One day, I’ll actually keep this up.

Well guys, this is like the fifth or ninth blog I’ve retired since…2003? 2004?

I’m not going to pretend that I don’t have time. I do. But right now, I think it’s best that I focus on writing for which I get paid (or at least intend to get paid). Writing a blog is fun, but it’s also work, and I need to watch how much “fun work” in which I engage right now, for my own sanity if nothing else.

If I ever do launch another blog, I’ll post a link up here.

For now, I think this is an experiment that failed. It was a fun experiment, but it failed.

In This Month’s Issue…

I haven’t done comic book reviews in a couple of weeks, and that’s mostly because, well, it was getting redundant. I either loved or hated a book, from issue to issue, and–since I’m buying comics with my own money–I wasn’t exactly able to read a large sampling of books at any one time.

Plus, life is life right now.

So, for those of you who do read my blog, thanks, and I’ll still be writing it, but I don’t think comic book reviews is what I want to do.

Oh, I’m still going to talk about comic books. That’s why I started this blog. But it will be less of from a review standpoint and more from a “shop talk” standpoint, if that makes sense.

The Biggest Problem With Video Games

It’s not piracy that killing video games (not that video games are suffering; last time I check, Cliffy B still drove a Lambroghini or some other ridiculous sports car that should only be owned by those with last name “Wayne” and the first name “Bruce”), and it’s not the secondary market. No, it’s the same thing that killing Magic: the Gathering (at least at my local shop) and FPS video games.

Quite simply, the community hates noobs–even those that are only perceived as noobs.

I stopped playing Magic at my local shop. I take my lil’ bro out there to hang out and play Heroclix, with the shop owner’s permission, on Magic night, but I’m not sitting down to a game of Magic at that shop ever again. Why? When we first started doing Magic, there was a wide mix of players that showed up. New players, old players getting back into, long-time veterans, and people who played for keeps on Friday but loved to teach others how to play. As time went on, more and more people got into the hardcore competitive aspect of it and started playing for blood. Less and less people enjoyed playing for real, and they stopped showing up.

I tried to make an effort at being a serious Magic player–all four of my credit cards can attest to that–but I never quite rose to the level of competition and dedication necessary. My best showing at a tournament was 5th place (once out of 8, once out of 10 or 12). I built good decks. I knew the rules and strategies. I wasn’t a new player. I had played a lot in college and high school and was getting back into, now that there was a legitimate local community. Whenever I played against a new player, I held back, explained the rules to them, and made sure they understood what was happening and why.

The experienced players were, and are still, a great bunch of guys. But they don’t know how to play any way but competitively. To them, a toned down deck is one that only includes 3 possibilities for a game-breaking combo, not 4. A “just for fun” deck is one that can kill you in 5 turns instead of 3. A casual game is a warm-up for the next tournament.

And that’s cool. These guys spends lots and lots of money and time on making their decks competition-ready. They deserve to play against other players of their caliber, but so do the new guys; and so do the people like me, who genuinely love playing Magic, who love building and testing decks, who love seeing combos that Wizards of the Coast never thought possible, but have lots of other hobbies and interests and thus don’t funnel hundreds of dollars a month and entire weekends into being ready for Friday night.

Since those players weren’t getting what they wanted, they stopped playing. What’s the point of playing a game if you’re only going to lose all the time? How can you get any better if you can never legitimately play? Sure, they can get advice on making their decks awesome, but what’s the point of doing so if they can’t afford four copies of a couple of Mythic rares to make the deck truly beast?

It’s no different than people who stop playing Halo 3 because they were tired of being a bullet sponge and kids who give up on sports because all the jocks ever want to do is upstage each other and not help them get to better. If there’s no room for the beginner, the intermediate, and the enthusiastic casual player then those gamers will walk away.

“But there are casual games, noob. Go play those!” I’m not a casual gamer. I’m a hardcore gamer, who loves playing all kinds of different games and not just play one game over and over and over again. I like competition. I like to play hard and win. I like to get better. I do not like to just get my face pounded in the dirt time after time and never get a chance to actually rise up to the highest tier.

I’ve been playing Bloodline Champions all evening because it looked cool, and it’s a cool game, but I got tired of not losing, but getting steamrolled over by the players who have been at it for a year.

So game developers, I challenge you to find a way to help gamers of all skill levels enjoy your games. Create an environment where we can learn and improve our skill and not just be practice for the professionals. And gamers, stop confusing a lack of skill and resources at one particular game to be an overall lack of skill and appreciation for gaming, please?

NEW COMICS DAY! Also, “Before Watchmen”

So DC Comics has announced a prequel to Alan Moore’s magnum opus, Watchmen, shocking absolutely no one.

Seriously, are you really taken aback at the fact that one of the two biggest comic book publishers in the business is trying to make money? In the entertainment business–and it is a business–people will buy stuff they already love. The only thing I’m shocked over is that it took them this long to do it.

As for the integrity of doing this, I’m torn. Creative works fall solidly into one of two categories: those that stand on their own so well that it’s disrespectful to extend them by way of sequels of prequels (probably because the most intriguing stories in those works are indeed the untold stories) and those that capture our imagination such that we want to revisit them time and time again. Most comic books fall into the latter category. It’s why we have 70 years worth of Superman stories, 50 years worth of Spider-Man stories, and all the movies, TV series’, video games, and Broadway plays that we could ever possibly want based on those characters (with more to come, for sure).

Watchmen, however, straddles the line. It’s in both camps. It’s a classic that stands on its own; you don’t need to catch up on years of continuity to love it, because it was story designed to have a beginning, middle, and end all on its own. It is one of those works where, yes, the most interesting stories are the untold ones–we don’t need to know every detail of what came before, and having exactly no idea what happens after makes the whole thing all that more dangerous and exciting.

But, by show of hands, how many people read Watchmen for the first time and thought “Wow, a monthly with Rorschach would have been pretty sweet.”

*raises hand*

True, I would have preferred to have seen said monthly written by the man himself, but I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say that Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and the Comedian are characters that I have, for a long time, wanted to see more.

Will I be picking up any of the prequels? Probably. Will I enjoy reading them? Likely. If I was a comics creator and I was offered the gig, would I have taken it? Most likely not. But then again, somebody’s got to pay the bills, so who knows?

In short: don’t like, don’t buy it. If enough people don’t like it, DC will leave the sacred cows alone.  Capitalism–when it works, it’s brilliant.

Now, on to NEW COMICS:

Heavy week, but light on reading. Animal Man was a filler issue, and not a particularly well done one either. It was written well, but absolutely nothing happened that was of any importance to the ongoing story. Yes, this was the issue that Lemire “showed” us the movie that Buddy had starred in during his superhero retirement, and maybe there are some subtle notes I’m missing here, but it just didn’t click for me. Looking forward to the next issue, where important stuff starts happening again.

Tony Daniel dropped the ball with this month’s Detective Comics with some of the worst scripting I’ve ever seen. Here’s an actual line from the book: “It looks like someone was taking a bath–a BLOODBATH.” Guess what Batman finds in the rundown hotel room that this scene takes place? The only guess that counts is “a dead body, in a tub filled with blood.” Everything else about the book–art, layout, even the plotting–was spot-on, but it literally hurt to read some of the dialogue (except for a fun scene with Alfred). It’s the first real big letdown of the series, so I’ll give it one more issue. After all, dialogue aside, I’m enjoying the story and the action.

I’ve ran out of good things to say about The Punisher. If you’re not reading this series, you should be.

I’ve also ran out of good things to say about Fatale, and we’re only two issues in. The atmosphere is simply incredible. Sean Phillips knows what he’s doing with the art.  Each panel drips with mystery and terror, and when I read the narration boxes I feel like someone is whispering to me, in the back of a smoky bar, and it’s dangerous to be hearing what they say. Good stuff.

Swamp Thing was a total emotional roller coaster, a narrative peak that Scott Snyder executed flawlessly. It’s comics like this one that reinforce my belief that he’s one of the best in the game right now.

NEW COMICS DAY! Jan. 26 2012

Slow week. No pulls whatsoever for me, mainly because of the recent Dropocalypse. I did decide to give Justice League one more shot. The best thing I can say about it is that at least it’s not The Widening Gyre. It’s not better than that piece of drivel, mind you, but at least DC didn’t make us reread Kevin Smith’ magnum opus.

Then again, at least The Widening Gyre was enjoyable to belittle and criticize. I really don’t know what to say about the…um, plot development?…in the fifth issue of this series which was already limping along on the high-end of mediocrity. It’s impossible to say exactly what went wrong here without giving away a spoiler, but let’s just say that Geoff Johns does not know how to write Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman. In fact, he just doesn’t seem to care at all about these characters. His favorites are Green Lantern, Flash, and Aquaman, and they steal the show–issue after issue, panel after panel. When he tries to shift the focus to another character (such as say, Batman) he has them do something so completely asinine and out of character (such as do divulge highly personal information in order to gain the trust of someone they’ve known for all of a couple of hours) and as a result just botches the whole story (because what this character did left them completely unprepared for a dire situation when the entire crux of the character is being overly prepared and paranoid and not particularly caring about whether or not a character trusts them).

I hope that was subtle enough.

It just goes to prove that Geoff Johns really isn’t that great of a writer. Sure, he knocks it out of the park on Green Lantern, but J.K. Rowling knocked it out of the park on the Harry Potter series and Stephanie Meyer certainly made a great deal of money off of Twilight. Johns is a one-trick pony. That trick is really great, but it’s the only trick he can do. He writes really good Green Lantern stuff but he just needs to stay away from every other character in the DCU. Just. Stay. Away. Please.

With that being said:

Picked up last week’s Catwoman since I’m all caught up now. Continues to be a fun book. I really get the sense that Selina is just plain addicted to danger.

Picked up I, Vampire and Batman: The Dark Knight because they both involve Batman fighting some cool villains: vampires and the Scarecrow, respectively. I’m not sure what’s going on in either book, as I’m coming in cold with no background on what’s happening in either one. Both were pretty cool, but not necessarily stand-out. I’m not entirely in love with David Finch’s design of Scarecrow–it feels a bit too informed by the Nolanverse–but I really like the way he’s characterized: creepy, stalkerish, manipulative. I also like that he has a real reason for being obsessed with fear; he sees it as a freeing mechanism, believing that once one faces their fear they can truly loose the bonds of that fear.

I, Vampire had a good suspenseful set-up, and Fialkov has a good grasp on Batman’s voice. Plus, again: Batman fights vampires. I fail to see how this is going to not be awesome (never read Red Rain, so while I know it’s been done before, it’s new to me).

EDIT: Thought about it, not really impressed with either book. Will not return, may order the trades for the library if they get good reviews.

Other than that…yeah, slow week. Justice League left a bitter taste in my mouth and I really don’t know how soon I’m going to read anything by Geoff Johns that is not explicitly a Green Lantern story.

Oh, almost forgot: picked up the first (21st?) issue of Prophet late last week. I can see this being one of my favorite comics–trippy 1960s style sci-fi with a pretty cool hero and just disturbing enough (“Mate with me, human.” Ick.  Ick, ick, ick.) to be really weird in a cool way. Brandon Graham has set up a great story in an amazing vision of future earth, and that amazing vision is realized with startling clarity by Simon Roy. If there were action figures made of the creatures in this book, I’d buy two of each. A special nod to Richard Balerman on colors; the subterranean race and their inhabitants was a visual rivaling the surface world thanks in part to his great effects and variation in tone and hue.

We Need Superheroines

I caught up on my Cutie’s comics (it took some doing, but I got my bride-to-be to read some comics! WOO-HOO!) tonight, as I had fallen behind. Catwoman #4 was fun as usual. I really like the way Winick writers her; sexy and fun, but tough as nails. Guillem March does a solid job on art as well. His layout isn’t consistent–it shifts from fluid and animated to more “still-shot” style almost from page to page, but he totally nails facial expressions. Wonder Woman #4 continues with pure comic book gold. It’s some heavy, dark stuff. The lead character is human enough to be relatable, but we never forget that she’s a true warrior; there’s a moment of pure awesome in every issue. Azarello progresses the overarching plot with a great scene between the gods Apollo and Ares, and it ends with a truly unsettling cliffhanger. I’ll be back for the next issue for both books, even though my Cutie has dropped Catwoman.

Reading these comics, and thinking about my experience with getting Cutie into comics, moves me to write about my thoughts on the way women are portrayed in comics. Before you read further, I would encourage you to read this fun and informative post by Megan Rosalarian Gedris that actually visualizes the point that so many female comics reader are trying to make: yes, both men and women are idealized in comics, but only women are objectified. Equally eye-opening is this article by Andrew Wheeler over at Comics Alliance, which is the portrayal of men in comics as seen through the eyes of a gay man. Both articles point out that the readership of comics expands beyond straight men, and those readers might enjoy seeing something other heaving bosoms and curvy hips from time to time.

Personally, I’m not offended by the portrayal of women in comics. Don’t get me wrong–a few artists could benefit from a lesson in Practical Anatomy for Artists, because the human body just doesn’t bend like that. But am I offended? No.  I am a straight male, and I’ve been reading comics for a long, long time. Psylocke was my first crush. Catwoman was my second. I saw nudity in comics long before I saw nudity in film (A quick aside: as a kid my treat from time-to-time, after school, was a trip to the comic shop. Mom would buy me a comic and I’d read it on the way home. I picked up a back issue of Swamp Thing one day, started reading it on the way home–in the passenger seat, beside Mom, and…awkward.). I’m not going to lie: I like looking at pictures of pretty girls–real or otherwise. So I’ve never been particularly bothered by Power Girl’s keyhole top or Rogue’s PVC bodysuit. I am solidly in the demographic for which the artist is aiming.

But when I take my fiancee to the comic shop, and she browses the racks, and she starts rolling her eyes at the ridiculous female anatomy, I start running out of justifications. “Honey, her breasts only look perky because she’s wearing body armor. That’s an action shot, dear, it’s not like she’s holding that pose. Oh come on, she uses her sexuality as a weapon!”

Actually, that last part is true for some characters. Catwoman, Black Cat, Emma Frost, Poison Ivy, and Starfire are a few examples of female characters that are openly sexual and use their looks, charms, and–from time-to-time–a man’s own sexual urges as a weapon. Yes, the New 52 Starfire is a bit too much like a porn star, but let’s not forget that this is the women who, all throughout her history, even when not fighting crime walked around wearing little or no clothing; she came from a very openly sexual culture, so it made sense. I would even say that the skimpy armor of the Star Sapphires (especially Carol Ferris) isn’t out of place; they embody love, and sex is supposed to be the ultimate expression of that emotion (which is why so many people wait until marriage). I know that’s a bit of a stretch, but think about: the Sapphires have their power rings to protect them in battle, so why not wear outfits that make them appear alluring and provocative?

But does it make sense for every character to use their sexuality as a weapon? No, and not all of them do. Wonder Woman is perhaps the least sexual female superhero there is, despite wearing armor that (let’s be honest here) looks like a bathing suit. But when I see her in that armor, I don’t see sex: I see strength and confidence, a fighting general who likes to have freedom of movement on the battlefield. Kate Kane is a very human superhero who has complicated relationships and isn’t afraid of sex, but her relationships never seem to be for titillation (and she’s a lesbian–putting a lesbian character in a medium targeted at boys would seem to be asking for some cheesecake) and when you put her in her Batwoman armor, she strikes the same intimidating figure that Batman does. Power Girl is well-endowed for sure, but she makes a joke of it and manages to hold her own against the toughest super villains while still being a very feminine character. Even the new Starfire isn’t reliant on a man to save the day (plus, let’s be honest–it’s a bit unfair to compare a character from a comic book meant for adults to her counterpart in a cartoon meant for children).

But not every superhero is a complex and satisfying character study or a logical picture of a vixen. Lots of characters seem to be sexy just for the sake of being sexy: Miss Marvel, Black Canary, Huntress, X-23, and Mockingbird are female characters who are pin-up models simply because the artist was male and wanted something pretty to gaze upon. And the new version of Harley Quinn is possibly the most disgusting thing about the New 52; they’ve dressed her the way all the guys that listen to heavy metal and smoke pot and have an unhealthy interest in high school girls wish she had dressed for years.

I know it’s frustrating for female comic book readers to find characters that are not idealized sex objects–and it’s true that there’s too much of it in comics to this day. Psylocke is wearing the same costume she’s worn for ever. Why does Spider-Woman have such a large bust when it would make more sense for her to have a more svelte figure? Maria Hill and Black Widow are hardened special operations operatives–the skin-tight leather makes about as much sense on them as trunks do on a male superhero costume (another topic, probably more controversial, by the way).  Would it kill us to have Zatanna wear maybe a tasteful skirt instead of fishnets and bikini bottoms? If the Incredible Hulk is built like a tank and the Red Hulk is built like a giant gorilla, then why are the She-Hulks built like giant swimsuit models?

I guess what I’m saying is that there’s nothing wrong with idealized female superheroes, but I’d like to see more of them idealized in the way that the men are: as the better form of humanity, as incredibly clever and wily, as expert tacticians and masters of psychological warfare. You know, superheroines at their best and super villains at their most deliciously evil–and all the points in between.

Think about this guys: more complex and interesting female characters taking the place of eye candy means more female readers, and more female readers means more single girls hanging out at the shop! (Yes, ladies, I understand that sounded as sexist as the art looks, but I’ll be honest: you’ve got explain things to men on a level they will understand.)

And as a heterosexual male, I must say that I’m comfortable enough in my sexuality to not be intimidated by gratuitous pecs shot or a shameless guns show every now and then.

NEW COMICS DAY! Better Late Than Never Edition

I actually was a good nerd and read my comics the day they came out, but I haven’t had a chance to write up a review of them yet. I know that you’re all dying to hear what I have to say about my pulls, but first a word about my continued playing of Arkham City. Namely, it has come to an end, at least for the foreseeable future. I’ve grown frustrated with just how time-consuming the Riddler side mission has gotten. Maybe I messed up by finishing the main story first and the going back and wrapping up the side missions, but even so: I’ve spent more time trying to get all of the trophies, solve all of the riddles, accomplish all of the challenges, and dig up all of the collectibles than I’ve spent doing the main story and all of the other side missions combined. I’m bothered by the fact that Batman is leaving a job left undone–at least so far as the way I’ve crafted this particular story–but come on, Rocksteady–it’s a side mission. I respect the fact that they put so much content in this game that there’s no way one can argue about getting their money’s worth, but there is such a thing as padding and it exists in the form of the Riddler side mission.

So, with one hostage left to save and the Riddler himself still at large, I’m going to move on to the other games I got during Steam’s holiday sale and Gamestop’s buy 2, get 1 free promotion right before the holidays. I’m sure I’ll get back to Arkham City–I fully intend to get it on the PC when the inevitable Game of the Year Edition comes around–but for now, I’m sticking to Batman’s native territory.

And speaking of Batman, the fifth issue of the New 52 reboot series truly illustrates how print really is the superior medium for comics. Yes, digital is convenient. Yes, it’s cost-effective (for the publisher, at least). Yes, it’s nice to have all of your comics on one handy device. No, I don’t see how digital can pull off the excellent layout tricks that Greg Capullo pulls of in this issue. See, Batman is trapped in a labyrinth by the Court of Owls, a secret society that preys on the wealth of Gotham and has set their sights on Batman. To help simulate the confused and panicked state of our hero, Capullo tilts the orientation of the artwork throughout the book, forcing us to turn the book around to keep up with the narrative. The result is a sense of confusion on the part of the reader, not only when we turn the page to see what appears to be utter nonsense but also when we reach the end of the page and turn forward only to see we’ve turned back–kind of like being stuck in a maze. Along with Snyder’s continued excellence of portraying a human, but very determined, Batman, we get a gripping story of suspense and danger, with yet another great cliffhanger. I hope you guys with your accelerometer-enabled devices have fun with this one, trying to fight with your LCD screen as you attempt to keep up with the creators’ artistic vision. I’ll be in the back with my dead-tree comic book.

Avenging Spider-Man #3 is continued superhero fun with everybody’s favorite web-slinger (yes, I know that sounds like a tag line, but read this book and you won’t know of any other way to summarize it). I am really, really love Joe Madeuria’s art. It makes me feel like a kid again, and there’s nothing wrong with reading comics just for fun. Zeb Wells captures Peter Parker’s voice effortlessly. I’ve also been a fan of Spider-Man despite not reading a whole lot of him, and I have to say that this might be one of the best characterizations of webhead yet. I’ve always imagined him as the peacemaker and the jokester all in one, and this is what he is in this issue. I’m liking it, and looking forward to the next team-up, but I know I’m really going to love the inevitable Wolverine team-up.

Meanwhile, in the Ultimate U, Miles Morales continues to be a lovable character in Ultimate Spider-Man #6. This is what the Ultimate line should of been to begin with, and I’m glad Marvel finally decided to pass the mantle on to another character. It feels familiar enough, but continues to be a unique story that would have never been possible with Peter Parker. We see Miles in action for the first time, which is fun in and of itself, and we learn more about his uncle. I don’t mind that Bendis is taking his time to really craft a solid story with some genuine character development.

I got caught up on Green Lantern last weekend. I’m glad to see that Geoff Johns’ laziness on Justice League hasn’t carried over to this book. I also like that neither Sinestro nor Hal are inherently likable (in fact, Sinestro is still pretty evil, despite wearing the green again). Unlike other readers, I’m not bothered by Hal’s whiny and entitled attitude, because that’s what he’s always been at the core. Sure, being the Specter softened him up some, but–as my Grandma says–a leopard never changes its spots. I’m going to be adding this to my pull list.

For my library people out there, I hope you liked the column in January’s Library Journal. If you didn’t read it, please do, especially if you’re interested in developing a collection of games for your library. I think it was reprinted online as well.