Monday, September 26, 2011

"John Dies At The End" trailer

Well, the trailer for the film adaption of John Dies At The End is up:

It's been a while since I've read JDATE, but it looks like they've filmed a reasonably faithful adaptation of the story, if the trailer is any indication (hell, it looks like they might even be throwing in a nod to the Shit Narnia sequence).

If you have no idea what all this is referring to, you can find out more here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 9/14

Mystery Men #5 (of 5) (Marvel, $2.99, David Liss, Patrick Zircher) - Our heroes have a second, and final chance, to thwart Nox and the General's plans.  Despite not being terribly inclined to work together, necessity forces them to do so, and this time they fare better than their previous encounter with out villains, in a taut battle aboard a zeppelin (and really, how cool is that?).  However, victory doesn't come without a price, and one of our heroes makes the ultimate sacrifice.  The conclusion is a satisfying one, although left open enough for future stories to follow.  I hope that there are more stories to come with these characters, as I enjoyed this story quite a bit.  Moreso, Liss and Zircher work well together here, and I hope that they would be able to return for any future issues featuring these characters.  Recommended, especially for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the pulps.

Supreme Power #4 (of 4) (Marvel/Max, $3.99, Kyle Higgins, Manuel Garcia) - There are two conclusions here, one dealing with the French superhuman killing people in Hyperion's name, the other is the final battle between Hyperion and Dr. Spectrum.  The former is dealt with swiftly, partly as a something of a fake-out (given that he was built up as a major threat), but also to give a little more room for the latter to play out, with a few swerves along the way.  This isn't the best written story in the Supreme Power/Squadron Supreme series (among its flaws is that the ending is a little vague in spots), but it gives enough of a sense of resolution for the franchise that it has an ending that works, while at the same time leaving the door open for future stories should this sell well enough to warrant it.

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis (Marvel, $19.99, Warren Ellis, Kaare Andrews) -The last (as far as I know) of Ellis' run on Astonishing X-Men is collected here, and it's pretty much just as good as the two previous volumes of his work on the title.  Once again, he has to dance around the asinine '198' edict, and once again he manages to get a good story out of it, this time mining an old idea from Alan Moore's run on Captain Britain decades ago.  A series of seemingly mutant births are occurring in a small town in East Africa, and it falls to the X-Men to investigate.  Of course, nothing is ever quite that simple, and the ending is, to say the least, bittersweet. 

The script by Ellis is the main selling point here.  The plot is sharp, and the dialogue comes across as fairly natural as well as often quite hilarious.  The art by Andrews is stylistic, slightly cartoony, but overall rather appealing.  If nothing else he knows how to draw people in what appears to be actual clothing (as opposed to skintight spandex), something of a lost art these days.  He also does pretty well with the various action sequences.  Besides the five issues reprinted here, there is also both the uncolored pencils and the original test script for the first issue included here.  If you liked the first two collections of Ellis' Astonishing, you'll like this as well.  Very much recommended.

Demon Knights #1 (DC, $2.99, Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves) - Whatever faults Cornell had with the introductory issue of Stormwatch, thankfully they're not on display here.  This is essentially a Dungeons & Dragons story set in the DC Universe's past; full of magic and odd characters, and gleefully anachronistic in spots.  Heck, most of our characters even meet in a bar, and if that's not a D&D trope, I don't know what is.  Set four centuries after the fall of Camelot, Madame Xanadu and Jason Blood (aka the Demon) get the most stage time during the first issue, but several other characters also appear, with hints of more details regarding them to follow in the issues to come.  Cornell's story is fun and engaging, and the art by Neves manages to ground the fantastic elements just enough to carry the story, while at the same time embracing the more outlandish and absurd elements therein.  A really fun first issue, which promises a heck of a ride to come.

Legion Lost #1 (DC, $2.99, Fabian Nicieza, Pete Woods) - As a long-time Legion fan, I pretty much had to pick this up.  I don't regret doing so, but if I was new to the Legion I'm not so sure that would be the case.  Seven Legionnaires travel back to the 21st century, in the hopes of stopping the bad guy Alastor from destroying humanity with a deadly virus.  In the process their time bubble is broken, much of their equipment no longer works, and, oh yeah, two of their team members 'dies'.  Not that I believe for a minute that the pair in question is actually dead -  no bodies, no deaths - but quite frankly they were the two characters that I looked forward the most to interacting with the others, and until their eventual return occurs the book will, I suspect, be poorer for not having their characters added to the mix.

As is, other than being a Legion fan, there's not a whole lot here to interest me so far.  While we get a basic idea of the cast and their capabilities, we aren't exactly given much reason to care overly much for them.  Alastor is even less well defined (there were some online postings on CBR some time back that give some insight into his motivation, but if you missed it you're SOL), and so far there just isn't that much there to care about him one way or the other, other than he's the bad guy of the piece.  Even for long-time Legion fans, this feels like you've been dropped in the middle of an ongoing story; on those terms, it's not too bad, but I honestly can't recommend this to anyone not already familiar with the Legion mythos as a gateway into the greater Legion universe.  Quite frankly, I expected better from Nicieza.  The best that can be said is that the art by Woods is decent enough (although it's not his best work by any means).  For hardcore Legion fans only, if the first issue is any indication.

Music Monday: "Eli's Comin'"

Laura Nyro was a singer, pianist, and songwriter who never gained as much commercial success as she deserved, and instead is mainly known as the writer of several songs that were made famous by other artists, including the 5th Dimension, Barbra Steisand, and Three Dog Night.  The latter did a well known cover of her song "Eli's Comin'"; Nyro's original version is presented here:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Review: "Grace Under Pressure"

Following the success of Signals, Rush would continue to move forward with a more synthesizer-based musical sound.  Along the way they would part ways with long-time producer Terry Brown, looking for someone new to work with that would help them explore the various options and possibilities that lay before them.   Steve Lillywhite had committed to produce the album, but backed out at the last minute, forcing the group to scramble to finish the album in time for the already set upcoming tour dates.  They would eventually produce the new album themselves with the help of co-producer and engineer Peter Henderson, with the end result being the aptly named Grace Under Pressure

The album starts off quite well, beginning with 'Distant Early Warning' a tense, ominous, yet catchy tune.  'Afterimage' is a powerful song about the loss of a loved one, and the memories left behind after they are gone.  'Red Sector A' evokes imagery of Nazi concentration camps, but in a way that can be applied to any such bleak prison environment, past, present, or future.

'The Enemy Within' is part one of Peart's 'Fear' series; a decent song, but it's a half-step down compared to the three preceding it, and it's also not quite as good as the other 'Fear' songs from previous albums.  Fortunately, the album picks right back up with 'The Body Electric', yet another catchy tune with somewhat ominous lyrics.  'The Body Electric' in part stands out on the album as it between the two lesser songs on the album; the album's other slight roadbump, 'Kid Gloves', follows after it; it's a musically decent tune, but it's not Peart's best lyrical effort, a weaker counterpart to Signals' 'Subdivisions'.

'Red Lenses' picks the quality back up; a fun tune that adds a bit of lightness to an otherwise lyrically dark album (just how many rhymes and synonyms for "red" can you work into one song, anyways?).  A lot of people don't seem to like 'Red Lenses', but I suspect they're comparing it to they type of song that it's not even remotely trying to be.  The album concludes with 'Between The Wheels', a strong commentary on the political and social uncertainty of the day.

Of the four synth-heavy albums the band made during the 80's, this is probably the best of the lot.  Lifeson's guitar is more prominent here, and isn't drowned out by the synthesizers and keyboards the way it had been on Signals (by contrast, Lee's signature bass lines are far less prevalent, with a few notable exceptions).  Peart's lyrics, while dark and bleak at times (even moreso than his work on Signals), are also introspective and engaging.  The synthesizers integrate well with the rest of the music, and do not overpower or detract from the various songs (as they occasionally do on some of the songs on the other albums from this period).  There are only two lesser efforts here, and they both represent only slight dips, and are not major hindrances to the album.  It's very much an album of its time, an era fraught with cold-war uncertainty, but it also has a certain timeless quality that holds up well today.   Overall, if someone wanted a sampling of the band's output during this particular musical era, Grace Under Pressure is probably the album to pick up.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Photodump Friday 9/16

Pics from this year's DragonCon (the first four pictures come from wife's camera, the rest are taken from other sources):

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New DriveThruRPG charity pack

DriveThruRPG has a new charity pack that allows you to get a number of Indie RPGs on the cheap while helping to combat child prostitution.  Check it out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Happy (belated) birthday, Neil Peart!

Well, it was bound to happen eventually... Neil Peart, the drummer for Rush, celebrated his 59th birthday on Monday, and of course I missed it (that's what happens when you're the new guy in the band, I guess).

Neil is, besides being a unique and thoughtful lyricist, one of the best drummers alive today.  Some would say he's the best living drummer, period.  Of course, some wouldn't even bother with that caveat...

And so, let's celebrate with Neil doing what he does best, teaching those skins a lesson during his drum solo (referred to here as 'O Baterista', but more commonly known as 'The Rhythm Method'), taken from the Rush In Rio concert:

Happy (late) birthday, Neil!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 8/31 and 9/7

Secret Avengers #16 (Marvel, $3.99, Warren Ellis, Jamie McKelvie) - Just when I thought I was pretty much done with mainstream Marvel comics, they suck me back in by putting Warren Ellis on one of their titles.  How can I resist?  This is what I want from my four-color superhero comics: tightly written adventure stories dealing with absurdly crazy ideas played absolutely straight.  There's a bit of Ellis's Global Frequency here, as well as a hint of NextWave, but it's also very much its own thing, and very much a superhero comic, even if it doesn't resemble much that is produced by the Big Two these days.

The plot is simple, taking an old idea from Marvel ideas gone by and ramping things up to... oh, 17 or so.  Steve Rogers leads Beast, Black Widow, and Moon Knight to investigate an underground city once built by the Secret Empire, due to the detection of Von Doom (time travel) Radiation being detected.  From there, they make their way through the city, discovering just what's at stake, leading to a taut, satisfying conclusion.

The script by Ellis is tight, giving us just enough to make us care about the characters, and enough pseudo-science to make the threat credible, without drowning the reader in unnecessary minutiae.  Some might complain about the casual violence and killing the Avengers commit here, but you can't run a black ops mission without breaking a few henchmen: this is an operation run by Steven Rogers the super-soldier, not Captain America the superhero.  The art by McKelvie may not be spectacular, but it is solid, and gives a nice sense of scale as our heroes investigate the underground setting.  If Marvel continues to let Ellis tell accessible done-in-one stories like this, then I'm on board for the ride. 

Vescell #1 (Image, $2.99, Enrique Carrion, John Upchurch) -There's a huge amount of information to be processed while reading the first issue of this series.  Some current comic book readers seem to think that not having every little thing spelled out in an obvious manner is somehow a sign of bad storytelling, put personally I like it when a comic has enough packed into it that it benefits from a second or even third reading.  Demons, magic, cyborgs, dimensional barriers being broken, and technology-induced personality transfers between bodies... Carrion isn't afraid to throw a lot of different elements into the mix to tell the story he wants to tell.

Not that everything here is perfect.  Some of the information, as well as the different plot elements of the story at hand, could perhaps have been handled in a smoother fashion.  The issue is slightly bigger than average (36 pages instead of 32), and even then it feels cramped in places.  This isn't aided by Upchurch's art, which is nice in spots, but doesn't carry the story as well as it might.  Also, the backgrounds and shading tend toward the monochromatic; a bit more variety here would have helped.  Still, even though flawed in spots, there's enough her that's of interest to make me want to read the next issue, just to see where all of this is going.

Rocketeer Adventures #4 (of 4) (IDW, $3.99,Dave Gibbons, Scott Hampton, Joe Pruett, Tony Harris, John Arcudi, Brendan McCarthy, Ashley Wood) - Final issue of this anthology mini-series, and overall the quality of the stories has remained consistently high.  "A Day at the Beach" by Gibbons and Hampton is a fun little romp, complete with our title hero riding a surfboard while flying in the air... how can that not be fun?  "Waterlogged" by Pruett and Harris pits our hero against a Japanese submarine, and "The Flight of the Aeronaut" by Arcudi and McCarthy has Cliff clashing against his Nazi opposite number, both stories dealing effectively with the wartime era as a backdrop.  The issue concludes with two nice watercolor illustrations by Ashley Wood.  I wasn't certain initially how much I would enjoy these non-Stevens take on the Rocketeer, but overall this mini-series has been a lot of fun, and I wouldn't object to seeing further tales of Cliff and company from IDW in the future.

Phases of the Moon: The Spider/Domino Lady #1 (Moonstone, $2.50, Steven L Frank, Bill McKay, Remy Mokhtar) - This is the first of three books that form a crosover between six different Moonstone characters, each issue being a flip-book concentrating on a different character.  The issue starts with the Spider investigating a murderous cult, and winds up being framed for the murders, which draws in the attention of the Domino Lady.

I wanted to like this, I really did.  Unfortunately, the art on the two different parts of the book simply did not work for me, being a bit too cartoony for this kind of tale.  The story is okay, but didn't really grab my interest enough to make me want to pick up the other issues in this storyline.  I'm giving the rest of 'Phases of the Moon' a pass.

Action Comics #1 (DC, $3.99, Grant Morrison, Rags Morales) - And so the reboot begins.  Okay, it actually began the week before, but I'm giving Justice League a pass.  The much-discussed remolding of the Man of Steel, bringing him back to the earliest presentation of the character, viewed through a modern lens, is obviously meant to shake up reader's expectations, and hopefully draw in those who have in the past dismissed Superman as a 'boy scout'.

More often than not, the 'back-to-basics' approach eventually fails, but in this instance I think Morrison has pulled it off.  In no small part this is due to the fact that the original concept of a activist crusader against social ills and moribund justice during a time of economic uncertainty is something that can resonate with a lot of people today, in a way that it might not have in previous decades.  There's very much a sense of humanity to the character, that hasn't always been present in more common depictions of him as the 'perfect' superhero.   He's young, he's brash, he's not yet truly invulnerable, he sees things in simplistic terms, he makes mistakes, and there's room for him to grow from all that.  Then there's Luthor, who is very much again in the mold of the Byrne-written evil businessman, but that also works well here, combining two common foes from the early Superman stories, the amoral and unethical businessman with the brilliant scientist mastermind.

Morrison's script is a fun one, packed with little bits of meta-commentary and call-outs to previous era, but the basic story is straightforward enough for a newcomer to enjoy (provided they're not the sort of fan who wants every little thing spoonfed to them in simplistic datapoints), while having enough detail and depth to reward multiple re-readings.  The art by Morales works nicely in conveying the story (especially during the action sequences), and helps to emphasize that this a Superman who is having fun with his abilities, even as he is being sorely tested.  Overall, I enjoyed this very much, and look forward to seeing what follows.   

Stormwatch #1 (DC, $2.99, Paul Cornell, Miguel Sepulveda) - I suspected that the first issue here would be a bit clumsy and awkward in spots, and unfortunately I was right.  Cornell has the unenviable task of introducing multiple characters (many of whom may not be familiar to the reader), giving the basic setup of our book's premise (and how it differs from the original Stormwatch), and of course introducing the plot of the initial story arc.  He makes an game attempt at juggling all these factors, but parts of this first issue are still a bit uneven and forced.  It doesn't help that Sepulveda's art is a little clunky in spots.  Hopefully, now that introductions are out of the way, and the writer-artist team have perhaps a little more breathing space to work with on future issues (this first issue feels as if it was very much produced under a rather tight time schedule), what follows will hopefully be less of a bumpy ride.

Because the basic concept is a decent one; a group of superhumans who work behind the scenes to combat various threats, as opposed to the more public actions of more conventional superheroes.  You also have an appropriately over-the-top threat for our heroes to face (the Moon is attacking the Earth).  It may well still wind up paling when compared to Warren Ellis's classic run on the title (which was one of the best superhero team books ever, and quite frankly was far better than the Authority which followed it), but taken on it's own it should hopefully be an enjoyable enough title to read.  I'll be sticking with this through the initial storyline, hoping that the problems that show themselves here will be smoothed out over time.

Elric: The Balance Lost #3 (of 4) (Boom!, $3.99, Chris Roberson, Francesco Biagini) - Wait, this is a four issue mini, right?  Because while the various disparate plot threads are moving along at a decent pace, if there's only one more issue to wrap things up then quite frankly I can't see how it's not going to come off as rushed.  Also, Eric Beck, our new aspect of the Eternal Champion (and really, 'The Eternal Champion' would have been a better title for this story, given that Elric is only one character of many here) is still something of an annoying git, and I don't really anticipate that changing too much in a naturalistic manner with only one more issue to go.  That's a shame, because the non-Beck portions of Roberson's story are entertaining, and Biagini's art does everything asked of it, and then some.  I just hope I'm wrong, and that Roberson ties everything up smoothly, and can avoid the problems with the resolution that I'm unfortunately anticipating.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Notes from the Underground: Dragon*Con 2011

My wife and I, along with a couple of our friends, spent the Labor Day weekend at Dragon*Con. While there were a few extra stresses to deal with this year as opposed to previous ones, overall we still had a very good time.  I'll get a few pics up this Friday, just to give everyone some eye candy.

A few random observations, in no particular order:

* While I love the overall scope, madness and energy of Dragon*Con, I wish there were some smaller cons in the Atlanta area.  I've been told that AWA is a good con to attend, but I'm not that into anime.  It would be especially nice if there were a good small- to mid-sized gaming con in the area.

* I did get to do a little gaming this years.  Savage Worlds isn't my first choice for a gaming system, or even my second, but it's a decent enough system, and some of the problems I would have with the system in campaign play aren't really an issue in a one-shot game.  The scenario was entertaining, the characters were fun (dealing with D&D style adventurers, but choosing archetypes that went against racial stereotypes, such as a halfling warrior, a giant rogue, a half-orc sorcerer, etc), and the GM was excellent.  Much fun was had here.

* Didn't get to attend any panels this year, but I did score several deals in the dealer's room, mostly consisting of over a dozen Essential and Showcase collections picked up on the cheap, giving me literally thousands of pages of Golden and Silver Age goodness to dive into.  Also picked up the hardcover collection of the first 13 issues of Invincible for half price, to see what the fuss is about.

* No OSR style games as part of the official gaming programming - lots of newer D&D (3rd and 4th editions), and a decent chunk of Shadowrun, plus other stuff I wasn't really that interested in.  Not that last year was that different in terms of the programmed stuff, but at least last year I saw pick-up games of Castles & Crusades and 1st ed AD&D in the open gaming area - this year I didn't even see that.

* Speaking of Old School gaming, Larry Elmore was selling a shirt with the image from the cover of the '83 Basic D&D box, with the words 'Old School' above it.  I know some hardcore OSR types would have aneurisms at the thought of Elmore being connected with the OSR, but I thought the shirt was amusing, and was glad when my wife picked one up for me. 

* I only made one other gaming-related purchase, but given that my local comic book/gaming shop was not able to order one for me ever since it was reprinted, I was thrilled to finally be able to purchase a copy of PostModern Magick.

* Attended the blood drive again this year, attempting the 'double red' donation (where you donate two units of red blood cells instead of one, while returning your plasma and platelets to you to keep you hydrated and healthy) for the first time.  According to LifeSouth, 3,499 people showed up to donate.  That.  Is.  Awesome

* I had been asleep for about an hour on Sunday night when I got a call from my wife.  They had just missed the last train to get from the con site to our hotel (about 14 blocks away, or 3 train stops).  My wife and one of our friends would be able to make it back to the hotel, but our other friend was having problems with his feet and really needed a lift.  More importantly, there was a young (college age) lady - it was her first con - who lived up in Sandy Springs (a suburb north of the Atlanta area), and she had no idea how she was going to get home for the night.  Could I get the car out of hotel parking and pick her up along with our friend, and give her a ride to her home?  Well, when I was younger, I often had people help me out of tight spots with no thought of recompense, so yes, yes I could.  To paraphrase Heinlein, don't pay back, pay forward.

* I spent the last hours of the con playing in a Gamma World scenario.  I was hoping that when it billed itself as '4th ed Gamma World', that it was referring to the 1992 4th ed rulebook.  As it turns out, '4th edition' in this case refers to the most recent version of the rules, which are based off the 4th ed D&D ruleset.  The GM was good, and the scenario was appropriately absurd, but even with the GW rules being a streamlined version of D&D4, this just pretty much confirmed that I probably wouldn't enjoy playing in a game using the D&D4 rules, especially when dealing with combat.

* I was pleased that my wife's costume of the Masque of the Red Death was very popular, and got her many compliments.  She put a lot of work into that outfit, and deserved every accolade she received.

Friday, September 9, 2011

DND character sheets for kids

While I still have a lot of stuff to write up (notes form DragonCon, two weeks worth of comics reviews, etc), I did want to link to these awesome D&D character sheets designed for 8 year olds.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Music Monday: "Working Man"

On this Labor Day, today's Music Monday goes out to all the Working Men and Women out there, courtesy of Rush:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Photodump Friday 9/2

Still haven't posted anything of substance during the last week or so, primarily due to trying to get ready to go to Dragon*Con.  Comic reviews will be delayed for the same reason.  I hoping that after Labor Day things will calm down enough work-wise that I can start posting with some regularity again.  Until then, as I make my final preparations for Dragon*Con, here are some pics from previous years...