduced they exist still – though not as purebreds.

Adrian Brèzè is one such being. Wealthy and reclusive, he is more Shadowspawn than human. He rebelled against his own kind, choosing to live as an ordinary man, fighting against his darker nature. But Adrian's sister is determined to bring back the reign of the Shadowspawn, and now she has struck him at his weakest point by kidnapping his human lover, Ellen.

To save Ellen – and perhaps all of humanity – Adrian must rejoin a battle he swore he would never fight again.

I'm a huge fan of urban fantasy. Give me the familiar fantasy elements and drop them into present day and I will give the story a chance. I made a mental note to pick up this series after attending a panel discussion that included Mr. Stirling. It took me a while to finally get around to it, but I finally did.

A Taint in the Blood introduces the reader to the world of the Shadowspawn. They've been around since before humans recorded history. Besides their vampiric thirst for blood they can read the minds of those they've fed on and affect probability in major ways. This ability is explained as having something to do, loosely, with quantum mechanics. Is it the best explanation for magical powers I've read? No, it's not, but at least it's something I haven't run across before so there can be some points awarded for originality. The way it's presented in the book makes me think of the Shadowspawn as the walking embodiments of Murphy's Law. If there is the slightest chance something can go wrong, a Shadowspawn can make it so.

The story itself isn't anything terribly original. You've got a reclusive former member of the bad guys that has sworn of everything, deciding to fight for neither side of the ongoing conflict. Someone he cares about his stolen away from him, and he and his grizzled mentor most do everything they can to get her back. The villain is someone very close to the protagonist, his sister, and she has kidnapped his former lover, Ellen, to draw him out of retirement and end the threat he poses once and for all. In the background bigger plans are being set into motion that will bring about the end of civilization as we know it, a return to humanity's days of being nothing more than cattle for the Shadowspawn.

The quality of the writing helps to make some feelings of “I've seen that before” fade from the reader's mind as the book progresses. The characters are well crafted, and none of the main players seemed to suffer from a lack of personality or motivation. Despite the quality of the writing there were times when I felt there was a little too much detail. Some of the locales are described to a level unnecessary to the story, but the most glaring offense in this department comes with the food the characters eat. Due to the Shadowspawn's heightened senses they like food with lots of taste and layers, and every bit of the meals is described in painstakingly elaborate detail. These were the passages during which I noticed my mind wandering the most. I didn't find myself needing to kick back into gear when the action resumed, but it was close a time or two.

Another aspect of A Taint in the Blood that is highly detailed is the depiction of sexual relationships, sadomasochism, and at times, rape. This is where I believe the book could lose some of it's potential readers. Very little is held back during those scenes and I'd imagine that they could spark some uncomfortable feelings in some people. The world itself is an intriguing creation, although the endgame of the villains is stereotypical, the method by which they can accomplish their goals isn't quite so familiar feeling. Besides, there's something to be said for taking an old idea, and making it new by adding a little twist.

Conclusion: There aren't a lot of new ideas contained in A Taint in the Blood, but fans of the genre should find enough there to be entertained. The amount of detail hammered into the story can get tedious, even though there are reasons for that much detail to be included.. When it's all said and done there's room for a lot of improvement in subsequent novels, but there are enough positive aspects to make the beginning of a fun series.

Rating: 6.5/10

Monday, January 12, 2015

Boyhood


Boyhood (2014)
Producers: Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, John Sloss, et al.
Director: Richard Linklater
Rated: R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use
Runtime: 165 min
Genre: Drama

I haven't seen a lot of Richard Linklater's films. The one's I have seen have always evoked mixed reactions from me. Perhaps most surprisingly; the film he's directed most like this one, Dazed and Confused, is one of my least favorite. I didn't relate to the characters, didn't grow up in the 70s, and in general found the whole thing a little disappointing, especially after some of the glowing things I had heard about the movie. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I saw it, but everything seemed so superficial that I just couldn't get anything out of it. So, it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I dove into Linklater's latest offering.

First, a little background on the film for anyone that hasn't kept up with that kind of thing. Boyhood was filmed over the course of twelve years using the same actors for all of the roles. I can't imagine what an undertaking this was. They filmed for 45 days of that time, somehow finding holes in everyone's schedule and making it work as they went. Linklater's idea was to film short films depicting the important events in each year of a boy's life and then to edit them together into a feature length film. It's an ambitious project, one that seems to have had so many moving pieces that it couldn't possibly work, but it does and the results are impressive.

The audience joins Mason Jr. after a parent/teacher conference at school. What follows are a series of events that shape him into the man he'll eventually become. His parents are divorced, and both are doing what they can to be there for him, in their own way. There's the “parade of assholes,” as Mason so succinctly puts it, that come into his and his mother's lives, step siblings and friends that he's forced to leave behind as his mother tries to make a better life for him and his sister. One of the things that I most appreciated about Boyhood is the number of unanswered questions: most of the people that pop into Mason's life and are left behind are never seen again. It's a very un-Hollywood way to tell a story, we're used to happy coincidences reintroducing long lost friends, but in life we're often left never knowing what happened to childhood friends we left behind. Those relationships are often never wrapped up in a neat bow and it was a strangely satisfying, and unsatisfying, to have those questions never answered.

The serendipitous reappearance of a character (maybe two, I only see one Nicole in the movie's cast of characters) near the end of the movie serves to highlight the lack of closure people are so often subjected to. Even then it's not really closure, it's just one of those “small world” coincidences that pop up every so often. It doesn't feel false or forced when it happens, it's just a little awkward, as it many times is when you reveal to a person how much their passing kindness, all but forgotten to them, changed the course of your life.

The big events in one's life are easy to identify. Where Boyhood really excels is in the introspection that the little things cause in the viewer. The camping trips during which nothing happened, the uncertainties surrounding one's future, the parental decision to let you make your own choices, even when those choices aren't your best course of action, the insults and kind words said only in passing; sometimes those things shape the adult we become just as much as the first broken hearts and overheard shouting matches. Shining the light of importance on even those small things might be what Boyhood does best, and it's worth it to all of us to take a moment and do the same for ourselves.

Mason Jr. isn't the only character that grows during the movie. No one is the same person they were when the audience is first introduced to them. Seeing his parents trying to live their own lives while simultaneously attempting to guide him through his is a gratifying experience. There's a scene in which Mason's mother realizes that her entire life for nearly two decades has revolved around providing for her children, to her it's her identity and it's at that moment walking out the door. I have no children of my own as of yet, but the way in which Patricia Arquette expresses the rudderless feeling that her character is feeling is heart wrenching, even to myself.

Conclusion: There's a lot more I could say about Boyhood, but I think it's best if I don't. I get the feeling that it will affect different people in different ways upon viewing. I understand if someone complains about the lack of an actual plot beyond watching a kid grow up, but even that is a reminder that there isn't really a plot to life. Life is a series of moments, and every one of them impacts us in some way. It's not always grand, it just is.

Rating: 8.25/10

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 26!!


The holidays are over and things are back to business as usual.  This week I picked up two movies:  Boyhood directed by Richard Linklater and starring Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, and Ethan Hawke.  If you haven't heard some of the buzz surrounding this movie, especially regarding the manner in which it was filmed do yourself a favor and give it a look.  It's an interesting concept that worked remarkably from everything I've heard.  I also got Horns based on the Joe Hill novel of the same name and starring Daniel Radcliffe.

After a quiet week in comics with the New Year throwing everything off schedule things are back to normal.  I brought home Green Arrow #38 by Andrew Kreisberg, Ben Sokolowski and Daniel Sampere, Lady Killer #1 by Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich, S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 by Mark Waid, Carlos Pacheco, Mariano Taibo, and Dono Almara, Trees #8 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard, Wolf Moon #2 of 6 by Cullen Bunn, Jeremy Haun, and Lee Loughridge, and The Woods #9 by James Tynion IV, Michael Dialynas, and Josan Gonzalez.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs


A Princess of Mars
Barsoom #1
Publisher: Serialization – The All-Story (1912), Novelization – A.C. McClurg & Company (1917)
Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Pages: 204
Price: $7.95

When Civil War veteran Captain John Carter is incredibly transported from Earth to a strange landscape on Mars, he finds that the weak gravity exponentially increases his speed and strength. Taken prisoner by Martian warriors, Carter impresses them with his remarkable fighting skills, and is quickly made a high-ranking chieftain. Before long, the captain finds himself embroiled in the deadly warfare and dark intrigues that have been polarizing the Martian races. The heroic Carter also finds dangerous romance with the divine princess Dejah Thoris, who wins Carter's love the first moment his eyes meet hers.

I've long been a reader of science fiction and fantasy stories. Starting at a rather young age I was already jumping into the genres with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and as I entered my teens I'd moved on to Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke. Somehow along the way I'd missed Edgar Rice Burroughs, and it wasn't until very recently that I rectified that oversight on my part. I mention this only to give a little context regarding my view of the book, it wasn't my introduction to the genres and in fact came much later in my reading life than for many people

A Princess of Mars is essentially a travelogue describing the journey and things our hero encounters a long the way. The first half of the book especially does this very effectively; while there are a lot of flowery descriptions of the things John Carter sees and does everything moves at such a pace that it's impossible for the story to get mired in the doldrums that sometimes accompany that kind of story. It's not just walking and seeing a lot of wondrous things. John Carter fights, falls in love, discovers new races, is taken captive, and wins his freedom throughout his travels. So, while it is a travelogue it isn't the type that succumbs to the negative connotations that are sometimes associated with the word.

I enjoyed the set up for the story immensely. It's presented to the reader as a true account, a memoir left to Burroughs upon the death of John Carter. The device feels very modern in its application to the story. It does have the unfortunate side effect of requiring the remainder of the story to be told in first person. When one is dealing with a character of immense power, and desirable, for the time, morals this has a slight negative effect on the story. Instead of the reader drawing their own conclusions as to the prowess and fortitude of the character they're told, by the man himself, how good he is. It gets a little tiresome after a while.

Burroughs isn't a bad writer, but his style is somewhat limited. After a few fights, captures and escapes they started to blend together a little bit and I lost count of the individual incidents. Due to this I found more enjoyment in the reprieves from the action. There are a couple of really fun characters sprinkled in among all the fighting, specifically Sola and Tars Tarkas. Ironically, the chapter that delves deepest into the character Sola was excluded from the original serialization of the story because it was decided by the publisher that it slowed the story down too much. I felt the exact opposite, it added weight to the tale, making it easier to relate to the alien characters. Finally, I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending. It happens very abruptly, almost as if a word limit had been reached and everything had to be wrapped up quickly. Burroughs also leaves unanswered the one question running through the readers' minds as to the fate of a very important character. While I'm sure it's answered in one of the subsequent books it was an unfulfilling way to end the book.

Conclusion: Burroughs is considered by many to be one of the great-grandfathers of science fiction, and I can see where his work influenced many of those that came after him. While I enjoyed the story, for the most part, I think that because I read it so late in my experience with sci-fi that it didn't resonate with me the way it does for some.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Forbidden Island


Forbidden Island
Publisher: Gamewright (2012)
Players: 2-4
Play Time: Approximately 30 minutes
Genre: Board Game, Strategy, Co-op
Price: $17.99

Forbidden Island is another game from Matt Leacock, you might remember him from my previous review of Pandemic. It's another cooperative game, in which the players assume the roles of adventurers on an island, trying to track down four treasures. What could be so hard about that you might ask? The game is a race against the clock, the island is sinking and you must recover the treasures and escape the island before it sinks into an oceanic abyss.

Much like Pandemic the adventurers in Forbidden Island each have a special ability that helps you solve the puzzle that is the island. The different roles open up options for the players in movement and abilities, such as shoring up flooded island tiles essentially unflooding them. If a previously flooded tile is flooded again through a “Waters Rise” draw it is removed from play. There in lies the danger in the game. Mr. Leacock again creates multiple ways to lose the game, and only one way to win it. To win the game the players must collect all four treasures, congregate at Fools' Landing, the very appropriately landing pad for the heroes only means of escape from the island, and then one player must play one of three Helicopter Lift cards from the treasure deck.

Losing the game is much easier. There are four different ways to lose the game, all based around the flooding mechanic. The first and most obvious is if the water level reaches the dreaded skull and crossbones on the Water Meter. If a player is on an island tile that sinks, and there is no adjacent tile for them to escape to, they perish; thereby losing the game for the entire team. Leaving a man behind is not an option. If Fools' Landing sinks then your only method for escape sinks with it and the team loses. Finally if both of the tiles that grant access to any one of the treasures sinks the game is lost, returning home with three of the four treasures is not acceptable. No one will buy an incomplete set apparently!


With all that in mind the game play can be quite hectic. The first time several places that you need to win are flooded there's a mad scramble to save them before the next “Waters Rise” card. It's important during those times that the players really talk about what their next few steps should be. Any inefficiency in action can result in a quick reshuffle and restart. The most important thing to keep in mind, like in most cooperative games, is that you're there for everyone to have fun. One person ruling the table is not fun for everyone else. Sure, if you're teaching the game to new people you might have to be a little more visible in the decision making process, but after one game everyone will understand the rules and complexities enough that they can and should speak their minds.

When all the planning comes together and you finally escape the Forbidden Island I find you're almost always tempted to set up another game. I'm proud to say that I know this from experience, as this is a Matt Leacock creation that hasn't stymied me at every turn, unlike my nemesis Pandemic. That's when another game feature shines. Not only can you make the game harder by starting the water level at a more advanced state, the game board changes every time you play. That easy first game you played, with the treasures all clustered around Fools' Landing, it's but a memory as you're next game features a treacherous hike from important place to place. It's the variety in the game place that will keep me coming back for more.

Conclusion: Forbidden Island is a great cooperative game, so if playing with friends instead of against them is your thing then this is a great place to get your feet wet (ha ha). Between the variable difficulty and the multitude of configurations for the island there's a lot of replay value to be had here. This is a game well suited to a wide range of gamers, the inexperienced and the old experts, which makes it a good way to get a group of varying experience levels together and gaming.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, January 5, 2015

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 11


Gotham
Episode Title: “Rogues' Gallery”
Channel: Fox
Director: Oz Scott
Writer: Sue Chung
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: January 5, 2014

Gotham is back from its mid-season break, and with its return I was excited for the change in venue. It's clear that Arkham is going to play a large role in the show going forward, from the inmates to the possible connection to the Waynes' murder. With the place's importance being so evident I expected this episode to focus on the asylum and its inhabitants. To be fair, a decent amount of the action does take place within the walls of Arkham, but there are a lot of things going on in this episode. All of the peripheral stuff takes away from what should have been a should have been the star of the episode, the setting.

In Arkham, Gordon is having a tough time winning favor with his new supervisor, and after a pseudo-murder launches an investigation into the inmates and eventually the staff. Morena Baccarin makes her appearance as Dr. Leslie Thompkins and shines. It's not made clear what exactly her place is within the corrupt machine that is Gotham, but she seems trustworthy. The intent with her character appears to be for her to assume Bullock's role as Jim's partner for his time in Arkham. It was pretty clear early on that Nurse Duncan wasn't to be trusted, even if she didn't materialize as the big bad of the episode. The reveal concerning her involvement really pushed the boundaries of my ability to suspend disbelief. The moment the administrator of the asylum, Dr. Lang, realizes that she's not part of his staff would have been far more believable if he hadn't had interactions with her earlier in the episode. The actual big bad, whose identity wasn't terribly surprising; he's the most sinister sounding inmate we saw interviewed, is actually pretty interesting and in keeping with what one might expect from a villain in Gotham. That aside, he wasn't eliminated at the end of the episode! The audience will actually get to see a villain more than once before his defeat. The prospect of that has me excited, I've felt for a while that the show was misusing its villains by eliminating them by the end of an episode.

The rest of the episode was a mish-mash of things that the audience either didn't need to see in this episode, or at all. Penguin's scenes especially felt jammed into the episode. I'm sure that the writers recognize that he's the character that a lot of the audience has grown to appreciate most, but that doesn't mean that he must be inserted into episodes without consideration for the way the rest of the episode is impacted. We also got to see another baby step forward for Fish's plot against Falcone, but what we saw doesn't really do much to advance the conspiracy. Butch's loyalty was proven, and a rival was struck down, but it seemed that those could have been handled in a way that required far less screen time than was provided. Selina and Ivy break into Jim's (Barbara's) apartment while Ivy recovers from an illness of some sort. While there Ivy answered a call from Barbara and made more trouble in the Jim and Barbara relationship. At this point I'm not sure how the writers might redeem Barbara's character. Aside from leaving Jim, running off with an ex-lover, who later decides Barbara is toxic, and her drug and alcohol problem, now she can't tell the difference between a hypothetical lover of Jim's and a pre-teen on the phone.

Bruce and Alfred were notably absent from “Rogues' Gallery.” As much as I've been enjoying the way that part of the story has been going over the past few episodes I'm glad there were no scenes with them this week. I'm not really sure where they could have been crammed into what was an already bloated episode and this will give a little time for things to have evolved on that front without inundating the viewers with the minutiae. I was also glad to see Bullock pop back up, he has quickly become one of my favorite parts of the show and I had hoped that Gordon's reassignment wouldn't deprive us of his presence.

Conclusion: There was just too much going on in “Rogues' Gallery” for it to be a great episode. Most of the stuff that happened in Arkham was good, but there were so many other things being thrown at the audience that it detracted from the episode as a whole. Morena Baccarin's addition to the cast, along with the villain, Jack Gruber, escaping and poised to make additional appearances, were the highlights of the episode.

Rating: 6.5/10

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Star Wars: Issue #1


Star Wars
Issue #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: John Cassaday
Rated: T/Teen
Genre: Sci-Fi
Price: $4.99

Time for a sneak peak at issue number one of the upcoming Star Wars title from Marvel Comics. Due to be released on January 14th I was fortunate enough to come into a copy early. This series will be taking place between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and it's important to remember that most of the previously published Expanded Universe (EU) content is not considered canon. That is to say that those stories exist separately from what is accepted as the actual Star Wars story. If you, like myself, were a fan of the various books, comics, and games that have been released over the years that brought additional detail to the universe you will need to set aside your preconceived notions of what took place between, before, and after the movies. Settle in and enjoy the fact that every bit of new Star Wars media that you consume is now officially part of the story.

On to the comic! These are the characters you've known and loved for a large part of your life. The feel of the universe is nearly spot on, it just feels like a Star Wars story from the start. Cassaday's art fits in well with the story, and the characters look the way I want them to look for a comic. Some panels seemed to be lacking in detail though, almost like the action was taking place against a back drop in a studio instead of in a galaxy as vibrant as the one we've come to expect. I also felt that it was a strange design choice to have the characters all dressed in outfits very reminiscent of those we've seen elsewhere in the trilogy. I was expecting something that felt a little more different than what we've already seen. I can buy that Han basically dresses the same every day, but Luke is wearing his award ceremony get-up from A New Hope and Leia is dressed practically the same as she is through the first half of Empire. A small complaint, I know; it has little bearing on the story, but it jumped off the page as an oddity to me.

Jason Aaron's story captures the 'against the odds' feeling of the Rebel Alliance very well. When we enter the story our favorite rebels are in the midst of a plan to destroy a major weapons manufacturing plant. The plan seems to be going well, which as we all know is a bad sign in this universe. C-3PO even commits the cardinal sin of remarking on how good a feeling he has about things. When everything inevitably goes sideways for our heroes Han improvises one of his famous plans. Luke picks that moment to have wandered off on his own, first as part of an impromptu rescue and then a much more dangerous confrontation. The banter between Han and Threepio specifically feels like a continuation of the relationship originally seen in the movies. All of the characters feel like their movie counterparts and react to situations as the reader would expect. One surprising thing for me is that it looks like they're going to tackle the growth of the relationship between Han and Leia very early in the series. It makes sense, as it's the best motivation for Han to be sticking with the Alliance; I just thought they'd develop the story line a little bit more before tackling a romantic link between the two.

Conclusion: I don't know if it's still the case, with the Disney acquisition of the Star Wars franchise, but before it's been generally accepted that there are three years between episodes four and five. If that is still the case then there is a lot they can do with this series, and with some minor tweaks it appears that the story is in good hands. I'm excited to see what happens next, and do not envy the task of telling this story while under constant scrutiny from many fans that have had thirty years to fill in this gap in the story with their own ideas.

Rating: 8/10