Buffy season 8 #26

July 15, 2009

Buffy season 8 #26 coverFor my money, Jane Espenson wrote some of the best Buffy episodes during her stint as executive story editor and writer on the show including third season gems like “Earshot,” and the fourth season’s “Superstar” and many of the seventh season episodes.
However, she also wrote some mediocre ones like “The Replacement” and my absolute least favorite episode ever, “Doublemeat Palace” which is considered the worst in many circles.
Buffy season 8 #26 is penned by Espenson and it feels like an extension of her work on the seventh season of the show, right down to Willow being embraced and doted on by Kennedy and featuring a huge battle between Twilight’s army of demons and the Slayers which also have magic users amidst their ranks.
Perhaps as a response to criticism that the book hasn’t resolved any subplots of late and was stagnating with constant one-shots without resolution of the main story threads, this comic feels like a watershed. Everything comes to a head, the battle against Twilight’s forces and a poignant reunion with Giles and Faith. Giles has been working with and rehabilitating Faith most of season 8, but I find it hard to swallow the fact that after all the history between the characters, Buffy can work so easily with Faith again. Of course, like she says in this issue, she has a lot of other things to worry about including trying to keep the other Slayers alive. Amy and Warren’s partnership is further explored in this comic, but as two minor villains who didn’t pose too much of a threat to Buffy in the show, their union and promotion to A list baddies is less than spectacular. Previous Buffy adversaries have proven to be more interesting. The artwork by regular penciler Georges Jeanty is serviceable, but some of it feels rushed, as though not a lot of detail has been devoted to the panels which contrast with Jeanty’s usual methods. It isn’t the case throughout the comic. There are panels which are replete with detail and there are some very effective close ups and facial expressions used effectively to create mood and tension, but some of the battle scenes and crowd shots are less detailed.
While the central theme of the new season, that humans have accepted vampires and that Slayers are now feared by humanity and have been driven into deeper and deeper hiding is explored, it’s subverted by the battle sequences. This is a more grim comic than Buffy usually offers with Andrew’s comic relief being limited. I was also confused by the ending, I know I am supposed to be surprised by the appearance of a familiar character at the end, but in reality it is hard to tell who it is. I do like the cover of this comic with the cast beautifully rendered in Earth tone hues.
Buffy #26 is a good extension of season 8 but not a standout example of how good this comic has been since its inception.


Adventures in Taborea

July 9, 2009

Summer means inevitable downtime when away from work and it has given me the perfect opportunity to try out a new MMORPG. I had been searching for one ever since Warhammer Online became available last year, but I was unable to play it due to my limited system and inferior Intel video card.

Enter: Runes of Magic by Frogster Entertainment, a free to play MMORPG that has been called a Wow clone and compared to old school EQ. Well, I never played EQ but I have played my share of MMORPGS from DDO to LOTRO to Wow and this one is not half bad so far. I was able to level up a character to 3 rather easily, even though I was a bit annoyed by the inferior quality of the camera controls for the characters. “You get what you pay for” or maybe I am just used to Wow and its ease of movement for my horde toons, nonetheless the huge landscape of Taborea in which this game is set offers much to explore and I think that I will try out a few classes before I am done examining the game.

My warrior tank fights some fungus humanoids in Runes of Magic

On the plus side, the game interface is almost identical to Wow’s and there appears to be no shortage of quests and NPCs in this game and while I prefer to play a tank, I am not adverse to trying out the two new races that the game seems to have added recently. Also, I have mostly been dealing with NPCs but with a level cap of 52 and over 200 quests, RoM may be the perfect solution to the p2p MMORPG blues even though I have yet to engage the community or to explore any guilds.

Another tempting feature to this game is the ability to level a dual class beginning with 10. This means that I can have both my warrior and another class dueling on the game server with various skill sets, although I am not quite sure how this works yet.

Wow’s new game patch is expected to drop next month and some of its benefits include mounts at level 20 and flying mounts for the Lich King expansion areas. The jury is still out on Runes of Magic, it might be the best free MMORPG out there, or it might just fizzle out like a curious summertime concoction.


Happy birthday America?

July 2, 2009

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As we approach the nation’s birthday on Saturday, it seems we have little to celebrate this year. The Bush administration focused more on the war on terror and on foreign policy, ignoring domestic affairs and we have been in a deep recession since late 2007.

The worst recession since the 1930s, as a matter of fact. A lot of families this 4th of July holiday will be strapped for cash. MSNBC reported today that the jobless rate in the nation fell to a 26 year high. On Wall Street, the employment news pulled stocks lower. The Dow Jones industrials lost about 175 points in afternoon trading, and broader indices also fell.

Things in California, where we live, are pretty bleak. Under Republican rule,  the state declared a fiscal emergency to force lawmakers into a special session to tackle a state budget gap that has widened to $26.3 billion from $24.3 billion.  Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger, who promised that he would fund education at all costs, has allowed this to happen on his watch. Vendors and local agencies, who instead of payment will get “IOU” notes promising payment must be exasperated. Taxes have gone up.

On a personal note, things became clear to me how bad they were getting when summer school was slashed at Cal Poly where I had planned to spend part of my summer. Things have to get worse before they get better, but what will it take? Another stimulus by the federal government? Hilda Solis and President Obama should seriously consider it,  people are having a hard time making ends meet.

Happy birthday America.


Transformers 2 fails to deliver an engaging plot

June 28, 2009

OK so other than the fact Megan Fox is in it, I had very little desire to watch the sequel to the Michael Bay Transformers movie. Despite a few opportunities, I never got around to seeing the first one  and I honestly didn’t think it would be so great. Yet, when my friend asked me to go, I figured a $5 matinee was a small price to pay to get out of the heat for a few hours and relax.

After getting filled in on the events of the first film while grabbing some popcorn and drinks, I took in Transformers 2 expecting some light hearted escapist entertainment and some good CGI. This movie has it in spades, but sadly, story-wise it pales in comparison to the 1986 animated Transformers film. That movie was sooooooooo much better. (see trailer above)

While this film franchise manages to take the premise of the intergalactic war between the Autobots and Decepticons and manages to weave its own story around it, it spends too much time throwing dizzying effects at the viewer, so much so that halfway through it I realized I cared very little which faction actually won, I just wanted the conflict to be over.

This is primarily because the personalities of the characters barely translate into Michael Bay’s creation like they do in the animated flick or even the cartoon show in which the movies are based on. The noble selflessness and bigger than life qualities of Optimus Prime are there, contrasted with Megatron’s evil, but the latter has been devolved into a big scary monster, instead of the flawed leader from the original Transformers. Optimus and Megatron’s rivalry always had an engaging component to it, even though Prime was always ahead of Megatron, but in a movie where the former spends half of it in pieces and the latter at the bottom of the ocean, the creators fail to make maximum use of this rivalry.

What’s more, with the exception of Prime, and possibly Bumblebee, the Transformers themselves are reduced to nothing more than animated prop pieces spewing inane dialogue, obscenities, or silly soundbites which are intended to be comedic in nature.

It seems silly to be talking about characterization in a movie where half the cast is made up of talking cars, but the original’s Transformers had a lot of personality and heart, something that is sadly lacking in this film which instead chooses to focus almost exclusively on a clichéd love story between two humans, non-stop action, and enough hackneyed characterization to render it almost unwatchable. Is this a visually engaging movie? Absolutely, but without a solid story foundation behind it, Transformers Rise of the Fallen seems as lifeless and barren as Cybertron, and that’s a pity.


Retro-Review:Tales of the Vampires

June 26, 2009

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While it has nothing to do with previous editions of the “Tales of the Vampires” series published about the Buffy vampires by Dark Horse, this new one-shot is the kind of book that Dark Horse does very well. There are two covers as usual, but the unmistakable renderings by Brazilian superstar artists Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon is a gorgeous tribute to the visuals which adorned previous installments and is of course, my favorite of the two.

The story within the covers is not bad at all, centering around a guy named Jason whose life changes very little when he is turned into a vampire. We’ve seen this kind of story before but writer Becky Cloonan, who is best known for her manga work, takes the premise of a human flirting around dangerously with vampires and turns it into a moody, nuanced and introspective look at youth’s ongoing fascination with the undead.

If anyone has seen the Buffy episode where Buffy’s boyfriend Riley Finn allows vampires to feed on him because he was disturbed by Buffy’s lack of interest in him at the time, can see where some of the inspiration for this story comes from as Jason undergoes similar disturbing moments. Even though Buffy doesn’t appear in this comic (she isn’t supposed to as these are the tales of the vampires) the comic is supposed to adhere to regular Buffy continuity as this story takes place after Harmony’s reality show changes the public’s perceptions about vampires and slayers.

Dave Stewart does a fantastic job of coloring as usual, but Vasilis Lolos’ quirky artistic style, reminiscent of the Luna Brothers and other influences comes alive in this comic. Lolos of course ,worked with Ba, Moon and Cloonan before on the self published series “5.” I think when artists and writers reunite on a project they know each other so well and are so comfortable working together in the collaborative process that the end results are usually quite good.

I guess what I am saying is you should buy this comic. Next week we return to our regularly scheduled Buffy saga with issue #26.


The Return of Manhunter

June 23, 2009

manhunter…for me was the best part of last week’s new “Batman Streets of Gotham.” While there have been some major upheavals to the bat family since Batman’s death in “Final Crisis” #6, most notably the creation of the network and Dick Grayson taken up the mantle of Gotham’s protector, (again) I was more interested in Kate Spencer’s return and her relocation to Gotham as the city’s new D.A.

I have always been a huge fan of the character and while it is sad to see that Marc Andreyko’s brilliant creation has been reduced to back up status, at least nine pages is preferable to having her disappear from current DCU continuity entirely.

Kate’s move to Gotham is a logical transition for the character and while Los Angeles may have been a cool backdrop for her superheroic exploits, Gotham’s current state of chaos is ripe for storytelling possibilities. This back up feature in BSOG was rendered beautifully by the capable Georges Jeanty whose pencils regularly adorn the pages of Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer ongoing. Here,  Jeanty’s visuals are equally impressive setting the dark tone and mood needed to convey the desperation and utter hopelessness of the setting.

Also, while it is regrettable that we have been robbed of following the character in her own comic and therefore lost the cool cast of supporting characters like Dylan the techie, it is amazing to see how much Andreyko is able to pack into a short back up feature. Then again, I should not be surprised as he has always been a strong writer.

For example, The dialouge is impecabbly good, witness Kate’s exchange with Barbara Gordon or read over the poignant flashback scene where Kate says goodbye to her son upon taking the new job. Paul Dini gives us an enjoyable read in the main story which picks up from the events in the recent Battle for the Cowl mini-series, the only drawback for this comic was the hefty $3.99 price tag, but if Manhunter is going to be the regular back up feature on this title, it might be worth it, so sign me up and let Gotham’s criminals beware, Manhunter is back in business baby!


Summer chess league

June 21, 2009

Summer time, school’s out, that means local chess battles are raging in full. Time to come up with a defense to Mike’s “Monk” attacking maneuvers.

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