Saturday, August 23, 2008

Nixon's Pals

If you ask me Joe Casey is, bar none, the best comic writer working over the last several years.  His work in Cable, Wildcats, Godland etc. is, for my tastes, a perfect blend of old-school superhero wackiness and more modern storytelling techniques.  On my most recent trip to the comic store I picked up his graphic novel, Nixon's Pals, based solely on an advertisement I saw in another comic, I knew nothing about the story and was basing my purchase only on Casey's name. I'm glad I did.  Nixon's Pals isn't treading any new territory for Casey, he had a sort of similar type concept in his series Codeflesh, but it sure is an entertaining idea.

Nixon is a supervillain parole officer and in this graphic novel we follow him around on his job as he tries to keep track of his special brand of lowlife.  Within the first few pages, to set the stage, we see Nixon visit one of his clients only to discover that he has built an inter-dimensional portal in his apartment which he has been using to violate parole.  

Casey's imagination is usually a stong point and this work is no exception, there are throw away characters in this book that many writers would base entire stories around (the radioactive restaurant owner for example) and Casey uses some of them for only a few panels.  The art work is solid, to me it looks like some of the better work out of Avatar comics artists like Jacen Burroughs.  The story isn't quite as good as the high-concept but it is definitely entertaining and I would like to see another story or two set in this world.

Casey continues to be, for me, really the only "can't miss" writer working in comics these days and as long as he keeps turing out entertaining, original stories like this I will continue to buy them based solely on his name on the cover.

Rock Band Songs I'd Like to See Part 2

I meant to finish posting this last week but I didn't get around to it.

7.  Big Bang Baby - Stone Temple Pilots

My favorite STP song.  Upon listening to it it sounds like it would be relatively easy (like Sex Type Thing which is already in the game) but super entertaining and the end is fantastic.

6.  Dope Train - The Vines

I would love to see The Vines represented in Rock Band.  Any song off of Vision Valley would be fine with me but this is my favorite.  It has a bit of a tricky guitar part and would be fun to sing.

5.  Sometimes Salvation - Black Crowes

There is one song by The Black Crowes is Rock Band presently (actually it's a cover) but in my opinion they could have chosen several better songs.  The Southern Harmony and Musical COmpanion is an absolute classic album so most songs off of it would be great but I think Sometimes Salvation would be the best.  It has some good, tough guitar and bass parts and features Chris Robinson in one of his best vocal performances.  Actually they should just put the entire album out as DLC.

4. Impossible Germany - Wilco

Off of Sky Blue Sky, Impossible Germany has one of my favorite guitar solos of all time.  This would be a pretty epic song for the guitarist but would be possibly boring for the singer, not that there aren't other songs already in the game like that;  Green Grass for example.

3.  Auf Weidersehen - Cheap Trick

A ridiculously awesome song which would be pretty damn hard  on drums from what I can tell. This one would be pretty tough but the factor would be huge, having a large portion of the lyrics in other languages would possibly make things difficult for the singer as well.

2.  Hell Below/Stars Above - The Toadies

The Toadies really need to get in Rock Band.  The drums in this song are very fast and it sounds like it's a pretty relentless beat for minutes at a time.  There's a lot of good guitar and some great sing-along lyrics that would make this song perfect for the game.

1. One Big Holiday - My Morning Jacket

It has my favorite guitar solo ever recorded and would be something of a bitch to play I'm sure.  The song starts right away with a tricky guitar riff and drum lick and goes for a minute or so before the other instruments even come in.  It's possible a lot of bands would fail out even before the bassist and singer get a chance to show their stuff (like in Foreplay/Longtime) but the experience would be worth it for those that play the song through.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Severance Package

I just finished reading the novel Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski.  I've been in the mood recently to read a straight forward action novel and on my last trip to the bookstore I spotted this book.  It definitely lived up to the action billing but it's really anything but straight forward.

Severance Package is a fun, goofy action/espionage novel.  The high concept is that an everyday guy goes to work one morning and is given the unfortunate news that he actually works for a cover organization in international espionage and that due to some mistakes everyone in his office is going to have to commit suicide.  The star, Jamie, doesn't agree with the program and so the rest of the novel details his adventure in trying to get out of the building.  Along the way you are introduced to the whole crew in the office some of whom know the deal and others who were in the dark.  

There is a lot of humor in the book, office politics on a small scale mixed with international intrigue and terrorism and the action scenes are very entertaining but there are a few problems with the story.  It really feels like it was written to show around Hollywood, it's like a book that wants to be a movie and I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up in theaters in the next year or two, as a matter of fact I would be surprised if it DOESN'T end up a movie.  It feels like it could very easily be a Tarantino movie or possibly more likely a Tarantino-imitator movie and I think it would make for a good one.  This isn't a bad thing necessarily but it makes for a story that seems very thin, I read this book in just a couple hours.  The characters are pretty thin and aren't given much to do outside of a short introductory scene for each of them, aside from the main two characters I mixed up who was who quite a lot and honestly I don't think it made one bit of difference.

In the end, I would recommend it if you like action but if you're looking for anything more you could very easily wait for the movie on this one.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Top 10 Songs That Should be in Rock Band part 1

Like many people who play Rock Band I have a list of songs that I think really should be in the game.  I decided I would make a top ten list of songs that I would like to see.  I gave myself a couple rules about what can appear on the list.

The song has to have discernible guitar, bass, drums and vocals.  That cuts out a lot of my favorite music; no White Stripes, Cornershop, They Might Be Giants, etc.

(After making this list I noticed today that Rock Band announced that they are releasing a couple new Devo songs and that they actually paid the band to come in and re-record with the necessary instruments. For example they might turn a synthesizer line into a bass line.  Interesting.)

The song has to be by a band that I can imagine them actually putting in the game.  In the early to mid-90's I was really into pop-punk, Lookout Records type music and so I would LOVE to see bands like:  Good Riddance, The Vindictives, Screeching Weasel and The Gain but I just can't see that ever happening.

And my last rule, just for fun, the song has to be on my Ipod right now.

The first part of the list:

10. Champagne Supernova - Oasis

The first several songs on my list I picked mainly because they are just great songs.  I think this song would be pretty easy even on the most difficult settings just like the Oasis songs that are already in the game.   There is a bit of a solo at the end but it wouldn't be too much of a challenge.  It's a great sing along with a huge swell towards the end.

9. Rock Around With Ollie Vee - Buddy Holly

Old time Rock and Roll is sorely under represented in Rock Band right now.  Chuck Berry might be a better choice for some because of his superior guitar but in my opinion you can't go wrong with Buddy Holly and this is my favorite song of his.   I would bet that the singing would be the hardest part.  Imitating Buddy Holly's lilt thing that he did where the pitch goes at the end of nearly every line could be hard.

8.  Jonathon Fisk - Spoon

I really, really wanted to put a Spoon song on this list.  One of my favorite bands of the last few years with one of the best albums of the 2000's in Kill the Moonlight.  I chose Jonathon Fisk because it's honestly, as far as I can tell, one of the only songs of theirs that would work at all in Rock Band.  The guitar and bass would be easy (I promise I chose some songs that would be more difficult later on this list) but the drums would be tough.

That's it for now, I will post the rest of the list some other time, probably this weekend.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Battlefield: Bad Company

My console of choice when playing video games these days is the Xbox 360, I also own a Wii but honestly it acts mainly as a novelty in our house.  It gets used when friends or family are visiting who invariably want to try out Wii Sports or something, it was fun for a while and it still is with friends but it's really not worth the money if you, like me, play most of the time by yourself. 

With that being said, the first person shooter (FPS) is a very popular genre for me, not so much because I love them but because it's the most popular genre on the system I have.  Even within the genre of first person shooters there is a sub-genre that is overly represented on Xbox which is realistic military FPS'.  I have, over the years, grown very weary of this sort of game and really have very little interest in playing most of them.

For some reason though I was interested in Battlefield: Bad Company.  I think it was mainly that there is presently a dearth of new games to play that I am interested in and I guess I am glad for that.   Bad Company is one of the best shooters I have played in years, in my opinion it far surpasses Halo 3 and probably even Bioshock for pure fun.  There are experiences to be had in Bad Company that you have never had in a video game.  The main experience for me that added greatly to the excitement of the game is it's level of destructibility (that may not be a word!).  In most shooters, even in the good ones, you can get yourself a moment's reprieve by jumping behind nearly any object and hiding.  In some games a few objects will blow up or maybe you can shoot through other objects but in Bad Company there truly is no cover from the bigger weapons.

The first time I attempted to hide from a tank in a nearby house only to have the entire kitchen wall blown out within seconds was shockingly cool.  The entire side of the house blew in a cloud of dust, smoke and debris and I was a sitting duck for the soldiers sitting outside.  The larger battles in this game, because of this level of destruction, are some of the best I have ever seen in a game.  After the battle there will be houses that are basically only frames, holes in the ground and fallen trees everywhere.  The destruction works to your benefit too, once you get in a tank or if you have the more powerful weapons you feel pretty damn in control, watch three dudes hide behind a wall for cover and then just blow the entire thing to bits, very satisfying.

Some people probably say this game is too easy and I guess they would have a point, you basically have all of the health packs you want (you are only limited to a 30 second or so wait time between uses), but I honestly like that.  These days I don't want a game that takes me 40 hours to get through in most cases (Fallout 3 is the exception) and this one took me about 12 hours on the default difficulty.

Also, admittedly I am not much of an online gamer so perhaps I don't fully appreciate games like Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4 but from what I understand Bad Company is pretty great in the online department as well, maybe I will try it out at some point.  In any case, Bad Company is definitely recommended.


It's my first posting on what I intend to be a site mainly with reviews of the pop culture I consume and what better way to begin than with a book that's almost 80 years old?

I am a huge fan of H.G. Wells, the author of this book, and spend a great deal of time in used book stores looking for old works of his that I have yet to read.  Although he wrote over 100 books only maybe 5 or 10 of them would be available in your typical Barnes and Noble and if you take a look in a used book store you would perhaps find as many as 15 or 20.  On occasion you find one of his less common books and that is what I am always searching for when I visit a used book store.

When reading about Wells' work it seems that Star-Begotten is one of his more popular later works but when I found this recently in a bookstore in Minneapolis it was the first time I had ever seen it for sale.  The edition I purchased is published by Manor Books but doesn't have a date anywhere on it which is odd, it looks to be from the 60's based on the art style and price.

This is a story about a man who, during a conversation with some people more intelligent than him, gets it into his head that earth is being affected by Martians.  He becomes obsessed with the notion that Martians are sending cosmic rays to earth that penetrate the wombs of pregnant mothers and alter the babies to their (the Martians') ends.

It's one of Wells' better novels in my opinion and comes across as thoroughly modern to me.  The concept behind the novel is to follow this idea around different parts of society as it "affects" different minds.  The initial man, Joseph, tells his doctor about it who then discusses it with a scientist friend of his, eventually it ends up in the newspapers and all over the world.  Here, Wells has come up with one of his best plots for social commentary ever.  In many of his novels he comes across as overly didactic and I suppose some people would say he is here too but it all fits within the context of the story as he makes statements about the gullibility but also the open-mindedness of our society.  It is left open until the very end whether or not there is actually any threat from outer space which is unusually vague for Wells, generally he would lay out all the answers for you from the get go but here the reader is left to decide whether these people are crazy or not.

There is also one (very small) but interesting part in this book when it becomes clear that at least some of the characters in it have read the other novels by H.G. Wells and make a couple comments on them.  I found this to be quite shocking, it's the kind of thing I wouldn't be surprised to see in a Vonnegut book or any post-Alan Moore comic books but in a Wells book from the 30's? Weird.  In a good way.

Overall I would say this book is definitely worth checking out if you see it for sale.  It's very short, my edition ran 173 pages, and very entertaining start to finish.