Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Worldbuilding 1#: Supervillainy-verse


Hey folks,

I've decided to do something cool and that's do articles on my various universes. World-building is the key to making my novels work and sharing background information about what goes into the settins is something I thought my fans would enjoy. Each article will go into discussion about one of the worlds and its history as well as how they are currently set up. My long history of being a tabletop roleplaying gamer was a big infuence on my writing style and a lot of that depended on the awesome supplements people did.

I'm going to start with, unsurprisingly, The Supervillainy-verse that is my most popular work. Take note this article is set at the time of the first novel so there's no spoilers.

The Setting

The Supervillainy-verse is my homage to comic books everywhere and meant to be the kind of place that combines dozens of different genres together. It is a place where there is fantasy, science fiction, crime, horror, and more going on at any given time. Much like the comic book universes of Marvel and DC comics, it is a place where literally anything can happen and frequently does.

The funny thing is that, despite being a comedy series, I try to keep the world consistent and serious. It's a parody of superhero settings but the best kind of parodies are also good examples of the work in question. I may poke fun at some of the weirdness that goes onto your typical comic book universe but I also try to keep it at least vaguely plausible. A world can have any rules you like but once you establish those rules, you have to follow them.

The Supervillainy-verse is set in what I term to be "The Twilight of the Superheroes." Superheroes have existed for almost a century in the setting and have fought off countless evils threatening the people of Earth-A (Gary's planet in the multiverse). However, Gary has the misfortune of becoming Merciless as the system is sort of breaking down.

Weirdly, it's a bit similar to Red Dead Redemption with the idea of John Marsden coming back to the Old West right as the age of cowboys and gunslingers is ending. In Gary's case, he's a supervillain when the public has become sick of both heroes as well as villains. The never-ending conflict between good and evil has worn thin. There is a reckoning coming and how its going to settle down is anyone's guess. Gary as the Wild Card between supervillains, humans, and superheroes makes him uniquely able to slip things one way or the other.

Or so he thinks.

The 'Double Anarchy' seal of Merciless.
History

The Supervillainy-verse was created by beings called the Primals in the early distant epoches of the Multiverse. Fragments of a greater creator being, the eight beings of Creation, Destruction, Chaos, Order, Death, Life, Conflict, and Balance. They are beyond omnipotent and have created the multiverse as it's known to both amuse themselves as well as explore their concepts. Opposing them are the Great Beasts, seven (or more) beings made of concepts banned from reality in order to give physical laws substance. Zul-Barbas is the most famous of these things, inspiring many culture's concept of the Devil and H.P. Lovecraft's idea of the Great Old Ones.

The first race to evolve would be the god-like Ultranians (or "Firstborn") who would exist for billions of years, bestowing superpowers on various races and creating the celestial networks of magic. The Ultranians themselves strongly resembled human beings despite being made of energy and would influence many cultures' ideas of gods and goddesses. They also revered the Ultra-Force, that was the physical manifestation of the greater universe.

Much of Earth's history remains the same with sorcerers, monsters, gods, and heroes being background noise for the greater conflicts of the world. New nations were born, hidden cultures, and things were slightly different in places (like the occasional cowboy vs. ninjas plot) but things didn't really change forever until the arrival of Ultragod.

Moses Anders, an African American astronomer, was chosen by the Primals to merge with the Ultra-Force and became Ultragod. It bestowed upon him immense reality-bending powers that he chose to present to the world as similar to recently published comics of the time. Meanwhile, ex-cop Lancel Warren studied magic after the death of his wife and child and became the Nightwalker. Other heroes during this time were Aquarius, the Americommando (later the Prismatic Commando), Gold Medalist, Tank Man (later Android John), and Guinevere.

WW2 would go dramatically differently as Ultragod would attempt to stop it in its tracks by capturing Stalin and Hitler both. The Third Reich was instead taken over by the Supreme Phantom and a cabal of supervillains who were even more dangerous. The Soviet Union would be ruled by a council that proved more effective than Stalin, eventually headed by the Red Star for decades to come.

Before the defeat of the Nazis, Tom Terror and other high-ranking Axis superhumans would create P.H.A.N.T.O.M as a way to preserve their power as well as research into both the occult as well as super-science. The organization had also attempted to sell the Earth to the Thran Empire, explaining how they held out against the Allies for so long.

After the defeat of the Nazis, the United Governments (or U.G.) would rise to power and create the Foundation for World Harmony to hunt down superhuman terrorists and P.H.A.N.T.O.M. Countless brushfire conflicts would be fought between superhuman dictators, superpowered terrorist organizations, and even the occasional unexpected alien invasion.

The Society of Superheroes (S.O.S) would be fully formed in the 1960s in response to the first incursion by the Thran reptile men and Tsavong shapeshifters. The Vietnam War would be fought in three parts with the third one resulting in an international treaty banning the use of superhumans in wartime. It was during this time that Aquarius became King of Atlantis and ended that underwater kingdom's belligerence against the surface.

The 1980s saw a massive spike in the number of the world's superhumans with magical and superhuman abilities appearing naturally among the populace. This resulted in the creation of the Texas Guardians who masterminded the first "boot camp" and "prestige academy" for superhumans. It also resulted in the appearance of Ultragoddess, the daughter of Ultragod, who was the icon for the next generation of heroes even as a child. It also resulted in the label Supers as a distinct ethnic group that many regular humans ("Mundanes") saw as threatening.

The 1990s proved a disaster for superheroes as sinister luchadore Diabloman killed multiple members of the Texas Guardians, forced the universe to be rebooted, and exposed heroes as vulnerable. Insane SWAT officer Theodore Whitman a.k.a. Shoot-Em-Up went on a multiple state killing spree against retired or paroled supervillains, inspiring numerous copycats until he was killed by an unknown assailent (actually 14-year-old Gary Karkofsky in order to avenge his brother).

Ruthless murder-happy antiheroes emerged like the Extreme! and Bloodscream the Retributive that the public initially embraced then rejected when it turned out some were white supremecists or outright supervillains themselves. The end of the Dark Age of Superheroes was official with the election of Android John as President, the country's first superhuman president. Android John was the world's first artificial being and his election sparked their acceptance as people as a matter of course.

The 21st century has proven a decline for superheroes as the War on Terror proved the governments of the world no longer wanted superhumans involved in global conflicts. The exception would be the Ultragoddess founded the Shadow Seven. The Shadow Seven incorporated semi-reformed supervillains and minor superheroes in covert ops against the worst of humanity against international law. Its illegality and the potential for blowback helped convince Ultragoddess to end her engagement to her fiance Gary Karkofsky.
The only supervillain to ever destroy reality. It got better.

The construction of powered armor, cybernetic enhancements, and artificial Supers became a major concern. Omega Corporation rose to power in this time, reverse engineering superhuman power and technology for the public. Running on a campaign of anti-Super vitriol and promises of a new America, Charles Omega became President of the United States. Rumors of mind-control, voter fraud, and threats dogged his campaign. The Society of Superheroes worked delicately around him even as he privately prepared to build a country without superheroes.

But it all came to a head when the Nightwalker, over a hundred years old, finally died.

Cities

Like DC comics, there are many fictional cities in the setting that have the unique advantage of being places you can blow up and turn to zombie-filled hellholes without affecting the real deals.

Atlas City: Atlas City is a metropolis located in central Florida that is considered to be the City of Tomorrow Today. It was originally a relatively minor city in the 1930s, being little more than a small town, when Ultragod's influence attracted millions of citizens to come live there. It is now an epicenter of technological development, interstellar trade, and space exploration. The city has a dark side despite being the source of the United States' pan-stellar wealth. It is home to massive slums of refugees, aliens unwanted in the rest of the country, and Supers. Crime has been on the rise due to its protectors being unable to regulate it and there is a conflict with P.H.A.N.T.O.M based hate groups. The most recognizable landmark of the city is the Observatory, which is Ultragod's alien-built fortress where he and his daughter take time to rest their minds.

Falconcrest City: A city along the Canadian border and Lake Falconcrest, Falconcrest City is literally cursed. It is a city founded in the 17th century by French fur trappers who slaughtered a cult of Satan-worshiping Englishmen with the help of Native American tribesmen. Unfortunately, the trappers built a city over their twisted labyrinth base that would affect the metropolis for centuries to come. The city has art deco skyscrapers, gargoyles on every building, huge towering cathedrals, and slums where insanity seems infectious. The city's colorful criminals are empowerd by eldrtich energies and terrible ceremonies are performed by the Brotherhood of Infamy every month. The Nightwalker kept the worst of these villains in check but his death due to old age threatens to change everything.

The second Nightwalker.
New Angeles: Gary's old stomping grounds, New Angeles was constructed on the ruins of Los Angeles after Atlanteans attacked the city during World War 2. New Angeles is every bit as rich, glamorous, and gritty as its predecessor city would have been. Much of the city has been rebuilt with Atlantean reparations, though, and there is a decided marine feel to many parts of it. It is also one of the few cities with a good chunk of it underwater (and thriving). The city has a unique relationship with its supervillains as they tend to be considered local folk heroes as often as enemies of the public.

As such, there's the "Villains Code" where they attempt to minimize collateral damage and keep out the worst of their kind. The city is protected by the Silver Medalist and Bronze Medalist, a pair of superheroes that were among the first queer superheroes to come out. While some criticized their former mentor-sidekick relationship, they are generally beloved by the public.

New Avalon: One of humanity's greatest achievements, New Avalon is a city built on the surface of the moon and serves as a city of twenty thousand people living in artificial gravity as well as an artificial environment under the Society of Superheroes' protection. It is also, unfortunately, home to the world's most terrible prisoners that the Earth has effectively exiled to the prison here. Lunarians are disproportionately Supers and it is expected that many immigrate there in hopes of escaping the persecution on Earth.

Random Factoids

* Superhero comics are mostly historical in the setting. DC and Marvel comics have long since taken to publishing romance, pirate, fantasy, and Western comics instead. Yes, I stole this from Watchmen.

* Pop culture is largely unchanged despite the fact superheroes are almost completely absent. This doesn't make any sense due to the influence of sequential art on other mediums but happened anyway.

* Soda still uses real sugar. Artificial sweeteners are a product of other realities.

* Earth is considered the equivalent of Afghanistan in the rest of the galaxy. Empires invade this small blue dot and get their asses kicked.

* Magic is known to exist but only a handful of people can learn more than to light matches with their mind. Frauds are every bit as common.

* Despite having a space port or two on the planet, very few aliens other than refugees and criminals come to Earth. It is too remote and disliked.

* The Tsavong have a colony on Venus despite its horrific atmosphere. They are on semi-good terms with Earth.

* Supervillain rap is a popular style of music.

* The Supervillainy-verse is part of a multiverse than includes my other universes.

* Technology is slightly more advanced in this world with the general public but getting its biggest advances approved is an ongoing legal slog.

* Dinosaurs are no longer extinct due to the discovery of the Hollow Earth and many zoos now feature them.

* Time travel has made reality somewhat flexible and sometimes the ages of people change as well as events. It hasn't broken the universe yet. Yet.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Mortal Kombat 11 review


    MORTAL KOMBAT!

    *Techno Music*

    Okay, I've used that opening multiple times but it never gets old. The Mortal Kombat series is one of the nearest and dearest to my heart. With the exception of Spider-Man, the Dresden Files, and Star Wars--it is probably my all time favorite fictional franchise. Yes, that means it beats out Star Trek. What can I say, it's the ninja-ladies and bizarre mixture of fantasy with bloodsport.

The graphics are awesome.
    My opinion is that Mortal Kombat has never been as good as it is now with the somewhat dicey Mortal Kombat 9 (that still managed to make a coherent story out of the first three games) being followed by the spectacular Mortal Kombat X. I loved the changes to Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, and Raiden. I also loved the introduction of the Kombat Kids that I felt were some of the very few successful "passing the torch" characters. Cassie Cage, in particular, was a great character that I believe fully deserved the title of new Kombat Klassic Kharacter.

    The nature of fighting games means that there's less to talk about than in some games. You can play Mortal Kombat an infinite number of times in Tower Mode and against online opponents but there's only so much difference. In the end, you must love the genre or there's no real point in playing the game. Which is a way of dancing around saying, "Mortal Kombat XI is basically Injustice 2 gameplay wise--which wasn't that different from Mortal Kombat X. If you liked one, you'll probably like the others." This comes with a caveat.

I like the costume redesigns.
    The storyline for this installment of the franchise is that a heretofore unknown deity known as Kronika has started to unwind the timeline due to Raiden having defeated Shinnok. A believer in the balance between good and evil, she believes that our heroes have destroyed that by successfully beating down the bad guys too completely. Kronika recruits a bunch of classic villains like Sektor, Shao Kahn, and Baraka. She can bring them back from the past and effectively resurrect them, making an impossible series of promises. Smashing together time like this also brings a number of past characters back on the heroic side like the original Liu Kang, young Sonya Blade, demon Scorpion, and Kung Lao.

    Mortal Kombat has always been a martial arts superhero universe. It has benefited from larger-than-life villains, melodrama, and constant reminders of classic storylines. Things like Scorpion's family being murdered, Sub-Zero's clan being turned into robots, and the "will they or won't they" relationship between Liu Kang with Kitana. This is a fairly classic time-travel crisis crossover like we had with DC comics' Zero Hour or Infinite Crisis. The Story Mode is a bit disjointed as there's no concrete protagonist as we switch between Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Raiden, Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, and Cassie Cage without much connective tissue. Overall, I very much enjoyed it but it's also a bit silly as all stories with time travel eventually are (I'm looking at you Endgame).

Best mom/daughter team-up since Jean/Rachel.
    I think Cassie Cage's storyline is the best in this storyline. She's ascending to be a Commander of the Earthrealm Special Forces but this is in the wake of a disastrous mission to Netherrealm that gets her mother (present-day Sonya) killed. The fact this traumatizing event is followed by past-Sonya and past-Johnny Cage arriving is actually fairly interesting. One of the best moments of the game is past-Johnny acting like an ass and getting his older self to kick it. I think we've all wanted to slap our past selves silly.

    Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the depiction of Liu Kang and Kung Lao in this story. I've never been a fan of either character, finding Liu Kang bland and uninteresting at best. However, both characters have a surprising amount of chemistry with one another as they deal with the fact both of them got turned into revenants in this universe. Liu Kang is depicted as the bright-eyed optimist and Kung Lao as the cynic with both of them weirded out about how crazy the timeline has gotten. It made them both extremely likable.

I am a Mistress of Time! And Evil!
    Kronika is a fairly one-dimensional villain with her idea of balance never really explained. She's tied to the existing mythology pretty well, though, with her revealed as Shinnok's mother as well as another Elder God's. Besides, no one is interested in Mortal Kombat because of the intricate character studies. She serves her purpose well and the confrontation with her at the end has a fun mechanic where the ending depends on whether you defeat her two rounds in a row.

    Gameplay-wise, there are only a few modifications from previous installments with my favorite being Fatal Blows. These are special finisher moves that are easy to perform when a Kombatant (hehe) is on his last breath. They can only be performed once a match per participant but are electric and brutal. Basically, Fatalities you can perform in the middle of the match. Given I am a notorious failure at finishing off foes, these were most welcome and lived up matches considerably.

    The costume redesigns of the game have been subject to controversy but I tend to think this is much ado about nothing. Om both sides. The women are still wearing skintight outfits and high heels so it's not like the fanservice actually went away. Is Skarlet wearing a uniform rather than a bikini? Yes. I think they could have inserted the others as alternate costumes but some of the MK variants were ridiculous looking anyway (I mean you Sonya Blade).
The Krypt is quite beautiful.

    The character selection is a pretty decent collection of Mortal Kombat classics with few characters missing that I love. They also get extra props for bringing back Shao Kahn and Baraka. On the other hand, Mileena isn't present and her absence is noticeable given the presence of frigging Kabal. I'm also not sure why you'd turn Frost into a cyborg ninja if you're also going to bring back Sektor. Kung-Jin, Kenshi, and Takeda seem like characters they should have found a way to put in as well. I also think Goro would have been a good DLC character versus a couple I've been spoiled on.

    New Kombatants Cetrion and Kollector are decent enough. Cetrion is an Elder God meant to be the Big Good compared to Shinnok's Big Evil but is a lackey of her mother with a sense of self-righteousness that explain a lot of the Elder God's previous screw ups. She also seems to be a divine Poison Ivy/Gaia figure. Kollector is the former tax collector of Shao Kahn and a spider race. I'm always for more Outworld races since it is a fantasy D&D world but he's a bit one note. Still, he also reminds me a bit of Larfleeze from Green Lantern and that's not a bad thing. Really, though, I'm here for Shao Kahn and Cassie Cage.

My home boy Shao is back. Hammer time!
    The introductory quotes aren't something I'd normally comment on but I actually think they deserve a shout-out. There's a lot of really hilarious one-liners from Johnny Cage and Cassie but everyone gets in on the action. They even try to justify some of the fights like having Mirror Match opponents say one is a clone, imposter, or alternate timeline version of themselves. I liked this in Injustice 2 and it's hilarious when alt-Kitana tells her prime self that she is dating Kung Lao only for the other to say he's not in their league. Really, the only characterization I didn't much care for is that of Shao Kahn is he seems to be too much of a brute when he's always been a much more calculating evil genius to me.

    As for the rest of the game? Ehhh. The Tower Mode includes some modifications but the ridiculous gear-unlocks that I couldn't figure out. The Krypt is an enormously well-designed loot box arena based on Shang Tsung's island. It's beautiful to look at but there's nothing to do that but open loot boxes that don't give very good material anyway. The fact you don't pay for in-game currency is about the only benefit to it. It also confuses me as loot boxes only exist to facilitate microtransactions so if you're not going to gamble with them then why bother?

    In conclusion, this is a game that I very much enjoyed and was well-worth my sixty dollar investment. The Krypt and the equipment in-game, though, is just a waste of time and I am sick of pretty much all loot-box inclusions in my game. The storyline is where it's at as is the fun of colorful fighters beating the hell out of each other. If they wanted to adjust the game, they should have just made fighter customization and alternate costumes plus challenges.

9/10

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Avengers: Endgame review


 Spoilers - Will attempt to avoid them but describing the movie comes with some risk. Let the reader beware.
 

    AVENGERS: ENDGAME is the culmination of eleven years of storytelling. Starting with the introduction of the Tesseract, the movies have continually laid the foundation for the Infinity Gems to be found in order to do an adaptation of the Infinity Gauntlet miniseries that I read when it first came out in 1991 at age 11. Honestly, I was always kind of perplexed by this because The Infinity Gauntlet series wasn't that great. It was basically Thanos getting the "I win" button to impress Death and then wiping out half the universe before beating up the Avengers. It was the Secret Wars with the Beyonder/Doctor Doom combo replaced with Thanos and Nebula.

The losses are keenly felt by everyone.
    I was actually impressed with the depiction of Thanos in the previous movie, Avengers: Infinity War, because I liked his motivational change. While his reasoning was absolutely insane, you understood it was coming from a place of well-intentioned extremism. Quite a few scientists were even upset with the movie because it forwarded the long-discredited "Carrying Capacity" theory that both Thanos and Ra's Al Ghul are the only kind of people to champion who aren't a bunch of psychotic racists.

    This movie does away with Thanos' more sympathetic sides and I regret that because I think it would have been more interesting to defeat him by convincing him that his actions were wrong. To have Thanos sacrifice himself in order to undo what he'd done in a snap. Instead, this is a movie that is solved by copious amounts of punching, breaking the rules of reality, and continuity porn to the other MCU movies. We all knew that was going to happen when 1/2 of the world was slain at the end of Infinity War (as well as the fact Peter Parker had a new movie coming out).

The only thing missing was Thor hooking up with Kat Dennings.
    Honestly, I think the handling of the aftermath of Infinity War was surprisingly good. The characters are all hit with how they not only failed but they failed royally. Steve, Thor, Tony, Clint, and everyone else have little character arcs that elevate the material. I think Clint's is the most interesting even if a bit stereotypical and Punisher-esque. It's actually fairly accurate to the Ultimate version of Hawkeye/Bullseye, though.

    I'm not going to spoil the ending of the movie but I will say there are casualties and not everyone makes it out of this film. Some of these feel dramatic and authentic while others feel a bit like the death of Han Solo. In other words, they feel like they were done because the actors were ready to move on to other projects than because they wanted to tell the most dramatic story possible. Even so, I will say that two of them really moved me while another actually ticked me off. You'll know what ones I mean.
Good but not enough of her.

    The things you expect from an Avengers movie like action, comedy, and amazing special effects are all there. There's a few comedy bits that are hit and miss. For example, Thor's reaction to the events of Infinity War are very similar to what happened to a lot of veterans coming home from horrible situations. However, it's played for comedy and doesn't really do well. I also regret that we didn't get his supporting cast to provide any sort of closure to him as the majority of them were apparently dusted.

    Captain Marvel is underused to my surprise. She basically has only a small but important part to play in the movie with not much character development. Everyone else is carrying the lion's share of the work but having Carol deal with the fact she was off helping Skrulls when she could have been the difference between genocide or victory on her home planet seems like it could have been a missed emotional opportunity.

Ya done messed it up, Tony.
   The Hulk and Black Widow relationship actually has some genuine pathos as well as chemistry for the first time. I felt it was a bad mistake to begin with but they actually managed to carry it through Thor: Ragnarok and Infinity War to something that actually works. I'm not really fond of the treatment of the Hulk here, you'll have to see for yourself why, but I don't think this storyline will last very long. There won't be a Hulk movie but there will be a Hulk TV series with the long-awaited appearance of She-Hulk. We'll just have to wait and see on that end.

    I'm going to miss quite a few of the characters who fell and while I think a number of them will be coming back, I do think that if they stayed dead or retired then this would have been a good final story for them. It was the WW3 of the setting and the deus ex machina at the end wasn't completely successful. Indeed, I think they will probably have to ignore elements of it because it's just plain too changing of the setting. It's like when Kang took over the United States in the comics. No one acknowledged that happening across the titles and they forgot about it soon after. Otherwise, it wouldn't resemble our world anymore.
Surprisingly good acting from a primarily comedic actor.

    So, how was it as an ending for the MCU? Well, it's not an ending for the MCU but it is an ending for a large part of it. Really, it feels like a proper Marvel crossover ala Civil War or the Secret Invasion with everyone getting their moment to shine but it's not something I completely bought into either. It feels like a "What if" or an alternate universe but as the Injustice games show, that's not always a bad thing.

    I think most of the character arcs ended where they probably should have but a few were outright wrong (Black Widow and Gamora, I'm looking at you). Not everyone died or retired but everyone got a story that had a conclusion. So, if it didn't make a perfect landing then at least it didn't fall either. There's also a lot of really poignant moments that reach the proper height of Marvel melodrama. Moments like Aunt May dying or the marriage of Mary Jane Watson to Peter Parker. The good stuff.

9/10

Monday, April 22, 2019

Spider-Gwen: Most Wanted? review


    SPIDER-GWEN is a character I was introduced to by the INTO THE SPIDERVERSE movie. The character is an alternate universe version of Gwen Stacy who was bitten by the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker instead. Unfortunately, Peter Parker was so jealous of his crush that he created the Lizard formula and accidentally got himself killed in the process. Gwen feels immense guilt for this and struggles with her secret identity, her relationship with her father, and all the various people who want Spider-Gwen's head.
    The origin of the comic book Spider-Gwen is due to the controversial SPIDER-VERSE comic book series. While it introduced some new concepts and was based on the very cool video game, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, it had shallow villains as well as too much reliance on shock value. When you kill the Hostess Fruit Pie Spider-Man then you've crossed the editorial Moral Event HorizonTM.

    The Spider-Gwen character is an amazing creation and I absolutely love the reversal between her and Peter Parker. For decades, Gwen Stacy has been defined as the girl Spider-Man failed to save. In a real way, Gwen Stacy is the genesis for "Women in Refrigerators" since virtually every other character who has been murdered over the years in comic books has come back from the dead but her emotional impact on Spider-Man is so great that it was better to keep her dead. You know, despite the fact Norman Osbourne has come back and I fully believe Peter Parker would just straight up kill him if he ever saw him again. The only thing keeping Peter from killing him in the first place was the fact Norman killed himself.

    The Gwen Stacy of the Spider-Gwen books isn't that similar to the original Gwen Stacy. She's still the daughter of a police captain but depicted as the next-door neighbors of the Parkers (versus Mary Jane Watson), a Grunge rock band drummer, and every bit the tortured young person Peter Parker was. There's very little of the Uptown Girl/Veronica Lodge sort of feel to the original character but that's fine. Characters get reimagined all the time and she has a decent similarity to the Ultimate Gwen Stacy character who carried around a switchblade.

    I like the depiction of George Stacy in this book as Spider-Gwen swiftly reveals her secret identity to her father. He's deeply devoted to the law and hates the fact he has to cover up the fact his daughter is a vigilante superhero. He's also terrified about the fact she's going to get herself killed trying to do good when, well, he's doing the same thing in a much less crazy way.

    The villains in this book are entertaining with the Vulture being a classic Spidey bad guy adapted to Gwen's world. However, the stand-out villains of this book are the Bodega Bandit and Frank Castle (not the Punisher). The Bodega Bandit is a Hamburgler-esque bad guy who robs the local corn dog place repeatedly...of corn dogs. I instantly loved this character and am glad he exists as a fun harmless villain. Frank Castle's place in this universe is even better as he's what happened if the man never lost his family. His family eventually leaves him because he's a violent headcase and he's barely restrained from going on a killing spree anyway by his job. It's about the best critique of the Punisher concept as you're ever going to get.

    The big appeal of Spider-Gwen is it is a return to a simpler age of superheroics without the excessive darkness of, well, the Spider-Verse. The updating of Gwen Stacy is delightful and I love she's best friends with Mary Jane as well as Gloria Grant. I definitely recommend not only this trade but all of its sequels. Spider-Gwen is easily the best thing to happen to Spider-Man since, well, Miles Morales and the best thing to happen to Gwen Stacy in decades.

8.5/10

Monday, April 8, 2019

Spiderman (PS4) review


    SPIDER-MAN (PS4) is a game that inspired me to get the PS4 as a whole. I've been wanting to update one of my two consoles for a long time and the decision to get a PS4 to go along with my Xbox One seemed like a reasonable one. The ability to play Infamous (which I played at a friends), The Last of Us, Uncharted, and other exclusives was a easy decision. However, at the end I just wanted to buy it for this game.

    How much do I love Spider-Man (PS4)? So much so that I'm including the hyphen. This is probably my favorite video game since Batman: Arkham City. So, what game does this remind me most of? Batman: Arkham City. So, yes, there may be a little bit of bias. This game is entirely up in my wheelhouse and is exactly what I wanted from a Spider-Man game. It's kind of ironic because Arkham Asylum incorporated a bunch of elements from Spider-Man 2 while recent Spider-Man games have pulled a lot from the AA series but not very well.

Spider-Man's webs stick to the sky. Which is fine by me.
    I've enjoyed previous versions of Spider-Man but with rare exceptions, they've often had very little in the way of plot. This, however, seamlessly incorporates a major overarching plot as well as deep characterization alongside an open world. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and Spider-Man: Edge of Time had plotlines but were the most linear of the Spider-Man games. The Amazing Spider-Man games had plots but they weren't very good. Maybe it's just me but the difference between this and it's predecessors feels like hamburger and fine restaraunt steak.

    The premise is Spider-Man has been crawling across the surfaces of New York City, fighting crime and spinning webs for about eight years. The game makes the correct choice to have Spider-Man as an adult versus Marvel's inexplicable decision to keep Peter in high school. It worked for Ultimate Spider-Man but Steve Dikto got Peter out of high school and into college after thirty issues.

    Spider-Man is characterized perfectly being a guy who is incredibly successful at saving lives but really bad at managing his normal life. Being Spider-Man doesn't pay anything and he doesn't have the Avengers footing the bill for his apartment so he's on the verge of eviction. He's also broken up with Mary Jane but it was for reasonable reasons of "I hate having you worrying over me while you risk your life every day." It also lets you feel like a badass by starting the game off with the capture of Wilson Fisk a.k.a the Kingpin.

Punch, Punch, Dodge, Punch, Super-Punch, Swing-Kick.
    I know it's a minority opinion but I actually prefer the Kingpin as a Spider-Man villain than a Daredevil villain. Yes, Daredevil has gotten much more mileage out of him over the years but I just love the idea of a working class hero like Spidey against the incarnation of New York City corruption like Fisk. Part of it may be the fact I started loving Spider-Man before Norman Osbourne's return and associate him with the Clone Saga. Also, I hate-hate him versus love-to-hate him because he arranged for the loss of Spider-Baby. Yes, I am a dork.

    Despite being defeated in the opening part of the game, the Kingpin's influence hangs over the rest of the game as you have to dismantle his organization in order to keep him from getting out on a technicality. Later, the game incorporates new fan favorite Mr. Negative and his gang the Demons. There are some other supervillains in the book as well plus an unexpected appearance of both Black Cat (not that surprising) and Silver Sable (very surprising). I could have used more supervillains spread throughout the game but I'm not complaining as this is a game that could very easily go four installments before tiring out.

Some of the graphics could use more polish.
    The gameplay isn't particularly innovative but it's refined. You feel like Spider-Man traveling across New York City, smashing bad guys, and making quips the entire way. There's no need to reinvent the wheel and while Arkham style combat is about as well-worn as cover-based shooting, that's because it works. The addition of webs to it and various grapple-based super-moves also keeps it fresh.  There's also the usual collectible quests and side-missions that are pretty transparent Arkham City stand-in like the Taskmaster Challenges (Azrael challenges) and racing challenges. There's nothing anywhere near as annoying as the Riddler, though. Indeed, the only quest I hated doing was capturing pigeons. I mean...why?

    The game is a respectable twenty-hours long for the base game and about maybe thirty-hours total if you purchase all the DLC. It's enough to justify the purchase cost and the season pass (which is frustratingly just not named "Season Pass"). There's also no attempt to sell you individual purchases like costumes or in-game bonuses. Gathering collectibles, attacking fortresses, and taking pictures are filler but they're mostly fun filler. Besides, taking pictures is actually Peter Parker's job so it's not a problem. The fact you can skip all of the scientific research mini-games, though, tells you that the developers were aware they were the parts that no one actually wanted to play.

Others are great.
    The supporting cast is probably the best and most innovative part of this game. J.J. Jameson is re-imagined as an Alex Jones-esque commentator (though his conspiracy theories about Spider-Man are still more plausible). Mary Jane is a sweet love interest that draws more from the Raimi Spider-Man films than the character in the comics. I also appreciate the appearance of Miles Morales as part of the Spider-universe. Peter Parker doesn't need to die for him to be Spider-Man.

    There's some things I'm not entirely onboard with. I'm not a big fan of Mary Jane's design and her character is one of the few failures. I also felt that there weren't nearly enough D-List supervillains to fight. While the Secret Six eventually shows up, I felt like this game could have had side-missions against people like Boomerang or the Rhino because that's what they exist for. I really loved the DLC for this game, though, and am glad they actually made some meaty plot-driven ones.

    There's a bit of iffiness in the game's focus on stealth that is fine for Spider-Man himself (he's the master of sneak attacks after all) but actually extends to a number of sequences where you play Mary Jane and Miles Morales (sans powers). There's no one in the world who will enjoy these things more than the base game and I'm curious why they were inserted here. Mary Jane is a bit like Max Caulfield without her time reverse powers and while it may be okay for one mission, it happened multiple times throughout the game itself. I also wouldn't have minded playing Miles with powers but without seems like something better handled in a cutscene.
The boss battles are a mix of good, bad, and indifferent.

    The game's boss battles and equipping of Spider-Man with multiple gadgets are things I'm iffy on. I mentioned I could have used with more fights against Spider-Man's extensive rogues gallery but those that do occur feel like they were more about learning the "gimmick" of the fight than actually being able to choose how to beat down a foe. There's also plenty of the dreaded quick-time events. However, the fact that they do incorporate such things as "race against the clock to save a building from planted bombs" is pretty damn cool. As for the gadgets? They're fine and pretty fun. It's just, well, Spider-Man using drone spiders and a utility belt is pretty damn weird.

    Indeed, if I'm entirely honest, I'm going to say the gameplay is more a solid B+ than a A+ and nothing new to anyone who has played Spider-Man (or Arkham) games before. However, the feel of Spider-Man is captured and the storytelling is good. It's weird but I think what makes this game is the large chunk of it where you're having to be Peter Parker or at least deal with his problems. Batman can get away with a game where he's Batman 24-7 but the fact you have to do Peter's life alongside Spider-Man's is something previous games missed capturing. At one point Peter is evicted and the realization he has to sleep on his Aunt's office couch (at a homeless shelter) is really potent.

    It feels like the Peter Parker I grew up reading and incorporates elements from all the incarnations I liked. There's Dikto (R.I.P), Raimi, Lee (R.I.P), Bendis, Sclott, and even some Defalco. That means I would have loved even an inferior game but this is definitely one with meat. If you have a PS4, you should get it. I'm really sad for my Xbox-using friends, though.

9/10

Monday, April 1, 2019

Bookbub sale for Straight Outta Fangton, 99c on Kindle!


Hey folks,

Great news! Bookbub is doing a sale for STRAIGHT OUTTA FANGTON. The story described as "Clerks meet Blade" is available on Kindle in the United States as well as Europe for 99c.

FROM THE BEST SELLING AUTHOR OF THE SUPERVILLAINY SAGA:

Peter Stone is a poor black vampire who is wondering where his nightclub, mansion, and sports car are. Instead, he is working a minimum wage job during the night shift as being a vampire isn’t all that impressive in a world where they’ve come out to mortals. Exiled from the rich and powerful undead in New Detroit, he is forced to go back when someone dumps a newly-transformed vampire in the bathroom of his gas station’s store. This gets him fangs-deep in a plot of vampire hunters, supernatural revolutionaries, and a millennium-old French knight determined to wipe out the supernatural.

Sometimes, it just doesn’t pay to get out of the coffin.

Set in the same world as The Bright Falls Mysteries.


Bookbub Sale

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse review


*This is going to be a long ass review - please accept my apologies*

    SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE is a movie that I'm reviewing instead of Aquaman for various reasons despite the fact I wasm't originally going to review this movie and really liked Aquaman. Specifically, I watched Into the Spiderverse and it induced REALLY COMPLICATED AND SHOCKING EMOTIONS. I'm hardly the person who is going to convince anyone to go see this movie because everyone has said this movie is awesome (because it is). So much so that I was willing to give this movie a try despite my VERY COMPLICATED AND DEEP RELATIONSHIP WITH SPIDERMAN.

My Peter Parker is married.
    You think I exaggerate? I don't. Spiderman and I are a one true love bromance that broke up but I never fully got over. I read my first Spiderman comic when I was seven years old. I then proceeded to buy every Spiderman comic I could from the stories. I slowly filled in my knowledge of the characters then-thirty year history. I put all of my comics in plastic bags and then used them as wallpaper for my room. I wish to God I had pictures of my room then because it was a piece of ART. Art created by a nine-year-old.

    I managed to get through the Clone Saga, the second-worst thing to ever happen to Spiderman. For what the Clone Saga was about, it was effectively the first rumblings of Marvel comics worrying about having "aging" Spiderman too much. You see, from the time I was seven to the time I stopped reading Spiderman, Peter Parker was an adult. He was married, didn't have a kid, shared an apartment with his wife, and they were a monogamous mostly-solid couple. This didn't confuse me or make me not identify with Spiderman. Why? *Because I wasn't a moron*. The thing Stan Lee got but many other Marvel editors didn't is the rather basic fact that kids don't want to be kids, they want to be adults. It's only adults who want to be kids.

    Well, in the Clone Saga, Peter Parker gets replaced for a time by his (for some reason) younger unmarried clone Ben Reily who turns out to be the "real" Peter Parker. Peter Parker packs up with Mary Jane and moves to Hollywood with everyone assuming they're gone forever. The thing was, fans kept asking when the "real" Peter Parker was coming back, clone or not. It also killed (or kidnapped--it's unclear) Peter Parker's baby daughter. Aunt May also died in a touching issue that the reset button was hit so fast on that it can't be understated.

I love these three.
    Somehow, against all odds, I managed to get through that convoluted mess with my love of Peter Parker intact. I took up reading The Amazing Spider-Girl and it was fun until Peter Parker sold his marriage to the Devil. Yeah, yeah, I know I'm a cliche. However, it was such a grossly out of character moment for Spiderman and the new status quo was so removed from the Spiderman I knew that I couldn't accept it. The emotional attachment I had for the character didn't carry over to the new comic. So, yeah, that was the end of my Spiderman love. The movies were things I saw but never were about "my" Spiderman.

    Which brings me back to this storyline and the fact that this movie contains my Spiderman. It's weirdly geeky and kind of embarrassing but I just wanted to reach into the movie and hug the guy, going, "PETER, YOU'RE ALIVE!" This is silly but the 36-year-old something Peter B. Parker really stuck me in the feels as it was an extrapolation of where "my" Peter might have been. I feel kind of bad because my Peter is a sad, depressed wreck of a guy who ruined his marriage entirely on his own without Satanic interference. The fact it has hope for this Peter also really appealed to me. 

Spidermen in Motion.
  The premise for this movie is Spiderman is killed during an attempt to stop the Kingpin from using a Hadron Collider-esque device for SOMETHING NEFARIOUS. Miles Morales witnesses the event and has gotten powers literally just the previous day. Miles is devastated because he might have been able to help Peter but chose to react like a civilian rather than a superhero. Miles is stunned to then encounter a seemingly very much alive Peter Parker (except a decade older as well as having hit a serious turn of "Parker Luck."). Joining them is Gwen Stacy, Spider Woman and a bunch of other Spider People from alternate dimension.

    The art in this movie is incredible. I don't use that description lightly but is an assault on the eyes of color, motion, and beautiful visual designs. Everything from beginning to end is a work of art. Combine it with an amazingly fun selection of music ranging from John Parr's "Man in Motion" to work by Biggie to a punk song for Gwen that I don't recognize. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen and that never happens. The music is every bit an audio feast and makes it all a kind of mental candy.

Inconspicuous!
    The characters are better realized than anyone who doesn't have their own movie in the MCU and several characters who do. I loved Gwen Stacy, Peter B. Parker (as I mentioned above), and Miles. Plus the various other Spidermen like Spiderman Noir (the best Nick Cage superhero since, well, ever) and Spider-Ham. I loved all of them, though, and when that includes an anime schoolgirl with her mecha, drawn as an anime character to the CGI art, then you have done something special.

    The villains in this work are a wonderful collection of Spider-besties with the best portrayal of the Kingpin outside of the Netflix Daredevil show. This Wilson Fisk has gotten his family killed thanks to his Lawful Evil ways and now wants to find another Kingpin's family to steal the family of (which seems like a plan with consequences I'd have enjoyed seeing). We also have a new Doc Ock that I really enjoyed the portrayal of with their darkly sinister nature and surprise twist. We even get some good redesigns of Tombstone and the Scorpion. The fact the movie contains Alchemex, my favorite element of Spiderman 2099 was also great.

Gwen's re-imagining really improved her likability.
    Really, the biggest compliment I can pay this movie is the fact that not only does Miles Morales have a fascinating origin but it's one that works well with its themes. We've all heard "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" ad nauseum but this is a movie about responsibility and what it means. Miles wants to be an ordinary kid and he's not even doing that very well but he tries to rise to the occasion and it takes a while for him to succeed. We also see how that creed is crushing with how it's ruined Peter B. Parker's life, is killing poor Gwen, and has made Spider Noir AWESOME. Ahem.

    The action is especially deserving of compliments. Very few animated movies have such incredible flow of action as this film. Spiderman is always at his best when he's a free-flowing ball of energy and this just pops off the screen. Things are always exploding, flying at the viewer, passing by our field of vision, and happening. There's some truly amazing scenes and they need to be seen to be believed.

    In conclusion, Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse is a movie you need to stop whatever you're doing and watch. The more you know about Spiderman, the more you'll enjoy this but a complete newb will still love this. It's why I'm giving this my highest possible score. Maybe I liked Peter B. Parker a bit more than Miles but that's just because of nostalgia and I could easily see a movie about either. Mostly I want a sequel now. Do I want Spiderman 2099 in the next one? Superior Spiderman? You're damn right I do. This movie is awesome.

10/10