Quite possibly better than Christmas.

PAX Prime is easily in my top 3 things I look forward to most during the year. It's absolutely amazing, and it's amazing for a lot of reasons. First, is the convention itself and what it's about. Unlike the very few comic conventions I've been to, PAX is a much more interactive convention. That's not too surprising seeing as how it's a video game convention, but it's a notable distinction to make. At comic book conventions, I'm usually looking at art that's available, buying everything in sight because I can't help myself, and meeting people. With PAX, you get to play the games that on display there, and it ranges from PC and console games to CCG and tabletop gaming. You can buy stuff and go to pannels and meet people at PAX too, but it's the ability to not only see the new things coming out but to actually put your hands on them and play them. Maybe this is just an advantageous aspect of games in general, but even so, in my mind it's a big part of what I'll probably refer to often as the PAX experience. But getting back to the subject of the convention and what it contains, it's everything I like and nothing I don't. Another aspect of PAX that I love are the people I go to it with. My group of childhood friends has dispersed rather profoundly to many different corners of the nation and globe, but we all manage to get together for this event. That alone is something impossible to place value on; and each year we go, it's like adding another chapter to a long chronicle of our collective history. For me, the group adds an extra dimension to my PAX experience through group traditions. Certain things change, but some things never go away, and it turns PAX into something that couldn't be recreated any other time of the year. Also, PAX has costumes, and I love costumes. Last year was the first year I wore a costume to PAX, and I'll never go without one again. This year, I'm bringing two. I love putting costumes together, and this gives me an outlet to make all the awesome costumes that just won't be appreciated the same way they would (or more likely wouldn't) in a lot of other places. Plus, being in a costume makes you feel a lot less obtrusive when asking other people in costume for pictures. There are a lot of other reasons PAX is great, and I think those reasons are a little bit different for everyone. Each person's PAX experience is a little different depending on these reasons. Some may go just to wait in line to play that game that's coming out, others may not wait in a single line all weekend. I plan on doing what I do every year, which usually amounts to three days of little to no sleep, the only time during the year where I eat at Taco del Mar, one lunch at PF Chang's, drinking nothing except Bawls and alcohol (usually not mixed together), waiting in lines to play games, avoiding lines to get free stuff, and just walking around amazed at how much awesome they can fit into one event. By the end I usually feel like a depleted husk of a person, but I immediately look forward to next year. I can't wait.
Ultimate Comics X-Men #5 In last Wednesday's post, I mentioned that I liked a lot of Kaare Andrews' covers, so I thought I'd follow up with my favorite of his covers. This one features a closeup of Rogue. In this arc, like many others, Rogue struggles with her mutant powers and searches for a way to lead a normal life. While this and several other characters are the same, the series also features Kitty Pride in her newly assumed identity as The Shroud. Here's a version with the cover text added if you're interested. The Marvel Wiki is my main source for comic cover images and artist information, and you can find a decent collection of covers by Andrews on that site. I didn't really care for the style he used on his Astonishing X-Men covers, but I think he has a lot of good ones for Ultimate Comics and they cover a pretty wide range of characters so you can probably find one you'll like too.

A friend of mine posted this on his Facebook page early this morning, and I think it's pretty awesome. My Dad used to take us on these marathon driving trips anytime we had to go someplace west of the Great Divide; at that point in time, gas was cheap enough to make this the economical means of transportation. My most enduring car game was similar to the one in this video where an 8-bit guy jumps from object to object, never touching the ground. Except in my case, the guy couldn't touch any of those objects. Instead, he had to jump over the reflector posts and speed limit signs and anything else affixed to the side of the road. I do this even now on the rare instances where I'm in a car and not driving. I think the person in the video is right in that we all play games like this, and for me, one of coolest aspects of it was to see how similar certain examples were and how unique others were. I think not stepping on cracks is a fairly universal game, and any kid who has ever held a stopwatch in their hand has tried to get it to stop perfectly at a whole second or has enlisted their friends to see who could get the fastest time. Trying to get in the same number of steps per crack or per sidewalk segment (which apparently are called ribbons, didn't know that until now) was something I did a lot. I always thought this was something unique to me, if a little neurotic, so it was fun (and a bit reassuring) to see that featured. I'm assuming that every other person plays or has played mental games like this, but I wonder if that's actually true. I think it is for the most part, but I wonder if it's something that's only present over a few generations. Video games were still in their infancy stages when I was growing up, but they were an important interest early on for me. I don't think this was the reason why I have this shared experience and others would not, more so, it probably had more effect on the shape my games took (e.g. the side-scrolling, jumping guy car game). Still it's interesting to think about how these games might have looked in past generations, and wonder whether things will continue the same way in future generations.
Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe I've been excited about this since a friend told me it was coming several months ago. This is one of four covers from the Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe mini-series that's on a weekly release schedule for August. The title is pretty self explanatory, Deadpool is a serial killer who goes around killing Marvel heroes (and villains apparently). I'm guessing there's a little more of a cohesive story line at play here, but I'm waiting until all four issues are released to get them. The covers are all by Kaare Andrews, and you can see all of them on this review site I've randomly selected. Andrews has a website that is currently under construction, but maybe that'll change in the near future. I actually like a lot of his covers, especially the Ultimate Comics ones. So those are worth a look if you're interested.

Coming to a Seattle near you.

Emerald City Comic Con was the first comic convention that I went to. I've always wanted to - and continue to want to - go to San Diego Comic Con, but I've never been able to negotiate the trip. Still, I went to ECCC last year and completely fell in love with it. Though a lot different from the gaming conventions I more often frequent, it was awesome and I'm so excited for this year's. Especially now. There was a news post on the ECCC website yesterday that announced it's latest celebrity guest, and it just so happened to be Billy Dee Williams. Yes, Lando Calrissian is coming to Seattle. Probably. I mean, these lists tend to change quite a bit as we closer to the actual event date (March 1st to 3rd). For example, last year Katee Sackhoff was replaced by Christopher Judge on the list of celebrity guests. So these things happen, but they still turn out to be awesome.
his commercials are awesome

"I don't claim you can have a better time with Colt 45 than without it, but why take chances?"
- Billy Dee Williams

I think Billy Dee is a little bit different thought. For some, it might be his sound advice when it comes to beverage selection, but for me, it's because he's Star Wars. It's strange to say that Star Wars has shaped me and my life, because it's a little scary to think about how a commercial product can have that kind of effect, but it's true to an extent. Star Wars was my first real childhood interest, and it just never went away. I grew up pretending to be Han Solo, and later Boba Fett because let's face it, he's awesome. I met my first friends in elementary school because we liked Star Wars. Through those friends I got into computer games. Through computer games I met some new friends who introduced me to console gaming and LAN parties, and guess what, they all liked Star Wars. I've probably had more Star Wars centered discussions and debates than with any other topic. These were my closest friends throughout elementary school, high school, and college and they continue to be some of my closest friends today. My interests, my academic and work career, and many of my life experiences have been affected by Star Wars. It's certainly not the only thing that made me who I am today, but it's interesting to think about the impacts of something that released before I was born.
Cast reunion photo

Chewie looks pretty much the same.

And I know I'm not the only one like this, and I'm sure there are others where Star Wars has had an even more direct and meaningful effect on their life. Star Wars has a gravity and ubiquity that very few (if any) franchises have or can even hope to achieve. It's not only a staple, but it has continued to thrive and evolve in both sub cultures and the main stream. You can see it at nearly any nerd-related convention or event, and it is never considered out of place. That's a lot of power for something created solely as a source of entertainment. Still, in my mind it is becoming an old world power; you have to at least be in your 30's to have been alive when A New Hope came out. The news release from ECCC got me thinking about this with a simple fact it led me to, Billy Dee Williams is 75 now. This took a little while for my brain to reconcile. There's nothing like a little basic math and seeing your childhood heroes age to give you a clear picture of reality. That being said, I know there will be a time when even the oldest never saw any of the original trilogy in theaters (and eventually, the prequel trilogy too), but I wonder if there will ever be a time when Star Wars isn't relevant. I hope not, things just wouldn't be same without it.
Amazing Spider-Man #641 This week's cover is the fourth - and final - chapter in the One Moment in Time arc. This story follows on the heels of the One More Day arc and addresses the fallout that accompanies Peter Parker revealing himself as Spider-Man in the Civil War. There is a lot leading up to these events, and all of it forms a pretty key point in the Amazing Spider-Man chronology. The cover is one of my favorites. It's beautiful, but I also think it's refreshingly simple and elegant for a Spider-Man cover. Paolo Rivera does the cover and some of the interior work for this issue and the three others in the story arc (among many others). He also has his own blog.
X-Men #30 We're going a little bit back in time for this week's cover, back to X-Men Vol. 2 #30 to be exact. This is the wraparound cover variant, by Andy Kubert and Matt Ryan, for the Scott Summers and Jean Grey wedding issue. Fun fact, Andy Kubert is currently the VP of The Kubert School in New Jersey. The school was founded by his father, Joe Kubert, and is dedicated to Cartooning and Graphic Art. It also looks like Ryan owns a freelance art studio, Mine Studio, which rounds out two of the more entrepreneurial comic artists I've run across in the short lifespan of this website. I like the wraparound variant because it showcases the fairly diverse crowd and shows you who all is there. Certain people you may not expect are Cable, in the third row behind Bishop, and although I don't see her on the cover, Rachel Summers. You can also note Wolverine's absence from the wedding, though that was done with good intentions and may not be entirely true. The issue provides a cool look at a lot of elements in the X-Men universe through the cast of characters present, and that's something I really like about it. Another reason I chose this cover is a more personal one. I will be attending a wedding for two old friends of mine, and I thought this (plus whatever item I happen to grab off their registry) might make for a nice, little tribute. So, in the event that either of you happen to be reading this, I wish you only the best and a long, happy life together.
Steam logs hours played and not days played, so hours are becoming easier to track in the long run. So, as the title suggests, I'm about 33 hours into the game; and to keep up the pattern, there are three things I'd like to talk about. The first is another gameplay aspect that's new to New Vegas, companions. No, not that kind of companion. Your companion options seems to be a pretty select list (if run into four so far), which may or may not be determined by what DLC you happen to purchase. The eyebot, ED-E, who is currently one of the maximum two that you can have follow you around seems to be a likely candidate for that last item. So far, they don't seem to be much other than extra guns that follow you around. Sure, each has their own little story, and perhaps I haven't gotten far enough to see where those stories become relevant, but so far they haven't added much more than some extra inventory space and firepower. Not that I don't appreciate either of those things, but it's not Dragon Age by a long shot. Then again, I don't think that's what they were aiming for either. The second item on my list is an update on factions, and holy shit are there a lot of those now. Their basic function hasn't changed since what I observed on day 1, but there presence and pervasiveness do have a notable impact on how I play the game. Primarily, this comes in the form of who you can talk to (and therefore accept quests from) and who starts randomly sending assassination squads to kill you. This is where that extra firepower comes in handy. The story seems to be shaping to a point where the various factions and your relationship with them may play a larger role, but I haven't found out for sure and I probably wouldn't mention it here if I had. You know, spoilers and all. My third and final item for today, is quests. Oh my god, quests. I finally get to New Vegas and suddenly, I've got new questions coming from all over the place; main quests, side quests, optional quests within quests, quests-that-don't-show-up-on-your-quest-list-type quests... we've got all kinds of quests going on. It almost at a point where it's overwhelming, not really because of the quest volume, but because it's nearly impossible to figure out where you want to start. There's something about this game that makes everything feel very connected. Very few side-quests seem like detached errands, and I think the various factions help with this. Suddenly you're not just doing something for someone, but you're also doing something against another group. I think it's also overwhelming in that I just don't have the time I'd like to devote to playing through the game. I can get in a few hours at a time here and there, but it's not enough to make any kind of rapid or even semi-rapid progress. Still I've been very impressed with the quests so far. Like I mentioned earlier, the side quests and everything feel very much a part of the game; they don't feel detached. Sure, the story behind every quest isn't amazing and exciting (e.g. Missing laser pistol, please find. K thnx bai!), but I get a really different feeling from them than say the side quests in the Elder Scrolls series. I remember reading a reviewer describe questing in Morrowind as a prolonged game of fetch, whether it's for some item or someone's head. Not to say that this didn't stop me from sinking what was probably close to a year of my life into the game, but that was a feeling I often had. I can even recall that same tediousness in Fallout 3, but this time it's different. I can't quite put my finger on why that is exactly, but it's better; and for now, that's what's important.
Uncanny X-Men #509 This week's cover features Psylocke, another one of my favorite X-Men characters. Greg Land's cover art features Psylocke split into two of the bodies she has inhabited, that of Betsy Braddock and Kwannon. As you might gather, her back story is a pretty interesting one. While she isn't the sole focus of this issue (Uncanny X-Men does like its multi-story plot lines), it issue does serve as Psylocke's return to the 616 universe. Almost more interesting than reading the issue for me was reading people's opinions of Greg Land. There isn't much of a vetting process associated with what covers are featured here and which ones aren't. Sometimes, it's me making a run to a comic store, or digging one out of my collection at home, and arbitrarily choosing one I think I could write more than a few sentences on. This process has given me reason to pay more attention to the actual cover artists, which is something that I usually didn't pay much attention to. Which is a little strange, since comic cover art was what drew me into comics to begin with; no pun intended. Regardless, most of the cover artists I've looked at don't get much beyond their own website (if they even have that). Greg Land is the first that I have found who has something like this. It's actually pretty good, and its search result placement is pretty impressive and probably a little dis-concerning for Greg whenever he does a Google search for himself.
As a preface, this might contain spoilers depending on what you consider a spoiler. So if you're avoiding all Bat-related coverage before seeing the movie, you should avoid this as well. Or you can continue reading on below... To make what I'm guessing will turn into a long story short, I really liked the movie. Despite myself, this wasn't even one of those, "OH MY GOD THIS IS AWESOME AND I MUST SEE IT AND I WILL LOVE IT UNCONDITIONALLY," kind of things (sometimes those things happen, for better and for worse). After walking out of the Spider-Man premiere in the proceeding weeks, I was actually nervous, and almost borderline convinced that it wasn't going to be very good. After a friend and alcohol infused night spent watching Batman Begins and The Dark Knight back to back, my faith was restored to a more moderate level. However, I never really believed it would turn out great. Perhaps it was expectations management, or maybe the event's reasonably-priced cash bar, but I was happy to find those expectations exceeded. One thing that really made the movie for me was the portrayal of Bane. I know that people took several issues with Bane, and some of them I can understand, but none of them were a sticking point for me. After seeing the movie, I went back and read a lot of the articles and interviews that I had shunned earlier, and I was surprised to read how many people were concerned with Bane's voice. Yes, it was modulated, but not into Sanskrit. I thought it was beautifully done, and I thought Tom Hardy was able to use it with an incredible range that added a lot of depth to what could have easily been a villain with a robot-voice. Another concern, one which was more prevalent in reviews after the release, centered around Bane's comic backstory and the film's accuracy in that respect. It's a concern that I can understand, but I think this is an example of an adaptation that follows the basic lore but changes some of the details. Again, I can understand someone who is upset by this lack of loyalty to the source material. We've been blessed with a recent abundance of well-made, story-accurate superhero movies; but while this may deviate from that norm, I don't think it detracts from the quality of the film or story at all. Bane's semi-traditional Venom storage tanks have been replaced by his mask. Though different, they both serve a similar purpose to the character (one provides him with strength and the other protects him from debilitating pain) and they both serve as his one real weakness. The prison that he grew up in, that shaped him, may have been slightly different, but it's hardly of consequence. His relationship with Ra's al Ghul was a little different in the film, but not completely fabricated. In the comics, Bane was chosen by Ra's al Ghul to be his successor much like he did Batman, and this eventually ends in a falling out between the two. So were things exact? No, but in my opinion, they did the character justice, and in some ways, elevated him above his usual portrayal as a villain who simply breaks his enemy physically. I could keep going on, but there were a lot of these kinds of elements where I found something I wasn't expecting, and that was fantastic. Needless to say (because I've already said it several times), I enjoyed it a lot. I'm not going to be as ravenous in my opinion as some, but I would urge you to see it if you have even a slight inclination to do so.