Monthly Archives: November 2008

Ultimate Fantastic Four: Frightful

I’m not really sure what was done differently, but the latest volume of the Ultimate Fantastic Four managed to be as busy as the last few have been while simultaneously not feeling like each individual story was rushed. If anything, it felt like a return to the madcap days of the ’60s where each storyline lasted for two or three issues and hints of the future or ties to the past bled into each individual magazine; in short, like there was an ongoing, somewhat-planned story arc. It turns out, I really dig that.

Frightful features time travelling adventures in which dimensional spiders stand ready to eat you if you cause a paradox, yet another return of Doctor Doom, recurring super-zombies, and a Lovecraftian threat of world-crushing proportions! Also, whatever has been wrong with the art lately, they sorted that out too. Best book in the series since the first one, as nearly as I can tell.

Death Masks

The awesome thing about reading a Dresden Files book is that I’m guaranteed it will be good, between the quality of the earlier entries in the series and the universal acclaim it has received among my friends who have read them. Plus, reading them spread out like this means I’ll still have new ones ahead of me for at least months, if not years. The downside is that it’s really hard to convince myself to read something else instead once I’m done with one. Like now!

Death Masks follows Harry Dresden[1] as he fights a new battle in the war between the White Council (of wizards, which Harry is one; but you probably knew that) and the Red Court (of vampires, which you may also have known, but not as certainly), a war that some on each side would claim he is single-handedly responsible for starting, himself included. But since that’s not enough action for one book, he also needs to track down the Shroud of Turin[2], wage war against some arch-demons in pursuit of the apocalypse, and sort out his relationship with Susan, former paranormal reporter and current semi-vampire. Plus, quips, a little bit of the inevitable-for-the-setting sexy, and slathered chunks of extreme danger! Read it now! Unless you need to read the earlier ones first, or something.

[1] So, the Dresden Files are among my favorite books, and the Dresden Dolls are among my favorite music. What is it about that little bombed-out German town that holds such massive appeal?
[2] Yes, that Shroud of Turin.

Teeth (2007)

I finally watched another Netflix movie! No, it’s true. Sure, I’ve still got season 5 of Alias sitting on my table waiting for me to watch special features and commentaries and such, but something pretty cool happened. The XBox 360 now lets me stream Netflix movies directly, with neither muss nor fuss. As a test of the system, I snagged a movie I’ve had my eye on for a good long while, Teeth. What I’ve learned is that it’s not worth it to stream things that aren’t in HD, since my player upscales DVDs and the streamy thing does not. But still, the actual movie divorced from the crappy resolution, it was okay.

There’s this girl, right, and she’s involved in one of those teen abstinence organizations. The problem with such organizations, apart from how they disseminate inaccurate and insufficient information regarding sexual health, is that the guys in them are perhaps not as committed as the girls? If this is as true as I suppose, it’s due to the wonders of relative testosterone levels per age of the folks, and not really anyone’s fault; see above regarding sexual health, yes? But, so yeah, she meets this guy, and they have the strong teenage feelings that sometimes result in perhaps more activity than an abstinence organization would approve of. Except, our heroine learns that she is inflicted with vagina dentata, and then she learns that maybe it isn’t such an affliction after all. Hooray for preying on thousands of years of masculine insecurities! Plus, strongest female character in a horror movie since the Ginger Snaps: Unleashed. It was a decent flick, is all I’m saying.

Mirrors (2008)

Some Wednesdays, I make my way to a movie theater and catch up on stuff I’ve wanted but failed to see. There are several such things right now, but some of them are trapped in limited release that conflicts with my schedule, and I found no willing soul who had a preference, so I went for the oldest movie on the list, theorizing I’d be most likely to miss it if I waited. The lucky winner? Mirrors.

Kiefer Sutherland is a cop with a troubled present that has caused his suspension from the force and separation from wife and kids. While trying to put his life back together, he takes a job as a security guard at a burned out department store; only, there are visions in the mirrors, and eventually actions affecting the world outside. And it’s not enough that they are tormenting him. Before very long at all, his entire family is in danger from every reflective surface in the world. And there are kind of a lot of those!

It was surprisingly good, well above my expectations despite a bit of a fall-apart towards the end. Mirrors have a long and creepy history in the movies, and the exploitation of that was done well. Plus, it was nice to see Kiefer not playing Jack Bauer for a little while, even if it didn’t last the entire film.[1] It really had a ton of things I love to see in movies, including urban decay, psychiatric wards, hillbillies, and nuns! Not at all a bad way to kill ten bits and two hours. Although the fat chick in the row behind me who kept sitting all the way forward with her arms and head resting on the back of a seat in my row? That’s kind of weird, right?

[1] I present here an actual line of dialogue from the next-to-last act: “Please don’t make me have to threaten you, ma’am.”

Hack/Slash: Death by Sequel

The second volume of the Hack/Slash series benefitted from my reduced expectations almost as well as as the first suffered by my heightened ones. Where the first one revolved around the origin story and growth as a team of the lead characters, Death by Sequel settles into a more episodic format that seems to better suit the genre they are taking on. And yet, during the two related stories that comprise the volume, it is clear to see Cassie and Vlad’s friendship deepening beyond their working relationship. It’s not the kind of story where they might eventually have a romance, which for my money makes the attention to their closeness all the more impressive.

Also, as you might expect, they wander about trying to kill evil murdering things in the night, so you don’t have to die. And they do so in inappropriate clothing whilst spattering about as much gore as is feasible. So that’s good of them. Still, the best part of the book was the scattering of 3-4 page trailers for “upcoming” storylines. Pitch-perfect parodies of the kind of movie that the actual written stories are based on; I’m not sure whether the stories try to achieve the same level of parody and fall short, or if the authors understand that it wouldn’t be sustainable over the comic’s potential long run. Either way, as lightly enjoyable as the stories are, the trailers were hilarious.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Venom

51Tv0wFlAfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve been reading a lot of Marvel comics lately, as I trust you’ve noticed. Some of them are not so good, some brilliant, but in most all cases, I’ve had a fair bit to say, one way or another. The problem with Venom (and possibly the series in general; I remember this being an issue last time too) is that it can’t be brilliant all the time. Yet, it’s never the least bit bad. Other than saying, “Wow, this was good again, and you should be reading them if you have any taste for the genre at all,” I don’t have a lot to add. Which is a problem, because I can’t really just say that all the time.

On the bright side, Venom had some noticeable awesomeness going on, in the family arena. Still reeling from romantic difficulties and bits of negative public perception, Peter Parker stumbles across some old home videos that lead him to a childhood friend and old research into (depending upon whom you ask) a gel that can cure cancer or a military exo-suit. And these in turn lead him to his first tenuous answers about his parents’ sudden death ten years ago and into the fight of his life.

I’m always a sucker for dark family histories and unfolding mysteries, so that plus the always tight dialogue is more than enough to draw me in. There’s also the stirrings of a theme about the way that people who seem like they might have had identical childhood nurturing and opportunities can nevertheless diverge so drastically, and the parallels between that concept and the divergence of Venom from Spider-Man. But it wasn’t really followed through on, to my eyes; or maybe it wasn’t there at all and the English degree in me is trying to dig it out regardless. Also, though, the final chapter went a long way toward redeeming a character who had previously been tarnished enough that I was looking for ways to dislike him in other Marvel Ultimate titles as well. So that’s nice!

Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra

I’m starting to feel like the Marvel Ultimate universe is suffering from some of the same bloat that, over decidedly more years, plagued its original line. Or maybe I’m just very picky about what I think should count? It’s no secret that I never really got Daredevil or Elektra: the movies were iffy at best, and Daredevil’s appearances and plugs in the stuff I’ve read from the ’60s never really convinced me about the wrongness of my initial impression.  Still, I’m nothing if not an inveterate completist, and having once found this book, it was inevitable that I’d eventually read it.

Sadly, nothing about Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra really changed my opinion in this new age. Although I’m not familiar with either character’s origin story, the plot here was predictable and, frankly, performed much better in the third season of Veronica Mars, without any super powers in evidence. Actually, check that: I do like that neither character appears to have super powers. If the stories are continued somewhere down the line, that could turn into an interesting twist on the rest of the Ultimate universe. But on the whole, the story was muddled. Elektra’s vengeance motives were clear enough, and essentially the strongest part of the story despite the cliché. Her relationship with Matt Murdock seemed both forced and rushed, and ultimately without point; but so did the majority of his presence in the story.

I am forced to admit to a lack of surprise, since that matches my experience of the two characters in the movies as well. I’m sure I’ll read the Elektra-specific sequel too, but for now I’m going to disregard the claim of Volume 1 on the cover, because this book is 5 years old, and volume 2 is nowhere to be found. I guess that means everyone agreed with me?

One last point: the book also included an issue of [non-Ultimate] Daredevil, in the middle of a run and in which nothing of any particular interest happened. However, the art and lettering were extremely experimental in, unusual for me to claim, a good way. So it wasn’t a complete waste of time!

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – Game of the Year Edition

I know objectively that I finish a goodly chunk of games each year, and that I could even demonstrate this via the method of counting back on the tag. And that this does not even take into account the many games I play partially but consistently fail to finish with. Nonetheless, it’s always a bit surprising to me when I do finish one, even one that’s a solid year old by now. Which, okay, is misleading: Call of Duty 4 only took me a couple of dedicated afternoons, and I didn’t start until this past month. Plus, I’m still nominally in the middle of Grand Theft Auto IV[1], and I’m actively about a third of the way through Dead Space. I play stuff, honest!

Aside from spending the money, one of the things that held me back from CoD4 so long was the Modern Warfare tag. For whatever reason, I convinced myself that removing the game from World War II meant there would be a lot of cool new weaponry, sure, but no plot to hang it from. To the contrary, it was as affecting as many war movies I’ve seen, and far superior to anything the franchise has previously put out. Russian and Arabic terrorists with nuclear capabilities, if you’re wondering, but it’s a couple of the characters that really make it pop, plus one incredible scene in which you don’t use a single weapon.

The multiplayer looks like it would be really fun with a sufficient number of players, but at the reduced amount we can usually pull together on any given Monday night, Halo 3 remains the clear champion of that aspect.

[1] Where “the middle” doesn’t appear to have scratched the surface in reality, plus I’m reaching the point where, without a conscious pushing of myself, it will fall by the wayside. I blame this at least in part on the giant pile of new games I want to play: Gears of War 2. Far Cry 2.[2] Saints Row 2. Fallout 3. Left 4 Dead. Even Resident Evil 5, if it’s out early next year as I’ve heard. (And I really need to finish RE4 before that!)
[2] Why did they split it into two words for the sequel, I wonder?

Lucifer: A Dalliance with the Damned

In this third volume of the Lucifer series, story pieces are beginning to fall into place. Lucifer has finally gotten what he’s always wanted: a chance to show up his God by forming a Creation of his own, and doing it better. Better is a nebulous concept in this context, but I think that’s as it should be; clever though the Lord of the Morning Lightbringer is, I doubt he really understands the jealousy and resentment tangled up in his motivations here. Meanwhile, as usual, all creatures great and small scheme against him, up to and including an unsurprisingly jealous God and a possible rift with his constant companion from all the way back to the Sandman days.

Mundane events continue apace as well: many beings are drawn toward Lux, Lucifer’s former nightclub and current gateway to the new Creation; the ever-intriguing Elaine Belloc finds herself in dire straits; and aspects of Hell are explored in the titular A Dalliance with the Damned. As has reliably been the case thusfar, the most interesting themes in the series deal with humanity and free will. How might demons and humans react to a damned soul elevated to equal status within Hell’s hierarchy? How might Adam and Eve have reacted to the sole edict, “Do not worship me. Just be free.”? What might tempt them in such a circumstance?

I can tell this series is just beginning to pick up steam, and it has a doozy of a potential endgame. In theory, Carey may be attempting to settle an irreconcilable difference between two almost equivalent beings with diametrically opposing viewpoints of The Way Things Ought To Be. I’m not prepared to actively compare it with Gaiman’s Sandman, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s a worthy successor.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Sometimes, despite the odds, two people manage to find each other. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a movie about that.

Well, and about music that you are nowhere near cool enough to have ever heard, being played at places that you are nowhere near cool enough to be allowed into. If either (and especially both) of those elements appeal to you, I’m pretty sure you’ll like it. I did.