Hot 100 Review: Positions by Ariana Grande

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Arianna Grande is not for me. Her voice is too airy, like if her singing voice was a cloud it would be one of those dumb whispy boys and not a thick cumulonimbus. There just feels like there is nothing to it. Her beats often do not help. They are set to match her voice, so they’re just as weak and nebulous. Yet she’s found her fans to be sure, and it is no surprise that when she has a song come out that it tops the charts.

positions (in all lower case just to annoy me) starts really strong. By starts I mean how the first few bars of Latin guitar and strings gives it throwback vibe it quickly tosses for more of her usual production work. From there it feels and sounds like so much of her normal work.

In positions (okay, so maybe all lower case isn’t so bad) though it is about how meeting somone new made her switch how she usually acts. This person is just so great that she wants to be different. Lines like, “Switching the positions for you… Know my love infinite nothing I wouldn’t do/That I won’t do, switching for you,” followed by, “[Eff] it, now I’m running with you (with you),” and, “This some shit that I/Usually don’t do (Yeah)/But for you I kinda/Kinda want to/‘Cause you’re down for me,” all convey that. The in between lyrics being more specific on how she feels.

Now the song is simple. I understand that, but if you don’t know where I am going to go with this then you’re new (hi, great to have you here. Try the cheese plate it’s dairy free). The issue being how there is no setup to what she usually does and what makes this person different. The line in the intro, “Heaven sent you to me/I’m just hoping I don’t repeat history,” tries to do both. Someone sent this person to her and she doesn’t want to mess up, but more setup wouldn’t go unwanted.

The song is short both in time and in lyrics. It’s under 3 minutes and has two brief verses. The quote above is all of verse one, for contrast, with a repeated pre-chorus and chorus. There is space to use. Make the verses longer or cut the pre-chorus. I would like to know what is different about this person that it makes her want to not mess up, and what are her usual mistakes. If answers are in the album of the same name that is great, but doesn’t make the single any more fleshed out (there is also a whole read about the dangers of being so devoted to a person – I don’t want to assume man because the gender isn’t expressed, but it works regardless of gender. It’s fine to want to do things for the person you love, but it can also be read as forcing it. She is, “… in the Olympics way I’m jumping through hoops,” which seems like it could be codependent since so little information is provided. Unfortunately or fortunately for this song it’s sparse nature saves it from this criticism because there isn’t enough there to make an argument work).

The video seems to be more of a general female empowerment anthem with Grande working as the president and switching to other professions like terrible chef (I mean did you see how she just ruined that pizza toss?). It makes the song turn instead from a love song to one of self improvement. No romantic interest shows up. It’s either her by herself or with her White House staff. The ones of her alone where a man should be gives it that feel that she is switching positions to make herself better. She’s changing for herself. The person heaven sent to her was herself (or her happiness) and she wants to make that better by changing. That almost works, but too many of the lyrics, “Boy I’m tryna meet your mama
On a Sunday/Then make a lotta love/On a Monday,” show that can’t be it. But it is still an interesting interpretation of the song, and supporting USPS staff is greatly appreciated in this time.

I am self aware enough to realize I often heavily over analyze the songs I cover. This one being a great example. It’s just supposed to be a nice song about how loving the right person makes you want to be better. That’s all there is to it, but that same problem of being sparse and airy holds it back. For, why can’t it be about that and provide context for either how her behavior is different, or why this person is different? Ariana doesn’t want it to be. That’s fine. Her stans like it well enough, but it feels like they are settling when the song could be so much better.

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One Piece Volume Cover Rankings Worst to Best #50-#41

Yeah I have lost all track of which part I’m actually on now. I think this is 5 or 6 but oh well. Welcome though to the top 50 of this rankings list that is so much longer than I actually thought it would be when I first came up with the idea. I’m not sure if this is actually something people are interested in or not, but I’m having a lot of fun doing it. The cool part is that I rank them of course just out of fun, but I also get a chance to actually talk about each individual cover. Something that I intend on doing for each new volume that will be released. I may even do some other series, it just depends on where I’m at after I finish this one. We’ll see. With that, let’s go on to #50-#41!

50. Volume 33

Hell Yes. This is the Afro Luffy volume cover. Foxy was never that great or cool design wise, but this is one of the most slept on mini arcs in the whole series. It is somewhat throwaway and not necessary all that much, but it is one of my favorite Luffy moments. Seeing him with the Afro is just so much fun and shows that Oda can tell a smaller story in a bigger world and still have fun doing it. This cover does nothing really other than get me pumped for the fact that it’s the Afro Luffy arc. Sorry I can’t say more. 

49. Volume 19

Luffy is making fun of Sanji, Usopp is laughing, and of course we get the dramatice looks from the other protagonists of the Alabasta arc. I think I just like this cover because of the mocking that Luffy is doing of Sanji and of how cool the other characters look in the background. I don’t think the cover is all that special from others, but it does enough to serve the purpose of showcasing a highlight moment from the volume as well as some of the important players. It passes the quick eye test and I really like it. 

48. Volume 23

This volume holds more memories for me than it probably does for others and that’s part of the reason I have ranked higher than many others. When I first started reading One Piece before I ever owned any myself, I was reading volumes that were available in my school library. They had volumes all the way up to volume 22, so I never got to read the finale of the Alabasta Arc. When I finally started buying the volumes myself, it was an experience in and of itself for me finally getting to read this one. The cover itself is also very important in showing Vivi as the focus surrounded by the Straw Hat’s. They surround her because even though they are pirates and she’s not, she’s still surrounded by her friends. This is also where the series for me really starts to find its footing despite going right into Skypiea. So many good memories with this volume.

47. Volume 91

The best thing about this cover is that we get to see all of the crew on the front in their new Wano outfits. Wano is an arc that I along with so many others have been eagerly awaiting and the costumes are all really cool, especially Luffy and Zoro’s. The bad thing about this cover though is that while it does show all of the crew, they shaft Robin by having her face covered by the volume number. There are a lot of times that I feel like Robin is shafted and it just sucks. Why can’t she be given a better look on the cover rather than just being shoved to the corner and mostly covered up. It sticks out to me and holds this cover back from being higher on the list. 

46. Volume 95

I actually love this cover quite a bit, surprising though that it didn’t rank higher for me. If you asked me another time it might move up, but I love the armor that Luffy, Brook, and Chopper are wearing. The coolest part though is having the four emperors in the background. The only bad thing though is that I wish they were showcased a bit better than they are. I really have no big problems with this cover. It doesn’t really say much about what’s going on in the volume so that’s a bit of a downside, but it still looks good and I like it. 

45. Volume 88

This cover is actually very clever and unique. The shattered glass effect that we see so that we can break up different faces is purposeful because of the shattering of mirrors in the volume. Luffy at the center breaking the glass makes sense and works well. It showcases all of the important protagonists in this volume with the best being the Sulong form of Carrot at the very top. The moon explains the transformation and it immediately makes me think of the badass moment when Carrot makes that transformation and starts going ham on everyone. It’s just a great cover.

44. Volume 62

I probably shouldn’t have this one as high up on the list as I do, but there’s a little more sentiment to me than some others. This is a sense of adventure cover where we see Luffy as he comes into Fishman island. An island that we all eagerly awaited and finally got. It’s a beautiful place with so much to offer creatively and it’s shown in the cover. The sentiment part is that this is the second New World I bought and had to wait for its actual release. I was so excited to get this volume and see everything inside. The cover though does it’s job at being a true representation of how grand Fishman island is and I love it. The colors are also all fantastic.

43. Volume 90

What in the world is going on everywhere else?? Yes, it’s one of those volumes again, and this one is pretty simple in what it’s showing, but it’s what it shows that gets me and I’m sure many others, so excited. It’s the volume that we get the Reverie and a true return to some of our greatest characters and ally’s from earlier in the series. Vivi, Cobra, Sabo, Lucci, and yes even Wapol all make their grand reappearance in this volume and on the cover. It’s one of my favorite volumes for the simple fact that we get to see all of these characters again and it was an instant pleasure and excitement to buy as soon as it was released.

42. Volume 83

It only took 83 volumes, but we finally get ourselves neck deep in the Yonko territory and storyline as we come into Whole Cake Island. I love the art and visuals of this cover between the colors and all of the new and different characters represented. The biggest one of course being our first true cover look at Big Mom and the significance of her inclusion in the story. It was volume 45 that we first learned a little bit about her and now we actually get so see her on this cover. It’s the real start to her arc and a great cover to get myself excited about reading through her arc and learning more about her. Visually though the cover is just great and is everything it should be. Big Mom doesn’t look that mean, is she?

41. Volume 71

Our crew get their Dressrosa costumes. Their disguises I should say in black suits and looking pretty cool and funny at the same time. The Dressrosa arc has a lot of moving parts and one of them being Luffy’s eventual formation of his Grand Fleet. It’s a fleet of all of these other pirates that choose to follow him despite him not wanting them too. At the time of this cover though, that point wasn’t known yet, but looking back on it now, it just seems fitting to have all of them represented on this cover. The most interesting one though being Bellamy who makes his return in this arc. I hope to see him as an eventual ally, but overall I love how this cover showcases all of these new characters and how they will eventually play an even bigger role.

We are almost there, sort of. We have only a few more parts left before we finally make it to the end of this very long ranking. I am excited as we carefully approach the top tier of this list and some of the all time best covers not just for me but for many people that I’m sure would agree. It’s starting to be less about whether the volume is representing the right way and more about the cover just being awesome and representing the peak of One Piece and Eiichiro Oda’s skill.

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Ghiblisgiving: Nausicaa Valley of the Wind

This might come as a surprise to hear, but writing and maintaining a blog (functionally solo – no shade. We’re all busy people) by writing for five days a week is tiring. It makes the process of enjoyment a task and I needed a break but instead crafted a months long project, Ghiblisgiving: a look at all the Stuido Ghibli movies since they’re available to stream on HBO Max. So it’s best to start at the beginning!

Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind is an incredible first showing for a new studio. It certainly helps that Miyazaki was a veteran director before this point, but even with that experience it is impressive what he and his team could accomplish in one film.

Set 1000 years after the end of modern society the film finds the world plagued by toxic jungles filled with unnatural and mysterious insects while humans have been cordoned off into seperate kingdoms. The film follows Nausicaa, the princess of the Valley of the Wind. When a bug and spore infested airship from a neighboring kingdom crashes into their village, followed quickly by that kingdom invading and killer her father, Nausicaa must set out and explore more of the world to find the truth behind the spores and forest while the other kingdoms seek to use old world technology to burn it all and reclaim their place in the world.

Despite being incredibly dense the film has great pacing. It does throw a few too many concepts and has a couple pieces of throwaway dialogue explanations for some events, but outside of that it manages to pack tons into its two hour run time without it feeling too rushed. The balance of exhilarating action paired with incredibly calm and quite moments, and daring adventure all make it feel totally complete.

It helps that most of the film is from Nausicaa’s perceptive because she is an absolute joy of a main character. She is incredibly reminiscent of what JJ Abrams and the team would do with Rey decades later. A high spirted, resourceful teen with incredible compassion and intuition. She brims with personality from the first scene and just keeps building. It’s even more impressive that her arc is kind of completed in the first act so she spends the rest of the film trying to convince others of her new mindset. Of course it helps that her actress, Alison Lohman, gives her such a range of emotions.

The whole American voice cast is strong. Patrick Stewart makes an appearance as Lord Yupa, a world traveler and skilled fighter with a strong edge, and Uma Thurman gives a good snark to the invading ruler, Kushana. They help bring what could be and kind of are unmemorable characters to life. The biggest surprises are a young Shia LeBeouf and Mark Hamill making an appearance as citizens of another land. They don’t get enough screen time to really shine, but their presence gives them a weight unknown actors couldn’t give.

This is a Ghibli movie so it of course looks amazing. The art direction is incredibly solid, and the small details are nice to see. It is, however, primative compared to what they will be able to do in later films. This can be seen most of all in how simple some of the bigger elements like the airships and giant bugs move. What would be done with more detail later now moves in bigger chunks. It makes them see slower, but doesn’t take away from the heft and feel. This is not to say it’s bad. It’s not at all. But they are shooting to do a lot and have to make some compromises.

A Ghibli film is also not without its messaging, and from the plot description it seems pretty obvious what that message is. Humans need to live in harmony not just with the world around us but with each other. It is more complicated than that and for what American animated features were doing at the time. The idea that there could be multiple factions that are wrong, and that nature reacts to humans and looks out for us more than we think is novel and true without being nearly as heavy handed as things like Ferngully.

This film was clearly a passion project and a jumping off point for many peoples careers. It is a film brimming with life, personality, and a unique visual style. Hard to believe that it can get both up and down from here.

Film Rankings:

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Digging into Maddness (or I finally finished the Soul Eater Manga): my White Whale

Soul Eater, the anime series about scythe miester Maka and her scythe-human hybrid partner Soul and her band of monster hunting friends, was one of my most influential anime series. It’s haunted aesthetic, great fights, animation, and fun characters made a giant impact on my teenage years. It was a series I watched three times in a row back on YouTube when companies would post whole episodes for free in an early streaming attempt. It was a series I loved but learned later was lacking due to wrapping up with an anime-original conclusion. That made me seek out the manga to find the truth only to be confronted with an insanely accurate adaption. This shocked stall made me sit on the manga, stuck at vol 9, always wondering what the future was like. What was different? How did it change what I thought was a pretty solid ending. After more than a decade of wondering I finally found out… and it’s amazing.

It feels important to say that I never felt unsatisfied watching Soul Eater. Despite, now clearly, only hinting at much more interesting ideas and story concepts, they all felt beyond the bounds of our characters. Kind of what Hunter x Hunter does, but unintentionally. Sure, Maka and the rest grow and change. Maka, the daughter of a human and a weapon, awakening both sides of her parentage to help win the day, is crucial to the series. But so is Black Star and Kid’s arc, though they are basically deeply compressed versions of what the manga does. My point is that the anime was so set and focused around the core team and their missions that all the expanded lore felt like just that. Lore. Not important or necessary, just flavor text. Unfortunately it will be hard to go back to the series knowing so much of what I know.

The odd thing is that even with this expanded information the broad strokes of what the anime covers and what the manga explores feels relatively small on the larger plot. Both series are consistent until Crona, non-binary (I assume. They call them a he, but has always clearly been non-binary. Though that does lead to… you know what, they’ll get their own section) child to the witch Medusa, turns on the DWMA and corrupts Stein further before leaving. In the anime they turn themselves in near immediately while in the manga they split and then a DWMA investigator, JB, is killed when he gets too close to the truth. In that divergent point it feels like more should happen, and it does in the details but not the broad strokes.

In the broad strokes, the DWMA take on Arachnophobe by attacking their castle, then end up having a final battle with the Kishin, master of Madness. In that fight Death the Kid unlocks his full potential, along with Black Star getting to go all out. Finally, Maka has a realization and beats the Kishin. That describes both series pretty well. It seems like Ohkuba gave his rough sketch for the rest of the series and Bones did what they could. Except for all the specifics (so that’s what the book of Eibon is, and I finally get to see Kilik do stuff!) and important character beats that surround the series main idea: order vs madness.

Every character arc revolves around the idea of order: the modern systems, perfection, symmetry, and balance; versus the discordant, erratic, and isolating nature of madness (and paranoia). If this were a longer form piece (like a whole book on this series) I would dig into every character, but even just a cursory look at our lead Maka and Soul prove the point. Maka, the bookish and strong willed meister has deepseated issues when it comes to her father cheating and mother getting a divorce (the fact we don’t see the mother at all feels like a mistake in both). She is compassionate, but scared of being weak. She is physically the weakest of the group and through her struggles must realize that it’s okay not be strong because you have others around. In her worst moments she feels useless and has nothing to contribute but when paired with Soul she has power. Meanwhile Soul, the too cool for school musician, has his own fears and madness about not being good enough. He comes from a line of musicians and chose to run away instead of face that linage. To prove his path a different way. But with Maka he learns his music doesn’t have to measure up as long as it reaches people.

This same examination can be done for Kid and Black Star. Kid, a symmetry obsessed grim reaper jr, must learn how to find balance in the imbalance. He is interesting to compare to Black Star because of how similar their arcs are. Black Star, often disparagingly called a Naruto Clone (which he is not. Naruto is brash and loud in hopes he gets himself to believe it. Black Star does believe it and wants the world to see) wants to be the strongest person around and will go to every length in order to achieve that goal. In both cases they give into madness and must be snapped back into seeing rationally. They both have more supportive and stable weapons. Kid using twin guns Liz and Patty, while Black has the multi-tool Tsubaki.

I might be more of a story guy, but even outside of that, if you come purely for the action, the series has that too. Though not as intricate as the anime, the manga is incredibly dynamic and readable (like the action is not the story). The choreography is stellar. Every fight feels fair and well planned out. The multiple page fight scenes flow so well. With panel work that gives enough detail to give a picture in your mind while also having enough connecting tissue to form a bigger fight. The moments of more classic “anime” style fights with overblown powers that come out of nowhere never impact the current battle to feel cheap. They often come out of character revelations and declarations. The big power surges also aren’t how they win. Instead they often give the edge enough to either talk down the foe to an extent, or use another method of magic in order to win. It never relies on pure power to win but soul (pun kind of intended). This doesn’t mean there aren’t epic as hell moments that makes me sad the anime never got to adapt.

It is hard to deny that the manga isn’t a better story. It’s themes and characters are even more fleshed out, along with an even more intriquet world and setting. But if I were to say there is one character failed by the series it is Crona.

Crona, description given above, was the character I never liked the most but did feel the most attachment too. They were always nervous, unsure what to do in most situations, and was terribly awkward. This came from their incredibly abusive upbringing under Medusa. They literally could not understand others but where able to when Maka finally resonated with their soul. From there the arc is the same, but Crona is made much more redemptive and immediately in the show than manga. In the show they realize how dumb it was to listen to Medusa and go over to the DWMA side and help take down their mother. It might be read as too easy, but you also shouldn’t assume the arc was done. They’re still a teenager with room to grow. Crona in the manga is the long game. Finding Crona and bringing them back is Maka’s main goal for the rest of the series. Unfortunately Crona is not treated nearly as well.

For much of the book they are just absent. Never checked back in with, only mentioned. When they are finally seen they have been so wholly corrupted by Medsua that they’ve become a single minded monster with incredible power and broken psyche. A psyche that gets worse when he ends up killing his mother in the best single chapter or a manga, probably ever. A kid so starved for affection that when they are given some by the person who believed in them only to constantly abuse them that they kill her and decide to try and absorb everything. It makes the possible reading of non-binary problematic by saying they’re monsters. Of course they do come around eventually and act as sort of the soul of humanity realizing what they must do in order to purge madness. That is a unique idea that would have worked better if they were more prominent in the middle chunk of the book.

Though what I often used that time they were absent focusing on was Ohkuba’s growth and maturity as an author. The early parts of the book were incredibly crass. Nudity and sexual innuendo abound. It’s not bad, but felt juvenile. So it was neat to see himself push that from the book or reincorporate those ideas in fresh ways that, by the end, when the old sex-comedy bits return they feel fresh and more mature in a way. The joke was not just about seeing girls naked or touching boobs, but how the characters relationship change to those events. It’s subtle but almost secretly genius.

It is also hard not to want Bones to do a FMA Brotherhood and come back to remake the whole series or adapt the bits they missed. Not just for the fights they could do justice too with even better animation skills, but because music becomes such an integral part of the story that getting to hear what the composer would do with the musical ideas would be a joy to hear and see. It’s a great series that I am glad I finally got to read to completion. But the lingering thought I have is not just how good the book is, but how artistic and bold it feels in comparison to Fire Force. I like what I have read and seen of Fire Force (vol 13 or 14 and the first season), the Fire-demon fighting manga, but it also feels less styalized and bold. Kind of just standard. That could change. He could keep evolving as an artist, but even if it is good it won’t carry the weight this massive series has in my soul.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit is a Checkmate

I think it’s a bad thing for Netflix to be able to have a new show or movie come out without you even being aware of it. It could be negligence on my part for maybe not clicking on a trailer or following the casting announcements, but I also think they could work on their marketing. They don’t need to do that much marketing because their service markets itself by having a new title appear at the top when it first releases or being in the Top 10 of that week, but they could still do more to help us users be more aware. 

Long story short, I just had no idea that this series was coming out and that they had Anya Taylor-Joy as the lead. I was scrolling through Netflix the day it came out and stumbled across it in the Top 10 for the day. I immediately recognized Anya as the lead, but was enthralled by the trailer and immediately started it. Little did I know that it was actually a series. I spent the first forty-five minutes or so confused about why the story felt so slow. It wasn’t until the very end cliffhanger that I actually found out that it was a series I was watching. More than that though, it was listed as a “limited series”. Which means that they have no intentions of future seasons.

I understand the point of calling something a “limited series” when it makes sense like Chernobyl. That has to be a limited series because you can’t really make a season 2 of a show that covers the whole event. Unless that one season has a definitive ending then it doesn’t really work to have it be called “limited”. If this series has enough viewers and the ratings are overall good, then wouldn’t they try to make a sequel season? I would think so because that’s how the industry typically works. Just think of any movie or show that only intended on being a one-off until it became more popular than anyone expected. 

The point here is that this show, without giving away anything, leaves you satisfied with the character arc of Beth (Anya Taylor-Joy) and does have an ending, but it’s not what I would say a definitive ending. I understand that it was based off of a book so maybe they told the whole story that the book consisted of, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t continue the story further. This is something that I feel is very possible with how this series ended. It left me satisfied, but still wanting a continuation. The real question you’re probably asking though is whether the series deserves to have another season. Is it good enough?

This show is not for everyone, and you may be wondering what the hell it’s even about if you’re reading this before even researching it. It’s a point I wanted to make by talking about the potential the show has before even discussing what it’s about. Chess. That is the answer you’re looking for. This is the moment where I expect many people to roll their eyes and check out saying that it’s not for them. I’m here though to tell you that you’re wrong. This show is about chess, but it’s also about the character of Beth and so many other things like mental health and addictions. 

This show makes chess cool and it makes chess sexy and classy. The game itself is complicated and not everyone understands or can play it at the level that these characters and some real life people do which is usually the turn off. I argue though that this show does everything possible to make chess more interesting and engaging to watch. This wouldn’t be possible though without the incredible talent of Taylor-Joy as our lead. 

We see Beth as a young girl and the struggles in life that brought her to being an orphan in the 1960’s. We see her develop an addiction to a pill that helps her visualize her incredible ability to play chess. Sure, it’s a hallucinogen that is making her visualize the chess pieces and be able to picture the game and become better, but it’s her intelligence that actually allows her to be as good as she is. It may have been the pill that heightened her understanding at a young age, but she was incredibly smart before then. 

We see her learn and become better up until the point she is adopted. She has a real underdog story that makes you think of many professional athletes who had to fight from the bottom to become who they are today. Her mental state though is the real issue for her and her upbringing is also a major issue. She is almost too smart for her own good. She’s the best at what she does, but has to cope with that intelligence by becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. The show covers her rise to prominence as well as her character growth from start to finish. 

She is the lead and is handled the best throughout the whole series giving us a great character arc for something that seems as simple as a board game. It’s not just her however. The whole supporting cast falls into their roles as pivotal people in her life. Her mom that adopted her plays an important role in how she becomes and how she changes. While many of the other people she meets are all also chess players that become a roadblock for her until she beats them. Once she beats them, they begin to understand the deeper layers that she has under that skin. The true her, the one that struggles mentally and chooses to favor alcohol and drugs over embracing her own intelligence.

The supporting cast are all unique characters who all have their own little quirks that separate themselves from each other. They all have moments to become that next bird on her shoulder to help her overcome the next obstacle and to also let her know about the poor decisions she’s making. It shows the life experience that everyone tends to go through at some point in their lives, or some version of it. It shows how you can overcome obstacles and become a better person despite your own personal drawbacks. 

This is a show about chess, but it’s so much more than just a show about chess. This is a show that deals with life in general that I think many people can relate to in one way or another. It’s a great exploration of this young girl and who she becomes, played expertly by Anya Taylor-Joy. She is a force to be reckoned with and will continue to become an expert in acting which she already seems to be. 

As a side note, this might not be relatable for everyone, but there is a manga series called Hikaru No Go. If you have ever read that and you really enjoy it then I think you would really like this show. There are similar elements that I feel make both that series and this show so good and they both make watching or reading about people play a board game very interesting. I now wish we could have a Hikaru No Go live action series. 

This does bring me though to the finale of my review as I bring everything full circle. This show is so good for what it is and is likely going to be overlooked by many because it’s about chess. This show needs to be watched so that we can support any quality shows regardless of what they’re about. I feel like there are a lot of people that would enjoy this even if they know nothing about chess. I feel like if enough people do watch this show then it would force Netflix’s hand into looking at a sequel season. Something that this show deserves because I could watch several more seasons of Anya Taylor-Joy in this role. You need to go watch The Queen’s Gambit.
If you have seen this show and have your own comments or questions then feel free to comment below and let me know your thoughts! Or you can email us at and follow us @TowerCityMedia

Basket Full of Heads will Roll (a Comic Review)

Even as specifically horror season ends it is still getting cooler and darker, still spooky. So I figure it’s fine enough reason to finally look at the first in DC Comics and Joe Hill’s Hill House series: Basket Full of Heads.

Joe Hill, the son of horror legend Stephen King, has had his share of smash works that I never got to experience correctly. Locke and Key being the best example. The TV show was lacking and the audio drama, though hypothetically compelling, was neigh unlistenable or understandable at moments. Outside of that his short story collection Strange Weather was full of mostly misses. Yet I am compelled to keep giving him chances. It’s clear he is talented and Basket Full of Heads

Following in the classical Kingian horror tradition of a classic drama turned dark by mystical forces the book follows June, a college student visiting her boyfriend, a deputy intern for a local New England port town. On her visit to help him clean out the house boat he was living on the night takes a dark turn when the worst storm collided with a collection of inmates breaking out of jail. When June is confronted by one of the inmates she goes for the protection of an axe only to find that when the head is removed it keep on ticking. With the help of her decapitated counterparts she will work out what happened to her boyfriend, Liam, and find the true darkness the town was hiding.

The book is incredibly satisfying. That’s not a word I use often in my writing, but that was the final feeling the book left me with. A twist on the revenge-horror trope that positions the creature getting revenge as just a college girl trying to save her man. It’s an incredibly tight narrative. Every person she kills has an interesting story of how they relate to the larger mystery, along with a final twist that feels totally believable and callable.

The art, by Leomacs, works overall but is a little cartoony in places. The worst of it is shown when they try to do a head turning back and forth. It might supposed to look scary, seeing a two headed person, but instead looks silly. It also does not hold a candle to the fantastic, ominous, and dynamic cover art. It gives a much more realistic portrait of what the book is like that the book itself doesn’t totally give.

Though the atmosphere of the covers sells the book it is not really what the book is about. Again, the person in the rain jacket, axe, and basket of heads is a twist on revenge horror entities. The person under that hood isn’t scary and neither are the events that occurre to her. Not in the traditionally horror way. Instead the book is about (take a shot cause this feels like just a theme of works now) systemic horrors. How corruption can spread throughout an idealic looking community. It’s about how greed, power, and fear of losing both causes men to do terrible things to people. Sure it’s not piss your pants scary like a hay ride full of killer clowns with chainsaws (totally not a random example from personal life), but is more realistic and prevalent than we would want to believe. I mean there is a reason why an examination of the police and police procedures have been so hot for such a long time.

This book was a solid start to this line. Sure, more books have come out since and seem interesting, but it’s good to have a strong baseline quality, and that, for my misgivings about Joe Hills work (all little of it I have read), is definitely baseline. It’s got strong ideas, pretty good characters, a good premise, and strong ending. It’s hard to ask for more with such a short series like Baskets Full of Heads.

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One Piece Volume Cover Rankings Worst to Best #60-#51

Part 5? I think…Maybe this is Part 4. I should be keeping track of this, but I’m actually typing all of this in big chunks rather than right before I post each one. As I said at the end of the last part, this is the point where I really started to struggle the most on some of these rankings. It’s not so easy to explain some of them as they pass the eye test, but I do try my best to explain my reasoning behind each one. It may be as simple as design or something like purpose or memorability but either way. This is an open discussion for you to also tell me what you think! With that, let’s move on to #60-#51!

60. Volume 53

The colors in this volume are just great and pleasing on the eyes. The rainbows and everything add a sharp turn in tone from where we last left off with Luffy and the crew. We also get a look at Boa Hancock for the first time on a cover with her sisters next to her. It adds a sense of wonder as Luffy traverses this new island. We also get a look at Ace’s vivre card in Luffy’s hand which plays an important part in this volume. This volume really just passes the eye test. It’s also memorable because of all of the colors.

59. Volume 46

Ah yes, another sense of adventure volume. This time featuring the zombie world of sorts known as Thriller Bark, starring the talking skeleton himself Brook. Brook for some reason was one of my most anticipated members to be added. I knew that he was a member prior to reading this volume, but as soon as I got it and I saw him on the front, I was so excited. He’s one of the more fascinating and fun characters to see and all of this is followed up by the background of all of the zombies chasing our crew. The “weak trio” are all terrified and Luffy is of course as excited as he could be. This cover perfectly shows the sense of adventure as well as the contrast of personalities between Luffy and the others. And Brook looks like he’s literally making a grand entrance on the cover. 

58. Volume 80

And in other news. This is one of the volumes that I call the elsewhere volumes. It’s the one that gives us the chapters immediately following the wrap up of our crew on their latest adventure. We typically see important moving pieces as well as new bounties for our crew revealed. This one is particularly cool because we first see Luffy and Rebecca in the center that references the part in the story where Luffy is trying to get her to her father before he leaves. It’s touching and fantastic. We also get glimpses at Sengoku, Tsuru, and Issho which is always nice, but the return of Buggy is just great. He’s a character that has really developed into something special, and I am very curious to see where his story ends up going. I just like most of everything going on in this cover.

57. Volume 86

One of the best things to come out of the first half of One Piece before the timeskip were the Supernovas. Something that Oda came up with at the last minute to introduce and they are all very unique in their own right. They are some of the coolest characters and some of my favorites to learn more about. Anytime I can learn more about them and see them in action, I instantly eat it up. The best part about this cover is of course the inclusion of the Firetank pirates and Capone Bege, but on top of that we also see Sanji and Pudding in their wedding attire. This volume is one of the most important ones in this arc and the cover is telling of exactly what is going on. It’s fun and serious at the same time and if you know One Piece but aren’t caught up this far, you instantly see it and wonder what the hell is going on. It’s great. 

56. Volume 28

I really don’t know why I like this cover as much as I do, but something about it just seems great and perfect. Wiper and crew look awesome and our Straw Hat crew look awesome as well. In an arc that I really don’t like that much, this cover is more impressive than most of what happens in it. It just passes the easy eye test of being cool.

55. Volume 85

Jinbei is one of my favorite characters in One Piece and I always love seeing him strike a fighting pose on a cover. He rounds out the inclusion of some of the lesser represented crew members that show up in this arc. Brook, Nami, and Chopper all have important roles in this arc with Brook being a huge highlight. We see a battered Luffy in the center ready to take on anything that comes to him, but we also have new important characters Pedro and Carrot. Reiju also plays a more important role in this volume as more details come out about her relationship with Sanji. It’s memorable and balanced well visually. 

54. Volume 54

I always like seeing new and different characters on the covers and in this case we visit Impel Down with Luffy who is breaking in to try and save Ace. The prison guards are mostly showcased on this cover, but the most important of the bunch are Hannyabal and Magellan. Hannyabal plays a more important role in this volume that gives his character some depth and interests me to see more from him. Magellan also shows as being striking and imposing, a character that should come back in the future at some point, but I doubt will. It’s a glimpse into one of the better arcs in the series with characters that unfortunately we may never see again.

53. Volume 47

Yet again, we have another volume that shows off some of the key villains in the arc, this time being the Thriller Bark arc and Moria’s crew. It is an interesting group of villains that are shown off here and I really kind of like this arc, especially Absalom and his interesting connection with Sanji. The only downside is having Luffy in the center here when again I wish it was just a cover with the villains, but it still looks good.

52. Volume 67

This is one of those wild covers that is just bonkers. You wouldn’t understand what’s going on if you haven’t read One Piece and you would probably think that this is just some kind of wild ass story. With that being said, this cover is a perfect representation of the fun that Oda has when he writes certain stories in One Piece. The body switch that we have with many of the characters in this volume is both entertaining and interesting to see how things play out. The cover gives you enough characters to wonder what exactly is going on, but to also have you excited to open it up to find out. We also get Monet as a new character in the background to peak some new character interest. This cover does so much right, but is so off the wall wild that I just love it. 

51. Volume 25

What in the world is happening in the world! Here is one of our first good looks at some major players in the world as we head into the Skypiea arc. We get a look at Buggy and Shanks, something that we haven’t seen in a while up to this point. The most interesting part of this cover though is having Blackbeard and Luffy standing in similar positions on the cover showing a sort of connection. At the time we didn’t know much about Teech, but found that he was similar to Luffy in many ways. This is telling with the cover, and is also a bit sad to see with where Teech ends up going after these events. It’s a look at these two characters and the future possibilities of them meeting again. Everything works on this cover for all the right reasons.

I don’t think I had that much to say negative about any of these covers. They are all pretty good for different reasons, but are also held back by just not having enough to put them over the edge of being amazing. We are getting closer on the list to the ones that really start to become incredibly difficult to judge. I know that there are some volumes in this part that you could make an argument for being higher on the list and I wouldn’t argue with you. 

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Cabin in the Woods: A Movie I’m Conflicted About

Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard’s and Joss Whedon’s horror opus is a movie that I should absolutely adore. It’s by two of the best creators of all time taking their pass at once of the most time tested concepts of all time with a great twist. Unfortunately it’s not that. Instead it is a film that I constantly go back to, not because I think it’s an amazing film, but because I can’t figure out if I like the film or not.

Despite Joss Whedon being one of my favorite creators I don’t like everything he’s done. Firefly and Serenity among them. He sometimes runs with ideas that sound good on paper but are missing some connective tissue. In other words he falls into the trap of trying to be too clever for his own good. Drew Goddard has had a better track record, but isn’t perfect.

To back up and in case you haven’t seen the film, it follows a group of teens who get trapped in a cabin in the woods and are subjected to horror beyond their imagination. Unbeknownst to them they are in fact part of a ritualistic experiment by a sinister group who are using them as a ritualistic killing in order to prolong the earth. Creative and common horrors abound.

On the whole it is a good movie. It has this incredibly infections energy. The dialogue is so sharp, and the acting is great. Though poor baby Chris Hemsworth can’t keep an American accent to save his life, literally. The one big problem is in the setup. Much of the movie is about the teens acting irrationally and out of character, but we don’t get an amazing sense of who they are beforehand. It wants to be a tight film, and I respect that, but it comes at the cost of being told a character is acting weird instead of being shown. Also the whole dang budget is on screen. It’s both wonderful and leads to some poorly aged effects. They’re noticeable, but don’t distract from the point of the film.

The film is primarily a satire setup to mock the industry that birthed the ever more gruesome and elaborate horror films. Constant talk of please those with certain mandatory events, and a checklist of scares to get along with a whole system outside that’s setup to run the scenarios with nary a hitch in design. Though it also makes fun of those tropes, specifically the horror arch-types, in how they need a whole system just to make it work. They have to pump chemicals into the body, force rational scenarios out the window, and bend a person to fit a mold instead of finding someone the mold fits. It’s unrealistic, even video gamey.


I think the reason this film always gets under my skin is how it feels like it should change every time you watch it. The nature of the scares the movie creates, having the teens select their own doom and then showing us the whole treasure trove of horrors they could have dealt with makes it feel too safe in spots (I’m not saying the whole film is safe, but making the primary threat in the cabin red neck zombies feels far too standard and boring when you have Wolf bats and giant snakes and discount pin-head). I want it to change when I watch. The teens pick and I wish every time that it could change just like— Until Dawn, a cinematic survival horror game released onto the PS4 in 2015 and is exactly that!

Until Dawn, it’s spiritual sequel the Man of Medan and Little Hope (which I haven’t played yet but am hype too) feel like the successor to what Cabin in the Woods was trying to accomplish. Though Cabin in the Woods has a far harsher take on humanity and what humanity wants (why do you think the character who said our modern world should end just so happens to be the reason it does), but Until Dawns family tries the same thing but with the added interactivity and inherent replay-ability. Though they are not better stories they are what everything right that Cabin in the Woods fails at. It provides our chosen fears when we want and how we want. We want monsters, not bureaucracy.

Yeah, that might seem odd to say, but once the monsters start coming it is all too clear that they aren’t the threat in Cabin in the Woods. Instead it’s the systems. The teens were twisted and changed to fit what society needed from them. Two literal middle-aged white men (which I can’t help but see as author inserts for Whedon, an aged master, and Goddard, a strong up-incomer), placating their bosses by manipulating those younger than them is not a coincidence. Just like how the after-party they throw once they think they won is used to show how easy people can just accept brutality. They’ve accepted that they need to do all of this elaborate sacrifice just for those who want it (of course this gets tricky for an analogy because the world does literally end because the audience of evil gods is not happy, but the point stands).

I’ve watched this movie a bunch of times because I never got it. The first time I thought it was fine. I had seen Avengers of course but thought it odd the superhero guy was doing a horror thing. The second time, after watching a few horror movies, it felt shallow. This time, however, now that I have watched Buffy multiple times and know what Whedon is about and have watched more horror films, I can see what the goal was. It’s a Cabin in the Woods because that is what audiences wanted, but not what they needed. They need something that will shake up the status quo, push the boundaries of what can be horror and action all while being pretty quick witted. It’s honestly surprising someone like Blumhouse hasn’t thrown all their money at Whedon to do carte blanche. It’s a good movie about things. I just wonder how I’ll feel about it next time I watch it.

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Evil Season One: Every Vision is Lemons (a Review)

There is so much television. Outside the big steaming services and premium channels we still have classic networks pumping out shows for your parents or grandparents depending on how old you are. One that’s gotten a lot of attention comes from the NCIS dispensary CBS… Evil staring Mike Colter of Luke Cage fame. And since it is spooky season finally might as well look at what mainstream TV is up to.

Evil doesn’t follow Mike Colter’s character directly but instead Kristen Bouchard, played by Kathy Herbes, a criminal psychologist who comes head to head with Mike Colter’s David Acosta, an assessor for the Catholic Church, when a criminal defendant is said to be possessed. David and Kristen then must team up with their resident skeptic and handyman Ben to find out if the monsters and miracles of the world are the work of everyday life or preternatural. Their work often puts them at odds with Michael Emerson’s Dr. Townsend, a rival psychologist looking to push his hateful agenda on the world, but might also have some supernatural connections of his own.

It’s odd watching a series that feels made to be watched weekly try and be Netflix-lite. A comparison to the Netflix Defenders series is apt since they look so similar. Being they are both set primarily in New York during late fall into early spring (so Mike Colter can wear jackets just small enough to show how jacked he is), with lots of heavy atmosphere.

The season also uses a lot of great physical looking props and effects. It would be so easy to lean on digital and computer work to make some of the monsters seen in the series, but instead they go for real effects and they work. Seeing people in these amazing suits is impressive and surprising.

What sets the series apart, however, is how interesting the premise. A supernatural horror series where the reveal doesn’t always have to be a demonic presence or is more complicated than first appears is really interesting. It allows for so many didfeeent kinds of episodes and storylines to appear. They are able to do pastiches of different horror and supernatural stories all while trying to find real world psychological reasons they might be happening. They run the gamut of effectiveness. Some, like being trapped in the basement by a killer works in its subdued nature and easy to grasp emotions. Others, like the effectiveness of exorcisms on people who need psychological help… that’s a little more complicated and feels easy.

It feels easy in the moment at least. The show has a really interesting approach to pacing. Every episode has both a standalone story they have to solve along with a collection of usually two or three events. A personal drama or unrelated horror story taking place in the background. Usually all three reach some kind of endpoint by the credits. Some are left suitably vague or uneasy on purpose while others come back. The season has a sense of continuity that’s surprises me. The status quo doesn’t reset every case. It keeps some events and builds on them or goes back to old cases and forces the characters to face the mistakes or errors in their decision. It happens once early on when someone sues for the harshness of their exorcism, but when the first case of the series comes back as a side plot in an episode I was shocked and impressed. This goes for reincorporating past cases in new ways that don’t feel forced. Vague symbols, leitmotifs, and ideas coming back around. It’s honestly surprising how climactic the series is despite how stop and start the overall pacing feels.

The strong characters help. Kristen is more than a Scully-type. She isn’t close minded and is there just to be negative, but instead seeks to find truth. David is clearly tortured but means well and has a strong conviction. Ben, the best character, plays great as a skeptic and audience standin moreso than Kristen when it comes to the religious issues. Finally, Michael Emerson’s Leland is wonderful. Suitably punchable, while being intimidating in his own right. A great representative of what a internet troll would be like in real life. That makes his goal of radicalizing others into being incels all the more fascinating. He works as a great villain.

I make a lot about this series running on CBS. I mean NCIS lives there and that is as safe as you can get. Most CBS programming seems that way (as someone who doesn’t watch cable I can only go off the times I visit family and am forced to watched TV commercials). So it continues to shock just how progressive the series is most of the time. Focus on social issues, morally questionable endings, and a minority cast. Ben is Muslim, David black, Kristen a functionally single mom who is religiously lapsed, is refreshing. It doesn’t even criticize the use of drugs recreationally and supports no traditional marriages. Unfortunately not all is great. This is technically a religious series so even as it does poke jabs at religion and the Catholic Church it still has them be overall good-if questionable-people. But where it really gets problematic is making a women’s clinic the villains.

This will get into spoilers and talk of the story, but it’s revealed that the evil being down is to corrupt fetuses while getting in vitro fertilization. The reveal works great in practice and also thematically, but can be read as women’s clinics literally being run by the Devil. That is one of those impossible (for me) debates. I understand the artist merit in the show, but it is not without context in the wider world. I drive by a Planned Parenthood regularly and always see people protesting outside. People believe it is already evil (yes I know fertility clinics are not the same, but I can see people reading it that way. I also assume there are dozens of videos about how planned parenthood was started by satanists or something), so a show supporting that can be problematic. Also it takes about the Rwandan genocide which I know nothing about.

Outside of that one reveal and some support of a very corrupt religious body it is a good show. The setup and scares are unique. Has great cinematography and production values, strong characters, but some weak plotting in places. It’s a good horror watch. I mean they have an episode about a haunted Christmas song that gets stuck in your head. That’s so cool.

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One Piece Volume Cover Rankings Worst to Best #70-#61

I haven’t actually counted how many parts there are going to be, but this is easily one of the biggest projects I’ve done as far as the sheer amount of writing and time put into it. I think the easiest part is finding something to say about each one until I get to the point where it’s just that one passes the eyeball test more than another one. The hardest part was definitely trying to rank all of them before I started doing all of this typing. I found myself sitting there constantly moving covers around until I finally found that sweet spot where I felt comfortable with my placement of all of them. Believe it or not though, the easiest one for me was the one I have ranked 1st, which I didn’t know was my favorite until I realized that I never moved it from that position. Stay tuned to find out which volume it is! Here we go with #70-#61.

70. Volume 37

This one is pretty cool. We get to see Franky looking all cool with his floating head at the top with Iceberg with Water 7 in the background. I feel like Water is slept on for its creativity sometimes or it was so long ago that we just forget how creative it was. Anyways, we also get to see the train thing and we get our crew running. Everything going on for the most part in this volume is represented well, and it all looks pretty cool. I also like the background color of this volume. That specific shade of blue for some reason. It just looks good. 

69. Volume 55

I debated putting this one lower because I don’t like the weird look that the arms are doing from Buggy and Mr. 3 and the jailer monsters aren’t that cool, but the eyes of Ace tearing through is just awesome. He’s the reason why Luffy is there and why Mr. 3 and Buggy are brought back and helping and Ace’s eyes are tearing through as if on a burning piece of his vivre card. Stylistically it’s excellent and I love it but some of the other stuff going on I can pass on. It passes the eye test because those eyes are just staring right into me at how dire the situation is for Luffy and co and Ace. 

68. Volume 50

This cover was supposed to do something a little different because it was that “50” mark and I guess it does do something a little different. It had some flames to the Straw Hat logo. Yeah it wasn’t much of a change and I’m actually not a fan of it all that much. The cool thing about it though is that this is the end of Thriller Bark with some of the best moments like the Zoro stuff and Brook joining. I remember those events fondly and know exactly which volume to go to. Nami is just kind of there at the top so whatever to that, but Luffy, Zoro and Brook all look pretty sweet down at the bottom. The background color works really well too, so I like the memorability of this volume more than the actual design, but it is pretty sweet.

67. Volume 29

This volume is just lucky that I have a soft spot for giant monsters. I love Godzilla and all of those other monsterverse creatures like King Kong. I also love my monster movies and by that I mean like Jaws, Crawl, Anaconda. So yes, I have a soft spot for things like that. This cover has a giant snake on it that I can’t remember the name of and it takes place in my least favorite arc so maybe it shouldn’t be getting points on the board, but the cover is pretty cool. I just give it a pass with the eye test and for hitting my soft spot of giant monsters. If it weren’t for that I would probably rank this cover much lower.

66. Volume 39

The Robin design is kind of bad for some reason. I’m not sure what’s going on but it looks like a lazily drawn Robin, well just her face I guess. I also don’t like any of the villains represented in this cover, however I love the line up and layering of Luffy, Zoro, and Franky. Especially Zoro who looks awesome in this cover. For once it seems that Oda figured out how to showcase some of our main characters looking badass, but sharing the same amount of space on the cover. They distract away from the bad villains in the background and the bad version of Robin we get, so I give it a pass for that. Despite the bad villains, it still manages to represent the story within so it also gets points there. It’s not an entirely memorable cover, but it does a lot right. 

65. Volume 34

This cover is simple but awesome. Instead of having Luffy at the center we have Iceberg as he plays a major part in the Water 7 arc. We also have frames behind him of four main characters of this arc. At the time you don’t know of the betrayal by Lucci and Kaku, but when you look at the cover long enough, you can kind of see subtle hints of something shady. It’s not enough for you to realize if you haven’t read the volume, but once you have you can see where Oda carefully drew them in a way that could make you infer their change. 

64. Volume 31

This is one of those flashback volumes which are hit or miss, but the character designs are pretty cool and have a cool contrast off of each other. I also like how we see Luffy looking over a storybook in a way that makes you think of yourself reading this volume. It’s just all cool yet simple at the same time. It tells you what the volume is about without giving away too much and doesn’t do too much to distract from the focus of the volume. I like the background color as well and remember the volume findly for being the end of the Skypiea arc which is also another positive. This just passes the eye test for me.

63. Volume 81

There is a lot going on with this cover. A lot of it is not necessary which is a downside, but this cover really shows the importance of everything in this volume. Sanji is the focal point of this volume which is telling with him being the center of the cover. Luffy is brought down and reads the note that we can’t see on the cover but is revealed to us in the volume. It is an important moment that focuses on Sanji and is also the lead up to the Whole Cake Island arc. The addition of all of the Minks makes the cover as a whole look busy and a little too much, but everything on this cover is important, but also doesn’t give away exactly what’s going on.

62. Volume 72

I really like Luffy’s coliseum costume in this arc along with his cool shirt with the sunflowers. I like seeing him in any of the Dressrosa covers, but the cool thing is that he’s not even the main focus of the cover. We also have Usopp and some others surrounding him that show that he’s not the only important character in this volume. I think the coolest part though is the inclusion of Usopp. There are a lot of times where he doesn’t quite live up to what we hope out of a member of the Straw Hats, but he’s still quite skilled. This also brings back memories of how he became known as “God Usopp” the only great thing about that title would be if we actually got to see that on a cover. This cover passes the eye test and for me is memorable of some key moments in the early parts of Dressrosa.

61. Volume 30

This cover is incredibly simple and may be one of the shortest comments I have on a volume cover. Enel believes himself to be god with his electric powers and Luffy is the perfect natural enemy of god with his rubber like powers. This is all represented in this single and simple cover which also highlights the best part of the Skypiea arc. Everything just works for this cover.

It was kind of sad to end this part on the very simple volume 30 cover, but it can’t be helped. There are a lot of covers that I like in this group, but now we are really starting to get into some of the really good ones. I think it was around this point where deciding on the ranking really started to become difficult, but the further down the list, the more I’ll have to say about some of these covers.

Let me know what you think! Comment below or send us an email at and follow us @TowerCityMedia