Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda Series Review

Image of the Andromeda Crew all lined up and staring into the camera.
Image Source: https://andromeda.fandom.com/wiki/Andromeda_(TV_series)

Okay, so this one is going to be an interesting review, although it might be fairly similar to my review (in tone) of my review of Farscape. So, for me, Andromeda was much closer in tone, story construction, and characterization with Farscape than other sci-fi shows that I’ve seen such as Babylon 5, the various Star Trek shows, or even the Stargate shows. There is a more fun vibe going on and less serious vibe in the show where I think the other shows tended more towards seriousness with comedic elements. This show, along with Farscape in certain episodes, tended more toward the wry comedic element rather than full on seriousness. Now depending on my mood, I felt this lightness of subject matter either funny or irritating, depending on how much I just wanted a good, old fashioned, nuts & bolts sci-fi story.

A Story of Two Series: Before Tyr and After Tyr

So, there’s just no way around it. The series can be broken up into two parts (actually 3, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Tyr, a character from the beginning of the series and what I would assume was the “pilot” episode, and a “foil” for Dylan Hunt (captain of the Andromeda) looms large in the discussion of the show. I don’t know the reaction to Tyr during the show’s initial run, but I do know that being the “foil” to Dylan, he had the chance to be redeemed to Dylan’s cause, but being the type of character he was portrayed as, also had the capacity to betray Dylan at any time. The problem is, in year 3, they actually had a storyline that dramatized his choice.

The problem was, for me, the storyline wasn’t the greatest articulation of that choice and, then it became the basis for the rest of the storylines of the show moving forward and those didn’t seem as grounded as ones before. Slight spoiler incoming (please skip to the next paragraph if you want to stay unspoiled about ANYTHING in the show–has nothing to do with the resolution of Tyr’s story or the resolution of the series in general).</spoiler>In fact, the whole founding of the “New Commonwealth” (while fine), didn’t really seem fleshed out very well and the idea that Dylan Hunt was a “traitor” and had to go away from the “Commonwealth” simply happened too quick for my liking. It would have taken at least a season of build up for me to have really engaged with that plot line. It all just happened too quickly for me to believe.

Can We Talk About Season 5?

So, taking a “spaceship show” and grounding it in a solar system with a limited number of planets might not have been the best thing for the show. The last 3 episodes were very good in my opinion, but that meant that I had to sit through a lot of “brown” planets to get there. Also, the same sketchiness of storytelling of the previous season was there meaning that sometimes time and character motivations didn’t seem to match up for me, but like I said, the last three or four episodes were masterful–especially when then go into an artificial sun to repair it–now that is what I’m looking for in my science fiction!

Overall Grade: B-

So, like Farscape, I thought the stories weren’t all that great usually, but the characters and the acting were pretty good and fun. I wish that there had been more of Star Trek vibe, with everyone having even more clearly delineated roles and flaws that dovetailed with the plot more often than they did. I would loved to have seen Andromeda as a “dysfunctional” Enterprise–yes, they saved the day, but there individual quirks made it much more difficult that it should have been. On the Enterprise for Star Trek, we see the crew band together to solve problems. It would have been nice to see the crew of the Andromeda try to solve problems, but have their own quirks (or other crew) get in the way, but always somehow overcoming in spite of everything and becoming more of a “family” in doing so. I also think some characters were under-used. I would have liked to have seen more storylines with Becka Valentine’s character, especially with her dealing with her substance abuse–but that arc was dealt with and was only mentioned in subsequent seasons, but not shown.

Still, the show was fun, if a little campy at times, and I say, for me, a darn sight better than Defiance with its “edgy” storylines that don’t seem to work nearly as well for me. I did enjoy my time with the show, but just wished that it could have stayed a little bit more serious.

Sidney


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Assassin’s Creed Origins: Finished and Mini-Review

A picture of Bayek with a white hood, shield, and bow standing in front of a golden wall of Egyptian Hieroglyphs.
Image Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2017/10/28/ten-things-i-wish-i-knew-when-i-started-assassins-creed-origins/#65554fcb6eb8

While these mini-reviews for finished video games (recent) that I’ve finished never do all that well (in terms of people reading them), I still enjoy writing them because my goal for most of my games is to finish them (i.e., to see the credits roll), then reviewing/explaining the good and bad things about them is a fun way to recap my experience with the game and to reflect on why I felt the game was fun, effective, etc. (or why not). This game review is for Assassin’s Creed Origins which tells the “origin” story of the Assassin’s Guild. I actually like the formation of “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” so that’s what I’ll use for this review.

The Good

The characters are really well done in this story and when I say characters, I really mean the main characters, Bayak and his wife Aya, and the other main protagonists in the story. They are from Egypt and their coloring indicates they are of African Descent. As they work towards self-determination (although it is through violence, using assassinations to accomplish their goals), I would still argue that this could be seen (in a less restrictive canon) as an Afrofuturistic text. This, however, is not central to the storyline; at heart, this is a revenge tale, pure and simple along with the ramifications of what happens to love and life when a “bad thing” happens. I also like the fact that the narrative is fairly strong and kept me interested throughout the story. The graphics were also well done along with the gameplay systems. I only ran into sporadic instances of glitches and I don’t think it ever froze on me, although it did push my Playstation Pro fairly hard and made the system rev up as if it were an airplane engine on idle.

The Bad

So, much of the bad will feature into “The Ugly” section as well, so I won’t go too deeply into it here, but length is a definite problem. Simply put, it was too long and took too long to complete. Also, the fact that some story elements are gated off by level, meaning that one needs to “grind” (there’s that word again) and do side quests to build up his or her level in order to tackle ever increasingly difficult story elements. Thanks to “training” open world games (like the InFamous series), I’ve learned that it is a good idea to do a good mix of side quests before going back to the main/story quests, but here it is required. Unless you are within at least a two to three levels of your opponent, the difficulty of the encounter will be close to impossible, especially early in the game. The side missions are of varying quality, but you’ll need to complete them in order to advance, no matter how you feel about them. You just have to hope that you don’t get too many average ones (esp. in a row).

The Ugly

This game is subject to Ubification and/or “Ubisoft Bloat.” Like most recent entries of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, there’s simply too much in terms of “map clutter.” The game litters the map with a ridiculous amount of content for you to engage with, and to be honest, most of it is simply “clutter.” Ubisoft wants you to engage with it as a “games as service.” They don’t want you selling the game back to used game/used book stores, they do want you buying their DLC and interacting with their in-game store, and they really want you putting time into the game world for this reason. Now, to be fair, you can do everything you need to without spending additional money (well, except for the additional story missions unless you get the Season Pass or whichever “Super-Deluxe” edition that includes the season pass. There’s simply too much clutter and things to do. I will probably work on it periodically (just to earn the “Platinum” trophy since the requirements aren’t too onerous this time), but this game wants to be the only game you play for 6-8 months, whether or not the content is actually compelling enough to support it.

Overall: B (85)

I liked this a great deal–they just need to do something that Ubisoft never will: they need to shorten the game and tighten its focus. While I don’t mind that they’ve turned it more into an action rpg rather than a strict stealth game (I actually like action rpg as a genre more than I like the stealth game genre), there’s just too much “padding” and “clutter” to make the game artificially long and artificially extend the game’s shelf life so that one can’t trade it in quickly and there are more opportunities to sell (either overtly or implied) more content to the game player. This game could have received an A had it treated game players as actual players and not consumers and tuned the experience accordingly.

Sidney

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Aquaman Review (No Spoilers!)

Aquaman Poster  -- Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) with Trident and Princess Mera (Amber Heard) both standing in waist high water.
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaman_(film)

Over the Easter holiday, I watched Warner Brother’s next big movie, Aquaman. I bought Justice League (both were on sale at iTunes), but I only had time to watch one and we decided on Aquaman as it was newer and better rated. I really liked it and felt that it was a fine addition to the comic book genre.

DC is “Darker” than Marvel

One of the things to remember is that DC, as a comics publisher, tends to publish “darker” storylines than Marvel in their heydey. Audiences reacted negatively to these darker storylines (see Batman vs Superman), but fans don’t realize that this is normal for the DC Universe. When DC tries to be jokey and fun (Justice League from what I’ve heard), they move out of their comfort zone. However, Aquaman is a nice balance between “light” and “dark.” There is enough humor and silliness to help the audience laugh and relieve tension and there is a fair bit of “darkness” in terms of the story and dramatic tension to drive the plot/characters forward.

DC Needs to Do More Solo Movies

Part of DC’s (DCEU’s) problem is that they see the success Marvel is having in the movie industry and they want the exact same success without having done the prep work. A lot of the MCEU’s success with their movies comes from successfully setting up two or three movies for their solo characters before moving on to their team-up movies. DC wants to jump straight into team-up movies without understanding that it is the solo movies that build up audience familiarity with the characters and makes them want to see them team-up and face off against a bigger (i.e., “world ending”) threat. They’ve done a good job with Wonder Woman (WW) and now Aquaman, but they really are going to have to understand that mega-billion dollar profits don’t come overnight and they’ve got to do the hard work of successfully putting out movie after movie with their solo characters before they even begin to match Marvel’s box office dominance.

Aquaman = Underwater Thor

So, too me, while the plot isn’t quite the same, much of the action and the plot reminds me of the Thor movies from Marvel, down to the no-good brother who would be king. Instead of the “arrogant King-in-Waiting” of Thor, you now have the “reluctant King-in-Waiting” in Aquaman. Unlike WW, the filmmakers for Aquaman play it safe and they don’t really say anything new in the genre. I’m currently rereading the Memory, Sorrow, Thorn by Tad Williams which is a Fantasy series from the mid-90s and early 2000s that has much the same set-up (at least in the initial book of the trilogy) and Aquaman says much the same thing (with many of the same beats) as this fantasy story told 20-25 years ago. WW, by contrast, had something new to say about the idea of femininity and how it was constructed (and reconstructed) in the WWI era. When your main characters comes from a society outside of the social conventions and mores of the time, you can then use that character to illustrate the inanities of said mores/conventions. Aquaman does none of this, but plays it safe and is a fun, but ultimately predictable, movie, hence the mixed reaction where some really loved it and some thought it was a step backwards from WW. Also, on a pure special effects level, some of the work is uneven. Quite a bit of it was good and transported you to another world, but some effects, especially some of the fighting effects which showed “sped up” motion, were distracting. Still, it was a fun movie that I enjoyed watching and, while not my favorite, still compared to some of the “lesser” Marvel movies.

Overall Grade: B

I should probably give it a B- if I’m honest, but I really like Jason Mamoa (I’ve liked him since his role as Ronon Dex on Stargate Atlantis (SGA). I know he’s on Game of Thrones, but as I dislike that show, I don’t really have any interest in his role there. I’m glad to see him “graduate” to movie roles as I really like what I saw on SGA. I also liked his costars, but I haven’t really seen the others in their other roles per se (Dafoe being the notable exception). Also, having been a fan of Superfriends and getting to see nods back to Aquaman’s powers from that show as well as his more recent graphic novel incarnation was a nice touch that boosted the score a little higher for me. Your mileage may vary from mind, but as I don’t have a dog in the Marvel vs DC “fighting fandoms,” I have to say that I enjoyed the movie for what it was–a fairly predictable superhero story with (mostly) above average special effects.

Sidney

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Series Review: Babylon 5

Babylon 5 Cast Photo
Image Source: https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/an-oral-history-of-babylon-5-the-beloved-tv-novel-that-showed-a-different-way-to-tell-sci

Over the weekend, I finished the entire run (all five seasons) of Babylon 5. I thought I’d take a moment and give my impressions of the series as a whole and how I feel it fits into the Sci-Fi TV landscape. There are some light spoilers–basically, just plot arcs across the series, not individual episodes. I couldn’t avoid them in order to give a thorough review of the series, but I still tried to be as spoiler free as possible. Those wanting to go into the series completely fresh, should probably stop reading now, bookmark this page, go watch the show for yourself (as of this writing, it is streaming on Amazon Prime), and then come back. If you’re not bothered by knowing season arcs, then read on.

Seasons 1 – 4.5 : The Shadow War

I think this is where the show shines–“The Shadow War” storyline shines as an impressive piece of storytelling. While Season 1 isn’t the strongest as I feel much of that season was setting up the characters’ relationships. I liked the character of Sinclair (& initially, during the first run of the show, I was a bit turned off by the introduction of the new B5 commander, Sheridan, upon re-watching the show and understanding the struggle of the actor who played Sinclair, I found it to be fine). What really impresses me about this story arc is the way Season 1 drops little hints that the War is coming (foreshadowing) and Season 2 fully delivers on it. Now, it seems a bit archaic with so many shows having multi-season arcs, but at the time, it was almost revolutionary. I found the whole arc to be quite impressive and filled with drama and tension, with both humor and heart. I honestly liked all the actors and while I didn’t necessarily like each and every episode, I feel this is where the heart of the show is contained. I would rate these as 9 to 9.5.

Season 4.5 – 5: Earth Alliance Civil War

I’m simplifying here–some of these episodes are actually earlier in the season 4 timeline (and hints have been dropped about this upcoming confrontation earlier in the season). This where a bit of the seams come apart in the show. While the actual civil war is handled well and takes the show into a new, interesting territory, the whole Mars/Earth subplot feels forced and a bit strained. I wish that I could say that I enjoyed every episode, but (outside of the space battle scenes between Earth Alliance and the former B5/Mars Colonies), this storyline seemed to drag. There were some great scenes in this part (Delenn facing down the Earth Alliance is a particular highlight), but there are places (especially the Mars sections that drag), but overall, still enjoyable. These I would rate 8.0 to 8.5.

Season 5: Telepath “War”

So, to me, this is where the series grounds to a screeching halt. I didn’t buy the whole Bester/Garabaldi arc wherein (*spoilers*) Bester overrides Garabaldi and makes him act contrary to Garabaldi’s normal persona. Yes, I know that set it up in the show, but it still didn’t ring true for me. However, after the resolution of those episodes, the show seemed to get back on track, only to be hit with the character of Byron. While I have no particular animus towards the actor, I think the character of Byron was probably the worst in the Babylon 5 show and completely undermined what should have been a tense drama. I didn’t believe his “Messiah” complex, nor did I believe his “Malcolm X” switch when he found out about the truth of the true role of Telepaths in the story. That whole arc really took me out of the story. The only reason I didn’t stop watching the show was because of the Lyta Alexander character. While I wanted her arc to go in a different direction, she was still (by far) the most interesting character in the story arc. Once that was done with, the show finished strong by focusing on the “ending” of the show–characters moving on while new characters would ostensibly take their place for the future (which we wouldn’t get to see). The Londo story arc was quite good as was the 2-3 episodes leading to the finale. I also liked the finale as it was a satisfying conclusion to the series (& hearkened back to the themes of the “Shadow War.”

Sidney




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Commodore 64 (C64) Nostalgia Review: Starflight

starflight_cover_digital_antiquarian
Spaceship on a star field, cover for Starflight.  Image Source: The Digital Antiquarian (click for more Information)

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 357
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As you can see, I didn’t manage to get any writing done Friday or Saturday.  I didn’t even feel well enough on Friday to get out a blog entry–sorry about that.  I’m still also trying to fine-tune my “process.”  I think I have too many projects, especially since Summer classes are about to start and they tend to be these intense periods of “crunch” time because you’re trying to cover a semester’s worth of stuff in 4-8 weeks.  I trying to decided if Project Skye or Project Independence is the one I want to focus on for May and then I’ll shift the other for June.  I do want to keep working on the graphic novel in the “background” (on weekends?), but I’m not really sure when to fit this in.  I’ll cogitate on it and try to decide on a course of action in the next two weeks before school starts.

Late to the Game

I’m not sure that I have all that much to talk about when it comes to Starflight published by Electronics Arts (before their rebranding as EA.  This was an early space ship explorations/simulation game, heavily inspired by TV shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica (the OG shows, not the newer modern reboots.)  In it, you controlled a spaceship and chose which worlds to visit and explore.  As I recall, you could choose destinations and fly your ship there, land on planets, and (I believe) scavenge for resources and discover aliens.  Just browsing through the manual, it looks like you could create, train, and utilize crew members on your ship.

starflight-commodore-64-screenshot-configuring-your-ship
Screenshot, Image Source: Moby Games

Uncharted Territory

As i mentioned above, I don’t really recall that much about the game.  It would probably have been one that I played and enjoyed and would have probably been one of my favorites, except, as I recall, Electronic Arts didn’t publish this on the C64 right away.  If memory serves, this was a PC game that absolutely “blew up” in popularity.  It wasn’t talked about so much outside of gaming circles, but from what I remember, this was “hot stuff” in the world at the time.  The C64 port came sometime later and people think that modern day Ubisoft “downgrades” graphics are bad (i.e., shows an enhanced game during their presentations of the game and then “downgrades” the graphics so that the game will actually run on current hardware), but the game’s graphics were truly watered down–so much so, that my uncle nicknamed the main character sprite/avatar “Caspy” after “Casper the friendly ghost.”   

starflight_02
“Caspy.”  Image Source: Lemon64.com

More Time and Space

Unfortunately, this meant that I didn’t get the game until the very end of the C64’s life-cycle in our household.  By then, CD-Rom systems like the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation were beginning to be talked about in the gaming magazines, and the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo ruled the roost at that time (if memory serves), so a hack-and-slash game like  Golden Axe was more in-line with what I was playing at the time and I didn’t really devote a lot of time to “Caspy” and his adventures (even though I’m a spaceship sort of guy.). I don’t want to turn off modern gamers, but I remember it being a old-school version of No Man’s Sky (which I actually don’t think is as bad as everyone who hates on it, says it is–it’s just slow and more about survival.)  I would actually have kept my copy had I not been in grad. school–I realized that even though I would be able to tolerate it and have some fun with it, but it just took too long to do anything and that I just didn’t have the time to invest in learning its systems and getting really good with them.  That’s sort of how I felt when playing Starlight.  Electronic Arts really should have had a port ready for the C64 much sooner–or if they did, they needed to have advertised it better so that I could have made it a priority Christmas/Birthday request.  As it was, it was a good game that I just didn’t get to put a lot of time into because the “gaming” world had moved on by the time I got to it.  I could only find a DOS play through and not a C64 play through.

Here’s hoping you have a good week!

Sidney




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C64 Nostalgia Review: Knights of Legend

Knights_of_Legend_Indie_retro_news
Knights of Legend Box Cover Art (A warrior raising a sword and shield).  Image Source: IndieRetroNews.com (Click for more info)

A Birthday RPG

I cannot quite remember how I heard of Knights of Legend by Origin as a child.  It was either through an article or advertisement in a magazine that I bought at Waldenbooks called Computer Gaming World (CGW), although it could have been in a different magazine–I just can’t recall.  Regardless, I read either the article or adcopy (no internet/interwebs for public, only military/government at the time), and thought it was neat.  There was a go-to place that I found that would do mail-order for Commodore 64 games that I’d ordered from in the past, so I asked for this for my birthday.  I remember it coming on-time and after I got back from school and had dinner, cake, and ice-cream, I remember opening up the game and diving in.

The game came packed with 6 (!) floppy disks and a packed-in insert exhorting owners (of the IBM/IBM compatible versions) to get a hard drive and install it on there (a review I found said it had 4 disks, but I remember 6, though perhaps I’m wrong–I’ll check when I get home and revise this as necessary–regardless, it had many more than was normal for the time).  Now, understand, most games came on one floppy disk.  Sometimes the game might use front and back to store the floppy, but two disks were rare.  Some of the most intensive games out there used two disks and if they were really, really pushing the capabilities of the system, they might use up to 3-4 disks (for some reason, I’m thinking of the AD&D Gold Box games here), but for a game to need 6 disks was practically unheard of at the time.  Unfortunately, the C64 was older tech and did not have the option of adding a hard drive, something that was just starting to take hold in the PC/IBM computing space of the time, so I had to make do with the floppies.

Unique Races

Now, when I looked up this game on Wikipedia, I was fairly shocked to find that very few outlets seemed to have covered it and that it had an abysmal rating in the few outlets that did give it a look.  I (ultimately) thought it was a bad game (more on this in a moment), but I didn’t think (at least initially) that it was all that bad.

One of the things that this game had going for it was that it had (from what I recall), a fairly unique set of races.  What the game did was combine the RPG systems of race and class into one, so that whatever you picked determined your profession.  Some examples: a Kelden Cliff Guard, Ghor Tigress, or a Klvar Elf (a magic-user).  Each one of these is example of a race/nationality combined with a type of class to get your profession (fighter, magic-user, etc.).  At first, creating a class seemed really fun and unique and it occupied my time during the rest of the school year.  It wasn’t until the summer vacation/break that I was really able to dig into it and discover its flaws.

knights_of_legend_screenshot_indieretronews
Knights of Legend Screenshot.  Image Source: Indie Retro News.

Encumbrance and Fatigue System No Bueno

The real problem, I soon discovered when I tried to actually do anything is the problem that the game’s designer, Todd Mitchell Porter was 1) far too ambitious with the ideas that he implemented in the game for the technology of the time and 2) confused complexity with fun.  The game’s manual (which I’m holding in my hand as I write this post) is a whopping 142 pages in length.  (There are actual RPGs from that era that are shorter than this manual–yes, I acknowledge that they were mostly “home-brew” RPGs by amateurs or very small RPG companies, but still, the fact remains true).  I once had a professor note, as I had once praised a piece of criticism that was very long-winded, that just because it is long and involved, doesn’t necessarily make it good.  That’s the way that I feel about this game in hindsight.  Teenage me loved the sprawling “epicness” of the game for the sheer possibilities that it seemed to offer, but in actuality, the game collapsed under the weight of its own systems.

Case in point–the fatigue and encumbrance system.  Once you got out of the character creation system and outside of the town, into the wilds and into combat, that’s when the game fell apart.  The game used a “hit location” system, meaning that limbs could be incapacitated without killing the body and your characters were “flimsy” meaning that the weakest of strikes could render them critically injured, so the best strategy was to wear the heaviest armor you could find.  However, you could carry only so much, so that you’re armor and weapons weighed you down and every time you took an action, you became more and more fatigued until you couldn’t fight and had to rest.  In combat, this came to down to two results: 1) wear too light of armor and getting your party decimated or 2) wearing too heavy of armor and having your characters able to withstand encounters, but leaving you too fatigued to swing your weapons.

I once had a Kheldon fighter (who had wings and could fly), fly up to his opponent to attack, but after flying, he became exhausted and had to rest each and every turn because his weapons and armor kept him from recovering enough to do anything and the enemy slowly battered him to death.  I did win a couple of battles, but on the whole, I discovered that the entire system was broken because it prioritized “realism” over “fun.”  The possibilities that had seemed endless when I bought the game and when I was just creating characters, turned out to be limiting and frustrating when one actually played the game because of the way the systems interacted with one another.  Just because something works a certain way in real-life, doesn’t mean it should work that way in a game.

Needless to say, the game didn’t really receive a whole lot of attention after that summer. I dabbled with it here and there, but for the most part, it was back to AD&D Gold Box games until I got my first PC where I tried another Origin game, Wing Commander II by another visionary developer, Chris Roberts, that I found more to my liking.  But that’s another blog post, for another day.

Sidney




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Mini-Review: Alien Legion, Vol 1, Issue 14

Alien_Legion_Vol_1_14_MarvelWikia
Alien Legion Vol. 1, Issue 14 Cover Art, Image Source: Marvel Wikia

So, as I try to come to grips with the Ship of Shadows graphic novel that I am writing, I am trying to relearn many of the lessons about graphic storytelling by rereading my comic book collection that I amassed as a teen.  Unfortunately, I weeded the collection down back in the late 90s/early 2000s and lost quite a few issues that would have been good to have.  I kept what I considered were the essentials, however.  So, I decided what better way to wrap my head around writing a graphic novel than by revisiting the comics that I so loved (yes, I know there are books like Scott McCloud’s seminal work on graphic novels–and I even own a couple–but what better way than to actually read the works that I’m trying to write and breakdown what those successful creators have done to really learn the form).

I’ve always liked the concept of Alien Legion ever since I first discovered it in a comic book spinner at Waldenbooks.  The idea of a galactic Foreign Legion spoke to my inner child just coming off the high that was Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  The characters are extremely captivating.  I guess the parallel that I could make would be to have intergalactic Fast and Furious.  Wait, I take that back–that’s not interesting at all, forget I said anything like that–that’s actually a very bad comparison (I say, as I hurriedly scribble down the idea to get it written before someone else does).

Alien_Legion_Wikipedia
Alien Legion, Created by Carl Potts, Image Source: Wikipedia

In all seriousness, it really is sort of like a “Dirty Dozen” in space.  You have a group of alien soldiers, mostly humanoid, who go on missions.  Being that this is an “Epic” imprint from Marvel (a “darker” imprint than normal Marvel comics published at the time), this allowed them to go into more adult territory.  This particular issue is really unique as it deals with domestic violence and   the effects that it has.  Yes, this is told in such a way that it can be digested in a YA comic, but for 1986 and for a medium that was often marketed to children, this one deals with some pretty revolutionary issues for the time.

While the artwork is a little rough, it is still easy to read and follow the action.  The actual dialogue and story is also well done–I like how it establishes each on of the main characters through action and dialogue.  Captain Sarigar, a snake-like alien, is obviously the protagonist of the story, but I like how he involves two of the more hard-bitten Legionnaires in what is obviously a personal mission based on their reputations for being hard cases.  The story is very well done (for all of the “heavy” themes) and illustrates the dangers of domestic violence, both physically and emotionally to the victim.  For a comic book, it handles the subject matter surprisingly well and still manages to tell a strong story about a brother who, despite his obligations as a Captain in the Legion and a fierce warrior, only wants to protect his sister from an abusive boyfriend.

Overall Grade: B+

Sidney




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The Black Panther (Marvel)–Non-Spoiler Movie Review

Black Panther Movie Poster_IMDB

Wow.  Just wow!  I saw Black Panther over the weekend and I was absolutely floored by how good of a movie it turned out be!  Based on the traffic on the site over the weekend, it looks a fair number of people came to check and see what I though of it.  Apologies for not posting this review sooner, but I always like to take a day or two to think about my responses–positive or negative to reflect before coming online to talk about them.  I also watched several reviews (spoiler and non-spoiler) to get a feel for how other critics were talking about the movie (I only watch reviews after I’ve already seen something–too many “non-spoiler” reviews give away too much of the plot by focusing on the story.  And this is one story that you don’t want spoiled!  Sure, thanks to foreshadowing, you can see somethings coming in this movie, but still, it really, really works!

A Great Marvel Movie

One of the things that I want to stress is that this is an excellent Marvel movie.  Don’t think this is some cheerless dirge -like epic.  The filmmakers expertly crafted humor, drama, pathos, action, and suspense into the movie.  If you liked other Marvel movies, then you’ll like this one.  However, it also has a sprawling, epic feel to it.  The setting–Wakanda specifically and Africa, in general–is almost a character in itself and is very much a visual spectacle.  The colors really pop (esp. later in the movie) and I really like the way the filmmakers integrated the music into the narrative.  Really impressive stuff.

A Great Story–Plot

This is also where the movie shines.  Don’t worry, as this is a non-spoiler, I won’t talk about the specifics.  However, I will say, from a plotting standpoint, this is “aspirational” for me.  I would love for my stories to show this level of drama, suspense and action sequences.  The filmmakers–for me, at least–got the mix pretty much perfect.  I’ve seen a few reviewers ding it for not having enough action, but I think that, much like any other “origin story,” the filmmakers chose to focus on the introducing us to and developing the characters rather than on slam-bang action.  There are definitely action sequences, but they aren’t there at the exclusion of everything else and they make sense in the context of the story, unlike other movies that I could name.

Great Characters

This is where the movie truly shines.  The characters in this movie are awesome!  There isn’t a character who did not land in terms of characterization, motivation, or development.  I have to say that all the characters really exhibited a pathos that was interesting to watch on screen and really helped to engage me as an audience member.  As a writer, I saw the true power of characters to literally “pull” the audience into the story and then propel them to want to finish the story (again, aspirational for my own writing).  There are standouts of course, but I don’t want to highlight too many, for fear of spoiling things, but I will say that T’Challa has a sister and her banter with her brother is not to be missed.  Her lines are some of the best in the movie (humor-wise) and reminded me of the banter that my uncle and I shared before his untimely passing.

Afrofuturism

I’ve talked a few times about Afrofuturism on this blog in relation to school, but I’ve never really defined it.  Black Panther is probably the best representation of it that I’ve seen on-screen yet.  Afrofuturism is about the African/African-American experience, but rather than focusing on the past, it instead looks to the future.  Sure, there are references to the past, but rather than dehumanizing, the subject of Afrofuturism acknowledges that the past happened, but it looks to a brighter future with technology and with heart to note that a brighter path is open to all, if we only have the courage to embrace it.  While I may be reading the movie with an Afrofuturistic lens, it does have elements sci-fi that help to make it a movie that isn’t just stuck in the past retreading the same old ground.

Overall Grade: A+ (Excellent)

Really, this movie is an Excellent movie and does all that it sets out to do exceptionally well.  Is it perfect?  Of course not.  Again, some say it doesn’t have enough action.  I noticed that the very first mission (few scenes) are very dark (although my suspicion is that this is on purpose to make the colors pop when you first enter Wakanda, but it does make it hard to see the very first action scene).  However, I try to grade movies (or other media that I review) with the same grading scale colleges use and Excellent is used when there are either no blemishes or the blemishes are so minor that they don’t detract significantly from the overall experience.  I can’t decide if this is my favorite Marvel movie yet (although I think it might be), but I can safely say that it is in my Top 3.  I’m glad that the filmmakers and actors got a chance to make this movie and that I got a chance to see it!  I don’t usually make recommendations–but in this case, I’ll just say, if you’re at all interested in Marvel movies, or are just curious as to what all the fuss is about, to me, this one didn’t disappoint.

Sidney



Commodore 64 Nostalgia Review: Super Cycle

SuperCycle_Animation1_C64-Wiki
Animated Gif of Super Cycle, Man Racing on Motorcycle trying to avoid traffic and obstacles, Image Source: C64-Wiki

So, Super Cycle is one of my favorite games.  It isn’t my favorite game, but it up there.  I really enjoyed playing it and wish that the series had continued into present day.  It is a racing game (which, when done right, is always a crowd pleaser with me).  It featured racers on motorcycles who raced across the country in various settings.

It wasn’t anything too special and it wasn’t very unique.  It was just a motorcycle racer, in various environments (which were really just green for meadows, yellow for desert and bluish black for night), in which you raced the clock to get to the next checkpoint before time expired while avoiding other racers and obstacles on the side of the road.  It essence, it was a motorcycle “clone” of the very famous and very popular Pole Position video game (which was similar in design, but featured a “unrecognizable” jumble of pixels that was supposed to represent a Formula One/Indy car).

It didn’t have the depth as some of the racing games that I bought and enjoyed, but I always enjoyed putting the disk into the C64’s disk drive for a good while and I always remember that I had fun with it even when I wasn’t doing so well (crashing and the like).  I think the only thing that could have made it better for me would have been more stages/environments.  I think the C64 version topped at 3–meadows, desert, and night (although I could be mistaken).  Regardless, I don’t remember it being able to capture my attention long-term (for hours) because of the quickly repeating stages/courses.  Still, I remember it fondly and it is one of the reasons why I still gravitate to the racing genre in games even today.

Here is a YouTube Video for the game (ah, that intro music really brings me back) 🙂

The game was developed by Epyx, a studio that I don’t know too much about–they were never really profiled in magazines like hot new studios such as Electronic Arts (EA), Activision and Imagic were at the time (I suppose I can do a google search and report back on what I find at some point), however I remember the few games that I got from them–I know I have at least one more–their games were pretty good–always above average in terms of quality and fun factor.  Like Super Cycle, I wish they were still around and programming/producing games as a Design Studio.

Well, that’s all for today.  Have a great day!

Sidney
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