Tag: Reviews

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.

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks

Originally posted Brontoforumus, 2009-08-18.


Remembrance of the Daleks delivers what it promises: not just Daleks, but also remembrance. The Doctor travels back to 1963, to the same scrapyard where the series started, and throws out a slew of references to the earlier shows (including a delightful, R-rolling impression of Pertwee with "Now you listen to me, Brrrrrigadier! -- I mean, Group Captain.").

But it's less interesting for looking at what came before as what came after: in many ways, this serial is the template for the current series; all the coolest shit from Davies's run has seeds here. The Daleks have gained some rudimentary time-travel capabilities and set their sights on the Time Lords in the hopes of perfecting the technology; meanwhile, their use of humans continues, and their factioning and infighting continues.

But more than that, it's the Doctor's depiction here that leads directly into the 2005 series. When he executes his coup de grace, it's brutal, and he's utterly cold and remorseless. #7 was really the first You Do Not Fuck With the Doctor Doctor, and even though I still haven't read the original Human Nature novel, I have hit a moment of thinking, "Oh, well of course it was originally written for the Seventh Doctor." While the last few Dalek serials were marked with an increasingly annoying reluctance to violence on the Doctor's part, #7 has no such compunctions, and his actions here make it believable that he could bring himself to push that button, to annihilate his own planet and his entire race if that's what it took to destroy the Daleks.

And because of all that, it's quite a neat little serial -- not as good as Genesis or Revelation, but worth the $15 at Amazon (or $20 for the Special Edition, if that's your thing). Not a good one to start off with; it's worth checking out An Unearthly Child, some Third Doctor stuff (Green Death and Inferno, as mentioned earlier, are my favorites), and some other Davros serials (at least Genesis and Revelation) first, and you'll appreciate it more if you've seen the current series too.

Redboxin'

Caught a rather interesting and unlikely pair of movies last night: Beasts of the Southern Wild and Hotel Transylvania.

Beasts isn't like most movies, and it took me awhile to really hit a point where I could describe what I was seeing. But at the point where Hush Puppy finally comes face-to-face with the aurochses, it hit me: a movie about a little girl, with one parent missing and the other suffering from a vague illness, a watery disaster, strange beasts, strange houses, and strange modes of transportation? This is a live-action Miyazaki movie. I don't really give a shit about the Oscars, but it's nice to see this movie nominated for a few because the film, its director, its writers, and its stars deserve the recognition.

Hotel Transylvania is, of course, a thoroughly different animal, but I enjoyed it. The script was decent enough, Sandler and the other SNL vets' hammy performances suited the material, and, most notably, Tartakovsky managed to pull off some cool Tex Avery/Chuck Jones shit that you really don't see in a lot of CG films. It leads me to believe that he's just the right guy to take a stab at the Fleischer style in a Popeye movie.

Skyfallin'

The theme of Skyfall is the conflict between the old and the new. You can tell because every third line of dialogue reminds you of this.

I think the trouble is that the writers and director don't seem quite clear on what that premise actually means.

Spoilers follow.

Does Silver represent the new, because he is a computer hacker and a new kind of enemy? Or does he represent the old, because he's a Cold War-era agent who's gone rogue for reasons that are entirely tied to the way M has run MI6?

There's also the question of the contrast between the original Bond films and the Craig-era ones. This movie makes a big point of bringing back the trappings of the original films -- Moneypenny, Q, a 1960 Aston Marton with machine guns -- but it also makes a big point of how the original movies felt a lot more high-tech and futuristic than the current ones. (The gadgets Q gives Bond are "A radio and a gun -- not exactly Christmas, is it?") So which is the old and which is the new? And that's before you even get into the point that Craig's Bond, and Casino Royale as a whole, are throwbacks to Fleming's novels, the oldest version of Bond there is.

There's another conflict between the old and the not-quite-so-old: the last two Bond films seemed intent on introducing Quantum as the new, non-infringing version of SPECTRE, a shadowy organization that would pose a recurring threat through the rebooted franchise. And then, in Skyfall? No trace of Quantum at all. We're back to isolated, one-off villains -- perhaps because someone at the recovering-from-bankruptcy MGM realized that self-contained movies without recurring villains just make more sense for the film franchise. (Hell, even when the old films were using Blofeld as their go-to villain, they still had a different actor in the role every time; it may as well have been a different character.)

On the whole, though, it all hung together pretty well; I thoroughly enjoyed the first and third act. (The second act was stupid and had Magic Computers. I don't know where the writer picked up the phrase "security through obscurity", but apparently he missed the part where it is not an expression any security professional would ever use without sneering. The less said about the movie's idea of data encryption and depiction of code as a stupid-looking early-1990's wireframe screensaver the better.) But nonetheless, perfectly decent. Though I'm kinda glad I waited to see it at the cheap theater.

Doctor Who: Mark of the Rani

Originally posted on Brontoforumus, 2009-01-11, following up on my preceding review of Revelation of the Daleks:


You know, I thought Revelation of the Daleks was pretty good -- good enough that it makes me want to check out more Sixth Doctor episodes, which I hear is an emotion most people rarely feel.

Aaaaand Mark of the Rani has cured me of it.

The setting is interesting, and it's got the Master, and the Rani is a character with potential, but...it's pretty much terrible. At this point I want to punch Peri in the mouth every time she opens it (though this actually makes me kind of want to check out Trial of a Time Lord just to see her die).

The fact that this is regarded as one of the better Sixth Doctor serials goes a long way toward explaining why everyone hates the Sixth Doctor. Not worth buying, not worth renting, not even worth watching while drunk.

Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks

Originally posted Brontoforumus, 2009-01-06.


You know, I thought Revelation of the Daleks was pretty good -- good enough that it makes me want to check out more Sixth Doctor episodes, which I hear is an emotion most people rarely feel.

Probably the most interesting thing about it is that at this point the show had abandoned all pretense of being a kids' show -- while it doesn't have as high a bodycount as the previous Dalek arc, it's probably more violent, dark, and disturbing all around, with the most memorable scene being a woman searching for her father in a Ubik-like cryo-preservation center and finding his mutated head inside a Dalek armor. (Yeah, we've got Davros mutating humans into Daleks here -- a precursor to The Parting of the Ways.) That and every shot of Nicola Bryant's stockings or cleavage tend to prove the show was trying desperately to keep a now-teenage audience rather than acquire new viewers -- there's some parallel to be drawn between this and my frequent "How the comic industry is fucking itself" musings.

It veers off-course in places, with the first ep's cliffhanger resembling a game of Xanatos Roulette (even with cameras all over the place tracking the Doctor's every move, it's hard to figure how Davros knew Peri would see the Dalek and follow it to the Doctor's fake memorial), and the Doctor's broken pocketwatch feels a lot like an unfired Chekhov's Gun -- maybe it's covered in Trial of a Time Lord (I have very little interest in finding out; if Douglas Adams and Tom Baker couldn't get me to watch a season-long arc, I really don't see doing it for one that everybody seems to hate), or maybe it's just a way of destroying a deus ex machina like they did with the Sonic Screwdriver during the Davison era.

The biggest problem with the serial was the same as in the only other Sixth Doctor serial I've seen to date, Vengeance on Varos: the Doctor and Peri don't really do anything, and the story would transpire pretty much the same without them. Peri's got a good emotional moment in the first ep that is largely ruined by her "Where the fuck is she supposed to be from?" accent; she sounds more like a real person in the second half but overacts to the point of obnoxiousness. #6 has a few good lines and makes me want to see more of him, but again, he doesn't really do anything.

Far and away my favorite part is the utterly nonsensical and downright surreal appearance of comedian Alexei Sayle as the DJ (everyone, including the supposedly-American Peri, pronounces his name that way, with the accent on the "J"). He has fuck-all to do with the story, and shows up a few times in the first ep to speckle the fourth wall and impersonate Elvis; in the second ep, he kills several Daleks with a beam of pure rock'n'roll. It's a very clear example of a celebrity guest star awkwardly shoehorned into a script, yet as far as I'm concerned, the result is completely awesome.

Other thoughts: the Daleks do not actually seem like a race that would have courts and trials. (This plays into the opening of the 1996 TV movie, which piles on the additional questions of what the Master was doing there, why the Time Lords apparently sanctioned the Daleks' brand of justice, and why the Daleks let the Doctor show up on Skaro to collect the remains.)

Anyway! Best Dalek story I've seen in a long time, better than Resurrection, Destiny, or either of their very bad appearances in the past two years. I'd say it's worth a rental, but it's not that damn much more to buy it -- nobody loves the Sixth Doctor.