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.

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: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Pizza Girl drifts On By (a Book Review)

I read a lot. I try to get through a book a week or a comic book/manga/graphic novel in a day or two. This means I mostly read stories with “sequential art” in them. Not because I hate normal books, but I find trying to pick one out daunting if it’s not part of a series or a known author. I decided I wanted to change that and pick up all the new books I could starting with debut novel by Jean Kyuoung Frazier, Pizza Girl.

Set in the early 2010s the story follows pregnant and unsure of her future, Pizza Girl. She’s eventually given a name near the end of the book, but that doesn’t matter. She drifts through life. Lives with her Mom and boyfriend/baby daddy Billy, works at a pizza parlor, and is just dejected with what to do in the future. Everything changes when she delivers a Pickle-Pizza to Jenny, a new move in to the California neighborhood. They form an odd kinship that seems destined to either last forever or drive Pizza Girl deeper as she gets more and more lost.

The story is one of the many growing Millennial Quarter-life crisis/coming of age stories. It reminds me of Ingrand Goes West in a lot of ways with that. Though, Pizza Girl the character is one who had to drive to do anything in her life and unsure of what to do even if she wasn’t pregnant, at a dead end job, and didn’t graduate high school. It is a big help and a great choice to make this a first person narrative then. It allows us to get into her head, see where she is coming from based on the experiences both forced on her and ones she made. One example of a situation forced onto her was her father was being a consummate drunkard. Meanwhile, in her own life, she had a history of more running from problems than facing them. Like skipping class or choosing to fail assignments in school because she didn’t like them. Though they are never paired together it is clear that comes from having to group up so quickly, and now that she’s pregnant it will keep advancing leading to her not having a childhood she could be proud of and give to her own child.

As a coming of age narrative, it is a very simple and straightforward one of them. It’s not a very long story. I don’t just mean in page count, coming at at just over 190 pages, but in plot. Oddly enough though it is a book that, even as it’s substantially light on plot, could have been much longer and felt just as satisfying. Most of this first person book is told in summary. Pizza Girl will go over her day and some key events but will never dwell on them. She’ll go into details about character appearances and actions but very little dialogue. It makes sense doing it that way. She is coasting through life, so she will not spend the time dwelling on it when she retells it or narrates it back to the reader. It puts up more in her head. It makes sense. It just creates some problems.

The biggest problem this, mostly summary, approaching to telling the story is that I get very little of the tone in certain scenes. She will have conversations but since are mostly summarized I don’t get the chemistry, bonding, and depth one would get in fuller conversations. This leads to many of the characters feeling more hollow than they mean too. Her boyfriend Billy should be incredibly interesting, and has a reveal near the end that should feel bigger. Unfortunately none of that is fully established because many scenes are just glossed over. Again, that is the point, but it feels like wasted potential. Something that goes for every side-character in the story. They do their narrative job but come at the cost of being flatter for it.

However, since it is mostly written out instead of debated in text, the writing needs to be good and it is. Nothing ever gets too abstract and flowery that the point is lost, but nothing so bland and straightforward either. The world and environments are painted just enough to get a necessary enough picture to convey meaning. The bulk is, again, in summary, and those summaries do feel like full stories in themselves. The prose combines just enough detail to paint a picture and combine it with the right amount of context to get across everything it needs to. Some paragraphs do go on long, or feel like they could be chunked better, but it’s not ergregious or distracting.

The book is a compelling enough time. Pizza Girl does come alive and feels like a person you would know, but does have growing up to do. Even as the book closes it’s not a perfect arc. She is on her way to being better. Her life with her Mom and Billy is on its way to being better and with the closing lines it’s clear none of this would have gotten her to that place if she didn’t put the pickles on a pizza for Jenny, and end up falling for her in some way.

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: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Teenage Bounty Hunters Arrested Me (a Review)

It feels honestly refreshing when Netflix lives up to its brand and creates another amazing first season of television that you could not get anywhere else. This also feels like a strange end cap for the trilogy of female-led stories that are usually male-centric starting with Warrior Nun (interested in what Season 2 will be like), Cursed (that will be true if we get a season 2), and now Teenage Bounty Hunters.

The title is pretty direct about what the show is. It follows fraternal twin sisters Sterling and Blair, affluent Southerns who go to a private Christian school. After they both meet with their perspective boyfriends they get into a car accident with their father’s borrowed truck. However they just so happen to ram into a skip, someone who skipped out on their bail, they catch the guy just in time for Bowser, a bounty hunter to arrive. Through some shenanigans Bowser agrees to work with the girls and train them while using the frozen yogurt shop he owns as cover. Unfortunately teen life and drama doesn’t stop just because they hunt skips. Family mysteries, school rivalries, and a balanced life are just some of the issues the teens face being bounty hunters.

Saying this show is good feels like an understatement that can only compare to saying Cursed is bad. It’s missing the whole dang forest and trees. But, since this is not a full on analysis it is easier to say that the show more just snuck up on me and surprised me with being excellent rather than expecting good things like Unbrella Academy season two.

It’s immediately striking not only how good the performances of the two leads are, but of what amazing chemistry they have. Despite not being actual sisters it’s hard to tell. They feel just so drawn. They both start as stereotypes. Sterling the do gooder saint with Blair being the more rebellious one. But their dynamic is so engrained that it is broken so easily as to be the first scene in the show, and that feels important. It’s important to see that the show knows convention and can break it so easily but still feel real. In this case the sweet one has premarital sex while the rebel doesn’t.

That is not where the surprises end, though. For this aims higher and, like Righteous Gemstones before it, seeks to be a satire of upper class southern church going. Republicans. It does not go far enough, ultimately with their take down, settling for a morally correct view of being a Christian- being a loving person- but still upholds their natural place and doesn’t question it. That makes sense for the twins. They understand the right to have and use guns and thinks it’s okay, and that God and Chruch is good, but are open enough to see racial injustice where it is at, and how the older generations are out of touch in some ways.

Connected to that is the comedy, because it is a very funny show. There are so many incredible lines and side characters that feel at once all too real, while being just satirical enough to be a joke. In the bounty hunting realm it is Terrance Coin, a YouTuber famous for recording his exploits. Instead of being the braggadocious type, they trade him out for being a real sweet man who can turn it on for the camera and sees it all as a business. At the school it is Ellen, the… it’s not clear. It seems like just a programs and religious studies coordinator, but she’s never given a title. She is closer to her stereotype: a think-she’s-hip woman who is utterly nice and totally oblivious.

Finally, the plotting. The start of the show feels incredibly satisfying because it feels like the teen drama mixed with action every CW show wants to do. Think Riverdale (I assume) but good… Buffy or good Spider-Man comics. The bounty hunting is used to help build characters to make choices in their personal life. This leads to some very good pay offs at the end. It’s the middle where it falters like most Netflix shows do. That’s by forgoing much of the premise for drama. Even the best of Netflix, like Daredevil season one (I mean imaging have a show about a blind lawyer superhero but only have one courtroom scene. Still annoys me), has this problem. It focuses on drama that’s caused by events relating to the premise, but isn’t the premise. Again, this works at the end as a culmination, unfortunately the end has its own problems. I won’t go into spoilers, but the final episode, specifically the skip hunt, feels too far. In the shows defense it sets up a good counter to our sisters, but pushes it all too far.

I keep coming back to just how honest the twins feel. Their bond, banter, and heartfelt moments about love and growing up hits me in a place. They are just so likable that It makes every feel good. Even in the midst of tedious high school drama the actresses play it so well that I feel for them. It’s truly remarkable. I won’t swear to it, but I have hope for a potential second season. Jenji Kohan of Orange is the New Black fame is on the staff. OITNB has its myriad of problems (mostly a sense of nothing happening and stretching the hell out of a premise. The book it was based on was only a couple hundred pages, not The Stand or Game of Thrones. Also, Piper sucked and made it insufferable), but staying real to characters and plotting was rarely one. I have hope my girls will do good in another season. I want more of them!

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: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Dismembering the Dead: An Examination of Dexter Season 4

This is the end of an era. I am not sure if that is true, just what I have been told. I have not watched the later season so there might be some good stuff in there. I will say that this is played as a very climactic season thematically and emotionally for Dexter and this merry band of detectives.

This season sees the forgetting and hand waving of major plot events from the last season just in time for Agent Lundy from season 2 to return. He is on the hunt for the one killer that allude him, Trinity, a man who kills in threes. He enlists Debra and Dexter to help look for the killer. Meanwhile Dexter’s hobby is conflicting with his perfect life, Quinn gets a girlfriend, and Angel and LaGuerta are shaking up.

The real reason this season is such a thematic end comes in the form of Trinity. The big reveal is that Trinity, thought a loner, is in fact a family man. Now Dexter feels the urge to flip the script. Instead of killers flocking to him, he is flocking to the greatest serial killer never known in order to learn from him.

This change works because John Lithgow is just that amazing of an actor. To think the voice of Lord Farquad from Shrek, and bumbling alien leader from 3rd Rock from the Sun can switch between total gentleman, to seething psycho, to belligerent monster so seamlessly that, aside from other plot threads that wrap up in this season, you could watch this season alone just for him and feel perfectly engaged.

The main lingering plot threads being Dexter and Rita now officially being married and have a baby. Deb looking for her dad’s former CI he had an affair with, and apparently Angel and LaGuerta getting together.

Dexter being a family man should be harder for him than it is. The fact he has a baby now only comes into play for the first episodes when he is sleep deprived, but doesn’t seem to be a problem after that. Similarly, other than him lying to Rita about things that are bad, but would never reveal who he really is, he seems like a fine enough father and husband. I guess that is the ruse he’s under. He wants to be better and sees an even more successful serial killer as the person to be like instead of a better family man. It all works, but some revelations feel too easy.

Debra unknowingly looking for Dexter’s mom and finding out he is related to the Ice Truck Killer plays well with Dexter trying to hide who he is from his family all while hunting a twisted version of himself. In the end that too feels too easy. Easy might not be the right word, but it sure is nice that Debra was busying the whole season finding Trinity that she couldn’t talk to the CI and find out the truth until the end.

Angel and LaGuerta getting together is just strange. They both had good relationships last season. Well Angel did, and LaGuerta found out a person she loved is a killer and cannot prove it to the world. Either way their arcs would not go to them getting together, but here we are. It feels added in just so those two actors could do something, but there are better ways. Maybe if it pays off with LaGuerta telling Angel about Miguel from last season it’ll work, but still.

Oh, and Quinn is still here. His presence seems only to be set up as the next Doakes (a cop who can tell something is off with Dexter) only be more boring, corrupt, and an idiot who hooks up with a cutthroat reporter that goes exactly the way you think. Maybe he’ll get better, jeeze, so bland.

I did not call how this season was going to end. Feels pretty momentous and like it’s setting up some big character stuff, but odd since the show runner leaves next season. Maybe that wasn’t the plan to leave but had to, or that this was how the show always should have ended but it’s a strange direction. It reminds me of the ending to Supernatural Season 5 when the creator left that show. It was not a definitive enough ending which I find strange.

I heard it goes downhill from here, but I still enjoy Michael C Hall a lot and find Dexter always compelling as a character.

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Dismembering the Dead: An Examination of Dexter Season 3

Dexter Season 2 had its problems but was overall a very solid season. Season 3, though, is the one I have heard is the shows high point, or at least at its best (maybe that is season 4, I am not sure actually).

It at least has a very interesting start to say the least. Dexter accidentally killing someone who does not fit his Code, then becoming entangled with the brother of the victim, the Assistant District Attorney for Miami, is very unique way to start the season out. It grows from their in a way that seems obvious looking at what the previous two seasons were about, but still is unexpected when it’s all put into place. It is strong.

Not every aspect of this season is. Rita has gone from a survivor of abuse and growing from that to a pregnant fiancée. Most of her scenes revolve around Dexter or new friend Syl about relationships, being pregnant, or wedding stuff. Part of it causes her to look for a new job, but having a character be so focused and relegated that kind of status is sad.

Similarly, it seems like Deb’s only change season to season is who she dates. She has an interesting arc as far as that’s concerned. She goes from being a hotshot and dating a serial killer who tries to murder her, to an older man who seems to calm her down, to a chilled out musician with a pension for weed. It seems like the arc of cooling her down would seem obvious. It might just be so subtle that it is hard to notice, but it doesn’t feel that way. Instead it is about getting her detective shield through hard work. That part is super rewarding, and feels earned, but the setup for the season does not follow through.

Other members of the team get some side adventures. Best character, Angel, finds love in a VICE cop who tries to catch johns by being a hooker. Matsuka matures a little and gets an girlfriend who is crazy, and LaGuirta continues the tradition of the female characters revolving around relationships with her ties to the ADA coming into conflict, and building a friendship with a defense attorney. That actual resolves rather well. She gets to do some real detective work, and deal with keeping major secrets.

There is a new detective on the team to replace Doakes, Detective Quinn, someone who does not feel really important at all other than someone from Internal Affairs to pester Deb. Feels like he could be interesting later, but lame now.

I spent lots of time focusing on relationships with this, but that is the most interesting thematic change from season to season for Dexter. Each season has had a different antagonist try to bond with him in a different way. From the Ice Truck killer in season one, to Lila in season two, to the ADA now. They each have incredibly diverse ways and reasons for why they are trying to connect with Dexter. They all paint the same picture, Dexter cannot share his secret or it will cause major problems no matter how much he wants to. That push and pull gives Dexter really interesting dynamics, and gives him more range to play off of.

Oh right there is this whole other, second killer who is skinning people. That plot ends interestingly enough, but feels like it is playing for time more than anything else.

Still, overall really solid. It will be neat to see this show address fatherhood with Dexter’s baby, and get to have John Lithgow!

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DOOM: Eternal, Doom Infernal (Initial Impressions)

Doom Eternal is faster, bloodier, has more diverse locations, incredibly strong shooting mechanics, and is just all around a better game than its 2016 predecessor. Unfortunately all of those changes make me enjoy it far less.

That idea should not make sense. If this game is better than the first in every conceivable way why do I continue to find it far less fun and engaging?

Doom (2016, obviously) was simple in all forms. You had guns. You had demons. And you had a portal from Mars to Hell. There was some plot, but it was so meaningless that you could ignore it. All of this made for a throughly compact, instantly replayable experience.

Doom Eternal meanwhile is chaotic. That is but design for sure. The team wants you to constantly move, jump, shoot, chainsaw, and doom punch your way through waves of enemies. And I have to admit that the base shooting loop works. The guns feel responsive, the explosions are chunky, and zipping around slicing demons to bits looks great. It just feels like the team missed two two key features of the first game.

Doom Eternal gives you the shotgun as your standard weapon along with a refilling chainsaw that allows you to cut enemies to get ammo. If you cannot tell the issue here then recall the first things you could do in Doom. You can punch and had a blaster you that refilled.

Those two two game play pieces leant Doom a feeling of stability. It was clear what you had at minimum in any situation. Doom

Eternal does not work that way. Instead of stability in what arsenal you have, it just gives you weapons and you have to scrounge for ammo like a survival horror game and hope your chainsaw is refilled by the time you need it. That would be fine if you could still punch all the demons to death, but you cannot do that either.

In Doom you could simply melee weaker zombies and low level demons. They would then glow so you could melee them a second time to regain health. The flashy glow returns, but you have to shoot all the demons to get them into that state. The problem about that is the aforementioned ammo scarcity, but also you cannot control when an enemy will survive the shooting or just explode into bits. Meaning you would have then wasted ammo and your dying.

I say that like the shooter sections is where I died the most. It was not. The most I ever felt unfairly about the shooting sections is when I’m blocked and for whatever reason cannot jump over the enemies and just die.

No, the real reason I do not like this game as much are the platforming. The platforming is garbage. Straight demon trash. The sensitivity is all over the place. Sometime I will grab a surface no problem, other times I grab it only to punch the wall. The protruding railings have the same issue of if I should have made contact or not. On top of that, this is a first person game. You cannot see all of the surroundings making it all that harder to tell where to jump next, or if you missed a jump, what went wrong.

When will developers learn that first person platforming does not work unless tightly, tightly, controlled and equally responsive.

There are some good things about the game. The UAC hologram lady is the perfect kind of blunt satire you want in the game, and the wide range of collectibles to find makes exploring the level really fun.

All the criticism (expect the platforming sensitivity. They could not have wanted it that bad) feels all designed to give the chaotic, energized experience. It succeeds at that. It wants to up that ante more and more, but I find doing that misses part of what made Doom what it was. It went from simple to hand holdie when giving out weapons, collecting ammo, and fighting demons. It’s a chore.

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Onward, Magic Brothers (a Review)

Pixar’s reputation is well known and respected. They have dipped their toe into every genre except full on fantasy. Always seemed like a strange omission to me, but makes sense in retrospect. They always try to bring a new angle to standard genres and two brothers on an 80s movie style road trip in a pseudo-modern world feels exactly like the pitch they needed.

In specific, Onward follows Ian and Barley, elves in a world where magic because of the ease of technology. On his 16th birthday Ian and brother Barley are given a magical staff and gem to help revive their father for one day. When the spell fails they must partake in an old school quest to retrieve a new gem, but threats of all kind lay ahead.

Is it hacky to say the film is magical? I mean I try (and fail often) to be succinct, and to that end saying “magical” feels right. Like the magic used in the movie it isn’t perfect, but gets the job done.

It feels unnecessary to say that it is gorgeous and a giant step up in animation quality, but that often feels true for every Pixar movie. The blend of classic fantasy with modern city/suburban planning and design is wonderful. The landscapes are gorgeous, and small character details and animation really pop. It’s an obvious thing, but it’s obvious for a reason. They are still one of the best studios in the business for their artistic sense.

The team also really nails the main dynamic between brothers Ian and Barley. Tom Holland really disappears in the voice work while Chris Pratt can only do his Andy routine. This time he lands on a spectrum of college kid with no sense of direction but quest for adventure. It feels very real and they bond well. Similarly the brothers’ mom has a great bond with adventurer turned Chuck E Cheese manager, The Manticore. They bring out some very real adult friendship energy to counterbalance the brothers’ growth and travel. The one character that does fall short is the mother’s new boyfriend, a centaur cop. He is not really explored enough other than to show how he impacts the brothers and indirectly helps in their journey. We get some personality from him, but he doesn’t get a lot to do and makes him kind of unmemorable. That comes from the right place of focusing on the main characters, but in a well drawn cast he is the closest to a stick figure.

The most impressive part of the film over just the teams love of fantasy is how much personality, comedy, and genuine heart out of a character being only a pair of legs. The team does everything they possibly can with that concept and it is great. We get a good sense of who their father was quite literally without a full picture. He dances, bonds, and saves their lives only with the part they got. It’s very clever and well worth the watch all on its own.

There are more great things, the comedy is great. There is an amazing car chase with a group of fairy bikers across a highway. There is a spectacular final battle against a dragon to really show how much the characters have grown. And the conclusion for the brothers is really solid and overall well earned.

If there are any problems outside of the mother’s boyfriend it would be that we do not get a lot in way of setup. They establish the character arcs well enough, but then thrust us into the journey before fully giving us a real sense of their normal. It only really impacts the third act, but it felt hollow in a way the rest of the movie did not.

Now, I’ve been avoiding this part because it’s personal. So, the last Pixar movie to make me really feel something was Toy Story 3 (oh wow, big shocker). They got close with how Toy Story 4 ended, but still didn’t nail it. This movie really got me. That’s because the ability to see someone you never really got the know or spend time with is something that really resonates with me. So, when the characters get what they want in certain ways it can only hit me hard. That makes it harder to judge, but it is something really special.

You should totally see it.

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A Volume-by-Volume Checkin with Edens Zero: Volume 6

The first five volumes of Edens Zero, the new manga by Hary Mashima, were fine. They were a good enough starting point for a series and gave plenty of potential. They also had plenty of worrying signs. Both elements made me interested to continue and see where this space trip takes us.

Volume 6 picks up with the ship in need of repair, a reaffirmation to find the last of the old Demon King’s crew mates, and teacher to Shiki’s current crew mate, Valkyrie. Pinot, their robot companion comes to realization she wants to be human, and it’s presented that space pirate, Elise Crimson has a mole in her operations that’s trying to do something. Meanwhile the NPC killing dork from last issue goes and meets crime boss Drakken Joe to get revenge for losing to the Edens Zero crew.

This volume picks up quite a bit in terms of quality. The universe remains one fleshed out enough to allow Mashima to draw whatever he wants. He uses that power to draw some fan service. None of it is too overbearing as it has been in the previous volumes, but it still does nothing for me. Even beyond that the character models are still really solid. New characters are pretty interesting looking. Some, like the ruler of a casino planet don’t have a lot of character yet, but could be interesting. Meanwhile villains like Drakken Joe are still pretty flat. The best of it though is development for Homura, student of Valkyrie, and samurai of the Eden Zero. Her character quirk of thinking out loud gets good character dimension that makes it come from something in her, and works.

In fact most of the volume works. The crew go to meet the narrator of the story, a time oracle, to get the information on Valkyrie. They fight some fun characters, get the information, run into a captain from another galaxy that has something mysterious going on, and end on a casino planet. It’s tight. Has a full narrative to feel complete, but sets up some interesting threads.

The art also is consistent. None of it is awe inspiring or fantastic, but every panel is consistent and has a sense of weight and awe in space exploration. The backgrounds are present and do the job, and the only character copying is with the previously setup Drakken Joe who looks like the steel dragon guy whose name is eluding me from Fairy Tail.

The issues with this volume are not issues present in the volume itself, but because it is part of a larger narrative. It’s threads it is building on and crafting could all be for (k)not. That’s why I am usually against doing volume, chapter, or episode reviews. There is often not enough information to give a solid, definitive take on what is presented. This has a singular story that works, but it could all come apart. So, overall, it has definitely made steps to reach its potential, but still has that ability to slip up.

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How Scooby Doo Mystery Inc. Solved It!

I love Scooby Doo!

Scooby Doo has been around for a long time and everybody knows what it is. Four teens and a dog go solve mysteries and discover that the haunted or supernatural evil was really just a human all long. It was a formula that worked, could be changed and adapted with ease, and completely repeatable till the end of time.

With its adaptive ease it had gone through multiple series before I even laid eyes on it. It went from the 60s classic, to the team up/ cameo show, to the gang as a group of children, to made for TV/home release films, to an updated series, and a couple mild films. They were all ranged from passable, to good or great, but none of them really dug into the potential beyond the characters. They were easy to love, but not easy to believe in.

For as much as I love Scooby-Doo this show finds ways to grow it and not spend the whole time earnestly ribbing it. Instead they set the series after the original run of episodes in the gangs hometown of Crystal Cove, dubbed “The Most Haunted Town.” They continue to work together and solve mysteries in their small town

With so many places to start I think the art design by Dan Krall sells the show through the whole experience. The idea to set this in an out of time, 60s/70s retro future aesthetic was genius. It allows the characters to dress in their memorable designs without needing to make any concessions for it. It also always the whole world to look distinct. They can have 8-tracks, records, CDs, and rotary cellphones all in the same show without it being hokey. It’s having your cookie cake and eating it to.

The designs also let the monsters be really terrifying, haunting, or interesting. It is able to balance gator people, witches, chimeras, a motorcycle driving Tory, a truly devilish freak, German robots, crab people, zombies, Lovecraft (Hatecraftian) abominations, and more to make them look cohesive and viable in the world they set up. They all have memorable designs, and gimmicks to change it up and bring that haunting atmosphere to this south western town of Crystal Cove.

Another part of the world and art that is a real win is just how dedicated the team was at making all parts of the Scooby-Doo and Hanna-Barbera universes combine into a cohesive place. Making places like Quest Laboratory and Johnny Quest an established part of the world as a former company that the villains of the show bought, along with a Yogi Bear cameo, and giving an origin for Batman stand-in Blue Falcon and Dynomut really shows how much the team loved all those properties and I could believe them having plans to adapt all of those properties.

One of the best episodes that exemplifies the love this group had for the old Hanna-Barbera series is Scooby’s fever dream “Mystery Solvers Club State Finals.” In that episode we see all the discount Scooby-Doo shows like Captain Caveman, Jabberjaw, Speed Buggy, and the Funky Phantom meet to solve a mystery, and eventually lead to all the side-kicks (mascots really) must solve the mystery for the episode. It would have been easy for them just to make easy jokes at how repetitive all those clones were. Instead the team tries to give those series justice by giving all the mascots a solid personality, show why they are part of the team, and give us viewers who watched those series on Boomerang some solid fan service. I also think this episode was the inspiration for the direction the final mystery would go in.

That’s right, I neglected to mention the biggest thing that set this show apart from all the other incarnations of Scooby-Doo (Except 13 Ghosts but that’s different). This series has an overarching mystery that builds up to a giant three part conclusion. The mystery, that starts with finding a spyglass locket with a picture in it and turns into a generational conspiracy about previous mystery solving groups, evil corporations, curses, an evil German bird, and ancient celestial entities. It’s a smoother transition than I made it sound, but it is jarring. The main piece this mystery serves is to mix up the standard Scooby-Doo Formula (something the whole show is about). The mystery gives each episode an additional subplot that gives all the characters something to be doing and working on, being proactive in one aspects, as they react to the crime of the episode.

The episodic crimes are also used to sneak a part of the mystery in as the conclusion. Maybe the villain is the least obvious suspect, or maybe it has something to do with Mr. E, the old Mystery Incorporated group, or lost treasure. It makes a first watch feel refreshing, and not just easy to check social media and wait for the reveal. It’s engaging. On subsequent watches it becomes tracking that setup and payoff while enjoying the character growth.

Wait, character growth… that happens? Yes, this show manages to not only define and imbue our normal mystery gang with personality. Fred goes from the stock leader to a trapping expert, who can participate in trap battles, he’s tactical, and dense, but earnest in his affection for Daphne and the gang. Daphne is strong willed, perceptive, wants to follow her own heart, and does really love Fred. Velma is still the genius. She’s well informed, dry, analytical, goes for just the facts, but also can show frustration to the situations she’s in. Shaggy and Scooby-Doo are pretty similar. They get more courageous by the end, but do have some brains, and would help their friends in need.

This show also does the hardest task of making believable characters to inhabit Crystal Cove. The sheriff of the town, Sheriff Bronson Stone, both mayors Fred’s dad (Fred Jones Sr), and Mayor Nettles from season two, the previous mystery incorporated gang, the radio dj Angel Dynamite, and random reoccurring towns people like the teenagers and teachers at the school, and restaurant owners all get some distinct personality that makes them engaging to see. The fact Angel Dynamite is right out of a Blacksploitation film with the funky talking and karate skills, to how thick headed Sheriff Bronson Stone is, or money driven and tourist focused Mayor Fred Sr, or how much Mayor Nettles is really a secret action heroine all drive how believably unbelievable this city is.

It helps that the voice cast is absolutely killer for all involved. You get mainstays like Frank Welker to be Fred and Scooby-Doo like usual. You add biggest star Grey Deslile to bring some added life to valley girl Daphne. You get the best part of the live action films, Matthew Lillard to come back and voice Shaggy even more is all great. Only, it doesn’t stop there.

Someone must have called in all their Hollywood favors for this show. You get Patrick Warburton to come in and be that blockhead sheriff and give him lots of life even as he’s being two dimensional. Then add on Gary Cole as Fred Sr to be paternal and unreasonable, Vivica A Fox to be Angel Dynamite because who else would you get? Add onto that Lewis Black, Udo Kier, Tim Matheson, and Tia Carrere to show range in their skills. Only, the best is Linda Cardellini to come back and become a rival for Velma. That is great because played Velma in the live action films, and brings that same voice and sass back to a character that is set up to be her rival and kinda-sorta love interest (it was 2010, we were not going to get a full lesbian relationship on a kids show).

This is not to say the show is perfect. A lot of character work comes from very tedious love and relationship arcs that are obvious and make the characters feel unreasonable. They also fully permeate the show so it is hard to get a grasp of what the standard for the group before the show started. The easy solution is that this is a sequel to everything, and some of that tracks. But then there are references to Scrappy-Doo and Vincent Van Ghoul from 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, and the ending leaving me with lots of questions. It wants to be a simple everything you know happened but not exactly that way so we can change it, but then never establish what is baseline and normal for this incarnation of the mystery incorporated gang.

The mysteries in Scooby-Doo were never really complex or complicated. It was always just the guy you least expect doing it for money or fame of some kind. This show continues that, but oftentimes cheats with the reveals. Too often a character will also just happen to have a background in chemical engineering, or robotics, or be a super spy, or super mechanic, or great public speaker that makes the mystery seem unfair. How is the audience supposed to guess who the criminal is when this key part of their background won’t come out till the end. It only bothers me because it is a pattern, but it does not kill the show.

Scooby-Doo has always been a mystery series, and always will be. This series specifically solves more than just the truth of Crystal Cove. It solves the mystery of how to make something as timeless as Scooby-Doo feel relevant, real, and dramatic about the hokiest teens of all time by giving them interests outside of the mystery, but not exclude it. It says that this group will always exists because something will always be unexplained. No matter how big the mystery it can be solved through hard work, inductive reasoning, and friendship.

Keyforge is BANANAS!

How cool is this box art!

I am a massive (nerd) card game player. Yu-Gi-Oh! is the bomb (until links lost me fully). Duel Master was a strong child friendly version of Magic. Magic is a classic for a reason. Card Fight Vanguard was under appreciated and had some good ideas. This game is the perfect mix of genius and stupid.

It was designed by Richard Garfield, creator of Magic. It uses some basic mechanics, but it is wholly original and bonkers. It takes the tapping, or exhausting when played for the first time when used. It also has similar battle mechanics where damage is done on both sides when fighting, there are also different factions who have different strategies, and their are base words that explain a longer effect. Those are the only similarities they have.

Not only are those the only similarities, but it diverges hard into something so originals it gets crazy. The main difference this game has is its win condition. Instead of dealing damage or forcing a deck to run out of cards you collect stones, when you have six stones you forge a key (see how clever they are). When you have three keys you win. There are different ways to get the stones, and mess your opponent up by taking them. It is certainly an interesting take. Battles are basically done to retrieve stolen stones by your opponent.

A turn of play is quite different. Each deck has three types or houses. You declare and can only use that one house in your turn. That means you can use any action of creatures of that house, but that is it. After you use your cards you draw to keep 6 cards in your hand.

It is pretty standard sounding, only this game is very counter based, and boy do you have counters. Upon opening the two deck pack you are greeted to two cardboard pages with small tokens to poke out. You really can’t lose any of them either. It is overwhelming to say the least.

None of that is what makes this game bananas. What makes this game bananas vague card effects and the endless amount of possible creatures you can control. The vague effects come into play when what the card says is unclear (obviously), but could be interpreted in different ways. So cards allow a creature to not take damage. It doesn’t say effect or battle so which is it? Or if a card gets a plus 1 boost, do they just increase power or is it a shield buff? Some effects have names but aren’t on the foldable rule sheet. Those questions are not as bad as the fact you can have over a dozen creatures in play and still los easily because creatures don’t dictate play or defense, just ways to stop your opponent from having an advantage.

If it’s unclear the game is actually good. What makes it hard to determine is…

So this is not a deck building game. You buy decks you use. You can’t mix and match so you have to build strategies with the cards you have. That’s what makes this game so interesting and not really money grubbing either. This works in the starter box fine enough because they are from the same set. However, when playing with two decks from different sets. In that case they seem mismatched. One had too many cards that simply had no way to respond so it is treading water and making small moves until you lose. That is bad, and a big thing that needs changing.

It would make sense to not do that from a marketing and economic perspective because having new, better sets is how all card games make money, but the art, style, and ridiculous names are what draws me to the game, and could easily draw others.

If the premise of gaining points over losing health, the different way a turn plays (using only one of the three houses at a time), and fun cartoon art gets you in I have a few very beginner tips.

Tip 1 – Go with your gut on what the cardboard tokens do. They are well designed to give you a good indicator.

Tip 2 – Look up effects as needed. Trying to memorize every effect before you play makes getting in far more difficult. Just know REAP automatically gives you a stone, as does a picture with a stone on it.

Tip 3 – Only deal with chains as needed. It’s a larger mechanic not ever deck uses. So only pay attention if it mentions it.

If none of this is too much, you got $20 and want to change your game night this isn’t a bad choice.