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Infinite Arcanum
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So I recently reread Crisis on Infinite Earths. This reread inspired me to go read a lot of old DC stuff; Infinity Inc., All Star Squadron, and the subject of this post, Arion Lord of Atlantis.
Arion first appeared in an issue of Warlord. Something I was aware of but was unaware that it was an ongoing backup feature than ran every month from his first appearance until his own series started. This becomes readily apparent upon reading the first issue.

The first issue is written by Paul Kupperberg with art (pencils and inks) by Jan Duursema, who are the creators of the character and the team on the backups. The art in the first issue is gorgeous. Some of the poses are kinda stiff. (I'm not sure if stiff is right, I'm not the greatest at art criticism.) It's also probably my least favorite version of Chian. I don't know if it's Duursema figuring that character out, or if it's the inkers that will later come on that will add to that character in particular. But everything else is stellar. And I do mean stellar. Most of the action takes place in space as Arion battles sentient celestial "star stuff" that claims to be his mother and brings him back home. It is in these cosmic space moments that the art rally shines. It is clear and clean, but there is a hint of wistfulness to it that lends itself to the abstractness of the cosmic forces Arion is dealing with. The stuff on earth is strong, bold, and expressive.

These are all things that Duursema will bring to the series as a whole. She does, however, gain different inkers in different places that are obvious changes, even to me. This is very jarring, and can lead to the art, most notably the depiction of characters, to be somewhat inconsistent. Mara, in particular, seems to change ages drastically issue to issue because of this. Chian is next. Though her age doesn’t vary, just her facial features and overall appearance seems to vary widely from one inker to the next. But the art is never bad. It remains beautiful throughout. At least up until 21, which is the last issue that I have.
Tom Mandrake is the first inker Duursema will have. This is the harder one for me to describe. In some aspects, especially facial expressions but many others as well, it seems to add a little bit of cartoonishness to the art. Things are softer, with less of an edge to them and a little less defined. But there are times we get extreme close-ups at series character moments and he injects a little bit more grit to Duursema’s pencils. Mandrake seems to have a soft line for the generic action, but when it comes time to get series, he injects a hardness, a little dirtiness to the art that really seems to work.
Bob Smith takes over after Mandrake and finishes out the rest of my run. He brings a classic, traditional look to the art. When Smith takes over, it looks like what I think of when I think of 80s DC. It is super clean and clear and beautiful. Duursema is still great at emoting, but Smith really does seem to clean things up a bit. It's my least favorite of the styles, but it's probably the prettiest. His Chian is my favorite, though. This change reflects a change in the story as well. I think it fits these issues better than the other styles would. By the time Smith takes over on inks, the story in Arion has switched from a unique take on Sword and Sorcery fantasy and settles into a fantasy superhero book. A lot of the fantasy elements that originally drew me to it are replaced by more traditional comic stories, and Smith's inks serve the same function over Duursema's fantastic pencils.

Onto the story. Paul Kupperberg writes most of the story. Issue one starts off very overwritten and is extremely abstract, even in the voice over. It’s very hard to get into. Some of the difficulty of getting into the story is because it feels very much like coming into the end of the story. I would assume, not having read the Warlord backups, that this is exactly what is happening. Arion’s body is possessed, his astral form is a prisoner in space and so on. But if you trudge through the first half of the book and catch yourself up, it is a very entertaining story, even if it is overwritten.
Doug Moench takes over for an arc or so and rewrites the origin. I don’t like when other creators change the vision of the character’s original creator, but Moench makes the origin so much easier to understand, and puts so much character into the cast. He also really grounds the book in Sword and Sorcery tropes. Only the main character uses magic instead of it being used by various antagonistic wizards in the like that you’d normally find in Conan stories. It does feel like a magic Conan at times. Not that he’s a barbarian and is slaughtering hordes with his magic, but it’s obvious it could share a gene, just replacing a giant sword with magic. Castles are taken and turned hostile, kings go into exile, enemies are revealed to be brothers and representative of dark and light magic, and Arion is even given a quest to go and find a monastery that teaches magic so he can learn new spells. I’m all in at this point.
Now Arion’s main quest in the book so far, and what is referenced in his appearance in Crisis, is to stop the ice age from destroying Atlantis. He is the prophesied hero of Atlantis and this is his destiny. For a series that runs 35 issues, I wasn’t expecting this to be solved in issue 10.
Arion happens upon Icestarr. A Red Sonja type of femme fatale and seductress. She is from the north and in her origin she is depicted wearing Nordic style clothes. So I'm even more sold now. She was tricked into helping a mage trap a frost giant into a crystal. To keep said frost giant imprisoned, it draws power from the sun, weakening the sun and pulling the earth into an ice age. The crystal is broken, Arion battles the frost giant and the earth thaws and the ice is gone. I was shocked in 2 ways in this issue. First was that the ice problem is solved 10 issues in, and two was the death of Icestarr. It shouldn't have been surprising. If this had been an old fantasy novel or Conan story, I would have seen that coming a mile away. But since it's comics and villains tend to stick around to menace the hero again in the future, I was surprised.

It's not long after this that Kupperberg takes over again. The stories are still good, but it loses some of the fantasy elements that made it exciting to me. Arion spends most of his time depowered, but still being able to cast a spell here and there somehow. He gets his magic back only to lose it again shortly. He searches for ways to get his magic back and fight his brother and so on. They're still overwritten. Something can't just be painful or even torturous, it has to be writhing in pain that is unbeknownst to mankind and the likes of which will never be felt again on the earth, and things like that.

There's a really cool pirate story. There's the unfortunate genocide of an entire Native American kingdom. Not only did that fall flat and feel in poor taste, but its part of one of the main character's story line. He gets called home, we see him get married and become king, and his kingdom gets destroyed by a flood and his wife turned into a mermaid and all of his people killed. Not only does this happen in one issue, it happens in the course of one night. It just felt sorta like a Michael Bay or Zack Snyder ending. An awesome epic event as the conclusion but it falls flat emotionally because of how over the top and "extreme" it is and just feels unwarranted and missing the point.

But I don't want to come down too hard on Kupperberg. The stories are fun and entertaining. The only negative to them is they fulfill a different thing than what was promised at the beginning.

So all in all, I would recommend to any who loves 80s DC, Jan Duursema, or Sword and Sorcery comics to give it a try. They can be found in the cheap bins. The art is amazing, and it can really show a non-art aficionado what impact an inker can have. Jan Duursema's work is gorgeous in this book. Andy Kubert makes a cameo appearance as the series letterer. And the story is fun and exciting. It starts off with good fantasy, and at least up until issue 21, ends with good solid stories of a superhero feel in a fantasy setting.
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9/5/16
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I have never read a manga before. I have tried watching some popular anime before, but could never get into it. There is just something about that aesthetic that I can’t get into. However, due to my obsession with Dark Souls, and finding out how much of an influence it had on Hidetaka Miyazaki, Berserk got my attention. The final straw was Gary and Cole on Bonfire Side Chat at http://duckfeed.tv/bonfiresidechat/ talking about it. So I finally broke down and bought Berserk. Berserk is a comic put out in Japan written and drawn by Kentaro Miura and translated and brought to the U.S. by Dark Horse’s Digital Manga Distribution, an effort to bring Japanese comics to American readers.
First off, let me address reading a Japanese comic. I think its a good thing Dark Horse is bringing a lot of these stories over from Japan. One only has to see the Manga section of Barns and Noble compared to the comics section to see how good of an idea it was. But business and financial things aside, I think it’s good for people to read stories from all over. I love being able to read Blacksad and Jacques Tardi, and would love to see more European stuff brought over. But outside of that, foreign comics have been a blind spot to me. So good on Dark Horse for allowing that. As far as I can tell, the translation is very good. The dialog is easy to follow, and I haven’t come across anything that seemed weird or made me stop and notice bad wording. I wish there was a way to translate some of the sound effects, but as they are drawn into the art, I understand why they aren’t, and would never advocate changing an artist’s work. Especially for something as petty as a sound effect. There are times that I’m not a 100% on what is happening because I can’t read the sound effect and have no way of looking it up, but so far it hasn’t been anything I haven’t been able to puzzle out. The biggest issue is the right to left thing. It took a little bit, but I did get the panels right fairly easily. But even now, I still find myself reading the word balloons in each panel in the wrong order. I’m getting better, but it does still lead to some confusion and frustration.
When it comes to story, I would be hard pressed to tell you what the plot of the story is. After all, I’m only two and half volumes into an almost forty volume story. It seems that Guts (the protagonist) is a vagabond swordsman who fights demons and monsters and the like whenever he comes across them. As of yet, I haven’t picked up on that he has any real sense of direction, only that he drifts from town to town, fighting whatever evil ails that village. The first couple of stories are shorter. He shows up at a village and saves a small fairy elf named Puck. This implied to me a heart of gold underneath his rugged exterior similar to the traveling gun slinger, fighting for the little man and against oppression and all of that. This may or may not turn out to be the case. I haven’t decided yet. As he constantly bemoans those not capable of protecting themselves, and goes out of his way to insult and verbally abuse Puck.
The series starts out with him killing a demon in the woods by allowing it to think it had seduced him, a short be effective prologue to the series as a whole, followed by his rescue as Puck. This is the prologue to his character, and will set the tone for him just as the demon murder did for the series. The rescue of Puck kicks off the first story, where Guts fights his way out of the town, and to Koka Castle. The mayor of the village has been sending prisoners to the baron of the castle so he can devour them. Guts confronts the baron and his army, uses his massive sword to defeat them, and dual the baron who transforms into a rad looking snake demon monster, before being vanquished by Guts.
The next story is another one off, where Guts hitches a ride with a traveling family. Their wagon comes across an old battle site where the massive amount of death has attracted a demon who raises the dead to fight them. Guts fights off the demons and the skeletons, there is a tragedy and the story ends.
Next comes the Guardians of Desire story line. The first big story line. It takes up the ending of volume 1, all of volume 2, and the first half of volume 3. I haven’t finished this story yet, but it seems to follow the same pattern. Guts shows up into town. Gets himself in trouble, and ensnared in some way, then fights his way out and ultimately confronts a demon who is acting as a corrupting force in some way. It’s longer, so is allowed to breathe some more and adds complexity onto it.
I break it down that simply not because it’s a simple story, but because I feel like it is doing a good job of giving the reader an outline of what’s going on in this world in the first couple of stories, then building off of that and adding complexity to it in a very clever way. I trust this won’t be the same for all thirty something volumes, as we reach different acts in the overarching story of the series. But for right now, it’s working.
That all being said, my first reaction to the story was that I didn’t like it. It feels off, probably because Miura is still finding his feet in the story, and it’s from another completely different culture, so some things won’t mesh or click. Mixed with the fact that even just reading it in the right order can be an issue at times, it’s no wonder that the story didn’t gel with me. However, the biggest issue was the protagonist himself. Miura goes out of his way to make the reader not like Guts. Puck is so cute and innocent and Guts does nothing but bully, belittle, and insult her. He has no sympathetic qualities at all. He is a horrible person, and in no way inspires us to root for him. He doesn’t seem concerned for innocent bystanders, as long as he gets what he wants. So I felt let down by the story when I try to break it down.
That being said, there was something there. Something made me instantly order volume two when I finished the first one. I’m not sure what it was. I think it may be the world. The world is very compelling and reminds me of the Witcher series. A world where there are no truly good people. No one is innocent. The antagonists of the story need to be fought against. They are people, who have given up their humanity to demons and have been transformed into monstrosities, that are evil to the core and are oppressing others with said evil. The people who seem to be innocent are in fact not. They are flawed. They are selling their citizens like food to a demon to protect their family, or serve a corrupt count as a torturer until he sees the count become a demon and devour his family. I have only seen a few truly innocent characters in it so far, and so far they have served as a source of tragedy. I don’t know the fate of Puck or the Count’s daughter yet, but I can’t imagine it’s good. I don’t know why I find this intriguing, but I do. I’ve always been attracted to dark fantasy. It’s where I go for what other people go to horror movies for. I don’t mean dark fantasy like what other people call Martin’s and Abercrombie’s stuff. Those are good, but being brutal and gritty and “grim dark” aren’t the same thing.
One of the things that makes this world so appealing is the art. The first couple of pages of each story start off either painted, or heavily shaded. It looks really good, but I think would be hard on both the artist and the reader to keep pace like that. So after that initial taste, it switches to a more conventional approach. But it doesn’t look like normal manga. Looking like one isn’t bad, it’s just not always for me. This strays away from that. There are times when Guts laughs or something like that, that I can tell its a manga, but for the most part Miura keeps it dark and gross enough that it doesn’t look like traditional manga art. (And I mean gross in a good intentional way.) The one exception being Puck. The one good, innocent, and upbeat character in the whole story. So it fits, as it stands in stark contrast to the dark and evil world around her. It also allows her to be funny in a world without light or hope and is refreshing.
The art is fantastic. Especially the splash pages. The action, especially in close ups, can get confusing for me. I don’t know if that’s a being new to manga thing, or if it’s legitimately not clear in places, but there were times I had a hard time following what was happening. But everything looks so cool. The splash pages are so full of energy and motion. Miura does a good job of making it look like Guts is putting all of his weight into swinging his sword. Sadly I’m not versed enough in art critique to give this art its proper due. But it looks real good.
And with the exception of Guts’ crossbow hand, I love the design for everything. I wish Guts’ design was a little more traditional fantasy, but everything else is perfect. I love the armors and variety of weapons. The demons are gross and scary and imposing and cool. The count is super gross as he continues to regenerate into bulging tumor masses after he takes damage. The skeleton fight in the forest is so atmospheric and dangerous. He mixes in fog to great effect, and even switches to no backgrounds at time to put an emphasis on a particular move. I love that it’s in black and white. Most of the time. The fight with the count, Guts slowly gets surrounded by the mass that the count has become, and it gets hard to tell what is the count and what is the background. Thematically that could work, but just personal preference I would like for that to have been easier to tell.
So if you enjoy dark fantasy horror, then I highly recommend it. The art is an unqualified win. When broken down and analyzed on paper, the story doesn’t seem like it should work. When I think about it, try to dissect the story, none of the things that are traditionally used to make good story or captivating characters are there, but the parts add up to be more than the whole, and Miura comes up with a win, with a story that made me instantly want to come back for more.

A search for “horror fantasy” on Goodreads brings up a list of the top 50 in that genre, a list dominated by Stephen King and Anne Rice, with an occasional Clive Barker and even Twilight book thrown in for good measure. Searching “dark fantasy” proved to be much more helpful in providing a workable list. Many of the books mentioned earlier appear on those lists, as well as authors like George McDonald and even Tolkien. Some Arthurian tales even pop here and there. Which in and of itself is not a problem, except that I had in mind to go through fantasy in much the same way, so my two list are cannibalizing each other.
Why am I bringing all of this up now? Two reasons, mainly. The first being that I don’t yet know how I am going to divide everything up yet, so the succession of books may seem wild and unpredictable at first. Which could be a good thing, just to serve as a pallet cleanser for me. The second is because my first topic is on the early works of H.P. Lovecraft, and not only do I not have much to say, but I couldn’t find a lot of discussion out there other than people saying how cute it is to imagine an eight year old Lovecraft already writing. I’m sure I’ve bored you enough with with justifying my indecisiveness, so I’ll get down to it now.
Lovecraft’s Juvenilia includes six stories: The Little Glass Bottle, The Secret Cave, They Mystery Of The Graveyard, The Mysterious Ship, The Beast In The Cave, and The Alchemist.
The Little Glass Bottle was written in 1897. There’s not much to say on this one. When I first started reading it, I had to stop. I couldn’t believe how bad it was, and originally thought it due to a lazy unprofessional digital distributor looking to make a quick buck off of a popular work that had dropped into public domain. But once I finished the story, I couldn’t believe that this was written by the master who would go on to create the horrifying Cthulhu and the Necronomicon. Then upon looking at when it was written, I realized that Lovecraft wrote it when he was seven. This change in perspective lead to an appreciation for what this actually was. I reread it with this in mind, and actually enjoyed it. The story is basically one sailor playing a joke on another. A sailor finds a glass bottle with a map indicating where a ship laden with treasure sunk. The sailor and his buds get excited, follow the map, only to find another note at the end saying “Just kidding. Don’t talk to strangers.” It’s a fun and silly little story that I could easily see a seven year old telling. The most impressive part is that he went through the process of writing it. Which explains a lot of the weird wordings, punctuation, and spellings.
The Secret Cave was written a year later. The story is not any more complex, but noticeably darker. And whereas the last one had somewhat of a cautionary tale to it, it was mainly just fun. This one has a dark insight, made all the darker when thinking it was written by an eight year old. In this one, a brother and his younger sister are left at home while the parents go out for date night. Once they leave the kids are playing in the basement and the sister discovers a hidden cave. The two kids explore the cave, and find treasure at the back of it. But in getting the treasure, the brother opens up a hole and the cave floods. The boy is fine, but the sister drowns. Which is pretty dark. But it gets worse. The brother makes his escape via a row boat that he finds, and Lovecraft writes about how the brother rows the boat back to the entrance in silence, in darkness, with the body of his dead sister beside him the whole way. And the story ends that after the funeral, he looks and sees that the treasure is a giant chunk of gold, that will let him buy anything, except the life of his sister. That seems really dark and deep for an eight year old, and to me hints at that as he grows up, there is going to be some heavy, dark, and depressing stuff in his works. I know that can be a dangerous road to walk, but it stands out so much to me, especially when compared to the story written just a year ago.
The third story The Mystery Of The Graveyard is also written in 1898. So two stories for eight year old Lovecraft. This one is much lighter, and pulpy. I could see a kid who read Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Burrough’s John Carter and Tarzan stories writing this one. It involves a kidnapping plot and a quick draw gunslinger tracking down the criminals and bringing them to jail. There are shootouts and mysterious trap doors and a race against a train. Pretty standard action adventure stuff. The real standout to me is Lovecraft starts experimenting with point of view and chapters. This is easily his longest story yet, and is divided up into chapters. The chapters are only a paragraph or so long, but he did put chapters in. Each chapter is from the point of view of a different character. And he manages to not break point of view, which is impressive. At the point where the gunslinger has to race the train, he hires a coach. That chapter is from the point of view of the coach driver. He stays in character so well, as the driver doesn’t know who the gunslinger is, so his name isn’t mentioned in the chapter. Though Lovecraft does add in a footnote to let us know just in case we don’t figure it out.
The Mysterious Ship was written in 1902. To me, this is the least interesting one. There is a short version, which is specified as being told via The Royal Press and a long version which is written by Anonymous. So the concept of unreliable narrators and hidden knowledge starts coming up. Which I will say surprises me from someone who is only twelve years old. That being said, I don’t feel like the long version revealed anything new, and is pretty close to being word for word the same as the short version. The story involves a ship that shows up in three different places, kidnaps one person from each, then takes them to no man’s land at the north pole where a battle happens and the three hostages are rescued. To me, the standouts are that he created a fictional area of the north pole that’s not frozen over, very pulpy to me, and the use of submarines. Other than that, not much stood out to me.
The Beast In The Cave was written in 1905. This is my favorite of his early stuff. Right off the bat its notable that the entire story is first person. The second thing I noticed was just how improved his prose is here. It’s not where it will be, but it’s vastly improved, and probably better than the prose in my fiction now. Which is somewhat disheartening. The story is of a man on a spelunking cave tour and gets separated from the group and lost in the cave. This man goes through a little character arc of his own, which is a first in these stories. He goes from being scared but hopeful, where he is looking and shouting for the group, to despair where he resigns himself to starving to death. At one point he hears something behind him and becomes scared that he will be prey to a wild animal, and goes from being scared to being thankful that he will have a quick death, instead of starving over a long period of time. This new found peace doesn’t stop him for fighting for his life though, and he kills the strange creature and flees the area. He runs into the group, and he and the guide go back with light to where he fought the beast. Only too, in a shock ending, to discover that the animal he just killed was another person who had been lost in the cave long enough to go feral, if he had ever been outside at all. So some of the darkness starts to creep back in, but the real star of this is the first person and the improved prose.
The Alchemist was written in 1908. This one again has a large step up in prose. But it also goes a long way in developing atmosphere. The first several paragraphs are all about setting atmosphere. The setting of a wet, dank, crumbling, decaying, ruin of a castle is established early, and is clearly set up to parallel the state of the protagonist’s family line. He is the last of his family because of a curse put on his family by alchemists/sorcerers centuries ago in medieval France. The protagonist returns to the castle to claim it as the last of his family, and most of the story is him researching the curse, its origins, and dark magic and spells to find a way to lift it. Though not perfect, the slow unstoppable march of time and the dread that comes to the character with each tick of the clock as he draws closer to the appointed time of the curse is used pretty well in establishing a sense of tension. The time that transpires occurs not in a “the clock is counting down too fast to disable the bomb kind of way”, but in a way that time moves slowly when you watch the clock and being able to watch your doom get closer with each tick of the clock; The slow inevitable march or time. The culmination of the story is the protagonist finding a strange chamber in the castle where he meets the sorcerer who cursed his family all those years ago. He discovers there was no curse, but that the alchemist had discovered the potion to eternal youth and was just killing his family when they reached a certain age. Though the protagonist escapes the curse in the end, the use of black magic, the sense inescapable doom, isolation, and in this case unknowable knowledge instead of forbidden knowledge really starts to put together some of the themes that Lovecraft will use to much greater effects later once he masters his craft.
Sorry for the length, I’ll try to more concise in the future. I don’t think I’m going to cover as much material at once in the future though, so hopefully that will help. Thank you for sticking with me in my long windedness, and I hope you come back and check out my other stuff.

Supergirl aired on Monday night to huge numbers. According to IGN and TVByTheNumbers it has the highest debut of any comic book based TV show. Not only that, but it aired simultaneously as Gotham on Fox and had triple the ratings. I don’t find that surprising considering the track record of the creators of Supergirl and personal inability to find quality in Gotham. But that aside, I’m thrilled Supergirl opened so well. I’m glad to have a Superman family show that knows that the S-shield is supposed to inspire hope and saying it stands for hope doesn’t mean the same thing. And to have a female led super hero show take off.

I enjoyed the first episode. It was fun and full of energy. Something that the DC movies lack. It’s no surprise once you realize that Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisburg, the creators of Flash and Arrow, are two of the three show runners. Ali Adler is the third. I haven’t seen most of her stuff, Chuck and Glee being among the shows she’s worked on, but looking at her IMDB page it’s no surprise that the show would be light hearted and fun. It actually reminds me a lot of the Flash show. It takes joy in being a superhero show. The first episode was happy and bright and cheerful. Melisa Benoist is a joy to watch on screen as Kara and is genuinely excited to have powers and to be heroic. Her ultimate goal is to save and help people, not vengeance or to scare criminals. Melisa/Kara to me feel like Grant Gustin as Barry Allen or even Peter Parker, who enjoy having powers and being a hero, and even have banter and smile while saving people.

Superman is absent from the show. An absence that I understand for legal reasons going on behind the scenes, but does feel very un-Superman like in character. But I understand that they don’t have the rights to him, so I can let it go. But the show keeps reminding you that he’s not there. They do call him Superman once in the show, but after that they go out of there way to not call him Superman. Cat Grant calls him Superlativeman, which actually made me chuckle, to S man, or big blue and so on. It just feels off, and awkwardly handled as the show tries to work its way around not being able to have Superman in the show. But Jimmy Olsen is there. Only he’s buff now and goes by James. I’m hoping its not just for having a hot guy in the show, but that it’s worked into the story. Superman has been active in Metropolis for years now and I’m hoping that this is a Jimmy that has grown up under Superman’s tutelage. That Superman helped and inspired him to be the best he could, and now he’s going to help Kara do the same. He does hint at that at the end of the first episode, but we’ll see. 

There are lots of hints to Superman lore in the show. Supergirl is obvious. Cat Grant is the celebrity news/gossip column for the Daily Planet and now is off on her own. James Olsen is much the same. Both get a decent amount of screen time and fleshing out and handled pretty well. The one area of darkness for the show comes from Kara’s adopted sister’s job, which is headed by Hank Henshaw, a name significant to Superman fans of the 90s, and I’m interested to see how they handle that. His attitude is very similar to that of Lex Luther’s. Humanity doesn’t need alien help, and all aliens are a threat. I’m wondering if that’s the role he’ll serve in the show, or if he’ll just be the begrudging disgruntled boss. Then there’s Vartox. Who in this episode, is even less than a generic villain of the week. He’s the villain of the last half of the episode. Just a throw away villain who could’ve been anyone, they just threw the name Vartox on him. And lastly, maybe, is Win Schott. Who in the comics is Winslow Schott, is Kara’s best friend and co-worker. He plays a semi important role in the show. It’s who Kara confides in and who makes her costumes for her. But I went the whole episode without knowing his name. It wasn’t until I was looking up some facts for this article that I read about Win Schott and looked up who that actually was. Sadly I think his character arc is pretty predictable by the looks of it now, but hopefully the show will surprise us and it’ll have a big impact on Kara’s character. And of course, last but not least is the Kara’s adopted earth parents. Dean Cain, formerly Superman, and Helen Slater, who was formerly Supergirl herself. 

The negatives of the show are few but big. The most minor was the special effects. There were a couple of shots that seemed off to me, but Flash and Arrow worked those out for the most part so I expect them to figure out what works, and what doesn’t. The biggest issues were that so far, the villains are very bland and generic. And the conceit of the show is a very convenient set up for a villain of the week format, which doesn’t excite me. There were some cheesy dialog and acting, but if they can get some interesting antagonist and something deeper than round up this list of bad guys for the main plot, I can get over any of the other shortfalls. 

In the end, Supergirl was a lot of fun and breath of fresh air. Melissa Benoist was fun and entertaining and genuine. I loved Henry Cavil’s performance as Superman, but I don’t have any confidence in Zac Snyder to deliver a satisfying Superman to me on the big screen. Luckily I think I’ll be able to get it from Melissa Benoist is the show follows the trajectory of it’s creators other two shows.

I’ve always been a big Tomb Raider fan. True, I got started playing Sonic, but my earliest memories of playing “grown up” games were of the Tomb Raider demo, scaling the great wall, killing that one tiger over and over again. I played it so many times on my dad’s computer. I remember getting the Playstation for Christmas, upgrading from the Sega Genesis, and having to search the tree for the hidden games deep in the branches, similar to the way I would be searching later on in the game. It was mind blowing. I had a Genesis, and my dad’s strategy games on his PC. Sonic is what got me started, but Tomb Raider is the game I grew up with. I haven’t played all of them, and beaten even less of them. I did enjoy the Anniversary series of the game, and am loving the new direction the games are going. But when I heard Square was making a mobile game, I sighed and rolled my eyes. Of course they are. Everyone is. Knights of the Old Republic and Bio Shock are both on the iPad now. Mobile games are cash cows, a license to print money it seems. And with the trend of micro transactions slowly leeching it’s way into “real” gaming, it’s hard for traditional gamers to give mobile games any slack. I tried Sonic 4. It was glorified endless runner and didn’t hold my attention at all. I expected no different from Lara Croft Go. But for reasons I’m not sure of, I gave it a shot, and really enjoyed it.

I’ll start with story, since that’s usually the biggest thing for me. There’s not much of one here. Not in the Michael Bay Transformers no story, but in the classic Mario kind of no story. There’s no dialog in the game. But the game and level design is enough to let you know, Lara wants past a door for a certain artifact and each chapter of the game is unlocking one of the locks on said door. That’s all you really need, and the game is satisfying as you see one lock after another open. There is a Jormungandr type of giant serpent that stalks you throughout the game which sets up the climax very nicely. The first little bit I could see something moving and wasn’t 100% on what it was, but as the game went on, it became larger and more threatening and built anticipation for the final showdown. The story isn’t the point of emphasis of the game, but works with the knowledge that Lara is a treasure hunter and wants the artifact that’s locked away. The design of the game tells the rest and it works great.

The game play is fairly straight forward, but smooth and intuitive. I don’t normally like touch screen controls, but it works excellently in this game. Its a puzzle game, so you aren’t using twitch reflex controls or trying to find arbitrary digital buttons, you simply just swipe down to move Lara down, right to move her right and so on. The game lays out paths for you to take, so it plays very much like a digital board game in the respect. There’s no aiming or anything like that, you simply auto shoot an enemy as you occupy the space, just like in checkers or chess. Things do get a little more complex when using things like spears. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to figure spears out. I thought I had to equip them or activate them in some way, when in reality, if you are in a direct line from an enemy, you simply tap the enemy and Lara will throw the spear. There are levers in the game, just tap them, and Lara will move them. Torches are automatically lit and put out. Which ties into the puzzles very nicely. 

The design of the puzzles comfortably increase in difficulty. Though they never reach the level where they are forcing you to try over and over again, or stop and really struggle through it. Simple trial and error will get you through most of it. They are clever though, and make you feel good and give you sense of accomplishment when you figure it out. They start off with simple snakes that attack the tile in front of them, making you navigate to attack from the sides, to Spiders on patrol, giant lizards that stalk you, to classic spike traps, falling boulders, and bottomless holes. Each time you see one for the first time, you just have to figure out how to defeat it. The game slowly teaches you the rules for each of these, then you have to show your mastery of said rules, and use them to manipulate other enemies to work your way through the level. Eventually you are leading lizards over the holes, or triggering the spear traps to catch a spider, or getting the boulders to activate pressure plates and the like to solve more complex puzzles.



This culminates in a boss fight which I was very impressed in. I thought it was very clever. It’s use of turn based puzzle strategy was fun and innovative. It’s the classic figure out the boss’s weakness and do it X amount of times for victory, but done in a way to pull everything you’ve learned from the game together in a very satisfying showdown.

 

The game looks and sounds great. The art direction is fantastic and it’s rendered beautifully. The alternate costumes all look great. The animations are fun and cool, and there are even call backs to the old games, getting Lara to do hand stands instead of just pulling herself up a ledge. There are plants and bugs in the foreground which gives it a nice ambiance, and this mixes well with the sound design to really pull you in, to create small well presented little vignettes.



There are some reviews out there saying a negative is the collectibles are easy to find. And they are on the easy side, but I find this as a plus. I hate collect-athons in games. I think they’re just right. Some of them are on the easy side, but if they were any harder, I don’t think I would’ve gone back for them. Maybe make them harder if there were less of them, but the inability to go backwards without just having to start the level over again would make that frustrating. But the game does tell you what levels you are missing items from, and how many, which is nice. So you can flip through the level selector and find which ones are missing items and go straight to it. This also leads to unlocking stuff very quickly. You can buy costumes, which is something I hate. Both in mobile and in more traditional games. But these costumes are just other Square games, like a Hitman or Deus Ex costume. Where as the throwback Tomb Raider costumes are unlockable through the item discovery, which is nice. So if micro transactions are going to be in the game, I like the way this did it. You don’t have to pay extra for the Tomb Raider stuff.




Overall the game is great and I highly recommend it. It’s easy to jump in and out of and the puzzles are short but numerous so its perfect for those small moments when you have just a couple of minutes of down time in between whatever you have going on. There are a lot of nice throwbacks to classic Tomb Raider down to the menu selection. The game is fun and engaging, though not as challenging as could be. But at 4 dollars, its well worth it. Anyone who enjoys Tomb Raider, or puzzle games should give it a shot.

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