Monthly Archives: October 2013

Review: Batman: The Long Halloween plus Special Giveaway

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With Halloween just a few days away, I thought it’d be a good time to take a look back at Batman: The Long Halloween.  Written by Jeph Loeb with art by Tim Sale, this is a classic Batman story with film noir feel.  Loeb crafts a masterful mix of hardboiled crime, mystery, and superheroes without making any of these elements feel like they are out of place. Yet despite this expert craftsmanship, there are things in this book that could do with some improvement.

Batman: The Long Halloween was originally printed in thirteen monthly issues, starting in October 1996, and wrapping up the following October.  The story follows Batman as he attempts to discover the identity of Holiday, a murderer who is killing members of Gotham’s crime families on holidays, starting with the murder of Johnny Viti, nephew of mafioso Carmine Falcone, on Halloween.  Thus begins a yearlong hunt by Batman, Captain Jim Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent.  The story takes some wonderful twists and turns as the year progresses, which leads to its eventual conclusion. The final twist is good enough that I won’t spoil it for you, but rest assured that it is one of the better ones I’ve seen in quite a while.

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Archie Goodwin

By far the best part of this book was Jeph Loeb’s story telling.  In the forward to the edition I own, Loeb says that much of the credit for the book goes to Archie Goodwin, former editor of DC, for pushing Loeb to tell a noir story about the Gotham crime families set in the Batman: Year One time period.  If this is true, and I have no reason to doubt that it is, Loeb took a good idea and ran with it as hard and fast as he could.

The characterizations of rival gangsters Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni is fantastic. Both men see themselves as legitimate business men and try to conduct themselves as such when in public. They often attend events together and quietly trade barbs even as they rage and plot against each other behind closed doors.  Not only are these characters fully fleshed out, but so are the secondary characters that surround them. The only real issue with this is that at times it feels like a few plot points are being taken right from The Godfather.  For instance, the opening scene at a wedding and the inclusion of a son who is not involved in the family “business”.  While these points take different turns in Long Halloween than they do in The Godfather, I do wish that Loeb had taken the opportunity to write new, fresh material, instead of borrowing from the most well-known Mafia story that exists.

More than a little borrowing from The Godfather.

More than a little borrowing from The Godfather.

Not only is The Long Halloween a good noir crime story, it is also a solid Batman story. Long Halloween has my two favorite elements of a Batman comic:  plenty of costumed villains and Batman showing off his investigative abilities.  Batman has always been known as “the detective,”—which is fitting given the fact that he first appeared in Detective Comics—and he is always at his best when he is fulfilling that role.  The mystery portion of Long Halloween provides a great opportunity for Batman to test his skills as a detective.  While the story doesn’t focus much on this aspect, it is still constantly there, most often expressed through Bruce’s inner monologue.

Of course, what would a Batman story be without his usual cast of costumed adversaries? For my money, no one beats out Batman for the best rogues gallery (That includes Flash.  Deal with it.), and Long Halloween has no shortage of them. Almost every major Batman villain gets at least a cameo at some point and others play a much more leading role.

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Batman’s Rogues

As always, the Joker is present and is more a force of chaos than anything else. He is as clueless about the identity of Holiday as everyone else is, but figures that by killing everyone at a New Year’s Eve celebration in Gotham Square he stands a pretty good chance to taking Holiday out. Joker isn’t too fond of the competition for Gotham’s craziest citizen.

By far the most interesting of the villains is Catwoman. Loeb takes full advantage of the Year One setting and really takes the time to explore the beginnings of this complex relationship.  While Bruce is obviously involved with Selina Kyle, Batman has a back and forth with Catwoman which frequently mirrors the interactions between Bruce and Selina. We know that eventually Batman figures out that Catwoman and Selina are the same person, but at least for now it’s really quite interesting watching these two interact, completely unaware of who the other is.

A great example of Tim Sale's two page spreads.

A great example of Tim Sale’s two page spreads.

We all knew this was coming.

We all knew this was coming.

My biggest complaint when it comes to the story involves Harvey Dent. The origin of Two-Face is one of the most over told origin stories in the Batman franchise and at this point, I can really do without another retelling.  Admittedly this was written in 1996 and at the time it might not have been so over used, but unfortunately it is now 2013 and the story is played out. Yes, it would have required some things to be done differently, but I feel that showing the darkness in Harvey and using it to foreshadow what we all know to be inevitable would have been far more powerful.  It is also odd to me that they always seem to shoehorn his transformation in very near the end of a story.  In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight we also see the transformation of Dent, and like Long Halloween it is very near the end of the story.  Creators do this otherwise well written origin a disservice by rushing through and not allowing it to fully develop.

When it comes to Tim Sale’s art, I find it to be hit and miss.  Sale is a very talented artist, and this story provides several opportunities for him to show off.  There are plenty of spectacular double page spreads that really enhance the story.  I’m also quite fond of the murder scenes which are done in black and grey, except for the blood and the holiday themed trinket that is left behind (not always in color, but it looks better when they are).  While I’m not overly thrilled with the choice of color palette, I freely admit it works with the story and doesn’t take anything away.

Sofia Falcone

Sofia Falcone

There are two areas where I find the art falling short. First is some of Sale’s women. When Sale wants to make a woman look beautiful, like Selina Kyle, then he succeeds with flying colors, making them truly appealing. On the other hand, when Sale attempts to make a woman look ugly or unattractive they just look poorly drawn. Sofia Falcone, daughter of Carmine, more often looks like a poorly depicted drag queen than a woman.  I found it distracting and it removed me from the story several times.

My second issue is the inking. Since there is no separate artist listed as inker, one can only assume that Sale was inking his own work.  I think that Sale was attempting to use ink to convey a noir feeling, but there are many examples where he takes it too far and the panel becomes confusing.  Several times it took far too long for me to figure out what was going on panel to panel when there was no dialogue to help guide the story.  Really great art should be able to tell the story easily, without dialogue or narration.

Even with its shortcomings, I would highly recommend Batman: The Long Halloween. It’s a great noir story with superheroes mixed in. While Loeb and Sale have teamed up on other Batman works, this is still the strongest of their partnerships.  With this in mind, I’m pleased to announce that we will be giving away an Absolute Edition of Batman: The Long Halloween. The contest begins, rather fittingly, on Halloween (October 31) 2013 and ends at 11:59 pm EDT on Sunday November 3, 2013. See below for entry rules and good luck.

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That’s right, we’re giving this away!

RULES: Please read the rules for entry carefully.

1)      Entry is easy:  simply comment on this post! Comments must be of some substance. This means no one word posts or gibberish.

2)      Unfortunately, entries can only be accepted from persons living in the United States.

3)      The winner will be chosen at random from all eligible entries and announced on November 4, 2013. Every effort will be made to contact the winning party before the public announcement. The winner will need to provide an address where the prize can be shipped. (However, this should not be included in the comment.)

4)      If it is determined that the winner is ineligible (not living in the United States, etc) then a new winner will be chosen at random, and contacted.

5)      Failure to comply with the rules listed will result in an ineligible entry.

6)      Final determination of eligibility will be done solely by the staff of Therefore I Geek.

7)      Seriously, get out there and enter! This is an awesome prize.

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Filed under Andrew Hales, Comic Reviews, Comics, Giveaway

Winning Science October 29, 2013

Ever wonder why it always seems that your awesome smartphone or computer starts to fall apart right about the same time that the manufacturer announces a brand new model? If the answer is yes, then you are not alone. The New York Times’ Technology section attempts to tackle this mystery. It turns out there is a very fine line between making a quality product that everyone loves and “planned obsolescence”. Stray a bit too far either way and your bottom line will be taking a considerable hit.

apple-logoIt’s reassuring to know that I’m not losing my mind when I notice these things.

The US Navy’s newest destroyer, the USS Zumwalt, has made its way into the water finally. The Zumwalt, named for former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., is significantly larger than its predecessor but requires a much smaller crew. While technologically advanced, the design program met with considerable problems and cost a lot more than the original budget, much in the way the earlier Seawolf Class Fast Attack Submarines did. Also like Seawolf,  the program was cut down to just three ships.

www.sinodefenceforum.comThe Zumwalt boasts advanced radar systems, a new 155mm gun, an electric propulsion system, significant computer automation, and a stealth hull.

Popular Science finally answers a question I’ve always had about the Apollo missions. What happened to Apollo 2 and 3? We all know about the tragic fire on Apollo 1 and the investigation that followed, but what happened to the next two missions? As it turns out, they never happened. Each of the Saturn rockets to be used was assigned to a mission, and so Apollo 2 and 3’s rockets were never used, due to the massive redesigns following the fire. With the introduction of the new and improved Saturn rockets, the mission number was maintained and the next unmanned Apollo flight became Apollo 4.

en.wikipedia.orgApollo 4, 5, and 6 were all unmanned test missions that were conducted prior to resuming manned missions with Apollo 7.

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Around the Web October 28, 2013

Sad news this week for fans of The Simpsons.  Actress Marcia Wallace died due to complications from pneumonia . Wallace is best known for her work as teacher Edna Krabappel. It’s sad to see a beloved voice actress die; even more so when they’ve been involved on a show for as long as Marcia Wallace has. I always enjoyed Ms. Krabappel’s snide comments about nearly everything.

mrs-edna-krabappelIn a fitting tribute, Fox has announced that the character will be retired, much like they did with Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz when Phil Hartman died.

For those of you who missed it, the first trailer for Captain America: Winter Soldier is out and it looks fantastic. I’m a fan of Chris Evans as Cap, and I’m looking forward to their expanding his story, especially in modern times. The inclusion of Falcon should be interesting.  I’m also excited to see more of Cap kicking ass.

And remember, kids, 60% of all S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarriers crash!

Finally, an new article from IGN regarding the future of the Final Fantasy franchise. Unfortunately for me it looks as thought they are moving further and further away from the game mechanics that I enjoy most, namely the combat system. I can understand that they want to keep the games competitive and fresh, but I really preferred the older systems.

ukeofcarl.comGuess I’ll just have to stick with the classic to get my kicks.

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Guest Blog | Dark Souls II “pre-review”

March 11th (14th for Europe and Australasia), the release date for Dark Souls 2, is going to be a magical day for the Dark Souls Community.  All the information we’ve seen from the network test/beta points to one great experience!  The fans exhibited much wailing and gnashing of teeth when Miyazaki was removed and Yutanimura was assigned as Director of the project.  However, it seems that all of this has been met with aplomb.

So far it would appear that the things the fans were worried about, such as difficulty and sparse storytelling of the previous games, have been honored.  It looks like From Software will be offering us some great improvements to basic mechanics.  Most of the rumors have been gleaned from some of the still-strong contributors to all things Souls related.  (Many thanks to Epic Name, Bro!, VaatiVidya, Rurikahn, and many others for digging up info as it has been released and staring at videos trying to find the details that give clues as to what’s in store; and to NamcoBandai for reaching out proactively to the DS Community.)  Here is a recap of all the goodies we’ve heard so far—from some old ones from E3 back in the summer to some more recent videos.  There are so many excellent tweaks and cool changes to mention!

In both the original game and DS2 when a character dies as a human, he goes hollow.  In the new game, Humanity has been removed and replaced with Human Effigies to restore a hollow back to human.  The players are encouraged to do this because if they die as a hollow, the character permanently loses a percentage of his hit points.  Also, in a brilliant move to fix what could be considered a broken mechanic, staying in hollow form no longer prevents invasions!  As long as the game is connected to the network, any game can be invaded at any time.  In the original Dark Souls, as long as a player stayed hollow, he or she could essentially play the game unmolested by anything but the environment, which really killed what I consider the defining feature of the Souls games:  the passive multiplayer aspect.

In Dark Souls, white soapstone “summoning signs” allow other players to alert other players that they are available to come help defeat particularly difficult levels.  In an interesting fix to heavy multiplayer styles of play, there will now be two sizes of soapstone summoning signs.  White phantoms will only last a set amount of time and that time will be shortened with each kill the white phantom makes.  Large soapstone signs will last longer than small ones. I hope this limitation of friendly help will put a bit more pressure on those who want to be carried through levels by more powerful friends. On some recent gameplay videos I’ve watched, the white soapstones were each infinite, but I presume when the game releases, the small white soapstones will be found more often than the large white soapstones and the infinite feature will ultimately be removed.  Additionally, summoned phantoms have a health bar displayed on the screen for easy reference.  No longer will the player have to turn the camera to see how close to death his buddies are.

Hopefully, this fix will also alleviate ganking.  Too many times have I run through the Forest in Dark Souls only to be jumped by a trio of over-powered players who get off on unfair fights.

One of the big changes from Demon’s Souls to Dark Souls was the Covenants.  These gave players an option to join a club of sorts to gain certain advantages or abilities.  I am personally really excited about the way Covenants are being addressed in this second installment.  When I first started playing Dark Souls, I was really interested in the covenants and how they might affect the style of game play a person uses.  I especially liked the idea of the Gravelord Covenant in Dark Souls, but early play really wasn’t affected.  It wasn’t until after a couple patches and some testing by players did we finally learn how to use it.  By then, though, the charm of most covenants had passed and what really could have been a major twelfth man on anyone’s team just ended up being a means to get exclusive miracles, armor, or other things that really didn’t affect game play in a major way.

Dark Souls 2 seems be handling this flaw in a promising move.  The big leaked covenant is the Way of Blue—possibly a working name—which, when joined, causes a blue phantom to automatically be summoned when the game is invaded.  This could mean one of two things: either entering this covenant allows the advantage of summoning another player as a guardian and, in turn, are volunteering your assistance to other players, or that there is a sister covenant which will allow for this mechanic to be separated.  In other words, one covenant will always get help and the other will always be the one helping.  As for other covenants, no other rumors have surfaced; however, the equivalent to the Darkwraiths, from Dark Souls, has been confirmed.  That’s a no-brainer, though, no Souls game will be complete without a way to actively invade other players so this is not news to anyone who plays Dark Souls and loves to invade others.  Invaders will also be able to heal mid-invasion by using the Estus Flask while trying to kill.  This is an interesting detail added to the game.  I see a lot of really cool possibilities for the Covenants and cannot wait to see what From Software has cooked up.

Epic Name Bro has found some other changes while looking through the menus, including a bunch of different stat associations:

  • Casting speed is now increased by Attunement instead of Dexterity—a much more logical change separating Dex builds from Int builds.
  • Magic and Fire are made more potent by Intelligence.  Along these lines, it is interesting to note that fire spells aren’t called “pyromancies”.  This has interesting implications to back story and lore, so it will be fun to see how that plays out.
  • Lighting and Dark are strengthened by Faith, which also plays very well into the lore of Dark Souls as each is tied to gods or their followers.
  • Dexterity enhances poison and bleed effects
  • Lastly, an Agility stat has been added that affects the general speed of a character’s actions, such as rolling, raising a shield, or disabling traps. This is an interesting spoiler to people with specialist builds.

I like the idea of spreading out the enhanced effects over so many stats as this will make specialization in more than a couple stats much more difficult, thus curb over-powered character builds.  I also like the idea of tying elemental damage to certain stats to further the idea that power is derived from it.  From a story perspective, this makes role playing much more exciting.

I have watched some random network test release videos and, from what I’ve seen, there are six classes to choose from when picking a character.  This seems a bit limited, but for a beta it gets the job done.  These are:  Soldier, Warrior, Sorcerer, Temple Knight, Dual Swordsman and Hunter.  This seems quite melee heavy, but I assume—in usual Souls fashion—that the starting class won’t matter for very long.  Soldier and Warrior are two very similar classes, but one starts with a spear.  Sorcerer and Temple Knight are also related.  The implication that I get is that the Temple Knight is the equivalent to the Cleric from Dark Souls, which means he starts as a miracle caster to counter the Sorcerer’s spells.  The two remaining classes are the off brands.  The Dual Swordsman is something a lot of players have wanted for a long time. Now the option exists and it should lead to a lot of very interesting situations with main-hand and off-hand attacks or parries.  The Hunter starts with a bow and seems to be a pretty straight forward range character.

Here are a few remaining details about DS2.  Spells now have standard and strong attacks, just like weapons.  That should make the casting classes a bit more dynamic and fun to play.  I have heard that some shields can be used as catalysts/talismans.  Yes, please!   Backstabs are handled differently now, as each type of weapon seems to vary in difficulty of execution.  Daggers and smaller weapons can more easily perform backstabs than larger ones.  They also seem to have their own animations as well.  Some of these are really neat.  In one video I saw a guy with a spear plunge it into an enemy’s body, lift him up on the end of it and then slam him to the ground.  I found it quite satisfying.  Swords tend to do a series of slashes while knocking enemies down to the ground.  Also, backstabs no longer offer invincibility with the animations so backstabs aren’t the all-powerful fortresses of solitude they used to be.  Parries have also changed up a little.  Players have to work at them even more now and getting in the riposte takes timing.  Practice with both of these will be necessary because enemies now attack in groups and are much more aggressive than in Dark Souls.  Getting jumped by a bandit while being shot at by an archer seems to be pretty common.

The bonfires make a return with the usual uses, but now invaders can use them to light torches and such.  Overall, it looks like the bleak, uninviting world of Dark Souls 2 is turning out to be more unforgiving and more interactive than ever before.  Of course, any and all of these changes could show up or be canned at any time until release, so take it all with a Coke and a smile.  However it works out in the end, I may come out of next March pasty-skinned, thin, and with a long beard.

Here is the most recent video from VaatiVidya.  Quality is low, since it was shot on a smartphone… apparently no one was supposed to record their gameplay, but he managed to get permission straight from Namco.

Edit:  Want to try out the Dark Souls 2 Beta?  No worries!!  Playstation Plus subscribers will get the chance to do just that on Sunday, 7:00-10:00 a.m.

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