Monthly Archives: December 2009


Outcast_coverThere’s a new Star Wars series again, set 40 years after the events of the movies, decades past the final fall of the Empire, well past the invasion of an extra-galactic alien armada not affected by the Force, just a few years past a second galactic civil war caused by another Sith lord from the Skywalker line. And this most recent event shows that people are basically the same all over; public sentiment has turned sharply against the Jedi Order in the wake of Jacen Solo’s fall, mostly because political figures are of the opinion that Luke Skywalker should have seen it coming and prevented it.

The truth of that statement, despite its simultaneous unfairness, points Luke and his son Ben on a quest through the galaxy in search of the various Force-sensitive but non-Jedi societies Jacen visited in the years before his fall, to see if they can find any clues. After establishing this premise and hinting at mental illnesses that may be starting to afflict some of the Jedi, Outcast proceeds to… well, to stall out. The first leg of Luke’s investigation is entertaining, as are Han and Leia’s adventures trying to keep a planet from being blown up. (By earthquakes, not Death Stars.) But the pacing back and forth between these stories and the Jedi illness plotline is awkward, and by the end of the book, I felt like it maybe should have been compressed into just a hundred pages with plenty of room for more. Worse, the Han and Leia plotline actually had no apparent bearing on anything else, even though I’m well aware that a seemingly minor event involving their granddaughter will be relevant later on. The knowing and the entertainment just weren’t quite enough to make up for the structural weirdness and the slowness of the pace.

Possibly as part of a straight through read of the nine book series, the pacing would not have struck me oddly, but in the book standing alone: no good. Luckily, I did enjoy the discrete events, so I have no worries about liking the next book, whenever I get around to reading it. (Probably not terribly long from now, as it would be nice to be caught up again.) I guess the majority of my disappointment comes from the fact that Aaron Allston is a known good quantity in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and to see plotting or pacing problems from him, much less both, confuses me more than just any randomly off-kilter Star Wars book would. It’s not like they don’t exist in the wild.

Death: The High Cost of Living

Between the length of the week with various holiday trips and all and the amount of time I’ve spent staring at my own writing while scouring the internet for repairs on this until recently dead site, it’s kind of hard to remember just how I felt about The High Cost of Living. There is a legend that Death must spend a day in every century as a mortal, I guess to better understand her job. And the book is entirely about that day, spent with a Manhattan kid whose ennui would do a French philosopher proud, Mad Hettie from the Sandman series, and a couple of bad guys who hope to capture all of Death’s power while she is mortal and vulnerable. It is fair to say, I think, that there’s not a single character in the story who actually understands what is happening, nor what his or her individual role is to play. Possibly Hettie, but as she’s quite mad, it’s difficult to tell. Certainly nobody else. It is left to the reader to unravel the various skeins of consequence. It’s a good little story, for all that it’s short and confusing. There are aspects I did not understand one bit, but I felt pretty comforted by what I did latch onto.

The last pages of the book are a brief sexual health pamphlet distributed by Death to keep us all from getting AIDS (among other STDs), as, after all, we’ve only got the one life and wouldn’t it be best to keep on living it, and to do so in reasonable comfort and health? You can certainly tell it’s twenty years old, but I like to imagine that it both helped some people and turned some people onto Gaiman’s world that might otherwise have never known to look for it.

State of Delirium

Get it?

Anyway, I’ve been doing this for north of five years. Wow. And you may have noticed over the past week or so that it all went away. There was an unfortunate server incident and an even more unfortunate failure to retrieve data backups for six months. However, Google is sufficiently advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic, and with help from longtime contributor Jason Newquist and longtime reader Mike Kozlowski, and from the Google cache, I have retrieved all of the actual review files, the vast majority of the tags, and all but four of the comments. Everything should look just about the same as it did a week ago when this all happened. I, for one, am relieved. Also, the WordPress instance is now, as I understand it, mailing me weekly site backups to avoid this kind of tomfoolery down the line.

That’s it. Just wanted to catch y’all up, those as wondered at least. Thanks for reading.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Clone Saga

If I thought I could get away with it, the entirety of my review would be “Holy shit.” Because, in contravention of every reasonable expectation I could have had, Clone Saga did not merely maintain the high standards that I have, despite myself, come to expect from the Ultimate Spider-Man series; it surpassed them in every way. Everything else that it crosses my mind to say is, although probably accurate for me as a reader, actually too hyperbolic to put on a page. Suffice it to say, I wish I could do a targeted mindwipe of the book, so I could read it again for the first time, Right Now.

It is my understanding (in fact, there’s an entire introduction discussing it) that this revisits yet another long-celebrated moment in the original Spider-Man continuity. As such, I look forward to it, but I’m glad there will be so many differences, because if it was very similar beyond the essential clone concept, I would be doomed to disappointment. But, okay: in thumbnail, Spider-Man fights the Scorpion at the mall, only to discover that the man inside the suit is Peter Parker! In the aftermath of that stunning moment in the real Peter’s life, Mary Jane gets kidnapped by… but that would be telling; and Nick Fury declares war on Spider-Man, a move that could well be his biggest mistake. And honestly, I’m barely scratching the surface.

And, I know I’ve said this before, but, my God, Aunt May. Simply amazing.

Mirror’s Edge

So, it is celebration time here at Wit’s End[1], because I finished another videogame. Woohoo! Mirror’s Edge is a light, breezy even, rush of a game. You are a runner, tasked with moving information along the rooftops of The City at blinding speeds, using native instinct to know when you can make a jump between buildings or clear an obstacle. What exactly the information is, or why it needs to be moved discretely, or why the cops usually don’t bother the runners, these questions are never really addressed. The only thing that matters is, things have changed, times are suddenly far more dangerous, and it’s up to you to unravel the mystery!

Luckily, the gameplay, which consists of a constant barrage of running, jumping, ducking, dodging and weaving that optimally should never involve gunplay[2], is more than exciting enough to make up for the tragically thin plot. It’s not so bad that the information above is missing, except that it quickly becomes central everything you’re doing, and I feel like I might have gotten more engaged in the story if I’d known why the bad guys wanted to wipe out the runners, or even what [else] exactly they had done to become the bad guys in the first place. I kind of started to get distracted during the cutscenes, because they weren’t really making enough sense to me. Or else the distraction caused me to miss something vital? Yeah, I just don’t know. But the game itself, divorced from all these concerns? I say again: pretty good stuff.

Man, I really need to play an RPG now, though. If only I actually had a new one in my house. Maybe next month!

[1] That is what I call my home. There is even a sign!
[2] Although I acknowledged my lack of utility against the heavy gunners early on and started blasting away at need; but you’re just so slow-moving with a gun, they clearly intend you to have avoided them, and I always felt like I was letting the game down a little bit whenever I pulled a trigger.

Ultimate X-Men: Cable

I have made mention several times over the past few months that the Marvel Ultimate series has an expiration date that, according to my bookshelf, I seem to be approaching. But it hasn’t felt like that in the depths of the storylines, right? Which is one of the reasons that Cable caught me by so much surprise that it has caused me to rethink the Ultimate X-Men series as a whole. More on that in a sec, but what made me start thinking about the Ultimatum again is how much finality and apocalypticism Kirkman brought to the table this time. There’s this guy Cable, see, and he has come from the future to kill Charles Xavier and thereby prevent said future from ever occurring, probably because it sucks? This is information I have not yet been specifically given, so. All the same, the situation felt like the first pebble of an avalanche, in a way that nothing previously has.

Which I guess ties into what I meant about rethinking the UXM series. Obviously I’ve been fine with the development of Spider-Man. The Ultimates are busy with one nation-threatening event after another, and the Fantastic Four skip jauntily from one sci-fi menace to the next, but neither group has built up much in the way of continuity. (The Ultimates would I think have built more, if only more had been written about them.) The X-Men, though… some I’ve liked, many I haven’t liked very much, but I never really looked at the series as a cohesive unit before, and I have to admit, for all the individual episodes I haven’t cared much about, the whole of it stands together really well. Somewhere along the way, no question, I started caring about these characters. If I’m right about this being the first signpost of things to come, I’m glad it happened here. Spider-Man’s story is too personal for world-shaking events, and the others are too scattered.

Guards! Guards!

This is the point at which, if I understand conventional wisdom, the Discworld novels start to become “good”. Also, more incidentally, this is probably the first Discworld book I ever read, far back in the depths of junior high. (All I remembered is the “mllion to one shot” gag, so, it was basically like reading it all over again.) And most incidentally of all, I’m pretty sure it’s the farthest I had read into the series, so everything from here on will be entirely new, cultural zeitgeist notwithstanding. Anyway, that “good” thing, though: as much as I have enjoyed the last several books on their own merits, Guards! Guards! definitely has some barely definable adult quality that the previous books have not had, though some have grasped at it.

In addition to first introducing Ankh-Morpork’s city night watch and its world-weary, heroic-in-spite-of-himself Captain Samuel Vimes, a group character study that could have carried a book with no plot whatsoever, the novel also for the first time superficially grazes the inner political workings of the city at the dark, ulcerated heart of the Disc. It asks and perhaps answers the essential question of whether democracy or monarchy ought best be left to run amok through the lives of a citizenry that barely comprehends either and tends to cheer whichever of the two it has seen least recently. Also, and here is the only point at which it diverges from any standard reality to which you may be accustomed, there is a dragon.

Hack/Slash: Reanimation Games

The thing about a cheesy 80s-slasher-movie-themed comic, albeit with modern sensibilities regarding every aspect of the actual content, is that there’s only so much praise you can sing. I can tell you about the skillful way that each volume weaves together seeds planted in previous issues into a new tapestry of angst, obsession and gore, all the while planting new seeds for future volumes. I can gesture emphatically at the art, which is always clear and articulate without wandering off into post-modern regions that elevate experimentation above functionality, and which also provides occasional cheesecake. But these descriptions are quite generic, however heartfelt the sentiment that underlies them, and when you peel them away, Hack/Slash is still a cheesy 80s-slasher-movie-themed comic. And for the general mass of graphic novel audience out there, you were already sold or turned off by that line of description, irrespective of the actual contents.

For the vanishingly small group of people who care, Reanimation Games is focused primarily on the culmination of Cassie Hack’s search for her father, who ironically has built his career around the study of the causes behind and uses of the very slashers that Cassie has hunted and destroyed ever since her mother first turned into one. Detours along the way include encounters with the scientist guy from the Re-Animator movie series and with the Suicide Girls[1], and the usual careful examination of the trials and triumphs of Cassie’s small circle of friends. I guess what surprises me with each new volume is not that I’m entertained; it’s nice, easy brain candy in exactly my flavor. No, what surprises me is that it’s good enough that I want people to see it as the small step above brain candy into genuine quality that it consistently achieves.

[1] If you don’t know, these are not a mysterious cult nor movie shout-out, but instead a generally tastefully gothy porn collective that you will not I think have very much trouble finding on the internet, if you were to put your mind to it. For some reason, Cassie has been considered sufficiently gothy-attractive for the comparison to be made, and for some reason, the creator decided that, hey, sounds like a good crossover to me! And here we are.

Ultimate Annuals Volume 2

I know this is supposed to be a review of the second (and I suspect final) volume in the Ultimate Annuals series. But it’s not so much a series as it is a collection of the oversized annual edition of each of the four major Ultimate serieses, and unlike last time, I’ve read most of these recently. Like, the X-Men story is I think the most recent thing I’ve read in that run, in which Nightcrawler goes from an unfortunately prejudiced dude who needs to have a good lightbulb moment to a disturbingly broken kidnapper who is probably on the verge of defection to evilness, over the next storyline or two. Or the Fantastic Four story in which Mole Man returns with a new plot to kidnap geniuses and harness them for his own uses. Okay, that one was pretty good, but I’ve already reached the end of the Ultimate FF run (save for the Ultimatum stuff), and it didn’t actually have the payoff it seemed like it should have had later on, so I am retroactively a little disappointed in it. Plus, the only story that isn’t collected in another book I’ve already read, in which Captain America and that Falcon guy from Ultimate Galactus head into the post-war American landscape[1] to fight an old Nazi menace? It kind of bored me. I think I blame this on it being the first Ultimates story I’ve seen that wasn’t written by Mark Millar. He’s good at those!

So, okay, yeah. Pretty disappointing book all in all, though I have given unfairly short shrift to the FF story. Except, y’know, Spider-Man. His story, which you may recall me choosing not to review when I read Deadpool earlier this week, is another clash between Peter Parker, Daredevil, and the Punisher. Except, right, I never read the original such clash because it was somehow left out of the three Ultimate Marvel Team-Up books in which comics-run it occurred. Luckily, someone eventually released a giant collection of that entire run in one book, making my three individual volumes obsolete. So, I read the three comics in question out of that, just to feel caught up. In short, across pages of annoyingly impressionistic artwork, we’re introduced to the Punisher, cop-turned-vigilante who hunts and kills dirty cops and dirtier criminals and spends most of his time in jail for said vigilantism, and Daredevil, blind lawyer with super-heightened alternate senses that allow him a better grasp of the world than any civilian and most superhumans. And Pete puts the Punisher back in jail while annoying the snot out of Daredevil for his happy-go-lucky attitude and his penchant for jumping into the middle of things first and asking questions later. (Which is I guess why Nick Fury is annoyed by him too. Also Blade.[2])

So, anyway, in this follow up meeting (Also including the Moon Knight (who I still have no kind of handle on), the Kingpin (still a magnificently realized bastard), and Kangaroo (uh…)), Daredevil still finds Spider-Man annoying and the Punisher still finds him detrimental. But none of that is really the point. The point is this: there’s been a long-term piece of plot involving the new[3] police captain, Jeanne de Wolfe, that I haven’t ever mentioned partially because it’s been largely in the background and partially because, well, any amount of detail places us squarely in spoiler city. But the thing is, as much time as I spend talking about how great the USM series is, right? This is just on a day-to-day basis. In the meantime, there are these deep undercurrents spanning something like half of the series to date that I’ve never even felt the need to mention. And of course there’s an inevitable huge payoff, that leads me to have to jump back into two paragraphs of review material just to explain how even an oversized single comic in this series is still so very cool. This is why I can’t stop gushing, no matter how hard I try to hold myself back. Because it’s just always this good.[4]

[1] Yeah, for serious, I really really need to do a quick reread of the four Ultimates titles that have been released so far, ’cause I barely have any idea what’s up in that quadrant of the Ultimate universe anymore, and I’m starting to reach the point where everything really does tie together. Maybe I’ll do one mega-review? Maybe not, depends on how it strikes me I guess.
[2] Yeah. The half-vampire guy. Seriously.
[3] The old captain was Gwen Stacy’s father, up until he was shot and killed by a guy in a Spider-Man costume. Good times!
[4] And the last page or two, in which Daredevil has a conversation with the Moon Knight guy? I’ve learned my lesson and mention it now, as I expect it to be the next major undercurrent.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Deadpool

I almost wish, if only for half a moment, that Bendis would write a bad, nay, even a merely mediocre run of Ultimate Spider-Man, just so I’d have something new to say. “It’s just so good! You’ll love it!” Whatever, man. I’m losing all credibility over here. But, okay, why do I love it this time? I have an answer to that. Now and again, one of the series will focus on a character with whom I’m unfamiliar, and the author will seem to be so proud of having worked that character into the Ultimate continuity that the book just coasts on recognition factor without really trying to be actually good in its own right. In fairness, that plan has worked on me when I did recognize whatever new character it was, but for the many times when I do not, the laziness outshines everything else.

Except this time, not so much. I’m not particularly familiar with Deadpool, and really all I know about him is that in the Wolverine movie earlier this year, he was maybe kind of indestructible? That character is largely dissimilar to this one, in any event. But, and here’s the part where I fulfill the inevitable gushiness quotient, Bendis went ahead and wrote a fine plot around the advent of Ultimate Deadpool. See, Spider-Man gets mixed up in a plot to murder the X-Men on broadcast television[1], and this guy Deadpool is the main hunter. But despite all kinds of mutant powers and explosions of exactly the types that a superhero comic needs to have to maintain credibility[2], most of the focus is on Peter and the delightfully unconfident Kitty Pryde, his recent paramour. Because, as has consistently been the case throughout the USM run, Peter Parker’s life is the important thing; super-villains and web fluid alike take the back seat. This is why it works. But also, Aunt May has a hot date, so I guess maybe it isn’t always about Pete after all. Then, for a change of pace, vampires! And more friendship trouble with Mary Jane! And the Kingpin! But I’ll glance at that last bit in my next review.

[1] Which is actually a callback to a previous UXM storyline, but I forget which one. It was alright, in any event.
[2] Unlike me, you see, is the thread tying this review together.