Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Star Wars: Smuggler's Bounty Double Unboxing

Most people like to find a balance of work and pleasure in life. After all, there's only so many chores a human can endure before needing a fine cocktail or movie night. Striking that proper balance has been a little tougher for me this past year as jobs have not only taken more personal time form me, but also provided more disposable income than I've ever had before. On the one hand it's pretty awesome since I'm able to get all kinds of goodies. At the same time, there are still dvds and video games from last Summer I haven't even touched. Recently I've been getting on top of a lot of that excess and I guess somebody must have noticed, cause along with this month's Star Wars: Smuggler's Bounty box was a free extra box from Funko.

The conspiracy center of my brain banana would love to think this is special treatment for months of blogs about Funko's subscription services, but try as I might to appease my own ego, the freebie is simply part of a promotion on Funko's part. In fact many subscribers were chosen to receive older boxes from the various services. Not everyone mind you, and some were so unlucky as to get a repeat of one they already owned. Not me though. I was lucky enough to score two Smuggler's Bounty offerings over the course of two days. So with two specimens in hand, how does this service stack up to Marvel Collector Corps? Let's find out.

The two boxes I received were the new Empire Strikes Back box, and a Jabba's Palace edition from last Summer. Just like Collector Corps, these come with the standard patches and pins. Honestly, both of the patches are a little ugly with maybe bounty hunter Lea coming out on top. When it comes to pins though it's all Empire. I mean it's Billy Dee Williams for gods sake! If I'm able to hunt down a Colt 45 pin, I'll be able to reenact my favorite malt liquor commercials on my lampshade.

Clothing is a major weak point for both of these boxes. Jabba offered up another hat. As noted in previous boxing, I'm simply not a hat guy and while I appreciate the “programmed for etiquette” statement on the design I still ain't gonna wear it.
The Empire box commits a far more egregious sin as far as apparel is concerned bu giving us socks, patterned socks at that. This isn't something I regularly mention on here but I despise socks. Like full on stomping and spitting hatred. Socks are the perfect storm of unappealing and uncomfortable which means I wear them as little as possible and I hold extra special contempt for patterned socks. I can't even comment on the quality as putting them on would be a direct violation of my core sock hating principles.

Moving on we've got the core non pop items. The offerings may look unbalanced but there's a good reason for that later on. Empire only has a wampa plush for an extra. He's actually really soft and has a good feel so I like him more than most of the stuffed Funko items I've come across.
Jabba's Palace also featured a plush in the form of Boba Fett who just isn't as well done as the wampa. More than making up for that is a Jabba the Hut Pop Mug. This is my third mug thus far from Funko yet it's the first one I have to actively defend from grabby hands. Who woulda thought drinking from a Hut held such appeal for so many people. Wonders never cease.

Here's the reason for that imbalance in the amount of extra items. As you can see, the Jabba box featured one normal size Pop while Empire has something much more magnificent to offer.
Let's get the little guy outta the way first. It's R2-D2 in his waiter guise from Return of the Jedi.....so yeah, there's that. Don't get me wrong, he's neat and all but not something to get jazzed about.
The Empire box on the other hand, contains a pop so majestic it convinced me to jump from one Funko service to another. Viewing it in the package doesn't even begin to reveal how nice this thing is. The Tauntaun itself is huge and has nice, roomy base to keep it standing. It's impressive enough on it's own you almost forget about Han Solo until you see the finer details of his arctic gear. The only issue is how much space this thing takes up. Currently I still have it in the box, sitting on a shelf and it protrudes so much I can't fully open the closet. It's a small inconvenience for something so delightful.

This double dose of goodies was a fine way to get introduced to Smuggler's Bounty. It's a pretty solid service but I do take a slight issue with the amount of items included. Marvel Collector Corps has the toys, cloths, patches, and pins, but always manages to squeeze in a comic every month. Smuggler's Bounty is missing that little extra something to make it feel complete. If they make up for it with more special Pops like the Tauntaun then the low item count could be easily remedied. We'll see how things develop as I'm at least going to stick around for the Rebels box in March.

That's all for today kiddies. I'll be back soon enough, remember I mentioned having a back log of topics. Also keep an eye out for a new article of mine over at Dread Central. Beyond that, I'm looking at some further expansion for CosmicSparky this year. And, ya know what? I'm having a hell of a time wrapping this post up so let's just leave it at that. Stay cool everybody.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Before the Awakening Review

I've never fully understood the notion of spring cleaning. Don't misunderstand, I get the need to clear out junk and filth but why wait until the weather turns beautiful? That's when you should be outdoors enjoying a stiff drink. For my money there's no better time to clean house than January. Usually it's dreadfully cold and it's always dark so why not spend the days catching up on all the shit that's almost certainly piled up over the hetic holiday months? That's how I look at it anyway, and not just for physical cleaning. I also take as much possible time during January to work through piled up entertainment which is why you're getting a second Star Wars book review this month.

Today's subject is the final entry from the Journey to the Force Awakens line of novels. More importantly this is thus far the only book to focus on the new trilogy heroes Rey, Finn, and Poe. Each one of them get's their own prequel tale here all written by Greg Rucka who previously gave us the entertaining if lightweight Smuggler's Run.

Due to the nature of this book being three separate stories I feel it's only best to cover them one at a time.


The book kicks off with Finn, though he's never called that within the story for reasons obvious to anyone who's seen the film already. Which if you haven't, what's the freakin' hold up? Anyway this is all about his time training to be a first order stormtrooper with his squad and under the strict supervision of Captain Phasma.
At first I had a hard time identifying with Finn as he's portrayed here. Some of that is my own perception while some is due to his presentation within the film itself. There he was a very nervous, hyperactive character who's greatest strength was his loyalty to friends. Phasma's attitude towards him combined with dialogue about him previously performing janitorial work lead me to believe that he was something of a runt when compared to his fellow troopers. Here we find him to actually be a shining cadet. Top tier in leadership skills, weapon proficiency, etc. That twitchy energy from the film is nowhere to be found as he's more focused and stoic here. The only thing that gets him in trouble is the aforementioned loyalty to his squad mates. As events progress he also finds himself to have more of a conscious than his fellow cadets, which is where worry and doubt start to seep in.
Those later scenes where he worries about his future in a military he doesn't agree with is where the guy I saw on screen starts to emerge. I like that guy and wanted to spend more time with him, which is probably why this story did so little for me. The full Finn barely makes an appearance in his own story, instead we're stuck with his stiff storm trooper persona. On the upside we get more of Captain Phasma within these pages than the entirety of The Force Awakens, so chalk that up to a small victory.


Rey's tale is a bit deeper though also a bit slower. Think of it as an extended example of her day to day existence on Jakku. By day she salvages whatever she can from dangerous wrecks which is then turned in for meager offerings of food. By night she entertains herself with a restored flight simulator and doing whatever she can to keep her mind off the past.
Eventually she comes across the find of a lifetime, a mostly intact ship revealed after a nasty sandstorm. Soon she sets about restoring it to optimal condition to ensure the absolute best payday which means hording more salvage, living with less food, and protecting her find. The situation grows more complicated when a brother and sister pair offer to help her finish the restoration for a portion of the profits.
More so than Finn's story, Rey's portion feels more accurate to the character as we know her from the film while expanding our understanding of her head space. Her life is not only one of hardship but also one that discourages trust and letting your guard down. On top of her strange family history these details help to flesh out her flighty, untrusting nature. I also appreciated learning how she'd gotten to be such a good pilot despite years of grounded living.
So yes, a step up from the first tale tough still a bit sluggish and not exactly revelatory.


Easily the biggest reason to pick up this book is the portion about Poe Dameron. No doubt the least developed of the new heroes as far as the movie was concerned, this story offers insight into who he is and what he's all about. Even a few tidbits about his upbringing on Yavin IV.
Initially, Poe is the leader of his own squad of pilots for the new republic. On what should have been a routine patrol, he loses one of his squad mates in a skirmish against the First Order. It seems as if those enemies are planing something bigger but the new republic consider them to be a minor threat, more like a pack of crazed hillbillies than anything else.
Seeking to make his squad mates death count for something, Poe searches for answers about the first order's true motives. This action leads him to the resistance, a hidden group within the republic that fights against the order. From then on, the tale is largely about his first few missions for the resistance and his relationship with general Lea.
An unexpected perk was the portrayal of an older Lea. She recruits Poe and serves as a mentor, finding good grounds the young man, possibly as a slave for the fractured relationship with her own son. Greg Rucka really knows how to capture the older Carrie Fisher on the page. All of her interactions, even the way he writes her expressions and body language, it all rings eerily true to life. The portrayal ranks alongside James Luceno's handling of Tarkin in that you can see and hear the actor without any issue while reading along.
While this final story is a little less focused than the two preceding it, there's an undeniable level of charm to the whole thing. Not to mention that this is so far one of the most important stories as far as wold building within the new expanded universe. I learned so much about the state of the universe before The Force Awakens, while also getting to know Poe as a character, something lacking within the film.

Raking this collection of stories is a little tough. The Finn section left me somewhat cold and disinterested. Rey's story picked the quality up a little while providing a few insights into her personality and skills. Poe's on the other hand was a blast, that could have easily been expanded into a full sized novel. The steady growth in quality combined with the strength of that final tale help to lift this one up a little higher than even some more consistent entries in the series. Let's check out the boards.

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Ashoka by E. K. Johnston
4. Tarkin by James Luceno
5. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
6. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
7. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
8. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
9. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
10. The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

And that's all for now, kiddies. I've gotta hunker down and finish a new Dread Central article, and prep for my first dentist appointment in years. Should have another post up for you all before the week is out. Until then, the topic of discussion is how do you like too spend the dark early months of the year? Do you delve into projects like me? Or are you an old fashioned sleep until it's warm again type of person? Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger Episodes 39-44

Hello again my lovelies. As you can probably guess from the updates schedule so far, we're firmly within the early year slow period. Truthfully it's not something I should feel bad about given that unlike so much of the internet I don't take a break during the holidays. Anyhow, after the far too busy transfer period between years, I'm finally back to an almost normal schedule and you better believe I'm catching up on everything and having a pretty fine time doing it. So far, 2017 hasn't been too bad but there is a big piece of leftover business from 2016. No, this isn't about anything political, it's about Zyuohger. We've entered the final stretch for this series, and things are definitely heating up. Let's see what's been going on.

First we've got a couple mostly stand alone affairs, the first of which is focused on Sela. Her episode is actually something of a special case offering some legit development for the most underused member of the team. She's won over by a ladies man who is actually a duplicate that Kubar made, utilizing the hand he stole from Bangley. That's the only real development to the larger plot but it was nice to see a story that allowed Sela to show off her more loving and naive characteristics.

Bangley's hand factored into another tale focused on Leo training a kid in the art of being a man. This one really wasn't important, not to mention it was a bit underwhelming considering it was about my favorite team member. There were a few nice moments but this was a pretty forgettable entry in the show's history.
It wouldn't be a proper recap without a creepy bondage situation.

Of course those stories were just base level experiments for Kubar as he got used to using his new hand so he could finally take his vengeance on master Genis. This involved a convoluted plot of kidnapping Naria in order to make a copy of Genis to kidnap Misao, forcing the Zyuohgers to enter combat alongside a small army of copied monsters against the actual Genis. Bit over the top ain't it? Bitch of it is, the plan didn't work. Way back during the story arc about cube whale, Naria had gathered a disc of data on the creature which makes it so Genis can absorb the power of Earth and kick everybody's ass.

Now let's pose a question. Suppose you are a cunning evil alien who sets out on a conspiracy to avenge your planet only to find yourself woefully outmatched. Do you
A. Sit in a bar and wait for death.
B. Team up with other powered beings in a continued attempt at bring down a collective foe.
C. Go buck wild and destroy everything in sight to regain your evil organizations good graces.
Yeah, the big headed freak got a little out of hand and tried to destroy the Earth to get back in with his boss. Who could have the power to stop such crazed destruction, why that emotional cripple Misao of course. During his earlier captivity the poor guy was injured, leading to a brief stay at a hospital until he realized the danger his friends faced and totally manned up. I think this makes the character a fine role model for the kids who watch this show. He may be an absolute screw-up in nearly every regard but he's grown considerably over the series into a respectable hero.

Oh and during that hospital stay, you wouldn't believe who the team bumped into. Yamato's father is a practicing physician at said hospital and boy howdy do the two of them not get along. Right here is where the potentially biggest dramatic theme of the series pops up. Mario tends this house full of orphans. In the case of the Zyuman, they're cut off from their home, but Yamato is unwilling to mend bridges with his family. After Kubar's defeat, our red ranger comments that Misao may actually be more mature than him. Harsh, dude.

Things brighten up for the holidays during an adventure where the team attempts to get Mario a Christmas present. During the weekly monster fight, the old man actually witnesses their transformation. That leads us to episode 44 we got the cardinal sin of television tropes with yet another clip show. These have always been a blight on the Sentai franchise, and I can't figure out why recent series have doubled down on the practice. At least I can say Zyuohger has done as good a job as one can expect from a clip show. This one even went so far as to mildly progress the main story line while driving home the point that Mario is the defender of these kids spirit, providing a happy home for them.

A sub-plot through this stream of episodes involved Bard, getting into a fight with Azald, which provided an interesting discovery. During his usual body reshaping process, Azald absorbed several animal cubes rather than the cubes of his own body. Likewise the big guy has no memory of his existence before serving under Genis. Larri the gorilla notes that he had suspicions of genis's ability to transfer Zyuman power when altering Misao, as if he had access to it in some form or fashion. The conclusion to this mystery has already been revealed through magazines, Azald is actually the original monster we witnessed that whale guy fighting way back during the Gokaiger team-up. Gotta hand it to this show, it hasn't faltered so far with seeding plot twists long in advance. Now to see if it adds up to anything worthwhile.

As it stands we're just a few weeks away from the conclusion of this series. Which means there will most likely be just one more post on the topic before I reformat this feature for the upcoming Kyuuranger. As usual I'm excited for the new show to begin, but more than with previous series I'm sad to see this crew go. During the past year, Zyuohger has been something of an old standby. It's not usually the most exciting or innovative thing to watch but there's a level of enthusiasm and clarity of vision that has kept it entertaining. Currently it still has a chance of making the jump from good to great if it's willing to go the extra mile with the ending. We'll find out in just a few weeks. For now I've got so many other items to discuss with you all. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Moving Target Review

At the end of my last Star Wars book review I'd mentioned there was another book on the way. The plan was to continue working through the young adult Journey To the Force Awakens series with the Princess Lea installment, Moving Target. While waiting for it to be delivered something happened; Carrie Fisher sadly passed over the Christmas holiday soon followed by her mother Debbie Reynolds. It was yet another another loss of pop culture icons at a time when there are far too few caring or interesting people to fill their shoes. Suddenly what I was expecting to be a fairly light bit of reading turned into a mini memorial for someone who was on our television almost weekly during my childhood.
Let's face it, most of the appeal of Star Wars doesn't come from being well-developed so much as being fun personalities performed by likable individuals. What's Han Solo without the arrogant swagger of a good performer? or Lando without the balls out charm of Billy Dee? Carrie Fisher always seemed like a pretty honest and relatable person, which helped sell the idea that so many placed their trust in this grumpy princess. Carrie always reminded me of different relatives which is largely why I was never a fan of the metal bikini outfit, but that's another story.

Given Carrie Fisher's death, both today's Moving Target is unfairly burdened with the challenge of paying extra respect to this character as it is one of only two Lea focused novels within the new continuity thus far. I'm happy to report it's mostly successful in giving the princess a fine adventure away from the rest of her usual cohorts, though naturally it's not without a few missteps.

The setting is in-between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Recent events have left the rebel alliance in a rut when reports begin to pour in about the creation of yet another Death Star. Plans are in place to gather the remnants of the rebel fleet in order to take on this new threat only there are concerns of putting their eggs in one basket where the Empire could easily take them out in one fatal blow. Lea makes a plan to use herself as a decoy, taking a small team to the opposite end of the galaxy to set up communication buoys with insecure codes in the hopes of drawing the empire's attention away from the gathering rebel fleet.

Accompanying Lea on her mission are Nein Nunb, that little odd guy who co-piloted the Falcon with Lando. Apparently he was friends with Lea for quite some time which makes this book a nice glimpse into the character as something more than set dressing. Also along for the ride are bleeding heat imperial defector Kidi, nervous engineer Antrot, and battled hardened soldier Lokmarcha. As yo might expect given the brief page count, none of these new additions are very well developed but in true Star Wars fashion, each is broadly drawn enough to be fun additions.
What's more important, given her being the main character, is whether the authors effectively captured Lea's voice. I'd say they succeeded about 75% of the time. There were scenes where she seemed a little too weak to be the proud leader we've watched for years. That being said, there are still plenty of moments where you understand how this girl can gather so many people to her cause, and in those moments, the book really shines.

More so than most books we've covered so far, this one actually does a good job of staying on point. It doesn't take terribly long for Lea to set her mission in motion and traveling around to get the empire's attention allows for changes in setting without ruining the pacing.
Beyond that I was also surprised by how dark this one got despite being part of a young-adult series. The other two entries we've covered from this line mostly kept things pretty clean whereas this includes a bit more death and destruction. The emerging theme throughout the story is Lea regretting her plan as she learns to balance her responsibility towards the alliance with her duty towards friends and comrades. Part of that lesson involves losing a few friends along the way which I didn't see coming in novel geared towards such a young audience.

Of course it's not all good stuff here. Similar to the other books in this line, the villains are a bit flat. A bigger problem however is there are multiple sequences where the writing just isn't gripping enough to keep you engaged. Generally this happens during the action beats which lead to me blanking out on a few scenes and having to reread portions. It's less of a problem later on when the stakes get a little higher, but action honestly the strong suite for this writing duo.

One issue is the brief appearance of Luke. Early in the book he still hasn't separated from the rebels in order to continue his Jedi training or create his new green lightsaber. Lea's mission doesn't take very long and by the end of the story she's ready to head to Jabba's palace. I guess that means Luke took maybe one week to become a light and dark side using bad ass with a fresh lightsaber. Truthfully, this isn't these authors fault so much as something the story group should have planed for in advance.

Moving on to the rankings, I think this one will just edge out Smuggler's Run. There's an added level of depth on display here that helps it outrank the straightforward fun of that Han Solo adventure.
1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Ashoka by E. K. Johnston
4. Tarkin by James Luceno
5. Moving Targer by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
6. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
7. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
8. Aftermath by Chruck Wendig
  1. The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

While Carrie Fisher may be gone, it's good to see there are writers out there with the ability to translate her presence from the screen to the page, insuring a sort of immortality. Currently I'm halfway through what will be the tenth book in this article series, after that I may turn to Bloodline, the other Lea focused tale penned by Claudia Gray, a woman who's sat comfortably atop the rankings for quite some time now. Will she knock another one outta the park? Stay tuned to find out.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Marvel Collector Corps December 2016 X-Men Unboxing

Welcome to the new year, folks. Wish I could say it's been nothing but relaxation and umbrella drinks so far but the truth is I'm in the middle of an extended work schedule. I guess on some karmic level it's probably good to begin the year so gainfully employed but wouldn't ya know it's interfering with my blogging. In fact, this post has been sitting around half-written for over a week now. Late or not, I wanted to finish it as this post marks the one year anniversary of my Marvel Collector Corps subscription and most likely my last box from this service for the foreseeable future. Don't think of that as a judgment on what's included in the box, it's actually good, we'll get to the reasons for leaving in just a bit.

Last year when I first subscribed to Marvel collector Corps, I was treated to the divisive Guardians of the Galaxy holiday box complete with ornaments. Despite how many people complained about those items, I loved it. Over the following months the Deadpool and Civil War boxes were fantastic, then the Women of Marvel and Spider-Man installments were sorta blah only to have Dr. Strange show up to improve things a little. Having arrived into December yet again I was a little hopeful for more Christmas goodies but apparently Funko retreated and just offered a regular box, albeit a solid one.

Alright; first up are the usual patch and pin that I always struggle to find ways of writing about. Better than average pin, lesser patch, make of that what you will. I understand that these items are bread and butter for subscription boxes but that doesn't make it any easier to get excited for another patch cluttering up my odds & ends drawer.

Moving on we have a t-shirt which may be my favorite from collector corps so far. It's something that stands on its own as a nerdy shirt without having a deformed pop character on it, plus the colored neck is a nice touch. This one will see plenty of wear time, especially since I often use these as undershirts at work. They're comfy and it's always nice to know I can rip off a uniform Hulk Hogan style and be fully draped in nerdery.

Next up is this month's comic, Champions #1 which despite what the cover may tell you only has Cyclops in it for a single panel. This was a seriously weird choice for the box as it has almost nothing to do with X-Men or even mutants in general. Instead the Champions is a team comprised of many of the new teenage superheroes like Miles Morales/Spider-Man, Amadeus Cho/Hulk, and Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel. The group is fed up with the normal operations of their super elders and decides to become a social conscious group that reaches out to the populace with hashtags and the like.
Right up front I should point out I am a fan of Chris Bachalo's art. While I've seen many people complain about his odd proportions and cartoonish style I think it plays well to a book centered around teenagers. Plus it's excellent to see these kids depicted in a way where they're realistically fit while still gangly and awkward.
What concerns me however is that this book seems to be biting off way more than it can chew. There's already and odd tone that arises from a group of kids as written by a 50 some year old man. I'm not saying the Mark Waid, can't pull it off, but within this first issue there are bits that seem really artificial such as Ms. Marvel's speech or Hulk's bizarre murderous tantrum that gets sort of glossed over. More than that is how this team is supposed to handle more “real” issues. Here they end up going out to stop a sex-trafficking ring run by a clown. It's the sort of subject matter you'd expect from Punisher or Daredevil yet colorful and wacky like a cartoon which makes for some awkward reading.

The toys this month are some interesting offerings. The side item this time around is part of the Rock Candy line. The line consists of these stylized versions of popular female characters. Sort of doll like in style though shorter and thicker than what you'd expect from a barbie. I'm not a huge mystique fan though I am very pleased they went with her classic look rather than say her scaley movie version.

The big ticket item this month is the first Pop Ride to appear in any Funko box. Most people on Funko forums had guessed it would probably be Logan's motorcycle due to shipping logistics. I ain't complaining though. Predictable as it may be, the bike is still bad ass, more so with the graying Logan holding out his claws to shred anything in his path. Wish I could pop some claws while riding my moped.

While this was a nice box featuring a great shirt and cool ride it suffers like many boxes have by failing to utilize it's theme. I mean X-Men is a massive franchise with so many characters and concepts to chose from yet we get toys featuring prominent personalities, and a comic that just barely includes a mutant within it's pages.
More so I think now may be the time to jump ship when it comes to Collector Corps. Overall I've loved my year with the service but there are other boxes I want to try, such as Funko's Smuggler's Bounty box which I've already signed up for thanks to this month's deluxe pop. Likewise I'm not very interested in the theme for February's Superhero Showdowns box. Beyond that are many other boxes I'd love to try and I have to keep an eye on funds a little more as things are changing at one of my jobs. Still, it's been a fun ride with collector corps and I recommend folks give it a try if they see a theme that interests them.

I'd love to stay and chat but there's still a few more days of work to attend too. With luck and the wind at my back there could be another post this week. Until then, lemme know if there are any subscription services you'd like me to cover this year? Speaking of which, how's the year treating you all so far?