Thursday, May 31, 2012

Batman Annual #1 (2012) - Review

If you pay attention to bloggers, critics and forum posters who have a love for modern comic books, you're probably sick of hearing this, but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway: Scott Snyder has been doing superb work on Batman in the New 52 (along with the equally good Swamp Thing). His Court of Owls idea - creating a group of assassins that have been around in Gotham for centuries in secret - is absolutely brilliant, especially in its coherence to the extensive Batman lore. Snyder, along with co-writer James Tynion IV and artist Jason Fabok, not only add quite a bit to this new Court of Owls concept, but also introduce Mr. Freeze into the New 52 with Batman Annual #1 this year. And it's a damn good over-sized one-shot.

In typical Snyder fashion, this book takes multiple stories and intertwines them cleverly throughout the read to form one, compact final product. We see a disturbing flashback to Mr. Freeze's childhood relationship with his mother, a flashback to Freeze's initial attempts to bring his love back from her cryogenically frozen state, and a look at current happenings with Mr. Freeze and the Night of the Owls (the current Batman event going on right now about the Court of Owls). The first story mentioned serves as the opening and closing of the book, and does a wonderful job of starting and ending the book with some rather dark stuff. The second isn't anything wildly different from what has already been written in Batman stories, but it is a well-done showcase of Victor Fries' mad-scientist-origin for people new to Batman, as well as avid comic book fans that are eager to see how Mr. Freeze is going to be portrayed in the New 52. 

Mr. Freeze plays a large role in the Court of Owls story, in a way that should have been more obvious than it was to guess. Freeze feels as though he has finally perfected the formula to bring his love back to life, but the Court of Owls steals it from him to use on their assassins, according to his side of the story. This shows more than just about anything else that Scott knows what he's doing when it comes to creating a Batman story that fits right into place with everything else. 

Through a fun run-in with The Penguin, as well as an awesome one with Nightwing and Robin, the creative team here shows just how badass Mr. Freeze is. He's a cold (no pun intended), angry, smart-but-crazy man with an obligatorily sweet ice-blasting gun and get-up. Our villain also hates Bruce Wayne, and greatly desires revenge on him for halting his unregulated research on restoring his love. He doesn't get to see Bruce in this issue; or at least he doesn't think he gets to see Bruce. He ends up mono y mono with Batman at the climax. 

It's at this point that we see some satisfying fisticuffs between the two. Batman combats Freeze's icy attacks with heated gauntlets (or at least that's what I'm calling them) in an entertaining blur of action and a chain of heated dialogue. This dialogue mostly feels good, but can veer a bit in the corny-direction here and there. However, it's at this point that the artwork is at its peak: It's great stuff, overall. Motion is gotten across very well, faces are drawn very well, and the coloring is done very well. 

I came off of this book feeling very excited about what I read. Batman Annual #1 introduces a very badass Mr. Freeze into the New 52 with a book that fits snugly into Scott Snyder's Court of Owls plot. The book's method of story-telling through multiple, intertwining stories blends together perfectly and the artwork is easy on the eyes. This is my favorite Batman book so far from the New 52 and I highly recommend giving it a go. 

S456 ARCHIVES: Bat-Claws - Creative Writing - FanFic

originally posted on on March 25th, 2012


Mark straightens his legs and pushes them together, as he’s extending his arms out from his sides. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He shifts his weight forward ever so slightly.
And just like that, he’s falling.
The cool, night air pushes itself into his face, which would be blowing back his hair if it wasn’t for his mask. A jet-black mask covering his entire head, leading up to plastic ears that look like that of a bat. Approximately six seconds before he would have otherwise got a ticket to the hospital at the ground, he took out his ClawGun and shot it out at a pole above him. This attachment from the gun portion to the claw by a durable string allowed him to swing over to a tall flagpole, housing a flag with the good ol’ stars and stripes. He grabs onto this with his right hand, followed by his left and and his two legs. He slides down the pole to the roof of the building that the flagpole is attached to.
Mark puts a hand to his stomach, looking down from the roof, as he catches his breath. Mark is around six feet tall, thin but certainly built. He’s not ripped but sports what just manages to be a six-pack chest, with healthy muscles on his arms and legs. His suit is skin-tight yet moderately protective. The logo with which he affiliates himself with is plastered in dark purple across his pecs on an otherwise straight black suit. His gloves are made of leather, and at the ends of each of his digits lie a sharp claw.
Mark is Bat-Claws.
Mark is also currently in the process of training himself. For what, he really can’t be sure. He never has been sure about anything, come to think of it: Where he’s going, who he is, who he wants to be.
Now that he’s caught his breath, he sprints along the building, preparing to jump from rooftop to rooftop until he tires. Once he reaches the edge of the first building, he pushes his right foot onto the far edge hard, and propels himself to the next building. Once he gets to the end of this building, he does the same thing; but this time, instead of a solid landing his foot is caught on the tip of the next platform. Mark panics as he lands on his arms, receiving a few cuts directly before he realizes that he’s close to falling off of this old, worn-down mass of bricks.
Mark attempts to grab hold of something to stop himself from falling, but fails and he begins to plummet towards the pavement. He attempts to pull out his trusty ClawGun – his only gadget – but merely finds himself in a non-life-threatening but humiliating dumpster, filled with bags of rancid-smelling trash cushioning his fall.
Our protagonist lets out a sigh of self-disappointment
He’s what you could describe as a newcomer to the masked vigilante business. No, scratch that – Business is not a good word to describe what he does. He isn’t paid to do it.
Perhaps this is an opportune time to give some back-story on Mark. His last name is Wayne, which should provide a good starting point.
Maybe it’s best just to come right out and say it: Mark is the offspring of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Batman and Catwoman. Caped crusader and crooked criminal.
It’s not a love story. Mark’s creation does not fall into the “When a mommy and a daddy really love each other..” scenario. It is a crappy result from one of their scandalous acts of fornication.
Selina always wanted to be a mother, but only an accident like this could make it actually happen. If it was a decision entirely on Bruce, he most likely would have went to the blank clinic to get a blank, but Selina wasn’t gonna have that.
Mark had a rather strange childhood, as, surely, one can imagine.
At this point in time he’s in his 30s. His father is dead: He never quite learned how he died. But the moment he heard about his father’s passing, he ran off to an area across the country. A place where one of his friends he met online lives. They currently live together.
He just couldn’t live with the death of his father. Despite having such an odd set-up growing up, he was quite close with his father. He loved him, and it was certainly mutual. Just like any normal relationship between father and son. He wanted to be far away from Gotham and has no plans of going back.
Mark doesn’t know what’s going on with his mother. He was rather close to her as well, but not nearly as he was with his father. It was nothing against her, he just didn’t get to see her as often. She was always out doing something: Most likely stealing. When he was around 15, he woke up to find a reality without his mother. He asked his father where she was, but he said he didn’t know.
So here he is.
He walks to a nearby alleyway that he was at previously. Behind the dumpster in this alleyway he hid a backpack. He took the bag, quickly stripped off his costume, and stuck it in the bag. Underneath he has on a pair of gray sweatpants and a plain white t-shirt. Mark’s hair is dark brown and messy as it always is, with unruly bangs always getting in his eyes. And, to get the elephant out of the room, he’s white.
Once the costume is in his bag, he throws it on his back and begins to make his way towards his house. Or, his apartment, rather. His friend’s apartment, actually.
“I swear to God, man, it seems like you were bit by a radioactive leech. Just call yourself Leechman. With great apathy comes great laziness!”
“Ray…” Mark’s really not sure on this one.
“Yeah, bud?” Ray chides.
“Just, shut up. And I told you already, I -”
“Yes-yes, you’re bearclaw or whatever. You need to quit mooching off of me, man. Get a job or something. Get a girlfriend. Or boyfriend. You’re straight, right? I don’t know.”
“Uh,” a pause. “The name is Bat-Claws.” He’s avoiding the sexual-orientation-question.
Ray lets out a sigh. “Yeah, Bat-Claws, sure. Ya’ know it was so cool to have you come over and live here. Never thought I’d meet you in real life – thought our friendship would remain an internet thing. But now -”
“I’m hungry.” Mark lets out bluntly, interrupting Ray.
Another sigh. “Look, it’s gonna be Mickey D’s again today.”
A smile quickly grows on Mark’s face. “Awesome! I’ll have -”
“A twenty-piece chicken mcnugget meal with a sprite. I know.”
“Thaaaaaaanks broskay.”
“Whatever.” Ray spits out, annoyed but in a rather light-hearted sort of way. They’re good buddies.
Ray grabs his keys and heads out the door to his car, after telling Mark not to blow the place up. Should be easy enough, Mark said.
Mark clicks on the television. It’s a standard definition tv, 4:3. It’s old. And nothing special.
His instinctual clicks of the remote brings him to Nickelodeon, but that channel is fuzzy. He clicks over to Cartoon Network, and it’s the same story. He tries Comedy Central. Same. Feeling desperate, he gives the Disney Channel a shot. And nope.
He’s having some pretty awful luck. He decides to just watch the boring news for a while. It was rather boring for him.
A press of his finger on the power button of the television turns it off. He walks over to the window. He brushes the curtain aside so he can see outside. It’s still rather light outside, being only 4:30. It’s the summer time, and appropriately hot. Which Mark hates: Hot weather gives him headaches.
Just as he was about to walk away from the window, he spots a shady looking man walking down the street. He is dress in muddy jeans, a gray shirt one would wear under their main shirt - tattered with holes, big brown boots, and a ski mask.
Ahead of the man, Mark spots a woman. A rather attractive woman. This woman is yoga-pants-clad and has on a tight, teal t-shirt. Her skin is nicely tanned and her blonde hair is in a ponytail. In her arms is a regularly sized brown purse and a smart phone. She is standing directly in front of an alleyway.
What are the chances?
“Give me the purse!” Brad shouts at the woman whose right arm he has in his iron grip, in the middle of an alleyway.
The woman screams, but no one is around to answer her call, besides one teen who saw but ran in fear. She tries desperately to run but the man’s grip is too strong.
“Shut up! And give me the purse!” Brad barks at the woman, whose iron grip of her own is tightly wound around her bag.
“No!” she shouts. She then shoves her teeth into his left cheek and bites.
“YAAAAOWCH!” he yells, loosing his grip on her.
She has her chance to run but doesn’t immediately as she’s too struck by the intensity of the situation. She instead trips.
Brad seizes the opportunity and grabs her foot.
Mark runs back to the couch and grabs his backpack. He hurriedly grabs the zipper and pulls it up. The zipper snaps off.
Mark is forced to pinch the base of the now deformed zipper and slowly pulls it up and around the backpack. He yanks out the pants of his costume and haste-fully puts his first leg into them, and then his right, but he didn’t do the latter as elegantly as the former: A misplaced leg sent him falling to the floor.
Once he was back on his feet, he put his pants on proper, on top of his sweats. Then, on top of his t-shirt, he puts the torso of his costume on. Lastly, his mask, gloves and black boots.
Finishing his little ritual, he grabs the ClawGun and sticks it in the band of his pants. Now that he is fully prepared, he makes his way over to another window in the apartment.
He has a hard time opening these.
“Aaaah, damn-damn-damn how do you open these. How-how-how did Ray-Jay?!? Ray-Nay! Ray saaaaaaaaaaaaay! Saaay how to do it?!?!”
The door then opened and in came Ray with their dinner. “Uh, Mark?”
Ray complies, throwing the food to the floor and opening the window with ease. Bat-Claws leaps out without an ounce of grace, landing in another dumpster in an entirely different alleyway than the others.
The mugger grabs her face by her cheeks, looks her in the eyes, and just gives her a nasty look that says more than anything he could have made verbal.
And just then, a man in a ridiculous costume shows up, and says “Ma’am, do not be alarmed. Bat-Claws is here to save you!” with hands on his hips.
Alright, I’m here, I’m here. Mark thinks. What do I say – what do I say – what do I say.
“Ma’am, do not be alarmed. Bat-Claws is here to save you!”
“Haha! And what are you gonna do to stop me, bub?” the mugger shouts.
Mark, passionate and determined, sprints toward the mugger with fiery eyes. Once he is close to the mugger, he takes his claws and slashes him across the face, leaving a few streaks of bleeding, slashed flesh.
“AAAAAAAAAAAH! Damnit! I’m done, take your stupid purse!” The mugger releases his grip on the purse and runs away.
A smile forms on Mark’s face. He turns his gaze towards the woman. Man. She’s pretty hot,his now calm mind thinks.
“Thank you so much!” the girl tells him, giving a hug. “I really have to go, though! Thank you so very much, again!” And just like that, she was running in the opposite direction.
Mark feels good. He looks down at his boot to take a breather, but then something catches his eyes. A fat roll of twenty dollar bills, that the woman must have dropped. He quickly picked it up and saw that the woman was in shouting distance.
But he didn’t shout.
I wouldn’t mind some extra cash, he thinks.

S456 ARCHIVES: The Old Man - Creative Writing - Fiction

originally posted on on February 9th, 2012


A few words in particular seem to come to mind for those who take a look at Carl Ellington’s house: old, worn, aged, depressing, decrepit; things like that. When one enters this house, they must first make their way up the ancient staircase. This is an old house, so decisions often looked at as silly nowadays were permissible at the time of construction: These steps are made of an uncomfortably weak wood, and these specific steps are particularly in danger of a harsh snap, making the journey up them off-putting and slightly frightening. The sound of each creaky, bothersome step is outlandishly loud.

Once an individual braves his way up the horrific flight of stairs, he is greeted by a screen door, damaged with several holes and smothered with the excrement of those damn, smarmy birds. The entrance to this house opens fine, however, which makes it considerably more desirable than the pathway discussed earlier.

If one moves further, beyond the door, he would be greeted to a floor mat filled with the shoes of an elderly man. And often times a dog: A large, black-furred canine who is content to sleep and scarf down any food he can get his choppers on. This dog is old, lazy, and wants nothing to do with anything that does not involve slumber, a fuller stomach, or the man currently sitting in the living room.

This man’s name is Carl Ellington. He’s 78 years old, and could honestly be described in a similar fashion to the stairs of his house. He’s an old, beaten down man who quite honestly has had enough of what people commonly refer to as living.

A trembling hand brings a mug of hot coffee to Carl’s lips: lips that first press against the rim of the mug, slowly waiting for a small taste of the liquid to make sure it is of a tolerable temperature. Carl jumps back as the coffee hits his tongue, startled by the alarming heat of the beverage. A drop spills down the side of the cup, making its way past the faces of the two children pictured.

As Mr. Ellington attempts to clean the small mess he has made of his morning cup-o-joe, the large, black beast previously resting by the shoes comes walking in, slowly, as all of his movements are.

“Hey, Buster.” Carl says, snapping his fingers towards the dog with what he hopes to be a smile, but what is actually a miserable attempt at such an expression. “Ya wanna help me clean up my mug? What mug is this…” Carl’s miserable attempt at a smile turns to an obvious frown that would be unsurprising to him, given the sudden burst of morose emotion he started to feel.

“Oh, Buster, this is daddy’s favorite mug. You remember Charlie, Kate? They visited us, oh, how long has it been now…” Carl closed his eyes, thinking rather long about a response to a creature that won’t understand him. “Oh, uh, yes, they came to visit around seven years ago. It was a year after ‘ur mum left us.” Carl begins to choke up. “Off to that place I told you about the other day, where they have all of the bones you could ever want.” A pause. “And big fluffy pillows, perfect to snooze on, all day, long as you like.”

A tear begins to creep its way down Carl’s face, in a similar fashion to the drop of coffee down his favorite mug.“What are we doing, Buster? What the hell are we doing?”

Buster simply looks at Carl, with an emotionless face that couldn’t be less interested.

“I don’t know what else God wants me to do on this planet. Laurie’s gone with Him, my babies are all grown up, living their own lives. I wake up and have my coffee. I’ll spend the rest of my day watching my programs, or listen to the radio, dozing off half the time. I’m not in the game anymore, and I think I may have just grown tired of playing.”

The dog’s apathetic face turned to a different one. It did not change due to further understanding of the old man, but because the dog wanted a treat. This face was accompanied by one of his paws scratching at the old man’s pockets.

A smile, finally, shows up on Mr. Ellington’s face, after a sniffle containing the sobbing he is now done with. “Heh, oh, poochy.” Carl pats the dog on the head. “Maybe He’s keeping me here for you.” The old man takes a treat from his pocket and feeds it to Buster, who complies with a comically large lick that practically just shoots the cookie straight down his throat.

Buster is smacking his lips, satisfied with the treat, as the old man sees a colorful blur outside of his window. A further inspection at the window, after a process of getting up and walking over that was very much unnecessarily slow, shows Carl that the blur was a blue ball that most likely came from the tiny, nearby park in the middle of the little neighborhood.

“Look like God’s sending me a sign, Buster. Maybe I’m not completely useless after all.” Carl says, as he makes his way over to his door.

Aside the bottom step is the ball: Carl moves forward to the first step from the top.

He takes another step.

And another.

And one more. This fourth step is his last.

There are a total of 12 steps.


S456 ARCHIVES: Nano Assault (3DS) - Review

originally posted on on February 26th, 2012


While not exactly a new genre, twin-stick shooters have really come into their own in the past decade or so. Games like Geometry Wars (released back in ‘05) and Super Stadust HD (‘07) have popularized this style of game. Nano Assault, a 3DS game put out by Shin’en in early December of 2011, is a twin-stick shooter on a platform that doesn’t have dual sticks.

Perhaps it’s inaccurate to say that the Nintendo 3DS is a system without dual sticks: After all, the Circle Pad Pro gives the system such a feature. Nano Assault, however, was released before the Circle Pad Pro, and since Nintendo systems are uncomfortable with online patches, the game will most likely never use the peripheral. Fortunately, Nano Assault is a great game that works just fine without the component that makes up the title of the game’s genre.

Considering this part of the game is essential to unlocking the rest, the dominant aspect of Nano Assault is the Story Mode. It begins with a cinematic explaining the the premise of the plot, but it’s rather poorly done. It spits a lot of high-tech mumbo jumbo at you that really is hard to follow and under-explained. From what I gather from the bits and pieces that the game itself threw at me and the back of the box, you take the reins of a nano-sized ship that is eliminating a virus that could destroy humanity. The game did a bad job of making me care about the narrative. A game like this doesn’t need a story, but what it doesn’t need even more so is one that’s poorly done. Thankfully, the story is not pushed at the player very often and is mostly unobtrusive.

But as I said, the story is a small part of the game, as it likely should be: Gameplay is the focus. The Story Mode takes you around to myriad cells where all of the glorious shooter-gameplay takes place. Most levels put you on a three-dimensional structure filled with enemies that looks just like pictures of cells and bacteria that you would find in a Biology textbook. You move your ship around these structures from an bird’s-eye-view with the 3DS’s circle pad and use the A, B, X and Y buttons as a replacement for a second stick to shoot in 8 directions. This is done in a nearly identical fashion as Super Stardust HD. The objective of these portions lies in collecting three strands of DNA and exterminating all of the dastardly foes that I assume are supposed to be bacteria or some such thing.

It’s fun. The differently-shaped structures are filled with enemies and obstacles attempting to make your retrieval of the DNA and eradication of all foes more challenging, and it does just that. The action is engaging and the level design is quite creative. Rocks (or things that look like rocks, at least) and Plants (or things that look like plants, at least) create mazes for your ship and multiple enemy types means different attack patters to dodge, different weak spots to hit, etc. One hit takes away a ship, and collecting 100 drops from downed enemies adds one more ship to your utility.

There are also a few on-rails, behind-the-back, Star Fox-style sections in Nano Assault. Unlike Star Fox, however, you have direct control over a cursor that your ship follows on its own (it works the opposite in Starfox), and this certainly works to the game’s detriment. You get precise control over where you shoot, but trying to indirectly control your ship with this control scheme becomes frustrating as the bullets come flying at you. The level design is very cool for these parts, and the Boss encounters you experience in this portion are always fun, but the shoddy controls makes this the weakest part of the game.

Nano Assault throws a few things into the mix to beef up the shooting. You have three modes of shooting, each differing by having different gaps between your three strands of fire: One keeps the strands close, one a little less close, and the last very wide. The first is in most cases the most useful, but it’s a helpful inclusion nonetheless. There are also four secondary modes of fire that are unlocked through Story Mode progression, each fueled by power-ups dropped by dead enemies. Interestingly enough, I again find the first of these to be easily the most useful, but perhaps that just speaks to my personal play-style. And lastly, the game boasts a brilliant use of the system’s gyro, acting as a way to rotate the camera. A fantastic application of this feature, one that I don’t think was intentional, is that it moves the action to the most appropriate angle when you’re finding the sweet spot for the stereoscopic 3D.

That stereo-3D is excellent in this game, by the way. The spherical environments are perfect for the glasses-free 3D display, as they look as though they’re literally floating in front of your face. Stereo-3D aside, the visuals here are exceptionally good, with colorful, creative work all-around. And while not stupendous, the techno soundtrack does a fine job of helping the gameplay stay intense. Infrequent drops in framerate in an otherwise solidly running game are the only damper on the well-done aesthetics.

Once the Story Mode is completed (which took me a fitting 4 to 5 hours) a Boss Rush Mode is unlocked, as well as Arcade Mode versions of each level as you complete them individually. Arcade Mode let’s you chase high scores (which are smartly tracked online, pitted against strangers and 3DS friends) and complete level-specific challenges such as getting so many points or going the entire duration of a stage without losing a ship. This mode provided me the most fun in the whole package, with enough incentive to make coming back to do better and better alluring. Boss Rush Mode separates the bosses from the levels (which are all excellent) into three segments containing consecutive fights against the dastardly foes, and it’s also great fun and are quite challenging to boot. Playing these two modes nets you nano coins, which are used (along with Play Coins) to purchase 3D models of enemies to view and tunes from the game to listen to. I would’ve preferred neater stuff to buy, but it’s better than nothing.

Nano Assault is a solid game, all-in-all. The shooting is great fun that pushes your skill just enough, and the Arcade and Boss Rush modes provide hours of addictive thrills once you’ve run through the Story Mode. The visuals are stunning, and the music serves its purpose. Even the poorly controlled on-rails segments, which are the weakest parts of the game, are still enjoyable. Don’t let this gem get lost in the sea of Super Mario 3D Land’s and Resident Evil Revelations’s in your local game shop: It’s some of the most fun I’ve had on my 3DS.

S456 ARCHIVES: Ya' Know What?

originally posted on on February 26th, 2012


Ya’ know what?
There’s a lot I want to say,
It’s making me down, so let’s shoot upward.

Ya’ know what?
Can’t stomach his confidence,
Know you’re a fool, at least just consider.

Ya’ know what? Why?
Why do they laugh so much?
Make life a complete joke, beauty is lost.

Ya’ know what?
Close your mouth, your mind is locked,
If your thoughts are permanent, shut your trap.

Ya’ know what?
Humanity truly sucks,
Or at least that is often how I feel.

S456 ARCHIVES: Interlocked, a Poem

originally posted on on March 1st, 2012


We sit there, stationary, static,
Locked up, a hot, a metal box,
No movement, no progress,
We’re stuck, stuck in traffic, traffic to get home,
“This is dumb,” I say, 10 year-old Matt says,
“Well, everything happens for a reason,” Mom says,
A pause, some thinking, “Well…” I saw, “No, that isn’t how it works,”
“Everything is random,” I say, but I’m not sure,
“Well, that’s what I believe Matthew,” she said, in a neutral tone,
I sit, I feel detached, is there really no reason?

I recall a time, a conversation,
This was later in my life, ‘twas,
A conversation, with another, a friend,
I talked, about someone,
This someone, they wronged me, an enemy,
I told this, to that friend, sincerely,
This person, they replied, surprisingly,
They had similar stories, about this person,
That person, that person had wronged her too,
She added to my memory, made it all more clear.

My mom is sincere, but she is wrong,
My sadness for this concern is gone,
Everything does not happen for a reason, obviously not,
But that’s fine, because we’re all still connected, we’re all,

S456 ARCHIVES: Batman and Robin #7 Review

originally posted on on March 17th, 2012


There is certainly not a shortage of Bat-Books being produced in the New 52. While Snyder’s Batman seems to be the collective favorite of comic fans, Batman and Robin, in particular, has been very compelling. Batman and Robin’s display of super hero action mixed with the bonding of Batman and his super-villain-raised son Damian has been excellent so far, and the latest issue is by far the strongest the series has been. Batman and Robin #7 is nothing short of superb comic book entertainment.

As I said before, this series so far has been very compelling, but it hasn’t been perfect: most if not all of the first six issues were plagued with at least a bit of taxing exposition. While no page of Batman and Robin has been what I’d call bad, a lot of the history and build-up has felt a bit too pace-breaking. Issue #7 trims the fat and comes out swinging for a KO - All qualms with the other issues almost is forgiven in what can only be called an epic conclusion to the first story arc.

Our antagonist, Nobody, is torturing Robin and giving the details to his father right from the first page. Our story follows the enraged dad in Bruce attacking Nobody to save his son, and also, as it seems, claiming retribution. It’s glorious anger and violence and all very satisfy to watch, with very enjoyable banter between the two. It’s a fun battle to watch and I found it very easy to root Batman on.

This series also has some of the best art I’ve seen from The New 52. It’s dark, the bodies are drawn skillfully, and the multiple two page spreads are jaw-dropping. Faces are drawn perfectly expressive and the panels are organized well.

This one was a quick read, but that’s because the pacing is very fast and beautifully so. And it’s all topped off with a solid last-page-reveal. Batman and Robin #7 drives this point home more so than any other issue: This series is well worth the $2.99 every month.


Figured I’d try a comic review. How’d I do?

S456 ARCHIVES: Justice League #7 Review

originally posted on March 21st, 2012


Fresh off the heels of a fun first story arc, Justice League #7 releases with guest artwork and coloring from Gene Ha and Art Lyon, respectively. And I have to say, I was absolutely floored. Justice League #7 is why I read comic books.

The guest artwork, from the first half of the book especially, steals the show here. It’s really quite indescribably fantastic. In the first half, the pages pop and shine with colorful yet darkly shaded art, perfectly contrasted by solid black behind the images. Just about any of these panels are worthy of a poster - especially the jaw-dropping two-page spread towards the beginning. The second half still looks nice, but it’s, then, ultimately more conventional.

The plot springs forward to an unspecified time after the last issue, in which our heroes must face a new foe. This villain is a crooked biological warfare specialist spawning an army of monstrous creatures to aide him in his evil-doing. The humor is there the whole issue, offering me a couple genuine laughs, the group of seven continue to grow and develop, and the stupid blockbuster-movie-spectacle is here and just as satisfying as it has been. My only complaint with the action and banter this time around is a noticeable lack of Aquaman.

Going along with the jump in art, the plot makes a jump as well in the latter half of the book. The comic switches gears to follow Colonel Trevor, head of A.R.G.U.S., a government organization focused on defense - Which, as of late, entails aiding the Justice League. Trevor must deal with calming the people down who want the Justice League to entirely replace the Government for their defense - as well as, humorously, for continued economic strength. We get more details on his relationship with the Justice League - specifically, mostly with Wonder Woman as a love interest - and are left with a compelling last-page-reveal.

I got three comics today, and the other two happen to be the new Amazing Spider-Man and Batman. A quick flip through the books forced me to choose Justice League first, and writing this review and changing up my iPhone wallpapers took priority over getting to the other, high-quality series. It’s just that good. Even if you’re not following this series, I’d say just picking up this single issue for a read is a safe bet.

S456 ARCHIVES: The Epic of Hylione - Fiction

originally posted on on April 29th, 2012


I wrote this for my Honors English 10 class. Lol. Corny-lameness ensues.


In media res, Hylione looks down at his sword, shield and bow, now imbued with the power of the Goddess Midnone. Each piece of gear looks as it did before, except for an unmistakable celestial glow and aura about them. The sword is capable of slaying any source of evil, the shield is impenetrable, and the bow can serve just about the same purpose as the sword but from a distance.

Hylione lifts up the sword, swings it a few times to get a feel for it: It feels even better than before, with a weight and length perfectly fitted for his figure. He sheathes the sword on his side when he is done. He then slides his arm into the shield, and it too feels even better than before. Once he is done he throws his shield on an attachment on his back.

Now, the bow and arrow. He slings the quiver onto his back, filled with 10 arrows, and then gets a firm grip on the bow itself. He grabs an arrow, positions it as it needs to be in order to be shot, and pulls back. When he releases, the arrow shoots forward and keeps moving, not losing any altitude. It keeps going until Hylione could no longer see it. When he went to grab another arrow, he realized that the one he used previously had reappeared.

Hylione is now ready to take down Gardendor - the supremely evil being terrorizing the lands.


Five years before this, Hylione woke up to a calm, peaceful morning in his village. After rubbing the sandman’s leavings out of his eyes in the morning, he walked to his clothes and got dressed.

Then, suddenly, he felt a rumbling, and the bright sky turned dark, and he could hear screaming all around him. He ran out the door and was quite frightened by what he saw amongst the screaming townsfolk: A large, hulking beast, one the size of four men. His chest, legs and arms are all black, with purple feet, hands and a purple head with black horns. Attached to this creature’s back is a set of purple wings, which are incredibly large; large enough to support flight for this massive monster.

When Hylione came out of his house, the beast made eye contact with him immediately. And smiled.

“Hylione, Hylione, HEEEEL-LEEEEE-OWN!” the beast said, with a villainous look on his face. “You are supposedly the hero of our time, but how heroic are you really acting?” he adds, with a chuckle. “What did you do today to stop the death of several of the people of this town? Not much! But now, hero, face me, Gardendor!”

Hylione was nothing but baffled. What is that beast talking about?, he thinks. But he doesn’t let his fear and confusion stop him from grabbing his sword from inside his house and running towards the beast. He was screaming as he ran with his sword, up until he harshly jumped up and - with his sword in both hands and the blade facing downward at the beast - dived down. The result was not what he was expecting, however.

The blade made contact with the beast but it did not kill him – It didn’t even harm him. The blade merely bent a bit to the side and Hylione fell.

“AaaahahaHA! Weak is thou! I am off, away from this place! Approach me at my castle when you’re actually going to pose a challenge to me!” The beast says, and flies away, leaving Hylione in a village filled with screaming villagers and burning cabins.

Hylione fell to his knees, but then, Midnone appeared: The Goddess who is the creator and arbiter of all.

“Hylione!” she says. “You must defeat that evil beast! You are the hero chosen by I, Midnone. You must go to the fountain of uprising and dip a sword, shield and bow into its waters and challenge Gardendor to a duel! It will take you years to get to this fountain, but you must do it!”

And this is how our journey began.


It took Hyione years to get here, but he is finally at Gardendor’s castle, and he is ready. He gets off of his horse and sizes up the castle. It is very large – It is quite wide but mostly incredibly tall. Rather high up there are two windows, each with an archer watching guard; just now noticing him. They begin to shoot arrows at him but he skillfully avoids each shot.

Hylione quickly shoots two arrows, one after another, one at the first guard and the next at the other: They immediately are vanquished and both fall to the ground.

He puts his bow in the compartment for it on his quiver and unsheathes his sword. Grabbing it with both hands, he raises his arms until the sword is behind his back, facing the ground behind him. He then quickly slashes the sword above his head and smashes the door in front of him. He walks inside.

To Hylione’s surprise, Gardendor is sitting in a throne in the first room of the castle.

“Hylione, finally, after 8 years you have arrived! You may be wondering why I moved my throne to this room. Well, there is an answer to such a question,” he said, then pausing to stand up. “I could sense your arrival – A testament, I’d say, to my abilities. But that’s unimportant. What do you want with me? Do you wish to duel me?”

Hylione stares into this monster’s eyes, in a way that even this beast is intimidated by.

“Very well. Come at me!”


It took Hylione a rather long time to get to this castle. Four years, in fact.

One day, on his travels, he came across a dastardly-looking cyclops; twice as tall as Hylione. As soon as he saw Hylione, he picked up a large boulder and threw it at him. Hylione just narrowly dodged it.

This monster is of purple skin, with a pair of sharp black horns atop his head. He is more muscular than any being Hylione has ever seen, and has feet the size of Hylione’s chest. In one of his hands, he wields a large wooden club, painted the same color as his horns. He is clothed only in a white sheet around his waist.


The cyclops then bolted towards Hylione and swatted his club at him. Much to the surprise of this one-eyed-ogre, however, the club fell apart when it made contact with Hylione’s shield. Once the cyclops was without his weapon, Hylione used his sword to behead this beast.

He continued on his trek to the castle, at this point.


Hylione ran forward, sword and shield equipped, and slashed the former thing at Gardendor. Gardendor deflected this slash with his claws, and slammed his arm into Hylione’s chest. Hylione fell to the floor and saw Gardendor’s mouth wide open, spewing flames towards him. He rolled to the left and kicked one of the monster’s legs, bringing him to the floor as well. As Gardendor was falling, Hylione got up and positioned himself in a way apt to stabbing the beast with his sword. He did such a thing, but Gardendor grabbed the sword on both sides and held it.

Hylione keeps pushing the sword down but Gardendor keeps holding it away from him. After much struggle from both sides, Gardendor gets the upper hand and pushes Hylione to the other side of the room. As Hylione flies across the room, he drops his sword and shield

“Ha, ha, ha! You are trapped, Hylione! I will now -” but then Gardendor is interrupted. Interrupted by his death, by an arrow to the heart.

S456 ARCHIVES: Refractory Redux - Fiction - Creative Writing

originally posted on on April 17th, 2012


I’ve never even laid a finger on a cigarette. Never in my entire life. I’m not judgmental of those who choose to smoke, but, to me, it always seemed like such an awful habit. So yeah. I’ve never smoked before.

I was diagnosed with Lung Cancer the other day; rather bad Lung Cancer. The doctor telling me that there is a very low chance that I will live any more than ten more years of my current thirty years, suffice to say, hurt, as if the mention of the C word wasn’t enough.

I’ve always been an optimist, though. My response to this news was to do whatever it takes to get better, or at least maintain a good enough attitude to stay alive as happily and healthily as possible. Which is why, right now, I’m jogging. Get my mind off of things. And improve my health. Good idea, I think.

But my thoughts on this jog are not quite as optimistic as they usually are: which is to say that they’re really rather the opposite.

I braved through a broken arm that stopped me from playing football for weeks in 8th grade. A little worse, I survived my first girlfriend having to move away in 9th grade, only to have her cease making contact with me when she moved. I narrowly managed to make it through years of working in retail because I can’t find work for my college degree that I worked years of my life obtaining; for reasons that I don’t even want to confront right now for fear of tearing my hair out. Moving beyond that, I was able to live with the death of both of my parents in a lethal car crash when I was 20. This caused my initial mindset to be “I’m a tough cookie, I got this,” but that has harshly shifted to “Damn life and all of its arbitrary unfairness, why should I even care any more.”

I never married, and consequently never started a family. I’m not even 30 and a bit of a successful flirtatious fellow. I’m happy with fun times with the ladies that sacrifices a long-standing-relationship, and usually carry this pleasure out in a soundly unoffensive and respectful manor. So it never really bothered me that “Single” has been my only relationship in my adult life, but it certainly is pestering me now. Nobody wants to party with someone who has lethal cancer, and I’m more or less left without a family member’s should to cry on.

What did I do wrong, I think, directing my thoughts towards whichever celestial being is willing to listen; hopefully a benevolent one. But I know that the answer to that question is no. Life is unfair, harsh and blisteringly cold.

I begin to pick up my pace. I am currently making my way through a small pathway through a small local park where people typically spend a delightful evening buried in a book or throwing around a frisbee – weather-permitting. Today, however, is pouring down rain, and the gray clouds look as if they’re ready to accompany that liquid with some streaks of lightning. This path leads out to a sidewalk that runs alongside a relatively busy road.

I could never kill myself, because I really don’t have it in me. And I don’t say that in a pseudo-macho, yelling-at-my-wimpy-self sort of way, I merely mean to say that I don’t think I’d legitimately be able to command my body to do something that would directly kill myself. My depression isn’t taking me to that frame of mind yet.

But I wonder if I’d be willing to indirectly put myself in a situation that could kill me.

Playing devil’s advocate, I steer myself in the middle of this busy road.

Speaking of the devil, I feel as though I have one on my left shoulder and an angel on my right; like in those old cartoons.

“What are you doing, this is crazy, you can get through this, everything will work itself out, or at least anything is better than this!” he hears from his right shoulder.

“No, no, do this, life is unfair, you want no part in this ridiculous game anymore.”

“Stop! STOP! You’re going to regret this!”

“Regret it!? Regret it when!? When you’re dead!? When you’re finally free from this horrible state-of-being we call life?”

At that moment, a loud thud and the screeching of a car’s tires can be heard before everything fades to solid white.


I wake up to the beeping of a machine.

I exclaim “GOD! God can’t even give me death!”

S456 ARCHIVES: Canada’s Recovery Plan - Creative Writing - Fiction

posted originally on on May 1st, 2012


My God I’m so proud of this stupid-stupid story.


A spaceship.

The future.

Year 5389.


Mike and Ike walk down the aisle of their assigned spaceship for school, in space, because it’s 5389. It is their 6th day of school of their 8th grade year. The two kids are twin brothers, and often get themselves into trouble. Their mother was sure to tell them to behave themselves before they jumped on the Transfar to get to school. The kids are both rather attractive young men with messy brown hair and golden skin, dressed in jeans and red and blue shirts respectively. They tend to be rather immature, and are the type that makes things into a joke as much as they can.

The first five days were typical beginning-of-school blow-off days: The rules are given out, people introduce themselves, and the way that the class is going to work is discussed. Today, as Mr. Klug, their teacher, informed them, is the start of actual work.

Space Carrier C’s curriculum demands that the teachers start out with a bang, discussing the most important topic in their history class. This important topic is also a heavy, mature topic, which is why it is saved for students in eighth through twelfth grade.

“Alright students, quiet down.” Mr. Klug says. “Just about everything I’m teaching you in this class is rather important. There are some exceptions: Your principal makes me teach some really pointless trash.” This caused a few laughs in the room. “But what you’re going to be learning over the next two weeks or so, is extra important.”

“Sir, we know about the… birds and the bees.” Mike jested. What a clown.

“Very funny, Mike. I especially enjoy how you took into account that this is History class. Ya know, a class where we don’t learn about sex.” Mr. Klug’s retort to Mike made the other kids laugh. “Does your buddy next to you have anything to add?” Mr. Klug replied, half-jokingly, half-annoyed.

“Uh, well, sex is funny and stuff is all I have to add I guess…” Ike added, in an attempt to make some self-deprecating humor.

“Yes, well, moving on.” Mr. Klug smiled, and then his face turned to a more serious expression. “We’re learning about The War of the End, students.”


Canada; December 27th, Year 4559: 

“Sir… our plan is flawless. It’s brilliant!” The Prime Minister’s assistant said to, well, the Prime Minister.

“Yes… well, my agents are suspecting that some people are catching whim of this and making their way over to our country. I say welcome them! We’ll have enough room for as many people as this country can reasonably sustain.”

“We’re keeping the plan the same, yes, sir?”

“Indeed. We’re going to send a spaceship to each major providence, and transport all of the people to this area as quickly as possible throughout the day! Then, we’re off to the moon, and our Space Carriers! A new life, for everyone! We’re done with this war! We’ve always been this obedient, docile little country, so one would assume that we would be screwed, but we are not! WE ARE THE COUNTRY INITIATING THE WAR OF THE END RECOVERY PLAN!”

“Haha, sir! Sir! Could you ever even imagine America doing something like this?!”

“Bahaha! HA! That Capitalism-obsessed country! “YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN, BRO” is what they say! This is our fullest representation of universal healthcare yet! OOOOOH YES!”


“And that, students, is how humanity lived on through The War of the End.”

“So it was all Canada?” Mike asked, with a smile on his face. “Those wusses?” Ike followed up with.

“Yup. Hopefully your English teacher also teaches you about Irony, to coincide with this lesson.”

S456 ARCHIVES: Batman, Batman, Batman - Fiction - Creative Writing

originally posted on on May 9th, 2012


Batman #9 is clearly all that I can think about.


The first day was my daughter Barbara’s birthday. It was Monday. She turned three. She said her first word; Batman. The apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree after all. I’m a big Batman freak. I have a room in our house devoted to Batman. I have a Batman costume. I read every new series that Batman is in. My wife was very proud to hear that two-syllable proper noun come from her daughter’s mouth. She loves Batman just like I do.

This serves as a rather helpful transition to what happened on the next day. It was Tuesday.

I kind of, sort of, possibly received my copy of Detective Comics #27. Yes. Batman’s first ever appearance, for those of you that don’t breathe out of your mouth in a fort of comics and video games and Dungeons and Dragon manuals like folks of my ilk do. Ebay is every collector’s best friend. As an avid Batman collector, I spend more time on eBay scouting out good deals on Bat-Books than most people spend breathing. And I scouted a Buy It Now for Detective Comics #27 and pounced. Why did I pounce on a Buy It Now for such an incredibly rare, sought-after comic? Let’s just say that the seller had no idea how valuable those stapled pieces of paper are. I won this book for ninety-nine cents, folks. This book is my prized position. I felt as though I almost had to force myself to say that I cherish my wife and daughter more than this nerd book when I got my hands on it.

Telling this story is a rather easy job. Because this actually works as a good transition to what happened on the next day. The next day involves Batman. It also involves my daughter Barbara, again.

On Wednesday, she asked me the most peculiar question.

“Who he?”

What do I see when I turn around to amuse my daughter’s strange question? I see a Court of Owls assassin. Batman’s latest foes are the Court of Owls. A group of assassins that have been in Gotham since before Bruce Wayne was even born.

“Dammit! I’ve been caught!” the assassin yelled when I looked at him. And then he ran.

And then my eyes filled with furious, uncontrollable rage. That man was holding my Detective Comics #27.

Unable to lower the temperatures below zero degrees like Batman did, I tackled the assassin and reclaimed my comic book.

But then he took out a knife and stabbed me in my leg. I let out a cry and called for Alfred. And then my dad showed up and took all of my comic books and pawned them. And then my daughter swore to avenge me.

And then I woke up from my crazy dream.

Heh, I’d never have a kid. I thought. My wife was pretty smokin’ in that dream though. I continued to think about the issue of Batman I had read earlier that day.

S456 ARCHIVES: Avenging Spider-Man #1 ~ Review

originally posted on on April 1st, 2011


Scott Snyder is a brilliant writer and storyteller: Anyone who wants to know how comics can be deep, mature works of literature need look no further than his work on Detective Comics and Batman. It’s unfortunate, however, when comic readers get too caught up in the type of work that people like Snyder do that they forget the merit in a fun, dumb, action-packed stack of stapled-together papers. Avenging Spider-Man #1 is the first issue in a line of “team-up books” starring my and many others’ favorite Marvel super hero - Spider-Man. And it is awesome.

In the first issue, Spidey is joined by Wolverine, Thor, Iron Man, and others, but the main hero he fights alongside is Hulk. The issue opens with a fight against a toweringly large robot, and ends with fisticuffs against an army of little yellow creatures. The plot is kept very simple, but it is still interesting: Jonah Jameson’s role in the story is especially amusing.

The entertaining banter and impressive art is what makes this book, though. The book’s panels focus on big images, bursting with color and brimming with detail. Every image reeks of a gloriously action-heavy energy that makes the pages turn quickly. The dialogue is funny and witty throughout, causing me to smile and chuckle along with each little joke.

It’s a fun book. Fun is the key-word here. This isn’t a thought-provoking tale like Watchmen, nor a dark, twisted trip like Swamp Thing, but it doesn’t try to be and doesn’t need to be. This is dumb, thrilling entertainment, and if that sounds like a good time to you, look no further.

S456 ARCHIVES: Saga #2 - Review

originally posted on on Arpil 15th, 2012


I’m going to begin this review bluntly: So far, Saga is an extremely compelling comic series. Brian K. Vaughan’s writing and story-telling paired with Fiona Staples’s artwork intertwine to create something truly special. This is one of the best things happening in comic books right now.

The plot follows the archetypal Romeo and Juliet set-up, with two star-crossed lovers apart of two different civilizations at war. They have a baby and want nothing more than to get her to a safe place, but their being together angers the establishment so freelancers are payed to take them out and retrieve the child. It’s not an original framework but it feels fresh because of how zany and creative the paint covering that framework is. This is a sci-fi world with alien characters, which means talking alligators and human-like creatures with TV’s for heads. Despite how weird everything is, Vaughan somehow manages to make it believable and hardly silly, with a fun and humorous yet mature tone. Also, something truly remarkable is the story’s narrator: The couple’s baby at some undisclosed time in the future.

This issue follows our two protagonists in foreign woods, fearful of “Horrors;” storied monsters that one should try to the best of his ability to avoid. The banter between the two lovers is smartly written and very real. All of the hullabaloo they’re going through causes fights between the two, but Vaughan still shows that they love each other. The characters and the reader are introduced to a new character in this issue: One of the freelancers trying to eliminate them. This is a very cool character. Her design is very deliciously villainous: A white, half-spider-half-nude-woman.

I’m not sure if the artwork here is actually composed of watercolor paintings, but it certainly has that style. The colors blend together so nicely and the shading is done so beautifully. Characters and faces are expressive. Every page is a sight to behold.

Saga comes highly recommended. As I said earlier, this is one of the best things happening in comics right now. Funny, mature, deftly-written, and drop-dead gorgeous, Saga #2 continues to show how good this new series really is.

S456 ARCHIVES: Swamp Thing #8 Review

originally posted on on April 15th, 2012


For me, the first six issues of Swamp Thing were enjoyable but not something I was ever very exited to get my hands on each month: My father likes to read them so he typically buys them for me, and I happily go along and read them. This changed however, with Swamp Thing #7: The fully realized and wholly epic return of the Swamp Thing. Alec Holland is Swamp Thing once again, cooler and fiercer appearing than ever before, determined to give the rot a war and save his love interest Abby, whose fait quite possibly lies with his foes. This issue was essentially one big, romanticized set-up for the next issue, and one could only hope that issue #8 would deliver. And by God did it do such a thing.

The issue opens with regular people around the country hunting, working on their farms, and other such things only to be attacked by the rot. This acts wonderfully as a sort of reinforcement of the justness of Alec’s role as Swamp Thing: The rot is evil and Swamp Thing is going to save the day. This along with the build-up to seeing Swamp Thing does a great job of making this issue’s events exciting. The narration and the banter between Swamp Thing and the rot are what makes this issue so damn good. Alec’s narration, especially, along with some narration from the rot, guide this book along perfectly. I was along with Alec the whole way through; everything just felt so real and Swamp Thing felt like such a perfect hero. The rot attempts to intimidate Alec but he spits back some clever words and fights back with some glorious physical initiatives.

Paquette’s artwork on Swamp Thing has been stunning from the start - the best work I’ve seen month-to-month in modern comics - and it looks just as stunning here. Each page is packed with detail, color, expression, and smart page layouts, with borders made up of guts and twigs and such. One complaint is that some of the fighting isn’t translated as well as it could be onto paper. The pages in this issue with the big action are a bit crowded and don’t get across motion as well as it could, but it all still looks great.

The issue ends with a massively exciting cliff-hanger, turning my pure satisfaction to pure intrigue. I can’t wait for the next issue. This book has fixed itself in a solid groove with issues 7 and 8, with crisp artwork (that could, albeit, use some work representing fight-scenes), poetic writing, and high stakes. To sum things up: Scott Snyder is God.

S456 ARCHIVES: Catwoman #9 Review

originally posted on on May 19th, 2012


So far, I’ve read six books in the Night of the Owls event currently going on in the DC Universe, and I’ve enjoyed every one. Scott Snyder has created a fantastic idea with the Night of the Owls, bringing to the table an incredibly cool and intimidating group of assassins in Gotham tagged The Court of Owls. The Court affects the Batman mythos in a big way, dating back centuries before Bruce Wayne was even born. Naturally, The Court has an effect on more than just Batman himself.

Enter Catwoman #9.

The current volume of Catwoman, a part of The New 52, has been harshly criticized for containing an immature, overly-sexualized, and dumbed-down portrayal of Selina Kyle. I, for one, have been keeping up with the series and quite like it: It’s fun, non-serious violence, lust, and snappy writing. The absence of intelligent commentary and emotionally-moving plot-progression is made up for by bloody claws to the face and wonderfully drawn images of the female anatomy. It’s a fun book.

Catwoman’s Night of the Owls crossover, however, strays noticeably away from this book’s style of story-telling. I wasn’t oggling at Selina and smiling at the ravaging ruination, but rather found myself enjoying an interesting, smart read.

This issue sees a Court assassin who, unlike any of the other assassins I’ve seen thus far, has dishonored the Court in the past and is rather incompetent, really. He is instructed to take out The Penguin, and in his attempt learns that Cobblepot has daggers belonging to The Court that he was responsible for losing. It shows a more human side to the Court that hadn’t been revealed up until now: I appreciate Catwoman delivering that angle.

Catwoman and her new, six-pack-clad hunk of a partner, run into the assassin with The Penguin as they’re trying to steal the aforementioned daggers. We see Catwoman empathize with the assassin, as he, like her, is a person damaged by a poor upbringing. Catwoman doesn’t seem to know about The Court of Owls and how much of a threat they are, so this allows a compelling scene in which she decides that she’ll let this hurt man have the daggers if he promises not to hurt anybody. Given Catwoman’s character - a damaged individual who makes a living off of stealing from people - it’s interesting to see her relate to this assassin and cut him some slack.

As always, the detail-rich art is stylized and expressive, and the informal, intimate writing is equally good. I loved Catwoman #9. If you tried this series out and didn’t really like it, this issue may still tickle your fancy if you’ve been enjoying the Night of the Owls event. And for those who have already been enjoying this series, this issue has a bit of a different but still enjoyable type of story. All-around, this issue is a quality comic book and has my recommendation.

S456 ARCHIVES: Bliss

posted originally on on May 22nd, 2012


A lack of knowledge.
And then bliss,
Extreme happiness.

“Ignorance is bliss,” they say,
Ignoring the bad can displace it.
I’d edit the phrase, myself,
“Ignorance, a cheap fix.”

It’s a good thing.
Requires knowledge.

Marvelous, but just short-term.
Practicality’s better.

Let’s strive more so for knowledge than for leisure,
Knowing aides not just you, but us all.
Enlightenment inevitably brings bliss,
And after all, bliss is still our goal.

S456 ARCHIVES: Rest in Peace, Linda Petras: 1941 - 2010

posted originally on on August 9th, 2011


Whenever I have a writing assignment I have to do for school, I take it rather seriously and usually quite enjoy it: Even if it's for a class like Swimming, where the teacher obviously is not going to have high standards or expectations for the pieces that she/he receives. I love writing. So, when I got my first essay assigned to me in my Honors English 9 class, I took it very seriously. I poured my soul into it, really.

We had to write an Autobiographical Narrative Piece on a big event in our lives. Something substantial: Something incredibly uplifting, depressing, intellectually stimulating, etc. Now, from what I observed, my classmates tended to pick things like a vacation they went on, or getting a pet they really loved, or something of that nature. I was a bit different with my subject matter.

I wrote about the death of my grandmother, and I'm sharing that piece with you today. Today is the one year anniversary of her death.

Please remember that this was a school project. It's all true, with the exception of most of the dialogue being paraphrased.

I love you Grandma.

The Death of my Grandmother

by Matthew Petras
Many people have one, solidified, unforgettable moment of their current time on Earth that stands out, and teaches them a great deal about this crazy thing we cal[l] life. My moment was the death of my grandmother, Linda Petras. Before her death I understood the general outline of one's life: You're born, you live your life, you die, and then the rest is up for debate. Death is the most important occurrence that has been proven to happen to every one of us, and, even though beliefs on an "after life" differ greatly among us all, we all want to be ready for death. Thoroughly experiencing the death of a loved one is both the simplest method to wrap your head around death and the hardest to endure. My grandmother's passing was the first death that I was old enough to completely understand.

It all started when my grandmother was diagnosed with Lung Cancer [I think I was incorrect in saying that it was Lung Cancer, but it was certainly Cancer of some kind] back in 2004 [this date may also be incorrect, but it was around then]. The family was dumbfounded and obviously worried, but we were also optimistic. Linda herself might've been the most optimistic of us all, fighting cancer for four to five years, all the while traveling the world and obtaining things that she wanted but never got.

"Italy was gorgeous," she once said. "The food was scrumptious, the water-filled city was wonderfully interesting, and the architecture and art museums were jaw-dropping."

"You just have to watch out for pick-pocketers. One person stole my camera, presented it to me saying he found it, and asked for a reward!" her husband Larry exclaimed with a chuckle.

They had a magnificent time at Italy, along with other equally entertaining vacation spots all over the globe. She always though of her grandchildren, constantly bringing them back souvenirs and inviting them along with her on her trips with her husband. Despite all of the joy she was having, she loathed being sick. Relentless streams of bothersome medication and treatment frustrated and tired her. She bested many close calls, but eventually in 2010 she was done: She was ready to die.

I was horrified when I thought about what must've been going through her mind, that it was time for her to leave the world, leave everything she ever knew. I'd never had those thoughts before and I quite frankly didn't want to; it was all considerably frightening. Eventually my family and I visited her in a hospital in Pittsburg[h], and what a horrific place that hospital was. It was packed with cheery, young nurses and smiley doctors, but the contrast between the way they acted and the reality of the location was vast. The hospital was cold, silent, and had no distinct smell to speak of - it was unworldly clean. It was nothingness filled with dying people. There's nothing cheery about that.

She looked truly grim, could barely function, and hated the hospital she was in. She yearned to be back in Mon Valley Hospital, the place where she worked for the majority of her life. MVH was close to home, near friends, and she had befriended a great bit of the staff. She was, fortunately, transferred to this hospital, and, unfortunately, that hospital was the last place she ever was.

It all ended for her on one dreadful, depressing, and seemingly eternal night. I was there, along with my grandfather, my sister Rachel, my mother Janet, my father Eric, and my Aunt Laura. She had a lovely room, complete with numerous comfortable chairs and a window with a delightful view of the trees outside of the hospital. Food was provided by the staff, including several moist, soft muffins, awkward tasting cranberry juice, sweet apple juice, and steaming, dark coffee. She felt at home at this hospital and was probably content (at least as content someone in her condition can be), but I don't think anyone else was. To everyone else the hospital was just as bleak, empty, and as dreadful as the last.

This night we had a feeling she was going to pass away, and some couldn't stay in the room due to the sorrowful nature of it all. I stayed in the room the entire time with my aunt, father, and grandfather, enduring every struggled breath of my grandmother and nagging BEEP of the machines in the room. We just sat there and waited, waited for what we all knew was happening. At on point, she stopped breathing.

"I think that's it," my aunt said, succumbing to a stream of tears.

"Goodbye Linda, you lived a good life," my grandfather said, in a calm, but painful tone.

And that was it. Somebody I knew for as long as I can remember was gone, having left the world in front of my very own eyes. We left the room, and many members of the family were called to take a look at a woman they exponentially loved.

"Her suffering is over," my father said to the family, solidifying and establishing a positive look at her death.

After that, the typical funerals, ceremonies, and masses took place. All I was left with was memories, and thoughts. What happened to her after that night, where is she, is she anywhere? Nobody can answer these questions, and no other occurrence made me ponder such questions as much. This experience, while difficult to get through, made me think about the most important and guaranteed thing in life: Death. I was an altered person, the person you'd see in front of you today.

S456 ARCHIVES: VVVVVV (PC/Mac/Linux) Review

posted originally on on August 3rd, 2011


It seems to me like this is the generation in which indie games truly exploded. Many of this generations most revered titles - such as Braid, Limbo, Flower, and Super Meat Boy - are independently developed. I think that's just fantastic.

You know another game that deserves to sit amongst the best titles of this generation? VVVVVV. And, yep, it's an indie game. VVVVVV is a PC/Mac/Linux game developed by Terry Cavanagh. It was originally released January 11th, 2010.

VVVVVV casts the player as Captain Viridian, a cute, blue, pixelated guy who finds himself in a quarrel while aboard his spaceship. Dimensional interference caused his crew to be separated from him in an alternate dimension, and his crew of six people have all been separated, lost, in this alien location. It's his job to save his crew and found out what caused this strange dimensional interference. This intentionally vague plot is driven forward through terminals and dialogue between characters, which is a great way to handle it, considering that the focus is far from story-telling.

VVVVVV is a Puzzle/Platformer (with a ton of connected static screens, rather than being a side-scroller) with an unconventional gameplay twist: There is no jump button. The ability to flip gravity vertically is instead used to maneuver the game. So, if you're standing on a platform right-way-up, and there's a platform above you, when you flip, you'll land upside-down on the platform above you.

The cleverness of this simple mechanic truly increases as the game progresses, with new concepts constantly being introduced. There are 6 main levels in VVVVVV, and each level has their own hook, making them distinct. One level, for example, is filled with bars that flip gravity once you touch them. Another is filled with conveyor belts, moving you either left or right when standing on them. The original concepts in the game are, of course, very interesting, but familiar concepts, such as the conveyor belts, surprisingly prove to be just as effective. The game's gravity-flipping mechanic takes your expectations of familiar concepts and flips them upside-down (no pun intended), breathing life into old ideas.

The six levels are strung together by a brilliant, Castlevania-esque open-world. You have to find all of the levels, and you can complete them in any order you like. Exploration in VVVVVV is simply lots of fun. The over-world is relatively small and charted smartly by a map, so finding new levels is never frustrating. To encourage exploration beyond just finding new levels, there are 20 trinkets hidden throughout the world (including in levels). From what I've seen, these trinkets are either hidden very well, challenging to get to, or both.

VVVVVV simply reeks of style. The graphics, which are done completely in colorful, flashy 8-bit style sprites, are just fantastic. The music is equally good, with rocking, mostly energetic chiptunes. The sound track is simply one of the best I've ever heard in a game. Another nice touch that I simply have to mention is the inclusion of a caption at the bottom of the screen for each screen in the game, sporting a cheeky, sarcastic, or charming message.

My first playthrough of VVVVVV took about two and a half hours, but that's simply because of my frequent deaths (the current speed run record is around sixteen minutes). This game is very challenging, but never really frustrating due to frequent checkpoints. Once you beat the game, you can unlock time trials, a "Flip Mode" (think a typical "Mirror Mode," only it flips the game upside-down), and more, which certainly extends the longevity of the game. But it's the recently released 2.0 update that truly adds a lot of meat to the game.

Version 2.0 adds a level editor, and my time spent fooling around with it makes me feel as though I'm going to spend quite a bit of time poring my soul into creating a really good level. Restricted only by a set number of screens, you have complete control over enemy placement/behavior, platform construction, checkpoint placement, etc. The object of each user level is to find each crew member (you get to place each one, of course). You get to tie a title, author's name, and link to your website/blog to each level you create, and you're encouraged to upload the file of your level to websites. There's no LBP-esque in-game server to upload your levels, but considering that this is an indie game, I think that the ability to put your levels on your blog or a forum is fine. The update throws in some levels from high-profiles dudes (such as Notch, the creator of Minecraft), and show off the potential of the level editor.

VVVVVV, being exclusive to the PC, Mac, and Linux platforms, is unfortunately plagued by the lack of support for a controller. The keyboard works alright, and I never felt frustrated using it throughout the main game, but it certainly doesn't feel as good as a controller would: The more difficult user-levels definitely makes this issue stick out even more. Another issue is a pretty substantial problem with the 2.0 Update: It makes the game incompatible with your old saves. Terry Cavanagh stresses that he's working on a patch that fixes this issue, but until then, VVVVVV owners who had the game before the update are left without their old progress. This doesn't in any way affect those of you who purchase the game now, though, so if you're interested in purchasing the game, don't worry about this.

VVVVVV is the best game that I've played in awhile. Filled with style and charm, this Puzzle/Platformer is a unique experience that I'll never forget. At $5, I couldn't reccomend this game enough.

VVVVVV was purchased for $5 via Steam, updated to Version 2.0, played for approximately six hours on a PC

Works Cited:

S456 ARCHIVES: Bloodrayne Betrayal Review (PSN/XBL)

posted oringally on on September 7th, 2011


Bloodrayne is a series that I've been aware of, but never all that interested in, until now: Bloodrayne Betrayal, announced early this year, peaked my interest the moment I laid my eyes on the announcement trailer. Betrayal is very different from past entries in the series, this game being an action/platformer, while the others were polygonal action games. The game is currently available on the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Store, and was released on September 6th (PSN) and 7th (XBLA).

The story in Bloodrayne Betrayal is interesting, but in many ways poorly presented. If I'm correct, the story follows protagonist Rayne, half-vampire-half-human, fighting against her vampire-father and his army of monsters for revenge. It's hard to be sure though, because the bits of text sprinkled in the game via speech bubbles above characters' heads are overly vague. It seems as though the player is intended to be already familiar with the Bloodrayne series for full enjoyment of the story, because some quick research on the series made me understand the plot of Betrayal more. This element is not very strong, but it is a small part of Betrayal, and mostly unobtrusive to the rest of the game.

The first thing that I noticed about Bloodrayne Betrayal were the gorgeous visuals. The super-stylized, dark, hand-drawn 2D art direction is stunning, to say the least. The animation is very fluid, the framerate stays mostly silky-smooth, and the screen is always bursting with color, detail, and character. With technically incredible games like Uncharted 2 in mind, I can say wholeheartedly that this is one of the best looking games I have ever seen. The audio is also very impressive, although not as mind-blowing: The heavy, fast, heart-pumping music suits the game perfectly and fades as your health is low.

Bloodrayne Betrayal's gameplay reminds me of a more platforming-heavy Vewtiful Joe. As Rayne, you must wall jump, back flip, and otherwise hop all about the game's environments until you encounter enemies. More often than not, once you run into some baddies, you are forced - stripped of your freedom to traverse the level - to dispose of them. It's a good formula, keeping the game fresh. Segments in which you play as a bird, flying through the environments, are also here and entertaining, but not a large part of the game.

The platforming in Betrayal largely is very good and controls well. It is usually treated with a sense of urgency, whether you're being chased down by a huge saw, running from enemies, or avoiding toxic green slime. The back flip feels like a 2D version of the identical maneuver carried out by a certain mustached, overall-wearing plumber: It works brilliantly, and is satisfying to use. Wall jumping, interestingly, is only applicable on certain surfaces, which is a cool idea. This wall jump feels a bit loose, however.

Combat in Betrayal is of a hack-n-slash style, similar to Castle Crashers. With sword in hand, you attack enemies fast and furiously, building combos as you go. New moves introduced as the game progresses, such as uppercuts and downward stabs, keep things fresh and varied. Rayne is also equipped with a powerful hand-gun, which is very brutal and successful in its attempts to kill your foes: Each bullet, which are randomly dropped from enemies, is valuable. Bloodrayne Betrayal is filled with around five bosses, all of which are cleverly designed, visually interesting, quite formidable, and a ton of fun to take down.

Bloodrayne Betrayal is very hard: Not often do we see games nowadays with such an old-school approach to difficulty. Platforms are deviously placed, enemies are plentiful and powerful, and checkpoints, while not excruciatingly so, are placed farther apart than most modern games. It's a good challenge rather than a source of frustration, though: Victories after long struggles prove to be very satisfying, and no task is too frustrating. You know a game is doing something right when enjoyment remains throughout long, loud, hate-filled stretches of naughty-word-filled-shouting.

Bloodrayne Betrayal is an extremely good game, is what I'm trying to say. It's only five or six hours long, but every second is immensely enjoyable, and the game is still filled with things to make you come back. Difficult trophies/achievements, hidden skulls (which grant more ammo slots for your gun and health enhancements) and highscore tracking for every level (as well as a collective score for your entire playthrough) gives this game a more than serviceable amount of lasting appeal.

For $15, you can buy one of the very best games to release so far this year. Gorgeous graphics, rocking tunes, challenging gameplay, and addictive highscore chasing and item collecting make this a stellar game. The game's only glaring flaw of a poorly executed plot isn't even close to stopping me from recommending this game to anyone. Video games don't get much better than Bloodrayne Betrayal.

Bloodrayne Betrayal was reviewed using the PSN version, played for approximately 5 hours, on a standard-definition, 4:3 television.