Rocksteady’s Arkham Series – The Best Superhero Games Ever Made

It’s been just under three years since Arkham Knight, the final chapter in Rocksteady’s award winning series was released, and it has left me wanting. The series started with the amazing Arkham Asylum for the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360, which centered around Batman trying to re-take Arkham Asylum after Joker had taken control.  The second game Arkham City took place several years after the first one when the city of Gotham had walled off a large section of the waterfront and dubbed it Arkham City; this game also released for the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 but near the end of their run. The final installment came with the releases of the Xbox One and the Playstation 4, Arkham Knight. This final installment centered around Batman as he attempts to foil the plans of Scarecrow who has rallied his enemies together to destroy Gotham and kill Batman once and for all.

Before we dive into why these games are so amazing let’s get a rundown of the plot for each one…

Arkham Series

*This post will contain massive spoilers for the Arkham series of games. Though they have been out for at least three years now, so I don’t feel guilty about the spoilers*

ARKHAM ASYLUM

The game begins with Batman capturing Joker after a very botched attempt at assaulting City Hall. When Batman drops Joker off on Arkham Island, he questions as to why the Joker allowed himself to be captured so easily. With the help of Harley Quinn and some corrupt guards, Joker breaks out of his restraints and begins his rampage through the prison with Batman hot on his tail. Joker calls in bomb threats at various locations across Gotham stating he will blow the bombs if anyone steps foot on the island, forcing Batman to bring the entire island to order by himself. Joker releases various members of Batman’s rogues gallery  including: Bane, Killer Croc, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and Mr. Zsasz before disappearing saying he was preparing his “party”. Batman defeats and captures each of these Rogues as his idea of Joker’s plan remains a mystery. After discovering a secret production facility for a drug called “Titan”, which was developed by a doctor on staff named Penelope Young; Batman discovers that Joker has secretly been funding her research to gain the formula in order to make an army of superpowered henchmen. When Young refused to turn the formula over to Mr. White (the alias Joker was using to fund her research), Joker was forced to return to Arkham to extract the formula from her himself.

Joker eventually obtains batches of the completed Titan formula and kills Dr. Young in the process, forcing Batman to seek help from Poison Ivy to create an antidote. Ivy explains that the spore necessary to counteract the Titan agent is found solely in Killer Croc’s lair deep in the Asylum. After obtaining the spores and defeating Croc, Batman ventures to one of his satellite Bat caves, which is located on Arkham Island, to manufacture an antidote. Ivy attacks with her mutated plants and Batman is forced to fight her, eventually winning and destroying the plants responsible for manufacturing Titan.  Joker announces his party is ready to accept guests and when Batman arrives, he discovers the Joker has captured Jim Gordon and intends to inject him with Titan. Batman jumps in front of Gordon taking the dart filled with Titan and saving Jim. As Batman resists the change, Joker grows angry and overdoses on Titan turning into a giant monster. Batman defeats Joker and brings the asylum to order. In the post credit scene, Scarecrow is seen floating away on a container of Titan into the Gotham harbor.

ARKHAM CITY

This game picks up several years after the conclusion of Arkham Asylum, Bruce Wayne arrives at a press conference in front of the gates of Arkham City to protest its creation. He is ambushed by TYGER guards and the press conference is cut short as he, along with Jack Ryder, are imprisoned in Arkham City. Hugo Strange, the Warden of Arkham City, explains to Bruce that he knows he is Batman but will keep the information to himself for the time being. Bruce defeats the Penguin and some thugs before climbing to the top of the ACE Chemicals building and retrieving his Batsuit which was air dropped via the Batwing. As he dons the Batsuit, Strange comes over the PA system in Arkham City and says “Protocol 10 will commence in 10 hours”.

Bruce deduces that if anyone knows what’s going on in Arkham City it would be Catwoman, but he overheard some TYGER guards saying she has been captured by Two-Face. He saves Catwoman from the clutches of Two Face and then stops Joker from killing her with mechanical sniper rifle apparatus. He tracks Joker to the Sionis Steel Mill and infiltrates the mill to find him. In his pursuit of the Joker he saves several doctors that tell him the Joker is unwell and was forcing them to try and save his life. Batman discovers the Joker’s lair and is knocked unconscious by Harley Quinn. He wakes up to find Joker transfusing some of his blood into Batman afflicting him with the same degenerative disease Joker has. Joker is suffering from massive cellular degradation as a result of the Titan serum he took on the island to kill Batman. He also tells Batman that he has been shipping his blood to hospitals in the area for weeks infecting as many people as possible in hopes that this would force Batman to find a cure. Batman questions him asking if this is “Protocol 10” to which Joker replies that he has no idea what Batman is talking about.

Arkham-Games

As he exits the Mill, Batman seeks out Mr. Freeze who has been imprisoned in Arkham City as well. He tracks Freeze to the old GCPD building where Freeze has set up his own lab. As he infiltrates the building it has become apparent that Penguin has kidnapped Freeze for his own entertainment. Batman arrives at the old museum which Penguin is using as his hideout and discovers Freeze and his suit, but Freeze’s gun is missing. As Batman sets out to find Freeze’s gun, Freeze himself returns to his lab to begin work on a cure. Batman confronts Penguin who is using Freeze’s gun and defeats him but in his anger Penguin detonates the floor of his lounge causing Batman to fall into a chamber that houses Solomon Grundy. Batman defeats Grundy and returns Freeze’s tech to him at the old GCPD. Freeze tells Batman that he has managed to create a cure but due to its instability it is rendered useless. Batman hypothesizes that Ra’s Al Ghul’s restorative properties in his blood would render the cure stable and sets off to find him by tracking one of his operatives. He does battle with both Ra’s and his daughter Talia before obtaining the blood sample he needs to complete the cure. As Freeze finalizes the cure he battles Batman to find the location of his wife, believing Batman to know where she is. After Batman defeats him, they open the safe to find that Harley Quinn has stolen the cure. Batman returns to the Mill and finds a Joker that has been fully restored who tries to kill him.

As they fight, Strange activates Protocol 10 which is revealed to be the eradication of Arkham City to destroy the criminal element of Gotham. Talia arrives and offers Joker the use of the Lazarus pit in order to save Batman’s life, Joker accepts and leaves Batman in the wreckage of the steel mill. Batman wants to pursue Talia to save her from her eventual betrayal by the Joker, but Alfred and Oracle refuse, stating that Batman is needed to save the people of Arkham City. Batman scales Wonder Tower (the tower at the center of Arkham City that doubles as Strange’s headquarters) and confronts Strange. When Ra’s Al Ghul reveals himself to be the mastermind behind Arkham City, he kills Strange for his failure. Ra’s and Batman battle once again, with Ra’s being beaten again. To avoid the dishonour of being captured alive, Ra’s commits suicide and Batman is contacted by Joker to come alone to Monarch theater or he will kill Talia. When Batman arrives Talia confesses she stole the cure from Harley and stabs Joker through the chest. She is then shot by another Joker still dying from the disease. The impaled Joker is revealed to be Clayface who tries to kill Batman before being defeated using Freeze-tech. Batman drinks some of the cure leaving enough for someone else and destroys the Lazarus pit located beneath the theater before Joker is able to use it. Joker stabs Batman in the side causing Batman to drop the vial of cure, which smashes on the ground. As Joker slowly succumbs to the disease Batman admits that despite everything Joker has done and everyone he has killed and injured, he still would’ve saved him. Joker dies laughing at a joke that only he understands, leaving Batman alone in the destroyed theater. Batman carries Joker’s body out of Arkham City and places it on the hood of a police cruiser before disappearing into the night without a word.

ARKHAM ORIGINS

While not produced by Rocksteady, Arkham Origins is still part of the Arkham story line taking place 5 years before the events of Arkham Asylum. It centers around Black Mask putting out a hit on Batman on Christmas Eve for 50 million dollars. This attracts several well known Rogues to Gotham in order to collect the bounty, the Rogues include: Deathstroke, Deadshot, Bane, Copperhead, Killer Croc, Firefly, Electrocutioner, and Lady Shiva. Throughout the night Batman confronts and defeats several of the Rogues until eventually it’s revealed that Joker was the mastermind behind the entire thing. Bane learns Batman’s secret identity and nearly kills Alfred by assaulting and wrecking the Batcave. This also marks the point in Batman’s career where he realized he was unable to do the work by himself. Though initially against him, Captain Gordon eventually comes around and helps Batman when Joker takes control of Blackgate prison. Batman and the police work together to bring the prison back to order with Batman being forced to stop Bane’s heart and then restart it again to save the Joker. Bane suffers amnesia after his near death experience securing Batman’s secret identity and infuriating Joker. Batman apprehends Joker rather than killing him and leaves him to be found by the Gotham Police Force and Captain Gordon. This marks the beginning of the professional relationship between Gordon and Batman as well as the rivalry between Joker and Batman. Gordon is promoted to Commissioner for his part in securing the prison, but he keeps Batman’s involvement a secret. During the credits there’s a radio interview with Gotham mayor, Quincy Sharp, where he states he intends to re-open Arkham Asylum to help with some of the more dangerous criminals.

Arkham Origins

ARKHAM KNIGHT

The third (technically fourth) and final entry in Rocksteady’s award winning series is Arkham Knight. The Halloween following the events in Arkham City, the Scarecrow enacts his plan to destroy Gotham City and kill the Bat for good. He has developed a new fear toxin that he tests on a diner full of innocent people and broadcasts it all over Gotham. He allows the people of Gotham 12 hours to evacuate the city before he will disperse the toxin. With the city deserted except for Batman and his allies along with a few remaining Police Officers, the criminals of the city run rampant. Batman tracks Scarecrow to Chinatown and finds an imprisoned Poison Ivy who refused to go along with Scarecrow and the other Rogues’ plot for Gotham. Batman frees Ivy who says that she will be taken in willingly to protect her from Scarecrow.After taking Ivy to the GCPD, Batman meets Oracle at the clock tower where, with her help, he pinpoints the location of Scarecrow’s toxin production facility as Ace Chemicals. When Batman assaults the plant he is confronted by the Arkham Knight and his well armed militia. Scarecrow converted Ace Chemicals into a toxin bomb, with a potential blast radius of the entire Eastern seaboard of the United States, and told Batman that he had captured Oracle from the Clock Tower before fleeing from the facility with the help of the Knight. Batman renders the bomb useless but not before being exposed to a large dose of the fear toxin. Due to the remaining Joker infused blood in his system and the massive dose of toxin, Batman begins hallucinating the Joker throughout the City and interacting with him. As explained before, during the events of Arkham City, Batman is infected by Joker’s poisoned blood. Along with Batman, who has hidden his infection form the others, 4 other patients were poisoned with the blood before all of the infected blood had been accounted for. The infected patients are slowly mutating and turning into the Joker with the eventual endgame being multiple Jokers running around Gotham.  It’s later shown that Robin has all the other victims in a containment ward underneath Panasa Studios where he’s working on a cure.

Arkham KNight

As Batman escapes the destroyed plant he speaks to Commissioner letting Gordon know that Oracle had been kidnapped by Scarecrow. Gordon is angered that Barbara stayed in Gotham to help Batman, and goes off on his own to hunt down Scarecrow. Batman discovers that Scarecrow had manipulated Simon Stagg, a wealthy businessman, to force him to create and deploy the Cloudburst. The Cloudburst, allowed for the Fear Toxin to be massively dispersed into the air which would coat the entire planet in a matter of weeks. Stagg owns and operates his company out of two docked Airships tethered in the Financial District of Gotham City. As Batman assaults these airships he is forced to battle the Knight’s private militia which have taken control of the tethered stations. Eventually Batman once again confronts Scarecrow only to be once again dosed with a massive amount of Fear Toxin. This new dose allows the Joker to temporarily assume control of Batman’s mind and body. As Batman fights to regain control of his body, the Arkham Knight and Scarecrow steal the Cloudburst right out from under his nose. Once he recovers, Batman tracks Scarecrow to his hideout in Chinatown and arrives to find Oracle trapped in a hermetically sealed chamber. Before he can rescue her the chamber is filled with fear toxin and Oracle seemingly commits suicide out of fear.

Harley Quinn seizes control of the Panasa Studios cave, and releases the Jokerized patients into the studio in an attempt to free them. Batman and Robin must work together along with one of the remaining patients Henry Adams, who assists them from the containment ward. As Batman and Robin capture all the patients and Quinn herself, they return to the ward to find that Henry has killed all the other patients. Henry then kills himself stating that Batman will become the perfect Joker. As Robin turns to see Batman’s eyes glowing green, he attempts to subdue and imprison Batman in one of the research chambers in the ward. Batman easily counters Robin and imprisons him in the ward stating that he will not stop until the Scarecrow has been apprehended.  Elsewhere in Gotham, the Knight activates the Cloudburst and blankets the entire City of Gotham in Fear Toxin. Batman manages to destroy the Cloudburst and convinces the captured Ivy to utilize a giant tree hidden beneath Gotham to filter out the Toxin from the air to save the City. Ivy manages to save the City, but the strain of the effort causes her death. Batman manages to track the Knight to a construction site in the Financial District where the Knight has taken the captured Commissioner Gordon. Batman arrives to rescue Gordon and confronts the Knight who reveals himself to be Jason Todd. Jason Todd was the second Robin who was seemingly murdered by the Joker many years ago in an attempt to break the Bat. It’s later revealed that the Joker didn’t murder Todd right away, but actually tortured him for months effectively shattering Todd’s psyche and deeply traumatizing him. Todd, blaming Batman for his torture and subsequent near death experience, allied with Scarecrow in an effort to make Bruce feel the pain and helplessness he felt at the hands of the Joker all those years ago. As Batman attempts to reason with Todd and even offer to help him recover from what happened to him Todd refuses and escapes. Batman frees the Commissioner and the both of them head up to the roof to confront Scarecrow. Scarecrow is revealed to have Oracle alive and well, her previous suicide being a hallucination produced by the Fear toxin and Joker control, which allows Batman and the Commissioner the ability to save her. As Batman saves Oracle, Scarecrow captures Commissioner Gordon and escapes. Batman and Oracle return to the GCPD which is then assaulted by the militia forces of the Arkham Knight. Batman fends off the attack on the GCPD but in the fray, Scarecrow uses the distraction to overwhelm and kidnap Robin as well.

Arkham City Combat

Scarecrow offers to release Gordon and Robin unharmed if Batman surrenders to him without a fight. Believing that his surrender is the only way to ensure everyone’s safety, Batman surrenders. He is knocked out and taken to the ruins of Arkham Asylum, where it all began, and is strapped to a table before having his identity revealed on live television. Scarecrow then injects Batman with another massive dose of Fear Toxin which allows the Joker to fight for control over Batman’s mind and body. As the two battle inside Batman’s mind, Joker recounts all the horrible things he did in an effort to knock Batman off balance allowing the Joker to take control. Bruce not only resists, but manages to find the one thing Joker is afraid of most in the world, being forgotten. He battles the Joker in his mind, eventually winning and locking him away in his deep psyche to be forgotten for the rest of time. As Scarecrow watches Bruce fight through the Toxin he grows enraged that Batman keeps finding a way to win and attempts to inject him again. Jason Todd, now going by his alias of Red Hood, arrives at the broken down asylum and frees Batman who then injects Scarecrow with his own Fear Toxin.

Batman then finishes cleaning up the City and ensuring it’s safe for the citizens to return. Once he has cleaned up the City and captured all his Rogues, he activates the “Knightfall Protocol”. As he arrives back at Wayne Manor, the paparazzi are all around the property and shouting questions at him from beyond the fence line. Batman walks inside the manor and as the door shuts, the house explodes and is engulfed in flames, presumably killing Bruce and Alfred. In the epilogue, James Gordon, now Mayor of Gotham, is rushing over to the church so he can attend the wedding of his daughter, Barbara/Oracle to Robin/Tim Drake. Elsewhere in the City a young couple and their son cut through a back alley to avoid the rain and are accosted by some muggers. Before the muggers can get away with any goods, they’re assaulted by a silhouette that resembles a nightmarish Batman.

WHAT MAKES THEM AMAZING

I will be the first to say, most superhero games are shit. Seriously, just garbage. Every now and then you will get some good nuggets like Marvel Ultimate Alliance or Spider-Man: Web of Shadows; but for the most part, they tend to be lackluster. The main problem with superhero games is that they always tend to be tied to some other  film or television property which severely inhibits the stories that can be told. The tie in games for various movies work well enough to bolster sales and ride the coat tail of the movie’s success, but they lack all substance themselves. Rocksteady changed that formula.

The big change that Rocksteady had was they brought in renowned comic book writer Paul Dini to craft a 100% original tale that would take place in their universe. Drawing heavy inspiration from several of his other works, Dini delivered a dark and gritty story that focused on the Batman himself and how close he is to teetering on the edge. It wasn’t until the final game Arkham Knight, that we really got to see what a Batman looks like as he slowly loses control of everything around him. There are several quotes from DC Comics that detail Bruce Wayne/Batman’s obsessive need to control everything he can. Dini took this obsessive trait and showed us exactly what it would look like to watch a man who the rest of the world thinks has all the answers, struggle to maintain his grip on a reality that is slowly slipping through his grasp. It was a stark contrast to the invincible superhero most people know. He doubts himself, he makes mistakes, he questions his crusade, and he even loses in the end; all these things happen over the span of three games and really show just how human Batman really is.

Arkham Counter

The story isn’t the only part of the series that really drove it home for most fans, it was the gameplay. You can make a game with an amazing story, that really captures everything you need it to, but if the gameplay can’t hold up to the demands the story needs, you’ll end up with a product that doesn’t sell. Rocksteady wanted to focus on the aspects of Batman’s character that make him so terrifying like his combat skills, detective work, and stealth. They derived to show the game from Batman’s point of view while still making the NPC’s react to your actions and not feel like you were some all powerful invincible being.  Entering a room with 10 enemies is a challenge because, as I said before, they react to your actions. Take one out and let another see you? They’ll group together and operate as a team making it harder to catch them off guard. They will also work to remove your advantages like destroying vents with grenades or destroying gargoyles making you stay on the ground. This coupled with the amazing combat mechanic gave us a series which delivered two games noted as Game of the Year. The combat mechanic utilizes counter attacks along with gadgets to string together combos that allow for easier taking down of enemies. As the difficulties increase for the story the combat becomes harder and you lose the visible notifier to hit the counter button. One of the best aspects to the games though, is the Detective vision. This is a vision mode which you can toggle at any point which highlights enemies and interactive objects in the environment. It adds a whole new level to planning out your moves to remove a group of enemies from a room or trying to figure your way out of some tough spots. It also is used during the moments of the game where to progress the story you must use your detective skills to follow the evidence and draw conclusions.

 

Rocksteady’s Arkham series delivered a full and immersive story that has really only been seen from AAA game studios. They brought us a full cohesive narrative with accompanying gameplay that helped to restore faith in the superhero game genre. Batman has been one of the easiest heroes to make games for based on his style and skills. There have been many attempts to make a great Batman game but none of them have been able to compare to Rocksteady’s series. I personally loved the entire series and own all the games on both the Xbox 360 and the redux versions for the Xbox One. I have logged more hours into this series than I have probably logged into Skyrim which puts into perspective the replayability of the series. There have been rumours that Rocksteady has been working on another superhero game but so far it has been kept under a tight lock as to who it will feature, but the most popular theory is either Superman or Green Arrow. There was also another rumour that a further game would be added to the Arkham series taking place before Arkham City but after Arkham Asylum. It was to feature the dynamic duo with Robin being a 100% playable character. Nothing much has been said on this front and the rumour mill has recently dies down on anything remotely related to this “new Arkham Game”. I know that while I don’t think this series needs another installment, if they did release another game, I would FOR SURE be one of the first people to pick it up. I would highly recommend that anyone who enjoys adventure games with a great story checkout this series; you don’t even have to be a Batman fan to like the game, Rocksteady does a great job of explaining everything so that even someone who has no knowledge of Batman or his history can follow the story. That being said, they do jam pack the game full of Easter eggs and little nods so that even a seasoned fan of the Bat, like myself, still finds awesome little nods to several other characters throughout the series. I would give this game series a rating of 9.0/10 for all the reasons listed above and for the amount of fun you will have while playing, as I said before, I highly recommend this series!

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Deadpool 2 – The Merc With the Mouth on a Bigger Budget *SPOILER FREE*

Just yesterday I went and saw the highly anticipated Deadpool 2 in theaters, it was awesome! While not as good as the first one (sequels rarely are) it definitely captured the magic of the original and put its own twist on things to make it it’s own. The marketing team for this movie should be given awards themselves. For months the marketing has been amped up to 11 and taken no prisoners. A genius TV spot with David Beckham, a brilliant original single by the Canadian great Celine Dion, and a hilarious ad featuring Manchester United in a soccer match are just some of the brilliant ideas to come out of their marketing department. Originally I was going to do a post about Infinity War, but I felt that it would get lost among the many many theories circulating the internet as to what will happen in Avengers IV (Disassembled), so I opted for one of my favourite comic characters’ second film instead.

THE STORY SO FAR

Wade and Vanessa have reconciled their differences and Wade has been taking some freelance assassination work around the world. Colossus is still trying to get Wade to consider joining the X-Men full time to learn to be the hero he thinks he is.  Dopinder is still driving his cab but he feels he wants to do more with his life than just drive DP around to his assassinations.

Wade and Vanessa

PLOT

So it’s no secret that this movie revolves around the formation of the X-Force, though it may not be the team you think it is. Wade takes it upon himself to protect a young mutant named Russell from the time travelling supersoldier/mutant Cable who thinks that Russell turns evil. Wade forms the X-Force from LinkedIn auditions to save the kid and stop Cable in the process.  Blind Al, Dopinder, and Weasel make some great returns with notable new faces of Domino and Cable. Josh Brolin (of current Thanos fame) nails the gruff, angry, and vengeful Cable but also brings in a certain humanity as to why he is doing what he does.

The standout star for me in this film is a tough call. Between Ryan Reynolds BEING Deadpool/ Wade Wilson and Josh Brolin nailing his interpretation of Cable… Zazie Beets still takes the cake with her interpretation of Domino. While she doesn’t look 100% comic accurate, due to Zazie’s ethnicity, she definitely delivers a stellar performance as the luck based mercenary. Zazie delivers some of the best lines in the film and really steals the show every scene she’s in.

I don’t want to say anymore about the plot for fear of revealing something so let’s move onto the costumes.

COSTUMES

The costumes in this movie are perfect for each character. While Wade sports his typical red suit and Colossus and Negasonic sport their regular X-Men outfits, Cable and Domino’s costumes look like they were taken right out of the comic book.

Being part human/mutant and part cybernetic virus infected supersoldier, Cable’s costume looks pretty awesome. I was pleased that they streamlined Cable’s complicated origin story to just making him  a sort of dangerous mutant hunter from the future and getting rid of the whole techno virus angle. In comic continuity he is the son of Cyclops (Scott Summers) and Madelyn Prior ( Jean Grey clone) who gets infected with a technovirus made by Apocalypse and is taken to the future where the technology could save him. As I said, it gets unnecessary complicated and I was happy that they got rid of this angle. That being said Cable’s costume definitely reflects this origin without directly stating it. His metal arm and cybernetic eye both dictate that he is from the future and has had some sort of body modifications done, whether voluntary or not. My favourite part of Cable’s entire ensemble though has to be his gun. He takes some state of the art tech and incorporates some awesome future tech into it to make a rifle that can fire bullets, lasers, concussive blasts, and grenades. When you see the gun you’ll know what I mean and probably want one yourself.

Cable

I will admit that I’m not that well versed in Domino’s comic history. Most of what I know I gleaned from her appearing in other works or from Variant Comics’ Youtube channel. That being said, while I might not know who she is I do know what she looks like and I can honestly say the costume department for this movie nailed it. While Domino’s trade mark outfit is skin tight leather with tactical gear attached, they definitely leaned more into the tactical aspect than the skin tight leather. Zazie Beets sports a very modern tactical looking ensemble while still maintaining one of Domino’s trademark properties, her silenced SMGs. Domino is known for using dual silenced SMGs with bayonets attached to them, which the prop and costume department perfectly replicated. Another trademark of Domino is of course the white patch around her left eye. Like I said I’m not 100% sure what this is from (historically speaking) but it is definitely an important aspect for her character.

Domino

CHARACTERS

The character list for this movie can be quite extensive, so I will highlight the most important characters and who plays them.

  • Wade Wilson/ Deadpool – Ryan Reynolds
  • Vanessa – Morena Baccarin
  • Cable – Josh Brolin
  • Domino – Zazie Beetz
  • Russell Collins/ Firefist – Julian Dennison
  • Weasel – T.J. Miller

Terry Crews, Bill Skarsgard, Lewis Tan, and Rob Delaney are all part of Deadpool’s X-Force team with a surprise cameo by Brad Pitt.

X-Force

As I previously said Josh Brolin and Zazie Beetz were the standout stars in this movie for me. They perfectly captured the essence of their characters while still putting their own spin on them.

ACTION

This movie’s budget was doubled from the last movie and it’s very apparent in the opening scenes of the film. The choreography for the fight sequences were top notch and properly incorporated Deadpool’s improvisational fighting style into the choreography. While most movies will just focus on one type of choreography, this film very much made use of the environment and the tools therein to make some truly memorable fight sequences.

Again, there is a huge fight at the end that is truly spectacular, but I won’t say anything for fear of navigating too close to spoiler territory. Just know it involves Colossus in all his glory.

VILLAIN

So the marketing of the film has made Cable out to be the villain for the film and while that’s partially correct, it’s not entirely correct. While he is definitely the antagonist, I would hesitate to call him an actual villain. His motivations are pretty pure and most people would do the same thing he does if they were placed in his shoes. He slides back in time to stop a mutant from becoming evil and killing a lot of people. While he slides back far enough that the particular mutant is just a kid, his mission is not changed. This creates a very interesting dynamic between him and Wade. While Wade has no problems killing men and women he firmly draws a line at killing kids. Which is a huge point in an X-Force run that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Just because someone is evil in the future doesn’t mean you can’t help them now as a kid to keep them from going evil. It really helps to establish Wade’s humanity as a person underneath all the sarcasm and dark humour. He does have a code, which is rare for someone in his line of work, but it is a code he sticks to.

Deadpool 2 title

All in all I think the movie was a really fun adventure into Deadpool’s story. I will be the first to admit that I think the first one is a better film, just for its sake of originality, but this was a solid follow up. It made it’s own path while still paying homage to the original one before it. I will say that I felt they added too many modern box office references for my liking. A few are hilarious, but about mid way through the movie they just feel forced. I would’ve like some more organic chemistry between the cast members because of how well they worked with each other.

Overall, I would rate this movie to be a solid 7.8/10. Like I said, it’s a solid film and a lot of fun to watch even with all their modern references and 4th wall breaking. If you were a fan of the first one I would highly recommend that you go see this one!

Wade

This spoiler free review was made with Barb Cottle in mind. May I never spoil anything for her ever again after the X-Men III: The Last Stand fiasco…

The New 52 – A Bad Footnote in DC Comics History

Many of those that are familiar with DC Comics know that their New 52 printing didn’t bode so well with fans for a myriad of reasons. While I had always been a fan of comics, I personally got into collecting them with the New 52 launch and amassed quite the collection before the Rebirth initiative. The New 52 began on August 31, 2011 and lasted until May 25, 2016 when DC Comics revamped their comic universe with the release of the Rebirth printing. Before we dive into specifics as to why the New 52 didn’t work for a lot of people, let’s look at how it came to be and what it did right.

HOW THE NEW 52 CAME TO PASS

So the New 52 was created in the wake of the Flashpoint Paradox and Infinite Crisis which served as the resets for the DC Comics Universe.

In Infinite Crisis (without getting bogged down in unnecessary details), Earth -3 Lex Luthor and Superboy Prime tried to recreate their respective universes, that had been destroyed, by smashing other universes together (just go with it). Every time that it didn’t work, the newly created universe was destroyed. It took the combined might of all the heroes of the Earth and the Green Lantern Corps to finally win; but by that time, the entire DC multiverse had been reduced to just 52 universes.

In The Flashpoint Paradox, Barry stopped an attack by the Rogues on the Flash Museum, only to be taunted by Reverse Flash that no matter how fast he was, he could never save the one person who mattered. Despite the counsel and warnings of the other heroes about what could happen, Barry ran back in time and saved his mother from getting murdered, which off set the timeline. Things get crazy: the Atlanteans and Amazons go to war, Bruce gets killed in Crime Alley causing his father to become Batman and his mother to become the Joker, Superman lands in Metropolis and is taken to a secret underground bunker, and Barry never gets his speedforce powers. Eventually the heroes figure out what went wrong and during the battle for the planet between Atlantis and the Amazons, they try to set things right. Barry eventually makes it back and rights the timeline which sets us to the beginning of the New 52.

WHAT IT DID RIGHT

When the New 52 was originally announced it was supposed to be the big push DC Comics needed to revitalize their stagnant sales. While the first few issues of each book were very well done, some of them were quite exemplary, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on Batman is the best example. While the rest of the New 52 printing saw some measured success, Batman sales sky rocketed. The Justice League titles began with a great re-introduction to the classic team with Cyborg being a founding member. Geoff Johns, the Creative Director of DC Comics, personally had a hand in crafting the excellent Justice League run as well as notable input on several other works being produced under the New 52 banner.

The thing that really struck me as something that was done well was the age of the heroes. The New 52 started with their numbering back at issue 1, which gave DC the opportunity to rejuvenate the heroes and make them younger. When the stories all begin, we are shown much younger and uncertain versions of our heroes as they navigate their universe. Probably one of the best things, is that when Justice League begins, none of them know who each other are. There is quite a few memorable panels from the first few issues of Justice League where the heroes are learning who each other are and coming together to work as the team the world needs.

Batman meets GL

It also helped to establish these heroes as inexperienced and without the prejudices they have been given after their decades long runs in previous printings. It brought a naivety to the heroes that hasn’t been seen in some time. It also helped to show some important interactions from a different light. It allowed for a romance to blossom between Superman and Wonder Woman which provided an interesting dynamic to later issues of Justice League when the shit hit the fan. One of the best things that it did right (in my opinion) was Forever Evil.

Forever Evil is the title given to an event that took place after Justice League issue #23 following the conclusion of the Trinity War. Pandora’s box, which was being fought over in the Trinity War, was revealed to actually be a boom tube device that opened a portal to the Earth-3 (evil Justice League Universe) which allowed the Crime Syndicate through. When the Crime Syndicate defeats the Justice League, the fate of the world falls on Lex Luthor and some other villains to stop the Crime Syndicate and save the Justice League.  This event was for me one of the best parts of the entire New 52 as it showed that some of the villains are not quite as evil as once thought. The standout characters are obviously Lex Luthor, Captain Cold, and Black Adam; with Sinestro providing some great input as well.

Forever Evil

Endgame, Death of the Family Court of Owls. Nothing else needs to be said except that those are some of THE BEST Batman stories to come out in the past 20 years. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo took, arguably DC Comics most popular character, and gave him  a run worthy of his reputation. It has everything superheroic you’re looking for as well as some great moments that firmly anchor the Dark Knight as a flawed human.

WHAT IT DID WRONG

It’s no secret that the New 52 was a miss for a lot of fans. Due to some terrible re-designs and some massive changes to characters traits some of the properties didn’t fare so well under the new publishing. Lobo was a big sore spot for a lot of people. Gone was the massive muscular bounty hunter we had known for years and in was a scrawny emo looking character that looked like he could be blown over by a medium sized wind. Here’s what I mean…

Lobo

The second thing that it did wrong was the creation of 2 different Justice Leagues, the original Justice League and the Justice League of America. The main League consisted of the core members (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman & Cyborg); however the Justice League of America was created by Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor to counteract the Justice League should they ever “go rogue”. Each member of the JLA was chosen specifically to counteract a member of the main league’s power set.  This unnecessary addition of a second league was meant only to create conflict with the main League and set up the Trinity War event. While I did enjoy the Trinity War, the entire thing could’ve been streamlined by adding the JLA members to the League itself, and having the split come that way. The explanation that is given in the run as to why the League has closed off membership is because apparently as Batman put it ” We tried that once.. it ended very badly”.

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As I said, this unnecessary division of the League and the formation of the JLA was an interesting take but ultimately it fell in on itself and was nowhere near as successful with readers as originally thought.

3 Jokers. Yes, 3. This revelation came from the Darkseid War Part II when Batman sat on the Mobius Chair and became the God of Knowledge (yes, the literal embodiment of knowledge in the DC universe). He wanted to test the chair to see how effective it was and asked it who killed his parents, when he got the right answer he then asked it what is the Joker’s real name. We later find out that the chair told him there are three different Jokers. This revelation comes shortly after Endgame where we are led to believe that the Joker is one of the immortal beings on the planet. While some fans (like myself) thought it was a cool spin and added some answers to the Joker’s varying abilities over the years; there were plenty, who thought this took away from the essence of the character. The Joker isn’t supposed to have a backstory or a name, he’s just supposed to be the eventual ying to Batman’s Yang. As the heroes rise to prominence there will always be someone to challenge them at every fiber of their being, this is what the Joker represents. Making him into three different people takes away from his overall characterization and his accomplishments in the comics.

God of KNowledge

3 Jokers

While some collector’s didn’t mind, one of the big issues with the New 52 was the restarting of the numbering for each individual issue. While I didn’t find this an issue (as someone who just got into comics at that time) long time collectors did find it to be irksome.

THE FUTURE OF DC COMICS

It’s not secret that DC Comics is crushing Marvel in sales; however, NOBODY can compete with the gargantuan franchise that is the MCU. DC Entertainment has gone through a major revamp since the critical failure of Justice League and is doubling down on creative efforts to maintain the DCEU continuity as a whole. That being said, the future of DC Comics is easy to see as it’s been in publication for quite some time now, RebirthRebirth was the complete re-vamp of all DC Comic runs to coincide with the original numbering. reverting back to their pre-Flashpoint characterizations and numberings allowed Action Comics to finally reach it’s 1000th issue just a few months ago. It also served to put the original classic characters back in the driver’s seat for some heroes while keeping some of the fan favourites of recent years, Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle, and Wally West as Flash are prime examples.

While Rebirth was a soft reboot of the comic continuity there were several aspects of the New 52 that remained, such as Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle and the Court of Owls in Gotham City.

Most of the Rebirth stories thus far have proven to be quite good, some (like with the New 52) have really knocked it out of the park, Tom King’s run with Batman, James Tynion IV’s run with Detective Comics, and Ben Percy’s run with Green Arrow are some of my favourites. Rebirth has firmly locked DC Comics in as the top seller from the major companies, even prompting Marvel to release their Legacy imprint, which functioned much the same was as Rebirth did for DC.

Legacy

As for right now, DC doesn’t seem to have much to worry about with their comic sales and have begun to actually incorporate the New 52 into their Rebirth arc. The event titled Doomsday Clock brings the Watchmen into the main DC continuity and postulates that the entirety of the New 52 was created and overseen by Dr. Manhattan himself. I’m waiting for the run to finish so that I can read it myself, but with Geoff Johns headlining the event, I have faith that it will be as amazing as his Justice League run in what has been coined by some as “DC’s Bad Footnote”.

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Ready Player One – A Commentary On The Path of Modern Gaming

This past weekend along with the purchase of my Infinity War tickets, I bought tickets for a Friday night showing of Ready Player One. I had seen trailers of the movie for several months and just the premise of the film (the adventure of finding the coveted Easter Eggs) put it on my ‘to see list’. Prior to heading to the theater I checked the ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (just like everyone) and was pleased to see the 74% critic rating and the 80% audience rating. I briefly perused some of the negative critic reviews listed and noted they all said the same thing, “It’s a CGI slugfest with no plot”. What? You don’t go to a movie like Ready Player One expecting the intricacy of Inception or the character development of the Godfather series, you go to see CG characters duking it out in a video game style death match! I didn’t let these few negative reviews, that likened it to the recent Pacific Rim: Uprising for it gratuitous CGI usage and minimal plot, discolour my anticipation for the movie. I can honestly say, that while there are obvious plot holes and plot armour for some parts, it is a fun and exciting movie to kick back and watch with some popcorn.

One thing I did notice as I was watching it was that, as a gamer myself, the world of the Oasis is becoming an ever increasing possibility. Let me explain…

SOCIAL SPACES

It’s no secret that the majority of Ready Player One takes place in a virtual game called The Oasis. This game is the main setting for all of the events that really move the plot forward. It’s explained as a massive social space with various worlds that each tailor to different experiences. As they explain in the movie, the PvP area (Player vs. Player arena) is called Planet Doom, while there is a casino world, a racing world, a virtual vacation world and even a world where you can climb Mount Everest with Batman. This concept of social paces is nothing new to gaming. If you look at any online multiplayer game they all have a social space where you can interact with other players before venturing into the game world. Destiny has the Tower, Call of Duty WWII has the camp, and The Division has the HQ. Each of these spaces allow you to interact with other players by inviting them to join a party or challenging them to 1v1 matches.  In addition to social spaces, each game with an online multiplayer component also has a lobby that allows you to speak to other players either on your team for that match, or against you for that match.

Destiny Tower

In Ready Player One, the entire Oasis is in itself a social space. While there are certain areas where you can kill other players freely, like Planet Doom, the nightclubs and cities tend to be safer. Social gaming is the next step in the online gaming path, gone are the days of having 4 friends crowding around one screen while playing Halo or Goldeneye. While you can still play socially with your friends in almost every game, each individual person now needs their own console and copy of the game (unless you game share). This step was taken to ensure maximum revenue by gaming companies for their product. While most people are not happy with this, it’s becoming more commonplace in today’s gaming market.

As games move more and more into social multiplayer territory, the size of these spaces is going to become much larger to accommodate the number of players in the game at any one time. For example, In Destiny when you venture to the Tower ( the social space), you are put into one of millions of tower models that each support 36 players. Depending on the number of people playing the game at any one time, there can be anywhere from several thousand to millions of identical towers each with a maximum of 36 players per tower. The game can only support so many different players at once and thus the developers needed to create multiple copies of each space to accommodate the load of the players and the rendering of the world.

As I said before, as social spaces become more and more common in games, they will grow larger and larger until it turns into a massive Oasis style world with everyone logged in and able to see each other at once.

ZEROING OUT/PERMA-DEATH

In Ready Player One, there is one major consequence to dying in the Oasis, that consequence is referred to as “zeroing out”. When a player zeroes out in the game, they lose all their credits and progression, forcing them to start from the beginning. This aspect of the Oasis is what makes the PvP battles on Planet Doom so nerve-wracking. I know I for one die extensively while playing an online multiplayer game. Normally, my kills outweigh my deaths giving me a positive K/D (kill death ratio) at the end of the game, but the deaths number is also quite large. If I had to zero out and lose all my progress every time I died… I doubt I would play games like that anymore. That being said, there are games that incorporate this consequence into modern gaming, they refer to it as perma-death.

perma_death

Perma-death is exactly how it sounds, permanent death; some of the more recent games to incorporate this aspect are: Day Z, FTL, X-COM, and Fire Emblem. In each of these games dying/losing all your lives means an instant game restart, which in turn loses all progress and gear accumulated throughout your session.  This brings an extra level of intensity to these games as you know that you can’t just revert to the last save a la Call of Duty, Halo or Assassin’s Creed.  The only difference with these games that feature perma-death, is that most of them, are not multiplayer. While you can have friends join and assist you in the game, the consequences are the same for them, death = instant restart. While there are some great gamers who can make it through the standard fps game levels on hardest difficulty without dying, they are few and far between. There is a game that basically melds the two aspects of respawn and perma-death together and that game is The Division.

In The Division, you play as an agent of the Division tasked with establishing an HQ in New York City following an bio-terror attack. As you progress through the game you accumulate gear which can be found throughout the world or purchased from in-game vendors. Once you have completed the main story and attained a high enough level you can take on “The Dark Zone”. The Dark Zone is a walled off area in the middle of the city with high level enemies and a free for all mentality. Players can roam around pillaging the high level gear in the Dark Zone and assist each other in taking down high level bosses, or engage in PvP firefights to steal each other’s gear. If you die in the Dark Zone, you lose all the gear you accumulated while there and you respawn back at the staging area. Each person can only carry so much gear while rampaging through the Dark Zone and eventually must call in a helicopter to extract it. Calling in the helicopter lets EVERYONE in the Dark Zone know where you are and what you’re doing, whether it’s other players or NPC enemies. There’s a time frame that you must hold the extraction zone before the helicopter arrives to extract the gear, which give malicious players and NPCs the time they need to kill you and steal your gear. I personally have lost many high level gear pieces to other players while trying to defend the extraction zone. It did not bode well with me.

While this isn’t an exact copy of the “zeroing out” mechanic from Ready Player One, permadeath and the Dark Zone are as close as we have right now.

EASTER EGG HUNTING

The entire premise of the film is to find three “Easter Eggs” left in the Oasis by the creator. When one person finds all 3, they will inherit controlling stock in the company and a fortune numbering in the hundreds of trillions of dollars. The concept of Easter Eggs has been around in the gaming world for decades. An “Easter Egg” for those unfamiliar with the term, is a special construct or nod the creators put in as a reference to either themselves or other projects.

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A notable example is in the 2016 release of Doom, when the creators put a portion of the original Doom game from 1993 in during the main story allowing exploratory players to enjoy a small portion of the original classic. Another example is in the game Halo: Reach, wherein if you complete the final mission on Heroic or Legendary; at the right moment in one of the cut-scenes, if you push both sticks to the right the camera will pan and show a shot of the Master Chief in his cryo tube. As I said before, these little nods to other games are what the meaning of an Easter Egg is.

Even though Easter Egg hunting has been around for a long time in gaming, and has now jumped into the film medium with the explosion of the MCU. While yes, there were Easter Eggs in film before the MCU, Marvel studios used them to the point of such success that a lot of other studios have started adding them to link their works together.

DECEIVING AVATARS

This in’t anything new, but they do make a point during the film to explain that while someone’s avatar may look like a young attractive female, doesn’t mean they aren’t really a 300lb dude that lives in his mom’s basement. This is something that is prevalent in not only gaming but society as a whole. With the anonymity of the internet you can appear as anybody you want, regardless of being in a game or not. It’s something that people need to watch out for while perusing the web or the gaming lobbies. Aech, pronounced “H” (one of the characters in the film), makes a joke out of it, but it’s an issue that can have serious real world consequences. The “Nigerian Prince” that emails you promising to share their fortune with you if you send them $500 right now is 100% a scam, but some people fall for it and end up getting burned for thousands of dollars because the “prince” stole their identity.

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In the film, the players in the Oasis are able to model their avatars after anything they wish. Some choose other gaming characters such as Halo Spartans and Overwatch characters, some choose movie characters like Freddy Kreuger or Robocop, and some go for a mix of everything. The concept of making your avatar as far from what you really look like is nothing new, but some of the players in the movie do take it to the extreme. Not only does your avatar mask what you really look like, but it also masks your actual age. With most multiplayer games, you can ball park someone’s age when they speak in the game chat, but that’s not always the case. Ready Player One uses this as an interesting concept for a few characters and it helps to hammer home to anonymity of the gaming world.

CHARACTER PROGRESSION/POWERFUL WEAPONS/IN GAME PURCHASES (PAY TO WIN)

Character progression is the cornerstone of many RPG and Shared World shooter games, and this is something the Oasis takes into account during the film. While if you die you zero out and lose all your gear, if you’re good enough as with some of the characters in the movie, you can get over 10+ years of experience and gear which helps you out immensely.  The opening of the movie focuses on one particular battle on Planet Doom. The prize for winning this battle is a gauntlet that allows the wearer to assume the identity of any mechanical being they wish. This prize plays a big part later on in the film and when the character uses it, I will admit… I did get a little giddy in my seat and throw my hands in the air in excitement. This character progression and power weapon concept is very aptly exemplified by the Elder Scrolls series.

The Elder Scrolls is probably one of the most successful RPG franchises the world over. The game is made by Bethesda studios, and in it, the player controls a character of their own design in the fantastical world of Tamriel. As you progress through the main story your character levels up until you can unlock certain quests. Some of these quests, gift you with weapons based on the powers of the literal Gods from the lore in the game. I won’t get to into the explanation because if you’re not a fan it won’t make any sense and can get quite boring; however, the weapons you can get on these quests can vastly improve your combat effectiveness in the game to the point of walking through boss battles.

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Ready Player One utilizes this concept with the gauntlet as I previously explained; but, they also allow for players to utilize the currency they obtain in the game to purchase weapons and various other nick knacks that can be used in game and in the real world. One such device a player can purchase, is the Holy Hand Grenade on Antioch from Monty Python fame, which is a very powerful weapon in game, or they can purchase a VR suit for use in the real world to augment their Oasis experience. Pay to Win is something that is plaguing current gaming. It allows for people who don’t want to spend the hours developing skills and unlocking weapons and perks the traditional way, to purchase the upgrades they want for real world money. This makes for very unbalanced first few months of a game’s release and is the cause of some very vocal outcry by fans, Star Wars Battlefront II from 2017 is a prime example.

Ready Player One is based off the book by Ernest Cline from 2011, which was released fairly recently for a movie to be adapted from it. At the time the book was written, some of the trends he explores in the novel and that get explored in the movie, were already becoming very prevalent in the gaming world. Loot boxes, pay to win, level progression and perma death were all making their introduction into the gaming market when the book was written. The film does a great job of showing how these concepts are being taken and ran with and how in the future, this could become the norm for gaming. While each individual company, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, would never agree to produce a game together, eventually one of them may win out the dreaded “console war” and then the concept of Ready Player One could really take shape.

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Star Wars: Thrawn – A Great Beginning To A Classic Character

This week I decided to focus on the another inclusion from the Star Wars Universe, the novel Thrawn by Timothy Zahn. The character of Thrawn was introduced by Zahn in the original Expanded Universe of Star Wars, now labelled Legends under Disney purchase. Thrawn is the by far the greatest admiral that the Empire had during the prosperity and fall of the Empire, and many years after. He was a tactical genius, brilliant commander and victorious in every task he took on. While Thrawn was considered to be one of the most liked characters introduced in the original Expanded Universe, his omission by Disney was a stab in the heart of many fans. Disney has been expanding their universe to include much of the Legends content into main canon continuity. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn is just the first novel in a probable trilogy, with the next installment Thrawn: Alliances coming out later this year.

Thrawn Alliances

Thrawn was released on April 11, 2017 and quickly garnered a positive review by both fans and critics.

*This review will be spoiler free*

SETTING

Thrawn begins during the prosperity of the Galactic Empire.  The rebels have begun trying to infiltrate the Empire to learn their secrets, but have not been effectively amalgamated into the official “Rebellion” as seen in Star War Episode IV: A New Hope. As it stands each individual rebel cell is vexing various commanders and their fleets throughout Empire controlled space and some of the Outer Systems. While the Empire is prospering so is their Xenophobia. Most systems are inhabited by more than just humans, but the upper command and echelon of the Imperial Navy is strictly humans.

Pryce Mining Company on Lothal is one of the premiere companies on the small industrial planet. When a new Doonium vein is discovered, the Empire makes political moves to remove the Pryce family from their controlling interests in the company, making an enemy of the heir to the company.

With the new special project taking up all the resources of the Empire to construct; Senators, Moffs and Governors alike are all scrambling to see who knows what and who can be removed from their quests for power.

PLOT

The story begins with a small Imperial Scouting party to an uncharted world in the “Wild Space” section of the galaxy. Cadet Eli Vanto and the other members of the scouting party find a camp which shows signs of habitation. With several crates marked with an unknown language that is only familiar to those on the border of Wild Space, Vanto is brought up to translate. A mysterious assailant attacks the party and claims the lives of 5 stormtroopers. When the assailant stows away on the landing craft as is taken back to the Destroyer, he surrenders and is interrogated by officers with Vanto for translation. The assailant is revealed as a Chiss by the name of Mitth’raw’nuruodo, though he says the humans may refer to him as Thrawn. When Thrawn, a alien Chiss, is fast tracked into command in the Imperial Navy, he becomes a likely target of hate and resentment from many of his colleagues.

Thrawn military

Arihnda Pryce is caught between a rock and a hard place, either agree to the takeover by the Empire of her family’s mining company or be thrown in jail for treason. She doesn’t take this lying down and journeys to Coruscant to begin a career in political espionage and blackmail.

Doonium is being bought up left right and center by subsidiaries of the Empire for a “Special Project” that is unknown to most of the population. Being the most precious metal in the galaxy, curiosities become piqued inciting full investigations from several individuals both high ranking and not.

 

CHARACTERS

Mitth’raw’nuruodo “Thrawn” – A Chiss exiled from the Chiss Ascendancy and marooned on a planet in Wild Space. He is a brilliant tactician and strategist but completely inept in the political machinations of the Imperial Navy. He believes that in order to defeat an enemy you must first understand an enemy, which leads him to research a culture before coming into contact with them. When we first meet Thrawn he only knows basic words and phrases in the Galactic Standard “Basic”; he is fluent in Sy Bisti which is a wild space vernacular known to Ensign Eli Vanto due to him being from a system bordering wild space. He requests Vanto be assigned to him as translator and aide to assist him in his career with the Empire.

Eli Vanto – Ensign assigned the be Thrawn’s personal aide and translator. Was content with his career path to be come a supplies officer at a base near his home planet. With the arrival of Thrawn, his career path has taken a detour into left field. He resents the Chiss for being able to control his career, but admires him for his tactical brilliance and strategic awareness in battle. Acting as both aide and social instructor, Eli is unsure of his future, but knows it is tied to the Chiss officer.

Arihnda Pryce – The only daughter of the CEO of Pryce Mining on Lothal. Ruthless and fiercely loyal to her family and its history. When ousted from her home she sets her sight on the seat at the top making decisions for her whole system. Moving to center of power she begins her political career with nothing to her name and even less knowledge of the inner workings of the political landscape of Coruscant. Determined not to lose sight of her goal she begins a game of cat and mouse where all the cats are bigger and fiercer than she is.

Nightswan – The Moby Dick to Thrawn’s Captain Ahab. A cunning and strategic freelance criminal that will work for whoever pays them enough. With a penchant for organizing schemes of unique style, Thrawn is drawn to solving who this mystery person is and bringing them and their whole network down.

Colonel Yularen – Colonel of the ISB which investigates the senate and any illegal dealings associated with it. Efficient and thorough he becomes an ally of both Thrawn and Pryce as their paths eventually cross.

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Notable Cameos – Emperor Sheev Palpatine “Darth Sidious”, Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, Darth Vader

WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD?

Speaking as someone who never really dove too much into the Expanded Universe of Star Wars, this book is a great starting point. It’s filled with lots of new locations and characters while still keeping it rooted in canon with familiar faces. The chapters all begin with excerpts from Thrawn’s personal journal in which he discusses various topics ranging from leadership to camaraderie and strategy.  I don’t want to speak too much about the chapters for fear of revealing something spoilerific, just know that at the end of the book all the chapter introductions come together in the epilogue.

Thrawn Legends

The entire story has an air of mystery as well with Thrawn trying to figure out who the Nightswan is and where the resources of the Empire are being diverted to. With the book taking place roughly  20-2 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin), any person familiar with Episode IV: A New Hope is able to ascertain where the resources are being routed; however, it also adds an air of suspense as the characters figure it out for themselves.

As a whole I would rate the book to be a solid 7.5/10 it’s far from perfect, with some chapters really dragging on and some characters really serving no purpose, but overall a very enjoyable read. As I said before, it’s a great book for any Star Wars fan and if you were a fan of Thrawn before this is quite a poignant starting point for the character.

 

*This spoiler free review has been created with Barb Cottle in mind. May I never spoil anything nerdy for her ever again.*

Black Panther – My Review *Spoiler Free*

I, like many others, went and saw Black Panther this past weekend when it released. The theater was packed and the anticipation was high among all those in attendance. When the Marvel title card appeared on the screen, I had a last thought of “what if this movie sucks like Justice League did?” I am glad to say that this was definitely not the case! From the opening scene to the end of the second post-credit scene (yes there are 2), the movie never stopped. The entire cast knocked it out of the park with their portrayals, and Eric “Killmonger” Stevens would give Loki a good run as Marvel’s top villain.

One thing I would like to say is that many people are saying this is the first superhero movie to star an African American male in the lead role, which is wrong. Blade, Hancock and Spawn all starred an African American male in the lead role and they were released years before the MCU even began.

Now that we have cleared that up let’s dive into the review.

*THIS WILL BE A SPOILER FREE REVIEW*

THE STORY SO FAR

Prior to the beginning of the movie, we have been given quite a it of a story involving Panther. He first showed up in Captain America: Civil War after the bombing of the UN gathering, which was held in order to sign the Sokovia Accords.

Zemo (disguised as Bucky “Winter Soldier”) bombed the UN gathering to disrupt the Accords and caused the rift in the Avengers. In doing so he killed King T’Chaka, the reigning monarch of Wakanda. His son, T’Challa, took the family ring from his father’s finger and became the king of Wakanda and the Black Panther.

Legacy

After failing to kill/capture Bucky himself, T’Challa allied temporarily with Iron Man and the pro-registration side. Following the airport battle and the evasion of Bucky and Cap from the authorities, Panther followed Iron Man in a Wakandan stealth ship to the bunker in Siberia.

It was there he learned the truth about what had happened and realized he had been hunting the wrong man for his father’s death. He took Zemo in for his crimes and retreated to Wakanda giving Bucky and Cap sanctuary from the authorities.

THE SETTING

The movie picks up with T’Challa fresh into his role as king. He is attempting to rescue some women who were kidnapped by a Warlord. As he returns to Wakanda, he is greeted by his mother, the Queen, and his sister Shuri. Shuri is the brilliant mind behind most of Wakandan technology and would definitely give Tony Stark a run for his money.

In order to be crowned King of Wakanda, the tribal leaders that make up the Senate of Wakanda are given the right to challenge T’Challa in one on one ceremonial combat. The winner of this combat will be crowned king of Wakanda and Black Panther.

Eric Stevens partners with Ulysses Klaue to enact a plan he has been harboring for years. When the “Killmonger” arrives in Wakanda, he immediately sets his sights on the throne.

Characters

Black Panther has a vast array of characters that are important to the plot. The amount of people involved in the film is staggering; not to mention, the fact that this film is made up primarily of actors and actresses of African and African- American descent makes it even better.

Cast

While there are far too many characters to list, here are the most prominent characters and the actors/actresses portraying them:

  • T’Challa/ Black Panther – Chadwick Boseman
  • Eric “Killmonger” Stevens/ N’Jadaka – Michael B. Jordan
  •  Nakia – Lupita Nyong’o
  • Okoye/ General of Dora Milaje – Danai Gurira
  • Princess Shuri – Letitia Wright
  • W’Kabi – Daniel Kaluuya
  • Everett Ross – Martin Freeman

As I said before the amount of people in this movie is impressive and all the characters are important in their own way to the progression of the story. Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, and Andy Serkis all bring their A-game to this film and make their characters memorable.

The particular stars of the movie for me are Michael B. Jordan and Letitia Wright.

Having only ever seen Jordan in a role as the hero/protagonist it was a very refreshing change to see him as the ruthless villain. He brought an intensity and backstory to the character that hasn’t really been seen for a villain in a Marvel movie.

Letitia Wright was definitely a breakout star for this film. She perfectly nails the sarcastic and youthful approach that the studio was giving to the character. Not only that, but she is probably the smartest person in the MCU. Her youth hasn’t stopped her from designing and building a large majority of the technology which is seen being used in Wakanda.

I don’t want to say too much more for fear of revealing the plot or character development; however, the cast created an atmosphere that really brings you to the magic and wonder that is the Wakandan nation.

COSTUMES

I will be the first to admit that I know nothing of African culture or traditional dress. Being a straight white male of Scottish and Polish descent and growing up in the Dutch farmland of Ontario, I was never really exposed to other cultures.  That being said, even I was able to tell the incredible work done by both the costume designer Ruth Carter and the production designer Hannah Beachler. They took influences from cultures all across Africa and incorporated them into the costumes for the actors in this film.

Shuri + Dora Milaje

The bright colours and intricate weaves of some of the costumes looked incredible while still remaining fuctional. The Dora Milaje definitely stole the show in their battle armour and their ceremonial garments.

Again, coming from someone who’s entire knowledge of African culture has been from movies and brief subjects in history class, I was blown away. I can only imagine how people native to the many cultures displayed in this movie could have felt.

ACTION

The action in this movie was top notch, even for a Marvel movie. I’ve personally found that while the action is always “good” in an MCU installment, there are a few where it really pops, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Daredevil, and Spider-Man: Homecoming are prime examples.  Black Panther really leaned into the influences from several martial art styles as well as the big cats of Africa themselves in inspiration for the choreography. One of the opening scenes see T’Challa taking on a warlord and his soldiers, and in this scene, he stalks them and hunts like the big cat of his namesake. When the action does kick off he dials it up to 11 and takes no prisoners.

Killmonger is definitely one of the better choreographed villains in the entire MCU. He trained in the American military and special forces and then eventually came to work for the CIA. Later in the film, Everett Ross describes him as ” one of the guys we would send into a country during times of political upheaval to destabilize the nation”. The fact that they would send one man in to destabilize an entire country just shows you how well trained and lethal he is. His motivations are a little weak but overall he brings a ferocity that none of the other MCU villains have been able to match.

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The final battle is definitely one for the books. It incorporates the various styles of the different characters in the film into one great fight. The best part of the whole fight when Daniel Kaluuya’s character (W’Kabi) brings what his people are known for to the fight and ups the stakes even more.

VISUALS

While it’s obvious that the shots of Wakanda are all done on a green screen (because Wakanda doesn’t actually exist… or maybe… that’s what they want us to think) Coogler does a wonderful job of making you feel like you are there in Wakanda experiencing this first hand. From the sprawling jungles to the metropolis of the capital city itself, Coogler crafts an entire nation of wonder and technology that would make Tony Star’s mouth drop open in awe.

I’m not one for cinematography, but I can appreciate when someone does their work well!

THE STORY

While the story was engaging there are obviously plot holes, it happens with every movie. While they aren’t glaring they are there, but for the casual movie goer they won’t even notice them.

The story of this film is very much centered around redemption and acceptance. When we start off, T’Challa is trying to accept the role he has been given as ruler of Wakanda and it’s defender. Through turns of events, his belief in everything he has known is called into question and he has to find it in himself to fight for what he believes is right. While he doesn’t know what to believe, he knows that he has to believe in himself if he wants to become the King his father and people believe he can be.

As I’ve said before, Killmonger is probably the best villain the MCU has put out to date. He is ruthless, calculated, and resolute in his belief. He knows that what he has to do might make him enemies but in the end he will be the one standing above the ashes and he will be victorious. I feel I can say this without wandering into spoiler territory, his belief is not wrong. During the film you are shown things from the perspective of T’Challa and his father, when Killmonger enters the picture, you are shown his side of the story and realize that he isn’t wrong in what he thinks. This draws an interesting development to the story as you try to figure out who the real “villain” is. The story very much plays on the trope of right vs. wrong and every shade of grey in between.

I will definitely recommend that everyone go and see this movie. Regardless of if you are a fan of comics or not the story and cinematography alone are worth seeing. Coogler and his team crafted probably one of the best Marvel movies to date. I would rate this movie a solid 9/10. As a comic fan there are nit picky things that I didn’t like, but I didn’t let them discolour my impression from the movie.  Check this out as soon as you can! I’ll be back next week for another installment of most underrated heroes, see you then!

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Wakanda Forever

Venom – A History

With the release of the Venom teaser starring Tom Hardy, I decided to focus this week’s post on the villain turned anti-hero, Venom. I for one am very excited about the film, and despite the backlash surrounding the teaser think it will turn out great. There has been a lot of controversy online about them not showing the suit or even the symbiote. One thing that keeps getting forgotten is that it was a TEASER for the trailer. Not only that, but filming only wrapped shortly before Christmas and so the CGI is probably not finished on the film. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, we can move on to the character himself!

Originally the idea for a new costume for Spider-Man was created by a Marvel Comics reader named Randy Schueller. The idea was purchased from him in 1982 for a total of $220.00.

Venom first appeared as the  black costume or “alien costume” form in December of 1984 during the Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars event. It attached itself to Spider-Man when his suit was ripped and torn in battle. Because Spider-Man was the first host, all subsequent hosts gain some of the abilities of Spider-Man such as: Web slinging, wall crawling, super strength, and speed.

Several artists and creators at Marvel had a hand in creating the “alien suit”; the creators involved were: Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, Mike Zeck and Ron Frenz.

The official character of Venom was created by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane in 1988 and first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #299 in May of that year, having received a cameo in the April issue of the same run.

 

HISTORY

The Venom symbiote is actually a sentient creature hatched on the planet Klyntar. The symbiotes of Klyntar were part of an organization called the Agents of the Cosmos. As agents, they were tasked with finding suitable hosts in order to create a force of noble warriors to maintain peace across the universe. The Venom symbiote chose poorly for its first host and was forced to carry out a genocide on the host’s planet. This genocide twisted the symbiote into a hate-filled and rage addicted being. Despite being twisted, it wanted to bond with all future hosts and protect them rather than dominate them. Due to this desire and the twisted nature of the symbiote, it was imprisoned by the other Agents of the Cosmos who feared it would contaminate the gene pool. When the Beyonder was creating Battleworld, he inadvertently incorporated the prison for the Venom symbiote into the Battleworld.

Contrary to what most readers think, Spider-Man was not the first superhero to don the alien suit. That honour fell to none other than the Merc with the Mouth, Deadpool. Deadpool found the prison and allowed the symbiote to attach itself to his costume (which had been damaged in battle). When he felt the symbiote begin to interface with his mind, Deadpool removed the symbiote and placed it back in its prison for fear that his own insanity would adversely affect it. Moments later, Spider-Man showed up and released the symbiote and allowed it to bond with him. This provided Spider-Man with a suit that could mimic street clothes, provided stronger webbing and took the colour scheme of the second Spider-Woman ( Julia Carpenter).

Spider-Man

Back on Earth Spider-Man used the suit for months before realizing it was exerting control. He removed the suit in the bell tower of a church with the help of the sonic waves created by the ringing bell. The suit then returned to Peter’s apartment and took the form of a regular blue and red Spider-Man suit and waited for him to put it on. After realizing the suit had returned and he had bonded with it again, Spider-Man needed help. He went to the Fantastic Four to get help and they aided him in removing the suit. After Spider-Man got rid of the suit, the symbiote fled before trying to return to both him and Deadpool. Both men rejected it after it bit the arm off a bounty hunter sent to capture it by the Collector (Benicio Del Torro from GotG). The symbiote fled to the church where Spider-Man had removed it earlier, Our Lady of Saints Church, and  found a new host in the form of disgraced journalist, Eddie Brock.

Eddie had been having a rough go of things… He lost his job as a journalist, he had been diagnosed with adrenal cancer, he had been disowned by his father and his wife had left him. He was contemplating suicide when he went to the Our Lady of Saints church to pray for forgiveness. It was there that the symbiote was drawn to him. His hatred with Spider-Man for ruining his journalism career was amplified by the symbiote and turned into a fixation of either reclaim Spider-Man or killing him.

Over several years Venom and Spider-Man would fight. Eddie believed the symbiote wanted to return to Spider-Man and would leave him if given the chance, so Eddie resolved the only way to keep the symbiote was to kill Spider-Man. During a battle with Styx and Stone, in which Eddie had become a vigilante and was assisting Spider-Man, the symbiote appeared to have been killed by Styx’s deathly touch. When the symbiote healed it found Eddie in prison and broke him out. The symbiote reproduced asexually and it’s offspring bonded with Eddie’s cellmate Cletus Kasady creating Carnage.

The symbiote then left Eddie Brock and bonded with Mac Gargan (the Scorpion) a low level villain that agreed to satiate its blood lust and kill Spider-Man. Gargan would go onto be a member of the Thunderbolts and Sinister 12. He was nearly killed when he tracked down a former host and it was revealed to be Eddie Brock. Brock had the remnants of the Venom symbiote in his blood mutated and became Anti-Venom. Gargan barely escaped alive and the symbiote was badly damaged during the fight when it tried to leave Gargan and bond with Brock. Following the events of Siege, the US Military took possession of the symbiote.

Venom 2

Flash Thompson was a war hero who had lost his legs in combat. He was recruited by the military to become Agent Venom. Agent venom worked with Flash and was sent on covert mission around the globe. The time it took for the symbiote to completely bond with its host was 48 hours, and as such Flash was only allowed to wear the symbiote for missions. He was able to remain in control of the symbiote until he got mad in which case the symbiote was able to take over regardless of the suppressant drugs the military was pumping into the symbiote. Flash participated in many Avengers mission as a Secret Avenger and was even a member of the Thunderbolts. He was asked by Steve Rogers to take Iron Man’s place as liaison with the Guardians of the Galaxy. During his tenure with the Guardians, the Klyntar Hive Mind attempted to reconnect with the symbiote which caused the symbiote to go berserk. The symbiote took over each member of the Guardians until it at last found Drax, who was able to pilot the ship to the symbiote home world of Klyntar. There the symbiote voluntarily re-integrated with the Hive Mind and was cleansed of its blood lust and hatred before being re-bonded with Flash.

Agent Venom

Upon return to Earth after the second Civil War, Flash was hunting down Mania and was attacked by an FBI task force equipped with Anti-symbiote weaponry. The symbiote left Flash and ran, due to it’s shame for reverting to its bloodthirsty ways. It happened upon a former Army Ranger, Lee Price,  who was about to be gunned down in a botched arms deal between two rival gangs. The symbiote bonded with him to protect him but was quickly dominated by the soldier’s will. Price quickly went on to massacre both sides in the gang conflict and used traumatic childhood memories to shut the symbiote up when it rejected his commands. Price would further use the symbiote as a means of crime and vigilantism until two FBI agents discovered his identity. These agents told Price they would expose him as Venom if he did not comply and return to the FBI. When Price refused to go (obviously), Eddie Brock and his anti-symbiote task force, along with Spider-Man managed to separate Price from the symbiote.  Price was arrested by the NYPD before being broken out by Maniac. While the symbiote was en route to the FBI headquarters in New York to be handed over to Alpha Flight; Brock broke the symbiote out of captivity reuniting with it once more. With the symbiote bonding to Brock again, Venom has become the Lethal Protector he once was.

SYMBIOTE

While the symbiote itself bonds with another being to reach its full potential, it does itself have it’s own personality and thoughts. The first host it bonded with was corrupt and thus corrupted the symbiote to the point that it was addicted to rage and hatred. As previously stated it was because of this that it was captured and imprisoned by the Agents of the Cosmos. Prior to being bonded with Spider-Man the symbiote was only able to understand simple emotions like sadness, happiness and anger. The symbiote viewed Peter Parker as his ideal host and was able to understand more complex emotions when bonded with him. When Peter rejected the symbiote it’s admiration for him was replaced with hatred and anger. It never truly liked any of its subsequent hosts believing them all to be inferior to Peter Parker.

The symbiote is adverse to lying and will be brutally honest if given the time to speak. It will normally say the things it knows will get you to lose control and give into the rage that it feeds on.

Venom Symbiote

Prior to it being cleansed, the symbiote’s blood lust was insatiable. Eddie Brock described it as ” an ocean of darkness trying to drown him with its rage and hunger, reducing his mind to a “red ruin” at its most intense”. This blood lust only increased as time went on until when it was bonded with Mac Gargan, it forced Mac to bend to its will. Mac became overwhelmed by the symbiote’s blood lust and resorted to cannibalism as a means to satiate it’s desire for blood. When it was bonded with Flash, he took suppressant drugs to keep the symbiote under control, but if Flash ever lost control and gave into his rage, the symbiote would take over. After abandoning Gargan, the symbiote attempted to find itself a permanent host. The symbiote wished to find the strongest host and as such would bond with an individual while still searching for a stronger host. This led to the symbiote attempting to abandon Eddie and Flash while in various conflicts. The symbiote tried to abandon Flash to bond with Kaine (a clone of Peter Parker) but Flash was able to stop the symbiote through sheer force of will.

Once it was cleansed of it’s rage and blood lust, the symbiote became docile repentant and subservient to its host (Flash Thompson at the time) in essence, what it was intended to be all along. When Flash expressed concern that his own hot headedness might affect the symbiote and change it again; the symbiote spoke to Flash saying it preferred him as a host and called Flash its friend.

Because it’s comics and the symbiote can never just be at peace it slowly reverted back to its old ways until it was forcibly removed from Flash. After the ordeal with Lee Price, being captured by the FBI and being re-bonded to Eddie,  the symbiote became re-corrupted but still wanted to be a hero. The blood lust returned and Eddie was forced to seek help from Alchemex which cured the issue and returned the symbiote to its benevolent state post cleansing.

The symbiote is very possessive and as such will violently defend its wearer if attacked. This has led to several brutal fights between Venom and others throughout his comic run.

POWERS GRANTED BY THE SYMBIOTE

The symbiote is able to act on its own without a host body. It is able to controls its tendrils and tentacles and can even assume a humanoid shape briefly. When bonded with a host, it takes on a black and white coloured suit with large white eyes and a large mouth filled with sharp teeth.  Due to having been bonded with Spider-Man for an extended period of time it gained access to his genetic code and can bestow similar powers onto any being that becomes its host. In addition to Spider-Manlike powers, it also enhances all the physical attributes of its host to superhuman levels.

Venomverse

Some of the powers it grants are as follows:

  • Superhuman Strength
  • Superhuman Durability
  • Superhuman Stamina
  • Healing Factor – Able to cure ailments and injuries human beings cannot ie. Cancer.
  • Genetic Memory
  • Offspring Detection
  • Wall Crawling
  • Webbing Generation
  • Constituent Matter Generation
  • Constituent Matter Manipulation
  • Spider Sense
  • Immunity to Spider Sense – Venom is one of the few characters in Marvel comics that cannot be picked up by Spider-Man’s Spider Sense. Ben Reilly who was cloned prior to Peter becoming host to Venom, is still able to detect Venom with his Spider Sense.
  • Camouflage – Able to mimic clothing, and surroundings
  • Poisonous Fangs
  • Parasitic Inheritance – Able to copy the abilities of hosts it had been bonded to
  • Shapeshifting

The Symbiote does not have many weaknesses other than sonic attacks and intense heat. Since it first bonded with Spider-Man, these attacks have become less effective as the symbiote has built up an immunity.

Venom is one of the best Spider-Man villains specifically for his belief that if the symbiote can’t bond with Spider-Man then he has to die. With everything that happened to the symbiote it’s no wonder that it turned out the way it did (a murderous cannibalistic rage monster). The journey that the symbiote went on after being bonded with Eddie has shown that while something might start off as evil there is always the room for growth. Venom went from being a genocidal symbiote, to a villain, to a hero, back to villain, and back to hero. Now, in Marvel publications, he has been termed as an anti-hero (Awe YEAH) and I think this is a great arc for the character to go through.

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I’m super excited for the movie starring Tom Hardy and I think if done right (knock on wood) it could be a great film. I understand the trouble with having a Venom movie without have a black suit Spider-Man; however, sometimes you just have to accept that not everything can be done. We got a black suit Spider-man in the terrible Spider-Man 3 from 2007 and the fans were not impressed… mostly due to the dancing and Topher Grace. The suit when on Spider-Man looked good, but the skinny emo Venom we were given was just a travesty. I am really hoping for a redemption of the character by Tom Hardy. Hardy is a great actor and I’ve never seen a role that he didn’t perform well. One of his greatest performances for me has to be in Inception. Just his general badassery in that movie was top notch. If he can channel that energy into his role as Eddie Brock, we may finally get the lethal protector comic fans have been waiting for.

Well there you have it, a breakdown of Venom before the Venom movie comes out. Any questions or comments feel free to post. as always, See you next week!