Monday, November 30, 2009

So You Can Smell Like a Pretty Klingon

In the past, Alex has asserted that comics fans have been stereotyped as smelly folk; fortunately, it seems as though someone is finally doing their part to save comics fans who like Star Trek from an unpleasantly pungent fate.

I'm a few months behind the times on this one (as usual), but a company called Genki Wear has released a line of Star Trek-themed colognes and perfume, which are guaranteed to make us carbon-based lifeforms smell a little less like ugly bags of mostly swamp water.

Star Trek Tiberius cologneThe names of the fragrances are priceless. "Red Shirt - Because tomorrow may never come." "Tiberius - Boldly Go." "Pon Farr - Drive him crazy." Also, there's a top-secret cologne that I received as an early Christmas gift: "KHAAANN! - Engineered to be superior." I say it's top-secret because it's a limited edition that was supposedly only available at Comic Khan. Erm, Con.

Here's the description on the back of the box, exactly as written (minus the cool Star Trek font):

Khan Noonien Singh
Superior ability breeds superior ambition.

Genetically engineered to possess incredible strength and superior intellect, he was revived from 200 years of suspended animation by Captain James T. Kirk, and with the help of the Genesis Device, became Kirk's greatest enemy.

KHAAANN! is a cologne that never surrenders; allowing you to be as daunting and assertive as a bare-chested man can be. KHAAANN! lunges forth with a clatter of citrus and bergamot, followed by agressive midnotes of agar wood and vetiver, creating a long-lasting incense-infused fragrance that slowly dies down to a warm and sensual smoky ambergris scent.

Like a cold dish of revenge, KHAAANN! cologne sets a tone and tells the world you're a man limited by nothing but two dimensional thinking.

KHAAANN! Cologne
Stab at Thee

Star Trek Khaaann! cologneNow, I'm not normally a fan of stinkwater, but this stuff actually smells quite nice. In a manly way. Plus, it's Star Trek! Simply slapping the Star Trek logo on a product doesn't automatically make it good, mind you; however, this is a rare cologne that I actually like, and the bottle should be fun to hang on to as well.

Mostly, though, I can't wait for the day when somebody asks me, "What cologne are you wearing?" and I can legitimately respond with, "KHAAANN!"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Better the Second Time Around

Quantum of Solace posterWhen I look at the backlog of comics, video games, movies, books, TV shows, etc. I have yet to experience, it seems wasteful to go back and reread/replay/rewatch anything at all, unless I'm introducing someone else to a fandom I enjoy. What seems even more wasteful, however, is going back to something I've already experienced that I didn't much care for the first time around.

Despite my stance on the matter, I found myself willingly rewatching Quantum of Solace, a James Bond movie that did not exactly receive glowing praise when I reviewed it just over a year ago.

In case you don't remember my review or can't be bothered to click on the link above, I stated that QoS was "A series of big action scenes strung together by just enough plot to give the film a direction," and I essentially concluded that the film was mildly forgettable and didn't do enough to establish itself as a James Bond movie instead of just another action flick.

Quantum of Solace movie stillI went into QoS expecting the same thing I expect from every 007 movie: Cool action sequences, slick spy antics, attractive women, nifty gadgets, varied locations, snappy one-liners, and a plot so twisty that it takes me three viewings just to remember the villain's name. Furthermore, Casino Royale set the bar pretty high for its sequel; I was also expecting a character-driven story and some very creative and unexpected scenes (such as any one of the action sequences from Casino Royale).

I was disappointed on several counts because I was expecting too much from QoS, and because, in part, I was expecting the wrong things: Casino Royale was a franchise reboot, and Quantum of Solace was a sequel--not just another installment in a perpetually ongoing series.

Quantum of Solace movie stillNow that I knew what to expect out of QoS, the second viewing was far more enjoyable than the first. It also helped that Casino Royale was playing on TV before we watched the movie (which is what prompted us to watch QoS in the first place); this time, QoS felt more like a continuation of the Casino Royale storyline than a standalone movie, and QoS simply doesn't hold up on its own like most of the other Bond films do.

The second time around, I saw a film that was focused on resolving the conflicts of the previous movie and setting the stage for future sequels. I saw a James Bond who was struggling with powerful-yet-subtle internal conflicts. I saw Bond girls whose primary function was to get Bond where he needed to go for the sake of his character development; being eye candy was secondary, or even tertiary, and the Bond girls' character development, like everything else in this movie that wasn't exploding, was fairly subtle.

Quantum of solace movie stillThis time I paid more attention to individual lines of dialogue because I already understood what the plot was and didn't need to devote any extra energy to brain processing. I sat a little farther back from the screen so I could make sense of all those shaky close-up shots during the action sequences. I looked more at the scenery and the people in the background than I did before.

In a way, it was like watching a much better remake of the movie.

Quantum of Solace isn't destined to become my favorite 007 film, but a second viewing greatly elevated its status from "A series of big action scenes strung together by just enough plot to give the film a direction" to "A pretty decent continuation of the storyline started by Casino Royale."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Exfanding Review: Sam and Twitch, The Brian Michael Bendis Collection Volume 1

In an effort to fall back in love with comics, Alex has decided to go back and read all of the old books that made him fall in love with the medium in the first place. Today, Alex reviews Sam and Twitch: The Brian Michael Bendis Collection, Volume One, from Image Comics, written by (you guessed it!) Brian Bendis, and with art by Angel Medina.

Welcome to the longest-titled post in our humble blog's humble history. This time around, I made a game-time decision to keep Bendis' Daredevil run on the bookshelf for the moment, and instead I decided to mix things up a bit with this offering from Image Comics.

First and foremost, it doesn't matter if you have no idea who the two characters in the book's title are. I didn't, either, when I picked this trade up. And, honestly, these are the only stories with the characters that I've ever read, and probably will ever read.

All you need to know is that Sam Burke and Twitch Williams are New York City Police Detectives and they exist in the world of Spawn, Todd McFarlane's 1990's-era blockbuster creation.

Really. That's it. I promise.

This collection encompasses the first of two arcs in one of mainstream comics' very best crime fiction runs, with some of Bendis' very best, patented dialogue. The second arc of Sam and Twitch stories appears in a volume two collection of Bendis' work on the title, and while I won't be reviewing that book in-depth, I will give it a very high recommendation once you've read volume one.

So, back to volume one, then.

This tome collects the first nine issues of the title, and clocks in at $24.95. A good price for the high quality package Image presents for fans. The main story in volume one, entitled "Udaku," moves at a lightning clip, and reads like an old-fashioned, hard-boiled crime saga should.

Sam and Twitch Voume 1 Brian Bendis coverIt's funny that the action moves so quickly, though, since this is something that a number of readers will find as contrary to Bendis' usual take on funnybooks. There are some fans (online, of course) that criticize Bendis' knack for telling six-issue stories that read better when they're collected in a trade. Clearly, that's the way of the industry, and I don't think it should be held against any writer working in this most current comics landscape.

Still, I totally get how some complain about the overly-talky characters and the single issues that cover about ten minutes of time. Personally, I like talky comics, and I enjoy reading books that take place in "real time," and Bendis' is one of my favorite voices in all of comics.

Anyway, back to Sam and Twitch. And, specifically, the art on Sam and Twitch.

Angel Medina's pencils seem to...move...somehow, from one panel to the next. I know comics artists are supposed to imply movement of characters and cars and things, but, man. Medina is so good that there are times when you'll swear a character jumped right into the next panel.

There were several points in the book where I made a note to myself to go back and take a closer look when I was done reading. I wanted to try and study the pencils, and to see how and why they seemed to leap from the page.

Medina mixes it up between very structured layouts and these really beautiful, really complicated panel arrangements that are so unique that I'd even venture to say this book is worth the price of admission for the art alone.

Of course, there's also a killer story here from Bendis, as Sam and Twitch have to track down a brutal, and seemingly supernatural, serial killer. Newly returned to the force after quitting in protestation over an influx of crooked cops and bad deals in the department, the charismatic and uncompromising partners find themselves in the middle of the most dangerous case of their careers.

They come onto their first crime scene since getting back to find a bunch of dead mobsters, and four severed thumbs. Pretty formulaic mob stuff, yes? The four thumbs all belong to the same person, and it becomes Sam and Twitch's jobs to find out how in the world that's possible.

The "Udaku" storyline is filled with solid storytelling, crisp, crackling dialogue, and enough detective work to make Bruce Wayne jealous. Fans of Ed Brubaker's Criminal series, or any of Bendis' early indy work such as Jinx and Goldfish will certainly find plenty here to enjoy.

So, here's the deal, folks.

Sam and Twitch, volume one--and later, volume 2--are just flat-out good comics. And you have to remember that these books were coming out month-to-month in the late 90's during a time when comics were an all but dying industry.

It was work like this that led to Brian Bendis' rise in mainstream comics, and after reading this trade, it'll become apparent why he was in such hot demand so soon after the issues were finished.

Bendis will always be known for bringing a new and unique voice to comics, and for helping to change the course of Marvel's history. If you're a fan of any of Bendis' current work on titles like New Avengers, or Powers, or Ultimate Spider-Man, but you might be experiencing even fatigue in super hero universes, then do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Sam and Twitch.

-- -- --

And here we are, two weeks gone since I declared my growing cynicism for the comics industry. So far, I've read several of the books that got me into this hobby in the first place, and I've reviewed Batman: The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, The Copybook Tales, Hellblazer, issue 27, and now Sam and Twitch, volume one.

Coming next week, I'll talk about whatever I find time to read over this Thanksgiving weekend. I'm thinking it'll be something more mainstream, like Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, or maybe even Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's Batman: Hush. We'll see, though.

For the moment, I'm very happy with the fact that I still enjoy reading these books, and that there's still a deep appreciation of the art form when I crack the spine and sit down with them. I really couldn't care less about if/when Bruce Wayne emerges from his cave at the end of the world, though, so the whole new comics thing still isn't working so well with me.

I'm still willing to give it time, and to maybe use all these negative feelings as a positive. I think sometime next week, I'll do a post about all of the titles that I was typically reading every month, and I'll run down where I stand with them presently. I'll go through which books I still buy, and why, and which books I've dropped and/or I'm thinking about dropping.

But that's next week.

For now, happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving 2009!

Nathaniel and I are busy stuffing our faces with, among other things, stuffing, so there won't be a typical, rambling post about who-knows-what today.

Instead, we thought it'd be a good time to pause a moment and to say thank you to all of you out there who have made this blog into something more than a little site that Nathaniel and I post things to in hopes of amusing each other.

It amazes us that, every day, you guys take the time to stop by and read the words we type. It's flattering, and incredible, and we are just so thankful.

Enjoy the following Thanksgiving-themed covers, and enjoy your day!

Batman: The Long Halloween Thanksgiving coverJSA Thanksgiving coverTo all of our readers, Happy Thanksgiving from Exfanding Your Horizons!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Waiting for Wednesday, Issue 39

It's a yearly tradition--that day before Thanksgiving gathering at the comics shop. Typically, the store's always a bit more crowded than usual, as many are taking half days from work, or just simply trying to fit in a stop to grab their books while running around buying all the other necessities that for this week.

Like the last new comics day before Christmas, today is filled with well-wishes from friends linked together by their weekly ritual. And there are usually one or two comics with Thanksgiving-themed covers that ship today.

And, more often than not, the cover artist takes a cue from Norman Rockwell, and rearranges things around the Thanksgiving table to include Superman and Batman and Solomon Grundy.

But, while tomorrow might be about eating as much as is humanly possible, today remains, just like very Wednesday, about comics.

This week, I can honestly say that there are two new books that I'm looking forward to, and they're both from Dark Horse and they both involve Eric Powell.

Looking through this week's (massive) list of new comics from all the publishers, I came to the realization that, if all goes awry and I come to the conclusion that I just don't want to be involved with comics as a fan anymore, I will still pick up and read Powell's The Goon, and pretty much anything else he does.

I'll always be a fan of this title, and it's a book that will always draw me into the comics shop. Maybe it's because I've been reading the title ever since I started reading comics, and I feel like I was an early Goon fan and now people seem to really be getting into the book.

Maybe it's because the subject matter is right up my alley, and the art is some of the best and most unique in all of comics today. All good reasons, though, right? So, yeah, I'll keep reading The Goon, no matter what, until Powell decides to end the title. And I'll be the first in line (with Nathaniel, of course) at the movie theater when the film version makes its debut.

So to say that I'm happy to be able to walk into a comics shop and purchase a new issue of Powell's book is an understatement. This week sees the long-awaited release of The Goon, issue 33, and it is part of Dark Horse's "One Shot Wonders" program, where all of their major titles ship one-and-done stories that can be enjoyed by readers with absolutely no previous knowledge of the characters involved.

And Goon 33 is a bit different than your typical Goon story. Powell has decided to make this a wordless issue, and in lieu of captions and dialogue, Powell uses illustrated thought bubbles to progress the story.

The Goon #32 sample pageFrom the description provided by Dark Horse, it's clear that readers can expect a mad-cap, crazy as all get out story where anything is possible.

Here's the blurb:

The Goon goes to the dentist and finds out that the receptionist has been replaced by a sentient manatee! And the Goon hates manatees! So he punches it! The dentist doesn't like that so he kicks Goon out. Leaving him with the dilemma of how to eat candy apples with a sore tooth. Then aliens show up.

Not actual synopsis. (But that is the actual cover, so who the $@#%* knows?)

"If this is your first time [reading The Goon], you are in for a treat -- if not, you already know how lucky you are." -David Fincher, Filmmaker (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fight Club)

Like I said, mad-cap. And here's the...uh...cover that the blurb hints at.

The Goon #33 coverIt's been eight months since the last issue came out, and with a more regular, bi-monthly schedule promised for next year, this week's as good as any other to jump on this book if you haven't already. It's (obviously) going to be a crazy issue, so I'm sure you'll get to experience the avante garde hilarity that Powell is known for.

One thing's for sure--it'll be unlike any other comic you're going to read this week. Check it out!

The other book I'm excited about is Creepy, issue two, featuring a (disturbing) Eric Powell cover. I read issue one of this anthology-style, old school comics horror series when it shipped several months back, and I enjoyed it. There was nothing groundbreaking there, but it was a nice return to form for horror anthologies in comics.

Creepy #2 coverHere's the blurb from Dark Horse:

It’s alive! It’s evil! And it’s coming for you. Horror fans and art fiends, beware -- a new issue of new Creepy is lurking right around the corner. Dark Horse Comics and New Comic Company keep the hellfires burning in October with another evil-engorged 48 pages of short horror stories by established greats and ook-inducing newcomers. This issue, we’re featuring the second mind-bendingly gruesome chapter of “The Curse;” a ghastly shocker from legendary horror writer Joe R. Lansdale; an all-new Loathsome Lore; new work from Jason Shawn Alexander, Dan Braun, and Greg Ruth and much, much gore! Creepy is not only packed with paralyzing tales of fear, it’s a jaw-dropping value, too. With 48 pages packed with content, not advertising, our boo buffet is one hell of a deal!

The price tag is a bit high at $4.99, so I'd recommend flipping through the book in the store to see if it's something you'd be into, and wouldn't mind dropping five dollars on. If you're considering waiting on the trade, be warned that the title ships every four months, so it could be a long wait before the book is actually collected.

Still, for fans of old school horror/morality tales, I'd say to give this a shot and see if you dig it.

Now, in addition to Dark Horse's solid output this week, there's a whole bunch of new product shipping today, including some key DC and Marvel titles that are worth mentioning. It's a busy day for comics shops, so the publishers pull out all the stops.

From DC, issue five of Geoff Johns' epic Green Lantern story, Blackest Night, ships along with issue 48 of the regular GL title. For DC fans, this is must-read stuff, and I'm sure those who have been following along already have this book marked on their to-buy list.

Blackest Night #5 coverAnd from Marvel comes Brian Michael Bendis' and Mike Avon Oeming's Powers, volume three, issue one.
Powers, Volume 3, #1Powers mixes great crime/cop drama with classic super hero storytelling, and Bendis and Oeming have created one of the best universes in all of comics. If you've never read the series, this relaunch seems like the best possible place to start.

Some good stuff coming our way this week, but remember what I mentioned at the top about the stores being more crowded than usual today. If tradition holds at my LCS, there will barely be room enough to walk around the store.

If you can't make it to your shop until later on in the afternoon or evening, be sure to give your retailer a call and ask him/her to hold books for you, just in case. Especially the big sellers, like Blackest Night and Powers, as they tend to vanish rather quickly from the shelves.

Well, that's it for me today. What are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stepping Outside the Digital Comfort Zone

On Sunday, for the first time in a while, I had nothing planned for after lunch. No D&D session; no overdue movies to watch; no video game I had to beat before I could play a more fun one.


Bafflingly, instead of hacking away at my lengthy to-do list, I sat down and played Deja Vu, a point-and-click adventure game that two GameCola staff members made videos for in the past. The idea was for one person to play the NES version, another to play the GBC version, and another to play the PC version. The third set of videos was never made, however, and as much as I love adventure games, I figured I'd be the perfect person for the job.

Deja Vu Windows screenshot: bathroom of Joe's BarWell, as soon as I finished my Mega Man videos, that is. At least, that was the plan.

Yet I took a break from Mega Man to record a flat-out fun run of Deja Vu. I knew all the puzzle solutions from watching the NES and GBA versions, so I decided to do things a little differently and be a total oddball in my methods. Sure, I accomplished all the major goals, but along the way I talked to unconscious people and punched bathroom mirrors and tried to eat pieces of paper.

I ended up with close to an hour of video footage, which is on par with the NES and GBA video sets. Of course, no such video would be complete without audio commentary, so I assembled the footage into six videos and prepared to run my mouth off.

Except this time I'd do it all in one take.

For my Mega Man videos, I'll record the commentary for one stage at a time, and if I'm really having trouble, I'll splice a few different takes together. For Deja Vu, I'm watching the entire video and just letting the microphone record until the video is over. It's all one huge take this time around, and it's helping me to be satisfied with something less than utter perfection.

Trust me; I need to learn how to be satisfied with something less than utter perfection.

The end result thus far? It's very fun, and it's not taking as much time and energy to record as usual.

Deja Vu Windows screenshot: Dr. Brody's officeCorrection: The recording aspect doesn't require as much time and energy. As has been the case with every video I have ever made, at least one new and frustrating problem has cropped up during the processing/uploading phase, but I'm at least becoming efficient enough at audio/video troubleshooting to solve my inevitable problems at progressively faster rates.

I hope to have the videos ready by the end of the month, and I'll be sure to promote them when they're ready. I'm excited not only because they should be very entertaining, but also because these videos are a departure from what I've grown accustomed to. Or, if you prefer to be grammatically correct, they are a departure from that to which I've grown accustomed. Possibly.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Exfanding Review: Hellblazer 27

Hellblazer: Hold Me coverIn an effort to fall back in love with comics, Alex has decided to go back and read all of the old books that made him fall in love with the medium in the first place. Today, Alex reviews Hellblazer, issue 27 from DC's Vertigo line, written by Neil Gaiman, and with art by Dave McKean.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I figured this post might be able to serve two purposes. One, to achieve the whole rekindling of comics loving that's explained in the fancy, italicized bit above. And, two, to give a holiday shopping suggestion for the fanboy/girl who has everything.

Well, seemingly everything, anyway.

Today, I'd like to talk a bit about my personal favorite issue of Hellblazer--issue 27, entitled "Hold Me." It's one of those stories that is recognizable to most fans just by mentioning the issue number. Kinda like Incredible Hulk, number 181 is instantly recognizable to any Wolverine fan, or Detective Comics, number 27 is to any Batman fan.

It's an important number, 27. An important issue in the history of the John Constantine character, and really a watershed moment in modern comics storytelling. Written by Neil Gaiman and published early in 1990, "Hold Me" is everything that's good and right and proper with comics.

It's a beautifully told story dealing with difficult, mature themes and high concepts. The art is non-traditional, as one might expect from the brilliant Dave McKean, and the whole package challenges the boundaries of an art form that is too-often labeled by its inundation of brightly colored super heroes and convoluted cross-overs.

And it's one of those books that anyone with even a passing interest in comics should read at some point, no matter how difficult it may be to find in print.

Which leads me to that second point I mentioned up top, there. Hellblazer 27 is an incredibly difficult book to find in the back issue bins. If you see one, grab it. If you see one for under $20, see if there are more copies tucked away elsewhere in the store. And grab them, too.

The book itself was under-ordered, and short-printed, apparently. Those two things, combined with the high profile creative team and the loyal fanbase for the character, add up to one tough book to come across.

Now, it is collected elsewhere, in a book from Vertigo called Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days, which is a collection of all the short work the author did for Vertigo across many different titles. And, while the other stories are all good, some require previous knowledge of obscure characters to be appreciated fully. Still, a good, solid book from one of our medium's very best.

But, trust me, the book is worth the price tag for the inclusion of "Hold Me," alone. Yes, it's that good, and no, I'm not exaggerating. I bought this book for the express purpose of (finally) being able to read the mythical Neil Gaiman issue of Hellblazer that everyone seems to know, but can never seem to find.

And when I opened the book and read the story--a one-and-done tale about Constantine that requires absolutely no prior knowledge of the character other than that he's into the paranormal--I was not disappointed.

"Hold Me" is the story of a dead and forgotten homeless man, whose spirit comes back to haunt the living tenants of a rundown apartment complex. Every time this restless spirit touches a living, breathing human being, he kills them.

And that's all I'm going to say about the plot, because anything more would be spoiling it for you.

But I will say this. The story manages to be heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, and in 22 pages, Gaiman and McKean say more about John Constantine than many other writers managed to say in multiple-issue runs on the book.

In my mind, this issue stands with Garth Ennis' early Hellblazer work as a definitive take on the character, and on his world.

But, more importantly, "Hold Me" is the perfect comic to give to someone who has never read comics, and has zero familiarity with the character. All you need to know starts on page one, and ends on page 22.

So, if you can, find and read a copy of this issue--either by searching eBay, or by picking up the collection. I think it'll be well worth your while.

--- --- ---

So, two comics down in this new, old comics venture of mine. The stack of new books stays ominous and looming under the bed, and my new comics purchases last week totaled five books.

I mentioned in response to a couple of comments from last week's Waiting for that I walked into the shop and really felt nothing in the way of excitement. Typically, I look forward to Wednesday as The Day of every week, and last week it was just kinda...there.

Nathaniel and I went to the store together, and we spent just about 15 minutes inside. The shop was dark, as it always is later in the day, but there was no spark there for me. No inherent enthusiasm built up throughout the day. It was just a dark, kinda depressing place on a late November afternoon.

I don't like this.

Not one bit.

I'm going to keep reading, and I'm going to keep hoping that something catches, and ignites my love affair all over again. And I wish that this was one of those things that I just know will end with, "And then I learned to love comics again! Yay!"

But, like my job search is proving on a daily basis, happy endings aren't always in the cards.

Keep reading, true believers.

I know I will...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Exfanding Review: The Complete Copybook Tales

In an effort to fall back in love with comics, Alex has decided to go back and read all of the old books that made him fall in love with the medium in the first place. Today, Alex reviews The Complete Copybook Tales, from Oni Press, written by J. Torres, and with art by Tim Levins.

Ah, yes, how I do so love the italicized intro at the beginning of a post. Like the recap page from a Marvel comic of old, that little blurb tells you everything you'll need to know about today's issue. Uh, I mean, post. Today's post.

Speaking of posts, let's get started.

A few years back, I read a book called Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers, by Matthew J. Pustz. The book itself is pretty fascinating, and it gives an in-depth look at fan culture in comics over the past several decades.

Pustz takes the reader from fanzines to the Mighty Marvel Marching Society days of Stan and Jack, and everywhere in between. He talks about the origins of fandom, and conventions, and all kinds of things that I think readers of this blog would be very interested in.

And, with the, here, might want to consider checking out a preview on Amazon, and asking a comics clueless family member to get you a copy.

But that's not the important part of today's story.

On the cover of Culture was an image of a teenager in a comic shop, a wide-eyed look on his face. The image was a perfect snapshot of a moment that all fans have experienced at one point or another--that moment of realization when we find out that there are other people out there who love the things we love.

There are stores and conventions filled with comics, and graphic novels, and all kinds of geeky, interesting people.

The look on the kid's face is spot-on, and the dialogue mimics a phrase we've all uttered at one point or another while in a comics shop or convention.

Copybook Tales sample pageAnd when I saw that image on the cover, I knew I'd need to find the comic where the drawing originated. Luckily, Culture was a thorough examination of all things comics, and I was able to locate the source material quite easily.

That book happened to be The Copybook Tales, and it's been a fixture on my shelf ever since. Tales is the autobiographical story of Jamie Cruz, a twenty-something inspiring comic book writer drifting through his post-college years.

Tales splits its time between the present day story of a struggling-with-early-adulthood James and a series of flashbacks that show young Jamie with his best friends in high school and earlier. Throughout his childhood and onto his teenage years, Jamie kept a journal--his copybook--of every day and the events that occurred.

The flashbacks to those days, which are woven seamlesly into the overall narrative, deftly display the carefree nature of childhood. Those times are juxtaposed with the present day in sequences that capture the often confusing and uncertain years that we all experience just after college.

We see young Jamie and his buddy Mike, pouring over comics and talking about grand plans for the future. The two collect everything, but their greatest love comes in the form of John Byrne's X-Men and Alpha Flight series. Jamie and Mike spend their allowance money on comics every week, and they save up to buy the more expensive, collectible back issues their local store has to offer.

We see how they cherish these books, and one day while in the comics shop, Jamie ponders aloud about what kind of a moron would sell his comics to a store. Jamie's love of comics carries into his adult years, and even though life is doing its best to discourage his dreams, his enthusiasm for the medium is simply undying.

Even when James has to sell off his entire collection of back issues in order to pay down some bills, he remains at heart, a big ole' fanboy.

Along with his buddy Thatcher, the two twenty-somethings create test pages for a satirical super hero comic book series, but despite some minor, early interest in the title, they do not manage to get the book picked up by a publisher.

While waiting to hear back about that title, Jamie finds his old copybooks, all stacked up in a drawer in his room. He spends an entire sleepless night reading back through each journal, and he comes up with an idea.

He's going to adapt his copybook tales into an ongoing comic series. Thatcher loves the idea, and even though they both know it "probably won't sell," they have their minds made up.

Besides the whole comics-oriented storyline, we also see some heavy emotional beats, as young Jamie deals with a friend's confusing personal situation, and older James deals with being an adult and facing the horrifying premise that life might be passing him by.

Certainly, for me, it's easy to see the similarities in this book to my own situation. Further, the past two times that I read the book, I was motivated to get off my butt and do some writing and to take a chance. The book left me with hope, and the feeling that I could do whatever I wanted to do, especially in comics. Those past two read throughs resulted in my creating and writing full comics scripts for two different projected series, drawn by professional artists.

Both were well-recieved, and even on the verge of publication.

Both are now floating in the ether.

This time, reading through Copybook Tales was a very different experience for me. It was still uplifting and motivational, sure, because the characters are so inherently relatable. But there was also a ping of sadness as I read, hoping that my better days aren't in the rear-view.

Still, I'm glad I dusted the book off and gave it a read through, because each time I do, it results in a personal, encouraging experience. And, all in all, this was a great way for me to take that step towards getting back on the comics bandwagon. I'm not there yet, but we'll see what happens.

Next up, I think I'll be reading some Greg Rucka Wolverine...or some Frank Miller Daredevil...oh, maybe some Bendis Daredevil.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Exfanding Review: Ran

This past Wednesday, Nathaniel and I continued the plunge into our brand-new fandom: the films of Akira Kurosawa. For our second foray into the work of the internationally famous Japanese filmmaker, we watched Ran, which came heavily recommended by several friends.

"Ran" isn't a very descriptive title for American audiences. What is the movie about?

Alex: Well, after watching The Hidden Fortress, what with all of its walking around and falling down hills, going into this one I thought, well, okay, so maybe at least they'll be walking faster.

[Pause for drum roll and audience laughter.]

Seriously, though, folks, I think it might actually be easier to tell you what the movie is not about, since I managed to lose the plot a couple of times along the way. Basically, there's an old clan leader, Hidetora, who has three sons. In a dream, the warlord recieves a vision that leads him to step down from his position of power. This shocks his three sons, Taro, Jiro, and Saburo, and the rest of the Ichimonji clan.

Ran Ichimonji clanThe warlord gives his seat to his eldest son, Taro, and banishes Saburo after he argues his father's decision. From there, things get very ugly. Taro's wife, Lady Kaede, immediately pushes the once-obidient son to force his father into a submissive role in the new clan structure. Hidetora, of course, finds this to be insulting, and while he signs a contract pledging his loyalty to Taro, the former leader promises never to visit his eldest son again.

Hidetora seeks refuge with his middle son, Jiro, but finds him to want nothing more than power of his own. Jiro plans to use his father to become more powerful. Hidetora recognizes this, and leaves. When he and his men venture across the countryside, they find that Taro and Jiro have cut off all supllies.

With no other course of action, Hidetora leads his men to the abandonded castle of his banished son, Saburo. Shortly after their arrival, Taro's army and Jiro's army meet at the castle and a massive, bloody battle ensues. *SPOILERS* Taro is killed early on, and Hidetora is left to commit ritualistic suicide.

However, because his sword breaks while fending off the advances of Taro and Jiro's men, he cannot do this. Instead, he walks from the grounds of the castle--into the wilderness, and into madness.

The remainder of the film deals with the former leader's growing madness, and the power struggle between the now-broken clans of the three sons.

Ran Hidetora and the jesterNathaniel: What he said. Isn't the movie supposed to be a retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear? That's what the back of the DVD case said, and the box is never wrong.

Were you confused at any point in the movie, or did it all make sense?

Nathaniel: I do really well with convoluted science fiction plots, but as soon as I watch a movie where swords are involved, somehow things just stop making sense. Maybe it's because the people who carry swords are usually wrapped up in political intrigue and complicated family matters. I understood what was going on with Hidetora and his three sons, but as soon as blind men and concubines and people with suspiciously American-sounding names like "Sue" got involved, I started to lose track of them all.

Ran Ichimonji clanAlex: I wasn't 100% sure who Sue was, and even though she was barely ever on-screen, she played a major role in the plot development. So, that made things a little tricky for a bit. Overall, though, I think I got the gist of things.

On a strictly visual level, what did you think of the film?

Alex: While this film was epic in nature, in a lot of ways, Kurosawa filmed this on a smaller scale than I expected after viewing The Hidden Fortress. What I mean is, there are many more intimate character close-ups throughout this film than there were in Fortress, and that adds a whole new element to the film.

That said, things opened up during the first and last battle scenes. But, Kurosawa made the (effective and powerful) choice to focus in on certain aspects of each battle. So, the scenes alternated from grand scale to small, intimate scale. And I think that worked quite well.

Also, the excessive blood during the battles was used symbollically, of course, but as big, red splashes tend to be, the blood was visually striking and interesting. It reminded me a lot of Frank Miller's 300 film, actually, in the artful and un-real depictions of blood. Very effective, though.

Ran soldiers with yellow flagsNathaniel: Yeah, they decapitated someone at one point, and as they did so the camera cut away to the peoples' shadows on the wall, which were suddenly covered in about 17 gallons of blood, as though the dead person had just exploded. I'm not at all into gore, but that was a very neat, albeit gross-tastic, effect.

The first thing that struck me about the film was that it was so colorful. Not just, "Hey, it's 1985 and we can make films in color now" kind of colorful; all the major characters had very distinctive and brightly colored wardrobes, and I actually referred to the brothers as "Brother Blue" and "The yellow brother" more often than not. The colors blended quite artistically in the battle scenes, but even on the simplest level, it was much easier to identify who was who because everyone was color-coded for your convenience.

Like Alex, I was expecting more wide-open camera shots; I much prefer sweeping landscapes and gorgeous architecture over people and costumes. However, even though I missed the camera work of The Hidden Fortress, there were a few really neat shots, and I can see where people who really appreciate costumes and close-up shots would like this style better.

How does Ran compare to The Hidden Fortress?

Alex: Well, there's not as much walking in Ran as there was in Fortress.

Ran soldiers with red flagsNathaniel: No, but there was a lot more running and charging. Actually, Ran didn't surprise me as much as Fortress did. Whereas Fortress did a lot of surprising things with stunts and dialogue and camera work that seemed so unique for its time, Ran rarely caught me off-guard. Of course, that could be because I don't watch many epic/war movies and just assumed that everything that happened was pretty normal.

How does Ran compare with American films in the same or similar genre?

Nathaniel: Jeez, Question Man, weren't you paying attention just now? I don't watch many epic/war movies. Go ask Alex.

Ran Jiro prepares for battleAlex: I actually commented on the fact that the film just looked more American than I would have imagined. And I don't know if it's a matter of American films ripping off Kurosawa, or if the director was becoming more influenced by American films.

Either way, I thought it had a more Western cinema feel to it.

This movie came highly recommended from a whole group of people. Did it live up to your expectations?

Alex: I think that I've managed to build these movies up so much in my head that nothing could meet my expectations. The battle scenes were amazing, and I guess I just figured that the entire movie would be a battle scene.

Also, the length of the film--almost three hours--really took its toll on me.

Ran Lady Kaede wields a knifeNathaniel: Ran was what I was expecting from a movie of the genre (in that there were huge battles and lots of exposition), but it wasn't what I was expecting from a Kurosawa film after having seen Fortress.

As I mentioned before, Fortress did things that were surprising and impressive to me considering when the film was made; for the most part, Ran didn't instill that sense of awe in me, perhaps because the impressive stuff was a lot more subtle. The aspects of the film that have received such great praise are certainly deserving of it, but I personally don't have the same appreciation for those aspects as others seem to.

What was your favorite scene?

Alex: This one's easy. That first battle was just epic and bloody and incredible to look at. Music played over the scene, and the viewer doesn't hear the actual battle. Very striking.

Ran fortress on fireNathaniel: Ditto, except what sticks out in my mind is how Hidetora sat in stillness as arrows sped past him in a room that was on fire. I liked how the old ruler was so completely detached from everything for so much of the movie; it was always interesting to guess whether he was alive or dead, in shock or insane. Also, it was visually striking how the brother in yellow unexpectedly got shot in the back with an arrow that landed dead-center in the emblem of the sun on his outfit. Poetic.

See? There are parts of the movie I liked! Fortress is just more my style, that's all.

What was your least favorite element of the film? (Direction of a certain scene, particular actor, etc.)

Nathaniel: The pacing of the movie felt slow to me; many of the scenes were quite long, and there wasn't a lot of motion in some of those scenes, which didn't help.

Ran Jiro sittingAlex: Um, I guess I'd have to say the length of the movie. I'm just a modern film kinda guy, and anything over that two hour mark becomes tedious for me.

Unless it's The Dark Knight, of course.

Fanpeople of what genre/fandom (other than Japanese film fans, obviously) might be most interested in this film?

Alex: Fans of Frank Miller's early work, with all of its Japanese-inspired art and story. 300, Ronin, his Wolverine mini-series, even a lot of his Daredevil and Elektra stuff, too.

Ran Hidetora sittingNathaniel: Is The Lord of the Rings an okay answer? I mean, Ran is a sweeping epic with lots of characters, a thick plot, and a lot of build-up to the action. Plus, there are talking trees. In Lord of the Rings, I mean.

Was it better than going on a ghost hunt?

Alex: Depends. Would there have been more action scenes during the ghost hunt?

Nathaniel: Wait, that was one of the options? Whoa, that was a close one.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Exfanding Review: Final Fantasy I

The original Final Fantasy for the NES is an RPG classic. Don't try to argue with me on this one; it introduced ideas that were rarely or never seen in video games of its day, it spawned an outrageously popular video game series, it's been highly influential in geek culture, and there are scads of people who consider it to be a good game, if not a great one.

Therefore, it's a classic. Q.E.D.

Final Fantasy I remake title screenAs I discussed in my recent post about movie and video game remakes, it is especially difficult to thorougly please both longtime fans and neophytes with a remake of a classic game. As a guy who likes the original game but isn't rabidly fanboyish about it, I felt I'd be pretty objective about the quality of the remake of the game presented in Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls for the Game Boy Advance.

Overall, I'll say I liked it. Not perfect, but definitely a worthy remake.

The premise of both games is the same: The world is falling into chaos, and a quartet of heroes known as the Light Warriors or Warriors of Light set off on a quest to restore the elements of earth, fire, water, and wind to their normal states and then beat up the Evil Bad Guy who's responsible for all this.

First you pick out a party of adventurers, which can consist of any combination of six classes, which include a combat-ready warrior, a nimble thief who never actually steals anything, a powerful martial artist, a mage who can cast healing and protective spells, a mage who can cast offensive spells (they do smell pretty bad), and a mage who can fight and cast spells, but not as well as anybody else.

Original Final Fantasy character selection screenThen, after picking out your party, you get to name them. This may very well be the most difficult part of the game.

Once the game begins, you talk to the likes of kings and commoners, witches and dwarves; you buy equipment and magic and goods from shops; you travel from place to place by land, sea, and air; you explore dark caverns and hot volcanoes and mystical towers; you eventually have the option to advance your characters to even more powerful classes; and you stop every 3 to 5 seconds to fight an assortment of diverse monsters, where everyone politely takes turns beating the stuffing out of each other.

...But you knew that already.

Though the remake is fundamentally identical to the original--story progression is the same; dungeon layouts are unchanged; monsters appear in the same locations; etc.--there are several subtle differences along with a number of changes so obvious that you'd have to lose your crystal eye to miss them.

Original Final Fantasy overworld screenshotOn the surface, the graphics have been given a significant facelift and the audio has been remixed to look and sound more like Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI, which incidentally have also been re-released on the GBA, albeit with far fewer alterations. The graphical changes are almost entirely favorable, and the sound effects sound great, but the music is really hit-or-miss, just like my Lv. 1 White Mage and his wimpy wooden hammer.

Side note: I maintain that many of the classes, including the White Mage/White Wizard, can be male or female. Don't let 8-Bit Theater fool you into thinking that the White Mage must be a girl! Long hair is totally hip for fantasy guys to have. Here's a name for you: Legolas. Look her up.


Final Fantasy I remake overworld screenshotThe graphics stayed remarkably true to the original--put almost any building, townsperson, or enemy from both versions side-by-side and you'll notice that they look identical or tolerably close in the remake, except they're prettier. Well, except for the bosses. They just got fatter. I mean, uh, bigger.

Something that surprised me is that a few of the enemies that looked pretty frightening in the original game didn't look quite as scary in 16-bit. Creepy spiders? Not so creepy. Chew-your-face-off-in-your-nightmares Eye? Now a cheap Halloween decoration from Party City. Crush-your-bones-with-his-tentacles-and-make-you-disappear-at-the-bottom-of-the-ocean Kraken? Now made of plastic, with an uninspired paint job reminiscent of some recent D&D Miniatures (Troglodyte Bonecrusher comes to mind).

Final Fantasy original and remake monster comparisonOn the other hand, the coolness factor of many enemies increased. Big bad bosses Lich and Kary really benefit from all those extra colors. The chimeras no longer look like the lion head is eating the dragon head. The half-man half-cat enemies are now possibly frothing at the mouth, and it's creeping me out.

Maybe it's because music is more important to me than graphics, and maybe it's because so much of the Final Fantasy soundtrack is absolutely iconic, but a lot of the remixed music disappointed me. The basic melodies are intact, but the tempo of one or two themes isn't quite as perfect as the original, and the instruments used for a few of the songs are surprisingly lackluster, cheesy, and/or full of bagpipes.

The battle theme, of all songs, is probably the worst offender, if for no other reason than that it became generic filler when it used to be something tense and menacing. I noticed this with the battle music in FFV and FFVI for the GBA as well; whatever instruments they're using just don't give battles the oomph they need.

Final Fantasy I remake battle screenshotThere are a few musical triumphs, however: the town theme now sounds like it's being played on acoustic guitar by a live performer; the non-bagpipey cave music is pleasantly catchy; and the music for the Sky Tower is no longer weird and obnoxious. There's nothing outright bad about the music, but having heard the original songs, I sometimes long for the "inferior" 8-bit tunes.

Perhaps the most striking change is how quickly I was able to progress through the game. It took me exactly 4 hours to get to the town of Melmond, whereas in the original game it would have taken me the same amount of time to, I dunno, beat up the pirates in Pravoka in order to get a ship that could take me across the ocean so I could grind for gold to go shopping so I can survive the Marsh Cave and bring back the Crown to the castle and fight Astos and get the thing that you give to Matoya so that she gives me the other thing that wakes up the guy on the other continent so he can give me the key that unlocks a bunch of places on different continents so I can find something to blow up the piece of land that's keeping my ship from reaching Melmond.

Translation: Game is easy. Now, I could have just spontaneously become AWESOMER at this game, but I'm positive they give you more money to start with, reduced the price of just about everything, and made you level up faster.

Final Fantasy I remake magic shop screenshotFurthermore, they've now thrown in Phoenix Downs, which can bring your slain party members baaaack from the deeaaaaad at any time, even during battles--a significant change over needing to use high-level magic outside of battle to bring someone back, or worse yet, dragging their corpse through slimy bogs and abrasive deserts to a town where some voodoo man could charge you to resurrect your disgustingly defunct ally.

Furtherly furthermore, your party members automatically target a new enemy in battle if the one they are assigned to attack somehow gets killed off prematurely. In the original version, if all four party members targeted Mad Pony #1 and your fighter defeats it right off the bat, the remaining three party members will worthlessly attack the space where Mad Pony #1 used to be instead of attacking Mad Pony #2. Talk about beating a dead horse.

Anyrapier, between this and the fact that the battle animations have all been sped up a bit, the game moves noticeably faster, which is part of how I could get to Melmond in 4 hours. On top of that, they graciously added a Run button so that you can backtrack through towns and dungeons at a more bearable speed.

Whoa, I'm getting pretty longwinded, so let me conciseify this up a bit.

The dialogue and even the names of everything have been completely overhauled, presumably to be more accurate to the original Japanese and to create a little more continuity with the rest of the Final Fantasy series. Also, to bug the purists.

Final Fantasy I remake dialogue with Garland screenshotJust to give you a small sampling: About a third of the monsters have been renamed to something out of Dungeons & Dragons (there are Mind Flayers and Purple Worms, and Kary is now Marilith); pointless townsfolk dialogue like, "Welcome to Coneria. I like swords." has been reduced by around 40%; weapons and armor now have more descriptive names (and actual descriptions so you know exactly what they do); Elfland has been renamed to something porcine like Elfham; and Nuke, the most awesome-sounding spell anyone has ever heard of, is now boring ol' Flare.

C'mon, one of the joys of being a Black Wizard is that you could, literally, NUKE EVERYTHING. Now your magical powers just flare up a little.

Players of the remake get treated to little cutscenes every now and again, which means a little more movement and a little more dialogue to break up the usually fun repetition of talking to people, shopping, and bashing enemies. Of course, they don't usually explain anything in any more depth, so the plot of Final Fantasy starts sounding a little silly with the cutscenes. "Wait, you guys have these random crystal shards! We don't know how you got them or why you're traveling together, but this means you have to rescue my daughter now!"

Final Fantasy I remake cutscene with Cornelia's king screenshotYeah, did I mention the elemental orbs of earth, fire, water, and wind are now crystals? I'm all about crystals, but for this game, orbs were so much cooler. But I guess it just isn't a Final Fantasy game without some nonsense about crystals.

To that end, they threw in a line of dialogue about how this great guy named Cid designed the airship. I don't recall that being in the original, but then again, I don't recall any bonus dungeons, either.

Yes, that's the single most significant change in the remake: There are four bonus dungeons scattered across the world, and each time you defeat one of the elemental Fiends, one of the bonus dungeons opens up. The dungeons consist of 10, 20, 30, and 40 floors, respectively, and they're semi-randomized for the sake of replay value.

Final Fantasy I remake earth bonus dungeon screenshotTreasure chests may be in different locations or contain different treasure each time, and many of the floors come up in a different order each time. You might go through an endless desert, then into a dark forest, then into a small cave, but the next time you might go through the forest first, then into a different cave, and then into the desert. There's some nice treasure that can't be found anywhere else in the game, and there are some truly creative floors (like the one where townspeople keep getting in your way, forcing you to sometimes detour through piles of enemies), but a lot of it is just a variation on places you've already been.

Final Fantasy I remake Abyss WormThe bonus dungeons offer more powerful versions of the enemies you know, but with new names and different color schemes. That's right! A fresh coat of paint and you're a whole new kind of terrifying sand worm.

::shudder:: Sand worms.

Here's what's problematic about the bonus dungeons: Most of the enemies are not remarkably more powerful than anything else you've been fighting. I went through the entire first bonus dungeon without breaking a sweat. On the last floor of the dungeon was not just one, but four different bosses for me to fight. I saved my game (because you can now save anywhere--did I mention that?) and walked up to a random boss.

After many brutal rounds of pulling out all the stops, my entire party was wiped out. The boss attacked with spells that could instantly kill one or all of my party members, and when he wasn't doing that, he was dealing enough damage to almost instant-kill my party members anyhow.

Final Fantasy I remake Echidna bossI'm sorry, but there was no indication the boss would be so ridiculously powerful. Worse yet, once you enter the bonus dungeons you can't backtrack your way out without high-level magic, so if I wouldn't have saved in a different slot than usual, I would have been severely out of luck.

So I tried another boss. The first few rounds were quite reasonable, but then he also started pulling out all that instant-kill magic and started healing himself. Not cool.

Oh, it gets better. Once you defeat one boss, you have no option to teleport out of the dungeon. To fight the other bosses, you need to go back through the whole dungeon all over again. That's not so bad with the first dungeon, but it gets old really quickly with the later dungeons. Fortunately, the last bonus dungeon has only one boss at the end, which is why I have any time at all to write this post.

At least the bosses in the bonus dungeons are borrowed from Final Fantasy III-VI, so if you've played those games and remember what the bosses were like, you'll be better prepared to take them on. As was the case with Final Fantasy V (at least the way I played it), the bosses are the only truly challenging part of the bonus dungeons (aside from finding your way through the various labyrinths), so even at level 99 I found myself having a few battles that weren't complete pushovers.

The bonus dungeons could certainly use a little polish, but they're by no means a bad addition, and you don't need to bother with them at all if you don't want to. I'd say they're worth checking out, though I'd do so after you're a powerhouse team to be reckoned with.

Final Fantasy I remake intro cutscene screenshotDespite the bumps along the way, I like the GBA remake of Final Fantasy. I still enjoy the challenge of the original, and there's something charming about the 8-bit graphics and sound, but I also like how the remake looks quite nice and generally requires less time and effort to play. I'm just as likely to replay one as I am the other, though, so they both come recommended--though I would be sure to play the original at some point, as it is a classic.

[Credit to blue99, Polar Koala, and Dixet for enemy sprites from]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Waiting for Wednesday, Issue 38

The Complete Copybook Tales coverGotta be honest here, this is not going to be the easiest Waiting for I've ever written. Actually, it'll likely be quite the opposite. After Monday's depressing little post about my growing cynicism towards comics, it would be pretty hypocritical of me to launch into an overly-excited post about what I'll be rushing off to buy at the shop this week.

So, first, let's clear the air.

I still love comics. But, as things like this tend to go, and as many a broken-hearted teenager has heard at some point, I may not be in love with comics anymore. Comics and I are having a fight, you see. A rather large one, and right now, I'm not sure which one of us is winning.

But I don't think it's me.

What's the genesis of this new-found, falling out of love, you ask? Well, I think it's been building for some time, and there was a moment not too long ago that really got the ball rolling.

Just about a month ago at the Baltimore Comic Con, I had a rather rude conversation with someone I had previously spoken to online about possible employment, and I guess things have been steadily building up since then. I'd talked previously with this person, and I was rather pleased with the way things were shaping up.

Now, I'm by no means naive about the job market out there, and while I honestly did not expect anything to come from the talk, I still could not help feeling snubbed by this person. He was just plain rude, is all I'm saying. But, I shook the encounter off and moved on to the next thing.

Unfortunately, a couple of Not Good Things happened soon after, and I've since landed in a messy situation with a former business associate and a...well, let's call it a non-existent situation with another former business associate.

Both had to do with comics, and more specifically, with my getting into the comics industry. And both took a toll on me, since neither ended the way I would have liked. Actually, as I alluded to the other day, one situation is on-going, and costing me quite a bit of money and even more stress.

Add to all this the fact that I literally have to do a mathematical equation before entering the comics shop on Wednesdays to see what I can afford, and it becomes clear why me and comics are not seeing eye-to-eye at the moment.

Or, maybe it doesn't. Become clear, that is.

Certainly, in my head (and heart) it's pretty clear. And, for those reasons and a few more, I just don't have that same spark that I did in the not-so-distant past when it comes to my four-colored friends. So the Big Question becomes, how do I continue on with Waiting for, and not to mention, this blog where I talk about comics quite a bit?

And my plan to answer these questions was to basically start writing this post, and see if I would figure things out along the way. And I think I kinda did. Maybe. I'm hoping that Waiting for is just the thing I need to help spark that interest and passion I've carried with me since 2003.

As it currently stands, Wednesday is pretty much just another day of the week for me at this point, and that is not a good sign. I don't head over to the LCS until late in the afternoon, as I don't really want to run into any of the shop's regular Wednesday Warriors. Another not good sign. My hanging out time at the shop has widdled down to around 15 minutes or so, and it's become less of an escape and more of a nuisance.

I'd rather be on my computer, applying for jobs.

Maybe it's just circumstances, though, and once I have a steadier (read: not freelance) gig with reliable money, maybe I'll be back to my old self. I do still enjoy writing this feature, and I do still get that happy feeling in my stomach when I'm looking through Diamond's shipping list for the week. So, I figure, that's a good sign.

Now, once I've figured out which books I can buy, I go out and buy them. But, for whatever reason, they sit in a box under my bed and they don't get read. I pick up the same book that's been sitting at the front of the box for nearly three months, and I flip through it and put it back.

I've kept up with a few of my favorite titles, like Goon and Blackest Night and House of Mystery and Hellboy. But it's been a long, long time since I've read a Dark Reign book, and an even longer time since I've read a current Batman book.

What I have read are the books that made me fall in love with comics, and I'd like to share them here, in lieu of a proper Waiting for. As mentioned on Monday, this weekend I sat down with my all-time favorite Batman story, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, and I read through both volumes.

Sunday night I read Garth Ennis' first Hellblazer arc, "Dangerous Habits."

Monday night I read Neil Gaiman's Death: The Time of Your Life, and Death: The High Cost of Living.

Last night I read the one-and-done, Hellblazer, issue 27, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean. Entitled "Hold Me," it is quite possibly the best single issue of a comic book written in the past three decades.

I'm not sure what I'll be reading tonight, but it'll be something that means something to me. I'm thinking it might just be The Copybook Tales, by J. Torres and Tim Levins.

I plan to continue on this way, ignoring the new comics and turning once again to the titles and runs that got me so hooked on this hobby, not long ago. And I know that, at the very end of this new/old comics journey, I'll read the entire collected Goon series, from the very first issue to the very latest issue. I'm planning for this to coincide with Christmas week, as it's somewhat of a tradition for me to read through The Goon once a year, during that (usually) stress free week.

So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to try and fall back in love with comics.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How Do You Remake a Classic?

King Kong remake movie posterPsycho. King Kong. Casino Royale. Planet of the Apes. Hollywood has a penchant for remaking movies, for good or for ill, but I can't say I blame them for trying. I imagine the temptation to remake a movie might be overwhelming.

Think about it: You could cash in on the success of something that's already proven its popularity. You could finally do justice to a story that suffered from a small budget, lackluster special effects, poor direction, or any number of shortcomings. You could introduce a new generation to a classic you love. The list just keeps going.

Movie remakes are nothing new, but there's another medium that has seen a definite increase in the number of remakes over the past several years: video games.

Resident Evil. Mega Man: Powered Up. The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition. Metroid: Zero Mission. All of the earlier games in the Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy series. Sometimes the remakes are relentlessly faithful to the original, and sometimes they might as well be another game altogether.

I suspect that the majority of video game remakes have the same practical foundation: old video games and old video game systems can be hard to find. If you want to watch a movie from the 1970s, you need only visit your local library or video rental store. If you want to play a video game from the same time period, you'll need to stumble across a yard sale or eBay auction just to find the game, and that doesn't guarantee you'll have a functional system that will play the game.

Atari 2600Beyond that, next-gen snobs might turn their noses up at a direct port of an 8-bit "eyesore," and it's doubtful that big-name companies would allow some of their greatest masterpieces to be lost and forgotten simply because they're old. (The games, not the people at the companies.)

That's probably why so many video game remakes entail little more than a graphical update and a new translation of the dialogue that's more culturally relevant or more accurate to the original Japanese; if age and availability are the only reasons more people aren't playing your game, why change more than you have to?

Of course, you need to take into account both the newer generation of gamers and the gamers who grew up on the game in question. Many people agree that retro games tend to be simpler yet more difficult than newer games; even if it's pretty enough for next-gen snobs to play, will the game be complex enough to hold their interest to the very end, assuming they can make it that far? And what would compel curmudgeonly old gamers such as myself to buy some newfangled version of a game they already own?

I can tell you from experience: Curmudgeonly old gamers are very sensitive about remakes. All it takes is a minor alteration to a "classic" line of dialogue to send them off the deep end.

Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone from The GodfatherThat may seem unreasonable, but imagine the backlash if, in a slightly revised special edition of The Godfather, Vito Corleone said he would "propose an offer that would be unwise to turn down." The way I see things, it's quite a feat to remake a video game in such a way that changes very little and still makes everyone happy.

I bring this up because I recently completed the first of the two titular games in the Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls collection for the Game Boy Advance, which is of course a remake of the classic NES game that spawned more sequels than you can shake a Heal Staff at.

The original Final Fantasy was one of the first NES games I ever owned, and it instilled in me a love of RPGs and an appreciation for finding treasure and kicking butt with characters I customized myself. I didn't fall in love with it and become a diehard purist like I did with EarthBound and Chrono Trigger, which is why I didn't become volatile when I discovered they had changed the first town's name from "Coneria" to "Cornelia."

Original Final Fantasy Coneria town screenshot
Final Fantasy I remake Cornelia town screenshot
300 This Is Sparta parody - This Is ConeriaAt least they didn't change "Garland" to "Garfunkel"; I think I might have developed a nervous twitch over that one.

The remake of Final Fantasy I has its merits, but it also has its drawbacks. It's an excellent case study for the phenomenon of video game remakes, and I look forward to reviewing the game later this week. Until then...