Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Guardians of the Galaxy: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

By successfully crafting an Avengers-style cosmic team, Abnett and Lanning create a memorable and fun comic series.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 1Writers: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning

Artists: Paul Pelletier (#1-7), Brad Walker (#8-10), Wes Craig (#11-12)

Issues: Guardians of the Galaxy (2008) #1-12

 

“This is your team?”
“Yeah, great aren’t they?”
“Is one of them a tree?”
“Uh-huh.”
“I hate cosmic stuff.”

If there’s a single Marvel thing I can point to that primarily motivated my resurgence back to comic books, look no further than the 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy film. I absolutely adored it, from its wacky world, amazing casting, and wonderful balance of action and humor. I was also completely lost on who these characters were.

Now I’d never paid close attention to the Avengers or Iron Man comics either, but I was at least aware of them. The Guardians were completely new to me, and strikingly highlighted the fact that I really hadn’t read a comic book in the last ten years.

Thus I was super stoked to dive into their very well-regarded run that spanned 25 issues between 2008-2010. Of course when I began reading comics in December of 2014, I started back in the era of 2004, so it’s taken me awhile to finally catch up. I’m very glad I did, as both major cosmic events Annihilation (’06-07) and Annihilation: Conquest (’07-08) are close to required reading to really get the most out of these characters and where they come from.

Guardians of the Galaxy begins with Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (WHO??) having already assembled his titular team. The initial active roster is introduced with fun reality show-style talking heads, and include Gamora, Rocket Racoon, Adam Warlock, Drax the Destroyer, and Phyla-Vell as the new Quasar. Groot is still growing and recovering from his explosive events at the end of Annihilation: Conquest, a nice nod to continuityThe telepathic Mantis is also an important member of the team, though her role is more like Professor X – to hang back and provide mental support and information.

Guardians of the Galaxy #2

Although this 12 issue collected volume collects two six issue trades, the stories are actually much more segmented than that. The first three issues, for example, has our team exploring and battling against the Universal Church of Truth. They’re a powerful cult that believe Adam Warlock to be a false prophet, since they have their own Warlock-like cocoon that’s waiting to be reborn.

It mostly comes down to lots of fantastic battles against giant armored guys called Cardinals who use their faith as a power source. At the end, Gamora nearly sacrifices herself by exposing herself to a star to save the rest of the team. She heals slowly over the next few issues, even sporting shorter hair when she’s fully healed – another nice nod to continuity.

We’re also introduced to the Guardians’ home base of Knowhere. As seen in the film it’s the hollowed out skull of a long-dead celestial being, and considered neutral grounds by many alien races. Its head of security is one of my favorite characters ever – Cosmo the telepathic Russian space-dog. He’s the best, and his dialogue is written just like how Chekov from Star Trek speaks.

Guardians of the Galaxy #4

Knowhere becomes the focus over the next three issues, which are also technically Secret Invasion tie-ins. The tie-in portion just means it references the invasion of Earth and involves skrulls, but otherwise doesn’t have anything to do with those events. The storyline is all kinds of cool as we focus more on the team’s inner-drama, and drama with other staff at Knowhere. I was hoping we’d get into some The Thing territory as they all start accusing each other of being a skrull while trapped in a small area, but Drax manages to supersede that by temporarily killing everyone on the station with a brain damage bomb. Yeah, he’s Drax, he does that.

While I do love the writing and dialogue, the artwork was a huge reason I instantly fell in love with Guardians of the Galaxy. Paul Pelletier has a classically exaggerated, dare I say Jim Lee-esque quality about his characters that I just adored. Action scenes were bright and flashy while still being easy to follow, and every character just leapt off the page in memorable fashion. Even the random aliens were fun, like the gigantic, chameleon-eyed Delegate Gorani.

The Secret Invasion story leads to a surprising end, involving an underground railroad of pacifist skrulls just trying to escape. Unfortunately the seeds of distrust have been sown, and it’s soon revealed that Peter had Mantis “slightly brainwash” each member to get them to initially join the team. Everyone is understandably upset about this, and everyone parts ways.

Guardians of the Galaxy #7

Issues #7-10 take on an interesting multi-tiered arc as our separated teams go on their own various adventures. Peter Quill returns to Hala where he’s quickly arrested by Ronan the Accuser and thrown into the Negative Zone. Gamora accompanies Adam Warlock to continue their pursuit of the Universal Church. Phyla-Vell helps Drax on his search for the lost kid from back in Annihilation, which eventually leads them to Heather Douglass, Drax’s daughter and Phyla’s lover that was killed by Ultron during Annihilation: Conquest. See how happy I was that I read those events first? I mean you should read them because they’re awesome anyway.

Surprisingly Rocket Racoon keeps the Guardians going with his own team. Joined by a newly rebuilt Groot, he brings Mantis to active status and adds in former teammate Bug and new recruit Major Victory, a future Guardian of the Galaxy lost in time that wields Captain America’s shield. Wait what?

Major Victory’s discovery was actually made back in issue #2, though his ongoing plight always took a backseat to current events and situations. He and teammate Starhawk both end up in our time, and we get a cool dystopian view of the future where they’re part of the last team of resistance in the universe against a conquering race. Starhawk believes there’s an anomaly coming up that fractures the timeline and screws everything up. Can you say foreshadowing?

Peter Quill’s odyssey becomes the most interesting, as he runs into Blastaar, now self-appointed King Blastaar of the Negative Zone. Blastaar tasks Quill with helping him take Prison 42, the superhero prison that was built in the negative zone during the Civil War, and importantly includes a portal to Earth. Quill meets up with Jack Flagg, who’s wheelchair bound after his run-in with Bullseye and the Thunderbolts (yet another awesome nod to previous continuity) and a handful of random minor villains. There’s some fun desperate moments as they try to hold off the forces of Blastaar’s army before Quill can contact Mantis and Rocket’s team teleports in to bail them out.

Guardians of the Galaxy #9

All four stories happen intermittently over the course of four issues, but that method is dropped for the final two issues of the Volume. Issues #11-12 focus solely on Phyla-Vell and Drax, recently “killed” by Mentor and wandering a limbo-like world. They fight a dude named Maelstrom, meet up with the old Quasar Wendell Vaughn, and rescue Heather from inside a giant dragon. It’s kinda neat but very weird to focus two entire issues of the main trade on just their straightforward story.

Sadly Pelletier only worked on the first seven issues. Brad Walker’s work is close and a reasonable facsimile. I can’t say the same for Wes Craig’s work on the final two issues, where the characters looked too childish for my tastes. Anytime the artist changes so often is cause for cringing, but credit to the creative teams involved that everything still retained a very consistent tone and style to it.

By successfully crafting an Avengers-style cosmic team, Abnett and Lanning create a memorable and fun comic series. They were able to effectively plant the seeds for future conflicts like Starhawk and Major Victory’s future time-crisis and the Universal Church of Truth’s mystery cocoon, while still putting their new cosmic team through their own fun stories and adventures.

Splitting the team up halfway through seems crazy but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a lot of fun, and a chance to see different characters interacting together. Guardians of the Galaxy also helps bridge together the next cosmic event – War of Kings, while the second Volume does the same with Realm of Kings, then finally to the Thanos Imperative. Basically the Guardians are Marvel Cosmic, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Guardians of the Galaxy #1

New Article – LEGO Jurassic World Review

By combining some pretty tense PG-13 movies into the humorous slapstick LEGO style, LEGO Jurassic World creates a fun if occasionally awkward experience.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

lego jurassic world

Platforms: PC, Mac, 3DS, PS3, PS4, PSVita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
We played on: Wii U

LEGO Jurassic World is the latest in a long line of franchise-ready tie-ins crafted in LEGO form.  LEGO Jurassic World continues the trend of breaking and building objects, unlocking and using a wide variety of characters, and offering a large amount of replay value through hidden items and puzzles. By combining some pretty tense PG-13 movies into the humorous slapstick LEGO style, LEGO Jurassic World creates a fun if occasionally awkward experience.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

Shadowrun 5E “The Bodyguards” Session 4 Report

The runners concoct an elaborate plan to infiltrate the mansion of some Yakuza leaders.

shadowrun

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Read “The Bodyguards” Session 1 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 2 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 3 Report

Due to an annoying bout of illness we had to have a shorter session than usual. Tabletop role-playing can be a lot of fun but can also be quite time-consuming. When we originally started with Pathfinder we had lengthy four hour sessions every week that went late into the night. Since I took over as GM with Shadowrun, we do 2-3 hour sessions, and while we still get a lot done, combat can slow things down considerably. As can only going for an hour because I was running a fever.

Of course the advantage for having a shorter session is it allows me more prep time. This adventure particularly requires three very large, carefully sculpted scenes in Roll20. Unlike the previous mission where I shepherded the players along a series of small scenes, I’ve given them much more freedom on how to approach these areas.

In last night’s session it was fun for me to mostly sit back and watch my players formulate the best plan for infiltrating a mansion. They’d received a new mission after preventing singer Lana Grace’s capture at the concert performance – a snatch and grab of blackmail-able evidence from her parents’ villa. My players had discussed things a bit toward the end of last week’s session, so I knew they wanted to try and use their newly captured foes to their advantage. I thought of just straight up denying them that path with a myriad of ways, but wanted to see where it would lead.

As one player pointed out, it did unfortunately lead me to do some of the work for them. After their troll shaman cast Control Thoughts on the one captive that was willing to work for them, I set up the plan going forward. I did get some instruction from the players on how to handle things, so it ended up being a fun bit of collaboration.

shadowrun

The plan was to have their team’s face dress up in the full body uniform of the would-be kidnappers, while another teammate pretended to be the unconscious Lana Grace. The others would hide in the back of the van. I was impressed with the plan so I generally let it go without a hitch.

Well there was one little hitch. I introduced a third party that also wanted their hands on some hard evidence of the Yamotos’ Yakuza involvement. The players readily accepted the aid of a “Ms. Johnson” and agreed to help bring her back the information she needed. It’ll be interesting to see whom the players ultimately end up helping, as well as how they handle a stealthy infiltration.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Centra

My Top Five Games of the Year (So Far)

I rank my top five games from the first half of 2015, and also list my five most anticipated games for the second half.

Why wait until the end of the year to rank my favorite games? I want to talk about great games now!

I’ve done a Top Ten list at the end of each year for the last four years, but this is my very first Top Five for the first half of a year. It’ll be a fun way to highlight some games that may be pushed out by year’s end, as well as reminding me of their greatness when it comes time for the final ranking. I’ll also list My Most Anticipated Games for the second half of 2015.

For reference, read my Most Anticipated Games of 2015 (written in January 2015).

 

My Top Five Games of the First Half of 2015

 

5) Evolve

evolve

I’ll admit that overall Evolve was a disappointment in total staying power, but for a good month when it came out it was all my friends and I played and talked about. Made by the Left 4 Dead developers, it was the closest game I’ve played that emulated that great co-op and survival aspect of those classic zombie games. Unfortunately the emphasis this time was on PvP, and the asymmetrical style and game modes made the experience grow a bit repetitive.

 

4) MASSIVE CHALICE

massive chalice wallpaper

I was a big fan (and backer) of MASSIVE CHALICE’s Kickstarter campaign, and absolutely loved how Brad Muir and Double Fine handled production. Bi-monthly live streams were fantastic and the Early Access beta was superb. Now I’m finally playing the final release and couldn’t be happier with this unique XCOM meets Rogue Legacy’s Traits. The breeding metagame is fun and challenging and the tactical combat scratches all the right itches. A real treat that perfectly delivered on its promise.

 

3) Splatoon

splatoon

Splatoon wasn’t even on my Most Anticipated list and really came out of nowhere for me. I’d only just recently aquired a Wii U and wasn’t sure about this quirky team shooter from Nintendo. Fear not, as Nintendo really struck gold with an amazingly simple but brilliant concept of covering arenas in paint. The short three minute matches ensure a steady stream of fun, and the post-game free additions and updates have been impressive. The only thing keeping this one from being nearer the top is the terrible local co-op mode, where it loses out big time to last year’s Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros.

 

2) Heroes of the Storm

heroes of the storm

Another game that sprung onto my radar. I’ve hated MOBAs for as long as they existed. Even when my friends were super into DOTA 2 I just couldn’t get into it. Leave it to Blizzard to draw me in with their streamlined gameplay, much shorter match lengths, and awesomely familiar characters. I’m super addicted to HotS and my friends and I practically play every evening. I easily see it as becoming this year’s Hearthstone (which I sunk over 140 hours into last year).

 

1) Pillars of Eternity

pillars of eternity

It took me 70 hours and two and a half months but I finally completed Obsidian’s latest Mangum Opus. I’ve always been a huge fan of computer RPGs but only just played and finished the highly revered Baldur’s Gate II last Summer. Pillars of Eternity is both a lovely spiritual successor to the golden age of cRPGS (late 90’s/Early 2000’s) and a great game with tons of wonderful innovations in its own right.

The intricate yet accessible combat system is wonderful, and the writing is absolutely top notch. For someone that went back to back to back with 70+ hour RPGs (Divinity: Original Sin, Dragon Age: Inquisition), Pillars still managed to completely enthrall me. Another title I was super proud and satisfied to have backed on Kickstarter, and a tough one to dethrone in the second half of the year.

 

Both Batman: Arkham Knight and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt were on My Most Anticipated List, but I still haven’t played them. Neither was probably going to be a Day One purchase; my gaming plate is consistently full and I have the luxury of waiting for most games to be deeply discounted before jumping in (and patches/updates to fix the game).

I definitely see myself playing both games before the end of the year when I have a bit more time. I’ve heard great things about both games. I’ve also recently acquired a few indie darlings in the last Steam Summer Sale, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer and Ori and the Blind Forest that I still need to play.

 

My Top Five Most Anticipated Games of the Second Half of 2015

(alphabetical order)

 

Cosmic Star Heroine

cosmic star heroine

The only game on here without a definite release date, Cosmic Star Heroine is another Kickstarter game being made by a developer I love (Zeboyd). Zeboyd understands old school JRPGs like no one else, and crafting a game in that SNES-era style using their subversive and funny writing and innovative mechanics sounds just peachy. Everything I’ve read and watched looks like it’s shaping up wonderfully and I hope we get a chance to play it this year.

 

Fallout 4

fallout 4 dog

Fallout 2 is one of my all time favorite games, and the franchise in general is one of my most beloved in gaming. Fallout 4 was an inevitability but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. I already know I’m going to love it and drop dozens (hundreds?) of hours into exploring another post-apocalyptic wasteland.

 

Just Cause 3

just cause 3

Just Cause 2 was an amazingly fun open world action game that eschewed any real characters or story-telling for pure mayhem and freedom of destruction. I especially loved the fun ways Rico could traverse the world, using his infinite grappling hooks and parachutes. If JC3 is just JC2 but more, I’m totally on board with that.

 

Super Mario Maker

super mario maker

This one has kept me attention for a while but it wasn’t until E3 and the Nintendo World Championship that I really set up and said, “Whoa.” My wife said we had to get this game and I swiftly agreed. The ability to make your own Mario levels sounds simple on the surface, but the incredible amount of tools and freedom to manipulate each object looks astonishing. I trust Nintendo to make it incredibly user-friendly and fun. As long as the online and sharing components are up to snuff, this could be a huge hit.

 

XCOM 2

xcom2 announcement

Despite being a big fan of tactical strategy games, I was late to the party with XCOM. I jumped on with Firaxis’ excellent remake back in 2012 (my #4 game of that year). Since then I’ve put 150 hours into XCOM over several playthroughs. I adore XCOM: its brutality, its emergent story-telling, its trend-setting UI and turn-based combat. My wife even bought me the XCOM board game for an anniversary present. To say I’m super excited for XCOM 2 would be a pretty big understatement. GIVE ME MORE XCOM!

 

There you have it! Can’t wait to revisit this list when it’s time to make my final top ten list at the end of the year. Will my anticipated predictions hold up? Will these Top Five make it to the final round? Stay tuned!

Rogue’s Adventures Season Five Recap

From Portal 2 to Assassin’s Creed IV I recap another awesome Season of backlog gaming.

Follow @RoguesAdventure for live tweeting and screenshots, join the Rogue’s Adventures Steam group for updates, and Follow me on Twitch and Subscribe on YouTube for videos.

Read my Season One Recap
Read my Season Two Recap
Read my Season Three Recap
Read my Season Four Recap

Rogues Adventure Season Five collageWelcome to my bi-annual Recap for a full Season of Rogue’s Adventures! If you’re new, Rogue’s Adventures is what I call the organized playthrough of my never-ending backlog of games. Started back in 2012, I schedule a collection of games to be played over the course of five to six months. I live tweet my reactions and screenshots, occasionally live stream and record video, and always write a full retro-review of the title under my Final Thoughts banner.

Season Five encompassed the first half of 2015. Continuing the trend from Season Four, I mostly played more recent titles released in the last few years that had become deeply discounted. Both Shadowrun: Dragonfall and South Park: The Stick of Truth released just last year. The oldest title on Season Five’s schedule was Cthulhu Saves the World (Dec 2010).

If there was an unexpected trend in this Season’s crop, it was humor. Six of the Nine total games I played were crafted with a humorous bent, and all of them hit the mark superbly. Portal 2 lived up to its beloved hype, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon fully embraced its over-the-top 80s ridiculousness, and South Park: The Stick of Truth perfectly captured the irreverent but clever tone and jokes of the show. Humor is a very tricky thing to pull off but all of them tickled my funny bone in their own unique ways.

This Season was also about trying new things. I’d never before played a Far Cry, Call of Juarez, or Assassin’s Creed game. The first two were silly, short, and enjoyable spin-off games that let me play around with the gameplay without having to devote dozens of hours. With Assassin’s Creed I finally saw one that had a theme and setting I just couldn’t resist – pirates!

I’m also pleased that for the first time ever in a Season of Rogue’s Adventures, I really didn’t have any major disappointments. Every single one of these games was fun to play and a positive experience, though some certainly more than others. Ranking them proved to be quite difficult.  Continue reading “Rogue’s Adventures Season Five Recap”

Shadowrun 5E “The Bodyguards” Session 3 Report

The runners fend off a sudden kidnapping strike force in the middle of a psychedelic concert performance.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Read “The Bodyguards” Session 1 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 2 Report

If last week’s seemingly random events surrounding a rock concert resulted in hilarious shenanigans, this week was much more focused and down to business. The role-playing and fun random characters were neat distractions but I still had to move the story forward, and for that I had to unleash a squad of stealthy hit-men into the venue.

The players’ main job as temp security guards were to protect the star attraction – indie singer Lana Grace. Unfortunately for them her talents extended to both her musical ability as well as some latent magical skills that resulted in the players entering a euphoric high while she performed.

During the performance my anti-runner team got into place, and all hell broke loose once they hit her with a tranq dart from the catwalks. A pair emerged onto the catwalks to grab her and fend off the players. Another cast an illusory spell on a dragon statue on stage making it seemingly spring to life and panic the crowd below, and another set off a bomb in the backstage bathrooms to cement their getaway. Roll for initiative!

shadowrun

They didn’t get too far. I had written outcomes for the two possibilities of Lana getting kidnapped or being rescued, and the runners made fairly short work of the foes. Thus far I feel like I may be babying my players a bit as most encounters have felt like a piece of cake from my point of view, with little to no damage being sustained by the players.

In this case the kidnapping team were loaded with nonlethal rounds and were mainly trying to snatch and grab, so they were more interested in running than fighting. They were also unprepared for the players being there at all, so while they were equipped to handle some resistance, the players took them down fairly easily.

Even a fairly small combat encounter can take awhile in Shadowrun, and this one got a bit annoying as all but one of them went down quickly, while the last one was hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned and mainly just tried to flee – not terribly climatic! More exciting was Falkirk tazing one on a catwalk then having to roll Gymnastics to catch the falling unconscious Lana!

After the break the players got a surprising explanation from Lana herself after she came to, and her unfortunate past and parents’ ties with the Yakuza. At this point I was running out of material that I had prepared so I kind of sped things along. The adventure ends up becoming a Two in One. The initial job offer of working security for one show is technically over, but now the players have been hired by Lana herself to retrieve some blackmail-worthy evidence on her parents to use as leverage.

To do so they’ll need to get into her parent’s well-guarded mansion for their own smash-and-grab scenario. I was delighted to find my players already discussing different tactics on how to get in – including using their captured adversaries to gain access. Looking forward to it!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag

An amazingly fun open world pirate adventure that would better served without the Assassin’s Creed franchise trappings.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

AC 4 Black FlagDeveloper: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: October 29, 2013

 

Assassin’s Creed is one of many major game franchises that I have never played, and never had much interest in (see also Metal Gear Solid, and any horror franchise). I didn’t have anything particularly against it (other than Ubisoft’s terrible treatment of the PC) but the historical settings didn’t really excite me, and the themes seemed a bit dour and serious for my taste.

Enter Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, my first Assassin’s Creed game. Black Flag takes place in the early 18th century, during the height of merchant trade, colonization, and pirates along the new world and the Caribbean. I adore the pirate theme – the ships that act as your mobile command center, the unique combination of swords and pistols, the dichotomy of lawlessness and imperialism. It translates so well to gaming it’s a shame we haven’t seen more pirate games. I still count Sid Meier’s Pirates! as one of the best, and the remake is over 10 years old.

Thus I finally decided to give an Assassin’s Creed game a chance, after a hefty Steam sale of course. Black Flag immediately immersed me into its fun world of pirate assassins, naval combat, and the open world of the Caribbean sea. In many ways it embodies the modern AAA video game – dumb story, cliché characters, incredible production values and tons of collectibles and modern gaming conveniences.  Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag”