Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reflections of... Southeastern Conference (SEC) dominance

The past two weekends combined to be one of the few situations where a person could reasonably say "Out of chaos, there came order."

Sorry, SEC fans. My boys get top billing!
Two weeks ago, the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game looked like a chaotic montage of horror. Three teams sat with undefeated records and a serious claim to a title shot. What's more, the SEC had none of them, which meant that the statistically strongest conference in the BCS era could only get in via total B.S. move.

And then Baylor decided to take pride in their team and blew out No. 1 Kansas State. Minutes later, No. 2 Oregon fell at home in overtime to Stanford.

Finally, despite a big-time scare in Los Angeles, Notre Dame – No. 3 two weeks ago, No. 1 since – took down Southern California in a rivalry game to be the only eligible undefeated team in line for a title shot.

Meanwhile, now-No. 2 Alabama shut out rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl to clinch a spot in the SEC title game, and now-No. 3 Georgia completed an 11-1 regular season by crushing rival Georgia Tech.

I do love the classics.
This sets up an SEC title game between 'Bama and Georgia with the winner very clearly getting the title shot against Notre Dame. While people on this blog know I have no respect for the BCS, surely we can all agree that this is the absolute top 2, right?

I thought so, but the answer actually is: Wrong. Fans of Kansas State (now No.6), Oregon (No. 5) and No. 4 Florida are now beating their chests that they should have the shot.

Oh, and Ohio State, who sits at No. 4 in the Associated Press' poll and is the only other undefeated remaining, thinks they should be considered best in the country.

Let me get my lesser thoughts out of the way before tackling the main issue. Yes, I am an Irish Catholic who loves Notre Dame football. Yes, I'm thrilled they went undefeated. I've said many times that teams who go undefeated should take precedence in this system REGARDLESS OF CONFERENCE AFFILIATION OR LACK THEREOF, so I'm all for this.

Ohio State certainly can make that claim, but because of their bowl ban, not only can't they play for the title, they aren't even allowed in the Big Ten title game to prove they are the best in their conference. They're grade will always be incomplete, and given that what they've accomplished so far looks like a cruise through Easy Mode, I can't say that they have had a truly perfect season or are a champion of any kind. So goes their punishment, I suppose.

And as to Florida, I do respect that their schedule shames Alabama and Georgia's. I respect that their loss was far more respectable than the other two. But the fact is, they lost to Georgia head-to-head and did not win their division. I only recognize conference champions or undefeateds as having a claim to a title shot when only two spots are open. I didn't buy Alabama's title claims a year ago, and I don't buy yours now.

Oregon: Please insert your loss and name into the last three sentences and reread if you would like to keep moaning.

For some reason, the angle of this K-State cheer
shot really jumped out at me...
Lastly, I come to Kansas State, and this is the point of this blog. The Wildcats could actually have a real claim.

K-State took out every team in front of them, and their schedule to this point has been more impressive than Alabama's, which was two tough games, nine pushovers and whatever the hell you consider Michigan to be. (I say legitimate team well below a contender's standards.)

By contrast, K-State has wins over TCU in Fort Worth, Miami (yes, they aren't that good, but they're at least Michigan quality) and both Oklahoma schools. And their blowout loss is as lopsided as Georgia's.

But ultimately, Alabama/Georgia will have a win over the other, and the SEC has earned a benefit of the doubt regarding its teams.

Don't think so? Let's look at the stats. Below in the left column are the BCS champions since its 1998 inception. In the right are my personal champions because I didn't recognize the title game for some reason:

1998Tennessee (SEC)Tennessee (SEC)
1999Florida State (ACC)Florida State (ACC)
2000Oklahoma (Big 12)Oklahoma (Big 12)
2001Miami (Big East)Miami (Big East)
2002Ohio State (Big Ten)Ohio State (Big Ten)
2004USC (Pac-10)Auburn (SEC)
2005Texas (Big 12)Texas (Big 12)
2006Florida (SEC)Boise State (WAC)
2008Florida (SEC)Florida (SEC)
2009Alabama (SEC)Alabama (SEC)
2010Auburn (SEC)Auburn (SEC)
2011Alabama (SEC)LSU (SEC)

Told you I don't recognize non-champions if a viable champion is available, and I don't recognize non-undefeateds if an undefeated is available. Also, USC was heavily overvalued in 2003.

Bottom line, however, is that in 14 seasons, the SEC has produced more than half of the champions. One more would guarantee that the non-playoff BCS era would have more SEC national champions than non-SEC national champions.

It's not a fluke. It's not a conspiracy. The SEC, for years now, has had more elite competition at the top of its conference than any other conference. Most of the time, it was even strong in its weak links.

This year is not one of those times. Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee epitomize the back-end of Division 1-A football this year, only comparing favorably with bottom-feeders in the Big East, Big Ten, ACC and non-AQ conferences. Missouri, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are OK but are not near high-caliber competition, and while Vanderbilt is good, they're not a huge threat to a title contender.

That's one reason I give K-State's claim some credence. The Big 12 is deeper. Except for Kansas, who could compete with UNLV for some grand award of basketball-to-football transitional failure, every other team in the conference has skills.

West Virginia has the disadvantage of being the kind of team Big 12 systems devour, and they still reached the middle of the standings. Baylor is eighth- or ninth-best and took out a title contender on their home field, a feat similar to Vandy beating a top SEC school this year, in my opinion.

If all but one team in your conference is average or better in another conference, they look pretty good. Heck, I've used K-State's argument before to justify TCU over Oregon in 2010. The Mountain West's teams compared favorably in most match-ups with their counterparts in the then-Pac-10 standings.

But here's the difference: TCU and Oregon could only be compared on conference strength and non-conference schedule strength (which TCU also won. Seriously, TWO 1-AA opponents, Ducks?). They had no losses to compare against. These teams do.

If Kansas State pointed to signature wins, they'd have Oklahoma and maybe Oklahoma State. TCU, (possibly) Texas and Miami are their next three best wins and no matter how those are sliced, they lose luster when taken with a blowout loss to a decisively inferior opponent.

Will the Tide Roll for 3 times in 4 years?
If Alabama won next week, they'd have wins over LSU and Georgia, and their next three best wins over Missouri, Michigan and one of the Mississippi schools compared to a five-point loss to a top-10 elite: Texas A&M.

If Georgia won next week, their blowout loss to top-10 elite South Carolina (who was at full health at the time) would have to compare with the Bulldogs' wins over Florida, Alabama and their next best three: Missouri, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.

Losing to elites in the SEC is almost expected nowadays. And while the Big 12 has more good teams, the SEC does have more elite teams ('Bama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, LSU and Texas A&M) than they do (K-State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State if reaching).

This is the same reason Oregon has no claim. Even if you discount the fact that they can only finish third in their conference at best, I can't pinpoint one single solitary win that looks elite. Oregon State comes closest, and it's overshadowed by a home loss against Stanford, the only absolute elite on their schedule.

Or will a 6th SEC team have a shot at
The Big One?
And if a conference as dominant historically as the SEC maintains this well at the top, they've earned a smidge of Benefit of the Doubt that the middle schedule is better than we gave it credit for. Heck, last week, the SEC blew the barn doors off of four ACC squads, two of which will face off for the conference's title. That tells me there's still something there.

I get people don't like the SEC and think it is overrated, but until they have fewer than six elites in one year, or another conference starts proving themselves, it's hard to argue against it.

If I was going by whose resume (regardless of titles) was most impressive, Florida would get the shot.

If I was going by who has played the best football from start to finish, Texas A&M would get the shot.

And if I was going by the system I've seen, where the season is supposed to be a playoff, and only champions and undefeateds should EVER be considered, the Alabama-Georgia winner would get the shot.

No matter how you slice it, the game next January will be the right one.

(He said before he realized the lower-ranked team could win and not jump the higher one.)

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Death of the Family Part 5: Catwoman #14 (and Amazing Spider-Man #698)

So in my earlier blog today, I mentioned that I felt I read two pretty good books, and two utterly annoying books. Well, I reviewed the good ones, and now, here are the others.

Catwoman #14

While reading this, I could only think one thing:

Every few pages, I needed to review what I had read in order to figure out what the hell was going on. And you know what, I still couldn't figure it out completely!

So what I could understand was that Joker put a bomb on a kid, and Catwoman agrees to go "to hell" with him so the kid can go free.

And then he takes her and the kid... and THEN lets him go! Why would a Joker this psychotic take that course of action? I mean, Joker's actions can be random, but this just didn't seem to fit right.

And then he binds Catwoman to a machine and leaves her in an homage to EVERY VILLAIN EVER. She, of course, gets free, but passes out only to have Joker making out with her.

The main point of this is clearly that Joker wants Catwoman to go back to being a pure villain against Batman (something I've been rooting for!), but she doesn't seem very receptive to the idea.

Possibly the dumbest thing this book tries to theorize is that Joker is in a sado-masochistic relationship with Batman and he wants to be his Bat-b****. Why is this even in the crossover. This is just moronic.

I can honestly say I have no desire to ever pick up a Catwoman book again after this. There were some nice Joker techniques in here (like the spray in Catwoman's suit that triggers temporary rigor mortis), but they are wasted here in beyond stupid plot.

If you're not collecting all the DOTF issues, avoid this thing like the plague!

Amazing Spider-Man #698

OK, so most of my readers know I don't often read or review Marvel. My issue is simple: While I like the heroes, I find that their efforts to make readers relate to their heroes wind up making them come off as whiny and unlikable.

Their focus on events and crossovers don't help either. Civil War made Iron Man seem like a douche. AVX made Cyclops seem like a douche. And then there's Spider-Man.

I will acknowledge that I love Spidey and he is my favorite Marvel character. His first movie revitalized the comic movie industry. The sequel set the new standard for comic films (until the Dark Knight Trilogy topped it). And his cartoon series was truly amazing.

Unfortunately, the comics have been a weak point for a while. Although I keep up with the storylines, I have struggled to even somewhat desire picking up a book since "One More Day" hit the series like an electroshock to the 'nads.

All of that said, today started the final arc before Amazing Spider-Man #700/the final Amazing Spider-Man/the end of Peter Parker's tenure as Spider-Man. As such, I felt it was time to give the books a once-over.

And I can already tell I'm going to be pissed off.

Spidey narrates his portion in a near-verbatim rip-off of "Spider-Man 3." Turns out Doc Ock is about to die and is asking for Peter, and Peter is busy stopping a fake supervillain.

Some of his dialogue is the traditional Spider-Man wit, but a lot of it is also total arrogance and he actually starts to come off as an ass.

Then he comes by Mary Jane Watson's club, and the two tease that OMD might get broken somehow. (But as the end will show, Mephisto/Marvel Creative ain't letting that happen!) Oh and Aunt May is found to be recovering from yet ANOTHER ailment, as her ability to walk is returning.

The final part of this book is Spidey going in to see Ock and this scene... this scene is upsetting. Don't get me wrong: It's interesting and I want to see where it goes. But I have no faith in Marvel's creative team to do something good with this. I don't expect an explanation to whatever the hell just happened. I don't expect Peter to survive this. I don't even expect that death to stick for more than a year or two AT MOST.

I would buy this, but be very wary that this arc could very well turn out to be either an all-time great storyline that gets alienated Marvel fans back into the books - OR it could be an utter failure of catastrophic proportions that makes it hard to take Marvel seriously. They are taking THAT BIG a risk with this plot twist. 

It all hangs on you now, Marvel. You've got my attention. Don't f*** this up.

Comic Book Reviews: Nightwing #14 and Red Hood & The Outlaws #14

You know, it's kind of weird. The third Wednesday of the month had been my favorite day for new comics, but now that Batman is on the second Wednesday, it's been kind of a disappointing follow-up.

Not that I haven't liked Nightwing and Red Hood's ventures, but when something so emotionally deep like Death of the Family is going on in Batman and Batgirl's main books, it's hard to compete.

But this month, while they're not perfect, I bought four books today, and two were really fun rides. (And two were complete B.S., but I'll get to those in my next post.)

So let's get to the reviews!

Nightwing #14

As I expected, Lady Shiva had her storyline finished up before the issue was over. This is my main complaint with the book, though it's alleviated somewhat by the fact that Shiva will clearly be a player in this book (or at the very least, another member of the Bat-family's book) at some point in the future.

The other major complaint I have is that Dick's insistence that she answer if she's working for Joker felt like they were forcing the connection in. Granted, in this case, it turned out that Shiva was working for someone else, so I didn't have a moment of total irritation like I did in Batman and Robin 14.

Other than those issues, though, this was a pretty nice read. A villain from a few months back was mentioned to connect back to the DOTF storyline, and it felt like a nice way to round out the story.

Dick's detective work and connection to his fellow circus folk was a nice touch, and a nice job has been done in making me care about Sonia as both a competent worker and a possible love interest.

Overall, it's not a high-priority buy, but if you're a fan of Nightwing, you'll definitely want to grab it. It's a nice chance to see Dick Grayson at his most awesome.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #14

The trio's return to Earth and its interruption by Superman served as an interesting piece of filler before connection to DOTF. And that's really what this was: filler.

The first third of the book is all three of the title characters being arrogant and militant against Superman, and he basically just brushes them off. I get that Superman is really impressive and all, but Starfire is a war commander and Jason has fought with Batman - this group should have been able to launch a better strategy than charging Superman while he basically behaves like he said "Come at me, bro!"

The fight scene is pretty awesome, though, and Superman didn't come off as completely above their depth, so I'm not knocking it too hard.

It ends when Isabel points out that they are, in fact, all being insane, and we get the second act of the book: utter pointlessness. Ok, I'm exaggerating in that this will probably turn into a Superman-RHATO crossover later, but it felt like Superman just introduced his storyline into this book for a few pages, so it really felt more like a teaser for the next Superman book than anything else.

Until we get to the third act, which served as a teaser for DOTF. The possible death shown here actually has me nervous because I'll be genuinely upset if it turns out to be legit.

I also want to compliment the little fan service Scott Lobdell worked in by giving a 1989 Batman "Jack Napier" reference. I give you credit, good sir.

Overall, the comic has everything: humor, action and actual fear/sadness. What weakens it is that it's basically a teaser for one book and possibly two crossovers. That said, it's executed really well and it's worth a look, if not a buy.

Now stay tuned to this blog, where I will go off on some stupid, stupid decisions in other books, specifically in this week's DOTF crossover book.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Batman & Robin #14 and Batgirl Annual #1

Death of the Family has been absorbing my comic focus, but there were some other stories that I checked out... and still somehow they tied back into the thing!

Well, let's get down to business (to defeat *smash**swish* the Huns!)

Batman and Robin #14

What do zombies have to do with the Joker? Absolutely nothing! And yet somehow, the Joker is responsible for a zombie invasion... Anyone else see a problem with this premise?

I really am not that much of a fan of the zombie invasion genre. There are plenty that I do enjoy, but they do need to be something special. And this felt, well, generic.

Nothing is more irksome in a comic than a line repeated ad nauseum, and having to read "Eat to live" that many times was really annoying.

The initial reveal of who was doing this stuff wasn't bad but certainly wasn't good, and when they gave a second reveal of who was behind the first reveal, it got nonsensical and insane.

How you manage to tie this thing back into Death of the Family is truly a feat of mental gymanstics that shouldn't have been attempted. Peter Tomasi is better than this, and he needs to get back to doing his own thing after this crossover ends.

The only real positives were the art, which Pat Gleason is clearly enjoying doing given all the detail he puts into this; Damian's underground railroad, as this planning and care for innocents really showed why I like Damian as Robin; and the last few pages with Bruce and Damian. That was some of the best authentic emotion I've seen in a Bat-book this whole month, and that's impressive with what's out there.

I wouldn't advise this book to buy, but skim it since it will be part of the DOTF crossover next month and knowing Tomasi he's going to try to play up this bizarre storyline somehow.

Batgirl Annual #1

There should still be copies of this in most comic stores, which is a shame because it is a good story.

I get why. The $4.99 price tag is a lot to ask, especially for a Bat-family member whose book has been inconsistent recently. But I'll say this: It's really worth checking out.

Three storylines collide here, as Batgirl, Catwoman and Mary, the mute Talon from Batgirl #9, all have really nice pieces that combine to form a really fun narrative.

Batgirl is seen saving innocents from a burning building being set off by homeless people, and seeing a pattern of arson, she goes to the carjacker she rescued in the last arc for information. After covering for him by making out for him (one of the funnier moments in the book thanks to Barbara's commentary), she's off to face the man responsible.

Meanwhile, Catwoman has been hired by the same man to break Mary out of Arkham Asylum. Jim Gordon is played really well here, not tolerating any commentary from the guard that disabilities make someone less human or less intelligent, a nice callback to Barb's situation.

From what I could gather, most Talons (they think all) were caught by Gotham PD and are under cryogenic freezing. Mary was the exception – I assume because Batgirl recommended that she could be of help or productive.

Catwoman gets her out and actually strikes up a friendship with her when she learns of Mary's history. I really liked how Gail Simone wrote Selina in this book. If you've been disappointed by Catwoman's portrayal in her book (I'm sure you are.) this is the best you'll see of her for a while.

The only real flaw here is that the art is inconsistent. I'm not sure who did the fire scene, but that was brilliant, and I really wish one artist could have been contracted for this.

I won't spoil the reveal, but it should be clear who (or what) is responsible for all this. I'm cool with it. I liked the story and although I don't want a full-fledged arc anytime soon, this tied a loose end nicely.

I don't like that they tease to Birds of Prey to finish Mary's story, but since she's already being revealed for that team, I guess I know what's coming.

A book this price is hard to recommend, but it's an all-around fun read that should at least be looked over in the store.

See you for more DOTF coverage next week along with my usual Nightwing and Red Hood reviews!

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Death of the Family Part 4: Batgirl #14 and Suicide Squad #14 reviews

Sorry for the busy amount of blogs coming up, but the greatness of Batman #14 required its own review.

Now, on to the remaining DOTF crossover books this week!

Batgirl #14

On any other week - any - this would have been the strongest book in the bin. Honestly, in many ways, this book has a more interesting storyline in place because of Barbara Gordon's history with the Joker.

Much like the Court of Owls could be seen as both a Batman and Nightwing story, Death of the Family feels like both a Batman and Batgirl story. Gail Simone has done well to keep Barbara's history in each issue so that this showdown feels like a true culmination of events.

Barbara comes to realize what has happened to her mother, and upon being attacked she goes from terrified to enraged quickly. She is very clearly on the brink of being unable to stop herself from going on a murderous rampage, and that feels apparent the whole way through.

Ultimately, it is revealed that what she perceived to be happening was not the actual turn of events, and she ends up coming face to face with the Faceless One himself, who ends the book with a kind-of cliche but nonetheless compelling finish.

Joker is written just as he is in Snyder's book, so this really feels like it's part of the same story, which is great. And the twists really take a reader for a loop, especially when it's revealed who Barbara has been in communication with. It raises questions, but I'll give Ms. Simone time to let it develop.

My only real issue with this book was that the artwork didn't feel as strong. The replacements did a nice job, but not amazing, and juxtaposed against the Batgirl Annual (which I finally got to read and will review this week), it was really shown to be a less-than-excellent effort.

Overall, this book gets a high recommendation from me. It's certainly a must-buy. Is it as good as Batman #14? No, but honestly, I wasn't expecting anything to be.

Suicide Squad #14

Ok, full disclosure: I know nothing of this team. I have the basic premise and the fact that Harley Quinn has been on the team since early in the New 52.

As such, I'm only going to give basic thoughts on the non-crossover portions. And that works out perfectly since that's all but the first and last scenes.

Amanda Waller reads like a total b****. Sorry to say it, but I was just irked by the character to no end. The line about being accommodating equaling weakness deeply offended me and she came across as disgustingly irresponsible.

The rest of the team was involved in storylines that made no sense to me as a new reader and I frankly did not care about anyone in the book to look further into their stories.

The only part of this book I came for was Joker and Harley. The first scene connected itself to Batman #13 and gave nice background, but really added nothing.

Honestly, more than 90 percent of this book was either inaccessible to me or just pointless nonsense. The only things that make this worth buying is the awesome die-cut cover with Joker's face over Harley's, and the final scene, which gives just enough incentive to pick up the final Suicide Squad crossover issue to see what's next for Harley.

Unless you're collecting all the DOTF books, this is one to avoid. You gain very little from it and although I won't say it definitively because I don't know the book, it's not a very good or even pleasant read.

Death of the Family Part 3: Batman #14

I think it's safe to say that all three of these books will be nearly sold out of most stores by the time they all open tomorrow morning.

Heck, I had to go to multiple stores to find Suicide Squad, and that one is of the least consequence in the crossover this week.

The proper reading order for these three issues is Batgirl, Batman and Suicide Squad, but I'll review Batman first since that is the one I know you're opening this page to see.

Batman #14

Really, what the hell else can I say that isn't already plastered on a million other sites? I'm glad I saved this book for last because I had my fill of reading material after reading this one; nothing was topping it.

It's like when Shawn Michaels had his WrestleMania match with Bret Hart and he yelled "Top that!" to his wrestling brethren when he went to the back, only to remember that he was the main event.

Yes, Scott Snyder is the Shawn Michaels of Batman writers right now. If you thought that the hype of this being the next great Batman-Joker story was overblown, you are really hoping for an awful payoff now because this was a home run in every sense of the term.

The book opens with Batman trying to make a daring escape from the clutches of Harley Quinn, only to lead to a chilling scene where Bruce is wandering his mansion, getting progressively unsettled every second that he can't find Alfred.

The audio tape and the art around it really captures the pathos Snyder was going for and Greg Capullo should be given a freaking medal for his work on this one.

Every scene hit. The attack on Gordon, the dialogue with Nightwing, and especially the rehashing of the first Joker-Dynamic Duo clash ever were brilliantly executed. I especially love how Joker pointed out he knew how the first mission went so well that he just skipped to the end of the clash ahead of time.

But what I think really hits the mark in this book is that Snyder truly understands the Batman-Joker relationship. Joker's relationship with Batman is that of a jester to a king. Batman wants to achieve perfect order in his society and Joker is trying to show him how pathetically wrong he is.

It's a misstep that even Jim Gordon in this book can't pinpoint. It's not that Joker is chaos or even that he desires to spread it - both Batman movies with Joker missed this as well. Those are all fun side plots in his ultimate goal: To corrupt the Bat.

The two are extremes that exist because of each other. Each wants to break the other's will; Batman won't kill, so he just hopes that Joker just breaks down mentally, while Joker will kill or do anything to make Batman break his code or just recognize the futility of his struggle.

I've only encountered three stories that ever truly understood this: The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns and A Death in the Family. In the first, Joker tried to break Batman by breaking the will of his closest ally, Commissioner Gordon; the third showed him trying to break Batman by killing his partner in hopes of driving him to homicidal rage; and the second showed the Joker literally ceasing to function until Batman was available to fight again.

Snyder has the understanding of this character down, and Capullo is doing amazing at conveying both emotion as well as how grotesque Joker's face is now that it's back on him.

The back-up story is a great escalation as well, as Joker brings Penguin in to set up another element of his plan. It's a great scene, and although I've seen some who love this back-up and others who are lukewarm to it, let me say that I'm in the camp that loves it and wants to see where it goes.

Overall, the next three issues of Batman should be amazing. If you can get involved with this book, I'd seek out Batman #13 (which just released a second print with an equally awesome cover) and this one. Waiting for a trade paperback will be a disservice to you.

This is a must-buy for anyone who ever enjoyed a Batman vs. Joker story.

Batgirl and Suicide Squad reviews are next up. Stay tuned! And follow me at my page at

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise Part 3 review

I'll admit: I've kind of been putting this one off.

I've been waiting for a while to do the Avatar: The Last Airbender's The Promise Part 3 review, mostly because this one is going to require a LOT of my thoughts, time and ability to rant, so I've been waiting for ample time to reveal itself, and here it is!

Ok, so those who read my thoughts on Parts 1 and 2 know that I've been really enjoying this printed successor to the original series, and I actually was starting to hope that this series could gain enough traction for the creators to make this a made-for-TV movie.

And then I read the conclusion. Oh, boy do we need to have a talk about this one.

Before I begin, I'd like to note that the only review I've read/listened to prior to this is the From the Spirit World podcast on If you haven't heard the podcast before, they do an excellent job providing intelligent discussion to Avatar-based stuff they love and, in this book's case, ripping that which they hate to shreds.

I'll say this about this story, though: I do not hate this book. It has MAJOR flaws and is an insanely botched book, but when the book hits, it hits out of the park.

Case in point: the beginning, where you get an "Oh crap!" opening to... Armageddon. Zuko and Aang survey the waste that has been lain to their world, and then their mentors appear as mental ghosts and tell them to take The Precious kill each other.

It's at this point that you realize (and it's confirmed three panels later) that it's a dream. Contain your shock.

I joke, but this is one of the few scenes where it's hard to complain. I really got a feel for the inner turmoil between both, and the shared dream hearkens back to the fact that the Avatar and the Firelord have a strong spiritual link in these incarnations.

Where I can complain, however, is the following scene where Aang and Katara are under attack while entering Yu Dao. There's some really nice action sequences, and it felt like an ATLA action scene, but it was marred by dialogue.

This is a problem with moving TV programs to the print medium. Dialogue has to become more expository in places, and it weakens the product. Smallville is seeing a similar problem in its comic form.

The bipolar nature of this comic can be reflected in one panel of the follow-up scene. On the left side there is a pretty good joke about a revolutionary who joined for his mochi vendor – one I could have seen in the series. On the right side, Aang is talking to Sneers about his significantly better looking girlfriend, and we see a lead-in to the second-dumbest panel in the entire book:

Avatar Aang
Defender of Pimping since 12 years
before the Great War

I think that the image on my left speaks for itself, but if it doesn't, let me illuminate you.

Avatar Aang, the last of a race of monks, a child who knew little if any about the traditional guy pride kind of things, a person who in a few panels will be complaining about defacing of his peaceful, bro-less culture... has apparently channeled his inner-wingman and is giving the thumbs-up to his friend stepping up a level?

This is truly this book's "I'm the Goddamn Batman!" moment – a moment so widely and offensively out of character that you actually have to step away from the book for a moment to laugh at the absurdity of what you've just witnessed.

This is not the last of this joke, either. It is done twice more with Longshot and Sokka. I will say, though that while this one was irritating, the other two I actually did find funny.

Longshot never really had much dialogue, so his giving of the thumbs up isn't out of character and provides some levity in what was becoming a tense situation.

Sokka has a history of breaking seriousness for borderline sexist humor, and I don't subscribe to the theory that it was etched away in "The Warriors of Kyoshi" because he clearly still showed it in "Jet," "The Fortuneteller" and continued being overprotective of his female counterparts up through "The Serpent's Pass." So yeah, no complaints on those two besides the fact that the joke was starting to wear out its welcome.

After Aang's CBS-sitcom moment, he meets his other chapter of fangirls, these ones complete with tattoos. OK, I think these fangirls are starting to get a little too obsessive.

Aang apparently has a line too as he turns his back on everyone, does a "hold rage between his teeth" kind of rant and walks out. This is one area that got debate on the FTSW podcast that I'd like to address.

When I first read it, it felt like an overreaction to what was clearly a well-intentioned homage. But when I thought about it, Aang is the last of a race and spirituality. The tattoos are a sacred bond with his people.

As a black belt in a martial art and a Confirmed Catholic, I know what kind of work goes into reaching high goals on both a religious and a secular level. Both mean a tremendous amount. For Aang to see a group of people adapt a major tenet of his spirituality for their fandom not only insults his identity, but throws the fact that he's the only one that understands the egregiousness of this action (because everyone else is dead) right back in his face.

I consider his actions in the moment to be completely reasonable. Where I take issue is where the talk goes next.

Katara checks on him and raises the point I've been calling for – that Aang knows from the Guru that nation separation is an illusion, but Aang responds by yelling that he doesn't want the nations to be one and the same.

And this is my problem with this book. Aang is so clearly motivated by the wrong cause. He wants the nations separate because it's HIS will, because HE finds Yu Dao to be an abomination, and he's willing to violate the moral code he so wants to cling to by killing Zuko, if it means that he can feel better about how unique his culture is.

Ozai should be sent over to Aang in this book. I think they'd be great friends this time around. They're saying the same deranged things!

Ok, I need a minute to rage on something else. Since Katara and Aang have impending war to go to, Sokka needs another ride. And here comes the death of your dreams:

HAHA! You Tokka 'shippers just got trolled.
Thanks for the couple months of hope there, Gene Yang. I can totally see the point in making Zuko single again...

Anyway, this side plot is pretty well-done. It's basically the basic "hide underground, hit pressure points to subdue military vehicles, pretend Sokka's still a 'plan guy' despite the fact that all his plans are the same freaking thing on various scales."

The scene where all the insanity comes upon the town is also pretty cool, and the double-page spread of both armies staring each other down is the best couple pages in the book (possibly due to the non-dialogue on the spread.)

There were some fun moments in-between this like Smellerbee being played competently by outmaneuvering Aang and a sneak attack inside a Fire Nation tank, but I still have rants to go.

So Aang goes into ANOTHER supernatural rage when he sees Zuko coupled with the battle, so Katara has to take him aside and say that seeing this town showed her the future of Kataang:

I guess Aang's facial hair was some kind of midlife crisis.
Aang goes into seclusion to talk to Roku when he realizes (Three issues too late) that he is, in fact, in a cross-nation relationship, adding yet another contradiction in his actions to consider.

Following a battle where the Earth King has a panic attack and Toph's students attempt to perform Shakespeare during battle, Aang finally realizes he's full of crap and that Zuko was right.

He appeals to the Earth King's emotional side, and we get one final highlight for this story: Kuei doesn't just agree right away. He acts like a competent leader and is willing to consider his actions.

Leadership! Realism! I love it!
A story like this shouldn't resolve so quickly, and I'm glad Gene Yang treated this situation and the reader base like adults on this one.

So things start to unwind, as Aang tells Zuko that he was right the whole time and that he's a flawed Avatar for being unable to let go of people he cares about... Wait, What?

Talk about a contradictory scene. What are you trying to say? Aang's flawed because he didn't kill the guy who was advocating for the morally correct position? Are you saying that Aang still believes he's right but bent to Zuko's will so he wouldn't alienate himself from his friends?

Unless Aang's ideal was what you think is correct (and even then you've played him off as not only flawed, but pathetically incompetent), he did what an avatar should: Take the proper moral action and bring peace with as little collateral damage as possible.

Oh and I should have brought this up before, but Aang is upset with Roku for pushing for murder and decides he can no longer get advice from him. So he burns the fire nation portion of his necklace...


Ok, first of all, I thought he could summon past lives to consult with at any time. How does burning one link of a necklace sever that?

Second, why did he need to burn it? Couldn't he just, you know, not summon him?

Third, this moment is a monumental development for Aang: the point where he forges his own path as an avatar and moves from constantly needing help from past lives. It should be played as a passing of the torch; a conversation where Roku accepts his decision, but cannot be of service anymore as it's uncharted waters. He would leave the out to receive advice at any time, but he tells Aang that if he wants to follow a new path, it's best he make his own calls.

This did not come off as a teacher passing the mantle on to his student. This came off as a high school girl breaking up with her boyfriend because he doesn't like that she joined a club outside of their social circle. WHAT. A. LOAD.

And so the book ends with Zuko (who apparently is just now getting over being suicidal for some reason) calling for his sister (fresh from Arkham Asylum, evidently) to help him search for his mother. My guess is the Zuko's break-up will be addressed in "The Search" because this is clearly going to be a Fire Nation/Royal Family story with the rest of the cast worked in as supporting characters.

Overall, I can't say that I hate this book. What it did well was done brilliantly, the goals in terms of plot were achieved and enough was left unresolved that anyone who read this trilogy will feel obligated to see the plot points resolve in "The Search."

However, this book soured me on the actual execution. Interesting ideas like Tokka and Aang actually having a philosophical debate with his past lives were killed, and I couldn't help but feel like Gene Yang was using the characters' motivations and ideals from Book Two instead of the end of the series. Zuko felt like he'd regressed back to needing to travel solo, Sokka didn't have the warrior's fortitude he had in Book Three battles, and the Earth King clearly learned nothing in his travels about wanting peace.

FTSW said Gene Yang 'shipped Zutara, so maybe he held their motivations at the last point that that relationship made sense, but something felt off about this part.

With some dialogue work, this could still work as a made-for-TV movie, but I wouldn't push that hard for it. As for whether you should buy it, I'd say so simply because it concludes what had been a good first two parts and teases what should be an excellent follow-up. The art makes it worth getting and there's a lot to like. Just know that while the good outweighs the bad, that doesn't mean there isn't an obese level of bad.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Detective Comics #14 and Green Lantern #14

I LOVE voting!

That seems a little like a non sequitur, but thanks to my "I Voted" sticker, I was allowed one free comic, so I was very happy to be able to gain a second review this week.

And for those curious, the store where Batgirl is set for the pull box was shorted on Batgirl Annuals, so that review is coming... at some point. (Get on it, DC!)

Anyway, on to the reviews!

Detective Comics #14

Detective is taking an interesting stance in its latest arc in that while most books are focusing on one central villain and theme for a few issues, each villain is leading into another each month, with all the stories linking together. And it's an awesome idea.

Following the attack on Bruce Wayne at the end of last month's issue, Penguin knocks out the assassin before Bruce can even put his plan partially into action. This makes him look like more of a hero in Gothamites' minds and puts a temporary end to his part of the story.

This leads to a dialogue between Bruce and Damian (though for some reason Damian's dialogue sounds like a weird hybrid of Dick's and his own) and I see the second thing in Detective that I like: actual detective work.

Batman finds out that businesses owned by Penguin are the link in a series of attacks by Poison Ivy, who I guess left the Birds of Prey a few months back because she's an environmental zealot.

Deduction, seduction and scientific development dominated this story, and it was awesome. The back-up story also had real purpose, as it helped to explain the bizarre development revealed at the end of the main story.

I like the idea to make the back-up story a way to add depth to the main story has been a good call for this book the last couple of issues, and I hope that trend continues.

Overall, it was a very nicely done story that makes me want to see the next stage next month, even if I know it's going to get tossed around with the pending crossover issues over the next few months.

This isn't a bad jump-on point for new readers, and though it's not the strongest Batman book right now, it's finally at least worth the price of admission.

Green Lantern #14

The strangest thing here: My biggest debate is whether this book is better at $2.99 so it's more accessible or whether another dollar for eight more pages would be the best thing here.

That is an EXCELLENT position for a book to be in, as Green Lantern has hit a home run with Simon Baz. If this guy doesn't get to keep a solo book for himself, DC will have found yet another way to sacrifice money for the ability to piss people off. (A trait which will see itself discussed at length in a few weeks with my Batgirl Tribute, by the way)

Baz is absolutely amazing in this role and his meeting with the Justice League was perfect. The League was cordial enough to not spook Baz while still being the intimidating force they should be, and Baz reacted exactly how he should, with a desire to cooperate mixed with pure awe.

Also, because Baz really isn't a set Lantern yet, the crossover stuff is limited enough to get readers interested while not confusing them. The hippie Guardians appear to not be forgotten and I'm excited to see where their story goes, especially with a Black Lantern in their area.

Also, while the Third Army is basically an extension of the clearly corrupt current Guardians, they still feel threatening on their own. I like how the First Lantern is making sure the Guardians have to acknowledge his presence and I'm excited to see his reveal as well.

But the star of this book (as it should be) is Baz, as his story is the kind of origin that is so rare in an age of already-established heroes. If you can find Issue #13 and Issue #0, this man's story is just a great read.

It's already starting to reach that point where the arc will get too deep for new readers, so if you want a look, look now.

Death of the Family continues Wednesday. See you then!

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