Conceptually, that is: Marvel Concept Art for Upcoming Phase 2 Films

So in an inspired bit of brand synergy (Disney owns both ABC & Marvel, does not own this site..yet), ABC aired a special last night called ” Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe” where they patted each other on the backs, swam around in their pools of cash and called DC a bunch of dickheads (I can only assume; I don’t have cable and I don’t watch TV. Yes, one of THOSE). Some interesting concept art came out as well, including The Scarlet Witch (sexy hobo chic), Quicksilver (blue n blurry, way better than …THIS) as well as two stills from Guardians of the Galaxy. Speaking of, while it looks cool in print…Star-Lord?  That’s gonna be a tough one to take seriously when said out loud. Then again, this isn’t …Fellini? Kubrick? insert your own fancy director, I guess.

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The Assassination of My Free Time By The Coward Avengers Alliance

You see this? This is the ENEMY.

Never has there been a game so see-through, so transparent, so worthy of hate that I am completely unable to stop playing. Avengers Alliance somehow has the addictive properties of a Fallout 3 yet is completely insipid, like a Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. I don’t even want to tell you how much IRL money I’ve dropped on this game.  (Here’s a hint: Less than a house, more than a meal at WD-50.)

At its heart, Avengers Alliance is a game about time & rewards; the rewards are directly proportional to the amount of time that you dump into it (every facet of the game is a complete time suck). At first glance, it seems simple enough. You are a new agent of S.H.I.E.L.D who gets to team up with all the good guys of the Marvel Universe to help sweep out every flavor of Marvel U. villain right out of New York City. Along the way, you get to recruit newer (and “better”) super heroes and research cool new S.H.I.E.L.D tech to aid you in your quest.  Easy and fun enough, right?  Quickly, however, you come face to face with an entire wad of Facebook gaming canards, such as:

– begging your friends for stuff items? Check.

– flooding your (and others, if you haven’t toggled the settings) feed with meaningless game milestones? Check.

– constantly checking back in to see if a particular timer is done, so you can start a new timer? Check.

– using real money to buy in-game equipment or perks that ultimately mean nothing? CHECKCHECKCHECK.

– unending stream of NEW and LIMITED TIME OFFER products that will greatly improve your game but only available for IRL cash? Check.

There is also the added wrinkle of a PvP option that’s just about as unbalanced, broken and completely maddening as you could want.  People like to talk about fighting games having balance issues and I know that many of them do, but eventually they get patched, maybe a certain character gets nerfed, and we all move on.  But imagine if, any time you played Street Fighter IV  and no matter which character you chose or how you played, if  your opponent was using Ryu you’d lose.  Pretty soon, everyone would be using Ryu and the game would get boring & stale.  That’s what the PvP in Avengers Alliance is like.  Except instead of Ryu, it’s the detestable Scarlet Witch. Her “Hex Spheres” may be the the worst thing to happen to video games since the invention of the water level.

So not only is there a fundamentally unbalanced character that completely dominates any PvP match she participates in, there’s also the added “bonus” of playing against people who juice their stats via, again, real cash.  This means the ONLY way to compete with these people is by paying, turning this free game into a cash arms race.  And if you don’t want to go that route, PvP is unplayable.  You get one-shotted to death and if by some miracle you do get a turn to attack?  You do either negligible damage or miss entirely. Like I said FUN.

So what’s the appeal, if the game is just a hole you throw money in to?  Well…it’s FarmVille or MafiaWars for comic book fans. That’s the simplest yet most complete explanation I can come up with.  It’s got the leveling/grinding aspect, it’s got the random chance for l33t gear, it’s got customization of iconic super heroes, it’s even got the materia socketing from Final Fantasy VII!!  All very powerful motivators that, despite my deep reservations, keep me coming back.

Look what else is going on: four “payment” materials to collect (command points, S.H.I.E.L.D. points, gold & silver) all of which are necessary to advance, experience to gain, research to complete (to improve oot drops and buyable gear), heroes to train (more powers & more chance to socket materia Iso-8), flight missions to complete (earn cash).  It’s a busy, busy game. One “turn”  which consist of battling villains and their henchman, can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. There is a governor on the number of turns you can have in a day and that is the limited amount of energy the game gives you. You have 60 points of energy at any one time; every encounter win or lose takes 10 points away. So barring using external energy or leveling up which will replenish your energy, you can fight 6 times before you have to wait for your energy to refill.  Through some creativity, you can complete maybe 3 full “turns” a day.  That’s 3 hours a day just click-fighting endless hordes of Hydra, A.I.M. and Hand goons on your way to the occasional super villain. Tack some more time on there for character management &  long-range planning and you can easily see how this game can quickly absorb your time.

RAGE CORNER: I really enjoy when you click on an enemy to attack them and whoops, it just skips your turn.  Or after a grueling boss battle where you use up rare items you’ve obtained with all your grinding, the game schtizes out, says there’s a “combat synchronization error” and you have to redo the entire boss battle, MINUS the energy and items you spent. Great. All of your character attacks have been doing 400+ points of damage a turn? And you really need to kill a particular enemy with >400 HP this turn? Then it makes sense that your attack would do just enough to leave the enemy with 1 HP, allowing them to kill you.  Playdom (more like Play, DUMB aimirite), the company that pooped out this addiction perversion, doesn’t even have customer support!  Rather, when you ask them a question and they answer “Sorry we do everything through a third-party vendor you should try and contact them HAHA LATERZ B!TCH!!1!”.

In conclusion, Avengers Alliance is an addictive, fun super scam that I can’t stop playing and is making me completely ignore my job & everything else. This is a cry for help.  Please someone delete my account. Just let me train Thor.  And wait til the Black Panther gets back from New Zealand.  And I’m done investigating this new piece of StarkTech. And I think a new chapter is starting up next week…

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Haul Thoughts: Surprises (Bad) & Surprises (Good)

Let’s do this! Don’t forget to chime in in the comments below.

AvX 08 – IMPERIOUS REX!!! Namor has shown up in Wakanda looking to tear The Avengers a collective new butthole and he very nearly succeeds.  The opening splash page is as menacing as Namor has looked in recent memory and you see that this is not something that Wakanda will be recovering from anytime soon. Iron Fist is indignant that Iron Man and The Thunderer skip out to K’un-Lun without him, meanwhile Wakandans are being devoured by Atlantean seas serpents.  Typical rich guy.  Meanwhile Cap is all “I knew Cyclops was a dick! Forget all these corpses, I was right all along!” Typical unfrozen World War II science experiment. Anyway, Cap calls the Avengers, whom Namor proceeds to go H.A.M. on, even taking full powered blows to the dome from Red Hulk, Thing, Mjolnir, Dr. Strange and The Vision.  NAMOR AIN’T CARE and he goes on to prove this by breaking the Red Hulk’s arm like it was one of my brittle, bird-like wrists. Then he decides to set the rest of the Avengers on fire. Then super Deus Ex Machina a.k.a The Scarlet Witch shows up, somehow (ed.note: With her ill-defined powers, that’s how!) defeats Namor whom the Phoenix Force decides to ditch, flowing into the other members of the Phoenix Force. Charles Xavier’s floating bald head shows up to scold Cyclops; Cyclops tells Chuck to “Cram it with walnuts, ugly”; Cap cries. Buy? Sure, if you’ve bought the earlier seven.

The Invincible Iron Man 521 – Think I mentioned this before but WHOA. The Invincible Iron Man is awesome. If you haven’t been reading this title, go back to #500 and read them all.  I never cared for Iron Man; sure the movies got me interested and I think I picked up the book at an ideal time. So, if you’re planning on following my lead and picking up the earlier 20 issues, SPOILERS HERE Tony Stark is super-boned and the super-boner (ed.note: Really?) is non other  than the Mandarin.  Some observations: apparently 6 months have passed since issue #520 and all sorts of shenanigans have gone on, chiefly that Stark is working for the Mandarin. Side note: is the Mandarin the Marvel Universe equivalent of a beholder from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons? Seriously, check it out:

Beholder powers:

BEHOLD...er

Mandarin ring powers:

Where's the duck sauce ring?

Back to the issue at hand, literally.  Resilient (formerly Stark Resilient) takes some shots at the crappiness of the cloud and introduces their solution, the swarm (which Warren Ellis introduced in Transmetropolitan a decade ago…).  That’s one of the reasons this book is so excellent; it’s not all tights, capes & punchy-punchy.  There’s corporate espionage, futurism, science, rad armor, clever banter..so good.  Just buy it. Buy? Duh. Also, if I can’t have the Infinity Gauntlet, I’d gladly take the Mandarin’s rings.

Before Watchmen – Silk Spectre 02 – I really  like Amanda Conner’s art on this book. In fact, I feel this is tied with Ozymandias  as the Before Watchmen book with the best art. Definitely an Archie vibe going on. That being said…what the hell?! The first issue was so good where this one is…not. Not as good. The spirit of the book hasn’t really changed, but something this issue seems off.  I did like the analogs of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones as well as an appearance from Kid Charlemagne himself, Owsley Stanley and what is possibly supposed to be Frank Sinatra? I don’t know, the innocence and free-spiritedness of the first issue gets muddled with some subplot about causing Haight-Ashbury hippies to embark on acid-fueled shopping trips. Also, the Silk Spectre’s costume is highly impractical. That’s not a reason to knock the book, it’s just that even fictional teenagers are idiots. Buy? Yes, as it’s not enough to derail the series (plus you’re already halfway through at this point). But don’t prepare for the high notes of last issue.

Daredevil – 15 – High hopes for Murdock this week; was he able to meet them? Welllllll….was the arc resolved? For the most part, as it’ll most likely wrap up next month. Was the premise clever? Daredevil sans senses? Sure.  Was there anything outwardly terrible about this issue? Not especially.  So…? Can’t help you dude. Then is it a Buy? It’s not the highpoint of this excellent series, but neither was the Punisher/Spider-Man crossover.   It’s not a jumping on point, that’s for sure.

Fables 119 – Even if this series had nothing else going for it, it still has the best covers in the industry.  Before I started reading, I was really hoping that this arc would wrap up this issue or next.  But then I started reading; wow. If you’re a Fables fan, you won’t be disappointed.  Things to note: a pretty shocking death, an Angry Birds cameo and my new favorite phrase, “shit fire on Pop-Tarts”! Buy? Have you read the previous 118 issues? Then you pretty much have to, don’t you?

Justice League 11- Not going to lie, I’m kind of lost with this book.  I’m not thrilled at the supernatural bent the it’s taken either; isn’t that the purview of the Justice League Dark? The high point for this issue was probably Wonder Woman calling the Green Lantern a dickless bitch, in so many words. Also, Diana’s problem solving starts and ends with decapitation. They’ve really made her one of the most compelling characters in the whole New 52. Also a nice touch: Cyborg: “I’m not partly dead, am I?” Batman:”…of course not”. What a dick! Buy? If you’re not invested in the series at this point? It’s a pass.

Saga 05 – I’m oddly compelled to keep getting this book.  It’s clearly been building up for the past four issues and there is a bit of payoff here, but not in an equivalent amount to the rising action.  The book opens with the television-headed prince who is a/the protagonist? Antagonist? All I know is that in the future/past, robots poop.  Also, the two sides in the giant war that I (and I assume other readers) are trying to puzzle out art the “horns” and the “wings”, and a clutch of winged shock troopers drop down on our narrator  and it’s parents Alana and Marko.  SPOILERS Marko breaks his vow of nonviolence and goes apeshit, slicing through all of the shock troopers and is about to really start cutting heads, forcing Alana’s hand. END SPOILERS.  Far more happens and I think this book is finally starting to pick up.  I seem to remember Vaugh’s Runaways was a bit of a slow starter as well. Buy? At this point, while it’s still early in the series, yes, but only if you pick up the other four.  Or wait a few months and pick up the first six issues in a collected format.

The Dark Tower – The Man in Black 02 – As I’ve already read all of The Dark Tower  books, it seems a bit foolish to then buy them in serialized comic format.  But it’s still a powerful series and Robin Furth & Peter David are doing extremely solid work on this and all the previous Dark Tower  series.  Buy? If you like The Dark Tower, all the trades are worth picking up.  It definitely fills in gaps that were only hinted at in the series.

Wonder Woman 11 – Sometimes I get my comics & video games confused, like with all the Olympians showing up in WW and I find myself thinking, “Didn’t Kratos kill all you?”. This issue isn’t as good as the previous two in Hades, but it seems to be setting the stage for a pretty epic confrontation with Apollo and Hera, so I’ll check in next month. Buy? Not as a starting point, but this isn’t an issue that’ll make you drop the book either.

X-O Manowar 03 – The payoff! Aric and the X-O Manowar class armor make nice (it grows Aric’s hand back, he disintegrates aliens) until an explosion sends them flying outside of the ship. Aric apparently has his Dorothy moments, as he clicks his gold-and-powder blue heels together, disappears from deep space and reappears above modern Rome, where he crashes into the Coliseum. I’m interested to see if they go back to the “unfrozen viking business magnate” schtick Valiant used the first time with X-O. Buy? No brainer. Get the other two while you’re at it and transport yourself back to ’94.

Whew!  Sound off in the comments about your thoughts on my thoughts, on what you picked up this week, on what you refrained from picking up this week or just general what-have-you’s.  Goodnight Cleveland, where ever you are!

This Week’s Comics Haul – A Fourth of My Paycheck

The important take away this week is thatwhen I say I’m not going to buy a book anymore, more often than not…I’m still going to pick it up.  Case in point with:

Wolverine 310 – arts improved but what do you expect when Simone Bianchi is back on the title. I don’t think Loeb’s really bringing it this issue but I’m definitely intrigued as to how & why Sabretooth came back. He was killed via the Muramasa by Logan himself (apparently the only weapon that can kill Wolverine dead.) and once more in Hell.  Yet he’s back, popping up the last few months. Other points of interest: a)Who could possibly pick this book up and figure out what’s going on? This is a perfect example of why a reboot is needed.  Completely choked with bizarre continuity. b) So they’re up in Alaska and Logan’s savior shows up in a one piece bathing suit.  You’re not cold?? c) Once more back to Silver Foxes and back to Weapon X. How many times is this material going to be revisited?

AvX 7 -Magick v. Scarlet Witch; this should be interesting.Here’s my problem with Wanda: her powers are so ill-definied that they could be anything. So she’s shooting hex bolts one minute, then wiping out 99% of the mutant race, then completely neutralizing the Phoenix? BE CONSISTENT. Speaking of, what did Clint shoot at Emma to completely scramble her? I know he continued on that road by soccer kicking her, Pride-era Shogun Rua syle.  But then it ends poorly for Mr. Barton, but what did you expect, you kicked a demi-god in the face!Favorite line of the issue goes to The Black Panther and “…the Black Panther prowls the boundary between super science & magic”.  Has anyone else noticed that they can never draw Hope right. Sometime she looks like a super model and other times ( like this issue) she looks like a 12 year old. Interesting move by Emma which leads to a fantastic splash page to close out the issue.  Anyone else notice the cool little touch of Namor crushing the balcony he was holding on to after his disagreement with Cyclops?

 
Uncanny X-men 15 – Assault on Sinister! If Marvel’s 616 universe is happening in one analogous to ours, albeit with super heroes, how does anyone take them seriously? You’re telling me that the Marvel U 616 Conan isn’t making cracks at Cyclops’ red thong? Fox & Friends aren’t calling Emma a tramp? The Phoenix Five’s (still hate the name) condescension and verbal head-patting of the other X-Men is pretty funny.  “Don’t get up, we’ve got this”.  Somehow I expect Sinister to hand them their asses and need a save.  But that’s just me.

 
Animal Man 11 – Very cool call back to the original Animal Man series to open this issue.  Buddy gets a warning from his quas-saviors to “Be still, this will hurt very much. ” Alberto Ponticelli might be the perfect artist for this series; his drawings of The Rot are truly grotesque.

 
Swamp Thing 11 -We’re finally on the cusp: The Green & The Red vs. The Rot begins next issue! This issue is just the final set-up push to get there.  Not really feeling Marco Rudy’s art for this series though, much preferred Yanick Paquette.

 
Thief of Thieves 6 – A question for anyone reading this book: The hand image that makes up a portion of the title on both the cover and the credits page…is that a famous image from something, possibly Hitchcockian? That image also makes up a Tumblr & WordPress theme so it has to be fairly well known.  This seems like a bridge issue too; the big payoff looks to be (but probably won’t be) next issue. Which I think will help determine where this series is headed.  Because right now it seems like this could just be a 7 issue mini-series.

 
Amazing Spider-Man 688- Synchronicity ( and not The Police album)! The Lizard shows up just in time to coincide with the release of the Amazing Spider-Man. Here’s a question: how does Spider-Man heal? He gets the piss beat out of him on the reg but as far as I know he doesn’t have any sort of accelerated healing powers. My favorite part of this issue is when Mary Jane called out P.parker for his incredibly dumb new motto “When I’m around, no one dies”. I think she’s the mouthpiece for the comic book community because that is just the absolute thing SM has ever said. Another issue: does SM have some sort of voice modulator in his mask or something?  He bursts into Horizon labs where he works with people (geniuses, mind you) that he begins shouting at.  How do they not match Spidey’s voice with Parker’s? C’mon!

 
Amazing Spider-Man 689 – Moebius drooling over bloodwork is a perfect tough, as is The Lizard pretending to cry.”What is the proper human response to the? Ah. Flailing limbs. Wet eyes. Mewling.” Madame Web lives in my neighborhood (Astoria!!).

More after the jump, including the Book of the Week.

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