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Adrian Jenkins "southerndudeman" RSS Feed (Ames, IA)

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Rurouni Kenshin, Vol. 18: Do You Still Bear The Scar?
Rurouni Kenshin, Vol. 18: Do You Still Bear The Scar?
by Nobuhiro Watsuki
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.82
72 used & new from $0.01

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Supersonic suckiness, pt. 1, October 14, 2014
This review, together with my review in vol. 19, will constitute a full review of the final Kenshin arc, the so-called "Jinchu".

After the marvelous Kyoto arc, I was expecting a letdown in the final segment of Kenshin's story. As I have said many times before, Japanese comics (and RPGs, for that matter) are about pumping out the same trash over and over to an unimaginative fanbase, so it was refreshing to see a strong storyline emerge in this manga, while working within the standard frame of Japanese comics. Yes, Kenshin ends up saving the (known) world, which is pretty stock, but the mix of history and strong characterization really hit the spot. Obviously, unless Kenshin finds out he's an ape from space, there isn't much more to do here other than tell unnecessary backstory, so naturally, disappointment will set in.

But the scope of the disappointment here is nearly too much to bear. This is easily one of the worst story arcs I have - it is so bad that the hate can't be contained in a single review. For those wanting to skip the bemoaning of a disappointed fan, here's the summary: skip volumes 18-28, unless you are a masochist or just want to chuckle at Watsuki's constant verbal apologies and kowtows for the general lousiness of this storyline (and boy - does he ever apologize, over and over!). Everything about this volume screams DLC add-on. There's nothing here that really adds to the tale. That's fine, provided you don't besmirch what you've already created. But Watsuki doesn't just smear his characters with dirt - he hits them with a wrecking ball!

The first problem is our new villain (Yukashiro Enishi), who you can see in the background of this cover. He's completely stock - blond, spiky hair, ridiculous sunglasses that he's constantly pushing back up on his eyes. The volume tries to convey a sense of mystery with him, but from his image, I am immediately uninterested. He looks like every Japanese character you've ever seen. Whereas Shishio's ugliness conveyed a message about his character and origin, Enishi looks like someone created to appeal to a segment of fangirls and fanboys. I could not care less about his origin (which, incidentally, is criminal merchant with some background connection to Kenshin which will be covered later).

For reasons which are hidden for some time, Enishi has gathered a merry band of followers to exact vengeance on Kenshin. I was on board with this idea - it's about time that Kenshin pays for his past. We know he did horrible things in the war, and retribution is necessary. This is really the ONLY idea that will play after the events of the Kyoto arc. Yes, it makes the story smaller, but that's the best way to go, and I applaud Watsuki for taking this route rather than trying to pump up the action even more.

Unfortunately, Enishi's band of followers is just as bland and stock as Enishi. Compared to Shishio's band, they are flat-out pathetic. Forgettable in the extreme, my only memory of them prior to re-reading this volume was that one of them ran around with Shishio (hint: he was the most forgettable of Shishio's group as well). They don't even work as site gags - one guy wears a jungle camo apron, which looks more ridiculous than humorous. Anyway, it's hard to believe that these clowns could even approach the technique of Kenshin and his group...
...
...but this is where things really start to fall apart. Not only do they approach this technique, they surpass it easily. Enishi outclasses Kenshin multiple times. He is such a good swordsman that it is conceivable he would match Kenshin's master, to say nothing of Kenshin. Multiple times, he beats Kenshin down, only for Kenshin to draw on the spirit of Hulkamania to compete (you think I'm joking). Enishi's swordsmanship, which is entirely SELF-TAUGHT, is more than a match for Kenshin, whose Hiten Mitsurugi is supposed to be so powerful that Kenshin refuses to teach it. It makes Kenshin and his followers look small and stupid, time and again. There's no reason to believe these losers are this powerful other than what you're seeing on the page. Nothing makes you believe that Zanza is matched by a guy in a camo apron with metal gauntlets. You can put a big cannon on your arm - it only shows that you are weaker than, say, Saito. So it sets up a disconnect that was avoided in earlier volumes.

There is a huge plot coupon that I will mention in pt. 2 of this review. It is, without a doubt, one of the dumbest decisions I have ever seen in any comic, and no amount of Watsuki apologetics (and there are many!) saves it. But let's ignore that for the moment.

Instead, I want to talk about what, for me, is the most disappointing aspect of the arc, if only because it could have been so good. That, of course, is Kenshin's backstory. Obviously, all but the most unimaginative of people have filled in the gaps of Kenshin's life. After rushing off to war at a young age, Kenshin learns that, regardless of being "right" or "wrong", killing is killing, and it takes a toll. Whatever decision Kenshin made, he is responsible for them. The lives he took will ultimately drag him down to hell (to paraphrase his own words in an earlier volume), but he will do his best to make amends here. His backstory is unnecessary, but it could clarify this.

Unfortunately, Watsuki takes the easy road. There's a woman involved. It's tragic. That's it. <yawn>

In the span of a few short pages, Kenshin's complexity and sympathetic portrayal is ruined. What was once a pretty cool criticism of the patriotism of imperial Japan descends into a boring tale that could have been portrayed just as easily on Days of Our Lives. It completely ruins his character. I no longer care about Kenshin's tortured soul. Kenshin killed hundreds of people (including many innocents) in cold blood, but I guess he wasn't sleeping with any of them.

What a disappointment. I'll cover the absurd plot coupons in my next installment. They are almost so laughably stupid that it makes reading them entertaining.

Almost...


Superman Archives, Vol. 1 (DC Archive Editions)
Superman Archives, Vol. 1 (DC Archive Editions)
by Jerry Siegel
Edition: Hardcover
39 used & new from $17.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Killer Superman...who's really a killer, October 2, 2014
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Funny story - I bought this archive from a 3rd party seller new, and they sent me a moldy copy that was anything BUT new. I complained about it, and they let me keep the book, but refunded my money. Good times.

I really like the way DC used to reprint these books. Nowadays, DC only reprints the stories themselves, but for this archive, they reprinted the entire books, including ads and short text stories, as well as one-page cartoons, trivia facts and other stuff. I can understand that other people might not like this, but I enjoyed the nostalgia factor immensely.

Now, onto the stories. This isn't your boy scout Superman. This volume reprints the first 4 issues of the eponymous series, and we see Superman here in all of his vigilante glory. In fact, in one issue, the police see Superman as just as much of a crook as the people he tries to capture. Superman is usually pitted against small-time hoods working for evil industrialists, but there are exceptions. In two separate stories, Superman takes the place of an athlete (a football player and a boxer) in order to stop corruption and do a personal favor. In one story, Superman helps a young boy at an orphanage. And in two stories, Superman's arch-nemesis, Luthor, appears, in all of his red-haired glory. The Luthor stories are actually duds, though - in both of them, Luthor seems to have clearly outwitted his adversary, only to have some plot coupon allow Superman back in the game. This observation is not lost on the afterword, either.

One interesting thing: Superman flat-out kills people in this volume. He lets a ton of people just die, but in one instance, he throws a goon into what appears to be a vat of green acid (which was to be used to kill Lois Lane, so it's obviously deadly). In the penultimate story, Superman callously discharges electricity to kill his hapless attacker (and this is after he lets another guy fall into a vat of molten metal). Like I said, this ain't boy scout Superman.

Perhaps the most bracing difference is Clark Kent. He might be the most unlikable character in the whole comic (and that includes the villains). Lois Lane positively despises him, and with good reason: he's a coward, he's weak, he constantly asks her out, and he steals her scoops (not so much here, but give a read of World's Finest: Superman if you don't believe me). He really was the opposite of Superman in these early stories (to paraphrase Bill from Kill Bill 2).

This volume has recently seen a price drop on the Amazon Marketplace. I would recommend it even at cover price.


The Flash Archives, Vol. 4 (DC Archive Editions)
The Flash Archives, Vol. 4 (DC Archive Editions)
by John Broome
Edition: Hardcover
34 used & new from $16.00

5.0 out of 5 stars The best Silver Age character of the DC superheroes, October 2, 2014
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I don't think any character benefited more from the transition from Golden Age to Silver Age than the Flash. Maybe Green Lantern, but Golden Age Green Lantern still had something to offer to me. Golden Age Flash, on the other hand, was dea on arrival (and I love the Golden Age!). But Silver Age Flash really hits the mark, providing (for me, at least) the best entertainment among major superheroes of DC during that era.

Volume 4 of the Flash Archives hits the spot. We see a great sampling of the excellent rogue's gallery of Flash (2nd, in this reader's opinion, only to Batman). We even get a nice team up of the Rogues (as they would later be known). We see wonderful support characters like Elastic Man and Kid Flash (Wally West Kid Flash, no less!). in fact, the story where they work together is one of the most entertaining of this volume. The stories are silly, as all Silver Age stories are, but they work because of the ridiculous nature of the Flash himself (time to vibrate molecules to...do whatever it is I need to do!). The art work is great, and it looks even better restored. I can respect that people like the old look, but anyone telling me that the Flash wasn't meant to be glorious solid red is kidding themselves.

This is another volume I highly recommend, and particularly for the prices of today. It's a great time to collect the DC archives, and this one is a hit.


Rurouni Kenshin, Vol. 7
Rurouni Kenshin, Vol. 7
by Nobuhiro Watsuki
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.86
177 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Stellar story, stellar characters, great stuff!, October 2, 2014
It's amazing when manga actually delivers. Usually, it's just throwaway entertainment at best, grating dreck at worst. But the second arc of Rurouni Kenshin manages to rise above the rest. This is probably my favorite Japanese comic I've ever read (and for whatever reason, I've read a bunch of them).

As in another review, I'll use this volume to review the entire story arc. This time, the arc will encompass volumes 7-17 of the manga. It just makes no sense to me to review these individually.

Anyway, volumes 1-6 introduced our hero Kenshin and his band of merry followers. The proceedings were fun, but they were really put in place as introductions. Of course, there is the mystery of what Kenshin was, what he did, and why he has changed from a bloodthirsty killer to a man who has vowed never to kill again. But now, his past begins to catch up, as we are introduced to villains and anti-heroes. Our first introduction is Saito Hajime. A historical personage who apparently has some fanboy following in Japan, his appearance here is remarkably good. An enemy of Kenshin during the civil war, he returns ostensibly to recruit him to a new cause. In actuality, he wants to kill him. As he ultimately joins forces with Kenshin, he provides our first real tension in this tale. The reader feels like Saito is a foil to Kenshin's true power, and a legitimate threat. As I read along, I wondered to myself - will Kenshin really pay an ultimate price to this shadow of the past? It made for great reading.

We are then introduced to our true villain: Shishio Makoto. An evil samurai during the civil war, he has resurfaced in the hope of overthrowing the new Meiji-led government in order to bring an age of chaos. I can't tell you how pleased I was at this character. While Kenshin is the clear central point in these volumes, it's so nice to see a villain who interacts not because of some petty revenge scenario, but because he is an opposite force.

There is some tenuous connection that is completely unimportant, but the real point is this: Kenshin wishes to protect the weak, Shishio wishes to enhance the strong. Kenshin seeks peace in the new government, Shishio seeks chaos and perpetual war. They are thrown together not because they are old friends or because of a girl, or a slight. They come together because it is inevitable, Hegelian conflict, and the ultimate synthesis that arises will be nothing like what either party envisions.

Just like Kenshin, Shishio has also gathered a group of followers. Some respect his power. Some want to see the destruction of the new world. But all of them are ultimately united against Kenshin and his followers. And, with one exception, all are notable and memorable. The emotionless, abused child who rises with the help of Shishio. The cold strategist, who is a true believer in Shishio's world. The fallen monk, who only sees redemption in destruction. The ex-Geisha, thrown out on the street by a cold government that took everything from her. The list goes on, and all of the characters are interesting.

I won't say that they aren't stereotypical - rather, I'll say that it's a rare feat that a Japanese writer can work well within such stereotypes. There are some missteps here. Kenshin's power to trace the action of swordsmen, but only by tracing emotion, is some of the worst argle bargle I've read in any comic ever. Saito trying (and failing) to stab Shishio in the forehead just looks stupid. But despite these misfires, this is easily the best read I've ever seen in a shonen jump manga, and arguably the best read I've had in any japanese manga ever. Highly recommended.


Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story, Vol. 1
Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story, Vol. 1
by Nobuhiro Watsuki
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.02
265 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rurouni Kenshin, volumes 1-6 - a good introduction to a great story, September 21, 2014
Given that this series is a hefty 28 volumes, it isn't feasible to review each one. Thus, I'm going to review each arc instead in their first volume.

Like many, I came to Rurouni Kenshin through the anime series. Although generally not a fan of Japanese cartoons and comics, I found that the Kenshin anime dodged many of the tropes that infect this medium. Having watched all of season 1 (around 2003 or so), I decided to purchase the volumes of the manga (a bit later, around 2006, when I had more disposable income). Now, in 2014, I have re-visited my collection, and decided to review the first arc here.

First, the product itself. These volumes conform to the standard most of you have probably seen. They are small, and the only color you'll find is on the cover. This isn't out of the ordinary, as the originals are also black and white. The pages are cheap stock, but they don't smudge. The spine isn't too tight - you can see all of the panels with ease. The comics read from right to left. There is some explanation for this (somehow, changing the orientation would expose flaws in the artwork), but honestly, I think it's crap. This is just to please those "authentic" types (you know - the ones who demand the original language track, despite the fact that they know no Japanese). I doubt it would make any difference one way or the other, and in any case, you get used to it fast.

On to the artwork: because Watsuki is both the writer and the artist, you can expect the same artwork throughout this arc (and, indeed, this entire run). Like most manga art, it's both primitive and highly stylized, but it works for what it is. In short, it looks like every other manga you've read or seen.

Where Kenshin really distinguishes itself from the standard Japanese dreck is in its storytelling. The backdrop for this story is the early timeline following the fall of the shogunate and the rise of the Meiji emperor as more than a simple nominal head of state. Our hero, Himura Kenshin, is a wandering samurai who, as we learn, has given up killing and hopes to focus the rest of his life on healing. Although very young and seemingly innocent (he looks as feminine on the cover as his counterpart, Kaoru), it becomes apparent early that he has a dark past. Whether he is escaping that past, or merely accepting it, forms much of the conflict in these early stories.

As the volumes progress, Kenshin develops a strong and memorable supporting cast. Some (such as the dojo owner Kaoru) are both physically attracted to him and emotionally curious about him. Some (such as the boy Yahiko and the fight merchant Zanza) are drawn to his power. But all of them are created quite individually, not a small feat (and often impossible for Japanese writers). Characters are often given their own vignettes to shine, but even when they simply support Kenshin's story, they are memorable. Looking back, years later, at this comic, I am surprised at just how memorable these characters really are. With the sole exception of Megumi (who, it must be said, is probably the most stock of the characters), I remembered all of his Kenshin's faithful (and fateful) companions.

The same cannot be said for the stock villains populating this comic, and for this reason, I deduct this arc a single star. I would liken the villains here to the run-of-the-mill gangsters that often tangled with Batman in the Golden Age. Sure, they might be dangerous, but we really wanted to see the likes of the Joker, or Penguin, or Catwoman (thankfully, those types of villains are on the way). Here, Kenshin fights some dirty cops. He fights a swordsman who wants to bring back "the old days". His compatriots fight some burglars. Let's face it - we know better things are on the way, and these battles are just a means to an end. We learn little about Kenshin here (other than the fact that he gets mad and gets tougher). In fact, the writing gets a bit sloppy at times. In the first volume, Kenshin threatens to kill his assailant, despite his vow, apparently.

But it's a small deduction for a small problem. These volumes are meant to introduce our characters, and there's plenty enough mystery left for Kenshin (and even some of his companions) for future volumes. I recommend this arc if only to get the reader caught for the next arc, which is arguably the finest arc I've read in any Japanese comic, ever.


Blackhawk, The - Archives, Volume 1 (DC Archive Editions)
Blackhawk, The - Archives, Volume 1 (DC Archive Editions)
by Will Eisner
Edition: Hardcover
33 used & new from $19.97

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Terribly uninspired archive, September 15, 2014
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I've been fortunate in my purchases of DC Archives. Out of 16 total (and, until now, 15 read), I had thoroughly enjoyed 14, with only a Silver Age Batman volume failing to satisfy). But wow - Blackhawk is easily the worst of the bunch. It's painful on so many levels.

First, the generals - the reproductions are top-notch, the paper is great, and once again, this is just a nice operation (particularly for the prices for which you can purchase these archives nowadays).

What a shame that the comic is a steaming pile. Blackhawk starts off relatively strong. There's no "horrors of war" here - while sacrifice occurs, the good guys are going to win. There's little realism, either. Within the first three issues, Blackhawk has crashed his plane three times, and walked away from each crash (mostly) unscathed. But that was OK initially - the stories were simple, but effective. I particularly liked the story about the cowardly soldier and his treatment by the Blackhawks, before and after his ultimate sacrifice.

But then, it just falls apart, starting with issue 4. The first, big problem is the introduction of Chop-Chop. A bundle of Chinese racial stereotypes, his biggest flaw is that he is completely unfunny. I understand that comics were written for kids, and I can see him appealing to the me that exists eternally at the age of 6, who draws back his eyes into slants and say, "Me so solly!" Given the nature of the rest of the comic, maybe that was necessary to keep kids around. But God - he is so unfunny. He speaks some weird form of Chinglish that becomes progressively more bizarre (e.g. he starts by switching "r" and "l", a common trope, but later, he just adds a boatload of "l" letters to everything, which makes reading his speech really difficult). His first antic is that he (supposedly) teaches himself to fly a plane, and Blackhawk tricks him into tying himself up so well that even he can't escape. That's the joke.

But if Chops were the only problem, it would be one thing. But the stories themselves take a turn for the utterly stupid as well. At some point, Blackhawk fights against a resurrected Genghis Khan, whose horse cavalry (which has not changed much since the 13th century) is so terrifying that Churchill, Roosevelt and Hitler actually suspend hostilities! Mind you - these are countries with airplanes and tanks, but they are scared to death of a horse cavalry. And it turns out that it's all for naught - Blackhawk ends up showing that the Khan is actually a fake because he wears armor. After he is exposed, the Mongolians go back to being farmers, and hostilities apparently ensue. It's hard to quantify in words how stupidly this story progresses.

And it goes on. Later, Blackhawk fight against rat people. Literal rat people. Called Scavengers, they are deadly in a group (why exactly is unclear). Still later, a guy in an iron suit appears (for multiple issues). It turns out the guy is an old Blackhawk. Sorry for the spoiler, BTW. Of course, it might be more spoiled if the comic doesn't remind you in page one of the presumed-deceased Blackhawk.

And it goes on. Blackhawk allows a blonde spy to escape and report to her leader in Arabia, the Tigress. The Tigress wears a belly-dancer mask over her mouth, but is clearly the spy...to everyone but Blackhawk. And it goes on. And on. And on.

I don't get the love for this volume. I can't even like the art - the heroes and villains are so caricatured that it detracts from my enjoyment. Don't bother with this one. There are plenty of other volumes available for low prices that are significant better. This is really only for the staunchest fans of Blackhawk (all 5 of you) and those attempting to collect the complete set of archives.

In short, there are better comics. There are better war comics. There are better war comics that don't take themselves seriously. Caveat emptor.


Action Heroes Archives, Vol. 2 (DC Archives Edition)
Action Heroes Archives, Vol. 2 (DC Archives Edition)
by Roger Stern
Edition: Hardcover
32 used & new from $19.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even for the inflated cover price, this is a good buy..., September 8, 2014
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...but for the pennies for which you can find it now? This is just a no-brainer to me. I've been fortunate with the DC archives of late (thoroughly enjoying the oft-trashed Doctor Fate archive prior to this), but this might be my single favorite volume of the sixteen I've purchased. The art is good (as one would expect), the reproduction (with a few possible misfires here and there) is solid, and unlike many Silver Age reads, the Ayn-Rand-inspired challenge to the 60s ethos makes for interesting (if not always entertaining) reading.

A quick summary: this oversized archive continues to collect volumes from Charlton's defunct "Action Heroes" line. Unlike volume 1, which covered only Captain Atom, this volume includes the aforementioned as well as the (Ted Kord) Blue Beetle and The Question. The paper quality is strong as usual, and the unlike the general 220-ish page archive, this volume boasts a hefty 380+ page count. It has an increase in cover price, however, to seventy-five dollars, although as you can see, you can find it for significantly cheaper here (I got mine, including shipping, for exactly twenty dollars).

A reviewer noted that the reproduction is poor. I cannot say one way or the other, as I have never seen the originals. However, I CAN say that at times, the linework is significantly more coarse here than in other volumes. It is so coarse, in fact, that I often feel like my vision is blurring. It's like watching a SD television after months of HD viewing. Caveat emptor.

First, a few lines about Captain Atom. He gets a major re-design from his volume 1 character, and it's not really for the better IMHO. His stories are good enough, but I positively hate his costume (he looks like he's wearing a blue skirt over red tights - not really a good look). If you are looking for Captain Atom, buy this only for completion purposes - I would strongly recommend his appearance in Volume 1 over this.

The Ted Kord Blue Beetle would actually become a pretty important piece of the DC puzzle later on. I was perusing my old Justice League comics, and he was a starting member in the reboot following the Crisis on Infinite Earths. He's actually a very interesting character here. His stories are action-packed, and he makes for a good character both in and out of the suit. There is a good origin story, and all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the tales.

However, like many, I didn't come here for any of the heroes, per se (although the Question is immensely cool). I came to read Mr. Ditko's manifestos embedded within. And make no mistake - Objectivism rears its head early on in both the Blue Beetle and the Question, and doesn't let up. My guess is the Question is in fact the answer to the moral mush found in Marvel at the time, and I'll focus the rest of my review on him.

The Question has a pretty weak origin, at least compared to the other action heroes. Vic Sage is a tough-talking personality and reporter who speaks the good word and doesn't mind what feathers he ruffles. He's also a tough guy taking on the underworld and those business people who would dishonor the good work of man (sometimes in his normal persona, and sometimes in the form of The Question). He is self-possessed and uncompromising. Good is good, evil is evil, and never the twain shall meet. In short, The Question is the anti-thesis of Spider-Man. Vic Sage is the guy that Peter Parker never will be. The idea of villain as victim is as foreign to him as the idea of giving a handout to a bum, or entertaining for one moment the thought that man does not rise above the universe to make his own way.

And I have to say, as someone who is sick to the gills of broody anti-heroes and sympathetic villains, Vic Sage and his alter-ego really struck a chord with me. The Question is a Golden Age hero trapped in a Silver Age world, and he shines here. When he leaves two criminals to drown in a sewer, it's not much different from Superman leaving two criminals on a narrow cliffside (and there is no ambiguity in that instance - one falls to his death). Vic Sage rarely rails against criminals, turning his criticism instead to a public which allows them to exist. Ditko's heroes strive against fate - only "nothings in a nothing world" believe that fate and the spirits guide us. I would have loved to see Ditko take on Batman from the 60s - we might have seen a Year-One-type character 20 years earlier...
...
...except for one problem. While Ditko plots out interesting tales, his writing is often anything but. The Question's full-length comic (Mysterious Suspense #1) flounders, because everyone has to repeat the same thing, over and over. I suppose that Ditko thought that the substance outweighed its style, but I can't help but think that with another person writing dialogue, this could have been really interesting. The following story (where the Blue Beetle and The Question team up to fight anti-heroic attitudes in art by literally fighting anti-heroic art) sounds pretty stupid, but is actually quite readable. If nothing else, it has one of the most hilarious pages in comic history, where Blue Beetle pretty much soils his outfit out of arousal at the prospect of gazing at heroic art.

But honestly, I find that this volume is immensely more interesting than most Silver Age DC stuff (which is often pure dreck). It's not meant to be thought-provoking, though; it's meant to tell you that you are wrong. But even if you disagree, I think the concept is interesting enough to provide multiple reads.


Record of Agarest War Zero - Standard Edition - Playstation 3
Record of Agarest War Zero - Standard Edition - Playstation 3
39 used & new from $13.46

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What an utter mess, September 4, 2014
Without a doubt, this is the single worst strategy RPG I've ever played. In general, that might mean that the game was still good (the SRPG has been one of the strongest categories of games, at least in my lifetime), but holy crap - is this bad. For now, let me ignore the creepy fanservice which is present throughout this game. It's such an easy target, but there is so much more to hate about this steaming pile.

Let me begin with the actual "tactical" gameplay. As everyone knows, the SRPG generally sets up turn-based-style tactics, where advantages and disadvantages are conferred on players through the use of terrain, position, and other factors. For example, in Final Fantasy Tactics, a player might gain advantage by positioning his archer on a mountain, in order to gain range with his attacks. Or, she might be put at disadvantage because an enemy attacks her from a flanking position. Even small details like Zodiac signs could play a role in the outcome of a battle. In a game like Suikoden Tactics, relative position of a character and his allies might allow for special unison attacks to be used. Of course, since people move at different times, setting up such an attack might be difficult, because an enemy might move out of the way of a carefully planned attack before all of your characters are in position.

Agarest War Zero plays at these ideas, but misses the point completely. Yes - advantages are granted based on relative position, but there is no rhyme or reason to exactly WHY such position matters. For example, one character might grant bonuses to allies who are situated within a sort-of "wing" formation to his right and left. Another character might grant positional bonuses for characters who are lined up directly beside her. These bonuses are absolutely vital to any success in this game - failure to utilize them appropriately will result in an early rage-quit. But it's completely arbitrary. It's not like a fighter seeks to have archers protecting his flanks, and thus the formation grants bonuses accordingly. It's just a series of lit-up squares. Further, there are no terrain bonuses whatsoever. All terrain is a flat grid.

Movement of characters is the biggest problem. Yes, you can attack an enemy from a flank and receive a bonus. However, each individual character doesn't get his own turn to move. Rather, you determine the movements of ALL characters in your party, completely oblivious to the enemy movements. That is, you will put in the movements for six characters, and only after making the decisions will you see where any enemy goes.

It's hard to describe just how stupid this is, but this is my best effort: imagine you are playing chess. However, instead of alternating movements, each of you have to make...6 movements, all at once, and only afterwards can you see where the pieces fall. It kind of defeats the purpose.

Thus, your movements are pretty simple: you will move your characters within the "good" squares (and hopefully, you were able to pick an appropriate formation and memorized the "good" squares of a character, because the game certainly isn't going to help you with that). Then, you hope that an enemy doesn't use an attack which moves one of your characters, since if he does, your ENTIRE strategy for that round is shot. That's how important those bonuses are. The boggling stupidity of this is incredible to me.

Thankfully (tongue-in-cheek), the game provides you with hundreds of battles to fight. It is absolutely mind-numbing. Further, while winning battles does carry rewards in the form of experience, leveling is actually pretty useless in this game. Most of your attack and defense prowess comes from the equipment you carry, and not your level. That's not to say stats are unimportant. For example, if you aren't getting hit points, you should have pumped vitality. If you can't hit enemies, your luck and agility are lacking. And if you pumped strength without realizing this, well, it sucks to be you! After all, far be it from the developer to explain it to you - you should have bought the guide!

Speaking of equipment, ugh. Most of the stuff you can find/buy is useless. In order to get the good stuff, you'll need to investigate the game's item creation system. If you've ever played Cross Edge, you know what a pain that's going to be. Again, nothing is explained in the least. Good luck figuring it out without a guide. My advice for anyone who is still considering this: download the free gear from PSN. It's much better than pretty much anything you'll stumble over or create in your fumbling manner. If you insist, prepare to grind. Of course you didn't think that materials would be purchase-able? Mostly, you'll need drops from enemies.

And so now, we get to the story. What a slog. There is one redeeming value: the localization is so amateurish that it actually comes off sounding (or, more precisely, reading) hilariously. It feels like an undergrad majoring in Japanese translated this script. Of course, that novelty wears off quickly, but we take our victories where we can. The story itself is standard Japanese dreck. Forces of light and darkness are clashing. You are a chosen one (completely by accident). After a few boring betrayals and a LOT of boring interpersonal relationship, you get to save the world. HOORAY!

The graphics are a joke. Enough said.

And that finally leaves the fanservice, which I won't badmouth. I don't even need to. This game is plenty disastrous. If you think this is good SRPG, you haven't played good SRPG. I would recommend something like Tactics Ogre, or Final Fantasy Tactics, or Vandal Hearts (PS1). Or even lesser titles like Dynasty Tactics and Gladius (PS2).

Heck, if you're one of those creepy people who can't get enough of seeing underage cartoon characters in various states of undress, there are much better titles out there that will satisfy that urge AND keep you entertained in between.


Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives Volume 1 (DC Archive Editions)
Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives Volume 1 (DC Archive Editions)
by Gardner Fox
Edition: Hardcover
31 used & new from $23.96

5.0 out of 5 stars Doctor Fate has never been more entertaining, September 4, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is one of my single favorite volumes purchased so far (out of 16 total) in DC's "Archives" collection. While I might not have been as enamored by it at its original cover price of seventy-five(!) dollars, at today's rates (I picked mine up for less than twenty-two bucks, including shipping!), it's an absolute steal.

Let's face it: Doctor Fate isn't exactly a heavy-hitter by anyone's standards. My first encounter with Doctor Fate was in Bruce Timm's "Justice League" cartoons, and it was an absolute dud. He's been remastered for the new 52, but I find him to be more annoying than enjoyable. While the entertaining introduction insists that he "could have been a contender", I respectfully disagree. Mystical beings in comics generally struggle, and in DC, they are generally worse, since their human sides never make an appearance.

And so it goes for early Doctor Fate. As a human character, Doctor Fate has less personality than peanut butter (in fact, in my All-Star archive, Doctor Fate goes so far as to say he's not human at all). Then he dons a face-covering helmet, gaudy blue-and-yellow suit, and...still fails to have any personality whatsoever. He often contends with other mystical beings, and his general modus operandi is...to punch them out. I'm not even kidding. Usually, he distracts them with some boring lecture on magic, and then "kayos" them (using my favorite verb of Golden Age comics). Sure, he uses magic sometimes (often to dispose of the kayoed human), but really, that's his shtick. There may be some Lovecraft-inspired backdrop for his adventures, but it rarely comes to the forefront (and when it does, the results are disastrous - watch as Doctor Fate exterminates an entire planet of aliens!). Doctor Fate claims that a man attempting to murder his cousin cannot be properly tried in legal courts, so he banishes him to wander aimless dimensions forever. Pretty harsh ruling for attempted murder, which is generally tried quite successfully in courts.

the fact is, Doctor Fate just didn't work. At best, you could say that he was ahead of his time, but at worst? He seems like an inhuman monster that should evoke fear from every citizen of the world. Gardner Fox was no fool. He realized that it wasn't working, so in successive attempts, he tries to make Doctor Fate more human and more relevant.

First (and best), he changes the full-face helmet into a mask which covers only his hair and eyes. At this point, Doctor Fate immediately becomes more interesting. Now, there is a human aspect. Also, he gives him a weakness. If Doctor Fate has his breathing impaired even slightly, he loses his power. This has mixed results, but again, it gives Fate a human touch sorely lacking in his early adventures. Later, he makes Fate into an actual medical doctor. Again, Fate has humanity - he genuinely works physically to save the lives of humans, even as he works to save their spirits with his magic.

Fate also begins to fight more standard criminal fare. This is generally the biggest criticism of the new Fate - now, he's just another Golden Age superhero. Well, that's right. Doctor Fate is in the Golden Age, and he now acts Golden Age-y. Fisticuffs are the rule now, with puns thrown as eagerly as punches. In this sense, he's no different from, say, Batman and Robin, except that his human side does more than inhabit a big mansion. In short, I think this works. Did he lose his dignity? Possibly, but he became far more entertaining for it.

Yes, Doctor Fate loses a battle with a seltzer bottle. It's hilarious. I enjoyed it immensely, just as I enjoyed the ridiculously contrived way that he escapes poison gas in one comic (he is thrown into a horrible auto accident, but the impact on his body forces him to breath out the poisonous vapors, and because he was thrown from the car, he in turn breathed in pure air). It's ridiculous fun.

Another thing: I thought the art progressed as the volume progressed. However, I was disappointed that the incredibly odd lettering becomes more standard. I always loved the "E" letter with the super-long middle-line.


Batman: The Dynamic Duo - Archives, Volume 2
Batman: The Dynamic Duo - Archives, Volume 2
by Gardner Fox
Edition: Hardcover
36 used & new from $13.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Silver Age stupidity, September 4, 2014
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I find myself in profound disagreement with many of the reviews here (although I respect many of them, and often consult these very reviewers before I purchase archive volumes).

Unlike many, I am a fan of Golden Age comics. The short (often 5-7 page) format fits perfectly with the limited plot found within. The art is often crude by today's standards, but in the same way that 1970's Black Sabbath is "crude" by the standards of produced music today. It still wows me. However, I freely admit that many characters do much better in the Silver Age than the Golden Age (Flash and Green Lantern immediately come to mind).

However, Batman is just not one of these characters, and I find these stories boring at best, and repulsive at worst. I don't know if it's this particular collection, but these tales fall woefully inadequate when compared with those found in the Batman Archives (at least volumes 1, 2 and 3). Batman just doesn't feel like Silver Age material. Whereas Superman immediately becomes more interesting when he fights beings of his extra-terrestrial nature, Batman is still just Batman - a smart, well-trained human in a costume. He is at his best when he is localized to thugs and psychos in Gotham. When he fights a witch who turns him into a scarecrow, it doesn't even work from a Scooby-Doo cartoon mentality.

But this book furthers its problem by constantly falling back on tricks in lieu of plot. One story particularly stands out: at the beginning of the story, I am told that I (the reader) am responsible for Batman gaining a super-powerful punch. My initial instinct was that there was some letter-writing campaign where kids told the writers what kind of neat trick they wanted Batman to have. But no - according to the story, I'm a scientist, who spills some compound on Batman.

Wait - what? I mean, I've never much been bothered by the 4th-wall-breaking goofiness of comics, but I just don't get it. I'm not a scientist in a laboratory, and nothing in the tale really makes me feel like I am. I mean, I could have been told I was Santa Claus, and had given Batman a cool power glove for Christmas. It would have had as much meaning.

Obviously, you can't complain about goofy science in a Silver Age comic, but man - some of the science here is REALLY goofy. Batman and Robin absolutely pummel the Riddler, but can't hurt him, because apparently, he was made numb. I don't think that's how it works. Sure, it makes for some pretty hilarious images (the Riddler spins around, getting punched back and forth between Batman and Robin), but it fails to satisfy, even from a goofy perspective.

There is one story, however, that I did like immensely. In it, the Penguin can't figure out a good idea for a crime, so he decides to throw random clues at Batman and see what he thinks they mean. It's one of the more clever twists I've read, and it works really nicely in this volume. But that's the lone standout for me. The rest moves from perfunctory to downright bad. Even at today's low prices, I can't recommend this archive.


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