Sunday, March 27, 2016

Books: The Punisher - Welcome Back, Frank

In the 1980s, Marvel pumped out numerous titles devoted to the Punisher, but the glut in the market led to writers running out of ideas for the iconic antihero. Frank Castle went from waging a lonely war against crime to being a supernatural angel of vengeance, and then resurrected as a pulpy fantasy monster, "Franken-Castle."

"Welcome Back, Frank" (Punisher (2000) #1-12) is one of Garth Ennis's seminal takes on the Punisher, and it's a back-to-basics version - no Microchip, no Battle Van, and definitely no aliens or monsters. Instead, it's just Frank versus a hoard of colorful gangsters, including the cackling Ma Gnucci and the Russian, an insane (and insanely strong) killer.

The comic is bloody, but not as violent as the Punisher MAX series - illustrator Steve Dillon and inker Jimmy Palmiotti keep things cartoony rather than gory. Ennis also inserts plenty of sardonic wit amidst the carnage (this is the one where the Punisher punches a polar bear). The new season of "Daredevil" on Netflix, starring Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, cribs liberally from this run, even basing an entire episode off the famous rooftop confrontation between the Punisher and Daredevil in issue #3:

Monday, March 07, 2016

Miscellany: Florida Strawberry Festival

I took a road trip to visit the Florida Strawberry Festival, an annual fair in Plant City.  The Festival attracts about 700,000 visitors from all around Florida (and beyond), who come for carnival rides, live music, and of course, a celebration of all things strawberry. After loading up at Fred's Market Restaurant, an all-you-can-eat buffet of delicious down-home food, I pushed my way through the crowds to see what the Festival was all about...

My first stop was the "Belmont Festival of Magic," a charmingly old-school magic performance. None of the illusions were earth-shattering, but it was all delivered in a warm, friendly manner.

Next up was a show by The Gothard Sisters, a trio of actual sisters performing Celtic and folk music and dance. I had heard their music before, but they actually sounded better live.

A lot of the stuff at the Strawberry Festival is standard for a large fair. Just like in the South Florida Fair, there are racing pigs, and they are popular:

Plant City is more agricultural and rural than Palm Beach County, of course, so the poultry, livestock, and plant showcases are more involved. They didn't have any cows giving birth when I was there, though.

There's a healthy Latino community in the area, and an entire stage was dedicated to Ā”Hola! Plant City. The mariachi band was quite good, and the effect was heightened by the beautiful weather.

The headliners of the night were Donny and Marie Osmond. If you paid extra money, you could reserve a decent seat; otherwise, you were stuck in the grandstand furthest from the stage.

I brought home a lot of strawberries, which were actually pretty cheap (a full flat - 12 pints - went for $9). All in all, it was a great trip - if you like strawberries, that is.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Politics: Donald, where's your trousers?

After Thursday's Republican presidential debate, in which the front-runner jokingly reassured voters that there was "no problem" with his (*cough*) manhood, I couldn't resist:

Friday, March 04, 2016

Tech: XCOM 2 review

XCOM 2 assumes that humanity lost its war against the aliens in the first XCOM game, and imagines Earth under the boot of an extraterrestrial occupation with sinister ends:

As in the original game, the player controls squads of 4 to 6 soldiers in turn-based missions across the globe. This time, however, you're part of a ragtag resistance force, constantly pursued by both the aliens and their (semi-)human collaborators, ADVENT. The guerrilla warfare conceit is a much better fit for XCOM's core gameplay, and it also ties in with a fun new "concealment" mechanic that allows you to ambush alien troops.

You'll need all the help you can get, though. XCOM 2 is a brutal, uncompromising game even on the easiest difficulty.  Right from the start, you'll be facing enemies that can mind control your soldiers, revive fallen enemies as zombies, or blow your squads apart with grenades. Battles invariably become intricate tactical mazes where you'll scan every inch of the map for precious cover.

It's tense, high-wire gaming that I honestly can't recommend to everyone. As if that weren't enough, XCOM 2 is also hampered by some inexplicable technical bugs, including a terrible framerate and glitchy animations even on my high-end PC. Yet even with all those faults, there's a palpable satisfaction when you win against the seemingly-impossible odds the game throws at you, and it's not a feeling many titles ever pull off.

Rating: 87/100

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

TV: Fuller House

"Fuller House" is Netflix's revival of the hit '90s sitcom "Full House." The story is a clever (albeit tragic) inversion of the original show's premise, following a widowed D.J. Tanner-Fuller raising her three sons, with the help of her sister Stephanie and her wacky best friend Kimmy:

In some very specific ways, "Fuller House" is miraculously good. Very few showrunners and actors could pull off what Jeff Franklin and the cast (sans the Olsen twins) have done here. 20 years after the original series went off the air, the show doesn't feel like a new entity, but simply another season of its parent.

Whether that's a good thing or not depends on how much you liked "Full House," of course. Critics are savaging it, but really, the show maintains the same catchphrases, comedic beats, overacting child performers, random cameos (Hunter Pence, Macy Gray(!)), cheesy sentiments, and madcap physical comedy of the original. There are some concessions to the new millennium and the streaming format (the second half of the season is slightly serialized for binge-watching), but this is "Full House," through and through.