Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sweet, But Less Flavorful, Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits Are A Mixed Bag Of A Cookie!


The Good: Good flavor, Generally good ingredients
The Bad: Comparatively expensive, Not robustly coffee flavored, Obviously low on nutritional benefits
The Basics: Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits are fairly good, but not an incredibly accurately-flavored wafer cookie.


My wife and my mother have conspired to give me a good holiday season and new year. My mother has been looking for gifts for me (I'm a bit of a pain to shop for!) and my wife did the research needed to find something truly wonderful for me. My wife found a subscription box service for new food products that she thought I might like and might enjoy reviewing and my mother decided to take the plunge and subscribe for me! The first box just arrived and tonight I thought I would show my appreciation by reviewing something right away. I chose to review the Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits right off the bat because I am a huge fan of wafer cookies.

Unfortunately, Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits - which are a chocolate-covered wafer cookie - are an imported cookie that tastes good, but is not at all a good rendition of coffee flavor for the center of the cookies.

Basics

Loacker is an Italian company and the Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits come in a box with a protective tray, that houses the dozen chocolate-covered wafer cookies. Each cookie is 1 7/8" long, 1" wide and 3/8" thick. The wafer cookies are kept well-protected and each chocolate-covered wafer cookie remains perfectly well-intact, even if it is not the most environmentally-respectful packaging.

Ease Of Preparation

Eating Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits is not a real challenge, simply unwrap the cookie tray within the cardboard overwrap and consume. Once one selects a cookie, all you have to do is stick it in your mouth and chew; there is nothing complicated or foreign about eating these cookies.

Taste

Opening the wrap around the tray of the Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits delivers a very mild chocolate aroma. The milk chocolate scent from the Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits is mild, but sweet. The Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits are not so aromatic as to be inviting by their scent.

In the mouth, the Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits are sweet and chocolatey. The chocolate is sweet, light and interestingly buttery in its flavor. The center, wafer cookie, portion of the Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits is dry and sugary, without actually having any real coffee flavor to them. The sweet, buttery chocolate accents the dry, sugary center without adding any nuance or flavor to the cookies. The chocolate flavor dominates any other flavors in the Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits.

Nutrition

Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits are intended as a sweet snack, not a full meal. Four of these cookies (weighing out at 33 grams) represents a single serving and they are not at all nutritious. Made primarily of milk chocolate, coconut oil, and wheat flour, these cookies are not at all an all-natural food product. The Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits were produced on equipment that forces them to add a disclaimer about almonds and obviously anyone with a milk allergy should avoid them.

Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits have 180 calories for a single serving, 100 of which are from fat. A full serving represents 39% of one's RDA of saturated fat and they have 5mg of cholesterol. The Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits are exceptionally low in sodium for a cookie, having only 60 mg (2% RDA) per serving. The Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits have 3 grams of protein, but no other real nutrients. As one who is working on getting heart-healthy, I wish they had been even a gram of dietary fiber.

Storage/Cleanup

Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits are easy to care for and clean up. Unopened, they have a pretty short shelf life; our box, which arrived just a day or two ago, had an expiration date of March 2017. Kept sealed, I am sure they would have lasted at least that long. As cookies, they can leave crumbs, but because the cookies are coated in chocolate, the milk chocolate can melt and require one to wash up, lest they leave milk chocolate fingerprints all over!

Overall

Loacker Cappuccino Fine Milk Chocolate Biscuits taste good, but do not have a recognizable coffee flavor to them to compete against the quality chocolate that coats the wafer cookies, making them a tougher sell for the price than they otherwise might have been.

For other reviews of cookies, please check out my reviews of:
Keebler Fudge Sticks Jumbo Mint Wafer cookies
Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled Cookies
Quaker Blueberry Stila Cookie Bars

5/10

For other food and drink reviews, please visit my Food And Drink Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Ghost Rider Resolved? "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" Tries To Sell That Idea!


The Good: Decent performances, Character development, Special effects
The Bad: Plot is basic and repeats the format of prior seasons.
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to close off the Ghost Rider plotline with "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics!"


As some television shows go into their winter hiatus, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is managing to ramp up. While I have not been a huge fan of the introduction of Ghost Rider to the series and the way it has altered the narrative of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., even I have to admit that the show went into "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" riding high upon the momentum the show gained in "Deals With Our Devils." "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" picks up with a lot of plot threads going on and fundamental character changes - especially with Aida being outed and Mack making the unlikely turn to ally himself with Ghost Rider following being possessed by him.

"Deals With Our Devils" (reviewed here!) leads right into "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" and it is tough to discuss the new episode without some references as to where the prior episode went. "Deals With Our Devils" introduced a new proto-Inhuman (probably as a lead-up to the forthcoming limited series The Inhumans) and put more tension between the classic Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. cast and the new Director, Jeffrey Mace. "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" picks up with Eli Morrow menacing Los Angeles.

Eli Morrow is having trouble keeping his Chinese gang under his thumb, so makes a demonstration out of transmuting one of his thug's lungs into diamonds. Morrow has built an oversized interdimensional box and S.H.I.E.L.D. is under siege from the media during the active incident. While Coulson advocates bringing in the full S.H.I.E.L.D. team - including Yo-Yo and Reyes - Mace is shocked to learn Aida is an android, but he puts her in play anyway. When Yo-Yo attempts to infiltrate Morrow's facility, she sets off an explosive that wounds her, which necessitates Reyes entering the facility. Mace grills Radcliffe about Aida and the Dark Hold, with limited results.

Inside Morrow's lab, Reyes finds the massive interdimensional battery and Morrow is able to stop the Ghost Rider from manifesting. Fitz recognizes Morrow's device as containing a Demon Core, which has the potential to destroy all of Los Angeles. Mace comes into the field to defuse the plutonium core Morrow has as Aida and the transdimensional arch are put on the Zephyr. Coulson confronts Morrow, after Fitz determines how Morrow has cheated the laws of physics from an alternate dimension. With tremors menacing Los Angeles and the full S.H.I.E.L.D. team set to confront Eli Morrow, S.H.I.E.L.D. must step up to stop Morrow definitively.

"The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" continues to develop Morrow as a villain and Mace as a secondary antagonist to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. Mace is characterized as a suspicious character in "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" and it is hard to believe that he can possibly be trusted at this point in the fourth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Mace has been outed as an Inhuman and in "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" he continues to advance the interests of the Inhumans in the public eye. Mace is given a cool new outfit and seeing him interact with the full team is good.

Morrow and Reyes finally come face to face in a way that allows them to be honest with one another in "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics." After the big explosions and action sequences, Morrow and Reyes square off for a pretty straightforward conversation. It is somewhat hilarious that the Marvel Cinematic Universe allows for the longest direct conversation between two characters only when one is impaled and immobilized! Morrow's anger at the world is finally explained in "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" and his progression into a godlike character is handled remarkably well. Indeed, by the halfway point of "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics," it seems improbable that any of the characters from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. could credibly defeat Morrow! As such, it is somewhat refreshing to see the protagonists of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. have to think their way out of the problem that Morrow represents.

Ever since Henry Simmons appeared on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., fans have been waiting to see him used effectively and well. In "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" fans get that wish fulfilled. Simmons plays Mackenzie with real force and charisma. Mackenzie is presented as both authoritative and willing to speak truth to power in "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics." Beyond that, Simmons smartly softens Mack for a decent scene that has him actually acting to protect Elena. The on-screen chemistry between Simmons and Natalia Cordova-Buckley is palpable and presented with subtlety and realism that can only truly be built by repeated scenes. "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" pays off the performances between the pair and the actors seem quite adept at developing the realistic romantic tension between the two.

Jose Zuniga plays Eli Morrow with an earnest quality that sells his progression well. Morrow could easily slip into being an over-the-top Marvel Cinematic Universe villain who is either all talk, no action or arrives at his destructive climax through somewhat ridiculous means. But Zuniga manages to land the expository backstory lines that characterize him as a guy who has been pushed down for years and who wants very much to take control of his life.

"The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" moves along the plot that has been built throughout the fourth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and it is tough to guess where the season will go next. But despite the way "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" goes, the episode actually continues the formula that the prior seasons have established; the first adversary for the season is more or less out by the end of the episode and the next antagonist is introduced to keep the season going. Whether or not Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. can compellingly sell the new villain and plot remains to be seen, but "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" is a smart end to the shaky beginning of the fourth season!

For other Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes written by Paul Zbyszewski, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
"Parting Shot"
"Devils You Know"
"Frenemy Of My Enemy"
"Ye Who Enter Here"
"Heavy Is The Head"
"Nothing Personal"
"End Of The Beginning"
"The Magical Place"
"FZZT"

7/10

For other reviews of elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of all those reviews!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Adorable In Every Way, The 2016 Winter Wonder Ornament Is A Winner!


The Good: Well-constructed, Cute, Decent sculpt and coloring
The Bad: Very slight right bias, A little pricey
The Basics: The 2016 "Winter Wonder" ornament is one of the coolest, non-genre Hallmark Keepsake ornament produced this year!


My mother is a huge pain in the butt to shop for. My mother is a wonderful person, but there are so few things in the world she actually likes. She had a rabbit - named Bunny - once upon a time, who she loved more than pretty much any one or any thing in the entire world. She lost Bunny years ago and she still misses her pet rabbit. Outside of Bunny and her gardening, there is very little in the world my mother loves. But, when my wife and I were out recently at a Hallmark Open House event, my wife saw the 2016 Winter Wonder ornament, which features both a bunny rabbit and a hedge sculpted to look like a bird, and my wife thought it would be perfect for my mother.

She was right!

The 2016 Winter Wonder ornament is one of the few ornaments I've ever found for my mother that she has accepted and actually been thrilled by. My wife knows my mother better than I do, it turns out, and in looking over the ornament, it is hard not to see why both would be truly impressed by the Hallmark Keepsake ornament.

Basics

The Winter Wonder ornament is the third ornament in the Marjolein's Garden Series and it depicts a rabbit, standing next to a potted topiary, with a little red cardinal atop the sculpted bush bird. The hedge bird has a real bell around its neck and the potted plant and rabbit are set upon a snowy base. Made of durable plastic and metal for the bell, the 2016 Winter Wonder ornament is a festive, albeit generic, Christmas ornament. Measuring three inches tall, one and seven-eighths inches wide and one and three-quarter inches deep, the "Winter Wonder" ornament is a decent-sized Hallmark ornament. For the size, the Winter Wonder ornament seemed a little expensive to me with an original issue price of $17.95.

The Hallmark "Winter Wonder" ornament is immaculately sculpted. The bunny is absolutely adorable, standing on its hind legs next to the plant's pot. The hedge bird is very clearly supposed to be sculpted and a plant - not just from its coloring, but from the texturing on it. Even the tiny cardinal looks absolutely accurate for a the little bird. The ornament's primary pieces are accented with snow on the plant bird, the plant's base and the base of the ornament. All of the elements for the 2016 Winter Wonder ornament look truly great!

The coloring for the Winter Wonder ornament is accurate as well. The rabbit is brown and shaded for realism and the greens of the plant bird look incredible and realistic as well. One of the coolest aspects of the 2016 Winter Wonder ornament is that the snow has a glitter quality to it, which looks amazing. Similarly, the glossy black of the rabbit's eyes contrasts nicely with the matte brown of the rabbit's fur!

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, "Winter Wonder" could have either a light or sound effect, but it has neither. This ornament trades on designer Marjolein Bastin's celebrity, without having any additional accoutrements beside the ornament's bell.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Winter Wonder" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas tree. And the "Winter Wonder" ornament is a good generic Christmas ornament. The ornament has the brass hook loop embedded into the top of the topiary bird. From that position, the Winter Wonder ornament has a slight right bias to it.

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Within a few years, every major franchise from Star Wars to A Nightmare Before Christmas to Indiana Jones started making Hallmark ornaments. "Winter Wonder" is a non-genre ornament. Given the slightly high release price it is unlikely that this ornament will appreciate in value. Despite that, often if the series becomes popular, the Nature's Sketchbook ornaments might appreciate in value.

Overview

Fans of rabbits, sculpted hedges, Hallmark ornaments, and generic Christmas ornaments are likely to still find the Winter Wonder ornament to be truly incredible and well worth picking up!

For other non-genre Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2016 Frosty Fun For You mini-ornament set
2016 On The Night You Were Born ornament
2015 Big Box Of 64 Crayola Crayons ornament

8.5/10

For other ornament reviews, please visit my Ornament Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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New Heroes, New Villains: "The Present" Is The Annual Christmas Episode Of The Flash!


The Good: Good performances, Speeds along the season's plot well, Awesome special effects
The Bad: Generally predictable plot, Light on character development
The Basics: "The Present" creates a prophecy for The Flash, which sets up the rest of the season, while entertaining!


When it comes to The Flash, the series started out incredibly good, in a way that both respected the source material and managed to not fall into the usual, stale conceits that plague a number of genre television shows these days. Unfortunately, as the series has progressed, it has not respected its fans as much and the show has picked up some of the worst conceits of other works. So, for example, near the climax of the second season, Barry Allen's father was killed in front of him . . . only to have him replaced at the end of the next episode by his Earth-3 doppelganger. It guts the emotional resonance of the death of the important character to have a virtual stand-in for him put into the series. The return of the Earth-3 Jay Garrick, who is essentially Henry Allen from Earth-1, comes in "The Present."

"The Present" comes on the heels of "Invasion!" (reviewed here!), but fans of The Flash would do well to have seen the Legends Of Tomorrow episode "Invasion!" (reviewed here!) before watching "The Present." After all, The Flash and Cisco were heavily featured in the climax of the DC Television Universe crossover and understanding where Barry Allen and Cisco Ramon are at the beginning of "The Present" is enhanced by having seen where they ended "Invasion!" (from Legends Of Tomorrow). As well, H.R. had begun training Wally and the identity of Alchemy was revealed.

Four years ago in the Indus Valley, Julian Albert is an archaeologist who uncovers a box with a mysterious power in it. At S.T.A.R. Labs in the present, H.R. decorates for Christmas while the rest of the team works to learn about Savitar and Cisco starts hallucinating his brother Dante. Cisco hunts down a dissertation on the Hindu Broma (Philosopher's) stone, which is the stone Alchemy uses to make people into metahumans. Confronting Albert, Allen is lied to about the forensics expert finding the stone and Albert denies knowing anything substantive about Savitar. On Earth-3, the Flash is taking out their version of the Trickster and Barry goes over to get information from Jay Garrick.

Garrick informs Barry that Savitar is coming for Barry, as Speedster myth states that Savitar only appears to speedsters before he comes to kill them. H.R. trains Wally West to be faster than Barry, while Barry and Jay try to learn more about Savitar. Garrick encourages Barry to return home to Iris, where he learns that Julian Albert might possess the Philosopher's Stone. The two Flashes confront Alchemy before he can restore all of the Flashpoint metahumans, with Jay being wounded by Savitar. But when Barry stops Savitar by boxing back up the Philosopher's Stone, Julian Albert has no memory of being Alchemy. Cisco Ramon evaluates the box and it appears to not actually exist! As Dante continues to appear to Cisco, it becomes clear that Vibe is being manipulated by the same force that took over Albert!

Arguably what is most impressive about "The Present" is that director Rachel Talalay managed to get Mark Hamill for a single scene! The Earth-3 incarnation of Trickster is virtually The Joker, which is somewhat hilarious and well-executed.

"The Present" includes an amusing subplot featuring Joe West and D.A. Horton as their relationship heats up. The pair flirt and challenge each other with their respective grandmother's egg nog recipes. Jesse L. Martin and Danielle Nicolet have great on-screen chemistry and their flirtatious banter is a nice change from the heavy emotional scenes that Grant Gustin presents for most of the episode.

While Barry Allen struggles with dealing with Savitar and interacting with both Jay Garrick and Iris, Wally West is outed as training with H.R. Wally is getting faster and stronger, much to the chagrin of Joe West. Wally is presented in "The Present" as an adult who is angered by not being treated like an adult and he holds his own in the episode as a credible speedster, even when he is not running. Wally steps up as a hero and he makes a good attempt to thwart Savitar, which is an awesome entrance for Wally onto the field of battle.

Grant Gustin and Tom Felton interact brilliantly in "The Present" as Barry Allen and Julian Albert. Gustin manages to have a strength of presence on-screen to rival Felton, which is no small feat. Felton as an adult actor has managed to becomes someone who can take a tiny role and fill the screen with his on-screen presence. Felton is a powerhouse in The Flash in the minor role of Julian Albert and Grant Gustin confronts Felton in a scene that raises the bar for what one might expect of Gustin!

"The Present" continues to present Savitar as arguably the coolest special effect on television today. Savitar looks awesome in "The Present" and is enough to make viewers excited to see more of him.

"The Present" is a bit predictable, especially for those who know the source material. In The Flash, Vibe originally appears as a villain post-Flashpoint. "The Present" begins to put Cisco Ramon on the path to the Dark Side and that is much more predictable than it is audacious.

The conclusion to "The Present," however, is robbed of any credibility by the whole "Invasion!" crossover. At the end of "Invasion!" Supergirl was given a communications device and Vibe and Barry Allen have shown an ability to go over to her Earth at will. Either way, as the S.T.A.R. Labs team tries to figure out what to do with the Philosopher's Stone to keep Savitar permanently trapped, they think that the most credible way to dispose of the box is by putting it in space. For those not following the thread, the solution might seem obvious in a way that the S.T.A.R. Labs team does not realize: take the box to Supergirl's Earth and ask her to fly it into her sun. Problem solved. Yet, that is not what happens in "The Present."

The result is an episode of The Flash that works very hard to answer virtually all of the questions set up in the first half of the season and set up the second half of the season exceptionally well. But, "The Present" is thematically light and does not stand nearly as well on its own as some of the other Christmas episodes of The Flash!

For other works with Andre Tricoteux, please check out my reviews of:
"Killer Frost" - The Flash
Warcraft
Deadpool
"Fail-Safe" - Legends Of Tomorrow

6/10

For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, December 5, 2016

What Has Celestial Seasonings Been Up To?! Celestial Organics Chamomile & Lavender Tea Underwhelms!


The Good: Good ingredients, Good aroma, Affordable
The Bad: Decaffeinated, Lack of flavor
The Basics: Celestial Organics Chamomile & Lavender tea has more scent than it does flavor, which is a big disappointment for fans of Celestial Seasonings teas.


It has been quite a while since I last reviewed a Celestial Seasonings tea. At one point, I have reviewed virtually the entire line of Celestial Seasonings teas and it is a brand I have long enjoyed. In my absence from reviewing Celestial Seasonings teas, Celestial Seasonings came out with an entirely new imprint, Celestial Organics. The first Celestial Organics tea I have tried is Chamomile & Lavender organic herbal tea.

Unfortunately, the Chamomile & Lavender Celestial Organics tea is a disappointment for those who love the very flavorful teas that Celestial Seasonings usually produces.

Basics

Chamomile & Lavender is a tea from Celestial Seasonings. It is a 100% organic herbal tea that is naturally decaffeinated and made entirely of organic herbs. Celestial Organics Chamomile & Lavender comes in Celestial Seasoning's standard stringless tea bags, which are paired together with easy to separate perforations that allow one to separate the tea bags. When I make pots of tea, I tend to use four bags and leave them connected. A box of Chamomile & Lavender comes with ten pairs (20 individual) of tea bags.

Chamomile & Lavender is marketed as a flavorful herbal tea and it falls short on that account; it is a comparatively weak tea that poorly represents the promised lavender flavor.

Ease Of Preparation

Chamomile & Lavender is an herbal tea, which means preparation is as easy as boiling a pot of water! This organic herbal tea requires boiling water. A single tea bag will make the standard 8 oz. coffee mug worth of tea, though reusing the tea bags yields little more than hot water. These tea bags cannot be reused and even credibly call the result "tea." Indeed, the second pots I've tried were incredibly weak, tasting only like the remnants of tea. These bags are one-use only. I tend to make my tea using four tea bags in a 32 oz. steeping tea pot and that works well, though it is impossible to get a decent second pot out of the bags.

To prepare Chamomile & Lavender, simply boil up some water, and pour it over the tea bags in a cup, mug or steeping pot. This tea is recommended to take four minutes to steep and after a couple cups and pots, I've found that with boiling water, the tea is ready at the five minute mark and letting it steep longer does not truly change the results.

Taste

Chamomile & Lavender is very aromatic. The scent is strongly of chamomile, which was surprising to me because lavender is usually such a powerful scent. The scent is more recognizable the aroma of chamomile with a bare hint of lavender to the aromatic palate.

Unfortunately, Celestial Organics Chamomile & Lavender tea is entirely underwhelming on the flavor front. The lavender flavor asserts itself as a dry, spiced flavor, but it competes against the weak, ricewater flavor of chamomile . . . an loses! The chamomile flavor ends up being the dominant one and the lavender is executed more as a secondary flavor that is sublimated far into the back of the flavor palate. The spicy hints from the lavender fade as the tea cools and the chamomile flavor asserts itself even stronger.

This tea is not much of a thirst quencher, though it does not have a noticeable aftertaste to it.

Nutrition

As the name suggests, the Chamomile & Lavender tea is comprised entirely of organic chamomile and organic lavender. Chamomile & Lavender tea is all natural, gluten free, and does contain not caffeine, but is (oddly) not marked as Kosher.

Chamomile & Lavender contains no calories, fat, sodium, carbohydrates or protein. Unless one adds sugar, there is nothing of nutritional value or detraction in it.

Storage/Clean-up

Chamomile & Lavender is an organic herbal tea, so it comes out much lighter than other teas. As a result, cleanup is rather simple. The mugs and steeping pot easily rinse out. One supposes this tea will stain if it is left on fabrics, so simply do not let the tea cups or mugs linger on light colored materials that might stain!

Chamomile & Lavender is easy to clean up after - the tea bags may be disposed in the garbage, or composted if you have a good garden and/or compost pile. One of the nice things about this tea - like most - is that so long as it is kept cool and dry, it can last for a long time and it is easy to clean up. Because the boxes of Chamomile & Lavender come wrapped in plastic, they will last well over a year. My box, bought last month had an expiration date of November 11, 2017.

Overall

Celestial Organics Chamomile & Lavender tea is far too mild to be enticing to those who love anything other than a basic chamomile tea.

For other Celestial Seasonings tea reviews, please visit my reviews of:
Jammin' Lemon Ginger
Sweet Harvest Pumpkin
Tension Tamer

3/10

For other drink reviews, be sure to visit my Food & Drink Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Rise Of The Gynocracy: No Men Beyond This Point


The Good: Decent performances, Wonderful satire, Interesting characters, Wonderful message
The Bad: The format is a bit off-putting, Somewhat predictable, Moments of characterization of a gynocracy
The Basics: No Men Beyond This Point is a surprisingly strong faux-documentary that explores how modern history would have been shaped if women biologically and politically took over the world.


These days, when I watch a film at home, it takes a bit for me to stop and give the movie my full attention, as opposed to reviewing the film as I take it in. It is not ideal, but usually, I at least make notes during the movie and find myself thinking about how I would rate it, as opposed to being truly immersed in the work. Films that stand out for me are the ones that I cannot do that with, the ones that captivate me to the point where I stop taking notes and pay attention. No Men Beyond This Point was one such film.

No Men Beyond This Point is a faux-documentary that explores a science fiction concept - in this case, human parthenogenesis - in the format of a historical documentary. When I sat down to No Men Beyond This Point, I knew nothing about the film except the most basic premise of the film; it was about a world where men were virtually extinct. As a result, the documentary format, with hand-held camera work and abrupt zooms, was very off-putting. Even after the film was concluded, I felt the medium was somewhat less effective; No Men Beyond This Point explores the effects of a radical alteration to human evolution, much the way In Time (reviewed here!) did, but with less flair or punch.

Opening with Andrew Myers working in Terra Granger's garden, Terra and Iris disagree about the presence of a man in their home. Andrew is the youngest man on Earth and his birth came after virgin births became prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s. The story of Andrew Meyers and the Granger family is mixed with a history of human parthenogenesis as a worldwide phenomenon. Terra is more ambivalent to Andrew being in the home and she recognizes that her co-parent Iris seems interested in Andrew beyond his role as the caretaker for their six children.

Modern history in No Men Beyond This Point diverges in the 1950s. More and more virgin births (exclusively resulting in baby girls) occur around the world throughout the 1950s and 1960s. When Sister Isabella gets pregnant and is able to prove fairly definitively that she was never with a man, the nuns rally around her and the international acknowledgment of parthenogenesis begins. From that springs a movement that puts more and more women in power worldwide. In 1965, a woman is elected President Of The United States and shortly thereafter the world is unified under a single government as sexual reproduction becomes impossible for humans. Men are put in sanctuaries where their needs are provided for and they are marginalized as women wait for them to become extinct. And, on the homefront, Andrew and Iris begin to develop a romantic relationship which threatens both the family and the worldview of men in the new gynocracy.

No Men Beyond This Point is hampered by a script that does an incredible job of painting satire throughout the film, but when characterizing what the world would look like under a female-dominated society, they miss some important marks. The world under women in No Men Beyond This Point has eradicated disease and has an international menses holiday each month, which is great. But humanity never went to the moon or developed video games or the internet. The big issue for me was that in Mark Sawers's alternate past and present, the government is as corrupt as it is under men (women are, in fact, lacing the men's food supply with hormones!) and women quickly create a worldwide religion and mindlessly chant the "praise nature" mantra whenever they reference nature. And the gynocracy quickly starts to repress sexuality in all forms, which is a pathetically Victorian notion.

But No Men Beyond This Point does far more right than it does wrong. As women come to power, the family units become stronger, social programs are prioritized, and the military is disbanded in order to fund more useful programs. The women who are interviewed for the documentary are articulate, utilize coherent scientific methodology and are generally honest.

The performances in No Men Beyond This Point are impressive as well. One of the most impressive bits of acting comes from Morgan Taylor Campbell, a young actress who plays the teenage daughter of Terra. Dahlia clearly has some subtle stirrings for Andrew and Campbell plays the attraction with minimalism that never makes the attraction explicit or incredibly overt. Campbell plays the role of a young woman with natural teenage affections and interests incredibly well without ever stealing the scenes.

Terra Granger is a tough character to evaluate because she seems very much to be a woman who is a product of the world she is in. Granger is repressed and conflicted about having a man in the house (she uses Andrew as a cost-saving measure), but she is not honest with Iris about what she truly wants out of the relationship she has with Iris. Tara Pratt portrays Terra wonderfully for her various facets, even if those facets are somewhat contradictory. Pratt is good with the stiff body language needed to portray Granger as uncomfortable in the interview scenes.

Iris and Andrew are not given enough time and space to truly develop their romantic relationship. Only in the last ten minutes does their relationship become explicit and change the direction of the documentary.

No Men Beyond This Point makes some brilliant points well, especially about the arbitrary nature of power and control. The satire is cleverly delivered - there are only one or two overt jokes - and the social commentary is generally smart. No Men Beyond This Point is an independent film that deserves to be watched as it is different from any other film I've seen of late and it pleasantly captivates the audience.

For other faux-documentaries, please check out my reviews of:
Mascots
Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan
Donald Trump's The Art Of The Deal: The Movie

7/10

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, December 3, 2016

0% Chance Of Success: Firefly The Verse Trading Cards


The Good: Some decent autographs, Some good artwork
The Bad: Missing cast members, Erratic artwork, Basic autograph style, Impossible collectibility
The Basics: Firefly The Verse trading cards partially reward fans of Firefly for keeping the light burning, but then creates an impossible-to-collect art card set.


Every now and then, I review a product that puts me at odds with myself. The Firefly The Verse trading cards are one such product. Firefly The Verse trading cards are an art-themed Firefly trading card set that continue in me the conflict between the trading card collector/genre fan geek and the small business owner. As a small business owner who sells collectibles, I understand the Firefly The Verse trading cards; they have insane rarity to them that leads a handful of collectors worldwide to shell out incredible amounts of money trying to get exceptionally rare cards. Sets like Firefly The Verse are generally good for business for those who manage to pull one of the critically rare cards from the set and can generate a bidding war as a result.

As a collector and genre fan, I hate sets like the Firefly The Verse trading cards. Trading card collecting is one of the few hobbies I picked up as a teenager that stuck with me into adulthood. It is also one of the hobbies I have been a part of where I have witnessed the absolute destruction of the hobby and the industry. Trading cards used to be an amusing diversion that allowed fans to collects something very different from their beloved television shows and films. They take up less space than action figures, are less homogeneous than 8 x 10 photos and have - for years - had a wider variety of subjects and styles than virtually any other collectibles, whatwith foil parallels, autograph cards, sketch cards, and costume/prop cards. And while the concepts of so many trading card sets remain solid and interesting, the execution of some of the new trading card sets are problematic.

Firefly The Verse is one of the most troublingly-executed trading card sets to come out in recent memory with card rarities that make collecting a literal impossibility.

Firefly The Verse cards were produced by Upper Deck, Inc. in 2015 and it is virtually impossible to define how many complete sets of the trading cards actually exist. Because of the rather obtuse breakdown of sketch cards, it is hard to be certain of how man master sets of Firefly The Verse cards are actually available. With the inclusion of Printing Plate cards for each of the common cards, the Firefly The Verse cards might have only four true master sets that could be created; producing a trading card set that only four people could actually assemble is somewhat ridiculous.

As a collector, as well, the Firefly The Verse cards have mixed execution on two key points. The artwork is decidedly mixed in the set and while Upper Deck worked hard to get participation from all of key people involved with Firefly, they failed. For a set that is bloated with autograph cards (single, double, and triple signature cards), the fact that Upper Deck did not manage to get the entire cast of Firefly to sign cards - and/or get Joss Whedon, the creator of Firefly to sign cards - is a strike against the set.

Basics/Set Composition

The concept behind the Firefly The Verse cards is good. The set is an artwork set which features nine cards of new art for each of the fourteen episodes of Firefly, two sets of nine character based cards and cards of the ship, Serenity. There are incredible amounts of bonus cards in the Firefly The Verse set and the set represents the last (known) collectible for fans of Firefly that Ron Glass was able to participate in.

Like almost all of Upper Deck trading card products, the cards come with a UV protective coating to protect the trading cards from fading over time and to give them a nice satin sheen. This does appear to work as I've not had any cards from Upper Deck, Inc. fade. The autographed cards - parallel and flat-out autographs - and sketch cards do not have the UV coating on the front. Unlike some sets of trading cards, the Firefly The Verse trading cards are not consistently oriented; some are in portrait, some are in landscape orientation.

The Firefly The Verse trading card set is an impossible mess when it comes to attempting to define the number of cards in the set. There is no checklist that reliably defines how many cards are in the set. As near as I can determine, the practical number of cards one might want to collect would net a 986 card collection, though there are at least 1581 cards in what would be defined as an absolute, true, master set (if such a thing was actually possible to collect). Even for those trying to complete 986 card set would find it near-impossible to collect given that such a set would require one to track down one of four of each of the 171 printing plates. As best I can determine, the Firefly The Verse trading card set is 986 (or 1581) cards made up of 171 common cards and 815 (or 1400!) chase cards, all but one found in the packs and boxes of the cards.

Common Cards

The Firefly The Verse common set is a 171 card set of artwork cards that were produced exclusively for the set. Each of the 14 episodes of Firefly are given nine cards, each by a different artist. The nine-card episode cards are stylistically incredibly different from one another, from character-centered iconic shots for some episodes to cartoonish artwork that is a stylized representation of the characters and scenes being depicted. The painting style of artwork for the episode "The Message" by Rupam Grimeurve is some of the most compelling, though Mick and Matt Glebe once again produce incredible artwork for "Bushwacked."

The character shots of the main Firefly cast from David Hindelang and Tim Shay are interesting and they precede new renditions of ships and classic propaganda posters for the Firefly universe. The common cards have varying quality and they also have problematic orientation: cards are scattered between portrait and landscape orientation, which makes for a somewhat sloppy appearance when the cards are in a binder.

Chase Cards

The Firefly The Verse cards are chock full of bonus cards, including three styles of parallel cards. The set has 815 trading cards in the bonus sets (of 1400 if one is a stickler!), only one of which is not available in the boxes and sets. The problem with the 814 card number to try to define the set comes in the sketch cards (we'll get to that!), but the 814 bonus cards seems like the best way to define the set. The Firefly The Verse set is made up of green parallel cards, leather parallel cards, autographed parallel cards, autographs, patch cards, sketch cards and printing plates.

The Firefly The Verse chase cards have a green foil parallel card as the first-level chase set. The parallel set takes almost a complete case to complete as the foil cards are found almost every pack and replicate the common cards with green foil accents. The green foil accents on the front of each card feature a symbol, replace the standard copper colored foil on the common cards and most have an accent of Chinese symbols (which Firefly fans understand, even if they cannot read them.

Found about three per box is another replication of the common set in the form of leather parallel cards. The leather parallel cards are each numbered to 99 on the front of the card, which is very different. The leather parallel cards have a slight texture to them, which is very cool. Given how many cases it takes to assemble the full 171 card leather parallel card set, it is good that this parallel set actually looks cool!

The final parallel set is an art lover's dream, at least for those who appreciate the art for the trading cards. One per box is an uncoated replication of a common card that is hand-signed by the artist or artists who produced the original for the Firefly The Verse card set. Each gold-signed card gives the fans of the artists the opportunity to get their favorite piece in the set autographed by the creator. Personally, I like the fact that those who generated the material for the Firefly The Verse set are given something that shows they are appreciated for their contribution.

The Firefly The Verse set is augmented by 42 patch cards. The patch cards are trading cards, extra thick, that have manufactured patches embedded in them. The patch cards vary between simple patches with the character's name on them to things like a patch that commemorates Shepherd Book's hair, Jayne's Gun Vera, or the Alliance Ship. The patch cards vary widely in quality, though most have truly distinctive moments that they replicate in patch form, like Kaylee's fancy dress. Only Jayne In The Airlock truly stood out as one that I had to stare at and look at from multiple angles before I saw what it was supposed to depict. The patch cards are found one per box, so to complete the set, it takes four cases with ideal collation.

The autograph cards are also found about one per box. The autograph cards were created to mimic identification cards from the Firefly Universe and they feature a variety of main and guest cast members. The autograph cards are very weird in that the thirty main autograph cards are landscape oriented, but most of the autographs are on the side of the card! There are fourteen dual autographs, eight triple autographs and six cards that replicate the character cards from the common set. Herein is the fundamental problem with the Firefly The Verse set: with a slew of autographs, it stands out that the full cast is not represented. While it is wonderful that fans can now get something beautiful signed by the recently-departed Ron Glass, the fact that the Firefly The Verse set does not include autographs by Summer Glau, Gina Torres, or Alan Tudyk is noticeable. Also, with some of the weird dual-autographs, it seems ridiculous that Sean Maher and Jewel Staite were not given a dual autograph in the set.

Then there are the sketch cards and there are further problems with figuring out the Firefly The Verse set. Each of the Firefly The Verse sketch cards are individually numbered and there are thirty different subjects. The problem with the Firefly The Verse sketch cards are that it is impossible to figure out how many actual sketch cards there were for the set. The sketch cards range from characters to replications of moments from the episodes to ships. So, for example, all of sketch card FS-2 are of Zoe Washburn, all of FS-16 have moments from "Jaynestown" as the subject, etc. But, while there are thirty potential subjects on cards specific to the artwork on the front, there are 102 artists who contributed sketch cards. Usually, I define the sketch cards as one sketch per artist, but given that the Firefly The Verse cards include two and they are dramatically different numbers, it is tough for collectors to decide which way they want to collect the set. Does one collect one of each artist, one of each of the thirty cards or one of each card by each artist?! There is no real way to collect them the final way (if each artist even contributed one sketch per card), so the most practical ways for the collectors to collect the sketches is to go one per card, though I'd still say that die-hard collectors will want one sketch per artist, so long as they get one of each of the thirty subjects.

The impossibility of collecting the Firefly The Verse cards concludes with the inclusion of printing plate cards into the set. Printing plates are a delightful addition in recent sets as they are the original plates used to make the common cards, cut into trading card size and included for collectors in the packs. The printing plates are viewed as either unique or one of four of each of the 171 plates that replicate the common cards. The printing plates were found in black, yellow, pink, and cyan (blue) and there are either 171 printing plates or 684 printing plates, depending upon one's perspective. I've come around to the idea that printing plates are one per card (171 in this set) and that means that there might be only four complete sets of Firefly The Verse trading card sets that could be completed.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

Outside the boxes, there was a San Diego Comic Con promotional card; it is the only card int he set, not found in packs and boxes, which is nice.

Overall

The Firefly The Verse cards are inconsistently produced which is irksome even to common card collectors, incomplete in the way the whole cast was not included in the autographs and irksome in the impossible way the sketch cards were generated. But, the set has some good artwork and some of the signers are truly impressive and a couple of the sketch cards I've seen were actually amazing. But inconsistency and difficulty are keywords for the Firefly The Verse set, which makes them impossible to recommend.

This set is artwork based on images from Firefly, reviewed here!

This is a set of trading cards I sell in my online store (new inventory being added daily!). Please visit and purchase from the current inventory of them at: Firefly The Verse Trading Card Inventory!

For other art-based trading card sets, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek 50 Years 50 Artists
Cryptozoic Justice League Cards
Marvel Dangerous Divas 2 trading cards

2.5/10

For other card reviews, please visit my Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L .Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Neglect The Team: The Legends Of Tomorrow Are Minimized For "Invasion!"


The Good: Moments of plot motivation, Special effects, Performances
The Bad: Minimizes the Legends Of Tomorrow characters, Minimal character development, Surprisingly few big moments for the actors to rise to.
The Basics: "Invasion!" concludes with the Legends Of Tomorrow, who get pushed aside for big moments for Cisco, Barry Allen, Supergirl and the Green Arrow.


If there was a show that needed a crossover episode with another show or shows less than Legends Of Tomorrow, it does not come readily to mind. After all, the super-team-up series was created out of supporting characters from Arrow and The Flash and in its second season, the series ditched its only unique character (and adversary) and introduced more new characters, while borrowing villains from both The Flash and Arrow. And yet, when the Dominators were introduced in The Flash episode "Invasion!" (reviewed here!), the Waverider crew was called back to Earth, 2016 to help in the fight. The story that climaxed with several members of the Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends Of Tomorrow team getting abducted by the Dominators continued on Arrow with their "Invasion!" episode (reviewed here!), which included the Legends Of Tomorrow heroes White Canary and Ray Palmer (who originated on Arrow). Legends Of Tomorrow concludes the "Invasion!" and finally informs viewers where Firestorm was while Sara Lance and Ray Palmer were aboard the Dominator ship and The Flash and Supergirl were working to save them!

For fans of Legends Of Tomorrow who have skipped the crossover episodes on the other shows and are picking up "Invasion!" right after "Outlaw Country" (reviewed here!), the main continuity issue to grasp with is that between the final shots of "Outlaw Country" and the beginning of The Flash's "Invasion!" Ray Palmer built a brand new Atom suit . . . and at some undefined point within the episode, during an alien invasion, he found time to paint it. And the content of the mysterious message that Barry Allen sent to the Waverider was revealed.

The five abductees are returned to Earth and after Thea is returned home, Dr. Heywood pitches going back to Redmond Oregon, 1951, when the Dominators first visited Earth. Oliver Queen asks Kara Danvers to stay in the present, even though he acknowledges it is wrong for him do push back that way. While Felicity and Cisco geek out on the Waverider, Dr. Snow brings Lily Stein (Professor Stein's daughter) to S.T.A.R. Labs to help Dr. Stein figure out how to use nanotechnology to defeat the Dominators. In 1951, Rory, Heywood and Jiwe witness the Dominators taking out much of the Army. While the trio is able to incapacitate a Dominator, they are abducted by men in black.

While The Flash, Arrow, White Canary and Atom prepare to meet with the new President Of The United States and are abducted instead by the men in black, in the past, Heywood learns why the Dominators are on Earth. The Dominators came to Earth when they recognized a potential threat from the J.S.A.'s metahumans! The leader of the men in black explains that Barry Allen broke a silent truce Earth had with the Dominators when he created the Flashpoint-tangent. The Dominators are willing to live in peace again if Barry Allen turns himself over to them. Cisco vibes him and Heywood into the Dominator ship where the Dominator they saved declares that metahumans must be stopped before they become a threat to the Dominator homeworld. When the Dominators drop their anti-metahuman bomb on Earth, Dr. Stein's anti-Dominator weapon must be deployed on them while the Waverider stops the bomb.

Most of the best character moments in "Invasion!" are preoccupied with other characters and subplots. Cisco Ramon and Felicity Smoak spend a decent amount to time working to resolve Ramon's post-Flashpoint issues with Barry Allen. Ramon is deeply hurt having learned that Barry Allen's temporal meddling was directly responsible for his brother Dante's death in the new timeline. But around the moment Cisco Ramon mentions he and Felicity will fix the Dominator ship stored aboard the Waverider, fans of Legends Of Tomorrow are compelled to ask "Where the hell is Jax?!" Ramon's arc in "Invasion!" is strangely inorganic, moving the character to a place where he can simply accept and forgive Barry Allen.

Similar odd failures of characterization come from Mick Rory, who seems to rely upon Dr. Heywood for time travel issues. Rory was Chronos; he knows what a time jump is!

For the Waverider crew, the main character development comes when Dr. Stein properly meets his daughter. It makes no genuine sense that before visiting Lily, Dr. Stein would not have asked Dr. Snow about her (or his life/their prior interactions together). Dr. Stein recognizes that he caused Lily to be created as a result of a pep talk he gave his earlier self. He commits in "Invasion!" to returning to rectify the problems in the timeline and eliminate Lily from ever existing. When Lily freaks out, Stein has to step up to become a better parent to her.

Barry Allen is the character who is given an important character choice in "Invasion!" and the whole team that has been assembled for the crossover event steps up to change his mind. But, like so much in this episode of Legends Of Tomorrow, before the real character weight of the moment can be realized, a big plot event (in this case, a literal bomb) is dropped into the episode.

The Legends Of Tomorrow are presented mostly as an afterthought in "Invasion!" Rory and Lance garner a decent laugh with their shared reaction to the new President and Brandon Routh gets a laugh by making an oblique reference to his role from Superman Returns (reviewed here!), but outside of Stein and his brief scenes with Jax, the Legends Of Tomorrow are poorly used in "Invasion!" Indeed, when Amaya channeled an elephant, my first thought was "cool, she'll knock out all of the Dominators on the rooftop and surprise all of the other heroes" . . . but "Invasion!" was not her moment to shine.

The special effects in "Invasion!" are amazing, save a single shot of Supergirl rescuing Arrow.

Ultimately, the Legends Of Tomorrow episode "Invasion!" feels rushed and utilizes characters from the other DC Television properties in more significant roles than the characters one might have tuned into this show for. Indeed, if the Legends Of Tomorrow had just left the Waverider when The Flash called for help, they would have contributed about as much as they did in this episode.

4/10

For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Artwork Undermines Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3!


The Good: Interesting case, Moments of concept
The Bad: The protagonist does not truly grow and develop, The artwork flat-out sucks for most of the book, More exposition than revelation
The Basics: Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3 finds Jessica Jones searching for Mattie Franklin (the third Spider-Woman) and getting embroiled in a case that mixes mutants and drugs with a character who has an ill-defined set of abilities.


Whether I intended to or not, it seems like I have gotten into the graphic novels surrounding the character Jessica Jones. I know, obviously, how it started: I kept returning and returning to the Netflix show Jessica Jones (season one is reviewed here!) and finding myself more and more impressed with the complexity and density of it. That led me to Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 (reviewed here!) and Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 2 (reviewed here!). While not being thoroughly wowed by them, I still found myself picking up Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3 and I'll admit I have a stack of further Jessica Jones books kicking around that I will be reading and reviewing in the near future.

As it is, Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3 is the latest volume I have read and it continues the threads begun in Volumes 1 & 2. Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3 is an anthology of seven comic books and one of the immediate pluses of the anthology is that it keeps fidelity to story. The book begins with Alias issue #10 before leaping forward to where that one-shot story becomes relevant again in the arc of Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones takes a meeting with J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle where he offers her a job after establishing that she is the same Jessica Jones who was once Jewel and Knightress. Jameson wants Jones to uncover the identity of Spider-Man and for Ben Urich to follow her on the trail and report on it for the Bugle. Jones takes the job and two months later Ben Urich reports that she has essentially used the money to follow "leads" which all put her in places to volunteer to the less fortunate . . . while charging J. Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle hundreds of dollars an hour!

The opening chapter features minimal artwork and is so dense that it is essentially a script on the page. The technique for the one-shot is adequate, but it helps to illustrate what a straightforward story the chapter is presenting. This is a simple problem, simple solution and Jessica Jones has less voice in it than J. Jonah Jameson or Ben Urich. It does, however, set up a framework of animosity between Jameson and Jones for the rest of the book.

The main story of Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3 begins with Jessica Jones at a convenience store, feeling terrible about herself based on what the magazines are printing about women, when there is a stick-up. After a bit of debate, Jones incapacitates the would-be robber and returns home after being charged for the cigarettes she wanted. At her apartment, she finds Spider-Woman (unmasked) coming out of her bathroom, before the costumed woman freaks out and leaps out Jones's window. Jones calls Scott Lang for help and, while sleeping over at his place, calls Clay Quartermain to figure out who was in her apartment. That sets Jessica Jones on the trail of Mattie Franklin, the third Spider-Woman. Learning that Franklin stayed with Jameson puts Jones in contact with the editor of the Daily Bugle again and this time, he wants Franklin back, suspecting that Jones is running a scam on him.

While Malcolm comes around again hoping to work for Jones, Jones heads off to meet Madame Web, whose name came up in Franklin's S.H.I.E.L.D. file. Web sees Jones finding Franklin and inadvertently reads Jones's mind to see her past in the process, which sends Jones running away and back to Lang. After fleeing him when he asks her follow-up questions on her story, Jones gets a lead from Malcolm and heads to a night club to find a guy who might be having sex with Franklin and keeping her on drugs. When Jones finds Mattie Franklin, she learns about mutants selling parts of themselves to drug mundane humans and she finally gets in touch with Jessica Drew. Together, they hunt down the people using Franklin for drugs and try to rescue her.

More than in any of the prior volumes of Alias, Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3 is plagued by artwork issues and a protagonist who is poorly defined. The latter problem becomes a more significant issue as the volume progresses. Jessica Jones gets the crap kicked out of her by pretty much everyone she encounters in Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3. So, instead of being a woman with abilities who gave up being a super hero, she just seems like a washed-up private investigator for the bulk of Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3.

Equally problematic is the artwork in Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3. More than in the prior volumes, there is an importance to the sense of movement within and between panels in Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3. This is a book where Jessica Jones gets into more physical altercations and the fundamental problem with the book is those fights are incredibly unclear. Is Jessica Jones drugged when she first finds Denny in the back room at the club? What the hell actually happens with the power-balls from Speedball in the final chapter?! Is that spiky hair or forehead protrusions?! And because Jessica Drew and Jessica Jones are only truly separated in the artwork by their hair color, why is it that Jessica Jones decks Drew, but then has the black eye in the next scene with Jameson?! Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3 looks horrible and the sloppy artwork undermines the narrative in a jarring way.

Beyond that, Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3 is just a painfully straightforward missing person's case and it is presented in an unremarkable way. Jones does not discover Mutant Growth Hormone being used as drug; Ben Urich tells her all about it in a string of exposition. Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3 is a poor use of the medium as it involves characters telling a lot of information that could have effectively been shown if the writing was better.

Ultimately, Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3 might play into the larger Marvel Comics universe better than some of the earlier books, but it fails to do its own thing well enough to be worth reading.

For other Marvel Comics works by Brian Michael Bendis, please visit my reviews of:
Civil War: Marvel Universe
Road To Civil War
Secret Invasion

2/10

For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Invasion!" Continues When Arrow Is Abducted Into A Holodeck!


The Good: Decent performances, Good character journey for Oliver Queen, Special effects
The Bad: Very predictable plot, Where is Firestorm?!
The Basics: Arrow continues the "Invasion!" with an episode that focuses on Oliver Queen and his allies trapped in a Dominator simulation.


When Warner Brothers created a new DC Television Universe, I was not an immediate convert. After all, their more recent attempt was with Smallville and between me not getting the television network it aired upon and having no interest in Superman, I was not overly impressed. As a result, I did not get on board with Arrow. However, given that the DC Television Universe is doing a massive crossover between its four television series', I figured I ought to be sure to catch the Arrow chapter of the crossover at least. The Arrow episode "Invasion!" follows on the heels of The Flash episode "Invasion!" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the Arrow portion of the crossover event without some references as to where The Flash chapter of it concluded.

It is worth noting that I am virtually illiterate in Arrow; all I know about where the show is in its storyline in its fifth season is that Diggle's daughter was transformed into a son as a result of Barry Allen's temporal meddling in "Flashpoint" (reviewed here!) and that for some unknown reason that truly upsets Diggle . . . even though there is no indication there is anything wrong with his son. Thea has retired from being Speedy, but has come out of retirement to deal with the alien invaders, the Dominators . . . and she has some papers from the City Council that Oliver Queen needs to sign. And Green Arrow and John Diggle's attempt to take down the Vigilante nearly got them killed, but The Flash arrived just in time to rescue them from a hail of bullets to tell them about the alien invaders. Thus ends my knowledge of current Arrow before "Invasion!" begins, though from The Flash episode, I know that Oliver Queen, has been abducted along with Sara Lance, Thea, Ray Palmer, and Diggle.

Oliver Queen is running through the woods and arrives back at his home where Laurel Lance is alive and now engaged to him. Queen is actually in the custody of the Dominators, plugged into a virtual reality table. Cisco Ramon arrives with Felicity at the Arrow's command center, where he meets Curtis and two other members of his team. Inside the simulation, Thea gives Oliver an artifact before their parents arrive and Sara experiences a minor glitch when she sees Laurel and she has a canary on an artifact. When Oliver stands up to a mugger, an archer appears and takes the would-be assailant away.

While Cisco and Felicity and the team attempt to hook up Dominator technology to track where the Dominators have taken the others, Oliver Queen and Sara Lance continue to experience glitches within the simulation. Oliver enters the Hood's secret laboratory, where he is confronted by Felicity and The Hood (Diggle). Oliver Queen begins to put together that his life is not quite right and he starts to confront the people from his regular life. The Flash, Supergirl, Mr. Terrific and two others begin a hunt for Laura Washington for the technology she stole in order to find the alien ship. Diggle and Queen meet up in the simulation and both feel that the Smoak Building in Starling City is out of place and they begin to compare notes, with Diggle figuring out that the Dominators exist and are real. While Oliver tries to convince Thea to leave the simulation with him and the others, The Flash and Supergirl incapacitate the technothief.

The Arrow section of "Invasion!" is largely an introspective character study, as opposed to a firm continuation of the Dominator invasion story. Oliver Queen starts to put things together faster than anyone else in "Invasion!" while characters like Sara Lance deliver ironic barbs based on who their characters are in other incarnations of the DC Television Universe ("You're lucky I'm not a trained assassin!"). Queen is essentially falling apart in the simulation, by having the family and love he lost given to him and that is interesting, though it has been done in science fiction a lot. The plot of this segment of "Invasion!" is very much a "distract the heroes by giving them what they most want" simulation, though even as one who is not a viewer of Arrow, this one held up remarkably well.

In fact, when John Diggle notes that the Smoak Building exists in their shared hallucination, it is hard not to suddenly appreciate the writing in the "Invasion!" Crossover event. The Smoak Building was something that Sara Lance and Ray Palmer would have seen in at least one future, so it would have been anomalous in Diggle, Thea and Oliver's reality. Sara Lance quickly asserts her pragmatic nature, which grounds those who are fans of Legends Of Tomorrow, but not Arrow.

Despite the intimate characterizations in "Invasion!," the episode is remarkably accessible once one understands the premise. The performances in "Invasion!" are good, with Stephen Amell giving a solid portrayal of a man who is torn between what he wants and what he knows to be real. Amell has surprisingly good range for his facial expressions in the moody, quiet moments of the episode and his reaction shots to Willa Holland's Thea are brilliantly conflicted.

"Invasion!" becomes its most original for a depressingly short amount of time, when the episode allows Thea to choose to stay in the simulation. For a few moments, Diggle, Palmer, Lance and Oliver Queen prepare to leave without her and the fact that she would knowingly choose to stay within (essentially) The Matrix is an interesting and comparatively original character twist.

The Arrow component of the "Heroes Vs. Aliens" crossover takes a strong, character-centered detour from the main conflict begun in The Flash episode "Invasion!" but it manages to work. The Dominators take until the very final moments of "Invasion!" to be classified as a threat worthy of the massive crossover, but once the episode gets there, it sets the next chapter up well . . . even if it leaves viewers wondering just where the hell Mick Rory and Firestorm are!

For other works with Stephen Amell, please check out my reviews of:
"Out Of Time" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Star City 2046" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Pilot, Part 1" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Legends Of Today" - The Flash
"Rogue Air" - The Flash
"Flash Vs. Arrow" - The Flash
"City Of Heroes" - The Flash
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
Injustice: Gods Among Us
The Tracey Fragments

7/10

For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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