Author Archive

Comics You Should Be Reading: The New 52 Edition

By T.J. Frenzel
Staff Writer, Kessel Runner

DC’s much-discussed New 52 has managed to pull me back towards superhero comics. Unlike previous events, I think the top-to-bottom relaunch of the DCU has at least a chance at a lasting, positive influence on the franchise.

Rob has been covering the New 52 with some great feedback, and I wanted to chime in and share my top picks so far.

TITLE: Batwing #1-2
AUTHOR: Judd Winick
PENCILLER: Ben Oliver
PRICE: $2.99 (per issue)

As much as I love DC, they have a pretty spotty track record with issues of diversity. Most recently the spotlight has been on the portrayal of female characters as, basically, sex robots (reference Catwoman and Starfire), but race is a tough issue too — so it surprised me that DC’s official Batwing description was “the first black character to wear the Batman mantle.”

Talking about race is tough because a lot of it can depend on perception. For instance, in Mister Terrific #1 the title character says something like “How about just saying, ‘Thanks, black guy!’”

Some people were offended by that, but I have a black friend who sprang to mind immediately because he says things like that all the time, in much the same situation (levity, not rescuing people from a guy in a stolen mech-suit). It’s just his way.

Now me, I’d have stopped at calling him the Batman of Africa, which he is. Why make a big deal of out saying “Hey, we made a black guy Batman!” I’m not actually offended, I just think it’s odd.

But at the same time, I was intrigued. How would a Bat-affiliate in Africa operate? What’s his story? Plus, Judd Winick is writing, and I’m a fan of his work, so I checked it out.

My first impression on reading issue #1 was Wow — I don’t know who this Ben Oliver guy is, but he kicks ass. I don’t always dig the photo-realistic look, but it’s stylized enough here that it works for me. Also, I find the Batwing design to be really cool. I’m not sure why it’s more practical for Batwing to wear the (apparently) heavier armor — and is he flying?  — but it looks nice.

It isn’t until issue #2 that we start to see Batwing’s character step away from being a Batman clone, but I’m starting to see it; Batwing is a bit younger, more impulsive — not dissimilar from an early Nightwing. Maybe Judd thought we needed a gradual departure from a traditional Bat-title rather than throwing us in willy-nilly, but I hope it continues in that direction.

I’m a fan of the Bat-family, and so far Batwing is sitting towards the top of that pile (aside from Batman himself, of course).

TITLE: Demon Knights #1
AUTHOR: Paul Cornell
PENCILLER: Diogenes Neves
PRICE: $2.99

It’s only one issue in, but so far Demon Knights is a welcome departure from what I normally read from DC — which is part of the attraction. I love men in tights — er, kevlar? — as much as the next guy, but so far my favorite part of The New 52 has been trying out some of the other genre titles.

In Demon Knights, we’re quickly shown Jason/Etrigan’s origin before skipping forward to the Dark Ages. Fans of Batman: The Animated Series may recognize The Demon Etrigan (originally created by Jack Kirby), who is merged with Jason Blood by the wizard Merlin (yes, that Merlin) in the time of King Arthur’s court.

Comically, Paul Cornell’s setup for the series is to have Jason and a young Xanadu meet several familiar characters in an inn, much like the standard D&D campaign.

Like most of The New 52, Demon Knights is only one issue in, but Cornell’s use of humor and Diogenes Neves’ fantastic art are a great combination for a fantasy title. And although I didn’t expect it at first, Demon Knights may end up being a sort of team book — he’s hinted that we haven’t met all of the cast yet, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with this slightly off-kilter title.

TITLE: Detective Comics #1-2
AUTHOR/PENCILLER: Tony Daniel
PRICE: $2.99

As I mentioned before, I’m a fan of the Bat — but seriously, four Batman titles is a bit much for me. I managed to whittle it down to two: Detective Comics and Batman proper.

Scott Snyder has received a lot of accolades for his work on Batman titles, but surprisingly I thought Tony Daniels’ Detective Comics #1 had the better debut. Tony provides both art and story, and gets off to a great start with issue #1 — a classic Batman tale that introduces The Joker, Commissioner Gordon, and others into the New 52. It also has a great Gotham noir sensibility to it that I found extremely gratifying, and issue #1 ended on a great note.

Issue #2 had a couple of bumps. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like DC is trying to shoehorn a couple of soap opera pages into every freakin’ issue. Sure, there’s always a love interest, but seriously: Batman’s juggling a reporter and Catwoman, Batwoman pines for Renee Montoya (while dating), Mister Terrific has a catfight over him brewing in the background — what gives? Did they hire all the ghost writers that are looking for work after All My Children? I don’t need my superheroes to read like The Bachelor, thank you very much.

But aside from that, I’m looking forward to seeing where Tony is going with Joker and The Dollmaker, who is (as far as I know) a new villain for The New 52.

TITLE: Huntress #1 (of 6)
AUTHOR: Paul Levitz
PENCILLER: Marcus To
PRICE: $2.99

I’m not ready to proclaim Huntress a breakout hit quite yet, but I’m on a bit of a quest to find a female character I can…err, get behind, and so far Huntress seems like the best candidate.

As I said before, there’s a bit of controversy over how women are portrayed in the DCU — deservedly so. I wasn’t exaggerating when I referred to Starfire as basically a sex robot  — she’s already slept with both of her male team members, has no emotional connection to sex, and oh — she has trouble telling men apart. Sex. Robot.

Anyway, after talking with a friend I realized that Harley Quinn is the only female DC character that I really like — or at least the only one I could come up with on the spot. I’m not really a Wonder Woman fan, and honestly I’d be okay with Catwoman being done away with entirely (take Damian along with you, thanks).

Huntress is a character I’ve always like the idea of, even if she isn’t always executed well. In most cases she tends to be a little too one-note; she’s super angsty about wanting to take out the mob in all its forms, and her willingness to kill is always a point of conflict with other superheroes. Perhaps it’s because she isn’t well known that creators tend to want to re-introduce her each time out, but it gets a little tiresome.

But so far Levitz has managed to avoid that trend, portraying her as not only martially competent but pretty suave as well, able to get things done both in and out of costume.

Huntress #1 takes place in Italy, and as a guy who’s never left the continental US I can authoritatively say that Levitz and artist Marcus To manage to imbue Helena with a sophisticated European attitude that can be sexy without feeling icky, and so far her story doesn’t suck.

Brief aside: If you’re a fan of the Bruce Timm cartoons, the Huntress/Question episodes of Justice League Unlimited are excellent.

This one might be too early to call, but so far I prefer it over Batwoman and Batgirl, so I’ll be checking out issue #2.

TITLE: O.M.A.C. #1
AUTHOR: Dan Didio
PENCILLER: Keith Giffen
PRICE: $2.99

Dan Didio and Keith Giffen’s O.M.A.C. is fast becoming one of my favorite new titles. Also originally created by Jack Kirby, the new acronym stands for “One Machine Attack Construct,” a type of bio-tech that has infected the body of Assistant Manager Kevin Kho.

The upshot is that it puts him at the mercy of the technological entity Brother Eye, who can transform Kevin into the hulking blue O.M.A.C. at will, using him to do its bidding.

O.M.A.C. is a great example of how fun a comic can be. Though Brother Eye and O.M.A.C. have a storied history at DC, they’re essentially approachable for the new reader at this new “jumping-on” point — and perhaps importantly, just fun to read.

This title is something of a throwback in the best possible away, with plenty of nods to comic legend Jack Kirby and that era of comics in general. I keep expecting the exclamatory narration at the top of the panels: Will Kevin regain control of his life? What else will Brother Eye throw at him? Find out next time!

It’s fun, and Keith Giffen does a great job channeling that energy. Props to the rest of the artist team for a great looking comic, as well.

Front page image from whatculture.com. The Huntress #1 page from insidepulse.com.
For more from T.J. Frenzel, check out 2BitGeek.com.  

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Comics You Should Be Reading: Indie Titles Activate!

By T.J. Frenzel
Staff Writer, Kessel Runner

When we think of comics, most of us automatically think superheroes. It’s an understandable reflex; larger-than-life characters like Superman and Captain America have permeated our society on almost every level, from Spider-Man undies to an actual Batmobile being auctioned on eBay.

But comics fans are lucky, because there’s so much more to comics than your standard superhero fare. Don’t worry, I’m not dogging anybody here, much less your favorite man in tights (mine’s Batman).

What I’m getting at is that like many people, my reading tastes go through phases. My last detour went through some darker material like Sleeper and Criminal, but lately I’m on an indie comics kick. They aren’t completely bereft of spandex, but you won’t find anything by DC or Marvel here…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Abyss: Family Issues

One of the first indie titles I picked up was Atomic Robo by Red 5 Comics. Primary Ignition’s own Seth Miller has already done a write-up on Atomic Robo, so I’ll simply say: Good Stuff. So good, in fact, that I explored Red 5′s backlist a little and found Abyss.

Abyss is, technically, a superhero comic — but not a mainstream one. It’s penned by Kevin Rubio of Tag & Bink fame, and he does a stellar job of spoofing the masked-hero tropes we all know and love while delivering a great story in its own right.

The first Abyss mini-series (2007) introduced us to Eric Hoffman, who is dropped into the world of supervillian intrigue when his super-rich father dies unexpectedly. Eric must face his father’s secret legacy — action and hilarity ensue.

The current mini-series is called Abyss: Family Issues, which is in comic shops now. Following the events of Abyss, Eric must now explore his mother’s side of the family–which isn’t what it seems.

The art by Lucas Marangon (initial mini-series) and Alfonso Ruiz (Family Issues) has its own sense of humor; you’ll find tons of easter eggs in both minis, from character cameos to visual gags.

I encourage anyone who likes A) comics and B) laughter to check into Abyss and Abyss: Family Issues. It feels weird to be recommending what could be considered a humor comic, but think about how heavily recent superhero movies like Iron Man and Thor have depended on humor. It keeps things from falling too deeply in the mire of angst and darkness; after all you can’t live there — Batman doesn’t need a roomie (and if he did, it wouldn’t be you).

Abyss and Abyss: Family Issues are both 4 issue miniseries; the first mini is available in trade paperback, while Family Issues #4 is scheduled for release on 5/11.

Incorruptible

Mark Waid is a name you’re probably familiar with; he’s worked for both DC and Marvel, but of late he’s been working on a couple of series with BOOM! Studios. Irredeemable and Incorruptible share a universe and work as two sides of the same coin in both concept and plot.

Irredeemable poses the question: What if the world’s most powerful superhero (think Superman) were to turn on us? The obvious answer is that you’d have a huge Oh @!$& moment, and that’s exactly what happens.

For more on Irredeemable, check out Rob’s previous write-up. Definitely recommended.

Incorruptible is the companion to Irredeemable; it stars criminal hardcase Max Damage, who’s been re-evaluating his life in the wake of the potential Plutonian Apocalypse. I bet you see where this is going.

What I like most about Incorruptible is that even though Max has flipped his leaf and decided to be a good guy, he isn’t immediately embraced by anyone. Well, that’s not strictly true — his female sidekick Jailbait wants to do some, uh, embracing — but now that he’s gone straight, he’s deemed her off-limits.

Anyway, back to the point — cops still shoot at him, the heroes don’t trust him, and Max actually has no idea how to be a good guy other than doing the exact opposite of what he would normally do. There’s a lot of action, dark humor, and good storytelling.

There’s very little exposition — Waid eschews the obligatory origin stories and getting-to-know-you B.S., opting to drop you into the chaos head-first. The result is an exciting, well-written page turner.

Irredeemable is currently on issue #25; Incorruptible’s current issue is #17. Trade paperbacks are available for each title.

Nonplayer #1

This is a title that’s gotten a lot of buzz, but if you haven’t checked it out, do. Nonplayer is a beautiful comic published by Image and created from the ground up by Nate Simpson.

Nonplayer centers around a futuristic socie ty in which a young girl named Dana Stevens lives a dual life; one in the normal world as a tamale delivery girl, and one in the MMORPG world of Jarvath as an “elite warrior.”

The first couple of pages are silent, cinematic looks at the wonderfully rendered landscape of Jarvath. It’s completely immersive in its detail without being cluttered; Simpson’s background as a concept artist is in full evidence.

Things aren’t as they should be in Jarvath — Nonplayers have their own dialog and, apparently, their own story to tell. They aren’t acting quite as they should, however, and Mr. Simpson has gone on record as saying each nonplayer character in Jarvath is unique (unlike current MMOs like World of Warcraft), so this is more than just software buggery.

Perhaps most surprising for this debut comic its well-crafted storytelling. Mr. Simpson’s background is more art than writing, and he uses that to its full advantage — not only is his art beautiful, but he’s able to communicate a great deal of subtext in his character’s expressions and use of body language.

There’s also another aspect to Nonplayer — Dana’s real-world life. Most of issue #1 takes place in the game world, but Simpson reminds us that the story isn’t just about Jarvath; it’s about Dana and her interaction with both worlds. She may be a sword-wielding adventurer part-time, but she’s also kind of a slacker who likes gaming more than her crappy job.

The only downside to Nonplayer is that since Simpson is flying solo, it’ll be a while between issues — no date yet for #2 — but if he keeps up this level of quality, I’ll wait gladly.

Nonplayer #1 has gone to a second printing that will be in stores on 5/11. If you don’t buy any other comics this week, buy Nonplayer. You don’t even have to thank me.

Each comic in this article is in current publication. Check your local comic shop or digital retailer of choice for more information.


Front page image/Abyss: Family Issues preview from comicbuzz.com, Incorruptible preview from boomtron.com, Nonplayer preview from comicsalliance.com.

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A Look At TRON: Legacy on Disney Second Screen

By T.J. Frenzel
Staff Writer, Kessel Runner

Well, I finally did it–I made the plunge to Blu-ray. In the spirit of full disclosure, I didn’t go out and buy a Blu-ray player for TRON: Legacy (the announcement of Star Wars on Blu-ray grabs credit for that), but it did come with a nice bonus: Disney Second Screen.

Disney Second Screen is a companion to the movie, displaying behind-the-scenes extras on your PC, Mac, or iPad.

To be honest, I’d probably never have taken a look at Second Screen without an iPad. As cool as Second Screen is, sitting at a computer and watching a movie doesn’t add up to a great viewing experience in my book, even with a laptop.

What’s odd about tablets, and more specifically, the iPad, is how vehement people’s opinions are about them. Honestly, when the iPad was announced I was hoping for something more like a laptop, just without the keyboard. It’s basically just a big iPod Touch, right?

But eventually I realized my feelings about iPad were more about perception than reality. I turned my nose up at iPad because it wouldn’t run “real” programs like Excel, Photoshop, what have you…but I don’t actually use that suff.

When it comes to technology, I’m more of a tech enthusiast than a tech-head; I focus less on specs and more on what it can do. And when I started looking at iPad that way–well, as my friend says, iPads are like the future! They were on Star Trek, for Pete’s sake.

And in the case of TRON: Legacy, Disney Second Screen is a perfect example of that. Here’s how it works.

First, if you just want to see what Second Screen is like, you can preview it for free (that is, without buying the Blu-ray). Anyone can download the iPad app (or, for PC/Mac users, visit the link to the web app provided in your Blu-ray). Once you’ve purchased, there’s a code to enter for full access.

Once you’ve loaded up Second Screen on the device of your choice, you’ve got a couple of options. It’s intended to be viewed along with the movie, so you an either sync it up with the movie (which is super-easy, as it detects the audio) or browse around on your own.

The program is arranged with thumbnails at the bottom of the screen, comprising a timeline. As you watch/explore, you’ll see a selection of annotations, behind the scenes videos and stills, movie trivia, 360 degree turnarounds, concept art, 3D rendering, a whole host of stuff. My personal favorite are the progression reels that show off the effects shots. Thanks to the slider below the display, you can watch them at your own speed; three viewing options are available as well (for instance: live action, CGI, finished shot).

Not only is it a lot of content, but the presentation is handled very well. The app has a very TRON look to it, and the information is delivered in a thoughtful, way. Instead of random trivia in the form of text, some of the art and photos are augmented with areas that are expandable–so if you’re curious about the content you can learn more, and it not–well, move on.

Second Screen isn’t perfect, however–I found the lack of a Table of Contents to be particularly irritating while exploring on your own, the iPad app crashed on me a couple of times, making matters worse. If you aren’t watching it with the movie, your only choice is to scroll through the content, which is a pain.

But for the most part I really enjoyed Second Screen. It’s like a built-in film book that gives you the option of viewing the movie and behind-the-scenes extras at the same time rather than back to back. It’s not for everyone, but presents a nice extra for film buffs–especially when you consider it’s free with purchase and not a paid add-on. For my money, it’s definitely better than getting a cheap 10-page insert or other gimmick.

So far as I can tell, the only movies augmented with Second Screen are TRON: Legacy and Bambi (which I haven’t seen, and unfortunately can’t review for you. Bummer, eh?). Technology is moving so fast these days it’s hard to tell if something’s going to catch on or just become a footnote on Wikipedia, but I’m hoping to see more things like Second Screen.

To check it out for yourself, have a look at Disney’s official site.

Screencaps courtesy of T.J. Frenzel.
For more TRON, check out TRON: Legacy
and TRON: Evolution.

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The Adjustment Bureau – Film Review

TITLE: The Adjustment Bureau
STARRING:
Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, Michael Kelly, John Slattery
DIRECTOR:
George Nolfi
STUDIO:
Universal Pictures
RATED:
PG-13
RUN TIME:
99 min
RELEASED:
March 04, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The trailer for The Adjustment Bureau intrigued me. It’s got all the important stuff: dramatic music, a Hollywood A-lister in Matt Damon, and brief title cards to boil down the film’s concept. Trailers are an art form of their own, and this one grabbed me.

After a chance encounter with a beautful woman (Blunt), Congressman David Norris (Damon) accidentally discovers mankind’s hidden truth: Our fate is not our own. A mysterious cadre of G-men work to adjust our decisions, guiding us down a pre-determined path. They inform Norris that he isn’t supposed to see this woman again and take dramatic measures to insure that he doesn’t.

This is where the trailer got me. Casting John Slattery and Terrence Stamp as agents of fate was an inspired move, but what I really wanted to know is: Is this gonna be a chick-flick romance, or is it about Free Will?

Director/screenwriter George Nolfi takes a page from the Tony Stark Book of Strategy and gives you a bit of both.

What impressed me most about this film its down-to-earthiness. Aside from being a politician, protagonist David Norris is the everyman. He isn’t an ex-Marine, he’s not a super genius; he even reveals a cynical view of politics, which is always fun.

Photo from rottentomatoes.com.

In a movie about mysterious forces manipulating us, it would’ve been easy to go all Matrix with the gunfights and car chases, but that’s not the case. It’s a very personal story, and it’s kind of a relief  to see an exciting movie without explosions or bullet-time. Instead, Norris appears on Jon Stewart, rides a bus instead of a limo, and occasionally mocks the ridiculousness of overpaid consultants and focus groups.

The fact that he’s prettier than me makes this hard to admit, but you gotta respect Matt Damon as an actor. It takes range to go from Stuck on You and Dogma to The Bourne Identity and True Grit, and he’s got good comedic timing. His performance in Adjustment Bureau is spot-on: as the everyman, his charm and humor are present but somewhat understated.

Emily Blunt gives a nice performance, but unfortunately her role is a bit cookie-cutter as the star-crossed free spirit. The obligatory quirk felt forced, and her character isn’t given much room to shine. On the whole, Blunt is underutilized. It’s a good example of where The Adjustment Bureau falls a part a bit. Some things are done extremely well, but the film is marred by a handful of missed opportunities.

Part of this stems from the film’s source material. The film is based on The Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick, which is about 20 pages long. In a lot of ways Nolfi did a superb job adapting it to a screenplay; I don’t mind the romance bit like a lot of folks seem to, because it goes hand in hand with the free will theme. The problem for me is the third act, which is totally made up for the film.

Nolfi makes a good move in avoiding the Fight The System scenario, because the internal logic of the story doesn’t allow it–the adjusters are simply too powerful. However, his resolution of the story felt phoned-in and unsatisfying. The first two acts were great, and I wish they’d shown the same attention to the resolution. As it was, I found myself waiting for the movie to end.

I’ll go on record as saying my wife had no problem with the ending, and it isn’t terrible; I just felt let down after how much I enjoyed the rest. The Adjustment Bureau is fun, but flawed. I’d recommend seeing it…once.

RATING: 7/10

Front page image from rottentomatoes.com.

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A Look at Star Wars: Knight Errant by John Jackson Miller

***The views expressed here are those of T.J. Frenzel, Staff Writer and Kessel Runner. They do not reflect the views of Primary Ignition or its staff.***

I came to the work of John Jackson Miller via Knights of the Old Republic. As a huge fan of the 2003 video game of the same name, I was elated to learn that Dark Horse was going to publish a KOTOR comic.

To my surprise, the comic wasn’t based on the game at all, but rather was set slightly before the events of the video game with all-new characters. There were familiar places and even some cameos, but the comic was a story all its own, and a good one.

What made the Knights of the Old Republic comic so successful is the way it matched the spirit of the movies. Star Wars has been around so long that we tend to forget it isn’t just science fiction; it’s space opera. You’ve got crazy aliens of every type, goofy dialogue, bickering robots, and high-stakes galactic conflict all rolled into one. What makes Star Wars stand apart is the archetypal struggle, the action, the characters, and the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

With Knights of the Old Republic, John Jackson Miller proved that he gets it. It takes guts to star a likable but clumsy Padawan and an alien con man in your story, but it worked. I was sad to see the title end, but not too sad; a new JJM project was on the horizon.

Knight Errant is set approximately a thousand years before the events of A New Hope and stars Kerra Holt, a young Jedi Knight all alone in Sith territory. Unlike the eras we’re used to, there are many Sith Lords who battle each other as much as they fight the Jedi.

On the whole it’s a bit more dark and serious than KOTOR, and looks to be a great read. I’ve gotten tired of the multi-volume series’ Del Rey has been putting out lately, especially with the assembly-line process of authors they’re using now. I don’t need endless politics and star-crossed Jedi; just give me good stories. With Knight Errant, John Jackson Miller is doing just that.

Image from comicmastersonline.com.

Knight Errant also takes advantage of the different areas of the Star Wars fan base, as it is being published as a comic and a novel, but not as different versions of the same story. Instead, the two stories will be accessible individually but fit together as a larger story for those who choose to read both, each is being penned by Miller.

The comic is only four issues in, so you can still get in on the action before it gets too deep. Already we’ve seen Kerra as a more bad-ass Jedi than we’re used to and some psycho Sith Lords, which is always fun. As with any comic the first few issues have to take care of getting-to-know-you type stuff, but JJM and Kerra have both hit the ground running.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Knight Errant is also breaking ground with some industry firsts. There’s been a lot of reporting on the fact that it stars a female Jedi, which couldn’t be more timely. The past few years have seen more and more female fans in gaming, comics and, of course, Star Wars. Just look at the Her Universe line of female-only geekwear or Katie the Star Wars girl.

Dark Horse and Del Rey are also using social media to get the word out about their new story, which is a lot of fun for fans. You can check the Dark Horse website for comic previews, and they’ve also cross-merchandised the novel by inserting previews into the comic and a short story on StarWars.com.

On the author side, JJM is social-media’d up with Facebook, Twitter, and his own website at FarawayPress.com, where he talks about some of the behind-the-scenes stuff.

You can pick up the first four issues of the Knight Errant comic in stores now, and the novel is set to release today. Outside of 1977 there’s never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan, and I can’t wait to see where Knight Errant takes us.

Front page image from time.com.

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The Dark Tower – The Gunslinger: The Journey Begins

TITLE: The Dark Tower – The Gunslinger: The Journey Begins
AUTHORS: Robin Furth & Peter David
PENCILLERS: Sean Phillips & Richard Isanove
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
COLLECTS: The Dark Tower – The Gunslinger: The Journey Begins #1-5
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASE DATE: January 26, 2011

By T.J. Frenzel
Staff Writer, Kessel Runner

Here’s a funny thing about me: I’m a Stephen King fan, but I don’t really like horror. How’s that, you ask?

You might not know it, but he actually does a lot of work that isn’t horror. He writes for Entertainment Weekly, he’s got On Writing (which is half biography), and he also has a couple of non-horror novels that I’ve enjoyed: The Colorado Kid and The Eyes of the Dragon.

And of course, there’s his epic Dark Tower saga, which is kind of a fantasy/western with a little horror mixed in. Think Clint Eastwood in a post-nuclear Middle Earth.

It stars Roland, a gun-slinging anti-hero obsessed with finding the eponymous Dark Tower, which he believes will set right all that’s gone wrong in the world. Anyhow, being Stephen King, he sold a lot of ‘em—and now it’s a comic.

They got a little interesting over at Marvel, because it isn’t just a graphic adaptation of the novels. Instead, they decided to follow Roland’s life chronologically; some is obviously reworked events from the novels, but there’s also new material.

The title of this trade hardcover is a little misleading (and way too long). It’s actually the sixth trade edition of Marvel’s Dark Tower series, but it does begin a second arc for the comic in which Roland is, finally, the last gunslinger.

Showing Roland’s history was interesting (mostly), but I’m hoping this is where Dark Tower will really get good. Roland’s quest isn’t easy, but it is fairly simple: Find the Dark Tower. That kind of simplicity lends it self well to episodic storytelling, and that’s what Robin Furth and Peter David have given us with The Journey Begins.

I can’t say much about the story without spoiling it, but I’ll give you this: we start out with Roland left for dead, and he’s got to equip himself to track down his nemesis, Martin Broadcloak. On the way, he has some interesting and gruesome adventures.

Page 4 of issue #1.

The art on Dark Tower has always been a little odd, but the weird coloring is really starting to bug me. I know it’s supposed to be eerie, but every shot of the sky is a gradient of orange/purple/black, as if the Robin Furth & Peter David were anxious to use every button on the Photoshop toolbar. It’s distracting. Occasionally stuff will look too shiny or polished as well, which bothers me.

I can’t hate on it too much, though—I actually like Sean Phillips, it’s just the odd colors I have a problem with. Different strokes, and so on.

The Dark Tower comic has been hit or miss for me, kind of like the Star Trek movies (if you’re into that sort of thing), but The Journey Begins is definitely on an upswing. I like the “Roland vs. Random Situation” format, and it’ll be interesting to see where the journey takes him.

And if you finished the Dark Tower novels, you know it’s all about the journey.

RATING: 6.5/10

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TRON: Evolution – Video Game Review

TITLE: TRON: Evolution
PLATFORM:
360, PS3, Wii, DS, PSP, PC
DEVELOPER:
Propaganda Games, GameStar (PC)
PUBLISHER: Disney Interactive Studios
ESRB: T (E10+ on PSP)
RELEASED:
December 7

By T.J. Frenzel
Staff Writer, Kessel Runner

As a fan of the original Tron film, the buildup to Tron: Legacy is very exciting. Between the books, comics, and the video game, Disney and its partners have coordinated a multi-media event that all ties in together. The comics, recently published by Marvel, tie into the video game—which, in turn leads directly into the movie.

That really puts the gamer into the driver’s seat as far as story, which is meta-cool. Tron is about programs who appear as avatars of their users, and in Tron: Evolution you’re driving around Anon, your own avatar on The Grid.

Okay, okay…I’ll try to stop the geek-out there.

You play as Anon, a special System Monitor programmed by Kevin Flynn to investigate a conspiracy on “The Grid”—a digital landscape where programs lead lives of their own, and are beginning to evolve.

The game doesn’t go into details about what makes Anon special, but I imagined him as a kind of supercop or special forces program. His helmet/visor is purposefully opaque so that the player can imagine that, in keeping with Tron lore, he looks like you. His armor is partially reflective so that it mirrors the light sources around you, and his light bars dim and fluctuate if you get low on health.

Image from gameslave.co.uk.

In short, he looks pretty awesome.

Propaganda Games has really nailed the look of the Troniverse. In working with the filmmakers of Tron: Legacy, they’ve been able to make parts of the game virtually identical to what you’ll see on the silver screen.

The environment is equally fun to look at, and Propaganda threw a few neat tricks into it as well. To recharge your energy and health, you’ve got to vault off certain items in the area or run across light bars along the walls. I found this annoying at first–it goes against the typical Mushroom power-up mentality–but the more I played, the more it made sense. The high-mobility combat system (similar to capoeira) can be very fast paced, and using your surroundings to jump/flip/attack is pretty fun.

Your main method of combat utilizes a disc, which is both melee and ranged. There are different versions of the disc that you can switch out literally on-the-fly; Heavy (default), Bomb, Stasis, and Corruption. There are combos, of course, and different versions/combos work better on different foes–so while you can button-mash, it’s much better to strategize a little.

Image from gameslave.co.uk.

As fun as the combat is, it can get a little repetitive–especially in the first part of the game, where you move from closed room to closed room eliminating all the baddies. During the mid-game it does open up a little though, and you get a bit more variation.

Evolution also features parkour-style platforming. As a guy who mostly plays RPG’s, it demanded a bit more hand/eye coordination than I’m used to, making the whole running on walls & stuff difficult—but at times more fun than I expected, too. The over-the-shoulder camera is super touchy (at least for me), and there’s no way to adjust it or any other controls. I’d think I had it down for a while, then reach a particular jump or maneuver where I died (derezzed) a dozen times.

But the reload time is quick (~5 seconds) and the auto-save is very good at keeping up with you–which is good, since it’s the only save method available. It worked fine, though–there were a couple times I was annoyed at having to fight the same guys again, but a couple ain’t bad.

There’re a few sections with vehicle combat. The Light Cycles are arguably Tron’s most pervasive visual element—TI-85 game, anyone?—but unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed with their appearance in Tron: Evolution. They look cool, but are only used in a few scenes getting from here to there, and bike-on-bike combat is practically non-existent.

Image from gameslave.co.uk.

The Light Tanks, however, were a blast. They’re a bit overpowered and hard to maneuver (then again, real tanks probably are too) but I got a kick out of blowing up stuff and running over enemies.

Story-wise, I won’t say that Evolution is the most gripping game I’ve ever played, but it does a pretty good job of giving you the story of what’s happened since the events of Tron. The main conflict arises over the ISOs–a group of spontaneusly generated programs, not created by Flynn–and how their creation affects the system.

You’ll meet some familiar allies and foes; Bruce Boxleitner and Olivia Wilde voice their respective film characters (Tron and Quorra, respectively), and they’re joined by Jensen Ackles as Gibson (Supernatural) and John Glover as Abraxus (Smallville). Jeff Bridges isn’t in the game, but Fred Tatasciore does an eerily good job of impersonating him as Flynn/Clu.

The high-mobility combat and platforming work well together in a way that I think even non-Tron fans can appreciate. The game also looks amazing—you’ve definitely never seen anything quite like it. Propaganda definitely did their homework giving it a Tron feel without replicating scenes directly. The last chapter was particularly well designed and made me feel like I was in the last scenes of my own movie. And if you’re planning to see Tron: Legacy, consider Evolution the first act.

Image from gameslave.co.uk.

While it had a couple of issues, I had a blast playing Tron: Evolution. I wished it were longer, but only because I was having fun, not because I felt ripped off *cough* The Force Unleashed II *cough*. If you’re thinking about playing it, do yourself a favor and pick it up.

RATING: 7.5/10

For more TRON, read Justin Polak’s review of Daft Punk’s score for TRON: Legacy, or check out T.J’s review of the TRON: Betrayal over at Blog System is Go.

Front page image from gameslave.co.uk.

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Cold Space – Graphic Novel Review

TITLE: Cold Space
AUTHORS: Samuel L. Jackson, Eric Calderon
PENCILLER: Jeremy Rock
COLLECTS: Cold Space #1-4
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: BOOM! Studios
PRICE: $14.99
RELEASED: December 8

By T.J. Frenzel
Staff Writer, Kessel Runner

It’s become fairly well-known that Samuel L. Jackson is a huge fan of comics. Between Afro Samurai and Unbreakable to pretty much becoming Nick Fury, it’s obvious the guy has a serious love for the medium—so really, coming out with his own series was just a matter of time.

Cold Space is published by BOOM! Studios and co-created by Afro Samurai partner Eric Calderon. It’s a sort of space western starring Mulberry, a familiar-looking loner out to make a quick buck.

Samuel L. Jackson provides a great introduction about his love for comics and the impetus behind the creation of Cold Space. His persona really jumps off the page, and he does a great job of getting the reader pumped to read the series—which, I guess, is the idea behind that sort of thing.

Cold Space begins (predictably) in space, with Samuel L. Jackson Mulberry being pursued by space cops. Soon, they all crash onto a dumpy sort of moon, where the rest of the story plays out. The moon they land on has a decidedly western feel to it, and most of the action stems from the rivalry between the town’s two gangs. Each seeks to recruit Mulberry to tip the balance of power—yada yada yada.

Jackson mentioned in the intro that since he’d “already been in the Star Wars universe,”—what a life, right?—he wanted Cold Space to feel run-down and gritty. That got my hopes up for some noir-style action, and frankly those hopes were dashed. The art, provided by Jeremy Rock, felt cartoony rather than gritty, and the story was more action than noir.

Image from comicbookresources.com.

Reading Cold Space is like watching a not-great episode of your favorite superhero cartoon (Batman: The Animated series, in my case); it’s a fun read, but nothing spectactular.

It’s certainly an interesting first outing, introducing characters and whatnot, but nothing really jumped out at me. Mulberry is supposed to be a badass, but he doesn’t do anything particularly awesome. I mean, I know Samuel L. Jackson can portray a bad-ass onscreen, but I need a comic character to do more than just look like SLJ with space armor.

It doesn’t even have to be physical action necessarily–the comic tells you how smart he is at playing every angle, but does very little to show you. As it is, he just kind of wanders around looking like Samuel L. Jackson and happens to come out on top.

Still, there are some interesting characters, and the series definitely has room to grow. For now, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach. But for this particular paperback, a 6×9 format with only 110 pages, the bang to buck ratio felt a bit low.

RATING: 6/10

For more from T.J., check out his site, Blog System is Go.

Front page image from comicbookresources.com.

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