Movie Review: Hardcore Henry

As a technical exercise, this is an interesting film. It has a concept of presentation, and it embraces that wholeheartedly. The film promises to be a first-person perspective endeavor, and it delivers on that. Taken on that level, it’s a film that can be appreciated. It is quite unlike anything that’s come before, except for small sequences here and there. To be so dedicated to a concept is something that can be praised. Oftentimes, a creator will not be fully committed to their concept and will pull back, which delivers weaker experience. Not so, with Hardcore Henry. It is was it is, from start to finish.

 

The problem, really, is that as a film, it isn’t very good. It has some entertaining parts, but as a whole it’s lackluster, derivative, and threadbare. Except for the gimmick, it has little to stand on that suggests it as a worthy experience.

 

Really, the problems, are twofold. The first is technical. Or rather, it’s biological. See, our human perspective on how we see and experience the world is not entirely visual. It’s not something that can be broken down into a single sense. If you move about, flicking your view to different things, you aren’t just seeing those things, you’re also getting information from your other senses that affect how you perceive everything. Most importantly, you have an inherent sense of balance which your brain processes along with what you’re seeing. If you look at something straight on, it looks right. If you tilt your head so that it’s sideways, you have all this extra information so that it still looks correct.

 

Movies are a presentation that’s generally reduced to two senses. You get the visual, you get the audio. And that’s it. THere’s no feeling or smell. There’s no balance. Even if the image on screen shifts so that the view is presented askew, you don’t have that internal adjustment to tell you this. It looks odd. This isn’t inherently a bad thing. An adept filmmaker can use that difference to heighten the effect of the film.

 

But the filmmaker needs to be adept. They need to understand what the limitations and advantages of their presentation will be when contrasted to the actual human experience of watching the film. If they aren’t doing that, then the experience becomes a burden on the viewer. In many cases, this isn’t so much of an issue. Movies (and other experiences) are pretty culturally embedded. We start seeing moving pictures at a very early age, often before we can even talk. The standard TV viewing is so normal that we have learned and take it as a given about how it will work. So this gives some leeway

 

But for newer tech, that’s less of the case. We haven’t learned and internalized how to process such things. And so a filmmaker could easily misstep. During the 3D boom you could see this a lot. Some filmmakers took the tech into account. They realized that some things you can do in traditional 2D presentations aren’t always going to work for a 3D presentation and would make adjustments. Others wouldn’t. They would film as they always had and you’d get a jumbled mess of rapid cuts which undermined the depth of field and led to a jarring amount of perspective shifts that left the eyes (and brain) tired from the viewer.

 

The makes of Hardcore Henry have done the same. They haven’t accounted for the lack of balance. They haven’t really done anything to allow the viewer extra time needed to process the images. As with 3D, it’s somewhat necessary to slow it down. Do away with the rapid cuts. Or at the very least, take into account the perspective lines so that when there is a cut, the viewer’s eye won’t need to rapidly shift to account for what’s being seen. (The latter, of course, what done masterfully in MMFR, which does have many, many rapid cuts, but also isn’t a burden, even in 3D, because they account for where the viewer is looking.)

 

Because of all this, I didn’t find that the film was something that took a little bit to get used to and then it was fine. In fact, it was the opposite. The early parts of the film were easy enough to take in, but as my eyes and brain became tired and strained, that was less of the case. About halfway through I was more disoriented, and by the end I even felt a bit queasy. Mostly I was struck by how lackluster an effort had been made to account for possible issues. If you need to avoid rapid cuts, for instance, why not tell a story that can mostly be told in the timeframe of your film runtime? (Another gimmick, but also one that’s been done several times before.) Instead what we’re left with is a film that repeatedly cuts out “boring bits” to speed things along, which mostly just gives the viewer visual confusion.

 

Still, if that was the only sin of Hardcore Henry, it could perhaps be forgiven. New tech and all, so it’s possible that the creators aren’t completely clear on what needs to be accounted for.

 

But the story. Oh, god, the story. Characters are paper thin. Motivations are absent and unexplained. Plot developments just happen without rhyme or reason. This isn’t to say that the film needs to be layered and complex. Thin, simple stories that exist as the vehicle for the action are perfectly fine, but this is mostly non-sensical. Almost every development raised questions that aren’t answered.

 

So as the film went on, I began to just wonder about things that were never given an explanation. Why did the bad guy care about making a cyborg army when he had super telekinetic powers? Why did he have telekinetic powers in the first place? When would the love interest backstab Henry, because it was an obvious “twist” from the beginning? Actually, I’ll come back to that last one in a moment.

 

Mostly, if you are doing a thin story as a vehicle for the action, make sure your action is really top-notch. And other than the FPS gimmick, there isn’t really much here to recommend the action besides the volume of violence. Henry fights guys and kills guys and the ways he does so aren’t particularly novel or interesting, except we’re seeing it from his perspective. After a while, there isn’t a whole lot of wow factor. After more of a while, I was just confused about what was going on? Did Henry start to rip the bad guy’s hand in two? I don’t know, it wasn’t clear enough to tell. But more than that, I just didn’t care anymore.

 

But going back to an earlier point. The love interest. Or rather, women in general. This film is terrible for its portrayal of women. Beyond the early realization that the love interest would backstab Henry at some point (and that such a twist wouldn’t be a satisfying character development for anyone), there was also a sense of deep misogyny about the film. Women were objects. They exist entirely for the consumption and use of men, both the characters and the assumed viewer. None of them have depth. None of them have agency. (Why is love interest lady really with the big bad guy? We never know.)

 

One standout moment came in the middle of a car chase sequence. Henry blows up a van with a grenade and is thrown into the air. He lands on the back of a motorcycle being driven by one of the femme fatale characters who just shows up for no explained reason. As he settles down, his hands run along her sides and then rest on her hips. Then he reaches forward and down, between her legs. It’s a moment that purely exists for titillation. And then he grabs a gun that’s there, pulls back and starts shooting. It’s a little twist, but the entire framing was unnecessary. Why is the gun between her legs and not, say, on her hip? Because they wanted that possessive, sexual grab.

 

Soon after, Henry leaps from the motorcycle. The femme fatale is discarded as a character. Whether she died or just disappeared isn’t really clear, but it makes little difference either way. She existed for the adolescent pleasure of the creators and the viewer in her skintight catsuit. Once she served her purpose, there was no reason to keep her around.

 

Mostly, the film as a whole felt like a video game. It had a video game plot, video game characters, video game fetch quests with maps and goals. It had a final boss who just exists for no reason except to be a final boss. Hardcore Henry is a low-grade sci-fi first person shooter that you’d expect to find in the bargain bin in three months. The only notable thing about it is it’s a video game that was shot as a movie and projected on a movie screen. And when it did that, it removed the one thing that makes even poor video games palatable: the mechanics. Without the ability to control Henry, the viewer is just a passive observer.

 

Which isn’t very interesting.

 

2/5, but mostly because they did try had on the gimmick. And Sharlto Copley is entertaining when he hams it up.

Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Here there be spoilers.

Now that I’ve had a night to think about it, I’m not actually sure if I liked the movie or not. And I don’t think it’s a case of really disliking it and being in denial. I really, honestly don’t know. To be fair, though, after I saw Man of Steel the first time, I was unsure about the movie.

 

Part of this, I think, is the presentation seemed to be very poor. The theater house lights never dimmed entirely. The sound mix seemed off. I think they had the aperture on the projector on incorrectly, which slightly cut off the top and bottom of the screen. (Noticeable in the scenes of news shows, where the bottom of the text was cut off.) And maybe they had the 3D grate down or something, because it seemed dim, especially compared to trailers I’d seen previously.

 

So, fighting against a sub-par movie experience. And I don’t want to hold that against the film itself.

 

Still, this was an acknowledged mess. I came away mostly thinking that they did have a pretty strong idea of what they wanted their characters to present as… but had no real clue how to get those ideas across the best. Many of the scenes felt like they were sketched out without a clear beginning and end, and we’re left with a feeling of a larger whole where we’re only seeing a few random middle bits. It’s not that the character motivations are lacking, just that the elements shown aren’t what drive those points across.

 

In a way, this is confusing, because when you strip it down, the plot of BvS is pretty great: Lex Luthor has a problem with Superman, so he sets up a Xanatos Gambit to put him in conflict with Batman. Eventually, they realize their error and team up.

 

Unfortunately, in order to get this across, you need a strong bifurcated storyline: Superman’s heroics need to progress in contrast with Batman’s investigations. The two should advance in a way that feels like they’re converging on the same point. Then you get the twist: instead of working separately against a common goal, they’re actually at odds against each other. This is how you get the fight that feels both surprising and organic. Also, this should come to head at the end of Act 2. Act 3 is the team-up.

 

The problem arises rather early. The entire Africa plotline feels needlessly busy and extraneous, especially since MoS already presented a very good reason for people to question Superman already. Then as the movie progresses, it seems to be too early when we’re seeing Lex’s gambit in action. Thus it isn’t a surprise about what happens. Thus we get a confusing selection of character actions that are clearly leading somewhere, but the film itself doesn’t seem clear on what that goal actually is.

 

So here’s what I think happened. I think David Goyer wrote a Man of Steel sequel. It was a Superman plot through and through. You can look at the throughline of Supes and Lex and see that it’s pretty clear that exists. In this context, Lex’s plan is entirely put public doubt in Superman, make him the blame of things going wrong (that are Lex’s doing), and then when that doesn’t work, bring out his ace in the hole, Doomsday, to kill Superman.

 

Then WB got nervous and decided to add Batman into the mix. And all hell broke loose. Because by adding Batman, you need to account for his motivations. And while there is a disagreement plot to be had, it wasn’t in the original script. So Goyer (and later Terrio) were doing the best they could with the plot at hand, but it was a confusing, tacked-on selection of motivations and character impetus that ultimately sets the original plot on a wobbly course.

 

In fact, if you look at the film, the interactions between the two characters is pretty sketchy prior to the final fight. They meet at Lex’s party (and in Batman’s dream), but that’s about it. It really feels like two different movies that more or less are happening at the same time. Or, perhaps more appropriately, this is a Superman movie that seems to star Batman for reasons that are not entirely clear from the film itself.

 

It’s entirely possible that the director’s cut, with ample time to explore the motivations and plots, will clear up the confusion. It’s not that they necessarily needed that extra time, but if they didn’t have a clear plan from the get-go, it could help work through all the excess they were dealing with. We’ll have to wait and see. Unfortunately, even if the DC is a vast improvement, it’s not going to help. Most of the audience will see it in the theaters, and their opinions will be pretty firm. I doubt many are going to give it a second chance, especially if it’s longer.

 

With all that, what did I like?

 

Well, I do like the cast. They’re all pretty great, especially given the weirdly limited material they have to work with. Affleck makes a great Batman. Irons a great Alfred (in fact, he had most of the best lines in the film). Eisenberg is weirdly compelling at Lex. Adams as Lois continues to give me heart eyes. And Cavill continues to sell what is a difficult role.

 

And, of course, Gal Gadot is glorious as Wonder Woman. Messy as the film is, it isn’t confused at all when she’s on screen. When she shows up for the final fight, everything just sort of clarifies. Even the entire tone of the music changes, as if to say, “This is what we are here for.” And it is. The criticism of the DC films is that they’re afraid of letting their heroes enjoy themselves. That’s entirely absent with Wonder Woman. She fights and has fun at it. She alone is enough reason to be excited about what the DC films will bring in the future.

 

I doubt I’ll see BvS again theatrically. That’s mostly for financial reasons, though. I really would like to give it a second shot in a presentation that isn’t marred by the theater itself. I wonder if, like Man of Steel, it’s something that I warm up to over time and begin to love. I’d also like to see the director’s cut to see if that smooths out some of the story issues. Maybe if there’s another $10 blu-ray at Best Buy.

 

Still, I honestly don’t know if I like it or not.

 

?/5

My 2015 movie summer (part 3)

So what is the best movie of the summer?

This shouldn’t be a surprise.

Mad Max: Fury Road

In a world that’s chock full of regressive sequels and reboots, Mad Max: Fury Road is a breath of fresh air.

Wait, that’s not quite right.

On paper, leading into the year, Fury Road seemed like yet another sequel for a long dormant franchise. True, Mad Max was never a blockbuster series, but it has fans and has carved a rather enduring niche into the public consciousness. “Two men enter, one man leaves!” is regularly quoted, even by people who haven’t seen the film. (Ironically, the line is from the oft-maligned Thunderdome film.)

There are at least seven franchises that are seeing their fourth or later film this year. Three of those are hitting at least seven installments. One hit twelve. Established IPs are the name of the game, and Hollywood has begun to trawl around for anything with some name recognition to slap on the screen.

So in that sense, Fury Road is another of the pack. If Hollywood had a formula, you could foresee how it would go: string together enough recognizable references to the original films, slap on some prettified computer effects, and amp up the bass line of the soundtrack. $150 million later, and you’ve got a brand spanking new film.

The big question with these sequels is whether there’s an audience. Or rather, whether the fans of the original won’t be alienated by the changes while younger viewers are intrigued enough to come along for the ride. And going into the summer, it seemed that it might not work. Much like Terminator franchise, Mad Max was one of those that had seen its time come and go, with only older fan nostalgia to keep it going.

Except it wasn’t QUITE the same. Terminator had seen creator/director James Cameron move onto (much) bigger things. Steven Spielberg had stepped back to executive producer duties for the dinosaurs. George Lucas sold off his entire company to Disney has nothing to do with the new film (for good or ill).

In the case of most of these franchises, the IP are held by studios or passed around between holding companies or somesuch. Thanks to our frankly absurd copyright laws, they will remain as such until the heat death of the universe, so we’re going to be subjected to franchise iterations until then, with only a few exceptions. (One notable: Back to the Future. Zemeckis and Gale got a good contract there.)

But Mad Max is an exception. The rights aren’t held by Warner Brothers, but by Kennedy Miller Mitchell. The Miller in the name refers to George Miller. The same George Miller who wrote and directed the original Mad Max films. So if a new film was going to happen, it was only going to be with his involvement.

Actually, Fury Road pretty much only got made because Miller had an interest. Hollywood’s normally gung-ho franchise mining nature was unusually tepid about another post-apocalyptic car chase. Miller spent over a decade pulling together the story and doing the storyboards before he got a green light.

That time taken is apparent on the screen. The thought that went into the construction of Fury Road is meticulous. Not just the sublime choreography of the action sequences, but also the details that were considered to build the world and characters without getting didactic with the dialogue. In fact, the dialogue is largely irrelevant to the film. Miller has in effect married the planning and foresight of Alfred Hitchcock with the visual presentation of classic Hong Kong. The story is one that is perfectly told in the visual, filmed medium, and not any other.

It’s a bit disappointing that much of the narrative surrounding the film has been harping on the practical stunts. They are amazing, to be sure, but it somewhat misses the point. It’s not as if Miller came in to show how things were done better, old-school style. There are numerous computer effects in the film as it stands, and it was shot digitally. Originally he wanted to shoot it natively in 3D. Plus his two previous films were completely computer animated.

Rather, what Fury Road shows is that to get a great film, the director needs to know his tools and to use them properly. It’s entirely possible for a director to return to a franchise well after the fact and to stumble. George Lucas did that with the Star Wars prequels, which even if you accept that he planned everything ahead of time were not especially well executed. Lucas possibly tried to push things too far, too fast, and it didn’t work.

Miller, instead, has shown that he’s comfortable to get any piece of technology to do what it can for his needs. Fury Road works in ways that many other films don’t because it is immersive. With few words and actually little explanation, the world on the film is fully believable. It’s one of the greatest examples of “show, don’t tell” ever put together.

While there are small nods to the previous films in the series, Fury Road is remarkably forward thinking. Too often franchises will rest on the work of previous films in the series. Whether because of continuity, limited vision, or just plain laziness, later entries will feel like empty husks with bigger budgets. Perhaps because of Miller’s desire to build a mythological figure rather than a cohesive plot, he’s made a film that stands on its own. Connections to the past provide enjoyment, but are not required.

By freeing himself from the constraints of the past, Miller instead has managed to craft a remarkably subversive and innovative film. Even as Furiosa joins a list of spectacular female action heroes, the entire craft of the film is cutting edge feminism.

Whatever genre you apply to it, whether action or science fiction or what have you, it isn’t hyperbole to claim Fury Road’s near the best in that genre, if not the best. In fact, while it’s surprising to consider, a film with a flame-throwing guitar is among the best the medium has ever produced.

Even if there is no such thing as a perfect film, Mad Max: Fury Road is close enough that we can say that it’s perfect in every way.

Book Review: The End of All Things, by John Scalzi

I don’t entirely remember when I started reading John Scalzi. I do remember hearing about him and searching (in vain) for Old Man’s War at Half-Price Books, but my first experience was probably sometime around when The Last Colony was published.

My first experience wasn’t particularly a watershed moment as a science fiction reader. I enjoyed Old Man’s War enough to add Scalzi to my list of regulars to follow, but the book fell into a comfortable zone of military SF without blowing my mind. And it seemed Scalzi wished to remain in that comfort zone for some time, probably intelligently, since it allowed him to grow his fan base very well over the subsequent years.

However, don’t let it be said that Scalzi is one to rest on his laurels. Starting with Zoe’s Tale, he’s fairly consistently tried new things with each subsequent novel, pushing boundaries, even if his work is mostly mainstream in the SF sphere.

While The End of All Things isn’t his most groundbreaking work (that honor goes to last year’s Lock In), it is a pretty big stretch in a few ways for the Old Man’s War universe. It follows on the rough format established in The Human Division, as a collection of shorter stories (four novellas, in this case) that combine to a greater whole. However, he’s cast the net far wider this time around. The Human Division mostly remains focused on the same group of characters (Harry Wilson, Hart Schmidt, and company) established in The B Team story. In contrast, The End of All Things relegates them to secondary characters for the first half of the book, instead establishing new viewpoints to bring the story forward from The Human Division’s climactic, cliffhanger ending.

And it works. Scalzi has a gift for character voice, so we inhabit these characters so well that we can’t help but to like them. In The Life of the Mind, Rafe Daquin addresses one of the bigger plot hooks from The Human Division in an engaging manner, providing a fun viewpoint for a truly terrifying situation. This Hollow Union brings back one of Scalzi’s most enjoyable protagonists, Hafte Sorvalh, first introduced in a cute short story, but showcasing invigorating political acumen here.

The latter half of the book does bring back more familiar characters. Heather Lee, who served as protagonist in one of The Human Division’s stories returns for Can Long Endure, an almost slice-of-life look at the changes to the Colonial Union’s foot soldiers’ lives. Then Harry Wilson returns to take the finale home in To Stand or Fall.

I had some hope that Perry and his family would return for a cameo, but that was wishful thinking. Perhaps he will make an appearance if Scalzi gets the itch to revisit the universe yet again. Or perhaps we’ll be treated to a whole new cast of characters. Scalzi is very good about establishing them after all.

If there’s a complaint about the book, it’s probably with regards to the big bad, so to speak. The Human Division worked wonders for building up a new threat against the Colonial Union, the Conclave, and Earth. While that made for an excellent cliffhanger (and two years of waiting), I can’t help but feel that that the ultimate reveal and identity of the threat is a bit anticlimactic. If you’re going to use a mystery, particularly one that spans volumes, make sure it’s a great one. The mystery here is good and serviceable, but never made me go “whoa!”

Still, that’s a minor gripe compared to the novel as a whole. As he usually does, Scalzi has crafted a tale that’s engaging to the point that I found it difficult to put down long enough to take care of necessary things. A good book should leave you craving for more, and that’s definitely the case here.

It’s a tossup which of the four novellas I enjoyed the most, but I think it says a lot that I’d like to see more of Hafte Sorvalh in the future, and I’m very curious to find out what Heather Lee ends up doing with her new life, even if it’s only shown as a short story. It’s possible that I just prefer a female protagonist, however, so don’t read a whole lot into this. All four of the novellas work.
While I hope it isn’t truly the end of all things for the Old Man’s War universe, The End of All Things is a satisfying conclusion for now, bringing and emotional end and a new status quo.4/5

Technicolor Cotton Candy

My expectations for Speed Racer were understandably low. This was, after all, a directorial effort by the Wachowski brothers, who’d managed one of the bigger surprise blockbusters in 1999 with The Matrix, but managed to spin that into one of the most soul-deadening sequels of all time in 2003. (Actually, two soul-deadening sequels, but the second was so bad I still haven’t seen the third all the way through.)

However, I had to acknowledge that they do have a certain visual flair. And while not strictly behind the camera, they’d helped put together the enjoyable V for Vendetta adaptation.

The visual flair was readily apparent from the trailers. They had amped up the visuals to a stunning degree with colors just popping out all over the place in the more-than-real sense of high dynamic range photography. On multiple occasions after the first trailer came out, I had a friend describe it as watching a live-action Mario Kart race.

In this sense, the film delivers. The visuals are spot-on throughout. However, I’d have to disagree with my friends. This isn’t Mario Kart, but instead another Nintendo franchise: F-Zero. The cars are not little buggies with weapons, but overpowered machines on gravity-defying tracks where only the slightest loss of control spells the (near) doom of the driver.

That sense barely restrained power is pushed further because these are not just straight muscle races. The cars collide, drift, and skid around the tracks in the sense of a stunt-induced stock car race, but also twist and jump thanks to otherworldly add-ons. Physics, indeed reality itself, is put on hold in an almost loving attachment for the ridiculousness of the original anime.

This is perhaps the greatest strength of the film. The Wachowskis seemed to realize that what they were trying to portray would only be ruined if they attempted to make it realistic. Instead, this might be one of the purest attempts to create a presentational world, that bears little connection to our own, in live-action film. In a sense, it’s like they tapped into the psyches of Spike Jonze and Michael Gondry although without stating that what is happening is all in someone’s mind.

To achieve this, they’ve made this new reality futuristic, certainly, but tied strictly to the style and sense of the 50s and 60s era that begat the original. Hence the bright vibrant colors, of course, but a number of smaller details stand out. The characters themselves all look like they’ve been plucked from a bygone era, perhaps typified most by Susan Sarandon’s flip haircut. The Racer household even more emphasizes this nostalgia, with the wallpaper, furnishings, and even the basic layout looking like it belongs in late 1950s suburbia.

The musical score by Michael Giacchino is an interesting and positive addition to support the overall tone. It samples heavily from the classic anime soundtrack, but rather than taking the sound and modernizing it, the sound is rather made to create that 60s-era sensibility. Giacchino jumped back several decades, spurning techno or rock updates and even choosing to skip on the John Williams-esque orchestrations from the 70s. The score sounds like it might have come from the mind of Hugo Montenegro, and it works perfectly.

The result is a film that, short of 3-D, might be the most likely to jump out at the screen. The races are enjoyable and exciting and linked by slower scenes that at their core show appreciation and nostalgia for the mid-century American family unit.

It’s not perfect, however. At times the race action gets too active and confusing, much the way last year’s Transformers did. At times it would have been beneficial for the Wachowskis to slow things down a bit so we can get drawn into the action more. Rather than sitting on the sidelines with the family, we’d prefer to be behind the wheel with Speed. While we are the movies audience, it doesn’t make sense to also make us spectators to the races themselves.

And despite the excitement in the video game sense, there is a bit of predisposition to the races. We’re never really left with the sense that Speed or Racer X are in any real danger. The one time Speed does lose is first foreshadowed (or predicted), but the action event itself happens off-screen. This makes it more difficult to connect and again creates the sense that we’re not being invited to fully enjoy the world that’s been created.

The film has other problems. The writing is uneven and overly long, which probably makes the entire picture about 15-20 minutes too long. This is really a shame, because the first race sequence manages to fairly successfully blend a somewhat involved and complex backstory into the present action, a rather nifty cinematic trick. After that, the plot proceeds in a fairly pedestrian manner. I can’t help but think how much better it would have worked if they had tried to increase the information density along with the visual density.

Also, the acting is rather bad. Emile Hirsch is a passable Speed, but in truth it probably could have been any young actor behind the wheel. Christina Ricci is an enjoyable Trixie, showing sass and independence, and looks wonderfully alluring, but this isn’t stretching her acting chops any. Roger Allam is an enjoyable bad guy, but he’s also overacting enough to evoke Alan Rickman from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I believel Allam would have eaten all the scenery, if it actually existed. And then there’s Matthew Fox as Racer X, who looks and sounds completely wooden throughout. Apparently Keanu Reeves turned down the part; The Wachowskis must have told Fox to just be like Keanu.

Still, I’m left somewhat surprised that the good outweighs the bad for the film. It’s not great by any stretch, and I’m not sure if I’d ever want or need to see it again, but it’s an enjoyable two hours, and given the visual feast, I can’t say that the time or money spent on the IMAX experience was wasted.

It’s a shame, really, that in the weeks leading into the release, the reception started to tank. The blame can probably be laid at the hands of WB’s ever-vigilent marketing department. Few companies are so good at turning potentially strong products into mediocre-at-best performers. Because of that, we’ll probably not see another attempt like this for quite some time. And while the Wachowskis may not have fully succeeded in making a good film, they did succeed in doing something quite different and doing it well. If this had been successful, perhaps we’d be in for a real treat: a fully presentational film that’s visually stunning and good cinema.

When Good Games Go Bad

This post is about Rock Band, which has eaten up a not inconsequential portion of my free time of late.  Despite the title of the post, I have few complaints about the game. It is not quite the best game ever made, but there is such a depth of play there and the promise of continuing DLC means it should remain as such for quite some time.

Review in brief: Bravo Harmonix!  There are few missteps here.

This post is also about comic books. And with that there are probably a few who will understand where I am going with this.

As  I said above, there are few missteps. Before I had the chance to play Rock Band, due to being geographically away from my venue of choice from its release until after the new year, I made do with Guitar Hero III, the slightly off-kilter third sibling of Rock Band’s predecessor franchise. While there are many problems with GHIII, there are two things it does very well. Those two things, I must say, find Rock Band lacking.

The first is the peripheral construction. While I have few things bad to say about the previous controllers, the GHIII Les Pauls are a thing of beauty. The action is smooth, the weight is good, and they are all around comfortable to play.  In comparison the Fender Stratocasters that come with RB are, to be polite, very cheap feeling. Beyond the well documented breakdowns and other troubles, the guitars do not have that sense of strength, beginning with the action on the frets and being most noticeable with the weak strum bar.

The second is the way hammer ons and pull offs were changed in GHIII. In the first Guitar Hero, I found them impossible. In the second, they were troublesome, but on occasion would work as expected. Neversoft decided to make them even more forgiving such that it feels rather fun to get them rather than a difficult gamey element. It is perhaps one area where choosing to go for a less realistic method of doing the music turned out for the better.

However, both these are beside the real point. In spite of these problems, Rock Band shines, even when it causes me problems. I tend to play bass, and while I’ve been playing above my head on some songs at Expert level, jamming with my friends is fun for a long time.

The song selection is very good. I could probably play Learn to Fly and Here it Goes Again many, many times without getting tired of them. I may slowly be growing to dislike Sabotage because of the difficulty and repetitiveness of the bassline, but it’s still a fun song to listen to. Run to the Hills and Green Grass on High Tides may both give me problems for a while, but it’s a nice challenge to try and beat them.

As with the Guitar Hero games, it’s nice to get the combination of songs I know and like to go with some I didn’t expect but find I also like.

But nothing’s perfect. Guitar Hero II brought me Psychobilly Freakout, which isn’t enjoyable to listen to and even less fun to play. Guitar Hero gave me No One Knows, which almost soured me on Queens of the Stone Age for life. In III I found Raining Blood, which combined all the worst elements of a repetitive punk song with the off-kilter timing of Institutionalized.

In each, I am brought to wonder why the designers felt the need to include this song in the game. With QotSA, I can at least say the song sounds nice (and in their favor, other songs are more enjoyable), and probably could feel the desire to keep chugging at it just because of that. What’s really bad is when there is a song that is no fun to play because I don’t want to listen to it.

While I was unable to play Rock Band due to my geographic non-proximity, my roommates did give me a bit of a running tally on how things went. The only mentioned one blight, one song that they would not, could not, play. A song so bad and annoying they’d skip it no matter what.

Curious, I checked the song out on Youtube. For the first thirty seconds, it doesn’t seem that bad. Some fairly neat instrumental introductions, hitting a nice hard rock groove. I could start to get along with that.

And then the vocals start. I swear I had to shut the window within seconds they were so bad. I honestly wondered what sort of people could choose to subject themselves to this regularly. It wasn’t just a weak singer, it was honestly a bad voice to use as a vocalist.

I wondered if it was just me (and my roommates) but after a bit of checking around with others, no, the song really is that bad and I wasn’t able to find anyone in my circle of friends who could stand to listen to the whole thing. I shrugged, chalked it up to a misstep in song choice, and forgot about it until I got home.

While playing through Rock Band, though, I began to get curious. It was certainly possible that we’d get the song on random, and it’d help  to have at least passing familiarity with it. So I started to look into this blighted song again.

I’m speaking about Coheed and Cambria’s Welcome Home. And in the interest of fairness, I will list its strengths. As a progressive/hard rock band, C&C has talent. They play well, have some good riffs and rhythms, and could probably be an enjoyable band.

On the other hand, the vocals are atrocious. Singer Cladio Sanchez has a high pitched voice, which isn’t a problem alone, but he’s also got a thin and weedy timbre. There’s very little depth. To make matters worse, his vocal range (judging from Welcome Home at least) is very narrow. So there’s a high-pitched screeching that extends through most of the song.

It kills just about any interest I have in listening.

Of course, the problems don’t end there. Welcome Home is from the album Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness. And no matter how many times I look at that, it does not make sense. The words look like English, but there is no meaning.

Apparently, this isn’t abnormal for C&C. Their subsequent album is called Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow. I’m really not sure what the title is supposed to imply, except to give off some vague sci-fi reference. This used to be common in music. David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars for instance. However there’s a big difference. The title of Bowie’s album makes sense. It is a cohesive title that doesn’t have a random string of works and numerals together.

In my searching, though, it seems that C&C is not inspired by sci-fi. Their albums are apparently directly tied into an ongoing science fiction epic being written by the aforementioned vocalist, Claudio Sanchez. I admit I haven’t read, nor do I have any desire to read, the works he’s put out, but I’ve tried to piece together the series.

Coheed and Cambria’s music ties into a series of comic books called The Amory Wars. The name of the band is taken from two characters in this series Coheed Kilgannon and Cambria Kilgannon. They have a son who seems to be a sort of messianic character who must accept his mantle and face off against the Big Bad to avenge Coheed and Cambria’s murders.

All right. That’s fairly uninspired for sci-fi, but given that C&C are (presumably) musicians first, it’s probably not too big of an issue. I could even ignore the original title for The Amory Wars: The Bag.On.Line Adventures. Please notice all the periods in place of spaces. I suppose it might be a reference to the same in a hypertext link, but really it just looks dumb. Even so, the title was changed to something a bit more run of the mill but that also makes considerable more sense.

So, we’ve got this hero character, Claudio Kilgannon,  who…

Wait, what? That name seems really familiar. Hero named Claudio written by singer/writer named… Claudio?

And here’s where the wheels start to come off. As best I can tell, The Amory Wars is a massive self-insert story. If it isn’t, I’d have assumed that Mr. Sanchez could have come up with a different name. Or, hell, just coming up with a different name would perhaps mask the fact that it’s a self-insert story.

There are two major problems with self-inserts. The first is one of balance. As anyone who’s read fanfiction for any length of time knows, by and large, self-insert characters are favored by the writer to such a degree that any other characters (usually those belonging in the original universe) tend to be overshadowed. Lots of power, luck, skill, charisma, what have you. These characters will display any number of these traits in such a degree that it stretches credibility.

The classic self-insert is the Mary Sue, which comes from Star Trek. It got the name because the editors of the novels could almost always disregard 90% of the manuscripts they received because they would invariably have a new, female character who graduated at or near the top of her class in Starfleet Academy, proved to be a popular addition to the Enterprise crew, would have a romantic liaison with the favored male character of the author’s choice, and would prove to be critical in solving the climax of the story.  These novels were almost always submitted by women. And while they may not have been atrociously bad, the fact that they resembled each-other to such a degree is staggering and leads one to disregard them as a whole. Thus, the Mary Sue character: the self-insert.

In and of themselves, self-inserts are power fantasies and not problematic. However, they are almost invariably stories written for the author, not for the audience. I’ve heard that in BDSM culture, there’s a saying of Your Kink is not My Kink. Here it’s that Your Power Fantasy is not My Power Fantasy.

By and large, I am not going to be interested in a story about some messianic character based on you. There are a few people in the world about whom I would find such a story interesting, and many of my friends are not those people. The further you get away from me, and the more it becomes a “You had to be there” situation. Do I understand this power fantasy? No, I don’t get why you should be cast as a world savior.

And thus, The Amory Wars have already lost me. They may be a fine piece of juvenile science fiction that Claudio Sanchez has written for himself. His friends may dig that he’s such a creative machine, but I don’t get why his stories are in my video games, ruining my ears.

It seems that the only published parts of the story are a bit of chapters two and four (of five). The music may add a bit more completeness, but on the whole it seems that there’s just a bunch of inspiration around a plot that isn’t quite enough to carry the story from Sanchez’ mind to the theoretical public. Telling a story out of chronology should be a technique to use, not come about by happenstance.

Not that that would be entirely bad, I’m none too sure that his grasp of language is any better than his grasp of storytelling technique. Just the title of the album is enough to cause concern. I’m not really sure if it’ll ever be completed, but given that Sanchez has had to self-publish so far, I doubt it’s going to set the world on fire if it ever does.

Now, I did say this was about Rock Band, so I’ll turn to the specific song that’s caused me no end of pain.

Welcome Home is one of the first few tracks off the album where, if I’m  reading this correctly, the story takes a step outside of the strict narrative and is instead narrated by The Writer in the first person. Since Sanchez is the writer, I can only assume he’s talking about himself, in some fashion.

So now we’ve got him singing, and writing, about himself as the writer of a story which is about a messianic version of himself.

Whoa, meta. This could almost be good.

Let’s see what the writer, I mean The Writer has to say:

You could have been all I wanted
But you weren’t honest
Now get in the ground
You choked off the short list of favors
But if you really loved me
You would have endured my will

Wow. That seems kinda dark and bleak.  Continuing on:

Well if you’re just as I presumed
A whore in sheep’s clothing
Fucking up all I do
And if it’s here we stop
Then never again
Will you see this in your life?

So, there’s some anger here. It seems he’s gotten burned romantically and is holding a bit of a grudge. I can understand being a bit bummed from a letdown, but let’s look at the language here.

There’s a lot of dominance and command in the voice. Talk of enduring his will, ordering to get into the ground. He’s also placing the unnamed woman as the downside of the virgin/whore dichotomy. She wasn’t honest, therefore she must be a whore! She’s fucking up everything for him.

It’s all her fault!

This really bugs me. Ignoring how confused I am how this fits into the whole sci-fi story above, this is hugely misogynistic. It doesn’t get any better as the song continues, with more threats of violence and painting the still unnamed female as a traitor to him.

I’ll grant that there may be some separation between Sanchez, The Writer, and Claudio Kilgannon, but the first person narrative here and general negativity towards women just sicken me. Even if his voice wasn’t so bad, the message is so squicky that I really don’t want to know more.

What’s funny is that this song alone answers the question about whether C&C are a prog metal band or an emo band. The sexism, lamenting about romance, and general whinyness plant it firmly in the camp of Emo. It’s not good emo, either.

And that’s really a shame, because, as I noted above, C&C do seem to have some musical talent. I think that, in a different setting, with a different front-man, the people involved could be rather enjoyable. They could go and pull an Audioslave. That’s what made RATM palatable to me.

Rock Band will survive. I think I’ll play the song the bare minimum and hope it doesn’t inflict itself upon me while I’m playing.

Shame, though. It’s a strike against Harmonix. Upon reflection, it bugs me a lot more than the shoddy guitar quality.

JLA #15 review

Reading the latest issue of Justice League of American (#15), I was struck by how dissonant it seemed.

On one hand, we’ve got Dwayne McDuffie’s script, which is another step in moving the comic from the completely forgettable Meltzer run to something that’s palatable. The story isn’t great. This is a light issue, without much in the way of plot details (in fact, it very specifically dovetails into two other titles at the end, without resolution), but it’s got some kinda fun rock-em, sock-em action going on.

It’s also got moments of The Sexy going on. The girls are doing the cool shits, and whooping baddies all around. Not so much for the damsels in distress, here. We’ve got proactive heroines doing the right thing.

Sexy.

On the other hand, we’ve got Ed Benes’ art, which has taken another step in moving the book towards an ass-shot in every panel (and, depending on how limber he makes the portrayed character, tits as well). In this issue, the art is almost overwhelmingly, objectifyingly sexist, to the point that about halfway through (and this is just a 22-page story, mind), I began to feel a bit numb from the whole thing.

So, page by page:

Page 1 is remarkably sans-ass! Of course it’s sans female. Luthor has Superman at his whim until Firestorm turns a bunch of kryptonite into a butterknife. I sat for a moment and wondered about this reverse-alchemy. How much money did Luthor lose in that moment? Kryptonite’s got to be one of the rarest minerals in the universe, and he just transposed it to common steel, probably not even stainless or a good alloy. We’re looking at a loss of a few million, easy, probably a few billion.

Of course, I’m also wondering, why the hell Luthor, with nearly uncountable sums of wealth, would use it to create a kryptonite knife to stab Superman with? Surely his evil genius could come up with something with more, dare I say it, panache?

From the expressions on Luthor’s face, he might just be realizing how much money he’s lost here.

Page 2. Splash of all the villains in this short-lived Injustice League. Is it just me, or are these a bunch of serene-looking baddies? Seriously, they’re about to (try) to whoop some ass. And most of them, even the guys, just look kinda mildly amused.

Hell, Cheshire, Poison Ivy, Fatality, and Giganta all have the exact same expression. This expression says to me “I’m listening to music and this song brought a thought of an amusing little anecdote about what happened on the way to work.” not “Hoo, yeah, We’re about to TOTALLY wail on Superman and Firestorm!”

And Ivy’s stance is just completely wrong, too. She’s getting ready to fight! Not waiting at the bus stop while listing to her iPod! Also, what’s up with her crotch? It’s brighter than the rest of that region and perhaps kinda puffy. I’d be a bit worried about that. She should see a doctor.

Cheshire’s a bit better. Confident, fists on hips. See, right there her eyes should be narrow, focused. Mouth pressed into a thin, determined line. Expression just blaring “Hey, superheroes! I’m the deadliest assassin on the face of the planet. I have figuratively (and in one case literally) fucked you over for YEARS. Another serving coming up!”

Cheetah’s at least got the readiness down. Somewhat ruined by her stance. Okay, let’s try this. You’re about to charge into a fight. Stand up and get ready. Pretend you have claws and are kinda fast and strong, too. Me? I’m going to have my weight centered, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width with one slightly in front of the other. Hunched over slightly with a slight lean forwards. Arms tucked, hands slightly in and in front of my chest. Perhaps right be low neck level.

I am fucking NOT going to have my hand down and elbows out. There’s no power in that, no way to get some force into my strikes. Plus, I’m leaving my central area WIDE open for a quick attack.

What’s more, my legs are not going to be leaning towards one side with my weight awkwardly thrust backwards and then leaning my torso forward. Again, no strength, nothing to get any power out of. And I’d be off-balance in case of quick counter.

All this seems to say is “I’m angry! Look at my ass!”

Icicle doesn’t seem so bad, mostly because she’s already in motion. She’s going forward with her attack, but I’m a bit mystified by why her right arm is down and away.

So for the good side of the womens, we’ve got Cheetah’s expression, Cheshire’s stance, and Icicle’s movement. The rest is a bunch of bad.

On the men side, they’re not that much better, except nobody’s really thrusting attributes out for no good reason.

I do rather like the effeminate-Joker, though.

Page 3. Look at this first panel. We’ve got Firestorm, facing off against the baddies. Look at the sides. Deathstroke and Dr Light are cool, confident, working in some entrapment of power.

In the center, nearly even against Firestorm is Luthor, looking really pissed. That’s quite a change from his slightly bemused expression on page 2. How much time has passed here?

And there’s Ivy, coquettishly bored at the antics of all these mammals. Icicle is still continuing her mad charge. Her pose isn’t too bad. Now you can see her right arm is, since now she’s using that instead of her left to move her ice stream. Her left is a bit far away, but could be ready to fling an attack from that angle, discus style.

Cheetah has squared up her stance, but her arms are way out and low. Plus, now her upper-arms look like sticks. Dr Light, of all people, has forearms the size of her waist, and she’s got toothpicks.

There’s something else that bugs me, here. Look at the position of the bad guys here and on page 2.

On 2, we’ve got, L-R: Luthor, Ivy, some fuzzy guy I want to call Mammoth, but probably isn’t, Dr Light, Deathstroke, Mr Freeze, Giganta, some dark guy, Fatality, Cheshire, Cheetah, Icicle, Grodd, and Joker. (in a few layers. since apparently they’re standing on risers for a better picture)

And here we’ve got Dr Light on the far left with icicle behind him, who’s apparently whipped around to the complete other side of the group. Then there’s Ivy and the dark guy, who’s much forward and to the left of his current position. Luthor and not-Mammoth are now in the center. Grodd and Cheetah have about the same positions, but Deathstroke has magically teleported to the far right. Joker, Cheshire, Freeze, Fatality, and Giganta are nowhere to be seen.

So what happened? Again, how much time has passed so the villains can array themselves out in the proper line? And if that’s the case, why aren’t they attacking? Luthor said that Superman would only survive for another 30 seconds.

Firestorm talks for a bit while Icicle takes the first stab at cooling him down. Nice attack, but the way she’s got her knee bent is really weird. Dr Light adds to the fire and then we’ve got all the bad-guys hit by a mysterious green pallor.

Page 4-5. The superheroes arrive! And thankfully, they are all ready to kick ass. Except for Red Tornado, who is doing his rendition of C-3P0 in Cloud City.

Let’s look at expressions. Guys first: Batman is pissed. Red Arrow is even angrier (I can only assume he’s finally realizing how dumb his new code name really is.) John Stewart is getting into full-on USMC-mode. Which is amazing, since that’s an entirely different continuity. Geo-Force is rubbing off a bit of manly blood from his face. His expression says “Okay, you got me one. Now it’s my turn.”

For the gals, it’s not quite the same. Clenched teeth, perhaps, but only slightly. Those cheeks aren’t tightened up at all. In some fashion, Hawkgirl, Vixen, and Wonder Woman all look somewhat angry. Black Canary, though, just looks kinda there. Her lips are a bit pouty, face kinda slack, and eyes looking a bit vacantly off into the distance.

She’s the leader, remember.

Poses talk!

Batman: I am just getting out of these bindings. Then I will start to hit you a lot.

Red Arrow: God, where the fuck is Brad Meltzer so I can shoot him for saddling me with this name?

Green Lantern: You took your best shot! Now its our turn.

Geo-Force: Not bad. But not good enough, bad-guys. I can hit harder than you.

Vixen: Let me start to punch from WAY in the back! Honest, I’m not telegraphing anything!

Hawkgirl: Hey, Cheetah! I can do that same exact stance! Except I don’t have claws.

Woder Woman: Look at my lasso! And tits! Hey, I might be able to do a sorta-jab from here!

Black Canary: I have a fist! And also a butt! And tits! Do you like my 90s-era X-Men Jacket? Wait, why am I facing in the general direction of Red Tornado! I’ll look over at that wall! Or perhaps the ceiling!

From this point forth, the art in the issue becomes asstastic. In fact, it’s like Butt Cleavage: The Movie, starring Dinah Lance.

Page 6. Dinah attempts to be the leader by issuing the very specific order of “Take them down hard.” Generic, sure, and what they were already going to do, but some have said that a good leader only needs to see what the followers were going to do anyway and to get out in front.

She screams. Good use of her powers for a pre-emptive strike. Bad use of her costume for showing us her butt. Canary rebukes Firestorm for trying to be too cute. Icicle, Cheshire, and Cheetah try to fight. Mr. Freeze and Deathstroke cut and run.

Wonder Woman shows off the butt-cleavage of her own, before…

Page 7. Wondy takes out Icicle.

Hawkgirl and Red Arrow flirt.

Cheshire gets away, but not before looking back and thrusting her ass back for one last provocation.

Page 8. However, Roy is an idiot and didn’t see it. Geez, man! After all the work that went into that and you had to miss it? What do you think these women are here for anyway?

Cheetah has Black Lightning at her mercy, but seems to be unsure of how to hold him. Her hands move around with every panel, which leads me to believe she really doesn’t know about submission techniques.

Then again, she’s barely got him held at all. In panel 3, it’s like she’s gently caressing his head. Must not want to wake him up I suppose. However, she says she’s going to rip his throat out. If that’s the case, I’d expect her to, I dunno, actually hold onto his throat?

Oh, well, he wakes up anyway and shocks her! Crisis averted.

Amazingly, as she’s flung back from the attack, her butt does not lead the way. However, it can’t be that bad, because while she’s squinting in pain, her mouth is in the exact same, slightly angry, smooth-cheeked expression as panel 3.

Page 9. Dr Light is attacking Green Lantern with an apparently nonexistant attack that still causes his cape to billow out. Even so, GL’s feeling the brunt of this from behind his shield.

Fatality glows menacingly from behind while Red Arrow looks like he’s going to shoot off into the distance.

Wonder Woman flies away, ass-beckoning all the while.

Oh, wait, Roy was just fooling! He shoots Fatality in the hand. After a little interchange to show each-other how bad-ass they are, Firestorm comes in and clocks her with a giant tennis racquet. Fatality flies off into the distance, spread eagled.

See, it’s a minor bit, but she’s going away, why does her body say “Come to me, my love!”

Page 10. Wonder Woman kicks Grodd’s butt. KRAK! THOK! WHUDD!

Damn, but isn’t her butt good looking?

Feel that dissonance? Textually, we’ve got a superheroine beating the crap out of a brilliant, talking gorilla. Artistically, we’ve got a butt-shot, mid-page.

Page 11. Black Canary faces off against Giganta and comes out on tap in two attacks. Giganta attacks, Canary dodges, breaks her thumb, and then uses her scream to wonderful effect. BOOM, down.

A bit marred by the opening butt-shot, which -might be forgivable if only based on the disparate sizes of the pair. You know what would be cooler, though? An over-the shoulder shot from Giganta’s point of view, making Canary look so small and overshadowed.

From there, the way Canary so totally dominates the exchange is that much more delicious.

Textually, Canary makes a few cracks about Giganta’s weight and wardrobe.

Page 12. Vixen takes out some lava guy I can’t remember. I honestly have no idea what’s going on here, because panels 1 and 2 are so muddled together. Which is which? I honestly don’t know because every character is showing up in both.

Then she kisses Superman to give him his powers back. Superman is very confused by this.

I’m somewhat tickled because I remember back in my X-Men reading days, Rogue would take everyone’s powers with a kiss. It was ridiculous then, and it’s ridiculous now. From the “Kiss him” directive bubble, I imagine there’ll be more story to this, though.

On the other hand, I’m a bit confused. I thought she, like Animal Man, just kinda copied other abilities. Now she steals them? Weirdly undefined powers and abilities FTW, perhaps?

Page 13. I’ve noticed in this issue that many scenes seem to bleed over into the pages around them, either one panel sneaking into the previous page (see page 10), or, like here, one sneaking into the next. I’m not sure why it’s happening, because it doesn’t help the flow of the issue.

In any case, next we have a single panel of Hawkgirl and Ivy about to go at it. That’s it, just one panel, no dialogue, nothing. It’s like our eyes were taken across it while we looked from Superman and Vixen’s confused smooch to…

Fatality blasts Red Arrow! She hates his new name, too! And the arrows sticking out of her arm. Which GL helpfully explains is prosthetic. Thus it’s able operate at full functionality until destroyed.

It’s always confused me. You take a high tech piece of machinery, like an arm, do incredible amounts of damage to it, and it continues to function. Remember all the times Cable’s arm took so much damage it had an aura of permanent sparks shooting out of it? But the arm was fine, sure.

Not like those weak, fleshy things that would stop after only one little puncture wound. Unless you’re manly, in which case it’ll just annoy you.

What follows is a long conversation between Firestorm, Black Lightning, and Red Tornado about getting Reddy up and running again. Despite being the most advanced android on the planet, Red Tornado has no ability to emote, as he has the exact same expression in five different panels. Or perhaps they removed that crucial ability when they pulled him apart. I don’t know.

Firestorm, despite being one of the most powerful beings around, cannot put Reddy back together again. We’ll ignore the fact that Reddy, as established in the first storyline of this run of JLA, has an amazing self-repair program. I’m pretty sure that, much like Legos, if you just put Arm A into slot B, he’d be up and running in as little as one reboot.

This conversation runs through Page 14, which ends when everyone gets bored of the talking and asks for more whacky again.

Page 15. Grodd attacks. Firestorm creates a brick wall out of nothing. Grodd smashes wall.

And the big one hits. San Francisco is GONE! The Teen Titans are working overtime to save the City by the Bay which leaves the JLA to take care of this problem on their own.

Okay, maybe not, but something starts rumbling.

As Grodd attacks, though, Reddy goes flying in many different directions. Hilarious.

Page 16. Geo-Force, ignoring decades of geology research, opens a fissure in the earth, which swallows Grodd and closes.

I really can’t say much more than that. The pit was apparently bottomless, which makes me wonder if, in addition to earth-shaping powers, he has the ability to make the earth hollow.

Nest Dr Light has apparently been beaten. His non-existant attack must have backlashed and caused some undetermined hurty.

Cheetah wakes him up, saying they’ve got to get going, as the cause is lost. The shot of her waking him up is odd, though. Why did she toss her hair over to one side? Why is she looking away? Does she not care for him? Not want to see if he’s been wounded.

Also, I’m struck by the inconvenience of having a tail. If it means you’ve got to cut the back of your pants to sit just at the top of the butt-crack, I’m not sure I’d want one, no matter the advantages.

Or you could just cut a whole, I suppose.

In any case, Cheetah helps him up and away until…

Page 17. The coolest fucking moment in the entire book. Cheetah backstabs (back…scratches?) Light and lays into him like the rapist he is. Light is apparently surprised that she’d feel angered by his tendency to get all pelvic-thrusty at the poor and underpowered because she kills people.

So does he. In any case, Cheetah delivers the killing blow. I’m a bit confused by this killing blow, since it seems to be a fairly weak swipe. If you have pointy claws, wouldnt it make more sense to do a thrusting, stabby-type motion? Get the force generated by the shoulder and body rather than the forearm and elbow? That would really cause the attack to hit and then puncture, which is going to make someone’s day a lot more difficult to finish than a series of scraping cuts. They may be deep, but they won’t do nearly so much damage.

Or would, until Wonder Woman stops her and shows off some ass-cleavage. Apparently killing isn’t okay, but butt-shots are.

Let’s look at this page and take stock. We’ve got Dr. Light, who would happily rape and murder every female in the DCU. We’ve got Cheetah, who would happily kill anyone who gets in her way. (Although, to be fair, she’s apparently not very good at it, since this is twice she’s gone and done things poorly.)

And we’ve got Wonder Woman, who killed Max Lord on world-wide television (The Brother Eye Network! Fresh from the supers to you 24-7! Eye Am Standing By!)

Dr Light seems miles worse than Max Lord, but what do I know.

Page 18. Wonder Woman apparently is not going to take down Cheetah. Firestorm will do that.

Luthor finally starts to fight, trading blasts with GL. Superman shows up and distracts Luthor enough for GL and… GL to hold Luthor down. (Where did Hal come from? Left field, apparently.) Why it takes two GLs to generate two hands to hold down Luthor, I don’t know.

Page 19. Oh, Hal came from another solar system. While Flash couldn’t make it.

Luthor is going to kill Superman. Because, despite his brilliant financial and scientific mind, he thinks his best plan is going toe-to-toe with one of the five most powerful beings on the planet in a physical showdown.

Supes understands that Luthor is being really, really dumb and breaks the armor.

Ah, but Luthor has another plan! What is it? Stay tuned because all will be revealed… sometime. Probably in some other book.

Page 20. VICTOLY! Beatdowns completed, Black Canary takes this moment to show off her AMAZING butt for all and sundry. She even uses here-to-fore unknown telekinetic powers to hold Joker in mid-air so she can thrust her ass.

See, Batman! You can’t lead the JLA, for you do not have an awesome posterior.

Batman apparently doesn’t think much of this, as he disobeyed Canary.

Then Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad show up to take all the villains and chuck them into Salvation Run.

Now, I’m behind a bit on Checkmate, but it seems to me that if you’ve been given a dictate NOT to run any operations, but you want to do so, showing up face-to-face with some of the most public superheroes on the planet with your covert operations team might not be the best plan.

Bad, Amanda. No cookie for you.

Page 21. Canary shrugs and hands off the bad guys.

Page 22. Hal reminds Canary of an impending wedding. She leaves to get written completely out of character by Judd Winick and then to stab Ollie in the neck.

Also, any villains who weren’t contained here are apparently going to attack again, just to interrupt the festivities. I wonder if any who were captured are going to magically teleport out to break up the party and then get back before anyone notices so they can still show up in time for Salvation Run.

Then Batman ignores the fact that she’s in charge even more and insists Firestorm is on the team. Black Lightning acknowledges Batman’s powers of the divine, then Superman and Wonder Woman continue this undermining of Canary’s position.

And the issue abruptly ends.

So, here we are. On one hand, I liked some things here. A lot of fun, whammy action and fighting, where a number of heroines (and even one villianess) got to lay out some serious smackdown.

On the other hand, the writing remained a bit weak. Nothing really got resolved, which is disappointing, since this seemed like it was going to be a big storyline. Since everything is apparently going elsewhere for resolution, I begin to wonder what the hell the point of JLA is.

See, back when Grant Morrison did JLA, it was very clear. These were going to be stories showcasing the most awesome of awesome heroes saving the world from bigger and bigger threats. The Hyperclan. Darkseid. Vandel Savage. The Injustice Gang. Early JLA was a book full of fun awesome. It proudly declared that it was the paragon book for the DCU. If you wanted the biggest and best adventures, you had to read them there.

They were stories that were so big, no one hero could contain them.

What is Justice League of America, though? Look at the team, even now, over a year since the book started, I’m not entirely sure who’s on the roster, who’s in charge, or even what their purpose is. They have a worse logo, a less cool HQ, and worst of all the book seems to be little more than a fill in the gaps title.

Seriously, why the fuck is this story dovetailing into Salvation Run and the BC/GA wedding special? This is the Justice League. They come, they kick ass, they go home and deal with their own problems in their own books. End of story.

As written, it’s like just another in the innumerable books DC is putting out that hint at bigger things going on.

I don’t think this is McDuffie’s fault. He’s just the writer on the one book, after all. DC is in the midst of a four+ year epic crossover event. that’s likely going to last until NEXT December.

Things are getting so messy that what should arguably be the biggest book, the centerpiece of the entire DCU line feels like a fill-in afterthought. Like “Oh, yeah, what the hell do they do when they aren’t in their own books?”

Still, McDuffie does do some things well. See the fun whacky action and girls kicking butt.

It’s totally undermined by Benes’ art, though. The number of cleavage-prone butt-shots from the girls in this issue is nearly disturbing fetish-levels. I can appreciate a nice derriere, but I don’t need to see them trying to suck their costumes into their rectums. It’s just too much, and not really appealing.

PLUS, and I don’t know if I’m the only one who has observed this, but I don’t think it’s really comfortable. Think about it. Go to a swimming pool and watch the ladies, On occasion, they’ll reach back with their fingers, grab the hems of the legs and pull a little bit.

Skintight clothes have a tendency to ride up a little bit, and there’s a reaction to reverse the process.

Apparently, among their numerous fighting abilities, the ladies of the DCU have no nerve endings down there, because they aren’t so bothered.

Or, alternatively, Benes is a crap artist.

All that butt-kicking? That’s sexy. Black Canary being strong and taking out Giganta in two seconds flat? Sexy. Wonder Woman laying the smack-down on Grodd? Sexy. Cheetah realizing how bad Light really is, and providing some visceral “HOO YEAH!” from the reader? Sexy. And Awesome.

The art? Ugly, sexist tripe which doesn’t do the text any favors. And as muddled as the DCU is, the text is needing a lot of help.