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Jun. 4th, 2007

mary

On campus...

Which is apparently the only place I can get to LJ.

Anyway, Sententia 3.0 is running strong - the only downside is that I couldn't move the awesome conversations I've had here to Blogspot. But here's hoping we'll have more of those on the other side. ;)

May. 28th, 2007

mary

Moving Day...

... has actually already happened a while back, because for some reason I can't access LJ at home anymore; some sort of weird area-related thing, I honestly don't know. But anyway, Sententia has moved to Blogspot:

http://sententia3.blogspot.com

Hope to see you all there! :)

May. 20th, 2007

mary

And Me Without A Black Dress

Thursday was, to quote Melaka Fray, a "Bad day. Started bad, stayed that way."

First I lost a bet with my friend Hannah, and had to read "All-Star Batman #5". Which I thought I could do, being prepared for Miller's usual foolishness. So imagine my surprise when his depiction of Wonder Woman sent me flying into a volcanic rage. I was screaming, throwing the comic around, ripping pages. I'm a little embarrassed about it now, but you know what? After MJ, and the hypocrisy of the Citizen Steel scandal, and the shameless exploits of Superslut, and Storm becoming a trophy wife, and Sue giving her husband a goodbye boink before abandoning her children... gah. I just couldn't take it anymore. Lately it feels like DC and Marvel are bombarding me with misogynstic and sexist tripe, and I'm not a violent person, but I swear, if I'd had a baseball bat and Frank Miller was within swinging distance, I would've been seriously tempted to crack him upside the head and let the misogyny drain out.

Fortunately, there's a cure for exposure to Neanderthalism, and her name is Shaenon Garrity. I sat myself down and reread the first few months of "Narbonic: The Director's Cut" to cheer me up; worked like a charm (the Theftbot gag and Madblood's reaction gets me giggling every. single. time). Of course, then I started asking myself why in hell was I still bothering with mainstream comics when there are women like K. Sandra Fuhr, Ursula Vernon, Shaenon Garrity and Aeire doing superior work online (and no small number of highly talented men as well - Rich Burlew, Randy Milholland, Kristopher Straub, Justin Pierce, Scott Christian Sava and so many more who don't need Power Girl's tits to tell a good story). But it's sort of a "righteous man in Sodom" thing - I stick around for guys like Brubaker, Whedon and Carey, and maybe the Lunas have another "Ultra" up their sleeves, and there's always Vertigo...

Anyway, I digress. A few hours later, I found out that "Veronica Mars" had been cancelled. My first reaction was "Okay, no shock there, the show hasn't exactly been at the top of its game lately." Except the first season was flawless, and that's what I remember when I think of the series, and even at its weakest it still stood head-and-shoulders above most of its contemporaries (mostly because Kristen Bell, unlike Tyra Banks and the Fashion Police, can string more than two sentences together without sounding completely stoned). Bye bye, 21st Century Nancy Drew. I'll have a proper eulogy when I do my end of the season review.

To top it all off, Jeff Lester - one of the great critics of the comics blogosphere - announced his departure from The Savage Critics at the end of the month. There aren't many online individuals whose opinions I trust wholeheartedly; Jeff is one of them, on account of his wit and his ability to cut through the BS and pinpoint, with total clarity, the things that need to be said. I remember my surprise when news of the impending Black Panther/Storm marriage broke; most people were debating canon vs. retcons, but Jeff was one of the few who drew attention to Storm's status as an independent female icon, an African-American woman leader of a prominent superteam, and how that was being threatened for the sake of a sales boost. When Wolverine #50 came out, Jeff again hit the bullseye by pegging Marvel's great flaw: its administrators have bought into their own hype to the extent that not only do they publish crappy comics, they do so secure in the belief that they're releasing absolute gems.

On May 26, the blogosphere will shine a little less brightly.

And then, of course, my Internet connection drops dead over the weekend, forcing me to post this long after it's relevant.

So... yeah. Thursday sucked.

May. 17th, 2007

mary

Caught In A Web: Dominic Deegan, Oracle For Hire

Another old favorite of mine, though unlike "Something Positive", the shine's starting to come off a bit. The issue I have with "Dominic Deegan" is its manga-esque tendency to swerve from emotional extreme to emotional extreme; things are either bizarrely optimstic or morosely depressing, and the author has never really found middle ground, so to speak. A relatively light-hearted story about a crime wave being foiled ended with slit throats and lots of blood before curving back to optimism again (good guys win, best friends part amicably, blah blah blah). Jacob Deegan's past appearance involved the attempted murder of his younger brothers, and when he turned up a few weeks ago it was all puns and giggles. Very abrupt, very jarring.

Of course, I can't discount my own experience when evaluating this series: when I first discovered "Dominic Deegan", it was building up to "The Storm of Souls", a very intense and kinetic storyline centered around a climactic confrontation between good and evil. The storyline before that had Nurse Pam being assaulted by a bunch of jocks; prior to that, Dominic and Luna were caught up in a treacherous scheme involving demonic possession, orgies, serial killings and a psychotic Infernomancer. In other words, my initial expectations of the series were founded on the belief that it was transitioning from comedy to drama, from light to dark, and that the series was "growing up" in a sense. Now, several storylines later, it's starting to look like that transition wasn't as complete as I thought; indeed, it's altogether possible there was never any deliberate shift in the first place, that I mistook coincidental arc placement for deliberate progression.

That realization stems primarily from Mookie's (the author's) aversion to taking risks with his cast - if you run a whole storyline about a cataclysmic war in Hell, and the only casualty is an obnoxious third-stringer who was designed to be hated, you might be holding on a bit too tightly. Even the villains keep coming back again and again. Fake-outs (where you think a character's been killed, only to discover they miraculously survived the next day) have been used so often at this point that it's hard to be genuinely invested in any storyline that suggests a real threat to the protagonists and their relationship; this just isn't the kind of comic where such threats could even come close to fulfillment.

That said, "Dominic Deegan" has a lot going for it: the art is cute without being cloying, the puns are always fun to groan at, and Mookie never finds himself at a loss for a new angle. And if it's not as mature as it could be, and if the shifting tone can get a bit erratic at times, it's still worth reading in the long run.
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May. 15th, 2007

mary

Perfection: MJ-Gate

It exists.

http://www.devildollmedia.com/lj/spideywifeymed.jpg

My take on the MJ scandal? Conflicted. On the one hand, it's a pretty horrid example of female objectification in a medium that's practically overflowing with similar examples, and yes, sometimes I'm so goddamned fed-up with it...

But on the other hand, I don't think I'm as worked up about this as I would've been had the statue been of Sue Richards, or Ororo Munroe. As far as I know, washing Spidey's tights is all Mary Jane Parker ever does when she's not being held hostage; the statue's an objectification of someone who's practically an object anyway - the epitome of the useless appendage, the woman who only exists to motivate her man. That's always been my view of the character, and Kirsten Dunst certainly didn't help matters by depicting MJ as someone defined almost entirely by the men she's with.

The statue's a sleazy piece of work, and you can easily imagine hundreds of sweaty Kevin Smith clones descending upon it with drool on their lips... but at least it's not imposing the "sexbomb" identity on a female character, so much as showing her in the role she's always played.

May. 11th, 2007

mary

Caught In A Web

After being stuck in a bit of a holding pattern, I've decided to dive back into the wonderful world of webcomics. I'd like to start this (tentative) series off with some strips I'd found before and am still following:

R.K. Milholland's Something Positive is a perfect example of how imperceptible change can be until you step back and take in the big picture. Looking at the series as a whole, it seems that "Something Positive" has drastically changed its tone over the last year or so, but if you've been reading it regularly, you probably haven't noticed - it's been a very slow and gradual shift.

What originally drew me to "Something Positive" was Milholland's fantastic use of black humor, but that's been tapering off lately; these days, storylines tend to alternate between drama and comedy rather than conflate the two. The easiest point of comparison is the recent "Last Hours" storyline, a morbid depiction of Scotty Harris' suicide, and "This Is How We Say Goodbye", the original iteration of that storyline.

See the difference? S*P used to have a punchline for any event, no matter how inappropriate. But I don't think there's any funny to be found in Scotty's demise or Kharisma's nadir.

Which isn't to say that the strip's worse off, really. It's just adopted a different tone, and the narrative structure's changed now that the main characters have split up; in earlier years, most storylines linked back to at least one member of the core group (ie: each stage of Mike's development intersects with either Davan or Peejee), and these days the ongoing storylines lose a bit of cohesion because we're constantly moving back and forth between Boston and Bedford.

But the humor's still there in some form, and every now and then Milholland proves that he's as twisted as ever, so at the end of the day, it's all good.
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May. 8th, 2007

mary

Game Review: Final Fantasy IV Advanced

I've always been fond of "Final Fantasy IV" - it may not have achieved the level of intricacy and complexity found in the series' later installments, but there's something to be said for presenting an epic, globe-spanning, coherent adventure with relatively well-rounded characters and an excellent soundtrack, at a time when such things weren't exactly commonplace in the genre.

That said, there's never really been an English version of the game that could be considered "complete". The original SNES release, dubbed "Final Fantasy II", was a hack job, heavily censored and badly translated, with numerous aspects of the game deleted for simplification. The Playstation version, released in "Final Fantasy Chronicles", had a better script and restored most of the edited content, only to fall victim to the platform's limitations by requiring load times at practically every turn.

"Final Fantasy IV Advanced" is, I believe, the game "Final Fantasy IV" was meant to be. The script is excellent, with some new lines added to shed more light on characters' motivations and personalities; gameplay has not only matched the original Japanese version but exceeded it; character portraits have been added to dialogue exchanges, adding a bit of color to them; and the bonus content is worth every minute needed to earn it. The only problem is that, like "Dawn of Souls", airship travel tends to be a bit frustrating because the buttons stick more often than not. Small price to pay.

The real draw here, at least for veterans of the original game such as myself, is the extra material. Specifically, there are three major changes which take place towards the end of the game (and after it). Upon completing the penultimate dungeon, five former party members become available for recruitment, and you can mix-and-match to build your own fighting force for the final dungeon. All former party members will be at a level approximately equal to main character Cecil, so there's no need to go EXP-hunting.

Once a new team is assembled, you'll have the option of exploring a new dungeon, the Cave of Trials, built exclusively as an armory for your old teammates: superior armor is scattered throughout the cave, while the deepest part of the dungeon holds five powerful weapons guarded by five powerful monsters. If you can defeat them, you'll find that even the puny bard Edward will be able to hold his own against advanced enemies.

Upon completing the game, the Lunar Ruins will be unlocked. Much like the Souls of Chaos in "Dawn of Souls", this post-game dungeon is enormous and somewhat randomized, overflowing with dangerous monsters you won't encounter anywhere else and containing equipment that will turn your party members into nigh-unstoppable powerhouses. Unlike the Souls of Chaos, though, the Lunar Ruins are actually a lot of fun to explore, largely due to the immense variety of activities (good thing, since you have to go through it at least two and a half times to get to the end of it). Sure, some floors are the typical hack-slash-find-exit affair, but others require you to punch a combination on floor tiles scattered throughout, or to catch a toad that's teleporting around the screen. Also, each and every character has a trial to endure, ranging from a running a gauntlet to investigating a murder to proving your worth as a paladin by doing good deeds; the trials culminate in confrontations with a Lunar Summon (similar in concept to the Dark Aeons of "Final Fantasy X"), after which you'll receive an ultimate weapon or an item that upgrades your character in some way (ie: Rosa's White Ring changes the Pray command to Miracle, providing much more potent free healing, while Kain's Dragoon Gloves allow him to Double Jump).

In short, "Final Fantasy IV Advanced" offers the best version to date: not only are the script and gameplay in top form, but beating the game is, in a way, just the start of the adventure. Definitely worth the time, whether you've conquered this particular Final Fantasy before or not.

As an aside, this game marks the first time I've ever defeated a superboss; the Brachioraidos is to FF4 what Ruby Weapon is to FF7 (or Penance to FF10 for the more modern crowd). How powerful is it? Its lair is home to an NPC who desperately warns you to avoid the monstrosity stomping across the screen (yes, they gave the Brachioraidos its own map sprite). I was very, very lucky - Kain's ultimate weapon randomly casts Tornado (an HP-sapping spell), and he struck first, the spell was cast, and the next blow destroyed the fearsome creature. Like I said, pure luck; I have no doubt in my mind that I'd lose ten rematches. :)

May. 5th, 2007

mary

Passing Sentences: May 5

Heroes, Five Years Gone: As I expected, this episode comes off as a much-improved take on the classic X-Men story, "Days of Future Past". The primary difference is the process of discovery - in DFP, Claremont lays it all out in the first few pages, as Kate Rasputin traipses through the barren ruins of Manhattan and then walks across a cemetery full of superheroes. But when Ando and Hiro materialize on the roof of the Deveaux building, the first thing they see is reconstruction, a deceptive image suggesting that things aren't as bad as you think. The truth, of course, is that this future is much closer to dystopia than it appears, at least for the Heroes. Likewise, there's a significant body count attached to this episode, the full scope of which isn't immediately apparent (or, for that matter, spelled out in its entirety - DL's fate, for example, is revealed only by the fact that Sylar can phase). Excellent episode overall, containing what I believe to be the single most spectacular twist in the series thus far. I'd also like to take a moment to note that Milo Ventimiglia has really filled out lately - he was never scrawny, but now...



Rowr.


My only complaint is with regards to Hana Gitelman, whose existence I continue to protest. Here's the thing: every week NBC puts out a tie-in minicomic that details some aspect of the series that hasn't seen screen time (ie: Eden's backstory). Of course, this potentially interesting avenue is negated by the fact that most, if not all, of the supplementary material is not only useless but often contradicts the series itself - for example, the comic that saw light before "Five Years Gone" depicts Future Hiro fighting a Sylar who's on the verge of exploding, needlessly confusing a plot point that's addressed quite neatly in the episode itself.

And then you have Hana Gitelman, a character who appeared in a grand total of one episode, whose storyline began and continues exclusively in the comics. So if you want to know more... hell, if you want to know anything about her, you're forced to read the tie-ins despite their extraneous nature. And, of course, because her story takes place off-screen, she only ever turns up on the show itself as a plot device, utterly interchangable with any generic character.

---

Veronica Mars returns from its break with Un-American Graffiti, the first in a sequence of stand-alone episodes wrapping up the third season. Unfortunately, it hasn't quite bypassed the hurdles plaguing the season thus far: we're treated to yet more tiresome Parker/Logan/Veronica/Piz soap while the primary mystery is steeped in anvilisms - I appreciate the message behind the story, but not so much the mallet-to-the-face method of delivery. And worst of all, Enrico Colantoni came off as completely tired and lifeless, which is very much not the Keith Mars I've come to know and love. As much as I've adored this show, if this is the best they can do at the moment, it might be best to take a bow and leave the stage before things really go south.

---

Meanwhile, Supernatural continues its "average-to-good" curve in What Is and What Never Should Be. On the one hand, it's the standard "utopia/wish fulfillment" stock plot, but on the other hand it avoids the usual pitfall of having the protagonist's every desire materialize. Dean gets something he wants, but not everything he wants, and that's important when it comes to the inevitable moment of choosing betwen illusion and reality (because it's a choice between two flawed and therefore similar worlds rather than perfection versus the truth). That, along with some solid character beats from Dean and the two Sams, pushes this episode past the usual "above-average" to "good".

This week also saw the release of Supernatural: Origins #1, a Wildstorm comic tie-in detailing the backstory of John Winchester. As with most tie-ins, there's a lack of correlation between the story being told here and the story as it was related to us on the show: in the first-season episode "Home", psychic Missouri Mosely tells Dean and Sam that when their father exhausted every rational option in investigating their mother's murder, he turned to the occult, whereas this issue depicts Missouri seeking John out. Of the two versions, I prefer the former, as it implicitly shows John gradually picking at his blindfold until he pulls it off, but... whatever. The highlight, IMO, is the touching backup strip (by Geoff Johns, of all people!) depicting Sam and Dean when they were kids, as Dean tries to reroute his brother's curiosity about Mary's demise so as to prevent Sam from entering the world of the supernatural. That's the sort of thing I wish the show emphasized more often: Dean's most basic contradiction is that he wanted Sam to have a normal life but couldn't help resenting his brother for leaving in pursuit of that life.

---

Strings is a very charming Danish/Norwegian film that presents a typical fantasy tale in a revolutionary way: the cast is made up entirely of puppets whose strings are not only visible, but acknowledged as part of the fictional world. For example, in the opening moments of the movie, a character commits suicide by severing the string that holds his head up. In one of the most memorable scenes, a woman gives birth by unwrapping threads from her own strings and attaching those threads to the inert form of the baby, which promptly springs to life.

These are just two examples of how cleverly the technique is used. Unfortunately, the plot's nothing to write home about - good king usurped by his evil brother, noble prince sheds his classist ways to see the truth about his kingdom, big battle of good vs. evil, etc. It makes for a bizarre combination of a story you've probably seen a hundred times before, delivered in a way I doubt you've ever seen. Worth a casual viewing, for sure.

Apr. 28th, 2007

mary

Passing Sentences: April 28

It's One Month Later... and everything has changed.

Well... maybe not. :)

Obviously, this week's highlight was the triumphant return of Heroes, with an episode that was very much worth the wait (that said, it's good to know there won't be any more interruptions this season). .07% delivers a bit of everything: some misdirection, some revelation, some great character moments, some long-awaited reunions, and a cliffhanger that has me on pins and needles for the next episode. I think one thing "Heroes" is doing particualrly well is applying correctives to some of the more powerful, recognizable stories in comics: Niki is essentially the Hulk except her alter ego has a personality beyond "Jessica Smash!", Linderman's scheme is an updated take on Adrian Veidt's master plan in "Watchmen" sans giant alien monster, next week's episode is "Days of Future Past" without killer robots, etc. As a rule, there are certain levels of implausibility we just have to accept when it comes to mainstream superhero stories; in fact, it's so deeply ingrained that modern attempts to invoke "realism" in the Marvel or DC universes tend to fail awkwardly (ie: "Civil War"). We, as readers, have already accepted cosmic rays and Nordic gods and giant fork-headed planet eaters, so dropping a Superhero Registration Act on top of that just doesn't work. "Heroes", having never asked us to believe in naked silver guys riding surfboards through space, is able to breach that barrier and take the whole conflation of "realistic fantasy" to a new level.

Drive was cancelled before I got a chance to check it out. Pity: I loves me the Fillion.

Christie Golden's Warcraft: Rise of the Horde ended up being a thoroughly disappointing read: pedestrian, transparent, and way too intent on making the Orcs seem like gullible, naive victims even as the narrator insists that they knowingly condemned themselves. The whole good/evil schism is taken to cartoonish extremes: the draenei are ridiculously benevolent, the Orcs shockingly simple-minded, the Burning Legion unidimensionally bad. Bo-ring.

Supernatural, Folsom Prison Blues: Another by-the-numbers episode, servicably entertaining without hitting any particular highs or lows.

The recent conclusion of Girls left me a bit cold; on the one hand, I never expected the people of Pennystown to really figure out what was going on, but on the other hand, the series ends without much closure at all, emotionally or plotwise. Given that the Lunas focused far more on the human cast members as protagonists than on the mysterious Girls, it's a bit of a surprise to see all the attention in this double-sized finale given to the "sperm-monster" and its mission - we don't really get to grieve for the dead, or see how the survivors deal with the aftermath. A disappointing end to an interesting series.

Final Fantasy IV Advance: Having completed "Dawn of Souls" (which I highly recommend), I've started the first GBA remake of the SNES trilogy. It's a bit glitchy - the buttons tend to stick, and encounter rate/ATB is way off - but the retranslated script is excellent, and the graphics have been tweaked just enough that I don't feel like I'm just replaying the same old game again.

Apr. 19th, 2007

mary

I'm a hostage in a fortune cookie factory: send help!

Okay, maybe not quite that dramatic... it's just been a very eventful week in which I have somehow miraculously failed to actually write (or do) much of anything.

I've started reading Christie Golden's "Rise of the Horde", which is basically a history of the Orcs of "Warcraft". Unfortunately, it's being written with the most current "World of Warcraft" lore as canon, so... yeah, spaceships and other weirdness abounds. Not quite sure how I feel about that just yet. As an equalizer, I'm also reading Virginia Woolf's "To The Lighthouse", which I'm really enjoying despite Woolf's Joyce-esque tendency to go on long rambling quasi-stream-of-consciousness segments of introspection.

No more "Heroes" retrospectives for the time being, as I've found myself repeating a lot of criticisms that hold true after "Six Months Ago" - Niki's storyline is still being written in a very confusing and amorphous style (she's in jail; she's in a psych ward; she's an assassin; nobody seems to be at all bothered by any of this), Hiro keeps stumbling back and forth over the line between cute and annoying, revelations are being compounded with even more questions, etc. That said, I'm really looking forward to the last leg of the season: with "Rome" off the air, "Heroes" is now my favorite TV show.

So is "The Tudors" any good? I'll be checking out the first episode next week, but I'd certainly like to hear some opinions while I wait. :)

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mary

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