Saturday, January 31, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want... (Part 1)

For the That's A Wrap take on DC Comics' latest multiverse-spanning event, I took up the job as the resident DC fanboy and history-buff and long-time Morrison Kool-Aid addict (Oh, Yeah!) to get a reaction down. Here it is from the start (as much as these things ever have singular starting points) to the end (as much as these things ever end as opposed to roll into something else). If nothing else, perhaps we can make some sense of what exactly happened, cause this is some complicated stuff here bud. Maybe it's all just the rantings of a fanboy and his line. Expect separate ratings for each issue or relevant tie-in, the main series on its own and an overall grade for the quality of the event and its effect on the DC Universe as a whole.

We'll gloss over some things, but given the importance of the event to DC and my own affection for this writer and subject, we will leave literally nothing that I can think of out of discussion of the main issues themselves.

I went into this expecting a large-scale relatively single purpose event, with easily understood character motivations and an A to B to C plot development. I know I didn't get what I wanted, but check below the cut to see if I found this time... I got what I need.



Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-1986) #1-12
Written by Marv Wolfman, Art by George Perez

Really the stories of DC's main trilogy of Crisis events is the story of the Monitor(s) and their multiverse. And given that every ending in DC or Marvel just leads into the beginning of the next story or event, why not begin with an ending. The original Monitor was designed as a guardian of the universe. His death powered a device that prevented the destruction of the last few bits of an infinite number of universes. The remainder of the original crisis was the heroes of these few worlds stopping the Anti-Monitor from obliterating the rest of it.

The main advantage this series had over its predecessors is the length. When telling these stories that feature hundreds of speaking roles and huge casts the extra five issues allowed them to maintain more of a narrative. The disadvantage it had was one Infinite Crisis managed to avoid for the most part and Final Crisis was dragged into, the need to have a near encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the DCU. Not necessarily a problem for me, but it makes recommending these types of stories very difficult.

The main points for Final Crisis here are the destruction of the Monitor and shortly thereafter the multiverse by his antimatter counterpart, verifying these creatures as the most powerful beings in the DC Universe.


Infinite Crisis (2005-2006) #1-7
Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Phil Jiminez, George Perez, Ivan Reis, Jerry Ordway

More than 20 years after the original crisis, the decision was made to reintegrate the concept of the multiverse to, among other reasons, diversify the types of stories that could be told. And while the success of using the multiverse has been mixed at best, it's a decision that is both understandable and defensible. The choice to simplify the universe came at a time when the average age of readers was much younger and to get over the problems of Superman and Batman and others having existed continuously for more than half a century. Now with most readers in their twenties or older, the concept of alternate realities is perhaps easier for most to understand. And
possibly necessary given that the alternate reality stories had never left, simply generically left under the banner of "Elseworlds" the DC equivalent of Marvel's "What If" line.

Coming from the simpler single universe point of view, and with a relatively small cast of a half dozen core characters with simple goals, "find the perfect earth" or "stop them from destroying the world" it was by far the most accessible of the three and the character's voices were all consistent with their monthly titles and it significantly impacted the world of many of the major characters in the Universe.

The main plot points that go on to effect Final Crisis were the creation of 52 alternate realities and with them 52 identical Monitors with the main DC-set stories taking place on New Earth.

51, 50, 49... um, 32, 6, 19

Countdown to Final Crisis #51-1 (2007-2008)
Written by Paul Dini and Various, Art by Various

The immediately lead into this current event was this series, originally simply titled "Countdown" which was DC's follow-up to the weekly series 52. While the first was one of the best long-term creative efforts from DC in some time, this inheritor was almost entirely an unenjoyable mess. That it was meant to be the spine of the stories in the DCU and incredibly important only made the poor quality all the more abhorrent. The art ranged from adequate to terrible and the story largely focused on the minor characters (Jimmy Olsen, Donna Troy, Jason Todd, Kyle Rayner, Karate Kid, Triplicate Girl, Harley Quinn, etc.) exploring the new 52 alternate realities, each protected by their own Monitor. Among the all-time low was the unconvincing corruption to evil of Mary Marvel, Trickster and Pied Piper's run from the law and the bestowment on Jimmy Olsen of every power he presented throughout his history and believe me back in the day Superman's Pal could do everything and anything.

While in itself a very poor effort, it did at least begin laying the groundwork for the events of this new Crisis. The main plot points are the beginnings of the "Death of the New Gods" storyline that brought an end to most all the characters of Jack Kirby's Fourth World, including Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Lightray and most importantly Darkseid. Finally killed by his son Orion, which was their destiny all along, this singled the end of the Fourth World with the promise of a Fifth to come. Also, the Monitors beginning to argue about how to manage the 52 realities and even start to form distinctly different appearances. One of these Monitors, Nix Uotan, even fails as outside interference leads to the destruction of Earth-51 and its corresponding universe in #13. Uotan comes to believe the Monitors do more harm than good and strives to make some (not well thought out) measures to make them accountable.

Final score for this event: 1.5 stars out of 5


DC Universe #0 - "Let There Be Lightning"
Written by Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns, Art by Various

With the end of the Countdown, the one-shot was meant as a direct lead in to the first issue of Final Crisis written by DC's two biggest and most successful creators. It was actually not too much more than a 50 cent advertisement for upcoming events in some of the major characters solo books as well as limited series both related to Final Crisis and others not. The narration throughout and the final five pages is the real lead-in. The narration begins with the caption box in full black and throughout the issue becomes more substantive as it goes on.

Beginning with a splash page of outerspace and the words, "This is everything. This is me." on the first page. Continually the faceless narrator becomes more specific in his references to the characters we are watching, for the most part glossing over the teasers for Superman (Legion of 3 Worlds), Batman (R.I.P.) and Wonder Woman (the only now just beginning Whom the Gods Forsake storyline). In the teaser for the Darkest Night series, some very personal and descriptive references are made to Hal Jordan and by now the brief glimpses of red that began in the boxes have spread over half the length of the boxes. And in the final teaser as the narrator takes form and falls to earth, the villain Libra is seen preaching of a war in heaven that evil won and a dark god rising on Earth. Appearing in the original Justice League series for only two issues (#111-112), Libra was last seen absorbed into the cosmos after draining the powers of the Justice League. As he finishes his preaching, the narration boxes are almost entirely red with a streak of lightning in the corner as they read, "A sound like the crack of doom - like a starter's pistol - and this is me." The final page is lightning streaking across the skyline teasing the return of the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, the most noted casualty of the first Crisis with the words "And NOW I remember."

While the plot begins to form here, the story is really little more than an advertisement and only the clever reveal of the narrator and Libra's vague hints revealing anything of directly relating to Final Crisis. Hence the significant drop in the final opinion.

Final score: 2.5 stars out of 5


Batman #676-681 - "Batman R.I.P."
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Tony Daniel

While it doesn't relate specifically, the Batman R.I.P. storyline is included here given that the mental state of Batman leading out of this and directly into Final Crisis has been known for sometime to lead to the removal of Batman for a brief time and the Bruce Wayne character for significantly longer. The original story planned by Morrison when he took over the Batman title two years earlier, most all events were meant to lead specifically to this story, which explored the limits, if any, that Batman had and exactly how many problems he had planned solutions for in advance. Drawn superbly throughout by Tony Daniel one of the more promising artists in comics currently, the story begins with the mysterious Black Glove organization planning a massive attack led by their associate Dr. Hurt, who once put Batman through an extended sensory deprivation test to help him better understand the Joker. While Batman plans to investigate them more thoroughly, he is distracted by his new romance with Jezebel Jet, who recently discovered his secret identity.

A continually addressed theory in the storyline is the questioning of Wayne's sanity as a man who dresses up like a bat to beat up criminals and questioning the truth of the Batman's entire identity. The mayor reveals evidence he has received that indicates Alfred and Martha Wayne were lovers and while the billionaires lived a secretly decadent life of alcohol, drugs and degenerate sex with other members of their social circle. Jet even suggests that the Black Glove might be Wayne himself driven mad... the only person capable of defeating the Batman. As Robin, Nightwing and Alfred are all attacked to stop them from interfering, Hurt and his Club of Villains corner Batman in the cave with a trigger word implanted years early, then drug him with everything from crystal meth to heroin and more and dump him on the streets of Gotham. After wandering the streets, Wayne fashions a tattered Batman costume and begins assaulting criminals, discussing strategy with gargoyle statues and conversing with an imp from the Fifth Dimension wondering aloud if he is going mad, repeated referring to himself as the Batman of the Zur-en-arrh.

Lured to Arkham Asylum where the villains have recruited the Joker and kidnapped Jet, Batman is finally poisoned at the same time Jet reveals herself as the leader of the Black Glove organization. In the final issue, Morrison reveals the depths to Batman's preparation to continue his war against evil. While he routinely switches dishes with strange people while they blink out of habit in case they poison him, Wayne also planned for an enemy eventually being able to drive him insane and created a default personality to operate until he can emerge. While highlighting exactly how intelligent and driven Batman is, the cast around the main hero all participate in the battle against the Black Hand. From staples like Dick, Tim and Alfred, they mix in Commissioner Gordon, the Club of Heroes and even Talia Al Ghul with Batman's son Damien (whose takedown of the Joker with Alfred is a wonderfully humorous moment) and her army of ninja Man-bats.

Credit has to be given to all the groundwork Morrison laid for the final payoff of this storyline. Even before he took on the title, in the pages of 52 a world-wandering Bruce Wayne locked himself in a cave to confront his inner demons, the discover of his son and conflicts with Talia, the brilliant recreation of the Silver-Age Club of Heroes and the three replacement Bat-Men which further hinted at the idea of Gotham needing to be prepared for life after Batman. The most significant complaint was the fact that Batman's final fate was saved for the pages of Final Crisis and not here. But this isn't about the end of Bruce Wayne. It's story is about how Batman can survive...

Final score: 5 stars out of 5


Final Crisis #1 - "D.O.A.: The GOD of WAR"
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by J.G. Jones

The story of DC Universe's Final Crisis, the event teased as the Day Evil Won, and given the fact that Grant Morrison was allowed to run almost without edit meant that everything including the kitchen sink and the hyper-mega-ultra kitchen sink would be thrown in, it starts with the beginning the man wanted... with the stone age Cro-Magnon hero, Anthro (the First Boy), being given the gift of knowledge in the form of fire from Metron, a demigod of the Fourth World, in his Mobius Chair. The young hero then uses the gift to save his people from a band of violent cave-men led by Vandar Adg (who in millenniums in the future will be Vandal Savage).

In the end, this is an appropriate considering this is a story of how in their seemingly infinite power the gods (be they from the Fourth World or the heroes of the DCU) effect the overall course of humanity for good or evil. We fastforward to the present day where the first narrator is Dan Turpin, the former member of Metropolis' Special Crimes Unit and like the characters of the Fourth World, another creation of Jack Kirby. The private detective is interrupted from his search for six missing gifted children and discovers the smoking body of Orion, last seen ripping out Darkseid's heart in Countdown to Final Crisis #2. Before dying, Orion grabs Turpin and screams "They did not die! He is in you all..." forshadowing the return of the New Gods as the Black Racer, Kirby's personification of Death in all its inevitability, looks on.

Voicing his distaste for "super muk muks," Turpin abandons the scene to find the children and leaves the case of Orion to "the space cops" in this case Green Lantern 2814.2 John Stewart, whose ring alerted him the the 1011 in progress. Meanwhile Turpin meets up with another former cop, the Question, Renee Montoya, who alerts him to the targeting of meta children and sends him in the direction of the Dark Side Club.

John Stewart and Hal Jordan report the murder of Orion to the Guardians on Oa who dispatch the recently created Alpha Lanterns to investigate the deicide and seal the planet off for investigate as the search is on for the weapon powerful enough to commit this crime.

The dialogue heads a bit over the top (and yes, maybe it is proof of what a Morrison-freak I am that we've used the word deicide and its even after it that I use the phrase "over the top"), as Dr. Light and Mirror Master murder the newly created League of Titans in their first appearance as they recover what looks to be Metron's Mobius chair sitting atop a landfill for Libra. How over the top... well let's just say rapist Dr. Light would like some... pharmaceutical requisites for his date with Giganta... yeah.

Libra is turns out is meeting with the leaders of the new Society with his compatriot the Human Flame (a flamethrower wielding low-level one-off villain defeated by the Martian Manhunter 50 years ago). The line "We are organized supercrime specialists..." is used in it's full ostentatious capacity, but honestly, some degree of forgiveness must be present when you have a line-up of Gorilla Grodd, Talia Al Ghul, Lex Luthor (in full battle armor), Vandal Savage and Ocean Master sitting at a table. Of course, the villains are legitimately doubtful of yet ANOTHER bad guy claiming he will organize and lead the forces of evil to victory. Human Flame records the meeting on his cell phone as Dr. Light and Effigy drag in the Martian Manhunter. Libra promptly executes him while the Justice League mainstay screams the name of his wife, M'yri'ah. A great deal of criticism was laid at Morrison for killing off a top-tier hero with only three panels, but in this too-fast paced epic that character's story would unfold fuller in a tie-in.

A brief television interview shows Reverend G. Godfrey Good, the latest reincarnation of the Darkseid's master of persuasion, Glorious Godfrey, setting up shop in the ruined city of Bludhaven (destroyed in Infinite Crisis). Watching the interview, Turpin's case has lead him to the villain, the Tattooed Man, who further points him to the Dark Side Club. Upon arrival, Turpin is take before Boss Dark Side, whose older body appears to be wearing down quickly. He admits to having given the children to Granny and claims that "there was a war in heaven, Mister Turpin, and I won." Boss Dark Side then has the red eyed children revealed, the eyes indicate the infection of the Anti-Life Equation.

Superman in a meeting of the league at the Hall of Justice, restates the urgency of Orion's murder. We get it... a god is dead. And he declares Justice League Condition Amber... um, yeah, even I have some trouble defending that one. Three Alpha Lanterns arrive and seal off the earth "the foundation stone of all existence" for the investigation.

The next scene in the first issue takes us outside the multiversal orrery, where the Monitors watch on ensuring the bleed continues to insulate each of the universes despite the disruption of Earth-51's destruction, twice due to sabotage in Countdown. The monitor of that world, Nix Uotan, is exiled by the Prime Monitor Tahoteh to be stripped of his powers to live out a normal life as a "mortal germ" for his failure. He screams he will find a way back to his love, Weeja Dell, before disappearing. Weeja Dell after weeping for her barely understood love is comforted by another female, Zillo Valla, who worries about their new emotions and the contamination of their species by interacting in the worlds of the orrery. Meanwhile the Monitor of Earth-8 and villain of Countdown, Solomon, states that his only opposition Uotan is now gone.

The issue next shows Anthro drawing Metron's symbol into the sand then he is transported forward to a post-apocalyptic future scene that Morrison had planned well in advance, with Kirby's Kamandi (The Last Boy) demanding "Metron gave you a weapon against the gods. We need it now!" Finally, Uotan awakens as a mortal while a television reports on the Martian Manhunter's death.

As far as first issues go, one has to realize that those unfamiliar with the work of Jack Kirby and the recent Countdown series will be largely lost and the significant amount of focus on the unexplored relationships of the Monitors and Dan Turpin may lack in a proper scope. But the story hums along relatively smoothly (for me) and J.G. Jones' art is fantastic excluding the page with the Justice League meeting where every face looks rushed, but the highlight is the opening with Anthro. Also, note the alternate cover with the cave drawings... we'll get back to that one someday.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5


Final Crisis: Requiem - "Caretakers of Mars"
Written by Peter J. Tomasi, Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Rodney Ramos

This book is set during and after Final Crisis #1, beginning with the funeral on Mars of J'onn J'onzz, then flashing back to his torture and murder by the Society and Libra, in this version however he is able to fight back as the Justice League burst in and quickly murders and defeats the villains, which is in short order revealed to be a desperate mental gamble by J'onn who upon his death flashes out to Superman, Batman, Black Canary, Hal Jordan and Gypsy. The artwork is detailed enough while not shying away some more gruesome elements and Tomasi's line from Hal while standing over the body, "Look how they slaughtered our friend." sets the remorseful tone of the issue. The rather simple approach makes this a far easier read than the main series. Each of the five friends he mentally touched begin involuntarily taking down part of the history of J'onzz's memories of his home planet to save the last record of his species. After the well-attended funeral it is these five wait behind and promise to keep him and his people alive in their hearts. It was Bruce Wayne though who gets the final moment though leaving one of the Manhunter's favorite cookies behind with him.

Final score: 3 stars out of 5


Final Crisis #2 - "TICKET to BLUDHAVEN"
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by J.G. Jones

This is the issue that turned off a good deal of the mainstream. Let's face it the very concept of a "Super Young Team" or an issue starting "STOP! You must be supercool to proceed! Your life depends on it!" is a big stretch. But let's face it the kitschy history of DC needs to be represented too if you're going to cover everything. So some supercool superhero fans are going to factor in somewhere, there will be a Robin backpack, a Killing Joke t-shirt, young girls in Mary Marvel and Wonder Woman costumes, maybe a Stormtrooper or two and a Pow-Bam-Zap shirt deserve a place too. In a club these young wannabe superheroes watch a news report on Japan's older heroes led by Rising Sun. The idea of the older traditional superheroes and the young generation just as concerned about looking cool and meeting famous people is really what the series and all the work with the New Gods rebirth is about, rebirthing concepts through to a newer and fresher generation. And just because their names are that awesome... the role call of the Super Young Team is Shiny Happy Aquazon, Well-Spoken Sonic Lightning Flash, Shy Crazy Lolita Canary, Most-Excellent Super Bat and Big Atomic Lantern Boy.

Also in the bar, the superstar Sony Sumo (another Kirby creation and friend of the Fourth World's hippie-inspired Forever People) is attacked by and rips the heart out of the armored Megayakuza and while ignoring the SYT's requests for autographs goes to clean himself up in the bathroom. There he is confronted by the world famous escape artist and protege of the New God Scott Free, Shilo Norman, the new Mr. Miracle and star of Seven Soldiers: Mr. Miracle miniseries by Morrison. The idea of pushing Sonny together with the SYT, a band of counter-culture independent kids lends a very serious vibe of -- this has all happened before and it will all happen again.

For now Shilo is trying to convince Sonny that Motherboxx (the portable supercomputer Mother Box) brought them together to form a team to defeat the evil victors of a cosmic war.

Of in his new little corner of the world, Uotan, is getting every bit of the worth at his "germ" life toiling away at Big Belly Burger and mumbling various words out of the dictionary to find his secret word, convinced he is destined for something great, doodling pictures of various characters from other realities. The next check in with Turpin, in full beatdown mode, going after the Mad Hatter demanding to know how the children are being controlled by Boss Dark Side. In the background, a news report notes Reverend Good continuing to pressure for relief in Bludhaven, which just happens to be where Hatter tells Turpin the children are now located. One especially telling picture shows Turpin's reflection in a fractured mirror as he laments his course, but buys a ticket to Bludhaven regardless.

A single page shows a scene from Requiem of the funeral of the Manhunter with Superman delivering a eulogy that ends in the line that reflects not just his Christian upbringing, but the biggest in-joke in comics, "We'll all miss him. And pray for resurrection." Yeah, it's comics... they're never gone... ... this is what those of us in the writing business refer to as foreshadowing, my friends.

While the heroes mourn, Libra continues to push for the villains to unite under his god's banner. While Luthor remains unconvinced this undefined quantity could hurt a bigger hero like Superman, a larger number have gathered (including Shadow Thief, Zoom, Deathstroke and Weather Wizard) and Clayface is ready to jump on board after Libra's job helping the Human Flame. Of course, Luthor being Luthor by the next panel already has Sivana recruited in an alliance against Libra, though his attempts to recruit Savage come up short. And poor Human Flame like the ZZZ-lister he is, ends up pulled away by Libra to discuss what is owed.

Batman, fresh from the conclusion of R.I.P., takes the lead in the Orion investigation by dispatching the Flash to the crimescene, convinced there is evidence the speedster can discover, and even the arrival of the Alpha Lantern Kraken doesn't stop his take-charge role. Despite her assertion that earth lacks the technology for the autopsy, the man with all the answers states Orion was shot, though there was no exterior wound, due to the internal trauma and dispatched John Stewart to recover a bullet. Sure enough Stewart finds the bullet (though it had been buried in concrete for 50 years), leaking Radion, a toxin lethal to the New Gods (theotoxic). Unfortunately he is quickly assaulted by an unseen Green Lantern and the Alphas arrest Jordan based on his history of infection by Parralax.

Batman quickly confronts Kraken, who mutters "she's eating my mind alive." Batman notices an injury Stewart gave her and after a brief struggle she subdues the Dark Knight and throws him through a boom tube, revealing herself as infected by a Fourth World villain.

In his search for the missing children, Turpin searches the ruins of Bludhaven, avoiding the Atomic Knights (more on them next issue). He is led to an underground base by Reverend Good, who recognized the detective. He reveals his status as a New God of Apokolips and refers to "your son Kalibak, the Cruel" which indicates Turpin is now carrying the spirit of Darkseid inside his mind and mutters, "my son is dead" referring to Orion, I believe. Kamandi appears here as one of the slaves in cages at Command-D, honestly even I'm not entirely sure why he's here, possibly a refuge from Earth-51 which has already died. Also captured which a rather sinister looking helmet hanging above his head is Batman, while Kraken and two of Darkseid minions, Mokkari and Simyan, are operating on Kalibak's new body, building better bad guys.

The next scene is at the Daily Planet where Clark has just turned in an obit on the Manhunter and Lois asks Jimmy to run a story on the missing children downstairs for her. He refers to her as "Mrs. Kent" as opposed to "Ms. Lane" or "Lois" which hints to a short series of events where he's revealed as Clayface and an explosion takes out several floors of the building, leaving Lois buried and at best gravely injured.

Two generations of Flashes, Wally West and Jay Garrick arrive at the strip club where Libra had until recently been meeting, leading to one of the funnier exchanges in this very dark book, "You know this is where Barry and I met all those years ago." "At a strip bar? Nobody told me that when I was Kid Flash." Turns out it was a community center years back, but still it's nice of Morrison to inject a bit of humor into an event comic that really isn't going to have many light moments. Here they discover the "phony Crime Bible" and a plastic copy of the Mobius chair. And Wally brings up the point Batman thought the bullet was hidden by being fired backwards through time at Orion. Jay of course mentions that "I hate anything to do with time in all forms."

Of course that's a statement most hardcore science fiction fans might nod their head with, noting how generally inaccurate virtually every comic book take on science and time travel has been. Wally recognized the Mobius chair as the scope of the hyperdimensional gun and sure enough the scope starts opening up for them and Jay feels some very familiar vibrations (the Flashes were able to transfer throughout the multiverse by adjusting their internal vibrations).

And the long hinted at return in the flesh takes place for the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen. The speedster to which all others are compared bursts forward chasing the Radion bullet and trailed by Death himself, the Black Racer. This was the first big splash panel surprise of the series and Jones absolutely nailed everything from the sense of Barry's movement to his facial expression. And with things getting worse for Batman, Superman and Hal Jordan, it's good at least to have another of the world's definitive heroes back in the mix.

In the issue overall, Morrison did a fine job of picking up the pace and keeping the events focused on several of DC's biggest names as significant events happened to them. Despite everything though it is this ultimate tragic fall for Turpin that is the heart of the series so far. It's made all the more terrifying by asking the question of why he was looking for the children in the first place. Was it his own crusade and fierce internal drive? Or was this just further machinations of Darkseid making sure his new body got to the right place at the right time to be turned over for... alterations by the mad scientists of Apokolips? Whereas in previous events, minor characters get killed, there is usually one or two heroic sacrifices and good triumphs in the end... but I'm not sure if anything as bad as what happens to Turpin has taken place before... his fall is just beginning.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5



Billy's Favorite Retro Games! (Part 3 of 200)

Originally written 9/3/06

This is presented here for completion.

Today's edition is a perennial favorite among gamers. One which has been with us since the very beginning of the NES era. It's a classic for it's pick up and play quality, but that's not to say it's a great game...

So what is it? Well, it's none other than...Duck Hunt!

Yes, Duck Hunt. For many of us, it was the other game that came with Super Mario Bros. No one bought an NES for Duck Hunt. It was just...
And so we played it.

isn't exactly true in my case. I figure that playing Duck Hunt the way it was MEANT to be played would mean sitting a nice distance from the TV and actually taking the game seriously. I don't know about anyone else, but my sister and I (in a completely uncharacteristically friendly moment between us) would play this fucking game as close to the TV as possible, thereby removing all traces of challenge.

And despite the fact that the game is called Duck
fucking Hunt, I spent ninety percent of my time playing in
the Clay Shooting mode. Even though it isn't
clay pigeon shooting, I still was baffled as to why the clay discs were called pigeons. But the main reason I played the Clay Shoot (And this was, I believe, one of my finest moments as a five-year-old. It ranks just behind the time I mixed all stuff in the medicine cabinet to create a "concoction." Which I then spilled on my bedroom floor) was to shoot the pigeons just as they passed in front of the mountains.

I did this because the score for that pigeon would pop up on the side of that green mountain and my five-year-old self formulated a wondrous story about the groundskeeper at this shooting range, and how he loved to mow the score for the pigeons into the side of the mountain just for

I am totally serious here...

And that is why I love Duck Hunt.

But of course, there is something about Duck Hunt that I hate. Something that I hate and that I'm fairly certain everyone else hates too. Someone--some snickering little prick...

Yeah, you remember this little guy, right? Who could forget him? Judging, laughing, watching...thanks to you I have a crippling anxiety disorder. Screw you, dog!


Reviving the Classic

Friday Night Lights: How The Other Half Live
Season 3 Episode 3

Despite the modern tendencies towards doing so, I try to avoid throwing around the term "classic" that much. It's a lot to ask for something to be just as enjoyable five months or five years down the road. "Enjoyable" is a much better term. Rocky Balboa was enjoyable. Rocky I, III and IV were classic. Rocky V didn't happen. Got it? The thing is there hasn't been many classic sports movies in the last 20 years. Enjoyable? Sure. Rewatchable? Throw on Varsity Blues and I'm set until I hear the Dawson scream through one of the top ten worst non-Kennedy accent attempts ever "AH DON'T WANT YOAHR LIFE!". Good times. But classic? Maybe Rounders, Jerry Maguire, parts of He Got Game. And look at television... there wasn't a classic sports tv show during the first quarter century of my life. Sorry, Hang Time doesn't rate friends. But Friday Night Lights got it... and lost it... now could it be back? Check below the cut to find out "How The Other Half Live".

Forgiving the often implausible endings, the first season was about everything a sports fan could want out of a sports show and on top of that one of the better dramas on television. Second season... let's just say a season that begins with the most innocent, enjoyably flawed kid in school beating an attempted racist to death, then covering up the murder, first alone and then with his sheriff dad (played by Mr. Aaron Peirce himself, Glenn Morshower)... not so much. They tried amping up the teen drama in virtually every storyline to generally mixed to poor results.

But we're three episodes in an nobody's dead. And if this one season is all we get, it will be more than worth what they went through to get here. Four more episodes each with Smash and Street and one more year with Seven, Riggs, the lovely Lyla and the often annoying Tyra.

The arrival of the super-rich McCoys and their golden-armed QB son JD have so far been set up as the first real villains (for lack of a better word) in the history of the show. At least the first that we will see for more than a few episodes. Of course, we've hardly heard word one from the young man himself. All we know is he has a great arm, lots of potential and a super-rich dad trying to push him into the starting spot past Matt Saracen, a kid who lives with and takes care of his dementia-suffering Grandmother and has struggled to be an adequate replacement for the last next big thing, Jason Street, since day one. On that fact alone, the kid is hated... at least until we actually get to see more of him.

No the big problem is Joe McCoy, a rich beer distributor who moved his entire family to Dillon to force his son into the limelight, really standard living vicariously through your child no matter the consequences (for further example see every high school football story ever told). At the start of the episode he's taken over the field in the mornings to chat with the boosters and have his son school by a high-paid young QB specialist, Wade Aikmen, for thousands of dollars a month. All this goes over great for Matt, who has always been significantly defined by his abandonment and self-esteem issues (see his dad going to Iraq indefinitely, his recently returned mom having abandoned him as a baby, even Coach's daughter Julie dumping him in early season two... for no good reason... ah season two, ugh). Thank heavens for Coach, "That's not my quarterback. You're my quarterback."

The thing that separates this show from just about everything else is the relationship between Eric and Tami Taylor... just a couple that loves each other so freaking honestly and despite the fact it would be more dramatic to have them at odds, always love each other and their teenage daughter Julie and their baby at the end of the day. Realizing how starry-eyed this sounds coming from a child of divorce, it's the most realistic, mature and interesting relationship on television. All the credit in the world goes to Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton here. This week, Tami must go through the annual team BBQ ritual, an enormous pain in the butt that Eric absolutely never helps with.

At least she runs into her new BFF Nadine McCoy at the grocery store. Let's just say Eric does not appreciate the idea of holding HIS annual BBQ at the home of the millionaire trying to dictate the terms for the team in an manner that grows less passive-aggressive every day. At least it led to the following exchange:

"Explain somethin' to me. How can we be a host of our BBQ at their house. Isn't the definition of hosting when you have something at your house."

"Well I think it's like co-hosting."

Of course every fear Eric has is realized with Matt feeling even more pressure and Eric getting cornered by Buddy, Joe and Wade. And getting pushed to start JD within two seconds. The difference between Buddy Garrity who pushes because he loves his former team WAY too much and in the end still wants to play pool with Eric and Joe who just grins cockily, absolutely certain in his power to get his way in the end... this is why we like Buddy. At least Eric and Tami end up in a wonderful place as they compare him being pressured regarding JD to her decision as the recently named principal to reallocated Buddy and Joe's JumboTron money for badly needed school supplies at Dillon High.

Eric: "You know who I miss... I miss the coach's wife"

Tami: "You know who I can't wait to meet... principal's husband."

Eric: "Touche"

The on-going punchline of the town hick Billy Riggins and stripper Mindy Collette (the older siblings of longtime fullback Tim Riggins and former-bad girl, now college admission hopeful Tyra Collette) getting married is usually played (very effectively) for laughs. Kind of like when Mindy professes her love through a Finding Nemo quote. But this year's felony, Billy and Tim ripping off a supply of copper doesn't come off phony like the murder, but tragically believable. This really is the only way this guy can pay for his wedding and the start of his new life. And an excellent job by Taylor Kitsch (star of the upcoming Wolverine movie) as Tim, who really shows some conflict blowing off the BBQ and his girlfriend Lyla, but is hardwired to be there for the screw-up older brother, who could have but never did abandon him. A true wingman, even to the big brother that tells him he'd be a much better criminal than the guy who bailed on him.

Another of the senior players, Matt, is well on his way to a reunion with former girlfriend, Julie Taylor. Which is about the only thing this poor kid has going for him right now. Since the almost never beaten Arnett Meade coming up Friday and the entire town drinking the McCoy Kool-Aid, this guy is constantly reminded he only got a shot because Jason Street (still a no-show after three weeks, his four episode farewell storyline kicks off next week) went down.

During the game, yes contrary to season two this is actually a show about a high school football team so they show some football, Matt becomes a real hero. Getting his butt thoroughly destroyed for four quarters getting up from every hard and late hit. My one continual complaint about the games is that they feature no player on the defense, since their only thematic prupose here is to stink enough to make Matt's job harder. Really, where is the scene of Eric tearing into a linebacker? And a miracle scramble by Matt before fumbling away the game... Zach Gilford once again proves he has a future... regardless of whether he is back next year.

I haven't mentioned much about former star tailback Smash Williams, played by Gaius Charles, in his second to last episode. The thing is they probably could have skipped this bit about him considering a managerial position at the Alamo Freeze instead of hauling his rehabbed knee off to college tryouts with Eric. No way they spend two episodes getting him back to where he was physically and emotionally to being the kid that was going to wow the world and he considers not doing it at the nearly last minute to stop his mother from taking a second job. It just rings false. At least it gives his Mama, Corrina a chance to shine, "Honey, I didn't have kids to buy me no house. What is wrong with you?"

Some other highlights:

Eric refusing to let the valet park his truck at the McCoy McMansion.

After the boys rip down the fence, the rottweilers chasing down the Riggins brothers only to run past them to freedom... glorious freedom!

Matt and Julie mocking the McCoys' JD Glory Room... complete with participation trophies from when he was nine. And JD catching them and maybe making us think he doesn't like all this much attention in the first place... maybe the kid's not as bad as his dad.

Lyla Garrity telling her dear dad, Buddy, that she won't need a ride home, while at the same time denying the tragic realization Tim absolutely will let her down and no show. And on the other hand Tim utterly refusing to give up on his brother.

Matt saying, before the final drive, "I always got one more in me." Then seeing Julie after the game. The girl who dumped him a year ago for better things, waiting for him and Matt's "Let's go somewhere and talk about anything but football."

And the best part of the episode: the silent montage at the end. Any fan of this show can tell you the moments where the actor's get a chance to be quiet and just rock our world is a continuous highlight. As long as it doesn't rely too much on the weaker actors in the group like Minka "Wow Tony Romo and John Mayer Like Me, Tee-Hee" Kelly. There is a reason one of my favorite episodes ever involves a Lyla Garrity slam page. But Eric pulling the For Sale signs out of his yard... Tami standing out on the lawn with him... Tim and Billy drinking beers at an empty pool next to their purloined copper... Matt pushing Julie's shoulder while walking the empty streets of Dillon... these goosebump scenes... we in the sports fan world call that "classic."


Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Little Less Norman, Please

This week, DC arrived with their "resolution" to Final Crisis and this series definitely wasn't what I hoped it would be. And despite all of the Big Three having a book released, only one was featured prominently. Over in Marvel, Dark Reign further established the new status quo, with Norman Osborn making his ninth appearance of the month. And I have to ask, Haven't we all been Disassembled enough?

Please note -- Events taking place in comics previous to this week can be spoiled in the reviews.

Comic Reviews for the Week of 1/28/09


Written by Christos Gage, Art by Humberto Ramos

Ah yes, Humberto... can't really hear that name without thinking of Wolverine and his 20" circular neck. His style has calmed down slightly since then, but you still know what you're getting every time out. And I have to ask, Aren't comic book characters out of proportion enough? This exaggerated style still grinds on the nerves, but considering this book has been approaching the dead zone ever since Secret Invasion, at least we won't be seeing it too much longer.

But between Secret Invasion revealing the entire Initiative was a Skrull-plot to take over the world and Marvel throwing the Disassembled label on the cover, we know it's about the end of the road for Marvel's school for superheroes. And can't really say that I'm sad to see it go. Despite the consistently high quality of the work on this title, it drastically over-populated the Marvel universe with super-powered do-gooders.

Last month, they took the case of the reveal of Mutant X's true identity as... not Jean Grey. For most of the last two years, we caught glimpses of this red-haired mutant that sprouts flames in Phoenix-like shapes. Now, we know she is a rehabilitation-attempting Typhoid Mary. Here's a clue... when Jean Grey returns it won't be on a secondary Avengers title as a covert operative for a team assembled by Henry Gyrich. Call me crazy ("CRAZY"), but it'll probably be in an X-Men title and some combination of Cyclops, Professor X and Wolverine will be present. This stuff isn't that difficult people. Lesson #2, if a comic is BLATANTLY hinting a mysterious character could be someone huge... it's always someone mediocre, always.

Anyway, the main decision left here is how this book is ending and hey, Norman Osborn driving most of the instructors away and the Thor clone turning back to bash the place up is as good an excuse as any. Admit it, you missed Clor. But credit Gage for not just giving us a big brawl here. Sending the covert branch of the team after a founding member who betrayed them does a fine job of lending a sense of history to this ultimately short-lived enjoyable series.

Final score : 2.5 stars out of 5


Written by Paul Dini, Art by Dustin Nguyen

As far as we could expect in the issue (filler between the end of Morrison's R.I.P. and Last Rites issues and Neil Gaiman's eagerly awaited "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader" story that will wrap up the title for the immediate future), we probably got more than we could have hoped for: a solid story and art. Since the series that featured her as a hero every month, Catwoman has regressed to the status of a rather altruistic villain that lies very much in the mold of the character on Dini's cartoon. Nguyen's art is not his very best, but is clear enough and together the pair deliver a fitting epilogue to their work on Detective Comics.

All-in-all this is probably one of the best issues featuring Hush since the character was introduced. Dini's biggest hurdle is probably not making most people cast the book aside between the missing title character and the casting of the villain. From the very beginning, it was painfully obvious who Hush was and he lacked any understandable motivation or modus operandi to draw the audience in. Newsflash, Bat-fans, if the hero is attacked by a mysterious new foe and in the same issue a childhood friend that meant a great deal to the hero, but has never appeared or was mentioned before in continuity... yeah...

My one regret is that DC didn't quickly hit the reset button on Hush now having Bruce Wayne's face, as recently established over in Detective. At least they have effectively shelved this plot point to the back burner until Wayne's return... whenever the heck that might be.

Final score: 3 stars out of 5


Written by Ed Brubaker, Art by Steve Epting

This is a great move. Already having been established as a credible lead, a compelling and true character, worthy in his own right, Captain America, this latest arc is really a look back into the past of Buck Barnes. This arc's main plot allows us to see him simultaneously embrace his past as an Invader by teaming up with Namor to rescue the body of the original Human Torch, while still making him confront his less heroic past as the Winter Soldier.

As the events were happening, I was firmly in the camp that bringing back Bucky and killing Steve Rogers were mistakes that reeked of editorial mandates; the kind that usually get us dreek along the lines of One More Day. But Brubaker has never made it appear that they do anything more than serve his story. We're more than three dozen issues past the point where Brubaker and Epting made it clear they were telling the definitive story of Captain America. Now nearly half a century of issues in, you have to wonder if they will ever trip up.

Epting's art is his usual top tier effort. After four years as the regular artist on the title, you know what you're getting here. The crowning achievement of redesigning the title character's costume in a way that honors the legacy, separates Bucky as his own person, and looks cool as heck, still rates as my personal favorite contribution from Epting. One further compliment for the pair making the best use of the Black Widow in possibly the entire history of the character. From the day they revealed her as the once-upon-a-time and new love interest for our new Cap, she's been reveling in her butt-kicking super-spy status.

Final score: 4.5 stars out of 5


Written by Ed Brubaker, Art by Michael Lark

If there is any book in Marvel's shop more consistently excellent than Captain America, it's this one. Brubaker and Lark took the baton from Bendis and Maleev more than two-and-a-half years ago and the story overall hasn't missed much of a beat. Which in Daredevil, pretty much means putting Matt Murdock through the wringer as often as possible. After the arc where he was in prison, his temporary hideout in Europe and his wife being driven insane, they changed the pace recently to take a bit of time to build him back up in the last dozen issues or so by saving a falsely-convicted murderer and finding perhaps a future love interest.

All that said, in this lastest Lady Bullseye arc, the team stumbled for a moment. It might be the lack of a fully developed backstory, but the new version comes off as a trick they turned to with the original Bullseye tied up in bigger things with Norman Osborn's Dark Avengers for the time being. And the ultimate plan for the recent attacks by her and the disposable members of the Hand seems unrealistic given their original stated targets and despite some shining moments of dialog and the mandatory cool-looking ninja battle, the reasoning never fully comes together.

In truth the biggest moment of the book might be the tease for the next arc, Return of the King... and I have to say it feels that after not even a couple years, it's far too quick to pull Wilson Fisk back into the mix.

Final score: 3 out of 5

FINAL CRISIS #7 (of 7)

Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Doug Mahnke

This one... nope can't fully go into it yet. I'm going to reread the entire series this weekend and talk about it in fully shortly thereafter. Some brief notes I can off is that the series hurt by the loss of JG Jones, the artist who handled the first 5.75 issues of the series and despite a decent effort by Mahnke, this one falls short. The much mentioned seven or eight inkers used prevents any unified feel from forming. And that is a quality that would be much appreciated given how rapidly and often erratically Morrison jumps around in his storytelling. Fair warning, the full Crisis story will contain spoilers up to the last page of this issue. So check back in a few days to see if I jump ship or sip the Morrison Kool-Aid one more time.


Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Billy Tan

Taken with the last issue, the latest new Avengers feels like I just got Punked. The interesting plot threads and potential divisions of long-time friends and the destruction of an innocent family gets tied up incredibly quickly and just in time to set the book up for a big brawl next month. Even Tan's art, which was generally unfairly maligned during a run on Uncanny X-Men a couple years back, seemed a step above his usual work in #48. But here we are 30 days later and it looks like the second half of the book was rushed together in half the time spent on the first half, particularily the facial expressions of several Avengers in a large group gathering. Too often it seems flat and lifeless work for Marvel's premier action title. Whether or not this was because Tan was pressed for time to move on to the big Number Five-O or if this will be a recurring flaw remains to be seen.

Bendis' main point in these issues seems to be setting up a big fight between Captain America's NEW Avengers and Norman Osborn's DARK Avengers. But all the potential set-up for the first issue: a Skrull disguised as Jarvis stealing Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' baby, Cap's Avengers tearing up the island trying to find him, and finally a desperate father turning to the newly-christened most powerful force in the world (who miraculously gained the ability to appear more often than Wolverine): the Green Goblin. But all that is tied up in a nice bow rather too quickly and we're back to the status quo in short order.

A couple of questions... Skrulls are shape-changers and one is famous for impersonating the Avenger's butler and stealing the baby... so why exactly does his escape plan include carrying the baby around and continuing to look like Jarvis?! Also, is the way to launch the first Captain America-led Avengers team in a few years with big names like Spider-Man, Wolverine and Iron Fist in the line-up really to leave the coolest moments for Venom and Bullseye?

Final score: 2 stars out of 5


Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Jerry Ordway

Justice League holds the A-list banner, but for years now those in the know have found that the JSA has been the top notch team in the DCU. The most recently concluded storyline involving the Superman from Kingdom Come and a giant purple-headed pseudo-diety named Gog (um... yeah), dragged out too long and lacked the normal emotional punches of the series with far too much seeming hollow. But while this issue doesn't exactly hit the ground running, everything moves along at least quickly enough to set-up an interesting new arc. Coming out of the brief fracturing of the team in the Gog storyline, this issue cuts between the team taking a breather while the leaders debate cutting back the line-up with Black Adam firmly rooting himself in the bad guy column with a somewhat improbable assault on the Rock of Eternity. Adam might claim that he isn't some evil villain, but in the often simple terms of superheros, it's the best way to describe characters that put their own desires for vengence above all else.

The veteran Ordway continues the fine work he showed off on the trip to Earth-2 during the JSA Annual with an arc all his own here. The highlight is the hopeful return to the fold of one of the great characters from Johns' long run on the title, Atom Smasher. And of course, seeing Stargirl sitting at the table with the founders and big guns deciding how things should be run shows how far this terrific character has come over the years.

Final score: 3.5 stars out of 5


Written by James Robinson, Art by Jesus Merino

The return to comics for Robinson, whose Starman series is one of the very finest comics ever created, has been less than ideal. So much of his work on Detective Comics back in the good old One Year Later days was ignored in the years that followed. His reign in Superman started with the misguided crossover event of New Krypton running throughout Action Comics, Supergirl and here. The concept never delivered on its potential and despite massively changing the Man of Steel's status in the world, never came close to the quality of previous character-driven events like Sinestro Corp War. Now his first issue since then prevents him from telling much of a Superman story since the DC line-wide Faces of Evil gimmick is pushing the villians perspective to the forefront.

So between the somewhat forced Parasite narration, some brief background on the Kryptonians, Nightwing and Flamebirds, who will be the focus of Action Comics in the coming months, and teasing YET ANOTHER brief crossover return trip to the Phantom Zone... it just seems like the editors are strangling the talents of one of the best available writers. The one section that feels like Robinson's own and something he will use in the future is the Guardian taking command of the Science Police following the numerous deaths in New Krypton (deaths that wasted yet more potentially interesting characters). A non-powered supporting cast with three-dimensional characters involved in the fate of the city was a staple of Starman. The idea of a juxtaposition between the indestructible Superman and a tough guy with a shield and helmet fighting the battles to protect the single city is something that I'd look forward to reading.

All the potential of the book is limited however, by the idea of Superman heading off planet and out of his titles for a time. Didn't Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman just take a year off the comics-equivalent of... um five months ago? Do we really need to do without two of them AGAIN?

Final score: 2 stars out of 5


Written by Gail Simone, Art by Aaron Lopresti

Don't let this one cover fool you. Despite many other DC books letting the bad guys run the show, this is still Wonder Woman's story, told from her perspective, just featuring Cheetah towards the later half. The bulk of this issue is WW's preparation to face the new monster, Genocide, who stomped her thoroughly two issues past and is currently trouncing the less powerful members of the Justice League. The battle delivers a good bit of action and carnage, pushing home the point that this superhero cuts into a problem in a more efficient manner than most others out there.

Since taking over the title, Simone has at the least given the character a consistent voice and tried to move past the debacle that was Amazons Attack. The bad taste over that mess is a cloud hanging over Simone's consistent movements toward the showdown with the Amazons male replacements, led by Jason and his Argonauts. But at least here, Simone seems to stay true to the Greek mythology background of the book. Lopresti's artwork has been a highlight recently. He plots the battle scenes well and doesn't hide the brutality off-panel. While the character still often comes off as stilted in her conversations, it's at least consistent with her unique and isolated history.

Final score: 3 stars out of 5


Everything Right Is Wrong Again, But Damn Does It Feel Right

LOST: Jughead
Season 5 Episode 3

Everything right is wrong again
Every movement false, every four is waltz again
Every five and dime's been gained and spent
Tell me that you like my float upstream
Draw the line dividing laugh and scream
You know everything that I know so I know
You've heard the voice that makes the silent noise
That says that

Everything that's right is wrong again

~They Might Be Giants

Spoilers for last night's Lost after the jump.

I've had a love-hate relationship with Lost ever since the season one reveal of 'The Hatch.' I loved the first eight episodes of the series but when show co-creator JJ Abrams left to direct Mission Impossible 3, I felt the brakes were applied to the story and the characters became obnoxious twits.

Flash forward (no pun intended) to the end of season 3 where the producers revealed that at least some of the castaways had, at some point in the future, gotten off the island. This reveal reinvigorated the series for me, but Lost, for me, is always at it's best when it's pushing a science fiction story and from season 3 onward the series has had some interesting tales to tell with time travel.

Before season 5 the time travel was only slightly used but now with the island (or rather the castaways) being "unstuck" in time Lost is no longer merely skirting the science fiction genre. No, now Lost is diving head first into the deep end of the science fiction swimming pool

Time travel is always a tough literary technique to get a grasp on but thankfully Executive Producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have saved the show from becoming a mess of time paradoxes like other television shows that use the conceit(cough cough Heroes) by essentially saying that time is a closed circuit and that anything that is, was, or will happen cannot be changed...mostly. The one caveat to the closed circuit time-line is the relationship between previously unstuck Desmond Hume and Physicist Daniel Faraday, who can apparently slightly alter their path's because of previously meeting while Desmond was traveling into the past.

This season thus far has been all about the 815 survivors still on the island moving willy-nilly from time period to time period, and the Oceanic 6 having their own off island adventures.
The show seems to have completely shucked they flashback/flashforward template that it used for it's first four seasons. This change is a great move for the series, I was at once elated and intimidated by this new order. For the first time in years I actually feel nervous about the fates of particular characters. The island has been particularly fun with Locke running into a veritable who's who and what's what of the island's past(seeing both the drug smuggler plane crash and being shot by long dead Ethan) before meeting up with Richard Alpert. Alpert, of course, realizes what's going on an gives Locke a compass(the same compass he used in the test on young Locke in the episode "Cabin Fever") to use as proof that they have met before or will meet later, rather.

Everything is terribly complicated this season, way more complicated than the show has been in the past. The thing is, it's also way more compelling that Lost has ever been before. I couldn't help but think of the They Might Be Giants song 'Everything Right Is Wrong Again' while watching this episode. Things are happening out of order, people are telling other people about meetings that haven't happened for us to witness. It's a great way to subvert our expectations for the rest of the season.

For the first time in many years, I am extremely positive about the direction a Lost season is taking and that makes me feel a confidence for the series' end game that I've never had before.

Some random thoughts:

  • Desmond and Penny have kid and he's named after Charlie! Nice reference since Charlie sacked himself to speak to Penny in season 3.
  • Is the busted H-Bomb, Jughead, still somewhere on the island?
  • Charles Widmore was an Other? Guess this conflict between Ben and Chuckles really has been going on for longer than Desmond can imagine.
  • Is Ellie the Other a younger version of Eloise Hawking from The Lie and Flashes Before Your Eyes?
  • And more importantly is SHE Faraday's mother?
That's it for now. Stay tuned next week for The Little Prince.


Billy's Favorite Retro Games (Part 2 of 200)

Billy's Favorite Retro Games (Part 2 of 200)

Originally written 9/1/06
This is presented here for completion.

1985 has GOT to be one of my favorite years. Just think about it: Mr Belvedere, Nintendo, Back to the friggin' Future, Macgyver, Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (the greatest fucking movie title of the 80s), Rocky 4 and most importantly... The Goonies (ok, maybe not MOST importantly, but most importantly to THIS post).

So, once we all got our hands on the majesty of the NES, us Goonies fanatics were of course interested in playing the game adaptation of our beloved movie. Konami was there of course to show us all why liscensed video games are usually crap with Goonies 2. Now, it didn't take a genius to realize that we had not gotten to play original Goonies game, hell even the explanation that the game was a sequel to the movie doesn't really hold any water because I don't recall Mikey befriending a mermaid in the fucking movie. No...we the shaft. "The Shaft" is defined as the feeling we Western Gamers get whenever we hear of something really cool in Japan, it's true look it up.

So flash forward to 2004, I was checking out a CD I had acquired from a disreputable fellow employee which included nearly every NES game produced. Lo and behold...the elusive NES Goonies was on this disc!

I could not wait to play it, and play it I did. The first thing, and let's be honest here, the only reason this game is on this list is because of one simple reason: Cyndi Lauper's The Goonies R Good Enough in MIDI ! Don't believe me? Hit that link and listen for yourself. Don't worry, I'll wait.


Now tell me that wasn't badass. Shut up, it totally was!

The gameplay is basic platforming from the 80s, you play as Mikey who decides to take "his time, his time down here" to save his friends from the Fratelli's. Apparently the Fratelli clan is much larger than the movie makes them appear because everytime you kill one of these bastards they keep coming back. In addition to evil mobsters you also have to confront mice and ghosts. I don't recall mice or ghosts in the movie, but those tunnels were littered with dead pirates, so who knows.

So...Yes. I love the Goonies game. I love digital synthesized versions of Cyndi Lauper, and I LOVE good (or is that bad) Engrish...

Congratulation indeed.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Favorite Sports Movies

(In no particular order)
The Mighty Ducks

Although several movie studios have made classic sports movies, nothing tugs at my sports nut heart then the Disney classics of my childhood. One of the first in the line is 1992's 'The Mighty Ducks'. What other movie can you name that then became the namesake of a professional team (NHL's Mighty Ducks of Anaheim)?

The Mighty Ducks is the story of Gordon Bombay, a hot shot Minneapolis lawyer who is at the top of his game. After losing his first trial, Gordon goes on a high speed drive while drinking a bottle of vodka. Gordon is then pulled over and is forced into community service. During the opening credits we are shown that Gordon was a fantastic Pee Wee hockey player. He is going in for a penalty shot and hits the post and costs his team, the Hawks, the championship.
Gordon is then given a Pee Wee team to coach as his community service, the Unnamed District 5. It is shown that the team is basically a rag tag team of poor kids that are using hand-me-down hockey gear.

I an attempt to find something from his past, Gordon returns to the old hockey store where he grew up at and gets some life lessons from the old store owner, Hans. Hans, an old Swedish man, helps revoke Gordon's passion for hockey. We have learned that the season that Gordon missed the penalty shot was the year his father died which had caused Gordon to give up his hockey dreams.

Bombay then returns to the District 5 team with a new found spirit, gets the team proper equipment, and then renames the team to the Ducks.

The Ducks then go on a tear and start to become a championship team. They then make it to the final game to face the Hawks. The Hawks are Bombay's former team who are still coached by the same man, the ever popular dick coach Jack Reilly. Reilly is your A-typical youth league coach that is always looking for the 'W' at all costs. Being a youth sports organizer I despise these type of ego driven coaches who are teaching kids this unclassy style of play. This personally makes him the perfect antagonist for this movie.

The championship game is a perfect ending for any sports movie. The Hawks take a huge early lead and appear to cruise to victory. I would be perfectly content with this ending. The Ducks, a rag tag group, comes out of no where to the finals and lose. This situation happens all the time. And being a movie for kids aged 8-13 can teach them that you can learn just as much from losing as you can from winning. Of course, this IS a Disney movie, so the happy fluffy ending is what we will be left with.

The Ducks then probably use more trick plays than the Harlem Globetrotters and the And 1 basketball tour combined to win. The creme de la creme of these is the 'Flying V' which pays homage to their name sake. It then takes a penalty shot for the team to wrap up their championship. Charlie, who was the one that drew the penalty, is the one to take the shot. I guess the rest they say is history.

I personally enjoy D2:The Mighty Ducks more then its prequel. I chose the orginal due to its success creating my first NHL team.

Due to the connection of the movie, I fell in love with the Ducks. They had quite a few successful teams through my childhood, but of course broke my heart when they changed owners and basically elminated themselves from anything to do with the movie.
UGH, this logo still makes me cringe.

The Mighty Ducks shows that anyone can overcome adversity and that you can persevere from the past, even returning to something you never thought you could return to.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A New Dream

Since reuniting with his long-time compatriots in the E Street Band at the turn of the millennium, Springsteen and the group have produced three studio albums that can’t help but feel like a single great trilogy of work. But while the 2002 masterpiece The Rising sprung out of courage, grief and pain in the aftermath of 9/11 and 2007’s Magic pushed a strong electric guitar blast of aggression in the heart of the second Bush administration, their latest effort is a wonderful reflection of the nation’s bountiful optimism of the newly born-Obama Era.

Here it seems the efforts to capture the group’s full sound are finally achieved. And that really is the key to why this record works. The lyrics are full of the character flaws and failures and harsh realities that Springsteen has always had, as he wails in “Life Itself,” “You squandered all your riches your beauty and your wealth/Like you had no further use for, for life itself” and haunts us with “We reach for starlight all night long/But gravity’s too strong” in “This Life.” But in this instance it seems the upbeat music of album keeps us going through love lost and even unfulfilled, a half-blind man and even an outlaw cowboy, and a positive gleam repeatedly springs up as he says, “A beauty in the neighborhood/This lonely planet never looked so good.”

The most challenging part of the effort is the opening track, “Outlaw Pete” where Springsteen’s pseudo-corny cowboy lyrics are saved by an incredibly layered melodic effort. For eight solid minutes, themes pile on top of one another evoking everything from a repeated Once Upon a Time in the West inspired-harmonica and church bell riff to Soozie Tyrell’s lifting violin piled on top of multiple organs, keyboards and guitars bringing the song higher and higher to where this album will live. Listening to just the music, this tracks takes us from the darker place we’ve been living to where we want to be… somewhere greater.

While often full of darker lyrics in the truest Springsteen fashion, the repeatedly wonderful melodies kick into high gear with the up-tempo “My Lucky Day”, become literally toe-tapping in “Tomorrow Never Knows” and finally end up in a place bordering on pop in “Surprise, Surprise,” a song that five times through still puts a smile on my face. The title track evokes so much of what was felt and said in “Counting on a Miracle” from The Rising, it’s as if the previous effort is just a bit older and world-worn and ties the two albums together even further.

From a production standpoint, Working on a Dream is the fully-realized artistry of a man who has worked on little else in the previous 35 years. The grandest achievement by the band and producer Brendan O’Brien is that despite being the most technically mature work in Springsteen’s entire discography, virtually every track evokes the sense of the band’s free-flowing concert efforts. It’s hard to imagine many of these songs not working live, perhaps the lone problem that weighed down many tracks from The Rising.

But in a sad way, this truly seems to be not only the end of a great trilogy of albums, but a reminder of taking a sense of joy while the opportunity still presents itself. The dedication to Danny Federici, a founding member of the E Street Band who passed last April after a long battle with melanoma, is not just there in heartfelt written words at the close of the album’s booklet, but the final track, “The Last Carnival.” A quiet, almost lullaby opening leading to acoustic guitars lends a real sense of conclusion not only to this album, but a period in Springsteen’s career. The familiar lyrics of a friend lost, no longer there when we reach for him, are accompanied by some of the simplest backup; light guitars with none of the drums or complex strings and accordions that are present elsewhere on the record. But in the end even these words and simple melodies fade away and in one final effort as a chorus of voices tries to lift us back up to somewhere fuller, happier and where the band can feel the presence of their friend.

Final Score:

An additional note: In a thematic sense, that is the end of the album, but there is the final bonus track “The Wrestler,” the Golden Globe-winning title track from Darren Aronofsky’s latest film. I’ll address this song in a bit more detail in an upcoming Oscar podcast with my That’s a Wrap compatriots. It doesn’t really blend well with the rest of the work here and while I appreciate not having to purchase a separate single or the film’s soundtrack, it’s important to see “The Last Carnival” as the end of this album and judge the single separately. I remain pleasantly happy I first heard this song in it's best place, over the closing credits of the film.


He's Not Just Any Kind Of Commando...

Originally written 9/1/06
This is presented here for completion.

Billy's Favorite Retro Games (Part 1 of 200)

It's got guns, bionic arms and Nazis (only in Japan); It's Bionic Commando!

And it's one of my all time favorite games. In the American version you play as Radd Spencer who is the first American Bionic Commando. Which means he has a robot arm and a nifty green jumpsuit. The world is in peril and the United States greatest hero Super Joe has gone missing (Super Joe was the hero of the much less cool Capcom game Commando), and the evil Badds are behind it. So, Radd must kick some Badds ass and stop them from reviving their leader Master-D.

Despite the heavy censorship by Nintendo of America, Bionic Commando still kicks alot of ass. So what if Hitler's name is changed to Master-D (I simply pretend that Hitler decided to join an 80s hip hop group in addition to ... you know...destroying the world and kidnapping Super Joe), and the Nazis are now Badds.

The arcade version of this game was released in 1987. While on vacation with my parents in around that time at Put-in Bay I noticed this game in a local Arcade. Nearly twenty years later I finally got a chance to play this game as part of the Capcom Classics line for the Playstation Portable...It sucked. Thankfully Capcom is finally embracing this wonderful game with the recent Xbox Live and Playstation Network remake Bionic Commando Rearmed and the soon to be released next-gen sequel.


Welcome to That's A Wrap!

Hello and welcome to our little corner of the proverbial 'netz.' You've stumbled upon otherwise know to us cool kids as That's A Wrap.

That's A Wrap began it's life as small television production at Edinboro University some years back. We began with a simple object in mind: provide news, reviews and commentary on the various entertainment forms that we loved. Oftentimes those reviews were tempered with a strong acerbity, because...well, sometimes I like to complain.

As with everything, the television show came to a close (though someone at the University forgot to get the notice), but thankfully because of the internet, it's not the end.

So, get comfortable, grab yourself a taco and join me, Jim, and Garrett for all the DVD, television, comic book, film reviews, news and other assorted wackiness that we can find the time to muster up.