Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Collecting Comics the Nerd Alert Way

I am often asked by my legions of adoring fans what I read. What comic books are worthy enough for me to dole out my hard earned cash? Due to the fact that inquiring minds want to know, I thought that I would fill you in on how I collect.

First off I have a very small, ever-changing collection. I keep one half box of comics and 3 shelves of trade paperbacks. No more. If I start to run out of space I need to sell some of my collection. This allows me to keep my collection fresh and interesting. There are some items that I always keep and read at least once a year (Sandman, Swamp Thing, Transmetropolitan), but mostly I cycle through everything I buy.

The comic books themselves are divided into two categories: new books (current titles) and older books (back issue bin gold). For the new books my current list is this: Amazing Spider-Man, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, JSA, Thor, Secret Invasion, and Final Crisis. I am thinking of dropping JSA after this current storyline is over. I will end up replacing it with something else (maybe a Superman title).

For the older titles I am always looking for runs of stuff that I cannot easily get in trade paperback format. Currently I am collecting Ghost Rider (1973 series), Marvel Team-up (1st series), and the Acts of Vengeance. I am almost finished the Ghost Rider run (one issue to go), and I only need a handful of the Acts of Vengeance issues. Once these two are complete I will concentrate a bit more seriously on the MTU run as I currently have about 12 of the 150 issues. I also have been toying around the idea of completing a Groo run.

You may have noticed that the older titles I collect are not marquee, flagship titles. I always like to be looking for a run where I can pick up the books for $1 or $2. I get to continually quest for some great stuff and it doesn't break the bank. I would encourage all of you to set yourself a collecting goal based on your local comic shop's bargain basement.

Well that is about it. I hope that this has proved illuminating to all of you.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Robot Chicken Season 3

I have always loved stop-motion animation. From the California Raisins to Jack Skellington I have been mesmerized by storytelling using clay-covered wire. It was no surpise then, that I instantly enjoyed Robot Chicken. The premise was simple: create an incredibly short television show using old 80’s toys as actors. Oh, and add in a bunch of genitalia and flatulence jokes.

The first and second seasons were fantastic, filled with memorable sketches such as Inspector Gadget becoming the Terminator; Hulk Hogan’s Heroes; and the Scooby Gang going to Camp Crystal Lake. The comedy is fast, smart, and completely reliant on the audience having a working knowledge of cartoons based on action figures. So I had high hopes for Season 3, and, unfortunately, those hopes were dashed.

Robot Chicken has run out of smart ideas and filled the void with coarse language, scatological humour, and nudity while trying desperately to offend everyone while mocking the mentally challenged. Cheap laughs.

I should point out that originally the language and nudity was censored for broadcast, but the DVD release is completely uncensored (in one case even showing actual female nudity). Parents should not be fooled by the PG rating on the box; a mistake has been made.

The season isn’t without its gems though, I almost laughed up a lung at the Car Voltron sketch and the “Reverse Wonder Woman” sketch is worth the price of admission. However, all in all the season seems lacking, with the humour being gross or mean-spirited. I can only hope that Season 4 goes back to basics.

So should you buy this? It will take about 5 hours to watch all the episodes and extras, so at $30 for the box set it is cheap per hour entertainment. The problem is that the majority of the season isn’t funny enough, and you can easily find some of the best sketches online (not that I condone that sort of thing). If you enjoy stop motion animation, 80s toys, or jokes mocking the deaf then pick up Season 3. For all others, watch reruns of the first 2 seasons.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Retro Review: Super Mario RPG

Title: Super Mario RPG
Cost: $8
System: Wii Virtual Console

I remember being quite sceptical back in 1996 when I heard that Nintendo was working on a RPG staring everyone's favourite turtle stomping plumber. It wasn't that I didn't like role playing games, but I am always wary of the mixing of genres as it can result in some of the greatest pop culture disasters of all time (think about how many awful "Dramedys" Hollywood produces). My fears were alleviated slightly when I heard that Nintendo was not going at this alone but would be partnering with RPG powerhouse Square (they hadn't merged with Enix yet). How would the creative minds behind goombas and chocobos give Mario a new genre to conquer?

My fears were groundless, as the game was a critical success that kept RPG purists happy and introduced the genre to gamers who previously only cared about platform jumping. Now it has been ported to the Virtual Console on the Wii and this week I am looking at how the game stands up after 12 years.

The game tells the story of Mario saving the world from the Smithy Gang. To achieve this goal he must team up with Peach, Bowser, and two new characters: Geno and Mallow. The title was released only months before the launch of the N64 and as a result the graphics are some of the best that the SNES has to offer (indeed, the graphics are easily better than many of the early PS1 games as well). The gameplay is easy to learn with a simple, but effective, control scheme. This game introduces some RPG gameplay elements that would be picked up for later Final Fantasy games, such as the additional button pressing timed perfectly for extra damage (Squall uses it often in FFVIII).

I do have a minor quibble with the pseudo-3D backgrounds: they make the jumping levels (admittedly, there are only a few) tedious and aggravating. I don't have the patience to continually fall into lava again and again.

The difficulty level is perfect for all gamers. Those new to the RPG genre will find the learning curve just right, while those RPG veterans will find enough in terms of hidden bosses and side quests that boredom will not be an issue. However, the optional best weapon and armour in the game are pretty easy to get and make the remainder of the game almost too simple at times. This might put off even the greenest of gamers if they appreciate a challenge.

So should you pick this up? Well video games, and especially RPGs, are some of the cheapest per hour entertainment out there. The game costs $8 (I know that the console cost you something, but bear with me) and will take 15-20 hours to finish. You will definitely get your 50 cents per hour of entertainment out of the game. Super Mario RPG was overlooked by many during its initial release (people were excited about the N64) and many gamers missed out on a true gem. Now that the game is back I would recommend it to anyone. It is a must have for your virtual console.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Between Loveless Vol. 3 and 100 Bullets Vol. 12 I have definitely read enough Brain Azzarello this week. He can be an excellent storyteller (the greatest complement a comic-book artist or writer can receive), but the myriad of convoluted twists and turns can cause one to yearn for the straightforward "Hulk Smash!" storylines of yesteryear.

As 100 Bullets is nearing its end, I will leave a review of that for another time, but for now we will talk about Loveless, a gritty, hard hitting western for mature audiences only. I mention the intended audience only so my readers are aware that this isn't some white hat vs. black hat kiddy western. This is a twisted tale of revenge full of graphic violence, sexual situations, brief nudity, and copious amounts of coarse language. All of that being said Azzarello doesn't abuse his use of R rated material. It does fit the story, which is much more than can be said for many comics since the abolishment of the code (I was never a fan of the code, but I think that sometime writers are just putting in swearing and breasts because now they can).

Set after the American Civil War, the story follows Wes Cutter and his wife Ruth Cutter as they seek revenge on the townspeople that wronged them. To achieve this grisly task they must navigate their way through a wide range of disreputable characters, murderers and rapists all in order to ensure that the town gets the comeuppance that it deserves.

I won't reveal too much more of the plot, but I will say that it is convoluted. But then we would expect no less from Azzarello. The series was cancelled prematurely, and that has contributed to the bizarre final issues, which feel tacked on and borderline redundant.

The art is perfect for the story and on occasion can be quite avant garde. Flashbacks are used quite frequently in the story when a location triggers a distant memory for a character. The problem is that at times it is difficult to tell what is a flashback and what isn't, causing you to flip the pages back and forth to try to make sense of it all. Couple all of this with a cast of unrepentant characters that we never really end up caring for and you end up with a pretty lacklustre comic book.

So is this lurid tale of wild west revenge worth your hard earned cash? At 3 volumes ringing in at $50 it will take you about 5 hours to read. $10 an hour is a bit steep for a series that never quite finds its mark, so unless you are some kind of Azzarello completist I would stay away. For those of you who want to find some great western comics, check out John Ostranders' Blaze of Glory mini-series for Marvel.