Monday, February 25, 2013

The Hunger Games series

I read the first book in this series in preparation for the movie coming out.  I recently found myself with a break in things to read so I decided it was high time I actually started reading Catching Fire.  I finished it within a week, then went through Mockingjay in three days.  I had read the first book in a similar fashion, which is pretty rare for me.  I think it's all in the way Suzanne Collins ends her chapters - she drops a bomb on you and therefore makes it an act of will to not turn the page and keep reading.  It's fantastic in that respect.

I'm going to try my best to break this down by book in case anyone hasn't read past a certain point.  I will try to keep that section spoiler free for that particular book.

The Hunger Games

Technically, I already talked about the book and movie in depth with Bethany on Strangers from the Internet.  That link is probably the best place to go if you want to know what I thought (with lots of spoilers), since it's been a while.  Though I do remember being impressed with both those chapter ending cliff hangers and the way this dysoptian world was constructed.  Perhaps most important of all is the fact that despite having a first person narrator in a young adult novel its not wishy-washy or childish in any way.  The fact that Katniss has such a hard time expressing her emotions and not knowing the proper thing to say at the right time makes her a very sympathetic character.  I've been there enough times to appreciate her troubles. I could see how some people could have some trouble with it, but I think that degree of distance she has also makes this a little closer to a third person perspective, except that of course we are limited to only what Katniss knows.

Catching Fire

I did my best to avoid spoilers going in to this, even with all the news about the movie that's been coming out, and I'm glad I did. While I knew President Snow's anger about both Peeta and Katniss winning the games would certainly come into play, and the fact that the movie contains the 11th district rebellion clued me in that we'd probably see that in some capacity here, I had no idea about the main plot, and was just as floored as Katniss was when I heard the news.  The story could have easily re-tread the plot of  the first film, but instead felt new and interesting enough that it worked really well.  I enjoyed seeing Katniss deal with her new fame and to slowly learn more about what was going on outside of District 12's borders.  And obviously it kept me hooked enough that there was not going to be a large gap between the two books as last time.


I had no clue how Catching Fire was going to end.  Surely Katniss wouldn't be the only survivor, because they had to keep the love triangle going.  But there was no way they could win as a couple again.  So the idea of the group breaking out took me by surprise, though I'll admit I should have seen it coming.  The same can be said for the condition of District 13.  I was expecting something in a little better shape than it was, but I really liked what we got.  You could easily create a whole other series from the perspective of a citizen living in District 13 their whole lives and how that affected them.

I also loved the angle this novel took, of representing propaganda and war and politics in a fairly unique way.  I think you could discuss these novels in a class just as easily as you discuss 1984, there's just so much here in the concepts and story devices.  And like any true final novel in the series, the stakes are high and the casualties many so you better not hold on too tight to anyone.  The epilogue also provided a nice sweet ending to Katniss's story.

Spoilers for the end of Mockingjay

Because how can I write a post and not discuss this?  I'll say that I didn't trust Coin for one minute, from the moment she was introduced with her perfectly straight haircut.  The conditions of 13 were just too miserable and her methods too ruthless for her to be trustworthy or likable in any way.  The moment we saw the condition of the prep team, it said enough.  While I can understand to a degree rationing things within the district, the lack of music, dance, or any kind of color or fun was just ridiculous.  I loved the idea Collins presented of trading one dystopia for another, and I loved the way Katniss found the out at the end.  I had a slight worry that Snow might somehow be allowed to live through it all, but I was glad to see that in the end they were both destroyed.  I don't know if the new government will definitely be better, but it seems to have a better chance without either of those two at the helm.

There was one thing that did not sit well with me though, and unless I missed it, was never really answered either.  When Coin brought all the victors in to vote on whether or not to have a final hunger games, I couldn't believe it.  But I was particularly shocked that Katniss voted yes.  After all the nightmares she's been through herself, being friends with someone like Madge who was the child of someone in power (not as high ranking, but still) and seeing how broken her other victors were, to choose to submit more children to that was shocking and unnecessary.  I understand that you would want to punish the former officials, but that doesn't mean you have to kill and torture their children in the process.  So did I miss it, and did the death of Coin mean the hunger games didn't actually happen?  Or does Collins purposely leave that open ended for us?  I know in the epilogue Katniss says "There were no more hunger games" but that could refer only to the time when she started her life with Peeta.

And who she was going to end up with was pretty obvious, right?  Honestly I figured it was either going to be Peeta or no one at all.  Gale proved himself to be too much of a jerk too quickly.  I also thoroughly expected Peeta to try to kill her when they finally met up again, so that was one cliffhanger that didn't really surprise me.  But I thought his rehabilitation was handled well.

I feel pretty confident that Bethany and I will continue to cover the future films as they are released, so expect more in depth analysis then. But for now I wanted to get out these thoughts and definitely recommend the series for anyone who might be curious.  And of course, we can discuss in the comments!  Expect lots of spoilers there too I'm sure.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mini-reviews: Bone, Ultimate Spiderman, All-New X-men

I've been reading and watching some things lately that I have thoughts and feelings about, but not enough to really stretch out into a full review. So I thought I'd jot down some smaller reviews here.


I had bought the collected black and white volume of Bone last year. I had started it, getting about four issues in, and then stopped. Partially because of other things getting in the way, but also because it just didn't grab me. However I was determined to try again this year, and this time made it all the way to the end.

Bone is essentially an interesting mash up between Carl Barks' Disney comics and the Lord of the Rings.  It wears its influences on its sleeve, and while it's an interesting combination that works well, I always felt a little more like I was reading a tribute to the other stories rather than something completely fresh and new.

I wasn't ever so much wrapped up into the story as I was just going along for the ride.  However it did really surprise me that I was disappointed once I reached the end.  I wanted to know where they were going next and how they made out.  So apparently I was more attached to the characters than I originally thought.  I think this could be a decent intro to comics for someone who wasn't into superheroes, certainly for someone who loves fantasy and appreciates a good sense of humor.

The first thing I learned about this show was that they had taken the character of Agent Coulson from the Avengers films and made him the principal of the school, and that Clark Gregg was voicing him.  That was enough to make me want to watch it, and within two episodes, I was hooked.  This show finds ways to excite me again and again and again.  I love that this Peter Parker is sort of like a put upon Ferris Bueller narrating the episodes, breaking the fourth wall, and occasionally freezing the action to show us things.  I love his angel and devil spideys that he turns to when he's uncertain of what to do.  I love the modern woman that Aunt May is, and that Mary Jane wants to be a reporter and is already working hard at becoming one.  And I love the whole group of heroes that become Spider-man's partners and work with him.  Not to mention the cameos of all the other superheroes that pop up in various episodes.

But what I find most interesting about the show is that it is really re-inventing the Spider-man mythos.  It completely changes around the origins and even identities of some of Spider-man's most famous villains, but you can't be bothered by how different it is because this version still works, is still a compelling story, and over all just really fun to watch.  There's a point around the middle of the first season where it seems to become more of a show about SHIELD, because we're always dealing with Nick Fury and his crew and Aunt May, Mary Jane, and Harry Osborn are no where to be found.  But by the end of the season it brings it back specifically to Spider-man's mythology and it does so in a fantastic way.  I probably won't see the second season until it's been added to Netflix but I'm definitely looking forward to it.

I read the first four issues of this series thanks to a deal from Comixology.  On the surface, this concept is nuts.  Present day Beast is dying and upset about how Cyclops has betrayed everything the X-men stand for, and after Iceman makes an offhand comment about how young Scott would give current Scott quite a talking to, decides to modify a time machine he had laying around (just go with it) and go back and get the original team of X-men.  Beast is shocked to see himself blue, Jean is shocked to find out that she's dead and that she can read minds, and Scott is shocked to find out he killed Professor X and is now essentially a mutant terrorist.

The strength of the story is really all in the details.  Both versions of the various characters feel accurate and real to themselves, and the story has a nice blend of humor and seriousness to it.  They're also introducing a lot of young mutants who have recently popped up thanks to what happened at the end of Avengers vs X-men, and I have to say I like most of those characters as well.  

I definitely want to keep reading this series, but 3.99 an issue when the issues are so short in length is really deterring me from continuing just yet.  I know it costs money to make comics even beyond the physical copies, but when I'm buying them digitally I think I should be receiving them at a discount since you don't have to pay to print and ship them out. It doesn't help that comics were half that price back when I used to collect them, and so paying double seems really overblown to me.  I know they tend to discount their issues eventually (though not as soon as DC does theirs) so I'll be waiting for that.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Batman Beyond the series and Return of the Joker

Despite my love for Batman The Animated Series, I never watched Batman Beyond until recently. I had already been pretty disappointed with the direction The New Batman Adventures had taken with the change in design and general tone of the episodes, so when they introduced Batman Beyond, I just couldn't get behind the concept that when Bruce got older, Dick and Tim wouldn't be around to take over for him. Who was Terry McGuiness and why should I care about him?

Honestly, having now watched the show I still kind of feel the same way. I know the show has its fans, but beyond a handful of episodes this version of Batman just didn't appeal to me. Terry lost his father, but past the first season we barely ever hear about how that affected him. He still has his mom and kid brother, but beyond the token "Terry never does his chores" comments, there's no real drama or touching moments to be found there. And Bruce constantly keeps Terry at a distance all throughout the series so that they at most only ever develop a sort of quiet respect for each other. Bruce as father figure to Dick Grayson and Tim Drake and Alfred as a father figure to Bruce is a core element that makes the Batman mythology appealing to me. This version is just plain stripped of that.

But yet we do have to be reminded a couple times that Bruce and Barbara were lovers. They attempt to make that less disgusting by making Bruce look a lot younger than he actually was during the original series but I'm sorry, I'm not buying it. He's noticeably older than her in the actual episodes, you can't change it via flashback later on. He's old enough to be her young uncle if not her father.

Terry's peers are not particularly interesting either, for the most part. His relationship with Dana becomes tedious from the very beginning, with her constantly whining about how he never spends time with her but he can't explain to her that he's Batman. Then in season 3 she's magically okay with it, realizing that he's built a relationship with Bruce Wayne who depends on him. But working for Bruce Wayne has been the cover from day one, so why was she so unable to understand he had to work a job back then? It just makes her look bad.

Max had a lot of potential to be a more interesting character. I even like the way she jokingly refuses to be called Robin. She's essentially his Oracle, but the constant "you can't join in on the fighting, it's too dangerous" is just really annoying. Why can't she fight? Because she's a girl? Get over it!

Not a single one of the new villains they introduced appealed to me. I think it's pretty telling how weak and uninteresting most of them were since a lot of them appear once and never again. I'm really glad they dropped everything being about Derek Powers after the first season, because he was such a boring one note villain. The Royal Flush Gang had a slight amount of potential, but that was mostly because of Ten and Terry's romance. But isn't that just a rehash of the Batman/Catwoman attraction? Just like Inque is essentially Clayface? Of course since the Mr. Freeze episode is basically the best of the series, I can't blame them for trying to basically mimic the real thing.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (contains spoilers) 

And speaking of, the direct to video film they made does that once again by bringing back the Joker. The feature is a slight improvement over the series itself, as the longer length allows them to explore things a little more. It feels a lot like a primer to the series, as it touches on Terry's relationships with Dana and his family, and also mentions his past where he had trouble with the law. He tells Bruce that the main reason he wants to be Batman is to make up for the sins of his past, and while that was briefly touched on in one episode of the series, I wish they would have explored it more often.

I also think the mystery element was much stronger in the film than in the show, where often a process of elimination was all that was needed to figure out the villain. Here it was much harder to guess, but of course, that's because they pretty much cheated. Having the Joker living inside Tim in a Jekyll and Hyde fashion was just too overly silly. Also, did the microchip have to be so visible? Are you really going to tell me that wasn't noticeable to Bruce, Barbara, or Leslie when she was treating Tim? That his wife never asked "Hey, honey, what's the weird black dot on your neck?" Not to mention the absurdity of having a microchip somehow completely transforming your body, but the "science" in Batman Beyond is often so warped that you just have to accept it.

It was nice to see Harley again.  Her warped logic of how raising a child with the Joker would fix everything is so very her, but even better was her appearance in the epilogue.  That was a Harley who had moved on with her life, and isn't that what we really want for her most of all?  Though its sad that they actually wanted to kill her off and Dini had to insert that extra scene in because he refused to kill his baby.

Perhaps worst of all for me was the constant teases of Dick Grayson and Nightwing with no appearance of him at all. It happened so frequently, and with the added detail that originally when Joker trashed the Batcave, it looked like the Nightwing uniform was missing, that I started to think that it might have been Dick who had become the Joker, that in this reality he had become so bothered by Bruce that he wanted revenge on him. I could also see him convincing Tim to join his side possibly, with their mutual history of trouble with Bruce. Of course, if that had been the big reveal I probably would have blown a gasket complaining about how Dick could never, ever be a villain, so this slightly underwhelming variant is the better alternative. It just pisses me off that he never once showed up through it all. You're going to bring back all the other major players from the original series, but not him? It's a slap in the face. Apparently Nightwing eventually appeared in the Batman Beyond comics, but reading about what happens there doesn't make me feel any better.

On the bright side, Tim's transformation as a child was well handled.  His Joker smile and staring eyes were creepy, and the insane laughter, killing the Joker, and then breaking down were heartbreaking.  I don't want to give the impression that I hated everything about this film.  There are things that were handled well.  I just have a severe problem with the concept of the series as a whole, and it bleeds frequently into the details with reasons why.

Basically, I can't enjoy Batman Beyond because it seems to exist in a future of the darkest timeline. It features a Bruce who is a complete asshole, who supposedly doesn't truly care about anyone or is at least incapable of expressing it anymore. And that's not my Bruce or my Batman. The joke is that this is a continuation of the original Batman: The Animated Series, and that version is my Batman. I'm sorry, but I just can't accept that these two are one and the same.

Obviously, this is a very personal and biased review.  The series and the film are both well loved by many.  If you're a Batman fan and have never watched it, it's worth checking out.  I'd say the film is a good way to introduce yourself to the series if you're curious but aren't sure if you want to invest the time in watching three seasons of the show.  Go into it expecting a much darker and far out sci-fi version of Batman, and you could end up really enjoying it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Beatles Anthology

In February of 1963, The Beatles' song "Please Please Me" hit number one on the UK charts.  It was their second hit single after "Love Me Do" and also when Beatlemania truly began.  That was fifty years ago, and their popularity is still going strong to this day.  

The Beatles have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, thanks to my dad being a huge Beatles fan.  He still has his copy of Yesterday and Today and I remember him playing it a lot when I was young.  I was also very fascinated by the cover the first time I saw it.  The story is pretty notorious by now - the Beatles did a photo shoot of themselves in butcher jackets with meat and baby doll parts surrounding them.

The photo was deemed too offensive, and the album was pulled off the shelves to be repackaged.  But they didn't print out whole new sleeves; that would be too expensive.  They simply covered up the offensive cover with a new one, one that would ironically be later called one of the early clues for the "Paul is Dead" controversy, thanks to Paul sitting in that case.  

Because it's like a coffin!  Yeah, right.

 My dad got one of the re-covered versions, but when he heard the original was worth a lot of money he thought he'd be slick and steam the re-print cover off it.  The end result is that you can now see the butcher cover, but it's not very pretty.   I mean that it's wrinkled and worn even beyond the actual ugliness of the cover itself.

So I grew up singing Beatles songs and being what I guess you could call a casual fan.  I was apparently dedicated enough that in third grade, when we were asked to draw our favorite band in music class, I chose them.  I did make a mistake, I drew five members instead of four, but my heart was in the right place.  It was also a pretty big sign in my youth that I was destined to not be like the other kids - most of the other girls in my class were drawing New Kids on the Block, and one of them chose to make fun of me for my choice.  Which is I guess why while loving the Beatles wouldn't normally be regarded as a geeky interest, I still feel like it's the perfect fit for me to talk about on this blog.  Well, that and the level of devotion I gained the moment I saw The Beatles Anthology on television.

I created the video below to tell you all about it.

There are so many more Beatles related topics I could cover, from their music and their movies to the numerous parodies and tributes that have been created since.  But I'm just going to have to save those for another time.
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