Book Review: "Alpha" by Greg Rucka

For months I've been diligently and steadily working my way through all the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Frankly there hasn't been much of anything that's kept me from breaking stride with this. The volumes sit in my car and are read whenever I get a chance.  In fact I'm nearing the end of it.  The home stretch.  I'm looking forward to completing my journey through the Holmes mythos.

And then Greg Rucka just had to put a book out, and when that happens, I'm dropping whatever I'm reading and picking it up.

I've read all his Atticus Kodiak novels.  I've read all of his QUEEN AND COUNTRY work.  In fact I was eager for more Q&C, but here we have something different.  ALPHA gives us a whole new protagonist, Jonathan "Jad" Bell, and all the excitement we could want from a Rucka novel.  This book shines.  The characters are pitch perfect.  The action isn't forced.  The suspense is high.  As with every Rucka novel once it gets going its nearly impossible to put down.

The premise is straight forward, there's a suspected terror attack eminent on a major theme park, and Bell needs to stop it.  What sounds simple is given a ton of beautifully crafted twists that make this book amazingly compelling.  First off is the park.  Before you even start reading, there's a map of the park, Wilsonville.  We quickly get a feel for this park and the characters that inhabit it.  We find out all about Gordo, Betsy, and pooch; the Flower Sisters; and Clip Flashman.  All of this is laid out to the point that it seems tangible.  Wilsonville comes alive just as much as Disneyworld or Universal Studios.

As always with Rucka's work the character's are fully realized.  Jad Bell is very likable in that this man is a professional who holds his job and what is right in the highest regards.  He's lived a very rough life, which we get a brutal taste of in a flashback scene.  We get everything we need to know about this man very quickly.  He's not the only character we get to know well as we also follow his opposite number, Gabriel, in this.  Gabriel is a sleeper agent who is going to be running the attack on Wilsonville.  Here's a really nasty twist to this: you almost start to like the guy.  It would be so very easy to write this guy as a total scumbag.  Still, Rucka inserts a very sympathetic side to him.  No doubt that what he's doing is completely wrong and horrible, but there still that little bit of him that's completely in love with his girlfriend that makes you like the guy just a bit.

I do love the little moments some characters get.  We see these park employees under the worst possible circumstances and we see them doing their jobs and doing right by the park guests.  We see people in the control room that know that something really horrible is possibly happening and just by staying where they are it could mean their lives, and they keep doing their jobs.  On the other side we get glimpses of the men pulling the strings behind this operation and, oh, how we loath them.

The one thing that stuck with me just a bit was the timing of certain events and how coincidence was such a factor.  Jad's ex-wife and daughter are scheduled to visit the park when the threat is imminent.  Jad's daughter is deaf and Gabriel's girlfriend is an ASL (American Sign language) interpreter.  It seemed a bit too coincidental, but it certainly served to up the drama level and gave both players in this game a high emotional stake.  Its pretty easily forgiven too since Jad's daughter and Gabriel's girlfriend are both delightfully written.

This book moves.  Rucka gives us plenty of information to go on and conveys it interestingly.  He doesn't beat us over the head with facts we don't need, and when he gives us something extra its always entertaining.  The flow is fast paced and easy reading.  There are time in here where chapters overlap events, in that the same thing is covered in three different chapters from three different perspectives.  While I could see this going horribly wrong and getting tiresome, that's never the case here.  Every different perspective is fresh and gives us a vital new take on things to totally flesh out the events.

I loved every bit of this book, and its looking like the start of a strong new series from Rucka.  I left this book wishing I had the next one right in front of me.  He's devious like that.  Typically, when you get to the end of a Rucka chapter there's a little bit there compelling you to say to yourself "OK, I know its two in the morning and I have to be up at six, but just one more chapter..."  This whole book not only left me satisfied, but sunk a hook in me craving more.

Comic Reviews (5-23-12)

Going the start off with RAGEMOOR #3 which is a completely twisted nightmare of a book.  There's absolutely no hope for any of these characters.  The two leads Herbert and his servant Bodrick are absolutely screwed.  They live in a living castle and the only reason they're still alive is the castle allows it.  They can't escape.  They can't beat the castle.  I'm not sure if Herbert is hapless or just completely beaten by the place he's in.  This is beyond "The fall of the House of Usher".  This is "The House Fell a Long Time Ago and is not Happy at ALL about the Entire Affair".  Combine that with the weird creatures wandering about and its just incredibly creepy.  Jan Strnad and Richard Corben have both done a masterful job in creating this impenetrable air of dread and discomfort.  This issue center a lot around Herbert and Anoria.  He wants her.  She wants the poacher fellow who's been around.  The castle wants an heir out of Herbert and sees Anoria as the best bet, especially since she's trapped there too.  Needless to say, the castle isn't too happy with that poacher fellow.  This book isn't for everyone, but for folks like me who studied Gothic literature its fun to spot all the little bit in there that are straight out of the genre.  Its a great work, in a really horrid way.

We move on to NO PLACE LIKE HOME #4.  You haven't seen the reviews for issues 2 and 3 because the shop hasn't gotten them in.  Some sort of shipping problem.  So I've gone from issue 1 to issue 4.  This makes issue 4 the most unintentually hilarious thing I've read in a long, long time.  I get through issue one and we meet the three sisters who are all coming back to their hometown.  There's some sort of terrible secret there.  The sisters seem interesting enough, so I'm going to stay with the title to see where things go.  Fast forward to issue four and what do we get right on the first page: a flying monkey.  That's right its a flying monkey.  Now, you people all know the rule: everything is better with monkeys, so this book is now the greatest thing ever.  What's more, its a homicidal flying monkey.  Its like Bufkin from FABLES declared "F--- THIS S---, heads are gonna motherf---ing ROLL!"  It seems tornadoes ask as portals and sometimes flying monkeys get through to our world, and they're complete pricks.  The sheriff apparently ganked one when he was a kid, which is no doubt why they made him the sheriff.  So all the good old boys are all "Dear God, no!  Not another flying monkey!"  The sister that's still running about is all "OMG!  Why didn't you ever tell us about the flying monkey?!"  Most likely because if they had you'd never ever come back to visit.  And the flying monkey?  He's all "RAWR!!  GIVE ME YOUNG WOMEN AND OLD PEOPLE HEADS!"  Well, actually it just goes "SKEEEE!" a whole bunch but the language of the flying monkey is is very utilitarian.  Kinda like Tim Allen when he grunts.  Means a whole bunch of stuff.  The best scene in the whole comic, and yes this is a spoiler, either suck it up, or skip ahead, is when the old hippy with the Pink Floyd shirt opens the door to his house and finds the flying monkey dragging his ol' lady down to the basement.  He's just standing there, and she's yelling at him to do something.  The old hippy tells the monkey to stop that, but the monkey don't listen, most likely because the old hippy is an old hippy and nobody listens to them anyhow.  He finally shuffles over to the basement door, mustering up the last of his old hippy courage and the monkey bursts back out and delivers a big flying monkey pimp slap, and drops the old dude.  I then took out a pen, and breaking my long standing rule about writing writing in my comics added the word balloon over the flying monkey saying "SKREE!" which translated from the flying monkey language is roughly: "B----, YOU BETTER RECOGNIZE!"  So, yeah, I love this book for all the wrong reasons.

Kirkman is Hardcore Sexy and he Knows It!

Hey guys.  Its Sunday May 20, 2012, you haven't heard much from me this week, and this is The Side.  I knew this day was coming.  I'm putting the brakes on having a set update schedule.  At least for now.  I'm a bit burnt out, and when I didn't have much of anything ready for the last two updates, that was pretty much a sign.

I'm still going to be doing weekly comic book reviews.  As for other stuff I'm not going to be posting as much.  Sure, I'll go after something if the mood really strikes me, or if something cool happens, or I want to review a movie.  Really, I've been having the serious itch to getting back to writing fiction and I've really missed that.  I don't have the luxury to still at the computer all day and type, so something had to give.

That's that.  Here's some nerdy stuff.


Y'know, you take your kids and try to raise 'em right.  Try to teach them a proper trade.  Try to give them the means to fend for themselves.  Sometimes though, they just don't get it.  This is what we see in THIEF OF THIEVES #4, which focuses not on Conrad, but on his son, Augustus.  As we saw at the end of the last issue, the guy is in jail, and its his third strike.  As much as Conrad has his illegal act together, Augustus is the exact opposite, and that's plenty for a certain beautiful F.B.I. to use to put pressure on the kid.  We're still in the opening act of this story and getting to know all the players.  Spencer is really taking his time with this.  Issue one we met Conrad.  Issue two we met the ex-wife he wants back.  Issue three we meet the agent who wants to bring him in.  Now we meet his son.  This is an amazing example of taking your time with proper exposition and getting to know the characters and the world they're in, and still making it fun and interesting reading.  This story doesn't move incredibly fast, but there's so much really good stuff here that we're enjoying the ride.  Top notch work.  This continues to be one of the top new titles of 2012.

THE ACTIVITY #6 is a straight military thriller.  A seemingly easy mission into the democratic Republic of the Congo goes Tango Uniform in a big way.  No fancy spy-tech.  Nothing over the top.  One could easily imagine this story actually happening.  Its amazing.   There's a bunch of action, and its all so incredibly controlled.  Its another single issue story so if you go right now and grab a copy you can go into it completely ignorant of everything in the previous five issues, and have no trouble whatsoever.  The writing and artwork are incredibly tight.  This is real substantive storytelling without any flash and trash.  Really an amazing comic.

THE SHADOW #2 is a bit difficult.  The story is easy enough to follow and there's plenty of action.  Cranston and Lane are heading for China before World War II and Nazis ambush them on the flight.  Simple enough.  Writing is good.  The Art is good.  There's only one problem: The Shadow is a complete prick.  He's really an unrelenting one as well.  We don't see him acting nice, charming, or anything unless he's using it as a front as Cranston.  In his private moments with Margo Lane he's completely in "Shadow mode" in terms of attitude.  There's been that train of thought that Batman is the real identity and Bruce Wayne is the front.  I don't really agree with that, however this is that paradigm right to the core.  I'm kind of on the fence here.  I'm enjoying the story a bit,  but really don't like the main character.  I'm hanging in there for issue three before I make my final call as to if I'm going to continue with this title.  Its not a bad book, but i just don't know if its for me.

HARDCORE #1 starts up a sci-fi thrilled from Robert Kirkman and Brian Stelfreeze.  If you see Marc Silvestri's name on the cover, that's all he did: the cover.  No problem because still book is great.  We meet Agent Drake who is the pilot for a program which allows him to temporarily take over another person.  The tech unit that makes this happen is called a "Hardcore" and I'm not exactly sure why, but that's where the name of the book comes from.  The program is used by the government, buy its creator has different plans for it. .  This is the type of premise that I'd expect to see in a summer sci-fi movie.  Its clever, and sets up the conflict very well.  The pacing is that of a summer movie opening act.  We get enough to go on, a little bit about the characters involved, and then the hook sinks.  I'm really excited to see where this goes, so I'm all in.


This guy absolutely kills it.

Alrighty guys.  For now, The Side is retired.  More reviews next week.  Take care.

Got nuthin'

No really update today.  The Missus has returned and yesterday was spent cleaning up a bit so at least there'd be a relatively clean room in the house for her.  No more single dadding it for me.  

We Drink, We Kick, We Die, and We Eat!

OSU!  Its Sunday, May 13,2012, I think I've washed all the sand off of me, and this is The Side.  After a pretty trying week, I wrapped it up with the Zanshinkan/Seireikan beach workout.  It was a bit of a light turnout as it seems everyone had something going on this weekend.  Still, there was about twenty of us out there, so it we had a good number.  The workout started with a half mile run to warm up.  Then on to stretching and drills. Bill Sensei led us through the kata Empi Ha which my school doesn't do, so it was new and exciting for my students.  Its a nice form which Bill Sensei learned back in his Goju-Ryu training, and he's recently added it officially to his kata list.

I wrapped things up with a bit of a tribute to Darrin Sensei who passed away two weeks ago.  I showed the group three particular techniques that he had showed me.  We didn't go full blast with them as we did with Darrin's training sessions as those left me bruised to weeks.  Still the applications got across, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

After that it was off to Red Robin for burgers and a healthy round of shooting the bull.  I was quite exhausted the whole way home, and passed out on the couch.


THE WALKING DEAD #97 kicks off the "Something To Fear" story line which will be taking us up to the 100th issue.  The last storyline gave us a brief glimpse at another community and this is looking good for Rick and his group.  Rick's group has some serious muscle.  The Hilltop has a lot of supplies that Rick's group needs.  WE saw Hilltop has a problem with some guy called Negan who has a group of his own.  Seems he's been extorting goods from Hilltop.  Rick's volunteered his groups's aid in dealing with Negan in exchange for supplies.  That's pretty much enough to give us a good idea as to where this current storyline is going.  This issue gives us a little look at some of Negan's crew.  Nothing terribly impressive.  They come off as sort of culties, referring to Negan as if he was some sort of spiritual leader.  However, its looking like this is the tip of the iceberg.  We also get some big news about Glenn and Maggie which kinda has me worried about them.  it seems when things start going really well for some characters that the bottom is going to drop out from under them at any moment.  We're at another point in which the group is a well oiled machine and for the most part have a handle of things.  this is pretty much the cue for Kirkman to lay waste to the cast with something horrible.

MORNING GLORIES #18 bounces us back to the events concerning the Woodrun.  This book is crazy, and I mean that in a near schizophrenia type of way.  Its been tough to pin down some of these characters, and there's been a lot of weird stuff going on.  This time around we're focused on Jun or Hisao or whichever his real name is.  We get some back story to him.  We get the "not that there's anything wrong with that" reveal about him.  More importantly, we get a bit of a look at the playing field.  We know Morning Glory Academy is up to something weird and horrible.  We know there's an organized resistance against them.  There're buckets of straight weird all over the place.  We know know that there's some kind of plan against the Academy, but we're light on the details.  The reveal about Jun isn't really "graphic", but its pretty in your face, and I'm wondering how the fans of the book are going to react to this.  Personally, I've liked the character since I started reading the book, and this doesn't bother me.  I do imagine there's going to be camps on bother sides of this, but i doubt its going to be a big deal.  This comic still flies under the radar even though its is very good.


Time for some drinking music.

Time for some coffee.  See y'all Wednesday.

Good-Bye, Gloria.

Hey Gang.  Its Friday, May 11, 2012, I'm pretty tired of writing about certain subjects and this is The Side.  This hasn't been a terribly fun couple of weeks.  Sure, I've gotten to nerd out big time last weekend, but that seems like a vacation from the crap-fest that has been going on.  Let's face it, when you've written memorial pieces two times in as many weeks, things are kinda sucking.

If you've been reading this regularly, you might recall that the Missus has been in Kansas helping her ailing mother, and the family.  My mother-in-law took a turn for the worse and passed away just after midnight Wednesday morning.  She was an interesting lady who always seemed to be on the move.  She reminded me of my aunt and late uncle in that regard.  She doted over her grandkids.  She was very good with a pair of scissors and really knew a lot about taking care of hair.  She did my haircut when I donated my hair to Locks of Love years ago.  We were at odds over little things here and there, but all and all I did like her.

She appreciated my mischievous side and got good laughs at some of my antics.  Which brings me to one of my favorite memories of here.  It was right after the girls were born and being premature by a good two months they were still in the hospital.  This involved daily trips up there to see them.  Gloria came over from Kansas to give us a hand as I was working, and the Missus was recovering still.  We headed up to see the little ones, and chatted as I drove us.

This area is really weird in that we've got the PETA national headquarters, and CBN inside of a half an hour of each other travel wise.  Gloria told us that she couldn't stand Pat Robertson.  She was a Christian, but there's plenty of Christians that don't like that old kook.  We had our fun driving along and making fun of how ol' Pat prayed away a hurricane years before and such.  We then stopped in and spent some time with the girls.

Afterwards, Gloria treated us to lunch at Panera Bread.  That's not a place I typically eat, but it was nice so no complaints.  We stood in line to place out order, and then I spotted him.  The man himself.  Dressed in a blue and gold track suit, with the collar pulled up and hat on, but there was no hiding it.

It was Pat Robertson.

My mind whirled.  What were the freaking odds?

So of course I had to bring this to Gloria's attention and I kept encouraging to go up to him and tell him off.  Failing that I tried to get her to get him to bless our lunches for us.  She couldn't help but giggle even though she probably had the urge to smack me upside my fool head.  Unfortunately, there was no Gloria/Pat confrontation.  My money would have been on her, of course.

I'm glad that things weren't more drawn out there at the end and her suffering was relatively brief.  Definitely been rough for the whole family.  She's in a better place now, and that's a big consolation.

I'm holding off on my comic reviews until Sunday.  See y'all then.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Hey gang.  Its Wednesday, April 8, 2012, and this is The Side.  The Missus's trip to Kansas has gotten extended a bit.  I'm pretty much exhausted, so I'm not terribly clever today.  Being sick doesn't help either.  Right now I'm functioning on vitamins, pills, and caffeine.


THE AVENGERS knocked it right out of the park.  Pretty much the only people who didn't like this movie are snobby twit critics who take their jobs way to seriously.  It broke the box office record, and a sequel has already been green lit.  This is going to follow sequels for Thor, Ironman, and Captain America.  There's a lot of expectations going around, so I'm going to share mine.

As far as over all, I like how they've handled things.  Going into the next sequel cycle, I'd like some build up to a show down with the big bad they showed during the first extra scene in the credits.  The Infinity Gauntlet was shown during Thor, so maybe play with that a bit.

As for the Thor movie, I think an obvious choice in villains is The Enchantress along with the Executioner.  I'm not too stoked with piling on villains for movie sequels, but these two go really well together.  The Enchantress can be a fun foil to the Natalie Portman played Jane, and make for an interesting pseudo-love triangle bit.  Meanwhile you've got The Executioner there for the big time throwdowns that are a must for these flicks.  And if during a big battle a certain glove gets lost and the six certain gems get scattered, I'm seeing no problem with that.

The Ironman movie is a bit trickier.  Marvel isn't wanting to use Chinese characters as major villains in these movies for fear of a possible backlash and maybe accusations of racism.  This sucks because a lot of fans are wanting to see the Mandarin, especially with everything they hinted at in the first movie.  This also rules out The Radioactive Man.  My next thought would be The Titanium Man, but using him right after the Whiplash/Crimson Dynamo gestalt seems too soon.  Back-to-back Russian armor wearers might not go over very well.  This is where we hit tricky ground because we're ruling out a lot of top flight opponents.  I'm thinking its about the right spot to put in M.O.D.O.K. and introduce AIM.  Probably won't have the goofy yellow jumpsuits, and the M.O.D.O.K. design will need a bit of tweaking, but I think that would make for a fun ride.  Might also be a good place for a missing gem or two to be recovered.

The Captain America movie has no shortage of bad guys to pull from.  The great thing is he's got a ton of Neo-Nazi baddies, and if you can't kick the crap out of a Nazi, then there's just no point anymore.  Still, I think it would be a good idea to have the main baddie be someone more current, and not a WWII hold over.  At this point, as we saw in THE AVENGERS, Cap is still getting adjusted to the modern world.  Having a modern villain can really build conflict, not just between the two foes, but with Cap's whole situation.  I'd like to have Crossbones for this.  He's got ties to the Red Skull, and would be a good bridge character.  Taskmaster trained him, so having him in there for a bit would also be fun.

After Mark Ruffalo's brilliant performance there's been a bit of buzz about a possible Hulk movie.  I'm game for it as Ruffalo was really, really good in THE AVENGERS and the Hulk had many of the best scenes.  Since I'm picking villain's here, I'd go with The Leader.  Some of us got to chatting about this on Google Plus, so I've thought about it a bit.  I'd have Banner up north, and have him run afoul a Wendigo.  This way you get some good monster on monster violence.  Have the Leader be behind the scenes a bit looking to tap the power of the Wendigo, but he goes after the Hulk instead.  His quest for the Hulk's power turns him into the big headed green guy we all know.

There's also been a lot of call for an Ant-man movie.  I really don't know about that one.  Sure, I'd love to see The Wasp, but I don't think Ant-man as a character has enough to him to carry a movie.  Yes, I do know he was one of the founding members of the Avengers.  However, that's not quite enough to warrant getting your own major motion picture.  Thor, Cap, and Ironman are the Marvel Trinity characters.  Hulk as been immensely popular for decades.  They make sense.  Ant-man just doesn't rank up there.  Introduce him in one of the sequel flicks and work him in there.  The next Ironman film would be the best fit.

There's a lot of characters I think of when I think of The Avengers: Wonder-man, The Vision, Ms. Marvel, The Scarlet Witch, Beast, and The Black Panther.  I doubt you'll be able to had too many more characters into the sequels as it would make AVENGERS 2 an unwieldy mess.  We don't want that.  Work in Ant-Man and The Wasp, keep the cast they have.

For the sequel, everyone's looking to have the team take on Thanos.  May as well give the people what they want.  Whether or not they use the Infinity Gems as a plot device is fine with me.  My favorite Thanos stories involved the gems so I'm obviously biased here.  Either way, it should be a bunch of good summers coming up if you're a fan of what Marvel's been up to the last few years.

That said, if you're wanting to check out the movie and haven't, go to a theater, and don't be a dick downloading the thing.  The studio makes more money that they can use to continue to entertain us.  besides which, watching these flicks on the big screen is completely awesome.


Yeah, been a rough few weeks, so I'm tossing this one on out there.

Off to work.  See y'all Friday.

Weekend of Nerd!

Howdy!  Its Sunday, May 6, 2012, I'm getting my geek on, no surprise, and this is The Side.  Got a bunch of reasons to be nerding out this weekend.  Yesterday was free Comic Book Day and I took the girls up to Kings.  We got up there pretty late so most of the free releases were already gone.  Heard they went fast too.  Still, there were some boxes of old comics out and you could grab 10 each.  The girls loaded up, quite pleased with their hauls.  I didn't grab anything, because I think Free Comic Book Day should be about getting new readers, not guys like me who already have a pretty regular reading list.  Sure, if there were some of the releases out that looked interesting I'd have grabbed one to check it out and maybe add something new to my reading list, but first come, first serve, and I certainly wasn't early.

Other big reason for nerding out.  SHERLOCK season two is coming on PBS!

If you haven't seen season one yet, shame upon you.  Netflix instant streaming is your friend, however, and you can watch them on there.  Brilliant series, and I can't wait to sit and enjoy this new season.

So that's more nerding out.  Wasn't there something else?  Some movie coming out this weekend?


Which I'm glad they clarified in the title because I might have gone in expecting more adventures with Peel and Steed.  But no, this is indeed Marvel's big guns gathered together for the movie fans have been waiting for.  Now, at this current time, we are at a point in which we have multiple comic book based movies coming out in theaters every year.  This was absolutely not the case for me growing up, so unlike in my youth I'm not as forgiving of them.  I used to feel a definite need to defend comic book movies even if they weren't very good, because I feared they'd become fewer and further between.  Now, they're a hot property, and they don't seem to be slowing down, so I have no qualms about calling out a movie's flaws, even if the majority of comic book fans loved the films.  Its refreshing to be able to be completely honest about a movie and reviewing it based on its merits, and those alone.

So I can be completely honest in my opinion of this movie.  Let's face it: this is an unprecedented move by a any studio.  They've released separate films introducing these characters to movie going audiences.  They made these movies with big budgets, and very talented actors, writers, and directors, not sparing anything in terms of quality if they could help it.  Multiple individual franchises have been launched, and the intent has been there since they really started rolling with this to eventually make the movie that was released here in the States this weekend.  Expectations from fans were through the roof.  Joss Whedon was signed on as writer/director.  Expectations rose higher.  It was to the point that there did not seem to be any way that the fans' expectations could be met.  I had to make a conscious effort to go into this movie and try to leave my personal expectations for what I'd want this movie to be in the lobby and try to form an honest opinion of the work.

So, with that out there I can say completely honestly, and checking my nerded up expectations at the door: this was one damn fine piece of work.

Let's start this out with the writing and directing from Whedon.  What he did that was really amazing here is take these characters from their separate franchises and place them in one film and still had them ring completely true to how they were depicted in their separate films.  This didn't feel like Whedon's take on these characters.  It felt like the separate writers all had gotten together to handle their particular characters.  At the same time, Whedon managed to have these character playing of of each other beautifully.  It was as if he had had a hand in everything from the beginning of Marvel's big movie push.

This is a long movie at two and a half hours long.  It didn't feel like it because of the excellent pacing.  Its kinetic, without being rushed.  The quiet moments are still packed with juicy, fun conversations that really give you a good feel for these individuals.  Certainly you have to have suspension of disbelief when in this genre, but that's not taken for granted here, as Whedon keeps the story on track.  Its fairly straight forward. Loki is back and he's ticked over what happened in the THOR movie and he's got a plan for some big time revenge and looking to take Earth in the bargain.  There's not a lot of twists, but that's fine because the speed this roller coaster moves at, any hairpin turn in things could easily send it right off the rails.

On to the performances, and here's where this movie shines.  Everyone brought their "A" game to this.  There's been a lot of buzz about Mark Ruffalo coming into to playing Bruce Banner.  Initially there was some dismay from fans who were miffed about having a different actor for the role when every other role was being reprised by the actors from the separate movies.  This has shifted to glowing praise of Ruffalo in his work in this role, and that praise is completely justified.  He was remarkable, especially in his scenes with Robert Downey Junior.  Downey delivered the Tony Stark that the fans love with style, wit, and panache.  Chris Evans was a really fun Captain America.  Chris Hemsworth gave us the Thor we know and love, albeit with a bit less humor than in his movie.  That's easily forgiven considering the circumstances of the story.  I didn't get quite enough Jeremy Renner.  It seemed like Hawkeye got the short end of the arrow this go around, although he did have some really cool moments.  Scarlett Johansson was amazing in this.  Whedon shines at writing strong women, and his Black Widow is no exception.  Some fans have sort of rolled their eyes at her inclusion in this with a "What's she gonna do?  Flash her boobs at the bad guys?" attitude.  To say she holds her own in this is an understatement.  Samuel Jackson's portrayal of Nick Fury is slick and stylish with enough gravity to it to really anchor the film.  We can't forget Tom Hiddleston as Loki.  He's gotten a lot of praise for his performance, and its well earned.  This is a very nuanced character, and and it shows down to every little facial expression.

Big props to Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson.  He's been around since the first Ironman movie, and is really great here.  He may not have had the flashiest moments in the marvel movies, but he's always kept things very grounded, and I've found myself really liking the character even though he's been a bit antagonistic in previous films.  He had all these great little moments in this, and it was really made things fun.

Overall, this movie gave me everything I could have asked for.  It got me engaged in the story.  There were parts that totally cracked me up.  There were parts that made me grin like a child that has been thoroughly indulged.  The movie had a definite purpose and didn't fall into the trap of having unneeded and distracting sub-plots.   The action was incredibly over the top and was still easily followed.  You could see and appreciate every impossibly blow in these battles.  The fast clip editing that is completely annoying in many fight scenes is used very sparingly, and when it comes to the big hits, the camera hides nothing.

I'd pay full price to see it again.

Also, make sure you stay through the credits for some fun little Easter eggs, and a hint as to where a possible and probably sequel will be heading.


Yeah, I'm sticking with my theme today.

I think that'll do it for me today.  Time for some coffee.  See y'all Wednesday.

Return of the Skyrocket

Its a short one today, kids.  Its Friday, May 4, 2012, its the missus's birthday, and this is The Side.  That's right.  My wife was born on Star Wars Day.  That's how we roll.

Yeah, only had one comic waiting for me this week.  Things are still pretty nuts here, with the return of the mssus being under a week away, and Darren's untimely passing..    Let's get to it.


THE SKYROCKET #4 hit the stands a bit unexpectedly.  Was not expecting it, but I'm glad that Mike Federali and Os Petroli got this baby on out.  Samantha Robbins AKA The Skyrocket starts out a new adventure when Agent Evans needs her assistance in a hostage situation involving hi-tech crooks.  Pretty straight forward stuff, but a very pleasant ride.  We get fun villains for Sam to fight.  We also get a bit of a twist at the end.  The writing is good.  Federali shines in the little moments, like the early seen with Sam in her lab.  He does a good job of making Sam likable and engaging without falling into the trap of having a female lead who is just an over-developed bosom in spandex.  Petroli plays off of this and does a great job of making her attractive without resorting to cheap cheesecake shots.  This book continues to improve.  Its paced well.  The art continues to get cleaner.  I do like that we see Evans in the field wearing tactical gear as opposed to his suit.  There are a few things that didn't really work for me, like the Sam/Mari throwdown, but that's mainly me coming from a fight background and I'm too much of a stickler sometimes as far as fight scenes.  These are only small misgivings, and even with them, I'm still really enjoying the comic and am definitely on board waiting for issue #5.


Well, since we're having a Federali love fest today...

That's a wrap for me.  See you guys Sunday with a certain movie review.  May the Fourth be with you.

Good-Bye, Darrin

Its Wednesday, May 2, 2012, I'm not having a good week, and this is The Side.  While my mother-in-law continues having difficulties with her health, things haven't been going well here.  I've managed to keep things going, and continue working.  The kids are fed, and occasionally I can find matching socks for them.  I'm still trying my best to keep things going at work and support my buddy while his arm heals.  Things at the dojo are alright.  Money is tight, but that's nothing new.  We got the light at the end of the tunnel when we were finally able to set a date for the Missus to return from Kansas.

Then we got news that we couldn't have expected.

My neighbor, Darrin, died in an accident while whitewater rafting.  From what I'm told he and others fell out of the raft, and he got caught underneath somehow.  The news hit the neighborhood very hard.  Monday night after getting home I went over to visit with the neighbors, and there was laughing, crying, drinking, more crying, more laughing, and more drinking.

I've mentioned the NWA (Neighborhood Watch Association) before and our fun adventures and misadventures.  The neighborhood is a lively place.  Darrin was the heart of the group. Everybody loved him.  He was the guy behind the bar serving the drinks at every party.  He was the first guy to come over when you needed help.  He was funny, kind, and soft spoken.

My main bonding with him was through martial arts.  He was one of those crazy dudes that punches trees and rocks.  His techniques were amazing.  His knowledge of pressure point strikes allowed him to knock guys out even by hitting them on their arms.  That's probably the main thing that really bugs me.  He had all this amazing knowledge, and never got to pass a lot of it on.

He did show us quite a few things though, especially when he visited my dojo.  He was always humble and respectful in there, even though head on I wouldn't have a prayer against him.  He'd put guys all over the room with complete control always doing just enough to get the techniques to work, without being abusive about it.  It didn't matter how big and strong my guys were, he'd have them on their knees in the blink of an eye.  A lot of my students were curious about his techniques.  One memorable moment was when one of the black belts, Kim, was asking about Naihanchin Sho-dan, particularly the moves in his version that weren't in ours.

"Well, these moves here are tearing up the opponent's arm."

"Show me."  And she held her arm out.

"No.  You really don't want me to."

"Come on!  It'll be fine."  She shook her arm as it she was baiting an animal.  "Show me."

Darrin looked at me.  I shrugged.

"She asked for it."

Fuwackity!  He didn't hit her hard, but he hit her arms just right so that the yelp of pain was easily heard throughout the zip code.  I've never seen Kim move that fast ever as she practically jumped across the room.  He felt kinda bad after that, but she was fine.

This isn't to say that Darrin didn't have his moments when he could be scary as hell.  Once some punk tried to bust into the NWA HQ, that being the gazebo we all hang out in.  Well, John caught the weasel, and the police put him in the back of the squad car ready to take him away.  Of course the punk was being a mouthy little prick about the whole thing.  Then Darrin came out.

About 6'4" of a big tattooed, shirtless Irishman.  At the time he had the ponytail.  He walks over to the squad car, and wipes the window to take a good look at the punk.  The twerp was still pretty defiant, but was a bit intimidated.

"How much is his bail?"

"What?" The Officer asked.

"Tell you what.  I'll give you $400, and you turn him over to me.  You'll never have to worry about him again."

At this point the punk was yelling from the back seat, "TAKE ME TO JAIL!"

You see, Darrin didn't like having the peace and quiet of the neighborhood disturbed, unless it involved pretty girls and/or beer.  Like two Easters ago, when the house right by our little court caught fire.  Black smoke billowed over the trees.  The sirens from the fire engines were easily heard.  We all got up on a deck and watched it.  Darrin comes out of his house.

"What the hell's going on out here?"

"House over there is on fire."

"I'm in here tryin' to meditate!  Tell them to keep it down!"

And he went back inside.

So, as you can probably tell, he was quite a character.  This is indeed a very emotional time for the entire neighborhood.  We're all going to miss him.  I know he respected me as a sensei and that means a lot to me.  It makes me want to be a better sensei to really deserve that respect.

Good-bye to a good and honorable man that I was glad to call my friend and neighbor.


Friend of mine turned me onto this tune.  Apparently it was in that Scott Pilgrim movie that I couldn't be arsed with.  I do dig the song though.

That's it for me.  See you guys Friday.