Monday, March 30, 2015

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 16

The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “Conquer”
Channel: AMC
Director: Greg Nicotero
Writers: Scott M. Gimple and Seth Hoffman
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 90 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: March 29, 2015

“Conquer” was the finale of season five of The Walking Dead, spoilers ahead!

I have, for the most part, enjoyed this season of The Walking Dead. Sure it slowed down a little bit during the fiasco with the folks at the hospital, but overall things have been going well on the show. There were a lot of characters that needed to come to grips with their new found safety, the things they did to get there, or what parts of them they need to leave behind to assimilate themselves into Alexandra. There were too many threads that needed tying off, so I am glad they decided to go with a longer than usual episode.

To start things off, Morgan's back. The episode opened with an interesting little back and forth between Morgan and a mystery man with a 'W' on his forehead. We've been waiting since the mid-season finale for Morgan to pop back up, and personally I thought it was worth the wait. He effortlessly dispatched his assailants with his staff and went on with his business. Through that conversation the audience was given more information on the group of survivors that will be serving as the antagonists in season six.

Meanwhile, Sasha and Father Gabriel are both in a serious downward spiral. Sasha has taken to lying in a mass grave of walkers and Gabriel is venturing beyond the wall unarmed. Gabriel thinks he's ready to die, but when it came down to it he wasn't. Dropping two walkers, quite possibly the first one's he's confronted, didn't change his outlook on life, as he continued to sulk. Near the end of the episode Sasha went to Gabriel for help, which he claimed he couldn't give and they got into a fight, with Sasha nearly shooting him before Maggie came in. The end of their little arc featured the three of them in a prayer circle. Here's to hoping that this brings an end to their respective death wishes

Rick awoke to find himself bandaged up following his tussle with Pete. Michonne has been keeping watch over him and when Glenn, Carol, and Abraham show up it's revealed that there is to be a meeting to discuss Rick's future in the community. Rick hatches a plan to take over if things go badly, although Glen seems reluctant to initiate violence against the inhabitants of Alexandria. Speaking of Glenn; he watched Nick hop the fence and decided to follow him. To the audience it was pretty clearly a trap. Nick shot Glenn and they fought through the woods. After a harrowing moment with some walkers attacking Glenn he eventually caught up to the fleeing Nick and beat him up pretty badly. He had a change of heart before the pulled the trigger though, and instead helped Nick back home. It was good to see that despite some of the things he's said this season Glenn is still a good guy deep down.

Daryl and Aaron are still out recruiting. After they lose track of a man they've been following they decided to make a food run at a grocery store. They wound up springing a trap, tractor trailers full of walkers, and were forced to seek refuge in an abandoned vehicle. Daryl does a better job than any of Rick's survivors thus far of explaining the way they're reacting to their apparent safety. Basically he believes that he's not really meant for society, but Aaron points out that he's helped his friends when he could have easily left them behind. Their plan to make a break for safety was interrupted when Morgan happened by and started laying waste to the walkers. Following their escape Morgan revealed that he's still trying to catch up with Rick, using a map Rick had left behind for him.

Finally the meeting takes place, missing some key components, namely Rick and Glenn. Glen was busy trying to drag Nick back to town and Rick had noticed a problem at the gate. Gabriel had been asked to shut the gate, and instead he left it open, allowing several walkers to make their way inside the walls. Rick tracked them down and took them out after a couple of very tense minutes. He arrived at the meeting with one of the walkers draped over his shoulder and calmly explained to the less experienced citizens of Alexandria that they need him and his people. In the process he said some scary things about how many of them he'd have to kill to save the rest. Out of no where Pete showed up with a machete but was stopped from attacking Rick by Deanna's husband, Reg. He accidentally gets his throat slit in the process. Abraham restrained Pete, and while she's watching her husband die, Deanna gave the order and Rick executed him. Aaron and Daryl arrived at that moment, and Morgan looked shocked to see Rick do something so cold blooded.

Overall, nearly everyone gained some measure of closure. Michonne is still with Rick, despite how badly she needs to settle down. Abraham has mended fences with Eugene and Sasha and Gabriel may be on the road to recovery. Glenn managed to prove to himself that people still matter, even the bad ones. In complete honesty, I'm actually glad that none of the major characters bought the farm in this episode. Instead of another shocking death, which seem to get less shocking every time they happen, all of the main characters made it through the finale relatively unscathed. Breaking from the formula should make the next deaths more meaningful, something more than fulfilling the expectation brought about due to where an episode falls in the season.

Conclusion: “Conquer” didn't contain the tragic losses that I had been expecting from this episode, but it did seem to wrap up the “getting used to safety” story arcs for most of the characters. Instead of using character deaths to spice things up the writers used “Conquer” to set up the next season.

Rating: 7.75/10

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 36!!

I've still got plenty of things to read and watch, so this week is strictly comics. So without further delay here they are!

Constantine #23 by Ray Fawkes, Jeremy Haun and Richard and Tanya Horie, Darth Vader #3 by Keiron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, and Edgar Delgado, The Empty #2 by Jimmie Robinson, Intersect #5 by Ray Fawkes, Lady Mechanika #5 by Joe Benitez and Peter Steigerwald, Tomb Raider #14 by Rhianna Pratchett and Derlis Santacruz, The Wicked + The Divine #9 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles, and Wytches #5 by Scott Snyder, Jock, Matt Hollingsworth, and Clem Robins.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 17

Episode Title: “Suicidal Tendencies”
Channel: CW
Director: Jesse Warn
Writer: Keto Shimizu
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: March 25, 2015

“Suicidal Tendencies” began with Diggle and Lyla getting married. Shortly after the ceremony the members of team Arrow are all notified via their phones of a new Arrow story, the press is running with the “The Arrow is killing folks again” con being fed to them by Ra's. Diggle offers to stay and help Oliver look into the allegations, but is told to go ahead with his honeymoon. Before he and Lyla can even get to the airport they're brought into a hostage rescue mission by Floyd Lawton and ARGUS. So instead of Fiji, Diggle and Lyla team up with Deadshot and Cupid and are inserted into the country of Kasnia to retrieve a bunch of hostages that include a U.S. Senator.

Aside from Slade Wilson, Deadshot has been one of the better villains this show has managed to set up. So I was glad to see him pop back up. Not only did he play a major part in the Diggle and Lyla portions of the show but through him we also received a reprieve from the Hong Kong flashbacks; which had reached a new level of boring last week. Although there weren't many of them, this week the flashbacks focused on Lawton's return from war and his inability to rejoin peaceful, law-abiding citizens. The scene when he just loses it on his wife and daughter was hard to watch, you could see that he just doesn't get normal life anymore. Lawton had turned himself into something that can't exist outside of the battlefield, which he proved by accepting the contract that was offered to him, on Diggle's brother.

Back in Kasnia things really fall apart for the Suicide Squad when everything is revealed to be a set up by the senator. He thought that he would somehow increase his chances of being elected President by surviving a kidnapping at the hands of terrorists. When the squad showed up to rescue him he dropped the facade, claimed that the other hostages were no witnesses to his duplicity and had his men wire the building to explode. Following a shoot out, and a conversation between Diggle and Lyla that is overheard by Deadshot, talking about getting home to their daughter, Lawton and the rest of the team concoct a way to free the hostages and get everyone out safely. Everyone but Deadshot, who apparently sacrifices himself so the rest can get away. There's no way I believe he's dead, he's one of only a few quality villain-esque characters the show has set up, so I expect to see him again. No body, no death. It's also worth noting that Cupid wasn't quite as irritating this time around as in her introduction episode. She's still taking crazy to the next level, but it wasn't quite as grating.

Back in Starling City the police are initiating a manhunt for the Arrow, aided by Ray Palmer. Ray tracked the Arrow to the next location Ra's and his men attacked, conveniently showing up only as the League's men have departed and Oliver is left standing amidst the bodies of their victims. Ray used the x-ray vision in his suit and a facial recognition program that Felicity wrote to identify the Arrow as Oliver and tried to go to the police with the knowledge. Instead he ended up sitting across from Laurel, who does her best to dissuade him from pursuing what he thinks he knows. Instead he faked a 911 call and lured Arrow and Roy to an isolated spot. Once again Roy is swatted aside in a fraction of a second and the showdown really begins. As an aside, Roy isn't my favorite character, but even I'm getting sick of the exercise in futility nearly every one of his fights turns into. Throw the guy a bone and let him shine in a fight or two before he is once again humiliatingly bested. Moving on, Oliver and Ray spar for a couple of minutes before Oliver notices some sort of Death Star-like weakness in the ATOM suit's design. With one well placed dart throw Oliver shuts down the suit, and then talks Ray into believing him. Ray might want to put some shielding on that thermal exhaust port.

There were a couple of issues I had with the episode. First I'm just not buying Captain Lance's now complete hatred of the Arrow. I know he feels like the Arrow conspired to hide his daughter's death from him, but he's also done a lot of good. They fought side by side against Slade's men, and cooperated to apprehend some dangerous people. His complete 180 on the subject just doesn't feel genuine. The other issue is something that has plagued this entire season, the writing of the Felicity Smoak character. This isn't about which romance she should be pursuing or if it should even be there. When you watch a show on the CW you know that every romantic angle is going to be presented at some point. My issue is with the constant inconsistencies in the way the character responds to situations. She has become the ultimate flip-flopper. First she defends Oliver tooth and nail in an argument with Palmer, than she accuses Oliver of wanting Ray dead and out of the way ten minutes later. I just doesn't make sense.

To wrap up the episode Ray and Oliver have come to an understanding and Palmer is pleading the Arrow's case to the city brass. Only minutes earlier in an obvious moment of foreshadowing Ollie mentioned to Diggle that he was most worried about when Ra's and his men tired of killing criminals and went after innocent people. During Ray's meeting with the Lances, Laurel and Quentin, and the mayor an arrow strikes the mayor, presumably killing her. Maseo is shown outside drawing back his bow to fire another arrow, this time aimed at Felicity and...fade to black. I'd been wondering when Maseo was going to be forced to do some of the dirty work and stop acting as a liaison between Ra's and Oliver. I don't think anyone believes that Felicity is in danger of dying, but an injury to Smoak could be the catalyst needed to spark a confrontation between Oliver and Maseo, and shed some light on how things went wrong back in Hong Kong. I think the flashbacks are going to be taking it up a few notches in the coming weeks.

Conclusion: “Suicidal Tendencies” had a lot going on, and although there were two separate stories being told neither felt like it got the short end in regards to time. After some initial conflict Oliver has gained a powerful ally, one whom I hope they bring a little closer to the source material. At this point Ray Palmer is a boring Tony Stark, with a glitchy suit. After seeming a bit rudderless in the early parts of the season it looks like everything is building to something pretty fun.

Rating: 8/10

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 16

The Flash
Episode Title: “Rogue Time”
Channel: CW
Director: Grainne Godfree
Writers: Brooke Eikmeier and Kai Yu Wu
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: March 24, 2015

Following “Out of Time” was going to be a tall task for any episode. All of the revelations and the drama from last week's episode have been effectively wiped from the time line, with Barry being the only person that knows how events were supposed to play out. He immediately does what a person would do in that situation and goes into situations armed with all of the knowledge of the possible future he possesses. Dr. Wells warns him against doing anything differently during the upcoming day, but no matter how grave the consequences Barry can't stand aside and watch the people around him put into danger. So he meddles, and things do not go well.

To prevent the attack on the police station Barry apprehended Mardon in record time, keeping Captain Singh and Joe safe. Wells warns Barry that time will do whatever it can to get things back onto the right track, and we see that quickly as the Mick Rory and Leonard Snart (Heatwave and Captain Cold) pop back up. They waste no time in trying to assert their dominance over organized crime in Central City. Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell have not toned down the cheese-factor one bit. Purcell especially seems determined to play things as over the top as possible. I know the show is based on a comic book, but after seeing the way Paul Giamatti's Rhino was received in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 you would think it apparent that comically corny is an unpopular way to depict a villain.

There are more unintended consequences of Barry's interference in the day's events. He decides to once again confess his love to Iris, only to be rebuffed. Apparently Iris hasn't had to examine her feelings the same way under the new circumstances she has found herself in. A little later on Eddie attacked Barry, apparently she told Eddie about that conversation and he was unimpressed. Mason Bridge never gets the opportunity to bring Iris into his investigation, preventing Cisco from launching his own investigation. That wasn't the only thing impeding Cisco. Following his disastrous appearance at his brother's birthday party Cisco is seduced by a mystery woman. She turns out to be Leonard Snart's sister and the villainous trio has kidnapped Cisco's brother in an attempt to force him to make new weapons for the bad guys. He does so, but is forced to reveals the Flash's secret identity under extreme duress. The introduction of Lisa Snart is a welcome change of pace from the antics of Captain Cold and Heatwave. She's more understated, for the most part, although the gold gun that Cisco invents on the spot for her is more than a little ridiculous.

Cisco returned to the lab to confess what he had been forced to divulge. He is understandably disappointed in himself, but receives a boost from Dr. Wells when Wells delivers nearly the same speech to Cisco in a pep talk that he had delivered in “Out of Time” before killing him. It was good to see Cisco regain some of the confidence he had lost following his capture, but more importantly the audience got to see that Wells really means the things he said. It is hard to feel too good about it as the viewer when you know that despite his fondness for Cisco, Dr. Wells is perfectly willing to murder the young man.

The climax this week was two fold. Barry confronted Snart about his knowledge of the Flash's identity. Snart seems to have a foolproof way of keeping the knowledge hanging over Barry's head, but Barry threatened to go after Snart with no mercy if he used that knowledge to use the Flash's loved ones against him. So the two have an agreement do keep things strictly professional, which surely can't last. We also get to see Wells go after Bridge, using the same vibrating hand trick he killed Bridge and destroyed all of the evidence Mason had gathered regarding Wells' more nefarious activities. The episode closed with Barry preparing to ask Wells about Simon Stagg when he's interrupted by news coverage of Mason's death. There's no reaction from Wells, but it seemed as if Barry was mentally connecting some dots. Maybe Barry doesn't need the death of Cisco to begin doubting Harrison's good intentions

Conclusion: It was a bold idea to show the audience everything they did in “Out of Time” only to undo it by the end of the episode. It's tough to judge that decision on only one follow up episode, but so far I'm not disappointed. Seeing the interactions between characters that the audience knows could be vastly different may get frustrating, but the glimmer of suspicion in Barry's eye at the end of the episode leads me to believe that it won't be long before the truth reemerges.

Rating: 7.75/10

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 15

The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “Try”
Channel: AMC
Director: Michael E. Satrazemis
Writer: Angela Kang
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 44 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: March 22, 2015

There's only one more episode left after tonight, and lots of big things are being set up. The biggest thing is the amount of distrust there is towards Rick's group from Deanna. Between Gabriel's warning last week, and Nicholas' version of the events that led to Aidan and Noah's deaths, Deanna is having a hard time figuring out how to keep the peace. I thought up to this point that maybe she saw a way to solve some of Alexandria's problems through Rick's group. Because of her group's lack of experience out in the world no one is really equipped to handle problems in the decisive manner that Rick's people are. Some of her comments during Nicholas' videotaped version of events made it seem like she knew that her people are lacking. Her refusal of Carol's casserole and the burning of her sympathy card paints her feelings in a very different light. Apparently she thought she could bring them in, put them in positions of authority, and then act surprised when they relapse into “out there” mode.

Aaron and Daryl were in “Try” for a short period of time. They found more walkers with a 'W' carved into their forehead and the arms and legs of several walkers. The torsos and heads were missing. It's the same thing that the audience saw way back during the midseason premiere when they ran into a van full of torsos and heads. They also stumbled upon a freshly killed body that had been tied to a try and red on by walkers. Clearly all of this is the work of a very bad guy, or group of bad guys. There's so much that needs to happen in the season finale that I'm not sure that we'll get anymore information on that topic. I'm expecting that if we see anything regarding this bad group of folks it'll only be enough to get everyone excited for next season

Sasha is not handling situation well at all, in addition to pulling all nighters in the watch tower she's no disappearing during the day beyond the wall. Rosita mentioned that fact to Michonne and they go outside to look for her. Eventually they find that she's been hunting walkers because she's tired of being on defense. After a fight with a herd of walkers though, one in which Michoone and Rosita jump in, it's clear that it's about more than that. Sasha doesn't know what to do with her new found safety. The audience hasn't seen much of Rosita and how she's handling everything, but from the glint in her eye it seems that she too is afraid of losing the edge that kept her alive out in the open. The trio gleefully took out the walkers with Michonne commenting that she wasn't doing it to help Sasha, it was for herself.

It was bound to happen as the character of Carl grew up, he's found his first crush. After seeing Enid leave the compound on multiple occasions, and trying to follow her with little success his tenacity has finally paid off. They too seem afraid of losing the instincts that have kept them alive thus far. They shared a brief moment in a hollow tree as walkers shambled by. I actually thought I'd dislike the idea of time being used on Carl's love life a lot more than I actually do. As long as the audience only has to see it in short, interesting bursts the burgeoning relationship shouldn't detract from the show.

Rick wants to solve Jesse's Pete problem. Carol still wants them to kill the guy, but Rick takes the matter to Deanna first. She shoots down the notion of an execution and instead wants to exile the guy, only if it gets worse. Rick followed up his meeting with Deanna with a visit to Jesse. At first she rebuffed his attempt to offer his assistance. The deciding factor was that her son asked for a gun in order to protect her. Upon making the decision to kick Pete out of the house, with Rick's help, Pete showed up. After a halfhearted attempt to get the man to leave peacefully Rick and Pete end up in an all out brawl. Both combatants inadvertently strike loved ones during the melee, and after it's over Rick launches into a speech about how things need to be done his way or none of them will survive. Although the damage to his standing in the town was already severely damaged Michonne jumped in and knocked him out. One has to wonder; if she had been involved in Rick and Carol's conversations would she have reacted differently? After all she is also part of the constabulary. It looks like Rick's position in Alexandria is in danger, how will he and his friends handle this new situation? If Rick is exiled will the rest of his people sit by and let it happen?

Conclusion: “Try” did what the episode before a season finale is supposed to do. It upped the tension, set up some questions to answer, and gave a peak into what the conflict may be in season six. No matter the outcome of the Rick situation; life inside Alexandria is going to change, the only question will be who falls on which side?

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 35!!

 Another week, another bag full of stuff to bring home.  Starting things off there's Penny Dreadful:  The Complete First Season starring Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, and if you've been wondering where Josh Hartnett has been you can find him here.  I didn't subscribe to Showtime during the first season's run on television so I thought I'd give this one a chance to hook me before season two started.

In a departure from my usual reading fare I picked up a little non-fiction this week, Patton Oswalt's Silver Screen Fiend:  Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film.  I picked it up after seeing an interview with him on ScreenJunkies with Hal Rudnick and seeing his obvious enthusiasm for movies.  I also picked up the next two books in Larry Correia's Monster Hunter series; Monster Hunter:  Vendetta and Monster Hunter:  Alpha.

In comics I picked up The Kitchen #5 of 8 by Ollie Masters, Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire, Moon Knight #13 by Cullen Bunn, Ron Ackins, Tom Palmer, and Dan Brown, Princess Leia #2 by Mark Waid, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson and Jordie Bellaire, and Wytches #4 by Scott Snyder, Jock, Matt Hollingsworth, and Clem Robins.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Betrayal at House on the Hill

Betrayal at House on the Hill: 2nd Edition
Publisher: AvalonHill (2010)
Players: 3-6
Play Time: 30 min – 2 hrs
Genre: Board Game, Strategy, Horror, Co-op
Price: $49.99

Gather a few of your gaming friends and sit down for a game that never plays the same way twice. Betrayal at House on the Hill has a lot of parts and can be quite daunting for those playing it the first time, but once they get the hang of it there's a lot of fun to be had. The game was created by Bruce Glassco and the first edition won the Gamers Choice Award at the Origins Game Fair in 2004. It consists of twelve different explorers for the players to control, all with unique statistics in Speed, Might, Sanity, and Knowledge. Those explorers are tasked with exploring an old house. The ground floor and upper level are open to the players at the onset of the game, with the basement becoming accessible through a variety of ways. There are a total of 44 total rooms possible in the house, laid out at random as rooms are explored. Most of the rooms have a special feature, either a condition for entering/leaving, an item hidden in the room, and event that is triggered upon discovery, or an ominous Omen.

Items are pretty self-explanatory. Most of them are there in order to help your character in combat or exploration. These are the primary way your character increases in power as the game goes on. Most of them can be given to other players, some are expended after a single use, and later on they can be stolen. Events are creepy things that happen upon entering a room. Sometimes they're good, increasing statistics are conferring items to the player, and sometimes they're bad, reducing statistics, trapping an explorer until they're able to free themselves, or otherwise impeding the players' progress. The real danger comes from the Omens. These are cards that on face value are generally very beneficial to the player; companions, powerful weapons, large stat boosts, and more. In small doses they're a good thing. Every time an Omen is drawn though the player who draws it must make a Haunt roll. The roll most be greater than the total number of Omens on the table, if it's not the game takes a dramatic turn; from cooperative exploration to, most often, murderous predation.

After an unsuccessful Haunt roll the players consult one of the included books, the Traitor's Tome, to determine the identity of the traitor. Depending on the room that was responsible for the Haunt, the Omen that was drawn in that room, and occasionally the Haunt revealer, one of fifty different scenarios is indicated to be that game's Haunt. Aside from two scenarios without a traitor, this mechanic will pit one of the players against the rest in a unique confrontation. The traitor consults the aforementioned Traitor's Tome while the forces of good get their instructions from Secrets of Survival. The best way to tackle this part of the game is to separate the two parties and go over the scenario and its dangers and conditions for victory before reconvening and continuing the game. It's important to remember that all of the information shared in one book may not have been included in the other, so be careful with what you say, you could be inadvertently sharing too much with your enemy.

For me this is where the game really shines. There are so many different Haunts that the game never feels stale. There are Haunts involving Voodoo, demon lords, dragons, lycanthropes, one inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray and more. Some of the scenarios do have a bit of an issue with balance, they're either too easily won by the Survivors or the Traitor, but for the most part they're challenging fun for both sides. The only real complaint with this aspect of the game is that it can be a little jarring to stop the game for ten to fifteen minutes, read a new set of rules, form a strategy, and then get back to the game. Try to look at it as an opportunity for everyone to take a rest room break, freshen up a drink, get a snack, and get back to it.

As you can imagine, this type of game involves a lot of pieces. Aside from those already mentioned there are almost 150 tokens intended to represent any of the variety of beasties the Haunt might unleash on the world. It can be quite a task to sort through all of those tokens to find the ones you need for a specific Haunt. Another issue with the pieces are these tiny plastic clips intended to be used to track each players' statistics on the sides of their player card. The clips fit very loosely on the card and come dislodged if someone closes a door on the other side of the house too vigorously. We've used bobby pins in the past to accomplish the task that those clips fail so miserably at. Small paper clips would also do the job, and I've been intending to pick up a bag of tiny clothespins to try.

Conclusion: Once you can overcome the rather steep learning curve Betrayal at House on the Hill will provide you and your friends with hours of entertainment. Although it's not a game for neophyte gamers, casual players will get the hang of it after a game or two. The sheer number of options make even your practice sessions fun. Just find a substitute for some of the lesser quality pieces and avoid the headache of trying to remember if that last Hideous Shriek drove you insane or if you're still in the fight.

Rating: 8/10

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 16

Episode Title: “The Offer”
Channel: CW
Director: Dermott Downs
Writers: Beth Schwartz and Brian Ford Sullivan
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: March 18, 2015

It's been over a month since the audience saw Ra's make his offer to Oliver. For me “The Offer” was met with excitement and anticipation. Sure, we all knew Oliver was going to say no, but surely there would be consequences for his refusal. Ra's, I'd imagine, is not used to being denied and the wrath of a functionally immortal assassin must be terrible. Ra's instead allowed Oliver to take Diggle and Malcolm back home to Starling City as some sort of peace offering while Oliver reconsiders his answer. He also told Ollie that it was preordained that he'd take up the mantle of the Demon's Head, his city would turn against him, and that the resources of the League would allow him to do far more good than he has up to this point.

This lead to Oliver questioning what he's actually accomplished up to this point. When you consider; most of the guys he's gotten locked up were released a few episodes ago, Quentin Lance has decided to hold it against the Arrow that he knew of Sara's death, and that he walked in on Felicity and Ray 'having a moment,' it's not a whole lot. The threat of a new bad guy, Murmur, equipping himself and his thugs with diamond-tipped cop killing ammunition gets team Arrow into the field and offered a welcome respite from the pity party.

Oliver's not the only one. He stashed Malcolm at Thea's home while Merlyn recuperates. She spends most of the episode fantasizing about killing him, and realizing that she's probably a bad person because of that. At one point she lamented to Laurel that she can't even remember who she was before her mother died. She says this as if she were some upstanding citizen previously, which she most certainly wasn't. Back in Nanda Parbat, Nyssa is having her own problems understanding what Ra's is doing, offended that he would offer his title to an outsider. After she halfheartedly attacks him I understood him to say that if she didn't like it, go do something about it. I expected to see her trying to undermine the Arrow's working in Starling City, but instead she's befriending Laurel and offering to train her. I'm truly confused by that bit of the story.

To wrap up the episode the audience is shown a man in a costume identical to Oliver's shooting and killing a few thugs. The man tells the sole survivor to go and tell everyone what he saw. The camera panned around and we see Ra's in the costume. While it wasn't a total surprise that Ra's had a plan to make sure the city turned against him, it was a surprise to see him doing the dirty work himself. He seems like the kind of guy that would send an underling to do that kind of work, I think it would have made more sense to have Maseo doing the killing. Maybe Ra's is just bored and looking to get out of the house.

You'll probably notice that there's been no mention of the flashbacks. Over the last few weeks the flashbacks had been improving, but this week they were a waste of time. Oliver and Akio running through random spots trying to avoid goons. I suppose the lack of anything of substance was supposed to be redeemed by the one important thing to happen, “Shado! What are you doing here?” but the reveal seemed so cheap that it's certain to be a ploy. If it's not than a lot of the important events in the last two seasons are completely undermined.

Conclusion: This was not the way I expected Arrow to come back from its break. “The Offer” just lacked the big moments necessary for a mini-premiere. Half of the characters doubting their place in the world and what they stand for might work during a run of consecutive episodes, but it failed to deliver here. It was lackluster enough that I found myself thinking jokingly that it's time to use some of that shared universe mojo, show Starling City being affected by Barry Allen's jump back in time and lets get a do over.

Rating: 6.5/10

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 15

The Flash
Episode Title: “Out of Time”
Channel: CW
Director: Thor Freudenthal
Writers: Todd Helbing and Aaron Helbing
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: March 17, 2015

It's good to have The Flash back, and “Out of Time” didn't disappoint. If I'm being completely honest, and I always am, I don't remember the last time I finished an episode of television feeling the way I did after this one.  Major spoilers ahead!

That being said, it wasn't all bright moments in “Out of Time.” Barry's love life is again a large focus of the narrative. Iris and Eddie just happen to be at the bowling alley that Barry and Linda go to on a date. They decide to make it a double and it doesn't take long for both Linda and Eddie to become uncomfortable with the close relationship between Barry and Iris. I know that the romance angle is going to play a large part in the show, but I could really use a break from it for a couple of weeks. I'm not someone that can't tolerate the character of Iris, but some of her actions on the date served to make her less likable. The cleaning of Barry's face especially shouted “I'm going to see how far I can take the playful flirting” a little too loudly. Her actions just didn't suit someone that is supposedly in a committed relationship.

The villain this week should sound familiar. Remember the bad guy in the pilot, Clyde Mardon's Weather Wizard? Here we're introduced to his brother, Mark Mardon. He was with his brother when the explosion at S.T.A.R. Labs occurred and was imbued with the same powers. He's back in Central City to get revenge for his brother's shooting and Joe West is his target. He's a little better with his powers than his little brother but just as forgettable. After being driven away from the police station after attacking Joe and injuring Capt. Singh, Mardon captures Joe and reveals that he doesn't want to only punish Joe. He wants to punish those close to West as well, luring Iris and Barry to the waterfront to exact his revenge.

Taking a break from the villain's murderous plot for a moment lets get into the real meat and potatoes of this episode. Iris was approached by one of her coworkers, his name escapes me as he's not been very important to this point, concerning his suspicions that Harrison Wells killed Simon Stagg. Wells did kill Stagg way back in the second episode, “Fastest Man Alive,” but only the audience knows that. Iris approached Barry in an attempt to get him to question his friends at the lab about Dr. Wells. Caitlin is sure that Harrison had nothing to do with it, but Cisco, given his and Joe's previous suspicions, decides to look into it further. It's a bit convoluted, but that's how Cisco gets himself into a very dangerous situation. He has suspected that there was something 'off' about the night that the team managed to trap the Reverse Flash in the lab. He convinced Caitlin to get Wells out of the facility to give him time to look into the events of that night further. He discovers that there was nothing wrong with his equipment, some sort of hologram had been set up in the containment field, there was no one inside! Meanwhile, Wells sensed something wrong in Caitlin's demeanor, got out of his chair, and ran back to the lab. Once confronted with the failure of his elaborate ruse Wells has no choice but to kill Cisco. Carlos Valdes was really good in this scene, conveying the sadness and hurt Cisco was feeling due to the betrayal of his mentor and father figure well. During the mandatory villain monologue phase of the showdown Dr. Wells revealed that he's actually Eobard Thawne, and he's trapped in our time. Apparently he needs the Flash's power to get back to his original time.

Back at the waterfront Iris and Barry arrive in time to see a massive tidal wave caused by Mardon. Following Iris's admission that she can't stop thinking about Barry, and a kiss, Barry is forced to reveal his secret to Iris. He changes into his Flash gear and heads out to stop the tsunami headed towards the coast by creating some sort of wind wall along the coast line to sap the energy from the wave. It sounds ridiculous but that's not the point. Barry pushes his speed past anything he's achieved previously and runs himself back in time, undoing the events of the last couple of days. Now that he knows some of what's going to happen it's clear that the events will not unfold as they did, but just how different are things going to be, and what will the unintended consequences of his meddling in time be? The last quarter of this episode was pretty shocking, but now the audience has specifics regarding topics which the characters are barely informed on or oblivious to. It's not as bad as an “it was all a dream” scenario but it will have to be handled very carefully for audiences to buy into the new events.

Conclusion: Some boring relationship stuff early on kept “Out of Time” from being much more enjoyable. The shocking last quarter contained some of the best moments of the show thus far, but if the follow up episodes aren't handled very delicately all of those moments could be for naught. The writers really need to figure out a way to use their villains more effectively. So far even the recurring ones have too weakly developed to make an impression.

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hard Magic by Larry Correia

Hard Magic
The Grimnoir Chronicles #1
Publisher: Baen (2011)
Author: Larry Correia
Genre: Urban, Fantasy, Alternate History
Pages: 624
Price: $7.99

Jake Sullivan is a war hero, a private eye – and an ex-con. He's free because he has a magical talent and the Feds need his help apprehending criminals with their own magical abilities. But the last operation Jake was sent on went completely wrong, and Delilah Jones, an old friend in happier times, had too much magical muscle with her for the Feds to handle, even with Jake's help.

It got worse. Jake found out that not only have the Feds been lying to him, but there was a secret war being waged by opposing forces of magic-users. Worse still, he had attracted the attention of one side's ruthless leaders – who were of the opinion that Jake was far too dangerous to be permitted to live...

The first book of the Grimnoir Chronicles, Hard Magic, by Larry Correia is a mix of urban fantasy, alternate history, noir story telling, and hints of steampunk. While he's trying to appeal to a number of different fan bases; I think that having so many cross-genre elements kept the story from being as focused as it might have been. I think this issue was realized by the author early on, as after the first couple of chapters the noir aspects of the story are, for the most part, forgotten. Jake Sullivan is billed as a licensed investigator, but aside from his initial involvement with the Bureau of Investigation and renowned law man Melvin Purvis, the detective angle of the character is dropped very early. The story isn't told in first-person, or from the point of view of only one character, so it doesn't fit the genre in that regard either. Sure it's pessimistic and Sullivan is in a situation he's not very fond of, but if you're reading this book because of the noir in Grimnoir you may be disappointed.

I found the word itself fascinating. Sometime before the Civil War human beings began to show signs of magical talent. The degree of power varies by person, and only one power manifested itself in an individual, but a new area of human ability was ushered in by the arrival of these “Actives.” Upon sitting down to review Hard Magic I was struck by the similarities to Brandon Sanderson's Misborn system of magic; differing levels of power, one power per person, and rare cases of multiple disciplines popping up in a person. The powers themselves suffered from a lack of consistency in their application. At one point the reader is told that they take concentration to use, a chapter or two later it's revealed that a character's power activated instinctively while he was unconscious. Late in the book it's revealed that the power is a sentient thing, which I have decided to use as an explanation for the unconscious usage.

As you can imagine these new abilities caused the course of history as we know it to be severely altered. World War I was fought against the Germans, who used the reanimated corpses of their own soldiers to prolong the fight. Between the atrocities seen in Europe, and Japan becoming a superpower, America has adopted a strict isolationist policy. Each chapter opened with an excerpt from the book's world's written records, altered appropriately to reflect the changes magic's appearance has wrought on civilization, such as: Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Man and Selection of Human Magical Abilities. I could have used some more of these touches to get a feel for the world. The huge differences in the world were mentioned, but little of the mundane. The addition of a group of militant Actives that could be blamed for one of the attacks in the story felt like it popped out of no where since the social climate and potential unrest went unexplored through the majority of the book.

The main plot; a well-funded and extremely powerful group of antagonists are opposed by a small and 'on the run' group of resistance fighters that are forced to work in secret due to the bad guy's broad reach. Their mission is to stop the bad guys from locating the pieces of and deploying a superweapon of tremendous power. This isn't anything that the reader hasn't seen before, but there's enough going on in the setting and with the characters to keep it from feeling like a land-bound Star Wars. The main characters, Jake Sullivan and Faye Vierra, are polar opposites. Jake is a well traveled and experienced man who has seen is fair share of fights and Faye is a wide-eyed farm girl still in her teens. I had no problems with the characterization of Sullivan, he's a deceptively thoughtful individual whose size and martial abilities usually have people assuming he's a dumb thug. Faye on the other hand is a girl fresh off the farm entering a violent world that's unlike anything she's experienced before. At times her internal dialogue seems more childish than it should be given the fact that she's in her late teens. Her ability to so quickly make the transition from innocent teenager to cold-blooded killer was jarring, but it was good to see a female character taking such a prominent role in action. Aside from Delilah and Madi, the other characters were a difficult to differentiate at times. Once the Grimnoir knights assembled into one group I found it to be a task to keep Dan, Francis, and Heinrich straight in my mind. I always had to wait for them to use their power before I really knew who I was dealing with.

To wrap this one up, and give the subsequent books something to focus on, the author reveals that the threat posed by the bad guy, the Chairman, is minor compared to what's lurking beyond our hero's scope of imagination. The Chairman reveals that his actions have actually been for the good of mankind, trying to protect them from an otherworldly evil. Much like the Lord Ruler in the aforementioned Mistborn books; the reader is promised even more dangerous times ahead as the seemingly evil protector of mankind falls to the good guys. I'll reiterate that the similarities only occurred to me upon finished the book and sitting down to write about it, so while they're there it didn't detract from the reading experience for me.

Conclusion: Despite some familiar plot elements and a mash-up of genres, Hard Magic was a fun read that kept me turning pages until the end. While the setting could have used more detail, maybe at the expense of descriptions of some of the larger battles, it was an interesting twist on the world as we know it. The periphery characters could have used some fleshing out, but the main characters made up for their shortcomings. The magic's symbiotic relationship with humanity is an intriguing idea that might help explain some of the inconsistencies in the magical rules.

Rating: 7.75/10

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 14

The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “Spend”
Channel: AMC
Director: Jennifer Lynch
Writer: Matthew Negrete
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 44 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: March 15, 2015

“Spend” got the audience caught up with that happenings for the rest of Rick's group. We're now up to date on what just about everyone is supposed to be doing in their new community, aside from Rosita, I'm still not sure what she's going to end up doing.

Abraham's new role is being part of the construction team tasked with extending Alexandria's walls. Before he heads out he had a rather ambiguous moment looking at himself in the bathroom mirror, with Rosita in the background. I'm not sure exactly what the audience was supposed to take from that scene. Is his relationship in jeopardy, does he feel out of place in their new home, or is he questioning a return to a relatively normal life? It was hard to tell from that brief moment. When he and the crew get out to the supplies things inevitably go sideways. After a brief fight with walkers the Alexandrians fall back leaving one of their own behind. Abraham rescues her virtually single-handedly and the construction foreman meets with Deanna and resigns his position of authority, putting another of Rick's people into a position of power.

Which is a nice segue into something that occurred near the end of the episode. Gabriel meets with Deanna to discuss his misgivings concerning her acceptance of Rick's group. He convinced that their more dangerous than helpful and plants some seeds of distrust in her mind. The entire exchange was overheard by Maggie. One would think there might be some serious repercussions for his actions, but it will be difficult for Rick and Co. to do much about it without proving him right

Glenn, Tara, Noah, and Eugene teamed up with Aidan and Nick to make a trip to some sort of warehouse in order to acquire that parts needed to keep Alexandria's solar power up and running. Aidan actually acquiesced to Glenn's suggestions upon arriving at the warehouse and after finding the parts they needed I was actually starting to warm up to the guy. Unfortunately for the entire group he inadvertently triggered an explosion that changed the complexion of their mission dramatically. With Tara injured and Aidan on death's door the group tried to make their way to safety. Eugene finally did something to overcome his cowardice and carry Tara to safety while Glenn, Noah, and Nick saw to Aidan. This began a serious of gruesome deaths that pushed the limits of what we've seen on the show before. With Aidan a lost cause Nick ran away. Glenn and Noah were hot on his heels and they manage to get trapped in a revolving door with walkers on both sides. This was a great scene, full of tension and suspense. Due to Nick's panic Noah was eventually mauled by walkers, with Glenn watching helplessly. Eugene swooped in for the rescue, drawing the walkers away, but it was too late.

Back in Alexandria Carol's spending time with the boy she threatened last week, Sam. Through some of the back and forth Carol comes to the realization that Pete, Sam's father and Jessie's husband, is at least hitting his wife and possibly his son as well. This goes over about the way you'd expect it to with Carol, who goes to their house to confront the man. After being stymied at the door she reported back to Rick about what's going on, urging him to kill the guy.

With all of this going on at the same time it's clear that things are about to come to a head in Alexandria. The struggle between the more established inhabitants and the newcomers is going to really heat up. When Glenn and his group return they'll be doing so with one injured group member, Deanna's son left behind dead, and a man that tried to run away when his companions needed him. Rick and Carol will be plotting the death of the local wife-beater and Abraham will have usurped a local man's title. It seems impossible for Deanna to ignore Gabriel's warning in the face of all of that.

Conclusion: Poor Noah makes an exit just as he was trying to find a less dangerous way to contribute to their new home. Shocking deaths and gore were the name of the game this week, along with a showdown brewing that is going to end in fireworks. “Spend” had everything that a really good episode of The Walking Dead needs.

Rating: 8.25/10

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 34!!

This week's Haul has little bit of everything, just the way I like it.  First there's Geek Out! from Playroom Entertainment.  It's a great party game designed by Elisa Teague and Dan Rowen that allows you to out-geek your friends.

The new books being added to my personal library are Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, the first book of the MaddAddam trilogy.  I know that love stories aren't exactly what you're used to seeing around here, but it was recommended by someone whose interests are a lot like mine, so I'm going to give it a try.  There's also Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia, which also comes highly recommended.  I was going to pick up the next installment of the Grimnoir Chronicles but they were sold out, I figured Mr. Correia's other series would be a good stand-in while I wait.

Finally we've got the comic-related goodies.  First there's Revival Volume Two:  Live Like You Mean It by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton.  Then the single issues from this week:  Citizen of the Galaxy by Rob Lazaro, Eric Gignac, and Steve Erwin is an adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's book of the same name, Hexed #8 by Michael Alan Nelson, Dan Mora and Gabriel Cassata, Rachel Risin #32 by Terry Moore, and Star Wars #3 by Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, and Laura Martin.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Sandman Slim
Sandman Slim #1
Publisher: HarperVoyager (2002)
Author: Richard Kadrey
Genre: Urban, Fantasy, Horror
Pages: 416
Price: $14.99

Life sucks and then you die. Or, if you're James Stark, you spend eleven years in Hell as a hitman before finally escaping, only to land back in the hell-on-earth that is Los Angeles.

Now Stark's back, and ready for revenge. And absolution, and maybe even love. But when his first stop saddles him with an abusive talking head, Stark discovers that the road to absolution and revenge is much longer than you'd expect, and both Heaven and Hell have their own ideas for his future.

This is an odd book to read. It's told in first-person present tense, taking the reader along for the action as it's happening. This allows for a sense of danger that past tense books don't normally contain. The existence of an after life and all that goes along with it means that even death wouldn't stop the story, but it would change it dramatically. That fact keeps things tense and dangerous. The other oddity in Sandman Slim is that it doesn't contain chapters. After all, the reader is being pulled along through a few days of James Stark's life, and life doesn't always break conveniently for sleep or dramatic effect. It's not a technique that is used as expertly as say Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but it does help to convey the feeling of constant danger and eventual fatigue the protagonist is experiencing.

The protagonist, James Stark, is at times completely unrelatable, almost alien in his way of handling things. This is attributed to the eleven years he's spent in Hell. Then he'll do something that the everyday person only wishes they could do, like busting up some local toughs extorting a bar owner, and he starts to feel like a person again. One complaint I had was that even though the reader is told he's an accomplished magician we see very little of his magic at work. Most of the things he does are courtesy of magical items in his possession, I would have preferred to see him flex his magical muscles at least as often has his physical ones

Although the story is framed as a revenge tale there is of course, like in most urban fantasy, something far larger at play. Instead of only getting glimpses of the larger picture, as is common in the first book of a series, most of the stakes are laid out plainly to reader early here in book number one. Even with the stakes made apparent Stark feels little obligation to the big picture. His focus is solely on his revenge, although he goes about it in a haphazard fashion; failing to take vengeance on most of his targets as they're killed by another party. The other party is of course the man that originally sent him to Hell, Mason Faim. When he finally confronts Mason it's revealed that he's been led by the nose to that specific moment, as a kind of job application. The showdown between the two is a bit of a let down. Stark doesn't seem like the kind of guy to avoid pulling the metaphorical trigger himself, and yet he leaves the fate of his adversary in others' hands. In the process he manages to avert the greater threat, although that wasn't his true concern, again making him tough to relate to as a character, it's just a little too anti-hero, even for me.

The cast of supporting characters was one of the brightest spots in the book. Allegra and Vidocq served as the closest thing Stark has to friends in the world he's returned to. Dr. Kinski has his own secrets and motivations that kept him interesting for the entire book, along with the semi-reformed monster Candy, who should see more page-time in subsequent books. Stark's first victim, pseudo-sidekick, Kasabian served as comic relief in what would have been too serious a tale otherwise. They all provided a much needed change of pace from the sarcastic and cynical main character.

Conclusion: Sandman Slim builds the foundation for an exciting entry into the urban fantasy genre. With a little more actual magic, and a better balance of Stark's personality quirks there could be something fun brewing here. The world Richard Kadrey has built already feels detailed and dangerous and that feeling should only increase as the series goes forward.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 13

The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “Forget”
Channel: AMC
Director: David Boyd
Writer: Corey Reed
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 44 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: March 8, 2015

This week we get a little more about how the various members of Rick's group are dealing with a return to civilization. Rick's answer to their new situation is to treat it like an old one, distrust and contingency plans are the areas he has decided to focus his attention. In the process he's dangerously close to becoming an amalgamation of Shane and the Governor. Most of the time spent watching Rick is spent bouncing back and forth between agreeing with his various stances regarding patrols and a look out, and wondering why he can't just accept a better situation.

Rick, Carol, and Daryl have decided, unbeknownst to the rest of the group that they're going to steal some weapons 'just in case' they need them, despite having been given no indication that they'd be necessary. There plot led to my favorite moment of the episode. It is decided that Carol should be the one to raid the armory, since in her own words she has become invisible again. She's caught in the act by one of Alexandria's youth population, and instead of relying on simple bribery she goes completely cold-blooded on him. She describes the way she'd abduct him from his house, tie him to a tree and allow his screams to draw walkers to devour him. I doubt anyone in the audience had forgotten just how effective she could be when times get tough, but in case you needed a reminder there it is. Carol has become one scary lady.

Daryl continues his loner attitude this week, and eventually catches Aaron following him. They tromp through the woods around Alexandria in search of rabbits initially, but after seeing a horse they decide to try to capture it and bring it back to town. It's unlucky being a horse in the world of The Walking Dead and poor Buttons was no exception. Aaron and Daryl trade moments of saving one another but can't get to the horse in time, and Aaron has to put it down after it's been munched on by walkers. Daryl ends up at Aaron and Eric's house having a nice spaghetti dinner. Aaron shows Daryl the parts to a motorcycle that he's been working on and pitches a job to him. He wants Daryl to become a recruiter for Alexandria, because he knows the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. It was an emotional moment for Daryl, as I don't know that he's convinced he's a good guy anymore. The scenes were especially good because Aaron is such a good character. They've done a good job of making him interesting in a short amount of time, and he already seems more fleshed out than some of the folks that have been with Rick for a while now.

The rest of the episode was spent at a party at Deanna's house. Most of Rick's group was there and having varying amounts of success assimilating to a more normal life. Glenn and Noah seemed completely out of place, while Maggie is being groomed for some sort of spot in Deanna's fledgling government. Abraham is happy because there's beer, and seemed to be trying to have a moment with Michonne. Sasha is having the least success adjusting to the relative safety of Alexandria and eventually blows up on a lady who is 'worried' about cooking Sasha the wrong meal. This served to highlight just how lucky the inhabitants of Alexandria have been, if those are the kinds of things they can spend time worrying over. With the losses she's suffered still so fresh in her mind she's got a lot of coping to do before she can even make an attempt at normal.

Conclusion: “Forget” was a worth follow-up to “Remember.” We got to see how a few of the other survivors are adjusting to their new found safety while seeing Rick and Carol planning for the moment that it all falls apart. I'm glad that they're accelerating things in that regard; we the audience know that it can't go well for long, otherwise there wouldn't be much of a show, but the hard lessons on the road have made their impression on everyone. They're not going to play at being farmers or teachers at this point, they're just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 33!!

The first thing here is another book in my continuing quest to fill the hole in my life during the long gaps between releases of the newest Dresden Files books.  This week I'm giving Larry Correia's Hard Magic a try, it's the first book in his Grimnoir Chronicles.

Somehow I missed several issues, so to start things off in the comics category there's Angel: Asgard's Assassin #2-4 by Kieron Gillen, Marguerite Bennett, Phil Jimenez, and Stephanie Hans.  Then we have:  Lady Killer #3 by Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich, Princess Leia #1 by Mark Waid, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson and Jordie Bellaire.  Rat Queens #9 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and new artist Stjepan Sejic, Rocket Raccoon #9 by Skottie Young, Jake Parker and Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Saga #26 by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan, Supreme Blue Rose #7 by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay, and Wolf Moon #4 of 6 by Cullen Bunn, Jeremy Haun, and Lee Loughridge.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Order: 1886

The Order: 1886
Players: Single-player
Genre: Action Adventure, Third-person Shooter
Distribution: Blu-ray, Download
Platform: Playstation 4
Release Date: February 20, 2014

The Order: 1886 had tons of potential. Since it was announced and the first clips were released I've been excited for the game. The setting and mythology surrounding the game is engaging. The Knights of the Round Table succeeded in their quest for the Holy Grail and have, through its power, gained longevity bordering on immortality. With their guiding hand the world is very different, technology is more advanced than in the world we know; zeppelins rule the air and weapons are much more destructive than their real life counterparts. The Knights are an organization sworn to fight the monsters of the world, of which the player sees Lycans and vampires. They've done all of the groundwork to bring a unique setting to gamers, something that doesn't seem like we've done it a dozen times before.

With the promise of an intense monster-slaying adventure the actual game falls far short. Most notably the player spends most of their time fighting humans, rebels that have some nefarious purpose whom you of course end up joining after seeing what they're fighting against. Not only was it predictable, but it just switched one set of human enemies for another. The player only every sees a vampire and never engages one in combat. There are seven, perhaps eight, encounters versus Lycans that are a whack-a-mole type “which way will it come from” experience, during which you shoot them as much as possible and then dodge out of the way. Two of the Lycan encounters are reduced to quick time events in which the player is armed solely with a knife, so the games interesting weapons don't even come in to play there. This leaves the combat aspect of the game completely unsatisfying.

The graphics are gorgeous, the early Industrial Age London with a futuristic flare looks amazing, if sparsely populated. The main character models vary enough that I never had trouble remembering who a character was or what to expect out of them. The voice acting too is top-notch among all of the heavily used characters. The unfortunate aspect of all of that is that the story that is being told just isn't very interesting.

The game consists of 16 or 17 chapters, several of which consist entirely of cutscene. The game just goes, with absolutely no input from the player. I don't have a problem with story oriented games; I've enjoyed Tell Tale's games for years and they're basically choose your own adventure stories. The difference is that in Tell Tale's games there are decisions to make, outcomes that actually change depending on the way you handle situations. In The Order: 1886 the player is merely along for the ride. There is no dialogue to choose from and only one way through the maps that you actually get to play through. This causes a disconnect from the game world in which the player doesn't feel like they're having much of an impact on the events going on around them. It's more like watching a story, as opposed to playing through one and it just doesn't work. I'd complain about the length of the game, which took me perhaps seven hours, but honestly by the end I just wanted it to be over.

Conclusion: A promising premise for a game got lost in the developers desire to merely tell a story. That story didn't engage the player enough to provide enough entertainment to justify the price tag. The Order: 1886 is the first game I've returned after playing, because of its linear nature there is little desire created for multiple playthroughs. The production quality evident in the graphics and voice work isn't enough to create a compelling experience.

Rating: 5.5/10

Monday, March 2, 2015

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 18

Episode Title: “Everyone Has a Cobblepot”
Channel: Fox
Director: Bill Eagles
Writer: Megan Mostyn-Brown
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: March 2, 2015

My DVR didn't record the tail end of last week's episode, the recap at the beginning of the episode clued me in to the fact that Alfred's attacker was working at the behest of Wayne Enterprises Board of Directors. This tidbit had me excited for the rest of the episode, this was an open door into what this season has really been about. The audience was finally going to get some answers and the plot was going to really move forward. There's one scene featuring Bruce, Alfred, and Gordon, who's asking a couple of questions. Alfred and Bruce lie about the attacker and Jim left with nothing to go on. Alfred determined to exact his own revenge tried to leave, but could barely stand and Bruce orders him back to bed. Aside from one additional scene in which Alfred is asleep with Bruce reading to him until Selina shows up to offer her help in Bruce's investigation that was the extent of the movement we saw in the central plot.

So, what took up the remaining 37 minutes of air time? Well Harvey Dent is back, sort of. He pops in and accompanies Gordon on half of an investigation into Commissioner Loeb and the dirt he has on the police and powerful people of Gotham. Evidently he's scared away after their one failed attempt and is barely mentioned again as the episode proceeds. At least this time around we avoided the crazy emotional shifts that they included during his introduction. He's supposed to be stable, and a friend to Gordon until his eventual fall, there's no need to ham it up. When other avenues prove fruitless Gordon goes to Penguin for help and promises him a favor down the road. Penguin takes Gordon and Bullock to a location he believes houses the files. Instead of files they come upon two elderly caretakers who turn violent when Gordon's story isn't believed. While the files weren't there Gordon does uncover a secret damaging enough for him to gain some leverage on Loeb. He blackmails Loeb into giving him Harvey's file and supporting him as Police Union President. It's another moment in the “How far will Jim Gordon go to fix the city” file that leaves him dirtier than I think he'd be comfortable being.

I can't help but feel like this is all a wasted story line. The audience knows that Jim is going to be unsuccessful in cleaning up the police and government of Gotham. I acknowledge that his attempts at ending the corruption should start in his early days, but taking as much time as they have in showing this detracts from the other, more interesting things that are going on. After the big reveal last week, in a story line that, as far as I know, is unique to the show, I expected something more out of the follow up. It did, eventually, lead to a good Penguin moment. He had some unfortunate witnesses he needed to take care of, and did so in an interesting way. Maybe this marks a return to form for the character, as he's been well neutered in recent weeks.

To top it off, there was more of Fish Mooney's ridiculous predicament this week. There was no question that she was going to succeed in earning Dr. Dulmacher's (ugh) trust. It was preordained the moment they showed that he had already replaced her eye. The whole scenario is getting harder to believe as time goes by. Now the prisoners are going to stand idly by as Fish sends fresh bodies up stairs, placated by an empty promise that some of them will make it through? That tiny knife she has wouldn't stop them from tearing her to pieces, and that's discounting the fact that it still would have been easier for the whole operation if they'd killed her. She's being kept alive and on the screen solely because she's the one character that the creators have complete control over.

Conclusion: The big set-up from the end of last week's episode is almost completely ignored in “Everyone Has a Cobblepot.” Instead of finally finding out more about what's happening at Wayne Enterprises this episode focuses on the wrong stories. One that can't have the outcome that's being hoped for, and the other a failed attempt to keep a character relevant.

Rating: 6.5/10