Tag: Reviews

The Thing About Grimm

You know, I like Grimm, mostly. I like its oddball setting and I love its supporting cast.

But it's got the Star Wars problem: the dullest, most tedious, least charismatic person on the show just so happens to be the main character.

Actually, the two dullest, most tedious, least charismatic people on the show are the main character and his girlfriend.

So really that makes it more like Episodes 2 and 3, I guess.

They've spent, what, twenty episodes now on this fucking amnesia plot? But they forgot the part about giving it any kind of stakes or giving me any reason to give a fuck. Oh no, Juliette might leave Nick? Oh no! Because I am so emotionally invested in their characters and their relationship!

She can leave on a bus or get hit by a bus for all I care, and take Nick with her. I'd watch the hell out of a show that made Hank or Wu or even Captain Renard the main character. And if Monroe and Rosalee were the leads? ... honestly, why aren't they? There's a couple I've developed some genuine affection for.

That one the other week where Nick, Hank, Rosalee, Monroe, and Bud all pulled off a caper together was really Grimm at its best, for reasons Les Chappell at AV Club pretty much nailed. The show diverts itself from the monster-of-the-week formula for a bit to acknowledge that oh yeah it's already got a whole bunch of monster races to work with already, and it ropes in most of the best members of the supporting cast to generally be charming and clever. Even Nick is pretty inoffensive, and Juliette...well, Juliette is barely in the episode, which I guess also counts as a win.

I really like parts of the show. I just wish they wouldn't pad them out with so much bullshit.

Minty Fresh

I've been giving Linux Mint a shot.

Now, OpenSUSE is still my primary distro (for now -- more on that in a minute), but I've kept my old Kubuntu drive onhand, originally because I've got OpenSUSE on a 128GB SSD and could use another drive with some extra storage, but over time I also learned how useful it is to have a second Linux distribution installed for those times OpenSUSE craps out. (More on that in a minute.)

So when I swapped in a new drive, I put Mint on it, as that's a rapidly growing distro and the one a lot of disgruntled users seem to be checking out since the releases of Unity and GNOME 3.

My first reaction is that the default installation looks pretty and clean. 'Cept maybe the menu, which is too busy.

And my next reaction is that there's a pretty good complement of programs installed...up until I open the terminal and find that vim is not included. Yes, I realize it only takes a minute to install, but I'm one of those guys who is immediately suspicious of any distro that doesn't come with vim out of the box.

My next reaction is my usual complaint about GNOME: it's just not configurable enough, and the various configuration options are spread across too many different places.

You can choose themes in five separate categories -- Cinnamon Themes, Window Themes, Cursor Themes, Icon Themes, and GTK+ themes -- and you can mix and match among those, which is good. But I don't see anything as simple as a color chooser. Your colors are determined by your themes. Want your panel to have a widget style like Nightlife but a blue highlight on the active program like in Blanka Teal? Tough; can't be done. Want to use Adwaita for the window theme but not want the active titlebar to be the same fucking color as inactive title bars? Can't do that either; if you're going to want a colored titlebar you're going to have to go with one of the more oldschool/minimalist window styles like Atlanta or Metabox. (Or hunt for themes online, a thing which I don't really ever do because I find them almost uniformly to be worse than the ones bundled with the DE.) For extra kicks, you can combine the Mint-X GTK+ theme with the Atlanta, Bright, Metabox, or Simple window themes and get a color scheme where the active window title text is white and inactive windows' title text is black.

Oh, and there's also a "keybinding theme" under themes, which is bullshit because keybindings are not fucking themes. This unfortunately seems to be a trend in Mint/Cinnamon -- cramming shit sideways into categories it doesn't really belong in because the designers apparently can't figure out where else to put it. Want to make Mint stop playing a sound at startup? It's under Login Window -> Accessibility. Yes I had to fucking look it up.

Special Bonus: Login Window is one of many settings that does not appear under either the Cinnamon Settings or System Settings panel. Why the fuck are there two different control panels that between them still don't have an exhaustive list of configuration options? Who the fuck knows. That's rhetorical, by the way; I'm sure if I asked some GNOME developer would be happy to point to the usability study that demonstrates this is an awesome fucking idea and anyone who complains about it is objectively wrong and just hates change.

Though speaking of hating change, if you want your taskbar to look exactly like Windows 98-XP's, then Mint is the distro for you. Menu in the lower left, Show Desktop button, QuickLaunch bar, list of open programs, system tray.

Prefer to move it to the top, or change it to a GNOME 2-style top-and-bottom split? Totally doable.

Want to stick it on the left- or righthand side of your screen because oh, I don't know, you bought your computer monitor sometime in the last five fucking years and it has a 16:9 or 16:10 screen ratio? Too fucking bad; you're going to have to find a third-party panel if you want some of that action.

And I think that's my biggest gripe about Cinnamon: the stated goal of the project is to make GNOME 3 behave like GNOME 2. Which is fine if you liked GNOME 2, I guess, but it's ultimately subject to the same sort of design philosophy that users shouldn't have too many choices in how their computers look, feel, and behave (and many of the choices they do have should be hidden in bizarre, inexplicable, inconsistent places).

That's why I'm still a KDE guy -- and it's also why I was still a KDE3 guy for years after the release of KDE4. (4 still hasn't caught up to 3 in some obvious and fundamental ways -- really simple shit like being able to drag a launcher from the menu to the panel. And I'll hand that much to Cinammon: it does that, which puts it ahead of KDE in at least one respect.)

And while I was easily able to find a widget to switch between workspaces, it only has 2 by default, and I can't find anywhere to change it to 4. Maybe it's in there somewhere, or maybe it's not because of Cinnamon's GNOME 3 underpinnings -- I remember that GNOME 3 has an arbitrary number of workspaces, starts with one and adds more as you drag programs to them.

I did see an interface where I could drag a window to another desktop -- repeatedly and accidentally, until I turned off the hot corner. Have I mentioned yet that I fucking hate hot corners? I've got this thing about interface elements that appear by accident, when I'm trying to do something else.

I could probably set up a hotkey to bring up that screen without using a hot corner, and I expect it'd be useful -- and maybe give me some clues on how to have more than 2 desktops. I'll look into it. But binding it to a keypress is not in the same control panel as setting it to a hot corner, and I'm going to have to look up where to find it.

Oh and also the package manager is both slow and hideous.

Anyhow, well, I've been spending rather a lot of time with Mint, mostly because I broke OpenSUSE. It started with an nVidia driver update, but after I reinstalled my kernel it turned into a kernel/init/systemd problem. It's been frustrating as fuck and ate up pretty much my entire weekend. Eventually I just decided to reinstall outright -- and I'll tell that story tomorrow.

Whatever happens, I'll keep Mint around as a backup boot. But the way it is, I couldn't use it as my primary OS -- not without installing KDE on it, at least.

This Week on "Nobody Involved with Bones Gives a Fuck Whether Computers Behave in a Remotely Rational or Coherent Fashion"...

...somebody gets an E-Mail -- "probably spam" -- and it allows Angela to decrypt every encrypted E-Mail she's ever gotten.

This somehow manages to be the stupidest thing in an episode about a mutant virus injected into a blogger with a microneedle that, still attached to her skeleton, then manages to jab one of the interns and infect him too.

Well maybe next week's episode will be less stupid.

...wait. Season finale? Fuck. That means another Pelant episode.

Well, maybe they'll finally just fucking shoot him and next season's premiere will be less stupid.

Wilkinson Sword Razors

So I was in the Wal-Mart the other day (a place I hope to spend less time now that I have a job again) and noticed they had double-edged razors priced ten for $1.76. It was a brand I hadn't tried yet, Wilkinson Sword, but that's about the lowest price I've ever seen on razors so I picked up a pack.

They're pretty good! I've been using them for two weeks now and I'd say they're not quite as good as Bic (still my favorite) but are as good as most other brands I've tried. Perfectly decent shave, only the occasional nick, and you can't beat that price. Recommended.

Saga: Sexy, Funny, Thrilling, and Sad

Spoilers for Saga #11 follow.

When I first opened Saga #11, I was sitting in the lobby of Big-O Tires waiting for an oil change.

And I was like Wow, that sure is a giant splash page of two people fucking right on the first page.

So I quickly flipped to the next page. And on page two, it was naked people talking about how they'd just finished fucking.

So yeah it wasn't a very good comic to be reading in public so I put it back in my bag and read Bravest Warriors instead.

But when I did get around to reading Saga, in the privacy of my own home, it was a legitimately great comic.

First of all, that sex scene? Pretty hot. Not just because of the graphic first page (not the most graphic thing Fiona Staples has shown us in the book to date), but because of the banter afterward. Alana acknowledging she lost control, with a few choice dirty words -- it's a side of her we haven't seen before, and it's sexy.

But it's also funny. Vaughan's good at witty dialogue -- and it bears adding that these characters have their own voice. There may be a whiff of Y in the deadpan lines that make me chuckle, but it doesn't feel like Yorick Brown arguing with Agent 355 and Dr. Mann. It's most definitely Alana and Marko talking -- it feels easy and natural from these two warrior fugitives in love.

But that's a flashback. Specifically, to Hazel's conception. Back in the present, we pick up at last month's cliffhanger: the Will has found the fugitives, there's a hatching baby Timesuck about to wipe out both ships, and the Will's ship's hull's been breached and Lying Cat's been sucked out into space. The end of last issue strongly implied Lying Cat was dead, but it was a fakeout; the Will is having none of it. He leaps out into space without a suit, saves Lying Cat, and gets the fuck out of Dodge. It's the strongest Fuck Yeah! moment in the issue; the Will lives up to his name and rescues a beloved character, Hazel's narration and the laws of physics be damned.

But while the Will's party makes it out unscathed, Marko's doesn't.

Marko's mother urges him to take the crash helms and teleport out with Alana and Hazel. Marko instead throws them into the ship's reactor, thinking that this way his parents won't have to sacrifice themselves. He's half-right.

It turns out the peaceful, pastoral image of Marko's father threading flowers on the cover is foreshadowing -- because he doesn't make it out. He uses the last of his strength casting a spell to hold the ship together. And, barring any further unreliable-narrator shenanigans from Hazel, he's really gone. We've known it was coming for months, but we didn't know it would be so soon.

This book, man.

I'm not sure when the last time was that I read a comic that put me through this wide a gamut of emotions -- quite possibly The Love Bunglers. Vaughan and Staples sing here; it may be the best issue yet of what's already become one of my favorite series.

If you're not checking out Saga -- and you read this far down anyway -- give it a look. #1 is free on Comixology.

And if you dig Brian K Vaughan, check out The Private Eye, his new DRM-free, pay-what-you-want comic with Marcos Martin on art.

Messiah Controllers

So what am I playing Zelda 2 with?

I'm using a Messiah wireless NES controller.

Remember Messiah? They put out the Generation NEX NES clone a few years back. It was a much-hyped, slick-looking system back in 2005, and promised built-in wireless, dual-mono audio output, and full compatibility with both NES and Famicom games and accessories.

And then it came out and turned out to be running the same damn crummy third-rate NES-on-a-chip as every other Chinese clone.

And so Messiah faded into obscurity.

Which is a pity, because despite the disappointing guts of the NEX, Messiah made some damn solid controllers. And while the NEX had a built-in wireless receiver, you can also use them on a legit NES with a dongle. (The gamepads, anyway; from what I understand the joystick doesn't work with a real NES. Don't know, never got one.)

The controller works well. It's solid and has a good weight to it; the buttons have a good response even if they're a little clicky.

The disc-shaped D-pad is a little weird but I haven't had any real trouble using it to play Zelda 2 -- I have a bitch of a time fighting Ironknuckles, but I don't think that's the controller's fault. I can see it being a problem on something that requires more four-direction precision, though.

It really is a pretty neat device and well worth the $50 Amazon's charging for a pair. (I got the Limited Edition set, which I see is now going for $175 used. I'm tempted to snatch up that $50 set and sell my limited set, but I do like the metal lunchbox.)

I'm kinda disappointed I never got the SNES set, because you can't get those anymore, but I'm seeing good reviews on the SuperRetro wireless SNES controllers. And they have good old-fashioned plus-sign D-pads, too, not discs.

Kind of a moot point, really; the state of SNES emulation and the now-standard design of its controller have meant I haven't hooked mine up in years.

Books I'm Dropping

I observed, last month, that while I think Scott Snyder is an immensely talented writer and really gets Batman, his two major arcs up to this point really haven't been for me.

I decided to give him one more shot, that #18 would be make-or-break for me.

Well, the good news is, #18 really is pretty great. It brings back Harper Row, the main character from issue #7, my single favorite issue of the new series. #18 isn't quite as good as that one (among other things it lacks Becky Cloonan -- though Alex Maleev's work is fantastic and obviously Andy Kubert is no slouch), but it's a good solid continuation of Harper's story, and gives us a good street-level view of Batman freaking the fuck out following Damian's death.

There's fan speculation at this point that Harper is going to become the new Robin. That would certainly fit what happens in this story, and I wouldn't mind it -- but I'd much rather she stay Just a Regular Person. I've said before, often, that my favorite superhero stories are the man-on-the-street ones -- Ditko's Just a Guy Named Joe, Harmon and Jones's To Serve and Protect, Busiek and Ross's Marvels, Busiek and Anderson (and Ross)'s Astro City. I love supporting characters in the Bat-verse like Leslie Tompkins, or the guy who fixes up the Batmobile, or the lady who builds the supervillains' lairs. I would love for Harper to stay another one of those -- an ordinary person leading a relatively ordinary life that occasionally and extraordinarily intersects with Batman's. That, for me, is her ideal role.

But if she becomes Robin, I'd be down with that too.

(Course, I also won't rule out Damian coming back. This is comics. And it's not like Morrison's never done the "bring everybody back to life in his last issue" trick before.)

But now for the bad news:

If Batman #18 was the book that convinced me to stick with the Snyder/Capullo run, the news that #21-#31 are going to retell the origin story is probably going to convince me not to.

Origin Stories Forever!
Image via CollegeHumor.
This fucking thing was on the inside cover of every DC comic a few months ago.
Apparently without any intention of irony.

I am not spending forty-four dollars reading Batman's fucking origin story again.

Like every sentient human being in the galaxy, I already know Batman's origin story. I've seen it. I've seen the Finger/Kane/Moldoff version. I've seen the Burton version. I've seen the Timm/Burnett/Gilroy/Derek/Kirkland version. I've seen the Miller/Mazzucchelli version. I've seen the Nolan version. I've seen the Tucker/Jelenic/Vietti/Beechen version. I've seen Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, and various Kuberts take a crack at it. I've seen the Liu/Montgomery adaptation of the Miller/Mazzucchelli version. I haven't seen the Johns/Frank version. And I've got zero damn interest in the Snyder/Capullo version.

Look. I love Batman. And I love his origin story. It's a classic bit of comics history, it's one of the key elements to his story, and it's one of the reasons he's endured as an American icon for lo these 74 years.

But enough is e-goddamn-nough. Give it a rest. Tell some new stories.

Finger, Kane, and Moldoff told Batman's origin in a page and a half. There is no good damn reason to stretch it out to eleven issues at four bucks a pop.

I'm sick of the fucking relaunches, rehashes, reboots, retcons, repetition, and various other words beginning with "re".

I'm the biggest damn Batman fan I know. And I'm sick of this crap.

I'll probably read #19 and #20. And I'll probably stick with Inc as long as Morrison's writing, and maybe Detective as long as Layman's writing. But there's every chance I'll be a non-Batman reader before the year is out.


Also, I think I'm done with Animal Man. I finished the latest issue, did some reflecting, realized I genuinely did not give a fuck about anything that had happened in this issue or any issue since Travel Foreman left the series, shrugged, and decided that's another three bucks a month I could stand to spend on something else instead. Like air conditioning. It's supposed to be 94 degrees today. It is the middle of March.

This is really a pity, as Animal Man was absolutely the best comic out of the New 52. But that Rotworld shit went on way past its shelf life.

And here we hit the central problem, I think, with comics marketing for the past couple of decades: things like crossovers and reboots do sell -- but their popularity is unsustainable. Today's sales through cheap gimmicks come at the expense of tomorrow's sales through loyalty, goodwill, and repeat business.

The good news is, there's so much great shit out there right now from publishers who aren't DC or Marvel.

Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang

Originally posted Brontoforumus, 2009-12-05.


The Talons of Weng-Chiang is commonly referenced as a fan-favorite episode, so I gave it a look. It probably didn't live up to the hype, but it was still pretty good. It's a Fourth Doctor/Leela story in Victorian England, where they face off against the eponymous villain, who's a gestalt of Fu Manchu, Jack the Ripper, Dracula, and the Phantom of the Opera. The Doctor plays a Sherlock Holmes-y role.

It's got a great setting, sets, and costumes, good characters, and fantastic Fourth Doctor dialogue. The main thing working against it is its stereotypical portrayal of the Chinese -- some of this, like comments made by the English characters, is simply an accurate portrayal of the time the story's set in, but the character of Li H'sen Chang, played by an Anglo in heavy makeup, is damned awkward.

Those blemishes aside, it's a great story, with nice visuals and writing, and one of the Fourth Doctor's best, which is to say one of the series' best.

The special edition is currently $25 at Amazon, while the non-special edition has inexplicably shot up from $15 to $28.14. $25 seems a bit much; I'd suggest waiting for a sale or for it to become available for streaming.


Aaaand I think that's the last of my old Who reviews. Guess I'll have to find something else for my phoned-in posts when I can't come up with anything new to write. Course, I've written plenty else over at the forums over the years that I'm sure I can plunder.

Riddle Me This: When is a Spoiler Not a Spoiler?

When it's on the damn cover.

Robin, RIP

"Spoilers" follow. If, you know, you looked at that cover and found yourself scratching your head wondering what could possibly happen in this comic.

As I may have mentioned once or twice last week, I've been laid-up with a cold. I wasn't up to leaving the house for comics last Wednesday. I knew there was some big "One of these characters will die!" thing going on in Batman Inc #8, that comics sites like Bleeding Cool were filling their headlines full of spoiler warnings, and that non-comics media outlets like the New York Post were blithely covering it with no such concern for spoiler warnings.

And then, on Thursday, one day after the issue hit, I ran across a headline on Robot 6 that spelled it out. I was pretty pissed-off at the breach of etiquette.

Up until I finally made it into the comic shop yesterday and actually saw the issue in question.

At which point I realized that yes, all this spoiler-warning nonsense really was nonsense. It's not a spoiler if it's on the damn cover.

The issue itself wasn't bad. Had some good moments; I particularly like Damian telling Dick he was his favorite partner.

The ending -- well, there are some fantastic reaction shots of both Batman and Talia, but ultimately the whole thing actually felt a little anticlimactic considering how much it'd been built up.

Plus, it's comics. Odds he'll actually stay dead? There is a comic book called Batman and Robin. To the best of my knowledge, it is not being cancelled. I suppose they could make Tim Robin again, or there could be some other Robin, but...well, I'm pretty sure Damian's going to get better. Lazarus Pits may be involved.

(There's also the point that the cover is based on one from the Batman: RIP arc a few years back. Batman, of course, also did not actually die. And "RIP" turned out to stand for "Rot in Purgatory". Which, I guess to be fair, is an apt way to describe all the benched DC characters.)

Doctor Who: Kinda

Still pretty out of it with a head cold, so here's another old Who review. Originally posted Brontoforumus, 2009-09-07.


Kinda (the first syllable is pronounced like "kin") is a Fifth Doctor serial. I checked it out because I read on Tardis Wikia that it's one of Moffat's two favorite serials. After watching it, I don't quite share his enthusiasm, but I understand why he likes it.

The high concept is Dr. Strangelove set in the Garden of Eden. The Doctor lands on an unspoiled planet with apparently-primitive natives, and finds a military expedition sent to survey it. The second-in-command of the crew goes crazy, takes over, and decides he's going to blow up the world, while an evil entity enters the world through Teagan's dreams and launches an attack to force his hand.

The highlight is that dreaming sequence. It's some Lewis Carroll fever-dream shit, and precisely the kind of thing you'd expect from a Moffat episode. The other Moffat-y bits are the sense of confinement, of an oncoming and implacable enemy, and of a crew going crazy, as well as characters who speak in riddles. And lots of iconic imagery.

In the end, my main problem with Kinda is that I just don't like the Fifth Doctor very much. He's got this air of helplessness and incompetence about him. During several of the sequences where he's at Hindle's mercy, I found myself thinking, "#3 would have just judo-chopped the motherfucker."

The last episode of the serial has the most straightforward story, and suffers from it. The final confrontations with the antagonists are somewhat anticlimactic. The ending does redeem itself a bit by being one of those nice oldschool short-and-sweet Who goodbye scenes that is utterly unheard of in the RTD era.

Ultimately, there are some great damn ideas in Kinda, and it's a perfectly solid serial, but I certainly wouldn't call it one of the best. Worth a rental if you're still getting discs from Netflix, but it's not available for streaming and I wouldn't pay the $20 Amazon is charging for it.