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Thursday, January 26, 2012

RIP - Nicol Williamson

I found out this afternoon that actor Nicol Williamson, who played Merlin in 1981's Excalibur, died this past December at the age of 75.  I consider his performance in that movie as one of the most entertaining takes on the Grand Druid of Arthurian Legend, but also one of the reasons that I became interested in learning more about King Arthur.  He will be missed.

Digital Comics - Update

I mentioned before that I thought digital delivery of comic books was the wave of the future.  Well, since that time I have purchased a tablet computer and have begun to read my comics this way.  I have to say, it’s everything that I thought it would be.  The art is crisp, the delivery is quick and they are easy to read.  You have the ability to zoom in as far as you want and some comics even have a built in option to only display one panel at a time.  The amount of content out there is also quite staggering, and it’s not just new comics.  There are comics available that go all the way back to the 30’s & 40’s.  Not all of them are available, mind you, but I can see that as a possibility.

As far as pricing is concerned, from what I’ve seen it is definitely a bargain, especially if you don’t mind waiting a month for your new comics.  DC Comics, for example, releases their digital copies the same day as the print version, and at the same price of $2.99.  However, once the new issue is released, they drop the price on the preceding issue by $1, so if you wait a month you can get your new comics at $1.99.  That savings can really add up over time, and you might find yourself browsing more titles since you have a little more money to spend. 

I haven’t purchased any comics, though.  In right around 3 months of using the tablet I have not come close to exhausting the free content that is out there.  I have the apps for DC, Marvel and Comixology, more for my own sanity in deciding what I want to read that anything else, and there is just a huge amount of free issues out there.  On the plus side is that I’m reading comics that I wouldn’t have given a second look at in my FLCS, but since they’re free I figure “What the hey, let me check it out.”  Typically these will be first issues, or the start of a big story arc, to try and suck in new readers, which makes plenty of sense from a marketing stand point.

What’s the downside, you ask?  Basically, it’s the Wal-Mart problem.  Delivery, price and quality of digital copies of comics is such a great thing that they typical FLCS will be really feeling the pinch, if they aren’t already due to the economy.  Obviously the purists out there will want the print copy, but I never really collected comics for their value.  I was more interested in the stories and art, which digital gives me without the need to store the dang things.  Plus, digital issues make it easy to switch between comics than digging through the 7 boxes that I currently have in storage.  Once I start actually paying for these comics, I’m probably going to include replacing a few issues that I currently own with each purchase, and eventually go all digital.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I Hate Being Sick

The past few days my labrynthitis had come back with a vengence, so I'll be taking this week off (from posting) and I'll get back to it next week.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Free To Play Takeover

I recently received an e-mail that my Star Trek Online account had been reactivated because the game is going Free to Play (here after referred to as FtP).  As I mentioned before, this is a growing trend in MMORPG’s, to the point that I won’t play a game that I have to pay a monthly subscription for.  (OK, you caught me.  I can’t afford a monthly subscription.)  A quick search on the interwebs gives us a plethora of free games.  The following list is just some of the more recognizable FtP titles available:

It is true that some, if not all, of these games were subscription based to begin with, and many still have a subscription option to get the “really cool stuff”, but that isn’t necessary any more.  Between the cost for Downloadable Content (DLC for short) and other micro transactions, the companies seem to be able to maintain their service as well as provide a good gaming experience for their customers.  My experience with DC Universe is the only first hand experience that I have with it, and I have to say that I don’t have a problem with the structure.  With more and more games going this way, I truly believe that this is the future of the industry, at least for some kind of introductory period if not for the full game.

Of course, part of the issue that some may have with this is that you need to create an original game, and one that looks original right off the bat, or people will go somewhere else.  That might be the problem that some people have with my review of Star Wars: The OldRepublic.  In my view, it is a WoW clone with video cut scenes, but the only reason I know that is I was in the Beta.  Those that have to pay to find out what the game is like are more likely to stick with it, because they have already invested the money and don’t want it to go to waste.  If they could try the game first, with no cost, the game makers would be more hard pressed to come up with something new and exciting in the game to keep people around.  IMHO, that is a VERY good thing for the industry, because it results in innovative and interesting game play and lower initial costs to the consumer.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"You are part to the Rebel Alliance..."

No, actually I'm a (reserve) member of the Empire, but The Hammer Strikes is now a proud member of the SPiRiTLiNG BLOG ALLiANCE (as I'm sure you gathered from the nifty new image in the upper right).  Check out the other members' blogs and enjoy.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


I have recently reaffirmed why Walt Simonson is my favorite comic book writer.  I was lucky enough to have been given Volumes 1 & 2 of his collected run on Thor in the 80’s.  (I already had volumes 3, 4 & 5.)  In Volume 2 is an issue where Thor is battling Surtur (or Surtr if you wish) on the shatter Rainbow Bridge and he saves Heimdall, guardian or said bridge, from falling into space.  Laying his wounded fellow god down, Thor says “You will be as safe here as in the arms of your mothers.”  Some people would think that is a typo, but not those versed in Norse Lore, where it is stated that Heimdall has 9 mothers, all of them sisters.  (Don’t try and wrap your head around that, its religion and thus does not necessarily conform to logic at all time.)  This is a throw-away line in the issue where the focus is stopping the fire giant from getting into Asgard, but it is there and there isn’t a 50 page explanation of it.  It’s a subtle tip of the hat to those that know the lore or, for people like me, an impetus to pick up a book and learn more about the subject.

In another issue, contained in the same volume, a god in mortal guise visits the office of one Doctor Donald Blake.  For those of you not in the know, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Dr. Blake as Thor’s mortal alter-ego in the 60’s and one of the first things that Simonson did was to get rid of him.  Obviously there would be repercussions from a doctor suddenly disappearing, so it gets wrapped up by a scene where members of the office staff are lamenting not seeing their boss in months and how all the patients have been referred to other physicians.  Enter Fandral, one of the Warriors Three, who informs the staff that Dr. Blake has been called upon by the government and will not be returning.  He gives them a bag of gold as severance pay and each also gets a token to remember the good doctor by.  It is with this token that Simonson again shows his knowledge of the lore and his subtle way on injecting very relevant items.  The staff each gets a golden necklace with a hammer amulet on it.  The same hammer amulet, I might add, that the worshipers, both ancient and modern, of the Norse Gods wear, much like a Christian cross or a Star of David.  Again, it is not explained or gone into at all; it’s shown and left for the reader to figure out.

It is this kind of writing that seems to be lacking in entertainment today.  Most things, be they movies, books, TV shows, what have you, seem to want to beat you over the head with an idea rather than trust that audience has more than two brain cells.  I was involved in an argument along these lines when we made our first Star Trek Fan Episode.  (Don’t give me that look.  You knew I was a geek when you started reading this blog.)  We were talking about the Engineer’s Log Entry voiceover that ran at the end of the episode.  This VO referred to something that wasn’t explicitly shown on screen and there were some individuals that didn’t think we should have that.  My argument was, and still it, that the audience doesn’t need to be shown every little thing in a show.  Implied scenes are fine, as long as there isn’t something that needs exposition.  You don’t need to see Jack, Janet and Chrissie* get changed and drive to the beach to make the connection between a scene where they are talking about going to the beach and them actually being there.  George Clooney made the same point when asked why he left ER.  He said that in the 1st season you could see a guy wheeled by with a knife sticking out of his skull and that would be the end of it.  By the time he left, that would have been an entire story arc.

I, for one, would like to see a return to treating the audience like they have intelligence.  Of course, we live in the era of Survivor, Wipe Out & whatever pap TLC is running currently, so I doubt that this will happen.  Heck, even the “historic” drama, like The Tudors, are so rife with chronological errors in the name of making it more attractive that they are practically unwatchable.  Now there are shows out there are “get it”, such as NCIS, Big Bang Theory and Doctor Who, but they are the diamonds in the rough, IMHO.  Then again, I also watch World’s Dumbest every week, so I know that there is a need to turn your brain off every now and again, but it shouldn’t be the majority of entertainment.  Now that I’m done being very un-subtle about being subtle, I’m off to read some more of Mr. Simonson’s inspired works.

* Believe it or not (in my best Jack Palance voice) that was actually the first show reference to come to mind when I was writing this.  Scary, isn’t it?