Thursday, October 31, 2013

Arrow Season 2, Episode 4 review

Arrow Season 2 has hit a new height this week! For my full recap and thoughts, click on the audio.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Comic Book Reviews: Samurai Jack #1 and Blue Beetle #4

I've been saving this blog because I wanted to really talk about Samurai Jack.

I didn't even know this comic was starting until last Friday when my local comic store's Facebook page teased it. But did this thing need to happen or what?!

For those who don't know, Samurai Jack was a 52-episode story about a young samurai warrior (voiced by Phil LaMarr) being thrown into a dystopian future by evil demon wizard Aku (voiced by Mako). The entire premise (and really the only plot that extended longer than two episodes) is the samurai, later given the name Jack, trying to return to the past and stop Aku from finishing his conquest of Earth.

This was one of the greatest series of all time. The four-time Emmy winner took risks with its animation and storytelling, such as not having character outlines, keeping the characters mostly alone, choosing to tell the story with atmosphere and animation instead of the minimal dialogue, and introducing the world as-is without really going into morality besides 'tyranny is bad.'

The show would easily be the greatest animated series of all time (I'm not even sure I could say second would come close) if it wasn't for one gargantuan flaw: THERE WAS NO ENDING.

Cartoon Network decided to change its creative direction in the mid-2000s and the creative differences with creator Genndy Tartakovsky led to him leaving CN to form his own studio. (NOTE: Tartakovsky is easily the best creator CN ever employed, producing Dexter's Lab, Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy before leaving).

Anyway, enough of all that. Point is, the movie designed to finish the series has yet to materialize, and with Mako's death, the odds are not getting better. However, CN has finally reached a deal to continue the story in comic form through IDW Comics. IDW currently also owns the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise's printed books as well.

How did IDW do with writer Jim Zub and artist Andy Suriano at the helm? Pretty much amazingly, to be honest.

This felt exactly like the series did and the voice of Jack felt on point here. This is a good call. Even though the character may have to evolve in printed media, sticking to the status quo for a while is the best idea so that people get used to the style.

Likewise, the art is identical to the animation and I LOVE that. It captured the atmosphere and style of the show flawlessly and I was hooked from the shot-for-shot recreation of the old intro. I could hear LaMarr and Mako whenever their voices came into play.

If I'm being blunt, the only flaw in this book is that it's too short. Because it follows the old Jack style of minimal talking, panels go by quickly and the issue can be finished in 5-6 minutes.

Also reviewed on my audio blog (top)
One thing I want to compliment IDW on is the fact that ALL of their ads are at the end of the book. Initially, I thought I was getting ripped off by the company when so much of the book was left at the end of the story, but hey, I got to read a full story without having to unnecessarily turn the page. Why aren't all companies doing this?!

So yeah, if you can't tell, I'm freaking hooked here. I will be adding this to my pull list immediately. Dark Horse should take note with their Avatar: TLA and Star Wars comics: THIS is how you carry a franchise over to print!

If you don't know the series, buy it anyway. The necessary plot is introduced on the inside cover and because Samurai Jack never got super complex with its plot, nothing really carries over that would be confusing. If you get that a samurai is in a future world full of mutants, aliens and wizards, you're good to go.

I can not recommend this highly enough and I hope sales for this go sky high (well, for IDW standards at bare minimum).

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Arrow Season 2, Episode 3 review

It's a little delayed because of my job, but this is my favorite Arrow episode of the season. I like the direction they are going and I'm looking forward to next week. For my thoughts, look below.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Legend of Korra Book 2, Chapters 7-8 reviews

So the Avatar mythos now has its "Batman Begins" origin story! How was it? You can either get my in-depth thoughts in the audio, or you can read my bullet points below.

-- OK, so... why did Korra need amnesia? This whole thing played out like a fanfiction writer's excuse to make the main character sit still and watch her own life (or in this case, a past life). Granted, it gave us a nice chance to look at an avatar significantly more competent than our current one, but still...

-- How does the healing water work? Was that fire thing the sage did like a magical MRI? Why did she need to be submerged? Couldn't meditation work? What does any of this have to do with amnesia? How did the sage know that this particular method would put the avatar in touch with her past lives? Why did Wan make her watch this thing and not the light spirit? If she needed to find the light spirit, Raya, why didn't she get to communicate immediately with her once she came up in the flashback sequence? ANSWER ME!

"It just raises too many questions." (Why isn't this clip anywhere online on its own?)
-- I can't be the only one who noticed this: Did anyone else watch the opening sequence of Wan's flashback and immediately go, "Oh, so this was written while they were watching Aladdin?" Seriously, the rooftop running, food stealing, tattered clothes, giving the food to less fortunate instead of eating himself, the "I'm not like the rest" Diamond in the Rough-style story. It's shot for shot.

I think we were one song sequence away from Disney being able to sue for outright plagiarism. It worked, don't get me wrong, but that was so obvious I'd have to assume anyone who's ever seen Aladdin was raising their eyebrow almost immediately.

Heck, the lion turtle staring down Wan even reminded me of the Cave of Wonders! Tell me you don't see it.

-- So the new animation studio started work after weeks of hype! And... I didn't like it. I'll probably wind up in the minority because it did do a lot well and nothing was (technically) wrong, but I was not impressed at all. About a minute into the flashback I was thinking, "Hey, isn't the sky supposed to go BEHIND the scenery?"

The work looked considerably faded compared to the show's more vibrantly colored animation predecessor, the bending (besides waterbending) looked choppy, and I know it's a flashback, but why did the Lion Turtle look so bizarre? His neck was reaching out like a giraffe and he looked super skinny compared to A:TLA Book 3, Chap. 19.

It's not bad, and to be fair, they only had about two minutes of actual time in the present, so it'll probably improve, but after all the hype for this animation team I expected much, MUCH better.

-- If you ignore the terrible set-up job to necessitate the flashback, Part 1 was brilliant. It set up the world, got me invested in Wan's character, made him likable and competent and set up a real conflict. I was curious how the Spirit of the Earth thing happened, and this actually is an impressive way to set that up while simultaneously advancing the main story and why spirits might act out of character.

It really was like Batman Begins. The character's setup actually ends up overshadowing the conflict itself.

-- Part 2, on the other hand... Was this supposed to be three parts originally? Because they rushed through the other three elements absurdly fast. They put so much effort into showing how Wan perfected firebending through the dragons, but I never got to see him work with the moon, sky bison or badgermoles. Instead, we get a montage! With exposition dumps!

-- And then the episode's wrap-up was pathetic. Less than two minutes in the show and Wan is still going through his dying sequence. Korra's amnesia arc looks unbelievably pointless when it gets rushed out the door like this. It was like the staff knew they had created a better program using Wan and wanted Korra removed from the picture quickly so we wouldn't remember how poorly she is comparing so far this year.

Overall, I loved this two-parter (Part 1 more than 2). A great origin with really cool elements to the mythos added. The animation needs time to perfect itself, but I'm sure it'll get there. I'm legitimately pumped to see where this goes now.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Comic Book Reviews: Batman '66 #4, Batman & Robin #24, Blue Beetle #3

Let's talk my comics this week! My Blue Beetle review is audio exclusive and can be heard below with further recapping of the other two titles.

Batman '66 #4 used two villains that only saw a few appearances in the TV series, but it didn't lose a step in the process. If anything, having some fresher blood made this book even more fun.

This could easily be a sequel comic series to the 60s TV show because it's basically the show with a better sense of its world and the ability to do more high-budget stunts. I now really wish British Commissioner Gordon and the British Batmobile had been a thing on the show because it would have been a sight.

The art continues to be great and this is undoubtedly the best all-ages comics available. Seriously, BUY THIS.

Batman & Robin Two-Face #24 is mostly setup, so I can't say much of consequence until the arc fleshes out more. I will say that Patrick Gleason's art in the first four pages are among his best work ever, but with the changes made to Two-Face's origin (think Irish Mafia meets The Dark Knight) I can't say I'm thrilled with the direction here.

Still, the story looks like it has a direction, and the Tomasi-Gleason team has earned more than enough clout with me to be given a chance here. I'll keep you posted on how this turns out.

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Arrow Season 2, Episode 2 recap/review

As I said a week ago, "Arrow" has turned into my must-see program, and the stage is certainly setting up for a big season. Here is my recap/review below.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Legend of Korra Book 2, Chapter 6 review

THAT is how you do it! I finally am excited for the direction of Korra's second book. My full thoughts are in the audio blog, but I'll hit you with a few quick notes below as well.

-- It's a little unsettling that Korra seems to always be on the peripheral whenever I really like an episode. It's most likely a coincidence, but I could really go for a Korra character-building episode.

-- The main plot did what the Airbender family subplots have been doing well: Introducing a situation that allows characters to grow and bounce off each other as the situation progresses. It's storytelling 101, but comparing this episode to previous ones, I'm floored by how much this season seems to have been bathing in its own melodrama before today.

-- I really tend to avoid talking about the actual animation of an episode unless something is particularly good or bad. (If a story is good and compelling, the medium's quality could be $3 puppets and at least some quality should still come through.) That said, the characters' eyes are creepy and remind me of glass doll eyes. Horror movie stuff right there.

-- Lin Beifong and the police force flat out irritated me. After the madness that occurred last book, Lin is actually letting seniority determine the validity of an officer's ideas. Poor characterization aside, Mako was considered a major part of Team Avatar II's success last book, and Lin's refusal to entertain an alternative notion approaches Commissioner Loeb in Batman Begins level of clueless.

-- Also, Asami is unbelievably weak in this episode and has managed to reignite the love triangle no one was clamoring to see get revived. Did the writing staff forget how to write IQs into female characters? Could we give Kelly Sue DeConnick or Greg Rucka a call to work on this?

-- Speaking of no IQ, Bolin is a freaking moron and appears to be the Chris Griffin of the show when it comes to handling social situations.

-- ALL OF THIS SAID... the introduction of noir/pulp era detective work more than makes up for the problems and has managed to redeem Mako for me. Seriously, I saw glimpses of the Green Hornet, the Shadow and even Joe Friday from Dragnet in this performance. You can't have that much cool and have a bad show.

-- Also, the reveal of Varrick as evil is EXACTLY where this show should have gone. He's now obviously been pushing for a war because the subsequent military-industrial ties would lead to massive profits, especially now that he owns Future Industries and its military-grade applied sciences division.

-- So to summarize, we've got war for profit on one side and war for spirituality on the other. If this doesn't amp you up for the season then I feel sorry for ya, son. I got 99 problems but a dull plot ain't one. (Had to do it.)

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Arrow Season 2 premiere and Blue Beetle #2 reviews

As I said before, here are my thoughts on the Arrow season premiere as well as my weekly review of a Blue Beetle comic!

Briefly, I will say that Arrow is quickly becoming a new favorite of mine and I am loving all the twists in direction it has taken so far.

Also, Blue Beetle's first two issues, while good, have yet to give me something to make me feel like it's a must-read. Nothing has been bad, though, and it really may just be a matter of getting enough time with the characters.

For my more detailed thoughts, check out my audio blog above.

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We'll have to get someone to edit Tommy out of this shot.

Comic Book Reviews: Batman #24 and Nightwing #24

So the Blue Beetle review will come in later today with my review of Arrow's premiere. For now, though, let's talk about the slew of sheer awesomeness that were the books this week. (As well as some of the new Batman announcements in my audio blog.)

Batman #24 was a double-length issue valued at $7 over the traditional $4. Mostly, I attribute this to the fact that the book got derailed thanks to Villains Month.

And man, oh man, did they make up for lost time.

This issue is going to compete with the Batman & Robin Annual and B&R 18 (the silent issue) as DC's best individual Bat book this year.

I don't think it matches those two completely, as some scenes are kind of hard to decipher because of their disjointed nature. But those are made up for easily with some iconic imagery, callbacks to every notable Batman incarnation, excellent dialogue (especially between Bruce and Alfred) and an addition of depth to the Batman-Red Hood showdown at A.C.E. Chemicals that has never really been hit on before.

It's an expensive issue, but if you can swing it, it is more than worth it in my view.

Nightwing #24 was a good finish to a good story, and admittedly, it came across better in this chapter than any other. The book is hitting a high point just as the universe is about to see his identity revealed, so it's nice that there is a building level of trust as we move closer to January.

The Tony Zucco stuff was tragic but well-done and the only downside to it is that the Prankster came across as kind of pathetic in comparison to his earlier issues.

I like the showdown that appears to be building for the Nightwing annual and the final pre-Forever Evil issue, though, so overall, I'd say give it a look.

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Legend of Korra Book 2, Chapter 5 review

Once again, it's time to talk about the Legend of Korra. My more detailed thoughts on the show, as well as my theory on where the season is probably going, is in the audio, but I will share a quick summary here as well.

 -- Congrats on somehow making Mako the likable person in this breakup with Korra. (Didn't know that was possible.) I go off on this in much more detail in the audio blog, but I basically said that Korra is a character you can empathize with, not sympathize with.

You can understand where she's coming from because she's young and had a sheltered lifestyle with ideals as to how the world should work. That said, her position is so myopic and so blind to other factors that she is hard to respect as someone who holds unbelievable levels of power and influence.

-- In the audio, I compare Mako's tantrums at people in late Book 1 to Korra's during this break-up. I am not equating the situations; I am merely saying that they're reactions to the situations at hand were proportional given the level of drama going on. If these two are a match in any way, it is their ability to throw hissy fits like 7-year-olds.

-- Bolin and Varrick's plot has gotten bizarre and only makes the situations at-hand worse when they actually have a bearing on the story. Oh, and Asami is wasted in this season.

-- Meelo and Tenzin had easily the best portion of the episode. While the material was rushed through, I love this family dynamic and I think seeing this family go about their lives is the kind of thoughtful, feelings-based writing Nickelodeon needs more of.

Overall, the show remains on that fence where it could be good and could be bad. This episode was about on par with all the others, but at some point this show needs to make its move into that high-level territory it hit toward the end of last year. If the last sequences are any indicator, though, business is about to pick up. As such, I will maintain cautious optimism about this show going from above average to epic by the end of the pending hour-long special.

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Comic Book Reviews: Forever Evil #2 and Blue Beetle #1

My comic reviews for the first week of October conclude here!

Forever Evil continues to hold my interest and the last page implies that business is about to pick up. The art was solid and most of the writing was great. The only downsides are the new origin for Bizarro Superman and the poor use of the Teen Titans, but otherwise, it was a good read all the way through.

I also am diving into Blue Beetle Vol. 6 (1986-88) over the next few months and this week is Issue #1. Ted Kord comes across as really likable and a lot of story threads are introduced for future issues. Overall, a solid start, though my thoughts are better heard in my audio blog above.

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Comic Book Reviews: Detective Comics #24 and Green Hornet #6

I have four books to review today, and here are two right here!

For those who don't have time to listen to the audio blog, I gave a high recommendation to Detective Comics #24. The way this arc ended was unbelievably satisfying and I think I've become a huge John Layman fan because of these last few issues. Definitely give the title a look.

Likewise, Green Hornet is really strong. Its art remains spotty, but Mark Waid's writing remains its usual awesome self and I am interested to see what the actual villains' plot is here.

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