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Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Defenders, Bendis, and The Sins of The Comic Book Industry

          Back in late April of this year I did a Comic Book Spotlight article titled Guardians of the Galaxy: Why Bendis Succeeded and why Abnett andLanning Failed for the release of the new Guardians of the Galaxy film.  The entire article in question was more or less an excuse for me to sink my teeth into both versions of the book and tearing the old version a new one by way of negatively comparing it to the version Bendis started back in 2013.  At the time of its release it was by far the most viewed article on the site as well as the most talked about with the article getting far more comments and sparking more discussion than any other article up to that point.  It also happens to have been one of the most controversial.  After it was published it seemed like everyone and their mother had something to say about it.  Some people respectfully disagreed.  Some attacked my intelligence and ability to review comics.  Some were just fans of the Abnett and Lanning run who felt that the series was underappreciated and under promoted by Marvel during its initial publication.  But the most common thing that I read were the attacks against the writing and character of Brain Michael Bendis and how his influence has supposedly brought the entire industry down.  And seeing as how he has a new series out that is clearly aimed to cash in on The Defenders Netflix show, I decided that now would be a good time to tackle this subject as well as give some thoughts on the new Defenders comic series.  So, let’s shine a spotlight on the Defenders, Bendis, and the sins of the Comic Book industry.
The most reoccurring thing that I read in the comment section about Bendis, in the opinion of the commenters, was that he's a talentless hack who is only interested in cashing in on trends and popular films and T.V. series and is sponging off the hard work of other writers and artists.  And to be fair, there is some truth to that.  A good chunk of his work in the Ultimate Universe, for example, often amounted to little more than a rehash of the classic Lee/Kirby/Ditko works of the Silver Age with only slight, and often questionable, variations on the original stories.  When reading his run on Guardians of the Galaxy it’s very clear that the looks and personalities of the characters and overall tone of the book were altered in order to be more in line with the James Gunn films.  Civil War II, also a Bendis book, was an unmasked attempt by Marvel to cash in on the release of the latest Captain America film.  And then you look at his Defenders book and things become even more damning.
The book itself is okay.  The thing about “The Defenders” is that it has always been something of a loose title.  Whereas The Avengers have always had a number of seemingly permanent, iconic members, (Captain America, Iron Man, etc.), and a mission statement, The Defenders was always a title that writers and editors just kind of gave to a group of heroes who usually already knew each other to do something together whenever team up books were popular without as much of a long-term cause as you might think.  In many ways, the new book does feel like it’s being more or less true to that premise.  It follows a group of heroes who, at the very least have a professional relationship with one another and have come together to fight a common foe but is more than likely temporary team up.  In this case, the team up is triggered by the return of the villain Dimondback who has apparently coming back from the dead with super power and tries to kill Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist.  And if you have seen any of the Netflix shows you can probably tell where this is going and where the Bendis criticism comes into play,
           The looks and personalities of at least two of these characters seem like they were directly lifted from the shows in order to keep the book more in line with them.  Dimondback’s reappearance as the main antagonist was a choice that was clearly influenced by his antagonistic role in the Luke Cage series as well as his acquisition of superpowers that was hinted at in its final episode.  It also wouldn’t at all surprise me if it turned out that his resurrection and new drug turned out to be related to The Hand and the mysterious corporation that was responsible for giving Jessica Jones her powers.  They even managed to throw The Punisher and Electra in to the mix as wild card obstacles.  Night Nurse makes several appearances throughout the comic and I’m honestly surprised that her look has more or less stayed the same as it was before.  But the real question that we should all be asking is in the end, does it all work?
At this point it really is too early to say.  As of writing this article the book has only released four issues and hasn’t really given any hits as to where it’s going beyond these four teaming up on a possible permanent basis.  I can say, however, that the book is very readable.  It’s not Bendis’ best work or is it the best book to feature these four characters but it’s certainly not the worst way to spend an hour or so.  What I can tell you is that the book will inevitably attract the ire of so called “fans” who think that Bendis is Satan because he opted to take the helm on a book that clearly drew inspiration from an alternate medium that was going to happen regardless if he was doing the writing or not.
Here’s the thing guys.  Bendis’ so called sins against the industry are, by in large, the sins OF the industry and have been since the start.  Don’t believe me?  Well let’s go back to the early days of the industry with its most iconic figure, Superman.   You see in the original comics Superman couldn’t fly.  To travel he would just leap long distances like he was John Carter or something.  But then in the early 40s Paramount acquired the rights to do a cartoon based on the popular comic that were eventually produced by Fetcher Studios and later Famous Studios, (check them out because they’re great).  But upon viewing the test footage of Superman’s leaps the producers deemed it to silly looking and asked the publishers permission to allow the character to fly.  Not long after the character in the comics begun to fly and since became one of the most popular superpowers of all time.
          Now fast forward about 20 years.  The Adam West Batman show is on and soaring in popularity.  To cash in on this the Batman comics began to take on a look and tone that was more in line with said TV series and arguably kept the book and character in the popular conscience for the time and perhaps all time.  It was also the series that invented the now iconic Barbra Gordon Batgirl before she made her debuted in the comics.  It was also the reason why characters like The Riddler, Penguin, and Catwoman were restored to A-list villain status after a long period of being in the background.  Heck, the Joker of all characters was saved because a certain editor was dead set on axing the character but found that he was unable to thanks to his popularity on the T.V. show.
Fast-forward another 30 years and we come to the Timm/Dini D.C. Animated Universe which many consider to be the greatest adaptation of the comics of all time.  Arguably its greatest achievement was in Mr. Freeze.  In earlier storylines Freeze was more or less just a bad guy with a cool gun, (no pun intended), and had little to differentiate himself than any other bad guy otherwise.  But what Timm and Dini did was give the character a Shakespearean tragic backstory in the Emmy winning episode Heart of Ice.  This specific backstory would eventually find its way into the comics, the video games and film adaptations until it was altered, (for the worse in my opinion), in Batman Annual #1 by Scott Snyder.
Finally, we have the modern era where the list of film and TV influences goes on and on.  When the third Spider-Man film was released back in 2007, Peter Parker apparently put the black suite back on for the first time since Mephisto knows when.  Back in 2013, Jason Aaron’s book Thor: God of Thunder seemed to have temporarily made the Dark Elf Malekith its main antagonist to tie better into the film Thor: The Dark World and the armor of the race has since changed to reflect the armor worn in the film.  The X-Men had at least three different series in early 2016 that involved the character Apocalypse in some way to tie into the X-Men: Apocalypse film that was being released that summer.  2015 saw the release of Rage of Ultron a little over a month before the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Even Gregg Land is promoting a book titled Return to Planet Hulk that is due for release in the fall to, in part, tie into the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok film that clearly takes large portions of its plot from his iconic work.  Within the next year or so it wouldn’t at all surprise me if we see some revival of The New Mutants series, a high profile Deadpool comic with Cable and Domino as prominent characters, a Dark Phoenix related storyline, an Infinity/Thanos related book and some revival of an Antman/Wasp romance.  And all of these things will happen with or without Bendis.

          Now Do I wish that the medium stood more on its own?  Well sort of.  It’s a double edge sword.  On one hand, it’s easy to see just how positively external media has influenced the comic book industry.  Without it, it’s highly doubtful that the majority of us would be talking about it today and it’s unarguable that said external media has changed the industry for the better at times.  On the other hand, it does really get tiresome when every four months or so an entire series has to stop its narrative dead in its tracks to tie into a storyline related to a film.  It’s also becoming increasingly obvious that comics are being used as testing grounds for future ideas to be used in said films but that’s a discussion for another day.  Either way people need to stop trying to demonize one or two individuals for it.  Bendis and people like him are not the problem.  Even the external media that is influencing them isn’t the problem.  The industry itself is the problem and that very problem is in its bones and I’m tired of people trying to demonize otherwise great writers and artists for trying to and succeeding to work effectively in it. 

            So until next time, please Like the Nerd Hub Facebook Page, check out The Nerd Hub Facebook groupFollow us on Twitter and be sure to check out my own personal blog, Trey’s Take On…as well as giving my Facebook Page a Like, contribute a dollar or so to my new Patreon Page and checking me out on Twitter.  Until then, let's try not to attack individuals over writing books in a modern era.

TNH Roundtables: End of Season Review - Arrow

With the season now wrapped, some of the TNH Staff decided to sit down and discuss the shows and our thoughts on each series individually as well as the network's franchise as a whole. What are they doing right and what are they doing wrong? Where have they been and where could they be going? We are re-visiting this now to what has changed. Make sure you read our Mid-Season Review and continue on t check out some of our analysis' and theories in the 7th of this 9 part series and then let us know what your thoughts were in the comments below.


Arrow Season 5 (DC Entertainment)
           Arrow is the show that started the revolutionary shared universe of superhero shows on The CW.  Something so astounding that many have dubbed the "Arrowverse". For fans of the show however, the entire run has had its high and it lows.  This is a show that suffered from a third season drop as many do.  The fourth season, however, showed hope at a possible rebound in the future and several months ago we took a look at the current season during the mid way break.  We tried to determine if the show could return to its former glory by the end of the season.  The conclusion we came to was that it had the possibility to do so but at that time was not quite there yet.  So today we look at the second half of the season and the season as a whole and determine whether or not the fifth season of Arrow can be compared to either of the first two seasons.

Now that we have seen Dinah progress more, do like where they have gone with Dinah and do you think that they are succeeding with Curtis.

Michael - Dinah gives me hope that we'll have a worthy representation of the Black Canary character as opposed to what was done w/ Laurel aka "Captain Buckles."  I'm curious to see if the actress playing Dinah goes through the effort of proper combat training the same way Stephen Amell has done as opposed to relying too heavily on stunt replacement actors like the rest of the women on the show have done.  As far as Curtis, his character is one I'm not AS familiar with from the original comics, so I'm kinda enjoying going into his character blind.

Marlon - I love Dinah's character.  I think the best part about this version of the Black Canary so far is the fact that she is a Meta as she should be.  The fact that she can hold her own in a fight better than any previous Canary so far is also a major plus. Curtis is a cool nerd, but I hate him as Mr. Terrific. His role is better suited without a vigilante identity.

John - I like where they have gone with Dinah and Curtis.  Dinah is a total badass and Curtis is on his way up there.  I'm looking forward to seeing their progression continue into next season.

Jack - Dinah is probably my favorite character on the show at the moment I'm looking forward to seeing her continue down the Black Canary path and see her wear a costume.  If it's anything like the portrayal the costume will be far better than any before it.  Curtis was a character that took a long time for me to not cringe at.  I still cringe.  The character still has a lot of potential, but has yet to find a solid footing and direction.  We have yet to see an arsenal of gadgets and fluidity using them beyond a few select instances.  The character seems to be used only as an "ice maker" who interrupts dialogue awkwardly and just takes away from it entirely, as well as, a political mouth piece.  I would like to see the character gain some significance much like Dinah or Wild Dog, otherwise move over for Ragman.

This season has seen a sharp decline in the amount of time spent on"Olicity",  but we now know that it is not completely dead.  Do you think this was a wise move on their part, and do you think that they have properly executed the subplot this season?  Do you think that they can have this subplot and execute it properly in the future?  Are you in favor or against the decision not to bury it forever?  What tips would you give the show runners and writers on how to go about this subplot in the future?

Michael - I'm glad they moved on from it.  As someone who was a "shipper" I can also admit that, for me, I never wanted it to be anything more than a fantasy.  That being said, the way the show chose to end the relationship in Season 4 was, for lack of a better word, hypocritical.  I'd rather we moved on from the relationship [altogether].  I much preferred it before they were together because of the hilarious sexual tension and awkward comments.  Frankly, the quality of characterization for Felicity has declined considerably since she and Oliver got together.  It might be time for her to go and Curtis can take her place.

Marlon - The show needs some form of 'Olicity' to give each hero hope that they can fight crime and still find love.

John - I'm glad they didn't focus on 'Olicity', the show was starting to drag on and this season was better off without all of the drama.  They can continue the plot, but the scale back was absolutely necessary.

Jack - It was a necessary move.  If they want to continue that relationship at a smaller scale it might work, but I think it's time to move on from it.  I would personally put Dinah and Oliver together next season.

How do you stand on this Artemis portrayal and plot?  If you were to have written this character's plot, how would you have gone about it?

Marlon - I never liked her.  The betrayal being used to break down our hero was much needed.

John - The Artemis plot played out well, but questions still remain that need to be answered.  Hopefully next season delves into her story in more detail.

Michael - I'm a little disappointed with how Artemis was handled, but I;m thrilled to see the character involved in the show; She was one of my favorite characters in 'Young Justice'  and to see her used as a main character with this much impact on the plot is fantastic.

Jack - Okay, the plot so far has seemed like a gimmick but a necessary gimmick.  My problem is, why make a major character for a gimmick, and for that matter, why makes such a character as Artemis, and not make her properly.  This is a character with a great back story and a great personality, and this show just shit all over that.  This is by far my biggest gripe of the season.

What are your thoughts on how they handled Prometheus?

Marlon - Prometheus / Chase was a great bad guy choice; execution was even better.  I would have liked to see a few more fight scenes between him and Oliver if I could change anything.

John - Prometheus was amazing.  The way he was always 10 steps ahead, he knew what the team was going to do before they themselves did.  Loved the plot, loved the character, the season was great because of it.

Michael - I thought Prometheus was handled as well as could be.  He's not one of my favorite villains and I thought he was an odd choice at first, but given all the behind-the-scenes mishaps with season 4 and the effect it had on the plot, it made sense to have a more grounded villain for a change.

Jack - I think Prometheus was a great villain and pretty much the biggest plus for this seasons quality.  The acting was what put this character over the top.  The writing didn't hurt it though did it?

Click Here to Read 'TNH Roundtable: Mid-Season Reviews - Arrow
Do you think Arrow pulled off a successful season and redeemed itself: why or why not?

Marlon - This show will always rise and fall with viewers, but if they keep doing what they have been doing as of late they will be okay.

Michael - This season was, without a doubt, the redemption of Arrow.  Season 3 was a total bust and Season 4 was a step in the right direction that suffered at the hands of contract negotiations and backhanded business deals.  Season 5 got us back to what we loved about the show in Seasons 1 & 2.

Jack - I think the show was almost on par with the first two seasons and heading in a better direction, but still has a lot of work to put in to correct situations that still remain and must stop messing things up.  Was it a success?  Yes.  Did it redeem itself?  Not yet.

What are you high and low points of the finale, and what do you think about how they executed it?  Any tips or takeaways as to if you were to have handled it?

John - I really enjoyed the season final.  It had me on the edge of my seat and the ending blew me away.  High points would be Slade's redemption, low point would be the Talia V Nyssa fight; I thought it was anticlimactic, it could have been an amazing fight.

Michael - My high point was the way Slade was utilized.  My lows are the fact that we're still dealing with the island and the fact that we're now making a lead character out of Oliver's son.  That's a plot line that I could've done without, to begin with, and has done nothing but cause for messy writing ever since.

Jack - The high was Slade's redemption and the fact that Prometheus went all in all the way until the end.  Low point was Artemis still having no development on this plot they have going.  I enjoyed the Nyssa V Talia fight but i do think it should have been done better with two heads of the league going at one another but they did multiple fights at once taking away from it.  The only problem with this cliffhanger is anyone who watches any television knows they will not kill the entire cast.

What do you think Arrow needs to do in Season 6 to stay on the right path to the quality we once knew?

Marlon - I'd like to see Oliver struggle with what happened to the team on the island and his choice, as well as, see how everyone got off the island.  That would be the first step for me.

John - To continue the success of season 5 into season 6, they need to concentrate more on the action and intrigue, less on the relationships and emotional side.

Michael - Lose Felicity, bring an end to the constant post-Olicity awkwardness.  Have Oliver's son and baby mama go into WITSEC or something and get them out of the show.  Rene/Wild Dog needs new writers because his character has become so one-note, despite the great story arc involving his daughter.  And bring in a villain that can challenge Oliver on a mental level, not just physical or tactical.

Jack - I can handle the emotional side and relationships so as long as they are not so forefront and dramatic.  I also think Prometheus covered the mental aspect of a villain.  However, I do think that the time for Felicity to go has come. Send her to Legends and have her stand on her own again. Curtis needs to be more than a political agenda and Rene needs more dimension as well. Ragman needs focus in general. The problem with ragman is that they botched his origin story. Get canary right this time and stop botching Origins. If there must be a relationship make it Dinah Drake and Oliver, but do it long after Felicity is gone or do one last Olicity drama and have this be the end. I think Oliver needs to face a crime lord on the streets of Star City and have this big bad bring together a rogues gallery of villains of which Oliver has never seen before. More twists, intrigue, and mystery. More stakes. Kill this bullshit version of Artemis.

In conclusion, the fifth season of arrow has shown us that the show runners have realized their mistakes in the past and are working vigilantly to correct them, as well as, bring us the quality that once was.  They have yet to get the but they are right on the brink of it and the sixth season is a must watch.  Can they pull off a season for the ages?  Quite possibly.  Join us next year for the Mid Season review to see if they have been able to accomplish the tasks that lie ahead.

Stay Tuned for our next installment of this Roundtable Review series where we give our End of Season Thoughts on Arrow.

Be sure to Follow us on our Twitter and our Facebook Page, Join us in our Facebook Group and Subscribe to us on YouTube so you can be there for our upcoming projects.

Written and Edited by, Jack Flowers. Contributions from Marlon Ortega, John Ayre

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Chat with Justin Cristelli The Creator of The Red Knight

          When it comes to the comic book industry most people already know about the heavy hitters.  They know about Marvel and DC and if they have any active interest in the medium they know about the larger independents like Image, Dark Horse, BOOM! or IDW.  But what many of us don’t know is that there is an entire industry out there of individuals working to get their own books published.  Working people with regular jobs who have a passion for storytelling and invest their own time and money into their works.  Back in 2013 I became acquainted with a few of these individuals, one of whom is the subject of today’s article.  On YouTube, he is known as The Real Manos and a contributor on Geekvolution.  He is the writer of the vampire novel Divita, the nightmare fuel disguised as a children’s book, Krampus in the Corner, and his own independent comic series, The Red Knight.  He is a writer of violence and a lover of women.  He is Justin Cristelli.
TG:  Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.

JC:  No problem! Thanks for having me! 

TG:  So before we get started I do need to disclose that I have met you several times before and have bought your comics as well as donated to your Patreon and do intend to donate to the Red Knight Kickstarter as well.  Just needed to put that out there.  So now that we have that out of the way please tell me in your own words how all of this began.  Why did you opt to become a storyteller?

JC:  It started in high school really. I wrote a couple of plays for drama class and thought they came out rather decent. Since I've been a comic book fan since I was a kid, it was a simple step. Like many fans, I would have my own ideas of how things should be. They soon turned into creating my own characters. I write what I want to see. 

TG:  Hmm.  Interesting.  So, The Red Knight.  You obviously have a Kickstarter project for the latest issue in the works.  Tell us a bit about the book.  What is the plot?  When did you originally conceive of the character?  How much has he changed over the years?  What drove you to finally take a crack at it and invest a significant portion of your free time and money to risk a venture that was almost guaranteed to not only fail but probably bankrupt you as well?  What was that final push?

JC:  I created Red Knight in 1990 under a different name, The Desert Knight. The series was supposed to be a modern super hero western. It wasn't long before I thought doing the character in my home town would be more interesting. Believe it or not, that might be the biggest change. 
As soon as Red Knight become developed in my head, I HAD TO DO IT. Thankfully, the internet has made it a lot easier than it was in the 90's. I know I most likely won't get rich from it and I kinda don't care. I dreamed of making comics as a kid and now I do it. I maybe small potatoes, but I'm happy creating them.

TG:  So tell me a little bit about Primal Paper Comics.  Who were they key people in that group and how did you guys operate?

JC: Primal Paper Comics started out as Paper Tiger Comics led by Mike Federali. He brought in a few people like myself, Bob Frantz, and Vince White. Soon it became Primal Paper and Mike went off to develop Tidewater Comic Con. The idea was to become a group effort of a small band of comic creators working under the title. That group was myself, Jeff Hewitt (The Ends) Bob Frantz (41), Vince White (Will Power) Forrester Randlet (Dogs & Sailors), and Jon Jonsick (Edward & Pepper). We would fund our own personal books. We would support and promote each other, appear together at cons. 

TG:  So wait, you’re friends with the guy who owns Tidewater Comic Con?

JC:  Yup. We met in 2011. He's been pretty inspirational. 

TG:  So then late in 2015/early 2016 you and The Ends creator Jeff Hewitt split with Primal Paper Comics, citing creative differences.  Generally speaking that is a very ambiguous term in any creative industry.  So please tell us what exactly happened there?  What caused the split?  How have your relationships with Vince White and the other guys been since the split?

JC:  Yeah, it's the basic "Creative Differences" story.  Mostly it was life pulling us into separate directions. We were a pretty lose group anyway, not really a comic company the traditional sense. Bob went off to join Action Lab, Vince started work on The Powerverse and Jeff started Dead West Comics. Since we're know each other since high school, he asked me to join, so that was an easy move. Funny enough, I currently have a foot in Dead West and Powerverse. Vince asked me if my characters Red Knight and Martha Brown could appear in the big crossover event that is to launch his new company starting with The Powers That Be #1. I still chat with Bob, Jon, and Forrester is coloring Red Knight #9. 

TG:  You’re doing a crossover with the Powerverse?  When will that story be out?  Can you give us any insight as to how that’s going to happen within your universes? 

JC:  The Powers That Be #1 launches the new line. That should be out anytime now. I'm excited to be a part of it.

TG:  So Dead West Comics.  You and Hewitt split from Primal to do your own thing.  Hewitt announces all of these new series that he wants to produce and then nothing.  The last tweet that came from the company was back in June of 2016 and the last site update was in May of that year.  What is going on with that?  What’s happened?

JC:  Jeff has been very working with The Virginian Pilot lately, that takes up a lot of time. I would like to develop Dead West more in the future though. 

TG:  I see.  Well, as you yourself admitted there has been a year’s long gap in between Red Knight #8 and Red Knight #9.  Why is this?  What exactly happened that caused the delay? 

JC:  A lack of money. 2015 and 2016 were rough years for me financially. Thankfully, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just hope it's not a train. 

TG:  Heh heh.  Let’s hope not.  So the Kickstarter for Issue #9 has a pretty high goal of $1,500.  Why is it that high?  

JC:  Actually, it's kinda low compared to others. Kathryn Calamia's Like Father Like Daughter #4's goal was $4,500 and Vince White's The Powers That Be #1 was $3,200. 

TG:  Really?  Can you give us a bit more insight in this?  For an independent writer like yourself how much does it actually cost to produce a single issue?  Can you take us a bit through the process as to how the book is made?

JC:  Yeah. That's a lot that goes into an issue. You gotta pay for the art, color, lettering, printing, shipping, and shipping costs like packaging. 

TG:  So here are the pessimistic questions.  What happens if the Kickstarter fails?  Does the series go back on indefinite hiatus?  Does it just die?  Are you going to try again on another site?  Lower the goal and try again?  What happens if this doesn’t succeed?

JC:  Luckily, Red Knight is nearly done. So, if the Kickstarter fails, it's still gonna happen. It will cause me to cut some corners on the budget and it might push back the release for a few weeks. If it doesn't succeed, it will be due to the fact that it's been out of reader's minds for two years. I will continue to try and get the comic in people's hands and do another Kickstarter. I need to build a readership. I can be delayed, but I won't stop.

TG:  So speaking of Kickstarter, here is the big one and the one that I found a little disconcerting.  I did a little digging and I found the Kickstarter for Krampus in the Corner that you and your wife did about ten months ago as of writing this article.  What I found odd was that it nearly made $60,000 while you two were only asking for about $2,800.  So, I have to ask why didn’t you take some of that cash and put it into Red Knight?  Why do you even need another Kickstarter for it?  Unless I am completely wrong I would imagine that even after Kickstarter took its cut and once all the project expenses were taken to account you would have had at least a good $40,000 left over and begs the question as to why you need additional backing for this relatively small project.

JC:  Most of the money Lindsay and I raised went right back into production. She was planning to hand sew the dolls, but when the Kickstarter exploded, we had to hire a manufacturer to make the dolls. We paid them for creation and shipping of the dolls. We also used the money for printing of the books, extra rewards, and shipping all that. The U.S. Post Office made a lot of money off us. We did have some money left over and that mostly went to bills, taxes, and debts.

TG:  I see.  That actually is something that lines up with other independent Kickstarter projects where the costs of actually shipping out rewards and whatnot almost exceeded the Kickstarter budget.  I assume that is what almost happened here?

JC:  Luckily, ours exploded crazy enough to cover the costs. Shipping costs alone went into the thousands.  

TG:  So, one final question.  We originally met back in 2013 at the 2 Day VA Comic Con show in Richmond, Virginia.  Do you have any plans to go to anymore conventions to help promote your books?  If so, which ones do you plan to appear at? 

JC:  I'll be at Monsterfest at the Chesapeake Central Library and Hampton Comic Con at Lindsay's Silent Orchid table.  Both are in October. I hope to do more cons next year. I wanna do VA Comic Con, Tidewater, and Heroes Con. 

TG:  Well Mr. Cristelli thank you again for taking the time to talk with me and I look forward to seeing you again when our paths cross.

            So, everyone be sure to check out some of his work on Amazon, give a few dollars to his Patreon and if you are so inclined and be sure to chip in a few dollars to his Kickstarter.  As of writing this article it still has a long was to reach its goal and I would like to see the latest issues of The Red Knight released before the end of the year.

           So until next time, please Like the Nerd Hub Facebook Page, check out The Nerd Hub Facebook groupFollow us on Twitter and be sure to check out my own personal blog, Trey’s Take On…as well as giving my Facebook Page a Like, checking out my Patreon Page and checking me out on Twitter.  Until then let's help Mr. Cristelli reach his goal.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Video Game Spotlight: Prey (2017) Review

          Way back in 2006 during the start of seventh generation console period, a game development team by the name of Human Head Studios released a game called Prey for PC and the XBOX 360.  These days the game isn’t particularly well remembered but it received generally positive reviews and was an overall commercial success at the time of its release which lead to the early development of a sequel.  Not long after the rights to the franchise ended up in Bethesda’s hands who quietly axed the game in 2011 but didn’t officially cancel it until 2014 for reasons that have never been entirely clear.  Then in 2016 a reboot of the franchise was announced as a survival horror game, under the development of Arkane Studios; the team that is best known for their work on the Dishonored games.  Earlier this year we saw the release of this game and while I can say that it isn’t nearly as interesting or as promising as Prey 2 appeared to be I can say that it is a solid little survival horror game.  Even if it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
            The game takes place in the not so distant future on a space station called Talos I that is in orbit around the moon.  The player takes control of Morgan Yu, an executive scientist aboard the station who is suffering from amnesia and discovers that the station has been overrun by the Typhon; a mysterious alien race that feeds off of conscious beings and takes on many shapes and forms.  With the help of his/her AI guide, it’s up to Morgan to travel through the station, decide if you want to rescue its various members from their predicaments and ultimately decide if the station should be destroyed with everyone on board or simply destroy the Typhon on the station and continue to help advance humanity’s reach for the stars.
          As you can tell, the plot here is more or less standard survival horror/isolated location fare.  You have a protagonist who doesn’t really know what is going on, monsters of unknown/alien origins running around, causing trouble and a very real possibility of it spreading if the protagonist doesn’t step up to stop it.  It’s basically the setup of every other sci-fi horror story ever conceived and does very little to differentiate itself.  It lacks the terrifying atmosphere of the System Shock games, the Cronenbergian body horror elements of the Dead Space games, the novelty of seeing the xenomorphs in a survival horror game as in Alien: Isolation or the power trip one gets from tearing through demons in Doom (2016).  That’s not to say that game does an incompetent job of it but it lacks any real novelty and seems to be going through the survival horror checklist.  You have a station that is falling apart all around you, company men of dubious allegiances hindering your path, people’s backstories being told through audio logs and emails, a final act hindrance in the form of a human antagonist and a last second monster who pops out of nowhere to give you one last bit of trouble.  While it is done competently enough it’s something that we’ve all seen a million times before and longtime fans of the genre are more than likely going to be bored by it before too long.
            The one thing that it does do differently is introduce supporting characters who may or may not die depending on your actions, whereas other survival horror games are perfectly content to let said supporting character become monster food.  The actual choices, however, are insufferably simple morality choices that even early BioWare and Lionhead developers would look down their noses at.  But then you get to the ending and all of the simplicity makes a lot more sense.  I won’t spoil it for you but it is one of those endings that will make or break the game for a lot of people.  For some people, it will make the game’s choices feel far more meaningful and give the game a more artistic edge to it.  For others, it will make them feel as if they just wasted all the hours they just spent playing it.  Personally, I found myself in the former category as I found that it gave more depth to my actions and made me wonder where the franchise was going to go next.  I won’t say that it makes up for the rest of the game’s uninspired plot but it does give the whole thing more of an edge that it would have otherwise lacked.
            The gameplay itself is also something of a mixed bag.  Like the main plot it’s competently done but it seems to lack any real imagination.  The Typhon is an antagonist that is a challenging one to defeat.  The different types that you encounter often require different strategies to defeat and even when you figure it out you’re never given enough resources to blast your way through the game easily, allowing the game to keep the tension levels up even while the individual enemies get easier to defeat.  Unfortunately, this design is something of a double edge sword for the game.
            As I’m sure you’ve all heard, the game is an open world, first person, Metroidvania style of game with a ton of side quests spread throughout a rather large station.  While the main quests can be finished in about thirteen hours all the optional content can increase the play time up to twenty-five hours which, in theory, is a good thing.  The problem is that actually running around and doing all of these side quests quickly becomes a massive drain on time and resources, making your struggle to get through the main quests all the more difficult.  As mentioned earlier, the individual enemies get easier to fight through but you’re never given enough resources to cut through the Typhon in large numbers over a long period of time.  Unfortunately for us, the game can and will throw A LOT of enemies at you all at once for long stretches of the game.  Once again, it keeps things tense and challenging but it also makes the side quests feel like an annoying chore that may not be worth all the extra effort you go through to accomplish it.  They’re doable given enough time and patience but it honestly feels as if the team doing the level designs and side quests had a bit of a communication problem with the people designing the monsters’ abilities, strengths and numbers.
            Speaking of level designs and abilities we once again have a mixed bag in this category.  The level designs themselves are actually pretty good and allow a nice verity of options when it comes to combat and story progression.  One way may seem correct but then you’ll find an impassable obstacle with your current stats and are forced to find another way around, be it finding the correct key card or using your Gloo Cannon to make a new set of stairs on the wall.  The problem, however, comes when you take the neuromod advancement system into account.  The main problem is that the game doesn’t have any kind of respec option.  It makes sense given the game’s main narrative but there is nothing more infuriating then running half way across the map, grinding through or sneaking around hordes of enemies only to discover that you can’t progress because you aren’t strong enough to move a box or make it to a much-needed replicator that turns out to be broken and you can’t fix it because you didn’t put enough stats into repair.  It completely cuts out any chance for experimentation and effectively makes you choose what kind of character you’re going to play as from start to finish, lest you end up to weak to battle the games later challenges.  It’s by no means a game breaker but it does make the so-called role play elements feel extremely restrictive.
            There are three things, however, that I can honestly say that the game completely fails at.  The first is the designs of the Typhon.  The only way to really described these things is as black blobs that look like the symbionts from Spider-Man if they were having a bad hair day.  Their initial reveal at the start of the game is frightening and helps induce a sense of paranoia that continues throughout the game but are otherwise unfrightening blobs of black goo that occasionally shoot lighting and fire.  You have the octopus looking blobs, the werewolf looking ones, the giant floating balls, the small floating balls, the kite shaped ones, the one that looks like a giant gorilla and one that looks like a giant worm and they’re all about as generic looking as that reads.  There is quite literally nothing that makes them stand out outside of how under-designed they are. 
            The other two things are the game's graphics and atmosphere.  The graphics themselves aren’t particularly good.  Everything about it looks like it came out of a last gen consul with everything looking far too smooth and lacking any real detail or depth.  And it’s this lack of detail or depth that contributes to the game’s atmosphere or lack thereof.  Like everything else in the game, the atmosphere lacks any identity.  If feels very much like a generic space station that we’ve seen a million times before and fails to contain anything unique enough to give it its own sense of identity.  The environments themselves, while well designed, are not scary.  It lacks the dim lighting and used future atmosphere of Alien: Isolation or the overall sense that something is terribly wrong that System Shock 2 evoked and just all around fails to leave an impression.
            In the end, Prey (2017) is the definition of a competently made sci-fi survival horror game that fails to leave any impression.  The plot and gameplay are all by the numbers and I am hard pressed to find a reason to recommend it.  It’s not a bad game and will give you your survival horror fix but it’s a game that I would only recommend playing if you’re sick of replaying System Shock 2, Alien: Isolation or Dead Space and are a fan of the genre.  Beyond that is just a perfectly average game.

All Around


           So until next time, please Like the Nerd Hub Facebook Page, check out The Nerd Hub Facebook groupFollow us on Twitter and be sure to check out my own personal blog, Trey’s Take On…as well as giving my Facebook Page a Like, checking out my new Patreon Page and checking me out on Twitter.  Until then let's hope that the best of 2017 has yet to come.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Comic Book Spotlight: The Amazing Spider-Man #2

            We are just a few days away from the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming and finally discovering if the additional creative power of Marvel Studios can salvage the film end of one of the comic medium’s most beloved icons.  From what we’ve seen in the trailers the film looks decent and is packed full of the kind of energy and charisma that you’ve come to expect out of a Marvel Studio film with early reviews that have so far have been overwhelmingly positive.  While I personally am a bit indifferent to the web crawler’s first solo outing in the MCU, (mainly because I cannot stand high school films), I am curious to see just how he’s going to fit into the grand scheme of things and what directions the studio is going to take the character from here.  But if there is one thing about the film that has me scratching my head it’s the decision to make The Vulture of all people the main antagonist of the first movie.  While there are certainly worse villains to choose from, it seemed like an odd choice given Spider-Man’s huge colorful gallery of supervillains and like a wasted opportunity to include a decent villain into the main MCU for a change.  But it none the less inspired me to look at the character’s comic book origins and see just where he first appeared in the Spider-Man mythos and what the circumstances of that appearance were.  So, without further ado, this is Comic Book Spotlight shining a light on The Amazing Spider-Man #2.
            The story takes place early on in Spider-Man’s career as a crime fighter with his super heroic credits only consisting of taking down Uncle Ben’s killer, saving an astronaut in a faulty spaceship and apprehending The Chameleon.  At this point in the series Peter is more concerned with his family’s financial situation after Uncle Ben’s death and is trying to find ways to make money for himself and Aunt May.  As luck would have it, J. Johnna Jameson, the publisher/editor of The Daily Bugle, has put out an ad for reliable photographs of The Vulture; a new supervillain who has been flying around New York robbing people in the guise of the scavenger bird.  Seeing an opportunity to make some real money, Peter sets out to find The Vulture as Spider-Man to get some decent pictures of the new villain to sell to the paper.  And…you know…maybe stop the thief who has been terrorizing the city.  If he has time and just feels like doing super hero stuff.
This is the thing that is undoubtedly going to catch a lot of people off guard with this comic.  Every single character that has ever been created for the medium has undergone some change be it minor or significant.  But in this issue and the stories that came before it, it’s quite frankly astounding to see just how much of a selfish greedy twat that Peter is.  Yes, the big idea behind Spider-Man and many other early Marvel characters was that unlike their DC comic counterparts they would have otherwise realistic problems that would affect both their regular and secret identities.  And yes, he is doing a lot of this to help Aunt May with the bills but it seems like these earlier stories completely revolve around Peter trying to get paid.  The first story of the first issue, for example, focuses almost half of its narrative panel space on Spider-Man trying to get a job as a performer but can’t due to bad PR from the Bugle.  Then the next story of the issue picks up with him trying to join the Fantastic Four because he mistakenly thinks that they are rich which again is the focus of half the story with Peter just kind of stumbling into heroic scenarios almost by accident.
            The good news about this issue is that despite Peter being primarily motivated by money it’s a far more structurally sound story then its predecessors and we begin to see Peter take a more active interest in stopping these villains, even if it’s mostly in self-defense.  It has a proper three act structure that gives it a better narrative flow then previous stories had with a proper beginning, middle and end that moves along at a brisk but never rushed pace.  Additionally, despite Peter’s greed, we see what appears to be part of a much larger character arc for him in play that will span multiple issues.  The whole “With Great Power…” thing was thoroughly hammered into Peter’s mind, (and by extension our minds), in Amazing Fantasy #15 but what seems to be happening is that Lee and Ditko are acknowledging that Peter is…well human.  When it comes right down to it changes in people usually aren’t sudden and they often take some time to happen and settle into one’s personality, regardless of how harsh the lesson that provokes that change may have been.  It’s the kind of acknowledgement that you really don’t see happen in…well…any fictional medium and it’s rather refreshing to see it play out in a book this old.  Even if it’s still odd to see Peter channeling Scrooge McDuck.
            Legacy-wise it also happens to be the story where several reoccurring story threads for the character originated.  This was the first time, for example, that Peter met J. Johnna Jameson and sold him pictures of his Spider-Man exploits; something that would become a reoccurring source of employment for the character as well as his main way of making money in the Sam Rami films and animated series of the 90s.  But it’s biggest contribution to the Spider-Man mythos was in establishing just what a Spider-Man villain is.  While technically The Chameleon was the first reoccurring “supervillain” that Spider-Man faced in Issue #1, he wasn’t really what you would call anyone’s idea of a Silver Age comic book villain.  He was more or less just a thief who was really good at switching outfits at a moment’s notice.  With The Vulture, however, we get the full range of Silver Age cheesiness.  He’s a bad guy who does bad things seemingly as a hobby, has a colorful outfit with a silly gimmick who swears eternal vengeance upon Spider-Man for thwarting his dastardly plans and set the foundation for most of the character’s nemesis pool.

           If there is one negative with the story, however, it lays in The Vulture himself.  The character is a thief with a scavenger bird gimmick and that’s about it.  We don’t learn anything about his background nor do we ever learn why it is he steal for a living outside of him just being a bad guy who needs to be stopped.  He doesn’t get much of a personality beyond being a colorfully dressed mustache twirler and seems to only exist for Spider-Man to fight.  Heck, throughout the story we never even learn his real name.  That how little we learn about him. 
            The artwork itself is good and is more or less what you expect out of silver age artwork. The designs of the characters and outfits are silly and make very little sense when you stop and think about it.  It’s detailed enough for you to make out what is going on but not detailed enough to where you’ll find yourself staring at if for hours to find new details and subtleties.  It is, however, very colorful and appealing to look at and helps give the thing an overall sense of fun that seems to be lacking in the medium these days. 

            Overall, the Vulture storyline in The Amazing Spider-Man #2 is just traditional silver age comic fun.  Its plot isn’t complicated but is well structured enough to where you can take it seriously and set up several traditions for the characters.  The art isn’t exactly what you would call Alex Ross material but it more then gets the job done with some now iconic designs.  It just a fun little story and it’s impossible not to get a little smile on your face while reading it.  Maybe it is outdated but it’s still a fun little book.  I say give it a look.

            So until next time, please Like the Nerd Hub Facebook Page, check out The Nerd Hub Facebook groupFollow us on Twitter and be sure to check out my own personal blog, Trey’s Take On…as well as giving my Facebook Page a Like, contribute a dollar or so to my new Patreon Page and checking me out on Twitter.  Until then, let's hope that the film turns out as well as the first to Rami films did.