Review! Wonder Woman, Vol. 3: ‘Iron’ [No Spoilers]

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After the socks-offknocking twist at the end of Wonder Woman, Vol. 2: Guts, it was always going to be difficult for Azzarello and Chiang to keep the steady, dramatic climb going–the story had to apex somewhere, so it’s no surprise that Wonder Woman, Vol. 3: Iron takes a step back in terms of storytelling quality, especially as it doesn’t really offer a resolution of any kind.  It’s a decent volume with a few good moments, but unfortunately the disconnect between this book and Diana’s personal adventures in Justice League as well as an uneven and anticlimactic conclusion to the “Zola’s baby” story arc move this one further down the backlog than the preceding volume.

WW V.3

New swords, fire and war with gods; just the escape a girl needs after a long day of fighting against an invading Atlantean army.

STORY AND SCRIPT
Azzarello’s writing remains witty and incisive at times, but the plotting in this collection really struggles with pacing.  The heroes’ reaction to the theft of Zola’s baby at the conclusion of Vol. 2 lacks the urgency with which that collection ends, and after some wandering around and meeting of various other Olympians and demigods, a lumbering story forms around the Diana and Lennox’s search for the child.  By turns, the central plot is interrupted with a new adventure in Antarctica (fodder for the “Zeus’ disappearance” arc), some funny scenes with a now-mortal Hera and a surly bartender, and a sparse check-in with Apollo and Artemis.  All of the elements are more or less familiar to the story, though the appearance of an “old god” in the Antarctica plot really seems disjointed with the rest of the story.  I think I see where the story is heading, but the fulfillment of this collection didn’t quite gel with the promise of the previous one.

WW V.3.2

Cliff Chiang’s stylish approach to WONDER WOMAN makes for some of the best sequential art in the New 52, but when others take over for an issue or two, the story loses a lot of that style.

PENCILS AND ARTWORK
Style-wise, Azzarello doesn’t miss a beat with his script, but Wonder Woman might be the one book in DC’s New 52 that absolutely hinges on its artist’s relationship to its writer.  As I’ve noted before, Cliff Chiang’s pencils fit the setting and the story of this version of Wonder Woman perfectly, but the issue with the art in Vol. 3 is the same as it was in Vol. 1: Blood: when somebody else takes over for Chiang, it’s very jarring, like the whole tone of the book changes in an instant.  Chiang’s covers each present a Diana that we only get when he is at the drawing table, and when he’s not, the story seems less distinct.  At these moments, I read the book faster, found myself flipping forward to see when Chiang returns to work, always glad when he does.  We have yet to see a full collection of Wonder Woman in which Chiang maintains a steady presence, but as he’s a busy man, this likely can’t be helped.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
5.5/10 – Vol. 3: Iron isn’t a bad collection, but in comparison to the previous collections of the New 52 version of Wonder Woman it comes across as weaker: its story has a little less direction, its artwork still suggests that there are a few too many cooks in the kitchen, and while much still has to occur in the quest to save Olympus, the twists and turns of this volume slow things down overall.  It’s not worth skipping altogether, but there are other Volume 3 collections from the New 52 that should come first.

– Vandal

Review! Doctor Who, Ep. 8.2: ‘Into the Dalek’ [Spoiler-free]

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I read a review of Star Trek: Into Darkness a year or so ago in which Todd McCarthy said of J.J, Abrams’ direction that “[o]ne feels the dedication of a young musician at a recital determined not to make any mistakes.”  After watching tonight’s satisfyingly solid episode of Doctor Who, I think I understand what Mr. McCarthy felt.

As with last week’s premiere, “Into the Dalek” has the feel of an older episode of Who; it tells a conservative, stand-alone story in which the Doctor and Clara come across a Dalek that has allegedly “gone good.”  Surrounding them is a cast of suspicious-yet-compliant characters whose involvement with the Dalek is mostly circumstantial, but they learn a great deal about the universe, themselves, and of course the Doctor as they search for the reason that a member of a hate-filled race of organo-synthetics would suddenly develop a moral conscience.

Doctor Who 8.2.2

‘INTO THE DALEK’ assures us that if the Doctor led a field trip on the Magic School bus, it would involve proctology jokes.

The strengths of the episode are largely what they were last week: it’s a self-contained episode that requires no previous viewing and resolves its conflict thoroughly; it carries a solid core of plot and theme that are each well-developed; the conclusion of the episode is dramatic, satisfying, and completely within the rules the episode sets for itself.  This last marks the most noticeable, and the most welcome, change from the past two seasons.  Co-writers Steven Moffat (who doubles as showrunner) and Phil Ford keep the science real (immunobiology this week, class) and the time travel out of it–almost completely, this episode, save for a few lighter moments.

They keep it simple, they keep it moving, and while it doesn’t do anything spectacularly, it does everything competently, which is an assurance we haven’t had in a while.  I laughed, I understood what was happening, and I had a good Saturday night with my wife, watching the Doctor solve other people’s problems.

Doctor Who 8.2.1

This week’s episode featured a little science, a little action, a dramatic climax and a lot of suspicious glances.

A few other notes from the episode: we get another tease of the mysterious Missy, who is given about as much time as a Harold Saxon poster.  We get to meet Daniel Pink, a soldier whose past is a subject of interest for his students as it is for Clara, and whose future remains to be seen (we’re of course all but certain we’ll get to see it).  Clara, by the way, makes another strong appearance as the Doctor’s “carer,” and whose character seems to have undergone a considerable rewrite this season–her interactions with this week’s supporting cast and with the Doctor all build consistently from last week’s, and her development as a sort of retrograde stranger to the Doctor after his regeneration continues to pay dividends as an asset to the story.

I could go into specifics about Capaldi’s second episode as the Doctor.  I won’t.  I don’t have to–he just rocks.  He’s funny, severe, intense, and utterly, utterly familiar.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
8/10 – “Into the Dalek” showcases tight plotting, a simple, solid story, and a fun adventure that offers yet another perspective into the Doctor’s unending war against the Daleks.  It won’t make new fans of the show, nor will it enter the ranks as an all-time great episode, but it shows more of the return-to-form that this season’s episodes have now enjoyed in both its accessibility and its intelligent take on science fiction.

– Vandal

Discussion! Dragon Age: Inquisition Multiplayer Trailer

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The biggest news from the Xbox One dashboard remains the Dragon Age: Inquisition multiplayer trailer that BioWare revealed last week before PAX Prime in Seattle.  We’ve watched a fair few times, and present it to you below so that you can do the same:

Five things that really jump out to me, aside from the beautiful presentation that Frostbite 3 offers:

1 – Lovely lady Leliana and her voice-over.  It sounds more than a little like she’ll be the in-game contact person for our avatars during co-op, as she specifically takes responsibility for directing the missions at 0:11.

2 – The objectives that appear on the player’s HUD at 0:19 and 0:27.  We see only two here, but the on-screen directions that appear suggest that there will be a variety of things to do as we slay our way through dungeons, looting treasure and stacking DPS.

DAI MP Archer Preview

One of the 20 classes available at DRAGON AGE: INQUISITION’s launch will be the Archer, whom I will immediately dress in green and name “Ollie.”

3 – 12-character kits.  The ones we see at 0:30 include an Assassin, a Keeper, and a Legionnaire, all of which refer to specializations available to players and party members of the previous games in the Dragon Age franchise.  As the DLC will be free of charge when it comes, it’s not unreasonable to assume that we’ll have far more options than these robust dozen before too long.

4 – The crafting menu.  At 0:43, we see the option to make something called the “Highever Weave.”  This is a reference to the human noble path for warriors and rogues in Dragon Age: Origins, and suggests not only that the equipment system Inquisition will go deep, but that the lore of Thedas will be integrated in to the multiplayer mode as well.

5 – Ability combos.  One of most enjoyable things about Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer was the trial-and-error of figuring out how to tear down Banshees with carefully timed biotic explosions, which could also be used to launch Husks into the stratosphere for fun during less-stressful waves.  Vrin and I had numerous classes set aside for just that purpose, and we have mused more than once that the Dragon Age character system might be even more suitable for cross-class devastation–we get a look at some of these at 1:01.

BioWare has also offered a FAQ on its multiplayer mode on DragonAge.com, and what they’re promising us sounds like they’ve taken the fun of Mass Effect 3‘s jolly cooperation and translated it with even more depth into the Dragon Age franchise.

There may have been some well-warranted skepticism from players and pundits alike regarding BioWare after the controversy-laden releases of both Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3, but what the Canadian developer has shown from Inquisition outstrips either of those games’ marketing strategies, and after hugely successful presentations at E3 and Gamescom, and with a huge lineup prepared at PAX Prime this weekend to showcase Inquisition, they don’t seem to have missed a beat; rather, BioWare looks better than ever.

– Vandal

Discussion! Bats v Supes and the Super-Serious DC Cinematic Universe

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It’s no secret that Warner Bros. and DC Comics have more than a bit of work ahead of them to catch up with Marvel in terms of establishing a cohesive cinematic superhero universe. When Jon Favreau’s Iron Man hit theaters in May 2008, the world was awaiting the second installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight. Both, of course, were huge hits, but ol’ Shellhead’s film debut was the first in a series of movies that built up to the super-team mega-blockbuster, The Avengers, while the Batman sequel was part of a stand-alone—oh, I’ll just say it—”epic” with no connection to a larger superhero continuity.

Batman BvS

The first image from SUPERMAN v. BATMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE was this still of Ben Affleck as Batman, brooding away in a Frank Miller-looking suit in front of a new Batmobile design.

And, really, super-powered folks would’ve been out of place in Nolan’s very grounded take on DC’s Caped Crusader.

Still, after seeing The Avengers in 2012, every comic book fan worth his or her weight in back issues had to be wondering, “Where’s my Justice League movie?” Meanwhile, Warner Bros. had announced Man of Steel, a Superman reboot to be directed by Zack Snyder, but it wasn’t clear if it would establish a connected DC Comics cinematic universe.

Then, suddenly, it was clear.

Superman BvS

Henry Cavill’s Superman looks more ripped than ever, but the costume and the brooding jawline remain seemingly unchanged.

So, Man of Steel hit theaters in June 2013, and I loved it. More than just a little—from Henry Cavill’s earnest Clark Kent/Superman to Amy Adams’ gutsy Lois Lane to Michael Shannon’s driven General Zod to the gloriously otherworldly vision of Krypton. However, I’m not one of those people who can’t the faults in the things they love, and my big problem with Man of Steel was that it was little too dour. Outside of the scenes in which Superman perfected his flying early on and confronted the general with the satellite at the end, the rest of the film was a fairly somber affair.

All of the Marvel films had their fair share of lighter moments—as do many good comic book stories, so why no fun for Superman? Sure, he had to deal with an uber-patriotic group of superhuman who wanted to terraform Earth and make it suitable for Kryptonians—thereby wiping out humanity, but, for the love of Pete, he can fly and lift mountains over his head—surely there’s some fun to be had in that.

So, what does all this have to do with the price of eggs in Metropolis? Well, the road to Justice League is paved with good intentions and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zack Snyder’s follow-up to Man of Steel that will introduce Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and build a DC cinematic universe—all of which sounds good to me. However, I’m hoping that the online rumors of a Warner Bros. decree that there be no humor in the DC movies are false. How do you get folks like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman together and not have a bit of fun?

Wonder Woman BvS

Gal Gadot made her first teaser appearance as Wonder Woman at Comic Con in this past summer, striking a menacing pose in a familiar suit of Amazonian armor.

Like any good fan, I was overjoyed with the Comic-Con footage of a fiery-eyed Superman descending through the beam of the Bat-signal on a dark and stormy night to confront an armored Batman. Too, the first photo of Gal Gadot in full Wonder Woman regalia thrilled me to no end. No smiles, though. Perhaps those will come from Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Cyborg—each of whom may make a cameo appearance in Bats v. Supes. Still, Aquaman is an occasionally savage warrior-king and Cyborg’s origin story is fairly tragic, so I may have to depend on the Flash and Green Lantern to lighten the tone.

What I’m getting at is that I want Bats v. Supes to be awesome, and I think it will be; however, I hope it will also be fun. With any luck, Snyder has looked at Bruce Timm’s take on the team in the Justice League and Justice League United animated series. There, the Man of Steel, the Caped Crusader, and the Amazing Amazon were anything but stodgy, and that’s because the writing was lively and inventive. That’s the tone I want for Bats v. Supes and Justice League.

(Incidentally, anyone read Justice League: Origin by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee? There was more than one or two laugh-out-loud moments in that sprawling six-issue story!)

So. How am I feeling about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League and whatever else is to come down the DC blockbuster pike? Incredibly optimistic. I like Henry Cavill as Superman. I am happy with Ben Affleck as Batman. Gal Gadot looks like Wonder Woman to me. But I want to smile, not feel like I’ve watched a Bergman film with fight scenes and explosions.

–  Mou

Discussion! ‘Destiny’ Matchmaking

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13 days to go, friends–Destiny is on its way to rob us of sleep, sunshine, and sadness.  Today we’ll take a peek at the two matchmaking modes that Activision’s next shooter will offer players, one cooperative and one competitive.

STRIKES
Strikes are missions that, depending on the level and familiarity of the three-person fireteam, can take anywhere from 20 minutes to well over an hour of time to complete, and this is likely to increase as Bungie adds Strikes to the Destiny playlists via DLC and weekly events.

Destiny Beta Strike

Strikes are a great way to team up with your friends in the DESTINY universe, and the challenges that they are sure to offer to players look like they’ll be readily offset by regular, excellent loot drops to make the next Strike a little more manageable.

During the Beta, players were offloaded into a battle zone between  two factions of enemies—the Fallen and the Hive—and fought their way through several objectives that were similar to those featured in the other game modes.  After the final fight, each member of the participating fireteam received gear as they did when they completed story chapters, and then returned to orbit.

This game mode—the strongest that the Beta offered from a technical and cooperative perspective—boasts real challenge, as respawn rules become increasingly stringent and coordinated teamwork becomes necessary in order to finish efficiently, if at all.  We played this event several times with several different fireteam arrangements, and the party build that made the event most manageable was that of Hunter/Titan/Warlock, allowing each class’ advantages to limit the other class’ shortcomings.

This warrants Bungie’s earlier claims that the game’s focus on cooperative play would in no way be harmed by the all-but-certain popularity of the Crucible, and those less interested in competing than cooperating (as is true for us here at the Unending Backlog) wouldn’t see their rewards limited in any way.  In our trips through the Strike, all equipment rewards at the end of each time through the strike were of equipment scaled at least the level of the characters we were playing at the time, and some were even above the levels of our characters.

Destiny Beta Crucible

The Beta only featured one game mode from Destiny’s competitive gameplay, but it enjoyed a lot of participation and will surely be a hit when the game launches in two weeks.

THE CRUCIBLE
On the competitive side of Destiny, the Crucible and its competition was perhaps the most familiar element of the first person nature of the “shared-world shooter”; the one available competitive mode, Control, shares a great deal of its structure and objectives with Call of Duty’s manic ‘Domination’ mode, in which players rush to claim waypoints that contribute to their teams’ scores.  Here, though, the gameplay of Destiny really shines, as while its quality in the single-player and cooperative elements is good, the balance the game strikes between all play types loses nothing in the transition to a competitive arena.

While I was playing, I observed that the players that were winning did so with familiarity and skill within the rules of the game, and not on equipment, class, or level.  Teams that worked together were successful, and those that did not struggled.  This promises the kind of inclusive playing grounds that have made Call of Duty so successful, and it comes as no surprise that Activision’s involvement in Destiny’s development has seemingly lent the same advantages to Bungie’s new game.  If the Beta was the test that Bungie wanted it to be, the Crucible will be a very busy place for a very long time.

CONCLUSION
Multiplayer modes offer players a chance to team up with or compete against their friends, and Destiny will in no way be short of that.  Both the Strike and Crucible game modes offer a lot of options for gamers of any sort, and both are certain to be regular visits for Guardians in their quest for both loot and challenge.  We are looking forward to seeing what Bungie has for us when we team up for the first time on September 9th.

– Vandal

Discussion! ‘The Flash’ Teaser Poster: Don’t Blink, You Might Miss It

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The CW just released a new poster for The Flash and it’s a great image.  But is that all it is?

"Pilot"The Flash is so fast that he leaves an after-image.  In the poster, his after image is the shape of his insignia, a lightning bolt.  But is that all of what’s happening in this poster?

No.  Not even close. As comic artists are wont to do, they’ve made this poster FULL of Easter Eggs.  And a few of them are seriously great!

First, some shameless CW cross-promotion:

  • In the top right corner you can see the Queen Consolidated building from the CW’s Arrow.
  • On the right toward the bottom is Big Belly Burger, another Arrow reference

But that’s not all…

  • In the bottom right corner, chalk writing says “Grodd Lives”.
  • The AmerTek building is seen on the middle of the left side.  AmerTek is the employer of John Henry Irons (DC Comics’ Steel)
  • The Kord Industries building can be found toward the middle of the picture.  It’s founder, Ted Kord, is better known in DC Comics as the Blue Beetle.
  • Across the street from Kord is S.T.A.R. Labs, DC Comics’ super science lab.
  • And to the left of Queen Consolidated is a skyscraper with blurry logo.  I’m not 100% of what this logo is.   What major DC corporations are left? Wayne Enterprises? Lexcorp?  Stagg?  Something lesser known?  I feel like I’ve seen the logo before but I can’t place it. Here’s a blown up (but mildly blurry) image:

The Flash Preview 3What do you think it is?

That’s all I could find.  Let’s talk about some implications:

  • Gorilla Grodd, the telepathic gorilla in perpetual search of minions to rule, will eventually be part of the show.  In Flash lore, he’s a serious heavyweight with his character ranging from would-be ruler of Gorilla City to conqueror, King and would-be owner of the Speed Force.  He’s taken Barry to the brink of defeat more than once.
  • The Queen/Arrow references are shameless cross-promotion. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Comic books have held crossovers for decades. In fact, Barry’s appearance on Arrow was a Season 2 highlight!  According to sources, the first Flash/Arrow cross-over will take place in each show’s episode 8.
  • John Henry Irons superhero Steel may make an appearance.  His first appearance was as a hero helping to bridge the gap after The Death of Superman.  He has remained a popular character ever since.
  • Ted Kord, aka Blue Beetle, may make an appearance as well.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
The Flash is a 10/10 must see.  I haven’t seen anything to make me think it’ll be anything other than a knockout hit.

Here’s what I know for sure: I’m looking forward to The Flash more and more every day.  Why isn’t it October 7th yet????

Vrin

News! Dragon Age: Inquisition WILL Feature a Co-op MP Mode

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It’s as if the Maker himself heard our pleas.

Via IGN, BioWare announced today that their colossal fantasy RPG, Dragon Age: Inquisitionwill indeed feature a cooperative game mode.  For those of you who (like we) loved the multiplayer element of the Canadian developer’s last AAA blockbuster, Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age: Inquisition will offer even more by way of map variety, gameplay elements, character progression, and gear acquisition.

Biotic explosions?  Child's play compared to a flaming sword...of flame...and a max level Mana Clash hurled at a blood mage.

Biotic explosions? Child’s play compared to a flaming sword…of flame…and a max level Mana Clash hurled at a blood mage.

We here at the Unending Backlog have been waiting for this particular announcement for some time, as the co-op mode from Mass Effect 3 was one of the game’s highlights.  It allowed players to participate in BioWare’s galaxy-spanning war against the Reapers alongside their friends, and as a similarly dire conflict looks to be at the heart of Inquisition, a chance to team up once again and collect and upgrade weapons and gear to our heart’s content is something we’ve been hoping that they would include in this game’s development.

They have, and we’re terribly, terribly excited.

Once we’ve finished celebrating and congratulating ourselves on this piece of news, and after we maybe(?) get a peek at some gameplay at Pax Prime this coming weekend, we’ll have a full preview for you here.

– Vandal