Monday, March 30, 2015

My First ESP Emporium Tea: Nougat Mousse Tea Disappoints!


The Good: Good ingredients, Good aroma, Inexpensive
The Bad: Exceptionally bland flavor
The Basics: ESP Emporium Nougat Mousse is more watery than flavorful, which makes for a disappointing tea!


Locally, there is a pretty wonderful discount store and the other day, I was in there and discovered a whole big shipment of ESP Emporium loose-leaf teas. I had no prior experience with EXP Emporium, but the brand boasted a number of awesome flavors that instantly intrigued me. Between the fact that the 250 gram and 50 gram bags of tea were priced the same and flavors that were different from other brands, I was instantly interested in trying several of the ESP Emporium teas.

I opted to start with the ESP Emporium Nougat Mousse tea. Sadly, it was an entirely underwhelming tea.

After several pots of the Nougat Mousse, what is most unfortunate about the tea is that it does not get strong or flavorful enough to credibly live up to its promised flavor.

Basics

Nougat Mousse Tea is a rooibos-based tea from ESP Emporium. This is a tea blend that is an herbal tea without any traditional tea leaves in it. In considering Nougat Mousse, I was forced to consider that I don't have a firm conception of what "nougat" is. I've had plenty of candy bars that have a spongy chocolate filling, which I've seen called "nougat," but what it actually is remains something of a mystery to me. Despite that, there was a pretty fair assumptionmade that the Nougat Mousse tea should have a somewhat chocolate flavor to it. It did not.

Nougat Mousse comes in a 250 gram opaque resealable plastic bag that keeps the freshness of the tea in.

Ease Of Preparation

As a tea, Nougat Mousse is fairly easy to prepare. One and a half teaspoons of the loose leaf tea will make a full 8 oz. mug full of tea. I tend to make mine by the pot using the same ratio (or a more potent tea to water ratio) continued to make for an unfortunately weak tea.

To prepare Nougat Mousse tea, bring a pot of water to 203 - 212 degrees (Fahrenheit) and pour it over the tea blend. This tea takes eight to ten minutes to steep according to the directions. In my experience, it gets no stronger after ten minutes and that is somewhat disappointing given how watery its flavor it.

Taste

Nougat Mousse tea has an intriguing aroma to it. The scent is fairly strong and faintly cinnamon. The rooibos overwhelms the cocoa, though there is the slight hint of something vaguely chocolate in the steam from this tea.

Unfortunately, in the mouth, the Nougat Mousse tea tastes dry, sweet, and watery (in that order). What surprised me, given the strength of the aroma to this tea, was how bland the tea is. The rooibos flavor entirely overwhelms any other flavors in the tea and even that is not particularly strong. This is a shockingly watery tea.

Any additives in this brew overwhelms the vague tea flavor of it, which further diminishes it. This tea leaves a slight dry aftertaste, but even that is not particularly strong or flavorful.

Nutrition

The ingredients to this tea are somewhat more diverse than other teas, but the dominant ingredients ate: Rooibos tea, cocoa peel and almond pieces. There is nothing that cannot be pronounced in this tea.

In terms of nutrition, this tea is devoid of it. One 8 oz. mug of this tea provides nothing of nutritional value to the drinker. There are no calories (save what one adds from sugar, which I do not necessarily recommend, as this is a sweet tea on its own and sugar overwhelms it), no fat, sodium, or protein. There is no indication that his tea has caffeine and none of the ingredients seem to be naturally caffienated.

Storage/Clean-up

Nougat Mousse tea is very easy to clean up, provided the brewed tea does not get on fabric. The tea leaves themselves may be disposed of in the garbage, or composted if you have a good garden and/or compost pile. The tea itself will stain a mug a faint reddish-brown if it is left there for days on end, but otherwise may be cleaned up easily by rinsing out the vessel.

Nougat Mousse is a fairly dark, reddish-brown, tea and as a result, it will stain any light fabrics it comes in contact with. As a result, it is highly recommended that one not let it linger on anything they wish to protect and not have stained. It may be cleaned off if the spill is caught quickly, but if it lingers, it is not at all easy to wash out of clothes, linens or other fabrics.

Overall

ESP Emporium Nougat Mousse is a great idea, with a poor execution. While it does not taste bad, it lacks the promised flavor, making it unworth trying.

For other tea reviews, please check out:
Teavana Samurai Chai Mate
Celestial Seasonings Jammin’ Lemon Ginger Tea
Tazo Cocoa Mint Mate

2/10

For other tea reviews, please visit my Food And Drink Index Page for a complete list!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Disappointment From A Previously-Reliable Franchise: Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie!


The Good: One or two jokes, General voice performances
The Bad: Animation style, Plot, Characters, Not funny, Repetitive
The Basics: Kevin Smith cashes in on the love of his two beloved characters Jay and Silent Bob with Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie, a fairly short film that is bound to disappoint even the most die-hard fans of Kevin Smith's works!


Perhaps the first rule of making a film intended for fans of a certain person's works is to make sure that the fans do not already have access to the material. Kevin Smith may have written the script for Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie before handing it over to Steve Stark to direct, but it is hard for fans of Smith's works to call it an original work. Smith uses the opportunity of making a small animated film to take ideas, deleted scenes, outtakes, scrapped lines and commentary jokes from prior works and cobbles them into a script for a film so short it is not even feature-length.

Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie lifts most of its content from the Bluntman And Chronic graphic novel and Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back (reviewed here!), when it is not making dick, fart, and gay jokes alongside the weakest of super hero comic book (and comic book movie) jokes/commentaries. Despite occurring in Red Bank, New Jersey and including the familiar characters of Jay, Silent Bob and Dante Hicks, Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie does not fit into the canon of the rest of the View Askewniverse. It's hard to say that Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie fits into the Askewniverse when it fails to reference that (in the View Askewniverse), Jay and Silent Bob were already the subject of a comic book and a comic book movie. In other words , if Bluntman and Chronic popped up in the "real world' of the View Askewniverse, the media and residents of Red Bank there would see them as mere copycats of the comic book characters that Banky based on Jay And Silent Bob.

Such analysis is far more high-minded than the content of Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie, a film that once again utilizes Kevin Smith's disdain for movie critics on the internet as an attempt to forestall criticism of this particular film. The truth is, after growing as a writer with some bigger (and better) themes over the course of his last few films, Smith reverts to the most immature, droll and un-funny jokes of his career. Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie is notable most for not being funny and for using Jay and Silent Bob in ways they have never expressed in any of their prior adventures. Despite referencing Wolvering in Mallrats (reviewed here!), Jay has never illustrated any interest in comic books or super heroes and from the few lines Silent Bob has spoken, his passion has been for movies of the 1980s, as opposed to comic books or superhero films.

This is germane because Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie is essentially a parody of a super hero film wherein Jay and Silent Bob become vigilante super heroes on Red Bank, NJ.

While handing around outside RST Video, Jay laments the plight of the small-time drug dealer as legalized weed becomes more and more prevalent. There, they encounter various staples of super hero origin stories - an alien with a power ring crashes in the parking lot, they squash a radioactive spider in a nearby lab, and they try for eligibility to become super soldiers (but refuse when they have to get injected drugs, as opposed to smoking the serum) - before returning to the Quick Stop with five dollars each. Silent Bob uses the cash to get some scratch-off lottery tickets and he manages to win a million dollars.

They use the money to buy gadgets, costumes, and a lair (the Bluntcave) and they assume the alter-egos of Bluntman and Chronic. When they aren't getting high or spying on local lesbians, they break into local warehouses to get free stuff (under Jay's theory it's what they are owed for being superheroes). In the process, they make a number of supervillains who are broken out of the local asylum by Lipstick Lesbian, a woman slighted by Jay's offhanded remark. This leaves the duo at the mercy of a number of adversaries who they have to legitimately stop to protect Red Bank.

Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie is based around a line from Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back that ended up as a deleted scene and while it is a hilarious joke, it is not enough to build a movie around.

The animation in Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie is similar to that of Aqua Teen Hunger Force - blending animation with a few live-action elements like explosions. The voice work is fine. Eliza Dushku is decent as Lipstick Lesbian and Tara Strong gives her usual, solid, voiceover performance as Cocknocker. Jason Mewes gives an unremarkable performance for Jay and he's forcing my wife and I to go back to prior View Askew films to see if Jay actually used the word "sir" in talking to Silent Bob as much as he does in this sixty-four minute piece of crap.

At least going back through the other View Askew works is a more enjoyable use of time than considering Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie for even a minute more!

For other works by Kevin Smith, please visit my reviews of:
Clerks
Chasing Amy
Dogma
Clerks The Animated Series
Jersey Girl
Clerks II
Zack And Miri Make A Porno
Cop Out
Red State

1/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Myah Says The Expense Of Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula Dog Food Is Justified By Its Taste!


The Good: Very nutritious, Myah loves it, Great ingredients
The Bad: Very expensive
The Basics: Myah endorses Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula adult dog food, despite what it might do to my wallet!


In keeping Myah engaged, we’ve been giving her some good, natural dog foods lately. We tend to look for dog foods with real meat as its first ingredient. The latest one to truly capture her attention and keep it (for two 40 pound bags!) is Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula. The Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula dog food is a premium dog food for adult dogs and as an adult dog, Myah has been very excited for it.

Basics

A single serving of Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula dog food for a dog Myah’s size – she’s between sixty and eighty pounts now - is three and a quarter to four cups, so a forty pound bag lasts about a month. Each piece of Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula dog food is a brown disk that is like an oversized red blood cell. They are approximately 3/4" in diameter and 1/4” thick. They have a mealy appearance and are very hard. Myah often eats a couple of the discs at once.

Ease Of Preparation

As a dry dog food, preparation of Diamond Naturals is as easy as opening a bag and measuring out the pellets inside. There is not further prep needed.

Myah’s Reaction

Predictably, Myah was instantly taken with this food. This is one of the few dog foods that Myah has kept coming back to with enthusiasm equal to the first big bowl. Myah exhibited a strong preference for Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula dog food. Given a choice between Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula and any of four other dog foods I had in the house at the time, Myah chose Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula each and every time!

Nutrition

Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula dog food smells meaty right off the bat and it is very nutritious. Made primarily of Beef meal, peas and cracked pearled barled, the ingredients are about one half natural and recognizable before becoming a chemistry equation designed to boost the health of the dog. According to the guaranteed analysis, Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula dog food has at least 25% crude protein, 15% crude fat, but no more than 4% crude fiber and 10% moisture. As a dry dog food, it is highly recommended that you have adequate water available for your dog when serving it Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula dog food.

Overall

Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula dog food is a wonderful, if pricy, dog food that justifies its price by being nutritious and quickly becoming one of Myah’s most beloved foods!

For other dog food reviews, please be sure to check out:
Grandma Mae’s Country Naturals Adult Dog Food
Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley
NutriSource Large Breed Grain Free Chicken Formula Dog Food

9/10

For other pet product reviews, please check out my Pet Review Index Page by clicking here!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A Parody Of Itself, Tomorrow Never Dies Is Fun James Bond!


The Good: Some great lines, Decent performances, Good pacing, Entertaining
The Bad: Some terrible, over-the-top lines, Very predictable plot progression, One of the least satisfying endings of any Bond film
The Basics: The final James Bond film I had to watch, Tomorrow Never Dies is remarkably average Bond . . . when it is not delivering laugh-out-loud funny one-liners.


With Tomorrow Never Dies, I am done with the James Bond franchise! As of now, I have seen all of the James Bond films in the franchise (at least until S.P.E.C.T.R.E. comes out later this year!) and I'm ending on an odd note. Tomorrow Never Dies is an emotionally-enjoyable film in many ways, though much of that comes from the writing and casting, as opposed to the film being an objectively good work. In fact, for the first half hour of Tomorrow Never Dies, the film is written in such a way that it seems almost like it is a parody of a James Bond film. A decent portion of the film has incredibly quotable one-liners that are funny and create a surprisingly light tone for the film. But the moment the Bond villain, Elliot Carver, gives his first, over-the-top presentation to his inner circle of slimeballs, the film takes a turn into utterly groanworthy territory.

Such is the "split personality" of Tomorrow Never Dies, a film smart enough to note that (even in 1997) a military incursion into Vietnamese waters by anyone with U.S. tech could be disastrous for U.S. foreign policy and dark enough to include a "long lost love" for James Bond who is horribly murdered, but features more tongue-in-cheek gags and ridiculousness (James Bond is beaten up by three characters who are, essentially, the Three Stooges, while at the Carver Media network launch!) than any other Bond film in memory. I was excited going into Tomorrow Never Dies because of my love of Jonathan Pryce from Brazil (reviewed here!) and my general enjoyment of Pierce Brosnan's portrayal of James Bond. But the positive elements are weighted pretty much equally with the film's detractions, making for an average (albeit enjoyable) movie.

Opening at a terrorist "supermarket" on the Russian border, where MI-6 is monitoring the potential sale of a small army's worth of hardware (including nuclear torpedoes on a Russian jet), James Bond has to outrace a British missile and terrorists when things go south. The H.M.S. Devonshire is in the South China Sea, where it is attacked by a stealth drill submarine operated by minions of a billionaire media mogul, who is launching a worldwide cable news network. The attack, triggered by the Devonshire's GPS system rerouting the boat out of international waters, is designed to bring about World War III and is used by Elliot Carver as the first big story for his news network. With the British Navy 48 hours away from being able to fully deploy in the South China Sea, M tasks James Bond with gathering the evidence needed to avert World War III.

That takes Bond to Hamburg, Germany, where he meets Carver. At the party, Bond meets Wai Lin, a spy posing as a Chinese journalist and he reunites with his lost love, Paris, who is now Carver's wife. Carver utilizes tech genius Henry Gupta to learn that Paris still has a soft spot for Bond and he easily discovers that she has betrayed him to Bond. After Elliot implicates Bond in the murder of Paris, Bond and Wai Lin find themselves exploring the sunken Devonshire together. The pair works together to try to avert a war between Britain and China and stop Carver from attaining world domination through media manipulation.

Tomorrow Never Dies is enjoyable in that it is one of the Bond films that has Bond balanced by a superspy that appears for all intents and purposes to be his equal. Wai Lin is anything but the typical Bond Girl, which balances the especially easy Paris in the film. Wai Lin comes with her own tech and, like the C.I.A. ally of Bond Jack Wade, Bond is forced to rely upon both her help and her assets to achieve his mission objectives.

Wai Lin is credibly played by Michelle Yeoh, who is a martial arts expert and is able to completely sell the film's action scenes. She and Pierce Brosnan have decent timing for the quips their characters deliver. While some might not like how Bond's reliance upon an ally weakens the superspy, after watching dozens of Bond films where Bond alone accomplishes impossible things, it is refreshing to see some level of realism where he cannot achieve everything on his own. Moreover, the realism of the team of super-spies balances the almost cartoonish nature of the film's villain.

Elliot Carver is a great concept for a villain and it is hard to criticize Jonathan Pryce for how he delivers the worst, most over-the-top lines of the film (and the franchise). Carver is a brilliant idea who is written as a quip-spewing maniac who has all the weaknesses of a Bond villain. He details his plans as exposition, he trusts all the wrong people and he is handicapped by a desire for power that is utterly unrealistic. Pryce does the best he can, but the role is a pretty lousy character.

The result is a funny, action-filled film that is filled with ticking clocks, decent actors, ridiculous characters, good lines, chases and gadgets. Tomorrow Never Dies is fun, so long as one disengages much of their sense of reason and just goes with it.

For other works with Geoffrey Palmer, please check out my reviews of:
Paddington
The Pink Panther 2
"Goodbyeee" - Blackadder Goes Forth

5/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, March 26, 2015

At Long Last . . . The Sideshow Collectibles Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure Arrives!



The Good: GREAT sculpt, Stable base, Collectible value
The Bad: Erratic paint job, Very fragile
The Basics: The Sideshow Collectibles Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure Statue is not the perfect Wonder Woman collectible one might hope for . . .


This has been turning into quite the Wonder Woman-centered month for me and, frankly, I am okay with that! After seven months of waiting, Sideshow Collectibles finally managed to get the Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure released from the customs yard in California and ship them out to collectors. I was fortunate to be one of the people who snagged one of the limited release versions of the Premium Format Figure (which is, for all intents and purposes, a statue) and, in some ways, the delay and the ultimate release of the statue so late in its form, only added insult to (albeit minor) injury.

Sideshow Collectibles allow fans and collectors the ability to order their amazing collectibles (I was wowed from my first experience with their products, in the form of the Star Wars 1:6 scale Boushh doll, reviewed here!) via preorder, with a non-refundable deposit. Last year, when the Wonder Woman Premium Format figure was announced by Sideshow Toys, I was exceptionally excited. I've been waiting for Sideshow to make a 1:4 scale Wonder Woman and for them to tackle Wonder Woman at all. I was in a surprisingly good place financially when the deposit was required and so, I decided to invest. The seven month delay, alas, gave me enough time for my financial fortunes to change and for me to have to make the tough choice between forfeiting the deposit and having to spend money I no longer had. I went with the latter.

Alas, the figure is not perfect and issues with assembly, paint, and fragility make it feel less like an awesome investment or the prized collectible it ought to be. Fans who shell out $450 or more for a collectible statue have a good reason to be picky about the quality of their collectibles and for my money, I was shocked that the 1:6 Buffy The Vampire Slayer Spike statue I bought my wife for the winter holiday had more sculpted and painted details right than the 1:4 scale Wonder Woman!

Basics

The Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure statue presents Wonder Woman generally well. This version of Wonder Woman has the iconic DC super hero in her bustier outfit with the knee-high red boots, silver bracers, and golden tiara she is known for. This version of Wonder Woman has a pretty good balance between having defined muscles and feminine curves. Wonder Woman's legs are more smooth than muscular, but she has collarbones molded into the sculpt. Wonder Woman's back is fairly well-sculpted with decent musculature, but Wonder Woman's knee - especially the one for the straight leg - lacks realistic bone definition. The result is a sculpt that seems to prioritize stereotypical "sexy" qualities over the warrior aspects of the character. This Wonder Woman statue has the heroine standing on a base, looking much like the ruins of Themyscira, with one leg up on a fallen column, her left arm down and her right arm raised to the side so she can hold her spear behind her shoulder.

The statue, released in a limited and second-wave series (both are called "Premium Format Figure" and both are strictly limited, but the only real difference seems to be the numbering, the base and the presence of an alternate arm in the first-run version) from Sideshow Collectibles, is a real mixed bag in terms of the amount of sculpted details and has surprisingly erratic coloring. Measuring twenty-five inches tall, twenty-one inches wide and ten inches deep at its most extreme points, the Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure statue is one of the few DC super hero-based statues released by Sideshow Collectibles in the 1:4 scale. The Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure Statue easily sold-out from Sideshow Collectibles, at least for the 3500-piece first run and is now only available in the secondary market.

The Sideshow Collectibles Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure statue is made of fairly durable polystone that has decent weight to it and painted plastic for the iconic Lasso Of Truth. The Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure's costume is colored in bright muted white, dark red and dark blue and metallic gold and silver (for her belt, bustier, and silver for the bracelets). This version of Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure has a subtle rendition of the eagle symbol on her bustline, instead of the more simply double-W symbol some of her costumes featured. The tiara is the gold color with the red star on the forehead underneath the long, bouncing black bangs. The sculpt of the hair, which makes it look like Wonder Woman's hair is blowing in the wind is well-sculpted. The detailing for the hair texture is extraordinary for a character that came from a two-dimensional reference.

Diana’s face is angular, without looking severe and in a similar fashion, the Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure Statue did not create her with an over-the-top pair of breasts. Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure’s proportions are reasonable, but what impressed me in this regard is that the costume Wonder Woman is wearing looks sculpted on (as opposed to just painted). So, as crude as it may sound to analyze so clinically, looking down upon the statue, one can basically look down her top at the space between her breasts. Her back, however, has the gap filled in where the gap between her bustier and spine should be. The eagle emblem and belt are raised and look impressive for their armored appearance. The Lasso Of Truth is molded to the belt in a loop, as one might expect. and the sculpting details for the muscles on her back represent an impressive attention to detail.

As for the rest of the sculpt, detail-oriented people are likely to be a bit frustrated by the Sideshow Collectibles Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure. First, the Wonder Woman statue does not stand evenly on her base. The statue is rooted by the right foot; the left should rest on the fallen column on the base. The right foot has a metal rod which fits in a hole in the base and then the heel of the statue rests in a footprint in the ground on the base. Unfortunately, the Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure falls a few millimeters shy of connecting with the left foot on the column! As a result, Wonder Woman is essentially balanced on her back foot and I can only hope that over the years, the weight of the statue will subtly bend the rod so the front foot comes to rest where it is supposed to. If it does that without cracking the statue's heel, I would be impressed.

Sideshow got a ton of the details right. The base is immaculate and looks like rocky ground and shattered columns. The helmet and sword attach to the base, thanks to small slots in the ground, include such incredible sculpted details like rivets on the helmet, what looks like a wrapped leather grip on the sword hilt, and stiff hair on the helmet's top. The shield has immaculate sculpted details, like the stars and the filigree border! Even the sculpted spear and the scraps of a banner hanging from it are incredibly molded and make the banner is blowing in the wind, the same direction as Wonder Woman's hair. Because Wonder Woman's hair comes detached from the statue, Sideshow was able to get the ears and nose molded absolutely perfectly. What the Premium Format Figure lacks are a number of the finer details. This version of Wonder Woman does not have detailed knuckles and the knees lack realism that the rest of the statue possesses.

On the coloring front, Wonder Woman is a mixed bag in this incarnation. Amazingly, the eyes and lips are perfectly rendered. Sideshow even made them appropriately glossy opposite the statue's matte skin and lack of shine to the costume. The colors are all right on the Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure, but the level of detailing is not. The raised left boot has a paint job that features flecks of dirt, so this has a decent level of realism to it. But the fingernails are the same color as the figure's skin (a detail I was shocked Sideshow got wrong, when they managed to get that detail right on the smaller Spike statue!) and a number of the lines are not cleanly painted. The fingers on the ax and on the spear are painted so sloppily that they bleed onto the accessories! Similarly, the lines around Wonder Woman's bikini bottom, are far less clean on my statue. I also don't know of any Wonder Woman costume that features this bustier and has stars on the front of the bikini, but none on the back (the statue does not).

Features

As a Sideshow Collectibles statue, the Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure/Statue is only accented by the collector’s number on the bottom of the base and the alternate ax-wielding arm for the original version. The ax hand is beautifully-detailed and fits the statue perfectly. Swapping out the hands is easy neither arm looks worse when attached (I keep my statue with the shield arm because I feel that more embodies Wonder Woman than the ax).

As for the base, the bottom seems not quite a perfect fit for the statue, which is frustrating. Also frustrating in an inexplicable way is how the less-limited version is brightly colored on the bottom (albeit where no one will see it) than the more-limited version. The more limited version has better coloring depth than the less-limited version, so I suppose it is a wash.

Balance

As with all statues, the intent of the Sideshow Collectibles Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure statue is to be used as a decorative collectible and this is well-balanced at the base. But, because the statue itself does not connect at more than one point, the figure has a little bit of wobble to it when it is on my shelf. The display base is augmented with four rubber discs that keep is perfectly stable, so it does not slide, tip, lean or do anything other than stand perfectly positioned on one’s shelf or display case.

Collectibility

Sideshow Collectibles has been making bigger and better collectibles for decades. The Wonder Woman Premium Format Figure Statue was limited to 9,500 pieces (3500 in the first release, 6000 in the second). Each one is individually numbered on the bottom of the base (mine is 3080/3500!). These statues have already exploded in value and I suspect it will continue to appreciate, but not because of its quality.

In fact, I would predict that the value of the Wonder Woman Premium Format figure will only really appreciate as more people try moving it (or, in California, suffer the wrath of earthquakes!). My limited edition Wonder Woman arrived with a broken helm (the fine folks at Sideshow Collectibles have already sent a replacement!) and I was severely dismayed when unpacking the statue for a second time, I discovered the hair had broken in two places. The hair is made of the same, solid polystone as the rest of the statue (save the plastic Lasso Of Truth). I'm not sure why Sideshow used that as opposed to a silicon that was then solidly lacquered over to protect collectors from breakage, but they did not and the hair has a surprising number of finer points that can easily break off. It looks great, but the statue's fragility cannot be understated. Given how picky (I mean that in a good way; I am one of them!) collectors of such things are, one suspects as they (or those who attempt to clean them nicely and discover how fragile they are!) discover how the finer points of this statue are less flexible and more breakable than they initially appear, they will re-buy the statue and cause it to continue to appreciate in value. The danger, of course, is that sealed statues that might have broken parts that collectors do not discover until they open and assemble them (likely at a time when Sideshow no longer has the components to replace).

Overview

For more than $400, I find myself far less impressed than I wanted to be. That Wonder Woman does not actually stand on her base and I face likely breakage in the future, is very frustrating. Lack of detailing on key elements is equally frustrating. My wife posited an interesting theory to me; she suggested that Sideshow focused on getting the breasts, butt and legs (calves, boots and toning) right because that's where guys are going to be focused. Ironically, both she and I thought the miscolored and under-sculpted hands were a focal point as well (especially the one holding the spear). Anyway, her theory was that the broad strokes of the more feminine aspects will distract the wealthier male collectors who like Wonder Woman more for sexual fantasy than her heroic qualities. Her argument is that women who spend on collectibles are more demanding in their standards - hence Spike in the smaller scale being a higher-quality collectible than Wonder Woman in the larger scale - than men who will shell out for anything that turns them on.

It's hard for me to disagree with her on this point, though I find myself wondering if instead the problem is that Sideshow Collectibles is trying too hard to produce, as opposed to producing less and making them better. The Spike and Boushh were made years ago when Sideshow Collectibles had fewer licenses and exceptionally high standards. Did Sideshow rush Wonder Woman to release because it had been delayed so long in Customs that it wanted to get it out the moment it was released? Is that why Wonder Woman has the same colored fingernails as her skin (seriously, while I'm used to her having red nails, no one has the same color skin and fingernails, so that's a pretty obvious oversight!)? I'm not sure. All I know is that the statue is far more average than it is extraordinary and Wonder Woman and collectors of her merchandise deserved better.

For other Wonder Woman collectibles, please check out my reviews of:
DC Direct Wonder Woman Series 1 Wonder Woman action figure
DC Direct Cover Girls Of The DC Universe Wonder Woman statue
2009 Wonder Woman Hallmark Keepsake Ornament

6/10

For other comic based toys and collectibles, please visit my Comic Book Toy Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Replay The Day (Poorly): "Rogue Time" Has Barry Allen Take A Different Path!


The Good: Moments of character, Cool comparison to the prior episode, Performances are fine
The Bad: Entirely troubling science/engineering, Missing details to make the new plot make sense, Caitlin Snow . . .
The Basics: "Rogue Time" tries to save The Flash after its biggest moments . . . and it does the best it can.


It is impossible to discuss "Rogue Time," the latest episode of The Flash without mentioning important aspects of how the prior episode, “Out Of Time” (reviewed here!) ended. While it seems like "Rogue Time" would be a direct sequel to "Out Of Time," it actually picks up the dangling thread left by the end of “Revenge Of The Rogues” (reviewed here!). The burden on "Rogue Time" was to follow up an astonishingly good episode with one that did not simply leave viewers feeling cheated. That's a tough task, given the quality of "Out Of Time."

And "Rogue Time" succeeded about as much as it could have.

"Out Of Time" was a knockout episode that took an unlikely villain - the second Weather Wizard pops up to wreak havoc in Central City - and used the formulaic a-plot as a chance to advance the characters and create a b-plot that had astonishing consequences and a real "wow" factor. Unfortunately, "Out Of Time" ended at a point where it was easy to undo all of the episode's biggest moments and that is what "Rogue Time" does . . . in record time. Barry Allen managed to run back in time at the climax of the prior episode and "Rogue Time" begins there, where he has the chance to save a lot of lives by stopping the Weather Wizard (Mark Mardon) before he becomes a genuine threat and unwittingly save the life of the one man who has uncovered the secret of the Reverse Flash. Going into "Rogue Time," the safe money from most fans was that that was going to happen and the big question was "Could you undo all of the best moments of the prior episode and create an episode that takes the series in a different direction without leaving the audience feeling completely cheated?"

The answer, from "Rogue Time" is "no, but we sure tried!"

Barry Allen breaks through the time barrier and, in the episode's first major issue, his native timeline version disappears. This is a problem because it makes no real sense. Barry Allen from tomorrow afternoon appears the day before, running beside himself. From that moment on, there should be two Barry Allens . . . at least until the initiating incident is averted and the tangent timeline collapses (at which time, either the Barry Allen from the altered day disappears or he remains as an anomaly from an alternate universe). What doesn't make sense is that the first time through the timeline, Barry Allen sees his alternate self, stops, and there is no second Barry Allen there. In short, because Barry Allen was not overwritten by the future Barry Allen the first time around, there is no reason for it to happen the second time around.

Harrison Wells is determined not to let the future be changed or to learn anything about the day that Barry exhibits foreknowledge of. But Barry cannot let Mark Mardon stand, so he goes to where he knows the Weather Wizard is, captures him, and locks him up in the pipeline. While Wells is infuriated, Barry is thrilled at all the wrongs he has righted - though Cisco is forced to go to his brother's birthday party now that he does not have an excuse. At the same time, Leonard Snart and Mick Rory arrive in Central City where they take down the local crime family. Lamenting how badly things went with his family, Cisco and Barry go out to a bar, where Cisco is hit on by a beautiful young woman. Lisa takes Cisco back to the house at which she is squatting and reveals herself to be Lisa Snart, Leonard's sister.

At this point in "Rogue Time," there's nothing actually wrong with the episode, though the devil is in the details and here the episode gets a little wobbly. Snart, Mick, and Lisa come into town and knock over the local crime boss. No problems there. In fact, with Mark Mardon on the loose, it makes sense that the police would be so busy and focused elsewhere that they would not realize that the trio was in town or that the Santini Family has been disrupted. But then, Dante Ramon is abducted. If that happened the first time through the timeline, it makes some sense that it might not have gotten priority and noticed by the wrecked Central City Police Department. In the revamped timeline, though, there would be far more police available and undistracted to notice when Dante Ramon was abducted.

So, Cisco is captured by the three Rogues and forced to rebuild their weapons . . . and make an entirely new one for Lisa Snart. While one might buy that Leonard Snart and Mick Rory might have all of the supplies they need to make their weapons -though, if that were the case, why would Snart need Cisco, when he knew his own weapon so well that he could take it apart and put it back together?! - the idea that Cisco could replicate from memory both weapons over the course of a single night and develop an alchemy gun is pretty ridiculous.

That ridiculous quality spreads into the next scene. The Snarts knock over the Santini mob casino and The Flash tries to stop them. Leonard extorts The Flash with the information that he has the two Ramons held hostage. Fine. But then Barry lets them go. At this point, Barry Allen has enough speed to be virtually invisible. There is no credible reason why Barry Allen doesn't run after the Snart's car, wait for it to stop at a house, then run in and get both captives out before Leonard and Lisa realize they were followed. Utterly ridiculous.

Fortunately, the episode gets better from that point on. In fact, as Cisco and his brother fight for their lives and Captain Cold extorts him for information on the identity of The Flash, the episode picks right up. The episode leads to a stalemate between The Flash and Captain Cold that is well-presented, while Cisco returns to S.T.A.R. Labs a credibly broken man, who is not about to look into the truth about Harrison Wells.

But, in reworking the day, the biggest problem comes from a lack of a scene in "Out Of Time." Near the climax of "Out Of Time," Dr. Snow calls Barry Allen and he brushes her off. As a result, Barry goes back in time without knowing that Cisco has been killed, that he and Snow came to suspect Harrison Wells and only knowing that Mason Bridge had an encrypted file on Wells about the disappearance of Simon Staggs. The problem, then, is that Barry does not have enough information to try to consciously save anyone or suspect Harrison Wells and in "Rogue Time," he does not make the important, inadverant, slip to Wells. I kept waiting for Barry to make some comment to Harrison Wells about Mason Bridge and his encrypted file. While "Rogue Time" has a delicious mirror image of the critical Wells/Cisco scene, what is entirely lacks is any reason Wells would even know of the existence of Mason Bridge! Barry Allen elminated the day that caused Harrison Wells to have any tracks to cover . . . so Wells had no reason to hunt Bridge in "Rogue Time." Moreover, because he didn't slip to Wells about Bridge's encrypted file, Barry had no reason to instantly suspect Wells at the peak of the episode!

The only other issue is a character one. Dr. Caitlin Snow has been portrayed as asocial and somewhat socially awkward throughout the first season of The Flash. But, by "Rogue Time," it's hard for viewers not to be screaming at the screen "pick a lane!" Snow is explicitly in love with her fiance, Ronnie Raymond. Unfortunately, as news of a spin-off that will feature Victor Garber (and possibly Firestorm?) keeps breaking, The Flash seems to be painfully setting up for Snow and Raymond to break up as a way to explain why Snow will remain on The Flash and not go over to the spinoff. In "Rogue Time," she shows partnerish affections for both Cisco and Barry Allen (and this is not the first time). The result is a character who is somewhat annoying in her inconsistencies.

Still, this is one of Danielle Panabaker's better episodes as she plays Snow's bluff beautifully at the climax of "Rogue Time." In fact, beyond the plot and detail problems, the performances in "Rogue Time" are homogenously good (though there are no huge emotional moments required of the actors, like "Out Of Time" demanded). Peyton List does a fine job playing off Grant Gustin (The Flash), Carlos Valdes (Cisco), Dominic Purcell (Heat Wave) and Wentworth Miller (Leonard Snart).

Continuity and detail issues aside, the writers and producers of The Flash had pretty much run themselves into a corner with the prior episode and with "Rogue Time," they do the best they possibly can to right the listing ship.

For other works with Leonard Snart, check out my reviews of:
"Going Rogue" - The Flash
The Flash: Rogues By Geoff Johns
The Flash Vs. The Rogues By Carmine Infantino
Brightest Day The Flash: The Dastardly Death Of Rogues By Geoff Johns
The Flash: Rogues Revolution By Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

6/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Enter At The (Apparent) End: Red She-Hulk: Route 616


The Good: Artwork is all right, Plot progresses
The Bad: Dialogue lacks flow, No real character development
The Basics: Red She-Hulk: Route 616 is the conclusion to the Marvel Now! Red She-Hulk story . . . and it feels like they gave up on her before the book ended!


In my study of various super heroes, there were none that I was surprised to find I enjoyed reading as much as She-Hulk. Far from living down to my fear that the book would just be a "Hulk, smash!" series with a female protagonist, I quickly found I enjoyed how some writers played with Jennifer Walters as a protagonist and gave her a quirky, interesting voice and story. So, I felt pretty safe in picking up a Red She-Hulk book, Red She-Hulk: Route 616. That, as it turned out, was a wrong move.

Red She-Hulk: Route 616 might well be my first Marvel Now! trade paperback anthology and it seems that I came in at the end of the story of Betty Ross. Betty Ross is the Marvel Now! (and maybe before, I'm not fluent in Red She-Hulk) Red She-Hulk and given where the story ends and the notes at the end of the volume, it seems like it was the end of the title. In fact, it reads like it is. I cannot recall ever having to read a graphic novel twice just because I was so confused that I was missing something. Obviously, I am missing something; the content of the sixty-two issues of Red She-Hulk that precede the story in Red She-Hulk: Route 616 (which anthologizes issues 63 - 67). But my issue was not with content, it was with flow. Jeff Parker's writing seems very fractured and the book reads like it was assembled from an awkward series of cuts (for example, in the second chapter, Red She-Hulk is looking at a pyramid from a bit of a distance in one panel and the next, she is tearing into it . . . with no sense of how she got from one location to the other, with no sense of discovery or reason in trying to find a way into the pyramid). In short, Red She-Hulk: Route 616 feels like a cancelled show where the writers were given an episode to wrap everything up and the staff didn't actually care to produce the last episode well.

On the story front, Route 616 picks up very much in the middle of a story, though the opening summary and the "panel discussion" from a television show are enough to instantly bring new readers (like me!) up to speed. Betty Ross is the Red She-Hulk, who seems to have three states - Betty Ross, Red She-Hulk (minor) and full hulked-out Red She-Hulk (who barely ever makes an appearance). Betty Ross spends most of her time as a fairly controlled Red She-Hulk and she is accompanied by an X-51 android named Aaron Stack. The story begins with the pair hunting Nikola Tesla (who is an Artificial Intelligence in this iteration), because he has abducted a girl who serves as the processor for a machine that is going to bring about the apocalypse. So, Red She-Hulk and Aaron Stack are on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D.

Exposed to the general populace while at a diner, Betty Ross transforms into the Red She-Hulk, which alerts S.H.I.E.L.D. to her general presence. Aaron Stack steals a car for the pair and they once again flee. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team of Echelon-based supersoldiers does not take very long to track the pair down and while Red She-Hulk defeats the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, she and Stack are literally forced underground. There, they encounter the mole people and their search for Tesla takes them to an underground pyramid that is filled with futuristic technology. But Tesla outwits the pair and when they return to the surface, they discover reality is falling apart around them.

Trapped at Mt. Rushmore in an alternate or near-future, where Dr. Doom, Red Skull, Ultron, and Loki are carved into the side of the mountain, Red She-Hulk and Stack struggle to defeat the reconstructions of the Four Horsemen. They are only successful after all images merge into a superbeing and Stack unwittingly sets the new villain on the world at large! Still, the encounter leaves them with a clear destination: the Florida Everglades. There, they find Man-Thing, who takes them on a trippy journey through hundreds of realities for no clear reason until they manage to get back to their proper universe where everything wraps up surprisingly fast.

Red She-Hulk: Route 616 is not at all high literature and it is a remarkably unsatisfying read. Pursued by S.H.I.E.L.D., Jennifer Walters unwittingly aids the adversaries of Red She-Hulk by helping the supernatural law enforcement agency figure out her frequency. While Red She-Hulk is characterized by others as a master of hiding because she knows the military's playbook for pursuit, that is never actually shown in the book. Red She-Hulk does not evade S.H.I.E.L.D.; she is just hell-bent on her own mission and occasionally, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents burst in on her and Stack!

In a similar fashion, Red She-Hulk: Route 616 includes an entire subplot wherein S.H.I.E.L.D. employs the Thinker to try to track down Red She-Hulk, but he instead figures out how to make the Echelon soldiers work. The Thinker disappears fairly abruptly and the new, improved soldiers, seem only to serve the narrative for one of several jaunts into an alternate universe. The book spends more time developing the characteristics and backstory of the Mole People than it does satisfyingly developing the threat of the Echelon soldiers.

Red She-Hulk: Route 616 is very plot-focused, as opposed to character-centered. Betty Ross is given about equal page time as Aaron Stack and Stack figures out more ways to save the day than Ross does! That is hugely unsatisfying for a book titled Red She-Hulk. That Betty Ross takes up the position of wisecracking sidekick - Stack figures out how to out-logic Ultron, while Ross complains about what various battles are doing to her hair! - in her own book is tremendously disappointing and a horrible example to set for readers (of any gender).

The artwork in Red She-Hulk: Route 616 is fine, but very much like snapshots. There is exceptionally poor transition between panels, so this is a book that does not flow from panel to panel, page to page well. Instead, it's like flipping through photographs with captions; readers are left to infer much of the movement between panels. The coloring is homogeneously good throughout the book.

Ultimately, Red She-Hulk: Route 616 is an end for the Red She-Hulk as a solo work and while I might have come in at the end, I have no problem with declaring it a disappointment. The narration is fractured, the characters mediocre and the resolution forced. It's a poor story that is not enough to make a reader want to pick up any of the prior Red She-Hulk volumes.

For other She-Hulk books, please visit my reviews of:
The Sensational She-Hulk
Single Green Female
The Avengers: The Search For She-Hulk
Superhuman Law
Time Trials
Laws Of Attraction
She-Hulk: Planet Without A Hulk
Fall Of The Hulks: The Savage She-Hulks
Marvel Her-oes

3/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ward Returns: "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A."


The Good: The few moments that focus on the main characters, Special effects
The Bad: Soap opera elements, Some poor character moments, Dull plot
The Basics: "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." is a fractured episode that underwhelms on almost every front.


As Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. progresses and racks up more airtime than any of the associated films combined, the show is belaboring to remind viewers it fits in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A.," that takes the form of significant direct allusions to Avengers of various stripes and, especially, Nick Fury, who has not been seen since the first season finale of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Oddly, for a series where most everyone seems to accept that Agent Phil Coulson is now the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., the belief that most of the remaining S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have that Nick Fury is dead (who else could have handed him the keys?!), it has taken until "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." for that to come up.

"Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." formally introduces "the real S.H.I.E.L.D.," who have only been alluded to before now. Picking up after “One Of Us” (reviewed here!), the remaining high-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agents come out of the shadows in the Mack and Mockingbird subplot. Bobbi Morse and Mack's "conspiracy" is finally revealed as they bring Hunter before Roberto Gonzales and other members of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s inner circle (Agent Weaver being the only familiar member of the group). The result is an episode that is very much split between its a- and b- plots and neither are particularly compelling.

"Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." marks the return of Grant Ward to Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the oblique references to his family mean nothing to those who have not kept up with the show. Either way, his tutelage of Agent 33 makes for a surprisingly dull plotline; Agent 33 is just another villain in a season getting more bloated by adversaries. At this point, none of the enemies of S.H.I.E.L.D. are particularly compelling.

Ward and Agent 33 kidnap a repair man to fix Agent 33's face, while aboard the Bus, May and Coulson debate taking Skye out of the field. With the nanomask repaired, Agent 33 and Ward prepare to reinvigorate H.Y.D.R.A. Elsewhere, Mack brings Hunter to "the real S.H.I.E.L.D." There, Gonzales details his concerns about how Coulson has been compromised by alien DNA and Nick Fury's methods of doing business. Coulson moves Skye to a safe house after removing her from active duty while Ward and Agent 33 make a move on General Talbot.

Talbot smartly realizes quickly that his facility has been infiltrated and he locks it down. While Talbot rounds up the women, Agent 33 takes the form of a man in his outfit and Ward gets Agent 33 in front of the H.Y.D.R.A. agent who abandoned her after Whitehall's death. That leaves the military scrambling and Talbot calls upon an unlikely person for help.

Allusions to the Hulk aside, "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." does surprisingly little to detail Skye's growing new powers. She creates earthquakes and that happens as a result of her losing emotional control. So far, in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Skye seems like (at best) a b-rate version of the Hulk. That said, "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." does what the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been unable to do with the Hulk; Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is slowly developing a superhero (who is essentially a mutant) and experimenting with the powers and ways to limit the powers of that individual. The problem with attempting the same while making a movie focused on that character is that it is hard to make it entertaining. While I applaud the effort with Skye, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is running into a similar problem.

To fix that problem, "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." dilutes the Skye plot with the plotlines involving Mack and Agent 33. Bobbi and Hunter have, essentially, a ridiculous soap opera plotline in "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." Hunter has been a tough character to care about since he was introduced at the beginning of the season and Morse's obsession with him only serves to weaken her character. In a similar way, Talbot seems especially idiotic at moments in "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." - knowing he is looking for someone who has the ability to look like his wife, he does not wave her off from visiting the military facility to which she is headed.

"Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." is not packed with great performances, either. While the acting is (mostly) competent, it is very much below the talents of Edward James Olmos and Christine Adams to deliver the technobabble and plot exposition that they are forced to. "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." is hardly an exceptional character study and Adrianne Palicki is saddled with such a poor character arc in the episode that her acting abilities cannot make her screentime watchable. Instead, Palicki makes Morse seem like a man-obsessed woman who is unable to control "her bad boy."

The central characters who have been with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. since the beginning are severely minimized in "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." Coulson and May have a few scenes, as do Fitz and Simmons. The only real impressive moment of character is the one where Coulson and May finally figure out that Mack cannot be trusted.

"Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." is ultimately notable only in that Ward shows back up. Unfortunately, as he grooms Agent 33, it becomes more and more clear that his story is pretty much already done. The writers and producers of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. might be making Ward's ascent to the head of H.Y.D.R.A. a more realistically-paced endeavor, but it is hard to care. Ward wasn't a great hero and he is a mediocre villain; he's no Arvin Sloan and that makes his time on screen utterly uncompelling. Ultimately, that's where the placeholder episode "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A" falls.

For other works with Kirk Acevedo, please check out my reviews of:
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
The Walking Dead - Season Four
Fringe

4/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Fewer Highs, Fewer Lows: Doctor Who Season 3 Is An Understated Improvement!


The Good: Decent performances (for the most part), Some good plots, Season’s larger arc, Cool characters
The Bad: One or two episode “misses,” Inconsistent special effects
The Basics: David Tennant’s tenure as The Doctor continues with his pairing with Martha Jones and a return from an enemy from his past!


In the modern Doctor Who, it is clear that Russell T. Davies had some ambitious ideas that worked incredibly well as season-long concepts. With the reinvigoration of Doctor Who (reviewed here!), Davies introduced a season-long “Bad Wolf” motif before insinuating Torchwood into the second season episodes (reviewed here!). In the third season, the serialized element is Harold Saxon and it is not as strong an idea as the Bad Wolf that preceded it or the Darkness which followed it. That is not to say that the concept of Harold Saxon is a bad one or he does not make a compelling villain – it is and he does. The problem is the execution.

The fundamental problem with Season Three of Doctor Who as a whole storyline Is that in order to make it work, it requires the season’s adversary to hide in plain sight. Unlike the villain in the latest season (reviewed here!), who hides in a TARDIS-like folding of time-space for the entire season, the third season’s adversary utilizes a psychic field to manipulate the citizens of Earth before he is revealed. While other people of decent power are influenced by the psychic field (most notably Captain Jack Harkness), The Doctor is not . . . but he only becomes aware of it the moment it becomes convenient to the plot. In other words, from (at least) the third season premiere on, The Doctor should be aware of the psychic field and searching for the cause of it. In addition to weakening the overall perceptive ability of The Doctor, this also undermines the usefulness of the Doctor’s primary tools, the TARDIS and the Sonic Screwdriver. In the third season of Doctor Who, those two devices become virtually identical to the main computer on the original Star Trek (reviewed here!). On Star Trek, the main computer almost always knew what was going on in space, time, and aboard the ship; it just needed characters like Spock to actually bother to ask it questions to tell them what was going on! Apparently, the sonic screwdriver could easily detect the cloaking field that allows Harold Saxon to come to power, The Doctor just doesn’t know to ask it!

I start my review of the third season of Doctor Who with such a seemingly insignificant nitpick because there is actually very little wrong with the season. Some of the best episodes of the series are in the third season and there are fewer real misses than in the second season. Russell T. Davies hits a real stride in the third season and, arguably, it is because he has a better companion to work with. The third season of Doctor Who introduces Martha Jones, a medical student who has her own ambitions and has more trepidations about traveling with The Doctor than Rose did.

After figuring out who the bride who appeared in the TARDIS was, The Doctor saves Christmas with the help of Donna Noble, a brash woman who has no interest in traveling with him through time and space. Following that, The Doctor is astonished when aliens arrive on Earth and remove a hospital . . . and place it on the moon! Martha Jones is at the hospital and she aids The Doctor in holding off the interstellar police who stole the hospital and exposing the alien infiltrator who is feeding on humans. As a reward, The Doctor takes Martha Jones on adventures into the past and future.

Attempting to return to her own time, though, puts The Doctor and Martha Jones in New York City during the Great Depression . . . at the mercy of the Daleks! But saving the Earth once again from the Daleks and returning Martha to her own time only puts the pair at the mercy of a mad scientist who seems to have figured out how to regenerate human beings! The Doctor is forced to hide in the past (and a human body) to escape a family’s carnivorous nature. The story comes to a head when a stopover on Earth brings Jack Harkness to the TARDIS and, in trying to flee him, the TARDIS leaps to the end of the universe and there, they find an evil The Doctor did not count on!

Martha Jones is an intriguing character and she has a pretty wonderful arc in the third season. Jones starts out as a young woman meeting The Doctor when he is vulnerable and feeling alone about traveling. But Jones has her own ambitions and she does not want to play second fiddle to The Doctor’s memories of Rose, so she starts with a lot of boundaries. As they share risks, Martha becomes attached to The Doctor, but she is smart enough to realize that he is wrong for her and that leads to her arc’s resolution.

Jones is ably played by Freema Agyeman and she has a screen presence that allows her character to credibly hold her own opposite David Tennant’s Doctor. Tennant does a good job with all of the Doctor’s technobabble in the third season, but his greatest performance moments come when he has to play The Doctor as vulnerable and human. Rather astonishingly, for the final arc of the season, Tennant and John Barrowman play off one another as if they worked together as The Doctor and Harkness before!

Ultimately, the third season of Doctor Who is one of the better ones, largely because it gets more right than wrong. It’s not the most exceptional series of episodes, but there are fewer failures and the focus on characters is stronger than some of the plots.

For more information on this season, be sure to check out the episodes encompassed in it. They are individually reviewed at:
"The Runaway Bride"
"Smith And Jones"
"The Shakespeare Code"
"Gridlock"
"Daleks In Manhattan"
"Evolution Of The Daleks"
"The Lazarus Experiment"
"42"
"Human Nature"
"Family Of Blood"
"Blink"
"Utopia"
"The Sound Of Drums"
"Last Of The Time Lords"

7/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Making Parallels Cool Again: Cryptozoic DC Comics Epic Battles Cards Rock!


The Good: Very cool concept, Some genuinely nice artwork, Some wonderful/creative bonus cards, Good chase cards, Inventive parallel cards
The Bad: Redemption cards, Parallels are still parallels . . .
The Basics: Cryptozoic’s Epic Battles card set is limited, well-executed and awesome; taking conceptual risks that pay off!


When it comes to trading cards, I have pretty much had my fill of parallel cards. For those not "in the know" with modern trading cards, many of the major trading card releases have the common set of trading cards replicated as bonus cards. Those replications range from foil lettering accents to different color foil backgrounds and/or borders to different renditions of the card (like making a regular or foil chase card into a sticker). I was pretty tired of parallel cards before I picked up a case of Cryptozoic's Epic Battles trading cards.

With the one set, which - ironically - is not too different from any number of comic book-themed trading cards that had parallel cards I was bored with, Cryptozoic managed to reinvigorate my love of trading cards and understand the appeal of the parallel cards from a collector's point of view! The Epic Battles set is an impressive set that takes a few creative risks . . . and they pay off for the most part!

Basics/ Set Composition

The DC Comics Epic Battles trading cards were originally released in boxes with twenty packs, packs containing five cards each. Properly assembled, Epic Battles consists of 428 (429 for true completionists) cards! Featuring cards that span the last thirty years of DC Comics, the Epic Battles set introduced Cryptozoic's new foil-style card, which they are calling Cryptomium. Properly assembled, the set features sixty-three common cards and 366 bonus cards (all but three are available in the boxes of Epic Battles cards). Outside the Redemption card (and three non-box cards), one supposes it would be possible to create a master set with eighty-one boxes (if everything broke absolutely perfectly).

Common Cards

Epic Battles is a 63 card set that features seven of the biggest crossover events in the DC Universe. From Crisis On Infinite Earths to Trinity War, the common set is made up of seven nine-card murals that Cryptozoic intended to encapsulate the biggest themes or battles of the crossover event it depicts. The common card set is created on thick, foil cards with a surprisingly smooth glossy coating. These cards are more silver foil than any of the parallel counterparts and they look gorgeous!

The common cards are all oriented in a landscape orientation, so each of the nine-card murals comes out looking fine and oriented the same way. The artwork is surprisingly variable. Each event has consistent artwork (each nine-card panel was done by a single artist), but the artwork for the different events is drastically different. For Blackest Night the artwork looks more distorted and horrific; Panic In The Sky is basically an oil painting broken into nine pieces. The inconsistency is somewhat irksome; Bloodlines looks like a comic strip, while Flashpoint is presented in a marginally more sophisticated way.

The writing for Epic Battles set is good-enough. Fans of the DC Universe will not learn anything new by reading the backs of the cards. The cards still attempt to remain focused on the important characters of the DC Universe, so the backs list the two or three characters that the front contains.

Chase Cards

Epic Battles set features more bonus cards than common cards, which is not at all uncommon for contemporary trading card sets. Epic Battles set features 366 chase cards which range from folding, foil, and collage cards to various foil parallel cards to significantly rare sketch cards (each of which are entirely unique). In the packs, collectors can find 363 of the 366 bonus cards. The chase card breakdown is thus: 8 Bombshell fold-out cards, 9 Bam! cards, 9 Make Believe cards, 162 foil parallel cards, 81 metal parallel cards, 3 Totally Fabricated, 81 sketch and 1 Redemption cards.

The most basic chase card set found in the packs are the Bombshell, BAM! and Make Believe cards. The three most common chase sets are found two cards per box. The Bombshell cards form an eight-card set, while the BAM! and Make Believe cards are nine-card sets each. The artwork for the BAM! and Make Believe sets are unique to the Epic Battles set, while the Bombshell cards look virtually identical to the images DC Comics has been using to promote their new Bombshells statues. The Bombshell set is neat, with each of the eight cards folding out to reveal the full pin-up girl image of various DC Comics women reimagined as pin-ups. This set is odd in that it contains only eight cards . . . and Catwoman is not one of them (of all the DC Universe women outside Black Canary, none seems like they would lend themselves to being reimagined as a classic pin-up as Catwoman, so her absence is noticeable!). The other two chase sets seem like they are designed to appeal to a youthful sensibility (which is odd for a conflict-themed set of cards). The BAM! cards feature artwork that is simplified and cartoonish, like a Chibi or Anime version of the some of the most popular DC Comics heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash . . . but not Green Lantern) and villains (all from Batman - The Joker, Bane, and Harley Quinn). The BAM! cards are reminiscent of the Katie Cook cards from Cryptozoic's Women Of Legend trading card set. The Make Believe set is an odd concept set that has the DC Comics characters reimagined as children playing on a playground. The artwork is fine and the character choices are generally good (albeit hilarious in that even the set's artist couldn't come up with a recognizable villain to play opposite Hawkman!), but it is very much a concept set that one has to really buy into to love the bonus set.

The first parallel set is a reimagining of the BAM! cards. The BAM! cards are replicated as sticker cards, one per box. The foil and perspective-based backgrounds are replaced with bright colors and the characters can be removed from the backing as stickers! This is a perfect example of form fitting style and the sticker cards are pretty cool!

The common cards, BAM!, and Make Believe sets are then replicated as parallel cards for three distinct sets. There are copper foil replications of each of the cards (found one every five packs), gold parallels that are limited to 75 and metal parallels that are found only one per box. The metal parallels are actually printed on metal plates and Cryptozoic smartly put them in soft plastic toploaders inside each of the packs! The copper parallel cards are neat because they have increased contrast over the common cards. The gold cards are individually stamped on the back with unique collector's numbers. The metal cards are just plain cool!

The Totally Fabricated cards are a “hit or miss” concept card for fans of the DC Universe hero. Costume cards are immensely popular trading cards these days and as the subjects of Epic Battles set are comic book characters, there would seem to be no costume cards that could be produced for the set. Cryptozoic did not let that stop them. Instead, they produced the “Totally Fabricated” bonus cards and Epic Battles set has three such cards in the boxes and packs. Found one in every six boxes, Epic Battles set features admittedly fake fabric swatches (not really) from the costumes of The Flash, Green Lantern, and Harley Quinn. I think the Totally Fabricated cards are a neat idea and they are executed incredibly well. Cryptozoic, to its credit, did not overproduce the Totally Fabricated cards and they continued the form and numbering from the same subset from the Women Of Legend set.

In addition to the Totally Fabricated cards, there is an exceptionally rare redemption card for a pieces of original artwork from the comic books that were subjects of the Epic Battles set. With only 12 redemption cards in the entire set, this is a virtually impossible card to find and redeeming them for the artwork is very much geared toward comic book fans as opposed to trading card collectors.

The Epic Battles set is fleshed out with eighty-one sketch cards of significant battles, heroes and villains from the DC Universe. The sketch cards are produced by eighty-one different artists and each one is absolutely unique, so assembling a master set requires one to track down one from each of the eighty-one artists Cryptozoic hired for the project. The quality of the sketch cards is more consistently high than with many of the other Cryptozoic sets. Some, like the two-card panel sketch card sets by Chris Meeks, really raise the bar for sketch cards. Out of a case of twelve, I pulled only one real dud (another that I was not fond of, but it is more the artist's style that I'm not a fan of - he executed that style quite well!), with the other ten being absolutely awesome.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

No matter how many packs or boxes of Epic Battles cards one opens, there are three cards collectors will never find there. Non-Sports Update Magazine released a promotional card for Epic Battles set. At the Philly Non-Sport card show, Cryptozoic presented a replica of the first promo card on their Cryptomium cardstock. The other card that cannot be found in any of the boxes or packs is the foil card from the binder. That card is only found in the binders of Epic Battles cards. Having only three cards that cannot be found in the cases is actually not bad at all.

Overall

It really takes something for me to highly praise a set with so many parallel cards, but Epic Battles makes them look cool and feel different from the common set. The flip side is that it takes quite a bit for one of the key points to turn into a detraction for me. Blackest Night got me into reading graphic novels and the nine-card Blackest Night collage is one of the lesser portions of this set! But for those who love the big crossover events, Epic Battles is a great set. The lack of crossovers like Infinite Crisis, Brightest Day or Injustice virtually promises an Epic Battles 2 set and given the success and collectibility of Epic Battles that would be a pretty amazing set, too!

This is a set of trading cards I sell in my online store! Please check out my current inventory of these cards at Epic Battles Inventory Page!

This set includes source material from:
Crisis On Inifite Earths
Blackest Night
Flashpoint

For other artwork-based trading card sets reviewed by me, please check out:
DC Women Of Legends
The New 52
Rittenhouse Archives Star Trek The Original Series Portfolio Prints

9/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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