All posts by Taylor

Trade Review: Lumberjanes Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy

Writers: Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis
Artist: Brooke Allen
Publisher: Boom! Box
Price $14.99

As someone who primarily picks up their indy books in trade, the waiting process can be an interesting process. While you’re waiting for that first volume, lots of talk goes back and forth in the comic shop and on message boards about certain books that make you consider checking out certain books when the time finally comes. Certainly, there have been many highly praised books from the past that have left me disappointed, but enough good talk was going around for Lumberjanes that I decided to give it a try. And I’m sure glad that I did, because even though I’m about the furthest thing from the target demographic here, this turned out to be one of the most enjoyable comics I’ve read in a while.

Coming from co-creators Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Shannon Watters, Lumberjanes is centered around the eponymous group of 5 who stumble upon a number of misadventures while attending summer camp; that is to say that this is a book about girl scouts exploring a supernatural wilderness. If that sounds like a quirky premise, that’s because it is, and the writing reflects a light-hearted sense of fun that pervades the experience. Each of our leads has a distinct voice and personality, and the dialogue provided by the writing team is filled with charm. On artistic duties, Brooke Allen matches the atmosphere of the book nicely with high-energy line work that exudes a quirkiness all its own.

So the book is quite charming, as I expected going in. But beyond this, though, the story does a very effective job establishing a good long-form story. The mysteries of the camp are introduced subtly and effectively, with a lot of moving pieces being put into place in a way that makes me anxious to come back for more.

And I must say that it’s a good thing the book is of high quality, because it’s something that the industry needs more of: a book with compelling female protagonists. Our heroes don’t sit around daydreaming about boys or anything like that, but rather lead lives of action, and indeed kick a lot of ass.

Lumberjanes is one of those rare books that adults can enjoy and then pass along to their kids to read. It provides both boys and girls with good role models and provides good life lessons (the words to the Lumberjanes pledge in particular are good words to live by). Maybe it’s not very complex and doesn’t have a lot you can sink your teeth into, but that won’t keep you from enjoying yourself. This is a book that can be enjoyed across a wide range of demographics, and it’s one that really should be. Whether for yourself or for your kids, be sure to give it a look.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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Comics You Should Have Read By Now: JLA/Avengers

Hello, Geeks, and welcome to our latest installment of Comics You Should Have Read By Now. For those of you joining us for the first time, we make it our mission with this article to highlight the best works that the industry has to offer. But while this sounds pretty straightforward, it is somewhat tricky to quantify, as different things can be the “best works” for entirely different reasons. Things can be good for thought-provoking stories, or for beautiful artwork, or for a profound message. Sometimes, a comic can move you with ingenious storytelling that pushes the limits of the medium. Today’s selection, though, manages to do something entirely different: it represents what I think think to be the greatest fan book to ever grace comic shops.  That’s because today we’ll be taking a look at the most epic comic crossover of all time, JLA/Avengers.
Continue reading Comics You Should Have Read By Now: JLA/Avengers

Catan Con 2015!

Board game fans in the Nashville area were given a grand treat this April when Mayfair Games celebrated the first ever Catan Day at Catan Con 2015! For those of you who don’t know, Settlers of Catan made its debut 20 years ago, and has since gone on to be quite the sensation both in its native Germany and on this side of the Atlantic. Sporting a system that anyone can pick up and play while still boasting enough complexity to reward skill and strategic thinking, Catan has spent the last two decades gaining a devout following of fans that will stop at nothing in their high-stake wood-for-sheep trades. As a fan myself, I was very excited to get the chance to meet fellow enthusiasts and roll some dice at Catan Con.

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Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Man, the time can really fly by on you sometimes, can’t it? It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 3 years since the biggest super hero movie of all time, The Avengers. A groundbreaking feat, the big-screen adaptation of Marvel’s premier super team combined together multiple multi-million dollar franchises to bring several beloved comic book icons to life on the big screen. And it was actually good. Such an accomplishment is one that would have seemed impossible to most fans a decade ago, and the fact that they pulled it off led to some highly deserved accolades. But the world moves on, Marvel Studios moved on with it to Phase Two. The inevitable sequel to The Avengers would have to try to be bigger and bolder than even the mighty original, which brings us to the present and the newly released Avengers: Age of Ultron. And while there are some challenges that cause the film to stumble in some areas, the overall package is indeed one hell of an impressive movie.

The action, as you probably know, centers around the MCU’s biggest heroes squaring off against Ultron, an AI experiment gone horribly wrong. Along the way, they pick up new enemies and allies, and we gain more tidbits about the grand scheme of things with the Infinity Gems Stones being moved around. With this as our backdrop, we are taken a wild ride from start to finish. Make no mistake; Age of Ultron is unabashedly a popcorn movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but know going in that you won’t find a lot of deep-thinking moments, even relative to other MCU movies like Winter Soldier. With the return of both the actors and director Joss Whedon, it should come as no surprise that AoU brings a similar tone and atmosphere as the original, combining large action set pieces with dialogue-heavy character interaction. Thankfully, Whedon is a master of both, with fight scenes that drip with fan-pleasing glee and snappy dialogue that has become the director’s trademark, made all the better by a talented cast that has become very comfortable with their respective roles.

As we have come to expect, all of our returning actors give great performances. Robert Downey Jr gives us Tony Stark’s affable arrogance, Chris Evans strongly portrays Cap as righteous but melancholy, and Mark Ruffalo brings both Banner’s charm and the Hulk’s rage to life masterfully. And after having to sit out most of the original, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye steps up to deliver some of my favorite moments from the whole movie. This being a sequel, though, there is also an array of new characters on display. Among these, James Spader’s Ultron in particular is outstanding. Equal parts disarmingly fascinating and morbidly insane, Ultron is just as mesmerizing as he is menacing. Another villain worth mentioning is Andy Serkis’s Klaw, who was memorable in his brief appearance, and who has me looking forward to seeing more.

On the heroic side of things, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are both on the scene, portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen respectively. Other than some…distracting Eastern European accents, the pair do a good job bringing the characters to life, giving the twins emotional chips on their shoulders that play well into their role in the story. For me, though, the best new addition to the good guys’ bench is Paul Bettany as the Vision. After providing the voice for our favorite virtual butler for so long, it’s impressive to see Bettany transition so  well to having more physical presence. The character has a compelling mystique to him, a product of both writing and performance. His reveal in Age of Ultron is in many ways similar to the Hulk’s from the original: lots of build-up for a showstopper at the end.

So the acting is strong across the board, but how do things stack up in the story department? For the most part, pretty well. The characters all have clear motives and events flow naturally from cause to effect. The story switches back and forth from over-the-top action and fight scenes (Hulk vs Hulkbuster is everything you dreamed it would be) to small character moments to flesh out our heroes. Yet while these moments are well executed, they also illustrate the film’s biggest pitfall: it is extremely crowded. What moments there are were put together well, but there are several characters (the Maximoffs and Thor chief among them) that don’t get fleshed out quite as much as you would want. I suppose that this problem is one we should have expected; we all knew the cast was comprised of a small army. Considering that, Whedon and company did as well as people could have reasonably hoped, but the dense cast is still a noticeable problem.

Other than this, all of my other complaints are of the nit-picky variety. The CG in some scenes is surprisingly hokey looking, it is somewhat unclear to me just what exactly the movie’s version of the Vision is capable of, and there are some scenes where our more powerful members are conspicuously absent (Thor going on his spirit walk, for instance), presumably to keep the villain from being defeated before the finale.  And while I didn’t mind so much, some comic fans might take issue with some fairly drastic changes for some of the characters. Really, though, issues like this amount to pinpricks in the side of a battleship: hardly something that is going to sink the project.

Age of Ultron brings together an amazing cast to tell a gigantic story, and is full to bursting with engaging characters, astounding action, and sheer fun. Ultimately, it didn’t knock my socks off like seeing the team together for the first time did in 2012, but I had been waiting for that my whole life without knowing it. And after seeing how awesome Marvel’s tentpole Avengers franchise continues to be, I’m sure it will feel like another lifetime while we wait for Infinity War. 

VERDICT: Go see it as soon as you can

Video Game Review: Majora’s Mask 3D

It’s not exactly a secret to everybody that those of us here at Outright Geekery, and especially me, are massive fans of the Legend of Zelda series. The franchise served as the focus of our first ever Geekly Debate  as well as our first installment of Video Games You Should Have Played By Now, which centered around to most bizarre and haunting of all Zelda games, Majora’s Mask. For those of you who haven’t read it, suffice to say that I’m a pretty big; of all the Zelda games I have ever played, Majora’s Mask is without a doubt the most artistically made, delivering a dark, bizarre experience that manages to still be both beautiful and captivating. But as much as I loved playing the original on the N64, the game had a number of glaring issues: the gameplay has not aged gracefully, certain tasks are excruciatingly tedious, and most of the dungeons (all 4.5 of them) are not quite up to the high standards of the franchise.

I said in my first post that Majora’s Mask was the Zelda game in most need of a remake.

Well, as luck would have it, we that very remake has just been released.

Those of you with a 3DS can now go out and claim a copy of Majora’s Mask: 3D. But does it manage to make improvements while still maintaining the magic of the original?

The most obvious distinction between the remake and the original is the improvement to the graphics; utilizing 15 years of technological advancement, 3D boasts gorgeous sprites and fluid animation the N64 original couldn’t manage at the time. There’s also a number of tweaks to the color pallet that one can notice sprinkled throughout (my favorite being the blood-red sky that sets the mood perfectly for the Night of the Final Day), but for the most part, the game’s fundamental presentation has been left largely unaltered.

But really, though, that’s probably the way it should be; the most memorable aspect of the original, after all, was its tone and atmosphere. The journey through Termina seeped its way into our memories because it was so strange and off-putting. One can understand, then, why the developers might be hesitant to meddle too deeply with the presentation that was the core of the original game. So while I do think that they did miss an opportunity to implement some modern cinematography, Majora’s Mask was already a masterpiece of mood and storytelling, so fine with me that they just polished up the existing world and game sprites.

That being said, the game certainly did have a fair share of problems. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the fact that the N64 version’s controls and mechanics have not aged well. Having completed a playthrough as recently as last summer, I remember all too well the frustration of steering Epona and the somewhat unwieldy nature of manually aiming your bow. In 3D, however, these wrinkles have been ironed out, allowing for a game with much smoother and tighter controls than before. In addition, the games menu system and inventory have been reworked to take advantage of the touch screen, giving a player an easy interface to work with. All told, 3D offers a more intuitive interaction with the game, which is a welcome improvement.

Another weakness that the original had was the scarcity of good dungeons and bosses, both because of the small amount (just 4 main dungeons and 5 boss fights), and because the ones that were there weren’t particularly good, with a few exceptions.  Where the dungeons are concerned, almost no real changes have been made at all; for better or for worse, you will be dealing the dungeon’s puzzles and items just as you would have on the N64. The bosses on the other hand, have received a pretty drastic overhaul; sadly, though, the results here have been a mixed bag.

While some of the new approaches have strong merits (you actually have a reason to use the Deku Mask against Odolwa, and the new Giant’s Mask mechanics are quite entertaining), others don’t pan out as well. The fight against Gyorg still sucks, but for entirely different reasons; on the N64, you were just bludgeoning each other and hoping you outlasted his high damage, but now you have to rely on dumb luck to get bombs into his own. Perhaps more aggravating, though, is the way that the best boss from 2000, Goht, is actually less enjoyable this time around. The original fight was great because it was a high-speed chase in which you furiously shredded into your opponent in Goron form. In the remake, however, the action periodically slows down when you are forced to transform back into Link to shoot the boss’s week point. Here, adherence to the new formula undermines the defining characteristic that made the original great. It didn’t ruin the whole thing for me or anything, but it was still a frustrating change.

Also, the fact that I can still discuss 80% of the game’s bosses in one not-too-oversized paragraph is probably a good indication that the relative lack of encounters is still an off-putting issue.

So there have certainly been some fairly sizable changes to the game as it gets imported to the 3DS. Even beyond the updated graphics and tweaked encounters, though, the things that stands out the most to be are not these large-scale updates but rather the totality of the small changes that have been made to improve the experience. It’s great that you no longer have to play the Bomber’s hide-and-seek game twice to get their notebook. It’s great that the Great Fairy of Magic can be found after the first dungeon now, allowing the player to more easily get the magic-bar upgrade before fighting Goht. It’s great that you resume a save file without deleting your previous save. These changes and many others don’t stand out individually, but taken together, they add up to significant improvement. Moreover, they indicate a conscious effort by the developers to reflect upon what they made before and find ways they could improve, even if in small ways.

And really, that ties in neatly with the core question of any remake: does it improve on the original? And on the whole, I would say yes. Does Majora’s Mask 3D address all the issues that the original had? No. But it does give players improved controls, crisper graphics, and a number of minor tweaks that make the experience better.

At the end of the day, Majora’s Mask on the N64 was a masterpiece, and this is a better version of that great game. Players who have never traveled through Termina before owe it to themselves to give this a try, and while there may not be a lot of brand new content to pull in returning players, they will still be pleased by the improvements brought to the table. So whether you’re meeting for the first time or returning to visit an old friend, you’ll be glad that Majora’s Mask is back for another haunting.

Recomendation: Buy It

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Top o’ the Lot: Top 5 Comic Book Couples

Love is in the air for this week’s Top o’ the Lot. In honor of Valentine’s Day, this weeks list is looking at the romantic side of our favorite super heroes by counting down the best of the many relationships which have graced the world of comic books over the years. So without further ado, let’s count down the best comic book couples of all time! Continue reading Top o’ the Lot: Top 5 Comic Book Couples

Review: Star Wars #1

Regular Cover by John Cassaday
Regular Cover by John Cassaday

STAR WARS #1
Writer:
Jason Aaron
Artist: John Cassaday
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $4.99

When Disney bought the rights to Star Wars a few years ago, we all knew that it was just a matter of time before the House of Mouse would move the venerated Sci-Fi franchise over to its other recent high-profile acquisition, Marvel Comics. Well, that day is finally upon us with the release of Star Wars #1 from celebrated creators Jason Aaron and John Cassaday. Ever since this title and creative team, there’s been a massive amount of hype building, pushing expectations higher and higher. It’s expected that this comic will sell over one million issues, making this the biggest comic sales-wise in decades. Will this series live up to these enormous expectations?

I don’t know.  But it sure is off to a great start. Continue reading Review: Star Wars #1

Taylor’s Top 5 Comics of 2014

It’s that time of year again, dear readers: time to ring in the new year by taking stock of the old. With this in mind, those of us here at OG have been busy looking back at all that 2014 had to offer and separating the good from the best. And since comics are kind of our bread and butter, we’ve got quite  few opinions on those. This is true for me as well, so it’s time for me to put in my two cents by ranking the best of the best from our favorite medium. So without further ado, let’s take a look at my picks for the Top 5 comics of 2014! Continue reading Taylor’s Top 5 Comics of 2014

Books Without Panels: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Hello, and welcome to another installment of Books Without Panels, where we try to highlight books from outside the comics spectrum that should still be in the collection of any nerd worth their pocket protector. Today, we’re going big, throwing down the gauntlet, and taking on some of the greatest names in all of fiction as we look at a trio of works that combine one of the biggest geek properties at all time with the style of the greatest writer who ever lived. Excited yet? You certainly should be, because today we’re going to examining William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher, which dresses up the nuanced lore of one of the Big 2 Sci-Fi properties in the eloquent trappings of the Bard.

Continue reading Books Without Panels: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Video Games You Should Have Played By Now: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

Hello, and welcome to our latest edition of Video Games You Should Have Played By Now. Today’s installment is a very special one for me, because we’ll be covering a game that is precious to me, a personal favorite from my childhood that comes from that place where nostalgia meets genuine quality. That’s because we’re looking at Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the GBA.

Continue reading Video Games You Should Have Played By Now: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance