Monday, October 31, 2011

Batman: Year One Animated Film

We know Batman’s origin; you don’t need to be a nerd to know Bruce Wayne became Batman after his parent’s were murdered. How you tell that tale, and how believable it can be are two entirely different ideas. And how did Commissioner Gordon become Batman’s most trusted ally?

Batman: Year One relights the old Caped Crusader origin story in a way that gives new meaning to Batman and Gordon. Based on the comic by the same name – Batman: Year One is among the most revered graphic novels in DC’s library. How I felt about Batman’s birth can be found here. Summarize it to say: Batman: Year One is about two very human men trying to clean up a city on the brink of madness.

Having a running time of just over an hour – we spend less time waiting around and more time seeing development. Bruce doesn’t take long to don the suit. And Gordon lays his fist into those who have gone to the dark side of the police force. I think that’s where the animated movie shines best, in capturing the same pace of the comic. Structured by monthly increments we are only shown the major details, small facts are left out. This format keeps a tight hold on your attention because things shift so quickly.

On the other hand, the tone feels off. That may be attributed to the animation itself. The source material felt very gritty and raw, and the artistic style of the ‘80s emulated that. The visual style of the comic is without question very appropriate to the tale as a whole. The biggest problem with some of these animated film adaptations is the art doesn’t complement the narrative. It’s not distracting, but keeping the artistic design, as close to the original would have served the film better.

Beat for beat this retelling really does follow the trade. Any differences are likely unnoticeable, and even the largely superfluous Catwoman origin – the weakest part of Year One -- was thrown in.

It was no leap of faith for DC to produce an animated film version of one of the Dark Knight’s greatest moments. I still feel a little jaded. As this movie does suffer from what I call the “Watchmen dilemma”: In other words, “Since I’ve seen the movie, why read the comic?” And yeah, there is something to that. But the film still feels like a piece, more of an assist to the original graphic novel and not a complete story by itself.

I do urge those interested in Batman: Year One the animated film to see the collected trade of the same name first. And yes how Batman became Batman actually holds together well in today’s convoluted comic realm. The movie may not be perfect, but it will keep you entertained. I still maintain the opinion that Batman: Year One is the definitive origin story, the first and perhaps last you need to read or in this case, watch. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mass Effect Invasion #1

Writer: Mac Walters
Script: John Jackson Miller
Art: Omar Francia

Critical about the prior Mass Effect comic books – most notably my distain for the so-called Illusive Man origin story – I have a mental hurdle to cross when reading Mass Effect Invasion. This new four-part run from Dark Horse is a side story taking place around the events of Mass Effect 3 the game. Cerberus is experimenting with Reaper tech beyond the Omega 4 Relay. Unfortunately Cerberus is once again behind a huge mess and the rest of the galaxy has to suffer the consequences.

Aria T’Loak, ruler of Omega, reached an agreement with Cerberus: Omega is a one stop supply hub for all Cerberus’ vessel traveling through the Omega 4 Relay – a once hostile Reaper owned part of space. A staunch businesswoman…business-alien? Aria wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity for profit. And she could regulate traffic at will. No One can enter or leave Omega without her permission…until things instantly take a turn for the worse.

Cerberus is always one to tamper with new technology in the hopes of harnessing it for the better of the human race. But they frequently over-step their limits. Adjutants, or reanimated corpses are running loose on Omega. The Reaper tech has given these alien zombies the power to withstand ammunitions fire; only a biotic user (Something Aria is more than proficient in) can dispatch the indoctrinated menace.

Probably a really bad way to start a day for this guy.

Mass Effect Invasion is laden with Mass Effect lore. It’s far too difficult for someone to pick this single issue up and understand the faintest thing about the universe Bioware has created. Such a barrier to entry makes this a tough sell to the non committed, or those not absolutely crazy about the Mass Effect franchise.

Lead writer on Mass Effect 2 and 3, Mac Walters devised this tale. And I’m not entirely sure his form of story telling translates to this medium. I’m a big fan of short, concise lines of dialogue in comics. It sounds nitpicky but Walters just uses too many words. Keep it simple, down to only the important stuff -- Although, the task of actually framing the dialogue may have lied with scripter John Jackson Miller. I especially find it a detractor when a character can say a whole speech during an action scene. It’s not realistic, and it kind of pulls me out of the frantic moment.

I’ll be pretty mum on the visuals. Mass Effect Invasion is a bland looking trade. It’s not that the alien races look drastically different from their video game counterparts…they just look very ugly. The proportions of each person from panel to panel are so odd looking. Aria looks so different from one scene to the next. It’s a mess.

Nonetheless Mass Effect Invasion #1 leaves on an interesting note. And it needed too. Once again I can only see the hardcore Mass Effect heads digesting this comic series. I’m not looking forward to the next issue, but Mac Walters may surprise me yet. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Batman Arkham City Review

This game has no right being this good. None. Super-hero licensed games are garbage. Batman Arkham Asylum changed that. So why am I so shocked at how mind blowingly good Batman Arkham City is? I have to invent a new word just to relate my love for this masterpiece!

Arkham City follows shortly after the events of Arkham Asylum. Arkham has moved into a sectioned off area on the outskirts of Gotham City. Former warden, now mayor, Quincy Sharp put maniacal genius Hugo Strange in charge of running the makeshift prison. If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for disaster, how about all of Gotham’s most nefarious criminals all packed together in Arkham, and they pretty much run the joint.

Arkham City is a ticking time bomb. Regardless, Batman enters to take down Hugo Strange…and of course Joker plays a huge role. Didn’t see that coming.

Gotham. Gotham is Batman’s city. His playground. Gliding from rooftops and taking down criminals in the dead of night makes you feel truly like the Dark Knight. You are Batman. No game has ever made me feel more like the leading role than Arkham City. Developer, Rocksteady, has achieved something special here.

Under the impression the previous game was so good because of its linearity and focus on interiors; I was skeptical if another Batman game – open world Batman game -- would flourish and outshine Asylum. We have a perfect example here of never speaking to soon, Arkham City is open to your leisure but I never felt overwhelmed or unfocused on the main story.

How you stalk crime in the night and make a quick getaway is ingenious too. Batman moves with the most intricate animations you’ll see in gaming. Grappling from one ledge to the next is easy and intuitive, and once you get the Grapnel Boost upgrade you can glide from one end of Arkham City to the next without touching the ground. Just like Assassin’s Creed, when you are on the top of buildings you own them you’re a god.

The combat on the mean streets of Gotham is satisfying from hour one. It’s all about timing your attacks and landing hits and chaining between enemies. This “ping-ponging” from one attacker to the next gives you the feeling of empowerment, and the difficulty comes from trying to sustain a constant combo to take down Joker or Two-Face’s men quicker. It’s a perfect system, one that’s simple to learn but exceedingly difficult to master.

The criminals control Arkham City. Joker, Penguin, Two-Face: all have their men holding sections of Old Gotham. The story isn’t as simple as liberating one crime lord from his pedestal, Batman is faced with many challenges along the way. And there is a ton to do outside of the story. The main plot is only about 10 hours in length – don’t let that scare you, as it doesn’t seem short at all. And the many Riddler trophies, Side Missions and Challenge Rooms will keep you occupied if you’re trying to get the most for your dollar.

Batman is known for his gadgets and not only do you start with the majority of your arsenal from Arkham Asylum the weapons you get throughout the game are even better. There are little touches of Zelda sprinkled in Arkham City: for each area that you’re unable to access, the Caped Crusader will later get some kind of mechanism that allows him to pass.

It’s far easier to use the entire Bat arsenal in combat now. A couple taps of the left trigger sends out three Batarangs. Almost everything in Bat’s utility belt can be quick launched in a fight to give you that extra edge. And when you’re using each gadget in conjunction with the plethora of moves Batman has it’s a beautiful bone-snapping sonata.

Periodically you also jump to Catwoman to fill out some gaps in the story. Most of this is largely superfluous and Catwoman isn’t nearly as thrilling to play as Batman…she’s got the looks, but not the moves. And the end of the game feels a little stale in Selina’s shoes. It’s a marginal gripe, but her inclusion didn’t add or take away enough to leave too much of an impact.

Batman Arkham City tops the list of best action games ever. I shouldn’t need to convince someone to like Batman just to play the game. Yes there is a lot more to get out of a game like this if you’re already a fan. I still think the fight mechanic; awesome traversal system and tightly paced story would be just as good had this not been a Batman game at all.

Batman Arkham City stands tall at the precipice of licensed comic games. Nothing comes close. Not even the original. It may be premature, but Batman Arkham City is game of the year. Be Batman. Wipe the scum from Gotham. Just get this game! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #3 Review

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sara Pichelli
Colorist: Justin Ponsor

Ultimate Spider-Man #3 follows both Miles and Ganke as they’ve both come to the realization that Miles is Spider-Man. And what should he do? I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take Bendis to get Miles into the suit and start crawling on rooftops. I think the answer is: when he’s ready. This is a slow burn and Miles actually taking Peter’s place seems to be a drawn out effort -- In a good way.

Miles is strongly reluctant to take on the burden of inhuman abilities, but his friend Ganke thinks it’s the coolest thing ever. Having super-power seems equivalent to being a disease-carrying monster. Miles knows he will be segregated like he has the Black Plague, so he’s having an anxiety attack trying to figure out what’s happening. He just wants a normal life, which sadly he will never have.

It’s almost like Miles is going through puberty…only this may be a lot more drastic than a simple deepening on the voice. Ganke takes is all in stride and he reacts like the reader: that being Spider-Man would be amazing. Is it really?

Miles doesn’t want the responsibility anymore than Peter did. Yet when a gift – or curse – is thrust upon you, and it allows you to save lives, your normal life ends. Miles will have to juggle his time spent at school and his new powers, a direct similarity to a young Peter Parker. Sure it’s familiar, but Spider-Man relating to the common man defines him.

Miles will be compared to Peter forever. And we still don’t have a firm grasp on Miles as an individual. Saving a lady from a burning building one time isn’t enough, Miles, this is your career now, can you handle it?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Luther Season 1 Review

What television needs is something different, not inherently new, just different enough to make you think and watch. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) has a reputation of great shows; none of which I’ve admittedly watched. That doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to. And the drama, Luther, was where I started. All six episodes are excellent -- it’s a short season, but the creative script, imaginative scenarios, and great acting from one Idris Elba are the glue that holds the show together.

Luther isn’t original. It’s a crime drama. There’re plenty of those. It’s the sole that’s missing from most procedural detective shows that loses me. It’s not a matter of believability or realism, because Luther may not have any of that. The only think and the one thing that really separates Luther is the person John Luther himself.

Idris Elba plays Luther as slightly touched but still sane policeman. One that tries so hard to do the right thing, even if that means he has to go about it wrong at first. He’s not quite an ani-hero, and he definitely isn’t a dirty cop. Luther is more like a gray cop, he falls in between the moral line of ethics and only tests the waters of either side, never taking the full plunge.

John Luther’s swagger is undeniable. How he carries himself and how he contemplates a crime scene -- It’s not human. Through that dedication and the mistakes of his past he’s lost touch with the only person he cares for, his wife Zoe. The first season is split between Luther trying to capture serial killers and trying to rebuild his marriage. He can’t deal with his wife not loving him and he has this mental block that won’t let him think strait.

Throughout the series you see the brilliant detective who lives for his job. And the emotional man who can’t break away and love again. It’s sad, really. And Luther is forced into more than a few situations where his temper and judgment get the best of him. And no, he doesn’t always pull through in the end. Even in the first episode he fails to crack the case…legally.

The entire season throttles the psyche, by not making everything appear how it seems: particularly Luther’s relationship with a murderer and their tenuous and unlikely partnership. I never knew what was around the next corner. Think. That’s all a program needs to do really. 

Luther and Alice's relationship is strange and fascinating. 

I do have a few minor gripes. Luther is almost too smart. You rarely get to solve the crime with him; he keeps a lot of his plans bottled up in his own swirling mind. It does lend a certain quality to Luther one that makes him almost out to be super-human – it would have been nice though to see him piece together the evidence so the audience wasn’t always in the dark. Which frequently happens.

I’ll be taking a look at the second season shortly. Luther is a very tightly spun show, it’s not drastically fresh, but it hits the right emotional notes. While the final episode is too implausible it doesn’t taint what came before. I knew I was going to like Luther, and I considered it the test subject for whether or not I’d watch more BBC programming. Idris Elba’s performance alone is reason to watch, but I don’t want to take away from the stylish pacing of the story as a whole. I may not watch much TV, but I’m hopelessly in the corner of John Luther…I just hope he doesn’t through me through a window.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Do You Remember: Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future?

Maybe I made the show up in my head…but that’s not correct, thank god for YouTube: it proves that I didn’t just imagine this Sci-Fi 80s spectacle. Nobody believes me when I describe Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, but they all unanimously agree that it sounds pretty amazing. Well, maybe you’d have to be a kid again to feel the awesomeness.

So I was sleeping and I thought of the best way to describe Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. It’s a future where everybody dresses like Bobba Fett. Correction: imagine that Bobba Fett was as cool as the Internet actually thinks he is, and not a guy who is being digested for a thousand years because he was blindsided.

Semi-relevant descriptions aside, Captain Power is a post-apocalyptic futuristic war TV series from the late 80s. The show only lasted one season. That might have been because the creators had to break into Fort Knox to get enough doe to produce it. It was a revolutionary debut, one that used very early 3D graphics and special effects. It’s cheesy looking now, still that intro from the eyes of a 9 year old would’ve blow your frickin’ mind.

Flying robot Pterodactyls would go around “digitizing” people: killing them by turning them into computer data…or at least that is what I assume. The main cast all wore the aforementioned bounty hunter-esc attire, each brining his or her special talent’s to the battlefield. It was all about wearing shiny armor though – they do have to sell toys now.

Despite the series being directed towards kids it was ultra violent. Sure they were shooting lasers guns at each other, Transformers’ style; people still bit he dust in the end. Seriously, the finale had one of the main cast blown sky high. That and the budget was the doom for Captain Power and friends. YouTube brings us all back to our childhood and Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future reminds me of the simpler times.  

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Battlefield 3 Beta impressions

My thoughts on the Battlefield beta will come from the perspective of a Call of Duty player. It’s what I prefer. And my mind and choice of multiplayer shooter hasn’t been swayed by EA’s game. Battlefield isn’t my type of FPS. From the ground up I’m just not into open maps and long-range engagements. Give me a close quarters balls-to-the-walls action game, that’s COD in a nutshell. Battlefield is a truly different kind of shooter. They are both about killing stuff and modern war, that’s where the similarities stop.

Players had access to a second map, with vehicles, but it seems that its main purpose was for testing. Now we only have Metro, a mid sized map (still larger than most multiplayer maps in other shooters) and one objective based mode. As the game starts you either defend against bomb planters, or you are the planty, plantie? New word for you guys. I could care less what the objective was; all I did was shoot dudes in the face.

I think the biggest flaw with the beta is that they gave people a map that took away the thing that separated Battlefield from other games: vehicles. The gunplay just isn’t as tight and responsive as Call of Duty, neither is it more satisfying to put lead into somebody’s skull. I never felt in control of my soldier. The weight and feel of the recoil on the weapons is all wrong. The controls felt sluggish like I was walking in Jell-O. It's possible my guy was wearing a fat suit and I couldn’t tell.

Adjusting aim sensitivity alleviates some frustration but not by much. All the animations – while nice to look at – are very drawn out and deliberate; and prepare to die while vaulting over objects. It was funny the first time I got shot jumping over a fallen tree…not so much the next 100 times. 

I played on the Xbox 360, and I was under the impression that there wasn’t much visual difference between it and the PC version – oh, boy there is. Battlefield 3 on console doesn’t look bad, but it’s a far cry from what I saw at E3 and it looks marginally different from its PC counterpart. Particle effects, lighting and textures all seem to have taken a step down. Battlefield 3 blew people away visually at press events, now I really don’t see a decided edge between it and Modern Warfare 3.

I feel like I’m just focusing on the negative, but I was really trying to give Battlefield a shot. It’s just not for me. The people that love big open fields, sniping to their hearts content and shooting people from miles away are going to enjoy this. The beta will improve the game, in theory at least. I wasn’t won over with anything shown so far. I’m still in Activision’s corner with COD, and the Battlefield beta hasn’t changed that – it may have done the opposite, I only want to play Modern Warfare 3 more now.

Ultimate Spider-Man #2 Review

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Sara Pichelli
Colorist: Justin Ponsor

Wow. To say I’m impressed with the level of writing in Ultimate Spider-Man #2 may be the biggest understatement of my life. This is easily one of the best issues of any comic I’ve ever read, and certainly one of the best this year. Being less than enthusiastic with the last issue I was straining to figure where Bendis was trying to go with the Ultimate Spider-Man story. In just this comic alone my heart and mind have done a complete 180 on the topic. Ultimate Spider-Man #2 is heartfelt, fun and lively. I loved every bit of it.

From the emotional shots of sadness and fear on Miles' face (as he realizes that he may be a mutant) to the dower defeated look of his father, there’s so much humanity. It doesn’t feel like an origin story either, it may be the gradual pace that Bendis is taking or it may stem from his focus on each person and not on Miles’ powers exclusively – although his abilities are featured heavily they don’t dominate the spotlight. Miles, his father and (what appears to be the comic relief) Ganke, Miles’ best friend are the major focus.

What made me really sit up strait in my seat was the conversation with Miles and his father. Miles doesn’t talk like a kid. He speaks like and adult, sure he may not fully understand but he doesn’t lash out like a stereotypical adolescent boy. Miles has a sense of understanding and calmness that intrigued me. He really showed subtle traits that fleshed out his personality more, and differentiated him from Peter Parker – something that he desperately needed to do.

Amid Miles’ origin Bendis was able to inject some much needed humor. Miles’ friend Ganke only has a few pages, but he was a welcomed addition. Ganke may only serve one purpose, but Miles to this point doesn’t show the same wit and charm that Peter showed, maybe Ganke can bring that out of Miles. Maybe Miles will have a stern demeanor while fighting crime, the only humor in the issue coming from Ganke himself.

However Bendis decides to handle it Miles story has quickly become a must read for any comic fan. With just one issue he turned Miles into a person, not somebody who’s only defining characteristic was his skin color. Miles is much more than that, and Ultimate Spider-Man has really found its voice. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

DJ Shadow: The Less You Know, The Better Review

DJ Shadow’s newest album mixes rock, hip-hop, country, trance, even some free form poetry; The Less You Know, The Better doesn’t fit into any category of music – DJ Shadow throws every form of music he can into this one. Does it work? Well, I certainly respect it; this is his most ambitious album, as there are too many different genres of music to list. And the shear creativity is impressive.

No single song has the same tone or the same instruments for that matter. “Sad And Lonely” is a piano and violin influenced symphony, the very next song, “Warning Call,” is experimental rock. All these contrasting styles fly in the face of convention and make The Less You Know, The Better an album that you have to sit and think about, and not listen to.

I found myself trying to get inside of DJ Shadow’s mind and figure out what he was trying to do. I spent less time actually listening to the music. The jarring transition between songs on The Less You Know, The Better may only resonate with a niche audience. Not the people who fell in love with his earlier work. Was this just a load of songs DJ Shadow had on the back burner that he just tossed on an album, maybe.

DJ Shadow doesn’t feel the need to scratch here either. Despite his name DJ Shadow rarely gets down on the wheels of steel on his albums, it’s mostly about mixing and sampling, not scratching records. That said, The Less You Know, The Better is the farthest thing from traditional turntablism.

Ambitious or not I’d have a hard time recommending this one to anybody because it’s so difficult to describe. One may never be in the mood to listen to The Less You Know, The Better because DJ Shadow doesn’t establish a tone.

Having no concrete sound, The Less You Know, The Better isn’t going to please a lot of DJ Shadow fans that just want him to repeat is debut Endtroducing. I can’t help but admire his experimental work, it may not be what people expected and that makes The Less You Know, The Better aptly titled.

Fill your ear holes with these:

“Circular Logic (Front To Back)”
“Def Surrounds Us”
“Enemy Lines”
“Scale It Back”
“Let’s Get It (Bass, Bass, Bass)”