Sunday, May 28, 2017

Star Wars Smuggler's Bounty May Unboxing: A New Hope 40th Anniversary

Anniversaries are a hell of a thing. They're an understandable achievement when it comes to something like marriage or the continuing existence of a business because it takes work to keep such a venture going for so long. With items like art, an anniversary doesn't seem quite as notable. I mean let's face it, the original Star Wars would still be turning 40 this year regardless of whether or not it spawned a massive franchise. Even so, May marked the four decade mark for A New Hope and Smuggler's Bounty themed itself in kind.
If luck or or decent shipping had been with me, this unboxing would have been written up last week, but alas a combination of DHL and USPS sluggishness held back delivery until a mere hour before work on Thursday afternoon. This gave me just enough time to check on what it is I spend my duckets on before heading out to deal with the world. Was I lucky enough to nab something extra special? Let's dive in and see.

I took this month's photos in front of our entertainment center to give some sense of the massive scale of this box. This thing is huge! A cardboard titan that fuels the imagination as to what treasure could be housed inside. On top of that, is the illustration of Leia, promising the potential of an item commemorating the space princess lost to us back in December. Clearly there was some real potential within this crate, so what's inside?

As always, the standard issue patch and pin come first. Usually I have very little to say on this front but there's no way I can resist pointing out how lame this patch is. It's supposed to be Luke in his X-Wing flight gear but it looks more like some derpy kid dressed up for fun. You know what I'm talking about, your neighbors cousin who would show up every couple of months and couldn't take the hint that you didn't want to entertain him. Now that your mind is swimming with awkward childhood memories, I can at least say the pin is a decent, albeit fairly standard looking Chewbacca.

As always, I tried to blindly pull items from the box in order to sustain the mystery and surprise for as long as possible. Such an attempt proved challenging this time as one giant item dominated over the others. I figured this was the Pop that had already been spoiled to me by advertisements. I'd have to forgo my usual ritual to get this thing out of the way so I flung open the box, and that's when things took a turn for the bleak.

Let's talk about that Pop first. Continuing a theme from the previous Empire Strikes Back box, we're treated to another deluxe Pop. This time it's Luke in his landspeeder. No complaints here as this is a nice item. The paint, detail, sculpt, and size make for a winning collectible. Plus it continues a potential series of deluxe items for the main characters. Most likely, I would have been more thrilled with the item had it not already been spoiled. Still an awesome exclusive all the same.

The rest of the box is where the problem lies. First up is a Pop Home item, Han Solo and Greedo salt and pepper shakers. Now I've previously defended the inclusion of Pop Home Mugs as they have a variety of potential applications be that a drinking vessel, food bowl, or pot for small plants. Salt and pepper shakers on the other hand only have one function and who in this day and age even uses these things when proper pepper grinders are readily available? These were practically designed to show up at yard sales within the next few years.

Next was a little package that I first thought might be a wallet or something similar. Nope, sweat bands......honest to god, fucking sweat bands. Talk about a gross miscalculation of what costumers want from a Funko box. People subscribe to these services because they're into collectibles that can be displayed in some form or fashion. Items like Pops and Dorbz are easy to show off, t-shirts can be kept, hung, worn and still kept moderately fresh, or even turned into a damn quilt down the line. Even those salt and pepper shakers can be showcased in some way. Sweat Bands have no worth as a collectible and they're only purpose as an article of clothing is to become smelly and disgusting before being tossed in the garbage.

So what else was on tap in this massive anniversary box? Nothing at all. What's worse is looking at the outside of the box we were teased with the potential for a Princess Leia item even though she's nowhere to be found. Every single Funko box I've received thus far always includes the character on the box, even if they're just on the shirt. So why hint at Leia, only to leave a surprising amount of empty space inside? There isn't even the usual information sheet about this months items. Just one great Pop and a some junk.

I try to give Funko a boost whenever I can. By and large I like the company and their products. I've largely enjoyed they're subscription boxes as even the weaker offerings tend to have enough quality to make up for any misgivings. I just can't give them a pass here though. This was a poor offering to begin with, made even worse by failing to live up to the potential of the theme.
On a personal note, I'd already been planing to cut off my subscription in the hope of using that money elsewhere (and saving shelf space) so I really hoped to go out on a good note. Instead I'm leaving with a bitter aftertaste. I can only hope that whenever they decide to make a Return of the Jedi box, someone will have the good sense to make a deluxe Pop of Leia on her speederbike to accompany the two guys.

That's all for this month's unboxing folks. Over the Summer I'm planing to try out a couple different services that have caught my eye. Later in the year, I'm actually thinking of trying out Funko's Disney box as there are plans for a Haunted Forest box. For now though I offer the advice to anyone interested in Funko subscriptions that Smuggler's Bounty still fails to be as solid or consistent as the Marvel and DC options. Now you'll have to excuse me, I've got about ten things to do in the three hours before work. Tah.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Canadian Snack Food Part 1

If nothing else, I can say that 2017 has thus far been a year for changes. Most of those have been cosmetic mind you, new carpet, slightly altered work schedules, while others are major shifts like a niece moving away. There's been just enough goings on to make it hard to stay on top of everything and that level of activity requires fuel, so praise be that my sister was kind enough to bring back some snacks from a day trip to the great white north.

Honestly, saying “some snacks” is more than a little deceptive as she brought home a massive haul of goodies for gorging. So much so that even a couple weeks later, I still haven't tried everything. So without further ado, let's dive into part one of the great Canadian junk food sampler.

Doritos Ketchup, Intense Pickle, and Zesty Cheese.

Above all else, I informed my sister that she could gain proper sibling of the year cred if she brought back the three main Canadian varieties of Doritos chips. Given my usual luck I assumed one flavor would go missing in the shuffle, but for once in life I got to have it all, and am largely pleased with the results.
Ketchup chips, despite being a mainstay of Canadian foodstuffs, can still be a bit of a tough sell in the U.S. I've always found them to be delightful but as many like to remind me, my tastes are somewhat abnormal. While a good ketchup potato chip is always a fine snack, these Doritos provide an extra kick. There's so much ketchup flavor at work here, it absolutely coats your mouth, nearly eliminating any moisture within. Suffice to say I was in love from bite one. Sadly these are a limited time item which means it may be quite some time before I can recapture the joy of this little baggie.
Intense Pickle somehow worked it's way into being a full time flavor while failing somewhat to live up to it's name. Oh it's intense, that can't be denied, but not so much with pickle flavor as with vinegar. I can eat a few at a time but these aren't something I'm eager to revisit.
Then there's Zesty Cheese which has the side-effect of reminding me of Trailer Park Boys as the bag really does look like Zesty Mordant (that's Zesty Zesty if you wanna know). After getting over the giggles I dug in to find one of the best Doritos varieties of all time. The flavor here is meant to evoke cheeses like parmesan or romano, and my god are they ever delicious. What's more the flavor only seemed to improve in the following days. It's as if the rode to staleness actually ripens these babies. From now on, any trip up north necessitates a few bags of these little wonders.

Hickory Stick

A frequently touted heavyweight of the northern snack scene, Hickory Stick are seasoned Julianne style potato crisps. If I recall correctly, attempts were made to bring these stateside though I can't imagine how they would have failed. While these seem more greasy than regular potato chips, the seasoning gives em a wealth of flavor, bordering on barbecue with hints of herbs. More than that, the shape demands more attention so one doesn't accidentally shove potato up a nostril. No mindless snacking here. This is a potato snack of sophistication. Very recommended

Hawkins Cheezies

While studying for my shopping list, I found Hawkins Cheezies to be spoken as something akin to a religious experience. These were touted as more than a simple cheese snack, but a way of life. As a man well versed in cheesy goodies I was more than a little skeptical. After all, there's a large quality gap between some run of the mill cheese puff compared with a Better Made Cheese Ball. With Hawkins however, I found something wholly separate from the usual suspects. Upon opening the bag I was assaulted by a dank, foot-like smell, as if someone had hidden a nice chunk of legit cheese in the bag. The flavor followed suit. Indeed, Hawkins taste nothing like the usual Cheeto, Herr's, or whatever brand you call friend. No, these taste like real deal cheese. I'm marking these as a rite of passage for any snack maniac out there.

Crush Cream Soda

Going by the name alone you might not think much of this item, but think about it, have you ever seen Crush Cream Soda? Chances are slim as the company for one reason or another only produces this variety for Canada. Perhaps there's some sort of trade-off however as my sister said she saw no evidence of Strawberry Crush up there. If that is indeed the case then I'd say we got the better end of the deal. Don't get me wrong, this is a pretty solid soda. With it's bright pink coloration and cotton candy leaning flavor, I'd place it above several other mass produced cream drinks. At the same time, even a passable Strawberry sodas are too few and far between to pass up for an OK cream. Let us hope then that her observation was merely a stroke of bad luck.

Firework Oreo (Christie)

Before anybody starts stomping and raving that Firework Oreo are readily available in the U.S. Take note that in Canada, everyone's favorite cookie is produced by a company called Christie, utilizing a slightly different recipe. Having had both versions of this special Oreo I'm not sure I can claim a hands down winner. On one hand I preferred the Christie take on the actual cookie, while I'm fairly sure I prefer the Nabisco take on the cream. Perhaps a team up is in order to produce the perfect take on this classic treat.
As for the actual firework portion of these cookies, it's an alright gimmick, albeit one that doesn't really add much. The taste is pretty much the same, and if you eat too fast, then your saliva won't even break through the cream to activate the popping candy. This is one area where the Canadian version has the upper hand as their cookies allow for better milk absorption, which in turn equals more popping,

That's all the snacks I can report on for now. Gotta get some sleep before work after all. Look for more on my snacking smorgasbord soon, and something else most likely by this weekend. Stay cool.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Thrawn Review

Long ago, when I was but a wee lad spending my nights in the upstairs front bedroom of our old family home, I would occasionally pass the time perusing the built in bookshelf. Seeing as I'd yet to learn how to read, I generally admired cover art and tried to discern the plot lines of the many titles then beyond my reach. One of my favorite pieces to stare at was the cover of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, a title I'd later learn was a high water mark for the old Expanded Star Wars universe. Two elements of that old book cover left me wondering what happened within those pages, one was some old guy with light shooting out of his fingers, the other was a blue skinned man, who I later learned was a fan favorite named Thrawn.
Seeing as I never indulged in Zahn's previous work, imagine my excitement when it was announced that along with Thrawn appearing in the Rebels TV series, Zahn would also write a novel establishing the characters history within the new continuity. Not having gotten to that series yet, this was finally my chance to see what makes this character so special. There was no waiting for a good ebay price on this one, no sir, I nabbed this up quickly, actually interrupting progress on another book. Was it worthy of such excitement? Let's find out.

Despite what the title may lead you to believe, Thrawn is actually a tale of three individuals. One of is obviously blue boy himself, but equal time is spent with young Imperial recruit Eli Vanto. Another large chunk of attention is spent on young bureaucrat Arihnda Pryce. It is through these personalities that the reader is treated to a very cold and calculating look at life in service of the empire, and all of the twisted decisions that come with climbing to a position of power.

It all begins with a group of imperial officers investigating the camp of an unknown alien, only to suffer repeated raids by the being in question. At the forefront of this investigation is cadet Eli Vanto whose knowledge of fringe space gives him a measure of understanding towards what they're facing. Eventually the alien is taken into custody and brought before the Emperor. During this meeting an agreement is made that Thrawn will serve the Empire and educate the Emperor on the dangers lurking withing unknown space. In return, the Empire will aid in the protection of Thrawn's people, the Chiss, from such threats.

From there on it's off to the academy where Thrawn can learn the finer details of Imperial military service alongside Cadet Vanto who is kept nearby as an aid and translator. This relationship is at the heart of the whole novel as the actual plot is a bit thin. After the pair graduates from the academy, it's off to a series of different missions to track down pirates, smugglers, and malcontents. The real meat is witnessing how Thrawn climbs through the ranks while training Vanto to be an equally astute strategist. The reasons for this interest in the boy are kept hidden for quite some time.

Arihnda Pryce's plotline shares the theme of climbing the ranks, though her's is a much less steady approach. Early her family owns a mining facility until corrupt officials steal it away. From then on it's a journey through the world of civil service and political intrigue to strike at those who wronged her and make a name for herself. Arihnda's story is mostly removed from the other two characters, not truly joining up until late in the proceedings. This struck me as very odd until I found that she also appears on Rebels. Without prior knowledge of her on screen prescience, the character came across as being shoehorned in for a higher page count and world building. Perhaps once I catch up with that show I'll find a greater appreciation for her on page antics.

As you can probably guess by now from my general tone, this is a tough one to review. On the one hand the prose is strong with a nice flow and pace. There's some truly interesting developments about unknown space and the dangers found there, and just reading how Thrawn continues to outwit everyone can be a real treat. On the downside it's all a bit haphazard without a strong core narrative to hold it all together. Not to mention that if these cool developments fail to lead to anything worthwhile, well then what's the point? For example, the fate of Eli Vanto sets up a potentially interesting scenario, I won't spoil it for you, maybe he'll show up in of the movies, aged and greatly changed from his experiences, if not then it's just a wasted twist ending.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the issues with this novel is that it's worth is far too reliant on other parts of the universe. The ending is cool yet may lead to nothing, Arihnda's story probably only matters to those who know her from Rebels. There's supposedly a meeting that occurred between Thrawn and Aniken Skywalker that happened sometime in the past, but we either don't get the details, or they were so uninteresting as to slip my mind.

So yes, Thrawn was an odd one. I mostly enjoyed my time with it, yet I sort of resent it for meandering so much and wasting my time when it could have proved to be more efficient and effective like it's lead character. In the end it's going to miss the top five in the rankings by just a slim margin. My advice is that it's a good read for dedicated Star Wars nuts, just not those who only want to read the best of the best. Let's update the rankings.

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

If you've noticed that updates have been a little slower lately, that's about to change. Currently I'm in the midst of home projects, longer work weeks, and a new animal addition to the household. Most of the items should be taken care of by the end of this week. After that I've got so much to share with you all, whether that be more Star Wars, Canadian Doritos, or my attempts at model building. See you soon.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Uchu Sentai Kyuranger Episodes 8-12

Way back when I started this site, I ad very little in the way of primary goals in mind. One thing I did understand however was that I wanted CosmicSparky to be a more upbeat, less complaint addled place than the majority of nerdy internet spots. Of course this means I have to be careful about which topics I chose to cover. Generally I try to pick items I'm passionate about so I can experience the fun of sharing what I love with others. Every so often somethings comes along that can't be treated nicely, think Iron Fist or one of the more lackluster Star Wars books. Generally, if I can't provide a positive take or something or at least have a great deal of fun tearing it down, then I simply don't write about it. With that explanation out of the way, you'll hopefully come to understand why Kyuranger has become such a difficult item to write about. Despite my usual enjoyment of Super Sentai, this series has provided almost nothing I crave from the franchise. I took time off from the show in April hoping upon my return that the initial growing pains would be taken care of. Has the show finally developed into something worthwhile? Let's take a peak.

We catch up with the team still trying to liberate Earth. The operation at hand is based on destroying various consumarz, the giant towers that suck up planetium and hollow out planets. The entire crew is needed for this task so naturally three of them have been sent off on some completely unrelated errand. The remaining six break up into smaller groups because Spada wants to stop the evil bosses and keep people from starving. I'd take his side on this matter if not for the giant evil towers that will soon destroy the Earth, making the plight of the people pretty much moot.

During the team's separation, several of them are beaten and taken hostage by squid and octopus themed assassin's whose names I failed to register. Even the rescue team fails in their efforts against this duo. Eventually it comes down to commander Xiao to reveal that he has his own shiny spandex suit and save the day. That is until the start of the following episode when it's discovered he can only stay in his superpowered form for a limited time. While most of the crew is rescued, Spada is captured when he once again refuses to follow orders.

This new hostage situation brings on some backstory for Xiao. Before he was the commander of the rebellion tasked with finding the nine saviors, he was just an underling who found a way to force transformation. His tenure as a purple warrior lead to a confrontation where the former commander, Big Bear losses his life. Decent sob story, right? Well don't get settled in for long term emotional struggle because it's just a few pep talks from Lucky before Xiao is made into an official Kyuranger with his own dragon robot and everything.

You'd think a show that had introduced ten heroes in almost as many episodes would be content to take a breather, maybe take some time to develop one or two of them into three-dimensional beings. You couldn't be more wrong. Before you even have time to make a sandwich, there's yet another ranger joining the team. This time it's Kotaro. Who's that you ask? Good question. Kotaro is one of the kids Stinger held captive back when he was undercover within Jark Matter. There's no shame in assuming the kid would be a simple one off character who'd never be heard from again but he kept popping back up. More than that he had a wish to become a kyuranger, and if we learned anything from the previous episode, heroism in this series is just a matter of wishing really hard.
Kotaro's powers are gifted to him by the ghost of Commander Big Bear. Why's he hanging around as a ghost? Why not? The kid gets the ability to grow large, beat people with his scarf, and generally annoy the audience. Both Sentai and Power Rangers took stabs at kid rangers in the 90's only to learn it's a horrible idea and move on. Why this concept has returned, let alone in a series already overflowing with characters and gimmicks, is beyond me.

While that kid is hanging out with Lucky and getting his powers, the rest of the team is stuck on the ship as it hurtles towards the sun. Is this the moment the show takes a shot at building a tense, contained storyline? Nah, they use imminent death as an opportunity for wacky slapstick. Over eighty percent of the cast is sidelined with an ineffective comedy subplot while Lucky and some new kid hog the spotlight.

Speaking of Lucky hogging the scene, the following two episodes focus on the team trying to defeat those two assassin's I mentioned earlier while Lucky struggles with a sudden onset of bad luck. Taking all bets on whether he handles the situation with dignity or opts to throw himself around like a petulant child. Yeah.....there's the smallest trace of some tragic backstory for this twit but I dare you to give a crap when he's throwing a fit and endangering his team in some vain effort to prove how lucky he is. Adding insult to this scenario is how the other ten rangers are incapable of taking down the one assassin as a group while Lucky pretty much takes out the guy in one move, sigh.

As it stands now, the team is on a quest to use that unnecessary treasure map to hunt down pieces of a ship that will allow them to take down Jark Matter. In response the villains have sent down Singer's brother, Scorpio to deal with the dogooders. The only major shift in tone or development during these episodes is a change to the ending credit dance which now includes significantly less pelvic thrusting.

I like to preach the beauty of this franchise, of the entire Japanese take on superheroes for that matter, but this show is failing on all fronts. I've seen great, good, and some awful Sentai in my time. Kyuranger is something else, it's just lame. Even poor series like Ninninger would have one or two elements to make it mildly interesting, be that great action or a couple of good characters. Nothing I want out of a Sentai series is on display here. The story is straightforward and lackluster, the action is weak, characters are as two dimensional as they come, the humor falls flat. A dozen episodes in and it's just an overproduced clump of nothing.

I've got a proposition for my readers. With the amount of stuff I have to do in life along with other topics I could write about, would you prefer that I bite down and continue with this lame show, so long as I find an interesting way to cover it? Or would you rather I use the updates usually marked for Sentai coverage to cover other parts of the franchise such as past series and movies? Or maybe you'd like me to simply cover other topics until a better Sentai comes along? I'm eager to hear some ideas. Of course I'll be thinking on it a bit myself over the next few days as I work yet another new schedule.