Entries from April 2014 ↓
April 26th, 2014 — Comics, Superficial Satudays
Comic: RUNAWAYS #2 Artist: Jo Chen
Nothing too much to say here, other than I really like the composition of this cover. Not a huge surprise that Jo Chen did a good job on a comics cover (she is widely considered one of the best cover artists in the industry and a former Eisner nominee)… But this is a probably my favorite of her many detailed covers.
What I like in particular on this piece is the contrast of two styles that you rarely see side-by-side.
Victor Mancha in the foreground is depicted in the usual nuanced, almost photo-realistic, Chen cover style.
The background villains — Magneto, Dr. Octopus, Kingpin, Red Skull, and Dr. Doom — are depicted in a Kirby-reminiscent style with flat colors. I think they two harmonize well here, and make for something different,.
I hope you like it as well.
April 21st, 2014 — Decks, Magic
- I “picked” “literally” the worst time to make a sweet new rogue deck. There isn’t even an open Open! (this weekend is the Journey into Nyx prerelease, etc. etc.)
- This is a Tapout Blue Control deck in the tradition of Jushi Blue; a much different kind of deck than most Standard Control decks. The goal is to scare off attackers with Prognostic Sphinx, then get in with Prognostic Sphinx. Patrick Chapin talks about Semi-Soft Locks in books like Next Level Deck Building; an unchecked Prognostic Sphinx is like a Sensei’s Divining Top with fists… Grinding the opponent out while punching him for three.
- I know Master of Waves looks weird in this deck, but it’s a much better than Prognostic Sphinx’s original sidekick (the Keiga to Prognostic Sphinx’s Meloku if you grok)… Arbiter of the Ideal. There are relatively few ways to kill a Prognostic Sphinx, but Edict effects don’t care about Hexproof. Master of Waves gives you bodies (plural) to help defend Prognostic Sphinx against Devour Flesh et al for a turn. Then once you start attacking with Prognostic Sphinx… You grok. Anyway, Master of Waves will randomly beat a Red Deck in Game One a fair amount.
- Even with four Master of Waves, four Tidebinder Mage, and two Staff of the Mind Magus, you can lose to a Red Deck. It’s true 🙁
- That said, this deck is superb against Red Decks.
- It’s even better against black control decks like Mono-Black Devotion or the polychromatic black variants. Those decks started off as tough opponents (especially in the Arbiter of the Ideal days). Nullify is quite good against lots of their threats, including Underworld Connections. Don’t get cocky and lose to Gray Merchant of Asphodel, though.
- Speaking of Nullify, it is not good against U/W Control variants. This was a little counterintuitive for me (I assumed an advantage) but we actually have fewer interactive spells / Counterspells than U/W or Esper in Game One. U/W actually has a decent number of trumps over us (Supreme Verdict > Prognostic Sphinx, Sphinx’s Revelation > Opportunity, more in-matchup relevant permission + Thoughtseize) though it is winnable in Game One. Pithing Needle became a late sideboard edition to fight Planeswalkers.
- I generally dislike Pithing Needle but this is actually the perfect deck for it; Pithing Needle sometimes does nothing but it is pretty mana efficient in decks that have bulk card advantage spells like Divination or Opportunity.
- Voyage’s End is generally better than Cyclonic Rift, but when Cyclonic Rift is good (say against multiple Planeswalkers or Assemble the Legion, where you have time to set up) it’s backbreaking.
- The deck was originally soft to opposing Mutavaults; Encroaching Wastes made for acceptable Mutavault defense but now also makes for good disruption. This is especially the case against non-blue mid-range control decks. And hitting an Underworld Connections? Whew.
Here’s the deck, en total:
Prognostic Sphinx Tapout
4 Ratchet Bomb
2 Cyclonic Rift
3 Master of Waves
4 Prognostic Sphinx
3 Voyage’s End
2 Encroaching Wastes
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Temple of Enlightenment
1 Pithing Needle
2 Staff of the Mind Magus
4 Jace, Memyory of Thought1 Master of Waves
4 Tidebinder Mage
April 19th, 2014 — Comics, Superficial Satudays
Comic: ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #9 Artist: Stuart Immonen
This will probably be an atypically long — and maybe atypically political — edition of Superficial Saturdays.
Which might be surprising given this unambiguously awesome cover of Sue Storm.
I like so many things about this cover; even though Sue’s force field power is generally depicted as a defensive weapon, we get to see some energy; and even though Sue is ostensibly “blocking” you can see that she’s getting angry and is probably winding up to kill someone to death (or you know, batter them with invisible force field balls or whatever).
The force field power is meant to be “invisible” and Immonen does a handsome job of it. We can both get the gist of the circular shield she is calling up at the same time we can see all the way through; ergo he accomplishes a pretty difficult task of conveying invisibility and invisible shield-dom, which, if you think about it, is not easy at all.
Further, Immonen’s depiction of Sue and her uniform are basically perfect. As Ultimate Sue Storm we are looking at a younger woman; and a generally young super-scientist. But per the essentially evergreen depiction of the classic Fantastic Four uniform, she is covered top to bottom; and it is a uniform. One of the things I’ve always loved about the FF is that they all wear the same thing (other than Ben Grimm) with generally little variation and it makes sense for their team and family aesthetic. Immonen’s fabric wrinkles are great and in particular how he deals with Sue’s breasts is basically perfect. Yes, this is a skin tight / form fitting uniform. Yes, there are a woman’s breasts under there. And yes, they are flattened to a degree by the uniform rather than jutting out ridiculously. Unstable molecules or no, that’s how fabric works.
Also my wife was walking by while I started writing this and said this would have been a hell of a shoe ad.
Regardless, it’s a hell of a cover.
ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #9 came out about a decade ago, and — at least cover-wise — it was awesome (I think you will agree). All the things that make sense / are awesome about the execution of this cover… I want you to hold those in your head while we dial back another ten years (a series of covers are kinda sorta the impetus of my writing this particular Superficial Saturdays).
To that end maybe the rest of this will be a mite unfair, because 1993 or so was a weird time for the comics industry.
It was spitting distance from the X-plosion of Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee with their X-FORCE and [adjective-less] X-MEN launches circa 1990. It was also quite close to the Marvel exodus of superstars Liefeld, Lee, MacFarlane, Silvestri, and others for Image Comics. Marvel was on the wrong side of a talent drain and was clearly reacting to troubling market forces.
But I can’t say I particularly like some of those reactions.
To that end I want to highlight some FF stuff I didn’t like from that era. First let’s look at FANTASTIC FOUR #371.
FANTASTIC FOUR #371 featured red and / or white special embossed covers. I don’t know how you feel about the art on this cover but that’s about as good as it looked IRL. I wouldn’t, on its own merits, be picking any of the Paul Ryan era FF comics for Superficial Saturdays.
I’d rather focus on two elements of this comic book cover:
At the top we [still] have “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”
When my old Comic Book Idol co-competitor Jonathan Hickman took over FANTASTIC FOUR from Mark Millar a few years ago, they didn’t let him run with that across the top. It was a big deal for Hickman to earn the banner back (and he of course put together one of the best runs of The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine, ever, and my personal favorite). Point being, that banner at the top is a big deal, or at least should be. It’s puffery to an extent; but really, Stan and Jack… John Byrne… Waid and Weiringo… It’s an awesome title to be in charge of. A dream job for a comics fan.
The other thing I want to point out on this cover is the $2.00 price tag. I mean good luck finding a $2.00 print comic book in 2014, but this was twenty years ago. The cover is… kind of shitty. They up-charged customers to $2.00 for that “embossed” shitty cover.
Let’s jump ahead to FANTASTIC FOUR #374.
As you can see the regular price for FANTASTIC FOUR at the time was about $1.25… So paying an extra 60% for that shitty embossed cover was a pure hype move.
The bigger thing about this is how the 1993 team dealt with Sue.
The peekaboo works for Power Girl. Maybe Ahsoka Tano. But a stylized peekaboo “4” on Sue [Richards] is just atrocious.
One of the iconic things about the Fantastic Four is that they all have the same uniform. They are a family and all match. Sure, when Johnny is on fire you can’t see his blues, and Ben is a giant pile of rocks so only wears the shorts, but Reed and Sue (and Reed and Sue and Johnny) are all meant to dress alike.
Maybe. Just maybe I get sexing the title up… But it doesn’t even make sense with Sue. Forget about the fact that she’s a married woman; and a mom; there are sexy married moms. But this uniform doesn’t just seem character- and age-inappropriate, it’s hideous. It’s insulting. This woman is a science adventurer who has stared down the fundamental forces of nature. She is the once and future queen of the seven seas. She can contain an exploding supernova sun with the power of her mind and can bend the behavior of the most intelligent creature in creation to her heart. Thigh highs and a peekaboo? It’s not just ugly / insulting / inappropriate… But a betrayal of the character.
Oh, and even though you have The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine! in your hands, why not just reiterate the names of the characters on the cover? Obviously the New Fantastic Four angle with sales favorites Spider-Man, The Hulk, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine is a blatant grab for dollars based on those characters’ popularity… Why the hell would you replace “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” with their names? Are we somehow banking on increasing sales based on guest characters but somehow don’t think prospective buyers know their names?
I’d like to close this section with the next issue, an anniversary issue of sorts, FANTASTIC FOUR #375:
For a garish “holograhix prizm” readers get fleeced from $1.25 to $2.95 — more than 100% more than the usual price. I mean some special covers are things of beauty but this one wasn’t. It might be the worst of the three. But just four issues after the $2.00 “embossed” FANTASTIC FOUR #371? Argh.
They let us know this isn’t our parents’ comic magazine.
Not with peekaboo thigh-highs Sue front-and-center. Is this meant to be “bad”? “Bad” as in bad-girl as opposed to poorly executed? Overtly sexually exploitative? I mean if that’s the intended thrust… It isn’t even a good example of the form. Rather than dwell on whether or not we should have scantily clad superheroines at all (I think there are cases where it can be dealt with substantially better than with science-mom, like anything Emma Frost)… This cover just makes no sense.
If we are breaking Sue from the rest of the FF uniforms (you know, to show off her thighs)… Why are we covering her back up with a military jacket? Oh, all the FF match again! Except Reed doesn’t even have long sleeves! So they don’t!
WHY DO THEY ALL HAVE GUNS?
Sue Storm can suffocate a god or rip a spaceship in half with her brain. What the hell does she need a gun for? Though I am really not sure if I hate the fact that they dressed her (and Reed, and kind-of Ben) like Cable more from the story-inconsistency standpoint, or the fact that they erased all her clothes only to cover her back up again, pointlessly.
Well, at least Sue had a good, in-story reason for the costume switch. Nobody wants to look like an old frump (you know like in the Immonen cover at the top):
Because on the page where you introduce your Leading Lady’s well-thought-out costume change, what you really want is a coloring error ON THE SAME PAGE that misses all the skin you are supposed to be showing off.
April 12th, 2014 — Comics, Superficial Satudays
Comic: MAGNETO #1 Artist: Paolo Rivera
This is a relatively recent cover (maybe two months young) RE: a new-look Magneto.
I’ve always thought of Magneto as an A-list and relatively interesting villain; but Magneto in recent years has been characterized as if not a superhero, the consigliere to longtime X-Men leader Scott Summers. That said, I’ve never really bought Magneto as an interesting hero figure. He’s done quite a few bad things — repeated genocidal attempts on the human race on the far end, ripping Wolverine to pieces on a nice day… I just have a hard time wanting to buy a comic book about him as a good guy.
Which is what makes this cover interesting.
This is a great, stark, image; it’s engaging… If I saw it in the comic book store I would pick it up and give it a look.
That isn’t particularly surprising, of course. This is Paolo Rivera! Rivera is one of the best artists — and especially cover artists — in the Marvel stable. He’s not just good at rendering figures, but often does interesting things mixing it up as a designer.
The post-AVX Magneto is drawn as a bald man. I’ve probably missed some issue somewhere but I’m guessing that at least part of it is evoking the memory of our dear, departed Charles Xavier. Further, Magneto is generally depicted in a stylized white uniform.
What does Rivera do here?
Even though Magneto’s face / head is that of the current bald man, he reminds us of the classic Magneto helmet — in suggestive barbed wire. This is almost a juxtaposition of 2-D and 3-D imagery; I can’t actually tell. Does part of the “helmet” actually wrap around Magneto’s head? I think so; that also doesn’t make much sense in terms of the internal logic of the image.
And barbed wire?
Rivera could have chosen lots of different materials for this image; this one, despite a complete absence of regalia or insignia, hearkens back to Magneto’s childhood in WWII concentration camps. I think.
Super simple image, but expertly executed.
April 8th, 2014 — Everywhere, Writing
One of the most compelling voices in the Magic community, Patrick Chapin “The Innovator” is a member of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame and the author of Next Level Deckbuilding.
“Haven’t Used a Single Wish Yet, and Not Planning on It” was originally published on another website; it appears, now, on Five With Flores at the author’s request.
A while ago, I was at RIW Hobbies getting ready for an event. Some friends of mine were discussing a philosophy question one of them had been asked recently in a class.
“If a genie gave you one wish, and you couldn’t wish for more wishes, what would it be?”
The two of them had been debating the “best play.” Others chimed in with suggestions; by far money was the most popular wish, though how much seemed to be a matter of debate. Other suggested wishes include “Living as long as one wants,” “One’s parent to still be alive,” and “Finding the ‘perfect’ girl and having her fall in love with you.”
With all of these ideas of how to spend the wish, the guys in the conversation were initially shocked and then quite skeptical when I replied, “I would not use the wish.”
“Call!” They were not only surprised, but initially a bit disappointed, thinking that I was only resorting to this answer out of laziness or lack of imagination.
“Seriously, I would not use the wish, not on anything, not at all.”
At this point they began to suspect that I was attempting to look “too good for a wish.”
“It’s not about being too good, it is about the universe already being the best possible way for today and that I am continually bettering my life though my own will, though my efforts. Why would I trivialize my life, what I am done, what I will do, Who I Am, by using a wish to get what I want rather than getting it myself?”
They mocked me at this point, claiming that if I were in that situation, I would surely wish for something.
“Whatever I would want is already mine if I take it. The Universe is the ultimate wish granter. The difference between the genie granting my wish and the universe is that the universe gives me an opportunity to be it myself, plus it gives me what I really want. The genie merely lets me “witness” it, as oppose to be the cause of it, plus the genie can only give me what I think I want. I already have essentially unlimited potential, but if I take the genie up on his offer, I am basically a slave to him, as it is him that is the source of my experience, rather than myself and the Universe.”
They continued to be skeptical, claiming that it sounded all well and good to say that, but why would not $100 extra be better than not using a wish at all?
“Money is a means, not the end in and of itself. The point is to know yourself, the Universe experientially. To wish for $100 may give me a $100, but what have I really gained? If I was $100 short, if I wanted $100, I could just go get it. If I found myself with $100 extra, I would find a way to give away an extra $100. The thing is, if the genie gave me the money, it would devalue both money and my human experiences. You and I both know what it is like to trade hours of actual work for a single digit worth of dollars. That builds character, character that if I could just wish for money, I would not have.”
Adam was appalled by this answer, “You are concerned about building character? Is this a joke? Who cares about building character, go do whatever you want with the money and build character that way! Are you really telling me you wouldn’t have used a wish to get out of going to prison? What about losing all the money you had made back in the day?”
When I was younger, I lived a strange life, one of excess and riches, mindless self-indulgence, and adventure. I was making a fairly absurd amount of money for a kid living so dumb. I decided to move past that life, giving it all up. Unfortunately, these types of things have a way of catching up with you, and eventually it did. It felt like I lost everything.
My money, my cars, my material possessions, my power, all gone. I let it go, though, and tried to move on with my life. I took a job with Wizards of the Coast R&D, my literal dream job. It was the most satisfying work of my life at that point and by no small margin. Then, however, my past continued to revisit me. My freedom was stripped from me, taking me four years to regain. Was I a victim? No sir, and any perceived individual injustices can be written off to having made mistakes that can have unpredictable side effects.
It wasn’t just my freedom that I lost, however. My dream job obviously disappeared, as I could certainly not make it to work each day. In addition, the first girl I ever loved was under a great strain. We were together for three-and-a-half years, but the prospect of years and years of waiting, as well as the stress between us over how difficult both our lives had become was too much. After I was down 18 months, she left me and while I was broken-hearted, I can hardly blame her.
I had lost everything. Didn’t I wish I didn’t lose everything? Don’t I wish I didn’t feel that pain?
First, obviously if I really thought I had lost everything, then it would show a lack of understanding about what it is I really have, but outside of that, it is easy to look back and see how each and every one of those forks in the road has lead to a better life than I would have had if I had “used a wish.”
The money, the cards, the self-indulgence? What was that worth? I make a lot less money now then I did when I was a kid, but I have more wealth. Not only do I have more to show for it, but it means more to me. I value things that I would never have valued when I was a kid. If I buy flowers for a girl today, it means something very different to me then it did when no amount of flowers would “cost” me anything.
I think about all of the things I have accomplished that I never would have, had I not had the motivation of “needing money.” For instance, isn’t it very likely that I never would have written a book? Writing a book is very difficult, but needing to keep a roof over your head is strong motivation. Now that it is written, however, I find it one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. If I had unlimited money, I likely never would have. I hardly was staying sober for a week straight, let alone in a position to finish such an undertaking.
What about my freedom? I didn’t value my freedom ten years ago, the way I value it today. I truly did go to the “School of Hard Knocks.” I experienced strange, dangerous, bizarre, difficult, painful, enlightening, moving, and joyous moments in life that I never would have if I had gotten out of it by way of a wish. It is almost as if I had received a wish a year earlier, as I had almost mystically gotten out of a bad situation. What had changed? Not much, not nearly as much as what was different now, after this four year education.
It is not just about valuing my freedom, my life, though that is a big part of it. It is about how strong I am now, as the trials and tribulations I have endured have giving me priceless experience points, so to speak. If not for the four years I spent behind barbed wire on top of that mountain, I would not be the man I am today. I really like the man I am today.
What about losing my dream job? Well, the truth is, at the time, I wasn’t as good at it as I could be. I was immature. I was used to being an overachiever and did not pour all of my effort into it, or rather I didn’t know how to. It has been nearly eight years since I had that job. I have continued to educate myself, practicing design, pushing myself everyday. I want to do that kind of work again some day, and I have spent the last eight years perfecting the craft, becoming the best possible designer I can be. I am going to keep pushing myself to be better and better, striving to some day have an opportunity to do that kind of work again, as I truly love it and if I have a second chance someday, I will have the benefit of years and years of strengthening of my skills to make me better, as well as added maturity.
What about losing my first love? Well, now I am in Love with the woman of my dreams, an unlikely connection that I never would have made had I “used a wish” so many years ago. My first love? I will always have love for her and I am thankful for our time and experiences together, but there is no question that my girlfriend today is a better fit for me than I ever realized there could be. Surprise, surprise, the Universe knows what I want better than I do! It isn’t just finding a girl that is better for me, it is also about learning to be a better man to a woman. It is about learning Who I really Am, and what Love would do.
Everything I have ever experienced leads me to believe that the Universe doesn’t make mistakes. Everything that happens is the best possible thing to happen. I know it is easy to debate or dispute this, I am merely saying that everything in my life points to this as Truth.
Each and every human experience that I encounter is a blessing that helps me evolve and Know Life. It took each and every experience I have had to bring be today, and it will take each and every experience I am to have to make me reach my full potential. I wouldn’t wish to give up a single one, not for anything.
Thanks very much to Patrick for this contribution!
For those keeping score, Patrick is 1) currently and happily working in game design and 2) got married to his dream girl last summer.
April 6th, 2014 — Comics, Reviews, Superficial Satudays
Comic: CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON #6 Artist: Joe Bennett
I actually remember buying this issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON back in 2004 on account of the cool cover.
It’s got big swaths of primary colors, nice light and dark, and even if Cap looks kind of like a big red, white, and blue thug; Scarlet Witch is expertly rendered (for the style). Even though Wanda is way more covered up than the average girl superhero, she has an inescapable swagger in the backside. But more importantly her hands speak a language of their own. Wanda’s right hand is almost hungry. You can kind of imagine it pulling and pawing at Cap.
It’s not actually Saturday, I know. Also I haven’t done one of these in a while. But this one was in my queue for Superficial Saturdays to cover for a while, and I thought it was appropriate for the weekend. For anyone who has seen the tv commercials, you know that the Falcon is a big part of this weekend’s big movie; and for anyone following Avengers 2 news, you know that the Scarlet Witch is an upcoming character (she makes a short cameo in Winter Soldier).
For what it’s worth, I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier quite a bit. It was a little predictable but still an absurdly good action movie and one of the best comic book superhero movies of all time. If nothing else, it inspired me to get back to these!