All posts by Michael Gonzalez

Edge of Venomverse #5 Review

Marvel’s Edge of Venomverse miniseries wraps with what is easily its most marketable mashup of Venom symbiote and popular hero – Venompool. Having Orc Stain artist James Stokoe on board doesn’t hurt. This issue looks great, but the lack of anything resembling a compelling storyline might still make it a tough sell for many readers.

One problem this issue faces is that we’ve already seen a Deadpool/Venom mash-up thanks to 2015’s Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars and its follow-up, Deadpool: Back in Black. Those two books had a lot of fun with the premise and actually found depth in the pairing, suggesting that Deadpool is responsible for driving the symbiote mad in the first place. This Venompool characters is comparatively straightforward. He’s Deadpool with some added super-powers. This isn’t the first Edge of Venomverse comic where the lead character barely changes at all after bonding with the symbiote, but that lack of storytelling ambition never ceases to frustrate.

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Star Wars: Doctor Aphra Annual #1 Review

Kieron Gillen has built up quite an impressive cast of new Star Wars creations over the past three years. This standalone issue allows Gillen and guest artists Marc Laming and Will Sliney to explore the murky past of Aphra’s oversized enforcer, Black Krrsantan. The result isn’t an essential addition to the ongoing series, but a fun romp all the same.

Thankfully, Gillen doesn’t make the mistake of trying too hard to humanize Krrsantan. There’s no tragic tale of a kindly Wookiee family man losing his wife and children or any of that. Instead, the theme of this issue revolves more around how that bloodlust has lurked within Krrsantan from the beginning, even before he became a cybernetically enhanced bounty hunter. Gillen certainly provides valuable insight into what motivates Krrsantan and his peculiar sense of Wookiee morality. But never does this issue try to suggest Krrsantan is anything other than a criminal and a killer. Some characters don’t need to be more complicated than that.

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Nightwing: The New Order #1 Review

It’s easy to draw comparisons between Nightwing: The New Order and Marvel’s Secret Empire. Both mini-series deal with a beloved hero turning against their allies and helping to usher in a new world order. But this series is less concerned with the hows and whys of Nightwing’s fall from grace than it is in simply telling a dark, character-driven story that wouldn’t be possible in the regular DCU. As such, it’s well worth a read for fans of all things Dick Grayson.

Essentially an Elseworlds tale, The New Order unfolds in a futuristic DCU where a middle-aged Dick Grayson is responsible for eliminating the vast majority of the world’s superhuman population. As Dick sees it, he’s making the world a safer place for the ordinary, human residents of the DCU. But there’s a thin line between security and fascism, and Dick increasingly finds himself on the wrong side of that line as this issue unfolds. As much as this series also brings to mind the world of Injustice: Gods Among Us, Dick makes for a more conflicted and relatable protagonist than that version of Superman ever could be.

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Dragon Ball Super Episode 104 Review

Warning: The following review contains spoilers for the episode.

Universe 10 is gone, but the Tournament of Power must continue; this week we get to see Hit and Goku work together to take on the powerhouse that is Universe 11. Things start off rather slow, with long scenes and little dialogue. All that turns around in the second half of the episode as the action ramps up and Hit shows off why he’s one of the best warriors in Universe 6.

Unfortunately this episode begins rather slow. There are long pauses, slow transitions and a general lack of action on screen. It’s clear that the team behind Super was trying to build tension, but took things a bit too far. If these poorly paced moments had only happened once or twice, the issue wouldn’t have been so pronounced but over the course of several minutes it continued to happen. It started to feel as if they were just padding the episode. Setting the mood of a fight is important, but taking several minutes to do so and in a manner that’s wholly uninteresting is not an enjoyable way to go about it.

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Lawbreakers PS4 Review

Ever since the introduction of jump pads in shooters, an FPS that offered greater freedom of flight was inevitable. Lawbreakers feels like one such result. There’s a moderate learning curve to maneuvering and surviving in-air and within the myriad anti-gravity spheres of the game’s arenas. When you do manage to adapt to sniping on the fly or boosting down a corridor with strategic purpose, the resulting outcomes can feel sublime even if you rarely receive the post-match MVP award.

Even with the possibility of vertical movement, FPS maps are wasted if there aren’t adequate weapons and abilities to play with. Lawbreakers addresses this challenge through an intelligible diversity in the armaments and specialities spread across its nine classes. There’s a reasonable assortment of advanced finesse fighters, beginner-friendly gateway classes, and well-rounded combatants who are useful in any map/mode combination. Even after about 100 matches, it was pleasing to see that no one class dominated, especially among high performing players, which is a credit to developer Boss Key’s thoughtfulness in honing these characters.

The lack of standardized weapon and movement types make each of these fighters all the more distinct. The Vanguard, for instance, offsets the immense potency of having a gatling gun by not having a secondary weapon. The lack of boosts or upward mobility makes the armored Titan seemingly useless when delivering the batteries in Overcharge, but this class is invaluable for guarding the battery when it’s charging at your base (the mode’s main goal). And learning how to optimize a role based on your team makeup, map, and mode is part of the fun, which is perpetuated by the welcome ability to change your classes mid-match.

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While Lawbreakers isn’t the type of shooter that awards skill-boosting gear as you level up, discovering additional gameplay depth after getting the hang of flying becomes its own reward. Like experienced Street Fighter competitors, advanced players will feel a sense of accomplishment learning which tactics and attacks work best against specific classes. The challenge is in discerning who you’re fighting in a given moment since the already-cluttered user interface does little to convey that specific kind of visual information. Tailoring an attack strategy against a class works when you’re in a sudden mid-air duel just yards apart, less so when you’re trading shots across a courtyard and you can’t tell if you’re firing at an Assassin or a Wraith.

From the Asian-influenced architectural designs of the Redfalls map or the futuristic shopping mall that makes up the Promenade arena, Lawbreakers’ battlegrounds are well-carved to accommodate every class. The balanced mix of wide open spaces and confining passages in all of Lawbreakers’ maps present a wealth of combat scenarios. That includes turning the tables on the predator/prey dynamic or using your environment to gain a tactical advantage. The Juggernaut, in particular, will no doubt become the bane of many, thanks to the class’ hallway-sized pop-up barrier. Imagine playing the swift Assassin, thinking that you had a straight shot to deliver a ball to the goal, only to have the Juggernaut throw up a wall at the homestretch.

Such obstacles are easily countered by knowing the alternative routes. As with any shooter map, time is the only factor preventing you from committing every turn, shortcut, and hiding spot to memory. A common benefit of knowing the layout well is the palpable gratification of taking a battery or ball from the center of the map to your goal in less than 5 seconds in the Overcharge and Blitzball modes.

This map memory learning curve wouldn’t be as steep if not for all the time you spend running into locked doors and crossing invisible boundaries that pick away at your health. The maps’ other shortcoming is the environmental art style, where futuristic surroundings can’t mask the arenas’ uninspired visuals.

The contrast of richness in functionality and lack of memorable visuals also applies to Lawbreakers’ ensemble cast. Their designs support the notion that high detail does not equate to pleasing aesthetics. You only need to look to the class selection screen to see the fighting game influence, where a large and culturally diverse group exude personality, hungry for a fight. Yet despite their array of outfits and confidence-oozing body language, this group largely lacks the magnetic charisma that inspires loyalty and discussion of favorite characters in real life.

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With any given Quick Match, your mileage will vary on how many strangers decide to work as team players. It’s a testament to the combative appeal of Lawbreakers that it’s not unusual to engage in brief isolated duels. Whether a player’s motivation is to distract an opponent from the objective or the bloodlust of notching another kill, it’s a shame that there is no Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch mode to add variety to a suite of match types centered around delivering items to goals or dominating territory.

Given the unique demands of anti-gravity gameplay, the PC version’s comprehensive yet concise tutorials turn out to be crucial for onboarding new users. That makes their puzzling omission from the PS4 version disappointing. The fact that you’re given currency for participating in the tutorials on PC only twists the knife. To further affirm the PC version as the preferred platform, we also experienced post-match glitches that forced us to relaunch the game from time to time on PS4.

Lawbreakers delivers dopamine hits beyond the arena through post-match score tallies and letter grading. Continuous play also begets higher player profile levels which–after every level up–yields Lawbreakers’ cosmetic customization reward: Stash Crates. Capitalizing on the ever-popular, anticipation-driven appeal of random card packs, these loot boxes–packing four items of various rarities (and the occasional in-game currency)–reinforce Lawbreakers’ replayability. And the spectacle of opening these crates is as ceremonious and well-animated as anything you’ll find in Madden or Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.

One sign of any worthwhile team-based shooter is a level of accessibility where everyone feels they can contribute no matter their play style, and Lawbreakers succeeds in this manner. And while the lack of Deathmatch is a lost opportunity, its sufficient playlist of modes offers a viable outlet to flaunt your kill/death ratio, even if it’s at the expense of team success. What counts is that its fresh anti-gravity mechanics transcends its first-glance novel appeal and creates limitless combat situations that will be new and inviting to many shooter fans.

Orphan Black: Series Finale Review

Full spoilers for Orphan Black’s series finale, “To Right the Wrongs of Many,” continue below.

Even in its final episode, Orphan Black managed to cram two murders, a complicated four-clone scene, the birth of twins, an explanation of the show’s title and even an abortion debate into just 42-plus minutes.

Orphan Black is a show that, throughout its five-season run, occasionally bit off more than it could chew as the complicated biological mysteries introduced in the premiere grew more and more convoluted with each additional layer (see: all of Season Three).

From the Proletheans to the Neolutionists, Susan Duncan to Virginia Coady, Dr. Leekie to P.T. Westmoreland, each piece of the puzzle added more clutter to what ultimately was a story of four different women connected by a unique bond (and their 274 sestras) who learned not only how to survive in a world where they weren’t supposed to exist, but to become a family.

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Batman #28 Review

This issue kicks off the second act of the massive “War of Jokes and Riddles” storyline, as Joker and Riddler’s feud is casting an ever darker shadow over Gotham. Needless to say, life in Gotham City hasn’t gotten any easier for the millions suffering under a nonstop barrage of Joker and Riddler-fueled carnage. This arc continues to paint a captivating portrait of a city under siege and a hero utterly powerless to do more than simply count the dead.

In many ways, “The War of Jokes and Riddles” really is the antidote to the “Bat-god” portrayal of Batman that’s so prevalent these days. From the beginning, this series has served as an exploration of Batman’s limitations and mortality. There’s a very bleak quality to the script here, as Batman continues to relate his experiences during those fateful “Year Two” days and the futility in trying to bring a halt to a war that has by now claimed hundreds of lives. This issue offers a much better sense of why this previously untold chapter of Batman’s history so weighs on Bruce even now. Again, the purpose of this story is less to showcase the war itself than the psychological toll its taking on men like Batman and Gordon.

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My Hero Academia Episode 31 Review

Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.

After the thrilling finale to Stain’s arc last week, My Hero Academia takes a break from all the action in “The Aftermath of Hero Killer: Stain” to set up what looks to be the series’ biggest threat yet.While this was a much more low key episode than the few that came before, it never dragged or failed to hold my interest, thanks to the seamless blend of world building, character development and expertly written moments of comedic levity.

The story behind All Might’s debilitating injury, which was introduced at the very beginning of the entire show, has been shrouded in mystery. In “The Aftermath of Hero Killer: Stain,” All Might’s conversation with Gran Torino does an excellent job of pulling back the curtain ever so slightly, teasing what one can assume is My Hero Academia’s true big bad, All For One.

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Boruto Episode 18 Review

Warning: The following review contains spoilers for the episode.

Following Sarada’s familial troubles last episode, this week Boruto is giving us a closer look at the first family of Konoha: The Uzimakis. More or less a flashback episode, A Day in the Life of the Uzimaki Family reveals some fun facts about Naruto and his family, but reliving the past just hammers home the relative weakness of the show’s current position.

As the episode opens we learn that Himawari is sick, and the Uzimaki family has gathered to help her recover. This detail is hardly important overall, instead used as a jumping off point for various vignettes about the Uzimaki family. The first of these is a flashback to Naurto’s Hokage inauguration, which we quickly learn was a disaster thanks to his mischievous children. The whole episode is unapologetic filler, but the stories within are pretty fun for anyone interested in Naruto lore. We learn about the old woman who sews the Hokage robes, we get to see Kakashi pass on the Hokage title (to an imposter), and we learn what Naruto meant when he mentioned Himawari awakening to her Byakugan. Seeing Himawari angrily KO both Naruto and Boruto is particularly funny, and probably the best scene from the episode.

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Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later Review

This is a review for all eight new episodes of Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later – which premieres Friday, August 4th on Netflix. It’s largely spoiler-free.

No original Wet Hot fan ever expected the story to live on that way it did in 2015’s prequel seres, First Day of Camp, but if you did ever find yourself clinging to the hope that we’d visit with the counselors of Camp Firewood again, the natural extension of the story would be this – Ten Years Later. The promise/premise that was planted 16 years ago at the end of the original movie when the characters all agreed to meet up a decade later to for a reunion.

So now, to get this series, along with the unexpected prequel run, with the core cast mostly intact is an embarrassment of riches. In fact, while the idea of a reunion naturally feels like a sequel to the 2001 film, this Ten Years Later season actually plays more like a sequel…to the prequel. If that makes sense.

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