Sunday, September 17, 2017

Daredevil by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson

    Frank Miller's Daredevil is one of the main contributing factors to the creation of the Dark Age of Comics which, hyperbole aside, was an attempt to bottle the lightning created by Miller and Alan Moore across multiple series. Frank Miller, however, took a character who was always just shy of a second-rate Spiderman and turned him into a character who has had a movie as well as television series with multiple spin offs. As a comic book historian as well, it also generated a much more successful franchise by imitation with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being originally designed as a "homage" with the weirdness turned way up.

    Unfortunately, the first volume of this collection is a complete and utter disaster. This isn't because of Frank Miller but because of the fact, clearly, someone thought they should try and get three volumes out of "Frank Miller's Daredevil" when there really were only two volumes of the series possible. In order to pad the length of the volume, they've included many issues where Frank Miller is the ARTIST rather than writer. No shade thrown on Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, or Roger McKenzie but that's not what people came here to read. It's misleading at best and false advertising at worse.

    In fact, only roughly four issues at the end of the volume are actually "Frank Miller's Daredevil" and you can tell they're the product of an entirely different sort of mind than the other authors. Marv Wolfman may be one of my favorite authors for his Teen Titans work but his Daredevil reads like Nightwing and I can't really tell who was written like who given the dates. Frank Miller's Daredevil is a darker and edgier interpretation of the character from the get-go and all the better for it.

    Really, the first two-thirds of the book work as a kind of interesting "before and after." The first comic in the volume is a team-up with a blinded Spiderman against the Maggia where a genetic costumed evil-doer is planning to take over New York City unless the duo manage to defeat him. There's also a fight against a mentally ill man called the Gladiator and some surprisingly decent Bullseye stories.

    This is, notably, the time period where Matt Murdock is dating the Black Widow and there's a somewhat mystifying decision where Daredevil dumps her for an uninteresting socialite named Heather. Then again, it would be decades before people finally gave Natasha Romanova the respect she deserved. Nowadays, it just looks like Matt really is blind, deaf, and dumb for ending that relationship. Still, the worst issues are at the start of the book and feel like Spiderman comics with none of the Parker angst to get you through the punching garishly dressed villains. Matt doesn't have Peter's humor either.

    As mentioned, the last quarter of the comic is where Frank Miller's Daredevil begins and has some classic issues of the kind we actually want to see. These include the introduction of Elektra Natchios, which still holds up today, and the return of the Kingpin after his "retirement" in the pages of Spiderman. Matt is shown as a flawed hero in these volumes as he's too free with his powers in public as a legal student plus prioritizes getting the Kingpin's files over saving his wife. Matt is unsympathetic and an absolute moralist, which makes him a character who can screw up royally.

    All in all, I don't feel like I can recommend this volume for these four issues despite the fact they're really good and important to the understanding of Daredevil. The other issues, particularly the Bullseye ones, aren't bad, though. Actually, a couple of them are but that's because it's clear they didn't have any idea where they were going with Matt. Hopefully, the real Frank Miller's Daredevil will be on display in volume 2.


Friday, September 15, 2017

West End Droids and East End Dames review

    The Easytown series by Brian Parker is one of my favorite cyberpunk series. Brian Parker has created a real winner in a story which chronicles the adventures of Zach Forest, homicide detective as he patrols the seedy beat of Easytown. The beat has made him hard and ruthless but he was always that way to begin with.

    Easytown is, essentially the resurrected Storyville of New Orleans and serves as the city's red light district. Except, instead of flesh-and-blood prostitutes--they have androids and clones serving their patron's tastes. Despite this improvement, the place is incredibly seedy and full of violence. Honestly, we don't spend enough time there and I would have liked to have seen Zach visit a few more of the town's places of ill-repute.

    The previous two books established a duality with Zach. He's an excellent detective and extremely good at bringing the bad guys in but comes from the Dirty Harry school of police officers. He beats suspects, shoots to kill, is rude to everyone, and is pretty much a dozen police brutality cases waiting to happen. Unlike many real-life offers with such problems, though, he's interested in protecting the rights of those on his beat rather than the people he goes after. Indeed, he's more often likely to end up going after the rich and powerful versus the poor.

    Unfortunately, living life like that means Zach is destined to lose his job and even knows it. Not even saving the Pope's life and stopping a cartel of serial killers is enough to keep him on the force much longer. Indeed, he's made so many enemies, you can imagine both sides are sick of it as he continues to coast along thanks to his big wins but never enough to secure his position. Much of the book is devoted to the cause of the buck stopping in his ability to continue like this.

    For better or worse, the villains are far less impressive this time around. A drug syndicate is using cyborgs to menace the people of Easytown but their boss has far less menace than the bad guys previously. The real villains are the people in City Hall who are looking for any excuse, or are actively contriving to make one, in order to bring Zach down.

    The book dumps the character of Teagan, the young waitress who loved Zach for the first two books, rather unceremoniously. Zach is no stranger to failed relationships but I felt this deserved a follow-up conversation between the two. I will say, though, I'm intrigued by the fact Zach's Siri-like A.I. companion Andi is interested in him now. The fact he no longer has to deal with the department's "Immorality Clause" about sleeping with robots is also interesting.

    The action is good, the world building is well done, and the characters are likable. This isn't my favorite of the Easytown novels but it's still a book I'm glad I read. I can't wait for the next one in the series.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Iron Fist Season One review

    I'm a big fan of Iron Fist and I'm going to make the very hipster-esque quote of the fact I was a fan of Iron Fist before he was cool. I may have only read him in The Essential Iron Fist but it's not like there's actually much of a character between his Heroes for Hire days to when Ed Brubaker re-imagined him for an extremely good tournament arc. Who is Iron Fist? Iron Fist is basically Batman Begins Batman or Arrowverse Green Arrow with the benefit of actually possessing superpowers. He's the extraordinarily rich kid who ends up learning the martial arts in a foreign land who goes back to take the fight to the streets.

    Before I get to the actual story, I feel the need to address the fact Iron Fist gets under certain people's skin. I'm usually on the side of the Far Left progressives in comics who promote diversity and a more rainbow colored world in comics because, gosh darn it, that's reality. However, the fact Danny Rand is a rich white guy who learns the secrets of an Asian culture than returns to beat up criminals is something which really ticks a lot of people off who use words like cultural appropriation, the Mighty Whitey, and so on.

This should happen all the time.
    The thing is, I'm actually going to state while there's definitely a way you can frame it that way, the story zigs from where people who actually have read Iron Fist assume it would zag. Much like the Karate Kid, Danny's ethnicity is important to his character because he's a white guy who becomes a better person because he enriches himself in another culture. There's a difference between multiculturalism and cultural appropriation.

    People look at Danny and see the rich white guy but he's a guy who barely remembers New York and grew up in Kun'lun. There's a subtle dig at appearances and assumptions if you write the character correctly. He's not the world's best martial artist (aside from Shang Chi) because he's white and does it better, he's the world's best martial artist because he moved to the land before adopting its ways. He also isn't as good as Lei Kun the Thunderer who taught him either--it's just he's the guy who trains the Iron Fists versus being the Iron Fist.

I knew who Colleen Wing was before the show.
    Also, Kun'lun isn't a real place. While it's based on the mythical Buddhist city of Shamballah and its spin off Shangri-La, there's no actual Chinese mythology he's involved in any more than Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn. There's a level of barrier between real life culture and mythology versus the one created in Marvel comics. It's the difference between Tolkien's elves and the Tuatha de Dannan. In simple terms, you can't be racist against fictional races and peoples. There's a horrible history of exploitation and theft with the British Empire against China but Kun'lun isn't China or even Tibet. It's closer to Asgard. I welcome disagreement on the subject and understand why people feel the way they do but think it's a 2 on the cultural insensitivity scale versus a 10.

    Okay, having spent way too much time talking about this subject, I should mention Iron Fist the television show isn't very good. It's not terrible and I actually have enjoyed it more than Luke Cage (blasphemy) but there's a lot of places where it was clear they didn't quite have a handle on who Danny Rand is as a character. It's also clear they struggled with the fact Iron Fist is a lighthearted Pulp adventure with fantasy martial arts, dragons, mythical cities, and good vs. evil when they've been doing gritty street level stories for three series. The fact Danny barely uses his magical fist is a minor but pointed complaint people had about the show but underscores the larger problem.

The corporate plots in this show go nowhere.
    The premise Danny Rand returns after fifteen years of absence and attempts to take back his company from Joy and Ward Meachum (Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey). After getting locked up in a mental hospital, he escapes and becomes involved in a fight against the Hand in New York City. This gets him manipulated by Harold Meachum (David Wenham), a corrupt corporate executive who faked his own death, and results in him teaming up with Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick).

    The story is, bluntly, all over the place. Danny Rand states he's uninterested in money, which he demonstrably is. He likes giving it to his friends but would be satisfied sitting on a mat in a dirty apartment. So, there's no real reason why he wants his company back. He acts like a crazy person and can't prove he's Danny Rand but he could easily prove he has superpowers. Also, while they give reasons why he couldn't have a DNA test or fingerprints, they forgot he'd had dental records. Also, they could exhume the bodies of other relatives for a DNA test. Ward and Joy are alternatively supporting or condemning Danny so the entire corporate plot is poorly written.

I love the homage to her comic outfit.
    The parts where Danny are fighting the Hand feel like they come from a different show and actually work much-much better. There's an entire episode dedicated to a kung fu tournament which feels grossly out of place and yet is easily among the best in the season. The cheesiness of it all is something that works well for Iron Fist and it's when they try to stuff Danny in the same box as Jessica Jones or even Daredevil then they fail as a result. He's a man who punched a dragon to death. They should embrace that.

    It also hurts they try to make Danny into a moron. Danny constantly makes poor impulsive decisions which his training would have required him to overcome. The character is played as an immature youth despite the fact the character is thirty while also having spent his life as a monk. Much of the plot depends on Danny not sitting down to explain his situation or show his powers. There's also a few moments of inexplicable rage from Danny which feel out of place with his otherwise Zen attitude. I don't think this is Finn Jones' problem and think he's mostly stuck with bad writing.

Harold Meachum is easily the most entertaining part of the show.
    David Wenham basically runs circles around the majority of the cast, which is ironic because the character doesn't really have much to do for the majority of the show. The fact he's a Hand ninja as well as corrupt corporate executive makes me think the biggest problem with this show is its inconsistent confused mess when a much simpler story would have worked better: Danny comes back to the company, finds Harold controlling it, and Harold dispatches a bunch of ninjas to fight him.

    Jessica Henwick also does a tremendous job with the perpetually likable Colleen Wing. Indeed, you could eliminate the Meachum siblings from the story to increase the role of her and Harold and I think the show would only benefit. Colleen is a likable sensei, Japanese to Danny's Chinese in style, and someone who is struggling with her own desire to beat the crap out of people. I even like their romance, though I think they also could have worked well as friends.

Finn and Jessica have real chemistry.
    There is one major problem with the show, though, which is the fact it's a martial arts show where the lead doesn't know martial arts. Finn Jones' allegedly, had about ten minutes to get ready for his first fight scene because of late casting. He does a reasonable job of making fights look effortless (because he can't actually hit anyone) but this is a severe issue in a show about punching people. It's also a major step down from the electric fight scenes we saw in Daredevil. It's also confusing because they could have given him the Iron Fist mask and used a stunt double.

     The Hand is probably the best handled part of the show as Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) does an excellent job being the archnemesis of Iron Fist and I hope they have her come back after The Defenders. We get a tie between Kun'lun and the Hand as well as get to see how their street operations work. Seeing them work in corporate offices, criminal gangs, and in dojos where they recruit teenagers without hope is a perfect display of Illuminati-level terrorism. Sadly, they don't get to show off their awesome until the end.

    In conclusion, Iron Fist is the weakest of the Netflix shows so far because they weren't willing to commit to an over-the-top martial arts show. They wasted much of the season on Danny getting thrown into idiot situations where showing he had superpowers or dental records would have resolved most of the issues. They also portrayed a very competent and intelligent hero in the comics as an immature manchild. I enjoyed the show enough to watch it to the end but it could have been much-much better.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Jessica Jones Season One review

    Jessica Jones is a character I have a familiarity with before the television series back when it was called Alias and just picked a kind of atrocious bit of timing. Really, because Jennifer Garner would have been a much better Jessica Jones than Elektra. Be that as it may, Krysten Ritter does an excellent job bringing her interpretation of the character to life even if she's not quite the same character as the one in the comics. I have some issues with the series, overall, but it ranks very highly and is probably my second favorite of the Netflix MCU after Daredevil.

    The differences from Alias are ones I'm going to comment on, though, because that's really the only thing I can contribute which hasn't been dissected to death by hundreds of blogs. Also, a discussion of how I think the show lamed itself by being a bit too obsessed with the Purple Man plot despite how much emotional drama this carried. In the original comic series, Jessica Jones is a retired superhero named Jewel who wasn't very good at the role. After trying very hard to make a difference (but not), she ends up exposing her identity to help a child then gets kidnapped by the Purple Man to be his slave for months. Months which nobody even notices she's gone.

The funny thing is the Purple Man was a C-Lister until this point.
    Eventually, the Purple Man gets bored and sends her to attack the Avengers where she nearly dies since no one ever bothered to file her as a superhero. Jessica's detective cases tend to be the kind of superhero related ones which fade through the cracks like a missing "mutant" girl (actually a runaway lesbian), a Rick Jones impersonator, and a missing Spider Woman. All of these generally exposing the seedy underbelly of the Marvel Universe from the ground perspective. Her character eventually marries Luke Cage after she gets pregnant by him and they settle into a fun, if boring, domestic partnership.

    Krysten Ritter's Jessica Jones suffers a bit from the fact she never has an idealistic period of her life. After her parents die in a car wreck that gives her superpowers, Netflix's Jessica Jones enters a permanent funk of cynicism and anger she never gets out of. It's a funk which gets worse when she is horrifyingly captured by Zebediah Kilgrave (The Purple Man played by David Tennant) then forced to be his slave (who acts like his girlfriend) for months. Jessica breaks free on her own but not until after she's killed someone on his command.

Krysten Ritter does an excellent "haunted heroine."
    At the risk of discussing a triggering topic (but you can't NOT discuss it when discussing Netflix's Jessica Jones), there's a major difference between the comic book Jessica Jones and the Netflix one. The first one used the Purple Man's control to talk about rape without actually subjecting her to sexual assault since comic books don't have a very good track record with that sort of thing. Jessica was forced to watch the Purple Man enslave others for sex and play act as his girlfriend but he never touched her while the canonical Jessica was forced to have sex with him the entire time.

    This is, fundamentally, about the different expectations of medium and it will take a far more mature essay by someone other than me to dissect its implications. Basically, though, comic books are for teenagers and adults remembering their teenage years while Netflix's television series tend to be for adults. The fact TV Jessica is mind-controlled into being Kilgrave is enough of a "cushion" to talk about the subject without verging on the exploitative. Which basically is both the show's strength and weakness.

Kilgrave and Jack Napier are among the few men who can pull off a purple coat.
    The strength of the show is dealing with Jessica Jones' trauma and moving beyond it as much as she can as well as confronting her attacker. Kilgrave is an immensely talented enemy as he exploits his mind-control powers with a Light Yagami finesse. He has "rules" which limit him that get explored fully while also encouraging him to be incredibly clever with them. The show really feels a lot more like Death Note than Alias, except it's about Kilgrave's power than the titular book.

    Unfortunately, the biggest weakness is Kilgrave can't quite carry the entire season on his back and the story stretches too long. It's not a dealbreaker because of a very unexpected character's appearance (at least unexpected outside of Daredevil) who I really think was done well. However, I do think the story would have benefited from a couple of episodes where Jessica Jones deals with other cases like the ones in the comic. One of the funniest scenes in the story is where she deals with a pair of bigots who want to kill her for her superpowers except they're really bad at it.

I see no reason to make fun of Jewel's outfit.
    Discussing David Tennant's acting, I have to say they did a tremendous job with him. He manages to take all of the goofy charming ladies man qualities he had with the Tenth Doctor then twist them in such a way as to make him repulsive. There's a sense that Kilgrave, if he hadn't his powers, probably would have grown up to an immensely successful con man or salesman but he doesn't have to get anything without his powers so he doesn't. His childishness is just close enough to being funny that I think he might have made an excellent Riddler (or still could--someone call DC to talk about that) or more traditionally goofy Joker.

    Honestly, I actually prefer Patsy Walker (Hellcat! I know this!) as played by Rachael Taylor to Jessica Jones herself. Her idealism really is a great contrast to Jessica's 24 hour bad attitude. I'm a huge fan of cynical, sarcastic, and noir themed characters but it's an odd contrast in the Marvel universe. I also felt the contrast of Jessica Jones' past idyllic self to her future one was an exceptionally good one. Watching Patsy Walker in her lone fight in the show was also impressive, making me think she could handle her own lead role.

As much as I love her as a shark lawyer, I would totally have loved to see her as the Wasp.
    Frank Simpson (played by Wil Traval) is also one that I think should have gotten more focus. I don't want to spoil anything but I like the show's handling of him better than I did Kilgrave. Not only is it rare enough for a seasoned comic nerd like me to be surprised by a character's appearance but the way they did it was excellent. I found myself fooled into wanting to support Frank and Patsy's relationship despite how unhealthy it was. I also believed he was a genuine good guy and, honestly, he probably was but for how Kilgrave enhanced his darkest qualities. I hope to see him in future installments of the franchise.

    Really, I could talk about the supporting cast every bit as much as I could the actual plot. I may be one of the few people who loved Carrie Anne Moss' subplot, though. You'd think the divorce of Jessica's primary employer so she can marry her secretary would be a terrible weight on the story. However, it's build up all pays off in the end. I also, again, think the main story took up a bit too much time so distractions were good. Mike Colter, certainly, does a decent job introducing Luke Cage but I found the plot about Jessica and his dead wife to be unnecessary. Really, the show underuses him and his lead-in here is unnecessary to appreciate the Luke Cage show.

I like the only super-strong person in the Defenders is a woman.
    In conclusion, Jessica Jones is probably my second favorite of the Netflix Marvel series as it deals with an incredibly uncomfortable topic in an exceptional way. Unfortunately, they drag out the Kilgrave plot far too long. I would have appreciated a few more subplots to fill in the time and diversify Jessica Jones' interests a bit.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Daredevil Season 2 review

    Yeah, I know, this is like a year too late but the benefit of Netflix is you can catch up any time you want. I also have an aversion to doing reviews of really good popular programming because, honestly, what's the point? I mean, basically everyone knows Daredevil was some of the best programming Netflix did and it's not like I was going to bring in a whole new audience.

    This is sad, too, because I love Daredevil. I also love Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist which means that I'm in a somewhat Golden Age of Television where the characters I never thought would be on TV suddenly are. I mean, seriously, Colleen Wing is now a major character known by millions. At this point, I fully believe Shang-Chi the Master of Kung Fu could show up and it's a real possibility!

Cox does an amazing job bringing together Matt Murdock as a 3 dimensional character.
    Thinking about that inspired me to take the month of September and use it to catch up on my superhero reviewing because I realize there is something I can contribute to discussing these shows I'm horribly out of date on--specifically, that I am a fan of the original street level Heroes for Hire as well as Frank Miller's Daredevil. I can add my own perspective on the adaptation of the work and what they did right and what they did wrong. So what did they do right? Everything but Elektra. What did they do wrong? Well, Elektra.

    The premise of the season can basically be summarized as coming in two parts: 1. The conflict between Daredevil and the Punisher. 2. Daredevil's conflict with the Hand and his ex-girlfriend Elektra. One story deals with issues of justice, vigilantism, redemption, vengeance as well as the fallout from traumatic events. The other deals with ninjas. The thing is, the latter is fully able to coast on the former but gets saddled with the problem of also the TV trope "Romantic Plot Tumor."

Bernthal does an amazing job making Castle a likable, engaging, and dynamic character.
    For those unfamiliar with the concept of a Romantic Plot Tumor, it's a TV trope which basically amounts to the idea of something extremely interesting and dramatic getting dragged down by the attempts to force an artificial romance plot into events. An example would be, say, if Spiderman was trying to figure out how to stop Doctor Octopus from blowing up New York only to devote large page time to his current troubles with Mary Jane. You know, back before the Devil stole his marriage.

    Sometimes these kind of relationship melodramas work extremely well. Sam Raimi's Spiderman movies work best when Mary Jane and Peter are people we root for. They also work the worst when the author shoves stupid drama into their lives like her being upset over getting fired from her theater job to the point she ignores her boyfriend has people shoot at him every day. What does this have to do with Daredevil? Well, in a very real way, they screwed up much of this season by forgetting Elektra is the world's greatest assassin on a mission of vengeance and making her Matt's obnoxious rich ex.

One of the best scenes in the show is the three of them attending a funeral for a client.
    It's difficult to convey just how tone deaf the writing and characterization of this is. Elektra was, for a shining brief moment in the 1980s, one of the most popular female characters in comics. She was vicious, brutal, and tragic. A character who played well off Matt Murdock because she carried every bit as much baggage as himself but was much further down the rabbit hole of becoming a monster. Contrasting her, Matt, and Frank Castle seems like it would be a great story idea.

    Unfortunately, one writer seems to have had a terrible break up because the story follows Elektra being played as a whiny spoiled brat who is annoyed Matt doesn't want to go clubbing with her. Except, replace clubbing with murdering ninjas. It is like no version of Elektra I've ever seen and drags down every scene with her in it. Elodie Young is perfectly capable as an actress but if the story ever had to be, "Should Matt be with the dark haired exciting rich girl or blonde boring nice girl?" then someone is doing it wrong because that's Archie not Daredevil. It's kind of fascinating that Jennifer Garner (a woman better suited to play Karen Page does not exist) did a better job with better material.

Elodie Young has a lot of talent. Just not with the character.
    Anyway, enough complaining about the show's bad handling of Elektra. The rest of the season is note perfect. It's an examination of how Matt Murdock adjusts from being a fairly ineffectual (but emotionally satisfying) guy who beats up criminals to being the guy who took down the Kingpin as well as a local legend. As mentioned, along the way, Matt ends up encountering the Punisher and discovers he's someone who is both admirable as well as horrifying. He also ends up being the Punisher's lawyer as he discovers a criminal conspiracy to frame him. This is while the Hand has grown in power behind the scenes, rebuilding its empire in the city while also preparing for some powerful supernatural ritual.

    John Bernthal, previously most famous for playing meathead Shane on The Walking Dead, pretty much establishes himself as one of the most charismatic actors in the Netflx MCU. He's easily the best incarnation of Frank Castle we've seen and manages to elevate the character beyond many of the comic incarnations. Bernthal's Punisher is probably the first who might genuinely dislike killing criminals and not derive that much satisfaction from his actions. Killing wears on this version of Frank Castle but he feels compelled to do it because life just sucks that much in Hell's Kitchen. It's a less superhuman interpretation of the character and one who actually manages to remain sympathetic while still embodying a lot of stereotypes of the Mach Bolan era which spawned him.

Another picture of Deborah Ann Woll because why not?
    Deborah Ann Woll's Karen Page is a character which was irresistibly charming (aided by her actress being already so) in Daredevil's Season One but gets to sink her teeth into meatier stories with the second season. Karen Page is many things but stupid is not one of them and watching her take the lead on Frank Castle's case is impressive. She's a woman torn between her conscience as well as the fact she's a little easier on killing people than Matt makes for an interesting dynamic.

    Charlie Cox, himself, is a bit uneven in the season and his performance largely depends on who he is playing off of. With Bernthal or Woll, he's extremely good, but there's other characters where he comes across as wishy-washy or immature. I won't name names but I think this review implied who I think qualifies. Basically, I enjoyed watching Daredevil try and fail to balance his two lives while thinking they could have focused a bit more on Castle's trial. The show acts like Matt's life as a lawyer is immaterial to him and I think it would have been better to strike more of a balance.

The Hand are the best. NINJAS! NINJAS! NINJAS!
    I'm a huge fan of the Hand and I'm glad they got a beefed up role in the second season. Nobu coming back from the dead not only frees Matt from having killed someone (albeit in self-defense) but also makes use of one of the best elements of their lore. I will say, though, I'm not a big fan of the "Black Sky" plot because it's completely invented for the show and has no relationship the comics. The nature of the Hand's "Chosen One" is nebulous and confusing with it unclear if the show knows what it's about.

    In conclusion, Season 2 is an excellent follow up to the original and makes me excited for Season 3 which seems like it will be an adaptation of Born Again. I felt they botched the handling of Elektra and the Hand in general but I was always going to be a difficult to please. It is gritty, intelligently written television with spectacular fight scenes. Despite this, I will say the Punisher section of the season is easily the best and works as a great introduction for the character into the MCU.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Life is Strange review

    I love Life is Strange. It is a game which I will rank as one of my all-time favorite video games while simultaneously saying it's ending is about as bad as Mass Effect 3's. This is one of those beautiful Top Gun-esque jets which took to the air, did some amazing stunts, and then crashed at the very end. Nevertheless, it is a video game which has the potential to change interactive storytelling as a whole and elevate the medium. You know, if they can understand how to end the story right.

    The premise is Max Caulfield is a seventeen-year-old photography student who has recently returned to her hometown after five years of absence. Max is immensely talented but shy and withdrawn, having only a couple of friends at the exclusive Blackwell Academy. Even so, she's not a complete outsider and I liked seeing her reactions with other characters. She's a bit of a hipster, working with a old-style instant camera as well as expressing fondness for movies from before she was born, but not in an unlikable way.

Max is one of my favorite character.
    The plot, with giving a minimum amount of spoilers, is Max (voiced by Hannah Telle) discovers she has the ability to reverse time after preventing a school shooting in the bathroom. Discovering the victim is her childhood friend Chloe (voiced by Ashley Burch), Max shares the secrets of her abilities and promises to help Chloe discover what happened to missing student Rachel Amber. Rachel Amber went missing the month before Max's arrival and whose absence serves as the primary motivator for the majority of the story. Max also has had a vision of a terrible storm which is going to hit the town this coming Friday.

    The plot is a mixture of Twin Peaks, Veronica Mars, Donnie Darko, and The Butterfly Effect for a random but surprisingly workable combination of influences. Max and Chloe are amazingly effective protagonists, well-written to the point of being some of the best in video game history. I've known plenty of both types of girl growing up and they're idealized enough to bring up the best memories of my awkward high school years rather than the worst memories. The fact Chloe is a rebellious punk with a bad attitude contrasts nicely with Max even as I never doubted her friendship or pain.

Chloe and Max are adorable together.
    The supporting cast for this game is probably the most interesting I've seen in an adventure game since the original episodes of The Walking Dead by Telltale. Kate Marsh the good Christian girl suffering from horrific bullying, Victoria Chase the Alpha Bitch with a few redeeming qualities, Warren who could Max's best friend or boyfriend depending on choices she makes, and Nathan the deeply troubled youth who might well be the Big Bad of the story.

    The town is vividly realized so I developed a strong attachment to it. I got to know the local diner, how the economy worked, appreciated its landmarks, and felt like the developers had created a "real" place which our characters inhabited. There's a few minor spots like the fact the school bus works like an actual bus but that was a minor issue. A lot of care and attention went into making sure the setting came alive with hundreds of little details to flesh out characters and their relationships. This is one of the games where it really pays to check out everything, even though sometimes characters will call you out for rifling through their stuff.

The music in the game is incredible.
    The game's central mechanic is Max's ability to rewind time, which is an ability she possesses for much of the game and grows stronger as she practices with it. It works well as a sor of in-universe save scumming. Max can make a statement, check out the results, and reverse time so she can choose better responses. The ability is inconsistently applied in a few places and the rules seem to change a few times but, overall, I enjoyed learning how to use the power alongside Max.

    Which brings me to the ending? Basically, the ending feels like it went for cheap drama at the expense of the greater game's themes. It not only eliminated any chance for future installments with the characters but also seems to take a Spec Ops: The Line-like stance of saying, "the worst thing you could do with this game is actually play it." As such, it's four episodes of content which is almost perfect but one episode which just makes me feel angry. A fair warning to those who want to play the game, you will consider the ending non-canon if you want to enjoy the greater world.

The world is made in a thousand little details.
    The music in this game deserves credit because this is one of the best soundtracks of any game I've listened to. The music has an easy listening indie feel which reflects Max's attitude toward the world as well as fundamental good nature. I've listened to almost all of the songs multiple times. 

    In conclusion, Life is Strange is a great game. It's a game which doesn't focus on gunplay or special effects to achieve its emotional impact. The characterization and writing is why this game is good. It's a very rare game which can say that and yet it is all the stronger for it. The art style is beautiful, going for a slightly stylized look rather than strict realism that means it will probably age far better than other video games. I love Max and Chloe as well as the rest of the cast. It makes me sad this will the last time I play with them (until Life is Strange: Before the Storm at least).


Monday, September 4, 2017


I have the cover for AN AMERICAN WEREDEER IN MICHIGAN available now. It's the second novel cover for the BRIGHT FALLS MYSTERIES which will start with my upcoming book, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER.

The books start when Jane is about eighteen-years old and follow her as she goes on a variety of adventures in a horror-filled world where the supernatural is public. I went for a Sookie Stackhouse feel but ended up being Buffy meets Patricia Briggs instead. Either that or just the urban fantasy version of THE RULES OF SUPERVILLAINY.

I think people will really like it. The first book should be out sometime in late September/early October with the following novel a month after!