Movie Review: Ready Player One

Yesterday, I went and saw Ready Player One with some friends on the recommendation of my brother. You see, my brother has been letting me know repeatedly that this is a movie I would very much appreciate and I definitely did.

“In the year 2045, people can escape their harsh reality in the OASIS, an immersive virtual world where you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. OASIS creator James Halliday left his immense fortune and control of the Oasis to the winner of a contest designed to find a worthy heir. When unlikely hero Wade Watts conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-known as the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS and their world.”

Based on the novel with the same name by Ernest Cline, this book is an 80s treasure trove of pop culture references. Every song on the soundtrack was absolutely familiar, as were most of the vehicles used in the first challenge, and so many of the avatars and scenery. I laughed through most of the movie, sometimes at parts other people weren’t laughing at.

I’m not sure how old Wade is supposed to be in the movie, maybe close to 17-20 or so? I mean, the movie told us when he was born and the current year in the movie, but that would require me to do mental math during a beautifully done video game movie and that’s just not happening. Wade/Parzival is very young and naïve, for all that he’s the main character in the movie. He also falls in love with the first pretty girl who gives him the time of day, which I think is a fairly accurate depiction of video gaming men who interact with video gaming women and why so many women choose male avatars in order to avoid the (often annoying) advances or ridicule of their male counterparts. I have not read the book but I hope that Wade and Samantha’s relationship in the book is perhaps slightly less cliché. I also very much enjoyed H’s role in the movie, both in the OASIS and in the real world. H’s workshop in the OASIS was fantastic and filled with so many easter eggs that I look forward to being able to own this movie when it comes out just so I can press pause all the time and find all the tiny details. I also very much enjoyed H’s reaction to Parzival bringing Art3mis/Samantha to the shop and showing Art3mis everything. H brings up a good point that you only see online what people want you to see and you are only who you pretend to be online. People’s “real” identity is often concealed and even Parzival gets lectured when he tells Art3mis his real name.

It was enjoyable but I suspect that if I think about it longer, I’ll be more annoyed at some of the things this movie lacked, like 80s pop culture references for women. (Seriously. Where were the Care Bears? Or My Little Pony? She-Ra? Madonna? King’s Quest?) While I do recognize and acknowledge that getting the rights to put in just the references they did probably took a good chunk of their abilities, it might have been nice to see more from a not historically male-dominated part of the 80s.

Overall, this movie was a wonderful hat tip to 80s pop culture. I would probably rate this movie as a high three or even maybe a low four on my rating scale. I might watch it again in the theaters and I will definitely purchase it when it comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray.

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Book Review: the Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon

This month’s Asexual reading book from my 2018 Asexual Reading Goals was the Sheepfarmer’s Daughter (fantasy 314 pages) by Elizabeth Moon.

“Paksenarrion – Paks for short – is somebody special. She knows it, even if nobody else does yet. No way will she follow her father’s orders to marry the pig farmer down the road. She’s off to join the army, even if it means she can never see her family again. And so her adventure begins … the adventure that transforms her into a hero remembered in songs, chosen by the gods to restore a lost rule to his throne. Here is her tale as she lived it.”

As an interesting point, this book has been recommended to me multiple times throughout the years and I only just now got around to reading it. Now that I’ve finished the first book in this trilogy, I can see precisely why this book was recommended repeatedly to me. The main character is unequivocably Asexual and explicitly states that she has never felt inclined to bed anyone, though she does love those around her very deeply. She is so strongly opposed to marrying the pig farmer down the road that she steals a sword and runs away from home. But as soon as she’s a foot off of her family land, she plants the sword in the soil because she doesn’t want to be accused of stealing and the sword is something they might need.

Paksenarrion spends the entire book not actually believing that she’s anyone special. She’s just a soldier who needs to learn to be faster with her sword and shield; who does her camp chores like anyone else. She wants to serve an honorable cause and is willing to pull her fair share and always work to do better. Here is a character who is genuinely worth caring about, as she just wants to do the right thing but she’s also willing to work for it. Honestly, I really liked Paks a lot and I found a lot relatable with this character. She just accepted that she didn’t ever want to bed anyone and found an occupation where she could be who she wanted to be without the pressure of trying to fit into a mold not meant for her.

The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter is very casual about the horrors and reality of war. Mind-numbing tedium partnered with life-threatening situations. Unexpected and expected losses from the violence of war. All of the unpleasant parts of war, including the torture, the stink, and the lack of life-saving medicine. War is not a glorious time with rousing speeches – it’s a time of hunger and misery, feeling every stone in your boot and every foot of every mile. You don’t magically get a beautiful horse to ride around on. Instead, you have to spend months drilling and marching everywhere to learn discipline and how to fight as a team.

This book also had some really great things that I understand a lot better now, like this passage on page 113: “You see people as good or bad, not in between; as fighters or not, and not in between. And since you’re basically a good person, you see most people as good – but most people, Paks, are in between – both as fighters, and as good or bad. And they’re different. If you don’t learn to see them straight – just as you’d look at a sword, knowing all swords aren’t alike – you’ll depend on them for what they don’t have.” One of her fellow soldiers is talking to Paks about how she doesn’t understand that people aren’t always like her, nor can they be judged solely based on the good qualities Paks sees, like whether or not someone is a good fighter. It took me a long time to learn that the world isn’t black and white at all; that most people and most things in life are somewhere on a varied scale of color. Very little in our world is truly good or evil, though those things do exist. Most of everything is just people trying to do the best they can, however they see fit. This is/was a very important lesson but for all that people have recommended this book to me for years, I don’t think I was ready to read it until now.

You can still have the best of intentions and try everything you know to make things better and have everything turn out wrong. You can care about everyone and give of yourself without question and end up the villain of the story. You can learn and grow and want another chance to be happy with someone you love and they could never speak to you again. Nothing is ever as black and white as we’d all like to believe, and that makes the world a lot harder sometimes.

There was a section on page 255 where Paks is talking to the Paladin and the Marshal about how a higher power might have had a hand in some of her actions and survivals and her ideas about higher powers and their divine influence really struck a chord with me. I would think that the higher powers who are out there would want us to do everything we can first, and only ask for minor amounts of aid when absolutely necessary. At the same time, though, sometimes horrible things happen for reasons that involve a sacrifice for a better outcome. I think a lot of people who profess their religious views very strongly these days often don’t see the balance in things. Someone gets into a car accident, for instance, and blames the other driver completely without even listening to what happened. The truth of the accident is likely a combination of factors. Perhaps the driver was speeding and the other vehicle was distracted by a bird in the distance and so the vehicles collided. Only rarely does something have an obvious and definitive problem and solution. So Paks’ ideas on what religious personnel and their followers should do really struck a chord with me because of how little responsibility people take for helping each other and themselves these days. It’s a lot like the story of the man drowning in the flood who asked the higher powers to save him but then didn’t get in the boat when someone rowed by and asked if they needed help because they were positive that divine intervention would be what really saved them when the higher powers really just wanted to enable people to save other people.

Overall, I’m glad I finally read this book and happy the I own the entire trilogy. I’d probably rate this as a solid three on my rating scale and I’m likely to reread it in the future.

Moon, Elizabeth. Omnibus edition: The Deed of Paksenarrion. Baen Books. February, 1992. (combines Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, Divided Allegiance, and Oath of Gold).

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Graphic Novel Review: X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 4

I finished reading of X-Men’s Age of Apocalypse saga with X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 4 (Graphic Novel 352 pages) well over a week ago but my time slipped away from me and I am only just now getting to the review.

This is the official back of book 4: “Learn who lives and who dies in either reality as the apocalyptic arc ends in treachery and tragedy! While certain heroic humans prove their mettle without armor or magic hammers, it’s a race to see who the X-Men will destroy first: Apocalypse or themselves! But even with the crisis concluded, new allies and enemies emerge, guaranteeing that reality will still never be the same! Featuring the dawn of Gene Nation and a turning point for the Legacy Virus!”

This book represents the final chapter for each of the Age of Apocalypse X-Men teams and many of them do not go well or as expected. I think this series also did an interesting job of showing the rest of the Marvel Comics Universe, with cameos by characters such as Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Gwen Stacey, Matt Murdock, Donald Blake, Victor Von Doom, Clint Barton, Ben Grimm, Suzie Storm, and others. Some characters are heroes even without powers, special suits, government backing, and teams and I found this entire series to have a lot of hope in small actions of heroism than I often see in larger super hero franchises these days. For instance, all the “minor” players in this series, those who have no true power and very poor odds against Apocalypse and his followers, sacrifice everything to give the surviving people just a chance.

This was originally from Marvel’s Weapon X 4, but can more recently be found X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 4. Inside credits are listed as: Larry Hama – Script; Adam Kubert – Pencils; Dan Green – Inks; Pat Brosseau – Letters; Joe Rosas – Colors; Digital Chameleon – Seps; Bob Harras – Editor

They live in a hopeless world and yet they continue to fight and give everything they have to those weaker or less privileged than them, which made me start to think that maybe if we all focused more on the small heroisms in our own lives and world, how much of a difference would that have in making things in our world better? Why do the stakes always have to be so high and so clear in order for us to recognize heroes? I’m not talking about the fanatic worship of people in certain occupations in our modern society, but rather, the small acts of everyday kindness and heroism that are often overlooked by the modern media in favor of spending more media on the acts of violence and discontent. How much would our own world be transformed if people believed in hope again? If we all started doing small things to combat the growing strife amongst us?

All of those who chose heroic acts in the Age of Apocalypse did so knowing that what they did may or may not even make a dent in Apocalypse’s world of death, but they had to try anyway. The humans fighting Mikhail knew that they were all likely to die or be turned into genetic fodder but they still implemented a massive Trojan Horse plan to save those they could. They gave up everything just for a chance to make things better, for the humans to survive just a little longer.

Overall, I’d rate this graphic novel as a low three on my rating scale. It’s not my favorite of this series and a lot of characters take actions that I believe are out of character for them. At the same time, though, you see characters acknowledge their own privilege and work to rescue those without. The series ends with the mission completed, but the cost was very high. I’m glad I own this graphic novel and will likely read it again when I next reread this series.

This collection compiled in chronological order from Generation Next 4, X-Calibre 4, X-Man 4 and 53-54, Factor X 4, Gambit and the X-Ternals 4, Amazing X-Men 4, Weapon X 4, X-Universe 2, X-Men: Omega, Blink 4, and X-Men Prime.

The original comic books were published in 1995, 1999, 2001, 2006, and 2010, from Generation Next 4, X-Calibre 4, X-Man 4 and 53-54, Factor X 4, Gambit and the X-Ternals 4, Amazing X-Men 4, Weapon X 4, X-Universe 2, X-Men: Omega, Blink 4, and X-Men Prime. Writers: Fabian Nicieza, Mark Waid, John Francis Moore, Scott Lobdell, Judd Winick, Jeph Loeb, Terry Kavanagh, Larry Hama, Chris Bachalo, Warren Ellis. Pencilers: Chris Bachalo, Bryan Hitch, Jeff Matsuda,Gary Frank, Mike McKone, Ben Herrera, Paul Pelletier, Salvador Larroca, Steve Epting, Terry Dodson, Roger Cruz, Trevor McCarthy, Andy Kubert, Adam Kubert, Luke Ross, Ken Lashley, Steve Skroce. Inkers: Mark Buckingham, Al Milgrom, Cam Smith, Robin Riggs, Tim Townsend, Matt Ryan, Karl Kesel, Rod Ramos, Rick Ketchum, Tyson McAdo, Dan Green, P. Craig Russel, Mark Farmer, Scott Hanna, Mark McKenna, Tom Palmer, Hector Collazo, Tom Wegrzyn, Phillip Moy, Bud Larsoa, Harry Candelarioe. Colors: Marie Javins, Glynis Oliver, Kevin Tinsley, Mark Bernardo, Joe Rosas, Steve Buccellato, Kevin Somers, Mike Thomas, & Liquid! Color. Separations: Steve Buccellato & Electric Crayon, Digital Chameleon. Letters: Chris Eliopolous, Pat Brosseau, Richard Starkings & Comicraft. Cover Art: John Romita Jr. Cover Colors: Tom Smith. Editors: Bob Harras, Kelly Corvese, Pete Franco, Mark Powers, Suzanne Gaffney, Jason Liebig, Lisa Patrick.

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Graphic Novel Review: X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 3

I continued my reading of X-Men’s Age of Apocalypse saga with X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 3 (Graphic Novel 340 pages).

This is the official back of Book 3: “The mirror gets darker and the Amazing X-Men more Astonished as the Age of Apocalypse hits its third quart! Magneto has dedicated his life to freeing humanity and mutantkind alike, but will Apocalypse now require him to destroy reality to save it? Sides are switched and secrets shown with repercussions ranging from the Savage Land to the Shi’ar Galaxy! Plus: a rare look at how Apocalypse altered the rest of Marvel’s mightiest! Doctor Doom and Reed Richards, side-by-side? Matt Murdock and the Kingpin, allies? Gwen Stacy in mourning for Peter Parker? Avengers, Exiles, and more in the original alternate X-saga!”

But I like this description better, from the first inside page: “America is dead. What sits in its place is a gangrenous wound of a nation – the American dream of the creature Apocalypse. These altered states of America have become a staging area for Apocalypse’s next, best nightmare – the corruption of the rest of the world. The troubled dissident movement within America has, until recently, been fighting a losing battle, outmatched and riven by internal dispute. Now, with the discovery of a man purporting to be from an Alternate Timeline, they move with new purpose. Kurt Darkholme, guerrilla fighter with the revolutionary band named X-Men, has been dispatched by cell leader Magneto to locate the woman named Destiny. Her talent of psychometric clairvoyance – literally, to touch someone and see their future – will validate the alternate man’s claims. To effect this, Darkholme has begun a dangerous journey along the refuge pipeline from America to Antarctica and the secret mutant refuge of Avalon … where his mother ferries the survivors to its shores …”

This collection compiled in chronological order from X-Calibre 2-3, Astonishing X-Men 2-4, Generation Next 2-3, X-Man 2-3, Factor X 3, Amazing X-Men 3, Weapon X 3, Gambit and the X-Ternals 3, and X-Universe 1.

This was originally from Marvel’s X-Calibre 2, but can more recently be found X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 3. Inside credits are listed as: Warren Ellis – Writer; Roger Cruz and Renato Arlem – pencils with help from Charles Mota and Eddie Wagner; Phil Moy, Tom Wegrzyn and Harry Candelario – Inks; Joe Rosas / Digital Chameleon – Colors; Richard Starkings and Comicraft – Letters; Suzanne Gaffney – Editor; Bob Harras – Editor-in-Chief.

This is easily the darkest of the Age of Apocalypse books. The book starts out with Nightcrawler’s journey to Avalon in search of his mother in Avalon. Like any covert transportation network, he has to proceed through a variety of checkpoints and trust his life to the good faith of those in control of the transportation through the various stages. He is one of hundreds of refugees willing to believe in hope and give up everything they have for even the dream of a better life. As with everything in this series, hope is not very often rewarded.

Every chapter in this book shows the atrocities of power and corruption. The younger generation works to infiltrate a nuclear powerplant core in a valiant attempt to rescue Colossus’s little sister, Illyana, who might have latent time travel powers. In order to do so, they face a situation where humans are slaves, barely fed and used for the amusement of the sick and powerful mutants in charge of the facility. Nathan Gray and his small group are betrayed and face the deaths of many of their friends by those they thought to be allies. The human high council is sabotaged from within and the countless masses who believed in an armistice and peace are shown death and mass murder. Heroes are captured and tortured while humans are culled and their bodies thrown into chemical vats to break them down into useable material to create mutant armies loyal to Apocalypse.

It is truly a world gone mad with darkness eating the souls of everyone left.

So why read something in a world so dark? Why read about the worst the world has to offer? I think our world right now is on the brink of exactly this type of world; a world where everything seems so broken and hopeless. Violence encompasses our schools, our religious institutions, and the places we go to feel more alive. Good people stand by while fundamental human decency is destroyed in the name of greed and selfishness.

I think this book is a mirror into a world that should never exist, but also one that shows even in the darkest of situations – even when the world is clearly so broken the average person feels heartbroken and filled with despair, heroes will sacrifice everything to make the world a better place. People from backgrounds destined for greatness and those from the most average beginnings can make a difference where every small act of goodness and generosity can repair even the most broken of worlds. Against all the considerable odds stacked against them, Nightcrawler, Sabretooth, Morph, Blink, Rogue, Cyclops, Jean Gray, Husk, Chamber, Mondo, Nathan Gray, Forge, and all the other X-Men in these books still work to free every human and captive in the genetic culling pens, the core, and the remnants of America.

The world in the Age of Apocalypse is even darker than our own world is now and yet these people fight to make things better; they fight to save each other and to believe in a better world. I just keep thinking about how when I originally read these comic books as they came out month-by-month, I didn’t have the luxury of knowing what was going to happen next or how long the story would take. For all my high school self knew, this was going to be the way things were for the rest of my comic book reading experience. I also keep thinking about how I was just a teenager in high school, reading about the worst atrocities imaginable. I didn’t have the knowledge and experience in my life that I have now when I was originally reading them and sometimes it really hits me that this kind of media shaped me into the person I am today.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that because of books like this, showing me how horrible the world could be, it made me want to work to make the world a better place. It made me want to be one of the heroes who sacrificed everything to save those who couldn’t save themselves. It made me want to stand up and fight for diversity, inclusion, representation, and justice. It made me want to save the world, no matter what world it is or how broken it gets.

Overall, I’d rate this book as a solid three on my rating scale. The story is good, though dark, and I’m definitely glad that I own the compilation and will very likely read this book again in the future.

The original comic books were published in 1995, 2006, and 2010, from X-Calibre 2-3, Astonishing X-Men 2-4, Generation Next 2-3, X-Man 2-3, Factor X 3, Amazing X-Men 3, Weapon X 3, Gambit and the X-Ternals 3, and X-Universe 1. Writers: Larry Hama, Scott Lobdell, Terry Kavanagh, Fabian Nicieza, John Francis Moore, Jeph Loeb, Warren Ellis. Pencilers: Chris Bachalo, Carlos Pacheco, Salvador Larroca, Steve Epting, Terry Dodson, Steve Skroce, Joe Madureira, Roger Cruz, Renato Arlem, Charles Mota, Eddie Wagner, Ken Lashley. Inkers: Dan Green, Mike Sellers, Mark Buckingham, Cam Smith, Al Milgrom, Matt Ryan, Bud Larsoa, Kevin Conrad, Scott Hanna, Tim Townsend, Phil Moy, Tom Wegrzyn, Harry Candelarioe. Colors: Joe Rosas, Steve Buccellato, Kevin Somers, Marie Javins, Matt Webb, Mike Thomas, Glynis Oliver. Separations: Digital Chameleon, Electric Crayon. Cover Art: John Romita Jr, Klaus Janson. Letters: Pat Brosseau, Chris Eliopolous, Richard Starkings of Comicraft. Cover Colors: Tom Smith. Editors: Rob Harras, Lisa Patrick, Suzanne Gaffney.

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Graphic Novel Review: X-Men: The Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 2

I continued my reading of X-Men’s Age of Apocalypse saga with X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 2 (Graphic Novel 340 pages).

“Welcome to a world not our own, where a man named Charles Xavier never formed a team of young outcasts to protect the planet from the threat of evil mutants. Where a war between the two species of mankind has laid waste to civilization. Where a being who believes the weak should be crushed under the iron heel of the strong lords over all. Welcome to the Age of Apocalypse! Apocalypse has conquered half of humankind and is ready to destroy them all! Magneto and his amazing X-Men fight to protect humans and mutants alike, only to learn from Bishop (now on his third reality and counting) that his world might need to be unmade!”

This collection started focusing on the different characters in the different books, compiled in chronological order from X-Men: Alpha, Age of Apocalypse: the Chosen, Generation Next 1, Astonishing X-Men 1, X-Calibre 1, Gambit and the X-Ternals 1-2, Weapon X 1-2, Amazing X-Men 1-2, Factor X 1-2, and X-Man 1.

It’s interesting to see the different characterization of the familiar heroes and villains and I think the part of this entire universe that bothers me the most is the way Colossus and Shadowcat exist in this universe. Maybe it’s just harder for me because the two of them were my favorite characters while I was growing up or maybe I just view those characters with “rose-colored glasses.” Seeing Colossus and Shadowcat where they’ve given up their own hope and are the darker versions of themselves, where they “train” the younger generation under their care with violence and trickery? It didn’t sit well with me.

This was originally from Marvel’s Generation Next 1, but can more recently be found X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 2. Inside credits are listed as: created by Bachalo and Lobdell; Inker: Mark Buckingham; Colors: Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon; Lettering: Starkings and Comicraft; Editor: Bob Harras.

Colossus and Shadowcat were downright mean to their “students” and their training tactics were uncomfortable, at best. I used to relate to Colossus when I was younger because I felt like I understood the “poet trapped in a warrior’s body” thing. It seems to me as though most true warriors are ones who dream of quieter days; who dream quiet dreams. While at war or in conflict, many soldiers dream of holidays spent with their families; of reading bed time stories to their children, laughing on the couch at ridiculous movies, playing board games by the fire, or other “normal” activities. And while I will admit that it’s possible that my favorite characters are not as fantastic as I believed, isn’t that why we read fiction? Don’t we read fiction to believe the world is a better place than it truly is? To see the best in people and in situations? Don’t we want to be a part of a better world?

The Age of Apocalypse is the opposite of all the good things you think you believe about the comic book world you grew up with. The characters whose hearts you’re so sure of have problematic flaws; flaws that you might have purposefully overlooked when you wanted to believe the best in people. So many of the characters in this story have different backstories and you wonder if they could have made as much of a difference in this altered reality as they have in the reality familiar from the comic books of my youth. Some were better and some were worse and some of the favorites continued to have their positive traits. I think there were some characters that the writers decided they wanted to use as “throw-aways”, where they did whatever they wanted while some of the favorites were ensured to still be heroes. Characters like Cyclops and Wolverine/Weapon X were given the best ability to show their heroism. Characters like Colossus and Shadowcat are shown to be less stellar than they are in the normal universe.

Overall, this book both has the hope for a better world and the darkness found in situations and people when things don’t go as well as they could. The story-telling is good and the world-building is fantastic. I think this would be a solid three on my rating scale. I’m happy I own it, I’m happy I’m rereading the story, and I’m likely to reread it again in the future.

The original comic books were published in 1995-1997, 2005, and 2010, from X-Men: Alpha, Age of Apocalypse: the Chosen, Generation Next 1, Astonishing X-Men 1, X-Calibre 1, Gambit and the X-Ternals 1-2, Weapon X 1-2, Amazing X-Men 1-2, Factor X 1-2, and X-Man 1. Writers: Fabian Nicieza, John Francis Moore, Scott Lobdell, Jeph Loeb, Larry Hama, Chris Bachalo, Warren Ellis. Pencilers: Tony Daniel, Salvador Larroca, Steve Epting, Terry Dodson, Roger Cruz, Andy Kubert, Adam Kubert, Mark Buckingham, Ken Lashley, Renato Arlem, Ian Churchill, val Semeiks, Tom Lyle, Tim Sale, Steve Skroce. Inkers: Kevin Conrad, Al Milgrom, Tim Townsend, Dan Panosian, Matt Ryan, Karl Kesel, Dan Green, Chris Warner, Tom Wegrzyn, Phillip Moy, Bud Larsoa, Harry Candelario, Sergio Melia, Terry Austin, James Pascoe. Colors: Marie Javins, Glynis Oliver, Joe Rosas, Steve Buccellato, Kevin Somers, Mike Thomas, Ashly Underwood, Matt Webb. Separations: Electric Crayon, Digital Chameleon. Cover Art: Joe Madureira and Tim Townsend. Letters: Chris Eliopolous, Pat Brosseau, Richard Starkings and Comicraft. Cover Colors: Avalon’s Matt Milla. Editors: Rob Harras, Kelly Corvese, Jaye Gardner, Ben Raab, Suzanne Gaffney, Lisa Patrick.

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Video Game Review: Trine 2

I started playing Trine 2 when I was visiting my family over the holidays. It was one of those games that has a multiple player option, which was the whole reason we started playing it. It’s a puzzle-sovling, adventure game that I genuinely enjoyed and only just completed today.

Trine 2 is a sidescrolling game of action, puzzles and platforming where you play as one of Three Heroes who make their way through dangers untold in a fantastical fairytale world. Join Amadeus the Wizard, Pontius the Knight and Zoya the Thief in their adventure full of friendship, magic and betrayal.”

I have to admit that I spent a lot of time laughing while playing this game, and it was usually laughter at the ridiculousness of some of the situations. I would drop a box on top of one of the characters heads, feed goblins to hungry plants, die in ways that left the character’s body floating in mid-air, watch boxes with goblins in them move themselves off of cliffs and into fiery chasms, or watching goblins killing each other while trying to kill me.

Some of the puzzles in this game were very challenging and some of them I still haven’t figured out after the end of the game. There is a secret level that I have not yet unlocked and I haven’t decided if I’m going to continue playing in order to get the rest of the things I haven’t figured out yet, such as getting all the experience orbs and treasure chests. I haven’t gotten all of the collectible poems and paintings, nor all the pieces of the secret map. I do want to find the last, secret level, though, so I’ll probably keep playing long enough to find the secret map pieces and play the secret level.

The story style was different than what I was expecting or what I was familiar with. The characters were so different than normal characters. The wizard is surprisingly spry and the overweight knight is more graceful than he has a right to be. The wizard was also kind of a whiner. Each of the characters had a different set of incredibly useful skills and it required all three of their abilities to solve the puzzles and beat the game.

I have to say that it took me about two-thirds of the game to figure out how to magnetize objects and how to shoot anti-gravity arrows. It took me two-thirds of the game to figure out the full capabilities of combining the character abilities to solve the puzzles, like using anti-gravity bubbles and planks to cross impossible sections. But once I figured out some of those tricks, it was extremely helpful to the rest of the game.

Overall, I think I’d rate the game as a low three on my rating scale. While the game play was interesting, the characters didn’t really endear themselves to me and the story wasn’t as engaging as it might have been. I’m not sure if I’ll play the game again or not, but it is a fun and entertaining multi-player game.

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Movie Review: Annihilation

I needed to leave my apartment last night and just do something pseudo-social, so I decided to go to the movies. I didn’t want to go see Black Panther because I’m waiting for one of my friends to be done with a class he’s in that’s taking up all his time so I decided to see a movie I knew absolutely nothing about, Annihilation.

“A biologist’s husband disappears. She puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she’s expecting. The expedition team is made up of the biologist, a psychologist, a physicist, a paramedic, and a geologist.”

It looked like a science fiction movie with only women and I was intrigued by the poster, featuring five women in front of some pretty lights. As the previews came on, I had a few thoughts that I might have made a terrible mistake, as most of the previews were for horror movies. Movie previews tend to be in similar genres to whatever you’re about to watch, so I wasn’t quite certain what I’d gotten myself into.

The story unfolds with Lena teaching biology at a university of some sort. She doesn’t seem particularly happy or engaged with her world and the loss of her husband, Kane, is revealed as the movie progresses. This movie has a very, very small cast, but all five of the leading women represent scientists, which I found to be refreshing. In fact, there are only about three men in the entire movie, one is an unnamed “clean up” person, one is Daniel who is a coworker of Lena’s, and the last is Lena’s husband, Kane. Lena is a biologist, Dr. Ventress is a psychologist, Anya Thorensen is a paramedic, Josie Radek is a physicist, and Cass Sheppard is both a surveyor and a geologist.

The group enters the shimmering area and has immediate issues. They lose time, their communications don’t work, and the entire area is covered in genetic mutations. I’m not sure I actually liked any of the characters in the movie, but they were all at least normal people and their motivations for participating in the expedition into the area showed an interesting depth to each of the characters and what kind of person volunteers for those types of expeditions. I also spent some time wondering what kind of reaction I would have to this movie if it had an all-male cast instead of the all-female cast it did. Would violence have solved more of the issues? Would violence have created more issues? Would I have cared what happened to the characters if they were all men? The movie as a whole is one of those movies where you’ll wind up mentally chewing on a lot of the details afterwards.

For me, there were three genuinely horrifying moments in the movie which made me think that perhaps I should have seen something else or at least gone to see the movie with someone so I could crack a joke or something to make myself less uncomfortable. I’m not going to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it and wants to experience this movie on their own terms without spoilers by telling you what parts of the movie were genuinely horrifying to me.

Overall, the visuals were stunning and the story interesting but I think it’s only going to be a two on my rating scale just because I’m not sure how keen I am to watch it again. Though, the movie is based on a trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer, which makes me curious to read the books and see how much depth is added and what happens after the end of Annihilation.

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Book Review: Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron

The second book for my 2018 Asexual Reading list was Island of Exiles (Young Adult 402 pages) by Erica Cameron.

“In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle. On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all else. But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother his life, Khya’s home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she’s never seen. To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the run – a betrayal and a death sentence.”

So I actually finished reading this book over two weeks ago but life has been entirely too busy lately and the first thing that usually gets sacrificed is my writing. It’s not ideal, but that’s how things go when you have to pay the rent and buy food.

The representation in this book is very good and it treats sexuality as a common situation and a common acceptance. Same-sex or non-sexual partnerships were accepted and valued without any judgment or negative repercussions. While I appreciate the non-binary representation, I think that one of the things throughout the book world right now is the non-standardization of how to appropriately represent non-binary personnel. In this book, non-binary pronouns are eir/ey/em pronouns, which are probably unfamiliar to those outside the non-binary spectrum. Additionally, there hasn’t been any sort of comprehensive design on how to standardize non-binary pronoun usage, which means that the terms aren’t household usage at the current time. Some of this might be confusing if readers lack the desire to research the pronoun meanings and readers might struggle with trying to figure out which sentence structure is meant, such as they/them/their (she/her/hers or he/him/his). This book contained representation of all varieties with a very diverse cast. I do have to add that the asexual representation in this book was not the main character and the protagonist did wind up in a hetero-romantic relationship. While having diverse representation is wonderful, my reading goal is to try to find more asexual protagonists.

This was a fascinating and highly addictive book. As much as some of the terminology and names required me to pay more attention to everything in this novel than I normally do when I read, I was sucked into the story and the characters almost instantly.

I read through this book quickly and it was such an engaging read that I almost purchased the second book in the series on the same day I finished Island of Exiles. I think the only reason I haven’t ordered the sequel yet is because of the timing, such as how busy work is right now. This was one of those books where I stayed up until 3am reading it until I finished because I desperately needed to know what was going on and how things would turn out and this book left me hungry for the sequel because so many things were left in not-as-great-as-I’d-like situations.

Overall, this book is a solid three on my rating scale. I’m happy I own it and I will happily buy the next book in the sequel and reread them both in the future.

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Graphic Novel Review: X-Men: The Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 1

Over the weekend, I finished rereading X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Prelude and I continued with my reading by rereading X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 1 (Graphic Novel 352 pages).

“Welcome to a world not our own, where a man named Charles Xavier never formed a team of young outcasts to protect the planet from the threat of evil mutants. Where a war between the two species of mankind has laid waste to civilization. Where a being who believes the weak should be crushed under the iron heel of the strong lords over all. Welcome to the Age of Apocalypse!”

I think one of the main reasons I’m so drawn to rereading these stories from my youth is that I have always pictured my own novels more in graphic novel format and less as words on a page. Granted, I like both different formats for books, those with only words and those with pictures and words, but sometimes my mood dictates which I would rather read. The Age of Apocalypse remains one of my absolute favorite comic book storylines for a lot of reasons, probably at least partially because of where I was at in my own life when these originally came out, partially because of the fascinating story and characters, and mostly because of how much I relate with so many of the things the characters experience.

The main focus for characters in this book are Clarice Ferguson (Blink) and Nathan Grey (X-Man), with Magneto, Rogue, Gambit, Cyclops, Havok, Sabretooth, and Mr. Sinister also having a good portion of back story and character development. The interesting part of using Clarice and Nathan as the main characters in this book is that they are not characters with massive stories outside the Age of Apocalypse. In fact, both characters are almost strictly characters only seen in this world. Nathan Grey is the genetically created child of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, grown in a lab run and created by Nathanael Essex (Mr. Sinister). In the Marvel Comics prior to the Age of Apocalypse, Nate Grey is the child of Scott Summers and Jean Grey’s clone who is then infected with a techno-virus (by Mr. Sinister) which has no cure in this age so Nate Grey is taken to the future where he becomes Cable. Nathan Grey in the Age of Apocalypse is Cable without the techno-virus, which means the character development is completely different, as Cable and X-Man have vastly different histories. Clarice, though, only made her debut in the comic books when the Phalanx showed up in the crossover. Clarice was introduced and then sacrificed herself to remove the Phalanx. Both of these characters were born and raised in the Age of Apocalypse and while readers are passingly familiar with their genetics and their powers, these two characters are unique and readers have no preconceived notions of their character or their stories.

This was originally from Marvel’s Blink 4, but more recently can be found in X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 1. Inside credits are listed as: Plot: Scott Lobdell; Script: Judd Winick; Penciler: Trevor McCarthy; Inkers: Rod Ramos, Rick Ketchum, Tyson McAdo; Colors: Those Guys at Liquid; Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Saida; Assistant Editor: Pete Franco; Editor: Mark Powers; Blinked: Joe Quesada.

The main reason the X-Men comic books always appealed to me is that they took people who were noticeably (or not noticeably) different from the prescribed societal norms and gave all those different people a place to belong. A place they feel welcome and can call home. A place where they can make a positive difference in the world around them. For any minority population, the X-Men are a group of people who inspire hope – a hope that the world can be a better place, but that any dream worth having is a dream worth fighting for. Even through all the darkness in the world, there is always hope.

There’s a part in this book where Sabretooth is talking to Blink and he says: “It’ll be all right, girl. Sometimes you have to take solace in fate. Fate brought you together, and it broke you apart. But it can never change how you feel. Nothing is ever diminished just because it ends … don’t ever forget that. Don’t ever give up on your past.” And once again, I find myself having all sorts of feels because of a comic book telling me that I am who I am for a reason. Even though I sometimes like to hope that the way my life is now is not the way my life will always be, that someday I will be able to share my life with someone I love who also loves me, it’s something I forget sometimes.

Most of the comic books collected in this compilation are actually ones I might have in storage at home but not ones I have with me now, and possibly ones I don’t recall reading. When the original Age of Apocalypse hit in the mid-1990s, I was in high school and my sources for money were severely limited, especially with college looming on the horizon. Of the comic books collected in this volume, I think I only have two of them, so most of this story was quite new to me. Even though the story was new to me, it still flowed in logical order and it only made several references to comics I had not yet read. So when I say the story still makes sense even if you didn’t read these as they all came out over 20 years ago, I mean it.

One of the things I like best about this compilation is how Marvel Comics takes all the issues from a massive event like this and puts them all in chronological order so you don’t have to jump from one graphic novel / trade paperback to a different one in order to figure out what’s going on and when it happened. This storyline is all complete and chronological, so it makes perfect sense, even if you’ve never read these comic books before. Then, they even number the books so you know what order to read them in. It’s very convenient and makes this a lot more like reading an actual book, just a book that also uses pictures to tell the story.

Overall, I’d happily rate this book as a high three on my rating scale. I’m happy I own it and I will continue to reread it periodically in the future.

These books talk about hope without being preachy about it. These comic books have real messages about making the world a better place. So to the artists and writers, to all the creators and creatives out there, thank you for what you do. The books, novels, artwork, graphic novels, fanart, and everything you create matters. Keep doing what you do and maybe we’ll all someday live in a better world, filled with more hope.

The original comic books were published in 1995-1997, 2001, and 2005, from X-Men Chronicles 1-2, Tales from the Age of Apocalypse: By the Light, X-Man 1, X-Man ’96 Annual, Tales From the Age of Apocalypse: Sinister Bloodlines, and Blink 1-4. Those original comic books which are now compiled into the sixth printing of X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 1, published in 2011. Writers: Howard Mackie, John Francis Moore, Brian K. Vaughan, Scott Lobdell, Ralph Macchio, Terry Kavanagh, and Judd Winick. Pencilers: Terry Dodson, Steve Epting, Nick Napolitano, Joe Bennett, Ian Churchill, Roger Cruz, Alan David, and Trevor McCarthy. Inkers: Klaus Janson, Al Milgrom, Joe Pimentel, Scott Hanna, Al Vey, Steve Moncuse, Bob Wiacek, Bud Larosa, Wellington Diaz, Mark Farmer, Robin Riggs, Tyson McAdoo, Rodney Ramos, Rick Ketcham, and Norm Rapmund. Colors: Matt Webb, Kevin Tinsley, Gloria Vasquez, Mike Thomas, Tom Vincent, and Liquid. Cover Art: Joe Madureira and Tim Townsend. Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft. Cover Colors: Avalon’s Matt Milla. Editors: Kelly Corvese, Matt Idelson, Mark Powers, and Jaye Gardner.

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Movie Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

I’d heard good things about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle so I took a bit of a road trip in order to kidnap a friend and go see it and I’m absolutely happy that I did.

“Four high school kids discover an old video game console and are drawn into the game’s jungle setting, literally becoming the adult avatars they chose. What they discover is that you don’t just play Jumanji – you must survive it. To beat the game and return to the real world, they’ll have to go on the most dangerous adventure of their lives, discover what Alan Parrish left 20 years ago, and change the way they think about themselves – or they’ll be stuck in the game forever.”

This movie is hilarious. I admit to being at least partially skeptical about the reboot and using a video game console for the movie instead of the board game which has been traditionally used, but I think they did a really great job with this and the actors and actresses they picked for each role were absolutely spot on. I mean, really. Imagine Jack Black pretending to be a self-absorbed, well-off, blonde, hot chick. Bethany’s character arch is definitely one of the most significant in the movie and it’s done marvelously. Also, the women in the theater laughed more and louder than the men in the audience, which was interesting for a movie that had only two real, named, women characters. Would I have liked to see more women in the movie? Absolutely. Do I understand that the video game industry still thinks that most video gamers are men and will cater to their needs by making avatars appealing to the male gaze or worthy of the players’ envy? Unfortunately true.

But this movie was absolutely NOT a “bro movie”. The humor was well-rounded and actually funny and even poked at a lot of the modern stereotypes. I especially liked all of the character’s special skills and how those were implemented throughout the movie, at the most random of times. The use of a special skill for the distraction at the transportation shed was one of the most hilarious things I’ve seen in quite some time and I laughed for a while on that one.

Overall, this movie was a lot of fun and I’m definitely going to purchase it when it comes out on video. The characters were believable and interesting and their development about learning how to get along with and take care of each other was really touching. Obviously, this movie was about finding out who you are and what truly matters to you and working to take charge of your own life, even when things are not going nearly the way you think they should. I’d easily rate it as a high three or even a low four on my rating scale. That might change with subsequent watchings of the movie because only time will tell how well the humor holds up.

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