Friday, August 30, 2013

My Bible

What would a trip to the nut house be without a visit from Dr. Phil?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Comic Review: Transformers More Than Meets the Eye #20

                Does More Than Meets the Eye retain its title as best comic you’re not yet reading?  Let’s see.


Cover:
                Yes, there are multiple covers (it’s and IDW book so of course there are), and yes I grabbed the one on the top (the Alex Milne cover).  This one depicts Rodimus carrying Tailgate (who has been dying for the last few issues) as they are being chased by the Legislators (personality-less robots that were bred to kill by Tyrest – the main villain in this book as of the last couple issues). 

                I like the art on the cover as it is telling a story while featuring two of the prominent characters from the book.  It also forces us to ask questions if we are a new reader such as “what is chasing Rodimus?” “Why is Rodimus carrying Tailgate?” or just a general “Who are these characters?”  The composition leads us to Rodimus’ face as the main focus of the cover, however the coloring actually forces our eye to the giant bright yellow triangle over his right shoulder.  While I understand that that actually makes sense based upon the overall lighting scheme of the cover in general, it doesn’t help the composition when the coloring is in direct contrast.  That being said, shrouding a good portion of Rodimus’ face in shadow doesn’t help force the eye there either.  This is the unfortunate cross to bear with more “realistic” computer coloring.  If this comic was produced twenty-five years ago, the reds would be red, the white’s would be white and the yellows would be yellow, and distinctions would be able to be made because of it.  Now the Transformers comics are some of the best on the market in terms of combining the lineart with the color to create a cohesive image, but it just doesn’t work well on this cover (which is unfortunate as the cover is where you want it to work the most).  There is also a slight tangent if you look at the tip of Tailgate’s right foot and Rodimus’ knee.  This is exacerbated by the fact that they are pretty much the same color as well, so even with the heavier outline it is difficult to determine where one stops and the other begins.

                The only other gripe that I have is with the signature.  It’s huge!  Believe me, I’m all for signing your artwork and taking ownership of it in terms of receiving the due credit, but holy crap.  This is along the same lines as the 1990s Todd McFarlane or Greg Capullo signatures that were, at times, oppressive to the artwork itself.  While Milne at least kept his signature confined to the lower right corner (and he avoided putting a box or some other device around it to draw even more attention to it) the signature itself is just too involved in the artwork, and something that should be present but not oppressive is quite the opposite.  

6/10 – While the overall design is good, the execution hurts the image. 

Story:
                The story by James Roberts is nearing its conclusion, something that has been building up since issue number one.  Reading a lot of the Transformers comics every month, it took me a little time to remember what happened in the last issue.  The “story so far” box on the inside front cover helps a bit, but seeing the ramifications of the events unfold as jump cuts on the first page caused me to pause and search my memory banks for some semblance of what happened last issue.  While I am glad that there is a page in the back specifically dedicated to showing each of the Transformers involved in that story (especially since this book doesn’t use a whole lot of the traditional Transformers that we all know and love) not having that info available at the outset causes me to try and remember who everyone is, and sometimes the color-scheme and designs are so similar that it becomes confusing. 

                The story itself is great.  It doesn’t really tie up any loose ends as much as it forces them to their next logical stage before the conclusion.  Roberts does an excellent job of juggling at least four different aspects to the story, each part focusing on different characters and then bringing nearly all of them together by the end, ensuring that the final part is laser focused.  When you have a stable of characters, both heroes and villains, in which to pull from, it may seem difficult to develop some of the lesser known characters and give them the same weight that a franchise staple would have.  Take for example Tyrest, the villain.  When you have villains such as Megatron, Shockwave, or Bludgeon at your disposal, building up Tyrest to that kind of level might seem like an insurmountable task, but Roberts does it, and it only takes a few short issues to do it.  His actions, and more importantly the motivations for those actions, are as heinous as anything you would expect to see from any of the aforementioned villains.  Roberts writes him as almost a delusional cult leader, with his actions being justified (in his own mind anyway) by the fact that they will bring him closer to eternal light.  The fact that there may be actual credence to his claims by the end of the issue is a shock in its own right. 

                Not only do we get all of that story development, but Roberts also takes the time to weave in character development for Skids, everyone’s favorite memory wiped Autobot.  We as readers finally get to learn how Skids got in the condition he’s in (think Men in Black memory wiping device, but with the ability to implant a thought or suggestion in the brain of the target).  It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, but it brings us back to Tyrest and shows that he has been in the thick of things from the beginning.  The fact that Roberts said that this “Remain in Light” storyline was the big payoff to all of the previous issues, and then to actually exhibit the skill  to pull off that bold claim is incredibly impressive.  Roberts is by far one of the best writers in the business today, and hopefully IDW can keep him attached to this book for a long time to come.

9/10 – The story itself is top notch, the little parts in the beginning where things just progress naturally from the last issue takes a couple panels to get used to.  The cliffhanger ending is one of the best I have seen in recent memory, and actually gets me excited to read a comic book again (who knew that was possible).

Art:
                Alex Milne, with Brian Shearer’s assistance on the inks and Josh Burcham and John-Paul Bove on colors, provide another artistic tour de force.  I’m not going to lie, sometimes the artwork can be a bit confusing with all of the different moving parts going on, but the fact that Milne and Co. pack so much into each page, hell, each panel and it doesn’t become an unintelligible mess speaks to their own individual abilities.  Milne is a master of expression with these characters as well, making them feel more like human beings in disguise as opposed to giant hunks of metal.  The thing that makes me hesitant to really embrace Andrew Wildman’s classic Transformers work (the stiff blocky nature and overall feel that everything looks like the old toys) is the exact opposite here.  There is so much movement in the characters as well as the overall design of the panels that everything feels organic and animated. 

                Milne also does a good job of mixing up camera angles in this one.  He still tends to rely too much on midrange shots, with very few, if any, long establishing shots thrown into the mix, which is either a blessing or a curse with his amount of detailed work.  Even without the long shots, he does a decent job of changing the angle of the camera up enough to ensure that the exact same shot is not repeated over multiple panels (unless it’s for dramatic effect). 

9/10 – Milne is the quintessential Transformers artist in my opinion and regardless of the title he works on I will be a longtime fan of his work.

Overall:  9/10 – The cover aside, this book was a masterpiece of storytelling.  Showing how to successfully move a story along (and actually move it along, not just give the impression that it is) while setting up the next issue to blow the minds of the readers.  I don’t know why I have to repeat myself by now, but if you aren’t reading this series, pick it up now.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mute

I've been looking for a way to get longtime The Masked Shrimp staple Freakman into the mix, and now we finally get to meet him.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Masochist Music Review: My Darkest Days

What can I say, I’m a masochist when it comes to music.  I like to have complete catalogues when it comes to my favorite musicians.  Sometimes this is a good thing (Alice Cooper, AC/DC) but oftentimes it’s not.  Not only that, but I used to fall into the trap of hearing one or two great songs and purchasing a whole album because of it, which sometimes produced a diamond, but usually only coal.  During this series, we will dwell on some of the albums I have in my collection that are downright terrible.  I will re-listen to them all and give you my impression of them.

Now this is only my opinion, so don’t take it as gospel.  If you like a particular album in this series, let me know, we’ll open up a discussion about it.  I’m always open to discussing the merits of any particular album, and if you have any suggestions (and especially if you have the album itself and are willing to share your views) then let me know and I’d be happy to add it to the list.

Album Name: My Darkest Days

Artist:  My Darkest Days

Release Date: September, 2010

Why you bought it:  Most of the bad albums that I buy can be categorized as just part of a collection (I want all of the Metallica albums, so I will purchase St. Anger, etc.).  This is one of the times where I had never heard the band before but I wanted to purchase the album based on one song (never a good idea).  I heard their song “Porn Star Dancing” on the radio, and while the song itself was pretty generic and the lyrics were just begging to be laughed at, it had one thing that most other songs didn’t: Zakk Wylde on guitar.  As a huge Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society fan, I figured if these guys had his stamp of approval, they couldn’t be that bad.  Plus, if there was any more of Zakk’s guitar solos on the record it would be worth it.

First impressions:  Shame on me.  The one song that was any good was the one song I had already heard.  The rest of the record was generic, unlistenable drivel.  When I was researching the album prior to writing this it said that the band was “discovered” by Chad Kroeger of Nickelback…and it all makes sense.

Impressions upon listening to it recently:  I realize that there is a market for this kind of sound, obviously, or else all of the new bands of the past ten years wouldn’t sound like it, but there is no real quality to this band or this record that makes it stand out.   It’s not the worst record to come out of the “everybody sounds like Nickelback” era, but it’s damn close.

Any saving grace?:    One Zakk Wylde guitar part does not a good album make.  So no, no saving grace here.


Was it worth the purchase?: Not at all, no.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ulterior Motives

Hmmm, could it be that they are just different?  We wouldn't lock someone away from the general population just because they were different, right?  We're a more progressive society than that, right?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Smart Ass

Nurses are full of humor, I guess you kind of have to be.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Comic Review – KISS Kids #1

                I have railed against the comic industry on numerous occasions for being to focused on their aging readers and not really doing much to attract new readers to their product.  While, in general, I think that still holds true, this week’s entry helps to soften that blow a bit.


Cover:
                I picked up the Bruce Timm cover as it was the first one visible as well as the one I wanted anyway.  What can I say about Bruce Timm the artist that hasn’t already been said?  Regardless of the subject matter, his style is undeniable.  Seriously, this looks like Gene Simmons stepped right out of the Batman the Animated Series cartoon (and how awesome would that be if KISS was included).  This fits incredibly well with the overall tone of the book as it is definitely going for a more light hearted, animated feel, and who better to give you an animated feel than the father of DC’s animated universe.  Timm does a great job of providing not only the animated “feel” but also capturing the likeness and, more importantly, the personality of Simmons.  The way that Timm, using just lines, can indicate multiple different textures within the piece without making everything overly detailed or pushing the piece out of his characteristic style shows a grasp of the tools that are well beyond what most cartoonists could ever hope to accomplish. 

                The cover is very generic, but it has a feel that you just can’t get anywhere else.  The colors from Rom Fajardo are a little muddy, but they don’t do too much to detract from the overall illustration. 

9/10 – I have a feeling if Timm came back to comics full time (as in doing a whole book and not just covers/pinups) people would line up around the block for their chance to pick it up.  He is that good at what he does.

Story:
                The story, by Chris Ryall and Tom Waltz (the guys that have written pretty much every other KISS comic for IDW over the past year) is actually a collection of short stories, ranging from one to five pages.  While I wasn’t overly impressed by IDW’s other KISS comics, the simple fact that these two writers can go from such a heavy-handed concept, built almost exclusively for adults, to something for kids that actually works well speaks to their abilities as writers.  It’s also nice to see that the two writers have fleshed out the characters enough that regardless of who the writer is, the characters have the same “voice”. 

                The stories are pretty typical in terms of things that you would think might happen to kids, just with a spin on it to take advantage of the subject matter (sixteen year old Christine is the babysitter, Gene’s favorite birthday present is money, etc.).  The whole thing has a very Calvin and Hobbes feel to it and is incredibly accessible to kids.  I can easily see this generation of children running around pretending to be Li’l Demon or Spacey with their friends. 

                While the decision to include KISS kid robots as the bullies seems a little corny, it does make more sense than trying to shoehorn in some KISS-related villains (though why there isn’t a “Wicked Lester” yet, I don’t know).  Besides that, though, everything is pretty seamless in terms of the transition from adults to kids.

8/10 – This may be the most fun KISS-related series since Psycho Circus was in its heyday. 

Art:
                Jose Holder does a great job on the art duties for the most part.  The kids themselves are well thought out and provide both an accurate representation of the KISS makeup while “smoothing the edges” so to speak for the younger audience.  The storytelling and pacing are well done with an abundance of well-drawn backgrounds that serve to ground the cartoony characters in reality.  The quality of Holder’s artwork is steady throughout the book as well.  From story to story, page to page, he remains incredibly consistent with his linework and character models. 

                The one place where Holder seems to fall flat is his representation of “normal” people, especially adults.  The fact that they are so much different in style to the KISS kids really prevents everything from gelling together.  It’s fine if the backgrounds are realistically represented, but once you make the other humans take on similar realistic characteristics, it makes the KISS kids stick out like a sore thumb.   

8/10 – This feels like almost the perfect project for Holder, who really shines here on the artwork.

Overall: 8/10 – If you are looking for something to read with your kids, this is definitely it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Common Room Blues


Is that some actual societal commentary in an Eat @ Shrimpy's strip?  And here you thought it was just a funny strip about talking seafood.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How NOT to Organize a Concert

                On Sunday, my girlfriend and I had tickets to see Candlebox (remember Candelbox? So do we, so we wanted to catch them before they disappear again).  At $25, the tickets were relatively inexpensive (though a little pricier than one would expect for a band that’s well past their sell-by date).  The venue was close to home though as local radio station 95x and the bar/concert venue Monirae’s shared sponsorship duties, so at least it wasn’t a long commute.  The opening bands for the festivities (which were supposed to commence at 1230 but started late due to problems setting up) were basically all local bands, aside from Candlebox and one band that they brought with them.  Let’s do a quick rundown of everything that was done right on Sunday afternoon:

o  
o  
o  
o  They had an ice cream truck?

                With that out of the way, let’s go over what was done wrong:

·         Every piece of promotion I had heard about the concert up to the event had said that it was at the Oswego County Events Center at Monirae’s.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived at Monirae’s at 1230 and found absolutely nothing.  Apparently I was not the only one as many people had this complaint throughout the day.

·         When we arrived at the venue, it was just a fireman’s field with a fence around it and a stage at one end.  This was the prevailing feeling throughout the day as well.  It felt like a hastily assembled, horribly promoted fireman’s field days.

·         To park near the venue, we were required to pay $5 to park in a field.  This was not a field made for parking either.  It was literally just a field that they had off to the side, and some dude with a mower just went and cut the grass.  It was no place for cars to park, or people to walk for that matter as there were ruts and divots all over the place. 

·         Being that there was at least a good three hours until the only local band that we knew (and wanted to see) was going to go on, we tailgated in the parking lot for a few hours.  The security (which were taking their job waaaaaaay too seriously all day long) told us that our group (of about twelve people) would have to disperse if it grew much larger.  My girlfriend and I went in shortly after that anyway, but upon meeting up with our friends after their arrival, they stated that the security guards came out and broke up the tailgating anyway and made them come in to the “venue” (and I use that term extremely loosely).  Apparently the fact that people were outside eating and drinking and not funneling money to the event was frowned upon.  I have no idea what they would have done if the group had stayed out there longer, but the fact that they needed to make this point showed how out of touch they were.


·         The food prices seemed relatively cheap, but water and beer were as expensive as you would expect.  $2 for a bottle of water and $5 for maybe twelve ounces of beer (less than that if you consider that at least a third of it was foam) while to be expected is still price gouging on a sweltering day, especially when they advertised pricing beforehand with the tagline saying that they tried to keep the prices cheap.

·         There were a total of about seventy-five people in the concert venue, maybe 100 tops including staff. However, the majority of the people there were members of the various bands that were playing.  The local bands didn’t get to hang out backstage, they were just out mixing amongst the crowd, so the number of people there was vastly inflated.  I felt really bad for Candlebox.  I am sure they are not what they were twenty years ago, but they are a national act that is basically playing a fireman’s field days.  How far can you fall?

·         Throughout the day, the mantra was “support local bands”.  This would be all well and good, except the local bands are horrible.  Seriously.  Not counting The Hellfish (the local band that we already knew) there was maybe one band there that wasn’t totally horrible, but for the most part, out of nine local bands that played the show, seven of them were terrible.  I am all for supporting local bands and local music, but I can’t put my support behind bad local bands out of some fleeting sense of loyalty to the Central New York music scene.  If this is what Central New York has to offer the music scene, then no thank you.  Some of the music itself wasn’t terrible, but almost every single singer was terrible, to the point where they all sounded like they just put the band together for this event alone and needed anyone that could kind of sing, but settled on someone that couldn’t. 

·         During the intermission when the bands were setting up (which was relatively brief – the only thing that they got right that day) they played remix versions of Limp Bizkit hits.  I know, that last phrase in and of itself is an oxymoron.  You’re telling me that a “rock radio” station couldn’t come up with more suitable music than Fred Durst’s leftovers to entertain their meager crowd between bands?  It’s almost like they knew that the local bands were going to be crap and decided that they would try and make them sound better by playing the worst music they could find during the intermissions.

·         The bands at the event all pretty much stuck to original music.  One band did not one, but two covers.  “Man in the Box” by Alice in Chains and “Feed my Frankenstein” by Alice Cooper.  And the singer butchered both.  His voice couldn’t register either Layne Staley’s wail or Alice Cooper’s growl and the songs came out as tepid imitations of the real thing.  Something you might expect at a karaoke bar. 

·         The atmosphere felt more like a poorly constructed Battle of the Bands than it did any kind of real concert where bands were opening for a national act; from the three to four song set lists for each band to the poor quality of music on display (seriously, Syracuse, just give up and do us all a favor) it had an amateur, low quality feel to it.  The worst part is that in a few weeks Skid Row will be there and they are planning on doing a similar event!  These guys just can’t learn from their mistakes apparently. 

We stayed at the event from 1230 until about 6, suffered through six terrible (plus one good and one merely okay) local bands and half a set of the piss-poor national act that Candlebox brought with them, and decided to call it quits.  Even seeing Candlebox wasn’t worth this torture, considering the fact that we had the rest of Candlebox’s opener along with one more local band before Candlebox took the stage (probably around 7).  If we had arrived at 330 for The Hellfish and stayed through the end it would have been one thing, but terrible local bands kind of soured our afternoon.  If you follow the same list that 95x and Monirae’s did, you will undoubtedly have a poorly attended fireman’s field days on your hands just like they did.  I know I will avoid patronizing any and all establishments involved from now on, and just feel bad for Candlebox that they had to have their name sullied by such a terrible event. 


                

Restaurant Review: Joe’s Crab Shack

                It’s not very often that my girlfriend and I get out to Rochester; so after working a charity event for my cousin on Saturday afternoon in nearby Pittsford, I promised to take her to Joe’s Crab Shack.  We had seen the commercials and after realizing that the restaurants were not solely on the coast (who knew a coastal destination wasn't required for "fresh" seafood) it seemed like fates had aligned for us to sample some of our favorite cuisine. 

                We arrived without a reservation at around 7:15.  We were told (and accurately so) that there would be a twenty-five to thirty minute wait for a table for two (despite there being three open tables right behind the hostess station (tables that remained open throughout the evening).  After the thirty minute wait, we were seated at a table, in what might be the loudest restaurant I have ever been in.  The music was blaring, which forced the people to speak loudly just to be heard.  I understand having some music in the background, but this was ridiculous.  We were greeted with not only a book of specials, but also a large menu (over four pages packed full of dishes).  It seemed relatively unnecessary in my mind to have that many options on the menu when your specialty is seafood, but I’m no restaurant owner so what do I know.  Our server, Jaymie (I shit you not, that’s how she spelled her name, and Microsoft Word’s spell-checker program is going to have a heart attack if I keep using it) was very helpful in picking out the dishes, offering us time to look on our own and even a helpful suggestion (the Cajun steam pot has better crab and more flavor) before taking our order.  We ordered an appetizer and a steam pot each. 

                The appetizer arrived shortly after, one of their seasonal platters containing a cheesy crab dip, homemade fried clam strips and what basically amounted to seafood salsa.  As the server (not Jaymie) placed our plate down, she mentioned that they had dropped some of our clam strips on the floor, but no worry, they were putting more in.  Great.  I understand accidents happen, and they were being proactive by not only putting more in, but also telling us instead of having us wonder why there were so few clam strips on the plate.  The appetizer was garnished with tortilla chips for dipping in both the crab dip and seafood salsa.  Our chips were mere crumbs however, like the kind you find when someone sits on the bag, even though ours seemed fresh which was doubly unforgivable.  Eventually, Jaymie came over to check on us and brought more chips because she didn’t like the look of the ones we got (of course she brought them after the dips were eaten).  Throughout the appetizer and on through the entrĂ©e, we saw neither hide nor hair of our remaining clam strips. 

                When Jaymie dropped off the non-destroyed tortilla chips, she mentioned that our food should be coming right out.  Ten minutes later, instead of dinner, we were treated to a show as every server in the restaurant began to start a choreographed dance.  At that point, I determined that if I was ever a server at an establishment such as this, I would promptly shoot myself in the face.  Ten minutes after the show (and about fifteen minutes after we were told it would arrive), our food made its way to our table.  My girlfriend received the Cajun steam pot and I received one that prominently featured Old Bay Seasoning and had more shellfish than hers (though the official name of it escapes me).  Each came with a sausage, an ear of corn, and potatoes.  The seasoning on mine (and hers as well, was only prominent on the one side of corn that was facing up when they sprinkled it on the pot.  Other than that, each component in the pot tasted just like the steamed version of the seafood, not special in any way, as their name ad description on the menu would lead you to believe.  The Cajun pot might have tasted a little bit more Cajun-y, but the cooks forgot to put the sauce on it (which Jaymie brought out and gave to my girlfriend on the side).  Aside from that, it was just a pot of steamed seafood, with a generic sausage and bland potatoes and corn.  The seafood was tasty, but it’s hard to screw up steamed seafood, except that half of my clams were not open when I got my pot.

                We finished our meals and were ready to go, just waiting on our check, but Jaymie was nowhere to be found.  She had dropped off our meals, refilled our waters and that was the last we saw of her until my girlfriend went to the bathroom and Jaymie was in there talking on her cell phone (obviously out of the eye of her supervisors).  Not long after that, Jaymie delivered our check, we paid and left.

Verdict:

                The food was tasty but nothing special, especially for the price.  The appetizer was actually very good, but the fact that half our clam strips were on the floor and our chips were crumbs made it a less than desirable dish.  The standards in that restaurant in terms of food quality are obviously pretty low.  For the same price we paid for two steam pots, we could probably do the same thing at home, if not more, especially since their “seasonings” were only superficial.  The service started out okay and slowly devolved into somewhere between negligence and rudeness.  The choreographed dancing was ridiculous and lent itself to a general air of carelessness.  The atmosphere in general, while lively and colorful, was too much of each and way too in-your-face to be an adequate dining venue.  This may be a decent place for a special event like a birthday or something, but for two people going out to eat, I would steer clear.  Joe’s Crab Shack, by far, fails to live up to the expectations, and there’s a very good chance we won’t be dining here again anytime in the future.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Missing

And with that we start the new storyline.  I have a feeling you can probably tell where this one is going already.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Delusions of Grandeur

And there you have it, the conclusion of the Volunteer storyline.  
Come on back on Monday and see where the next arc takes us.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

It Came From the Dollar Bin – Transformers Generation 2 #1 (November 1993)

                Well, it was bound to happen.  Not getting a random comic every week has caught up with me as there was nothing in my personal “pull list” that was released this week.  Being the resourceful sonofabitch that I am, I took the gift certificate to the vintage comic shop that my girlfriend gave me and spent 1/25 of it on this gem.  And of course, it just happens to be a Transformers comic (boy I hope my kids stick with the Transformers phase for awhile.


It starts out as this...


And then opens up (transforms, if you will) to this!

Cover:
                Hey 1993, I remember you and your awesome comic covers!  This one doesn’t disappoint as it not only has a reflective silver surface, but also it unfolds to depict a battle scene.  Obviously the cover of a #1 issue would focus on Optimus Prime, however there are a couple things about this cover that make little sense to me.  The lower right corner (as you are looking at the cover) features a smoking gun, and not being able to see anything beyond the face of Optimus, I would have to assume that it is his.  However, Optimus also has fresh bullet holes and even instances where there are bullets still lodged in his helmet (head?).  So the question becomes, were these wounds self inflicted?  Is this just an instance of unfortunate cropping of the picture?  It makes for a striking image, even if it is a bit confusing at first glance.  I do find it interesting how sketchy the mirror-surfaced images are.  Everything else seems fully realized while the bullets look very simplistic and sketchy, as if the mandate was “outlines only, we’re not paying for this mirror finish to waste it on an image filled with hatching lines”. 

                Now if that had been the only cover, there may have been a bit of a downgrade.  But this is the ‘90s.  All you have to do is open that cover to reveal a large, double page spread of an Autobot/Decepticon battle.  It’s very dynamic, with lots of moving parts and explosions to heighten the war-time feeling (paging Michael Bay, your source material for the Transformers movies has been found).  The main issue here (and you won’t know this until you read the comic itself, so…twenty year old comic spoiler alert) the Autobots are in space, while Megatron at the very least is still on Earth.  The battle that is taking place on this cover is therefore not from this issue, and presumably not from an issue anytime soon.

                The quality of the art itself (by interior artist Derek Yaniger) is actually really good.  It has a lot of that ‘90’s dynamism with little regard for basic proportions and drawing principles, which is to be expected I suppose.  The main culprits being Megatron shooting at no one in particular (Optimus looks to be behind the supposed path of the bullet) and just the general size discrepancies of the various Transformers.  I can’t really say much about the giant Liefeldian guns either as giant shape changing robots without giant guns would just be silly.  I think the border is an unfortunate choice.  Unless it was editorially mandated that the border be in place, there is no purpose or reason for it to be there.  It removes are that could have been filled up with more setting, plus if you look at it, it is off-center.  I know that, given the nature of the gimmick on this cover, the inside may not have been perfectly centered, but if that’s the case, don’t give us the border at all.  No one would have known that it was off-center if it was just one large image.

8/10 – It’s dynamic and it transports me back to a simpler time in comic books (and life in general, hell I was only ten when this came out).  Nostalgia factor is at a perfect ten, but some of the art decisions (made by either Yaniger or editorial) tend to derail the flow of the images by making you stop and think more about the art than you should.

Writing:
                Writer Simon Furman, who has spent more time with the Transformers in their long history than anyone, save Spike Witwicky, hits the reset button here.  While I have no idea why he did it (or, more accurately, why editorial decided it needed to be done) it feels like the reasoning had more to do with debuting a grittier, more violent version of the Robots in Disguise.  This is evident from the first battle scene.  I do not remember a whole lot about the initial Transformers run by Marvel Comics, but I do know that it was not nearly as violent and brutal as the first few pages here turned out to be.  While I have obviously become desensitized to comic book violence (I grew up during this time and with these comics so grim and gritty is something I know all too well) it still seems to be overkill to me.  This is especially true because it is the Autobots doing a lot of the killing.  I would expect it to be written in to the Decepticon characters, but seeing someone like Broadside murder an unarmed Decepticon feels out of place. 

                That’s another thing, where modern Transformers comics do a decent job of naming the characters right away so that we know who is speaking, Furman takes his time and aside from the main characters that we all know, it is hard to know who everyone is.  All of the Transformers have a grim and gritty feeling to them (which is probably why we don’t see Bumblebee here as his squeaky clean image would only heighten the out of place-ness of the other Transformer’s new personalities) and while someone like Grimlock seems to embrace that and it really works for his character, it is still odd to see in pretty much all of the others. 

                It feels like Furman is starting to build a large-scale, cosmos-spanning epic that unfortunately didn’t have time to finish properly (the series was cancelled by issue twelve due to poor sales).  A more galactic threat is being put into place for the Autobots to fight which gives the series a grander scale.  There is also trouble on Earth as Megatron is reintroduced in his new tank form with camouflage body paint (a cash-grab for sure). 

                Even though Furman has a double-sized issue to play with, it still feels like he takes a nice deliberate pace for about three-quarters of it and then tries to cram a bunch into the end.  It doesn’t make for a bad reading experience, more like an uneven one.

7/10 – Optimus stays pretty true to form, but some of the second-tier Autobots seem to get the Dark Knight Returns treatment a little too much.  I like the scope of the story and the way Furman packs a lot into the double-sized issue (remember when double-sized issues happened all the time?  I miss those days).

Art:
                Derek Yaniger does a fine job with the art duties on this issue.  Just like the cover it has big robots with big guns throughout, and Yaniger obviously excels at the battle scenes.  The smaller, quieter scenes are equally well done though.  One of the main problems when drawing comics about big, blocky robots is making sure that they don’t look too big and blocky to the point of being stiff and boring.  Yaniger does this very well.  He keeps a lot of action and dynamism in his work even though the main subjects aren’t much more than a bunch of cubes stacked atop one another.  That being said, his humans are a bit goofy looking, just in a stylized way, nothing that takes away from the book (especially since they only appear on one page). 

                The difference between Autobot and Decepticon is apparent in the art as well.  Yaniger does a great job of making the Decepticons, especially Jhiaxus, look evil.  Even with the grimer nature of the “heroes” in this series, you can still pretty easily tell which side everyone is on.  I must say that the coloring on this (by Sarra Mossoff) is great as well.  I love the old school coloring that was just about to be phased out right around this time.  It makes everything pop more than today’s oversaturated palette and does a better job of aiding in page design instead of detracting from it by attempting to be too “real”. 

                I’m not wild about the lettering based solely on the word balloons.  I understand that it makes it easier to separate Autobots from Decepticons by having the balloons look a little different, but I think it’s a gimmick that takes away more than it adds to the comic.

7/10 – This was a well drawn, period specific comic book.  A few missteps here and there doesn’t detract from the overall good job that was done by Derek Yaniger and his team of professionals.

Overall:  7/10 – While the overall direction is not really my forte, I respect what they are trying to do.  Building an even bigger, galactic conflict (something between the all powerful Unicron and the more relatable Megatron) is also something that was well thought out and impressive.     

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Masochist Music Review: Metallica - St. Anger


What can I say, I’m a masochist when it comes to music.  I like to have complete catalogues when it comes to my favorite musicians.  Sometimes this is a good thing (Alice Cooper, AC/DC) but oftentimes it’s not.  Not only that, but I used to fall into the trap of hearing one or two great songs and purchasing a whole album because of it, which sometimes produced a diamond, but usually only coal.  During this series, we will dwell on some of the albums I have in my collection that are downright terrible.  I will re-listen to them all and give you my impression of them.

Now this is only my opinion, so don’t take it as gospel.  If you like a particular album in this series, let me know, we’ll open up a discussion about it.  I’m always open to discussing the merits of any particular album, and if you have any suggestions (and especially if you have the album itself and are willing to share your views) then let me know and I’d be happy to add it to the list.

Album Name: St. Anger

Artist:  Metallica

Release Date: June, 2003

Why you bought it:  It’s a Metallica album!  Unlike most other people, I wasn’t completely turned off by the Load/ReLoad albums and eagerly awaited the new material.  I don’t remember if I heard any new music on the radio before the release of the album, but it would not have deterred me from my purchase.  At this point, the worst album in the Metallica catalog was probably ReLoad, and if they could craft a similar album I was sure that I wouldn’t hate it.

First impressions:  Well, it wasn’t ReLoad, but it also wasn’t good.  I listened to the whole thing, searching for a silver lining (there wasn’t one) and shelved it from there.  This was the album that I took out when I wanted to “get away” though.  It is essentially just noise as there is very little in terms of melody or musical prowess here.  I could crank the volume on this and just forget everything for forty-five minutes (or whatever the run-time is).  While I didn’t enjoy the album at the time, I understood the necessity of having it in my possession.

Impressions upon listening to it recently:  I’m happy to say that I am in a better place and do not need the services of St. Anger.  Unfortunately, without that necessity, I was forced to listen to the album and judge it based on its merits.  This is unfortunate for the album as the merits are few and far between.  The music is a mess and the lack of solos (something that I usually look forward to when it comes to bands with good guitarists) is disheartening.  It almost feels like Metallica made this as a concept album and the concept was “If they thought ReLoad was bad, wait till they get a load (see what I did there) of this steaming pile.” 
Any saving grace?:  Aside from being angry mood music?  Nope. 

Was it worth the purchase?: Not full price, and only if you want all of the Metallica discs, warts and all.  There’s a reason most old Metallica albums still sell at a high price…because they are good!  This is a bargain bin album for sure.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Jacket

And thus begins the last week of the "Volunteer" storyline, which will lead us right into next week's brand new storyline (which the above strip, and subsequent strips this week, will foreshadow).

Friday, August 9, 2013

Aye

And just like that, Shrimpy's workload has doubled, no thanks to that one guy.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Comic Review: Transformers Robots in Disguise #20

                Another Transformer’s book this week?  You bet.  Buckle up.


Cover:
                This issue deals with the aftermath of the Decepticon uprising and the crowning of Starscream as the new ruler of the Transformers (there are no longer Autobot and Decepticon factions allowed within city limits as Starscream has banished all that were unwilling to throw down those monikers).  Fittingly, all of the covers of this issue prominently feature Starscream.  The cover I picked up (the first one visible) had Starscream standing over the fallen body of Metalhawk, Starscreams “friend” that he killed to further his own personal and political agenda during the last story arc.  This is a poignant moment that relates quite a bit to the book itself as the beginning of the story is Starscream speaking to his dead friend, explaining his actions and the motivations for those actions.  I am a big fan of the stark white background and the way that the figures and Starscream’s cast shadow pop out against it. 

                One major thing to look at in terms of a cover is obviously composition.  Is it composed in a way that draws you in, that makes it an interesting image as opposed to just a stock shot of the characters presented?  This cover by Andrew Griffith does that masterfully, combining a narrative with a shot that you don’t always see on covers (a downshot).  The fact that Griffith went with this particular angle also helps to show Starscream’s importance and prominence.  Not only is he the figure closest to us, but if you combine his figure with his cast shadow it makes a larger, almost suffocating presence on the cover, which works well considering the fact that he has that presence in the book at times. 

9/10 – The cover conveys a powerful message about the rest of the book, especially considering that Starscream is standing over the fallen body of Metalhawk as a victor and not kneeling as a friend might do.  This mixes a strong design sense with the ability to tell a story, something most modern covers just don’t do anymore.

Story:
                This definitely feels like a filler issue.  That’s not necessarily meant as a bad thing either.  It’s just the fact that past issues have been so chock full of action and development that a quieter issue like this is going to feel a little weaker by comparison.  I see that John Barber is starting a slow build up to the Dark Cybertron storyline that will be taking over soon, but this issue definitely feels like it is there to get us to the next issue and not much more (until the cliffhanger at the end).   This issue does a good job of wrapping things up from the previous storyline, but it almost feels like the last forty minutes of The Return of the King.  It’s nice to have but it doesn’t really add a whole lot.

                I like the fact that as Starscream has kind of usurped Megatron’s place as leader, he now has a bot come along and take his place in the form of Rattrap.  Someone that is scheming and sneaking and looking out for his own interests, as Starscream had done throughout the entirety of his existence up to this point.  How Starscream deals with Rattrap moving forward is setting up to be an interesting plotline.  Beyond the introduction of Rattrap (and the subsequent actions to show us that he is basically the new Starscream) and the reveal at the end (a fan favorite is not as dead as you thought he was) this was a pretty tame read.

5/10 – It’s setting things in motion, but compared to the last few issues (and especially compared to its sister title More Than Meets the Eye) it feels kind of boring. 

Art:
                Andrew Griffith provides the art here and it is, as always, well executed.  The level of detail that encompasses every page and every panel of the book, along with the ability for Griffith to transpose human emotion on the faces of these hunks of metal makes for a good read.  He does a great job of taking something that can be clunky and hard to emote feel almost human.  There are artists out there that can’t convey that kind of acting and emotion with human characters as well as Griffith can with robots.

                Griffith does tend to dwell in the middleground in terms of his shot selection though.  He doesn’t usually take the camera to the extremes, which can lead to a bit of a stagnant and boring comic at times.  While I understand that an extreme close up is not always necessary in a story like this that is mainly exposition, backing the camera up and giving us an establishing shot, or just letting the characters breathe a little is something that would be both appreciated and welcomed.

                The coloring does tend to get a little muddy at times as well, especially in the outdoor sequences at night.  A dark blue sky against the dark colors of the various Transformers just tends to lead to an overall dark panel or page (and it doesn’t help that Griffith tends to lay out his panels so that they are smaller and have a large white border around the page itself instead of having the images bleed off the page).  This contrast would look good if it didn’t just highlight the fact that the panels themselves were so dark.

7/10 – The linework and actual drawing is as good as ever by Griffith.  I’d like to see more attention paid to pacing the story a bit better and using the wide range of shots available instead of settling into three or four different medium shots.  The coloring is a bit dark and muddy as well.

Overall: 6/10 – This isn’t the best issue of the series but it serves its purpose to get us to the next chapter while putting a bow on the previous storyline. 

Losing Touch

We now have official verbal confirmation that DC Comics has lost touch with their industry.  From the good people over at Bleeding Cool I bring you a recent conversation between Dan DiDio (the head of DC Comics) and Paul Pope:

Paul Pope: “Batman did pretty well, so I sat down with the head of DC Comics. I really wanted to do ‘Kamandi [The Last Boy on Earth]‘, this Jack Kirby character. I had this great pitch… and he said ‘You think this is gonna be for kids? Stop, stop. We don’t publish comics for kids. We publish comics for 45-year olds. If you want to do comics for kids, you can do ‘Scooby-Doo.’ And I thought, ‘I guess we just broke up.’”

For the record, Paul Pope is this guy:


and how awesome would a Kamandi series be if Pope was to create it?  We'll never know now.  Apparently it would need gratuitous sex and violence to appeal to DC's forty-five year old demographic which is obviously not what Pope had in mind when he pitched it.

It actually makes me sick to think that this is an industry that I wanted to work in for so long.  An industry that has become so short-sighted and profit-driven that it can't get out of its own way.  To think that the comic industry (and DC Comics in particular, though I wouldn't be surprised if internally this was Marvel's mantra as well) is going to alienate the kids that will make up its future audience, causing them to turn their attention to television or video games or something else.  There should be a push to get children interested in comic books so that their love of these characters can start at an early age.  

Both Marvel and DC do a good job of bringing in children with their various animated cartoons, however you would think that that would be a vehicle to get children to want to pick up the comic.  If you create a fan and a collector at an early age, you have a cash cow for a long time.  Instead, a kid going to the comic shop looking for the newest Batman comic because they just saw the latest cartoon featuring the Dark Knight, will come across what?  Batman banging Catwoman on a rooftop (Catwoman #1) or Joker's removed face and subsequent torture of the Bat-Family (last year's "Death of the Family" storyline).  If I came across that on a spinner rack as a kid, my parents wouldn't have let me anywhere near comic books.  

Are we, therefore supposed to just pander to kids with comics involving Scooby Doo or Looney Tunes and hope that they like the medium enough to come back to it when they reach an age that is appropriate for the stories being told with the characters they really want to read?  That seems like wishful thinking, and with the average attention span of kids nowadays as short as it is, comics will run out of readers in the next twenty to thirty years as they die off from old age.  Or, they'll alienate the readers that they do have and have no one to replace them with as the children that should be reading comic books are off doing something else.

I don't think I've ever felt so ashamed to be a comic book fan as I do now (and I survived the 90s and early 2000s).  

Thanks DiDio.

Thanks DC. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Kicker

Never underestimate the comedic power of a slug in a hairnet.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Masochist Music Review: Van Halen III

                What can I say, I’m a masochist when it comes to music.  I like to have complete catalogues when it comes to my favorite musicians.  Sometimes this is a good thing (Alice Cooper, AC/DC) but oftentimes it’s not.  Not only that, but I used to fall into the trap of hearing one or two great songs and purchasing a whole album because of it, which sometimes produced a diamond, but usually only coal.  During this series, we will dwell on some of the albums I have in my collection that are downright terrible.  I will re-listen to them all and give you my impression of them.

Now this is only my opinion, so don’t take it as gospel.  If you like a particular album in this series, let me know, we’ll open up a discussion about it.  I’m always open to discussing the merits of any particular album, and if you have any suggestions (and especially if you have the album itself and are willing to share your views) then let me know and I’d be happy to add it to the list.

Album Name: III (aka the one with Gary Cherone)

Artist:  Van Halen

Release Date: 1998

Why you bought it:  I’m a completist, and at the time I thought “How bad could it be, it’s still Van Halen, right?”  Don’t get me wrong, I heard about how bad this album was from anyone and everyone that was a Van Halen fan, but I wanted to make my own decision.

First impressions:  I didn’t want to say that I liked it, because I didn’t.  It didn’t sound like Van Halen (or Cherone’s band Extreme) but as an album in its own right, it wasn’t terrible.  The fact that I didn’t pay full price for it (I must have got it for a couple bucks on Amazon or at a used CD store) helped me to ingest it without feeling cheated.  Cherone just sounds like he’s straining through the whole album in terms of his vocals, and the music itself is far less “Van Haleny” than anything I’ve heard before or since.

Impressions upon listening to it recently:  It’s not the pile of dog shit that I thought it was back in the day, but it’s not terrible.  It’s quite jarring if you’re listening to a Van Halen mix of all the albums and one of these tracks come on.

Best Track:  "From Afar" is okay.  "Fire in the Hole" has a decent groove to it, and sounds probably the most like a Van Halen song.  "Josephina" sounds kind of like an Extreme song, but it just kind of meanders between meh and okay.

Worst Track:  "Year to the Day" doesn’t really showcase Cherone’s vocals in a flattering way (and is downright bad when you get to the chorus).  "Primary" is the poor man’s Eruption.  "The Ballet or the Bullet" is kind of all over the place in terms of content.  The vocals are bad, the music is worse.  "How Many Say I" is terrible.  It’s trying to be deep with the piano intro but just comes across as cheesy, and the vocals are bad yet again.

Any saving grace?:  Maybe that there was only one album with Cherone?  Beyond that, if you can listen to it as its own separate entity you may be able to find a saving grace, otherwise it’s a huge disappointment.


Was it worth the purchase?:  Only because I got it cheap and because I am kind of OCD about being a completist when it comes to bands I like.  Otherwise, nope.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Blockage

It could happen, you never know, especially with some of the food that I've seen come out of hospital kitchens.

Friday, August 2, 2013

That's the Boss

If the head of your kitchen won't put down the McDonald's, it may be time to get a new head for your kitchen.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Comic Review: Transformers More Than Meets The Eye #19

                In light of certain recent financial restrictions, I am only reviewing comics that I would normally purchase during a given week for the foreseeable future.  We dip back into the Transformers well again this week, reviewing the newest issue of probably my favorite book being produced right now.


Cover:
                It took two comic stores for me to even find this issue (Syracuse comic shops, what are you gonna do?) and when I did, I grabbed the last copy available.  I didn’t have my choice of covers, but I think I got the better end of the deal anyway as the Sean Chen cover is very well done.  The cover is actually more than just a pinup of two characters (in this case Whirl and Cyclonus) and actually depicts a part of the story from the comic itself (as many of the Transformers comics tend to do).  All of the angles present here, between swords and Whirl himself do more to help the eye move around the page than they do to hinder it (which is the exact opposite of what you would assume).  Those angles serve to frame the figures and take what could have been a very static, boring cover and jazz it up a bit.  Don’t get me wrong, it still feels a little generic, but the flourishes that Chen provides, including the details on the swords themselves, serve to distract, at least momentarily from the relatively standard cover.

                Something should be said for the linework and detail put into the characters.  While it’s a bit of a departure from what we are used to seeing in the interiors (which are usually left more open for color) this works incredibly well, and I would buy the shit out of a Sean Chen illustrated Transformers book.

8/10 – Incredible art jazzes up a generic cover.  In the hands of a less experienced or talented artist this would have been a flop of epic proportions.  Chen makes it work with an almost Travis Charest level of attention to detail.

Story:
                The art on Transformers comics rarely disappoints, but I’ll tell you something: the writing on this batch of titles is some of the best I have ever read (and I’ve been reading comics for a looooong time).  This issue is right up there with the old Claremount-era X-Men books in terms of fitting so much together into one issue.  James Roberts has been building this universe and everything feels like it is starting to pay off as old mysteries are starting to be solved (what’s up with the lack of memory for Skids) while new and interesting narratives are being started (the fact that Ultra Magnus is an ideal, not a person anymore (that was incredible), the Ratchet/Pharma dick measuring contest that takes an unexpected and unfortunate turn, Whirl and Cyclonus finding and freeing the Circle of Light, and the artist formerly known as Ultra Magnus confronting Tyrest take place in this regular sized issue. All of this is on top of the fact that we are still watching the clock tick down on Tailgate in terms of his life expectancy, and it just keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entire book.

                Roberts does an incredible job of juggling every single storyline without letting any feel jilted in any way.  He takes what could have been mass confusion and chaos and uses that to craft a mood where we feel like we are with the captive Autobots.  He expertly handles every big reveal (and there are a lot of them) while moving the story along naturally and with all of the humor and flair that you are used to when he puts pen to paper. 

10/10 – Roberts continues to live up to the lofty expectations he has put into place throughout the series.  Between plot, pacing and dialogue he is firing on all cylinders.

Art:
                Alex Milne (with inks by Brian Shearer) do an incredible job of keeping the artwork at a consistently high level throughout the book.  The settings are all the same, but there are so many characters and so many moments that you could easily see the art team focusing on their favorites and letting the quality slip in other parts of the book.  Milne is as consistent as they come, providing crisp, clean artwork that works so well with the coloring (done by Josh Burcham) that you would think he does it all himself. 

                Actually, I need to take a minute to single out Burcham because of the work he does on this title.  Milne’s pencils cannot be the easiest things to color and still maintain some semblance of separation based on the lack of solid black in his artwork.  It pretty much all falls to Burcham (there’s not much Shearer can do in terms of spotting lacks without taking away from the style of the artwork in general) to provide us with the feeling of space, grounding each scene in “reality” while also providing separation between objects in the foreground and background (both with so many components that most normal colorists would either go crazy or say to hell with it and just start throwing solid colors around).  Burcham’s design sense as well as his ability to interpret the artwork is something that cannot be understated here.  For a visual sample of that, look no further than the sequence where Whirl and Cyclonus are infiltrating a weapons cache.  There is an alarm sounding and a red light flashing, bathing the entire scene in a red glow.  Without the ability to use various colors as separation mechanisms, the characters tend to get lost in the background elements.  Burcham is kind of hamstrung by the color palette, I understand that, but it does a good job of highlighting what Milne’s artwork could be like in less capable hands.

9/10 – Never underestimate a good artist-colorist combination.  These guys are at the top of their game and the art itself marries perfectly with the script from Roberts to create a cohesive masterpiece.

Overall: 9/10 – There’s a reason this hasn’t relinquished the crown of “favorite comic” in my current library.  All of the creators involved are performing at a high level, and the fact that Hasbro and IDW are letting the characters be (seemingly) killed off and altered significantly shows that they believe in the creators, which goes a long way when it comes to licensed comics.