Thursday, May 31, 2012

Comic Review - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #10


Let me start off by apologizing, I promise that this will not always be about reviewing retro comics that were recently rebooted (it just seems like that so far).  So without further ado I bring you Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #10.  I have been a big fan of the Turtles since I was young, I was the right age to catch all of that 80s pop culture goodness (Heman/Thundercats/Ninja Turtles, etc.) and I particularly enjoyed the turtles and their insanely large cast of supporting characters, which was obviously to be expected from a franchise that included a toy line.  While I never read the first Eastman/Laird Turtles comics, I know that the initial movie was based largely around that and I loved the first movie as a child (hell, even now it holds up pretty well). 

I was therefore reasonably excited when I saw Kevin Eastman’s name attached to the new series from IDW.  A new series, with the original creator, from a publisher known for their licensed books?  Yes please.  Even though I resisted picking up the first few issues, I figured, now that I have a reason to do so beyond pure fandom, I would pick up the most recent issue and just go searching for back issues/trades if I enjoyed it.

Boy am I glad that I didn’t waste my time/money from the beginning.  The price point is $3.99, which is pretty much market average, especially for a book that is from a smaller publisher.  I don’t begrudge them for it, and at this point you have to know that you will be spending at least four dollars per book regardless.  Gone are the days of plunking down a dollar and getting a couple books (but that is a post for a later time).  Back to the topic at hand; if I am going to spend my $4 on a comic book, I expect to enjoy it.  That includes for me anyway, a quality story and quality art, or at least one of those two that blows me away so much that the other being sub-par does not mater that much.  This is not the case with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #10.

Let’s go through this like every other review, with the cover, story, then art.


Cover:

Again more variants, and again I picked up the first one on the shelf.  This cover is incredibly generic.  A ¾ shot of the Shredder (cut off above the knees) walking toward us.  Meh.  If this was for a Shredder one-shot or the first issue of the series I could see getting away with that pose, but let me see what is going on in the book.  The only thing I can discern by this cover is that Shredder is in it somewhere and he is probably pissed.  The anatomy looks off to me too, something about the length of the torso.  I measured it the best I could though and it checks out for the most part so maybe it’s just me.  The coloring is muddy and uninspiring.  This is a cover, this is supposed to draw the reader over and make you want to buy the book.  To tell you the truth if I had not been looking for it I may have passed it over entirely.  I can see the coloring being semi-appropriate if it was a pinup on the inside of the book, but not as a cover.  “But Matt it’s the Shredder, he’s supposed to look gritty and tough” you might say.  To which I reply that it is a bullshit excuse for putting out a bad cover.  Brighten it up somehow, either through the colors on the Shredder himself or maybe don’t put him next to a background comprised of solid black and dark grey.

0/10 – The only thing that pops on this cover is the red title against the black background.  Even looking at the variant covers (on the inside front cover) they are not much better.

Story:

Ugh, the story.  You may be happy to read that Eastman was involved in the plot until you read the comic and realize that the story was basically lifted from the first series/movie.  That is probably where Eastman’s involvement ends as the scripting duties fall on Tom Waltz (who is also co-plotter).  Now it is not an exact beat-by-beat recreation of the movie as the character of Tatsu (you know, the big Asian dude that has trouble forming a coherent sentence without sounding like there is an impending bowel movement in his future) with a girl named Karai.  Also, instead of just chaining Splinter to the wall they have him fight the Foot Clan to prove his worth, an interesting development and one where we actually get to see Splinter in action instead of just being the wise old Sensei.  Waltz does a good job of, right off the bat, introducing Shredder by name as well.  However we do not learn Splinter’s name until we have left that scene behind, so unless you have read the previous few issues you may be left in the dark as to who the rat is.  When we do get to learn who Splinter is, Waltz does make sure to immediately connect him to the Turtles by having Raphael call him father, so that is a nice touch, especially because he is rarely ever referred to as Splinter for the remainder of the book.

One thing that really stuck with me was the realization by Shredder that Splinter was Hamato Yoshi.  He calls Splinter that to his face and it is not disputed, so I have to assume that it is true.  I always though that Splinter was a mutated rat though, not a rat/human hybrid.  This threw me off as it takes the known Turtles lore and turns it on its ear a bit.  Does this mean that the other “mutants” are also human hybrids?  If this is a major plot point then fine, but why call yourself Splinter if you actually have a name?  I can only hope that it is just an oversight on Waltz’s part.

He introduces other characters that really hold no significance if this is your first time reading the book as little to no background is given, and luckily the majority of the story focuses on Splinter in the clutches of the Foot Clan and the Turtles trying to figure out how to get him back, and even who took him to begin with (they apparently have no idea that the Foot are, wait for it….afoot).

There is an exchange between Leo and Don early in the book that seemed a bit out of character as well.  It is probably because they just lost their father but Don has always been a little more cool-headed than he appears in this issue.  I could see if it was Leo and Raphael as that fight has played out numerous times before but to see a heated shouting match between the “leader” and the “brains” seemed a little odd to me.

4/10 – Waltz did a decent job with some minor parts of the story like introducing characters and it is not incredibly hard to follow for a newbie, but it lacks originality and some of the individual moments (Leo vs. Don and the Splinter revelation) didn’t sit right with me.

Art:

I see what Dan Duncan was trying to do.  Be kind of gritty, kind of edgy, like the original Turtles books, just with the addition of color and the subtraction of zipitone.  You already know how much I dislike the cover, part of that is Duncan’s fault, but he has to share the blame with colorist Ronda Pattison, and that goes for the rest of the book as well.  The art is ok.  I don’t mind the turtle designs, and actually I like these more than the animated looking ones that we have seen in the past.  

Good Turtles

However his design for Splinter is just bad.  My roommate opened the comic and asked me why Splinter looked like a cross between a wet dog and a rabbit.  It’s time to find some reference of rats, Duncan.  The fact that Splinter’s eyes are hidden in shadow wouldn’t bother me so much if the shadows weren’t big black circles.  It just looks like a cartoon skull.

Night of the Living Splinter

The coloring does not help here as everything is very muddy.  I even have a hard time telling Leo and Don apart because their masks are too similarly colored.  Pattison is trying too hard to make the coloring stand out and not letting the coloring actually work with the art to have a positive effect.  This is probably the biggest let down art-wise aside from Rabbit Dog Splinter.


For example, that torch light is nice, but it draws our attention from the main focus, the big dude with the chain and blades.

A couple notable blemishes:


Duncan does a decent job with the backgrounds for the most part but this panel just seems ridiculous.  What’s with the speed lines?  Why not finish the background? 


The characters, especially the humans, look kind of weird, stylized but not in an appealing way. 



This page is odd.  It looks like Shredder is a giant.

4/10 – While I do enjoy the design on the Turtles themselves, the rest of it is only ok.  The coloring was pretty bad.

Overall 3/10 – This was a pretty big disappointment all around.  




Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Music Review - Slash


First, let me get this out of the way:  Best Buy, you are a failure.  From your ever-shrinking music section to your pricey video game and movie selections, you are a big let-down and you deserve anything and everything that happens to you as people stop filtering into your stores and instead make their purchases online.  I continue to shop at your store out of some sick sense of brand loyalty and because your release-week CD pricing usually couldn’t be beat.  That was until I went to pick up Slash’s new release Apocalyptic Love.  Not only was I greeted with a “Deluxe Edition” including two bonus tracks, a DVD, which, while a decent DVD in it’s own right is way too short to command an additional $10, and a coupon for a free t-shirt, but that was all that I was greeted with.  I admit, I went after work, so there was a chance that all that was left could have been the Deluxe Edition, but the shelves were packed full and all that was there was that version of the disc.  Now, I am not above purchasing a deluxe edition, I have done it in the past and I will probably do it again, but to have that forced upon me as the only choice is pretty lame to say the least.  Not only that, but upon entering my code on the website for the “free” t-shirt, I was met with the charge of an extra six dollars and change for shipping.  So, in essence, to get the full experience promised to me at the point of purchase I had to throw down $27. 

Anyway, it’s a good thing that I like Slash and have been a big fan of everything he has put out (G’n’R, Velvet Revolver, the much underappreciated Slash’s Snakepit, as well as his solo stuff).  This CD does not disappoint on the musical front, it is vintage Slash, and anyone that has enjoyed his musical contributions in the past will be impressed with the quality and consistency of the entire record. 

That is probably the most impressive thing about Slash, his consistency.  This is no young kid out here trying to make a mark.  At this point Slash is a seasoned veteran and, according to many, one of the best guitarists of all time.  While I don’t know if I would go that far, and I don’t know if Slash would either, honestly, because that would be some pretty impressive company to keep, I will say that Slash is the most consistent guitarist I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.  This is no more evident than in his first official solo album that paired him with everyone from Fergie to Ozzy.  Each song was consistent because not only did Slash pick a solid rhythm section (a trend that continues with this album) but his guitar playing on every track is solid to excellent.  That’s the best part, there is no sub-par track to just quickly skip over, or resist the urge to buy online (if that’s your thing).  Purchase/download the whole album and listen to it all, you won’t be disappointed.  You can always expect a great solo and a tune that you can tap your foot along to provided by a group of guys that know their craft and know it well.  And really in the current rock landscape, can you ask for much more?  One of the things that Slash really excels at is the cleanliness of his guitar work.  Now this may not be a bonus for everyone depending on your preferences, but everyone can appreciate the time and effort that Slash obviously puts into his craft.  To have a similar quality of sound for twenty-five years (yes, Appetite for Destruction is twenty-five years old) is just a testament to how well Slash prepares as well as the band that he surrounds himself with that can appropriately take advantage of that sound.

The one gripe that I have with the record is Myles Kennedy, the vocalist.  I don’t mind his vocals, and in fact I enjoyed them in the limited amount that they were on Slash’s first solo outing.  Hell, I even liked them on the live album Made in Stoke.  But after an entire album of his vocals on original songs they can get a little whiny.  He seems to stay up in the higher octaves a little too much for my taste.  However, the more that I listen to the album the more I am getting used to his vocals.  It is a sound that grows on you and the quality of the musicianship in the background definitely helps to offset any problems I have with the vocals.

Overall, I can’t help but thoroughly enjoy this album.  Even with the minor issue I had with the singing, Slash more than makes up for it with another expertly crafted quality album.  I hope he makes his way to Central New York in the near future because while the albums are great, seeing Slash live is an experience that no one should pass up.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Fuzzy Soup

I wouldn't be surprised if this is what some chefs actually look like

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Comic Review - Youngblood #71


Last week’s comic (X-O Manowar #1) was such a pleasant surprise that I decided to put all my chips in the middle of the table and go for broke.  I would either find a true diamond in the rough or I would find a terrible comic that I could rip apart.  Now I knew that Rob Liefeld would be involved with Youngblood in some way, it is his baby from back in the day, but to my surprise, I opened up the comic sight unseen and found that he was heavily involved, to the tune of penciling the issue.  He didn’t have any story credits to his name (that honor falls to John McLaughlin) but I find it hard to believe he didn’t have a large input on the story.


The cover:

Yay, more variant covers!  This one apparently had three different covers, but like last week I grabbed the first one in line, which happened to be by Ryan Ottley.  Now I knew he did not pencil the book, as if Robert Kirkman would let him off his leash on Invincible to do much else, but I love Ryan’s work ever since he took over for Cory Walker on Invincible many moons ago so I figured if the comic turned out to be a complete bomb I would at least get a cover from one of my current favorites out of it.  I think the best part about this, and one of the things that Ottley does so well on Invincible is that the cover actually depicts something in the story.  For you young’uns out there, this used to be standard practice for covers and it is nice to at least see it return in some form here.  The art on the cover is excellent and if you really want to pick up this book I would suggest looking for the version with this cover.  The characters are recognizable but they have a distinct Ottley-esque look to them which I obviously enjoy.  He does well establishing a distinct foreground-middleground-background with the characters (without the use of the coloring) that gives a sense of motion to the cover and a feeling that the action is coming at us.  I would have loved if this cover had come to us in just black and white because that part of the artwork is so strong that the coloring (I’m assuming by Jordie Bellaire) really hurts it.  I understand using different colors to establish levels, that’s color theory-101, but this cover basically has three hues, pink, orange and blue, and that’s it.  I don’t need, nor do I want a fully painted cover, especially over black and white art that is as strong as Ottley’s, but the coloring looks rushed, and therefore unfinished.  I would be possible to use those hues as a base and then work it up while still maintaining the basic shades, but it looks like the colorist laid their flats down and shipped it.

If the cover was in black and white it would be a 10/10, but the color severely damages it enough to reduce the grade to 6/10.  Sorry Ryan, you deserve better.

The writing:

Oh sweet and salty Jesus flakes is this writing bad.  First of all, the plot is recycled from an older comic or superhero cartoon, where a liaison comes in to make the superhero team look good.  I know I have read/seen this before and if you remember a specific comic/show please let me know.  Now that is not to say that this plot cannot be recycled, it’s not a bad way to introduce characters, even if it is a fairly cheap way to do so.  The problem is that this plot device is not used very well at all.  The story feels like it belongs back in 1995 when Image comics didn’t have any real editors, just the guys that created the books.  This book is a reintroduction to Youngblood.  Even though it is issue #71, it has been quite some time since the book came out in any regularity.  All that I get in this issue to introduce me to the characters is a couple text boxes that tell me who is on the first mission.  They don’t even acknowledge the fact that one of the characters changed genders until almost the end of the book.  That’s right, go back and read that last sentence again, I’ll wait.

The dialogue between the characters in not believable and kind of clunky.  I do not enjoy what Bendis has done for comics in general, but the guy can write dialogue.  McLaughlin should really just pick up an issue of Alias or early Ultimate Spider-Man (before the “let’s make him black” debacle) if he wants to see dialogue done well.  The idea that the Youngblood group need to plug products like Youtube in order to pay the bills is just ridiculous and the fact that the character Cougar does this by mocking the “Honey Badger don’t care” video is dumb, just plain dumb.  It is something that you would see in a comic out of the early nineties, and if McLoughlin is trying to evoke a sense of nostalgia for a time that is affectionately known as the “Dark Ages” of modern comics then he needs to check his priorities.

There is barely a mention of Shaft, the old leader and why he left the team, just various references to “Not Shaft” the new leader, who looks a lot like Shaft just colored differently.  Again, I realize that this is a continuation of a series, but even if the last issue came out last month, there is no guarantee that I read it or remember what happened, so waiting years between issues and not referencing pertinent information is just ridiculous.

0/10 - Terrible just terrible

The Art:

Oh the art.  Now remember, I went into this not realizing that I would be critiquing Rob Leifeld.  I seriously thought that he was a little too busy with his DC gig of badly writing a couple of their books, to take the time out to actually draw a full issue.  That being said, I could take a red sharpie to every page and point out at least one thing wrong per page. The art is seriously that poor.  How this guy maintains a job in comics when there are people out there with so much more talent that are hand stapling homemade comics in their basement studio apartment just to get noticed I don’t know.  Some of it may not be noticeable to everyone, but a lot of it is just downright ridiculous and blatantly wrong.  I will just take you through a few of the worst offenders. 

The cars are too big for the road they are on (look at the “shops” in the background)


Is it just me or is this thug wildly out of proportion to the car he is riding in?  He looks like a horse jockey hanging out of a tank.  Rob, have you ever seen how big car windows are?


Good God the Liefeld mouths, they haunt my dreams


Women do not bend like this!!!  I am not Terry Dodson or Adam Hughes, but at least I know how they are supposed to look and when one is drawn completely wrong.  You cannot, and Rob I repeat, cannot see a girl’s tits and ass in the same shot.  Cannot happen, not now, not ever.  Physically impossible (much like movement in massive shoulder pads, but you know about that already, don’t you Rob).


The people look like they are floating or ice skating on the ground, very little relationship between characters and their environment.





I don’t mind this panel, the Pentagon is well done and so is the ship.  Something tells me you had help with this one Rob.


I highly doubt that the FBI issues clothing that tight, just saying…


Those tears are not even close to believable.  Really, you’re having trouble with tears now Rob?



This page is completely wonky.  Ok, I get it, they are on a farm, but what is that middle panel?  Is that an elevator shaft?  And the last panel, oooo, Badrock, and he’s hurt, ok.  Who are those people with him?  Why are they crying?  Did he just get hurt or are they realizing that he is fatally wounded?  This is not something to end your comic on without any context. 

 I know that this turned into a bash Rob Liefeld party, but if you are spending your hard earned money on this stuff, take your wallet/purse/fanny pack/etc. and just set it on fire.  Go ahead, you’ll thank me later.

0/10 - I threw up in my mouth a little bit.

Overall: 2/10 – one point for the Ryan Ottley cover and 1 point for the price point:
$2.95 – Cheap!





Origins II of II


            Even more a disappointment than iZombie, is Avenger's Academy (Christos Gage). It's still going. But, I'm hoping it ends soon, to be honest. I've heard whispers that we may see the end of it somewhere during the current "Avengers vs. X-men" story arch going now. I can see it as an easy out for them to get rid of a desperately floundering title.
            Like I mentioned earlier, I was super excited about this title. I picked it up right from the start, seeing the new characters, the new story in a universe that we've known for quite some time. And it started out strong. We get a new cast of five or six heroes, who've all been screwed over by seemingly the worst villain in the Marvel universe currently, Norman Osborne. So, good ol' Hank Pym (one of my personal favorites) steps in and adopts them, brings them to the Avenger's mansion and raises 'em to be good little heroes, instead of the villains that Osborne was vying for. Of course there's the teenage angst, confusion of identity, all that good stuff that you get with regular high schoolers, just add great power and great responsibility. Think a little more organized version of Runaways (whom we just saw in the last two issues (27 & 28). It was crap).
            I have a few complaints about Avenger's Academy. First of all, the artist has changed quite a few times (Mike McKone as artist to Jorge Molina as penciler, back to McKone, to Sean Chen’s pencils, then to Tom Raney, back to Chen, then back and forth more and more, until Tom Grummet joins at 24 is when it gets bad), and the current one (Karl Moline) is really pretty crummy. I loved the crisp lines, the just-enough detail in the background of the first artist. Now it feels too fluid (and not in a good way) to the point of sloppy, too messy to really appreciate the art. The story itself has gone downhill right from the start. I do think that it started out strong and with potential, but it has since then spiraled into a confusing, convoluted clusterduck. There was even a point, when I'd picked up the latest issue a few months back, that I had to stop and look at the past month's issues. I literally had to double check that I hadn't missed an issue, that's how faulty the writing was. It was the issue where, all of a sudden, they brought in a second string of recruits to the academy (“1st Issue of a New Era” they claim). I had no idea what was going on. And, by that point in the story, it was getting relatively confusing already. Adding another dozen characters in there, for seemingly no reason, made it even harder to follow. Just before the addition of the new team, the Avenger's Academy was sucked into Marvel's universe-wide story, "Fear Itself", issues 15 - 20. (which, I didn't read any of the outlying issues, I just read the nine-part mini-series and the issues that hit Academy. It had great potential, but really seemed like it flopped.)
            Ultimately, it feels as if Marvel just tucked Avenger's Academy into the back of a closet and forget about it, and it's been slowly degrading and melting away ever since. And the reason I hope that the end is in sight is that a) they can end the series with some semblance of dignity; and 2) so I don't feel obliged to buy anymore crap issues.
            And now, the crown jewel of my collection: American Vampire (Scott Snyder). First and foremost, the art in this series (Rafael Albuquerque) definitely needs a mention. We’ve seen a change of artist four times. Mateus Santolouco (10 &11), Sean Murphy (Survival of the Fittest mini-series, 1-5), Daniel Zezelj (12, his art is chunkier, darker, less detail, it’s okay, not my favorite), and Jordi Bennet (The Beast in the Cave storyline, 19-21). This last one was noticeably different, and certainly not as good. But it's back to the old art, and the style that I fell in love with. It was only one of the story lines that I didn't quite dig (coincidentally the one where I didn’t really like the art), but it wasn't terrible. And it was actually crucial to the back story of two of the main characters. The story that just ended (22-25, think vampire Fonzie) had a fantastic little twist right at the end. And the rather short story currently running (only three issues, I think), is very cool. What American Vampire does so well is follow this main idea of vampires, not always following the same characters, but the same general idea throughout the books. They span generations, time periods, eras, but it's the same through line. The writing is top-notch (kudos, Snyder). The reason Matt never picked it up is because he doesn't want anything to do with society's current obsession with the nosferatu, but I think, if you can get past the vampires, it's a really solid read. And you even find yourself routing for the villain (with the coolest name, pretty much ever, Skinner Sweet).
            So those are the first four comics that I really got serious with. I'm reading a bunch more now, and in time, I'll tell you about them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I'm a little teapot

If you look closely in that last panel you can make out very poor representations of Hovard Johannsen and Andy Kubert from back in my Kubert school days, circa 2006.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Diablo III - The first eight hours


Have you played Diablo III yet?  Spoiler Alert - It's apparently pretty good.  But you don't have to take my word for it, just read Nik's review for yourself.

            Nothing could have been more convenient than the fact that I had Tuesday, May 15th off from work, and Diablo III was released that Tuesday. Raven and I prepared ourselves. We bought the game from Blizzard early. We downloaded and installed as soon as we could. The download was an easy two hours the week earlier, the actual install we were able to do Monday afternoon. We were so ready for midnight to roll around so that we could instantly hop on and pull an all nighter. No dice.
            We forgot, Blizzard is based in California. That means, sure, they launch the servers at midnight. Midnight PDT. Meaning us New Yorkians had to wait for the 3am launch. We had a serious debate on our hands. Do we stay up until 3? I played Rage on the xbox until about 11. At that point Raven and I looked at each other, damn near asleep. We had two options: go to sleep, or go to the diner and drink coffee until 3. But, at 11pm, we still had four more hours. We opted just to sleep. There was no guarantee that the servers would be up and smooth for us at 3 on the nose anyway. So rather than be exhausted all day, we decided on getting up early the next morning.
            We were up and ready to go by 8am, which is actually sleeping in for us, anyway. We had already discussed what classes we'd create, so we dove right in. Raven created a female Demon Hunter (think a cooler version of the Amazon from previous Diablo incarnations), and I made a rickety old Witch Doctor (slightly similar to Diablo II's expansion character, the Necromancer). We started it up and were immediately blown away by our first cinematic.
            Before the game came out, we never went out of our way to see much of the game (to the point where I chose not to participate in the beta even after I was chosen), we wanted to be awed as we experienced it for the first time. We watched the occasional class video, but not much more. The cut scenes and cinematics in this game are absolutely stunning. They are by far the best in computer graphics that I've seen to date. I mean, the detail just on the character's faces alone is remarkable.Regardless, again, the cut scenes are crisp and beautiful.
            The game starts essentially as any other Diablo. You start in town, talking to the various townsfolk, learning about the storyline. I'm not going to get into specifics here, because it's still so fresh, and frankly, you should be playing this game. But, the story that they have so far is quite good. I know that I and II had stories, but I never felt invested in any of the characters or the story. Blizzard has remedied that, and I care for NPCs and my character as well. Along the same lines, the more immersive story has made questing far less of the grind I've grown accustomed to from previous games. It's no longer "breeze through quest exposition - go kill something - pick up whatever - bring it back - start over". I'm actually paying attention to how the quests fit into the story, and while scooting into dungeons and killing things is still similar, the delivery and execution make it far less monotonous.
            The in-game graphics are up to par with the cinematics. Being a dungeon crawler, there's nothing so close up as you would be seeing in a first person shooter, but you still get detail. The environments are stunning. The depths present in some of the dungeons, the cliff drops and even the towns are something I've never really seen in video game graphics before. It's clear that Blizzard spent as much time on the stuff that's literally in the background as that on which we were meant to focus. The monsters and the characters are all crisp and clear, with a great deal of realism mixed with just the tiniest bit of cartoon feeling to it. The cartoony, I think, stems from the vivid popping color, which makes the graphics better; that is certainly not a complaint. Now, when I say cartoony, don't think Blizzard's other top-seller, World of Warcraft. It's nowhere near as toony.
            The mechanics are a refreshing update while still playing to the originals. There is a lot of point and click, slash-shoot-stab-kill. But, this is a dungeon crawler. That's what we expect. It's the leveling and skills that offer a very interesting, new and exciting game play. Say goodbye to skill trees and point allocation every time you level. Instead, you unlock a handful of abilities each time you level. You are limited with the number of usable skills throughout the game. You have a left click, a right click, and eventually hotkeys 1-4 open up to you as well. But that's it. Six skills to use at any one time, tops. Each slot has four or five skills that become available to you over time, and each skill has a variety of runes that open up as well, as you level. For example, as the witch doctor, for my left click, I start with a Poison Dart. In a few levels I open Spider Jar, and then a few more has gotten me Poison Toads. So I get to choose from the list what I want my right click to be. In between these levels, I've unlocked a rune for Poison Dart that allows me to shoot four darts at a time; or another that I can choose which slows down the target. There are still three more runes to unlock for the darts, and plenty of others for all of my other skills. So, even though you're slightly limited with your skill selection compared to prior Diablos (there are no quick hotkeys to jump between nine separate skills (i.e. the F keys in II) the varieties and the options available are quite extensive, leaving each individual player the option to really customize what he or she thinks is the most effective/most fun.
            Now, the complaints. The first is really just a statement of fact. I'm not going to complain about the game, or Blizzard in general, that they had to take the servers down a few times during the day. It's launch day. As far as I'm concerned, there will never be a perfect launch for a game that requires an online server. Never. So when people flood Twitter bitching about it dropping or not connecting or not flowing as smoothly as they'd like, they need to get the hell (Diablo pun?) over themselves. Shit's gonna happen. Get off your ass and go breathe some fresh air until the server's back up.
            The complaint that stems from that, however: after they did the reset, Raven and I lost all of our achievements. Even though we were at the same place in the game, at the same level that we stopped, when we started it back up, we had a blank slate for achievements. Now, I don't really care that much, honestly. But I know there are a ton of achievement hounds out there who were probably very upset about it. It's just slightly frustrating to see that some of things that you got credit for were gone.
            Now, this could be considered a spoiler, so be warned. It has nothing to do with story, but gameplay mechanics. There are some things that got only partially carried over from the originals.
            Scroll of Town Portal: no scrolls anymore. You just know the spell. And there's no cooldown on it at all. No cost. You can use it, return, then go right back to town over and over if you want. Even though Waypoints are still readily available (maybe even moreso than in Diablo II), the infinite TP makes them really quite unneeded.
            Scroll of Identify: absent. The very rare times that you do find something that requires identification, you just right click on it, it takes three seconds and then it's identified. You don't even bring it to someone in town to pay to ID. So why bother having things to identify in the first place?
            Environment: There is so much that is smashable and crashable in this game. Raven and I spend as much time questing as we spend just breaking shit. There is even some cool stuff that you can hit in the surrounding environment that triggers stuff to fall onto enemies, stunning or hurting them. My biggest complaint? Players can casually walk right through it. No consequences. There's even a spot with tripwires set up by the Goatmen (yes, they return!), that trigger what look like some pretty nasty traps. But when the spiked logs fall on you, they pass right through. Nothing more. No damage. Now, I'm all for not being killed in a video game, but this could be a great touch to make it as much a help as a hindrance.
            At the start up screen, when you choose your character, there's a little timer telling you how long you've played. Rae and I clocked in at just over 8 hours of play on Tuesday with Rallah the Demon Hunter and Ugzugg the Witch Doctor (we chose our own names). In that time, we got about half-way through level 16 and had just finished Act I. There are plenty of levels, quests, Acts and adventures waiting for us when we pick it up again in the coming days. I'm super excited to see the rest of the story and even experience the other classes. If anything crazy pops up, I'm sure I'll tell you about it. And who knows, I'll probably do a final review once Raven and I beat it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Insensitivity

Who can really say no to a kidney bean with a sad face like that?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Comic Review X-O Manowar #1


What better way to start new comic reviews than with a number one issue.  I was not a fan of Valiant or X-O Manowar in my youth when it first started.  I took a passing glance at it just because of the involvement of Bart Sears who happened to be from a town about twenty minutes from where I grew up (there was an article in the paper about him, that’s the only way I knew of his involvement).  That being said I came in to the current generation of X-O with an open mind.  Not knowing what to expect, but hoping to be entertained nonetheless.  This new re-boot of X-O Manowar is brought to us by Robert Venditti (w), Cary Nord (p) and Stefano Gaudiano (i).

For the sake of reviews I would like to break it down to three parts; cover, story and art.  These three components are all important and none should be overlooked.

I like the logo, everything else...meh

Let’s start with the cover for X-O Manowar #1.  There are many different covers to grab (a throwback to the nineties when Valiant first started I assume) but the one that was in the front of the pile was the one that I grabbed (see above).  It is just a generic hero pose, nothing special. 

The positives:  decent coloring.  Does a good job of separating the character from his environment.  The different textures to the suit can be told apart easily even without the use of coloring because of the attention to detail (a common theme throughout the book).   

The negatives:  Where are his feet?  Nord does a great job on drawing people in this book but he does seem to obscure feet a lot, whether that is on purpose or not (maybe he is just creeped out by feet) I do not know, but it is kind of lame that he can’t get the whole character in on the cover.  Also, and this will become a common theme as well, there is a distinct lack of background.  Where is X-O (do I call him X-O, I don’t know)?  It honestly looks like he is in the clouds, or a giant stepping over a mountain range in the early morning sun.  With the amount of time that Nord puts into drawing figures, he could at least throw a damn tree in there to ground the character.

All in all I would give the cover a 5 out of 10.  It would get even less for being so generic if this wasn’t a #1 issue.

The writing is very good as a whole.  It seems to flow fairly well and, while being a little decompressed, leads up to a decent cliffhanger ending.  Unfortunately this cliffhanger ending feels like something you would see before a commercial break in a tv show, not the end of the tv show to get you to watch next week (hence the decompression).  Don’t get me wrong, a lot happens in this issue, we are introduced to the main character, what I assume will be the main villain, as well as given an interesting plot point that I have a feeling will take time to develop, but the overall lack of the written word tends to make this a quick read.  Did Venditti just want to leave room for Nord’s pretty pictures?  Maybe, but then he should have asked Nord to draw some backgrounds.  One thing that Venditti did very well is write for that moment in time.  Because the main premise is in 402 AD, he treats the sensibilities of his characters as if they were in 402 AD.  When they see an alien ship, no one says “are those aliens?” because the Visigoths don’t know shit about aliens.  He makes it a very realistic fantasy and I enjoyed that part of it quite a bit.

The writing gets a pass for being a first issue and one that has a lot of setup to do while still telling an interesting story.  I give it a 6 out of 10.  I am sure it will get better as the series goes on because Venditti is planting some very interesting seeds.

I have seen Cary Nord’s work in the past and I will be honest I was not too impressed.  This was also around ten years ago when he was working on Mutant X for Marvel that I first saw him.  I would like to think that I improved as an artist in those ten years, and I must say, Nord did too.  The art is what saves this book from being very blah and almost generic.  His battle scenes feel epic and have a lot of movement in them.  Nord has a nice sense of realism to his drawings and you can tell he has referenced the weaponry of the times (ancient Rome) and is not just winging it.  Even though he uses reference nothing is really stiff.  This is what Greg Land would draw like if Greg Land could draw and not just trace.  He actually reminds me of early Adam Kubert with some of the characters in this book (see below).
 
Look at any early Wolverine book, that's an Adam Kubert face

The detail in this, especially in the fight scenes (the first few pages in the book) between the Romans and the Visigoths is just great.  Each individual piece stands out and everything is clear.  This is a testament to not only Nord, but Gaudiano, his inker and Moose Baumann, the colorist.  Baumann gets a special mention because he makes up for the lack of substantial backgrounds with his beautiful coloring.

There is not too much to not like about the art in this book, but a couple things jumped out.  There is a panel with a baby in it:
I'm pretty sure I had a nightmare last night where that baby ate my soul with a spork

Oh my sweet Jesus that is an ugly baby.  I can’t talk much, I always have trouble drawing small children and making them believable, but still, holy broken face Batman.

Finally, and this is a big one, is this panel:

This is my disappointed face

What is this guy doing here?  Is he jumping?  Who jumps like that?  Is he running?  Who runs like that?  It honestly looks like a generic Jim Lee Superman flying pose.  Nord, you can do better, and you do throughout the rest of the book.  Why oh why did you have to mail it in on one of the more important panels of the book?  Also look at his hands, something is not right there, and his head, it just doesn’t seem to be attached to his body.  Bad form, bad form indeed.

Despite those two panels and the distinct lack of substantial backgrounds, I give the art a 9 of 10.  What Nord does well, he does really well.  Part of me wishes that the storyline could just stay with the ancient civilizations fighting eachother and not travel into space because the battle scenes are just that good.

Overall I would give this book a 7 out of 10.  I would pick it up for the art alone but the story is decent as well and if you are used to the sparse-text style that is predominant nowadays it will definitely be right up your alley as a change of pace from all the capes.

Origins I of II

Here is Nik's comic review (more of a series review but you get the picture.  I will be back later with my review of the new X-O Manowar from Valiant.



I've been exposed to comics for pretty much as long as I can remember. Matt started in on comics super early, and therefore I was two years younger when I started. For me though, they were always just a constant presence in my periphery. Our mom would buy us the occasional comic here and there, and she would get me the latest "Batman Adventures" issue. But I was so young, I just read them out of obligation, I didn't have much of an opinion. My nerdiness really flourished in college with video games, D&D and Magic cards. All of which I very lightly dabbled in during high school as well. But still no comics.
            It wasn't until one day last year that I decided to look into comic books. A friend from college reviewed Vertigo's American Vampire. And I trust this guy's opinions on all things nerd, so I was intrigued. I also learned that Marvel was starting the new title Avenger's Academy. The idea of starting a new title from the very beginning, with new characters never before seen in the Marvel universe, was cool to me. I was never interested in starting a comic in the middle of its run; say, Spiderman #367 or something. So I did some research, poked around. I settled on four titles to start my official foray into the comic world.
            The aforementioned Avenger's Academy, American Vampire, the newest run of Deadpool (which I ended up buying all of the back issues for (about twenty or so), because, like I said, I can't start in the middle of series), and another comic reviewed by my college buddy, iZombie.
            We'll start with iZombie (by Chris Roberson). Frankly, I totally forgot who published it. And if I didn't have my comic shop's monthly comic schedule in the drawer next to me (at work), I wouldn't have even bothered to look it up. It's Vertigo, for the record. So I thought the premise for this title was pretty cool. Zombie works as night-time gravedigger for easy access to brains. Is friends with ghost and werewolf (except he turns into a terrier, if I remember correctly, not really a wolf) (upon research, he’s a wereterier. So, yeah. That.). And when she eats the brains, she has flashes of memories and of the dead, and is then compelled to right wrongs, solve crimes, avenge murders, what have you. Even the art was pretty cool (Michael Allred) with its flatter textures and heavy uses of blues and pinks. But, where it failed, and what ultimately had me stop collecting it only a few issues in, was the writing. Now, this title is still going and available as of the writing of this article, so if it sounds cool, by all means, pick 'er up. But the slightly clich├ęd story, paired with the really pretty lame dialogue and weak overall delivery left me wanting so much more. It just felt like it was lacking in something that I couldn't put my finger on. The title has been around for over a year now, so I hope that it picked up, and fleshed out (bad pun intended. Zombies, remember?) and has become something more than what the first few issues had to offer. It must have something redeemable, as it's still selling, but it just lost me too early on.
            Deadpool always made me laugh before I picked up the series. My first real exposure to the character was when I read the "Civil War" line that Marvel did back in '06 to ‘07 (it was early my senior year of college). In that cross-universe storyline, we saw Deadpool paired with Cable. Cable was the perfect straight man to Deadpool's sarcastic, biting wit. And frankly, he made me laugh my ass off. So, I thought, why not look into Deadpool's own, individual series? So I bit the bullet and jumped into the series that was already about 20 issues in. So I back ordered all of the issues that I had missed, and even had to ebay those that couldn't be found. But, I have all of them, so the collection is complete, and my ocd tendencies are at ease.
            I should note, the title I'm collecting is just plain Deadpool (written by Daniel Way). Not Baby Deadpool or Doggy Deadpool or Deadpool Corps or Sexy Deadpool. I don't know if any of those are actually titles, but I know that for the longest time, there were a ton of titles. To the point where Marvel even advertised and said "Listen, there are too many Deadpool titles. We're going to trim some of the fat. Which ones should we cut?" And they did take a few out, but this is the main Deadpool title.
            So, the art is fun (pencils by Paco Medina at first, currently by Ale Garza), it's just cartoony enough to fit in with the insanity that is Wade Wilson. The story has a tendency to leave much to be desired at times, though. There are the occasional stand-alone issues that are frustratingly vapid. There was even a .1 issue (49.1, to be precise) that was an "opera" where every other page was a character singing some bit of the Deadpool story "set to the tune of (insert song that you don't actually know the tune of)". And that's just stupid. Why make me waste my four dollars on that drivel? Oh, I don't have to buy that one? Yes, you're right, I acknowledge. But if I want to collect all of the issues as they come, I have to suck it up and buy them all. Otherwise it's not a full collection. Frankly, an issue like that doesn't feel clever, it feels like a cop-out, and disrespectful for those who collect the comic regularly. It added nothing to the story. It wasn't a refreshing change.
            The dialogue itself is usually funny. Not as good as really early original Deadpool (I've got the first Classic Deadpool Volume 1 tpb; good stuff), but it's not altogether atrocious. And the storylines, usually only a few issues long, are zany enough to fit in perfectly with Deadpool's theme of absurdity.
            So, it stands to question, am I being too hard on Deadpool? Am I looking for too much out of him? Should I simply accept the sophomoric humor, nothing too in-depth story-wise and be happy with it? I don't really have an answer, I don't know what the writers are really going for. The latest storyline (starting with 50) (and he tried to get the Hulk to kill him earlier on, 39-40), where Deadpool has been playing both heroes and villains against each other in order to actually be killed. Like, big boy killed. No more regen, no more healing factor. Worm food. And it's a good storyline. But I'm finding it hard to see a fair balance of comedy and story. (except the "Evil Deadpool" line (45-49), that one was solid) So, all-in-all, if you're looking for something definitely on the lighter comic side, but still has super heroes in it, Deadpool isn't a bad one to look into.
            The next two coming soon!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

And Gorilla Makes Three

I mean, really, where else would the Gorilla follow him home from?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Please Welcome Nik Magill to the Stage

First things first, a moment of silence for the family cat, Pee Wee Sherman that died last night at the ripe old age of thirteen.  She lived longer and happier than most expected considering the fact she weighed way more than she should have (I'm talking upwards of 30 pounds at her heaviest).  You will be missed Fat Sherm.


On to new business.  It is with great pleasure that I present my brother Nik.  Not only does he edit all of the non comic strip posts that I create so that they have at least a shred of professionalism, starting today he also will be a contributor to the site on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays.  So, without further ado...


All Hail the Mighty Taco!
Or, on second thought, no, you don't actually need to.

            So last night my wife and I ate at the much-anticipated, heavily-trafficked Mighty Taco (think Taco Bell, just with a little different of a style). As you can probably discern from the title of this review, Mighty Taco was an exciting addition to the Rochester eating scene. Since Raven (the wife) and I moved here about two years ago, I would pretty regularly hear that Buffalo has this great taco place, called Mighty Taco, but they're all the way in Buffalo, boo! Then, about two months ago, we heard the hub-bub in the underground taco scene "mightytacomightytacomightytaco". Rochester was granted its own Mighty Taco about a month ago. And boy has it made bank! Every time that Raven and I drive by, there's a huge line inside and at the drive-thru. And because of those long lines, Rae and I have always been hesitant to go in. I certainly don't want to wait a half hour for a fast food taco. But, last night we were in the area (cancelling our gym membership, actually. Yes, irony, I see you what you've done there), and the lines seemed smaller than usual, so I asked Rae how mighty she was feeling. We buckled and went in.
            There was still a line. To the door. We waited in line about 20 minutes. That is not a slight at Mighty Taco at all; good for them, a month after opening, to still have a line to the door at 8 o'clock on a Friday night.
            So, their food line-up is pretty decent. Not as extensive as Taco Bell, but who cares? If the food's good, give me one option. (look at food trucks: one specific thing done so well. Or even Chipotle. Our favorite Mexican joint with a total of, what, five different things on the menu?) You have options for tacos, burritos, salads and fajitas. Meat options are their Mighty Beef (more on that later), Mighty Chicken ("Your beef alternative"), steak and veggie. Prices are really decent. Average a buck and half a taco, 2.5 for a burrito. Also, I should note, they have the "Buffito." As they came from Buffalo originally, the alleged home of the "Buffalo Wing", they naturally had to incorporate that. So, it's a burrito with buffalo-style chicken. I did not partake, so I cannot speak to it, as I prefer my Mexican food unspoilt by outside influence. But it's a novel idea.
            Raven and I opted for the full dining experience (as much of an experience as you can have at a fast food joint). We went with the following: three layer bean dip with their signature "chip strips" to start, a Mighty Pack (6 Mighty Tacos consisting of beef, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese) which Rae and I split with 3 hard tacos (as flour tortillas make my beloved want to vom) and three soft tacos for the gentleman, a cane sugar loganberry soda, and an apple empanada to round out the meal.
            The dip: The term "layer" is being generous. It would be more aptly named as a "Dip Pile". It was housed in the traditional take-out container that you see in Chinese food, the one with the black plastic bottom and the clear plastic top. Half of the rectangle was reserved for the chip strips (i.e. rectangle tortilla chips). The other half was our dip. It consisted of a smear of refried beans on the bottom, super-sweet high-fructose salsa, a glop of sour cream, and then a garden of shredded lettuce atop. If there had been more beans, it would have been salvageable, I think, but there was a distinct lack of the substance. The salsa was over-poweringly sweet, being the bulk and body of the dip. The best part was the chips. Which weren't anything special. Not even in-store fried. Rating: 1.5 chip strips out of 5. Below average. Mediocrity would have been welcome. We could have made better for less at home.
            The Mighty Pack: 6 tacos for just over 7 bucks. Deal. I'll take it. If they're good tacos. I can't say anything of note about the shells, both hard and soft were generic taco shells. Their signature "Mighty Beef" was not that good. The seasoning was odd, I think I almost tasted something like clove in there, it was an odd spice. I should note, I am a cumin fiend. My favorite spice of all time. That's why I love Mexican food so much, when their beef is basically just a vehicle to eat cumin. So the beef was less than impressive. A little more substance to it than Taco Bell's, there's is a slurry, really. And I know Taco Bell's is "meat product", but it's so damn good... The salsa had no chunk to it. Just a liquid. It packed a good heat, though. Nothing more disappointing than ordering something "hot" and getting a sad attempt, like a chili pepper farted into your taco. The lettuce was, well, lettuce. Just shredded water. It was crisp; that's pretty much all that can be said about lettuce at any tacoria. Now, get this, the most horrifying thing: the cheese was a slice of white American. No shredded. No cheddar. White f-ing American cheese. Are you kidding me? American cheese is an atrocity to begin with, but when you slap a Kraft singles onto my taco, now you're just insulting me. I've never been to the Mighty Taco in Buffalo (and never will go), so I don't know if the American is a signature thing, but I don't care. You go right to hell, processed American cheese. Blaspheme to put much else but cheddar on Mexican food. (and they have a "3 Cheese Burrito" which claimed to put American, cheddar and Swiss on there. Also definitely not okay) The tacos were so disappointing that Raven couldn't even finish hers, she got one and half down and had to call it quits (and that's bonkers, 'cause I've seen this girl house a half-dozen Taco Bells with room for more). While I ate the last one and a half hard-shelled tacos, she dejectedly ate the rest of the dip (i.e. ate the chips). Rating: Half of a Mighty Taco out of 5. Next time I'll specify that they not include a healthy dose of disappointment with my tacos. What pushed me over the line? The cheese. Maybe if it'd been cheddar, it could have been salvaged. *coughprobablynotcough*
            The Loganberry Soda: I forget the brand. Not important. It said that it used cane sugar. That's awesome. We try to limit our high fructose corn syrup (hfcs) intake as much as possible. But, it was from the soda machine, so I have no guarantees that it didn't have hfcs, it never said that it didn't... it just said "cane sugar" on the sign. Hell, I can sell you a bag of poo, and just write "caviar" on the front of it, as long as there's a single fish egg in there, I bet I could get away with it.
            It tasted like when you melt down a red freezy pop and just drink the syrup. It was okay, a nostalgic flavor. Rae didn't like it too much 'cause she never liked freezy pops (but she drank most of it *ahem*). It was an eggplant purple color, which was slightly off-putting. But I don't really know what a true loganberry looks or tastes like, so maybe it's perfect. Rating: 3.5 gulps out of 5. The best part of the meal. If I had to choose from a soda fountain, I'd go for it again. I wouldn't go out of my way to get it, but overall not terrible.
            The Apple Empanada: Now, traditionally, an empanada is a little dough pocket filled with goodies (either sweet or savory). The empanada we got? A full sized flour tortilla, filled with canned apple filling, rolled and fried (not deep fried, it looked stove-top seared). The filling was super-sweet (hfcs) and I only ate a quarter of it, giving the rest to Raven, who ate hell out of it. Probably the best part of the meal for her. I would have preferred a dough around apple filling, but alas, nothing to be done. I imagine they don't even roll them there, they just take them from the freezer and nuke them. They also had a cherry option, but I imagine it would be the same thing with just a cherry pie filling. Rating: 2 pie fillings out of 5. Can't be too disappointed. It's a fast food dessert; fulfills the sweet, end-of-meal quota.
            Overall: Just go to Taco Bell. Mighty Taco sure-as-shit isn’t worth the half-hour wait. Now, I know that I have more of a discerning palate than the general public, so maybe people love the place. And I cannot judge you for liking something that I don't. But for what Mighty Taco has to offer in individuality, they seem to fall short in each department. I see the attempts to differentiate themselves from the pre-established fast food taco, but each of those was a step in the wrong direction.
            I posed the question to Raven during supper: how much of this line is people who want to experience Mighty Taco for the first time, and how much is returning customer base? How many people are going into Mighty Taco for the first time and having the same reaction that we are? 'Cause they certainly won't be return customers if that's the case (we're not going to return). When the hype dies down by the end of the summer, how much business will be left for them? I certainly don't think they'll go out of business, but I think once the rush is done, the halls of Mighty Taco will look just like any other fast food joint. Pretty sparse, but with enough business to pay the bills. Even Burger King and KFC have busy times, and so shall Mighty Taco. But I'm afraid Mighty Taco has not revolutionized the fast food industry, nor has it flipped it on it's head. It will soon sink into mediocrity, becoming just another bland option in the unremarkable line-up of cheap, not very good, quick food options out there

Monday, May 14, 2012

Burp

If Sluggy was real, his burps would taste like victory. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Short Bus

Tell me you have never felt this way about some of your friends.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Comic Review - FCBD

Thursdays are comic review days.  Generally I will go to the comic store on Wednesday and pick up a random comic for review.  Some will be hits, most will be misses.  For this week I am reviewing a comic that I got on Free Comic Book Day this past weekend.  If you have any suggestions as to a comic you want me to review in the future, please let me know.



My big plan for free comic book day was to hit all four of the stores in the Syracuse area to get a fairly complete sample of free comics to pick through and review.  The best laid plans are often foiled by a four year old and after one comic shop it was time to head home.  The one book that I was really excited for was the Archaia Entertainment anthology.  Yes, it was a great package (who can beat a hardcover anthology for free), but it could have easily been a huge disappointment if the content did not hold up.

Luckily, for the most part the content lived up to and even exceeded expectations.

I have recently abandoned all contact with the “big 2” comic publishers in terms of purchasing their content.  Much of that has to do with the quality of the content provided, but price points are also a major factor.  I cannot, in good conscience, pay $4-$5 for a comic book that contains very little in the way of a cohesive story (I’m looking at you Bendis).  The recent legal and moral turmoil at the companies also have pushed me toward more non-traditional purchases, and I have yet to be extremely disappointed, as I often was with the standard superhero dreck.

This brings me to Mouse Guard by David Peterson.  I am all for anthropomorphized animal heroes (I miss you Captain Carrot) and will generally give those kinds of books at least a chance, as long as the art is good and the stories do not pander to the lowest common denominator.  If you have not picked up Mouse Guard yet, you owe it to yourself if you enjoy a quality read with purely beautiful artwork.  It can be a little slow at times in terms of its progression, but the lack of dialogue or exposition is filled with some of the best artwork I have ever seen in a comic book.  I can only imagine how the pitch meeting went when David Peterson met with Archaia for the first time.  When someone says they want to do something with anthropomorphized mice, my first thought is Fievel Mousekowitz.  You know, An American Tale.  I don’t know if I could sit through an entire book in that style regardless of the quality of the writing (which in and of itself is solid).  What we get instead is mice that look more realistic than any anthropomorphization of  the animal I have ever seen.  Peterson takes the world that they live in and makes it feel like it could be right outside your door, like if you are not careful you could step on one of the Mouse Guard patrolling on the fringes of their land.  This is incredibly important, in my opinion, when it comes to “funny animal comics” as they used to be called.  By having something grounded in reality, something that us mere humans can hold on to, I believe that makes the story more readily accessible to the masses.  If they see something in the stories that they can recognize, it just makes it work that much more.

The Mouse Guard offering in the anthology answers the call beautifully by telling a great one-shot story with art that is just beautiful.  The entire story is a play done with Marionettes.  This means that David Peterson has not only to add in strings for each of the puppet characters without detracting from the flow of the story, all of the joints of the various characters have to be fleshed out as if they were individual pieces that are held together by wire/string/etc. (you know, like a puppet).  Peterson pulls this off masterfully, and the Mouse Guard offering in this anthology would be enough to justify an actual price tag, but makes it so much sweeter because it was free.  Greatness isn’t usually dropped in your lap, but in this case it most certainly was.

It is so hard to follow something like Mouse Guard in an anthology because not only would many people pick up the book for that reason alone (slowly raises hand) but those individuals may expect a similar artistic quality throughout the rest of the anthology.  Have no fear.  The next story will not let you down.  Hoggle and the Worm, a Labyrinth story by the team of Ted Naifeh, Adrienne Ambrose, Cory Godbey and Deron Bennett provides a clever story with a nice twist of an ending.  That’s right, yet another story that is complete and leaves me feeling content with a beginning, middle, and end.  While the coloring is a bit muddy and tends to mix in with what appears to be digitally darkened pencils, the art has a certain cartooniness to it that I really enjoyed.

Steps of the Dapper Men was next by the team of Jim McCann, Janet K. Lee and Dave Lanphear.  While the art is very nice, the story feels like it is just trying way too hard to be way too smart.  The art definitely has the feel of a brightly colored Tim Burton movie, but can seem flat at times which does not help the fact that the story falls flat as well.  This may be a better story in a stand alone comic book/graphic novel where it has the space to flesh out the story and provide that beginning-middle-end that is important.  As it is, it feels like we are thrown into a situation and instead of learning what is going on we are hit with words, just more and more words until the sweet release of the final page. 

Where Steps of the Dapper Men fail with their overuse of nonsensical dialogue, Royden Lepp’s Rust excels with its minimalist approach.  The tone of the artwork, both in the coloring and the simplicity of the linework works so well with not only what the story is trying to say, but also with transporting the reader to a little rural farm in middle America during wartime.  It created a sense of nostalgia that is not easy to do in someone that wasn’t even alive for the Vietnam war.  I felt like a child sitting next to Oswald while he wrote his letter to his soldier father.  While Mouse Guard blew me away with the quality of the art, Rust was an experience.  My only hope is that Lepp can continue to invoke that nostalgia in a longer feature.  If he can do so then he will have a huge hit on his hands.

Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy Bastian was the first big “What is this crap?” moment I had when reading the anthology.  The story was bad, just plain bad.  While I realize that the whole point was that the story was incoherent ramblings from an old man, if I really wanted that I would go down to the nursing home and listen in on some of the conversations there.  If I am (theoretically) going to purchase something for entertainment purposes I want to be entertained, and in this instance I was not even remotely entertained.  The art was decent, and I love detailed artwork, but the fact that everything was rendered in such painstaking detail also created the problem of complete muddiness throughout the pages.  It may have improved with the addition of color, but it would also be difficult to color pages that are that detailed so it would probably have made the artwork even more confusing and unreadable than it is now.  While this does not ruin the anthology by any means, it does not stand up to anything else in the collection.

The final offering was Cow Boy by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos.  This is how you end an anthology.  It is a complete story that even gives a brief synopsis of the main character before getting into the story portion.  I have always liked Eliopoulos’s art and this is no different, though I think his simple linework and character design (think Peanuts) is more fittingly colored with an old-school flat coloring technique instead of the more modern, painterly effect used here.  The coloring does not detract from the art though, it is just not the perfect complement.  The story was fun and something that I could see picking up an entire trade of, which is really the whole point of adding a story to an anthology.

In summary, the anthology as a whole was very good, despite bits of nonsense here and there.  It gives me a lot of hope for Archaia moving forward and I will definitely be checking out their offerings more frequently now that I know they are unafraid of taking a risk which seems to be fairly rare in this day and age of recycled superhero plots.  A comic company like Archaia deserves not only the patronage of the general comic book lovers, but also the chance to grow to challenge the “big boys” of the industry with their combination of quality art and new ideas.