Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening Day 2011

Happy Opening Day! It's like Christmas, only, better than presents, we get baseball! A whole new season of baseball, actually. And it starts today.

Today, when every team is in first place, and every team has hopes of a World Series championship.

Today, when, instead of working, we should all be at a ballpark, in the sun, eating a hot dog and cheering on our favorite team. Short of that, we should all be in a basement, watching a game on a projection screen, and eating Chinese food.
My plans involve one of those two things. I'll let you decide which one it will be. In the meantime, let me sum up my feelings about this joyous, joyous day.

Ahem. Right. That is all.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 13

Welcome to a very lucky number edition of Waiting for Wednesday. It's a weird week on my end, mostly because I'll be out of the office tomorrow, and I'm in a mad dash to get things finished up before day's end.

So, there won't be much preamble from me today.

Instead, I'll use this (coveted) space to (shamelessly) plug our Twitter page. Despite the fact that, for the past couple of years, at least, I've railed against Twitter as being a stupid, inane new fad, I've come to love it.

And to use it, probably too often for my health.

And I encourage you all to join up, as well, and to follow us. Because we'd appreciate it. And because it's fun. I'm following a whole slew of comics creators and celebrities at the moment, and I'll even occasionally "talk" with them. And that's cool.

You know what else is cool? The new books out this week. So let's dive right in.

First up, from Marvel, we have Scarlet, issue five, from Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev. My goodness, but has this book been good. Easily my favorite Marvel title currently on the stands, Scarlet should be on your must-read list for 2011.
Bendis is at his best here, telling a gritty, dialogue-driven story about a modern day revolutionary fighting against the injustices of society. And Maleev's art is astounding.

Issue five will deal with the considerable fallout from last month's Holy Cats Issue, where Scarlet stood up and revealed herself in front of her gathered supporters.

Here's the solicitation information for today's issue from Marvel:

The Story: Scarlet’s message of rebellion and revolution has gone global, and she comes face-to-face with her supporters and detractors. What will the world look like when someone stands up and says, “Enough”? How far will the authorities go to bring her down, and is it too late? Another startling chapter in the runaway-hit comic series from the Eisner Award-winning team that brought you DAREDEVIL and NEW AVENGERS!

Check this book out--it's two of today's best creators cranking out some of their very best comics.

Next up, we have more of a recommendation to go back and read an entire series, as opposed to a recommendation to pick up this latest issue. From the great Terry Moore, Echo, issue 29, ships today.
We've talked about this series in the past, but stopped featuring the book here on WfW, mostly because I started to take it for granted.

Which is wrong.

We should celebrate books like Echo, and creators like Moore, every chance that we get. Echo is the best sci-fi comic on the shelves, and today's issue 29 is the penultimate issue of the series.

Which means, if you haven't been reading to this point, you're not gonna want to pick this one up. Instead, you should run out and buy the first trade, "Moon Lake," and see what all the critical acclaim is about.

Because there's plenty of it. Critical acclaim, I mean.

Here's the (spoiler-y, if you're not caught up on the single issues) solicitation info for this week's issue, for those who have been reading month to month:

Julie and Annie work as one to fight their way into the secret underground Phi Super-Collider where they come face to face with Annie's killer. With the fate of all mankind at stake, Julie makes a brutal and very deadly decision. Don't miss the series' earth-shattering climax in issues 29 and 30 of this award-winning series!

I've gone back and purchased all of the trades, and I'm really excited to see how the series wraps up.

Moving right along, it's been too long since we've been able to talk about a new book by Eric Powell, but that stops today, as his new series, Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters, hits shelves.
Now, I'm not the world's biggest Godzilla fan, but I'll read anything that Powell's name is attached to, and that will be the case here. Powell's writing the series, and it's drawn by Phil Hester, so there's really no way the series won't be good.

You can check out a preview of today's issue right here, at CBR. And here's the blurb from IDW:

The King of the Monsters rises again, and for the first time in comics, he’s bringing lots of other beloved Toho monsters with him in one destructive saga, and The Goon’s Eric Powell is sounding the alarm.

Powell will also paint covers for each issue of this new ongoing series, including a wraparound cover to kick things off! Acclaimed artist Phil Hester signs on for the first storyline, and Alex Ross supplies a painted 50/50 variant cover! This is the Big G storyline you’ve been waiting for!

And, finally, what would a Waiting for Wednesday be these days without a couple of entries from Image Comics? The industry leader in awesome creator-owned work, Image unleashes to new number one's today that I'll be picking up.

First, we have Undying Love, issue one, by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman. This one caught my eye in Previews, and a free preview of the book was printed in one of Image's other titles.
It was enough to get me interested, and the just-right $2.99 price point sealed the deal. Here's the blurb from Image:

A horror-action tale, equal parts vampire mythology and Chinese folklore, set in modern day Hong Kong. Ex-soldier John Sargent has fallen for a beautiful Chinese woman named Mei. The only thing keeping the star-crossed lovers apart: Mei's a vampire. To free Mei from the curse, Sargent sets out to destroy the vampire that made her. The only problem: Mei was turned by one of the most powerful vampires in history...

Sounds like it's right up my alley.

And the second Image book this week is Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker, issue one, from Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston. Now, sure, we like to keep things PG around here, but that obviously doesn't mean we don't read and recommend mature readers titles. As you know, the vast majority of the books I recommend fall under that category.

Still, I figured I'd give a head's up that this book is definitely not for the kiddies, as you'll see by the cover and the solicitation info, below.
Despite the fact that Butcher has gotten quite a bit of press prior to its release, I expect it to be ordered in fairly conservative quantities by retailers, due to its mature content.

Which, of course, is stupid.

But retailers need to be conservative in times like this, I guess, so if you'd like a copy, I'd suggest calling ahead to reserve one.

Here's the blurb from Image:

Maybe you’ve seen the PR — now read the comicbook! At one time, BUTCHER BAKER was the preeminent, All-American superhero. Now, he’s getting laid. A lot. But one last mission could signal his return to glory, so he’s back on the blacktop! It’s a balls-out, surreal super-epic from creators JOE CASEY (GØDLAND, Ben 10) and MIKE HUDDLESTON (The Coffin), and it starts right here!

Sounds like something different and fun, and I'm looking forward to checking it out.

And with that, I need to get a move on. Lots of work piling up, and a meeting in about 15 minutes. Yay.

In any case, before I go, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Star Trek by the Minute

When I sit down to write a big, beefy Exfanding post, it's not uncommon for me to do a little research on my topic, even if I'm extremely familiar with it. It's also not uncommon for me to get completely sidetracked while looking things up.

After all, these are my favorite fandoms we're talking about--I can only stay focused on my post as long as the research isn't significantly more interesting. Such was the case when I tried looking up the number of minutes in a typical Star Trek episode, and stumbled upon a blog reviewing the 2009 Star Trek film, one minute at a time.

"Star Trek by the Minute," it's called, and there actually are 117 posts in the series.

Not only is this kind of review a tremendous undertaking, but it involves the kind of nit-picking that will either bring to light everything good and bad about a film, or drive you batty. Or both.

Anyone who's been around this blog a while knows that I had plenty of misgivings about Star Trek 2009, but I didn't apply the fine-tooth comb the way this blogger did. Any movie is bound to have mistakes, and any sequel is bound to have inconsistencies, but the number and type of mistakes and inconsistencies--and outright problems--is staggering. Take everything you read with a grain of salt, of course, but the writer makes a well-articulated, largely unforgiving, and frequently humorous case that the movie is, among other things, illogical, scientifically inaccurate to the extreme, promoting a religious agenda, flat-out sexist, and overall unfaithful to the House that Roddenberry Built.

I stand by what I said before: Star Trek 2009 is fun, but it ain't Star Trek. I don't agree with everything the writer says, and some things feel like they've been blown way out of proportion, but the details he points out and the arguments he raises make it clear that, if nothing else, fans who were bothered or enraged by this movie aren't completely out of their Vulcan minds. I can't imagine any film in the series holding up very well under such intense scrutiny, but if there's any movie that needed to be put under the microscope, it's the one that drew in scores of new fans while forcing out scores of old ones, leaving both sides to look at each other funny.

There's a lot to read, so it might be worthwhile to start out by jumping to the parts of the film you're most curious/annoyed about. In any case, whether you find this massive review to be startlingly truthful, tedious and inflammatory, or just an interesting read, it's bound to spark some thought and emotion.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Exfanding Recommends: Li'l Depressed Boy

Ya know, I've never been one to read through the big, monthly Previews catalog in search of the what's coming up from Marvel and DC. Instead, I focus my attentions on the stuff in the back; the small press titles and the books no one has ever heard of.

I figure, whatever Marvel and DC are doing, it's being highly publicized anyway, and most stores are going to order those books in big enough quantities that I don't have to pre-order.

I typically glaze over while flipping through the first 75-or-so pages of Previews, slowing down every once in a while to order a Goon trade, or a Hellboy mini-series.

It used to be that I'd flip through the Image Comics section, mostly to get to the page with the McFarlane baseball toys.

Well, over the past year-plus, that's changed, big time. I've spent a lot more time looking through Image's solicitations, and I've pre-ordered more Image titles in that year-plus than I had in the previous five years, combined.

And one thing has become crystal clear to me: Image Comics continues to publish the best range of genres in the comics industry today.

From Chew and Skullkickers and Morning Glories to The Walking Dead and Infinite Vacation, Erik Larsen's company just knows good comics when they see them.

And, last week, I stumbled upon yet another high-quality, creator-owned book that's being published through Image.

Li'l Depressed Boy, issues 1 and 2 shipped over the last two months, and issue one sold out completely. The second printing (cover below) came out last week, and more shops are starting to pick up on how good this book is.
Written by S. Steven Struble, and with art by Sina Grace, Li'l Depressed Boy started out as a webcomic featuring Struble's poetry over artwork by such indie gods as Jim Mahfood and Sam Keith.

It's progressed into this latest printed version, and that's where I picked things up. I actually missed out on the first issue, grabbed issue two because I was struck by the cover, and put in a quick order for the second printing of issue one.

I had the chance to read them both this weekend, and let me tell you. This series is an absolute gem.

Amidst the multitude of pop-culture references (including, Nathaniel, a Mega-Man mention) there's depth in the storytelling, and wonderful, subtle details in the art. The main character, LDB, is, literally, a ragdoll. And he's depressed. There's no doubt about that.

Since reading issues one and two, I've gone back and read through the webcomic archives of the series, and there's no doubt that the character has a history of depression. The webcomic is certainly darker than the printed series has--at least in the first two issues--proven to be.

Still, the printed issues are a wonderful way to jump on board, and to become acquainted with the characters and their world.

LDB is a writer, a music lover, a video gamer, a comics reader. He's like our friends, he's like us. Or, at least, parts of him are like parts of us.

He's anti-social, but still manages to function. He has one close friend, and the two of them hang out. He's single, but he's met a girl.

It's always hard to "review" a story that's only halfway finished, so instead of doing that, I'll say this: Give this book a try if you see it at your LCS. It deserves the attention of as many readers as possible.

And, in case you were wondering, here's the solicit info for the second printing of issue one:

In THE L'IL DEPRESSED BOY #1, fans were introduced to that relatable titular character, LDB, as he seemingly looped through a series of those perfectly captured little moments of pop culture isolation and longing.

He is awoken from his reverie by, ironically enough, the girl of his dreams. With the aim of burgeoning friendship, this intoxicating stranger pokes holes in LDB’s insular shell as he must learn to venture into the world outside of himself in order to keep up with her zest for life.

If this sounds like it's your kind of thing, be sure to mention it to your comics shop owner, and pre-order the upcoming trade collection, which ships for under $10 this summer.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

New Old Music: Unabashedly Generic

Because it's been quite a while since my last New Old Music post, a brief recap is in order: When I moved to my new home over the summer, I decided to start listening to all the music CDs in my collection that had been sitting in a box for more than a decade without ever having been listened to. Yay recap.

By now I've listened to virtually everything (or as much of it as I can stand), so it's as good a time as any to continue my tales of this exfanding experience. This time I'll be discussing two of the most unabashedly generic albums in my collection.

Richard Marx - Paid Vacation (1994)

What I expected: Love songs. Soft, easy-listening love songs.

What I got: The forgotten soundtrack of a forgotten '80s movie.

What I think: Like Peter Cetera's previously discussed World Falling Down, probably not the kind of CD I'd keep in the car, but a song here and there on my computer playlist might be nice. I swear I've heard at least one of these songs on the radio before, but then again, most of the album gives me that feeling.

Cruel Shoes - Cruel Shoes Demo CD (1992)

My scanner isn't hooked up yet, and the CD cover doesn't appear to be anywhere on the Internet, but just imagine a black-and-white photo of a shoe fashioned out of recycled motorcycle parts, leaning against the top of a Corinthian column.

[EDIT FROM THE FUTURE: Hey, I got a scanner.]

What I expected: Angry, atonal, hard rock about horrible, horrible subjects.

What I got: The forgotten soundtrack of a forgotten '80s movie.

What I think: Whereas Paid Vacation is the unobtrusive kind of generic, sounding vaguely like other light rock songs I enjoy well enough, this demo CD manages to combine the singer's slightly rough voice with various instruments from synthesizers to saxophones in such a way that causes it to be gradually grating without any permanent damage. It's not particularly memorable, but each of the three songs is 5+ minutes in length, and that's just too long for me with this kind of music.

Two albums? That's it? Yes, unless you'd like more forgotten soundtracks of forgotten '80s movies. I think you get the idea here. Perhaps I'll have more to share with you next time, when I discuss the most unlistenable albums of them all. Get your earplugs ready.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Comics Shop Woes

I know, I know.

I'm writing way too often lately about depressing things (like bookstores closing) to even be allowed to bring this up today. But I think I should, because it's sad and relevant, and it really does paint a picture of the comic book industry these days.

The fantastically named Monkey Head Comics in Bethel, CT, a shop that Nathaniel and I both enjoy--and wrote about, just over a year ago--is, sadly, closing its doors at the end of April.

I found out about the closing while checking the shop's website, trying to determine whether or not I'd be able to make a quick stop there after work one evening. I've made a couple of trips to the shop over the past year-plus, usually resulting in spending a decent amount of money.

The store has/had a special place in my heart because of the amount of indie titles its owner made sure to carry. And, although the shop's space was quite small, and the location was not at all ideal, it managed to survive in the worst economy of our lives for four years.

Despite its small size, and as Nathaniel and I pointed out earlier, the shop utilized every inch of its allocated space, resulting in one of the best laid out stores I've ever been in.

I'm sorry I didn't find this hole-in-the-wall gem of a store sooner, and I'm sorry I couldn't make the out of the way trip more often.

Wanting to visit it once before it closed, I made the trip after work on Thursday evening.

Expecting to see a gutted, sad state of affairs, I was shocked when I opened the door to find that most of the store's inventory was still on the walls, and in back issue bins.

This honestly surprised me.

Monkey Head has an incredible range of product: from dollar bin back issues to blue chip CGC-graded Silver Age books; a wonderful trade paperback section that includes limited edition hard covers mixed in with a deep, impressive selection of trades; and a new comics section that used to feature a nice selection of variant covers.

I talked to the shop's owner, and he said the market just collapsed on him. He lost 25 regular customers over the past 18 months, and if you know anything about comics retailing, you know that, if you can't make money on Wednesdays, then you're in trouble.

I also asked him about why he thought there was so much remaining product in the shop. "The economy," was his answer. People don't want to pay retail for books anymore, and that trend has made its way into comics.

And I think this is going to be one of the main problems moving into the next couple of years within the industry--publishing, in general, I mean, and comics can certainly fall victim to this, as well.

Even with prices on all trades, toys, and statues slashed 50% off retail, there's still product in the store.

Maybe it's this particular shop's location more than anything, but I think it opens up the floor for a discussion about the price of printed books, and comics merchandise.

Something to think about, at least.

Friday, March 25, 2011

You Are Totally Not Getting a Post Today

No, you're really not.

I've stopped making excuses for filler posts, so this won't even be an excuse that turns into a post. Rather than link to something random that everyone else linked to months ago, I will let you enjoy this little breather where your obligation to read all my rambling Mega Man posts is briefly suspended.

Consider this a chance for me to charge up for something bigger and better than a fluff post. Until then...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Original Art Bug

I've talked about my habit of buying (way too much) original comics art in the past, and how I prefer collecting original art to collecting, say, back issues.

Collecting original art is rewarding for several reasons, not the least of which being the connection I get to make with the comic(s) that I love. Knowing that there's quite literally only one of each page I buy is pretty cool.

What's more, there's also a connection to the artists whose work I'm purchasing.

In the case of the more independent artists, especially--whom I tend to gravitate towards--they typically sell their own work, either through a website or just at conventions.
And that's a pretty cool thing to be able to exchange emails with people you admire, and really, is there another fandom outside of comics that allows for that?

There are also plenty of art dealers out there, and at this point, I've worked with pretty much all of them. The vast majority of dealers and, maybe surprisingly to those not in the know, fellow collectors, in the original art marketplace are incredibly friendly.
Just head over to Comic Art Fans--the place for collectors and dealers to show off their stuff--and check out some of the comments left by collectors to other collectors about the art they've purchased or commissioned.

For the most part, collectors are supportive of each other and, sure, there's some friendly jealousy, but there's never that negative vibe that permeates so many fandoms. Comics fandom, in particular. Somehow, that's managed to stay out of the original art community.
And that's really what Comic Art Fans, or CAF, provides--a community for fans of original art.

A warning, though.

CAF is the main reason why my little side hobby of buying pages and sketches became more of side hobby. I check the site on an hourly basis, and it's where I find leads to new art, and it's where I buy quite a bit of art.

So if you have no interest in possibly being sucked in to an expensive, addictive hobby (that's also incredibly fun and interesting), I'd stay away. If not, though. Check it out. And have fun. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 12

Snow. Again. Yay.

This time, a week into spring. Ridiculous. Annoying. And it'll add plenty of time to my commute home tonight. It's been a crazy, frustrating winter (and spring, so far), and I am very much looking forward to the summertime.

And Bar-B-Ques and baseball and eating lunch outside.

I'm also looking forward to today's new comics (and I'm awesome at segues), and, looking at the ol' shipping list for today, it looks like there's plenty of shiny and new ready to be purchased this week.

Lots of trades, especially. Since there are so many of them, let's just dive right in.

First up, from Dark Horse, we have a collection that I'm looking forward to reading, despite the fact that I know very little about it. I've heard of the critically acclaimed series, Finder, by Carla Speed McNeil, and I've watched and read interviews with the creator, but I've never actually read the series.

Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever even seen the series in more than one of the comics shops I haunt on a regular basis.
So, finally today, I get to fix that as Dark Horse releases The Finder Library, volume one, which is their first step in collecting the entire series in a set of very nice trade paperbacks.

Here's the solicitation information for this first library edition:

Lose yourself in a world beyond your wildest dreams ....

Since 1996, Finder has set the bar for science--fiction storytelling, with a lush, intricate world and compelling characters. Now, Dark Horse is proud to present the first four story arcs of Carla Speed McNeil's groundbreaking series in a single, affordably priced volume!

Follow enigmatic hero Jaeger through a "glorious, catholic pileup of high-tech SF, fannish fantasy, and street-level culture clash" (Village Voice), and discover the lush world and compelling characters that have carved Finder a permanent place in the pantheon of independent comics.

* This first of two Finder Library volumes collects the multiple Eisner Award--nominated story arcs Sin Eater, King of Cats, and fan--favorite Talisman.

* Introduction by Douglas Wolk (Reading Comics).

As mentioned, I've wanted to read this book for a while now, and since it's finally being collected in big chunks, I'm very excited to jump on board.

Next up, we have one of my favorite titles, from two of my favorite creators. Demo, volume two, from writer Brian Wood and artist Becky Cloonan, ships today.
Demo is a series of one-shot stories about young protagonists trying to figure things out. Some of these characters show signs of certain extraordinary powers, others do not.

I didn't pick up that first volume in singles, but as I started reading more of Brian Wood's work, I circled back to the trade. And I was happy I did. Wood is fast becoming my favorite writer in comics, and Demo is a big reason why.

Here's the blurb for this week's volume two:

"A character-driven drama...Wood proves himself to be a master of done-in-one storytelling." – IGN

The Eisner-nominated, critically acclaimed project by writer Brian Wood and artist Becky Cloonan returns in this collection of the second six-issue miniseries. Don't miss these new stories of conflicted teens grappling with love, loss and the joy of finding their way in life while dealing with their unexpected super-powers.

Check this one out, folks. I think it'll appeal to fans of slice-of-life comics, as well as to fans of supers. Plus, Cloonan's art, as always, is spectacular.

Next up, we have another one of those smaller press books that proved to be...difficult to track down in single issues. Greg Rucka's Stumptown, from Oni Press, has been one of those great indie reads that shops seem to order way too few of.
And, after a mix-up at my LCS that ended with me missing out on issues one and two, catching up with the story got pretty tough. So I made sure to order this hardcover collection of the first arc, and it should be waiting for me this afternoon.

Stumptown is a crime story set in Portland and featuring a strong female main character--a specialty of Rucka's. For all those who say that there aren't any well-written female characters in comics, well. Do yourself a favor and read some Greg Rucka comics.

And start with Stumptown.

Here's the blurb for this first arc:

Dex Parios is the proprietor of Stumptown Investigations, and a fairly talented P.I. Unfortunately, she's less adept at throwing dice than solving cases. Her recent streak has left her beyond broke - she's in to the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast for 18 large.

But maybe Dex's luck is about to change. Sue-Lynne, head of the Wind Coast's casino operation, will clear Dex's debt if she can locate Sue-Lynne's missing granddaughter. But is this job Dex's way out of the hole or a shove down one much much deeper?

And, finally today, we have something a little more mainstream. From Marvel Comics and writer Brian Bendis, Ultimate Spider-Man, issue 156, kicks off the much-hyped "Death of Spider-Man" event.
When I tell you that this is the best mainstream super hero book on the stands today, I hope you believe me. In his 156-issue run thus far, Bendis has shaped the Spider mythos for a new generation, and in a landscape where books by big-name creative teams are almost expected to come out late, he has consistently delivered an on-time product of the highest quality.

I really and truly can't say enough good things about this book, and I'm sorry I don't write about it more often. It has been one of the very few constants in my reading over the last eight years.

Here's the blurb from Marvel:


THE most shocking Spider-Man story you will ever read! Young Peter Parker has led a heroic life and tried to live by the simple and powerful philosophy that with great power comes great responsibility, but will that philosophy be enough to save him from the horror that awaits him here?

This is easily the most important story in Ultimate Spider-Man history and maybe the most important story in the Ultimate Universe. Who better to illustrate it than Ultimate Spider-Man legend MARK BAGLEY, making his mighty Marvel return!! Bendis and Bagley back together again and just-in-time!!

Do yourself a favor. If this new story line interests you, pick up last month's issue 155. It was a beautifully told story wherein Peter Parker essentially gets everything he's ever wanted.

And, if you know Spider-Man at all, you know that can't be a good thing.

Oh, and original series artist Mark Bagley returns. That alone should sell you on this book.

Right. I see I'm running about 10 minutes late here. So, let's cut this thing short and post it up. Before I hit that "Publish" button, though, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Deconstructing Mega Man 2

After an attempt to dismantle the widely held belief that Mega Man 2 (or 3) is the greatest Mega Man game ever, followed by an examination of seemingly erratic public opinion on the greater Mega Man series, I've come to the conclusion that MM2 (or 3) gets all the attention because most Mega Man fans in the reviewing community don't actually like Mega Man at all.

Let me borrow an example from my other favorite fandom: Star Trek. You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who hates Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It's funny, it's character-driven, and best of all for non-Trek fans, it's got almost nothing to do with space. If Star Trek IV isn't the best movie in the entire series, then it's darn close. Yet, if you absolutely cannot stand any incarnation of Star Trek but happen to enjoy Star Trek IV, does that make you a Trek fan?

No. It means you like Star Trek IV.

See where I'm headed with this?

If you're an honest-to-goodness Mega Man fan, I would expect you to enjoy solidly challenging platforming, sharp visuals, quality music, serious replayability, memorable character designs, and a wide variety of useful and fun weapons. These general characteristics define what it is to be a Mega Man game. You can't judge an entire series based on the criteria of a single installment--either you judge a single installment based on the entire series, or you follow the progression of a series and faithfully adapt to it, or you quit bringing the series down by maintaining you're a fan.

Do you know what it says about a series when the "fans" spend 20 years berating every new installment for not being the same nostalgia-inducing experience they grew up with? It says that 20 years of trying out new ideas, refining old ideas, perfecting the gameplay, and gradually building an overarching storyline is a waste of time. It says that we only continue to buy your disappointing games so that we can someday get the sequel we deserve.

I don't have a problem with anyone liking Mega Man 2. I don't even have a problem with anyone disliking the entire rest of the series. I have a problem with one game defining the entire series because nearly all the reviewers played it at the same point in their lives.

While the original Mega Man is generally considered a classic and was a contemporary of other acknowledged classics that kids grew up with such as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, it seems that nobody played the original Mega Man before playing Mega Man 2. Yet, somehow, the game managed to sell enough copies to justify a sequel, and something about the timing and the marketing made Mega Man 2 most people's first exposure to the series. Not only was the game a brilliant example of a sequel done right, but for people who had never heard of Mega Man, its gameplay was amazingly revolutionary.

As a follow-up to MM2, and especially as an alternate first exposure to the series, MM3 seemed pretty brilliant and revolutionary as well. Revisiting four of the stages and squaring off against the entire boss lineup of MM2 must have made the game feel so much bigger than it really was, and I suspect that most little kids have always wanted a robotic dog. The weapons weren't just fireballs and bullets; you could throw your whole body at an enemy or pelt them with snakes! If you skipped MM1 and grew up with MM2-3--and it appears that most people did--then one of the defining characteristics of Mega Man would absolutely have to be "novelty."

Notice how "novelty" wasn't on my list of characteristics all those paragraphs ago?

The warm and fuzzy feeling of nostalgia, combined with the false expectation of groundbreaking innovation in every sequel, makes for a significant group of gamers who are fans of a completely different series than the one they think they're playing. Compounding the matter is that MM4-6 were overshadowed by the jaw-dropping games of the brand-new Super Nintendo, MM7 was released in the wake of (the admittedly groundbreaking and innovative) Mega Man X, and MM8 appeared on platforms that the core Mega Man audience was not as likely to own, in a time when all the previous games were becoming harder to find in stores.

It's no wonder MM2-3 got all the attention--if it weren't for the Mega Man Anniversary Collection in the mid-2000s, an entire decade of the series might have been lost to all but the most dedicated fans. Which brings us to my final analysis of that poll:

Everybody started somewhere, and though most people started with the early NES games, not everyone did. The kids who grew up on the late NES games got to experience the same core gameplay as the earlier games, but with all the novelty that a first exposure to Mega Man could offer, and all the technology of a system that was now beginning to show its full potential. The folks who joined the party later on have probably seen enough of the series to know what to expect in a Mega Man game, or at the very least, they don't have a nostalgia bias persisting from their childhood.

Does this mean that the later NES games are better than MM1, 2, and 3? Not at all. If you're a teacher, the best student in your class is not necessarily your favorite student. (Not that teachers would ever play favorites.) This is a distinction that too few reviewers make, I feel. The Best Mega Man Game Ever should exemplify the defining characteristics of the entire series without pulling anything too inherently game-ruining. Given that "novelty" isn't a very valid characteristic here, it's safe to say that most games are similar enough that any one of them could be "Best" material, depending on which characteristics hold the most sway for you.

However, there's no arguing with plain ol' fun.

If you're a genuine Mega Man fan who's given the series a fair chance, looked at things objectively, and still just wants to play Mega Man 2 and 3, that's alright by me. Heck, you can even say they're the best. If you can celebrate the triumphs, acknowledge the flaws, and explain the game's superiority with reasons that at least partially transcend personal preference, then you've earned my respect as a reviewer. It's not which game you like; it's why.

For 20 years, we've been listening to the which without seriously listening to the why. It ultimately doesn't matter to me what we long as it comes from the fans who actually like Mega Man.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sick Day Musings

So I'm home sick today, for the first time in...well, it's been a while since I've taken a sick day.

It actually turned out to be kind of a fortuitous use of a sick day, too, because despite the fact that as of last night it's officially Spring, I awoke this morning to falling snow. It's stopped now, but the news is saying to expect more on Wednesday. Which is wonderful.

At several points last week, I was able to go outside and have a catch, or go for a jog. I wore a short-sleeved shirt to work on Friday, I ate my lunch outside, and the weekend weather was lovely.

For the first time since Christmas week, the green grass was visible. Not so this morning, as looking out my window, I'm gonna guess that we got about an inch or two of snow.

Not much, but certainly enough to hide the green again.

I didn't feel all that well yesterday, and I mostly just laid around and read, and since I had nothing else to do, and no real inclination to move, I read a lot.

I'm over three-quarters of the way through the new Pat Rothfuss book, The Wise Man's Fear, and since that novel is over 900 pages long, I did quite a bit of reading yesterday.

I'm really enjoying the novel, and now that I'm almost finished, I'm feeling very similar to how I felt coming to the end of The Name of the Wind, which is the first book in his three-book series.

I desperately want to know how the book ends, but I don't want the book to end. You know what I mean?

I love the world that Rothfuss has created, and the characters and places are so vivid in my mind that I hate the thought of parting with them these next couple of years as the author crafts the final book in the trilogy.

But I want to reach that last page, and to see how Rothfuss is going to leave his main character, Kvothe, and just how bad things will be heading into the finale of the series.

The series, by the way, is a monster in fantasy fiction, and fiction in general, really. It's currently at number three on the New York Times bestseller list, and the fan base that's grown around this book is as ravenous as any proper fan base should be.

For me, this series holds a special place because The Name of the Wind was one of the first fantasy novels I ever read.

I know, I know. How is that possible? Remember, though, that I'm the guy who didn't see Star Wars until we started this blog.

But hey, we all have to start somewhere, and somewhen.

And for me, The Name of the Wind opened up a whole new world for me; a whole new section of the bookstore. It's hard to put into words how grateful I am for that.

So today, being mostly better from being mostly nothing but sick yesterday, I plan on propping myself up by a window, and reading the rest of The Wise Man's Fear, and I'll go back one more time to Kvothe's world.

I'll let you know how that goes.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wow, I AM a Minor Internet Celebrity

More than a year ago, I discussed how I was gradually becoming an extremely minor Internet celebrity thanks to my Mega Man videos on YouTube. Yes, we're talking about Mega Man yet another day. Alex will be posting about something completely different tomorrow, I assure you. Anydigression, I now have proof that I'm officially a minor Internet celebrity. No, it's not the 1803 subscribers and 289 friends I have on YouTube.

It's the fact that I have fan videos made specifically for or because of me.

A number of people have made videos inspired by the silly and impressive things I do in my video playthroughs and glitch videdos, sometimes using video or audio clips (with permission, of course). I'm honored, flattered, and just the slightest bit weirded out that I'd have that effect on anyone, but ultimately, I think they're pretty cool.

Today I've got two samples for your enjoyments (yes, "enjoyments," it's plural): the first is channel introduction video/movie-style trailer that highlights some of the coolest stuff I've pulled in my videos, and it makes me look like a total action hero. The second is best enjoyed if you've watched the Mega Man cartoon show and have seen a few of the videos in which I do some horrible voice acting. Fantastic stuff all around.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Return of the Cons! (But Not for Alex)

And, somehow, we've managed to make it into March--and into convention season--already. How or when that happened, I'll never know. Wasn't it just Christmas? Didn't we just get back from New York Comic-Con?

Two weekends ago, there was the Emerald City Comic Con. This weekend, C2E2 in Chicago. San Diego has already sold out, and before you know it, we'll be doing a recap of all the things that will be announced there in July.

The Boston Comic Con--which is a great show, by the way--is in a few weeks, and August brings the great Baltimore Con, which in my opinion, at least, is America's best comic convention.

I guess I'm feeling a bit left out this weekend, as I would have loved to have gone to C2E2, and I already know that schedule conflicts will prohibit me from attending both Boston and Baltimore.

Missing the Baltimore show is going to hurt the most, to be honest. That'll make two years in a row that I've missed it, and that just doesn't sit well with me. I'm hoping that I'll be able to attend NYCC again this October, because we had a really good time last year. But that might prove to be my one and only convention of 2011.

I have a trip that I need to take in June that's proving to be rather expensive, and that's in turn prohibited me from even thinking about hitting up some of the smaller, local cons in the summer.

I've talked about it before, and there are certainly things that I just don't care for about conventions.

But, lately, I've been reading so many good books by so many writers and artists that I'd never before been exposed to, that I just...want to be at a con, in the middle of everything. I want to seek these newly discovered creators out at cons, and tell them how much I'm enjoying their stuff, and get an autograph or a drawing or whatever.

So, yeah.

No real point to today's post other than, I feel left out.

On that note, if any of our readers happens to be at C2E2, please feel free to comment or to shoot us an email. We'd love to hear what the show's like, and how things are going.

That's all I've got for today, so go outside, read some comics, and enjoy your Saturday.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Your (Pretty Much) Weekly Borders Update

It's been about a week since we last checked in on the tale of pity and woe that is Borders Books, so here's an update. As of yesterday, it's been announced that 28 additional Borders Super Stores will be closing by late May.

I mentioned earlier that this would likely be the case, and I'm sure there will be yet another round of store closings before the end of the fiscal year.

You can check out the latest list of store closings right here. This list hits close to home, literally, for me, as now every Borders in my home state will be out of business by the end of May, including the store in my hometown.

Back in the 90s, that store bought out another chain store to move into a giant retail location right in the center of town. In doing so, it effectively killed off the wonderful little independent bookshop that lived for many years in the same shopping plaza, down in the corner.

Come June, there won't be any bookstores in the plaza.

In fact, all that will be left in my hometown is a Barnes & Noble in the mall, and a library that's hurting for money.

Sure, the Barnes & Noble will be fine for most people, but it's sad to me that so many kids today are growing up without the presence of books.

When I was growing up, I was literally surrounded by bookstores. There were two (and, at one point, three) in the mall alone. There was the aforementioned and wonderful independent shop in the center of town. And there was Borders.

Now we're down to a single store.

Which is wrong, on many levels. I know digital is being heralded as the new king, but from what I've seen, at least, that's not yet the case.

At one of the other soon-to-close Borders stores in my area, I took advantage of their closing sale. I bought a couple of nice hardcovers for 50% off. But that's not the important thing.

When I went to the counter, I saw people.

People buying lots and lots of books.

I started talking to the soon-to-be-unemployed cashier. "Ya know," I said. "These prices--with all the discounts--are pretty much the exact same thing as when I use my Rewards card."

She sighed, nodded in agreement, and smiled. "Tell me about it. Even before this location officially announced its closing, I had people coming in spending $300. If people just did this in the last couple of years, we wouldn't have a problem."

So true.

From what I've seen, it's impossible--IMPOSSIBLE--to argue that people don't want books. Real, actual, physical copies of books.

They just don't want to pay full price for them.

It's time for the publishers to wake up to this. Instead of the publishers waiting around and studying trends to see how the landscape will change, it's time for the publishers to change the landscape.

Lower your costs. Lower your prices. And never stop making books.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mystery Solved: Proto Man Ruined Everything

So we've got this poll, which indicates that 49% of 85 voters prefer the later NES Mega Man games over MM2 and 3, which are too frequently and almost exclusively hailed as the best games in the series. There are plenty of factors that might have influenced the results of this poll, including:

- Most voters probably haven't played all ten games on the list
- Interpretations of "favorite era" may have been quite varied
- Not enough people voted to be reliably representative of the greater fanbase

...Et cetera. These are valid points, which is why I'm not about to base my entire post around these results. However, I will say this: If Mega Man 2 and 3 are so venerated by the reviewing community, then why did almost 70% of a group this large prefer the games that followed?

Especially when the most popular adjectives to describe the series after 3 seem to be some variation of "disappointing," "repetitive," "uncreative" and "suck," the last of which isn't technically an adjective.

The first three games have it made: MM1 is generally accepted to be a good start to the series, albeit a flawed one. MM2 does everything MM1 did, but better--so much so that nothing could ever top it. MM3 does everything MM2 did, but there's more of it, which might somehow be better still. The "original trilogy" starts off with some good ideas and keeps building on itself, and everyone loves it for that.

To summarize what a distressing number of critics have to say about the rest of the series: MM4 is a total rehash of 1-3, introduces a charge shot that makes obnoxious noises and ruins the fun of button-mashing the controller to destroy the enemies, and features horrible music, overly cheerful graphics, uninspired level design, and the dopiest bosses ever. MM5 is exactly the same, but good. MM6 is exactly the same, but bad.


Continuing on: MM7 has stupidly huge graphics, decidedly less-elegant controls, and is inherently disappointing because it's not Mega Man X. MM8 has atrocious voice acting, useless bosses, and an overall feel that is either described as "weird" or "kiddy." MM9 is way too hard, offers nothing new to the series, and retro is dumb. Actually, not too many reviewers will tell you that; MM9 is where the criticism starts thinning out and people start saying nice things about the series again.

There are certainly people who think more highly of the larger series (myself included, though the critics are right about MM8), but opinions are all over the place until MM9, which folks generally enjoy it because it because it reminds them of how Mega Man used to be great (when it looked like Mega Man 2). Granted, there aren't currently as many reviews out there to compare, but the consensus is that MM9 is good, and...get this...MM10 is almost exactly the same but even better.

Side note: Apparently, the appeal of any Mega Man game released since Proto Man's debut is directly proportional to how prominent a role Proto Man plays. Proto Man is a playable character or plays a significant role in MM3, 5, 7, 9, and 10, and these games are consistently ranked higher than 4, 6, and 8, which only have pathetic cameos by Proto Man. Perhaps for this reason, Mega Man 10 is well-loved by the relatively few reviewers who have weighed in (myself notwithstanding), and I haven't seen this much unanimously positive feedback since Mega Man 2.

That makes my skin crawl.

But let's back up and summarize the summaries: MM3 is like MM2 is like MM1, which is good. MM6 is like MM5 is like MM4 is like MM3, 2, and 1, which is bad. MM8 and MM7 are different from MM6, 5, and 4 (which is like 3, 2, and 1), which is bad. MM9 is different from MM8, 7, 6, 5, 4, and 3 (which is like 2, which is like 1), which is good, or possibly bad. MM10 is like MM9, which is better.


Forget the poll--I think we need to analyze the fans instead.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 11

Just a couple of days into Blogger Thief Gate 2011, as we’ve affectionately started calling it around here (well, I have, anyway), and we have good news to report.

Blogger Thief Gate 2011 is now...officially over.

As mysteriously as it came, the crisis has now passed. An email was sent, an email was received, and our posts are now off the site in question. And that gnawing annoyance that's lingered in me and Nathaniel since Monday?

Pretty much gone completely, thanks for asking.

I mean, sure, I could go on about just how annoyed I was at the whole situation, but I won’t. Go on about it, I mean. Because it's now been resolved, and that would be pointless. Also, more importantly, it’s Wednesday, and that means one thing.

It’s not Tuesday anymore.

And that is awesome. Because I hate Tuesdays. Officially and irrevocably. They’re like the Thursdays of the beginning of the week. Pointless. Tedious. Stupid. And you have to go to work the next day.

But Wednesday. Oh, Wednesday is so much better, with its fancy middle-of-the-week status and, in my case anyway, promise of a half an hour extra sleep in the morning. Glorious, really.

Plus, we get new comics. So how bad can it be, right? And speaking of, before we dive right into this week's batch of books (well, technically, "book"), a brief aside.

This week's WfW will be short--one book, to be precise--because, as you may have noticed in the title, today's issue is number 11. And the number 11 is a Bad Luck Number. Maybe not for everyone, but certainly for me.

This goes back to an old baseball superstition of mine, which entailed me wearing the number 11 and tearing everything in my throwing arm, then spraining my ankle a week before having to report to my college baseball preseason camp, then re-tearing everything in my arm once it healed the first time, and then, to top it all off, being hit in the face with a pitch, breaking my jaw in two places.

And then, this week--the 11th week of the current volume of Waiting for, we have our blog's content stolen. Coincidence? Most certainly, as our content was actually being stolen for a number of weeks previous.

But we just happened to find out about it on this, the 11th week. Coincidence? Probably still yes.

Either way, though, I'll be keeping things on the brief side today. So, on to our one book this week.

From Top Cow/Image, we have issue three of a book that I just discovered a couple of weeks ago, and have fallen madly in love with. Twilight Guardian, written by the excellent Troy Hickman and with beautiful art by Siddharth Kotian, is a new series about a young woman who thinks she's a super hero.
Actually, it's much more than that. The Twilight Guardian patrols a small section of her suburban neighborhood every night--nine blocks to be exact--and she investigates the people around her, and works with the police when she can.

Having no super powers, things like Christmas lights not conforming to code are high on the Guardian's list of things to keep an eye on. That is, until a criminal known as the Dusk Devil appears.

Or does he?

You don't actually know, because the Twilight Guardian may not be entirely stable. Her patrol may stem from a form of OCD, and by issue two we know that she has stopped taking her meds.

Hickman's writing here shines, as most of the first issue is told in captions, like a very old school super hero story, from the point of view of our heroine. The story opens up a bit in issue two, as the Guardian meets other vigilante "super heroes" at--where else?--a comic convention.

Obviously, since this is already the third issue of a four-issue mini-series, I'd recommend either waiting for the trade or going back and picking up issues one and two. Over at Comic Book Resources, you can read a preview of issue one.

And here's the solicitation information for today's issue three, from Image:

The Pilot Season Winner Returns in “Heroes and Villains” Part 3!

It’s a case of multiple personalities as Twilight Guardian is pitched several possible interpretations of her tireless war on crime in her very own comic book! Which identity will Twilight Guardian choose? And has her arch villain Dusk Devil finally come to confront her on her home turf?

Eisner-nominated creator and writer Troy Hickman (Common Grounds) and talented up-and-coming artist Siddharth Kotian (Eat The Dead) continue the highly anticipated four-issue mini-series. Issue #3 features a portrait of Twilight Guardians by Jeffrey Spokes (Witchblade, Irredeemable).

As artist Kotian says on his blog, "At the heart of it Twilight Guardian is about celebrating the awesomeness of comics."

Well put.

The writing is spot-on, the art is great, and I'm really enjoying this book. I'm so glad I decided to give the first two issues a shot on a light-shipping Wednesday a few weeks back. Give it a shot; I think you'll dig it, too.

And with that, I must say farewell. Before I do, though--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


As Alex alluded to in a recent tweet (because we apparently have a Twitter page that I'm told you should check out), a number of our posts have, shall we say, on another blog. Without permission. If you're reading this post anywhere but Exfanding Your Horizons ( or our RSS feed, you're enjoying stolen goods.

As it clearly states on the bottom of our blog, "All original content on Exfanding Your Horizons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License." In other words, you are free to share our copyrighted work if you copy/paste it word-for-word, give us full credit, and use it for non-commercial purposes. And you know what? We're pretty laid-back people who probably won't mind whatever you're doing if you follow those rules.

Now, imagine our surprise when we discovered that another blog had pirated every post we've written since the end of February. Sure, many of the posts were news or links or fluff that anybody could've had on their blog, but some of them were very heartfelt and reflective, and dare I say personal. Granted, it's our own fault if we write about anything personal on this blog and it happens to leak out to the whole world, but it's a different story altogether if someone else tells your very meaningful story as though it were their own, with the large, looming space for advertisements in the sidebar that makes their true intentions clear.

These posts, which were once so fun and cathartic and impactful to us, now feel tainted. Imagine someone else posting your pictures of your kids from your blog on their website to make money off of your kids. It's unsettling, to say the very least, and it's the kind of paranoia-inducing situation that could drive people to any number of fearful, obsessive, or vicious reactions.

It's also a waste of our time. I had big plans of watching Star Trek, playing video games, and following up on yesterday's post about Mega Man 2, but that's all been put on hold to deal with this mess. But hey, at least I get a blog post out of it. And so does the Blog Thief.

[EDITOR: Alex feels the need to jump in here, and since I'm the editor--uh, I mean, the editor is Alex, he's...uh. Allowed to jump in. Right. Here's Alex's take on things.]

I have to say, when Nathaniel first alerted me to this, I wasn't that upset. I guess I was just consumed with work at the office, and the whole, "our blog posts are being stolen" thing didn't sink in the way it should have.

And I didn't think about it in terms like, "our writing is being taken; our ideas are being used by someone else; our personal thoughts, opinions, and emotions are being passed off as another's."

But then I started reading through the Thief's "blog," and I started to get angry.

I had a flashback to a couple of years ago, when I had to fight tooth and nail to keep my own intellectual property. That was not a fun time for me, and it caused me plenty of sleepless nights.

And here I am, just about two years later, and someone else--someone I don't know and don't care to ever know--is just taking my writing and Nathaniel's writing and...what?

He's posting it on his blog, as if the material came from his head. As if he lived the experiences that led us to write the words that he took.

And sure, as Nathaniel said, some of what's up on the Thief's site is fluff; filler posts that we cobbled together in ten minutes and tossed up here. But those were our ten minutes.

It shouldn't matter what was taken; it just matters that it was taken. Without our consent. I know this, and I hope you do, too.

Still, I'm all about the content, and there are a handful of posts that now reside on the Thief's site that are personal. And, boy, does that make it even worse.

If a common criminal (you know, the cowardly and superstitious kind that Batman's always talking about) were to break into a person's home, steal personal belongings, and run off into the night, the police would be called, yes?

Of course.

And people would say things like, "How horrible," and "What kind of person does that?"

But when something is stolen from a silly little blog and posted up on another site? Meh. "Nothing on the Internet is copyrighted--it's the Internet!"

Maybe there aren't people out there willing to fight for their stolen content--it's too much work, it's a fruitless endeavor.

Well, to the Blog Thief, just so you know.

My name is Alex and my buddy up there is Nathaniel. And we don't care how much work it takes.

We'll be in touch.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Stop Loving Mega Man 2

A few weekends ago I got together with a large group of friends from my college video game club for a gaming reunion. There were board games, and card games, and video games, and there were enough people for multiple games to break out at once. At one point, someone booted up the Wii and started playing Mega Man 9. Naturally, I couldn't resist getting in on the action, so we played through to the end and had a small audience for most of the time.

We went on to do other things afterwards, but there came a time when this same small group wasn't engaged in anything specific. I booted up the Wii again and we started through Mega Man 10. Later in the evening, someone else busted out the Mega Man Anniversary Collection for the GameCube and played through the original Mega Man. Followed directly by Mega Man 2.

I had no idea we'd be doing a spontaneous mini-marathon. I swear it wasn't planned.

This is the fourth time since the summer that I've watched or played through Mega Man 2 with someone. This is highly unusual, even for me; playing the same game twice in a year is pushing it, even for Mega Man. Repeated exposure over a short period of time has brought me to realize something about this game, which is so often cited as the best game in the series and the greatest NES game of all time: Anyone who makes such claims has forgotten what it's like to play Mega Man 2 for the first time.

There is no good place to start--all the easy bosses have tricky stages, and all the easy stages have difficult bosses. A Game Over will destroy your entire stockpile of Energy Tanks, which can be particularly devastating in the final two stages, which are nothing but boss battles. Sprite flicker is problematic, making one key boss battle almost impossible for a newbie to figure out what's going on. Several sections require some puzzle solving with one particular special weapon, and if you run out of energy while trying to figure things out, those areas are ALWAYS the worst areas of the game to grind for powerups.

Without exception, all four of my recent exposures to Mega Man 2 prominently suffered from all four of these problems, and all were nearly derailed entirely by at least one of these problems. It's striking to me that The Greatest Mega Man Game of All Time and The Best NES Game Ever contains such critical, game-ruining flaws that are apparently so routinely encountered, yet barely recognized in the reviewing community--it's not even that they're glossed over and forgiven; sprite flicker notwithstanding, they're not mentioned at all. Not even by the haters, of which there are about five (who evidently don't have a high regard for NES games in general).

There are games such as Chrono Trigger that have received universal acclaim and--after frequently being hailed as The Greatest Game of All Time--intense scrutiny. Even the most cynical and nitpicky reviewers, who have torn the game apart, called out every possible flaw, and stooped as low as to give Chrono Trigger an 8 out of 10, seem to agree that the game is at least "pretty good." After considering all the angles, the matter of Chrono Trigger being The Greatest Game of All Time comes down to little more than personal gaming preferences; inherently detracting design flaws or technical issues are nonexistent, or minimal enough to be overlooked.

How, then, does a game like Mega Man 2 go so long without anybody noticing its potentially game-ruining flaws? I've read or skimmed through numerous reviews on GameFAQs, GameSpot, IGN, and assorted other gaming websites and blogs, but I can't find any evidence that anyone else on the planet has ever dealt with these issues. This leads me to several possible conclusions, the most likely of which are:

- My experiences with the game in the past few months are just an improbable series of flukes, the likes of which have never been experienced by anyone else
- The reviewing community has been playing Mega Man 2 for so long that experience and nostalgia have blinded them to the presence of two decades of better games

I might be willing to accept the first conclusion if my only issue with Mega Man 2 was that, on at least two occasions in recent memory, someone ran out of energy for the only weapon that works against the final boss, and had to resort to standing under slow-dripping lava until they had died enough times to get a Game Over, and could restart the stage with full weapon energy (losing all their E-Tanks in the process). Unfortunately, I also take into account sound quality, graphics, play control, game balance, replayability, and overall polish, and Mega Man 2 is outclassed by too many of its successors in these areas for any truly objective fan to not take notice.

If we were looking solely at the first three Mega Man games, then I would tell you that, yes, without question, MM2 is the best in the series. It improves on its predecessor in almost every way, the weapon selection is excellent, the enemies are memorable, the music is immensely catchy, there's a lot of nice little touches, and it's just plain fun. Later games in the series manage to clean up and fine-tune any inherently detracting design flaws and technical issues present in MM2 so that one's opinion of the game can come down to little more than one's personal gaming preferences...but we're not counting those. We're only looking at the first three.

It's apparent to me that most of the reviewers are, in fact, only looking at the first three Mega Man games when deciding which one is best: MM3 is the only other game in over two decades of Mega Man to receive anywhere close to the number of votes for Best Game in the Series (I.e. more than one or two votes), and as anyone who's suffered through my whiny video playthrough of MM3 can tell you, that game is even less qualified to hold the title. Only nostalgia and lack of exposure to other Mega Man games can explain such allegiance to a game with so many unhelpful weapons, widespread glitchiness, and an incredible level of repetition--roughly 25% of the game is spent replaying old stages and refighting old bosses.

On a whim, I decided to hold a Mega Man-related poll on this blog. If MM2 and 3 are universally agreed upon as the two best games in the entire Mega Man series, then please explain these numbers to me:

I only voted once, I swear.

Join me next time for my analysis of these shocking results.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Clearly Vague

Here's what's taking so long with the post I had intended for today: A person needs to be extraordinarily careful when criticizing the most universally beloved installment in a franchise.

I am not the kind of writer to be blunt and insensitive. I'm writing about a fandom I love, and the installment in question is one that I do like--I just don't love it the way apparently everyone else does, and I'm trying to build an argument backed by facts that will help set the record straight: the fans are wrong. Or, at the very least, the fans are blinded by nostalgia, or never gave the rest of the franchise a chance. Or perhaps they don't "get" the fandom. Any of these assertions is bound to get me in trouble, especially if I phrase them as I have here. I have the facts, but I don't know exactly what accusation to make with them, and it all turns into speculation in the end.

This is the post I've been working on for weeks, constantly rewriting it. I'm trying to say too much at once: to explain myself, the fandom, the fans, every aspect of everything. In the end, I may not be met with as much resistance as I'm expecting, and I know I'll have at least a few supporters, but I have to make sure I'm representing myself and my case adequately, so that even if you disagree with me, you understand exactly where I'm coming from. I get angry at people who harshly criticize things without providing ample explanation for why their hatred is so strong, especially when I think the thing in question is at least halfway decent.

In short, I don't want to be "that guy" who critiques something you hold dear, and doesn't even bother to provide a cogent rationale for his obviously personal assault.

So, if I write something in the next few days that either offends you or seems needlessly inflated with details irrelevant to the main focus of the post, I'm sorry. At this point, I might just let the facts speak for themselves, because at this rate you might never see this post at all.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Coffee Shop Novelist

I've been doing something lately that I haven't done in quite some time. Every day for the past week or so, I've left the office at lunchtime and I've ventured down the road a bit to a tiny coffee shop tucked away off of a main street.

Though to call it a "main" street wouldn't exactly be true. It's one of those one traffic light streets, with a little diner, and an honest-to-goodness general store.

To say it's quiet down that way is an understatement; not many cars roll past, even during the day.

By the time I get to taking my lunch break (usually around 2:00 or so), the four- or five-table cafe has one or two other people sitting down, enjoying a cup of coffee and/or staring out a window at the river that flows not 50 feet from the dining room.

Me, though? I'm writing.

I'm writing whatever I want to write; I'm writing nothing that has to do with anything, and I'm writing for no one else in the world.

And I'm loving it.

I used to write so often that I'd take for granted how much fun it is to do. How relaxing it is to shut the door, and to punch away at those keys. Or, as I like to do, to scribble some barely legible notes down in one of the many black leather notebooks I've collected over the years.

I never really understood that, actually. Why I bother to write notes at all. I have, I've been told, the worst handwriting that near anyone's ever seen. My fifth grade teacher once told me I should become a doctor. Not because she thought I'd work well with people, or that I'd be good at helping them, but because my handwriting was so awful.

Ever see a doctor fill out a prescription? Yeah, it's like hieroglyphics.

When I do a cold read on a book at work--basically just a big copy edit of a book that I didn't work on, and so go into the read "cold"--I make my red pen edits directly on blown-up pages of the text. I then hand those edited pages over to the Production department, where they institute the edits and get the book over to the printer.

That is, once they've managed to figure out just what in the heck I was trying to convey with my chicken scratch.

Still, I'm a romantic, I guess, because I find something very cool in scribbling notes down in a notebook, my hand trying to keep up with the ideas in my head.

A line of dialogue here. A name of a character there. An idea for a blog post, squeezed tightly in the margin of a random page in the middle of a random notebook, long since tossed under a desk, or on top of a stack of books on the floor.

I like flipping through those notebooks every now and then. And, by now and then, I mean whenever I come across one, randomly poking out of a pile of comics next to the bed.

It's funny what I find in them. The notebooks, I mean.

There's an idea for a company that I've carried around with me since college. And a Batman story that I still think would work, on some level. There are names of streets and apartment complexes I never moved in to. And there are lecture notes from a course I took over five years ago.

I found one notebook filled with names of companies I wanted to work for. And I came across one that had the name of the company I now work for.

I also found notes from a lawsuit that never happened; lines and lines of dates and events to document every step of a long ago project.

There are song lyrics and poems, a phone number to a Chinese restaurant followed by the sushi special I must have ordered that day. There's a notebook that's more like a playbook, really, with bunt defenses and sign sequences for a baseball team I coach after college.

There are dozens of notebooks, and at some point, I'll even manage to track them all down.

I also have two flash drives filled with stuff, though they haven't had anything new added to them for at least a year. Actually, I'd all but given up hope on finding the second of those two flash drives--I have a black one and a grey one, and I'd thought for sure that the grey one was lost forever.

Until I found it, where else, but in my bag.

I popped it into my laptop, and I looked through all of the stuff I had written--and all of the finished comic book pages that were there, all colored and lettered and, actually, pretty cool. They were frozen in time, just like my writing.

Getting a new job often brings with it lots of new things to figure out, and to deal with.

Getting a new job in publishing these days often means that you'll be joining an under-staffed department, and that your work load is going to be heavy, and steady, and your hours are going to be long. And so I fell out of my writing habit. I stopped closing the door and punching the keys, and in doing so, I stopped doing something that I loved.

Used to be that, wherever I went--school, work, a day trip to a bookstore--I took my bag. My bag that was filled with notebooks, and my laptop was always by my side. I stopped doing that over the past year or so. Very rarely would I ever bother taking my bag with me to work, because it wasn't like I'd have time to use the things inside it.

Recently, though.

Recently, I've made it a point to carry my bag and my two flash drives--one black, and one grey--around with me wherever I go. And yes, there's still one black leather notebook in my bag at all times, but I only break that open if my laptop is low on battery, or if I'm in a place that's too crowded to set up a computer.

My days are actually much brighter now that I'm making a point to get away from the office and to sit down with a cup of decaf and write. Sure, there's plenty of work to be done in the office, but it'll still be there when I get back. Heck, it'll still be there when I leave to drive home at 7:00.

So, for now and for however long I can afford to get away for a half-hour, I'll drive down to my little coffee shop, and I'll write.