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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Call of Duty: World War II Trailer



            A few hours ago, as of writing this article Activision and Sledgehammer games released the first official trailer for their latest Call of Duty game titled Call of Duty: World War II.  As we can see from the trailer the developers have decided to go back to the roots of the franchise and intend to give the fans the mid-2000s throwback that they have been clamoring for since Modern Warfare 3 and the franchise slowly started to lose its respectability.  And from the looks of the trailer it will be just that; a grim World War II shooter with an overly serious tone and the dark grey aesthetics that are seemingly mandatory for everything involving the so called Greatest Generation’s battle with the Axis Powers.  It looks intense, violent and the kind of shakeup that the franchise needs to get out of its current rut.  Still though, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve seen this somewhere before.


            Oh.  Oh, that’s why. 
            Now to be fully honest with you I haven’t actually played a Call of Duty game since Black Ops 2 so the full weight of how bad this series may or may not have become is a little lost on me and perhaps this is the kind of shakeup that the franchise needs.  But as I watched this trailer I couldn’t help but think to myself that I’ve already played this game before and seen these cut scenes several times.  It’s Saving Private Ryan.  It’s Band of Brothers.  It’s Fury.  It’s Call of Duty: Finest Hour.  It’s Call of Duty 2: The Big Red One.  Heck, the look of this trailer isn’t that dissimilar from the tank storyline in Battlefield 1 and seeing a game play out in a way that I’ve already seen a dozen times before isn’t something that I find particularly interesting. 
            Now, once again, I am not the biggest Call of Duty fan and am not all that eager for the return of the World War II shooter.  I think that it’s a gaming subgenre that has long since been played out and if I wanted to go back to it I would just load up my old copy of one of those games on Steam.  But if this is what you’re looking for I’m honestly glad that you’ll have the opportunity to see the franchise return to its roots.  I may not get as much enjoyment out of it but if you do I could not be happier for you and am eager to see how this whole thing turns out.
           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 my lack of enthusiasm is not well founded.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Video Game Spotlight: Yooka-Laylee and If 3D Platformers Still Hold Up


          Over the past seven years or so ago we’ve seen a movement that could easily be labeled as the rise of the independent game developer.  With the popularization of social media and digital store fronts like Steam and GoG, developers, amateur and professional alike, have found ways of reaching and connecting with audiences all around the world that don’t require the traditional gaming publishing system.  But by far the greatest asset to the independent developer has been the advent of crowd funding websites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Patreon.  With websites like these, developers have been able to get the funding for the innovative games they want to make, that the risk averse AAA publishers are less willing to get behind.  Backing from such sites has seen the development and release of critical and commercial hits like The Banner Saga, Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity and several upcoming games like Star Citizen, The Banner Saga 3 and Bloodstain: Ritual of the Night.  And today we’re here to talk about the most recent release from such a crowd funded game; the Playtonic game, Yooka-Laylee.
            With a Kickstarter campaign announced on May 1st, 2015, Yooka-Laylee is a game that was developed by several former Rare employees who left the company and banded together to create a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie franchise that had sadly died out in the early 2000s.  Ultimately, the game would reach its initial £175,000 goal in less than an hour and would go on to earn over two million pounds by the time the campaign ended.  It’s main promise?  To create a game that would have the look and feel of a 90s 3D platformer that had all but gone extinct in the AAA gaming industry.  And in this writers opinion, the game does succeed in this.  Yooka-Laylee is very much the 90s-style 3D platformer that the developers set out to make.  For better and for worse.
            Now before I go any further in this review I do have to stress one point.  As of writing this article I have NOT completed the game.  As someone who doesn’t get review copies of games and works full-time hours at a regular job, there are certain compromises that I have to make in my life when it comes to video game review articles.  We’ll get into why I was unable to finish the game in a timely manner later on, but both Nerd Hub Editor Jack Flowers and I felt it was necessary to put in a disclaimer before we got to the main body of the review.  However, I will say that as of writing this article I have put roughly seventeen hours into the game and my opinion of it was more or less set in stone after just five.  If you feel that this is not enough for a credible review I am sorry that you feel that way.  So, without further ado, let’s dive into the depths of Yooka-Laylee.

           The plot revolves around a lizard and a bat named Yooka and Laylee who find a mysterious book in the inside of an old pirate ship that they have decided to make their new home.  Not long after a corporation under the leadership of an anthropomorphic bee named Capital B activates a machine that sucks all the books in the world into his headquarters, The Hivory Towers, in order to convert all the world’s literature into pure profit and for some reason covets the book that Yooka and Laylee possess.  When said book is taken by the machine the pages, or Pagies, flee the book as they contain magical properties.  The two follow the book and must explore the various Grand Tome worlds to find all the Pagies, rebuild the book, and defeat Capital B.
            Sadly, this is all the plot has to offer.  Beyond the initial setup, the game really doesn’t have any real plot or story to it.  You run around the Hivory Towers collecting Pagies to unlock and expand the Grand Tome worlds and collect even more Pagies in said world while learning new moves before eventually getting the hundred needed to face down Capital B in his main office.  There aren’t any major plot twists, (at least none that I reached anyway), no gradual escalation of events, no reoccurring subplots or even individual storylines for the various worlds you go to.  You have the setup and the rest of the time you’re collecting Pagies to move on to the next world and are rewarded with an occasional cut scene to remind you that there is in fact a plot in this game.  That’s all and is the game’s first major blunder.
            What it lacks in plot and story, however, it makes up for it with genuine charm in its characters and world.  The game is a bright and beautiful one full of vibrant colors that pop out in the best ways possible.  In fact, it seems to actively avoid the grim, overly serious aesthetics that the medium has only recently taken steps to get out of.  Even when it does go for a darker look it never abandons the light-hearted tone that makes the rest of the game so appealing.
            The characters themselves lack a great deal of depth and have next to nothing in terms of character arcs but do make up for it with personality and humor.  Yooka and Laylee do the odd couple routine that we’ve seen a million times before but it’s one that works very well when done right and it is done the right way here.  Laylee is a wisecracking smartass of a bat who is quick to demand payment for his services and is always fast with a brutal insult.  Yooka is the exact opposite, playing the straight, more traditionally heroic foil to Laylee and the banter is always enjoyable to read.
            The game is also chock full of jokes, ranging from lame puns to legitimately hilarious swipes at the AAA gaming industry and fourth wall breaking smartass remarks.  In fact, if there is one positive thing to take away from this game is that it’s very existence is effectively a giant middle finger to the entire AAA publishing business.  Over the past ten years far too many game franchises have taken themselves WAY to seriously and everything about them reeks of an overall deprived sense of fun.  But in Yooka-Laylee we have a game that is not afraid to be bright and colorful.  It’s not afraid to crack jokes at the expense of itself and the industry at large.  And, above all else, it’s not afraid to try and be fun.  It’s just a shame that the core gameplay design isn’t up to these lofty goals.

           Now to fully understand my criticism of the gameplay design you need to understand the genera that Yooka-Laylee is trying, (and in my opinion succeeded), to emulate and why that gameplay style more or less died out in the mid-2000s.  The actual genera seemed to have reached its peak in the late 90s with several solid games and franchises soaring in both sales and ratings.  These franchises included Banjo-Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot, Super Mario 64 and my personal favorite, Spyro the Dragon.  These were great games franchises that were different enough so as not to oversaturate the market but all had some fundamental similarities.
            The main thing that these games had in common was that they all revolved around collectables and in some cases, move sets.  To progress further in the game, the player had to collect a certain amount of the items that the game revolved around and in some cases supplemental items that the level barrier required for you to pass.  Often this would involve playing certain quests repeatedly to complete the objective under whatever additional challenges the developers decided to throw at you.  Additionally, it meant combing over every nook and cranny of every world, making sure that you didn’t miss some obscure gem or side quest in a hard to reach area.  Ultimately, games were designed like this back in the day for exactly one reason; to pad out the runtime.
            Today trying to find a game that will occupy your time for a good 20/30 hours isn’t exactly hard.  You could literally close your eyes in a GameStop, spin around ten times and grab the first thing that you fall into and probably get that amount of time out of said game.  But back when these franchises were at their heights, this wasn’t always the case.  Creating vast worlds with tons of unique quests and optional content was far more difficult.  This was not only due to the astronomical cost that it would put on the developers and publishers but the very simple fact that you literally couldn’t fit that much content on the disk or cartridge.  To counter this problem, the developers would often cram in as many simple, item hunting themed quests that they could into the individual worlds, as this was far less taxing on the developers and data space then say building an entire new world or putting together a whole new plot thread.  This is why, for example, in the original Spyro trilogy you had to get every single gem and special item in the game in order to get the true endings.  Or why the Crash Bandicoot games forced you to go through the same level multiple times for its special items to complete the game.  Or how Banjo-Kazooie made you do everything the game had to offer before you could watch the end credits roll.  But then technology advanced and not only were diverse and varied worlds and quests more feasible, but expected from the consumer.  Long running item hunts became side quests for XP, money or a special item and the industry stopped building entire games around the concept.  And this, sadly, is where Yooka-Laylee made its biggest blunder.

           Having a game that revolves entirely around collecting items is no longer fun.  Jumping around platforms that would only be hard to reach if the controls were broken is no longer fun.  Going through entire obstacle courses only to discover that you don’t have the proper move to progress is no longer fun.  Going back to this area across a rather large world to discover that it only has a single Pagie past a simple platform is no longer fun.  Constantly backtracking across these worlds to find that one obscure item that you missed but needed to progress is no longer fun.  Having to get a ridiculously high number of collectable items to fight the final boss is no longer fun.  Constantly doing simple yet frustrating puzzles is no longer fun.  In summary, these kinds of games ARE. NO. LONGER. FUN.  

            Now I’m sure that for some people this is exactly what they were looking for.  They longed for something that can help them recapture the magic of their childhoods and I can’t say that this game didn’t affect me at all in this regard.  Unfortunately, the crushing simplicity of it all coupled with the constant backtracking that revolved around collectables was just too much for me.  I didn’t hate the game by any means.  In fact, I wouldn’t object to the idea of playing it again nor allowing my nephew to play it when he gets old enough.  But it did affect me on a deeper level in a way that makes me uncomfortable.  It made me take a good hard look at the older 3D platformers that I loved as a kid and realize that they do not hold up.  That they do not, in fact represent the best that the console generation had to offer.  That, in fact, the big gaming publisher may have been right to let the genera die off.  And that thought sends a chill down to my very soul.

           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 next crowd funded game turns out better then this one.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

REVIEW: Power Rangers (2017)



            If you were a child who grew up in the 90’s, odds are you watched one of two things after school:  Batman: The Animated Series or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  As a kid, I was a pretty big fan of the series and jumped onto the bandwagon pretty quickly.  So, when I heard that they were going to be making a modern day remake of the original series, I was equal parts interested and scared at the same time.  I mean, let’s face it.  We’ve all seen our fair share of horrible reboots/remakes:  Fant4Stic, RoboCop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The A-Team, and the list goes on.  So, where does 2017’s Power Rangers fall?  I’m happy to say that the film delivers a fun experience for fans old and new by honoring the legacy of the original series while also adding in new reinventions that help strengthen the story and characters.



Story

            The foundation of the film is built upon the blue print of the original series:  Five teenagers are chosen to harness super powered battle armor and massive machines called Zords to act as defenders of the planet earth.  Straightforward enough, but we’ve seen Hollywood prove themselves capable of messing up even simpler stories than that.  I’m happy to report that this movie does not fall victim to that.  The movie follows the 5 Rangers from the original series:  Jason Lee Scott, Kimberly Hart, Billy Cranston, Zack Taylor, and Trini Kwan.  After discovering 5 multi-colored Power Coins, the teens embark on a journey that leads them to learning of the extraterrestrial origins of the coins through their guide and mentor Zordon, an extradimensional alien who’s been on earth for millions of years.  Alongside him is his faithful android Alpha 5.  From here, the teenagers learn that they’ve been chosen to harness the power gifted to them by the coins to become the most elite fighting force known throughout the galaxy as the Power Rangers.  Screenwriter John Gatins masterfully blends the mythology of the original television series and updates it with the structure and character beats of Breakfast Club meets Chronicle meets summer superhero blockbuster.  By doing this, audiences are given the time and emotional character beats to identify and bond with the characters beyond the surface level of what they can do once they’ve morphed into their suits.  You form a genuine connection to the characters and truly care if they succeed or fail.

            The strongest aspect of the story for me was the prologue and how they introduced and presented the legacy and history of the Power Rangers.  By opening on Earth 65 million years ago and seeing the honor and responsibility tied of the Rangers, you feel a sense of just how grand and epic it is to be a Ranger.  This is something I never felt with the original series and added weight to the backstory of what the movie looks to achieve:  This isn’t just a movie about the 5 teenagers we’re currently watching and the threat they’re trying to stop.  They are becoming the next age of Rangers in a very long line of honorable Rangers who came before them and will be setting an example for future generations of Rangers to come.  This not only gives weight to the backstory of the film, but it also drives the narrative as the team has to work to hault the assault of Rita Repulsa to prevent her from finding the Zeo Gem and destroying the world, which was the last mission of Zordon and his team of Rangers when they landed on Earth.  Thankfully, there are NO sky beams to be found in this movie.



Cast:

            As I said before, I was a big fan of the original television series, so I walked into this movie fully expecting to walk out disappointed by the cast chosen to embody these roles.  As a kid, my favorite characters were Jason/Red Ranger and Tommy/Green Ranger, so my expectations were set high when it came to this new cast.  I’m happy to say that I walked away pleased with where this franchise is going.  Director Dean Israelite made a wise choice, whether on purpose or for budgetary reasons, by selecting a cast of unknowns as it gives the audience a greater believability in who these actors are portraying.  In this film, Dacre Montgomery plays Jason Lee Scott and he’s not the martial arts practitioner we knew from the original series.  Instead he’s the star quarterback for Angel Grove High and has a rebellious streak which causes friction between him and his father.  Kimberly Hart, as played by Naomi Scott, is no longer the master gymnast we knew and is now the former popular girl who has been disowned by her friends after she betrayed one of them by sharing a nude picture of one of them.  RJ Cyler plays Billy Cranston and takes the character in a very progressive direction by playing the character as a teenager on the spectrum of autism.  Ludi Lin plays a very different Zack Taylor than we’re all familiar with as his character is more of a source of internal conflict for the team.  I was probably the least pleased with this character, not due to Lin’s performance, but because the script marginalized the character to such a small and clich├ęd role.  Lastly, we have Becky G portraying Trini Kwan and, like RJ Cyler, takes her character in a very progressive direction by making this version of Trini the first lesbian superhero to ever be shown on the big screen.  This proves to be a compelling character arc that doesn’t feel the least bit forced as we see her character default into a non-verbal, defensive persona as she struggles to trust her new friends or family with her inner conflict.  All of these actors bring great new depth to these characters that we all knew and loved from the original series.  While honoring the characters as they came before, we get to see something deeper and more developed in this reboot than we ever got in the original series.  This is, for me, the greatest strength of the film because you not only believe these actors as the characters they’re portraying, but you also fundamentally care about them and whether they succeed or fail.  You also believe their friendship as it develops over the course of the film.



            Supporting the Rangers are Bryan Cranston as Zordon, Bill Hader as Alpha 5, and Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa.  Bryan Cranston is a Power Rangers alum as he used to voice many of the creatures Rita created to fight the Rangers in the original series.  Here, Cranston delivers a great performance as Zordon, even though 90% of his performance is as a head stuck in a massive pin wall.  What gives the character weight is in the opening as we get to see Zordon arrive on earth as the Red Ranger battling Rita with his team of Rangers and how he sets the events in motion which lead to the plot of the film.  This performance could have very easily been phoned in and simply been used as dull, bland exposition to explain certain plot elements of the movie, but Cranston brings a weight and conviction behind what he’s doing so that Zordon conveys genuine emotions while also delivering valued information.  Bill Hader does a good job as Alpha 5.  Personally, I was never really a fan of this character in the series as I always found him kind of annoying, but I think that he delivers a performance that is loyal to the original character and brings the comedic levity and one liners that the film needed to have sprinkled throughout the film.  Lastly, Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa was actually one of the best castings in the film.  I could feel this way because my expectations of her ability to play this character were very low, but she really digs in and goes for broke with the character.  You can clearly see how much fun she is having by playing this villain.  She brings an equal balance of creepiness and campy fun which makes her performance fun for adults while also still being fairly suitable for kids.  Some people may feel that she goes a bit over the top, but I think that if you watched the original series, you will know that the character is precisely that:  over the top.  Banks brings a level of true villainy, threat, and purpose behind the character so she doesn’t come off as this one-dimensional “evil for the sake of being evil” character.  The best way I can describe her character is that she’s very much like Sinestro from the Green Lantern comics.



            All things considered, I feel that these actors were very well cast.  Everyone delivers a solid performance that works as a chain to keep the film as strong as it is.  I don’t believe there is any one actor or character that you could point to and call the weakest link because everyone serves a purpose within the context of the narrative.  I think this is a very strong cast that has established itself well enough to gain a fanbase excited to see them again in  potential sequels.

Music:

            To be honest, the music of this film was a little underwhelming for me.  While there are a handful of good music tracks from independent artists, the composed score for the film was quite unimpressive and forgettable.  This could very well change when I have an opportunity to rewatch the movie, but at the time of writing this review, I honesty cannot think of one piece of original music that can come to mind and that’s unfortunate when dealing with big, fun blockbusters that are meant to be getting kids excited.  I will say, one of the best moments for me was when the original Power Rangers theme kicked in.  I won’t say when it happens as I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but if you were ever a fan of the original series, your blood will start pumping when that song kicks in.



Action:

            I’m a self-professed proponent of movies that rely too heavily on action and fight scenes to wow me into saying how amazing of a movie it is.  For me, a superhero movie is most impressive when I walk away in awe of where they took the character emotionally and how they changed the character.  I firmly believe that your story should dictate the action, and not the other way around because then you risk being a mindless smash ‘em up movie that gets most of it’s scenes skipped through on a blu ray just so the fans can get to “the good parts”.  But Power Rangers sort of makes me tilt to the other side of this argument because I left the theater actually wanting more on this front.  While I got all of the deep character building moments and compelling backstory that I wanted from the film, I can’t help but feel like I got gipped on Power Rangers action.  A good amount of the film is spent with the teenagers as they learn about their newfound powers and how to use them in combat, so we see them training and honing their abilities to prepare themselves for Rita and her monster Goldar.  But once the Rangers finally moph and get their armor, we only get to see them in hand-to-hand combat scenes for maybe 5 minutes.  Part of the appeal for me as a kid with the original tv series and the 1995 Power Rangers Movie was watching the impressive martial arts sequences and seeing them as superheroes.  More of this film is shown of them inside the Zords, which is all well shot and entertaining, but I would’ve liked to have seen more martial arts action and more of them in their suits, especially since the suits looked so good.  I was fully anticipating the CGI suits to look horrific, but I was extremely pleased with how they looked!  The costumes were both loyal to the original source material while also looking badass and believable.




            As I mentioned, a good deal of the climax involves the Zords.  The special effects and designs for the Zords are well done and impressive.   You don’t feel this overwhelming prescence of CGI like we have in other films which is good.  Obviously, you know that what you’re watching isn’t really happening, but you’re able to suspend your disbelief and enjoy what you’re watching as the film culminates in a massive gold monster fighting a massive humanoid robot.  If you’re looking for something better when THAT is central conflict of the story, then I don’t think the Power Rangers are for you.



Final Thoughts:


            I think a lot of people’s enjoyment of this film is going to be dependent upon nostalgia.  I don’t think anyone will leave the theater upset with what they’ve seen or that they’ve wasted their money, but I will definitely admit that if you were a fan of the show growing up as a kid, then you will get more enjoyment out of the movie than someone who wasn’t.  I think the movie delivers on all the levels that it needed to of being a loyal adaptation of a beloved franchise that injects enough new elements into the characters and backstory to create something new for longtime fans that gives them something new to see while also remaining faithful to the original thing they loved.  If you haven’t seen Power Rangers already, I would highly recommend it as it’s pure fun that I think will have you leaving the theater as a fan and interested to see where they take the franchise in future films.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Miracleman Book Four: The Golden Age

            The Miracleman series is easily one of the most interesting yet frustrating series to ever grace the comic medium and is one that I have talked about at length here on Comic Book Spotlight.  As covered in previous articles, the books’ ownership rights history is an epic saga of crooked businessmen trying to screw over creators and each other over names and trademarks and relatively small sums of money.  Then later on, the actual creators ended up doing the same thing, resulting in a twelve year long legal battle between Neil Gaiman and Todd MacFarlane and is a prime example of how sometimes life can be stranger then fiction.  But then you read the books themselves and find them a bit wanting. 
            Reading and analyzing Alan Moore’s run on the series was, without a doubt, the most frustrating and infuriating thing that I have ever had to do here on Comic Book Spotlight.  While his run undoubtedly had some highpoints, the first book actually felt like you were reading the beta version of Watchmen and had every creative hiccup that you would expect from someone who was tackling this kind of subject matter for the first time.  Book Two, in all honest, was very good but, like Book One, it will never escape the stigma of being a kind of beta version of Watchmen as many of the themes and ideas that are present in this book were perfected in Moore’s magnum opus.  Book Three was perhaps the most pretentious piece of crap that I have ever read from an otherwise great writer and is one that fills me with such frustrating rage that I cannot help but yell whenever I talk about it.  Yet somehow all three of these books are far more interesting, enjoyable, readable and visually appealing then Neil Gaiman’s first book in the series, Miracleman Book Four: The Golden Age.
            The book takes place after the events of Olympus between 1987 and 1994 after Miracleman effectively took over the world and turned it into an apparent paradise and focuses on a number of relatively ordinary people and how their lives have been affected by this new order for good and ill.  Sadly, that’s about it and turns out to be one of the book’s largest faults.  The biggest problem in this regard is the stark contrast between what the reader expects out of a Miracleman book and the story that Gaiman and artist Mark Buckingham wanted to tell.  Up until this point the series had been all about superheroes in a relatively realistic world and the consequences that they ultimately wrought upon it.  After having read the first three books it is not entirely unreasonable for a reader to expect more in this regard and see some of the more long-term consequences of Miracleman’s actions.  The story that Gaiman wanted to tell, on the other hand, is effectively an anthology series about the lives of six different people in this so called Golden Age.
            This, in all honesty, actually isn’t the worst idea for a story that takes place within this universe.  It gives the reader a chance to breath and take a break from all the epic struggles of superheroes and reflect on what these actions can and do mean for the common man in more subtle ways.  The problem is that when it comes to superhero stories, deconstructions or not, these kind of tales are always better off as subplots, one shots, or bookends and certainly not as the main driving force of the entire series.  For example, in Alan Moore’s Watchmen the narrative would occasionally shift over to a New York news stand and focus on two characters who happened to be named Bernie.  In this part of the story the creative team gave us some clear insight as to what the everyman thought of the situations regarding Rorschach and Doctor Manhattan but never dominated entire chapters of the book, ensuring that the main plot with the heroes remained its primary focus.  Unfortunately, this book flips this idea around and puts the relatively dull everyman story front and center while the theoretically more interesting Miracleman material is shoved to the bookend of each issue.  As a result you can’t help but feel as if you’re reading an extended subplot that somehow ended up taking the majority of the book.
            The Golden Age is not at all helped by the fact that the individual stories are not particularly interesting.  You may recall that at the end of Book Three the Earth had been turned into a paradise with most of its problems having been resolved.  What this book tries to do is tell us stories of people whose life problems weren’t necessarily resolved by Miracleman’s takeover.  The problem is that none of these stories are particularly interesting nor do you ever really connect with any of the characters.  Each story more or less sticks to a formula where we are introduced to the protagonist at the start of the story, learn about his or her connection to Miracleman and only at the very end do we really learn anything about them in terms of motivation or personality.  For example, in the first chapter of the book we are introduced to an unnamed protagonist who makes a journey to the top of Miracleman’s palace to ask the new God of Earth for a boon.  What is the boon you may ask?  Well, as it turns out, his daughter was gravely injured during Miracleman’s brawl with Kid Miracleman towards the end of Olympus and is now in a coma as a result.  At the end of his journey he asks Miracleman to give her one of the new bodies he is creating for the people of Earth he feels are worthy enough to join his pantheon.  Miracleman flat out refuses and departs, leaving the man sobbing and broken and is something that should have hit the reader like a ton of bricks the way it obviously hit the main character.
The problem is that you don’t know what the boon is and how much it means to the protagonist until the very end of the story and is the only real characteristic we see from him.  It doesn’t hint at this in anyway nor is the reader told that he even had a daughter before this point.  We don’t learn anything about him before he made his journey and we don’t see or learn anything about this daughter outside of the reveal.  In fact, the vast majority of the story’s text is mainly devoted to telling us what the palace looks like and a few world building bits here and there and very rarely devotes any time to developing its characters in any meaningful way.   As a result, the reader lacks any real emotional attachment or connection to the character.  Because of this, when we finally learn what the boon is, Miracleman’s rejection of his request doesn’t hit nearly as hard as it was obviously intended to nor do we really care that the man didn’t get what he wanted.  The rest of the stories, sadly, follow a similar style with some being slightly more successful than others.  There is enough text to tell us about the protagonists’ own personal world and current situations.  Unfortunately, we don’t learn enough about them to really connect with them and as a result we don’t really care about their personal situation and how they have learned to deal with it by the story’s end.
            The art direction of the book suffers in a similar way thematically.  Not unlike the story, the art of the Miracleman has a very distinguished look that longtime readers are more than likely used to at this point.  Unfortunately, artist Mark Buckingham decided to scrap that original look for a more stylized approach.  Each story has its own unique aesthetic and changes quite dramatically depending on what kind of story is being told.  And, like the premise of the plot, it is something that was an interesting idea in theory but the execution leaves something to be desired.
            Once again, the first issue is the best example as to why the book doesn’t work.  The story is supposed to be this epic climb to the top of the largest building in the world with the characters seeing all that the building has to offer.  The problem is that we never see the scope of the building in the art itself.  Every panel is limited to showing us small bits of the palace and lots of close ups on particular areas but never gives us any indication as to just how big the place really is.  The drawings themselves are full of strange, unnecessary details in both the backgrounds and the characters’ faces that end up distracting the reader more than anything else.
            Later chapters also suffer from the more stylized approaches but in different ways.  The second issue’s main story for example is one that has the opposite problem as Issue #1, where the images are so lacking in details that end up looking bland.  Issues #3 and #5’s main stories feature art that is, quite frankly, visually repellant and an eyesore to look it.  In fact, the only time this stylized approach really works is during the fourth issue were it mainly centers around a woman reading her stepson a bedtime story, where the bizarre, outlandish look actually makes sense.  The stuff that happens in the real world, however, is just as annoyingly detailed as it is in the main story of Issue #1.  While I may understand the artistic purpose behind it, it doesn’t stop it from being anymore of an eyesore to look at.
            On the whole, Miracleman Book Four: The Golden Age is a massive disappointment on all fronts.  It lacks the novelty of seeing a great writer cut his teeth in the genera that Book One had.  It lacks the narrative and artistic brilliance of Book Two and fails to get one worked up in an insulted frenzy the way Book Three does.  It’s just an all-around subpar book that fails to get the emotions going in a series that has always been known how to get the blood flowing one way or the other.  Will this pay off in the long term?  Who can say?  The second book in Gaiman’s run, The Silver Age, has been delayed numerous times over the past couple of years and as of right now doesn’t even have an official release date over at Marvel.  All we can hope for is that it turns out to be more engaging than this disappointing turn for the author.
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 whatever Gaiman has in store for this series turns out better then this.


Written and Edited by: Trey Griffith. Co-Edited by: Jack Flowers. Published by: The Nerd Hub

All Images courtesy of Marvel Comics.

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