Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Death Note (2017) review

    I'm going to admit something: I am both familiar with the manga and anime versions of Death Note as well as not a fan. The premise is certainly fascinating enough but I never really bonded with its central character. Light Yagami jumped off the slippery slope of morality too quickly for me to like him. I also didn't really think L that much as the conflict between them was fascinating but lacked a certain oomph I think which would have propelled the story to greatness. Mind you, I enjoyed the live action movie and I'm also decidedly a minority in my belief the manga/anime were so-so.

I love the scream he gives when he first sees Ryuuk.
    The premise, for those who are unfamiliar with the franchise, is that Light Yagami (Light Turner as played by Nat Wolff in this movie) is an intelligent high school student who is presented by death god, Ryuuk (William Dafoe), with a magical book capable of killing anyone in the world as long as you know their name as well as face. It is a weapon which could be used to kill President Assad, the leader of ISIS, or that guy that really pissed you off in high school. Would you use it to try and make a better world? To make yourself rich? To get revenge? Or would you be horrified at the fact it is a device only capable of helping you get away with murder?

    Light Turner is a different character than Light Yagmai in numerous ways. The original Light was a murderer with a God Complex pretty much from the get go and had no hesitation to murder cops or anyone else who stood in his way. He was also a super genius and you could basically see him as a young Hannibal Lecter. The new Light is a deliberately more ordinary human being both in morality as well as intelligence. He's smart, yes, but not a budding Sherlock Holmes but more like a kid who reads alot. He sees the Death Note as a weapon to kill the worst people in the world and refuses to kill law enforcement or other individuals who might get in his way.

The nerd loves the cheerleader--so he shows him his magic.
    It should be noted the movie has been accused of white washing. I think that's a questionable charge as there's a difference between deliberately scrubbing out minority characters and adapting stories to local cultures. The Magnificent Seven is not racist for not being about the Seven Samurai nor is the Japanese adaptation of Dracula for moving the story to Tokyo. Whitewashing, for me, is when the story removes real life personages of color or changes a story where a character's ethnicity is important to the story. The adaptation of Earthsea changed the protagonist from black to white is racism. The movement of the story from Tokyo to Seattle is not. At least in opinion.

    The story follows Light as he reacts like a typical seventeen-year-old by trying to impress a local girl with the most important thing in his life. Thankfully, Mia (Margaret Qualley) is fascinated by the power which Light wields and the two soon become murderers for justice. This attracts the attention of the world's greatest detective, L (Lakeith Stanfield), who soon begins to zero in on Light's location despite the seemingly supernatural nature of his abilities. Simultaneously, Light becomes revered under the pseudonym Kira by the United States' public at large.

L, don't confront the guy with the magic book o' death.
    Overall, I liked this adaptation of Death Note a lot more than I did the original material. I like the idea of the Death Note as a temptation for ordinary people who aren't evil versus following a genius supervillain. It was, indeed, my biggest disappointment with the manga/anime that it was about such a larger-than-life personality. For me, the appeal of the Death Note is that it is an object that allows you to commit the perfect crime. The implications of that is much better and we also get some geo-political hints with the fact Light is very American in his belief he can just intervene in the world to make things better via discriminate executions.

    I also enjoyed the Mia character, who bears almost no similarity to the Misa characterf rom the anime (who is basically Death Note Harley Quinn). Mia has a lot of the qualities of the original Light with the fact she's fascinated by the power of the Death Note as well as excited by the possibilities. Their "Death Note and chill" nights are actually kind of touching in a warped way. I think guys who can remember their crush on girls cooler than them and the fact they'd do just about anything to impress them will sympathize with Light's weird mixture of adorkability as well as godlike disdain.

This won't raise any questions. None whatsoever.
    William Dafoe does an excellent job of portraying Ryuuk and he's the most in-character of the movie's cast, at least compared to the source material. There's a couple of moments where it seems like he's acting out of character but these are just misdirections. He achieves just the right balance of menace, boredom, and sloth to achieve a truly memorable character. I also appreciate how they managed to make him very close to his cartoonish manga appearance without seeming silly.

    The movie does have a few flaws. L is written as reckless and somewhat foolhardy, completely the opposite to his previous personality but also somewhat at odds with events. You could argue he's been smacked by the existence of the supernatural and his friend dying but it's a bit off. There are also a number of small flaws like L assuming Light would kill him despite no evidence he would harm law enforcement officials.

    In conclusion, this is a fun movie and I'm very pleased with it. It's not going to win any Oscars for deep acting but it's a work which is fun, engaging, and has an interesting premise. I suspect people unfamiliar with the manga/anime will like it more. Except, I think people who wouldn't like the original would like this.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Injustice 2 review

    One of the big flaws of DC and Marvel comics is the "illusion of change", which is a term coined by Stan Lee. Basically, recognizing that monthly franchises could easily become unrecognizable, it was important to make sure you put the toys back in the box pretty much as you pulled them out. It's resulted in such good things as Spiderman not becoming a cosmically powered being called Captain Universe forever but also has resulted in such terrible things as One More Day and the perpetual cycle of universal reboots which plague both franchises.

    The solution to this, for the most part, is for comic books to have spin-off universes with beginnings, middles, and ends. The Ultimates was a mixed-bag version of this where they managed to trash the entire universe after just a few years. The DC Animated Universe is a triumphant example of this, successfully giving a multiple-series universe which ends in a fascinating but satisfying way.

It's a fighting game so you know what to expect.
    The Injustice universe is an example of a universe which benefits from this kind of creative freedom. Not only does it have the option of permanently killing characters but relationships can change, the world, and it's all open for the writers. It's because of this that Injustice is not just a pair of excellent video games but a decent series of comic books as well. It's an evolving world and this game does a decent job of continuing to expand it.

    The premise is, a year after the events of Injustice: Gods Among Us, Superman has been imprisoned by Batman with his regime being dismantled. Supergirl has finally arrived on the planet but is being kept in the dark about her cousin's madness by Black Adam and Wonder Woman. In this universe, Krypton was destroyed by Brainiac and the last two survivors lure the supervillain to this world. This being the first attack on Earth by Brainiac, humanity is swiftly overwhelmed and an alliance must be made between Batman's Justice League and Superman's regime. Worse, there is a group of wild cards in the last remaining supervillains on the planet led by Gorilla Grodd.

Superman vs. Batman is best when its ideological.
    The story is remarkably well written with Supergirl serving as the "point of entry" character. Superman's treatment is more sympathetic in the game and less one-dimensional, which raises the storyline quality up considerably. Batman vs. Superman in Injustice is best treated as freedom vs. security with the latter not being a psychopath but simply more ruthless. He's still considered the bad guy but he's not an insane child-murdering despot like he was in the previous game. Unfortunately, Wonder Woman is still one-dimensional and we don't have the option of playing the "real" Superman and Wonder Woman in the game.

    I have to say I think this game is probably the best use of Brainiac in the character's entire history and a reminder why he was once Superman's second most famous foe. He's also one of the few villains I could believably see as a threat to the entire Earth and require Injustice Batman to team up with his greatest enemy. I mean, there's Darkseid obviously and a decent number of other galaxy-conquering despots but none of them have the same level of personality as Brainiac aside from the Lord of Apokolips.

Brainiac is at his best.
    Gameplay wise, it's pretty much the same as Injustice with a few improvements. The combat flows much better than it did in the previous game, however. Unfortunately, the game includes loot boxes and they're one of the worst things in video games today. The game has the option of getting bits and pieces of equipment for the characters but this is a tedious bit of pointless busy-work that lowers the quality of the game as a whole.  The graphics are exceptional and far improved from the original Injustice, which wasn't bad itself.

    Storyline-wise, the ending of the game suffers a bit in Story mode. The defeat of Brainiac should be the ending but you end up having to face a repeat of Batman vs. Superman, which I think is a poor ending versus the two sides parting semi-amicably. I also think Brainiac should have been defeated by Supergirl in the ending rather than Superman and Batman. It is, after all, her story which begins with Brainiac destroying her homeland and should end with her avenging it.

    Speaking of Supergirl, I liked her portrayal in the game and think it's probably her best treatment since the Silver Age. She's an idealistic and Superman-esque character in a setting where that legacy has been severely tarnished. Contrasting her naivete and idealism to the harsh world around her is an effective storytelling device. It also reminds the characters that the DCU is not meant to be like it is in Injustice and the writers are aware of that.

Love Harley's design.
    The Society led by Gorilla Grodd was an excellent addition to the game because the previous game had Superman wipe out the majority of supervillains on Earth. Captain Cold, Deadshot, Poison Ivy, and the Reverse Flash are all characters who work well as antagonists. I was a bit disappointed by Grodd being revealed to work for Brainiac in the end but I supposed there needed to be a hierarchy of villains in these things.

     The characterization is well done with everyone from Black Canary to Harley Quinn being in character. There's also some great surprises like Robert Englund (a.k.a Freddy Krueger) as the Scarecrow. The DLC characters include some gems, too, like Darkseid, Hellboy, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I also liked the skins of some existing characters like Power Girl for Supergirl which comes with its own dialogue. I also liked how you could sometimes choose different characters in Story Mode.

    In conclusion, this is an excellent game that was enjoyable from beginning to end. There's some issues like the loot boxes and the fact there's still a Leveling System that makes no damn sense in a fighting game. Still, I think this is probably the best comic book game currently out today and excellent for those who want to dabble in the colorful but dark world of Injustice.


Monday, March 5, 2018

C.T. Phipps Books coming out in 2018

Hey folks,

I thought I'd share the books which you should expect to see in 2018 from me. These are all things which I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan of my existing work.


Being a supervillain was all Gary ever wanted to be but the constant beatings, moral ambiguity, and the fact he now has a young daughter to look after have caused him to reconsider his career path. As he debates making a jump to the "other side", Gary finds himself recruited by Death to serve as her champion in a multiversal tournament for the ultimate prize: anything you could desire!

Gary and a oddball collection of champions from a variety of universes must prevent the prize from falling into the hands of the genocidal space wizard Entropicus! He also must discover just where his heart really lies when his two closest loves reveal shocking secrets.

Guest starring Jane Doe from I Was a Teenage Weredeer, Agent G from Agent G: Infiltrator, and Cassius Mass from Lucifer's Star.


ELDRITCH OPS (Red Room 2#)

Derek Hawthorne managed to gain a seat on the Committee of the House--the secret cabal which rules the world--and all it cost him was his soul. Unfortunately, success comes with responsibility and he's found himself as the only member of the group who wants to avoid a brutal war with the Vampire Nation. It's a desire which becomes stronger when he finds out his ex-partner has become one of their primary lieutenants.

Unfortunately, Derek soon discovers not only is war inevitable but his side is preparing for a genocidal campaign to rid the world of the supernatural. Now he's going to have to decide whether or not it's better to ally with an army of bloodsucking marauders to stop it. Guest starring the original vampire, Dracula himself.



Agent G, now going by the name Case Gordon, has successfully freed himself from the control of the US government. Unfortunately, it's come after a super volcano eruption and the release of all the Society's Black Technology. The combination has created a new cyberpunk future. The world has mostly recovered but it is glittering, cold, and corporate-driven. 

Case has devoted himself to trying to gain enough power and influence to protect the little guy from the worst of the corruption. Unfortunately, it also results in him becoming implicated in the death of a former ally. Confronted with the ghosts of his past, Case has to decide whether he wants to be a hero or make a difference. 

He can't do both.


WRAITH LORD (Wraith Knight 2#)

Jacob Riverson has ascended to become ruler of the Northern Wasteland and God-King of the Shadowkind. Unfortunately, becoming a deity has not been a transformation that has freed him from his guilt for the atrocities he committed as a Wraith Knight for the King Below. Married to both Serah Brightwaters and Regina Whitetremor, he has shared his power with them in hopes of redeeming the legacy of his dark past.

The legacy of the King Below is not so easily cleansed, however, as he receives an unexpected visitor in the form of Regina's only surviving relative. The city of Kerifas, Jewel of Winterholme, is on the verge of revolt against the surviving members of the Nine Heroes and their tyrannical regime. If Jacob and his brides do not intervene then the city will be slaughtered with their inhabitants but if they do, then they may be playing right into the hands of a group that wants to start another Great War of Light and Darkness.

What is the point of being a hero if one must spill the blood of thousands to be one?


100 MILES AND VAMPIN' (The United States of Monsters 4#)

Peter Stone is the new sheriff in town, or at least vampire magistrate.  It's a job that eats at him despite the perks since he has to cover up the worst crimes of his fellow vampires in order to keep the peace with humanity. Peter reaches the limit of even his jaded morality, though, when he's asked to play bodyguard to a murderous psychopath who just so happens to also be the country's most famous paranormal romance author.

When that vampire is murdered, Peter finds himself the primary suspect as her death sends ripples throughout the vampire community. Peter has to solve her murder before the Federal government has an excuse to break up the Vampire Nation and begin a general purge of supernaturals. 

Sometimes it doesn't pay to get out of the coffin. 




Expected Release Date: August 2018

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Caped: The Omega Superhero by Darius Brasher review

    I'm a huge fan of superhero fiction as anyone who checked my Goodreads book lists would be able to tell (or, you know, has read the Supervillainy Saga). That means I'm always looking forward to a new series which is both established as well as good. This is certainly the case with the Omega Superhero, which has four installments at the time of the publication of this review as well as being good.

    The premise is Theodore Conley is a 17-year old living in a world where superheroes are real and the product of a X-men like meta-gene. After accidentally throwing some bullies superhumanly far, he discovers he is a Omega-level superhuman. An attempt to live a normal life goes disastrously wrong and Theodore ends up forced to go to superhero boot camp in order to train with his new abilities.

    I happened to really like this book's premise and it reminded me a bit of Starship Troopers as well as the short-lived Avengers spin-off AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE. It was about a bunch of kids put in a mandatory boot-camp by the government to train to be superheroes and how that screwed them up or made them better. This is a far less cynical take on the subject and we get to see Theodore prosper under the guidance of the superheroes there instead of crumble.

    I was a real big fan of Smoke and Myth, Theodore's ("Kinetic") best friends that he makes at the camp. Smoke has the usual protagonist's background of being a supervillain's daughter and Myth is just a big bundle of fun. They all play off well against one another and have a very believable dynamic that I think makes the book readable at the worst of times and greatly entertaining at the best.

    The villain of the book, Iceburn, is somewhat generic but he exists primarily as an obstacle for Theodore to overcome rather than a more meaningful antagonist. I'm more interested in who hired Iceburn to go after the protagonist, though the law of drama indicates it's probably the one other supervillain mentioned in the book who would cause massive personal drama to our heroes' budding relationship.

    For the most part, Caped is a very solid traditional superhero tale about great power and great responsibility. It's a coming of age story where he goes through an arc of trying to put down his own selfish motives and embrace a higher calling without being cheesy. I kind of regret one of the major influences in Theodore's life is killed early in the book because I really liked their relationship and would have been interested in the continuing development of it.

    In conclusion, if you're looking for a solid Spiderman meets Superman-esque story of good versus evil as well as what a "realistic" hero might look like then this is a decidedly optimistic non-cynical book for you.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Broken Nights by Matthew Davenport

    BROKEN NIGHTS by Matthew Davenport is the first foray by one of my favorite Lovecraft fiction authors into the world of superheroes. It has the premise of trying to be a Heroes-esque "grounded" story about a guy who dresses up as a vigilante and fights crime but does it without Bruce Wayne's billions or years of study with Tibetan martial artists. There are actually people who do this in real life, for better or worse, but the Darden Valley Guardian has a lot more luck than the majority who get arrested or humiliated. Even so, it's realistic enough that the opening of the book is him getting hospitalized after trying to jump across rooftops and ending up in a trash bin.

    The premise of the book is Jason and Amy Night have recently lost their mother to a store robbery. Darden Valley, Iowa is a tech-powerhouse town in the middle of nowhere with a rising crime problem due to the moving in of a powerful new corporation which is leveraging crime to lower property rates like OCP did in Robocop--also, Donald Trump in New York during the 1980s if you believe certain rumors. No, I'm serious, that's actually a real life rumor about him. I'm not trying to make stuff up.

    The best part of the book is following Jason as he tries to figure out ways for a man on a middle-class budget to become a superhero via a mixture of Amazon.com as well as local martial arts classes. His efforts are stymied until he gets the help of a small team of his friends who know a good deal more about technology, the police, and other business which could be useful to a self-made superhero. From there, things gradually get weirder and weirder until he's dealing with a horde of nanotech zombies controlled by a malevolent A.I. I kind of regret the fact Matthew didn't stick to street level crime but I enjoyed it as a full-on Bronze Age comic book universe.

    Jason is a likable enough protagonist and while he's more Spiderman than Batman, except without the pop culture quips, he's still a believable superhero. The fact he screws up and doesn't achieve his goals every time makes him more relatable. I also liked Amy a great deal because she's a supportive sister while also not entirely tolerating all of his crap. Those readers with siblings are likely to see a lot of their own relationships in the Night Siblings' own. Honestly, I wished she'd become her own brand of hero versus Jason's version of Oracle.

    Stella, the villain of the piece, is a great antagonist who manages to remain just the right balance between corrupt corporate executive until she goes complete supervillain. The discovery of the benefits of nanotechnology are the kind of things which would excite the mind of even the most levelled soul so I didn't have a problem when she completely lost it. The fact she was also close to being arrested and panicking when her inner Lex Luthor comes out was also believable.

    The first half of the story follows his actions against ordinary crime before shifting to a more science-fiction orientated plot regarding Stella's plans to use an Alzheimer's cure to become an omnipotent cybernetic god. This shift was a bit much and I can't help but think I preferred the more lower-key actions of the Guardian but still worked as a decent science-fiction villainy plot. I also felt Jason and villain Stella had decent chemistry.

    The action was good, the characters were likeable, and the plot was decent. As such, I recommend Broken Nights to anyone who wants to enjoy a superhero adventure story as their next book. It's an extremely fun book and one of the better superhero books I've read in 2018. Which is a lot of them, I've got to say.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Blackjack: Villain by Brian Bequer (Blackjack 1#)

    BLACKJACK: VILLAIN by Brian Bequer is a supervillain novel which is in the fashion of SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE, CONFESSIONS OF A D-LIST SUPERVILLAIN, or my own SUPERVILLAINY SAGA. It's the story of a small-time villain who has the potential to be a big-time villain. He's blessed with the skills of an archer, the strength of Thor, and a genius scientific mind. It says something about just how much of an underachiever the guy is that he's still doing penny ante jobs before he gets recruited by the world's equivalent of Lex Luthor for the biggest job imaginable.

    I liked this book a great deal and have to say that Blackjack, himself, is a large part of the appeal. I think he's a bit too overpowered as he suffers a a crisis of schticks. That's part of his appeal, though, that he can't commit to anything and even his name is because he couldn't think of anything which covered all his themes. The book outright says he's suffering from maturity problems and that includes not being able to take responsibility for his actions. Everything is the fault of his archenemy Atmosphero.

    The best part of the book is the first half which describes the nature of being a mid-level supervillain. We get to see how his crooked lawyer gets the superheroes off his back, what causes him to have chronic villainy (losing his house to a superhero fight), and also how he managed to get involved in the business in the first place. These are some really fascinating scenes and ones which I wanted to hear more about because it's the meat of the book.

    The villains which Blackjack deals with are an eccentric cast of characters who also provide a good deal of humor as well as contrasting personalities. One is a murderous psychopathic eco-terrorist with psychic powers, another one too stupid to realize his codename is a movie reference, and another still being a woman who is the very definition of bad for Blackjack. This is contrasted against a superheroine who is brainwashed into helping them but still serves as a good influence on Blackjack.

    The supporting cast is pretty good in this book. I really enjoyed Apogee, Blackjack's sort of love interest, and her struggle to deal with her mixture of love as well as hate for our protagonist. Cool Hand Luke is a hilariously dumb redneck henchman. Doctor Zundergrub is an excellent antagonist as his charming personality hides a truly murderous monster. I even loved Influx and how she nicely contrasted Apogee. 

    The book loses a star because the latter half leaves the colorful world of superheroes and villains to a weird planetary romance-esque adventure on what is best described as the Halo from Halo crossed with Barsoom. It's a genre shift which isn't entirely welcome despite being still very entertaining. I wanted to see our villains fight heroes rather than local space tribesmen. Thankfully, it returns to that for the exciting finale.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Rules of Supervillainy audiobook on sale for $5 for one week only

THE RULES OF SUPERVILLAINY is on sale for a week on Audible.com. For $4.95, you can get a copy of the adventures of Gary Karkofsky's first adventure in the Supervillainy Saga. The sale ends on February 25th, 2018. https://www.audible.com/pd/Fiction/The-Rules-of-Supervillainy-Audiobook/B016X128EK

Gary Karkofsky is an ordinary guy with an ordinary life living in an extraordinary world. Supervillains, heroes, and monsters are a common part of the world he inhabits. Yet, after the death of his hometown's resident superhero, he gains the amazing gift of the late champion's magical cloak. Deciding he prefers to be rich rather than good, Gary embarks on a career as Merciless: The Supervillain Without Mercy. 

But is he evil enough to be a villain in America's most crime-ridden city? Gary soon finds himself surrounded by a host of the worst of Falconcrest City's toughest criminals. Supported by his long-suffering wife, his ex-girlfriend turned professional henchwoman, and a has-been evil mastermind, Gary may end up being not the hero they want but the villain they need.

©2015 C. T. Phipps (P)2015 Amber Cove Publishing and C.T. Phipps.