Extra Credit – Game characters that’d be awesome high school teachers

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Geometry proofs. World War II discussions. Dodgeball. These would’ve been a lot more fun if these game characters were your teachers.

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Comic Book Reviews 11/2/11

Action Comics #3

I’ve heard a lot about Grant Morrison but I’ve never read anything he’s written. That’s why I wanted to read the new Action Comics. I had never really been a big fan of Superman, but I gave it a chance based on Morrison’s pedigree. Unfortunately I haven’t read anything particularly appealing three issues in.

Gene Ha pencils the introduction, a seven-page recap showing the destruction of Clark Kent’s home planet Krypton. Exposition with technological terminology is in over-abundance that proves to be obnoxious rather than engaging world-building. Jor-El looks ridiculous with a glowing headband, a silly planet logo, and a canine sidekick. This is supposed to be a traumatic scene, the single event that altered Clark’s future that left him without a family and a home. What should have been a serious scene comes off as campy.

People are afraid of the unknown and therefore Superman must be a threat. People who were saved by Superman in the first issue complain that he should have done more for them. As he saves a little girls kitten from certain death anti-Superman protesters ambush him. This makes him sad so he throws away his costume. What makes me sad is how boring, cliché, and generally stupid this all is. This wouldn’t happen in real life – people would be thankful for his help. Sure, his existence may scare people, not of Superman, but of what else might be out there. Simply put, Superman has only helped people, so making them angry with him is illogical.

Rags Morales’ continues to pencil with vast inconsistency. Characters faces’ change inexplicably panel to panel, so characters lack true definition. Clark practically has two faces for his two identities (and that’s not because of the glasses). Either Morales isn’t that talented or he doesn’t care, either of which should not be tolerated. And when compared to Gene’s introduction, Morales’ pencils look brutally inferior.

Seeing as how this series is priced at $3.99 (for no apparent reason), I expect a higher quality than what this book strives for. Other books showed great promise over the past two months, but this one has always felt as if it was coasting on by with no real promise to capitalize on. The characters are flat, the plot is silly, and the art is inconsistent.


Animal Man #3

Travel Foreman lets loose in this book to create gorgeously fucked up images. The first page shows Buddy morphing uncontrollably as he and Maxine travel deeper into the Red and Foreman pencils this with twisted elegance. His body unravels and shifts in inhuman ways, yet still resembles his former human self. You can see what’s organically changing as his mouth enlarges, with his teeth clustering sporadically, and his eyes disappearing into his mouth. These intense moments of horror are complimented by the subtle interactions between Buddy and Maxine. Seeing Buddy revert back to his normal self in page two after he’s reconnected with his daughter is disturbing yet simultaneously heartfelt – a balance this book constantly achieves with seemingly little effort.

Back at the Baker household, Ellen and Cliff wait for Buddy and Maxine return. Cliff is playing a video game, humorously titled Slaughterhouse Valley 6 while eating the equally amusing Froot E Dooz cereal. As Ellen looks at his son, while undead animals agitate him, unable to focus on her work, you can feel how uncomfortable this situation makes her. She even asks to play the game only to realize how graphic and disgusting it is (if she thinks that’s gross…). And BAM! Just as everything feels as normal as it could be, one of the Hunters Three attacks with swift intensity. This panel is the scariest in a book filled with intense moments, and that’s due to what came before. Seeing these two try to cope with the situation together, only to be put in an equally terrifying position, is masterful pacing for a horror story (yet somehow, when the monster says, “I am hungry…pleassse…” you almost become sympathetic to it, as if it can’t control its need to feed. It appears to be exhausted by its compulsions).

The action at the end with the other two hunters is hard to follow. I had to read through it a few times in order to realize that Buddy was getting his ass handed to him the whole time. He punches one, then gets punched, grabs one, and then he’s trying to not get eaten alive. The transitions between each panel are erratic and you never have a good sense of what took place. Page 16 is equally confusing and silly looking. If more fights are to take place, Foreman needs to improve the flow or else they’ll continue to bewilder rather than excite.

With an exciting cliffhanger (the red eyes and flies buzzing around are so perfectly creepy) to end this issue, Animal Man continues to impress. It has its issues, and the new retconned origin of Buddy feels cheap, but I have every reason to believe it’ll continue to be the engrossing, disturbingly charming story I look forward to most every month.


Swamp Thing #3

Scott Snyder is an incredibly talented writer but, at times, he’s not a great comic book writer. The first two issues of Swamp Thing had a lot of exposition, which made it feel like the art and text were constantly at odds, trying to prove that they were both capable of crafting a great Swamp Thing comic. Issue three lives up to, and exceeds, the promise of the first two issues.

Having an evil child antagonist may be cliché in the horror genre as a matter of principle, but this issue goes to great lengths to humanize William. William lives in a mobile plastic chamber because he’s allergic to chlorophyll. When some brat tries to burst his bubble, we meet the true William as he disfigures several people with his mind in a terrifying sequence. William is also Abigail Arcane’s little brother which makes this a more personal story but also forces you to wonder how they’ll stop him. This book ends on a total high note: William wearing the same scuba equipment the doctor used to catch the fish that spoke to William as he walks towards whatever’s calling him.

On pages 16 and 17 there’s a fantastic full page where Abigail talks about the rot and how it calls to her. These two pages show the pain and suffering that comes with being an Arcane, and by extension, shows us the pain William must also endure. It’s a poignant scene that captures a bunch of emotions for multiple characters. You have Swamp Thing’s love for Abigail as his only connection to his past life, Abigail’s feeling of escape and protection with Swamp Thing, and her suffering without him. Amidst all of this there’s even a nod of appreciation towards Tom Yeates (a penciler for Swamp Thing back in 1983) in the form of a label on Abigails jeans.

Victor Ibanez and Yanick Paquette’s pencils are so similar that I didn’t realize there were two artists at work here (Nathan FairBairn’s colors help make their styles coalesce). While Paquette has more inventive page layouts (such as pages 16 and 17), Ibanez pencils everything involving William, which suggests his grasp on horror is better than Paquette’s. Next issue is penciled completely by Ibanez, so it’ll be interesting to see how it compares visually to what came before.

Swamp Thing finally finds itself fully entrenched in its horror origins. This can be mostly attributed to William and his ability to creatively and fiendishly mutilate whoever stands in his way. It’s compelling, beautiful, twisted, and totally Swamp Thing.

Comic Book Reviews 10/26/11

Aquaman #2

Last issue briefly introduced us to the enemies that Aquaman would eventually have to battle. The enemies of ‘The Trench’ are more prominent in this briskly paced issue, yet their motives are still unclear. These amphibians decimate a fishing boat crew, because they crave above water prey, and head to the mainland where they continue to massacre humans. They’re a great enemy for Aquaman – Geoff Johns makes it known that Aquaman is taken as seriously in the DC world as he is in ours (which is to say, he isn’t) – because people need him to stop a threat from his world that has now invaded theirs. Johns presents Aquaman as an underdog in order to show everyone that he is just as intimidating as the higher profile superheroes. Since Arthur is captured by the threat at the end of this book, I’m hoping the enemies of The Trench are characterized as something more than hideously ravenous creatures.

It’s charming to see Arthur living in a lighthouse with Merna. You can tell he misses it as they look through a photo album of his. While it’s an interesting direction – an Aquaman living out of the ocean – I doubt this attempt at a new life will last. The way the story is progressing thematically suggests this too. As soon as he moves on land, a menacing threat is introduced, with their appearance having a negative effect on the oceans ecosystem (when Aquaman tries to communicate with the ocean, nothing responds). Now he’s held captive and being taken underwater again. The ocean needs him more than he needs a new life.

Merna’s heavy involvement in this story confuses me. She carries her weight just as well as Arthur (and her hydro-kinesis is rendered beautifully) but the purpose for her is somewhat unclear. Perhaps Johns enjoys their relationship and dynamic enough to keep them together no matter where they live. And because she’s such a strong character, she takes the spotlight from Aquaman just enough to detract from his story.

Ultimately this issue was an action-heavy continuation of last months book, which is to say still promising. If this adversary gets deeper characterization (which they deserve) that better defines, or redefines, Aquaman’s reputation and motives, this could become a killer story. If Johns doesn’t capitalize on this established potential, Aquaman’s reputation will only reach a new low.

 

 

 

I, Vampire #2

The best hero/villain relationship in the entirety of comics is the one between Batman and the Joker. Simply put, there wouldn’t be a Joker without Batman and vice versa. Batman will never kill the Joker even though his existence will always torment Batman. The Joker knows this and plays with Batman’s morality. This dynamic shows that villains with complicated relationships with the protagonist provide endless material in hands of gifted writers. I, Vampire immediately succeeds because its core is a fractured relationship between two vampire lovers with opposing views.

My major concern with I, Vampire is that it only has two characters (so far). The dynamic between them is fantastic, but it needs more. I’m sure new friends and foes will be introduced, and I hope that these new relationships won’t lessen the conflict between Andrew and Mary. At the same time, what’s exciting about this book is that it takes in the DC universe. It’ll be interesting to see who shows up.

Andrea Sorrentin’s pencils fit the mood with deep shadows that capture its apocalyptic Boston setting. However, I’m less keen on the colors from Marcelo Maiolo. Does every post apocalyptic setting have to be drenched in brown? The color palette is very limited and uninspired. It looks like Gears of War with vampires.

 

 

 

The Incredible Hulk #1

Watching The Hulk decimate massive, underground creatures with relative ease in the opening pages is a real treat. (Artist) captures these moments with such energy that it immediately sucks you into the story. The Hulk is currently living underground with Moloids, acting as their provider, and he revels in it. Seeing the Hulk not at odds with himself, and instead at peace, is exciting. He and Banner are now two separate entities, no longer at odds in the same body, so Hulk is able to be himself at all times, rather than just when he’s angry. This introduction to the new Hulk is epic, introspective, and visually outstanding.

Everything that comes after isn’t nearly as good as the opening. The U.S. government finds (and awkwardly attacks) Hulk to ask for his help to stop Bruce Banner. Hulk couldn’t have lived peacefully with the Moloids for long, but having a random female agent (wearing a suit that makes deceives you into thinking that it’s a man) tell Hulk that Banner is out of control is an uninspired way of establishing the conflict between the two.

The last five pages follows two of Banner’s failed experiments (two massive, green boars named 26 and 27) as they collect more wildlife for Banner to experiment on. Banner is desperately trying to make a new Hulk, but why he’s doing it is still unknown. Without any background, Banner comes off as an unsympathetic madman. The dynamic here is interesting – Banner is now the wildcard that the Hulk as to stop. But without any context as to why they’re two separate entities (which I’m sure will come in the following issues) and why Bruce is trying to make a new Hulk, this first issues squanders all of its initial momentum and ends on an unsatisfying note. There is certainly potential here though, so I’ll stick with it for at least another issue.

Comic Book Reviews 10/19/11

Last week I recorded a podcast that discussed DC’s new 52 comic line. For those who have not heard, DC comics revamped their entire line of comics with 52 number one issues. This was done in an attempt to draw in new readers by providing them accessible stories that stray away from their often-convoluted continuity. This became the perfect opportunity for me to start reading comics (something I’ve tried, and failed, to do on multiple occasions). This is all pretty exciting for me, and I want to share my excitement by reviewing the comics that I’m reading.

Batman #2

Batman #1 did a lot right. It established the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Gotham City, the city he protects. As an introduction it succeeded on several levels with fantastic writing and scene setting. However, the plotting felt disjointed even with the successful cyclical narrative – where it began was practically irrelevant to where it ended (and the cliffhanger with Dick Grayson as a potential suspect felt completely unsatisfying).

Issue 2, “Crash” builds and improves on the previous books successes. The narrative at the beginning offers more excellent world building when describing Wayne Tower. It’s fun stuff on its own, and while it may seem contrived plot-wise as a way to save Bruce, it never comes off like that. While many comics end with cliffhangers in an attempt to keep your interest, Scott Snyder ends each book with a cliffhanger and a conclusion which helps make this run act more like television narrative rather than a long story separated into multiple issues. I look forward to the next issue to see if Snyder finds a different but equally engaging way to conclude book three.

After an exciting, if unnecessary, action sequence with Batman taking out a helicopter full of thugs, and then proving Dick Grayson’s innocence shortly thereafter, the meat and the bones of the story start to show. There appears to be a league of assassins living in Gotham, and have been for centuries. Batman dismisses this notion – he knows this city better than anyone else, but deep down he’s unsure if he believes himself. How could he not know about them? How entrenched are they in Gotham’s seedy underbelly?

By crafting compelling world building and creating a new and intriguing posse of antagonists that threaten Bruce Wayne in a way he has not experienced in a long, long time, Batman is becoming one of the best books DC has. I trust Snyder’s direction with this book and it appears that it’s only going to get better as the arc progresses.


 

 

Wonder Woman #2

 The problem with this book is that it’s trying to establish too many relationships. Wonder Woman returns home and is greeted by her mother, who is the queen of Paradise Island. Aleka, who appears to be a friend/rival of hers, then greets her and they spar. Then Strife visits unexpectedly. Diana thinks she’s there for Zola and her ‘bastard’ child, but instead the book ends with Strife claiming that Diana is her sister. Amidst all of this, we learn Strife’s mother is none-too pleased with her promiscuous husband (the glowy-eyed presence in the first issue) AND Hermes recounts Wonder Woman’s origin briefly to Zola. Too many characters, relationships, and mythology were introduced in this issue. When compared to the briskly paced first issue, this one is pretty disappointing.

I’m not ready to stop reading this series though. Yes, all of this information could have been presented in a more accessible way, but that doesn’t mean that the content wasn’t interesting. The drama alone in Strife’s family has a lot of potential because all of the characters seem to be unpredictable schemers. Throwing Diana into the mix complicates matters in an exciting way that I look forward to seeing unravel.

 

 

 

Nightwing #2

 After playing Batman for the better part of a year, Dick Grayson is back as Nightwing. What makes him so different from Bruce Wayne is that Dick is introspective – with no allies, such as Alfred or Commissioner Gordon, he flies solo. Because of this, most of the narration comes from his thoughts. While I can understand why readers might have problems with this (the old show rather than tell critique), I enjoyed it more for it. Dick has a lot on his mind right now (moving out of Wayne manor, not being Batman, and the circus that changed his life is back in Gotham). Without a girlfriend, best friend, sidekick, etc., to talk to, most of his coping has to be internal.

Haly reveals to Dick that Saiko, the threat in the first book, is killing people involved with the circus because of a secret – a secret about the true purpose of the circus. This is an exciting twist for many reasons. Dick is trying to cope with his perceptions of the past, but this secret could shed new light on the death of his parents. Revisiting Nightwing’s origin is a fantastic way to get both new and old readers interested, but I hope that this arc pulls a Swamp Thing in order to reinvent Dick Grayson as Nightwing.

 

Introductions

Welcome to Squinshee.com! Seeing as how this is my first post, I would like to talk about the purpose of this site. Video games have always been a huge part of my life. Freshman year of high school I had a website called Game Gulch (terrible name) that I poured my soul into (which makes it difficult to visit it with its new domain owners). It has been almost six years since I have had an outlet to discuss video games and I miss it.

Video games have aged considerably since then, but video game criticism, in my opinion has not. I read reviews, articles, previews, etc., from other sites and few ever engage me as a reader (with few exceptions). I want to give games proper analysis. Not an easy task by any means, and Squinshee and I will definitely struggle.

What is Squinshee? Back when I was a wee tot, I drew a simplistic penguin – so simple that it doesn’t look at all like a penguin. I have always taken pride in it, a character I named “Squinshee.”

There you have it. We will see where this goes from here.

– Calvin