Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Lumberjanes



A Goonies style supernatural adventure at a summer camp is what you will find in the pages of the first volume of Lumberjanes. The girls in Roanoke Cabin have a bad habit of sneaking out at night and finding trouble in the woods. Jo (learder of the group and most analytical/puzzle solving type of the group), April (most dramatic of the group, like to take notes and surprisingly good armwrestler), Molly (skilled archer, wears a racconskin hat), Mal (punk girl who is the most cautious member of the group who likes to plan and  watches WAY to much Discovery Channel), and Ripley (most childlike in the group and most prone to charge into danger) are Lumberjane Scouts at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types.

(Jo, April, Molly, Ripley, Mal)
Jen (Roanoke Cabin’s scout-leader) has the joy of trying to keep the girls in her weirdo cabin in order, or at least alive and unharmed until the end of the summer. Taking that internship with the space program would have been less of a headache. But she had to stick it out with the girls. Unfortunately for her, camp scout-master Rosie does not seem too keen on backing up Jen’s concerns about the girls and knows a lot more of what is going on in the woods than she lets on.

As the series open, the girls fight a pack of supernatural three eyes foxes and get their first clue to something strange going on in the woods. In defeat the foxes howl, “Beware the Kitten Holy.” To quote Mal, “What the junk?” The adventure leads them to river monsters, secret caves, mysterious puzzles, possessed boy scouts, and even yetis.


Though intended as a limited series, it has caught on with fans and is continuing to who knows where. The humble beginnings started with Boom! Studios editor Shannon Watters hoping to create a girl centric comic series. With the help of writer Grace Ellis, co-writer Noel Stevenson and artist Brooke Allen were added to a team that created some magic. Magic that caught the attention of 20th Century Fox who optioned the property and brought in Will Widger to write a screenplay. The series also brought in two Eisner Awards at San Diego Comic-Con 2015, Best New Series and Best Series for Teens (ages 13 - 17). It's a fun lighthearted series that teens, children, and even adults can enjoy. Volume 1 (collecting issues 1-4) is currently on sale. Vol. 2 will be available on October 20, 2015.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rat Queens Vol. 2


Hannah has a serious reason for her choice in hairstyle, Violet made a deeply personal statement by shaving her beard, Dee’s past makes a guest appearance (explaining why she always sleeps alone) along with the giant flying squid gods her family worships, and Betty is… Betty is Betty. Last month Volume 2 of Rat Queens shipped collecting issues 6 -10. It took me long enough to get to it, but here we go…

SPOILER ALERT (btw)

Okay, first of all, you got a little more skin in this one. So call me a prude, I don’t think that stuff is completely necessary. Although we are not talking Game of Thrones level gratuity, it caught me off guard opening up to page 1. But I see why this choice was made. Or at least I think I do. The skin in question belongs to Hannah, the resident elven mage. And though the nudity wasn't completely necessary (and it's not full on by the way) this is where we see Hannah exposed and vulnerable (in an emotional way) in front of the man she'll never admit to loving. Well, not for a while anyway. But also her hard exterior is in place to hide... Let's say a physical abnormality. She has horns.


And lets face it, if horns are not the norm in your species, you might feel self conscious about it. Some back story is given with a flashback involving Hannah's mother that hints to another larger story to come involving her father. Or it seems that way anyway. We also see more of Violet's back story and why she shaves her beard and is estranged from her family. In an interesting twist in storytelling, Violet is rebelling from the traditional feminine values of her culture by getting rid of her facial hair. She ran away to escape what felt like being trapped into a mold that would determine the rest of her life.


I don't want to give too much away here because the story is great and speaks to cultural values and norms about beauty and gender norms. Violet's past also hints that she is the one to give this group the name Rat Queens. Dee... So.... Dee has a husband.


Yeah. Kind of explains a little why she is socially awkward at parties where people are pairing off and hooking up. Dee is an interesting character. Despite belief in the giant squid god of her peoples faith, and even seeing them in the sky (which is part of this overall story in vol. 2) she remains an atheist. But as she would explain, that does not mean she has abandoned the traditions she has grown up with. It also does not mean that even thought she also ran away from home, Dee has not broken her vow of marriage and find a new man... Or woman. If you've read this comic you know same sex couples are not a taboo in this world. Neither are mixed race or species couples for that matter. Anyway... Betty the ever loving stoner, thief, smidgen is the only Rat Queen who we have not gotten much of a past for. Although as the series continues to unfold I'm sure we'll get more into what makes Betty Betty.

Yes. Betty is chemically altered at this moment

We also get deeper into Hannah's love interest dude she frequently ravages's story,  Sawyer Silver, and maybe a hint of something traumatic in the past of Dave the Orc. It's Sawyer's past however that leads to their never really any kind of quiet town of Palisade to be attacked by giant inter-dimensional flying squids. Yeah, the ones from Dee's religion.


It's kind of Sawyers fault. But really one of those revenge going WAY too far kind of things. Just like the issues collected in Volume 1, this collection is a fun ride of D&D fantasy mixed with a little modern sensibility and humor. And peeling back the layers and showing us what makes these characters flawed and fractured only makes them more relatable. Side note, yes I could be buying the issues as they come out, but but in me defense I only have so much storage space. Too many comics out there to collect. I look forward to the next volume of this fantastic series. It is a unique fantasy tale that does not take itself too seriously and at the same time  is a story with enough heart to keep you invested in the lives of these imperfect and amazing characters. Rat Queens was created by writer Kurtis J. Weibe and artist Roc Upchurch. Artist Stjepan Šejić has taken over art duties as of issue 9 and things look good.

You can read my review of Vol. 1 HERE

 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

4 Down 2 To Go


The classic Marvel Comics miniseries, The Infinity Gauntlet, will unfold in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as the next two Avengers films, The Infinity War Part I and II. I’ve covered the hunt for the gems before and this is the update. To recap, there are six Infinity Gems: Time, Space, Mind, Soul, Power, and Reality.



In simple terms, each has power that its name implies. When combined and in the control of one being, said being becomes a god. Of the six infinity gems, four have been confirmed. This is the official SPOILER ALERT if you have not seen Age of Ultron. I won’t saw why or how, but Thor has a vision that reveals which Infinity Stones we know of and why they don’t necessarily appear as they do in the comics. Having different colors from the comics is only a minor detail. Here is a breakdown of what we now know. Let’s start with the most recent.

The Mind Gem (Earth)


As some had speculated, the gem on Loki’s staff from the first Avengers film, is in fact the Mind Gem. And I have to admit, I thought it wasn’t an Infinity Gem at all at first because it was the same color as the Tesseract (more on that one in a bit). Although the gem on the staff itself was not the Mind Gem, it housed the Mind Gem. Ultron removed the gem from Loki’s staff. It is now in the possession of Vision, the latest Avenger who was just introduced to the MCU.

The Space Gem (Asgard)


In Captain America: The First Avenger we were introduced to the Tesseract. First thought to be a Cosmic Cube, another cosmic object in the Marvel Comics Universe, we now know it is the space gem, sort of. The Tesseract is actually an object that houses the Space Gem. Thor’s vision revealed this. The Tesseract is currently in Odin’s armory in Asguard.

The Reality Gem (Knowhere)


At the end of Thor: The Dark World, Sif and Volstagg deliver the Aether to The Collector. The Collector then confirms the Aether and the Tesseract to be Infinity Gems. Based on Thor’s vision, we know that somewhere, somehow, The Reality Gem was given the Aether’s living liquid form.

The Power Gem (Xandar)


Guardians Of The Galaxy has shown us the only Infinity Gem to have existed in its original form, the Power Gem. It is currently secured by the Nova Corps.


Although we know that Thanos is seeking out the gems, Thor is the first Avenger to figure out that someone is pulling the strings to bring them together. All there is left to find are the Soul and Time Gems. Of course there is no indication where the last two gems are or when and in which Marvel Cinematic Universe film they will show up. We also don't know how the Gems ended up in their current forms. Expect more clues in Phase 3 here and there.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Star Wars Celebration AAR



This is my Star Wars Celebration After Action Review. It was good, but I wanted it to be great. And it really could have been. I had to take some time to consider what I would say, because I know many people had an amazing time at Star Wars Celebration. If not for spending a lot of time in lines, mostly waiting for autographs, I might have had a better time. The core problem was space. Celebration really needed to be hosted in a place like the San Diego Convention Center. I can understand why Anaheim was chosen, being so close to Disney Land. It makes it easier to cross promote with Lucasfilm's parent company, Disney. But there was no cross promotion. I kind of expected to see dome Star Wars dressed Disney characters roaming about but it didn't happen. But that wasn't a big deal. Just a surprise. The big deal was the lines.

Firstly, the line management was questionable. Particularly for the first panels of the day. Instead of allowing people to sit attendees were lined up until it was almost time for the panels to start. This is after being in line, rammed into a vacant convention hall for hours. Basically, you stand in line just to stand in another line when there is a perfectly good seat to sit in, that you are not allowed to sit in yet, for no apparent reason. This is compounded by the fact that the Anaheim Convention Center is too small to host a convention of this size. I know, I said that already. Maybe lining up outside ballrooms for panes would not be so bad if there was more room to line up. As far as the autograph lines go, probably too many autograph tickets were sold, and there should have been a limit to the amount of tickets that were sold to individuals. Some people had 20 to 30+ items to be autographed. Not only does this make other people in line annoyed, but it does not make things easy in the guests doing the signings. Without dropping names, word was that one big name guest did not enjoy signing 20 something different posters for one person who was pulling around a portfolio case so large it required wheels. I'm not even going to get into the mess that was the lines for the Celebration Store.

One of the most surprising things about Celebration was the number of panels. I’m not sure if it was a lack of space or just a lack of foresight beyond the main stage. There was not much variety when it came to panel. There was to be expected panels about costuming, behind the scenes, technical aspects, and for fan organizations like the 501st Legion, but then it kind of dropped off from there. It seemed like nothing from the many books, comics, or even the prequel trilogies was represented. Of course the original films were represented. It’s hard to not recognize where everything started and the original cast members who are appearing in the new film. But no one from the Prequel Trilogy was present. Granted, some fans, especially among those who grew up before the prequels, have mixed feelings about the past three films. But there are huge names in those ranks of the prequel cast. Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Jimmy Smits… Not a single one was available? It seemed the con was organized to push only the new film, cartoon series, and new game.

On a personal note, I would have tried to have some sort of representation of the many fan films that exist. I'd also have tried to book the stars of the Star Wars nerd comedy Fanboys, which was about the love of the trilogy and the anticipation of the premier of The Phantom Menace. But that's just me.

Now that my complaining is out of the way,  let’s get to what they got right. The Celebration kicked off with the Director of The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams and Lucas Film CEO and Episode VII Executive Producer Kathleen Kennedy. The three new additions to the Star Wars Family were brought out, John Boyega as Finn, Daisy Ridley as Rey, and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron.


Not much information was given about their characters. All that was revealed was that Finn and Rey encounter each other on a planet that is not Tatooine. The desert planet in the first teaser is Jakku and Peo is a pilot who has been tasked with a secret mission. The original cast was also brought out. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer, Peter Mayhew, and Anthony Daniels were brought on stage to greet everyone.


Harrison Ford was not there and I think we can agree he had a more then reasonable excuse. There was also the reveal of the new look for the Stormtroopers.


Another big moment was the ball droid BB-88 who roll onto stage and revealed to be an actual working machine, not just a cgi trick.


The big moment at the end of the panel, that nearly broke the internet and got over 80 million views in twenty four hours, was the premier of the new teaser trailer.


People literally cried. You can watch the full panel here:



And on one of the best moves any convention has pulled, Celebration panels were also live streamed. Of course this is not the same as being there in person, but it gives people unable to experience the event in person the opportunity to experience the panels. Another smart move is having warm up acts between panels in the main arena to keep the crowd entertained. As cosplay is a huge part of conventions, all manner of Imperial and Rebel cosplayers were in attendance.

 



 

And Celebration did a very good job of stating its position on harassment. Huge “COSPLAY IS NOT CONSENT” signs were in every hall and every floor.


In front of the convention center was not only a gathering area, but two rows of food trucks giving an easy alternative to what can be found in every convention center. And at night this area lends itself to things like this.


It was also the scene of the Fan Party.


Now for all the things that could have been, Star Wars celebration Anaheim was still a great experience. I was expecting more, but it is obvious a lot of people had the time of their lives. I certainly don't regret going. The next Celebration is set for London, England July 15-17, 2016. Tickets are on sale now.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Con List


It took some doing, but my new blog is finally launched. The Con List

Here you will find lists of conventions by state. It is not comprehensive and I know I am leaving out conventions. It is a work in progress but I hope some people find it useful.

Friday, March 20, 2015

In Real Life


Anda is a high schooler who is about to learn something about the real word after being introduced to an online game. No, this isn't a dark tale. It could have gone dark, but writer Cory Doctorow gives us a light tale about a girl who comes to realize that life, and especially the people in it, come in shades of grey. Artist Jen Wang adds a style that is amazing and perfectly compliments Doctorow's story of a girl trying to find her identity. It all starts with a special guest speaking in one of Anda's classes.

Liza, a gamer, speaks to the class about gaming and more specifically how girls view themselves. While plenty of the girls in the class are gamers, none of then play as female characters. The story also indirectly addresses the reality that women and girls face in gaming and nerd culture. Liza goes on to say that it's a tragedy that so few of their in game characters are women and how when she started, and even she couldn't be proud of who she was even though she is one of the best. Times are different, now, she explains, but things still aren't perfect. And this is the case in the real world. Events like Gamaergate are proof enough. But the odd territorial misogyny in gaming isn't exclusive to that world. Certain circles and individuals in comics and other nerd/geek branches have become hostile to women making their marks. But back to the story. Ada joins the fictional MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) Coarsgold, a World of Warcraft kind of game, and makes her character.


She also joins Liza's guild, Clan Fahrenheit, an all female group. As she progresses, she befriends a senior member of the guild, Sarge, who convinces Anda to go on side quests to eliminate gold farmers. Gold farming being the practice of acquiring currency in game and then selling it to other players. Gold farmers do the grunt work of making money by whatever means. It can be time consuming. Other players who either don't have the time or don't want to put in the time to make the in game money themselves use real money to buy the game money. It is a real practice that is banned by most games. And people do make a living doing this.


While some do it for personal profit, it is not uncommon for people in some countries to go to work doing this every day for an employer, for long hours, with low pay and no benefits. After going with Sarge to eliminate farmers a few times Anda meets Raymond, a gold farmer who explains that he isn't doing this to cheat the game. It's not a matter of cheating, for him it's a matter of real world living. Essentially he works in a real and virtual sweatshop to survive.


The story goes on to show how Anda comes to grips with how people in other parts of the world survive and how ethics and good and bad can be blurred. It doesn't help that Sarge is getting paid real money by other gamers to take care of the farmers.



Anda faces real and virtual consequences that help to define the person she wants to be. Games are supposed to just be about having fun right?


The book is the expanded version of Doctorow's short story, Anda's Game. It could have used a little more character development and it feels like some things could have gotten fleshed out a little more, but it's otherwise a great book that could have gotten heavy handed with the subject matter.It could have been dark, but the writing and amazing art keep this on the lighter side. It's also good to have a gamer themed story with a female hero. It's also written so that you don't have to be a gamer to follow and enjoy. And I enjoyed it a lot as a non-gamer. I first check this out from my local library and decided to add it to my collection. I recommend it for gamers and non-gamers young and old.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Chappie


Critics don't like it and not surprisingly a lot of people didn't go see it. Chappie earned $13.3 million in it's opening weekend. I honestly didn't expect it to be high up on the must watch list for people. Sci-fi doesn't get much love unless it's part of a major franchise or adapted from something high profile. But even then, I was surprised at the negative reaction. But I suppose the negative and lukewarm review are not that much of a surprise either. Writer/Director Neill Blomkkamp didn't get much praise for his last film, Elysium, either. I thought that film was good. And I think Chappie is another good film as well.

(some SPOILERS to follow)

Chappie is set in the near future in Johannesburg, South Africa. Crime is rising beyond the capacity of the police, and robots from the Tetravaal company are brought in. Tetraval is run by Michelle Bradlley (Sigourney Weaver).


These Scouts are designed to augment and support the police force. They perform everyday police duties and provide front line and fire support duties for the police firefights. The Scout's designer, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), wants to forward the project by designing sentient artificial intelligence for the robots, but that is not something Tetravaal is interested in.


Also in development at Tetravall is a larger robot dubbed MOOSE. Think Ed 209 from Robocop. The lead designer on that project is Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), an ex solder who is jealous of Deon and the success of the Scouts. Vincent wants the MOOSE out on the streets but can't understand why the police don't want something so expensive that is clearly designed for military purposes.


(Side note, Jackman is rocking a sweet short mullet with frosted tips. This is his actual hair.)

Chappie starts out as just another police Scout, number 22 to be exact. 22 is a robot who had a history of getting damaged. The maintenance staff are never surprised to see it. One day 22 takes an RPG to the chest and is deemed to damaged to repair. Deon seizes his opportunity and steals 22 to experiment with the new AI he just perfected. Enter Die Antwoord, the rave/rap group made up of Waddy Jones aka "Ninja" and Yo-Landi Vi$$er.


(Another side note. Ninja allegedly made several bad impressions with the cast and and crew and created a lot of tension. Coincidentally, Ten$ion is the name of a Die Antwoord album.)

To understand how these two managed to appear in and influence this story so much, you have to hear it from Blomkamp himself. “There was this really weird crossover that happened while I was writing Elysium—and  has a lot of robotics in it—at the same time I was listening to a lot of Die Antwoord’s tracks... All of a sudden I got this idea for this robot—like the Elysium robots, it was a kind of police/security machine—being hijacked by this band that I was listening to. I don’t know where the hell that idea came from, but that was the genesis for Chappie.” For the film, Die Antwoord play more off the wall/criminal versions of themselves. Ninja and Yo-Landi are street thugs who owe A LOT of money to a psychotic criminal. Along with their partner America (Jose Pablo Cantillo), a Latin gang banger who somehow got himself stuck in South Africa.


(Yet another side note. A Latin-American guy has to go to South Africa to get nicknamed America?)

The gang in desperate need of cash come up with the brilliant idea of finding a remote to shut down the Scouts so they can pull off a major heist. So why not kidnap the designer of the Scouts? They jump Deon on his way home with 22. There is no remote shutoff so the plan changes. They want Deon to rebuild 22 and reprogram him to follow their orders. Deon's AI of course isn't an instant thing. The robot has to learn, much like a child. This is where Chappie picks up his street language and mannerisms. Ninja and America teach Chappie to be a thug, albeit a thug who doesn't want to shoot people, and Yo-Landi takes on the role of... mommy.


(Last side note. I promise. Sharlto Copley did the motion capture and voice for Chappie. He's starred in District 9 and Elysium.)

Yes, absurd. But this lends to some funny moments. Think of a more ghetto Johnny 5. This odd arc in the story also give the movie it's heart believe it or not. While it is hard to find sympathy for thugs, in a weird way Chappie's innocence gives these people some redemption in the end. Yo-Landi becomes more of a mother and even Ninja (taking the role of the horrible"Daddy") finds a little redemption at the end. (I guess that makes America the cool uncle?) It takes to the absolute end of the film, but it's there. If you have seen the preview, then you know the eventual showdown between Chappie and the MOOSE happens. Vincent Moore takes every opportunity to derail the Scout program and makes some pretty insane decisions that throw the city into chaos.


 I will admit, it gets a little predictable and you have to suspend your disbelief to get over the gang bangers raise a robot thing. But it is a movie after all. No new territory is covered. The obvious inspirations from Short Circuit and Robocop are there. I would call this light sci-fi with the whole what defines a soul and is artificial life really life elements. It's not there to make you ask serious questions, it's just good entertainment. While some question the probability of a story like this happening, I see it as more of what can happen when you got a bunch of desperate people who don't take the time to think out their actions. There are stranger films out there that are hailed as good. It is flawed, it's not as deep as Blomkamp's previos films District 9 and Elysium, and it could have used some more character development, but I still recommend it. I enjoyed Chappie a lot.

HyperSmash.com